Politics: July 2005 Archives

not so simple now, even for white guys, but maybe it never was

UPDATE: I received a very constructive comment on my last post, "bag the entrance searches, we need exits!", from Matt of the "Flex your Rights Foundation," and I thought it would be extremely useful as a post of its own.

Go here for The Citizen's Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches. The site includes an excellent introduction to its practical advice on how to "safely and intelligently 'flex' your rights":

In response to the recent London terror attacks, New York police officers are now conducting random searches of bags and packages brought into the subway.

While Flex Your Rights takes no position on the usefulness of these searches for preventing future attacks, we have serious concerns that this unprecedented territorial expansion of police search powers is doing grave damage to people's understanding of their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In addition, as innocent citizens become increasingly accustomed to being searched by the police, politicians and police agencies are empowered to further expand the number of places where all are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Fortunately, this trend is neither inevitable nor irreversible. In fact, the high-profile public nature of these random subway searches provides freedom-loving citizens with easy and low-risk opportunities to "flex" their Fourth Amendment rights by refusing to be searched.

The site includes a handy guide-flyer which can be downloaded and printed for giving out to friends and strangers, dressing up a refrigerator or carrying in your . . . er, . . . bag.

[image of Norman Rockwell's 1958 "The Runaway" from the artchive]

the wrong kind of crowd control

It's a good thing it was Penn Station, because virtually none of New York's Transit system stations could be evacuated for either a real or a false alarm.

Chief Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg's new policy of passenger searches absolutely will not prevent a terrorist hit in our subway system. A real terrorist will just take another train or set off a weapon on the spot. But if something does happen tomorrow, any survivors of an initial attack are likely already doomed by today's official negligence.

They'll never get out.

Sometimes there are a few regular low-bar turnstiles at a station, but most of the time passengers have to exit through ceiling-to-floor turnstile cages which admit only one person at a time. In addition, even though there are often a number of exit stairways in each station, during many hours of the day (or permanently) all but one of them is locked, even those which can only be used as exits!

There's no chance a number of cars and a platform could be emptied in anyone's definition of a hurry. Up to 2000 people may be on a single train, and many more might be on the platform, waiting or leaving, at the same time. Most everyone will have to pass through cages one at a time. I sounds to me like this could easily take a half hour or more.

In addition, it won't help any of us to survive if the system's emergency lighting is still connected to the third rail, as it is now. When train power is cut for whatever reason there is no light anywhere in the tunnels.

Looking to the near future, the MTA is still proceding with plans to eliminate clerks in the stations, conductors in the cars, and even motormen at the stick. Where is the sanity?

Our politicians and public guardians hope to give us the impression that they are making us all safer with unconstitutional searches. Certainly they know the policy is wrong and useless, so why are they not addressing a very real danger but jumping at the chance to push this obviously bogus remedy? I think it's because sending the police in to go through the bags of people of color is much less trouble, much less expensive, and, above all, much less like an embarrassing admission of continuing incompetence - that is, until something really does happen.

For a personal account of our own experience of MTA incompetence in a real incident, fortunately with neither serious injuries nor terrorism involved, see this post.

[image from the MTA]

the Madtown Liberty Players portray the Fourth Amendment under attack (two years ago)

The House voted today to make the "Patriot Act" permanent. In what may be the least patriotic vote ever recorded in that chamber, our representatives effectively moved to revoke the Fourth Amendment for all time.

My countrymen are cowards. They are ignorant of themselves and of the world. The unknown is always what we fear, and this country has an enormous dark store of the nameless feeding its private terrors.

Americans don't know who they are, and they don't know the outside world. We never had to learn anything about either subject, and for pretty much the same reason: the country was just so big; we were busy filling it up and we could pretty much ignore everyone outside our borders and most of them inside. We don't like people anyway, whether they're from another continent, another city, another neighborhood, another family. I don't even have to mention our class, racial and ethnic insularity, they are so well-documented. We don't even like to be too close to those in our own families. We like the separation the oceans furnish us and we wish there were others on our northern, and especially southern, borders. We want as much space as we can manage to arrange between ourselves and the next fellow's place, and everyone in the family should have a private room and bath, as well as his or her own car.

I'm appalled, but not surprised, by this cowardice on the one hand and on the other a welcoming, even enthusiastic, support for, excuse the expression, but I do know my history, clearly "fascist" concepts of political control that are being embraced by so many of our fellow freedom-loving Americans. These are people who will still boast tomorrow that they enjoy a unique island of liberty and democracy blessed by a god who favors their virtue.

America has indeed been terrorized. It was the work of a single brilliant and monstrous blow, but the land of the free and the home of the brave is now willing to trash its heritage for the mere illusion of security. While most of its people are willing to admit the trade, they don't see the disconnect.

We're doomed.

[image from Madison Indymedia]

for picking weeds

It probably won't be news to anyone in the new music scene, but this account of vicious New York city police thuggery may be a surprise to many of my readers, even those who have seen my Chief Smolka posts; and even those who are familiar with the police camp that the Village's Washington Square Park has become in recent years. Smolka is in charge of the street crimes unit which assaulted the Broken Social Scene's Dave Newfield in the park last Thursday.

The cop's official title is "Commanding Officer Patrol Borough Manhattan Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka," according to the NYPD site. I call him very dangerous.

Who will protect us from those who say they will protect us?

This is an excerpt from the pitchforkmedia report:

So, [his friend] exchanges $20 with a dealer in the park while Newfeld stands by watching the events unfold. As Newf tells it: "We walk around the corner, and all the sudden I'm tackled in a football style attack, like a mugger would do, you know? You grab the person and catch them by surprise and they ambush in a football tackle. And then they're like, 'Police, police, police! Fucking put your hands behind you!'" Due to the lax drug laws in Canada [his home], Newfeld says he didn't connect what he assumed to be a mugging with his schwag score, assuming the "police" claim was a ploy by thugs to keep their victims passive for an easy stick-up.

"They started punching me in the face and beating the shit out of me and throwing me on the ground, so I'm trying to get away-- not fight them back, because I'm not capable of that, but just to escape. And then they threatened to break my hand and I'm like, "No, don't break my hand! I'm a musician. I gotta fuckin' play tomorrow! And so I'm really freaking out, and at that point I thought, 'Just take my wallet, whatever. Don't break my hand. My wallet's not worth it.'" By now, Newfeld's pal was cuffed on the ground, and finally decided it was time to break the news: "They're cops! Submit!" Oh, and P.S., whoops!

After being thrown in the back of a paddywagon, Newfeld was left to sit with a handful of shady characters while the 5-0 went around picking up other perps. He was then taken back to the station in pretty poor shape, strip-searched (whuh-oh), and, having been left in a cell for an hour or two, taken to Bellevue Hospital to have his beatings checked out. It turned out he'd suffered two cracked ribs. While in his hospital bed, he was given a report detailing the charges against him-- four counts of assaulting an officer and possession-- which still stand as of press time.

[image from pitchforkmedia; story tip from a reader, whose email subject line read, "where's there's smolka, there's fire..."]

a Palestinian man walks next to a section of a wall eight-meters high built by the Israeli government, arbitrarily separating Jerusalem (and some additional annexed lands) from the Palestinian suburb of Abu Dis

We will not prevent terrorist acts by raising walls or bombing innocent strangers with sophisticated weaponry; by increasing the legal penalties for posession of a bomb; by spying on each other, high-tech or otherwise; by humiliating "the other;" by outlawing nail files or lighters; by putting an armed guard in every environment which has been a previous target; by incarcerating all the brown people on earth; by staying at home behind drawn curtains.

If we want to see it cease, we have to look to the cause of the terrorist response, not its manifestations. And it is a response; terrorism is always a response of the weak to the assaults of the powerful.

Terrorism feeds on imperialism. Neither of these is a state, merely a tactic; eliminate the imperialism and the threat from terrorism will disappear. We will never be made safe by building walls or by extending the power of our own state at home or abroad; the entire planet will survive and prosper if we recognize the appropriate limitations of that state and the proper proportion of our people, and placing both in the community of all nations and peoples.

[image from Newsday by Moises Saman]

[of a kind of harmony]

and I'm also very fond of red, when it's used well [scene from "Shadowtime"]

Brian Ferneyhough Time and Motion Study III 1974 16 mixed voices, percussion, live electronics [detail of the score]

I had intended to get tickets to Brian Ferneyhough's new opera, "Shadowtime," which receives its American premier next week, from the moment I had heard about it. But the Lincoln Center Festival flier we had received weeks ago had very soon been buried underneath competing mailings and was almost immediately forgotten - until this afternoon, when I read Jeremy Eichler's piece, "A secular Messiah gets His own Opera," in the NYTimes Arts&Leisure section. I immediately looked for the Festival site on line and then grabbed the phone, fearing that there might no longer be anything available but my best chance would be with a human voice. Then even as I was doing this I had to remind myself that this was not "La Boheme." The world wasn't going to be beating a path to Columbus Circle in order to hear an opera about "an arcane cultural philosopher" featuring "fantastically intricate music, with nothing as old-fashioned as a tune in sight," in Eichler's words - even if I had been seduced immediately.

While the two paragraphs from near the conclusion of the Times piece I'm copying below may not entirely explain my own love of difficult music (which is as much about the vulgar appeal of its invention, its energy, its novelty and its provocation as it is about its intellectual virtues), they do say something about the social and political utility of difficult art - in any medium.

"Shadowtime" had its premiere last year at the Munich Biennale, and critical reaction ranged widely. The Süddeutsche Zeitung hailed it as "an apex of modern operatic artistry," but The Sunday Times of London described it as overly cerebral, "an abstract idea of an opera rather than the thing itself." The truth may well depend on one's definition of modern opera.

Mr. Bernstein [Charles Bernstein, the librettist], for his part, readily concedes the many difficulties of "Shadowtime," and argues that they arise not only by design but by necessity. "Clarity is valuable in many situations, but not necessarily in art," he said in a recent interview at his Manhattan apartment. "Many will no doubt be befuddled, just as a work that seeks to be clear risks boring people. These are the risks you have to take."

Yet more seems to be at stake than simply keeping an audience challenged. When pressed, Mr. Bernstein echoes Benjamin's friend and colleague Theodor Adorno, who defended difficult music as having its own social value precisely because it teaches us how to withhold understanding and therefore helps us resist the allure of false clarity in the world beyond the concert hall. Complexity, in other words, is a worthy ideal in art because reality is even more complex and dissonant than the thorniest work of modernism, even if politicians and the commercial culture reassure us that everything is simple, clear and harmonious.

Oh yes, I had no trouble getting two good seats on the aisle in the orchestra, and for a fraction of the price of seats at that older and much more famous opera venue where they don't seem to be able to get past "La Boheme."

[first image from the NYTimes; second image from tagederneuenchormusik]

leaving it up to the riders

Barry has just about covered the issue, with the help of Newsday's estimable Ray Sanchez, but a letter to the editor published in the NYTimes helps to illustrate the scale of the criminal incompetence and negligence of those at the top by bringing up the most recent scandal involving the MTA:

To the Editor:

The terrorist blasts in London and a similar attack last year in Madrid dramatically point to the vulnerability of New York's transit system to a similar attack.

Despite setting aside nearly $600 million [state and federal money] to secure the transit network against a terrorist strike, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has accomplished little since 9/11. It was not until March 2003 that the agency announced a plan to address the transit system's weaknesses.

In fact, the lion's share of the money has not been allocated. The agency's most public initiative is a failed proposal to ban photography by straphangers.

Its foot-dragging is especially unsettling when contrasted with the speed with which it rushed through a deal for the proposed West Side stadium. [the italics are mine]

Instead of issuing color-coded alerts, the federal government and the M.T.A. should urgently undertake measures with existing money to enhance security.

Manuel Cortazal
Bronx, July 7, 2005

Wish us all luck. It looks like we're going to need it.

[image from the MTA]

. . . but I wasn't a pornographer*

safe enough for him?

Patrick Moore has an OPINION piece in today's Newsday, "Bush team uses 'skin game' to attack porn," which sounds an alarm on behalf of principles much greater than the protection of our access to adult sexual entertainment. An excerpt follows:

Under the guise of regulatory powers, the department [of Justice] is planning a punitive and ideologically motivated assault on the adult entertainment industry. A legal challenge last month delayed the onset, but Justice is hoping later this year to begin enforcing a host of regulations so onerous that they may represent the end of pornography as a viable business in America.

Regardless of one's feelings about adult entertainment, the situation is a disturbing illustration of a larger trend in the Bush administration: the use of regulatory powers to advance a conservative moral agenda.

. . . .

One can understand that the government wants to ensure that porn performers are of legal age. However, these regulations ensure no such thing. In fact, in several lawsuits involving underage performers, the minors had provided government-issued IDs to producers. As we are learning in terms of both national security and immigration, government IDs are easily obtained and easily falsified. And demanding proof of age for performers who are clearly 30 or 40 years old seems less about protecting children than about punishing an industry the government deems immoral.

By focusing on regulatory enforcement, the Department of Justice cannily avoids repressing adult entertainment on the basis of content, knowing that the First Amendment presents a challenge that probably cannot be overcome. But the effect - suppression of protected speech, whether or not it is deemed obscene - is achieved outside the normal checks and balances of American government.

The Bush administration has a track record of attempting to regulate morality behind a smoke screen of law enforcement, bureaucratic rules and scientific research. These efforts are often focused on unpopular issues, where the administration is fairly certain that public opinion will provide protection, regardless of the ethics involved. Few citizens in an increasingly conservative America will fight to protect the constitutional rights of pornographers.

AIDS is another example. For several years now, researchers applying for National Institutes of Health grants to study AIDS have been told to remove references to gay men, even though they continue to represent the majority of cases here in the United States. And, famously, the Bush administration has touted its compassion for those dying of AIDS in Africa, even while it denies funds to organizations that offer reproductive health services or stress condoms over abstinence.

Full disclosure: I knew Patrick Moore slightly but I admired his good sense hugely when we were both busy with ACT UP fifteen years ago.

My introduction is a conscious reference to Martin Niemöller’s lines about moral failure in the face of the Holocaust:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.
Yes, I know a morality crusade does not make a holocaust, but although we deal with new evils in new times, fascism's tactics, and the kind of popular response needed, have changed very little.

[image via E. Heroux]

reaction in the public gallery of the Cortes on June 30, as the Spanish parliament extended full rights of marriage to all citizens

Some day a people crazy about waving its own flag at home and around the world may actually understand the liberty and justice it was intended to represent.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world has already overtaken us.

Excerpts from the speech by Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero delivered just prior to the vote last Thurday which legalized gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples:

We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.

In the poem 'The Family,' our [gay] poet Luis Cernuda was sorry because, 'How does man live in denial in vain/by giving rules that prohibit and condemn?' Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.

It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone's triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. Honorable members, There is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. To the contrary, what happens is this class of Spanish citizens get the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. There is no danger to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law enhances and respects marriage.

Today, conscious that some people and institutions are in a profound disagreement with this change in our civil law, I wish to express that, like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.

With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of liberty and tolerance that was begun by the democratic change of government. Our children will look at us incredulously if we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or if we tell them that people had to stay married against their will even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every right gained, each access to liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people that deserve our recognition and praise.

Today we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today, for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by Kavafis [the great Greek gay poet] one century ago: 'Later 'twas said of the most perfect society/someone else, made like me/certainly will come out and act freely.'

Can we try to remember these noble words the next time any U.S. politician opens his or her mouth?

[a dear friend of mine, Jamie Leo, forwarded the speech text this morning; it can be found on Doug Ireland's site, where the translation is credited to Rex Wockner; image by Susana Vera from Reuters]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from July 2005.

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