New Orleans Notebook: Freezing Budgets, Overheating Pants

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Recommended playlist for driving around New Orleans: Songs off the CDs my friends sent each other while we were spread around the country for several months after Katrina. Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” of course. Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting,” where “I’ve got the ways and means” rhymes with “New Orleans.” (It’s okay because it’s a song, though employing that long “e” under any other circumstances would be supremely uncool.) The New Pornographers’ “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” for obvious reasons; an Erasure cover of Abba’s “S.O.S.” because we thought a reference to a sinking ship was kind of funny.

My destination: The University of New Orleans. I’m working on a story about the state of higher education post-Katrina, which may or may not end up being a story about how Bobby Jindal’s a douchebag.

My first interview was with a former provost and current faculty member. He does not like it when legislators blame UNO’s drastic budget cuts on diminished state revenues without mentioning that the tax code was recently revised specifically to diminish revenues. Back in 2002, an amendment called the Stelly Plan eliminated some sales taxes but implemented a new income tax. Two years ago, Jindal eliminated the new income tax without implementing anything to make up for the revenue loss.

So UNO is on a budget freeze. An assistant told me that no one is authorized to buy pens; she confessed to having stolen and hoarded some from another office. I talked to a faculty member on his way to a meeting where they were going to make a list of staff to be fired when the next round of budget cuts come through. “It’s like something out of a terrible movie,” he said, “where some of the prisoners have to die and the officers are all gathering around to decide…Have you ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory?”

I got a way rosier picture over at the vice chancellor for campus services’ office. Though the campus still has some significant Katrina damage, five years later, the university has already spent $60 or $70 million and has $30 million or so to go before reconstruction is complete. Whether or not there is any faculty around to teach the students, supposedly it’ll be done by the end of next year.

UNO is in better physical shape than some other institutions are, certainly better than some entire neighborhoods, like the one I’m staying in. It is, as it tends to be, too hot to wear pants if you don’t have to, and the other day I took a phone call leaning against the cool glass of the living room windows. I later apologized to the friend who’s giving me run of his unused property for showing the neighbors my underwear. “Those houses across the street are still empty,” he said. “There’s nobody there.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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