Roundtable: New Orleans Vote, Taxing Big Oil Topics: The New Orleans mayoral election, and a proposed tax on oil companies making big profits at the pump. Guests: Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post; Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the Boston television show Beat the Press; and Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle.
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Roundtable: New Orleans Vote, Taxing Big Oil

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Roundtable: New Orleans Vote, Taxing Big Oil

Roundtable: New Orleans Vote, Taxing Big Oil

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ED GORDON, host:

Now, we turn to our regular roundtable. Joining us today from our New York bureau, Robert George. He's an editorial writer at the New York Post. Callie Crossley is a social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press, seen in the Boston area. She joins us from Harvard University, the studios there in Cambridge. And Jeff Obafemi Carr joins us. He's a radio host of Freestyle down there in Nashville, Tennessee. He joins us via phone today.

All right folks, let's take a look at the idea, Callie Crossley, of that mayoral race. Ray Nagin, the incumbent, received 38 percent of the vote--Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, 29 percent. We are now going to see a run-off. No surprise there. Both of these men were believed to be the frontrunners. Now the interesting point comes as to whether or not we're going to see true racial breakdown, because the majority of the people running who received the majority of the rest of the vote are white, and we'll see if they filter over to Landrieu.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Social and Cultural Commentator, Beat the Press): It will be very interesting to see, and let's not also forget that Landrieu has had a base of black political support. His family is well known in the state, and they have enjoyed that for some time. So I think for some people, that's going to present a quandary if they're at all conflicted. And I think that Mayor Ray Nagin is still overcoming that comments that he made. And he himself said that in his acceptance speech, that listen, I know I made some crazy comments, and I know that's affected--that's going to affect how people support me, particularly those in the so-called white community.

So I think it's going to be very interesting. I would not be surprised if it's split along lines, but I've got to say, I'm even surprised that Ray Nagin got as much black support as he got, give some of the comments that we had heard from African-Americans about how unhappy they were with him.

GORDON: Here's the interesting point, Robert George. To a great degree, so much made about the primary, it will be interesting to see what the turnout will be now that you have two combatants.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think an argument could be made that quite often, run-offs--the vote often decreases. This may be one of the rare times where the vote either stays the same or could even increase, because now you're got two solid candidates everybody can focus on. What the interesting irony, obviously, is that you know, four years ago, Nagin was perceived as the reform candidate and got a lot of white votes because he was sort of running against the entrenched machine. And now, from the preliminary analysis, I guess like the Washington Post and some other papers have done, Landrieu is the one that has sort of the mixed electorate. He has black vote plus the white vote, and he's, at this point I would guess, is probably the frontrunner going into the run-off.

GORDON: Jeff, here's the reality. It doesn't really matter who wins. Whoever wins this election faces a tremendous uphill battle, and will find himself in a quandary no matter which way he turns.

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Host, Freestyle): Oh, they will, but I think there are two key issues here, especially when you talk about the potential for New Orleans in the post-Katrina aftermath. There's been a mad rush to power, and people are seeing the potential to cash in on the redevelopment in what I'm calling, Newest Orleans. There are growing incentives to build there, whether that's a blazingly fast wireless Internet system, cheap real estate with incentives for developers, or even federal support and tax relief for corporations who are willing to pioneer the rebuilding of the poor city.

The big number, too, is that now, Newest Orleans becomes a central power center for the future, and whoever sits in the mayor's seat is going to wield a whole new level of power. So it's the reason why Brettison will take time away from his millions to become a mayor of Nashville, or Blumberg a mayor of New York.

The numbers tell us that perhaps an election was premature with only 76 polling locations down from 262, and six out of 10 residents displaced out of the city. I don't know if there's going to be a challenge. I think there probably will be a challenge if Nagin loses, but who knows? It looks like maybe Nagin's comments about chocolate city maybe energized some blacks to catapult him into the run-off.

GORDON: Yes, it will be interesting to see. As you were calling it, Newest Orleans--a lot of opportunity. But one of the things that people don't really want to talk about there are these whispers--Army Corps of Engineers and the like, you better hope that you don't see the kind of storm we saw before, because the levees still remain a huge problem that New Orleans has to face.

Let's turn our attention to a problem that the United States is facing, those of us who have to pull up to a gas station and put that petrol in our cars--the national average, $2.91. In Brooklyn, New York, there were a couple of stations who were as high as $4.00 over the weekend. Now, we're hearing politicians talking about imposing a windfall tax on oil profit and the like. Callie, how real is this? Because here's the reality: it's not just the oil companies. It's the countries that provide the petrol and fuel to the United States, and it has also placed the Bush administration and politicians in an untenable situation, because you can only control so much of this market.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I don't think it's very real at all for all of the reasons you've just stated. However, it's a great political platform for people who want to posture in this way. They're calling for hearings now, and I think that will allow everybody to rail against oil companies and say we need to do it, and maybe even put something on the table. But the bottom line is the guy in the big chair is somebody who came from oil. And he can't afford to ostracize all of those people who put the big duckets in to support his campaigns, and have been solidly behind him through the administration. So he's between a rock and a hard place.

I think one of the things in which they may be able to get a little bit of a crack is that there are going to be folks in his own party saying, when do we ask Saudi Arabia and some of these other countries to stand up for us the way that we have? I mean, come on now.

So it'll be, it's all about the politics. This oil tax, I never see it happening for real, but it'll allow people a political platform.

GORDON: Hey. Hey, hey Jeff, can you send, quietly or loudly, Condoleezza Rice to some of these OPEC Nations--Saudi Arabia, Venezuela--and suggest that, look, if you don't find a way to bring some of these oil prices down, you know, we're going to start to turn our heads away from guarding your nation and doing some of the other things that the United States does. Can you play hardball at this point?

Mr. CARR: I think you can play hardball at this point. We played hardball with Iran. We played hardball with Iraq. We played hardball and sent Condoleezza out to basically attack the world and bully the world on the part of America. I think it's only reasonable to say that in the crisis situation where the people are called upon to bear the burden of sacrifice in order to save the day--in this case, it's the consumer at the pump--then we have to call the oil companies to step up.

But we also have to be able to say to other nations that this is what we want in return for being the policemen of the world and taking care of you. I don't think that's unreasonable at all to ask the big guys to step up in order to alleviate the burden of the little people.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, the problem, the part of the problem you've got, though, is— well, first of all, the windfall profits tax is a, it's a dumb idea in terms of policy. And it's certainly not going to get, it's certainly not even going get through even this weakened Republican congress.

But what's fascinating is, I mean, Saudi Arabia can really just, really, I think, turn to Condoleezza Rice and say, you know, what do you mean? We're not going to, you're not going to be there to protect us. You're the guys that need the oil. We can find all kinds of markets if we need to. So I mean, I think the United States is in an incredibly tough position.

And this again shows, unfortunately, the weakened position that the President has been in, is in, because he said at his State of the Union Address, you know, that well, we've got this addiction and we need to cure it, and so forth. And, you know, here we are, you know, six months, five months down the road, and there has not been any comprehensive energy policy.

GORDON: All right, let me see if I can get to this very quickly, because of the New Orleans discussion, this is an abbreviated roundtable. But I wanted to make sure that we touched on what is being called an AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C.

About one in fifty people in the nation's capita1--one in 50 has AIDS. It's also the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country. These statistical numbers rival some African countries, Robert George.

Mr. GEORGE: Absolutely. I mean, it's horrifying that it's happening here in the United States, and, of course, it's horrifying that it's happening in the capital city. The, obviously, the focus is going to have to be on education, more prevention. It is, in a sense, refreshing, I think, just on a side note, that the Catholic Church is actually seeing the importance of using condoms in terms of AIDS. But, I mean, there has to be a greater focus here.

GORDON: Yeah, but Jeff, we should note that $500 million dollars over the past eight years has been spent on medical care in that area. And we cannot turn away from the idea that most of these cases are African-Americans.

Mr. CARR: Oh, we can't turn away from that. And it was distressing to say the least to know that that, those numbers are happening in America. I was speaking last week to a group of mostly high schools in a midwestern state, and there were over 600 kids there to hear a presentation. We were talking during the Q and A. And a lady asked, a young lady asked, how do you get AIDS? And I praised her for asking the question. Some people might consider it dumb in this day and age.

And after I answered, it hit me on the way home, so much of the power of this disease lies in the stealth that it's afforded still by ignorance, apathy, and the insensibility on the part of some government officials to combat the disease with information and education, as opposed to the money on the back end for treatment.

GORDON: Callie Crossley, the D.C. …

Mr. CARR: Let me, me…

GORDON: …Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, that's an organization that monitors city's progress of addressing the disease, took a look at this situation and put the blame front and center on government coordination and leadership in the district.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I think that part of the blame is there, but I need to underscore what both Jeff and Robert have said about the education. And that's because I don't think that we have, we, those folks who are in the positions of leadership, and the health officials, have really shifted the focus from what was thought to be the highest risk group--that's white males--and the kind of intense educational efforts that went toward that community and saw some success, to really recognizing who the folks are who are most victim to this disease. And I think we're bearing the fruits of that in Washington, D.C. To, to, with relationship to the leadership…

GORDON: You don't believe that most people now understand that this is…


GORDON: You don't?

Ms. CROSSLEY: There was never a good educational efforts toward our community. There has not been, I mean, there have been attempts, but the kind of coordinated, intense effort that was directed at other at-risk communities has just never happened.

GORDON: Robert George, I can understand, I can understand where young people that Jeff was talking about don't get it. But I don't understand, when I look at all the PSA's and all of the programs and all of the things that are on television, I don't know how black America doesn't know this is an epidemic. I don't.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, I hate to say this, but you know, there is within our community, you know, certain things that you don't often get, often don't get discussed. Homosexuality is one of those things, and really, a serious focus on the issue of sexually transmitted diseases. Maybe one of the, and I mean I hate to, even from a rhetorical standpoint, the president, in his State of Union, actually talked about the fact that the highest incidences are among black women and that has to be the focus.

GORDON: Yeah. Jeff, I, Jeff, I might be in denial in not wanting to see the denial that we're in. Maybe that's why I can't see this.

Mr. CARR: And that's probably the case, Ed, because you have to look at it. Most of us, we're going to be concerned about this, because we're cultural commentators and we get the news out there. But the general population does not want to talk about this huge, ugly, destructive elephant in the world, because it causes them emotional, intellectual, psychological, physical pain. So we don't want to talk about it. We just want to pretend it doesn't exist.

I've not heard conversations coming from the pulpit, from the state houses, from the national bodies on this disease at all. I've heard many conversations about other things.

Mr. GEORGE: Well, Al Sharpton's made some comments here and there, but…

GORDON: Well I would suggest, I would suggest this: that we'd better start talking about it, because our silence is killing us. Literally.

Mr. CARR: That's right.

Mr. GEORGE: Absolutely.

Ms. CROSSLY: Absolutely.

GORDON: And you know, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about that.

All right guys, I appreciate you holding on for an abbreviated roundtable. Greatly appreciate it--Robert George, Callie Crossley, and Jeff Obafemi Carr.

Mr. Carr: Thank you.

Mr. GEORGE: Thank you.

Ms. Crossley: Thanks.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, the city of Atlanta transforms itself through hip-hop. Plus, actor Hill Harper talks about his message of empowerment for young, black men.

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