Sunday, September 25, 2005

Danny Dorling replies to Trevor Phillips on racial segregation

Why Trevor is wrong about race ghettos
Equality chief Trevor Phillips was wrong when he claimed our cities are divided by racial groups, says population expert Prof Danny Dorling.
The real threat is the growing divide between rich and poor
Sunday, September 25, 2005 The Observer

'Ghettos in English cities almost equal to Chicago' ran a headline last week. 'Sleepwalking to segregation' began an editorial in the Times
All this resulted from a speech made in Manchester by the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, last Thursday. He had some interesting points, but his central claim - that we are drifting toward racial segregation - is wrong.

Racial segregation is not increasing, as he claimed. There are no neighbourhood ghetto communities in Britain, and the 'new' research he cited to try to support his claims is neither new nor authoritative.
The carefully considered conclusion of academics in Britain is that there are no ghettos here. In short, Phillips has been ill informed, or has simply not understood what his organisation has been telling him. Racism is rife in Britain but it is not being expressed through rising levels of neighbourhood segregation, nor are any ghettos likely to be formed in the near future.

If ignorance of these trends extends as far as the chairman of the CRE, the debate on segregation in Britain will be the poorer for it, and we will neglect the segregation that really is occurring: by poverty and wealth.
Had Phillips read the work of the academic who has studied segregation in most detail in Britain over recent years he might have thought more carefully. In fact if he had only read the first two sentences of Dr Ludi Simpson's most recent paper he would have learnt that 'racial self-segregation and increased racial segregation are myths for Britain. The repetition of these myths sends unhelpful messages to policy makers.'
The most up-to-date segregation statistics for ethnic and religious groups were published more than a year ago. They were calculated from the latest census and are comparable with figures a decade earlier. For all ethnic minority groups identified by the census, the indices of segregation fell between 1991 and 2001. These are the indices to which Phillips referred in his speech. They fell fastest for people of black and 'other Asian' origin.

For no ethnic minority group have these indices risen. In contrast, segregation rose over the same period in Northern Ireland for many religious groups. The pattern in particular cities will vary slightly, but nationally ethnic minority neighbourhood segregation in Britain is falling - and there are no ghettos, no neighbourhoods where a single ethnic minority group is in the majority. This has happened in America, where they are called minority-majority areas.

Even if there were such areas in Britain there is no reason to see that as a problem, but before proposing opinions, it is important to get the facts right.

What may have confused Phillips is work reported by an Australian-based academic at a conference last summer which referred to the extent to which different groups in Britain may be becoming more isolated rather than more segregated. It is not hard to see why the indices academics use to measure these things could so easily be confusing. The segregation index is a measure of the proportion of people who would have to move home for a group to be evenly spread across the country. It is falling for all minorities.

By contrast, the index is a measure of how often individuals from a particular group are likely to meet other individuals from their group. Communities suffer high levels of isolation if most of them live together with few other ethnic groups. Low levels of isolation come in communities where ethnic minority groups are more spread out and where other groups live in relatively high numbers.

The two are related but do not measure the same thing. Most crucially, if disproportionate numbers of people in a particular group are of child-bearing age and have children, raising the size of the group, the index of segregation remains the same, while the so-called index of isolation rises. That is a simple function of population growth among younger communities, of whatever ethnic origin. It does not reveal very much about levels of isolation.

The index of isolation is thus not necessarily a good measure to use, but if the CRE chairman does refer to it, it might be useful for him to know that it is highest in Britain for Christians, followed by people with no religion.

The most segregated religious groups in England and Wales are people of the Jewish and Sikh faiths, not Muslims as is often supposed; while the levels of geographical isolation of people of Catholic faith in Scotland exceed those of any minority religious or ethnic group in England. All these facts are taken from a couple of pages of the 2001 Census Atlas of the UK. That was published in 2004 but there are now many other sources of this data to show that no neighbourhood ghettos are being formed in Britain.

There are shocking statistics concerning segregation that Phillips does need to address. In some areas African-Caribbean boys are up to 15 times more likely to be excluded from school than are white boys, and up to 12 times more likely to be incarcerated in prison in Britain. Children and young people are being segregated out of classrooms and disproportionately into prisons by ethnicity in this country. The CRE has enough real work to do that it does not need to create fictitious evils.

In terms of education Phillips is right to say that children are more segregated by school than by neighbourhood, but this is only slightly so and it has only once been measured - so he was wrong to imply that schools are increasing the trend towards racial segregation. Our schools and universities are becoming more unequal in their intake, but not necessarily by religion nor by ethnicity.

What is most unfortunate is that this misunderstanding detracts from the neighbourhood segregation that is most clearly occurring in Britain but which is about poverty and wealth, not race nor religion.

Neighbourhoods are becoming more segregated by rates of illness and premature mortality. Depending on when and to whom a baby is born, inequalities in their chances of reaching their first birthday have widened since 1997. Neighbourhoods are rapidly becoming more segregated by wealth - most clearly by housing equity through which the best-off tenth of children should each expect to inherit £80,000 simply because of where they were born.

The racial ghettos referred to in Phillips's speech do not exist. However, had his researchers looked at the census more carefully then they would begin to see much else that should concern them. Cut Britain up horizontally rather than by neighbourhood, and you do find minority-majority areas. For example above the fifth floor of all housing in England and Wales a minority of children are white. Most children growing up in the tower blocks of London and Birmingham - the majority of children 'living in the sky' in Britain - are black.
Phillips needs the census to tell him what is happening as much as any of the rest of us do. Our gut feelings are not good enough, our own lives too isolated for us to extrapolate from experience.

The evidence comes mainly from social statistics. Increasingly, Britain is segregated by inequality, poverty, wealth and opportunity, not by race and area. The only racial ghettos in Britain are those in the sky in neighbourhoods which are, at ground level, among the most racially mixed in Britain, but where the children of the poorest are most often black.

We have not been sleepwalking into segregation by race, but towards ever greater segregation by wealth and poverty. That matters most to the life chances of people in Britain.

· Danny Dorling is professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield and co-author of People and Places: A 2001 Census Atlas of the UK', published by the Policy Press

Friday, September 23, 2005

Robert Fisk barred from entry into US

Unbelievable - report from Direland.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Galloway reply to Greg Palast

Reply to Greg Palast
George Galloway
Until a couple of days ago I hadn't heard of Greg
Palast in years, the man who claims to have been
pursuing me with questions for two months. He has
never phoned, written, emailed or made any other
contact with me, which is curiously reminiscent
of the behavior of the US Senate committee.
Having now forced myself to look at his
pernicious writing, it seems like the deranged
ramblings you might expect to find pushed out
from under the door of a locked ward. He claims
to be a journalist. He clearly doesn't get much

Palast conflates meetings, truths and
half-truths, statements taken out of context to
produce a toxic smear which would be actionable
in the country he claims to work in, my country.
How many times do I have to respond to the
ravings of guttersnipes? I met Saddam twice, the
same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld. The
difference is that I wasn't trying to sell him
weapons and guidance systems. The first, and
infamous time, my words were taken out of
context. The second, where Saddam revealed his
favorite confectionery, I was trying to persuade
him to let the weapons' inspectors back in. A
vain mission, of course, as the US and UK had
already decided to illegally go to war whatever
he did.

The Mariam Appeal, which Palast drags in to
allege I benefited financially from its work, was
not a charity. It was a political campaign. Its
primary function was not to provide medicines for
Iraqi children, although we did, but to highlight
the political conditions which were killing them.
Sanctions! The largest donor was the ruler of the
UAE (who gave approximately £500,000), followed
by Fawaz Zureikat's £375,000, and then the now
king of Saudi Arabia (a regime I loath) with
£150,000. The donations of these three
represented 99% of the campaign's total income.
These donors were prominently identified at the
time, there was no attempt to hide them, as this
palooka claims. None of them have complained the
money was ill-spent. Palast might take the view
that finance should not be taken from such
sources. Sorry, but needs must.
Among the works undertaken by the appeal was a
daily newsletter on sanctions, a
sanctions-busting flight into Baghdad, the Big
Ben to Baghdad trip in a red London bus,
countless meetings and conferences, posters and
flyers, the projection of an anti-war slogan on
the House of Commons, the first time that had
ever been done -- and the facilitating of trips
to Iraq by dozens of journalists, many of whom
sat in on my meetings with Tariq Aziz. And
virtually all of whom were conducted around
Baghdad by Fawaz Zureikat, openly introduced as
the Mariam Appeal's chairman, as well as a
businessman trading with Iraq. We brought Mariam
Hamza to Britain for treatment -- immodestly, but
factually, I claim that we saved her life --
where she remained for half a year, sent back
cured. I could go on and on but my enemies would
surely claim I was blowing my own trumpet.
But what I will not tolerate -- and will sue in
any territory where it is possible to do so -- is
the lie that I personally benefited financially
from the campaign. The Charity Commission inquiry
Palast refers to was occasioned by a referral
from Tony Blair's Attorney General. The
commission are in possession of every receipt of
funds and every cheque issues or bank transfer
ever made. They satisfied that there was no
malfeasance and closed the case without further
action, no doubt to the disappointment of Mr
Blair's Attorney General. Charities in Britain
cannot campaign politically, which was the prime
function of the appeal and in their judgment the
commission said that the operation should have
been split in two, one arm of which, the one
which provided the physical aid, should have
registered as a charity. Well, sorry, but that's

The stumblebum then drags in Hitchens -- perhaps
it's two bums finding mutual support -- a man I
recently debated in New York. For what seems like
the ten-thousandth time let me try to finally
nail the canard that I benefited through the
oil-for-food programme, an allegation at the time
of writing which has netted me at least $4
million in libel damages and costs. Of course,
when I talked with Tariq Aziz, I talked about the
programme, but only in respect of the effects it
was having on Iraq. I did not request or receive
oil vouchers. I did not benefit financially. Not
by one thin dime! I said voluntarily and on pain
of prosecution under oath to the US Senate
committee -- another body which doesn't let the
facts get in the way of a good smear -- and I say
it again. If I had been guilty of what Palast
alleges I'd be sitting not in the House of
Commons but a prison cell! Let that be an end to
it because I'm sure the public is even more tired
and bemused than I am.

Crawl back under your rock, Mr Palast!

George Galloway MP

Sunday, September 18, 2005

German elections

First estimates for voting percentages in German election are:
CDU: 35%
SPD: 34%
FDP: 10%
Greens: 8%
Left: 8%

The collapse in the Christian Democrats previously enormous (18 points) lead over the Social Democrats is already being described as a disaster for Angela Merkel. The most likely outcome now seems to be the re-creation of the Grand Coalition of CDU-SPD-FDP of several generations ago (which then was a step towards government for the long-excluded SPD). The Left vote held up well - only sorry they didn't clearly overtake the Freed Democrats and Greens; but if there is a Grand Coalition the space for the Left to grow as principled opposition to neo-liberalism looks good.


Democratiya is a new on-line journal of book reviews launched by Alan Johnson (most recently of Labour Friends of Iraq, but previously an editor of Historical Materialism and New Politics, with a political background in the Alliance for Workers Liberty and now, I think, in the Labour Party). There's an interesting set of advisory editors: including many leading lights of the 'pro-war left' (or 'pro-liberation' as they would have it): Nick Cohen, Marc Cooper, Norman Geras, Johann Hari, Christopher Hitchens, John Lloyd, Kenan Makiya, Francis Wheen are just some of the most prominent. Is this the equivalent of the anti-Stalinist left that came into being in the 1940s and coalesced around the Congress for Cultural Freedom?

It aims at a non-sectarian and ecumenical contribution to 'a renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism'. It is clearly rooted in opposition in what it describes as an 'incoherent and negativist 'anti-imperialist' left which holds a simplistic, reductionist, reactionary, 'enemies enemy', totalitarian world view. A mention of Irving Howe gives a clue to the reference to Dissent as a model for plain writing and anti-obscurantism. All very interesting, especially in view of Alan's political trajectory and the possibility that despite his work on Hall Draper he will perhaps being following in the sad wake of the great Max Shachtman.

In this first issue (September-October 2005) Marko Attila Hoare reviews Evan Kohlmann on Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe (Berg 2004), is clearly knowledgeable, but is framed by such polemical hostility against the anti-war movement.

Gideon Calder reviews Michael Walzer's Arguing about War (Yale 2004), a collection of his essays that builds on his 1978 Just and Unjust Wars.

Michael Thompson reviews Foucault and the Iranian Revolution by Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson (U Chicago 2005), which is placed in a tradition of the defense of Enlightenment rationality alongside Sokal and Bricmont's Fashionable Nonsense and Meera Nandy's Prophets Facing Backwards. The authors critique a 'perplexing affinity' between Foucault's thought and radical Islamism in a merger of politics and spirituality. They see an identity between an opposition to colonialism, rejection of modernity and a fascination with the discourse of death. The book also seeks to problematize the politics of postmodernism: taking the view that Baudrillard would forgive the perpetrators of 9/11.

Claire Garbett reviews My Neighbour, My Enemy edited by Eric Stover and Harvey Weinstein (CUP 2004).

'Harry Hatchett' (the famous blogger at Harry's Place) reviews Thomas Cashman (ed) A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq (U Cal. 2005) taking it as evidence that his 'pro-liberation' isn't alone, praising the contribution of Jonathan Ree, but revealing his polemical approach when he talks about the 'Marxist' leaders of the Stop the War Coalition viewing 'fascism' as 'legitimate resistance' to bourgeois democracy. This tendentiousness just won't do.

Most interesting of the reviews is I think Michael Allen on Nicolas Guilhot's The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and the Politics of Global Order (Columbia UP 2005). Allen is connected to the National Endowment for Democracy and situates his review in terms of an uncritically presented American 'democracy promotion' and trends to democracy in the middle-east and post-communist societies. The 9/11 Commission and various commentators (including the not-negligible Olivier Roy are quoted on the importance of this battle for ideas. Allen looks for an analysis of the lineage of democracy promotion and the current role of the 'democratization industry' in regime change, but is disappointed that Guilhot provides something that sounds more like a radical critique of this exercise of power as a 'policy of capital' via case studies of the National Endowment for Democracy and World Bank. Allen is pretty disappointed with Guilhot's account of the NED and his claims that its a form of imperialism. It emerges that Guilhot is Hardt & Negri's French translator and is influenced by Deleuze and Guattari (is 'Dezalay' really Deleuze?). Amongst the faults that Allen finds is that Guilhot holds to the 'myth' that the democracy promoters are neo-cons who used to be anti-communist leftists - an idea that Allen thinks has been comprehensively refuted. On the whole subject of the Congress for Cultural Freedom Allen finds Guichot just wrong and superficial; his dependence on Frances Stonor Saunders' Who Paid the Piper? just provokes criticism of that book as 'tendentious'. Finally the book is described as 'pseudo-academic legitimation' for seeing 'missionary democracy' by the US, but hopes that a new generation of radicals and social democrats in the face of a 'fresh totalitarian idea'. It's worth looking at Michael Allen's Democracy Digest at

And finally there is a long and very interesting interview between Alan Johnson and Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Just War Against Terror (Basic Books 2003). Elshtain situates herself in a 'just war' tradition against pacifism and alongside an 'Augustinian real-world realism' - and that critical of a Kantian universalism. Alan brings out Elshtain's emphasis on the dangers of the just war tradition and her criticisms of a merely rhetorical just warism; although for Elshtain to refer to the 'stopping of the strafing of fleeing Iraqis' as the application of just war principles at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, when what I remember is the extent of the straffing on the Basra Road of fleeing Iraqi troops, even if the frequently banded-about figure of 100,000 killed doesn't seem that tenable; this seems like the evasion of a war-crime. Elshtain also warns against moralistic triumphalism and unsustainable overreach in the rhetoric of just war, leading to blundering.

On 'Islamism' Elshtain aligns herself with Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, seeing Islamism as a seriously totalizing ideology with a literal belief in the tenets of Jihad . And this she takes as a serious threat that should not be misdescribed. And the left are put in terms of the 'humanists of Oran' from Camus's The Plague who people who stand on a rat with plague and say there are no rats, and if there is a rat it is really the US. And standing behind that Alan also draws in Elshtain's diagnosis of a triumph of a 'therapeutic culture' in which argument is replaced by the validation of self.

On the invasion of Iraq it seems that in 2001 Elshtain had argued that the just war tradition didn't condone intervention against Saddam - despite his internal tyranny, but here she says that 9/11 changed the context and that she believed Saddam had WMD; but she doesn't say that the absence of WMD means that she was wrong. And although Elshtain regrets the insurgency she thinks that more good than bad has come from the invasion. And that the intellectual Western opponents of occupation are reprehensible in wanting the occupation to fail. Against that she poses the millions who voted in Iraq in January.

There's more, including reflections on hope, differentiating between 'decent hope' and 'unrestrained optimism', with the politics of the left ushering in an 'unrestrained optimism' that has led to cynicism. And as a cynical critic of the rhetoric of optimism I say amen to that. Elshtain hasn't convinced me, and the absence of much critique of capitalism or American foreign policy is a drawback, but she raises arguments that have to be dealt with adequately.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Wallerstein on Katrina

Immanuel Wallerstein Commentary No. 169, Sept. 15, 2005
Katrina: The Politics of Incompetence and Decline
The entire world has been following with stupefaction the incredible performance of the U.S. federal government's response to the physical and human disaster of the hurricane Katrina. All the television networks of the U.S. and of many other countries plus all the major newspapers have been following the story in detail. The general reaction has been to ask how could the government of the richest and most powerful country in the world have reacted to this disaster as poorly as, or even much less well than, governments of poor Third World countries? The simple answer is a combination of incompetence and decline. And the results of this disaster will be a further diminution of respect for the president within the United States and a deepened skepticism in other countries about the United States's capacity to put action behind vacuous rhetoric.

The initial reaction of George W. Bush to Katrina was to say, how could anyone have predicted that the levees would be breached and 80% of the city of New Orleans flooded? As a matter of fact, the Houston Chronicle predicted it in 2001. The New Orleans Times-Picayune predicted it in 2002. And the National Geographic, one of America's most widely-read magazines (and one totally apolitical), predicted it in 2004. As a matter of fact as well, such a catastrophe was listed in documents of the government published during Bush's own presidency as one of three potential major catastrophes that were quite possible. In addition, anyone listening to the television two days before Katrina struck heard the mayor of New Orleans warn the citizens of New Orleans (and the world) that this time, this was a really serious storm, and he ordered mandatory evacuation of the city. As everyone knows now very well, only 80% of the residents had the car and the money with which to evacuate. Did the U.S. government think urgently to send in buses before the storm hit and the levees broke, in order to evacuate the other 20 percent? Of course not. Ten days after the crisis began, the government seemed to get its act together somewhat, but ten days is a long time. This long delay was however not accidental. It is the direct result of how the Bush regime operates--poor judgment and active indifference to anything that isn't high on their list of priorities. They missed the boat at many different points in the almost five years before Katrina. After Sept. 11, they promised to make sure that the government would be prepared for any emergency. This was in fact the whole point of establishing the Dept. of Homeland Security. Obviously, they did not do it. They proved as unprepared for Katrina as they were for 9/11. Just last year, they urged Congress to reduce the amount of money that could have been used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair the levees that were in bad shape. So the Corps of Engineers had to postpone the work.

There is then the question of predicting a storm of such magnitude. There are currently two competing explanations for the ferocity of the storm. One is global warming, which is said to have created conditions in the Gulf of Mexico that favored intensifying hurricanes. The Bush administration has of course always contended that global warming doesn't exist, or at least is greatly exaggerated. The competing explanation is that hurricane strength is a cyclical phenomenon, and that every thirty years or so, the average strength goes up and then goes down. But even if only the latter explanation is used (one that fits the political position of the Bush regime better), it was easy to see that the thirty-year period of weaker hurricanes had come to an end and therefore something like Katrina was highly likely to occur. So, why wasn't the government on the alert? Incompetence and indifference because preventing hurricane damage to New Orleans (and indeed the rest of the Gulf Coast) was not on the high priority list of an administration which wants to fight a war in Iraq, persuade Congress to allow it to drill for oil in Alaska, and repeal the estate tax so that the 2% wealthiest people in the United States can be relieved of this burden.Another major factor is the political style of Bush and his associates. They made political appointments to all the top posts in the administration. There is nothing unusual in this, since all U.S. presidents do this. But what was different in the Bush style is that Bush and all his appointees were deeply suspicious of the political tendencies of the experienced bureaucrats in the government agencies. They ignored them, they intimidated them, they overruled them regularly. And so these skilled bureaucrats tended to resign. It has been a veritable exodus, not least in the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the agency in charge of handling such disasters. And this is of course part, a large part, of the explanation of why FEMA did such a bad job--at least until the president finally pulled his incompetent FEMA head, Michael Brown, off the job and turned it over to a Coast Guard Vice-Admiral, who has been handling similar crises for his entire career.

The real question is what now? I am not asking this about the victims, who are suffering in multiple ways and are likely to suffer for some time to come, since they are scattered across the country, without money or jobs or homes. I am asking what now, first for President Bush and secondly for the United States? Bush's ratings, which are already extremely low (by comparison with past presidents), are likely to go lower still. The war in Iraq is every day more unpopular at home and more unwinnable in Iraq. Bush cannot find a way to exit gracefully. The economy is not in good shape at all - oil prices are surging upward, and Katrina surely did not improve things, since New Orleans is a key port in the import and export of U.S. goods, and since both oil wells and natural gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico have been badly damaged. And since the U.S. is now estimated to need to increase its debt by $200 billion to do the necessary reconstruction, the Chinese and other buyers of treasury bonds must be getting more hesitant than ever about subsidizing the improvident Bush regime.

But it is the image of the U.S. that will be the most affected. When El Salvador has to offer troops to help restore order in New Orleans because U.S. troops were so scarce and so slow in arriving, Iran cannot be quaking in its boots about a possible U.S. invasion. When Sweden has its relief planes sitting on the tarmac in Sweden for a week because it cannot get an answer from the U.S. government as to whether to send them, they are not going to be reassured about the ability of the U.S. to handle more serious geopolitical matters. And when conservative U.S. television commentators talk of the U.S. looking like a Third World country, Third World countries may begin to think that maybe there is a grain of truth in the description.

Grapple in the Apple

The Grapple in the Apple has had the predicted results: those on Galloway's side think he won and Hitchens was humiliated, those on Hitchens's side.... you fill the rest in.

Gary Younge in The Guardian ('Crusing for a brusing') carries this view (some some omissions here):
"What had been billed as "the grapple in the Big Apple" in the end owed more to pugilism than polemics, with jibes, like jabs, missing more often than they landed, and many a blow below the belt.

"Hitchens berated Galloway for his "sinister piffle", congratulating him on "being 100% consistent in [his] support for thugs and criminals" and declaring: "The man's search for a Fatherland knows no ends." Galloway branded Hitchens a hypocrite and "a jester at the court of the Bourbon Bushes". Describing Hitchens' journey from the left to the right, Galloway said: "What we have witnessed is something unique in natural history. It's the first metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug." In the heat of battle the fact that butterflies come from caterpillars did not temper the applause from the audience, roughly two-thirds of whom backed Galloway.

"Having both torched the moral high ground, they would both later claim it as their own. At one point Galloway told Hitchens "Your nose is growing," only to deride his opponent for his "cheap demagoguery". Hitchens scolded the jeering audience for their "zoo-like noises", only to say that Galloway's "vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse is a disgrace".

"In a debate that drew as much from the culture of the playground as the traditions of parliament, no hyperbolic stone was left unturned.

"If there was light amid all this heat it shone not from their well-rehearsed and familiar arguments, but from their mis-steps. Galloway learned the hard way that four years after the attacks on the twin towers there are still some things you cannot say about September 11 that are common currency in Britain just a few months after the July 7 bombings.
"You may believe they came out of a clear blue sky," he said to a chorus of boos and single-finger gestures. "But they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us." Hitchens replied: "You picked the wrong city to say that in, and the wrong month."

"But it was Hitchens who made the greater gaffe when he implied, to howls of disbelief, that race played no part in those who perished in Hurricane Katrina, and that George Bush could not have helped the victims because he was obstructed by state officials. At this point he might have taken his cue from Liston, who spat out his mouthpiece as the bell tolled for the seventh round against Muhammad Ali, declaring "That's it". But he soldiered on. Having lost the audience he then turned on them. "I'm just reminding you that you're on telly," he said. "I just hope your friends and relatives aren't watching."

"Galloway won on points. Sadly, by the end of the night, few could remember what the point was."

The BBC is impressed enough to change its Radio 4 schedules on Saturday night and offer us an edited version of the exchange at 10.15.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

George Galloway in the US

Views about the success or failure of Galloway's tour of the US are probably fixed in advance. I hope he does well and gives the radical anti-war case a good popular showing, despite all my reservations about some elements of politics and his general rhetorical excess. He's certainly getting publicity - Today is offering an account of his debate with Christopher Hitchens, which might keep my radio on despite the much trailed interview with some prince or other.

One thing I want to point to is the role of the International Socialist Organization in this tour, which is pretty strong. Here's a link to the George Galloway Tour Blog with a report by Todd Chretien from the ISO (who I also remember being quite prominent in the 2004 Ralph Nader campaign) and a link to the International Socialist Review.

The ISR web-site carries a prominent ad for the tour and the book Mr Galloway Goes to Washington.

Boston, September 13 Galloway speaking with Prof. Bill Keach (ed. Literature and Revolution), Prof. Naseer Aruri, (National Council of Arab Americans). at the Faneuil Hall. Todd Chretien's breathless account - 400 people giving Galloway a standing ovation mentions Galloway putting himself in the tradition of Charles James Fox - hmm, more resonant than Chretien knows. There was also a speaker from the Campus Anti-War Network, of which ISO members are clearly a leading force.

New York, September 14, the famous 'Grapple in the Apple' with Galloway and Hitchens head to head in the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Sold Out in advance. Live video and audio via

Toronto, September 16, speaking on Respect and the British anti-war movement at the University of Toronto

Madison, Sunday, September 18, alongside Jane Fonda, David Cline (National President, Veterans for Peace), Ahmed Shawki (National Council of Arab Americans and editor ISR)

Chicago, September 19, with the same line-up.

Seattle, September 20 withMonica Benderman (wife of Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman, ten-year veteran, refused to return to Iraq after first tour of duty, serving 15-month sentence at Ft. Lewis), Muna Coobtee (National Council of Arab Americans)

San Francisco, September 21, withAimee Allison (conscientious objector to First Gulf War 1991, leading counselor for GI's who refuse to fight, Green Party candidate for Oakland City Council District 2), Dr. Jess Ghannam, National Council of Arab Americans, Todd Chretien ( College Not Combat - Yes on Proposition I campaign)

Los Angeles, September 22, withMichel Shehadeh (LA 8, National Council of Arab Americans), Pablo Paredes (US Navy petty officer who refused to ship out to Iraq, served 3 months hard-labor for his anti-war standImmanuel). Co-Sponsored locally by: KPFK 90.7, US Labor Against War (LA); Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA); Addicted to War-Frank Dorrell; ANSWER LA; Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools (CAMS).

Washington, D.C. September 24, with Cindy Sheehan (Gold Star Families for Peace, founder, Camp Casey in Crawford), Elias Rashmawi (National Council of Arab Americans), Mounzer Sleiman, PhD (Welcoming Remarks on behalf of National Council of Arab Americans), Camilo Mejia (Army soldier who refused to fight in Iraq, Conscientious Objector, Iraq War Veteran), Ahmed Shawki (editor, ISR).

That's five meetings with names I can identify from the ISO. Reminds me to question again why the SWP thinks the ISO is so unspeakably sectarian, when they look to be plating a role in this similar to the one they would play in an equivalent tour in the UK!

Monday, September 12, 2005

State of Nature 1 Autumn 2005

State of Nature is a new intellectual and leftfield socialist/radical on-line journal of interest.

Issue One 'Religion in the Modern World' includes:
Holocaust Religion and Holocaust Industry in the Service of Israel by Shraga Elam
This seems like a piece in line with the Norman Finkelstein kind of analysis, previously appearing in Between the Lines in 2001. I do worry about anything that criticises the fatual basis of the 6 million dead figure.

Pie in the Sky by Steve Weissman (from Truth Out) looks at Tim LaHaye, the Left Behind books and Christian millenialism.

When General Westmoreland Visited My High School to Pray by Ron Jacobs (author of the very good The Way the Wind Blew about the Weather Underground) meditates on American militarism with an input from Max Weber.

God is not Dead: Intelligent Design Theory and Evolution by Dennis Chapman puts the boot into the latest anti-scientific quasi-religious fad alternative to evolution.

Women and Work in Iran (Part 1) by Elaheh Rostami Povey: looks good.

There's also Fiction:
Letter to Elena from Joanna S. by Mazviita Chirimuuta
The Horse that Knew Everything by Jon Bailes

Saudi Israelia by J A Miller

Sketches of Christianity by Jon Bailes

Ancient Enemies - Modern Media by David Edwards

It's worth checking out.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Independent on Sunday confirms Bradshaw story

'Racist' police blocked bridge and forced evacuees back at gunpoint
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Independent on Sunday 11 September 2005
A Louisiana police chief has admitted that he ordered his officers to block a bridge over the Mississippi river and force escaping evacuees back into the chaos and danger of New Orleans. Witnesses said the officers fired their guns above the heads of the terrified people to drive them back and "protect" their own suburbs.

Two paramedics who were attending a conference in the city and then stayed to help those affected by the hurricane, said the officers told them they did not want their community "becoming another New Orleans".
The desperate evacuees were forced to trudge back into the city they had just left. "It was a real eye-opener," Larry Bradshaw, 49, a paramedic from San Francisco, told The Independent on Sunday. "I believe it was racism. It was callousness, it was cruelty."

Mr Bradshaw said the police blocked off the road on the Thursday and Friday after Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday 29 August. He and his wife Lorrie Slonsky, also a paramedic, had sheltered with others in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter.

When food and water ran out they were forced to head for the city's convention centre, but on the way they heard reports of the chaos and violence that was taking place there and inside the Superdome where thousands of people were forced together without running water, toilets, electricity or air conditioning. So Mr Bradshaw spoke with a senior New Orleans police officer who instructed them to cross the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, where he promised they would find buses waiting to evacuate them.
They were in the middle of a group of up to 800 people - overwhelmingly black - walking across the bridge when they heard shots and saw people running. "We had been hearing shooting for days. What was different about this was that it was close by," he said.

Making their way towards the crest of the bridge they saw a chain of armed police officers blocking the route. When they asked about the buses they were told their was no such arrangement and that the route was being blocked to avoid their parish becoming "another New Orleans". They identified the police as officers from the city of Gretna.

The following day Mr Bradshaw said they tried again to cross and directly witnessed police shooting over the heads of a middle-aged white couple who were also turned back. Eventually, late on Friday evening, the couple succeeded in crossing the bridge with the intervention of a contact in the local fire department.
Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna police department, said he had not yet questioned his officers as to whether they fired their guns.

He confirmed that his officers, along with those from Jefferson Parish and the Crescent City Connection police force, sealed the bridge and refused to let people pass. This was despite the fact that local media were informing people that the bridge was one of the few safe evacuation routes from the city.

Gretna is a predominantly white suburban town of around 18,000 inhabitants. In the aftermath of Katrina, three quarters of the inhabitants still had electricity and running water. But, Chief Lawson told UPI news agency: "There was no food, water or shelter in Gretna City. We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people. If we had opened the bridge our city would have looked like New Orleans does now - looted, burned and pillaged."

Mr Bradshaw and his wife were evacuated to Texas and have since returned to California. They condemned the authorities, adding: "This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans.
"Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist... Lives were lost that did not need to be lost."

A Louisiana police chief has admitted that he ordered his officers to block a bridge over the Mississippi river and force escaping evacuees back into the chaos and danger of New Orleans. Witnesses said the officers fired their guns above the heads of the terrified people to drive them back and "protect" their own suburbs.
Two paramedics who were attending a conference in the city and then stayed to help those affected by the hurricane, said the officers told them they did not want their community "becoming another New Orleans".
The desperate evacuees were forced to trudge back into the city they had just left. "It was a real eye-opener," Larry Bradshaw, 49, a paramedic from San Francisco, told The Independent on Sunday. "I believe it was racism. It was callousness, it was cruelty."

Mr Bradshaw said the police blocked off the road on the Thursday and Friday after Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday 29 August. He and his wife Lorrie Slonsky, also a paramedic, had sheltered with others in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter.

When food and water ran out they were forced to head for the city's convention centre, but on the way they heard reports of the chaos and violence that was taking place there and inside the Superdome where thousands of people were forced together without running water, toilets, electricity or air conditioning. So Mr Bradshaw spoke with a senior New Orleans police officer who instructed them to cross the Crescent City Connection bridge to Jefferson Parish, where he promised they would find buses waiting to evacuate them.
They were in the middle of a group of up to 800 people - overwhelmingly black - walking across the bridge when they heard shots and saw people running. "We had been hearing shooting for days. What was different about this was that it was close by," he said.

Making their way towards the crest of the bridge they saw a chain of armed police officers blocking the route. When they asked about the buses they were told their was no such arrangement and that the route was being blocked to avoid their parish becoming "another New Orleans". They identified the police as officers from the city of Gretna.

The following day Mr Bradshaw said they tried again to cross and directly witnessed police shooting over the heads of a middle-aged white couple who were also turned back. Eventually, late on Friday evening, the couple succeeded in crossing the bridge with the intervention of a contact in the local fire department.
Arthur Lawson, chief of the Gretna police department, said he had not yet questioned his officers as to whether they fired their guns.

He confirmed that his officers, along with those from Jefferson Parish and the Crescent City Connection police force, sealed the bridge and refused to let people pass. This was despite the fact that local media were informing people that the bridge was one of the few safe evacuation routes from the city.

Gretna is a predominantly white suburban town of around 18,000 inhabitants. In the aftermath of Katrina, three quarters of the inhabitants still had electricity and running water. But, Chief Lawson told UPI news agency: "There was no food, water or shelter in Gretna City. We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people. If we had opened the bridge our city would have looked like New Orleans does now - looted, burned and pillaged."

Mr Bradshaw and his wife were evacuated to Texas and have since returned to California. They condemned the authorities, adding: "This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans.
"Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist... Lives were lost that did not need to be lost."

ISO(US): Once more on the real heroes and sheroes

Once more on the real heroes and sheroes. Letter from Larry and Lorrie Beth

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky are Emergency Medical Services workers who, after attending an EMS convention in New Orleans, were trapped in the city, first by Hurricane Katrina, and then by a martial law cordon.

Their incredible account of the time they spent in New Orleans, and how they finally escaped--first published in Socialist Worker --has been circulated around the Internet, mainly by e-mail, blogs and list serves, to untold numbers of people, electrifying everyone who reads it. Mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Independent, have all written stories about Larry and Lorrie Beth, corroborating much of their article.

Predictably, conservatives, determined to deflect criticism from the federal government’s miserable response, have tried to poke holes in Larry and Lorrie Beth’s story. Unfortunately, some people writing on liberal blogs and list serves have been skeptical as well.

Larry and Lorrie Beth have written a letter, thanking those who had messages of support to send them, and responding to questions and doubts. We publish their letter here.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
September 8, 2005
Thanks for all the wonderful and warm words of support and comfort that folks have sent our way. It is very much appreciated.

Our apologies for the delay in responding. We lost our laptop (our only computer) while in New Orleans. We literally got out with the clothes on our back. Consequently, we have very intermittent access to the Internet on our friend’s computers. We have been overwhelmed by the response: 700-plus e-mails, the phone machine is full, etc.

As to people’s questions and comments:
1. Someone wanted corroboration on the rented buses. We do not know the name of the bus company. Ronald Pincus, the vice president of the Hotel Monteleone, found, booked, and fronted the money for the busses. By the way, we cannot say enough good things about the Monteleone workers and about the vice president. All went way beyond the call of duty and were simply incredible.

We have heard that there were several media reports about our commandeered buses. We had no electricity and, therefore, no way to see or hear those reports, so we are unable to direct you to those links. However, there were 500 of us waiting on those buses, so I expect others are sharing similar experiences.

On the question of the buses: We do not necessarily think that it was wrong for the military to commandeer our buses, if those buses were used to transport those in more need, such as the sick and injured inside the Superdome. Just because we had cash does not mean we should get to buy our way out ahead of everyone else. But because there was little coordination and less communication by FEMA and the military, we do not know, and will presumably never know, to what use those buses were put.

It is interesting that Mr. Pincus was able to get on the phone and quickly find 10 buses to come to New Orleans, while FEMA took days to rustle up any buses. In our opinion, FEMA should have commandeered every bus within two days’ drive of New Orleans and used them to quickly ferry out those who were stranded throughout the Gulf states.

2. That leads into another question that was put to us; “If you had those kind of resources, why didn’t you get the hell out before Katrina hit?” Those of us who did not make it out before Katrina hit came from three sources:
i. Those like ourselves who were visiting (tourists/conference attendees), had return airline tickets and were unable to change our flights or had our flights cancelled. In our case, we kept calling Southwest Airlines every hour to try to get an earlier flight, without success. Southwest kept assuring us that our scheduled flight (pre-Katrina) would go ahead, only to find that it was cancelled at the very last minute.
ii. About half of our group were employees of the hotels, who management begged or ordered to report to work to keep the hotels and the infrastructure running. To blame those same workers for not getting out sooner seems unfair.
One example: We came across a young woman crying hysterically on the street. Once we calmed her, she was told us she was a 911 dispatcher who had been ordered to stay because she was an “essential service” worker. Two days after the hurricane, she was driven to the city center and dropped off near the convention center, with no water, no toiletries, no nothing, and her bosses drove onto Baton Rouge.
iii. The remainder were locals and tourists who couldn’t get their cars out of the downtown parking garages. New Orleans has scores of rooftop parking lots that use an elevator (requires electricity) to take the cars up. In anticipation of flooding, many people opted to put their cars in these rooftop garages, only to find themselves stranded when the power went out.

3. Regarding corroboration of our story: No, unfortunately, we did not have any video or audio tape recorders. We saw some individuals with video cameras, but most of their batteries had long since died. (By the way, we did write down most of the identifying number of Gretna Sheriff’s patrol car that forced us out of our freeway encampment--D522 or D552).

We know that thousands of New Orleanians were prevented from crossing the same bridge out of the city and can corroborate that gut-wrenching, heart-ripping, depressing experience. That was an experience that no one can forget or forgive.

The same holds true for the long, tedious, dehumanizing “refugee processing” at Lackland Air Force Base. That treatment continues. On Monday, our neighbor received a call from a friend who had been airlifted to San Antonio, and who was undergoing similar “refugee processing,” before entering the facility at Kelly USA. We certainly hope that the treatment inside the facility improved. We do not know one way or the other, as we never went inside (contrary to media reports).

4. We have been asked why the sheriff’s deputy took our food and water. We do not know. Perhaps he thought he should remove it so we wouldn’t return? Perhaps he is just an evil person? We do not know what was going on inside this individual’s head as he screamed and cursed at us.

But you can be sure that the food and water did not go to waste. Someone got to eat those C-rations and drink that cool water. It was not us, and it was not the tired, thirsty and hungry New Orleanians who wandered back and forth between the Superdome and the Convention Center, looking for something to eat or drink or feed to their kids.

For the record, we do not have a dislike for sheriff’s deputies. We both have very cordial relations with a number of San Francisco County Deputies and work quite well with them all the time at the San Francisco General Hospital. The deputies are in the same union as us, SEIU Local 790, and we collaborate well.
5. Regarding “c-rations.” Yes, they are technically called MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). We had never heard of that term until we encountered them spilled on the freeway. We did not think anyone would know what an MRE was, and we grew up with the term “c-rations,” so we opted for that term in the article.

By the way, MREs are actually delicious (there are vegetarian versions). We have heard that they can be ordered online and last for five years. We strongly encourage anyone who lives in an earthquake or flood zone to consider buying a case.

6. About looting. Contrary to some media reports, we did not lead a band of affluent Europeans to loot a Walgreen’s. Over time, we did benefit from some of the food and water taken by others. In hindsight, we wish we would have collected more first aid supplies and over-the-counter medications from some of these stores to distribute to those in need.

7. A couple of folks charge us with being ideological in writing about our experience in New Orleans. That may be true, if by ideological, you mean:
-- Human beings should be treated with dignity, respect, and humanity; or-- People should not have their freedom of movement restricted purely on the basis of their skin color; or-- Human beings should not be lied to by persons in positions of authority, herded around like rats, forced to live in sewage and filth, and then shot at for trying to walk out of New Orleans.

But we wonder if it isn’t our critics’ ideology that is the problem here. You grew up believing that sheriffs don’t behave as we have described, and that law enforcement officers don’t steal food and water in a disaster setting, or shoot at hurricane survivors. You may also find it difficult to fathom that a law enforcement department openly and systematically discriminates against African Americans.

So when events like ours go against your preconceived ideas, you want to dismiss our experience, rather than change your ideas.

We can understand that our story is shocking. We do not know if we would have believed the story ourselves, if it hadn’t happened to us. We guess that is why we wrote about our experiences in the first place. We were so shocked and bewildered and outraged and confused when we encountered this treatment and witnessed this brutal racism.

Whatever you think about what happened to us in New Orleans, we only hope that we can all work together to expose injustice, challenge racism, hold the Bush administration accountable for its actions and inactions, and, most importantly, collaborate to build a better world for all of us.

We witnessed some terrible horrors in New Orleans, but we also caught a glimpse of what is good and great in the human spirit.
Thank you,Lorrie Beth and Larry

US Socialist Worker: Trapped in New Orleans

Trapped in New Orleans by the flood--and martial law The real heroes and heroes of New Orleans
Socialist Worker(US) September 9, 2005

LARRY BRADSHAW and LORRIE BETH SLONSKY are emergency medical services (EMS) workers from San Francisco and contributors to Socialist Worker. They were attending an EMS conference in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. They spent most of the next week trapped by the flooding--and the martial law cordon around the city. Here, they tell their story.

TWO DAYS after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreens store at the corner of Royal and Iberville Streets in the city’s historic French Quarter remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing, and the milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat.

The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers and prescriptions, and fled the city. Outside Walgreens’ windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry. The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized, and the windows at Walgreens gave way to the looters.

There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices and bottled water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead, they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home on Saturday. We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreens in the French Quarter.
We also suspect the media will have been inundated with “hero” images of the National Guard, the troops and police struggling to help the “victims” of the hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes and had not heard from members of their families. Yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20 percent of New Orleans that was not under water.

ON DAY Two, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina.

Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources, including the National Guard and scores of buses, were pouring into the city. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible, because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the city. Those who didn’t have the requisite $45 each were subsidized by those who did have extra money.

We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and newborn babies. We waited late into the night for the “imminent” arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived at the city limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By Day Four, our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously bad. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that “officials” had told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the city, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The guard members told us we wouldn’t be allowed into the Superdome, as the city’s primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. They further told us that the city’s only other shelter--the convention center--was also descending into chaos and squalor, and that the police weren’t allowing anyone else in.

Quite naturally, we asked, “If we can’t go to the only two shelters in the city, what was our alternative?” The guards told us that this was our problem--and no, they didn’t have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile “law enforcement.”

WE WALKED to the police command center at Harrah’s on Canal Street and were told the same thing--that we were on our own, and no, they didn’t have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred.

We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and constitute a highly visible embarrassment to city officials. The police told us that we couldn’t stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp.

In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge to the south side of the Mississippi, where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the city.

The crowd cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation, so was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, “I swear to you that the buses are there.”

We organized ourselves, and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched past the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group, and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news.

Families immediately grabbed their few belongings, and quickly, our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, as did people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and other people in wheelchairs. We marched the two to three miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.

OUR SMALL group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and, in the end, decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway--on the center divide, between the O’Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned that we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway, and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet-to-be-seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away--some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot.

Meanwhile, the only two city shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery that New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let’s hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an Army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts.

Now--secure with these two necessities, food and water--cooperation, community and creativity flowered. We organized a clean-up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom, and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas and other scraps. We even organized a food-recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was something we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. But when these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the city with food and water in the first two or three days, the desperation, frustration and ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery-powered radio, we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the city. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway. The officials responded that they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. “Taking care of us” had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking city) was accurate. Just as dusk set in, a sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed, “Get off the fucking freeway.” A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of “victims,” they saw “mob” or “riot.” We felt safety in numbers. Our “we must stay together” attitude was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of eight people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements, but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next day, our group of eight walked most of the day, made contact with the New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search-and-rescue team.

We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

WE ARRIVED at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We eight were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a Coast Guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There, the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses didn’t have air conditioners. In the dark, hundreds of us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport--because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly and disabled, as we sat for hours waiting to be “medically screened” to make sure we weren’t carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Naomi Klein: Power to the victims of New Orleans

Power to the victims of New Orleans With the poor gone, developers are planning to gentrify the city
(September 9, 2005) in The Guardian (with another version somewhere in The Nation)

On September 4, six days after Katrina hit, I saw the first glimmer of hope. "The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funnelled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants. We will not stand idly by while this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New Orleans."

The statement came from Community Labor United, a coalition of low-income groups in New Orleans. It went on to demand that a committee made up of evacuees "oversee Fema, the Red Cross and other organisations collecting resources on behalf of our people. We are calling for evacuees from our community to actively participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans."

It's a radical concept: the $10.5bn released by Congress and the $500m raised by private charities doesn't actually belong to the relief agencies or the government - it belongs to the victims. The agencies entrusted with the money should be accountable to them. Put another way, the people Barbara Bush tactfully described as "underprivileged anyway" just got very rich.

Except relief and reconstruction never seem to work like that. When I was in Sri Lanka six months after the tsunami, many survivors told me that the reconstruction was victimising them all over again. A council of the country's most prominent businesspeople had been put in charge of the process, and they were handing the coast over to tourist developers at a frantic pace. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of poor fishing people were still stuck in sweltering inland camps, patrolled by soldiers with machine guns and entirely dependent on relief agencies for food and water. They called reconstruction "the second tsunami".

There are already signs that New Orleans evacuees could face a similarly brutal second storm. Jimmy Reiss, chairman of the New Orleans Business Council, told Newsweek that he has been brainstorming about how "to use this catastrophe as a once-in-an-eon opportunity to change the dynamic". The council's wish list is well-known: low wages, low taxes, more luxury condos and hotels.

Before the flood, this highly profitable vision was already displacing thousands of poor African-Americans: while their music and culture was for sale in an increasingly corporatised French Quarter (where only 4.3% of residents are black), their housing developments were being torn down. "For white tourists and businesspeople, New Orleans's reputation means a great place to have a vacation, but don't leave the French Quarter or you'll get shot," Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labour organiser told me the day after he left the city by boat. "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification - poor people."

Here's a better idea: New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimised by the flood. Schools and hospitals that were falling apart before could finally have adequate resources; the rebuilding could create thousands of local jobs and provide massive skills training in decent paying industries. Rather than handing over the reconstruction to the same corrupt elite that failed the city so spectacularly, the effort could be led by groups like Douglass Community Coalition. Before the hurricane, this remarkable assembly of parents, teachers, students and artists was trying to reconstruct the city from the ravages of poverty by transforming Frederick Douglass senior high school into a model of community learning. They have already done the painstaking work of building consensus around education reform. Now that the funds are flowing, shouldn't they have the tools to rebuild every ailing public school in the city?
For a people's reconstruction process to become a reality (and to keep more contracts from going to Halliburton), the evacuees must be at the centre of all decision-making. According to Curtis Muhammad of Community Labor United, the disaster's starkest lesson is that African-Americans cannot count on any level of government to protect them.

"We had no caretakers," he says. That means the community groups that do represent African-Americans in Louisiana and Mississippi - many of which lost staff, office space and equipment in the flood - need our support now. Only a massive injection of cash and volunteers will enable them to do the crucial work of organising evacuees - currently scattered through 41 states - into a powerful political constituency. The most pressing question is where evacuees will live over the next few months. A dangerous consensus is building that they should collect a little charity, apply for a job at the Houston Wal-Mart and move on. Muhammad and CLU, however, are calling for the right to return: they know that if evacuees are going to have houses and schools to come back to, many will need to return to their home states and fight for them.

These ideas are not without precedent. When Mexico City was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1985, the state also failed the people: poorly constructed public housing crumbled and the army was ready to bulldoze buildings with survivors still trapped inside. A month after the quake, 40,000 angry refugees marched on the government, refusing to be relocated out of their neighbourhoods and demanding a "democratic reconstruction". Not only were 50,000 new dwellings for the homeless built in a year; the neighbourhood groups that grew out of the rubble launched a movement that is challenging Mexico's traditional power holders to this day.

And the people I met in Sri Lanka have grown tired of waiting for the promised relief. Some survivors are now calling for a people's planning commission for post-tsunami recovery. They say the relief agencies should answer to them; it's their money, after all.

The idea could take hold in the United States, and it must. Because there is only one thing that can compensate the victims of this most human of natural disasters, and that is what has been denied them throughout: power. It will be a long and difficult battle, but New Orleans's evacuees should draw strength from the knowledge that they are no longer poor people; they are rich people who have been temporarily locked out of their bank accounts.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Poverty in America

UN hits back at US in report saying parts of America are as poor as Third World
By Paul Vallely
Independent, 8th September 2005
Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

Claims that the New Orleans floods have laid bare a growing racial and economic divide in the US have, until now, been rejected by the American political establishment as emotional rhetoric. But yesterday's UN report provides statistical proof that for many - well beyond those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - the great American Dream is an ongoing nightmare.

The document constitutes a stinging attack on US policies at home and abroad in a fightback against moves by Washington to undermine next week's UN 60th anniversary conference which will be the biggest gathering of world leaders in history.

The annual Human Development Report normally concerns itself with the Third World, but the 2005 edition scrutinises inequalities in health provision inside the US as part of a survey of how inequality worldwide is retarding the eradication of poverty.

It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

The report is bound to incense the Bush administration as it provides ammunition for critics who have claimed that the fiasco following Hurricane Katrina shows that Washington does not care about poor black Americans. But the 370-page document is critical of American policies towards poverty abroad as well as at home. And, in unusually outspoken language, it accuses the US of having "an overdeveloped military strategy and an under-developed strategy for human security".

"There is an urgent need to develop a collective security framework that goes beyond military responses to terrorism," it continues. " Poverty and social breakdown are core components of the global security threat."
The document, which was written by Kevin Watkins, the former head of research at Oxfam, will be seen as round two in the battle between the UN and the US, which regards the world body as an unnecessary constraint on its strategic interests and actions.

Last month John Bolton, the new US ambassador to the UN, submitted 750 amendments to the draft declaration for next week's summit to strengthen the UN and review progress towards its Millennium Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015.

The report launched yesterday is a clear challenge to Washington. The Bush administration wants to replace multilateral solutions to international problems with a world order in which the US does as it likes on a bilateral basis.

"This is the UN coming out all guns firing," said one UN insider. "It means that, even if we have a lame duck secretary general after the Volcker report (on the oil-for-food scandal), the rest of the organisation is not going to accept the US bilateralist agenda."

The clash on world poverty centres on the US policy of promoting growth and trade liberalisation on the assumption that this will trickle down to the poor. But this will not stop children dying, the UN says. Growth alone will not reduce poverty so long as the poor are denied full access to health, education and other social provision. Among the world's poor, infant mortality is falling at less than half of the world average. To tackle that means tackling inequality - a message towards which John Bolton and his fellow US neocons are deeply hostile.

India and China, the UN says, have been very successful in wealth creation but have not enabled the poor to share in the process. A rapid decline in child mortality has therefore not materialised. Indeed, when it comes to reducing infant deaths, India has now been overtaken by Bangladesh, which is only growing a third as fast.
Poverty could be halved in just 17 years in Kenya if the poorest people were enabled to double the amount of economic growth they can achieve at present.

Inequality within countries is as stark as the gaps between countries, the UN says. Poverty is not the only issue here. The death rate for girls in India is now 50 per cent higher than for boys. Gender bias means girls are not given the same food as boys and are not taken to clinics as often when they are ill. Foetal scanning has also reduced the number of girls born.

The only way to eradicate poverty, it says, is to target inequalities. Unless that is done the Millennium Development Goals will never be met. And 41 million children will die unnecessarily over the next 10 years.

Decline in health care
Child mortality is on the rise in the United States
For half a century the US has seen a sustained decline in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. But since 2000 this trend has been reversed.
Although the US leads the world in healthcare spending - per head of population it spends twice what other rich OECD nations spend on average, 13 per cent of its national income - this high level goes disproportionately on the care of white Americans. It has not been targeted to eradicate large disparities in infant death rates based on race, wealth and state of residence.
The infant mortality rate in the US is now the same as in Malaysia
High levels of spending on personal health care reflect America's cutting-edge medical technology and treatment. But the paradox at the heart of the US health system is that, because of inequalities in health financing, countries that spend substantially less than the US have, on average, a healthier population. A baby boy from one of the top 5 per cent richest families in America will live 25 per cent longer than a boy born in the bottom 5 per cent and the infant mortality rate in the US is the same as Malaysia, which has a quarter of America's income.
Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala
The health of US citizens is influenced by differences in insurance, income, language and education. Black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to give birth to a low birthweight baby. And their children are more likely to become ill.
Throughout the US black children are twice as likely to die before their first birthday.
Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to have no health cover
The US is the only wealthy country with no universal health insurance system. Its mix of employer-based private insurance and public coverage does not reach all Americans. More than one in six people of working age lack insurance. One in three families living below the poverty line are uninsured. Just 13 per cent of white Americans are uninsured, compared with 21 per cent of blacks and 34 per cent of Hispanic Americans. Being born into an uninsured household increases the probability of death before the age of one by about 50 per cent.
More than a third of the uninsured say that they went without medical care last year because of cost
Uninsured Americans are less likely to have regular outpatient care, so they are more likely to be admitted to hospital for avoidable health problems.
More than 40 per cent of the uninsured do not have a regular place to receive medical treatment. More than a third say that they or someone in their family went without needed medical care, including prescription drugs, in the past year because they lacked the money to pay.
If the gap in health care between black and white Americans was eliminated it would save nearly 85,000 lives a year. Technological improvements in medicine save about 20,000 lives a year.
Child poverty rates in the United States are now more than 20 per cent
Child poverty is a particularly sensitive indicator for income poverty in rich countries. It is defined as living in a family with an income below 50 per cent of the national average.
The US - with Mexico - has the dubious distinction of seeing its child poverty rates increase to more than 20 per cent. In the UK - which at the end of the 1990s had one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe - the rise in child poverty, by contrast, has been reversed through increases in tax credits and benefits.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Tom Englehardt's Sept 4th Tomgram on the extraordinary social and political crisis in New Orleans and for the whole American system is vital reading, but also gives a referral to an article by Mike Davies from September 2004.

Mike Davis on the political sidelining of Blacks
Poor, Black, and Left Behind

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean's daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

In the event, Ivan the Terrible spared New Orleans, but official callousness toward poor Black folk endures.

Over the last generation, City Hall and its entourage of powerful developers have relentlessly attempted to push the poorest segment of the population -- blamed for the city's high crime rates -- across the Mississippi river. Historic Black public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offenses as trivial as their children's curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans -- one big Garden District -- with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

But New Orleans isn't the only the case-study in what Nixonians once called "the politics of benign neglect." In Los Angeles, county supervisors have just announced the closure of the trauma center at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital near Watts. The hospital, located in the epicenter of LA's gang wars, is one of the nation's busiest centers for the treatment of gunshot wounds. The loss of its ER, according to paramedics, could "add as much as 30 minutes in transport time to other facilities."

The result, almost certainly, will be a spate of avoidable deaths. But then again the victims will be Black or Brown and poor.

On the fortieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the United States seems to have returned to degree zero of moral concern for the majority of descendants of slavery and segregation. Whether the Black poor live or die seems to merit only haughty disinterest and indifference. Indeed, in terms of the life-and-death issues that matter most to African-Americans -- structural unemployment, race-based super-incarceration, police brutality, disappearing affirmative action programs, and failing schools -- the present presidential election might as well be taking place in the 1920s.

But not all the blame can be assigned to the current occupant of the former slave-owners' mansion at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The mayor of New Orleans, for example, is a Black Democrat, and Los Angeles County is a famously Democratic bastion. No, the political invisibility of people of color is a strictly bipartisan endeavor. On the Democratic side, it is the culmination of the long crusade waged by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to exorcise the specter of the 1980s Rainbow Coalition.

The DLC, of course, has long yearned to bring white guys and fat cats back to a Nixonized Democratic Party. Arguing that race had fatally divided Democrats, the DLC has tried to bleach the Party by marginalizing civil rights agendas and Black leadership. African-Americans, it is cynically assumed, will remain loyal to the Democrats regardless of the treasons committed against them. They are, in effect, hostages.

Thus the sordid spectacle -- portrayed in Fahrenheit 9/11 -- of white Democratic senators refusing to raise a single hand in support of the Black Congressional Caucus's courageous challenge to the stolen election of November 2000.

The Kerry campaign, meanwhile, steers a straight DLC course toward oblivion. No Democratic presidential candidate since Eugene McCarthy's run in 1968 has shown such patrician disdain for the Democrats' most loyal and fundamental social base. While Condoleezza Rice hovers, a tight-lipped and constant presence at Dubya's side, the highest ranking, self-proclaimed "African American" in the Kerry camp is Teresa Heinz ((born and raised in white-colonial privilege).

This crude joke has been compounded by Kerry's semi-suicidal reluctance to mobilize Black voters. As Rainbow Coalition veterans like Ron Waters have bitterly pointed out, Kerry has been absolutely churlish about financing voter registration drives in African-American communities. Ralph Nader -- I fear -- was cruelly accurate when he warned recently that "the Democrats do not win when they do not have Jesse Jackson and African Americans in the core of the campaign."

In truth, Kerry, the erstwhile war hero, is running away as hard as he can from the sound of the cannons, whether in Iraq or in America's equally ravaged inner cities. The urgent domestic issue, of course, is unspeakable socio-economic inequality, newly deepened by fiscal plunder and catastrophic plant closures. But inequality still has a predominant color, or, rather, colors: black and brown.

Kerry's apathetic and uncharismatic attitude toward people of color will not be repaired by last-minute speeches or campaign staff appointments. Nor will it be compensated for by his super-ardent efforts to woo Reagan Democrats and white males with war stories from the ancient Mekong Delta.

A party that in every real and figurative sense refuses to shelter the poor in a hurricane is unlikely to mobilize the moral passion necessary to overthrow George Bush, the most hated man on earth.