The atomization of New Orleans has done more to destroy the political fabric of the post-Katrina city than even some of the most concerned observers had dared imagine.
In a community that last elected a white mayor when Richard Nixon was serving as president, three white candidates – Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, wealthy civic leader Ron Forman and Republican lawyer Rob Couhig – collected 56 percent of the vote in the first mayoral vote after last fall's hurricane swept much of the city's minority population away to Houston, Atlanta and more distant locations.
With turnout among the African-American diaspora low, Mayor Ray Nagin, the most prominent African-American candidate, won just 38 percent. He'll face Landrieu, who took 29 percent, in a May 20 runoff election.
This is the first time since 1982 that a New Orleans mayor has been forced into a runoff, and if the May voting breaks along racial lines, the incumbent could become another victim of Katrina.
Will such a split occur?
Certainly the federal government, which should have worked from the start to assure that a natural disaster did not shift the political dynamic in a major American city that has long been under Voting Rights Act oversight, has done little to avert it.
From the White House's shifting of funds away from infrastructure programs that could have protected the city's poorest neighborhoods, to President Bush's initial neglect of the crisis, to the move-‘em-on-out response of federal agencies to the plight of displaced residents, to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's speculation about whether it made sense to rebuild, to the disengagement of the Justice Department from the serious debates about voting rights that arise when citizens have been turned into refugees, Washington has been no friend to democracy in New Orleans.
Sincere pundits will long debate whether the pattern of neglect was intentional. But few deny that it is to the advantage of the Republican Party that currently dominates federal politics to break up the urban voting bloc that has made New Orleans one of the most Democratic cities in the south and kept Louisiana far more politically competitive – with a Democratic governor and a Democratic U.S. Senator – than most of its neighbors.
Those who would prefer see the political complexion of New Orleans shift may not get their wish, however.
A May 20 result that divides the city along racial lines is at least a bit less likely in a Nagin-Landrieu runoff than it would have been in a contest between the mayor and one of the other white contenders.
Nagin was beat an African-American foe in 2002 with strong backing from the white community. While the mayor's reelection campaign was targeted minority voters – stirring some negative attention nationally when he suggested that New Orleans would emerge as a "chocolate city" -- surveys suggest that he retains a base of support among white voters. Nagin retains the potential to build on that base as he competes in the runoff.
Landrieu is the son of legendary former Mayor Maurice Edwin "Moon" Landrieu, who was one of the few white politicians to fight the segregationists in the 1960s and who went on to serve as former President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The son has worked to maintain the multiracial coalition his father built.
Speaking to supporters Saturday, Landrieu struck the right note for a runoff campaign that will test the political maturity not just of New Orleans but America. "Today in this great American city, African-American and white, Hispanic and Vietnamese, almost in equal measure came forward to propel this campaign forward and loudly proclaimed that we in New Orleans will be one people, we will speak with one voice and we will have one future," he said. "We have said loudly and clearly that we will push off the forces of division and that we will find higher, common ground than we tried to find on that fateful day, Aug. 29, 2005, when we literally found ourselves in the same boat. We were in the same boat then and we are in the same boat now."
No matter who wins the runoff, everyone who believes that America can and must continue to promote a politics of empowerment and harmony should hope that Landrieu proves to be right about the potential to unite a city that nature and Washington have done so much to break apart.
Inside the Beltway, legislators have been slow to support moves to censure or impeach President Bush and other members of the administration. Only 33 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on as cosponsors of Congressman John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate the administration's preparations for war before receiving congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing of torture, and retaliation against critics such as former Ambassador Joe Wilson, with an eye toward making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment. Only two members of the Senate have agreed to cosponsor Senator Russ Feingold's proposal to censure the president for illegally ordering the warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations of Americans.
Outside the Beltway, legislators are far more comfortable with censure and impeachment -- at least in the state of Vermont. Sixty-nine Vermont legislators, 56 members of the state House and 14 members of the Senate, have signed a letter urging Congress to initiate investigations to determine if censure or impeachment of members of the administration might be necessary.
The letter, penned by state Rep. Richard Marek, a Democrat from Newfane, where voters made international news in March by calling for the impeachment of Bush at their annual town meeting, suggests that Bush's manipulations of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq war, his support of illegal domestic surveillance programs and other actions have created a circumstance where Congress needs to determine whether the time has come for "setting in motion the constitutional process for possible removal from office."
Noting that Newfane and a half dozen other Vermont communities have called for impeachment, as has the state Democratic Party, Marek explained to the Rutland Herald, "Vermonters from across the state have expressed concerns with the president's actions and have displayed that through resolutions, meetings and petitions. I thought it was important to put our voices down as supporting an investigation and possible censure and impeachment."
The letter, which will be delivered to members of the state's Congressional delegation -- including Congressman Bernie Sanders, a cosponsor of the Sanders resolution -- is just one of a number of fresh impeachment-related initiatives in Vermont.
Representative David Zuckerman, a Burlington legislator who is a member of Vermont's Progressive Party, plans to introduce a resolution next week asking for the state legislature to call on the U.S. House to open impeachment hearings.
Parliamentary procedures developed by then Vice President Thomas Jefferson in the early years of the United States, and still used by the U.S. House of Representatives as a supplement to that chamber's standing rules, have been interpreted as giving state legislatures at least some authority to trigger impeachment proceedings, and Zuckerman's resolution responds to calls from Vermonters to take the dramatic step.
Several county Democratic parties in Vermont have urged the state legislature to take advantage of the opening created by "Jefferson's Manual," which suggests that impeachment proceedings can be provoked "by charges transmitted from the legislature of a state.
There's no question that Vermont is in the lead, but legislators in other states are also exploring their options for pressuring Congress to act on articles of impeachment. A trio of Democratic state representatives in Illinois -- Karen A. Yarbrough and Sara Feigenholtz from the Chicago area and Eddie Washington from Waukegan -- have introduced a measure similar to the one Zuckerman is preparing in Vermont.
The bill urges the Illinois General Assembly to "submit charges to the U. S. House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States, George W. Bush, for willfully violating his Oath of Office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and if found guilty urges his removal from office and disqualification to hold any other office in the United States."
In Pennsylvania, State Senator Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, has launched a public campaign urging his constituents to sign petitions calling for Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry. Ferlo, a former Pittsburgh City Council president, says its entirely appropriate for state officials -- and citizens -- to add their voices to the impeachment debate.
"Impeachment proceedings are now the most important issue facing our nation," the state senator explains. "The debate and opinions expressed should not be limited to the views of journalists, legal scholars, intelligence officials and just a few politicians. Every American must confront this issue and speak out loudly and clearly. This is one opportunity to do so."
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Of all of the disastrous hallmarks of the Bush presidency, Bush's darkest legacy in the long run may be his unmitigated assault on the environment and his deliberate campaign to cover up the immediate threat of global warming.
The Bush Administration has http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-toxic29mar29,0,561... ">undermined the Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/08/politics/08climate.html?ei=5089&en=221... ">appointed corporate cronies in the oil industry to critical environmental posts, and muzzled top scientists from warning the public about the imminent climate crisis. It was no exaggeration when http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/10/07/gore_calls_bush_wo... ">Al Gore said "George W. Bush has by all odds been by far the worst president for the environment in the entire history of the United States of America -- bar none."
Yet, Bush's actions have brought the environmental movement closer together than ever before, as activists have redoubled their efforts to combat Bush's relentless assault on the planet. On Earth Day 2006, we salute those who took part in the top five environmental victories of the past year.
Saving ANWR: In what the Sierra Club called an "against-all-odds victory for wildlife, wild places and all Americans," the Senate rejected Sen Ted Stevens' (R-AK) attempt to attach provisions to the Defense Appropriations Bill last December that would have opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil. And weeks ago, the House Budget Committee also refused to appropriate funds for ANWR drilling in the FY2007 budget. Thanks to overwhelming pressure from environmental advocates, one of our nation's most pristine natural refuges remains safe from corporate poachers.
Governors Embrace Apollo: In July, The Apollo Alliance, one of the best progressive ideas of the millennium, gained some important new supporters. Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier trio--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade. The nine governors are all leaders in state-based efforts at energy efficiency and increased use of renewables, the core twin planks of the Apollo program. That program calls for a national investment of $300 billion over the course of ten years to build the basic production and distribution infrastructure needed for a cleaner energy economy.
Cleaning Up Mercury Pollution: While Bush's EPA has deregulated controls on mercury emissions--making it easier for power plants to emit this deeply harmful chemical into the environment--several states have strengthened anti-mercury laws. Gov Rod Blagojevich of Illinois announced a proposal to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent, and weeks later, Gov Jennifer Granholm of Michigan http://www.mlive.com/enter/index.ssf?/newsflash/business/index.ssf%3f/ba... ">followed suit. Massachusetts' legislature http://www2.townonline.com/lincoln/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=475057 ">just passed legislation that would prevent mercury pollution in household items such as thermostats, automobiles, fluorescent lights and electrical switches. And Idaho just passed a two-year moratorium on the building or operating of mercury-emitting coal-fired power plants.
Mayors Say Yes to Kyoto: We remain one of only two major industrialized nations that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol. Yet America's mayors are letting the world know that they stand with the global community--not Bush--on Kyoto. So far, 220 mayors, frustrated with federal environmental inaction, have created their own Kyoto-complying standards, investing in cleaner vehicles, cutting dependence on oil, and promoting efficient and renewable energy projects. Check out Cool Cities for more info on this growing movement.
Clean Cars Movement Rolls On: Last year, Clean Car legislation--requiring the reduction of harmful auto emissions--was adopted in California and now eight other states have followed suit. These states combined cover a full third of the car and SUV market in the US.
Honor Roll: Madison Gas and Electric Co. of Wiconsin decided to stop burning coal at the state's dirtiest coal-fired power plant and switched to renewable energy. Gov Tom Kaine of Virginia http://www.sierraclub.org/pressroom/releases/pr2006-04-07.asp ">rebuffed a proposal that would have opened up the state's beautiful coastline to offshore drilling. Atlanta's Development Authority greenlighted an innovative new public transportation plan for a beltline connecting the entirety of Atlanta's downtown and surrounding the line with green space for walking, jogging, biking, and public enjoyment.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
An interesting tidbit from the Advocate shows Giuliani's continuing campaign to woo evangelicals. Seems he's really going all-out in embracing these guys, as was reported during his recent swing through right-wing Southern churches. Now Ralph Reed and Rick Santorum, too!
The numbers from the new Survey USA polling on President Bush are stunning. As EJ Dionne notes in his Washington Post column today, a majority of voters approve of Bush in just four states--Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nebraska.
It's no secret W's numbers are bad. But this bad? Fifty-nine percent of respondents disapprove of Bush in Kentucky! Similar stats prevail in once reliably red states such as Indiana, South Carolina and South Dakota (where abortion is practically illegal). A majority of Texans now frown on their old Governor.
In swing states like Ohio Bush has a net approval rating of -29 percent. No wonder Republican candidates tell Bush to stay away from their states, won't appear publicly with him or get "stuck in traffic" and arrive fifteen minutes after his Vice President has already left.
My favorite anecdote: Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka would only let Bush raise money for her "late at night, in an undisclosed location."
At a time when the red-blue political map looks close-to-obsolete, check out the fascinating snapshot of Southern politics offered up in the Pew Research Center's latest poll. The study challenges those who still discount the idea of economic populism being a winning issue in the South. But, as Chris Kromm lays out in Southern Exposure's invaluable blog Facing South--the survey also describes what many have long felt is the core challenge for Southern progressives: "How do we draw on the strengths we have with economic populism"" Kromm asks, "while finding ways to creatively neutralize/ challenge social conservatism... There are no magic bullets."
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Let's hope Rudy Giuliani picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal today. In its pages journalist Jeanne Cummings asks whether Ralph Reed will "become the first casualty of the Abramoff scandal?" Something for Rudy to remember when he campaigns for the onetime boy wonder's Lt. Governor bid in Georgia next month.
Reed's campaign, Cummings notes wryly, "is having trouble squaring his opposition to gambling with his work on behalf of Mr. Abramoff's casino clients." Here's the juicy backstory:
Between 2001 and 2003, Mr. Reed collected more than $4 million in fees from Abramoff clients with gambling interests, including Indian tribes. Mr. Reed's specialty was ginning up opposition from religious leaders to tribes trying to elbow into Abramoff clients' turf. Payments to Mr. Reed's firm were funneled through organizations such as tax-exempt or charitable groups aligned with Mr. Abramoff, which obscured their source.
Mr. Reed's work--and his emails--came to light last year during hearings by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and became a campaign issue. The Abramoff affair even shadowed the campaign kick-off, headlined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. In 2002, when the two men's lobbying firms had been on opposite sides of a Louisiana gambling fight between Indian tribes, Mr. Abramoff had bragged in an email to a colleague that Mr. Reed would get James Dobson, head of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family, to attack Mr. Barbour.
"Let me know when Dobson hits him. I want to savor it," Mr. Abramoff wrote in a separate email to Mr. Reed.
It's a testament to the enduring power and blindness of the religious right that Reed is still even in this race. But at least some of his former followers, Giuliani notwithstanding, are beginning to see the light.
As a former Christian Coalition activist who quit the Reed campaign put it: "Nobody likes to be a hypocrite and nobody likes to follow a hypocrite."
This post was updated on April 22.
In a very informal, unscientific straw poll I took this week of eight acquaintances spanning the political spectrum--three distinctly right, three distinctly left and two from the mushy center--no one thinks it's anything other than insane for the Bush Administration to consider any military option against Iran. And, Bush's posturing of "keeping all options on the table" aside, the Administration has gone out of its way to discount any attack plans. But Seymour Hersh's recent New Yorker reporting suggesting otherwise--and the Administration's track record of doing incredibly stupid things--have got people spooked. As Phyllis Bennis wrote recently on CommonDreams, "the danger of such a reckless move is real, and rising. The Bush administration claims that negotiations are their first choice. But they have gone to war based on lies before, and there is no reason to believe that they are telling the truth this time."
Consequently, peace groups are mobilizing to prevent possible war in Iran. Most of the campaigns involve communications to Congress. This can sometimes feel futile, but on the cusp of critical midterm elections, our elected reps could be unusually vulnerable to the popular will.
AfterDowningStreet has a petition to Bush and Cheney as well as an international call against an Iran attack; Code Pink has an email to Kofi Annan; the Department of Peace Campaign is urging emails to the President and Congress; TrueMajority takes an interesting approach with an email to the Democratic Congressional leadership; VotersforPeace adopts a similar tactic with its petition targeting leading Democrats; Progressive Democrats of America has an email to Congress. United for Peace and Justice is circulating petition drives to both Congress and the UN; We've created our own action letter to Congress urging support for Rep. Peter DeFazio's Sense of Congress resolution, which would remind George W. Bush that he is legally bound to obtain the approval of Congress before launching a military strike against Iran. If you live in London, the StopTheWar coalition is planning a march against possible Iran actions at 1:00 in the Peace Garden at Tavistock Sq. on May 6. Finally, read what could be a blueprint for the peace movement's plans on Iran by Mimi Kennedy, Jodie Evans and Tad Daley, published recently on Alternet, as well as Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith's Nation online exclusive, Attack Iran, Ignore the Constitution.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Fox News...But Were Unable To Ask
Our friends at MediaChannel.org have arranged an interview between MC's Rory O'Connor and Senior Vice President John Moody, who oversees all story content for Fox News and is responsible for both the design and editorial direction of the Fox News Channel. Moody has agreed to be interviewed next week. Click here to submit questions. Please make them specific, thoughtful, and respectful.
There is one good thing that comes with "conservative" Republican hegemony: Proof positive that the Grand Old Party is no longer even feigns interest in fiscal responsibility.
Complete Republican control of the White House and Congress has unleashed a pork-barrel spending spree of unprecedented proportions. Deficit spending in on the rise. The national debt is soaring. And the greying pachyderms of the GOP just keeps dipping into the federal treasury to pay for more pet projects.
With the federal government on track to spend $371 billion more than it takes in this year, these "fiscal conservatives" are on a spree that the rest of us will be paying off for decades to come.
And they show no sign of slowing down.
The latest example of how powerful Republicans are porking up the budget comes from Mississippi's Republican delegation, and even by the standards of this Congress it's a pork-barrel pig out.
Mississippi Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both self-proclaimed "conservatives," are busy securing Congressional approval for a $700 million scheme to relocate a Gulf Coast railroad line. Lott, the Dixiecrat-hailing former Senate Majority Leader who hopes to return to the chamber's leadership after Tennessee's Bill Frist steps down in January, is the prime mover of the budget pen on this one -- and the prancing Prince of Pork really has outdone himself.
The railroad line in question was just repaired at a cost of $250 million but, after that money was spent, Lott and Cochran suddenly figured our that the tracks needed to go elsewhere – so they added their $700 million "earmark" to a $106.5 billion emergency defense spending bill in the Senate.
Earmarks, for those who don't speak Washingtonese, are the legislative tricks that powerful members of Congress use to secure funding for homestate projects without going through standard budget reviews. They are usually attached to major spending bills, in hopes that a few hundred million in additional expense will not be noticed amid the hundreds of billions that are being allocated.
The earmark that Lott and Cochran have come up with is the largest in the history of the Congress. And it may well be the sleaziest.
The railroad line that's slated for removal is in great shape. And no one seriously suggests that moving it a slight distance will make it significantly more secure if a hurricane hits the region – as they regularly do. So why is the federal treasury being raided to pay for the relocation?
The CSX freight line is in the way of a grand plan by wealthy, politically-connected developers in Mississippi to erect new casinos and hotels along the beaches that were just devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They want to move a perfectly good railroad line to open up land so that they can, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor , "turn Mississippi's struggling Gulf Coast into Las Vegas South."
That's right. Lott and Cochran, who when they aren't bragging about their "fiscal conservatism" are busy preaching about the need to restore "moral values" to America, are grabbing $700 million from federal taxpayers to clear the way for a new Sin City.
Some will cry "hypocrisy." A better description is "business as usual" in Republican-run Washington.
John McCain recently courted Jerry Falwell. So I guess Rudy Giuliani felt he needed to get Ralph Reed. According to the Associated Press, Giuliani has agreed to headline a fundraiser in May for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Gov.
Oh, the irony. A pro-gay rights, pro-choice, pro-gun control New Yorker stumping with a right-wing Christian crook. If Giuliani had to pick an evangelical activist to campaign with, couldn't he of found someone who wasn't Jack Abramoff's best friend? Shouldn't the so-called law and order Mayor be shunning a cynical political operator who defrauded fellow Christians and robbed and ruined Indian tribes? Doesn't he realize that a path to the presidency no longer runs through Ralph Reed?
Campaigning with the likes of Rick Santorum, as Giuliani did in Philadelphia today, is bad enough. But Reed represents a whole 'nother level of despicable. If Rudy wanted to show solidarity with a conservative moonbat, he should've picked Reed's primary opponent, Casey Cagle.