Politics: April 2003 Archives

Have any of us been asking the question? It seems obvious one. As of mid-April, 89 people have died of Severe Acute Respitory Syndrome, or SARS, yet you'd think the sky was falling. But, in the now classic formulation of our frustration, what about AIDS?

SARS may turn well out to be this century's equivalent of the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed millions. It hasn't happened yet however, but the world is already on the verge of panic. Precautions are certainly in order, but we note that while tens of millions of people have now died of AIDS-related diseases, there is no concern, even today, equivalent to that attached to SARS. Twenty years ago almost no one really cared about AIDS, and until there were hundreds of thousands of cases and tens of thousands of deaths, and very loud and creative protests from members of the communities most affected, almost nothing was reported and almost nothing was done.

Sure, there are very significant differences in the epidemiology of the two diseases, but we can't help but suspect that there may be a more important, fatal distinction. One disease is perceived by most people in the West, even today, as a disease belonging to people who are thought expendable, and the other is regarded as a real threat to the kind of people who can make a difference in determining the course of an epidemic.

The current New York Blade has a cover story dealing with these issues. The article, by Winnie McCroy, really only begins to ask some important questions. There will be more questions, we hope, but there may never be good answers.

We're told the war is over. Well, we're told that at least this sub-war is over.

Regardless of whether this is the case, we should be asking ourselves certain questions we deferred in our unseemly haste to prove our faux manliness to the world and to distract ourselves from our shortcomings as a people and a state.

Paul Krugman writes a tight essay in today's NYTimes, in which he asks how we are going to deal with the fact that the Administration's original case for the war on Iraq, Saddam Hussein's posession and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, was defective, and in fact a cynical invention. No WMDs were used in Iraq, and none have been or will be found, at least none of the kind and threat described to us by the White House prior to its pre-emptive attack and invasion of an almost defenseless fourth-rate nation.

Supporters of the war will point to the elimination of a brutal dictator as sufficient justification, at least after the fact, for what we have done, but Krugman asks why we are so selective about freedom, or compassion, when there are so many people suffering around the world. Um, can we say the word, "Africa?"

Americans, apparently most Americans, still believe that Hussein was responsible for September 11, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that we have found them. Each of these beliefs is totally without foundation, but we will never be told this by our government or by the corporate media. How could that happen?

The last question may be the most fundamental. It's certainly the darkest.

Now it's true that the war removed an evil tyrant. But a democracy's decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn't happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren't we?

They told him he had to go to "the free-speech zone."

The police had established a protest area a good half mile from the South Carolina airport hanger where Bush was supposed to speak last fall. Brett A. Bursey wanted to get closer than, in his words, "out there behind the coliseum by the dumpsters," so he and his friends approached the police.

"We attempted to dialogue for a while, them telling me to go to the free-speech zone, me saying I was in it: the United States of America," Mr. Bursey said. Finally, he said, an airport policeman told him he had to put down his sign ("No War for Oil") or leave.

"'You mean, it's the content of my sign?' I asked him," Mr. Bursey said. "He said, `Yes, sir, it's the content of your sign.' "

Mr. Bursey kept the sign and was arrested; he said he watched Air Force One land from the back of a patrol wagon and spent the night in the county jail.

As routine but no less disturbing as such events have become in this country, normally that would have just about been the end of the story. But while the charge against Bursey was soon dropped, news of his terrible crime against the state did not escape the attention of the true guardians of our liberties.
. . . last month, the local United States attorney, J. Strom Thurmond Jr., brought federal charges against Mr. Bursey under a seldom-used statute that allows the Secret Service to restrict access to areas the president is visiting. He faces six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In an irony which will escape many Americans ignorant of the status and character of the media both in Britain and the U.S., the General Director of the BBC says that the American media is basically an arm of the White House and the Pentagon.

Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, attacked American television and radio networks for their "shocking" and "gung-ho" coverage of the Iraq conflict yesterday. He also issued a warning against US companies being allowed greater ownership of British media.

Mr Dyke said that changes to legislation proposed by the Government would allow American media companies to take a greater share of British television and radio, which could lead to a loss of impartiality in news coverage.

"We must ensure that we don't become Americanised," he said. Mr Dyke also accused the Government of trying to "manage public opinion" and "apply pressure" on the BBC.

In his first public comments since the war, Mr Dyke said America had "no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up against" the White House and Pentagon. He said: "Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war."

Mr Dyke said that since the 11 September terrorist attacks, many American networks had "wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism".

He said: "I think compared to the United States we see impartiality as giving a range of views, including those critical of our own Government's position. I think in the United States, particularly since 11 September, that would be seen as unpatriotic."

Could the breathtaking success within our shores of what is called "reality television" be the direct result of the disappearance of all reality in our news programming?

The more-fabulous-than-ever people who run Cursor paraphrase the argument of a familiar, irreverent columnist in New York Press:

In speculating on why the terror alert was lowered, Michelangelo Signorile asks: "If there were 'indications' days before the war began that al-Qaeda was planning to use weapons of mass destruction—in 'multiple attacks,' no less—why would such elaborate, delicate, time-consuming plans suddenly become nonexistent, just two days after Bush decided the war in Iraq had finished?"
Signorile has much more to say in the piece subtitled, "Playing political games with the public mind."

I had heard months ago that the 150-year-old annual tradition of the White House Easter Egg Roll was cancelled this year, because of security concerns for the executive lawn.

But in the end we were not to be disappointed, at least not all of us. A solution was found which superbly suits the current regime occupying the mansion and the nation. The AP headline says it all:

White House Holds Egg Roll for Military
Can you say, "military occupation?"
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wide-eyed kids from military families scampered over the White House South Lawn on Monday, towing parents from egg pushing contests to close encounters with the Easter Bunny.

Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, hosted the scaled-down version of the annual Easter egg roll, which included about 12,000 parents and young children. The occasion normally draws a crowd of about 40,000, but because of security concerns this year's tickets were distributed through the Defense Department exclusively to military families.

"All of you have dads and moms who have been defending America,'' Mrs. Cheney told the children. "We think your moms and dads are terrific."

Even during World War II the event remained open to the nation, although it was moved from the White House lawn to the National Zoo.


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.

As the war on Iraq wound down last week the Pentagon celebrated the Christian Good Friday with a religious service and an invitation to the White House's favorite high priest in his repeating role as regular witness to our most solemm secular occasions.

This time the confusion of church and state got even more confusing, since recently the reverend one has dramatically elevated his status as enemy of reason, of the Constitution and of freedom from religion to that of enemy of all Americans who are not evangelical Christians. Muslims have particular reason for outrage.

WASHINGTON, April 17 — The Pentagon will proceed with a Good Friday religious service by the Rev. Franklin Graham, despite objections from some Muslim groups that he has called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," officials said today.

Mr. Graham, a Christian evangelist, was invited to make an appearance at the Pentagon by some Defense Department employees. The son of the Rev. Billy Graham, Mr. Graham has spoken at the Pentagon on previous occasions and gave the invocation at President Bush's inauguration.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Graham denounced Islam as evil in an interview on the NBC "Nightly News." He later said Muslims failed to apologize adequately for the attacks and urged them to offer compensation to the victims.


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.

After more than twenty years, we still can't talk or write in a straight-forward manner in this country about a disease which has taken the lives of millions around the world. Why? Because we still can't relate to sex or drugs as adults, and because we still think the disease belongs to the other.

But the people who compose the fundamentalist base of the administration in Washington now are taking seriously their mission to recreate the dark ages, or worse, and their impact will be disastrous. Ironically, considering the stright American world's continued indifference to the threat of the disease, it seems that AIDS is now supposed to be treated by scientists as if it had nothing to do with anything but non-reproductive, heterosexual, marrried, abstemious couples (or possibly singles who remain perfectly chaste and drug-free all their lives).

Scientists who study AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases say they have been warned by federal health officials that their research may come under unusual scrutiny by the Department of Health and Human Services or by members of Congress, because the topics are politically controversial.

The scientists, who spoke on condition they not be identified, say they have been advised they can avoid unfavorable attention by keeping certain "key words" out of their applications for grants from the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those words include "sex workers," "men who sleep with men," "anal sex" and "needle exchange," the scientists said.

Following so many other threats originating in the Bush White House, this is just another augury for the virtually certain decline of American science under a repressive, brainless, xenophobic regime.

The pernicious effect of the political scrutiny of science and medicine will be to discourage certain projects altogether and to distory or adulturate those that somehow survive.

[Dr. Alfred Sommer, the dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University] said that if researchers feared that federal support for their work might be affected by politics, whether it was true or untrue, it could take a toll. "If people feel intimidated and start clouding the language they use, then your mind starts to get cloudy and the science gets cloudy," he said, adding that the federal financing of medical research had traditionally been free from political influence.

We just returned home from an art opening at the Whitney at Altria, across the street from Grand Central Station on Park Avenue.

As we left the reception at 9 pm we were shocked to see several NYC police vans disgorging a number of SWAT cops (with flack jackets and huge automatic rifles). Moments later we were inside the subway station where we found "camouflaged" national guardsmen on alert throughout the concorse, stationed rigidly at ten foot intervals from each other, also handling automatic rifles and looking anything but relaxed. I mean, there was a lot of armor on the east end of 42nd Street tonight! Thousands of people passed these warriors on their way to the trains, and no one seemed to notice the honor guard.

As I write this no information is available on the internet which would suggest anything out of the ordinary was happening tonight. No one but Barry and I ever seem to see these creatures, these horrific scenes, and no one but Barry and I ever seem to be disturbed by their significance.

Why is it that we as New Yorkers, if not just as Americans, can be made to pay every cent of the cost of our own military occupation while we have no say about its necessity or its nature? This is a subjugation which exists at the whim of some vague higher authority not accountable even to the citizenry of the nation. Whether as New Yorkers or as Americans, we are not given an adequate reason either for its presence or for the fluctuating burden of its insult. In fact we are not even told it is there, as is attested by the otherwise inexplicable ignorance of my neighbors on the subject.

In the case of the specific shock and awe of this evening's "alert," could it be simply the consequence of our once again becoming too relaxed for the good of those at the helm of the state, too inadequate to the need of the fascists in Washington to continually remind us of the absolute necessity of their regime?

Apparently we will never know. No one is really asking the question, and the American media least of all.

And yet. As we passed by the huge windows of the gallery we had just left, on our way to the subway, a large number of the young artists and friends of artists who were still inside the space were literally pressing their noses to the glass in their astonishment at the horrible paramilitary scene outside to which they found themselves witness. Are we finally paying attention? Maybe we will wake up in time.

We are all effectively under arrest now.

Over a hundred people were penned in, attacked, handcuffed and arrested by riot police outside The Carlyle Group offices in Manhattan early this morning.

A certain number of protestors had blocked the entrance to the building and were arrested, as they expected, in an organized civil disobedience. But at the same time police also surrounded the legal protesters gathered on a sidewalk across the street and refused to let them leave. There was no order to disperse, and those who tried to leave were stopped. The police then began arresting people whose only "crime" was to hold a sign protesting the war on Iraq. About 50 people, most of whom have had no CD training whatsoever, were arrested and are now being held at One Police Plaza.

Carlyle had been chosen as the primary target location for protest this morning, because the organizers of the direct action, the M27 Coalition, see it as epitomizing the corrupting influence of powerful profit-seeking corporations on decision making in Washington. [For more on Carlyle, see an essay on the late, lamented Red Herring site, "Carlyle's way - Making a mint inside 'the iron triangle' of defense, government, and industry," by Dan Briody.]

At least up to the moment this item is being posted, there has been a total news blackout on the demonstration, the police drama in the streets, the unlawful arrests and continuing detainment of dozens of peaceful legal protestors. The only media record available has been posted by nyc indymedia

Proving what we all know to be true--that the NYPD is a private paramilitary security force that exists to protect the interests of capital above all else--cops this morning disrupted a legal picket against war profiteers the Carlyle Group. Protestors on both sides of the street were penned in by dozens and dozens of cops in full riot gear, given no order to disperse, and rounded up. When protestors shouted out that they had a right to be assembled there, one officer responded, "You have no rights as far as I'm concerned." We thank the NYPD for clearing up the confusion around that once and for all.

Though the protest was more or less dispersed, the cops themselves did a brilliant job of shutting down traffic and generating a general level of disruption and chaos that many a direct action aspires to. We should take some lessons from them. For example, abandoning empty cars in the middle of the street seems a particularly useful strategy. The cops also showed what can be accomplished with large numbers, as there was probably a 3 to 1 ratio of pigs to protestors.

This is an excerpt from a press release posted on the M27 Coalition site linked above:
Attorney Karen Moulding, an attorney with the group Glamericans for Peace, observed the arrests. "Pedestrians were able to get by without any impediment. Police gave no warnings to disperse. I've been a legal observer for many demonstrations for years and I've never seen anything like it. Police behavior seemed calculated to silence or deters peaceful demonstration. Police should be proud to protect the First Amendment right to demonstrate peacefully, rather than use scare tactics to pre-empt it."

One protestor, Jennifer Jaeger who witnessed the arrests of bystanders, said, "I noticed one man thrown to the ground and another bystander was cuffed so tightly that she started to cry. The police were brutal and its obvious their actions were meant to stifle protests."

There will be a demonstration in support of those people at One Police Plaza tonight (Monday) beginning 5-6pm.

Another milestone for the land of the free!

An estimated 12 percent of African-American men ages 20 to 34 are in jail or prison, according to a report released yesterday by the Justice Department.

The proportion of young black men who are incarcerated has been rising in recent years, and this is the highest rate ever measured, said Allen J. Beck, the chief prison demographer for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the Justice Department.

By comparison, 1.6 percent of white men in the same age group are incarcerated.

Even the NYTimes is finally reporting that we just might not have the representative citizen army we like to think we have.

Does the United States military have to be representative of American society? The question has hung heavy since war with Iraq first seemed inevitable, and with it the possibility of heavy casualties. Now, with that war at a climax, a small band of critics continues to maintain that the all-volunteer force — which is 30 years old this year — is all-volunteer in name only.

They argue that relative economic disadvantage has replaced local draft boards in determining who enters the military, especially the enlisted ranks, and that it is un-American to have an affluent nation being defended by working-class young people, heavily layered with minorities.

The pattern would be familiar to a citizen in late Rome. Should we be concerned?

They're just lucky they haven't yet had to deal with the bombs and the sabotage which can certainly be expected some time soon.

The NYTimes Business day" section on friday included an article in its "Advertising" column about U.S. companies re-arranging their marketing abroad in the wake of the enormous increase in anti-American sentiment which has accompanied the disaster of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

With the recent surge in petition drives, demonstrations, even physical attacks that equate brands born in the United States with imperialism or militarism, advertisers are confronting perhaps the most sustained anti-American feelings abroad since the Vietnam War.
The article presents the problem as just another challenge for American advertising ["marketers are scrutinizing everything that represents them internationally, from ads to package designs to promotions"], but there is at least a hint of the real disasters which may follow.
Until now, American brands have reaped the benefits of being associated with America," [said professor Christie Nordheim of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University]. "Now, they're suffering the consequences."
Well. yeah, corporate America has paid for and finally gotten exactly the government it always wanted. It now has a regime totally accomodating to the wants and needs of Big Business and totally indifferent to the wants and needs of Americans and people throughout the world, but it was bought on the cheap, and the shoddy political product of small minds is about to explode in their faces. Stuart Elliott, the author of the article, doesn't seem to have a much of a clue about the horrors ahead for American corporations which have a presence overseas, but the professor he quotes may be more savvy.
Clearly, those most closely associated with the American way of life "are going to suffer the greatest harm," Ms. Nordheim said.
We may have to swallow their damn junk here, and Americans don't fight corporations very well, but people outside the U.S. still have market choices and they're not always afraid of attacking Big Business, even physically.

I actually thought that I had arrived at an epiphany the other day. In total frustration, and unable to understand how the country had bought into this regime with its message and reign of terror, I told myself only half seriously that it was plainly the successful outcome of a deliberate long-term right-wing plan to sabotage the entire education system. We have been rendered morons in a deliberate campaign.

Today I found that I am not alone with these thoughts. On a visit to his website which was encouraged by a very interesting article in the NYTimes thursday about music industry blacklisting, Paris - the self-described "politically conscious artist best known for the incendiary song 'Bush Killa'" - reminded me that Ted Rall had said it already.

The Moron Majority
By Ted Rall, March 21, 2003

Now it's official: most Americans are idiots.

Decades of budget cuts in education are finally yielding results, a fact confirmed by CNN's poll of March 16, which shows that an astonishing 51 percent of the public believe that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

. . . .

For a totally painless argument about why the Bush administration must be resisted, go to the site of that excellent bunch of social humorists who call themselves The Onion.

I Should Not Be Allowed To Say The Following Things About America

As Americans, we have a right to question our government and its actions. However, while there is a time to criticize, there is also a time to follow in complacent silence. And that time is now.

[Here follows, in seven paragraphs, their columnist's modest list of the things which should not now be said about America.]

True patriots know that a price of freedom is periodic submission to the will of our leaders—especially when the liberties granted us by the Constitution are at stake. What good is our right to free speech if our soldiers are too demoralized to defend that right, thanks to disparaging remarks made about their commander-in-chief by the Dixie Chicks?

When the Founding Fathers authored the Constitution that sets forth our nation's guiding principles, they made certain to guarantee us individual rights and freedoms. How dare we selfishly lay claim to those liberties at the very moment when our nation is in crisis, when it needs us to be our most selfless? We shame the memory of Thomas Jefferson by daring to mention Bush's outright lies about satellite photos that supposedly prove Iraq is developing nuclear weapons.

At this difficult time, President Bush needs my support. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needs my support. General Tommy Franks needs my support. It is not my function as a citizen in a participatory democracy to question our leaders. And to exercise my constitutional right—nay, duty—to do so would be un-American.

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from April 2003.

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