Disenfranchised Citizen

Chicago, New Orleans and living a beautiful, angry life between the two…

Meanwhile, in Berlin…

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Busy days these past couple of months…too busy to spend any time up here really, which can happen when you’re setting up a job and a new apartment cross the country while closing out another job you’ve been working for three years – and at the same time, just for the fuck of it, planning a trip to Germany and Denmark immediately after the move.

And so I’ve moved.

And so I’ve been to Germany and Denmark.

And now I’m home again, back in Chicago.

And did you know, in Berlin, they have a Ramones Museum? They do…and inside this museum and cafe they have a wall which has been signed by hundreds of musicians who’ve been to the museum to pay their respects and on this wall, right in the middle of it all, I found this:

IMG_19800105_211049

Have a nice day…and see you soon.

- Drake

Written by Drake Toulouse

November 29, 2014 at 9:27 AM

A reaction to the reckless…

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You still suck...

A horrible, no good, very bad “green” company…

 

Yesterday, Judge Carl Barbier ruled British Petroleum was guilty of gross negligence in the lead-up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, stating BP made “profit-driven decisions” during the drilling of the well and “these instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risk.” Barbier went on to say that due to the “egregious” nature of BP’s actions, if legal precedent had permitted, he would have found it appropriate to tack on punitive damages in the case.

British Petroleum, feeling justice had run its due course, nodded solemnly and agreed it was time to truly make things right by dropping any further legal proceedings and began to immediately pay claims again. They also issued a heart-felt apology to all it had harmed through it’s actions over the past years.

Right.

No…instead BP immediately threatened to appeal the ruling and called the decision “erroneous,” while insinuating the court isn’t being impartial.

Now that sounds more like the oil company we all know and loathe and so, a few reactions to these events:

1. The immediate would of course be to simply express towards BP, “Good. Deal with it you responsibility shirking, PR department hiding greed-merchants. You put profit first, ruined many and you get what you deserve.”

2. A more thoughtful response could simply be wonderment…is it possible that a mega-corporation is finally being held legally responsible for their actions, and in a way that actually helps those the company has harmed? The increased fines from this ruling will benefit coastal restoration projects, and coastal restoration is good for all in Louisiana. The oil spill did much, much damage to the coast, to the wildlife, to businesses and to people. British Petroleum made a lot of promises when this was headline news, but appears to be trying to extricate themselves from their mess as much as possible now that the media has gone. This ruling puts them financially back on the hook for their reckless behavior in a way that can make a strong impact in coastal restoration.

3. BP will appeal, of course. Why not? Nothing for them to lose here in an appeal process, nothing at all. Exxon dragged the whole Valdez thing out for how long, twenty years? So of course British Petroleum will do the same. And we haven’t even gotten to the legal arguments about how many barrels of oil were actually spilled, there being a vast difference between BP’s estimate and the government’s. With the fine potentially being $4,300 dollars a barrel, there will be a huge financial difference.

4. The government could respond to BP’s endless appeals by putting financial pressure on the company. As I wrote before, the government has some leverage, for while it is certainly BP’s right to fight each and every legal ruling with time consuming appeals while people go broke, the environment continues to degrade and the coast disappears, it is also the government’s right to step in and say, “You know what? That oil spill thing has become so contentious and we just don’t want to muddy the waters any further so, BP? Yeah, we’re just going to suspend your Gulf oil leases until this is all over, settled, until everybody’s happy and then we can move forward again as partners, in good faith.”

But for now, British Petroleum continues to drill in the Gulf while at the same time play the victim in the aftermath of their own, created destruction. They say the judge is not impartial, the people are demanding too much, we can’t be blamed for the decline in oyster harvest; there isn’t enough proof. And this goes on and on and on…all while they maintain how they’re a wonderful and even “green” company who is nothing more but your humble steward doing everything they can to right what’s wrong.

It’s bullshit…like BofA, like Chase: BP’s just another company doing some, but not enough to fix the problems they created when they put profit before all. British Petroleum should, and can do a lot more by dropping their appeals, the delay tactics and any pretense at being a victim and pay up, make good on their promises.

Much appreciation to Judge Carl Barbier for an important ruling, one that might go a ways in making sure this actually happens.

Have a nice day.

Written by Drake Toulouse

September 5, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Nine…

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katrinawaterlineplaque01I wasn’t living in New Orleans when the levees failed, I was one year in on my first time in San Francisco, watching it all unfold on television just like most people not in New Orleans…the anger is still clear, as is the disbelief.

Respect and remembering those who lost and those who struggled…still struggle. And a recognition of those who still have been unable to get home. I know someone out here in SF constantly torn between going back to a place that triggers so much trauma versus staying in a place that has never been home, no matter how much he tries to make it one…

Best to him, best to all, and may those still seeking resolution nine years later, find it.

Have a nice day.

Written by Drake Toulouse

August 29, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Bobby Jindal’s desperate measuring…

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So angry, so forceful, so direct...so hollow and tired.

I need a ruler! Right fucking now!

In a recent column for Fox News, Bobby Jindal writes: “I understand that the President of the United States should not be prone to wild rhetoric.”

He writes this, but I’m not sure he really understands and he should, since he has all but announced he’s running for President in 2016. He has the think tank. He is going to all the right places: Ohio, Virginia…anywhere he can go where national organizations will give him a microphone. He’s been debating Obama for years already and has legislated in his own state in such a way that his constituents suffer (from lack of health insurance as one example) while he bolsters his GOP fringe credibility.

“I understand that the President of the United States should not be prone to wild rhetoric.”

Bullshit.

Last week, Barack Obama spoke about the murder of James Foley, executed in a youtube video released by religious extremists. Among other things, the President said “The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done and we act against ISIL, standing alongside others.”

Bobby took issue with these remarks and many other statements the President made, labeling them as “insufficient, naive and just plain weak.” In his column Bobby writes how his “blood is still boiling over the recent murder,” and though not completely sure what name these “murderous fools” go by, either ISIS or ISIL, it doesn’t really matter because obviously “their real name is EVIL.” He criticizes Obama’s call for mere justice, stating unequivocally we should be offering “death, instead of justice,” and wishing the president would use a more rhetorically appropriate phrase for justice, such as “we will hunt them down and kill them,” and not just kind of kill them, but kill them “completely.”

Yet Bobby understands that “the President of the United States should not be prone to wild rhetoric.”

Okay, but does he understand his column reads like something from the comments section to a Sarah Palin Facebook post? Does he understand that to go so overboard on his criticisms smacks of a crass political opportunism at the expense of James Foley’s family and loved ones?

If he does, Bobby doesn’t seem to care and maybe he can’t, because Barack Obama’s weakness cannot go unchallenged, Bobby is not merely “quibbling with words” here. No, “the issue is far bigger than that.” And this bigger issue is how the President is so naive, how he downplayed the dangers of ISIS and how in his remarks he asserted that “people like this ultimately fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” Bobby will have none of that utopian hippie bullshit that Obama hopes will reassure Americans, making them comfortable, no way. Bobby’s got only one thing on his appropriately rhetorical mind, and that is reminding us all how we won WWII, not by building, but by destroying, perhaps inferring America should drop a nuclear bomb on the terrorist group, before finally adding, “The murderous fools who cut the heads off Americans must be destroyed, and sent to their reward, such as it is, in the next life.”

So there, fuckers!

“I understand that the President of the United States should not be prone to wild rhetoric.”

Bullshit.

Wild rhetoric is all Bobby’s got.

His whole response in this column is just one more demonstration of his angry, fist shaking routine he directs at the White House, or the Feds, or the Anyone The Tea Party Hates, in another of a long line of desperate pleas through columns and speeches and photo-ops to get seen, get heard, get noticed…

Please?

No foreign policy necessary here…just kill these murderous fools. No need to have allies in the Middle East…destroy! No need to be concerned about our place in the world, or any interpretations of our actions by those whose support we need…murder, maim, kill! I’m hard pressed to understand how I’m supposed to take Bobby seriously when it would appear his Middle Eastern Foreign Policy would fit completely on a bumper-sticker where God gets to sort them out, but we’ve seen this all before, Jindal’s righteous indignation routine. He’s been practicing it since the days of the oil spill and it might be one thing if they held any sort of substance, but they don’t. Whether he’s yelling about Common Core, religious liberty, hostile takeovers or terrorist coddling it’s all starting to amount to just Bobby being Bobby, tailoring a reactionary response to what at other times might even be a made-up problem, anything that gives him opportunity to pound his fist and shout about it until someone gives him some attention…

Pretty please?

I’ve seen actual one trick ponies more capable of producing a surprise.

This shtick is boring, ineffective and tired. It’s Al Gore at the Gore/Bush debates sighing loudly and rolling his eyes. It’s some asshole in the stands behind home plate yelling “Swing Batter!” over and over and over again, the entire fucking game. In fact, the only way this particular column could’ve become more desperate and cartoonish is if it had been accompanied by a picture of Bobby with his pants down and a ruler in hand.

Have a nice day.

Written by Drake Toulouse

August 25, 2014 at 5:28 AM

Suspend British Petroleum’s Gulf Leases, again…

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Nothing is over...

Nothing’s over…

It was over four years ago that British Petroleum unleashed their disaster in the Gulf Coast and for four years we’ve all been hearing about how BP will not rest until they “make it right” for the Gulf and all affected by the spilled oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed eleven people and have harmed tens of thousands more. We hear it. We hear it all the time. To this day, the commercials play out across television, radio, on billboards and on the internet, yet what they say is still far from the truth.

Things in the Gulf are not all right.

Instead, they have become litigious and a company that’s reaped so much profit is now spending on so many lawyers to sift through their agreements for technicalities while disputing new environmental evidence, practices that though they may follow the letter of the law and allow those at BP to sleep at night, damages the spirit of their agreements with a region repeatedly violated, turning this four year old, ongoing disaster into nightmares for those across the Gulf Coast.

So, maybe it’s time for their leases to again be suspended by the EPA until they stop fighting, accept responsibility and truly make amends not only for the known damages, but for any succeeding damage to both people and the environment not yet uncovered. Suspend their leases until their following courses of action change:

The Supreme Court Appeal

In 2012, British Petroleum agreed to a settlement with people harmed by their oil spill, an arrangement with a complex methodology that takes into account a business’s location within certain zones along the Gulf Coast and a basic formula for lost revenues and recovery. Since this agreement, BP has been challenging that some of the methodology’s covered businesses couldn’t have been harmed by the spill and has argued, repeatedly in front of US District Court Judge Carl Barbier’s court that these businesses should not be paid. Barbier has consistently and repeatedly maintained that BP entered into an agreement and should abide, that BP agreed to pay businesses according to this formula as part of a compromise and it would be disingenuous to now try to pick apart the methodology they agreed to in his courtroom.

But BP is not backing down. They instead are asking the Supreme Court to protect them from their own decisions, from their own agreements and word will come down in October from the Supreme Court on whether they will hear this appeal. It’s four years after the spill. The national media is gone from the story. British Petroleum wants out of their agreement to “make things right.”

The Medical Settlements

When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, workers were hired by the thousandfold to clean up the oil, lay and replace boom, whatever was necessary to get as much of the oil out of the water as quickly as possible. Many of these clean-up workers didn’t have protective equipment and many non-oil clean-up workers also were affected by the toxins, just by living in the area or being on or near the water. This has understandably left a lot of people in the Gulf sick, and many more could become sick later. British Petroleum is now interpreting their medical settlements not by what will make people whole for these medical complaints, but by when they were diagnosed with their ailments…a calender date that has little to do with the severity of any medical consequences and everything to do with how much British Petroleum wants to pay to settle a bill for any possible medical care.

Again, it’s four years after the spill and the national media is gone from the story. British Petroleum wants to alter their agreement and it would seem, make things just right enough for their bottom line.

Ongoing Environmental Damage

And the oil is not gone, neither is the chemical dispersant they used. Environmental damage to the Gulf Coast continues with record dolphin and sea turtle deaths as well as extensive damage to coral that show the oil spill’s footprint is both deeper and wider than previously thought. Last year, beach monitors discovered more than 46,000 thousand tar balls and over one and a half tons of submerged tar mats, and there is also evidence that the “quickly evaporating” dispersant BP dumped all over the Gulf is still there, found in tests all over the region. In addition, the oyster situation is grim with thousands of acres of oyster beds producing less than a third of the pre-oil spill harvest. Also troubling is the complete lack of oyster larvae on all of these decimated reefs, places where the oil came ashore and would seem to forecast that the oyster yields will not improve any time soon.

When confronted with any of this evidence BP sticks to standard blame shifting, citing possible other causes or saying the evidence shows nothing conclusive, a shrug of the shoulders from the latest BP spokesman before moving on and really, why not? It would appear British Petroleum is counting on the nation no longer paying attention to how, or how not concerned BP really is with the Gulf and besides, didn’t you see the commercials, the bright and shining faces, the pastoral natural scenes of sunsets and water and birds and boats and…

BP is doing quite alright, thank you

Just ask their shareholders, who must be feeling pretty good about their investment these days, especially when BP recently came to an agreement with the EPA and are now resuming business with the Federal Government in the Gulf. In fact, at the most recent auction, British Petroleum was the “highest bidder on 24 offshore oil and gas blocks out of the 31 properties it pursued in auction.” This to go along with increased dividends for shareholders, several new oil rigs coming online and a 10% increased stock price projection based on their 2nd quarter earnings in 2014.

Bully.

So then…BP is fighting Deepwater Horizon business and medical settlements in court, is shifting blame on the environmental destruction they caused, the deaths to sea turtles, coral, dolphins and the decimation of thousands of oyster reefs all while minimizing the amount of oil and dispersant still in the Gulf and still washing ashore. In addition, they are again bidding on oil blocks for new oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, set to start reaping in even greater profits than before.

Again. Bully.

This is making someone right, yes…but not the Gulf.

This is seeking loopholes in settlement agreements to pay as little as possible to those they’ve harmed while laying the groundwork to make even more profit from the very region they’ve wrecked.

That’s not justice.

And in response, it would only seem fair to propose that until British Petroleum truly honors their words, they should not be permitted to continue in the Gulf. They should remain locked out from a region they’ve already harmed so much, at least until they truly account for themselves and follow the spirit of their agreements by sending their lawyers home. I understand this suggestion might seem extreme, but is it any less extreme than the belief that everyone impacted by their 2010 spill should receive complete restitution, that the coast should be rebuilt and that all medical bills should be paid, regardless of when the diagnosis occurred? I stand by those beliefs and for BP to meet this bar, it would be to keep their promises and their agreements. It would be to actually honor what they claimed they would do from the beginning: to make things right, because right now, every roadblock BP throws up in court dishonors their company, their promises and everyone affected who has to suffer, worry or leave their lives in the Gulf behind.

The EPA should suspend the leases until BP stops their squirming.

Suspend the leases and close BP’s wallets until they finally decide to open them for the purpose of paying for the damage they’ve done, without technicality, loophole or blame-shifting….and make them keep that wallet open as we continue to learn the extant of the damages they’ve caused as a result of their negligence.

Have a nice day.

And for continued coverage of Gulf Coast happenings, please continue to read:

Dambala at American Zombie.

David Hammer at WWL.

Written by Drake Toulouse

August 18, 2014 at 5:14 AM

Around the way…

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Eighteen years ago, I was one of several thousand people standing on Adams Street in Chicago. We craned our heads to look over the solid wall of police, past a parking lot to the United Center where the Democrats were having their National Convention. It had been a long march from Wicker Park, to demonstrate against the death penalty and police brutality and as night was falling, a couple of bonfires lit up Adams, dancing the light and throwing shadows at the since demolished Henry Horner Homes.

At the time, the buildings that made up these projects were already pretty ragged, but the playground equipment was brand new, shiny and colorful, put in place by the city should any media covering the convention break ranks and make their way to where we were blocked in by the police, far away from the eyesight of any delegates.

And what I really remember, or maybe better put…will never forget are the four kids who skipped past me as I stood by the fire, holding hands, smiling, singing: “Nobody cares, nobody cares, nobody cares about us!” I know that might sound like bullshit, something made up to fit a convenient narrative, but it’s not. I saw them three more times that night, and they kept up with their song every time they came around. The last time, at least they had ice cream cones.

Sometimes, I wonder where the four of them are now. All the time, I wish things were different, but scenes like Ferguson (again with the tear gas last night) tell me it’s not. And in Chicago, the kids still sing the same song, and even though the most notorious Chicago projects are long gone, the kids still have to duck too many bullets and batons all over the South and West Side…while Rahm Emanuel proposes a school to be named after Barack Obama, built where those kids aren’t.

No, not much has changed at all.

But we keep trying, because those in (official) power have shown, time and time again, they won’t…

Lupe Fiasco – Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)

Have a nice day.

Written by Drake Toulouse

August 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

The shelters may not be the answer for all under the Pontchartrain Expressway…

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Because this too, is what community looks like...

This too, is what community looks like…

Like many of you, I have been reading about the coming forced evacuations of the 120 plus homeless people who currently reside nightly underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway in downtown New Orleans. City officials began handing out 72 hour notices on Monday evening, citing health violations, safety concerns and drug use as parts of the problem which are necessitating this move. Outreach workers will be on hand to help steer people into the shelters, where resources and case management will be made available to assist people in finding more suitable, long term housing.

Sounds like a win-win on its surface: resources made available for people who need it and the city doesn’t have to worry about a growing health and safety problem…but you just know it’s not that simple.

People aren’t that simple, much as we might want them to be.

So then, why might somebody choose the streets of New Orleans, choose to live under an overpass instead of a shelter with resources?

1. Shelters have rules and curfews. Oftentimes, dismissive types claim homeless people don’t like shelters because the curfews and rules prevent people with addictions from getting drunk or high. And for some, that may very well be a part of it but that’s not the whole story. First off, not all homeless people are addicted to substances. Second, people also bristle at curfews and rules because homelessness doesn’t suddenly instill in people the desire to give up their freedoms. They are adults, and most adults don’t want to answer to strangers, be told what to do, when to eat, where and when to sleep, what time to be at the shelter and when it is too late for them to leave, or lose their bed. A loss of so many freedoms most of us take for granted can be a pretty demeaning feeling in an already often demeaning situation, feeling less than, stigmatized, not in control of your own situation…out on the streets, there’s still an element of control, of making independent choices most adults I know would be loathe to give up. Can’t sleep and want to go for a walk, have a smoke, make a phone call? Curfews and rules might say nope.

2. The men and women who live under the overpass have formed a community, one that could be broken up in a shelter. No communities are perfect and some can be dangerous and certainly, with assaults and sexual exploitation that have been documented under the Pontchartrain Expressway, this community has its dangers, but it is a community. People there look out for each other, know each other, know when someone’s not doing well and sometimes even care for one another. That’s what people do. To many, this community is a known and it’s voluntary inasmuch as there is a choice on whether or not to be in that community. There are understandings there, and to go into the shelters is to give this up and put yourself at the mercy of the unknown. There may be someone in the shelter somebody has a past with, somebody that makes another feel threatened or unsafe. It can be a very hard choice.

3. What about their belongings? Most shelters, due to space restrictions, have set limits on how many belongings you can bring through their door. When you’re homeless, oftentimes the stuff you have with you is what you have left of your present and former identity. On the streets, there are no restrictions upon how much you can bring with you and to be told by strangers what is necessary for you to have and what is expendable, that anything outside of two bags is superfluous and to be told you need to go through your possessions and decide what to keep and what to throw away is extraordinarily difficult for anyone who has already lost so much.

4. In the shelters there may be issues with staff treatment. Let me say first that I can only believe the vast majority of people who work in the shelters do so because they care, because they really want to help and work very hard, but having myself worked in shelters it is a fact not everyone is like this. There are predators. There are abusive staff. In San Francisco, staff like this were called “jailers.” They exist, and they can do a number of things to shelter residents. Curse them out. Kick them out arbitrarily. Coerce favors for perks at the shelter…use your imagination. It isn’t a regular occurrence I’m sure, but it happens. And if you are a shelter resident it happens to, it can be extraordinarily damaging.

5. The shelters have time limits, and many of those time limits are short. Three weeks at the New Orleans Mission. Ten days at Ozanam. That is not enough time to fix the kind of problems that lead to homelessness. Now, at some shelters, people do have options for more time, up to a year if they are in mental health or substance abuse programs and for some that may be precisely what they need to right what needs righting, but not everybody is ready to accept that kind of help. Not everyone thinks they have a substance abuse problem and many with mental health issues may dislike the stigma that comes with treatment, adding to the stigma of being homeless or they may not think they need treatment at all, have a lack of insight or be against medications. Mental health and substance addiction are very complex issues and when combined they can be that much more so. And with these time limits, where do people go when they time out? Back to the shadows of the overpass? Maybe to a different neighborhood or city, or to jail?

6. Many of these shelters charge nightly, some upwards of ten dollars a night. One can go to various churches and get fee waivers, but it’s difficult to cart your belongings from one place to another to get a waiver, then back to the shelter at night and in the morning, have to leave the shelter all day, still carrying belongings. It’s more loss of autonomy and more answering to others. Either that or you can pay the ten dollars a night, money many don’t have so they are  then forced to panhandle to get. With all of this, it can be easier, freer, more autonomous and independent to stake out a spot on the streets and just stay there. Not ideal obviously, but for some it can seem a better choice.

Now, as a social worker for the past twenty plus years I do feel that some of the people who are forced out of the homeless encampment will get a chance to do something different, maybe get treatment or mental health help, maybe even housing and that is certainly a win for them, especially in the long run but I also feel some won’t be ready for these steps. Some have been on the streets so long to try to acculturate themselves back into a life away can be difficult. Mental illness can make it more difficult. Mental illness and addiction, even more so. Some just won’t be ready.

It should seem obvious the people living under the expressway are doing so for a reason. You may not understand what those reasons are or even disagree with them, but that makes these reasons no less real or valid. Rather than kicking them out, why not continue to provide outreach, outreach, outreach while helping them to be safe, right where they are until that outreach leads to a home, or until they are ready to face any problems they might have. If there are public health issues, clean it up, or provide incentive for the people staying there to clean it up themselves. Provide waste disposal, port-a-lets, whatever’s necessary. Bring the solutions to them and put in the time to make it work, take hold for real. If worried this might lead to people never wanting to leave, find out exactly why it is they want to live under an overpass rather than their own home and work towards solutions to these wants. Find the bigger and better deal and present it to them. It may cost more, but it sure will be more effective in the long run and isn’t helping people the point of all this? If not, it should be, unless this really is being done because of neighbor complaints, pending Saints games at the Superdome or because some consider their fellow citizens, people, to be eyesores.

Rather than the police just forcing them out, possibly traumatizing some and then fencing it all up, there should be a mixture of responses here. This is a community, and for now it has become their home. In social work, there is a oft-quoted phrase: “Meet people where they’re at,” which essentially means to provide the amount of help people are ready to accept and help motivate them over time to accept even more.

Forcing them out of their home with a 72 hour notice is not meeting people where they’re at and for some, not the right thing to do at all.

Have a nice day.

Written by Drake Toulouse

August 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

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