NOLA News: Revelry vs. Reality

Director Spike Lee was just named a winner of the annual George Polk Awards for his HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” the Associated Press says. Appropriate, considering today is Fat Tuesday — Mardi Gras — a day associated with New Orleans.

Mary Foster of the Associated Press reports that NOLA’s Mardi Gras revelers have traded revelry for reality. Last year’s Mardi Gras parades were scaled down, but not this year’s. Tracy Smith reports for CBS News:

The celebration has been bigger than last year, with more than 700,000 people coming to the party, which ends at midnight.

A lot of tourists come for the music. And one of the few signs of recovery in the 18 months since Hurricane Katrina is that many musicians have come back home, thanks in large part to a housing program designed to keep and attract them.

Musicians seem to be an exception. About a third of the city’s residents plan to leave. Bill Walsh reported for the February 7 Times-Picayune:

Congressional frustration with the pace of Gulf Coast hurricane recovery exploded Tuesday with one lawmaker calling Louisiana’s Road Home housing program “a joke” and others berating the Bush administration for limiting public housing. …

… Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., went so far as to issue an apology to the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi for what he called “a complete failure of the administration here in Washington to respond to that crisis.”

Pursuing that theme, the committee hammered away at Roy Bernardi, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for plans to demolish four major New Orleans public housing complexes with 3,900 apartments rather than rehabilitate them. …

… But the level of distrust of the federal agency became clear during a break in the proceedings when New Orleans public housing residents confronted Bernardi across the witness table.

They said HUD was overstating the damage to public housing and that many apartments could be reopened in short order. They also said that $1,100 disaster rental vouchers, which expire Sept. 30, are of limited use in the New Orleans area, where rents have skyrocketed because of limited availability.

“Why are you playing politics with our lives,” said Sharon Sears Jasper, a former resident of the St. Bernard housing complex. “Why are you destroying livable homes? Why do you want to make us homeless?”

And then there are the schools. The New Orleans public school system was struggling before Katrina. After, it was devastated.

Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana received a $20.9 million No Child Left Behind grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The catch? The grant was to reopen charter schools, not open enrollment public schools. In addition, the state announced it would establish ten new charter schools.

The result is described by Jan Resseger, The Chicago Defender:

In America public education is supposed to be provided for everybody, but during this past January in New Orleans, 300 children languished out of school on a waiting list because the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) had neither buildings nor teachers to serve them.

Only when the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and local attorney Tracie Washington filed separate lawsuits on February 1, under federal law and Louisiana’s compulsory attendance act, did the RSD pledge to open two additional schools for the beginning of second semester, February 5.

It is now clear that a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of a hurricane is a poor time to experiment with school governance.

Aided by a $20.9 million federal charter school grant that came on September 30, 2005, less than one month after the storm, the Louisiana Legislature used Hurricane Katrina as an excuse for state takeover and a massive charter school experiment in New Orleans.

Today, over half of New Orleans’s 54 public schools are charter schools. From a recent editorial in The Harbus, an Harvard University independent student publication (emphasis added):

New Orleans currently has the highest percentage of charter schools of any urban school district in the country. With over half of its 54 public schools operating as charter schools, New Orleans has become a focal point of the education reform movement in the United States. If the Crescent City can emerge from Katrina with a more effective school system than it had prior to the storm, two things will happen. On the micro level, the children of the city will benefit tremendously. On the macro level, proponents of charter schools will have the large-scale example they need to push increased reform in other districts around the country.

Back to Jan Resseger:

Since the hurricane, parents have been required to apply to a fragmented system: a few selective admissions public schools left to be operated by the New Orleans School Board, 31 independent charter schools, and 18 schools opened by the RSD itself only when too few potential operators filed applications to launch charter schools. While Robin Jarvis, the RSD superintendent, blames today’s dysfunction on the condition of the public schools pre-Katrina, the real problem is that Louisiana and the RSD never planned to manage school operations.

That the RSD was unprepared to run a school system was clear in July 2006, when its ten person staff included a public relations liaison but no special education coordinator. After Louisiana laid off and then fired all 4,500 of New Orleans’ teachers who had been working in classrooms the day before Katrina struck, the RSD began advertising for 500 teachers only in late July 2006, after those best qualified had already taken jobs in charter schools or outside New Orleans. A shortage of teachers has plagued the RSD since last September. Today 33 percent of teachers hired by the RSD are uncertified.

So much for the education reform movement. The New Orleans “reformers” seem to be following the Iraq model — lay off everybody with job experience and knowledge and replace them with ideologues and hacks.

Other school districts across the Gulf Coast have scrambled successfully to welcome children back to the schools they attended pre-Katrina. A better plan for New Orleans would have been to keep one coherent system, retain New Orleans’ pre-Katrina teachers, open schools in all neighborhoods, and plan for slightly more schools than required for children immediately expected to return. The only side effect would have been smaller classes in under-enrolled schools until children moved back to fill the seats.

Now, after Louisiana granted charters and selective admissions schools the right to cap class sizes, the RSD is in the position of trying to pressure those “protected” schools to accept more children to reduce appalling over-crowding in RSD schools. Meanwhile the RSD has lacked the capacity to get other rotting buildings repaired.

Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press reported this month that the RSD is trying to attract new teachers by appealing to their sense of adventure:

Wanted: Idealistic teachers looking for a Peace Corps-style adventure in a city in distress.

Some of New Orleans’ most desperate, run-down schools are beset with a severe shortage of teachers, and they are struggling mightily to attract candidates by appealing to their sense of adventure and desire to make a difference. Education officials are even offering to help new teachers find housing. …

… After the storm, some of the worst of the worst public schools were put under state control, and those are the ones finding it particularly hard to attract teachers. The 19 schools in the state-run Recovery School District have 8,580 students and about 540 teachers, or about 50 fewer than they need — a shortage so severe that about 300 students who want to enroll have been put on a waiting list. …

…At Rabouin High, which has about 600 students, the halls echo with the shouts of teenagers who should be in class. Many have to share textbooks, if they have them at all. Doors lack knobs or, in the case of a girls’ bathroom, don’t close completely. Students have to pass through a metal detector to get inside, and guards patrol the halls.

About half of Rabouin’s 34 teachers are first-year educators or new to Louisiana.

Earlier this month the American Federation of Teachers called for a protest.

“Where will these children receive an education?” asked Ed McElroy, president of the 1.3-million-member AFT, a national affiliate of NYSUT. McElroy was responding to reports in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that at least 300 children seeking spots in the city’s so-called public schools have been turned away – “wait-listed” – and told that the campuses “would have no room.”

“These recent events make a mockery of the promise, made soon after Hurricane Katrina, that a state takeover of New Orleans’ public schools would create a ‘new birth of excellence and opportunity'” for children in the city’s long-troubled school system, McElroy charged.

He said the 17 schools that are part of the state-run Recovery School District are resorting to the same tactics – enrollment caps and selective admission standards – that many of the locally operated charter and non-charter schools have long used to turn away applicants.

McElroy noted that a charter school group called “Teach NOLA” recently sponsored a number of teacher recruitment ads on several Web sites, including and, that included the proviso: “Certified teachers will teach in charter schools, and non-certified teachers will teach in the state-run Recovery School District.”

It seems some children are being left behind.

Stabbed in the Back

For more than sixty years the American Right has been fueled by a “stabbed in the back” meme. As Kevin Baker wrote,

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

On Sunday, Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money noted current developments in back-stabbing:

The stab-in-the-back narrative is now in full gear. What Kaus merely abets, Glenn Reynolds, Mark Steyn, and the editors of Investors Business Daily push full throttle; America will lose because of the perfidy of liberals. The Surge is providing the proximate excuse. After four years of disastrous ineptitude during which Reynolds et al happily watched the Bush administration destroy America’s standing in the world and wage the most incompetent conflict since the War of 1812, they’ve decided that opposition to the trivial escalation provided by the Surge is the final necessary indicator of treason in the Democratic Party.

Never mind that, when the surge was proposed, the Joint Chiefs unanimously opposed it. Never mind the advice of Lt. Gen. William Odom

A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of “who gets the blame” could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East. …

… The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.

Sooner or later, U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraq. And just as the Right whined that Franklin Roosevelt gave away eastern Europe at Yalta, and that “liberals” in the State Department “lost China” to Mao, and that we could have “won” in Vietnam were it not for the dirty bleeping hippies, the Right will spend the rest of this century pointing fingers at the Left for losing Iraq. Count on it.

But now the Right is in self-marginalization mode, commonly called “eating their own.” For example, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has blamed Donald Rumsfeld for the “mismanagement” of the war. And the True Believers are outraged. One called this a “cheap shot” and declared McCain to be “anathema in 2008.” Another predicted that McCain’s campaign would end in a “well-deserved rout.”

John Hinderaker of Power Line
attempts nuance:

McCain is entitled to editorialize, of course, and I believe he has been consistent in calling for more troops. It seems odd to blame Rumsfeld, though; the administration’s position has always been that it would provide more troops if the generals said they needed them. The military judgment of the generals on the ground has been, up until recently, that they had enough personnel to do the job.

In other words, the “commanders on the ground” didn’t want more troops as long as George Bush didn’t want to send more troops, but now that he wants to send some, they have changed their minds. None of these meatheads can extrapolate from this that Bush doesn’t give a bleep what the “commanders on the ground” think.

My guess is that McCain’s criticism is more about the future than the past. What he really wants is to buy time for the surge to work. As Paul noted yesterday, McCain has acknowledged that if the surge doesn’t work, there probably won’t be sufficient public support for the war effort to try a Plan B. By emphasizing the alleged “mismanagement” of the past, McCain is trying to generate optimism that, if properly run and adequately manned, our effort can succeed.

Slightly off topic, but noteworthy:

While McCain is entitled to editorialize, the AP reporter isn’t. But get this, immediately after McCain’s criticism of Rumsfeld:

    The comments were in sharp contrast to McCain’s statement when Rumsfeld resigned in November, and failed to address the reality that President Bush is the commander in chief.

Apparently it’s a matter of policy at the Associated Press that President Bush be blamed for everything, so the reporter made up for McCain’s omission.

Apparently it’s a matter of policy among rightie bloggers that President Bush be blamed for nothing, in spite of the fact that he claims to be “the Decider.” It’s as if, deep down inside, they know he’s an empty suit and don’t expect anything from him but speeches and ribbon-cutting. For another point of view, see “George Bush as Fifth Columnist: Aiding America’s Enemies” by Doug Bandow at

Back to the marginalization of the Right — there’s an old saying — Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. The Republican Party stopped being “centrist” years ago, and instead based its power on a coalition of hard-right whackjob factions — Fetus People, Gun People, homophobes, isolationists, neocons, racists, etc. And now it’s flea-bit. As DownWithTyranny asks (and I love the photo), how could any candidate possibly win the GOP nomination by appealing to these mutts and still be marketable in the general election?

But for a real stabbed-in-the-back extravaganza, check out Richard Viguerie’s new book, Conservatives Betrayed. Along with John McCain, entities identified by Viguerie as backstabbers include Congress, Democrats (of course), and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Viguerie also feels “betrayed” by President Bush. You’ll love the reason why —

Even after being mercilessly pummeled by them time and again on every issue during his first six years as President, George W. Bush has not learned his lesson — he still wants to make friends with the Democrats. Albert Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Naturally, the President of the (entire) United States must shun the majority party, or else he’s a traitor. I guess Viguerie hasn’t noticed Bush’s long-standing pattern of making conciliatory noises even as his actions prove he doesn’t mean it.

An online poll identifies the worst offenders: “Conservative leaders who kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government”; corruption, legal and illegal; President Bush (doesn’t say why); “Mainstream media that may have influenced the voters to throw out the Republicans”; “Conservative media that kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government”; Sen. Ted Stevens; Sen. Bill Frist; Rep Dennis Hastert; and “Blunders and misstatements by Republican candidates.”

You can see the stabbed-in-the-back mentality all over this list. Republicans didn’t lose in 2006 because they screwed up, or because they are out of step with most voters. They were betrayed.

More Shame


Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.