Stealing Houses In NOLA

by bicyclemark

It was probably my second day in New Orleans and I decided to go visit the common ground legal clinic. I had heard they were providing free legal advice and a mini computer lab for local residents who want to get informed about their rights and perhaps how to manage property issues that have emerged after Katrina. After some nice emailing with one of the spokespeople… I figured going there would be an interesting experience.

As usual I drove around in circles, distracted every five minutes by another neighborhood of abandoned or destroyed houses. Eventually I found the legal clinic on a very lovely and typical new orleans street with the nice trees growing in the middle island that people seem to refer to as neutral territory. A large house with a dry cleaners on the ground floor, as I pulled up I could already see lots of people hanging out using their computers… I knew I had come to the right place.

Fast forward an hour or so, I’m sitting on the front porch sharing a little plastic table with a pretty young lady on her laptop, both of us typing away franticly.

At some point I strike up a conversation. She’s a law student from Seattle… as are many of the volunteers at the legal clinic. They come down in waves whenever they can, and right now it was spring break. When I asked her what tasks she was working on, she held up a stack of photocopied newspaper pages.

“You see these… they look like classified ads don’t they? These are printed in the big local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, everyday. Thing is, they’re not classified ads, they notices of properties that are considered abandoned, warning people that they will be evicted from their property if they don’t do something about it.”

I looked at the tiny print and the neverending list of properties, each one representing a life, or probably a family. Looking up at the young law student, I asked if this was legal?

“It’s the way the city is taking people’s properties. Legally they only have to publish the bulletins in an official document three times, and this newspaper counts as an official document.”

I sat there discussing this issue with her and I started thinking about how this will work: tons of families… lets say thousands upon thousands, have not returned to new orleans. Many probably can’t afford to, as their ticket was a one way ticket to some far off state, including such places as ALASKA, several people told me. In other cases they haven’t come back for a whole host of other reasons, or maybe they’re still working on getting back, or they just haven’t figured out how to handle their damaged house versus their current situation in a new state.

At the same time, it’s not likely they read the newspaper everyday. Maybe online if they’re committed enough, but even there Im not sure they’re publishing these lists of warnings. Meanwhile they might think their house, though damaged, is still there.. waiting for them, while the city publishes the warning for the third time.. poof.. goodbye house.. lean on the property.. a little more time and the city will have reclaimed countless land and they can do with it whatever they please… including selling it to the highest bidder.

Rampart.

Voila, a strategy to get rid of abandoned houses, poor people, and change the demographic of the city while generating some big money.

Ok I’m done speculating. Eventually she and I stopped talking and went back to typing. She reached into her bag and pulled another stack of copies. More listings.. these were from last week, I sat there wondering how many people had no idea of what was happening to their neighborhood back home.

Hopefully we will find out more about this topic in a few upcoming podcasts.

Resonating in my Ears

by bicyclemark

Working very very late on some upcoming podcasts, from Afghanistan, to Guinea, to Liberia.. there’s alot coming up.

But in the meantime, as I did my research for the day, which always includes almost 6 hours of podcasts daily, two in particular had me captivated and hitting rewind to hear words again.

The first was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who most people in the Netherlands would be quite tired of hearing from, but in this case she appeared on WBUR Boston’s On Point, to discuss her new book and of course… the usual condemnation of islam. I must say, I don’t agree with her on many things, but I always tune in to interviews with her.. she has an interesting style and she handles debate quite well.
But in this particular program what is striking is her descriptions of both her and her brother being forcefully circumcized back in Somalia when she was a child. Each word of her sentences made me shutter. And even more captivating are the callers from around the US that call in to either condemn her.. or mostly to praise her in very strange ways.. including reminding her of how great it is to live in the US and having Jesus watching over her. AN INSTANT CLASSIC.

OT301 again.

The other program that Ill never forget was Monday’s democracy now, featuring an interview with one of my hero’s and citizen journalist-colleague… Josh Wolf.. on the phone from prison. You should really hear what he has to say about what has happenned to him and the country. Among other things, it reminded me of how dangerous it is for individual… independent journalists making their own media without the backing of corporate or government forces, to do what I do within the United States. As far as Im concerned it could happen to me or any other of my wonderful friends out there doing our own reporting. Josh is an inspiration and a hero…. they should be learning about him in schools everywhere!

Portugal’s Yes

by bicyclemark

I was on the phone with mom earlier this evening and I asked if she’d heard about the results of the referendum. “NO I haven’t!” she said.

Portugal held a referendum yesterday on the question of abortion. While I was there in December I did see a scattered few billboards in Lisbon urging either a YES to legalize abortion or NO to keep abortion illegal. While I did get to ask a few people about it, i don’t remember much conversation on the topic, but I was definitely watching the results come in last night as Im sure many of my Portuguese friends were.

The result is that the Yes vote got 59% of the vote. A very loud statement that the voting citizenry of the nation were tired of seeing women being incarcerated for seeking abortions or fleeing to other countries in order to get one. Unfortunately less than 50 percent of elligible voters actually turned out, which I believe doesn’t make the referendum fully binding… but it looks like this will provide the necessary push for lawmakers to change the law.

Yahoo news/AFP photo.

I watched the annoying coverage on CNN last night; its Portugal so you can’t expect more than 2 minutes with 30 seconds of video… cut to commercial for Dubai or some other wealthy play ground apparently Im supposed to consider visiting based on their ads.

The graphic under the brief video read “most of Portugal is catholic.” I read the graphic and kept thinking… GREAT. They should have added a graphic, “Portugal may have citizens who think for themselves and don’t look to the vatican for instructions on how to run a country.” I realize many do look to the vatican, but I still think the graphic and the image that Portuguese are so completely tethered to religion is a somewhat out-dated assumption. Somebody get me the church attendance numbers.

All in all, an interesting milestone in the history of Portugal as the nation evolves and democracy matures. If you accept that this is how a democracy matures; declining voter turn out, struggle with religious traditions… sounds fairly typical.

Stay tuned for a podcast related to this topic in the coming week, as I just realized Women on Waves is in my neck of the woods.

bm171 Constitutional Convention Call

by bicyclemark

It was a recent On Point program that really caught my attention when it comes to the topic of the constitution and the structure of the US government. In this show I go over some of what was said on the program, I answer back, and probably echo a little too much.

To hear the full On Point program, click here
And then read Federalist Paper number 10 by Madison.. thats a good one