Category Archives: Hurricane Katrina

The Media Silence is Deafening – Please Voice Your Support for Khader Adnan

As Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan enters the 64th day of his hunger strike, Israel’s High Court of Justice has scheduled a petition hearing for this Thursday – this despite the report of an Israeli-accredited doctor who confirmed that Khader Adnan “is in immediate danger of death” and that “a fast in excess of 70 days does not permit survival.”

Meanwhile, the silence of the mainstream media over Khader’s hunger strike has grown deafening to the point of absurdity. As I drank my coffee and opened the Sunday New York Times this morning, I was heartened to see an extensive feature by Isabel Kershner on the impact of Israel’s administrative detention policy on a young Palestinian. Astoundingly, there was only one glancing reference to Khader Adnan’s hunger strike – and she didn’t even bother to refer to him by name.

Peter Hart, activism director for FAIR hit it right on the head in the Huffington Post today:

For years prominent corporate media pundits have told us that the world — and the media — would embrace a dramatic, non-violent Palestinian resistance movement. If only such a movement — perhaps led by a Gandhi-like figure — were to finally emerge, we are told, the media coverage will come, and sympathy from across the world will strengthen support for the Palestinian cause…

But what about someone, right now, resisting Israeli detention practices? Someone whose hunger strike is attracting attention around the world? That is Khader Adnan.

Ironically enough, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post today, Khader’s wife Randa (who is pregnant with their third child) voiced her appreciated for those in the Israeli press who have reported on her husband’s plight:

Randa said that a lot of Israeli journalists had helped her husband’s case by reporting objectively.

“We deal with them in the best way possible.

It’s important that the world knows that we are not against peace and we don’t hate Jews; we only hate the occupation,” she told the Post.

Please join me in signing this petition from Amnesty International that calls upon Israel’s Secretary of Defense to:

  • Immediately release Khader Adnan and other Palestinians held in administrative detention, or immediately charge and try them for internationally recognizable criminal offences in full conformity with international fair trial standards;
  • End the use of administrative detention, which violates the right to a fair trial;
  • Ensure that detainees are treated humanely at all times, and that no detainees are punished for their decision to go on hunger strike.

TV Writer David Simon On Jewish Communal Priorities (He’s Right…)

One of the bravest, most astute critiques of the priorities of the American Jewish community has come, from all people, David Simon, creator of the HBO series “The Wire” and “Treme.”

Simon, who is the son of a national public relations director for B’nai B’rith, was asked to speak at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in New Orleans last November to speak about the good work the Federation is doing in post-Katrina NOLA (where “Treme” is filmed.) To the surprise of his audience, he took the Jewish community to task for not doing nearly enough to help non-Jewish residents there.

Simon was recently interviewed for Tablet, where he elaborated at length on his criticisms.  Here are a few choice quotes (to which I can only add a hearty “right on!!”):

– Upon hearing that most of the $28 million raised by the Federation to help post-Katrina New Orleans was spent on restoring and rebuilding the city’s Jewish community:

At the point when they were doing that, tens of thousands of New Orleanians were still living elsewhere and couldn’t get home…The average income of a Jewish family in New Orleans was $180,000 a year. The average income in New Orleans, $30,000 a year. And you’re subsidizing the Jews? That hyper-segregation of the Jewish community from the problems in the world, that alienation from tragedy that isn’t tribal is one of the most disappointing things to me as a Jew.

– On the response of Jewish leaders when he would raise this issue with them:

…They go to the anecdotal. I’m like, “Listen, I’m talking systemically. Don’t give me your anecdotal bullshit that you went and sang with some Baptist choir or you had some Baptist choir come to your synagogue. Or that you guys had a day where you took canned food down. Come on. There are lives in the balance down there. This is the community where the people are the most vulnerable, where the desperation is profound.”

– On the Jewish Federations’ concern about “Jewish continuity:”

The preservation of the Jewish faith and people-hood, while an essential task, says nothing to any other nation beyond our own, especially if we preserve ourselves for no purpose other than the perpetuation of one branch of monotheistic thought. Surely, the world needs the Jewish mind and spirit for something more fundamental than that.

Until there is a hard moment of real self-reflection here, younger and more secular Jews like myself—who were raised in the tradition and who still are proud of their Jewishness—are going to be increasingly abandoning organized Jewish giving and going directly at the actual problems.

– On his controversial comment at the GA that the black urban poor are victims of  “a Holocaust in slow motion:”

No, there is no barbed wire around West Baltimore. No, there is no political imperative to segregate them from the greater society, or ultimately, to murder them en masse. That would be a Holocaust at normal speed. Instead, we have simply participated—either tacitly or actively—in constructing a national economic model that throws away 10 to 15 percent of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. There is no work for more than half the adult black males in Baltimore. Other than the drug corners, of course. Can anyone argue that the percentage of human destruction among adult males of color in these neighborhoods has not for generations approached the genocidal?

Right on.

Fire in Northern Israel: Israel’s Katrina?

The news out of Israel is just heartbreaking.

We in post-Katrina America know a thing or two about a how a country can spend obscene amounts of resources on weapons of war while its basic home front preparations are left to languish. I well remember how back in 2005, even while the causalities in NOLA mounted, painful readiness issues were being publicly debated.

Now they’re asking the same questions in Israel. Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf has placed direct blame at the feet of the Ministry of Interior, who may turn out to be the the Israeli equivalent of our Michael (“You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie”) Brown:

By yesterday evening the supply of chemicals used in fighting flames ran out, and the firefighters had to settle for water. Israel issued an urgent request for help form other European countries, but for the casualties and their families it was too late…

Eli Yishai is the Interior Minister. Yesterday, when PM Netanyahu did the right thing and showed up at the emergency command center in Haifa, Yishai was nowhere to be found. Earlier, he tried to spin the story, blaming the finance ministry for the budget cuts.

Reuters pointed out that for all of its high tech military aircraft, Israel lacked even one even one water bombing plane:

Israel could buy three state-of-the-art Bombardier Superscooper firefighting planes for the price of just one of the F-35 stealth fighters it has on order.

The highly specialized amphibious aircraft, costing $28.5 million each, can scoop and drop six tones of water up to 10 times per hour on a fire that is near a big body of water. The Israeli blaze is only a few km (miles) from the sea.

But Israel does not have any. Instead it has to rely on Mediterranean neighbors who also face a constant wildfire risk and were prudent enough to buy the water-bomber aircraft. Greece has 21 of them, Croatia 6.

Israel instead has chosen to “improvise,” critics said. On Thursday night, airforce mobile water cannon designed to operate on flat tarmac could be seen trundling warily into position on steep earthen slopes, their range still quite inadequate.

By contrast, Israel has 360 F-16 fighters, far more than most countries outside the United States that have bought the world’s best-selling attack plane, not to mention many F-15s and the whole panoply of costly, advanced military aviation.

Israeli journalist Aluf Benn, writing in Haa’retz, says this tragedy makes it clear that Israel might well think twice about waging war on Iran:

Under such circumstances, it is best for Israel not to embark on war against Iran, which will involve thousands of missiles being fired on the home front.

After the Second Lebanon War, which exposed how pathetic the civil defense system was, reports were written, exercises were held, but everything broke down under the stress of a real emergency on the Carmel range − an area that already experienced the trauma of Hezbollah missiles.

Yesterday Israel asked for help from Cyprus and Greece, and the air force traveled to France to bring fire retardants to make up for the material that had run out. In war time, it is doubtful whether Israel will be able to rely on the generosity and largess of its neighbors.

We can expect more recrimination and accounting in the days to come. In the meantime, however, I know our hearts and prayers are with all whose lives have been torn by this horrible tragedy that, as of this writing, continues to rage on.

The BP Disaster: New Orleans Betrayed Again

Before we headed out to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, we heard an eye-opening presentation by David Hammer, an investigative reporter for the Times-Picayune whose articles have contained some of the most important and damning revelations about patterns of corporate negligence that ultimately led to the BP disaster.

David is a seventh-generation New Orleanian and an immensely talented reporter who knows just about everything there is to know and more about the latest Gulf tragedy.  He told us that before the Deepwater Horizon explosion he didn’t know anything at all about deep water drilling, “cement linings,” and “well heads.” I’d say that as a result of this investigation, he’s now one of the country’s foremost authorities on such things.

David told us that just before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, he attended an editorial meeting in which the major subject under discussion was how the Times-Picayune would cover the fifth anniversary of Katrina (coming up this August.) The Gulf disaster soon wiped that story off the front page and as the catastrophic  significance of this event became clearer, David was eventually asked to track the growing allegations of negligence against BP and the other companies involved.

David was the first to break a number of important revelations. One of the most important was his finding that BP dismissed a top oilfield service company it had hired to test the strength of cement linings on the Deepwater Horizon’s well.  The firm, Schlumberger, left without performing a critical final check – and eleven hours later the oil rig exploded.

I highly recommend David Hammer’s articles, which contain the most trenchant reportage there is on the BP disaster. I will warn you, however, it is not pleasant reading. With Hurricane Katrina, the citizens of New Orleans were utterly betrayed by its local, state and national governments.  Now they’ve been betrayed yet again – this time by corporate negligence and greed. It’s truly tragic to witness the repeated wounding of this region through disasters that could well have – and should have – been avoided.

David also addressed the issue of the White House’s six month deep water drilling moratorium, which most Louisianans firmly oppose. Sadly enough, the two largest industries in Louisiana are oil drilling and fishing, both of which have been devastated by the BP disaster. While most in the state understand the need for the US to break its oil addiction, most also believe that a six month moratorium would have a catastrophic impact on citizens already hard hit by the Gulf disaster. David added that a moratorium also seems increasingly unnecessary given that there is growing evidence that this particular event was caused by one company’s negligence.

I’ve spoken to several locals about these issues – and no matter where they fall on the politics, the overriding sense I get is a deep and palpable sadness. More than one person has said that this latest disaster is in many ways even scarier than Katrina. The breech of the levees, for all of its devastation, was a singular event – and in its aftermath the citizens of New Orleans  knew what they needed to do. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work restoring their city.

In this case, however, the sense is the disaster is only beginning – no one knows how long it will last or what its ultimate impact will eventually be. In the meantime, it’s difficult to know what anyone can really do. As the corporations and the politicians trade accusations, there is little that average New Orleanians can do but wait to see how it will all turn out.

Some pix:

Up top: during a free afternoon, I went to the New Orleans Audubon Aquarium – and took this grotesquely ironic shot from the “Gulf of Mexico” exhibit.

Below: Three JRC kids volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Bottom: During our final volunteer effort we cataloged library books at the Sci Academy – one of NOLA’s many impressive new charter schools that have arisen in the wake of Katrina.

We’re home now,  filled with sadness at this latest devastation – but also admiration and awe at this truly amazing city. Despite it all, I can’t imagine a citizenry more devoted to its community than New Orleans. And in the end, I can’t help but believe that their devotion to one another will bring them through yet again.

It’s Takes a Village in the Lower 9th

We spent the day volunteering at the Lower 9th Ward Village – a community-led, community-driven neighborhood center that opened almost immediately in the wake of Katrina. It was founded by Mack McClendon a former telephone technician who originally had his eye on the large abandoned facility as a place to store and work on old cars. After Katrina, Mack acquired the property with his mind on a deeper purpose: to build a community center to serve the dislocated citizens of the Lower 9th, complete with a gymnasium, job training programs, a recording studio, a dining room, computer lab for youth, and free meals for the homeless.

Mack is nothing if not a visionary. Though he is the leader of a neighborhood community center, he addressed us with the passion of a preacher. He spoke movingly of the dislocation suffered by the citizens of the Lower 9th, how his community is struggling to regain its footing, and how he discovered his own true purpose following the devastation of Katrina. His plans for the Lower 9th Village are ambitious to be sure, but it is impossible not to be awed at what he and his fellow organizers have accomplished in such a short amount of time. (That’s me above, with Mack on the left and his brother Joe on the right.)

Our group helped Joe organize a huge mass of supplies and equipment that had been donated to the center: lots of hauling, sorting and restocking in a large warehouse-like space that will eventually serve as a basketball court. Some of us also did a little bit of carpentry – that’s my son Jonah below helping Joe build storage bins for their sports equipment.

The center’s computer lab already has nine internet-equipped computers and they also house an impressively stocked library. Mack’s short-term plan is to provide A/C for these rooms and to complete a lounge/recording studio. In its short life, the Lower 9th Ward Village has already become a valuable resource for neighborhood youth – and its difficult not to be inspired by its huge potential to serve the citizens of this community.

If you’d like to donate to their effort, visit and join their Facebook group. You can get your name/s inscribed on a brick for a donation of $100.00 or $200.00. I can personally attest it’s a simple but powerful way to support community rebirth in New Orleans.

JRC Returns to New Orleans

I’ve spent the last two days participating in JRC’s second congregational trip to New Orleans. We were last here in October 2007, when we spent of our time stripping the interiors of storm damaged houses in Gentilly. It’s been fascinating to observe the difference in the city since our last visit. While there are undeniable signs of improvement and rebirth, there are clearly some areas that continue to languish – and several aspects of the city’s comeback come with no small share of controversy. And of course, there is the BP spill: a fresh wave of anguish to this already tortured region.

We spent a good portion of our first day as the guests of St. John #5 Faith Church, who welcomed us with a heartfelt hospitality and a delicious home cooked meal. St. John’s is located in the 7th Ward, an area that was hit hard by Katrina but has received little of the publicity or attention that has been paid to neighborhoods such as the Lower 9th.

The 7th Ward is plagued by poverty, gangs and rising levels of HIV/AIDS – and in many ways St. John’s seems to be one of the few institutions actually fighting to bring stability and relief to the neighborhood. The church is led by Pastor Bruce Davenport (right), a joyful, deeply religious, profoundly beloved religious leader who is committed to helping the citizens of this community one member at a time.

As we shared dinner together, Pastor Bruce was unabashedly open about his own past of gang activity and drug abuse – as were the parishoners with whom we spoke. While the realities facing the members of this community are profoundly dire, we couldn’t help but be moved by their deep commitment to God, to one another, and to their home in the 7th Ward.

At the same time, however, it is clear that they harbor a justifiable resentment over the government’s abandonment of their community. It certainly appears that if not for churches like St. John’s, there would be little significant institutional support for the 7th Ward whatsoever.

Today we spent most of our day volunteering in the Lower 9th, where we’re seeing a significant change since our last visit. In 2007 this area looked washed clean away – a once densely populated neighborhood now reduced to concrete slab foundations and abandoned rotting homes.

Today, the Lower 9th is clearly on a rebound, thanks to efforts such as Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation, which is building new green homes for former residents. It’s a noble effort that hopes to have 150 new state of the art LEED certified Platinum homes built by the end of the year.

The homes are striking and eye-catching to be sure (see above) and there is apparently some controversy that they have not been built according to the architectural vernacular of the area. It’s also hard to imagine that this project can ever replace the enormity of what was lost in the Lower 9th. On the other hand, we’ve heard from more than one resident that every act of support and kindness is welcomed and appreciated, no matter what the complexities involved.

The fifteen participants of our delegation split into work teams and mine spent the better part of the afternoon today working in the garden of a Lower 9th resident named Veronica (top pic). She and her husband (who was paralyzed) were evacuated in advance of Katrina and ended up spending over a year in Shreveport, LA where their return to their home was repeated stymied by Kafka-esque red tape. (They were told by FEMA that they did not qualify for assistance because their home, which had been completely destroyed by flood water up to the roof, was not located in a “flood zone.”) After too many painful runarounds, they received some compensation and their home was rebuilt by their son.

Of course, the BP spill is on everyone’s mind now. The timing of this latest disaster is particularly cruel: just when the city seems to beginning to rebound (winning a Super Bowl, no less), here comes yet another catastrophic communal event. The region’s fishermen, who depend upon this time of year for their livelihood – and upon whom the area depends for a large portion of its economy – have been devastated by the spill. The palpable sense of betrayal and abandonment is all too familiar – and all too tragic.

More soon.

New Jewish Radical Resources!

paintedbird_3I recently discovered that a blog called “Jewdas” was linking to Shalom Rav so I checked it out. Hoo boy! It turned out to be this amazing Jewish radical/Yiddishist/anarchist/post-modernist blog originating from the UK. I must say that perusing it was a sinus-clearing experience. There’s too much to surf through at the moment, but I do commend to you this powerful eulogy-tribute to Marek Edelman, the last of the Warsaw Ghetto commanders, a remarkable man who continued to make his home in Poland, spoke out for Palestinian rights, and remained true to his socialist/Bundist ideals until the very end of his life.

On another radical Jewish note, I’ve just learned that Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird (above) will be playing in Chicago this Saturday night. Have you discovered Kahn yet?  Got in himmel! – this is definitely one band worth checking out. They are practitioners of a genre they describe as verfremdungsklezmer (which means, roughly, “Punk Cabaret + Radical Yiddish Song + Gothic + American Folk + Klezmer Danse Macabre.” )

Their leader, Daniel Kahn, is a 30-year-old Detroit native wunderkind who is one of the leaders of the current wave of American Jewish musical ex-pats in Berlin. His music is everything you would imagine and more. On DK and the PB’s new album, “Partisans and Parastites,” Kahn holds forth on a dizzying array of topics, from poverty to Hurricane Katrina to worker justice to contemporary fascism. The most attention-grabbing song, “Six Million Germans/Nakam,” is a jaw-dropping meditation on Jews and revenge.

Dunno if I can make it  Saturday night, but you should go. Safe to say it will be memorable.

The Politics of Eco-Elitism

vanfull.jpgI recently read an incredibly thought-provoking Sun Magazine interview with activist Van Jones (right), board President and co-founder of The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Among other things, Jones has become something of a pioneer in connecting two issues that are typically viewed as separate: socio-economic inequality and environmental destruction.

In the interview, he soberly described the current environmental movement in our country as a kind of “eco-apartheid:”

“Eco-apartheid” is a situation in which you have ecological haves and have-nots. In other words, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you visit Marin County, you’ll find hybrid vehicles, solar panels, organic food, organic everything. If you then get in your car and drive twenty minutes, you’ll be in west Oakland, where people are literally choking on the fumes of the last century’s pollution-based technologies. That’s eco-apartheid, and it’s morally wrong, because we should deliver clean jobs and health benefits not just to the wealthy, but also to the people who need them most. Eco-apartheid doesn’t work on a practical level either, because you can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart.

For the sustainable economy to be successful, it has to be a full-participation economy. Right now it is a niche economy, a lifestyle economy. Though green products are a $230 billion industry and growing, that’s still a slice of a slice of a slice of the overall pie. It is easy for the eco-elites in Massachusetts or northern California to wrap themselves in the trappings of sustainability and think that the problem has been solved, but the people who clean their houses are going back to neighborhoods that may be fifty years in the past in terms of their ecological sustainability. As we move toward a sustainable economy, if we do not take care to minimize the pain and maximize the gain for the poor, they will join forces with the polluters to derail the green revolution.

Jones also addressed insightfully how and why this “eco-elitism” has failed to reach the hearts and minds of low-income people and people of color:

Environmentalists sometimes don’t understand that what motivated them to get involved in political activism and change their lifestyle isn’t going to inspire everyone else. It’s not just a matter of their explaining louder and louder why everyone should be like them. That’s not the politics of inclusion; that’s the politics of elitism. The reality is that working people will support ecological solutions, but not for the same reasons that the eco-elites support them.

A lot of wealthy, educated people wanted to take action as a result of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but most low-income people and people of color I know had no interest in seeing the movie in the first place. They already have enough problems. They don’t need new crises to worry about. Around here we say that the people who already have a lot of opportunities are the ones who need to hear about the crises. So if you have a house and a car and a college degree, then, yes, you should hear about global warming, or peak oil, or dying species. But poor and low-income people need to hear about opportunities. They need to hear about the expected reduction in asthma rates when we reduce greenhouse gases. They need to hear about the wealth and health benefits of moving to a sustainable economy. Otherwise you are just telling people who are already having a bad day that they should have a worse one.

How can we bridge this gap? Jones offered several thoughts, including the creation of a “green collar” job corps – a mobilization that would train low income youth of color to help retrofit US cities to become more environmentally sustainable.

A provocative and compelling article: click here to read the entire interview.

Second Harvest


On our last full day in NOLA, we spent several hours packing food at Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana– a food bank that is on the forefront of food distribution throughout Southern Louisiana. Post-Katrina, Second Harvest’s food distribution rate is a staggering 80 million plus lbs.

JRCers set to work this morning sorting food and assembling items for the BackPack program, which provides children at-risk of hunger with food for nutritional support for the weekends and other out-of-school times. (For the record, our group sorted 12, 794 lbs. of food and salvaged 9,843 lbs. – the equivalent of 7,890 meals.)