Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Times They Are A'Changing

The last several days have been a whirlwind of deep introspection and elections. While I was working with the Chilankatoba Lodge of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's National Honor Society, I had an opportunity to take part in ritual work that dates back to the order's founding in 1915. The experience was deeply personal and quite thrilling. As a result of my time spent in the outdoors, I achieved a greater connection to my fellow Arrowmen, much of which I can't and won't discuss. Suffice it to say that it will be something that I will treasure for the remainder of my days as I continue my association with some of the finest young men and dedicated Scouters I have been privileged to know. It was late Saturday night that I perchance was in my car driving back to my campsite when I heard the unbelievable news. William Jefferson, the controversial nine-time U.S. representative from Louisiana's Second Congressional District had been defeated by a relative unknown, a 41-year-old political newcomer named Anh Joseph Cao (pronounced Gow to rhyme with cow). Cao became the very first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. Jefferson was stunned, especially after defeating Democratic challenger and former newscaster Helena Moreno last month and emerging from the primary as the frontrunner a month earlier. Blame it all on Hurricane Gustav, the storm which preempted the Democratic primary scheduled for the first Saturday in September. With Jefferson forced into the runoff with Moreno in November, many of the members of his district -- gerrymandered to maintain a large black population -- thought he had won it all at the same historic moment in time when Barack Obama was elected the nation's first African-American president. But in reality the final election took place this weekend and Gao took advantage of extremely low voter turnout (60,000+ versus 160,00+ the month before) to capture the Congressional seat from Jefferson. To Gao's credit, he is a capable lawyer who was strongly supported by the local Vietnamese-American community in addition to those in the electorate who were embarrassed by Jefferson's recent indictment and pending trial as well as other indictments leveled at other family members. The Jefferson family once considered one of New Orleans' most powerful may soon be one of the most convicted if but some of the charges leveled against Jefferson's brother Mose, sister Betty others are proved in court. Had Jefferson run against Cao in November, there is little doubt that he would be back on Capitol Hill for another two-year term. As it turns out, a new face will be representing New Orleans, albeit for the minority party. In addition Cao will have very little power to wield in his inaugural term given the fact that he was elected as the junior member of Congress last Saturday and that all of the major committee assignments have already been handed out. But it's not really much of a loss of power for Louisiana: Jefferson had been stripped of his leadership posts when the indictments were first handed down. So, it seems like a win-win proposition. The people of Louisiana win and Cao wins. Or, perhaps it's a lose-lose situation: Jefferson loses and the people of Louisiana lose an embarrassing, impotent leader who had outlived his political usefulness.
Meanwhile, I note with sadness the passing of folk singer and American music legend Odetta last week. Odetta was a powerful voice in the Fifties and Sixties, who inspired folk singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, both of whom went on to become even more well known voices for change in the country. In 1965 my mother, father and uncle promoted a concert at Loyola Field House with Odetta during a time when the civil rights struggle was in full swing. Her deep vibrato seemed to well up from within her soul, while her acoustic guitar was used as both a rhythmic and percussive device. Here's al link to a fellow Jewish blogger, Danny Miller's"Jew Eat Yet" tribute to Odetta. Odetta, who sang at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, was slated to repeat a performance at the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. In fact her most recent album, "Odetta: Lookin' for a Home" was nominated for a Grammy Award. Odetta was 77.

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