Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Other local bloggers have already talked at length about the fall of New Orleans Councilman Oliver Thomas. Chris Rose already wrote about it in the Times Picayune.

Corruption. Scandal. Graft. Racism being hinted at by some. Just like any other day in New Orleans, it would seem.

But it isn't. It so isn't. Oliver Thomas' fall has broken hearts. No one grieved when Bill Jefferson was found out and indicted. No one is surprised by the Nagin Gang's various contract schemes from trash bins to parking meters to the reconstruction of the French Market. But Oliver Thomas was someone many of us thought was one of the good guys. Many of us were pinning our hopes on his becoming Mayor and actually getting something done around here. His comments generally made sense, were on target and made some of us believe that not everyone in New Orleans politics was either a nutcase or a power/money hungry maniac or both. My stomach hurt upon hearing the news about Oliver. I really liked the guy.

What's interesting about my response to this is that I've been thinking a lot about social contracts lately. As I've said before, the response to Katrina shook my belief that social contracts existed right outta me like salt out of a shaker. We've all talked about it for two years, putting it in various lights--it did exist but doesn't now, it never existed and anyone who thinks it did is nuts, it did exist but has morphed into something else.

Katrina and Oliver Thomas. Well, well, color this optimistic cynic (not a contradiction in terms!) jade green. I still believed that this country hadn't been given over completely to the money changers. Katrina shook that belief, Oliver Thomas dashed it on the rocks lining the Mississippi.

It's not just New Orleans in which beliefs have been dashed, by the way. In fact, it seems to me incredible that any of us have any optimism left.

The entire country has been lied to throughout this President's tenure, and no one seems really outraged. Okay, okay, a few people are really outraged, but not most. Every single day another news story comes out about some administration official dodging a subpoena, or changing the interpretation of the Constitution, or saying they are not a member of this or that branch of the government, regardless of what the law says. The last hold outs for Bush grab onto the "Clinton lied" thing, knowing in their hearts that although what Clinton did was stupid, it wasn't nearly on the scale of the lies we've heard and paid for since.

Hurricanes blow nearly an entire state away, completely destroy the Gulf Coast. An outpouring of sympathy for a few news cycles, some tsk tsk-ing here and there, some remarkable volunteers arriving to help. A section of the Big Dig in Boston falls on someone (thanks, Corps of Engineers!) and kills someone. Again, tsk tsk-ing then nothing much. A bridge collapses killing many people, divers risking their lives on the bottom of the top of the Mississippi River, tsk tsk, it's a damn shame, can't shake my head too much I'm having a good hair day besides I'm late for work and this is too depressing and my Lexus needs servicing---I hope they have a loaner car.

Levees all over the country are determined to be prime for failure. Bridges all over the country are also determined to be prime for failure. Oh yeah, and the subway system in New York, which is old and deteriorating seriously, criminally, floods during a gigantic rainstorm causing no end of problems for commuters. (Imagine if the big hurricane expected to hit there at some point in the "100 year cycle" ever did hit! Geez, a big rainstorm overwhelms their pumps.) Oh yeah, and the pumps in New Orleans. . . . . . . . .

I read an article on the bridge collapse and one of the commenters mentioned that we have built, and had blown up by terrorists or blown up ourselves, the SAME bridge in Baghdad eight times. EIGHT TIMES????

The lies and the greed and the corruption in this country, from the Prez at top of the ladder to the "great hope for New Orleans" councilman, have taken this country from the top of the heap to the depths of dysfunction. Things like infrastructure for this country are tabled in order to take our tax dollars and funnel them into corporate cronies' pockets to rebuild infrastructure that we blew up elsewhere. The feds say it's the states' responsibility to take care of the infrastructure once it's built, and some states can't afford to do that. The feds can. But instead they tsk tsk, shake an accusing finger at the local leaders and go on to their meeting with some war profiteering contractor---behind closed doors, no press allowed, and no logs of the meeting kept.

Forget about any kind of social services, we can't keep our levees and bridges up.

We're all so used to it that we skim the articles, rant over dinner if we're in our cups, and go on to work the next day because lord knows the insurance companies who never have to really, I mean REALLY, take on any risk have to be paid and the energy companies who get bailouts have to be paid, and the mortgage has to be paid to keep a roof over both the mortgage company's head (even if they made hideously stupid loans for the last several years, planting false hope in many family's futures--"No PROBLEM, the balloon payment won't come up for five years!") and our own, and we have to pay our taxes next April so they won't attach our paychecks or put a lien on our house to collect the bucks they want from us so they can rebuild that fucking bridge in Baghdad for the ninth, tenth, eleventh time. Don't take a breath. Keep running, Joe, like a hamster on a wheel, you're getting older now and you have no stock portfolio, no health insurance, no retirement savings, you don't have time to do anything about the lies. Remember, though, Joe, all those bucks you're sending in with your 1040 won't do you any good if a disaster strikes, whether it be a hurricane or a heart attack.

There is no social contract. Faith in government will surely break your heart. Faith in companies will break your heart.

I had a conversation with a neighbor this week who said his mom keeps telling him to move to the suburbs and "get a good job with benefits." No, Mom, there ARE no jobs that just GIVE you health insurance anymore, no jobs that just GIVE you the gold watch and the pension plan for putting in your 30 yrs. In fact, Mom, there are very few companies in which someone can survive and build a career for 30 years--the stockholders must be paid, the profits MUST go up, and anyone, anyone at all can be downsized at a moment's notice. It is not 1960. The government will spend their money on everything but you or your city or infrastructure, and the corporations will just divvy some of their profits out to their stockholders and CEO's (unless the CEO winds up in jail, then dies, in which case the widow can hold on to the illegal stock sale windfall as it's part of an inheritance) but they won't take care of the workers who made them the money. Nor will they take care of the customers who buy their product, a computer will or a worker in India or Jakarta or anywhere-but-here will---they "downsized" their labor force so that cute little Ashley in customer service that you talked to last week is now working at Starbuck's for minimum wage and her kids are home alone watching TV and playing video games and dreaming of a Glock 9mm which would really show that stupid Jimmy who hollered, "You're a piss ant" on the playground the other day. She won't have to worry about her daycare situation too much longer. Her oldest son is 15. He'll be dead in a year.

These are the reasons that I was surprised by my response to the fall of Oliver Thomas. I didn't think I still had it in me.

Wow! That vase made a cool sound as I dashed it against the wall.

Ah well, Karl Rove will totally miss the irony and have a great time after he resigns "hunting doves in West Texas."

Give me another vase, oh yeah, and some Prozac.

EDIT: For an interesting view of how we got here, thanks to Rove, read this from the Washington Post.

For another view of the Oliver Thomas debacle, read "Clean Slate" at Wet Bank Guide.



Maitri said...

You're right, Slate. Just this morning I wondered what was it about OT that bugged me more than the others, and I realized it was the hurt. None of the other corruption scandals hurt this much. I really wanted so much more from a man I (really didn't know ALL that well) but trusted because of what he said after Katrina and the conviction with which he said it.

A friend said it was wrong to convict OT because ALL of them (local, state, federal) do it, but have their paperwork in order. I ruefully told my friend that, however much OT is the lesser of evils, he's still pretty bad and has to go. No excuses for a new, clean New Orleans.

Tiburon Pequeno said...

First, I just want to say that I love this post!! You are on FIRE! (If you run for office, can I work for your campaign?) It's a wonderful call to action, not just about New Orleans but about underlying systematic problems plaguing the U.S., as well as the f--ed up role the U.S. is playing in the world at large, wasting billions upon billions of dollars instigating civil wars (or at least creating conditions that increase the likelihood of such wars, including causing inevitable "collateral damage" = killing plenty of civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq; and then not being able to figure out what the hell to do about it).
But: Can you specify concrete actions that you'd want people to take? Are you advocating a particular course of action? CAN everyone just stop worrying about day-to-day affairs, drop everything and become rabid political rabble-rousers? What ABOUT the person working two-three jobs, struggling to keep a roof over his or her head -- does this person or his/ her family have TIME to get "active"? ...I guess one approach would be to simply encourage political dialogue across more settings -- make people feel it is safe, good, patriotic to engage in political analysis and express dissent. I've worked in a lot of offices in the recent past, mostly medical/ hospital in nature, and the administrative staff of many these settings is predominantly female. These are generally well-meaning, very honest, hard working individuals -- but for them, serious political conversation tends to be completely anathema in the workplace. I think that many women of a certain generation, or even MY generation, might be somewhat politically repressed, and convinced that what is most appropriate is to discuss Baby and Wedding Showers -- and get caught up in stupid little bitchy gossip wars. So: how would you approach these women -- would you want to get them to talk about politics at the Baby Showers?... Or are you thinking about prioritization in allocation of resources? One prevailing viewpoint in the white collar, professional world, is that everyone needs to take vacations --it's seen as a birthright of being a middle/ upper middle class citizen. (Do we HAVE a middle class now? Maybe I should just say upper middle/ wealthy). So, would you want people to sacrifice or change that pattern? Spend less money on vacations... or less money on cars, less money on clothes or watches... and then take that money and do... what? Give it to causes? Start nonprofits? ...
As a side note, regarding use of resources: the 6-7 MEN I've met in my lifetime who are the most ardent and wound up political rabble rousers, drop all that politics at the bat of a beautiful eyelash. When they start thinking with their other major organ (other than the brain --and I DON'T mean the heart...), all the politics goes out the window. I've NEVER met a politically charged-up man who can resist the wiles of an beautiful, moderately intelligent/ creative female, regardless of what her political views are -- or whether she really gives much thought to the realm of politics WHATSOEVER. (Or -- some guys will be happy to sleep with her first, talk politics later. If he doesn't like her politics, he'll dump her after getting a few good shags out of it). -- So... should you, or I, blame any single heterosexual woman for spending her disposable income on "CRAP" like, say, a gym membership, or nice haircut, that is designed to attract the attention of these supposedly politically committed, driven men??
Admittedly, this might sound like sour grapes, or like a personal foolish hobbyhorse of mine. Sad to say, it probably is! I also have some issues with economic dependency, too, but I won't touch on that hobbyhorse. Enough of my personal folderol!!... Thank you for your passionate political commitment, and good day.

Slate said...

Tiburon, I know what you're saying.

My husband worked two jobs forever. There simply wasn't time for a lot of activism. Please don't think that I don't get the pressure the American worker is under these days. There was a documentary done a few years ago about people trying to get by, mostly on minimum wage, and I can't for the life of me remember what the name of it was, but it was devastating. I mean, if a woman is waiting for a bus to take her to a night job, that is her second job, and her kid is home alone because she has no options, then what? What in hell is she supposed to do?

But I'm not talking about all those people as much as I'm talking about folks who actually HAVE the time. Let them use their TIVO or their old VCR and tape the shows they want to watch, while they go to a city council meeting, or volunteer somewhere. They can get that last installment of the "Closer" the next night. These are the folks that are upsetting me.

These are the folks who are choosing ignorance of the situation. They instead decide that since they have theirs, they can write a check to some cause and assuage their conscience and be done with it. I mean really, WWE followed by American Idol followed by Flipping Out with commercials for contractors, stock portfolios, and the occasional "Oh my GOD, babies are starving in Africa!" are what fill these people's time in a lot of cases. Not ALL. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of great folks out there. But some, the ones who are choosing ignorance are the ones that bug me.

As for the men, the politically active men, um yeah, I think you got their number!

Not sure how to answer your question regarding how to make this change. I think your idea about making it more acceptable to discuss politics in the workplace is a good idea, but hell, I don't know how to accomplish that.

As for me running for office, the skeletons in my closet would totally preclude that possibility. But there are many out there who don't run and who would be great in office who aren't running because of the scrutiny they would be under. That leaves a lot of good leaders out of the loop, and out of the ballot box. It's a damn shame.

Tiburon Pequeno said...

Hi, Thanks for taking the time to reply to my specific comment! As for my remarks about politically active men, I actually thought you, or someone, would think I sounded like I was really attacking these types of guys. So it was very funny to me to see you actually just said I got their number! :-) HA! So, yeah, just in case my comment WAS misunderstood at all... I am MARRIED to man, after all. But he's not actually the type to get up on a soapbox and rant & rave about political issues. It's not that can't get outraged, he just doesn't tend to PREACH or PROSELYTIZE about political issues... instead, he's devoted most of his adult life working at low wages to help various populations of at-risk youth and adults. So, yeah, I'd have to say he is a really committed guy and he "walks the walk"! But in my youth, before I got together with my husband, I had the tendency to get crushes on and in one case fall madly in love with the politically active type who is more likely to rant, rage, preach, sermonize, etc. And, for that matter, I (like you) am a female who tends to think in terms of grand, sweeping political analyses like "How do we get mobilize upper middle class Americans to be more politically active and less afraid of expressing political dissent?" So. I guess that's why I started analyzing this particular male/ female dynamic, trying to make sense of the "political activist male" mind; but after a certain point, I finally realized it defies analysis and there's no point trying to make sense of it anymore. Since on a personal level, I ended up with a guy who is a great match for me, it's a good reason to just shut up about all this!... (But anyway, since nobody accused me of attacking guys, I'm not sure why I felt the need to defend myself).

Re: the documentary on people working minimum wage, did this have to do with Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed - On Not Getting By in America? -- this was a great book.

Finally, what ties it all together for me is that... if I WERE single now, I wonder if I'd feel that in my free time I was torn between, say, going to work out at the gym and make myself look more appealing to the average "political guy," or spend most of my free time doing volunteer work, contacting representatives, etc. etc. I think it really could be a valid issue to consider, beyond just my own personal sour grapes/hobby horse. What social rewards do women receive, generally, for being politically committed vs., say, having an Artsy/ Creative Mystique, where they seem really pretty and funky in a kind of offbeat, artsy, bohemian way? I mean, granted, any woman can conceivably be BOTH brilliantly political and motivated and active, AND also be attractive in a really pretty, artsy, unconventional way. But I just wonder sometimes about the priorities women are encouraged to have. And, too, the women I mentioned who seem to love talking about nothing more than silly gossip,their new furniture, their baby's name, or what gifts they want to include in the bridal registry.
To conclude, again, I apologize if too much of my thinking sounds as though I am simply working through personal sour grapes, but I do wonder if I am reaching at any universal question/ answers regarding female participation in public life(?)
Best wishes, MPM

Tiburon Pequeno said...

p.s. O.k. now I feel that I sound like I was attacking WOMEN for wanting to talk about their weddings and their babies! Alright, listen, I acknowledge that people have a right to a personal life and these experiences are very IMPORTANT to people... But where I'm coming from is the personal experience of being in countless workplace environments where that's the ONLY kind of subject people will talk about. And you'd think for all the world that the U.S. was not at war, there wasn't a back-door draft going on (though the recruiters are having a harder time than ever, I guess, which is GREAT!), and there weren't countless other societal woes plaguing my city and the nation.

It's just plain weird and CREEPY to me, sometimes, how people want to sit around and act like these problems are not happening. And I think that we shouldn't underestimate the degree of FEAR behind it.
And speaking of which, I'm starting to feel fear myself!! No wonder people are afraid of getting involved in public life; all I'm doing is trying to put a few comments on a blog -- under a pseudonym, at that -- and even in this limited context, I'm engaged in a furious effort to extract my foot from my mouth, where it has become deeply entrenched!!!! Probably after I leave this comment -- if you publish it-- I'll have to take a break from the posting/ commenting cycle for awhile. I feel too much concern that just after I put out ONE fire, I'll start ANOTHER! Cripes I can't even imagine how Obama, Clinton, etc. get through a single DAY... !!!
thanks! mpm