Rising Tide V: Bloggerfest for New Orleans’ digerati


I’m sitting in the Howlin’ Wolf, which has been transformed into an auditorium of sorts. The occasion: Rising Tide V, the post-Katrina blogfest aimed at rebuilding the city. The pre-registration setup was efficient, with the ambience of a couple of dozen high school A/V geeks doing setup. I’m Koozied and t-shirted and waiting for things to get started.

Cox Cable, which I dissed in the last post, redeems itself for the day because it wired Teh Internetz for Rising Tide. A long list of thank yous to sponsors and committee members (including Sharon Barnhart, who also is in exile in Atlanta). Tom Lowenburg is here, peddling a slew of all the wonderful new New Orleans books that have come out in the past few years. Loki has been running all over the place, making sure everything runs smoothly.

News from Second Harvest: Yesterday, 200 volunteers sweated it out at the Second Harvest warehouse, packing nine pallets’ worth of emergency food boxes as disaster relief for the Gulf Coast. Second Harvest is an enormously important service agency here–Louisiana has the highest hunger rate for children under five, and one in eight Louisianians don’t know whee their next meal is coming from.

* * *
New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas has a Ph.D. from UNO. Failed 3rd grade and dropped out of 11th grade as a teenage parent, and family in NOPD since 1914. How ya like dat, cher?

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Peter Scharf, Tulane School of Public Health
Ronal Serpas, NOPD Chief
Jon Wool, Vera Institute of Justice
Allen James, Safe Streets Executive Director
Susan Hutson, Independent Police Monitor, City of New Orleans


Serpas: 1.5% of calls in New Orleans are murder, rape, robbery, assault. Ten times more calls are minor, and 99% of those are “false”. Exception of Danzinger erased from the history books the brave actions of those who waded through chest-high water to rescue citizens from Southern Baptist, Ninth Ward, etc.

James: Community does not view Danzinger incident as an anomaly. Info about case only came out after five years, thanks to doggedness of one family. Speaks to a culture of secrecy that is brutally enforced w/in the department.

Serpas: Today vs. 1994 when indiviuals did bad things: Antoinette Frank, etc. — the difference is that the system has gone off the rails (“if you lie, you die”).

Scharf: How do you change the police culture?

Hutson: In L.A., had to get them to make accurate reports–can’t just forget you set a body on fire in a car–and let them know there will be real consequences to not telling the truth. Also, on the streets here, people think they’re being disrespected and not getting good service.

Scharf: Some cops want to sit in cars and stay out of trouble–will accountability punish risk-takers?

Hutson: No, we’ll back the good ones up 100%

Serpas: Every time an officer does something right, we share that with them–it’s about leadership. One thing we have to do is set expectations: 4 major modifications:
1) “If you lie, you die” (meaning you’re fired)
2) False or inaccurate oral/written report = fired (not minor mistake, but coverups)
3) If you witness misconduct and don’t report, you will be sanctioned at same level you witnessed
4) If you withhold/fail to cooperate without cause in internal investigation, disciplined at minimum of same conduct being investigated.

The professional cops embrace it and say thank goodness.

It’s a cultural problem: cites doctors who don’t report misconduct, Toyota, etc.

2/3 of last recruit class didn’t make it. We’re making fundamental changes. That’s how you begin the process of changing culture.

Every day at roll call, tells cops to “tell people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

SCHARF: How to deal w/My Lai-esque idea that it’s legit to shoot at looters?

SERPAS: The question of whether or not officials issued martial law orders not new; we need the people w/capacity to get to the bottom of all this do so–we ha to stop talking about it (because of feds’ investigation)–I think the best thing is to let them interview everyone who saw and heard anything.

WOOL: Trying to get all parts of the system to reemphasize the extraordinary use of resources on minor offenses (to focus on the real baddies). If focus is on number of collars, different influence than becoming a community liaison/investigating violence that has happened. Will help officers perform in a way that’s more supportive of the communities that they serve. People see cops as those who come in and take their family member away.

You all (bloggers) have some responsibility to change community, as well. Make clear to leaders that you set expectations for them, so they will set expectations for (cops). Example: massive numbers of people locked up each year for minor marijuana possession.

JAMES: Service commendations from civilian agencies should also be included in officers’ service files, not just complaints. …Most people in jail all look alike (i.e., are black).

SCHARF: Fear of dope-dealer retaliatory killings: how do we address this in African-American community?

JAMES: I don’t know. Must look at contributing factors: gun culture, 18c notion of defending one’s honor, which young people in street now call “respect”–that violence expresses itself as gun violence. Can’t expect not to have a lot of killings when you have poor people reduced to struggling very petty issues and nothing in their culture that helps them to resolve conflict constructively. Careful in my remarks because new to N.O. — not sure it’s drug trade as much as spontaneous hoodishness. I don’t really know that and that’s something we need to understand a little bit more.

SCHARF: Not buying it’s less violent than NYC, Newark.

SERPAS: Rate of cleared murder cases here going down every year since the 1960s. Last murder 4-5 days ago. Young men bumping chests in convenience store, rolled out into street in gun battle: “you didn’t respect me when I came through the door.” Allen (James’) point shouldn’t be lost on you. Columbo solved all those murders because the people knew each other. 80% of murders are committed by people who are intimates with the victim. Larger issue is: what systems are falling apart around these young people (no supervision).

WOOL: Share skepticism about how many murders are linked to drug trade. Think we have to ask why people turn to selling drugs: what are we doing to provide economic opportunity to people in the inner city? We invest roughly 1/3 of our dollars in inefficient law enforcement (incarceration) which has least benefit to public safety for minor offenses. Choice of livable wage and potential middle-class status, would you turn to selling drugs? Everyone in the trade knows they’ll wind up in prison, probably for the rest of their lives, and/or dead.

SCHARF: Average murder 4pm when guy’s on porch eating his lunch–it’ a whack. These are beefs. We need to do a drill-down and look at these cases to understand the etiology.

* * *
MY QUESTION (UNASKED): What can the NOPD (and its community oversight officers) do to interface with what’s left of the school system to create vocational training? That seems a desperately-needed no-brainer. The neighborhoods which are still in desperate disrepair are, not surprisingly, the high-crime areas. These “high-crime areas” are also communities, something which the white power structure tends to forget in its urban-planning fantasies about turning Felicity Street into drainage canals (something actually suggested at TEDxNOLA yesterday). If you want to offer people a way out of the drug business, then you must offer them a way out–and for many, learning a trade could be an empowering way of doing this. People who are trained to restore their own neighborhoods would be far more likely to keep them livable (meaning relatively crime-free).

* * *
Apparently something good came out of TEDxNOLA: Jim Carville’s handwriting. Jim Carville speaks for me.

* * *

Gee whiz, the feds can’t find any oil! Incredibly irresponsible reporting in this week’s ashington Post, to audience ofmany who had never been to N.O.–that “a visitor would have to go looking for any traces of Katrina’s destruction.” (Derision from audience.) Took a friend on a disaster tour, and she literally could not believe what she saw–and she’s the former research editor for Mother Jones, total news junkie freak. The reason she was so surprised was because of articles like this–just like the oil that has magically disappeared. None of these artices say ANYTHING about what Lakeview looks like. The guy taking us around is a prof at UNO (which is supposed to cut 35% of its budget). Same thing about charter schools best thing ever, but nothing ever about how this city’s public colleges and universities are being dismantled.

Same thing with the oil, under the sand, supposedly dissolved, more than 5x entire Exxon Valdez –and they don’t say that they still turn up LAKES of oil in Prince William Sound, or that those who took part in cleanup are also dead.

Those kinds of stories just make it easier for people NOT to think about things that they don’t want to think about.

“Contractually obligated to tweet.” I can’t tell you how many tips I’ve gotten this way. Grand Isle reporting due to “awesome lesbian couple that let me stay there” and BP/networks had rented out whole island–thanks to Twitter.

Certainly didn;t know Louisiana was going to shut down into some weird corporate police state immediately, but it was disappointing to learn the Obama Admin also couldn’t be counted on. Had people who were supposed to oversee cleanup, help press, etc.-they were not responsive, also trying to keep this culture of giving as little info as possible. Often didn’t even have the info we were looking for. Ex.: Coast Guard re: breakdown of number of cleanup workers. Answer: “Well, those are BP’s numbers. We don’t really have them.” Can you get them? “We can ask, but sometimes they don’t get back to us.” So not only was Coast Guard disseminating BP’s information, they weren’t even fact-checking that shit. There was no oversight of this info. To this day, haven’t been able to find that anyone is tallying the numbers of people actually involved in this effort.

I wrote a book about Burma, one of the most evil and secret regimes in the world. It was easier to get info from there than from fucking Louisiana, I can tell you it is easier to smuggle illegal refugees across Burma than to get ontp Elmer’s Island off Grand Isle. No shit.

The amount of spin: that really shocked me. Heartening to see that there is an appetite for that. They were skepical, and the only place to get that info is from people on the ground. Those photos end any conversation that any person can have with me about, “Where’s the oil?” That info is something you guys are positioned to get all the time.

Re: Economist photoshopping out parish pres. form Obama for cover photo: Stephen Colbert: “Don’t know why it’ a surprise–Louisiana residents should be used to being invisible by now.” Any reporter worth her salt knows it’s an honor to work with you community journalists, Twitter tipsters, etc. No one is going to be more valuable than you guys in telling the stories of this coast and this city. If your voices continue to expand, and community continues to build these voices of dissent, authenticity, truth, I think Louisianians should get ready to be less invisible than ever. (toast) Here’s to y’all!

* * *
Steve Picou, LSU AgCenter, New Orleans
Robert Verchick, Gauthier-St. Martin Environmental Law Chair, Loyola University
Len Bahr: LACoastPost.com

PICOU: We all know what’s going on, latest UN report that we’re losing 150-200 species per DAY. While we’re all fretting about one oil well, we’re all living lifestyles that kill 150-200 species/day, and we need to look in the mirror….I hear the footsteps of the next generation saying “get the fuck out the way–you didn’t fix it, so we have to.”

VERCHICK: On leave, commuting from DC on weekends (family is here). Book: Facing Catastrophe –starts with Katrina, moves forward. Now it’s time to move fwd not just for LA or rest of US, but for rest of world. We are exposed to natural disasters now more than ever. The sticker “Be a New Orleanian, wherever you are”? Everybody already is. Per OECD: #1 Miami, #2 NYC, #3 N.O. as to which cities have the most to lose from these problems. UN’s 10 deadliest disasters 1975-2008: half occurred in last 8 years. Why?

1. Population expanding.
2. We’re building where we shouldn’t.
3. We are destroying the natural infrastructures at an alarming rate (cypress swamps here, old growth forests in West, forests in Pakistan that protect against mudslides in quakes, mangrove forests in Myanmar/Burma)

BAHR: Spent 18 years advising 5 governors on coastal/enviro issues, words had little effect on gov’s and had to bite my tongue. Now free to say what I’ve wanted to say for many years. Heard former boss referred to as “douchebag”–not my boss anymore, so don’t have to cringe! Want to point out K+5, BP only symptoms of something that has been a century in the making. Think it’s important to sit back and consider this. This am on blog, link to a letter to the President prior to his visit here tomorrow. Never seen anything like it: EDF, NWF, Audubon Socy, signed by Jindal, Landrieu, Vitter, and 6 Congressional delegates; pleasding for him to restore the Guf Coast. As a scientist, that’s a big damn challenge Interesting that all the elected officials who signed are in complete denial about climate change. We’re the most vulnerable in N Am to sea level rise/acidification, Cong deleg in complete denial: “that’s our lifestyle” —

PICOU: Somebody has an idea for a coastal erosion diversion project, spend 20 years getting funding and find out not feasible. Need to look at watersheds as veins and arteries and land as skin of the earth. Cost-benefit analysis?

VERCHICK: Making decisions about longterm hard to do with a static model, an equation that says well I’m gonna imagine what the harm is and multiply it by the probability, and do just that much to fix the problem: insurance policies, building levees/dams/bridges–but not very good eqution when dealing w events w very low probabilities and very high stakes like Katrina–called “black swans”–intolerable to happen even once, then have to pay attention to something that has a .2% -1% chance of happening in the year, as Katrina was. Need to take this into account.

Only one of the 3 cities on that list that DOESN’T have the very beginnings of a comprehensive approach to climate change: that’s New Orleans. NYC, Miami-Dade County are way ahead of the game for next 50 years. Here’s what we have to b worried about: higher temps, precip patterns going haywire, sea level rise, extreme events like storms/floods. Not all about the wetlands. Ex.: heat island effect in cities; people don’t have a/c or afraid to open windows. In Chicago when this happens, hundreds of elderly/poor die. In Seattle, already trying to figure out how to rebuild poor areas w/shade canopy so low-income housing won’t be prone to creating a hotbox–in SEATTLE! Here, drainage, heat island issues we can work on at neighborhood level. We have lots of books on our nightstand tables, but nature isn;t going to wait for us. As Thomas Friedman says, “Nature always bats last and Nature always bats 1000.”

PICOU: Working w/many groups on n’hood drainage workshops. New Orleans S&WB incinerating sewage, so we’re “burnin’ the poo.” (“Most people’s shit stinks–ours is smokin’!”)

BAHR: nominated to be on mayor’s informal cmte on coastal issues. Only one meeting so far, but 2 poiints Landrieu encouraging about: 1. N.O. is a coastal city (denial!) and 2. SCIENCE. We’ve got an incredible wealth of scientific talent–the people who are world’s experts on Mississippi River Delta live right here, and they have not been tapped AT ALL during this BP incident. I blame the governor for an anti-science attitude (audience cheers). …most people don’t learn in high school about the two parts of watersheds: tributaries and DISTRIBUTARIES.

PICOU: Neighborhood drainage worksops: my goal is to teach everyone we’re all feeding the capillaries of the system. But Im finding the biggest obstacle is resistance to change, e.g., slowly cooking frogs. How can we expand that community buy-in thing? We’re the ones in trouble–the planet will be fine, it’s the human race that’s in trouble. Is there something we can do better to get people to (e.g., change to CF bulbs, which really do make a difference)?

VERCHICK: HAve to integrate it into what we want: good schools, pleasant neighborhoods you can walk around it. These are places easier to distribute enviro info in; nobody wants a river running down their street when it’s raining hard. Don’t have to tell them about climate cahnge. Can say, Wouldn’t it be nie not to have a river running down the street? Permeable surfaces, roof gardens–pretty, efficient, doesn’t crack your foundation. Find these small practical things that people want–you don’t have to engage them in climate change activism.

BAHR: Friend in Baton Rouge wanted to put in permeable driveway–couldn’t because he couldn’t get a permit to do so! Elected officials ahven’t been frank with the public–we’re going to have to retreat from the coast in a lot of these cases, and science is that you can’t just build more levees.

PICOU: If you can catch speckled trout on the street in Baton Rouge one day, that’s gonna suck. Project most optimistic about now is Bonnet Carre West–push freshwater into Lake Maurepas. (Then we can fight over who gets to cut down the trees.) As long as we don’t get freshwater into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, cypress trees in City Park will keep dying. — Opening Bayou St. John will kill all trees that don’t like saltwater.

VERCHICK: Miami learning from us: expensive, high-electricity-use pumps… I said, “Why not use permeable surfaces?” They said, “Oh, you guys are really good at electric pumps.” Goes around in a circle.

BAHR: five year cycle: (conditions) marsh grass turned brown and died. Told Gov. Mike Foster this is a wakeup call; we can use every structure to put river water back into Delta; we didn’t have capacity to do it, and marsh recovered, but sign of what to come in Katrina. We go to sleep again until the next time.

PICOU: St. Tammany Parish Schools: can save up to 20% through behavioral changes–turning off lights/computers. Also living in greatest age of compassion in history of world. With this tech, we can text $10 within a matter of minutes. Potential never greater than now when we have ability to communicate. As we go through this messy process, it’s staring us in the face as never before in history of human race. My vision is that someday we WILL get it and leave a better world for the next gen.

VERCHICK: We’re all optimists, because all the pessimists left after Katrina. You can haul in any schoolkid and she’ll tell you that we’re losing a football field a minute due to coastal erosion–

BAHR: The tools we have now to be able to see climate change because of the computer is incredibly powerful– can predict hurricane 2-3 days before it arrives, so high hopes for future.

* * *
MOMENT OF ZEN: Friend Beverly Rainbolt is griping and texting, “Where ARE you?!” I just looked over and saw her. We’ve been sitting next to each other all morning and didn’t even know it!

* * *
PICOU: If you have a house built slab on grade, SELL IT NOW! Because the slab is porous and so are the bricks!

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