May 2003 Archives

At the time I posted the May 26 item about the separation wall being built by the Israelis I was unable to locate good images. I have those now.

See these three images of the wall in the area around the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya, and for seven more, and a better sense of the size of this monster, scroll to the bottom of this page of photographs from a protest camp at the wall.

[thanks to Anees]

As the truth becomes more available, and indeed more unavoidable, (at least in the alternative and foreign media), "For the time being," Paul Krugman writes "the [American] public doesn't seem to care - or even want to know." He does his part by listing some of the news developments which are beginning to unravel the monumental mendacity of the White House.

[for more on the subject of lies and the American media's complicity in lies, see Bloggy today]

Krugman begins his column by citing the script of Barry Levinson's 1997 movie, "Wag the Dog," for its parallels to the reality of the last two years.

An administration hypes the threat posed by a foreign power. It talks of links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; it warns about a nuclear weapons program. The news media play along, and the country is swept up in war fever. The war drives everything else — including scandals involving administration officials — from the public's consciousness.

. . . .

So what's the problem? Wars fought to deal with imaginary threats have real consequences. Just as war critics feared, Al Qaeda has been strengthened by the war. Iraq is in chaos, with a rising death toll among American soldiers: "We have reports of skirmishes throughout the central region," a Pentagon official told The Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, the administration has just derived considerable political advantage from a war waged on false premises. At best, that sets a very bad precedent. At worst. . . . "You want to win this election, you better change the subject. You wanna change this subject, you better have a war," explains Robert DeNiro's political operative in "Wag the Dog." "It's show business."

Americans still seem to be eager to buy tickets.

Reza Baluchi has been cheered along in Arizona on his run to the World Trade Center site, although by now he may actually be in New Mexico. Dave Hyslop, who has been sending these reports and who seems to be accompanying him along the way, writes:

Sorry for the long time between updates ... have only access through libraries in the towns we come to and then for a limited time. Reza is running on I-40 through the whole state of Arizona (thanks to permission from the Arizona Highway Patrol. Very nice folks, by the way. Many stop to check on Reza and make sure he's okay.)
People have been driving hundreds of miles from California to greet, care for and feed the guy. For those who want more about Reza, Hyslop offers this contact information:
You can leave messages of support for Reza at 310-821-6055. We try to listen to them daily and they mean so much to him.

He can also be written at this email address:
rbaluchi@yahoo.com and "any day now" we
should have the web site open at: www.run4peace.com

Joan Chittister, OSB, writes in the National Catholic Reporter, "Is There Anything Left That Matters?"

Her honest dismay means that she expects the question will be answered.

This is what I don't understand: All of a sudden nothing seems to matter.

First, they said they wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive." But they didn't get him. So now they tell us that it doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man.

Then they said they wanted Saddam Hussein, "dead or alive." He's apparently alive but we haven't got him yet, either. However, President Bush told reporters recently, "It doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man."

Finally, they told us that we were invading Iraq to destroy their weapons of mass destruction. Now they say those weapons probably don't exist. Maybe never existed. Apparently that doesn't matter either.

Except that it does matter.

I know we're not supposed to say that. I know it's called "unpatriotic."

But it's also called honesty. And dishonesty matters.

And here's the part that relates to scripture, but it doesn't have to be considered more than a literary device to work its power:
We like to take comfort in the notion that people make a distinction between our government and ourselves. We like to say that the people of the world love Americans, they simply mistrust our government. But excoriating a distant and anonymous "government" for wreaking rubble on a nation in pretense of good requires very little of either character or intelligence.

What may count most, however, is that we may well be the ones Proverbs warns when it reminds us: "Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks the truth." The point is clear: If the people speak and the king doesn't listen, there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something is wrong with the people.

It may be time for us to realize that in a country that prides itself on being democratic, we are our government. And the rest of the world is figuring that out very quickly.

From where I stand, that matters.

Sorry, but I seem to have gotten to the site too late to be able to link to the story with photos of these kids. But the story more than stands up by itself.

I grew up crazy about cars, but now as I approach adulthood I find my enthusiam more than tempered by the magic carpet of the subway. In truth, it seems that you don't really have to be crazy about cars to be an American kid - as long as there's an underground railway you can fall in love with.

They are the smallest subway buffs. Still almost short enough to sprint under a turnstile without bumping their heads, they can tell you more about the subway than most MetroCard-carrying adults have forgotten. In other cities, children with such an aptitude for geography and transportation might be able to identify different types of S.U.V.'s or navigate the megamall. In New York, subway whiz kids are much more helpful: they can tell you how to get from Middle Village, Queens, to Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with only two transfers.

And this knowledge does not come without hard work. It involves hours of late-night reading. At 3 years old, in the same way some kids take teddy bears to bed, he was taking the subway map to bed and studying it," said Sandeep Puri, Alexander's father, watching his son the other day as he sat in rapt concentration in the middle of an oversized map spread out in the entryway.

One of today's top stories on Reuters shows us that all is going according to plan (see the post below):

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday denied suppressing a report that projects the U.S. government faces a long-term budget deficit of more than $44 trillion.

White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said the allegation was "probably the most absurd thing that I can imagine."

However, he said the looming costs of Social Security and Medicare, which make up most of the forecast gap between government income and spending, were an important issue. [my italics]

"This is a very legitimate point," he said.

The news wire article is largely about the administration's deliberate deceit of Congress and the nation, but when we read Daniels' statement we end up tripping over the larger agenda - the destruction of all social programs other than those which subsidize the super rich.

While the sober American Enterprise Institute study (commissioned by Bush's then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill) which is the subject of the story describes a budget imbalance of $44.2 trillion, which according to Reuters is "astronomical even by the standards of U.S. federal government accounting," the article ends with this shocking reference to its numerical scale:

For this fiscal year, the government's cash shortfall is widely expected to be more than $300 billion while accumulated debt from previous budget deficits stands at around $6.4 trillion.
Remember, there was a big Congressional celebration[see photo] in the White House yesterday when the tax cut was signed. We know we can't expect social responsibility from Republicans or now even from Democrats, but fiscal responsibility was the only thing of which Republicans could legitimately boast for most of the party's history. That of course was before the club became just a hangout for greedy thugs.

Their cover is finally blown. It's now in the NYTimes - an explanation for the idiocy of the Bush administration's economic policy, one which is dominated by an $800-billion-plus tax cut delivered to the super-rich in the midst of soaring budgets. The truth should already have been obvious, but the political opposition and the (American) media hasn't put it forward.

The secret? The cost of the tax bill is so large that the nation won't be able to fulfill its obligations to essential, popular programs which have been with us for up to seventy years, and that is precisely the idea behind the policy.

The Financial Times [which Paul Krugman's Times piece describes accurately as "traditionally the voice of solid British business opinion"] suggests that "more extreme Republicans" actually want a fiscal train wreck: "Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door."

Good for The Financial Times. It seems that stating the obvious has now, finally, become respectable.

It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.

Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)

Krugman cautions Americans not to continue to underestimate the fiscal and political dangers.
But the people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what's going on, but when will the public wake up?
Bush himself may indeed be "feckless," as I've always argued, but I believe there are interests in the White House which know exactly what they are doing.

And the paper of record remembers her.

Pepper [LaBeija] was the last of the four great queens of the modern Harlem balls; Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey and Avis Pendavis all died in recent years. These four exuded a sort of wild expressionism that might make Las Vegas showgirls seem tame.
LaBeija was the last name used by all members of the House of LaBeija, the group of performers Pepper led.
When Pepper LaBeija was not onstage, she was William Jackson of the Bronx, who sometimes dressed as a man.
But to the younger members of the house, for whom there was no other family, she was "mother;" the others were the "children."
Miss LaBeija had diabetes, which had led to the amputation of both feet, and had been bedridden for most of the last decade. She last performed at a ball in 2001, when 30 attendants delivered her on a litter to the crowd's jubilation.

"Her specialty was the Egyptian effect," Marcel LaBeija said.

Pepper LaBeija was a legend to the members and patrons of the Harlem ball scene, a world of extravagant make-believe that crosses sexual boundaries and that was chronicled in "Paris Is Burning," directed by Jennie Livingston. In an interview, Ms. Livingston spoke of Pepper's "glamorous bravado" that stood out in a flock of Marilyn Monroes.

The public also glimpsed the ball scene in a Madonna video that featured voguing, a highly stylized and posed dance form used in the balls. Voguing was also featured at the Love Balls, which were held at Roseland in 1989 and 1990 and drew top fashion industry figures.

Though men have long dressed as women for many reasons, the modern institution of the Harlem ball began around 1960, said Marcel LaBeija, who is writing a book on the subject. The idea was to give gay blacks and Hispanics a place to dress up and perform. An earlier circuit for drag performers had been geared to white people, and black performers had sometimes whitened their faces to fit in.

The Times does it very right sometimes.
For most of her life, Miss LaBeija's world was the balls. Marcel said that Pepper supported herself by producing them and by teaching modeling.

In an interview with The Village Voice in 2000, Miss LaBeija said her life had grown more ordinary, and called herself an "old-way legend in recovery." Without mentioning her disabled status, she volunteered that she had even given up shoplifting designer clothes, called "mopping" by performers who rely on the practice.

"You mop, you get locked," she explained.

Pepper is survived by her mother, a son and a daughter.

The Israeli government has a "road map" of its own.

After 11 months of work, Israel is close to completing a first phase of a barrier to wall off most of the West Bank. Israel's government says the barrier - which includes fences, walls, barbed wire, patrol roads and a deep ditch - is meant to stop Palestinian militants from attacking Israel.

But the fence does not follow the "Green Line," the internationally recognized frontier between Israel and the West Bank lands it occupied in the 1967 war. Rather, the barrier slices through Palestinian villages and farms, cutting off about 10 percent of the West Bank. A World Bank report this month said a finished barrier could leave 95,000 Palestinians trapped in walled enclaves.

While Israeli officials defend the route of the fence, saying it is defined solely by security needs, they also acknowledge that it sometimes veers off the Green Line to incorporate Jewish settlements on what is generally considered Palestinian land.

The United States is pushing a "road map" to peace that envisions settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians. The Israeli cabinet approved the plan, with reservations, yesterday, and the Palestinians have already backed it.

But the far more effective and concrete step toward resolving the conflict - on Israeli terms - is the fence, many Palestinians, Israelis and scholars say. Palestinians say it is a step toward seizing more West Bank land and thus preventing a viable Palestinian state. The fence will separate Palestinian border communities from their lands, work and relatives, residents say, and thus tend to drive them farther east into the West Bank.

Of course these horrible fences, walls, barbed wire, patrol roads and deep ditches, have already been seen for months in news photos widely-distributed around the world. The images are rarely seen in the U.S., but the constructions are represented in today's Newsday [print edition only] sketches, and it all looks exactly like a concentration camp perimeter. Yes, Sharon has reservations.

Oh, and the ghetto, er, camp, er, reservation or dog-run is to be only .07392 of the territory belonging to the Palestinians in 1947. See Jonathan Cook's, "A Cage For Palestinians."

Israel is also preparing a second, similarly tortuous wall near the eastern border of the West Bank, which it shares with Jordan, that will steal even more land from the Palestinians and offers no obvious security benefits.
.
After the wall is finished, at a cost of more than $2 billion, the Palestinians will live in two minuscule states behind concrete and electrified fencing, restricted to their main population centers. Thousands of rural Palestinians will live outside the West Bank cage in military controlled zones, denied rights as citizens of either Palestine or Israel. The rest will live inside the prison. Palestine will finally be born from 42 percent of 80 percent of 22 percent of the historic Palestinian homeland.

Update, May 31: I've now located some decent photo images of the wall where it is nearly complete. See this post.

Shouldn't we ask, "why?" each time there is a call for war?

The Vietnam War continues today for many. Some of its service victims lived for decades with major physical injuries to accompany the psychological pain. Some live still. Neither they and other, luckier, survivors nor those who stayed at home have ever gotten answers. Some couldn't have heard them anyway.

Specialist Rogers was 20 years old, almost through his one-year tour, on Dec. 14, 1968. That day, while on a patrol near the Cambodian border, his unit came under fire and he was struck in the head by several pieces of shrapnel.

"Death would have been a blessing," his brother Joseph of Waynesville said this week. But instead of dying, James Rogers lived on in twilight for almost 22 more years.

"He was helpless," his brother said. "There wasn't anything he could do."

James Rogers was hospitalized for a year before their parents, Joseph and Flora Rogers, brought him home. Sometimes, he seemed to recognize his parents and four siblings. He might hold up a finger in response to a question.

But as for how much he really understood and felt, "nobody knows for sure," his brother said.

James's wife divorced him, and the Rogers family did not blame her. James could not eat or drink without help. His food was blended. He had to be propped up on the toilet. "If you could envision a 180-pound infant," his brother said, voice trailing away.

Despite heavy doses of tranquilizers, James had frequent seizures, so violent that his thrashings once broke a wheelchair. "He suffered unbelievably," his brother said. "I can't describe what he went through."

His end, at least, was peaceful. James Rogers died in his sleep on Nov. 14, 1990. He was 42.

And this and the other stories in the this NYTimes article are only those of guys on "our" side.

Why do we let our old men tell us that using boys and young men to kill other boys and young men is the only way to stop the evil done by other old men?

Look at the small slideshow on the site linked above.

It's Memorial Day weekend in America, and we should be remembering the people who have died in over 200 wars we have fought since 1776.

Today however we read that the Bush regime is about to begin another one (it's fourth, if we include the "war on terrorism," which will be eternal).

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has cut off contact with Iran, and Pentagon officials are pushing for action they believe could destabilize the government of the Islamic republic, The Washington Post reported in its Sunday edition.
Still think this is a peace-loving nation?

What about our boast that we are a freedom-loving nation? A week ago a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter returned to his alma mater, Rockford College, a mid-western liberal arts school with a progresive history, to deliver the commencement speech.

[Chris] Hedges, a war correspondent, criticized military heroic ideals that grow during war. The fervor sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to something larger, he said.

Hedges sympathized with U.S. soldiers. He characterized them as boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities.

"War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics," Hedges said in lecture fashion as jeers and "God Bless Americas" could be heard in the background.

His microphone was unplugged twice, he was booed and jeered, fog horns drowned his words, and the college president told him to wrap it up.

Go here for the full text of the speech, at least as delivered.

Hedges is the author of "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." This is from a review in Publishers Weekly:

In [his book] Hedges draws on his experiences covering conflicts in Bosnia, El Salvador and Israel as well as works of literature from the Iliad to Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism to look at what makes war so intoxicating for soldiers, politicians and ordinary citizens. He discusses outbreaks of nationalism, the wartime silencing of intellectuals and artists, the ways in which even a supposedly skeptical press glorifies the battlefield and other universal features of war, arguing not for pacifism but for responsibility and humility on the part of those who wage war.

Jonathan Schell's new work, "The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People," proposes a "revolution against violence" in world politics, but he doesn't explain how we are to get there given the current realities of power and opinion in America. Otherwise, judging from the account of the NYTImes review, by Richard Falk, Schell is not merely an idealist. He doesn't depend upon a moral argument to challenge "the strong linkage between national security and war that has dominated both political consciousness and international relations for centuries." His argument seems to be pragmatic.

The book mounts perhaps the most impressive argument ever made that there exists a viable and desirable alternative to a continued reliance on war and that the failure to seize this opportunity will bring catastrophic results to America and the world [my italics].
Schell neither begins nor ends his argument as a pacifist.
The book is infused with the Gandhian ethos of nonviolence as theory and practice, and yet Mr. Schell tells us that although he had wondered whether the process of writing this book had turned him into a pacifist, he decides not: "The difficulty of the creed for me was not the root of the word, pax, but its suffix, ist, — suggesting that one rule was applicable to all imaginable situations."

But more significantly, he adds, a preoccupation with an unconditional renunciation of violence is not integral to his argument, which is to insist that there exists a growing presence, "fostered by historical events, of an alternative" to war, and he explicates and persuasively links his inquiry with his greatest forebear, William James, and his advocacy of "the moral equivalent of war."

Warning of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, "The Unconquerable World," offers a suggestive blend of hope and despair. In Mr. Schell's words, "Arms and man have both changed in ways that, even as they imperil the world as never before, have created a chance for peace that is greater than ever before."

But only if we find a real press and a regime change, at home - soon.

A wild turkey on the 28th-floor balcony of an apartment on West 70th Street? The healthy-looking female has now taken up residence in the more interesting environs of Chelsea and the Village, and we hope she's happy. Unlike most Downtowners however, she may find it difficult to find friends.

A National Audubon Society ornithologist says that turkeys have not been known to fly as high as the 28th floor.

"They are not vertical fliers," said [Greg Butcher]. "You will see them maybe 20 feet up in trees, but not 100 feet. I'd say that turkey went up an elevator."

Mr. Lindenauer [the Upper West Side guy] insisted that the turkey was not planted on his balcony. [E.J. McAdams, a director of New York City Audubon] said she could have made her way to the 28th floor by flying up from balcony to balcony, like an elevator making all the stops.

Where is the turkey now? After making some stops in our own neighborhood, she headed further downtown to the Village, where she was last sighted this past monday, on top of a garage on Barrow Street.

No wonder New York is such a goldmine for Hollywood! You don't have to know Brooklyn or Italians in Brooklyn, and you don't have to know about Marlon Brando, but maybe it's better if you do. Now, if only the large and small screen stories could read as well as Chris Hedges' story on Sabasto F. Catucci, an incredibly successful businessman who began as a trucker on the Brooklyn docks.

The best "scenes" are these:

He is a rich man now. He has a big house in Westchester and seven Mercedeses, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a summer house in Spring Lake, N.J. He and his second wife, Lorraine, make their own wine. He employs more than two dozen of his relatives among his 1,000 or so employees. He has the rounded, bulky build of a man who has spent a lifetime lifting weights. He has the flashy diamond pinky ring, with his initials in diamonds, that speaks of success. And he is proud: of his company, of America, of the largely Italian-American neighborhood around the docks and of a new treatment he is undergoing for baldness.

. . . .

He grew up in a world in which bravado and fists often resolved disputes. He was thrown out of his Roman Catholic high school for hitting one of the brothers who taught him. And he did not make it through public high school because of "the same thing."

"I had a run-in with a teacher," he said, taking a drag on a slim cigarillo. "I picked him up by his throat."

. . . .

Later, seated in a small Italian restaurant where he goes to eat three days a week with several of his employees, he announced over a glass of red wine that he could take on anyone at the table. No one disagreed. As he spoke, Guy D'Anna, 36, a waiter who also works for him as a longshoreman, came up and kissed him.

"Without Sal," he said, using Mr. Catucci's nickname, "we would all be out on the street."

Mr. Catucci beamed.

"I run my company like a family," he said, as he sat with his arm around Mr. D'Anna's waist. "They got a problem, I got a problem."

. . . .

He does not want to take his companies public. He likes to make decisions with speed, without going to committees and boards that can stymie decisions for months. And he trusts his three sons, his brother, his nephews, two brothers-in-law and his son-in-law to keep an eye on every aspect of the business.

. . . .

He could retire, he said. He has made enough money. He loves his home and said he had just put in 200 tomato plants.

"I have 20 animals," he said. "I used to have 150. I had sheep, goats, cows, ducks, geese and chickens. Now I have 2 horses, 2 cats, one goat, 2 ducks and 15 geese. I love animals. I love looking out the picture window and watching them graze. It is like some people who like to look at the lights and people on 42nd Street."

But he will never retire, he says.

"I have 50 guys who will kiss me like that," he said, when Mr. D'Anna left. "It's not the money. It's the power trip."

In his obituary today in the NYTimes, we are reminded that C.A.Tripp's ground-breaking 1975 book, "The Homosexual Matrix," reported that during World War II the F.B.I. ran an all-male bordello in New York "staffed with homosexual agents charged with extracting information from foreign sailors."

Sounds like a pretty posting for patriots, but wait, if this was during the war, why did the feds have to go to such trouble to get information from friendly navies? Was it just for fun? Since I couldn't be there, I should read the book.

Ved Mehta, talking wistfully about the house he did not get:"Really, I wanted to buy an old house and adapt to it," he said.

In America, everyone thinks he can build his own dream house. In the rest of the world, you adapt to the house. This country is so rich, everyone wants to dominate the world, not adapt to it.

The picture's about a month old, but it is still Spring. The image is that of the little Shadblow Serviceberry tree outside our back windows on the "roof terrace." The name supposedly comes from its habit of blooming at the same time the Shad run in the Spring, but I can't vouch for its timing, as there have been no Shad sightings on the roof, or, for that matter, anywhere else in walking range of Chelsea.

Right now the tree is busy pushing out what will eventually be its reddish-purple crabapple-like fruits. The birds in the garden should go crazy over them.

We've just been told the terror alert has been raised nation-wide to the color orange once again [Although it's actually been orange all along in New York]. As in the past, I don't know whether I should be more scared of an imminent terrorist attack or of the cynical purposes of a fascist regime in Washington. Would it be easier if I could tell myself that this stuff just demonstrates the incompetence of a bunch of idiots?

Regardless of the nature of our fears, it's about time someone asked the White House [it'd have to be someone the media simply could not ignore]: Why are you killing our sons and daughters, not to mention thousands of innocents [uncounted, actually] all over the Middle East, if it isn't making us any safer?

If we could get a truthful answer, we would not be able to bear it: Their blood was essential to the perpetuation of a sick regime determined not to relinquish power in 2004 - or ever. How many more will have to die?

I've found the phrase which describes my present political posture. "Accidental anarchist." It's an interesting development for a democrat.

In "The Big Chill," a piece which appears only in the print edition of the current The Nation, Alisa Solomon examines the erosion of our right of dissent. In the article Gerald Horne, a professor at the University of North Carolina, tries to explain the demoralization of American youth in this environment where any opposition seems downright futile. He says we have been all been left accidental anarchists, with "no electoral vehicle through which to express dissent." This is the consequence of the reconfiguration of our judiciary by decades of Reagan-Bush, the failure of the opposition party to rise to the occasion and [my addition] the disaster of a compliant mainstream press.

Solomon comes close to despair herself. While recalling the chants heard in the February and March demonstrations, "This is what democracy looks like," she warns:

But that can't be all that democracy looks like. It takes powerful civic institutions to provide checks and balances, meaningful enfranchisement and vigorous open debate to make democracy function.

. . . .

Historically, civil libeties have sprung back to full force when hot or cold wars have ended, thanks in large part to the perseverance, or the resuscitation, of the press, the courts and the opposition party. But in an open-ended "war on terrorism," the day when danger passes may never come. Even if it does, the democratic muscle of the courts, the press and the opposition party - already failing so miserably to flex themselves - may be too atrophied to do the heavy lifting needed to restore our fundamental rights and freedoms.

So, is anarchy to be our last refuge now that the U.S. has discarded democracy?

It's a war on colored folk.

A 57-year-old Harlem woman preparing to leave for her longtime city government job died of a heart attack yesterday morning after police officers broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade into her apartment [at 6 am], the police commissioner said. They were acting on what appeared to be bad information about guns and drugs in the apartment.
Commissioner Ray Kelly apologized to the woman's family, and the NYTimes article says, "Neighbors and several elected officials questioned the department's tactics."

But this obscene tragedy is not about police tactics, and it's not about strategy. It's about the so-called "war" itself. It's about an ill-conceived moral crusade which became a racist boondoggle. There is no war on drugs. There is only repression of the powerless.

Had Alberta Spruill the sense to be white and to live in a more prosperous neighborhood, she'd be alive today, regardless of whether her neighbors bought or sold drugs not manufactured by our major corporations. People on my own block operate in markets both legal and illegal, but the constabulary doesn't throw grenades at them.

Some worry about the nation's movement toward a police state, while overlooking the police city we already have.

Emmaia Gelman, like many of us, has had first hand experience with New York City police assaults on dissent, but she's doing something about it.

Last week I went to jail. Just for a day - it was a little message from the New York Police Department: Dissenter, beware. I had been demonstrating at the Bureau of Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (formerly known as the INS) alongside activists from immigrant and minority groups.

We were protesting the government's new special registration requirement for Muslim immigrants, a big-brother mechanism not seen since the government decided that Japanese-Americans were "dangerous persons" in 1942. Under this new policy, some registrants who've checked into the bureau have been unable to check out - they've been caught up in what is called "administrative detention," where they have no date for release or trial.

So last Monday, 42 of us sat down to block the doors through which so many have disappeared. Civil disobedience: a small, time-honored gesture of objection. We sat on the ground with arms linked. Police threw us onto our stomachs, planted boots in our backs and wrenched our limbs in directions they're not supposed to go. Our wrists were cinched with plastic cuffs until our arms were blue.

At the precinct we gave fingerprints and identification to our arresting officers, and were marched out singly for intelligence-gathering interviews. Cops had written up summonses for about a third of us when the process suddenly ground to a halt. No more tickets were issued, so we spent the next 31 hours in jail, waiting to be arraigned on minor charges, such as disorderly conduct, which rarely send people to prison even if convicted. Could that be legal?

No. Last year the city paid me and 13 other New Yorkers $469,000 in damages for a similar violation of our rights.

Yet the city seems to accept these and other court damages, for which over $5 million is budgeted this year alone, as just the cost of doing the business of a police city-state.
These are the practices of a police force actively chilling dissent, deliberately raising the cost of protest from hours to days.

Activists had hoped that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would not perpetuate the expensive failed policies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, especially if the city faces such an enormous budget crunch. Giuliani's trademark dissent-squelching practices are under scrutiny in federal court - again. The NYPD is litigating another set of "punishment of dissent" lawsuits, this time facing off against me and nearly 400 other protesters illegally detained between 1999 and 2001. Once again we find ourselves in court to make the cops respect civil rights.

There's no sign that the NYPD plans to pull back from the national trend of assaults on dissent. Worse, it seems to be gambling that the current lawsuit will yield a new legal precedent allowing the NYPD simply to preempt the First Amendment. The city already faces a raft of new lawsuits arising from anti-war demonstrations and protests against the targeting of Muslims, Arabs and immigrants. The NYPD is already charged with false arrest of protesters and bystanders, excessive detention, violence against demonstrators and curtailing protest rights. The Bush administration isn't finished making war on selected enemies for political ends, or forking out billions in war contracts to its corporate friends. And the Republican Convention is just around the corner.

So there's a lot of dissent yet to be repressed. And the price of protest keeps rising. How long before we just can't afford to speak out?

If the city goes to trial and successfully spins protesters as a "threat to homeland security," it can get 400 litigants off its back and at the same time muzzle the right to speak out. Unchastened by the millions of dollars paid so far to protesters abused on Giuliani's watch (more than $1 million for the Matthew Shepard and Diallo protests alone), the Bloomberg administration seems willing to do the same. The city's lawsuit payout budget has been increasing annually. For 2003, they've budgeted $5.2 million. Of course, not all of it is for paying off protesters, but certainly a more constitutional policy regarding the right to free speech would save the city money. Then maybe it could be funding libraries and schools instead of jails.

Reagan came from Hollywood (in fact, he never left it), Bush Senior picked a Hollywood face for a vice-president, Clinton had beds filled with Hollywood chums, but Junior Bush has converted the White House into a movie trailer production company.

See the front page article in the NYTimes today, "Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights," and don't miss the handy slideshow.

George W. Bush's "Top Gun" landing on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before.
Or, for a serious look at the consequences of theatrical artifice in government, read Krugman's column, "Paths Of Glory."
The central dogma of American politics right now is that George W. Bush, whatever his other failings, has been an effective leader in the fight against terrorism. But the more you know about the state of the world, the less you believe that dogma. The Iraq war, in particular, did nothing to make America safer — in fact, it did the terrorists a favor.

. . . .

The administration's antiterror campaign makes me think of the way television studios really look. The fancy set usually sits in the middle of a shabby room, full of cardboard and duct tape. Networks take great care with what viewers see on their TV screens; they spend as little as possible on anything off camera.

If anyone asks for proof of the administration's cynicism and incompetence, look into the story of the looting of Iraqi nuclear waste dumps we didn't bother to secure. Bloggy describes the facts and the links.

See Bloggy again for the story behind the story of "saving Private Lynch," the most outrageous White House stunt to date.

I can't recommend it enough. If you want to feel good, about Reza, yourself and the whole world, write to this address, rbaluchi@yahoo.com, and ask to get regular email updates on his run across the country to New York. There are wonderful pictures so far, and you'll be cheered, touched and delighted by the unfolding of the story.

Dave Hyslop, who is monitoring the trip from home and who was his host in California, writes, "You'll die waiting for Reza to ever complain about anything."

There were 147 graduating seniors in the all-boy, Austin Prep 1958 graduating class. Dave DeBusschere was class president - it had not been a contest, and even I had voted for the big sports guy.

Dave was a gentleman. He was 6 feet 6, at a time when that meant very big, but he was bigger than that - he was a gentle man. As a child he lived on the block behind our own, but I really knew him for only the four years we shared at Austin.

His campaign credentials included the fact that he had been largely responsible for putting our neat new school on the map, starting the year before, when he had led the basketball team to the first of two state championships. This was a very big deal for us - almost as exciting as Latin or rhetoric. Dave and the enthusiasm generated by a star team had been been able to make this sissy-boy a basketball fan for a few years. Except for a couple of months which followed a horrible auto accident on the way to a game, I never missed a contest, home or away. I even found myself crouching regularly at the edge of the floor with my little Praktiflex, snapping the action for the school paper.

Dave's gone now. "Austin Catholic Preparatory School" (the formal name) had disappeared just about as prematurely, a few decades ago. Perhaps the institution was a victim of its times, but not before it had launched its favorite son to be loved and admired in his time. The school seems to have left almost no trace it ever existed, other than in the memories of its boys (and later, girls too?) - and in the evidence of their works. Some of the boys became men like Dave.

The NYTimes remembered him this morning, most eloquently in Ira Berkow's, "A Big Player Who Did All the Little Things." This is an excerpt from the jock-y part:

Burly, rock-jawed, his thighs so muscular they seemed cast in marble, he could be a force in what the players called "the butcher shop," the rebounding area under the basket where welts sprouted and blood spilled and, as Kipling might have said, you had to be a man, my son.

Or he sank shots from so far out the basketballs seemed to be launched from Section 310 in Madison Square Garden. And if a defender dared try nuzzling up to him, DeBusschere drove around him with grace and power and surprising alacrity, given that he was 6 feet 6 inches and 235 pounds.

On defense, he had the amazing ability to make his man disappear. As Donnie May, a teammate, said in the 1970 book on the Knicks, "Miracle on 33rd Street," by Phil Berger: "Guys like DeBusschere, for six, seven, eight minutes of a game, you don't even see the man he's guarding. He cuts him off from the ball, takes him right out of the game."

DeBusschere off the court possessed a sense of humor, a sense of balance, a solid sense of himself. I remember a night in the locker room before a game when he was talking with several teammates, discussing "homer" referees who called, he said, "these terrible charging fouls." DeBusschere, wearing only a jock strap, impersonated a referee calling a charging foul - slapping his right hand behind his neck and pointing with his left hand and skipping across the floor. Everyone was laughing.

Wish I'd been there.

The notorious Guyanese French prison, Devil's Island, is now a resort off the coast of French Guiana. According to an on-line tourist guide, "Visitors can make the crossing easily from Cayenne by motor launch or catamaran, enjoy lunch and tour the ruins easily in a half-day or day trip. It is possible to stay overnight in the former guard's mess."

But today, not far to the north, the U.S. maintains its own, 21st-century "Devil's Island," at Guantanamo Bay. There are no tourists.

For a year and a half, the United States has held hundreds of people captured during the war in Afghanistan as prisoners in Guantánamo Bay without access to family, lawyers or any semblance of due process. Another small group was shipped home recently, and there are reports that military trials for some prisoners may start soon. But that does not alter the fact that the detentions insult some of our most cherished ideals and harm our national interest.

. . . .

The extraordinary attacks of Sept. 11 clearly demanded extraordinary measures. All reports, moreover, indicate that the prisoners have not been physically mistreated. But America vowed after Sept. 11 that the terrorists would not be allowed to drag us down to their level. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has held more than 600 male prisoners, some as young as 13 — and of 42 different nationalities, including citizens of our closest allies — in a concentration camp. They have been declared "unlawful combatants" in order to deny them the protection of the Geneva Convention. They have been incarcerated on a naval base on Cuba, over which Cuba has no control, to put them beyond the reach of the law. The military set no limit on their detention, and it declared that if they were brought to trial, the proceedings would be before special military tribunals, which can act in secret, and their only appeal would be to the president — who stripped them of their rights in the first place.

Where is our Zola?

Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable meaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary aims, and a renunciation of human dignity, common sense, and conscience by the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold power. That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery.

- Leo Tolstoi, Christianity and Patriotism (1894)

[thanks to David Budbill]

Included in a Clemens Lecture presented in April for the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, by Kurt Vonnegut:

What other American landmark is as sacred to me as the Mark Twain House? The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were country boys from Middle America, and both of them made the American people laugh at themselves and appreciate really important, really moral jokes.

I note that construction has stopped of a Mark Twain Museum here in Hartford —behind the carriage house of the Mark Twain House at 351 Farmington Avenue. Work persons have been sent home from that site because American "conservatives," as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations, have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy.

Shock and awe.

And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our public treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.

Shock and awe.

What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

Smile, America. You’re on Candid Camera.

And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

. . . .

What has happened to us? We have suffered a technological calamity. Television is now our form of government [my italics].

Further mocking our current regime in Washington, Vonnegut recalls the man who became the first president of a Republican Party which would reject him today. The words of Congressman Abraham Lincoln, describing President Polk's 1848 War on Mexico:
"Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood —that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war."
Vonnegut jumps up:
Holy smokes! I almost said, "Holy shit!" And I thought I was a writer!

A sober reading of the contemporary American political scene, from Sheldon Wolin in The Nation this week.

The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media's reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.


Fascism

From Britannica Concise:

Fascism: Philosophy of government that stresses the primacy and glory of the state, unquestioning obedience to its leader, subordination of the individual will to the state's authority, and harsh suppression of dissent. Martial virtues are celebrated, while liberal democratic values are denigrated. 20th-cent. fascism arose partly out of fear of the rising power of the lower classes and differed from contemporary communism (as practiced under J. Stalin) by its protection of the corporate and landowning powers and preservation of a class system.

Today [actually it was yesterday] our intrepid columnist asks the question: Why is the BBC generally regarded here, in Britain and around the world as a critical and impartial source of news, while the American media is considered a flag-waving cheering section for a regime?

A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view — something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard — too hard, its critics say — to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media.

After discussing the paradox, Paul Krugman concludes his column with a warning.
We don't have censorship in this country; it's still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to.

For those who wish to contact Reza, this is the best email address for the purpose: rbaluchi@yahoo.com

And no, I don't think he's running with a cellular modem, but I'm pretty sure he'll get your message eventually.

Now that we've started three wars, destroyed any hope for our own security or that of any part of the planet, can we please listen to a question first asked September 11, 2001? And that is, "how did this happen?"

The White House has never been interested in the question, and to this day it has done all that it could to silence any person or institution which was.

In fact, NEWSWEEK has learned, President Bush’s chief lawyer has privately signaled that the White House may seek to invoke executive privilege over key documents relating to the attacks in order to keep them out of the hands of investigators for the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States—the independent panel created by Congress to probe all aspects of 9-11.
What may be a coverup with enormous political and national security consequences might finally be about to unravel.
Sen. Bob Graham on Sunday accused the Bush administration of engaging in a "coverup" of intelligence failures before and after the Sept. 11 attacks to shield it from embarrassment, and said the war with Iraq has allowed Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to become a greater threat to Americans than ever before.

[Cursor, in its "Media Patrol" column today, assembled the two links included in this post.]

cow·ard (kou' erd)
n. One who shows ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain.

I've argued for a year and a half that the only explanation for what has become of America since September 11 is its fear. Maybe we need this kind of kick to snap out of it.

For a brief moment after 9/11, we recognized some genuine heroes in our midst, those who put their lives on the line to rescue strangers and those who put their own needs in back of the needs of others in the middle of tragedy. The celebration of this heroism may have become a little gaudy, but it was sincere.

Since then we seem to have become a nation of cowards celebrating illusions.

There is a president, who, in reaction to the devastation of 9/11, does not act with forbearance, curiosity to understand the root cause, and as a world leader. Instead he lashes out at blurry targets with more force than we were met with. This is not the act of a brave man. This is the act of a coward.

There is a senator who sees his country yawing dangerously off course and, for the first time in its history abusing its power openly and shamelessly. The senator says nothing, though he knows better, because he is afraid of an emotional backlash if he engages in rational discussion. He is afraid he will lose the next election. This is the act of a coward.

There is a citizen who is unable to think. He succumbs to fear, believes every scary story he hears, buys duct tape for his doors and windows, when a bit of thinking would tell him he is in more danger from getting into his car. This is the act of a coward.

There is a journalist who knows there are young children dying in hospitals in Iraq, with their bodies horribly disfigured as the result of our country’s doings, yet he will not show pictures of these children so that people can weigh the consequences of war for themselves. He shows pictures of massively-armed Americans and reports every “coalition” news release as gospel truth. This is the act of a coward.

. . . .

It's also that we've simply become very stupid - a choice we've made ourselves, one which relates to an addiction to television and a general flight from reason, but I'll stop the crankiness right there for now.

Reza Baluchi has now left Los Angeles, and this time he's travelling on foot on his long journey to New York City.

So this morning, Mr. Baluchi began the fulfillment of that jailhouse promise. Wearing new shorts, new running shoes and a bad haircut, he said he carried no hard feelings, no chips on his shoulder, only a knapsack filled with a tent and reflective vest, nylon leggings, a sleeping bag, food, water and an A.T.M. card.

"I go by I self," he said in self-taught English. "New York. Everybody wait me there. Soon. Soon. I come. Peace. No war. American people very good."

I logged the post which appears below this one before I had read this piece by Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation. I might have saved myself the outrage.

It seems that there can no longer be any argument about the legitimacy of our occupying army. The president in fact now has sufficient legal authority to use the military anywhere inside the country whenever he determines that doing so is appropriate, just as he can anywhere outside the U.S.

Gene Healy of the libertarian Cato Institute is concerned.

It does weird things to our political culture when we start getting used to armed troops on the streets, that we find that comforting. It makes the United States start looking like we're not a democracy.

. . . .

The specter of the military patrolling streets, making arrests and conducting house-to-house searches is exactly what civil libertarians fear. [Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU's Washington office] cites the case of José Padilla, an alleged would-be terrorist who is an American citizen, who was seized by the military and held incommunicado. "The notion that the US military could march into your home and cart you off to the brig is a frightening one," Edgar says. "Before the incarceration of Padilla, it was inconceivable." According to the ACLU, the Posse Comitatus law is so weakened now that there is very little to prevent the armed forces from carrying out arrests, setting up roadblocks and performing search-and-seizure sweeps. And the Pentagon agrees. "Whether military personnel will have the authority to detain individuals or be given arrest authority depends upon the specific facts of each case," says [Pentagon spokesman Maj. Ted] Wadsworth.

What this means is that while Americans now have the remarkable freedom to destroy their own world and that of the rest of humanity, they have lost the freedom to govern themselves.

We went through several mid-size hells on the way to and from Brooklyn last night.

Surely, if there were a hell, the anteroom would be the car of an MTA A train locked at both ends during the trip under the East River tunnel, while a large evangelist screams at its occupants, among whom were at least two atheists.

Later this same festive Saturday spring night, on our return to Manhattan at 11 pm, hell returned in another guise when our car was suddenly taken over during its pause at the Broadway-Nassau station by a dozen camouflaged soldiers carrying automatic rifles. A troop train. We had already planned to leave at the next stop to go to dinner, and we did so, or I might have done more than merely mutter, to no one in particular, the few words that first came to mind, "this is the new world order."

Washington is saying that its wars have now made us all safe, Code Orange is a thing of past political utility, at least outside of New York City, and even here they are already reducing the airport security they had so highly vaunted just yesterday. Then why is New York still under military occupation?

A nightmare evening between the bookends of mindless theocracy and martial law. Is this the new America?

____________________

Oh yes, in spite of the unpleasantness, the play was very fine, said Mrs. Lincoln. We had a wonderful, and in fact, something of a rollicking good time with an amazing puppetry production of Rossini's "Marriage of Figaro."

Early reviews suggest that the production is not about precision or concern for authentic Rossini style. Indeed, [The Absolute Ensemble] has thoroughly modernized the score with touches of flamenco and synthesizer-accompanied recitatives. But the sheer skill and inventiveness of the staging–-the puppets range from tiny to life-size–-gives this age-old opera a much-welcomed revival.
Absolute-ly, delightfully imperfect!

New York City has spent $1 billion on antiterrorism efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks. But the city says it has yet to receive a dollar of antiterrorism money from the federal government. Washington has provided millions to help clean up the damage. But an estimated $44 million in antiterrorism money now in the pipeline has apparently not reached New York, the city that bore the brunt of the most disastrous terrorism strike in American history.
So begins an editorial in the NYTimes today. The remainder of the argument is basically an indictment of the cynical political calculations which continue to determine the disbursal of antiterrorism funds.
It is a flawed formula, which seems to focus less on places directly threatened by terrorism than on areas that are of importance in next year's election. City officials figure that compared with New York City's $44 million, North Carolina will get $51 million, Ohio $64 million and Florida over $86 million. On a per capita basis, the latest allocation gives New York State residents about $3 per person, while Iowa gets $6 and Wyoming $22. Certainly these states need resources to combat terrorism, but it is hard to argue that they stand as high as New York, Washington or Los Angeles on Al Qaeda's potential hit list.
See an earlier post for more on the heavy defense responsibilities of the federal government as spelled out in the Constitution.

Five months ago I wrote about Zackie Achmat. The good news is that he's still alive. The bad news is that about 100,000 other South Africans have died unnecessarily in the meantime.

Zackie is slowly dying of AIDS, but he refuses to take the drugs that would keep him alive, until South Africa's government makes them freely available to the poor. He has become a hero and a symbol in the struggle of AIDS patients and their advocates for recognition and for public medical care, but with the continuing resistance of the administration of President Thabo Mbeki to their appeals, the issue has become more complicated.

It is clear, but seldom spoken, that he is burdened with doubts about his pledge. In interviews his closest friends said that at times they sensed that he wished he could take it back. They said that no one, especially Mr. Achmat, ever dreamed that the government would withhold ARV's as AIDS treatment for so long. What is worse, they said, is that if Mr. Achmat dies now, there is the real chance that his death would not help his cause.

Mr. Achmat acknowledged the same, fidgeting as if uncomfortable in his own reasoning. "The government won't care one bit if I die," he said. "I don't think it will make a bit of difference in their policy."

Artists Against The War is inviting artists and art lovers in New York to gather all day next saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new exhibition, "Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium BC from the Mediterranean to the Indus." Works from Iraq and other countries currently living under the threat of US military aggression are displayed in this show.

They also suggest that on the same day, artists in other cities around the world join them in congregating in museums exhibiting ancient Near Eastern
art.

Visitors will quietly draw the objects around them, and before leaving the
museum, each will erase the drawings to symbolically reflect the
erasure of Iraqi culture and the silencing of dissent here at home.

For more information, and pictures, see the website.

If Amnesty International can make it an important part of its agenda, New York queers and those who love or respect them, but of course anyone with a love of liberty and humanity, can make it over to the Egyptian Consulate in New York tomorrow, Friday, at lunch time.

Join activists from around the world in a Global Day of Action to mark the 2nd Anniversary of the arrest of the Cairo 52, and stop the ongoing persecution of men perceived to be gay in Egypt. Protest the continuing Internet entrapment, raids of private gatherings, and detention and ill-treatment of men in Egypt because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Al-Fatiha and Amnesty International OUTfront call on all LGBT people and allies to put pressure on the Egyptian government to stop the targeting of men for arrests and prosecution because of their sexual orientation. Amnesty International considers people imprisoned solely on the basis of their sexual orientation as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate release.

Rallies are planned for cities across the U.S. and around the world. In one particularly visible protest, at noon tomorrow, 52 people will chain themselves on the Place des Nations, the entrance to the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva.

Protests and actions are planned for Manila and Hong Kong. In Berlin there will be street theatre, in Madrid there will be a demonstrtion at the Debod Temple, an Egyptian temple given to Spain at the time of the construction of the Aswan Dam. In London a demonstration is planned at the site of Cleopatra's Needle, and in lovely Ireland, pubs and clubs are being asked to allow Amnesty International to campaign in their venues and black tape will be stickered vertically onto their loo mirrors, so that when customers look into the mirrors they will look as if they are in a prison cell. Over the mirror will be the text, "you are behind bars for 30 seconds - in Egypt gay men are behind bars for three years."

The New York details:

PROTEST/RALLY

Friday, May 9, 12:30 - 1:30 pm
The Egyptian Consulate
1110 Second Avenue (58/59 Sts)
New York City


Bring sassy, hand-made signs. Organizers are encouraging us to "wear red in solidarity with the clandestine resistance and celebration of gay pride taking place in Egypt."

For the same reasons which make us ignorant of our own and everyone else's past, most Americans don't remember the Israeli invasion of Jenin just one year ago. But now there's a book out in English, and it gamely attempts to get our attention. Because of the powerful politics behind the ownership of truth in the middle east, it may be recorded history's only hope, and, as this review by a prominent Israeli academic suggests, it may tell as much as we will ever know about what really happened.

Each reader will take something different from this book. For me as an Israeli, I find the description of the soldiers' conduct the most disturbing and most convincing part of the evidence. It is a story of the dehumanization that raged in Jenin. This is so well epitomized in the chronicles of Nidal Abu al-Hayjah as reported by Ihab Ayadi. After Nidal was wounded and lay crying for help, anyone who tried to come to his rescue was shot by Israeli snipers. He bled to death as so many others. Technically, he was not massacred, he was tortured to death. The deadly precision of the snipers as a means of deterring rescue operations is being reported in other testimonies in this book, such as that of Taha Zbyde, who was killed eventually by a sniper. This mode of action was and still is enacted wherever there is an Israeli operation in the occupied territories. It is part of the vicious repertoire of the inhuman occupation - the daily physical harassment and mental abuse at checkpoints, the prevention from pregnant mothers or the wounded to get to hospitals, the starvation and the confiscation of water. No wonder some Israelis felt this brings back memories from the darker days of the Second World War. I remembered Anna Frank's diary when I read Um Sirri's horrorific recollection of how women tried to swallow a cough that irritated the Israeli soldiers standing above them, pointing their loaded guns at them.
[thanks to Anees]

Tony Kushner and Mark Harris met five years ago. Last month they affirmed their partnership before friends in Manhattan. The occasion made the "VOWS" feature in the NYTimes Styles section this past Sunday.

They started planning their commitment ceremony soon after 9/11, buying rings at Tiffany's and complementary gray-toned suits at Saks.

The sales clerks were all accommodating, they said. "One cake designer I called said, 'We specialize in elaborate beautiful white flowers all over the cake,'" Mr. Harris recalled. "So I said, 'I should tell you, this is for two men.' There was a slight pause and she said, `I can put little baseball players all over it?'"

John Lennon's boyhood home, a modest 1930s semi-detached just outside of Liverpool's center, has opened to the public with an English Heritage plaque on its facade. It's now a museum. Yoko Ono bought the house in 2001 and donated it to the National Trust. It's a sweet news story, but then, we expected that.

In 1945, when he was five, three years after his parents were divorced and with his father long at sea, his mother had decided her bohemian life with a new boyfriend was unsuitable for raising a child and John was put in the care of his uncle and aunt.

Uncle George died in 1955, and Aunt Mimi became the disciplinarian who tried to rein in the increasingly restive John. Ms. Ono said that one of Aunt Mimi's habits — prying into her nephew's diaries and notebooks — ended up contributing to his art. "He thought it was as if Mimi was looking over his shoulder, and so he started to write in gobbledygook, and he used to say that's how surrealism first got into his work," Ms. Ono said.

[The house] was sold in 1965, after Mr. Lennon bought a bungalow for his aunt on the English Channel coast at Poole in Dorset. For her new home, he gave her a stone tablet inscribed with a quote of hers that he wanted her never to forget.

It read, "A guitar's all right John, but you'll never earn a living by it."

More information, with more pictures, is available on the Trust's website. And on that site, Yoko describes the house, called Mendips: "This is the house where John did all his dreaming about his future, about the future of the world…and the rest is history!"

The Iranian cyclist arrested and held by our immigration authorities for about four months this winter is now in California and about to begin his last sprint to New York City, completing an odyssey of six years.

The short message below, which probably went to an enormous number of friends and supporters, doesn't indicate whether he will be running on foot, as he had earlier indicated he would, or on the two wheels which have carried him around the world.

Hello everyone,

Everything is fine with me. I left Phoenix on Sunday,
April 27th and rode to Los Angeles and I am staying
with a new friend, Dave Hyslop in Marina del Rey,
California.

On May 11th (Mother's Day) I will start the final leg
of my journey and travel to Ground Zero in New York
City.

Your suport has meant so much to me - thank you!

Sincerely,

Reza Baluchi

The entire text of a letter in this week's The Nation:

Skokie, Ill.

With the shooting over and the oilwells rescued from a despotic regime, it's time to consider what posterity will think. An illegitimate President wages an illegal war, hijacks the Bill of Rights and raids the Treasury on behalf of those who already have too much - and a strange silence emanates from the organs of democracy. No debate in Congress, not even token opposition from the "opposition party" and shamefully little real reporting from our "embedded" echo-chamber media. As the Administration executes its program of aggression abroad and repression at home, sheepish acquiescence is the order of the day. What label will historians give this not-so-brave world of ours? May I suggest The Gelded Age?

Hugh Iglarsh

I care less about posterity's opinion than our own, and I'm bothered by the chauvinist tint in what the writer proposes as a description of our age [The magazine's editors themselves headlined the letter, OR, 'THE GUILTY AGE ?'], but Mr. Iglarsh does have the story right.

I think both the country and the state of New York would be better off having at least one empty senatorial seat than have it continue to be occupied by Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I could easily add the chair of our senior senator, Charles Schumer, to the trash heap. We'd save the expense of both establishments and be well rid of the hypocrisies of pretend-democrats (small d). I think I'd rather fight an enemy who believes in truth in labelling.

Lesbians and gays who have any understanding of the world should be particularly angry. Both senators have been more than enthusiastic about the Bush wars and the administration's assaults on our domestic liberties, and both have come up pretty empty when it comes to meaningful support for queers, although we could argue, as Bloggy does, that Clinton must be confronted with her political cynicism even more than Schumer. She has been remarkably successful in presenting herself as a hero to homos all over the country, in spite of the absence of any evidence. Wishful thinking, I imagine. Are we so desperate? Are we all political bottoms?

Hillary's no friend of queers


I have never understood why so many homos seems to think Hillary Clinton is somehow on our side. She takes our money and shows up and gay fundraisers, but that's the extent of her "support". While running for the Senate, she said she would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

It has now been one week since Senator Santorum's remarks, and as this article in the Gay City News reminds us, she hasn't managed to make any statement whatsoever. As of today, there's no statement on Mr. Santorum on her web site, but she has found the time to announce legislation to establish "National Purple Heart Recognition Day" and praise Schweizer Aircraft Corporation and its support of our troops.

Chuck Schumer took a week to come up with a statement, but there's nothing on his web site. He lives in Park Slope, so he has plenty of queer neighbors!

You can contact our illustrious senators here: Clinton and Schumer. Hillary doesn't have "Gay and Lesbian issues" in the topic choices, but Schumer does.

[from Bloggy, May 3]

"It is our humble homage to a site which is part of the heritage of the entire world. Vine growing began here, and here, after 2000 years, we once more propose a wine made in Pompeii."
Senor Mastroberardino exaggerates a bit about the southern Italian origin of winemaking, but the Etruscan, Greek and Roman Campania's accomplishment, and his own, is significant nevertheless.

Ok, not a story that will appeal to everyone, but it definitely appears made for me. My maybe-all-too-numerous passions include food, wine, Italy, Naples, ancient history, landscapes, cities, and so on. By coincidence late last night we sat down to a simple Campanian dish, Spaghettini alle Vongole con Brocoli di Rapa (thin spaghetti with brocoli rabe and clams, with garlic and hot pepper flakes) accompanied by a wonderful Campanian white, a Falanghina (dei Campi Flegrei). Perfect.

Now if we only had access to Mastroberardino's Pompeian wine itself. But I'm definitely going to order more of that Falanghina.

The Bush administration and leading Senate Republicans were defeated (this time) in a rather sneaky attempt to introduce the C.I.A. and the Pentagon into domestic surveilance.

The proposal, which was beaten back, would have given the C.I.A. and the military the authority to issue administrative subpoenas — known as "national security letters" — requiring Internet providers, credit card companies, libraries and a range of other organizations to produce materials like phone records, bank transactions and e-mail logs. That authority now rests largely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the subpoenas do not require court approval.

The surprise proposal was tucked into a broader intelligence authorization bill now pending before Congress.

. . . .

[Democrats and civil liberties advocates] said that while the F.B.I. was subject to guidelines controlling what agents are allowed to do in the course of an investigation, the C.I.A. and the military appeared to have much freer reign. The F.B.I. also faces additional scrutiny if it tries to use such records in court, but officials said the proposal could give the C.I.A. and the military the power to gather such material without ever being subject to judicial oversight.

The proposed measure went well beyond the notorious provisions of the so-called "Patriot Act II" being considered by the Justice Department.

The story is fascinating. The feature article by Jane Perlez visits an aristocratic Iraqi family which in this century alone has survived (no, somehow flourished under) an Ottoman Caliphate, a British Empire, an Arab monarchy and a Baath Party coup followed by a Sadaam Hussein dictatorship. Today its members eagerly anticipate the latest regime, with characteristic optimism about the benefits which will follow, for all Iraqis.

"We have lost," Mr. Jabbar said matter-of-factly at his mother's home, which he visits daily for lunch and conversation. "But I told my daughter, Magda, the other day: 'Now we will see Iraq changed into a modern country. Now there is a chance.'"
But the wisdom of this same man, a member of the Baath Party for four decades, is best revealed in his words to a 6-year-old grandson, Essa, words which reveal the patience and wisdom of thousands of years of history - or maybe just plain good sense.
When he was not at the party headquarters during the [recent U.S.-led] war, Mr. Jabbar said he paid a lot of attention to his 6-year-old grandson, Essa, who was frightened, particularly at night.

He created games, he said, such as how to tell the different kinds of orange trees in the garden in the dark (by feeling the varied textures of the skins), or a card game pitting the Americans and Iraqis against each other. When the Americans won a game, Mr. Jabber said he told Essa that the Iraqis could win a game in the future. "It doesn't have to be a battle to have a winner or loser," he told the child.

Congress must pay whatever it costs to protect New York City from terrorist attack. It's in the Constitution.

This is an abstract from an April 24 OP-ED piece in the NYTimes by Jason Mazzone:

Op-Ed article says Constitution requires Congress to approve full $700 million a year New York City needs to protect itself from terrorist attack, not merely $200 million it has offered; cites Article IV, Section 4, which states that federal government shall protect each state against invasion (M) Operation Atlas, New York City's plan to protect itself from terrorist attacks, is likely to cost $700 million a year, much of it in overtime pay for police officers and firefighters. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has asked the federal government for money that would offset the costs of the program. While Congress has offered some $200 million in security spending, it has no intention of footing the entire bill. A close reading of the Constitution, however, suggests that it should.

Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution says, ''The United States . . . shall protect each of [the states] against Invasion.'' Unlike other provisions that merely authorize governmental action, this article imposes on Washington an obligation to defend states -- and their cities -- from foreign attacks. If New York City needs Operation Atlas, the federal government must pay for the program.

New York was the first domestic target, and it is potentially the first future target, of terrorist attacks directed against the U.S. The fact that New York may be the one area of the U.S. which least supports the policies which attract terrorist attacks, while interesting, is not the argument. The argument, especially for the right wing ultra-nationalists who maintain that the role of a federal government should essentially be limited to one of defense, is that we absolutely must be defended by the federal government or there is no reason for our remaining part of that government.

The following is from the print edition and is no longer available on-line.

Eighteenth-century Americans — who were as worried about sneak assaults from foreign agents (and British sympathizers) as they were about the arrival of enemy gunships off the coastline — would have understood that attacks like those of 9/11 fall within the scope of Article IV. The Bush administration itself has repeatedly characterized terrorism as an act of war.

Significantly, Article IV requires the government to protect "each" of the states from invasion. This means Washington must do so in a way that meets each state's individual needs, and that a particular state must not be left vulnerable just because taxpayers in other states prefer not to contribute additional money needed for its protection. In the war on terrorism it takes more to defend New York than to defend Nebraska. New York is a unique terrorist target: a coastal metropolitan center, a national entry point, the financial and cultural capital, the home to the United Nations and a worldwide American symbol. The federal government must take into account the city's special security requirements.

No invocation of the doctrine of states' rights can relieve the federal government of its responsibility to defend any one state or any group of states.

I've gotten used to the fact that the government of my country wants to control the world and thinks it is fully prepared to do whatever it will take to do so, but I just cannot understand how my fellow citizens (subjects?) can actually be so stupid and infantile. Since I totally accept the fact that this is not a democratice republic, I guess I still want to be surprised to find that many Americans actually go along with the policies and attitudes of the junta, that accounts of this support are apparently not just misinformation from the authorities themselves.

Many Americans now seem to regard France as our most important enemy. Huh? For too long I've thought this was really just a joke, but these people are serious, and they aren't letting go. Are our narrow little minds unable to accept that anyone could honestly disagree with our incredibly stupid and insanely selfish and destructive foreign policy, one which threatens the entire world? Yes, apparently so, just as the radical fundamentalists now running the country treat any suggestion of opposition here at home as virtual treason.

Joyce Purnick describes a telling event which took place in a Manhattan restaurant very recently.

Last week on a crowded night at La Mirabelle, a French restaurant on West 86th Street in Manhattan, the woman some know as the singing waitress, Danielle Luperti, stood at a couple's table and — as she is sometimes wont to do — belted out a few lines of "La Vie en Rose." It was as if Edith Piaf had returned, and the crowd loved it. Well, most of the crowd did.

Ms. Luperti was applauded, there was a pause, people went back to their dinners, and then, lo, another voice — most decidedly in English this time. A patron began singing an emotional rendition of "God Bless America." It was Piaf vs. Smith (Kate).

There's more about that evening's incident in her column, including evidence that the rude patron may have been alone in chosing to reconfigure a dinner experience as a chauvinist [French word!] demonstration, and Purnick writes that she herself files the story in "the happy endings file."

My own reaction to her telling was one of absolute horror, and shame for my countrymen. Oh, I know, France doesn't really care, and in fact in the past we've given the French plenty of reasons not to be surprised by our infantilism, so I imagine it's not really such a shock, but I care, very much. I care about us, and I care about an entire world, one which should expect more from a nation and a people as advantaged as ours.

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