Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bring New Orleans Back Commission: Town Hall Meeting

Video Webcast from Houston
Saturday, December 10, 2005
9 a.m. - 12 noon Central Time

The webcast archive will be available shortly. more

Conspiracy to Torture

In The Nation

Torture is about acts: the blow to the head, the scream in the ear, the scar-free injuries whose diagnosis has become an international medical subspecialty. But torture is also very much about words: the whispered or shouted questions of the interrogator; the muddled confession of the prisoner; the too rarely tested language of laws protecting prisoners from "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment.

Consider just two words: "command responsibility." Those words stand among the most resolutely enduring principles established after World War II by the Nuremberg Tribunals. Today they pose a special threat to President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the other officials who actively promote what Secretary of State Rice, in Germany, insisted the Administration "does not authorize or condone." To carry out physically and psychically brutal interrogations outside all international norms has required the Administration to corrupt the ordinary meaning of language itself. "We do not torture" (Bush). "What we do does not come close to torture" (Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss). Such denials continue despite twelve reports from the Defense Department documenting the opposite--never mind Congressional testimony, journalistic investigations and NGO reports making common knowledge of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, near-fatal beatings and mock executions. more


From Forbes

The airline passenger shot to death by federal marshals who said he made a bomb threat was agitated even before boarding and later appeared to be desperate to get off the plane, some fellow travelers said.

One passenger said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all" during the uproar as the Orlando-bound flight prepared to leave Miami on Wednesday.

Federal officials say Rigoberto Alpizar made the threat in the jetway, after running up the plane's aisle from his seat at the back of the jetliner. They opened fire because the 44-year-old Home Depot employee ignored their orders to stop, reached into his backpack and said he had a bomb, according to authorities.

Alpizar's brother, speaking from Costa Rica, said he would never believe the shooting was necessary.

"I can't conceive that the marshals wouldn't be able to overpower an unarmed, single man, especially knowing he had already cleared every security check," Carlos Alpizar told The Orlando Sentinel.

Some passengers said they noticed Alpizar while waiting to get on the plane. They said he was singing "Go Down Moses" as his wife tried to calm him. Others said they saw him having lunch and described him as restless and anxious, but not dangerous.

"The wife was telling him, 'Calm down. Let other people get on the plane. It will be all right,'" said Alan Tirpak, a passenger. [...]

I heard him saying to his wife, 'I've got to get off the plane,'" McAlhany said. "He bumped me, bumped a couple of stewardesses. He just wanted to get off the plane."

Alpizar ran up the aisle into the first-class cabin, where marshals chased him onto the jetway, McAlhany said.

McAlhany said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all."

"The first time I heard the word 'bomb' was when I was interviewed by the FBI," McAlhany said. "They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, 'What is the B-word?' And they were like, 'Bomb.' I said no. They said, 'Are you sure?' And I am."

Added another passenger, Mary Gardner: "I did not hear him say that he had a bomb."

Officials say there was no bomb and they found no connection to terrorism.

Witnesses said Alpizar's wife, Anne Buechner, had frantically tried to explain he was bipolar, a mental illness also known as manic-depression, and was off his medication.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness called on the Air Marshal Service and other law enforcement agencies to train officers if they don't already in responding to people with severe mental illness.

Others said Alpizar's mental health didn't matter while marshals were trying to talk to him and determine if the threat was real.

Shooting to maim or injure - rather than kill - is not an option for federal agents, said John Amat, national operations vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which includes air marshals in its membership.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Community Labor United


Peoples' Hurricane Relief Fund


To build and maintain a coordinated network of community leaders, organizers and community based organizations with the capacity and organizational infrastructure that can help to meet the needs of people most impacted by Katrina and facilitate an organizing process that will demand local, grassroots leadership in the relief, return and reconstruction process in New Orleans.

Legal- contact:

Media- contact:

Reconstruction- contact:

Safety Justice and Accountability- contact:

Volunteer Coordination- individual- contact:

Volunteer Coordination- organizational- contact:

National Solidarity Caucus- contact:

Women’s Caucus- contact:

Communication Centers:

In addition, PHRF has opened two Community Communications Relief Centers:

Jackson, MS- 253 Pine Hollow Circle, Jackson, MS 39212 601.346.5970

New Orleans, LA- 2226 Ursulines Avenue, New Orleans, LA
(mail to: 100 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70130)

contact email:



a "live exercise"--an expanded Tuskegee experiment-- to see what would happen in the case of catastrophe? Who better for the government to experiment on? posted.

The Causeway Concentration Camp

On Democracy Now Again via lecolonelchabert

AMY GOODMAN: We return to the House Select Committee Hearing on the role of race and class in response to Hurricane Katrina. This is New Orleans community leader, Leah Hodges, testifying.

DYAN FRENCH: Rita, Katrina, and all of the aftermath, if we are not going to sit here and be honest about the racism --

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right. That's right. It don’t make no sense.

DYAN FRENCH: -- that was perpetrated, then I have really, truly wasted my time coming here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Me, too. And I missed a day's work.

DYAN FRENCH: And I really don't want nobody to get confused. At 60, I just don't want to call you the names that we were called. We have documentation. We don’t have to sit in this room. I invite all of you to please come to New Orleans. The proof is there, the proof of what happened. Our little mayor -- and he may get offended, I don't care. He who knows that and not that he knows not, that's how he got caught up. You can’t get surrounding parishes to put your disaster plan together. Most of his top staff -- and I have been appointed on most of my jobs with the city --are people who don't live in the parish. They live in the surrounding parishes. And that's what happened to us on the day of. Rightfully so, the police who didn't live there stayed home and took care of their people.

REP. JEFF MILLER: May I ask you --

DYAN FRENCH: But they had no business working for the city, because there's a law – or ordinance that says you can’t.

REP. JEFF MILLER: May I ask you a question? You mention -- you talked about the parishes. And this is something that I have heard people talk about. Is it true that some parishes are refusing to allow temporary housing of certain peoples within their parishes?

LEAH HODGES: Very true. Very true. Particularly true of [inaudible] and Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish is where the Causeway concentration camp was housed, where we experienced the Gestapo-type oppression, as opposed to being rescued. We were three minutes away from the airport. They could have taken us to the airport. Those military vehicles could have taken us to any dry, safe city in America. Instead, they dumped us at a dumping ground, sealed us in there, and they backed up all their authority with military M-16s.

And there were thousands and thousands of people. On the last day we were in there -- and let me tell you something -- they hand-picked the white people to ride out first. Yes, racism was very much involved. They hand-picked the white people to ride out first. Every day, the crowd got darker and darker and darker until finally there were only – there were 95% people of color in that place.

REP. JEFF MILLER: Miss Hodges, would you be offended if I respectfully asked you not to call the Causeway area a concentration camp?

LEAH HODGES: I am going to call it what it is. If I put a dress on a pig, a pig is still a pig.

REP. JEFF MILLER: Are you familiar with the history?

LEAH HODGES: Yes, sir, I am. And that is the only thing I could compare what we went through to: a concentration camp.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And that's the truth.

LEAH HODGES: And everybody in the place with me, the lady sitting next to me was there, my mother was there, my younger brother was there, my two sisters; we ran into others. That is the point, that they broke up families and dispersed us.


LEAH HODGES: And they stood over us with guns and enforced their authority, and yes, they tortured us. And then they used various forms of torture. And yes, I know what a concentration camp is. I'm a college-educated woman.

REP. JEFF MILLER: Not a single --

LEAH HODGES: And I love the study of history.

REP. JEFF MILLER: Not a single person was marched into a gas chamber and killed.

LEAH HODGES: They died from abject neglect. We left body bags behind. Pregnant women lost their babies.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's one of the reasons why some of these people wouldn't come out of those houses, because you was told to come on the street, and when people came out –

LEAH HODGES: They were shot

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: -- they were killed.

REP. TOM DAVIS: Excuse me, Mr. Miller has another minute left.

REP. JEFF MILLER: I should have more time than that, sir.

REP. TOM DAVIS: Go ahead.

REP. JEFF MILLER: Thank you. I respectfully request that you not call it the Causeway concentration camp.

LEAH HODGES: Respectfully, sir --more.

Katrina's Emotional Damage Lingers: Mental Health Experts Say Impact Is Far Beyond What They've Ever Faced

Washington Post

NEW ORLEANS -- "I've been thinking the last couple days the best thing to do is die."

The man, speaking on a dull monotone, was slumped in a chair inside the steamy convention center here, waiting to see a doctor. He didn't want to come to the makeshift hospital, but a friend insisted.

"I'd hardly had a drink in years," said the man. "Right after the hurricane hit, I just started drinking. If I stop drinking, the pain becomes so great it's unbearable."

In these months after Hurricane Katrina, it is not hard to find people like David, a quirky, debonair, fragile artiste who asked that his last name not be published. They can be seen walking on deserted streets with glazed eyes. In grocery stores and offices, they inexplicably break into tears. Police officers confess to counselors that they are fighting more with spouses and yelling at their kids. Many turn up at local hospitals searching for a neat explanation for pain the likes of which they have never felt before. [...] "It's like living in the Twilight Zone," said Candace Cutrone, who as assistant coroner for mental health in Orleans Parish has the overwhelming task of evaluating psychiatric cases for local hospitals. "The whole world changed overnight."

Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said he does not have statistics for the city, because many deaths -- including nine by gunshot -- remain a mystery. He knows of at least one woman who killed herself recently. New Orleans emergency personnel have responded to at least six suicides and nearly two dozen suicide attempts since Katrina. The tightly knit community of Academy of the Sacred Heart, the Rosary, is coping with two suicides, headmaster Timothy M. Burns said. Shortly before Thanksgiving, a woman with young children took her life. Last week, the father of a Sacred Heart student was buried. more

Looking for the Lost: The search for children scattered by Katrina

Newsday Tina Susman

NEW ORLEANS -- Three months after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, the fate of more than 1,300 children remains unknown. Until a few days ago, Lil Joe and Kolenik Williams, brothers from New Orleans, were among the lost.

A teenage sister living in Baton Rouge when Katrina hit called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children several weeks after the Aug. 29 storm, saying she had not heard from them or from their mother, Nicole Williams. She had little contact information for other relatives. more.

How Many Are Missing and Dead After Katrina? Three Months After the Hurricane, the Numbers are Still Unknown

On Democracy Now via lecolonelchabert

To discuss this, we're joined in Atlanta by Leah Hodges, yes, who testified in Washington at the hearing on Katrina, former resident of New Orleans, living in Atlanta right now. She is still missing her brother. We're also joined in our New York studio by Tina Susman, who is a reporter with Newsday. She recently returned to New Orleans. Her article, “Looking for the Lost: The Search for Children Scattered by Katrina” appeared in Sunday's newspaper. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

TINA SUSMAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's begin with Leah. What do you know about your brother?

LEAH HODGES: I know that my brother has not been heard from or seen since the hurricane. We have examined lists from FEMA, Red Cross. He has not appeared on any list anywhere. I even inquired of FEMA to determine if, perhaps, he had applied for assistance. And FEMA is not authorized to give information on other applicants, but they did rule out his having applied for assistance with them. A company contacted me and my mother and other members of my family, seeking DNA samples. Well, it broke my heart, and I'm still holding out hope. I know this about my brother, from a child, I know that he was an excellent swimmer, but what I do not know is whether or not he could possibly be one of the shooting victims at the hands of military or police authorities during that catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, when did you last talk to him, and when is the last time his whereabouts were known?

LEAH HODGES: The last time his whereabouts were known was just before the storm. He was in New Orleans. I had seen him fairly recently. There were times when he would visit with me, and he would stay overnight. My brother is an excellent musician. He is a drummer and a bassist, and he likes to play the blues on acoustic guitar. He does have a medical condition that is a matter of concern.

Also, my young nephew, little Lawrence Andrews and his sisters, they were with their maternal grandmother, and they were in a low-lying area of New Orleans East, an area where it has been reported that two schools containing over 2,000 people each were flooded upon the breakage of the levee system. The water rose so fast and with such great force, it is my understanding that the people were flushed out of those two buildings, and there were some drownings. So, my brother, Carl Hodges, and my nephew, little Lawrence Andrews, who is a straight-A student in school, have not been heard from since the storm. We have not located them on any missing lists. more.


FROM Families Switch Places in 'Black.White'
Friday December 9 9:02 AM ET

A black family learns what it's like to be white while a white family becomes black in the six-part documentary series "Black.White," scheduled for broadcast on the FX cable network in March.

Makeup temporarily transforms the two families for the series developed by filmmaker R.J. Cutler and actor-rapper Ice Cube.

"The loud message of the show is that we are a divided nation," said Cutler, who won an Emmy for outstanding reality program for "American High." "But we can come together if we're willing to talk about our differences and work to see the world through the eyes of other people."

For the run of the show, the Sparks family of Atlanta and the Wurgel family of Santa Monica share a home in the San Fernando Valley.

But with makeup, Brian and Renee Sparks and their son, Nick, are transformed from black to white. Bruno and Carmen Wurgel and their daughter, Rose, become black.

The race-changing makeup, administered by Oscar-nominated artist Keith VanderLaan, took three to five hours per family member.

"We're doing something that has never been done before that advances in makeup technology allow," said Cutler, who produced the Oscar-nominated documentary "The War Room."

The show's creators say the switch changes the families' core values in ways they could not have imagined.

"'Black.White' will force people to challenge themselves and really examine where we stand in terms of race in this country," Ice Cube said.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On Mumia Abu-Jamal: "A victory for Mumia"

From Salon

Dec. 8, 2005 | In a major development in the 24-year-old death penalty case of Philadelphia journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, a panel of three judges of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Tuesday that Abu-Jamal can appeal his murder conviction on three separate grounds." more.

SEE ALSO: Sketchy Thoughts

To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Mumia Abu-Jamal - Decision, U.S. Court of Appeals [PLEASE CIRCULATE]
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2005 20:27:10 EST

Dear Friends and Supporters:

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued the most important decision affecting my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, since the lower federal court ruling in December 2001. An order was issued this morning that the court will accept for review the following issues, all of which are of enormous constitutional significance and go to the very essence of Mumia's right to a fair trial due process of law, and equal protection of the law under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

Claim 14: Whether appellant was denied his constitutional rights due to the prosecution’s trial summation.

Claim 16: Whether the Commonwealth’s use of peremptory challenges at trial violated appellant’s constitutional rights under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

Claim 29: Whether appellant was denied due process during post-conviction proceedings as a result of alleged judicial bias. more.

Harold Pinter - Nobel Prize Address

Harold Pinter delivering his Nobel lecture via video to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/EPA via The Guardian

In The Guardian

In 1958 I wrote the following: 'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false" [...] "I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain." more.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Two Reviews of Mel Watkins' book on Stepin Fetchit

In New York Times "How a Black Entertainer's Shuffle Actually Blazed a Trail"

"At the height of his career, from the late 1920's into the mid-30's, Lincoln Perry soared as Hollywood's first black superstar. His "Laziest Man in the World" shtick, so exquisitely honed that the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that it was "as stylized as James Joyce," made him an icon everywhere in the world. He effortlessly stole scenes from the finest actors in Hollywood, earning the respect of greats like Charlie Chaplin, Lionel Barrymore and Will Rogers. He owned a dozen chauffeur-driven limousines, served watermelon to white guests at his lavish soirées and caroused with Mae West and Jack Johnson.

You say you've never heard of Lincoln Perry? Try his stage name: Stepin Fetchit.

Long after Perry's performances have faded or been edited from our collective memory, "Stepin Fetchit" lives on as an insult and a mark of shame, like "Uncle Tom." With his sleepy eyes, whining drawl and shuffling feet, Stepin Fetchit was the screen avatar of that hoariest and most loathed of stereotypes, the utterly servile yet totally shiftless Negro. Widely praised as a comic genius during his heyday, Stepin Fetchit is known now only as a race traitor." more.

SEE ALSO: Claudia Pierpoint Roth's New Yorker review of Caryl Phillips Dancing in the Dark a novel that has at its center Bert Williams.

In Bookforum"Pee Wee's Plantation: The Rise and Fall of Black Character Actor Stepin Fetchit" By Gerald Early

In some respects, Stepin Fetchit, the path-breaking or infamous—depending on your view—African-American character actor of the late 1920s and '30s, brings to mind Pee-wee Herman. Both were actors known by the names of their characters rather than by their real names, who came undone not just by their success as actors, but by the imaginative power and artistic imprisonment of the characters they created; the fact that their characterizations took on a life of their own to such an extent and with such intensity submerged their creators not just beneath an icon (not uncommon for an actor who plays a popular character like, say, James Bond) but behind an almost independent consciousness. (Fetchit was often in character, the slow-talking, sleepy, southern black malingerer speaking in dialect, in some form or fashion, when he gave newspaper and radio interviews, for instance. Pee-wee Herman did television interviews in character, as the childlike innocent adult in makeup and tight-fitting suit.) more.

In Slate Back in Blackface: The rehabilitation of "Stepin Fetchit." By Armond White

Few pop consumers remember who Stepin Fetchit was. That must mean we've come a long way from the period when mass media trafficked in racist black stereotypes, because Stepin Fetchit was one of the primary purveyors of that iconography. The minstrel-show tradition that lampooned African-Americans (sometimes by white performers in blackface) was kept going by Stepin Fetchit himself, who was black by birth and a race clown by chosen profession. This complicated identity is the subject of Mel Watkins' recent biography Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry, an account of the history of the notorious film- and stage performer who shuck-and-jived his way into mid-20th-century American pop consciousness. more.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What happened to the Hampton Students

About the students threatened with expulsion. From Znet

On Wednesday November 2, 2005 at Hampton University, the progressive campus group affiliated with Amnesty International, United Students Against Sweatshops, and Campus Anti-War Network held a student walk-out on the issues of New Orleans urban renewal, AIDS crisis, homophobia, the prison industrial complex, the war in Iraq, and the crisis in Sudan. The organizers for the group had been planning the action for sometime, and promoted it with radio announcements, posters around the campus, and handing out fliers at campus group meetings. The planned activities included speeches, chants, poetry, and musical performances. Earlier that day an international student was subjected to intense interrogation by the Dean of Women and was told by the Hampton University police that she would be shadowed by a cop. At twelve noon Brandon King began to speak to about 75-100 students in the Student Center about our plans for the day. We handed out information on the Iraq war and the Katrina disaster. Then armed HU police abruptly shut down our activities.

The HU police booked several people just because they were wearing stickers and other paraphernalia that advertised our events. They booked people who weren't even wearing paraphernalia because they looked suspicious. The police used hand-held camcorders to record the faces of the activists without our permission. They attempted to intimidate the student onlookers by their random targeting. Three of us were singled out as leaders by the Dean of Men and HU police, who temporarily confiscated our students ID cards. The next day, one leader of our group, Brandon King, was told by a Hampton University Lieutenant Detective that, despite the fact that he was a "hometown athlete," he would be expelled if he did not cooperate and give up the names of other group members. more.

From professor kim.

"6 Hampton Protesters Ordered to Perform Community Service" Black College Wire reports that six students at Hampton University will be required to perform community service as punishment for distributing flyers critical of the Bush administration with prior approval from the University. A seventh student was let off with a warning. The students' plight received attention and support from noted activists and scholars in the US and elsewhere.

This is the second major free-speech controversy at the Virginia school in recent years. In 2003, University administrators seized the school's newspaper because the staff did not print a notice that the administration wanted on the front page.more.