Following this month's conference of U.S. mayors announcing support for the Freedom to Marry initiative, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this week announced new provisions to "ensure that its core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said "the Obama Administration has viewed the fight for equality on behalf of the LGBT community as a priority and I’m proud that HUD has been a leader in that fight. ... With this historic rule, the Administration is saying you cannot use taxpayer dollars to prevent Americans from choosing where they want live on the basis sexual orientation or gender identity — ensuring that HUD’s housing programs are open, not to some, not to most, but to all.”
Provisions to protect LGBT communities in public housing previously only fell into the Fair Housing Act's considerations. Donovan announced the latest Equal Access to Housing rules on Saturday, Jan. 24 at the 24th National Gay and Lesbian Task Force “Creating Change” Conference. The ACLU called the announcement a "tremendous step forward" — the final ruling (as "Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs — Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity") will be implemented 30 days after its publishing, next week.
HUD also is expanding its race and gender discrimination studies (performed every 10 years) with a study on LGBT discrimination in public housing.
Much of the following was reported by Charles Maldonado, on the scene.
Following Occupy NOLA's complaint against Mayor Mitch Landrieu outlining the city's "unconstitutional deprivation of First Amendment activities," U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey this afternoon issued a seven-day temporary restraining order.
The ruling prevents city-enforced eviction and grants protestors 24-hour access to the park, with some restrictions: no weapons, animals, open flames or electrical cords. Use of the pavilion also is restricted. Tents are allowed — though the city, it admits, trashed what was left when protestors' camps were thrown into a dump truck and crushed. Officials removed the barricades surrounding Duncan Plaza, which was blocked off and its occupiers evicted early this morning (about 4 a.m.). They're allowed to rebuild, effective now.
City attorney Richard Cortizas did not offer comment to Gambit following the hearing, but his full statement is below the jump.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has responded to Concerned Classified City Employees group facilitator Randolph Scott's inquiry as to whether Loyola University president Rev. Kevin Wildes, a Catholic priest who chairs the New Orleans Civil Service Commission, is prohibited by Canon Law from sitting on the public body. As Gambit previously reported, the archdiocese and the local office of the Jesuit order had promised to look into the matter.
In a letter dated Nov. 10, Archbishop Gregory Aymond tells Scott that Canon Law 285 #3, which says "Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power," does not apply to Wildes' position on the Commission.
(Complete letter and Scott's response after the jump)
Update (4:10 p.m.) from the Scene and the Tennessean: The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee and a federal judge has just issued a restraining order barring state police from making any further arrests for the curfew violation.
Meanwhile, Gov. Haslam's Facebook page, where Team Haslam staff members (presumably) post a lot of innocuous "news" items about the beauty of Tennessee's bears, is getting hate-bombed by Occupy Nashville supporters.
Nashville Scene reporter Jonathan Meador was arrested on Friday night, along with a group of Occupy Nashville protesters, for violating a newly imposed curfew at the Occupy Nashville site.
Background: Last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (son of Pilot gas station chain founder "Big" Jim Haslam of Knoxville, Tenn.) imposed a brand new 10 p.m. curfew on Legislative Plaza, a park just outside of the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville and site of the Occupy Nashville campground. Haslam declared the curfew last Thursday, and despite initially telling media that protesters would be given a full day (that is, until 10 p.m. Friday) to comply, state troopers moved in on the plaza late Thursday night/early Friday morning. On Friday, a judge ordered the state to drop its charges against that first round of arrestees. And here's where things take a turn for the truly absurd, or in the language of Tennessee politics, "perfectly normal": Haslam on Friday warned that troopers would again arrest protesters for violating the highly controversial new curfew.
(More after the jump.)
NORTA claimed, however, that it had formed a "committee" to address the problem. Here was its statement on that:
"The St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line and the Perley Thomas Streetcars that service that line are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Prior to any modifications being made to the line or the streetcars, the Regional Transit Authority must seek authorization from governing bodies. The Regional Transit Authority has formed a committee to research the feasibility of moving toward accessibility on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. Members of the committee have discussed critical considerations including legality, operational capacity, safety concerns, and financial implications. All of these considerations are being explored fully prior to any formal action being taken. The RTA is committed to serving all members of the community and offers ADA paratransit services to qualifying riders. Additionally, all other RTA vehicles, with the exception of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, are fully accessible."
When asked for some specifics about the committee — its name, its members, when it held its public meetings, whether those were ever announced — NORTA spokeswoman Patrice Mercadel replied with the following supplemental statement:
"The statement provided constitutes the present position of the RTA as we move forward with exploring the feasibility of St. Charles Avenue Line accessibility."
Today, at the end of NORTA's board of commissioners meeting, I found out the problem. NORTA CEO Justin Augustine III told me that the (repeated) use of the word "committee" was, in fact, a misnomer.
(More after the jump)
The Big Fix has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Prytania Theater, but filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell were joined by the film's subjects at the Contemporary Arts Center this afternoon to introduce the film. It's a necessary intro, as the film drops a bomb on BP and authorities, dropped by a seemingly quiet couple who previously worked on a documentary about clean energy solutions. "We didn't make the movie to pass judgement on an industry, we didn't make the movie to say 'Oil industry should get out of Louisiana' or people shouldn't keep their jobs. We made the movie because what had been done had been covered up and continues to be covered up," said Josh Tickell, a Louisiana native. "Now it's up to you to take this story and tell it in a courageous way that doesn't step over the evidence that shows this man-made disaster isn't over. In may ways it's just begun."
Tickell was joined by attorney Stuart Smith, as well as Hugh Kaufman, an EPA policy analyst who blew the whistle on the effects of Corexit as an oil dispersant in the Gulf as well as 9/11 cleanup workers being exposed to toxins. Dean Blanchard, owner of Blanchard Seafood and is profiled in the film, lamented the past worst shrimp season ever. "Our beach on Grand Isle was one of the most fertile fishing grounds," he said. "Now it's producing less than 1 percent of the shrimp it produced before BP." Blanchard also is concerned about the health of the shrimp and fish in his catch — they got the government's OK, but Blanchard lost his liability insurance, "so every night, when I ship out a load of seafood ... I got a big fear I might harm somebody."
The Big Fix's cold open starts years before the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010. Archive footage illustrates how the company then-named British Petroleum, aided by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, wrangled control of Iran's government and retained rights to its plentiful oil fields. The Islamic revolution, in part a response to the Western seizure of Iran, ended BP's occupation — leaving the documentary to consider where else BP would need to go to support its oil habits: The Gulf of Mexico.
What follows is nothing new, synthesizing the last year of oil disaster coverage — from its victims living on the coast, impacts to their health and wellbeing, impacts to wildlife, bumbling media coverage, lack of media coverage, denied media access, seafood safety, the countdown "soap opera" drama, Tony Hayward and the inevitable transfer of power, the oil's return... a dizzying display of corporate defiance, government ineptitude and flat-out lies and deceptions, all stacked into a two-hour block for national and international viewers. It has the makings of a conspiracy thriller, but clearly this is for a disaster we know is real, ongoing, and has nothing working against it.
Louisiana native Josh Tickell and with his wife Rebecca direct the film, a sort of follow up to their 2008 doc Fuel, which had its New Orleans release in June 2010. Tickell takes the same celebrity players along for the ride to south Louisiana: Peter Fonda and Amy Smart visit shrimpers, residents, captains and beaches. Tickell narrates, but frequently the film gets personal — hidden cameras, sneaking onto beaches, and Rebecca experiencing symptoms doctor-diagnosed as chemical exposure following several boat trips in dispersant-sprayed waterways.
The film takes a step back and evaluates just how much influence oil and gas companies have on national politics. From post-Kingfish Louisiana to the "revolving door" policy (a la the John Breaux-Trent Lott lobby group) to campaign contributions — a network of clear-cut influence from Big Oil into Washington D.C. and elsewhere, while oil companies stomp out legislation for environmental and regulatory oversight, leaving companies like BP to get away with as much as possible with as little interference as possible. We know the consequences. The Gulf Waterkeeper Alliance just released its 2011 State of the Gulf report, counting millions of gallons of oil and gas discharged into Gulf waters from September 2010 to September 2011. BP plugged its leaking well in August 2010.
For all its messy imagery and oftentimes hamfisted civil rights rallying cries, The Big Fix is a massively important film, if only because, as American Zombie writes, it "may be the best opportunity we have to get the truth out about the reality of this oil spill." Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Goddell says we need so badly a wakeup call — and if this disaster isn't big enough, what the hell is?
The film screens tonight at 8:45 p.m. at the Prytania Theater, and again 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Chalmette Movies. Tickets are available online for the Wednesday screening.
“I never pretended, but I didn’t break the policy per se,” said Chris Savage, who was there with his longtime partner Duane Talley for the bar’s “Repeal Day Party.”
Savage, a marine science technician with the rank of E6 petty officer first class in the U.S. Coast Guard, had been serving for more than 17 years, he told Gambit.
“Last week was my first honest conversation,” Savage said. “I was talking to a lieutenant and I just referred to my partner … So often it was just such a dark cloud. It was scary. You couldn’t have the shades open in the house.”
This week's cover story about the city's lack of progress in making the historic St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line accessible for riders with disabilities included an interview with Jonah Bascle. Bascle, a local comedian who uses a wheelchair, last year ran for mayor in an attempt to bring attention to the issue. He tells us he's frustrated at the lack of momentum on St. Charles, not to mention the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority's continued (false) insistence on its Web site that, because the line is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, NORTA by law "cannot update the streetcars with the modern equipment needed to make them accessible to disabled riders."
(More from Jonah Bascle after the jump)
The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), an umbrella advocacy group, will be holding a community forum tonight at the Mahalia Jackson Center in Central City (2405 Jackson Ave.), at which citizens will be able to express their concerns about conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. Regina Jansen, a representative of the U.S. Justice Department, will be in attendance, but co-organizer Rosana Cruz says she isn't aware of anyone representing OPP attending the meeting.
"I don’t believe OPP is sending anyone. They were not in contact with us about this," says Cruz, the associate director of V.O.T.E., one of the groups affiliated with OPPRC. "Our audience is the DOJ and the broader community. We certainly hope that the Sheriff [Marlin Gusman] will be moved to action and change the deplorable conditions in the jail. Barring that, the DOJ can legally force the necessary changes to happen."
Who is OPPRC? The group's website says the membership consists of "concerned organizations and individuals from diverse political, economic, and cultural backgrounds." In an email, Cruz didn't provide any more specifics. "There are civic, cultural and community groups as well as individuals with very diverse professions," she wrote, "judges, musicians, medical care professionals, attorneys, artists, clergy, academics and of course, formerly incarcerated people and others from communities most impacted by the criminal justice system." A comprehensive list will be made available at tonight's meeting, she added. (EDITED TO ADD: OPPRC's Alison McCrary supplied Gambit with a copy of the list; it's under the jump below.)
The meeting will be webcast live at The Lens beginning at 6 pm.
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