Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Liveblogging Harvey from New Orleans, Part Deux

*You can find Liveblog Part Un here*

Hello, Gentle Readers, and welcome to Day 2 of the Shtetl's Harvey Liveblog.

Good morning from New Orleans on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the 0th anniversary of Tropical Storm Harvey. It is raining, and Jared the Cat is informing me he's ready for breakfast. Those are the updates so far.

Apologies to people named Harvey at this time. You are not to blame. Seek comfort from the Katrinas of the world. You will likely become unique butterflies, if the baby-naming trend plays out.

Hopefully this rain is just tedious and not dangerous. There is something a little macabre about packing a to-go bag: "Will this spoon be the spoon I use for days?" "Do I need a copy of my expired passport, just in case?" Etc, etc.

I just wanna read my feminist bicycle science fiction
stories and get on with my day, y'heard?

Received a text from the National Weather Service: "Flash Food Warning this area til 10:30 AM CDT. Avoid flood areas." Thank you, National Weather Service, for that informative and helpful message.

Still raining. Trash pick-up proceeding as scheduled in the neighborhood. Someone clever put a sign reading "I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN" on the Broad St. pumping station. In other community news, Juan's Flying Burrito is offering $1 kids' lunches today.

From @CampusConnection
Well at least today there's a new Hurray for the Riff Raff music video! A beautiful celebration of Brown and Black imagination and physicality.

The rain stopped a little while ago. People are starting to come out to walk their dogs and stuff.

Took a stroll around the neighborhood. It's a little blustery and drizzly, and there aren't a lot of people or cars out. Otherwise, things seem okay (except maybe for the 350 alligators on verge of escaping Texas facility).

Starting to pour again.

Jared shelters in place
Well, campers, this ends the riveting documentation of Harvey here in New Orleans. Thanks for tuning in.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Liveblogging Harvey from New Orleans, Part Un

Welcome back to the news from my living room, dear Concerned Readers of America: in particular, my relatives up North!

Summer on the Gulf Coast is never without its surprises, as Tropical Storm Harvey (née Hurricane) has demonstrated to my beleaguered neighbors in Texas. Indeed, the news footage of the past week has been disturbingly reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina's trauma imagery back in 2005. Without making light of the true suffering and devastation already incurred by the storm, I aim here to document the situation from my perch in Mid-City, New Orleans. 

I did some last-minute, upscale hurricane preparation shopping at Whole Foods, mostly to scope out if the Amazon discount rumors are true (they're not, unless you count a $1.99 avocado as a discount). I remember shopping for Hurricane Isaac back in 2012, cruising other people's carts at the Chalmette Walmart to see what I should buy to be PREPARED. It turned out that the hot commodities were: bread (for sandwiches), batteries (for flashlights and things), liquor (for feeling less terrible/afraid), condoms (for sex), pet food (for pets), and ice cream (for...a melty treat when the power goes out? Never could figure that one out). I picked up some sandwichy things and headed home through windy rain.

It's still kinda raining, as it's been all afternoon. I'm mostly worried about my car flooding, because New Orleans still can't figure out how to pump out floodwaters from a normal rainstorm. "[I don't know] what I was thinking biking [to work today]," my friend tells me when I offer her a ride home. Sigh. Dear Reader, take a minute to reflect on whether your city has adequate infrastructure. If it does, that's nice for you. Go out and salute your functional stoplights and sewers.

Princess Jared does not suffer tropical storms gladly
A break in the rain. I'm heading to water aerobics class, which may come to feel like a folly in a few hours' time. School is cancelled tomorrow, and the mayor is saying to "stay home, stay off the streets." Try telling that to my escape-artist cat.

Say what you will about the South, we really take care of each other here.

Why does NPR feel the need to re-broadcast Terry Gross' crappy show when I want to hear nonstop alarmist weather reports? Ugh. I can't stand Terry Gross. This is all her fault.

Discover sent me a customer satisfaction survey about the phone call we had yesterday. I had to report that someone stole my credit card and somehow ran up $200 at a KFC in New Orleans East. "They should have known better," I told the agent. "I've been vegetarian since 2004." How do you even spend $200 at KFC?? That is some short-sighted hurricane prep if I know anything about it.

Oh man, the ice cream truck is passing by. This must be a thing here. Hello!

Spotted some racist claptrap on social media regarding the Cajun Navy and their confrontation with suspected "looter" "thugs" "from New Orleans." I would like to esteem the Cajun Navy's acts of heroism in saving people without all the bureaucracy and self-congratulation we see from conventional, better-resourced outfits, but come the fuck on. That kind of language was used to discredit and demonize the efforts of Black New Orleanians - largely neglected by the public and private sectors - to survive Hurricane Katrina. You may remember the news reports claiming that Black people "loot" food while white people "find" it.

PS: Do not donate to the Red Cross. Check out Another Gulf Is Possible: A Just Harvey Recovery for a list of front-line response efforts in need of support. Also see Mutual Aid Disaster Relief for a smart message about the need for community-centered relief.

Here is a great "Queer Guide to Hurricane Season," compiled by great New Orleanian Miriam Belblidia. Peruse its suggestions for maintaining your mental health and physical wellbeing during this stressful time, as you are simultaneously soothed by the classical music broadcast by NPR instead of the nonstop alarmist weather reports we might actually want to hear.

I'll just put these news reports here with the simple suggestion that if we were to value each other as humans, maybe we could all survive and thrive together:
Moving the car to slightly higher ground, though it's not raining. Getting a "to-go bag" together just in case, but really more to tempt The Fates not to make a big deal out of the whole thing. Kinda like lighting a cigarette while waiting for the bus: Surefire way to make the bus arrive right quick. Now for picking out a festive outfit to wait for the rain.

Doggone it, we'll meet Harvey in style

Bedtime - hopefully nothing terrible happens!

*Part Deux of the Liveblog can be found here*

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Anti-Oppression / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for New Orleans' Runoff Election, April 29, 2017

Oh goodness, is it time to vote again? Well you're in luck, because the Harm Reductionists of New Orleans have your April 29, 2017 election guide right here!

As you know, these guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who seek:
  • to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally; and
  • to promote justice, wellness, and advancement for all marginalized people in our communities. 


Depending on where you live, your ballot may differ from this guide. Visit voterportal.sos.la.gov or call 225-922-0900 to review your sample ballot and voting location.

Be sure to bring your government-issued ID.

Early Voting
Saturday, April 15 - April 22, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (not Sunday)

Pick any of these locations for Early Voting:
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, CITY HALL 1300 Perdido St. Room 1W23
VOTING MACHINE WAREHOUSE, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway
LAKE VISTA COMMUNITY CENTER, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. 2nd floor meeting room

The Ballot

Rachael Johnson (Democrat, Black, Female)
M. Suzanne "Suzy" Montero (Democrat, White, Female)

After some sensational antics in the low-turnout primary election, first-time campaigners Rachael Johnson and Suzy Montero are facing a runoff for the Civil District Court judgeship vacated by Regina Batholomew-Woods. This is the state-level court where people sue each other over civil disputes such as land-use, divorce, contracts, personal injury, and hurricane litigation.

Suzy Montero
Suzy Montero is a longtime litigator for Chip Forstall's personal injury firm (of television commercial fame). This type of law is a profit-driven consequence of our happy-go-lawsuit legal climate. Personal injury law firms invest heavily in lobbyists and campaigns of State legislators, who then return the favor. Though many issues (like car accidents and workplace injuries) are resolved through litigation, this practice is responsible for state-wide hikes in car insurance rates, cost of goods, and disincentives for raising low-wage salaries.

So why does a career personal injury lawyer vie for a seat on the City’s Civil District Court? In Montero’s words, her legal career has trained her “to serve our great city as a qualified, prepared, fair, and impartial judge.” Following Hurricane Katrina, she fought insurance companies who were trying to avoid paying out claims to displaced homeowners. She says that public servants have a duty to educate legislators about the “unintended consequences” of the laws they write, and the “real-life impact of...mass incarceration.” Having represented a diverse clientele in her 24 years of legal work, Montero says she is committed to offering a multilingual courtroom that treats people with “equal dignity” and “human decency.”

A queer woman, Montero is endorsed by the Green Party of New Orleans, the anti-discrimination PAC Forum for Equality and, curiously, the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee. Her campaign has accused Johnson's people of kicking Montero out of a recent event at St. Stephen's Church due to Montero’s support of LGBTQ rights, which is awfully wack. (That event honored church-member Rachael Johnson's mother, begging the question of why Montero was campaigning there in the first place.)

Rachael Johnson
As for Montero’s opponent, Rachael Johnson says her aim is to serve the public with “merit” and “distinguished hardworking leadership.” With 12 years of legal work experience - including a clerkship for then-Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey - she now practices insurance-defense law for the Hartford Insurance Group. This affiliation presents another messy example of the power of the judicial system: Insurance-defense law curtails the excessive lawsuits that waste time and money, but it also limits the rights of private citizens to sue large corporations.

So do we trust this insurance attorney with our civic affairs? Let’s follow the campaign trail: Johnson has picked up a large number of endorsements from progressive politicians in the Greater New Orleans Area. A former social worker and Second Harvest volunteer, she is on the Board of the Pro Bono Project. Johnson was endorsed by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council union, as well as several local civil rights attorneys (and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, just to keep things interesting). She is the daughter of Black History-making Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Judge Bernette Johnson.

Hashtag Wars
Shamefully, we’ve seen some real underhandedness in this election, coming from both sides: Each campaign has requested restraining orders against the other after Montero’s people sent out mailers mischaracterizing Johnson’s court attendance record, and Johnson’s people sent out mailers - with a stinging #MeritMatters tagline - distorting Montero’s tax payment record.

Montero’s campaign people post millenial-targeted, alarmist social media messages around the clock, while Cheron Brylski - a major force behind the charter school movement in New Orleans - does more traditional PR.

Johnson uses the same media liaison as Marlin Gusman (and, somehow, an anti-David Duke outfit), and rarely responds to inquiries. Yet she found the time to circulate a mean-spirited and gravely offensive attack ad featuring a decontextualized "inmate booking information" photo of the third candidate in the primary race. Montero’s campaign then reblogged the photo, a cheap excuse to play with their own #IntegrityMatters hashtag.

First Merit, now Integrity: We’re missing a few things that matter here, kids.

The Issues at Stake
So how to choose, dear Voter? What can we know about our candidates beyond the bland websites and attack ads? We need to see real improvements in the way our state’s powerful Judiciary interacts with the public it serves.

Montero wants to invest in courtroom technology, expand resources for non-English speakers, and create more accessible facilities for folks with physical mobility differences.

Johnson is well-regarded by members of the progressive political establishment as well as by grassroots community advocates, though her campaign has been more reserved about communicating specific visions for the Judgeship.

Civil District Court has long been regarded as a launchpad for career ascension to Appeals Court, where civil and criminal cases are heard. Let’s make sure we send the best people to the bench.

VOTE: Truly undecided. This is like a kinda-win/kinda-win situation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Anti-Oppression / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for New Orleans' Elections, March 25, 2017

Greetings, neighbors! We hope you have been doing well since the last time we voted, just a slick three months ago!

New Orleans gets another Election Day, on March 25th. Check GeauxVote for your polling location and sample ballot. Note: This guide may differ somewhat from the ballot you see on Election Day.

Be sure to bring your government-issued ID, and Vote Early if you can:

When: Saturday, March 11- March 18, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (not Sunday)

REGISTRAR’S OFFICE, CITY HALL 1300 Perdido St. Room 1W23
VOTING MACHINE WAREHOUSE, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway
LAKE VISTA COMMUNITY CENTER, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. 2nd floor meeting room

If you are registered and don’t care, please find someone who is currently incarcerated, on parole, or otherwise disenfranchised from voting, but wants their opinions heard. You can vote for their interests. Contact our hardworking friends at VOTE to learn more about access to voting rights.

These guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who wish to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally. We did a lot of research and talked with our neighbors, friends, and allies. We agreed on the following guidelines to make—or in some cases, decline to make—our recommendations:

• Commit to a social justice (anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-hateful, etc) agenda;

•Promote justice and advancement for people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, people most affected by environmental degradation, and other marginalized populations in our communities; prioritize the needs of these people above others.

•Favor the judicial candidates least destructive to the lives of the poor and others caught in the dragnet of our punitive legal system.

•Be strategic about New Orleanians' specific needs getting adequately addressed on the state and federal levels, especially with regard to environmental, economic, and healthcare concerns.

•Reject the influence of post-Katrina opportunism at all levels of government. Many New Orleanians have not yet come home, due to lack of resources. For those who have returned, they find the city expensive, and meaningful employment unobtainable. Healthcare has been slashed, as have other vital social services. The charterization of public schools has thoroughly devalued community input. We do not reward the public officials or business folks who dismantle public works and civic life.

We approach this work with a harm reduction ethos—that is, we understand we cannot easily nor quickly move the mountains of inequality, prejudice, (bureaucracy!), and oppression that keep people down. We consider the view that deliberating on “Who is going to harm us?” is actually not a form of harm reduction at all. Ultimately, we believe we can work to ease the suffering and trauma that exist in our communities. In this way, we advance towards a visionary society in which everyone's needs are met, and our values are reflected in our system of governance.

These guides usually start as working drafts, so expect updates as we continue to do research. Feel free to submit your contributions!

* * * * * *
Firstly, your Harm Reduction Voter Guides would like to commend 18-year-old William Boartfield, Jr, for trying to run for Mayor of Gretna this election. Though ultimately disqualified, Boartfield - who is also the co-chair of the Louisiana Green Party - told the New Orleans Advocate that "I ran mostly because no one was running against an administration that isn't being held accountable… I still will fight for what I believe in."

He pledged to push for law enforcement reform through grassroots organizing. We respect you, Boartfield, for acknowledging the power of local office to effect positive change.

Indeed, Boartfield is among many this year to turn away from complacency and step into political activism: New Orleans’ turnout for the J20 protest and Women’s March has not been matched in recent memory!

It is an exciting thing to see so many folks showing up in solidarity with their Brown, Black, immigrant, femme, and gender-nonconforming neighbors: listening to each other, learning, and trying to get smarter about stuff. We hope to see this energy not only sustain itself, but grow and grow and grow.

A great time to get involved is during elections, and also between elections. There are some amazing and brave movements in this town, and we encourage you to get your friends together and get involved. Check out the Black Workers Organize NOLA Timeline for some motivational political history lessons about New Orleans.
In the meantime, we’ve got our local government to hold accountable, and we’re voting this month for two judges to replace (1) a retired judge and (2) Regina Bartholomew-Woods, who ascended to the Court of Appeals after November’s 2016 election.

These offices are important because they're high enough to be directly accountable to state government, and low enough to influence policy on the ground in New Orleans (law enforcement, drug criminalization, etc). The best candidates will be those who already have demonstrated a commitment to the public good: through community involvement and accountability of government.

You may find it refreshing that all the candidates are Black women, except a white lady who is queer.

Rachael Johnson
M. Suzanne "Suzy" Montero
Marie Williams

For this one, let’s brush up on some Black herstory: In the 1990s, the Louisiana Supreme Court was tasked with racial reconciliation, as part of the settlement of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Through that process, an additional judge joined the state’s highest bench, and she - Judge Bernette Johnson - is a Black woman. Having ascended to longest-serving member on the court in 2012, Judge Johnson expected (as per convention) to become Chief Justice. But it took a damn hard court battle and the advocacy of civil rights supporters to protect the law and Johnson’s rightful role. (Fun Fact: New Orleans’ Justice & Beyond Coalition was born from this effort.)

Now, Bernette Johnson’s daughter Rachael Johnson is a first-time campaigner going after this Civil Court judgeship. After years of experience as a lawyer and as law clerk for then-Civil District Court Judge Nadine Ramsey, Johnson says she aims to serve the public. A former social worker and Second Harvest volunteer, she is on the Board of the Pro Bono Project and was endorsed by the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council union. However, she's made some nasty - and highly personal - campaign attacks on her opponents, which only paints Johnson as underhanded and, well, typical.

Also campaigning are first-time candidate Suzy "Everyone in the legal community knows I am gay, but I am not running as a gay candidate" Montero and veteran electioneer Marie Williams.

Montero is a longtime litigator for Chip Forstall's personal injury firm, daughter of local criminal defense attorney Wilson Montero, and former partner of the late super-lawyer Jack Martzell. She is endorsed by the Forum for Equality, an anti-discrimination PAC. While she hasn't made her personal life part of the campaign, Montero's campaign has accused Rachael Johnson's campaign of getting Montero kicked out of a recent event at St. Stephen's Church due to her support of LGBTQ rights. (That event was honoring Rachael Johnson's mother, begging the question of why Montero was campaigning there in the first place.) Montero posts "anti-trafficking" messages (wherein survivors become helpless "victims") on her Facebook page, and her PR is done by Cheron Brylski, who represents several New Orleans area charter schools.

A repeat political candidate never earning more than a quarter of the votes, Williams ran for a Civil District Court seat in 2004, Juvenile Court in 2010, Second City Court in 2012, and Criminal Court in 2014 and 2016, when she was disqualified for failing to file her taxes. Her Facebook page is full of Christian affirmations, which is maybe the least interesting part of her media presence: In 2014, she made videos of then-Judge and election competitor Frank Marullo trying to convince her to drop out of the race. The FBI later investigated these videos as evidence of Marullo committing campaign fraud.

Williams, who has a good resume of volunteer work and community activism in New Orleans, has said that "New Orleans will have a safer community when the criminal justice system reduces the number of people behind bars and increases the treatment of mental illness and addiction, which are seen as primary root causes of crime." Her campaign promises are to “Reduce Violence in Prison by Improving Prison Accountability and Leadership," "Support Alternatives-to-Arrest and -Incarceration Programs," and "Support Public Defender Offices and Other Organizations that Fight for Equality in the Criminal Justice system.”

VOTE: Undecided. Since Johnson and Montero are new candidates for public office, there isn’t much information about these candidates’ stances on relevant issues. Johnson and Williams do seem the most committed to the public good, but we don't like Johnson's (and now Montero's) dirty campaign tactics. Williams has been the most persistently and visibly community-minded of the bunch.

Judge, Court of Appeal 4th Circuit, 1st District, Division C
Paula Brown
Tiffany Gautier Chase

Two colleagues from Civil Court vie for this seat in Court of Appeals. Their experiences in Civil Court are about equal in duration, and they both have the charmingly cultivated public personas you might expect from local politicians. Both have quality backgrounds: Brown’s mentor is Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, for whom she served as clerk, and Chase snapped a selfie at the Women’s March with her former law professor and esteemed civil rights attorney Bill Quigley. Both candidates were endorsed by the AFL-CIO's Building Trades Council union.

Originally from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Brown came to New Orleans via a Tulane basketball scholarship in 1982. She graduated from Tulane’s Freeman School of Business, then received her J.D. from Southern University Law Center. Her 24-year career has included being a staff attorney with the Orleans Indigent Defender Program and an adjunct professor at Southern University. A breast cancer survivor, Brown is active in the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as well as Covenant House's annual "Sleep Out to Support Homeless Youth." Brown officiated Louisiana's first same-sex marriage in 2015, earning an endorsement from the Forum for Equalit.

Chase's Facebook page is filled with photos of the candidate with prominent community leaders like Helena Moreno and J.P. Morrell. Lauded for her work on improving technology in the Court, Chase established the Self Help Desk at Civil District Court, which allows people to meet with volunteer lawyers to explore legal options. Chase was the judge for the Canal Place development suit that went nutty, and her decision was overruled in appeals. Her campaign is also run by the charter-boosting Brylski Company.

VOTE: We're tempted to defer to our shero Bernette Johnson on this one, and choose her disciple Paula Brown. Some sources say Chase is a bit more straightforward and personable than Brown. Either way, both seem like they'd be good for the job.

Additional Resources: Judge Paula Brown announces a run for Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Division C - The New Orleans Agenda; Judge Profiles - Louisiana Judicial Council; Chase wins Civil District Court judgeship race - Nola.com THE RACE IS ON! FOUR WOMEN QUALIFY FOR TWO JUDGESHIPS - Uptown Messenger; Qualifying for March 25 election draws plenty of incumbents - The Advocate; Is this the first ad of the 2017 New Orleans mayor's race? - Nola.com BROWN ENDORSED BY LABOR; MONTERO KICKS OFF CAMPAIGN - Uptown Messenger Johnson, Montero and Williams campaign for empty CDC seat - The Louisiana Weekly; Election 2017: Chase vs. Brown for La. Appellate Court seat - The Louisiana Weekly

While New Orleanians wait until the Fall to vote on Mayor and Councilmembers, some Greater New Orleans area elections include the following:

State Representative 92nd Representative District (Kenner)
Gisela Chevalier, Republican, White, Female
"Joe" Stagni, Republican, White, Male
"Chuck" Toney, Democrat, Black, Male

Forum for Equality has endorsed Joe Stagni.

Alderman District 1, Town of Basile
LaToya Howze, Democrat, Black, Female
Darrell Reed, Democrat, Black, Male

Alderman District 5, Town of Delcambre
Bryan Glatter, Republican, White, Male
Stacey "T-Mom" Trim, No Party, White, Female

Mayor City of Westwego
Ted J. Munch, Democrat, White, Male (Ran against Incumbent last election)
Joe Peoples, Democrat, White, Male
John I. "Johnny" Shaddinger Jr., Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 2, City of Westwego
Joshua Melford, Democrat, White, Male
Johnny Nobles Jr., Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 3, City of Westwego
Norman J. Fonseca, Democrat, White, Male (Incumbent)
Michael J. "Mike" Hymel, Republican White, Male
Lisa Valence, , Republican White, Female

Council Member District 4, City of Westwego
Matthew J. Rivere, Republican White, Male
Garrison "Gary" Toups Sr., Republican White, Male (Incumbent)

Council Member District 5, City of Westwego
Robert "Rob" Heffker, Republican White, Male
Courtney Watts Reyes, No Party, White, Female
Johnnie Lynn Thibodeaux, Republican White, Female

Seat vacated by Councilman Larry Warino.

Councilman at Large, City of Covington
W. T. "Trey" Blackall III, Republican, White, Male
Jerry Coner, No Party, Black, Male
Patrick McMath, Republican, White, Male

Vying for the seat that became vacant with the Oct. 28 death of longtime member Lee Alexius are District B Councilman Jerry Coner, former Councilman Trey Blackall and businessman Patrick McMath. Coner has experience of 20 years on the City Council, Blackall is a commercial plumbing contractor and part owner of health food store in downtown Covington, who served on City Council from 1999 to 2007 and in an at-large seat from 2007 to 2011, while McMath is vice president of a local, family-owned contracting business and a former assistant St. Tammany district attorney.