Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Orleans community activists gather for preview of new film on the struggle for housing

More than two hundred New Orleanians gathered together on Friday, August 28, to commemorate the struggles our communities have been through in the four years since the city was flooded. The occasion was a preview of selected scenes from the forthcoming documentary Land of Opportunity, by filmmaker Luisa Dantas.

Dantas has spent most of the past four years working on this film, which will be completed in 2010. The preview, which featured poetic narration from New Orleans spoken word artist Sunni Patterson, explored the confrontations around housing and homelessness this city has faced, from the battle over the fate of public housing to the homeless encampment outside city hall.

Among the most powerful moments were many scenes inside the now-torn-down developments, where first-hand observation disproves official claims that the housing was too damaged by the storm to be restored. Countering the claims by politicians and developers, we see residents cleaning their own apartments, accomplishing with simple cleaning supplies the task that HUD was unwilling to take on. In one memorable encounter, journalist Lolis Elie challenges a HANO spokesperson, while touring the Lafitte development. As the spokesperson claims the housing needs to be torn down, Elie points out the evidence right in front of their eyes, of mostly undamaged apartments. Urban planner Andres Duany, touring the St. Bernard development, reaches a similar conclusion.

The audience, which included a range of folks, from former public housing residents to lawyers and journalists and advocates and community residents, filled the empty lot next door to the Seventh Ward Neighborhood Center. Reaction to the film was overwhelmingly positive, although many were angered anew by the role of our public officials in tearing down these homes while the city faced a massive crisis in affordable housing. As we enter the fifth year after the storm, this crisis shows no sign of going away.

The event, which also featured music by the Big Seven Brass Band, was organized by a coalition of groups that included Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Survivors Village, Porch 7th Ward Cultural Organization, NOLA Tenants Rights Union, JoLu Productions, STAND for Dignity, and PATOIS.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

If you're not with us, are you against us?

If you’re not with us, are you against us?

Where do Louisiana Democrats stand on healthcare reform?

Why are members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation having such a difficult time either supporting President Obama’s healthcare reform initiative, or at least supporting an alternative that effectively directly addresses the deadly healthcare circumstances in Louisiana?

For some of the more fortunate around the country, healthcare reform is more a question of only resources: how do we build a sustainable system that gives everyone the right to healthcare coverage and access to quality, affordable healthcare? How do we break free from the economically unsustainable system of healthcare that while profitable for healthcare insurers, will eventually bankrupt us all.?

But in Louisiana, the stakes are much higher. . . it’s a question of life and death for some Louisiana family every day.

No one can deny that Louisiana is the pitiful poster child for healthcare reform.

Just a few of the more compelling circumstances which cost the lives every day in Louisiana that our congressional leadership is apparently unwilling to address:

  • Louisiana consistently has among the worst medical outcomes of any state;
    § 50th in deaths from diabetes;
    § 50th in breast cancer deaths;
    § 49th in infant mortality;
    § 46th in overall cancer deaths
    § 48th in deaths from colorectal cancer;
    § 42nd in deaths from stroke and cerebrovascular diseases.
  • Overall we rank 46th in access to healthcare and healthcare outcomes (according to the non partisan Commonwealth Fund State Scorecard on Health System Performance, 2007). 61 or 64 parishes in Louisiana are medically underserved and 54 are classified as poor in terms of healthcare access)

If this is not compelling reason for our congressional delegation to support some kind of effective healthcare reform, perhaps nothing is.

  • Louisiana has the fifth highest rate of uninsured in the country with a third of African Americans uninsured, more than half of Latinos (legally in the country) uninsured.
  • And Louisiana ranks fifth to last in employer sponsored health insurance.

Because of these inhumanely high levels of uninsured, the dearth of employers who make healthcare available to their workers and the poor penetration and lack of competition among insurers and managed care organizations, Louisiana needs a public option or some other effective means to give our people real choice when it comes to quality, affordable healthcare coverage available to our citizens. An “exchange” composed of the effective oligopoly of Louisiana’s private healthcare insurers and managed care organizations is no real choice at all. We need a public option to protect us from the healthcare insurance industry that has in recent months showered Congress with millions in campaign cash.

Time and time again, hundreds of thousands of working poor folks and African American voters had placed their loyalty and their hopes in Democrats in elections for Congress in Louisiana.

Trust, especially when it comes to government and politics, is a finite virtue.

It’s time for Louisiana’s congressional delegation to stand with us, and not with the entrenched moneyed interests that share responsibility for the dire healthcare circumstances people in Louisiana suffer and die from everyday.

If you’re not with us, are you against us?

Monday, August 24, 2009

FEMA Panels to be held in Secret

Once again, decisions that will affect the future of all New Orleanians are being decided behind closed doors.

A post last week on highlighted the news that the special arbitration panels that were set up to resolve ongoing disputes between the state and FEMA over public works projects will now be held in secret. According to the FAQs on FEMAs website,

"Most of the arbitrations will be decided on the written statements provided by the parties. If any of the parties requests an oral hearing, hearings may be held telephonically or by other electronic means so long as the parties may hear and respond to each other, or in-person, where the arbitration panel is located. Most of the arbitration panels are expected to be located in Washington D.C. The arbitration proceedings are not open to the public, but the final decisions will be available to the public. (Emphasis added)"

As puts it, these panels, “designed to make binding and final decisions on this critical matter, will actually represent yet another secret, backroom deal in which stakeholders will not be permitted a substantive opportunity to have input.” There has been no justification given for why these hearings would be secret.

"Given diminishing public confidence in the ability of local elected officials to act in the public interest and growing public skepticism of the utility of state plans to demolish Lower Mid-City for a medical campus it cannot fund," continues SaveCharity, "it is extremely disappointing that the thousands of New Orleans residents affected by this decision may be again deprived of a fair public hearing. Recent polls have indicated overwhelming support for public input and transparency in the hospital controversy."

According to an August 6 Times-Picayune article on the panels, HHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that the “panels should reach decisions within 60 days of hearings, with the caveat that a ‘highly technical or complex’ case could take longer. The decisions are intended to be final, with no further administrative review option, though before Napolitano's announcement state officials declined to rule out federal court as an eventual venue for the Charity fight.”

It is exactly incidents like this - where the public is cut off from both the process and the decisions - that make grassroots accountability efforts so important. Project Transparency, at, is based on the principle that the public has the right to full disclosure of the use of tax dollars by various public agencies. Once again, our government representatives have shown why we need to keep watch.

In an interview last week with the Picayune, President Obama told reporters, "I also think the rest of the country is going to be insistent at a time of great fiscal challenge that money in the Gulf region is spent wisely, that local officials are coordinating effectively, that there is transparency and accountability to these processes, that there is a minimum of politics involved in decision making.” Lets hope this message of transparency and accountability gets down to the officials in charge of these panels.

Monday, August 17, 2009

HR 3200: A Primer For The Misinformed

The National Healthcare Reform Bill has sparked widespread political frenzies across the nation, once again drawing major attention to “Mainstreet, USA.” News talk radio, television shows, newspapers, and advertisements have been blasting the public with misinterpretations and fear tactics that give no actual facts on the bill. Cable stations, and news media outlets stand to profit from the $170 million spent on healthcare ads as a result of the frenzy caused by the controversial bill.

It is unfortunate that the general public is as uninformed about this issue as they have been led to become. There are sources of factual information on the bill on the internet, but very few have accessed that information. People are being lead by fear and misinformation, which has caused physical and verbal altercations at town hall meetings on healthcare.

Louisiana’s federal legislators have failed to provide the public with clear and concise factual evidence to justify their opposition to or support of HR 3200. The debate has switched from logical value to religious and political party wars. Republican Representative Joseph Cao has included his studies of becoming a Jesuit Priest in his justification of opposing the bill. The Weekly Standard even likened Cao to St. Thomas More, even though Cao abandoned his quest for priesthood long ago for private sector legal/business practice and politics. Go figure. In a similar effort to gain support from religious conservatives, Republican Senator David Vitter originally claimed the purported abortion policy in the bill “could kill millions,” only later issuing the statement, “We found an amendment in a key version of the House plan that specifically seeks to ensure that federal funds are not used to subsidize abortion coverage.” Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu stated her opposition to the Democrats’ proposal for government controlled healthcare, and her opposition has sparked malicious advertisements from and Change Congress, causing the facts on her opposition to be overpowered by negative publicity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this debate is not about political party affiliation or religious beliefs. It is about healthcare coverage for the 50 million uninsured Americans, and an equal number of under-insured. The Democrats believe that government control is the way to go. Republicans believe that government control is inefficient and will drive private insurance companies out of business. Both sides agree with some sort of healthcare reform, whether it is free universal healthcare or motives to make private insurers more competitive. Canada has proven that universal healthcare has a positive track record, with some flaws. U.S. history has proven that profit motives, competition, and individual ingenuity have always led to greater cost control and effectiveness. It is up to our policy makers to develop a plan that is most efficient and beneficial to the American people. It is up to the American citizens to educate themselves on the bill and to petition their leaders to consider the public’s concerns when voting on the bill.

Here are some pros and cons to HR 3200


The number of uninsured citizens has grown to over 45 million.

Health care has become increasingly unaffordable for businesses and individuals.

We can eliminate wasteful inefficiencies such as duplicate paper work, claim approval, insurance submission, etc.

We can develop a centralized national database which makes diagnosis and treatment easier for doctors.

Medical professionals can concentrate on healing the patient rather than on insurance procedures, malpractice liability, etc.

Free medical services would encourage patients to practice preventive medicine and inquire about problems early when treatment will be light; currently, patients often avoid physicals and other preventive measures because of the costs.

Patients with pre-existing conditions can still get health coverage.


Government-controlled health care would lead to a decrease in patient flexibility.

Healthy people who take care of themselves will have to pay for the burden of those who smoke, are obese, etc.

Patient confidentiality is likely to be compromised since centralized health information will likely be maintained by the government.

Patients aren't likely to curb their drug costs and doctor visits if health care is free; thus, total costs will be several times what they are now.

A long, painful transition will have to take place involving lost insurance industry jobs, business closures, and new patient record creation.

LJI and our partners at Children’s Defense Fund, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana are sponsoring a Community Conversation on Healthcare Reform, on Tuesday, August 25, 2009, at Tulane Memorial Baptist Church, from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Several panelists will be on hand to discuss healthcare issues in the Greater New Orleans community, and we have invited all of our federal congressional delegation members to attend, serve as panelists, and respond to your questions.

So what should you do?

Educate yourselves.

Attend this forum.

Ask questions, calmly.

Listen without prejudice.

The Real Story

Tuning into all the different formats of coverage of the infamous “City Council E-mail Scandal,” citizens of New Orleans, (who have nothing to do with the city’s government or the civil justice issues regarding the case) have been pulled into a whirlwind of slander, instigation, and negatively framed reporting. It is very unfortunate that a landmark case such as this has been overshadowed by a never-ending stream of negativity and personal spotlights. Contrary to what the news media wants us to believe, the overall principle of this case is not about Stacy Head, Tracie Washington, Veronica White, or the other individuals involved in the actual case. The main purpose of this case is to show the citizens of New Orleans that it is possible to hold their city officials accountable for their actions while in office. However, this is not what has happened as a result of the undying publicity of the case. New Orleans is a unique city where elected officials are allowed to publicly “do as they please,” while suffering no repercussions for their actions. It is also a city where journalists are allowed to publish “opinions” that are blatantly guided by the players in the game of New Orleans politics. Although education in New Orleans is towards the bottom of the totem pole in the nation, it is unfair to continue treating the residents as if they do not understand the games that are being played by the people they entrusted to rebuild our city. New Orleans residents understand that they are way beyond the “what you see is what you get” notion of city governance. Most understand that there is always much more to the story than what is reported.

As confirmed by the not-so-brief introduction, this blog is not a usual update of the case. It is a charge to residents of New Orleans to think beyond framework, and put forth an effort to seek and gain knowledge of the facts for ourselves. This is also a charge to journalists, media officials, government officials, and community leaders to stick to the facts, and if an opinion is warranted, publish your own, and no one else’s. In reading the cesspool, also known as comments, the majority of the negative remarks have obviously stemmed from secondary and third party sources. Nobody posted opinions on actual facts, nor did anyone comment on whether they believed the elected officials should be accountable for their actions. Instead, most comments were about Stacy Head or Tracie Washington, who are only ¼ of the individuals participating in the case.

If we could learn how to refrain from totally indulging ourselves in the “drama” surrounding cases involving city government, maybe some of the core issues at hand would actually be addressed, rather than making a complete spectacle of our governance, or making “local superstars” of those who are supposed to be just doing their jobs.