Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rolling on the River: It will be 10 more years before New Orleans is safe

I'm back from my incredible journey through the bayous of Louisiana with the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run. We did a lot of walking, a lot of running and a lot of roofing. Roofing? Yep.

There are still thousands of soggy roofs in the Mississippi delta area. New Orleans' Ninth Ward alone is a roofer's dream. This area is the only place I know where the phrase "I'm going to give you shingles" causes people's faces to light up.

Today our intrepid little band of walkers and runners set off from the Superdome, heading east toward Poplarville, MS via New Orleans' tragic Ninth Ward. Me and my son Joe had driven through the Ninth Ward yesterday and we knew what they would see. Our walkers will be trudging through acre after acre, block after block and mile after mile of "abandoned" homes. There are NO people there. It looks like a ghost town.

Meanwhile I trudged off to the Louis Armstrong International Airport, sitting in the boarding lounge eating leftover muffaletas and reading the Times Picayune. Seven months after Katrina, the newspaper's top headlines still dealt with the aftermath of that storm.

"Drainage improvement and upgrades in blocking [future storm surges] -- such as hurricane gates at the mouths of drainage canals in Orleans Parish -- are part of the [new floodplain plan]...."


I sat next to a floodplain expert on my flight home. He said, "It will be another ten years before the Mississippi floodplain will be under control. Sure, people can build on it but for the NEXT TEN YEARS, they will be taking a risk." That's dangerous.

George Bush just spent over 400 billion dollars on reducing a mythological danger to America alledgedly coming from Iraq. On the other hand, this levee catastrophe is a real danger that effects the safety of MILLIONS of Americans. We shoulda spent our $400,000,000,000 on that!

Then the person sitting on the other side of me on my flight home jumped into the conversation. "Speaking of flood gates, they had flood gates for Katrina."

"Really? I didn't know that."

"Yeah. When the water started rising, they blew a hole in the levee so it would flood the Ninth Ward instead of somewhere else." Ah. An improvised flood gate. I'd heard that people had heard explosions before the levee failed but I hadn't realized that that was the reason they blew it up. I wonder who got to decide who was to live and who was to die?

Then the guy in the seat behind us chimed in. "Mississippi got hit even harder than New Orleans. I just got done doing some roofing in Waveland."

If Abraham Lincoln or George Washington were our President today, they wouldn't be out adventuring in some hell-hole half-way across the world. They'd be down on the bayous, trying to help get the roofs fixed.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Katrina fatigue: 7 months after Katrina, 2 months before the next hurricane

I'm down in New Orleans, visiting my son who is on the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run from Alcatraz/San Francisco to Washington DC. If this e-mail looks a little spotty it's because I'm writing you from my son's laptop computer in the basement of the United Houma Nation's hurricane relief center.

Yesterday, we spent the night sleeping on the floor of the minister's study in a church in Baton Rouge. Today, the runners covered the 65 miles into New Orleans. They ran. I drove. And walked.

Since I've been down here, I have asked everyone I've met the same question. "Has FEMA helped you out?" I always got the same answer.

"Ha ha ha ha ha." Although some people simply snickered.

"Have you recovered yet?" was my next question.


Next question: "When will the next hurricane season arrive?"

"In about two months."

"Are you ready for it?" I asked.


While the rest of America suffers from "Katrina fatigue" and doesn't really want to hear any more sad Katrina stories, the brave people of New Orleans are bracing themselves for the next Category 5.

And this time George Bush needs to start watching The Weather Channel so he will be better prepared.
Born on the bayou: Tribal Katrina victims, you have not been forgotten!

Holy sheep dookie! I just got out of a Native American sweat lodge. Those things are FIERCE! First we all crowded into a willow frame covered with really heavy felt blankets to hold in the heat. Then some "Firemen" threw a whole bunch of really hot rocks into the tent and it got so hot that I thought my skin was gonna turn into Kentucky fried chicken. Then, while I was in shock and awe that I would have to spend the rest of my life in a burn unit, my evil twin got so scared that my good twin came out!

But only for a minute. My evil twin is back. Sorry about that.

Then after the sweat, the best chef in the whole United Houma Nation gave us all vanilla cream pie.

Today is Day 46 of the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run across the U.S. of A. On Day 43, I joined up with the Sacred Run in Baton Rouge and happily trotted after them, wearing my shiney red Espirit patent leather Mary Janes through 15 miles of rural Louisiana.

"But Jane," you may say, "you are not taking this run across America seriously." Ah, but I am. The fact that a few handfuls of dedicated men and women can take three whole months out of their lives to run across our country and try to warn us Americans that it is NOT too late to take nature seriously and be kind to her before she tires of our selfish ways and beats the crap out of us instead? I'm serious about that. The rest of this essay is going to be DEAD serious.

The main thing that has truly amazed me about being "On the Run" is how often we get to stop and talk with REAL Americans -- and how often they take time out of their busy lives to stop and talk to us, telling us about their worries, hopes and dreams for themselves and for their country.

Today we did something extra special. We (me and some of the tribal elders) walked and (my son Joe and a bunch of people in much better shape than me) ran through the bayous of southern Louisiana.

Everywhere we went, we saw other American indians -- members of the United Houma Nation -- coming out of their homes and lining up by the side of the road to cheer us on. The Houmas are Native Americans who have lived in these bayous all their lives and their ancestors have trapped, hunted and fished in these bayous for longer than anyone can remember. As we walked (and ran) through Bayou Grand Caillou and Isle de Jean Charles and Bayou La Fourche, we were met by hundreds of Houmas. And each one of them was really really really glad to see us.

One woman said, "Members of the United Houma Nation, without any aid from FEMA or the Red Cross, have worked together to put new roofs on over 70 houses, remove tons of debris and find shelter for the disposessed. We have even collected and re-erected the tombstones of our dead. We did this all by ourselves. And there is still a staggering amount of work left to do."

Again and again, with tears in their eyes, these Houma people told us, "If FEMA and the Red Cross and everyone have already forgotten about helping New Orleans recover, then you can imagine how quickly they have forgotten about us. But you haven't forgotten."

In the last three days, we have either walked or run up and down the banks of these bayous, past gutted houses and trailers, past destroyed shrimp boats, past unbelievable scenes of destruction. And everywhere we went, we have been greeted with smiles and tears.

"Thank you for remembering us," they said. "You are the only ones that have."

PS: Actually, not EVERYBODY forgot about the Houma. It hurts me to have to say this but I gotta give props to Wal-Mart. After the hurricane, Wal-Mart gave the tribe a whole truckload of new clothes.

And of course the oil companies haven't forgotten the Houma either. The Nation has been trying to be recognized as an official tribe for decades now. But you know THAT'S not going to happen. There is too much of a possibility that there is oil under Houma land.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Joey, Rachel, Phoebe & Jordan: How to hide from the future & still be "Friends"

Anya Kamenetz was on the radio this morning, talking about how the next generation is going to be saddled with all kinds of debt. Well, my young friend Jordan is already way ahead of the crowd. Already he's up to his EYEBALLS in debt and he's hardly even 18 years old. All he does all day is sit around ordering from the Home Shopping Network and watching re-runs of "Friends".

Poor Jordan. As you may recall, when Jordan and his brother Nathan became teenagers and could no longer be beaten into submission, his parents sent them off to various Brat Camps, where they trudged though various deserts and snowstorms for years on end. And do you remember how I fought to rescue that boy? And how the brothers intrepidly escaped from the brat camps against all odds? And we all thought everything had ended so well? Ha! Now Jordan is practically a bag-person and Nathan is back in juvie. How did all our hopes and dreams for those boys finally end up like this?


"But Jane, aren't you going to blame it on the Brat Camps? The boys' abusive parents? Too little funding in the educational system due to that corrupt idiot George Bush?"

Nope. This time I'm gonna blame it all on TV.

Watching all that television has finally convinced young Jordan that even though he has all this visible PROOF all around him that his world is falling apart, he's just not afraid. "How can anything go wrong with my life when everything is still okay on TV?"

Are you nuts, Jordan! You are mooching off friends and your brother is in juvie! You are almost in as much debt as Congress and even the HSN has cut you off! You just dropped out of school and are living on Twinkies! Things are NOT okay. Get a clue! Get a life!

Nope, Jordan just keeps watching re-runs of "Friends" and sincerely believing that everything will be okay just as soon as Rachel makes up with Ross. Sounds like what the rest of America is thinking as well. The war on Iraq will just go away as soon as Chandler can bond with Phoebe's puppy. Or Joey gets a date.

If Jordan ever wants to get his head out of the sand and DO something to save his own life, he needs to turn off the freaking television!

And if America ever wants to be safe from a very very very gloomy future episode of "Friends" wherein Monica and Phoebe and Chandler all starve to death in Bush's Great Depression and Joey and Rachel get their heads blown off by FBI agents who thought they were terrorists after listening in on their phone calls, Americans need to wise up and turn off their televisions too.

PS: Remember my poor sweet youngest daughter -- the one who was working her fingers to the bone trying to keep up with her rent, car insurance, college tuition and the need to eat food? And struggling to stay in school? That one? Well, just before Christmas something inside of her finally snapped and she quit her job and dropped out of school. Now all she does is watch re-runs of vampire movies and "The Simpsons" and "Charmed". But even though her phone has been turned off and she is getting nasty letters from her student loan program and she is behind in her rent and the utility company is filling her mailbox with warning letters and they are about to tow away her car, she feels all safe and secure -- safely cocooned in front of her TV.

So. Here I am. Screaming at my daughter -- and America. "Wake up!" But do they listen to me? Hell no. A TV is better than a hundred mothers. Plus, with a TV, you can always turn off the sound.

PPS: Speaking of telephones, does anyone remember that old James Coburn movie where he finds out that the evil alliance that is trying to take over the world is actually THE PHONE COMPANY? Talk about a movie being ahead of its time! Now that AT&T is back to owning a monopoly on America's phone systems, Coburn was obviously spot on. And speaking of television, doesn't AT&T also now own HBO and the WB?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What's the difference between Jews and neo-con Israelis: Jews believe in God?

I went to a talk by a Hebrew scholar from Israel recently and he was talking about the Neo-cons who now run Israel. "You can be a Jew in Israel these days and not believe in God. That's okay," said the scholar. "But whether or not you believe in God, you MUST believe in the Promised Land." Yeah but.... That's ridiculous. If there is no God, then who exactly was the Person who promised the Jews the Promised Land in the first place?

That is the Israeli Neo-cons' big dilemma. Do they believe in God? They must not believe in Him because they are breaking a goodly number of His Commandments on a daily basis. But if they don't believe in God, then they are just mucking around in Palestine, stealing real estate for no reason.

Guys. Either you believe in G-d or you don't. If you do, stop butchering Palestinian children because "God don't like ugly". And if you don't? Then the Promised Land was not promised to YOU and it's time to get out of Dodge. And Jerusalem too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Deal or No Deal: If Bush attacks Iran, America stands to lose it all

George Bush is hinting broadly that he is about to "open the suitcase" and drop Shock and Awe on Iran.

Deal or no deal?

According to Mike Whitney and Uri Avnery, Iran will be much easier to invade if the United Arab Emirates can be bribed into helping Bush out -- hence George's gift to Dubai of 21 American ports. Great bribe, George.

Deal or no deal? That deal is almost a sure thing.

A war on Iran can only happen if the Federal Reserve can print up even more Monopoly money, greatly increasing the odds in favor of the U.S. suffering another Great Depression as America's economy continues to spiral hopelessly downward into debt because our money is no longer backed up with equity. We are already hopelessly in debt -- and Bush has already mortgaged the farm.

Deal or no deal? Hands have already been shaken on this one.

What if Bush has a bad hair day, decides that his conquest of the Middle East is going too slowly and pushes the Red Button? Full-out planetary nuclear war!

Deal or no deal?

George Bush and his cronies have systematically destroyed America's values, broken its laws and looted its treasury. They belong in jail.

Deal or no deal?

America? Are you listening? Obviously not. Will you sign your deal with the devil? Yeah, duh. "I'm going to make the deal!" you cry. "I want the money!" And so America makes a deal with George Bush.

Your deal sounds really good on paper, America. But the prize that you will actually be receiving is not the prize you expect. The prize that you WILL be receiving is the same prize that Bush gave to Afghanistan and Iraq -- and that he now plans to give to Iran: Corruption, dictatorship, poverty and chaos.

Deal or no deal? It's still not too late to back out.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Asleep at the wheel: Our leaders snooze while our government speeds out of control!

"I just had the worst nightmare!" said a friend.

My friend looked wild-eyed and ghastly. "Take a deep breath, calm down and spill," I told him. And he did.

"You see, I was in this taxi and we were driving up this really steep hill and then suddenly the car began rolling backwards and I looked over at the driver and he was ASLEEP!" So. What did you do? "I grabbed the wheel and jammed my foot on the brake petal but the brakes didn't work!"

I've had those kinds of dreams before. They are terrifying. But what do they mean? Was something in my friend's life spinning out of control? "Now if it was ME having that dream," I told him, "I would know exactly what it meant. This is the perfect analogy for what is going on in Washington DC these days." My friend shrugged. I had just hijacked his dream. Humph.

"Now if it was me having that nightmare," I continued my lecture, "that steep hill would represent mankind's uphill battle to evolve into the type of human being that Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham and Buddha would be proud of. The taxi would represent our government -- the vehicle we use to get us to our urgently critical destination. And the cabbie would represent our leaders, the ones we hire to safely and efficiently drive this vehicle -- and to get us there in one piece and on time." My friend started to look interested. I added, "Here. Have some hot tea."

"Then who would the passenger person represent?" he asked.

"That's easy. That passenger would represent all us poor smucks who trust government leaders to get us safely to our destination -- and of course the ones who are paying the fare."

Right now, today, at this very minute, our country is like that taxi -- out of control, blindly racing backwards, careening wildly downhill to certain destruction. And our leaders are asleep at the wheel.

When my friend flagged him down, his dream-cabbie appeared to be a competent driver. He was not. He was a fraud who hadn't even passed his road test! And like that fraudulent cabbie, we Americans have been stuck with the wrong men and women to drive our vehicle of state.

These people became our leaders, according to Rob Kall, solely because of their ability to pay for the most TV advertisements -- or, according to the GAO, because they were good at stealing elections. That is no criteria for selecting a driver. None. These people have NO LEADERSHIP SKILLS. And there are no excuses for us either. We should have taken a closer look at their badges.

But do excuses really matter when the car we are riding in is out of control and madly rushing downward toward death and destruction?

What must we do to stop this nightmare? "What did you do in your dream?" I asked my friend.

"I pushed the stupid incompetent driver out of the way and took over myself. Then I brought the taxi under control." We need to do that too.

We need to put people in the White House, the Supreme Court and Congress who actually know HOW to stay awake and to get us to where we need to go. We need to control election spending. We need to count the votes ourselves. We need to elect people with NO ties to the weapons industry. We need to put limits on television advertising. We need to take back our airwaves. We need to start placing (legal) wiretaps on all the White House phones and start reading THEIR e-mails. We need to start enforcing our laws and our Constitution while we still have them.

We need to hire leaders who represent US!

And if our drivers fall asleep at the wheel and cannot get us to where WE want to go -- safely and on time -- then we need to drive our own car.

PS: I just listened to "Democracy Now" on KPFA, where investigative reporters described American black ops torture techniques in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Morocco and Poland. American military personnel -- and not just a few bad apples -- routinely torture captives in ways that you don't even want to know about. Broomsticks up the rectum? Months in freezing temperatures in unlighted cells with screeching noises blasting at them 24/7 while they hang by ropes until they confess to crimes that only fools believe had actually been committed? And the American troops who perform these unspeakable deeds learn how to do it by reading these worst-than-medieval torture instructions from out of Pentagon-produced books!

"And then they came for me and by that time there was nobody to speak up for me," Pastor Niemoller said about the Nazis. If we don't get our American democratic vehicle back under control, the 600 new concentration camps that Halliburton has just been commissioned to build here in America may be used to house US. And then it could be you and me -- us liberals, idealists, Democrats and bloggers -- who are being rammed with a broom.

PPS: Okay. So our federal vehicle is being driven by a scurvy group of blood-curdling torturers -- sort of like our own personal Freddie Kruegers. But can they steer America through the economic nightmare that awaits us if something isn't done really soon about our out-of-control financial deficits? Or will we just get another sequel to "Nightmare on Wall Street"?

To quote Joseph Stiglitz, "If America were not the economic powerhouse that it is, the day of reckoning would have already come. The only questions that the world faces today are how long it will persist, how it will be tamed and how much damage -- to America and the world -- will be done in the interim. And how hard will the landing be?"