Politics: September 2003 Archives

Off with their heads!

Yeah, sure, Ashcroft's going to get right on it.

But actually, is this Bush's Watergate burglary?

Are the highest members of the adminstration involved in betraying a C.I.A. agent, endangering her and her colleagues and consequently discouraging others from coming forward with information on terrorist threats? Did they do this not just for revenge, but because they hoped to to intimidate others both within and outside government - to shut them up? And is there now a coverup in process?

What did the president know?

We might actually never find out, since every branch of the federal government is controlled by Bush's Republicans, and an opposition party effectively doesn't exist.

Our only hope seems to rest on the most primitive impulse of the media, the part that reacts to the smell of blood with enough lust to overcome its corporate dependency and give up the rewards of access available to those who don't question the status quo.

The signals we've been seeing lately in national and international news coverage are certainly propitious.

Is anything going well for the administration these days?

Especially welcome on this laptop after my experience Tuesday near the UN, today's strong lead NYTimes editorial talks about free speech zones - and much more.

The Presidential Bubble

Four progressive political groups sued the Bush administration this week, charging that the Secret Service is systematically keeping protesters away from the president's public appearances. They make a serious point about free speech rights, but they also point out a disturbing aspect of the Bush White House: the country has a chief executive who seems to embrace the presidential bubble.

Security concerns make it inevitable that a modern American president will be somewhat cut off from the country he leads. He cannot insert himself into any part of normal life without a phalanx of security guards.

Protesters cannot be permitted to get close enough to pose a threat, but they ought to be able to get close enough so the president can see that they are there. Sometimes seeing a glimpse of placard-wielding demonstrators is as close as the commander in chief can get to seeing the face of national discontent.

At Mr. Bush's public appearances, his critics are routinely shunted into "protest zones" as much as a half-mile away. At the Columbia, S.C., airport last year, a protester with a "No War for Oil" sign was ordered to move a half-mile from the area where Mr. Bush's supporters were allowed to stand. When the protester refused, he was arrested.

Mr. Bush and his aides also seem to go to great lengths to underline the degree to which the president closes himself off from the news media. In an interview with Fox News this week, the president said he learned most of what he needs to know from morning briefings by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and his chief of staff, Andrew Card.

As for newspapers, Mr. Bush said, "I glance at the headlines" but "rarely read the stories." The people who brief him on current events encounter many of the newsmakers personally, he said, and in any case "probably read the news themselves."

Some of this may be a pose that is designed to tweak the media by making the news appear to be below the president's notice. During the Iraqi invasion, when the rest of the nation was glued to TV, Mr. Bush's spokesman claimed that his boss had barely glanced at the pictures of what was going on.

But it is worrisome when one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House takes pains to insist that he gets his information on what the world is saying only in predigested bits from his appointees.

Mr. Bush thinks of himself as a man of the people, but carefully staged contacts with groups of supporters or small children does not constitute getting in touch with the people. It is in Mr. Bush's interest, as well as the nation's, for him to burst the bubble he has been inhabiting, and take a hard look at the real world.


Following up: This is the photo and caption which appeared in the NYTimes print edition on Monday. Fortunately I appear only in silhouette. We should all have been so fortunate with Wolfowitz and Goldberg as well.

[image scanned by Barry from newsprint]

You could consult this morning's NYTimes for a report on Paul Wolfowitz's appearance yesterday at the New School. If you have the print edition, you would see an image of me holding my unfolded sign while I stood in front of the architect of our world war, himself sitting on the stage with his publicist, Jeffrey Goldberg.

The text of the news article would only begin to give you an idea of what it was like to be in that room yesterday. For that kind of an account you could not improve on the wonderful writing of my friend Choire published on The Morning News site, where the event is referred to as "the now-infamous Wolfowitz riots." [it's located about halfway down the page under "Sunday," but if you hurry there you'll miss some delicious fun with his visits to the rest of the New Yorker Festival projects]

1:26 p.m. Outside the New School Auditorium there is a giant yellow New Yorker balloon with the words ‘Sponsored by Kate Spade.’ The wind picks up and the balloon assaults some people. Interns spend the next 30 minutes hilariously attempting to deflate it. A passer-by asks ‘What’s going on here?’ The cute Young Republican in front of me in line says ‘Wolfowitz.’ ‘Oh,’ says the passer-by, ‘What’s he doing?’ ‘Spreading evil,’ I butt in.
I have a few more thoughts of my own today.

In my first post I made no attempt to describe what Wolfowitz or his straw man Goldberg said. I think it was because I was still recovering from the boredom of their conversation, believing that there was no real news in their statements, and feeling unequal to the task of outlining every lie and contradiction I had heard.

Still, there are a few bits which should be aired, and some of them have yet to see print.

I believe the words "Afghan" or "Afganistan" were not uttered, and "Palestine" only after it was lodged from the floor a number of times.

When asked why containment was rejected as a policy toward Hussein's Iraq, Wolfowitz explained that it had cost us billions, and American lives had been lost in the process. Yes, he really said that.

The reasons we destroyed Iraq were threefold: WMDs, Al Qaeda, human rights.

He did not address Africa, or respond to shouts from the audience which referenced the human rights needs, including AIDS relief, on parts of that continent.

Wolfowitz said theocracy would never be chosen by a democratic Iraq, since half of the voters are women, who would always reject theocracy. He both assumes an opportunity for totally free choice and ignores the desperate history of all paternalistic societies, where women must resort to religion to gain any control - at least in their own homes. As for the men, he personally is friends with many of them, and they would reject theocracy.

He repeatedly asserted that 9/11 had changed everything. I only wish that I could have told him that the destruction of 9/11 did not change me. What has forever changed me, the rest of the country and even the world, was this regime's violence since that day, or more fundamentally, its destruction of the 2000 presidential election.

Yesterday and still today I have difficulty in describing my reaction to the yelling in the auditorium (I mean that from those on the floor, not the stage, where there were microphones and yelling was unnecessary).

How do you deal with a government whose spokespeople just make things up? What if the media never calls them on it? What if millions of demonstrators in streets here and around the world cannot provoke a response? Finally given the appearance of access, some people will shout their opposition with relative restraint, and some will yell, really yell, possibly even indulging in some hyperbole.

What's rude here? What's appropriate in a revolutionary situation?

We did not appoint Wolfowitz, we did not appoint his boss, Rumsfeld, and we did not appoint Rumsfeld's boss Bush. Wolfowitz, and to some extent his associate Goldberg, are not operating according to the rules . Power and military force are their preferred tools, but they will use the rhetoric of the Constitution and civil rights if it works as well.

Is it rude to yell at a dictarorship? Is it still appropriate to talk about threats to the exercise of free speech if we are talking about a regime which has been imposed upon a great people, and when that regime has rewritten the rules which govern democracy and civil rights?

How are we to be heard above the roar of their violence?

they didn't want her to stay

I didn't want to be there. They made me go. That is, the clearly perverse creators of the New Yorker Festival made an offer I could not refuse. The New School, storied for most of a century as a refuge for artists and thinkers fleeing prejudice and persecution, was asked to be host today to an obviously rehearsed Q & A session between Jeffrey Goldberg and Paul Wolfowitz. The former is a writer who has served as an important propagandist for the current regime in Washington, and the latter is the chief architect of and spokesman for that regime's policy of diplomacy by military might alone.

We note that this is supposed to be a "cultural fest, celebrating the finest in the arts, music, fiction, poetry, journalism, and humor." I didn't read anything on their site about agents of newspeak or architects of world hegemony, but what do I know about American culture?

It was a miserable three hours, door-to-door-to-door. After arriving we stood patiently in line while security searched each of the 500-some members of the audience individually, even emptying their bags. Somewhat less diverting was the period actually spent sitting through the undistinguished guests' extraordinarily banal exchange of the same words repeated over and over again. Even the opportunity presented by the soliciting of questions from an overwhelmingly unsympathetic audience failed to enliven the afternoon.

Only the drama of many, many extraordinarily angry interruptions from the floor, beginning at the moment the speakers were introduced, managed to raise the day's political theater above the level of insufferable cant.

Those who spoke out during the presentation were summarily removed from the auditorium by a very beefed-up security, sometimes quite physically. My favorite impatient protester was the woman who laid out her sound bite halfway through the program - very effectively - and then announced that she was ready to go. I envied her, but I felt I had to stay.

During the last few minutes of the afternoon, while Goldberg and Wolfowitz were summing up their humbug but had already announced that questions from the floor were ended, I stood up from my seat and held high the folding sign I had improvised earlier in the afternoon and hidden in a small shoulder bag. I said nothing, and no one lifted a hand against me. The hand-printed messages, one on each side, read:



It seemed like half an hour passed while I stood there, but actually it was over in a few minutes. In that interval I saw hundreds of camera flashes, and I never turned around. The cameras were ravenous by this time. Later I was told that mine was the only sign in the room, although inside the auditorium we could all hear the whistles and shouts from the protestors outside on 12th Street.

The most profound impression I took away from what should have been an unnecessary experience for almost all of us in Joseph Urban's beautiful room today was how uninteresting, how extraordinaryily incompetent, these two men were. It's not the proximity to arguable wrongheadedness or evil works, greed or the grasping for fame or power, but rather the confrontation with such stupidity in high places that haunts me this evening.

Does freedom of speech mean that distinguished institutions of higher education are required to invite nuts and war criminals in order to support a commercially-organized event described as New Yorker magazine's "three-day cultural fest, celebrating the finest in the arts, music, fiction, poetry, journalism, and humor"?

Jeffrey Goldberg will interview Paul Wolfowitz in the New School's Tishman Auditorium at 3 pm tomorrow, Sunday, afternoon.

The possibilities of this piece de theatre sound even more delicious than that presented by the holy visit of the old lama in our own secular and public Central Park tomorrow at roughly the same time.* Numbers count, whether huge or manageable, so a disturbance near either altar might attract some attention. Creative signage can be very effective.

In any event, it seems that kind of disturbance would be very appropriate at each venue.

The West 12th Street event is certainly timely, since Goldberg is one of the most important sponsors of the fiction of Saddam Hussein's ties to September 11, Wolfowitz was one of the key architects of our invasion of Iraq, and just this week Bush has finally had to deny the connection authored by Goldberg, a connection which made the Wolfowitz-championed invasion acceptable to a frightened and gullible American public.

There will be no representation on that stage of those who either knew the truth, or who opposed our massive destruction of an entire nation - except of course for the protesters in the audience and outside the theatre. All such are welcome, at the very least to save the honor of the New School.

From the lama's website:

Backpacks, large purses, briefcases, bags, cameras and recording equipment will not be permitted in the Park [my emphasis]. All articles are subject to search upon entry.

Al Franken at Borders Books this afternoon

So I wandered downtown to Wall Street again this morning. This time the attraction was the possibility of encountering and photographing bankers and brokers screaming as Al Franken entered their neighborhood Borders Books for a signing of his latest tome, already an over-the-top (in both senses) Best Seller titled, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

I was disappointed, since there was not even the hint of an altercation, and the friendly Borders people were outfitted in smart "TEAM FRANKEN" t-shirts. One of the people waiting to greet the great man, a middle-aged Lefty intellectual who had already read the book, suggested that the Republicans don't read, so they had not heard what was going on just 100 feet from the Stock Exchange.

The crowd was a pretty mixed, although remarkably white, group of bookies, several hundreds of them in fact. I had missed the photo-op that I had come for, so I decided to buy the book (a totally unnecessary purchase in my case, but it was a good cause, and good for me too at a special 30% discount today) and get in line myself. Besides, the fact that a lot of them were very cute made for a pleasant market area visit. Those of us in the line unfortunately missed Franken's brief remarks delivered on another floor - bad organization on the part of the special events people at the store.

Some will have another chance tomorrow, as he will be part of a large Howard Dean event at 7 o'clock tomorrow to open the new club, Avalon, once known as The Limelight. Performers and speakers include Franken, Dean, Whoopi Goldberg and Gloria Gaynor, who will be performing "I Will Survive". Yes, that's right.

It sounds like the space is being re-consecrated in noble purpose, perhaps suggesting an attempt to exorcize the spirits of owners, promoters and club-kids past. Not a bad start, but it's not likely to determine the course of Avalon nights to follow. Nor should it.

Sounds like a certain amount of fun tomorrow night, possibly even for Dr. Dean himself.

Phew! I'm relieved, both as an atheist and as a small-"d" democrat, to find that the Tibetan political and religious leader, the Dalai Lama, has feet of clay.

Lama now says that the Iraq war may be justified, and has always said that homosexuality is not. It seems that his reputation for peace and understanding is something of an artificial creation.

On Bush's wars:

The Dalai Lama said Wednesday that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan may have been justified to win a larger peace, but that is it too soon to judge whether the Iraq war was warranted.

"I think history will tell," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, just after he met with President Bush.

And, as for my wretchedness:
For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium," for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.
He sounds like a not-so-moderate Republican to me.

What's the good of a lama if he won't defend truth and justice everywhere? And besides, we can even weep and fight for Tibet itself without the ministrations of a Buddhist fakir.

Reza in Battery Park on September 11

I had wanted to stay away from downtown New York altogether during yesterday's celebrations of grief, but the mid-day arrival in Battery Park of my sorta pen-pal and a real hero, Reza, demanded an appearance in the area. I've been posting snippets of his story since February.

I arrived at the area where he was expected to be greeting people at about 12:20. Reza was there, as was David Hyslop and a group of about two dozen others, mostly Persians, I believe, like Reza himself, or of Persian descent.

I may have been foolish to have expected a more sizable crowd at what should have been the dramatic conclusion of his extraordinary odyssey around most of the globe. Reza is sweet, charmingly and fearlessly naïve, totally uninterested in fortune or fame, and his wonderful story has found listeners and readers all over the world for seven years.

But Reza comes from Iran, Reza does not profess any faith and Reza talks only of love and peace. Reza loves America, but apparently that just wasn’t enough for our attentions on September 11.

The Arizona Republic carried an article yesterday.

"It was so incredibly stirring with Reza marching down Broadway," said Hyslop. "He just broke down (in tears). He was a mess."

Baluchi said hundreds of people helped him along the way, adding, "American people are beautiful, and I love them."

Thursday, he placed flowers on a memorial wall in Battery Park and vowed to give his beloved bicycle - "It's all I have in the world" - to the New York Fire Department. He said he hopes to write a book on his adventures with a message to young people: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Welcome to New York, Reza! We're very lucky to have you here.

the bike that went around the world for six years got a lift from L.A. in an RV

Reza in Shawnee, Oklahoma, earlier this year

Reza will finally be running down Broadway from the George Washington Bridge this morning, September 11. He will end up in Battery Park, instead of the World Trade Center, the destination he had been planning for exactly two years. The city said he couldn't be part of the festivities, so instead Reza and his dog Rocky will be in the park chatting with passers-by and greeting wellwishers.

Wednesday's NYTimes included a feature story on his run and his adventures since he left Iran six years ago.

Some people are born with a patriotic fervor for America. Others come to love the country despite its faults.

Reza K. Baluchi, for example, fell in love with America after spending the last four months jogging its open highways in the name of global peace. Along the way, he was locked up in an Arizona jail cell, attacked by a bear in California and forced to dive into a drainage ditch in Newark to avoid a speeding car.

"This is the greatest country in the entire world," said Mr. Baluchi, a 30-year-old Iranian whose passion for the United States remains undimmed.

Reza will be hanging out today between 11:30 am to 12:30 pm in the "Giovanni da Verrazzano" section of the park, located between Castle Clinton and the East Coast War Memorial. You probably won't miss them, as they're likely to be a very happy group. Reza's sweetness was darn infectious even without a dog.

[image from the Shawnee, Oklahoma News-Star]

The United States Bill of Rights

While assembling his coffee this morning after spotting the day's headlines, the Barry asked, "So which is it?" Are they saying we're safe against terrorists under the firm and mighty hand of Bushie, or are we still in great danger, perhaps greater than ever?

Some information about John Ashcroft's secret meeting yesterday in New York with the law biggies is now leaking through the dirty or bloody hands of his suited and uniformed guests and it sounds like attorney Mr. general, for one, just doesn't know the answer.

The delicious sarcasm of the NYTimes article begins with the headline, "Terror Lesson Fading for Some, Ashcroft Says in Manhattan." It seems we need to be made more frightened than we already are, so he's on it.

The attorney general made clear that he believes the Justice Department's antiterrorism initiatives are fully in sync with the moral imperatives of God and country — and that those who disagree may have failed to absorb the lessons of Sept. 11.

"Just two years have passed," Mr. Ashcroft said, "but already it has become difficult for some Americans to recall the shock, anger, grief and anguish of that day."

Referring to expanded abilities of antiterrorism investigators to conduct wiretaps, delay notification of a search warrant and share intelligence among agencies, he said that rolling back the use of such tools "will increase the risk that more Americans will die."

[Today in Washington Bush has already begun to perform his own part in the charade intended ultimately to greatly expand the current "Patriot" Act. Speaking at the FBI Accademy in Virginia, he called for several changes to federal law in order to "untie the hands of law enforcement officials so they can fight and win terror."]

Newsday's acount of Ashcroft's has its own charms. Their reporter makes it clear that the administration's chief justice officer believes that we must restrict our liberties in order to preserve our liberties.

"It is critical for Americans to understand that the Patriot Act is vital to our success in the war against terrorism," said Ashcroft, speaking at Federal Hall on Wall Street. "The painful lesson of Sept. 11 remains the touchstone - reminding us of the government's response to protect the lives and preserve the liberty of the American people."
But by all accounts, including its own, this government protects neither lives nor liberty.

Now read a comment or two about the "style" of yesterday's event in that hallowed hall. Newsday:

Addressing an audience that included uniformed federal, state and local law enforcement officials, U.S. Attorneys and local district attorneys, Ashcroft thanked the officials for their anti-terror efforts, inviting the audience to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem as the event began. He is on a 16-city tour to champion the act.

. . . .

Ashcroft has been known to infuse his speeches with religious imagery, and yesterday was no exception as he summed up his mandate to secure citizens from terror:

"We accept this trust in the belief that liberty is the greatest gift of our creator, in the belief that the liberty must be protected. And in the belief that as long as there is a United States of America - liberty and freedom must not, shall not perish from this earth."

He was greeted with a standing ovation.

And from the Times:
Mr. Ashcroft's impassioned appeals reflect concerns in the Justice Department about a growing bipartisan wariness in Congress about aspects of the law that some believe infringe on civil liberties. Yet the attorney general has made little effort to engage skeptics directly, sticking instead to a circuit of invitation-only speeches to law enforcement personnel.

Yesterday was no exception.

Under heavy security, Mr. Ashcroft addressed a muted audience of dark-suited prosecutors and other officials occupying a semicircle of folding chairs in the rotunda, while behind him on a stage sat about two dozen uniformed police officers. A large blue backdrop lined with American flags was erected against the towering columns, temporarily masking a display illustrating the history of the site [where The Bill of Rights was both written and adopted].

Spectators were banned from the rotunda balcony, whose ornate iron railing features about 50 figures of a topless woman gazing down on the proceedings below (Mr. Ashcroft famously had a half-naked statue of the Spirit of Justice covered up in his building, but the Greek Revival maidens in Federal Hall appear to have escaped notice.)

Mr. Ashcroft took no questions . . . .

No point. Tin ears.

I would like to believe that wishing makes it so, but Dick Cheney’s dis-invitation to the ceremonies marking the second anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster, as reported on NPR this morning, wasn’t my doing. The official excuse was the disruption which his security army would create for the event, but in reality the authorities in New York must have finally realized he was going to be booed – by the 9/11 families and probably most anyone else in the vicinity. That supposedly would have been a bad thing.

Instead of taking part in the main event, the appointed vice president is now scheduled to be meeting with a much smaller group of Port Authority, police and fire department people some time later in the afternoon at another location. They are obviously expected to be a friendlier audience, but were I in Cheney’s place, I wouldn’t count on it. Ashcroft didn’t take any chances when he spoke in New York yesterday. He picked commanding officers and lofty appointees for his own audience of civil servants.

So much for wishes and horses. Another dichotomy: Why is it that the officers of this administration don’t meet and talk to the people? Is it disdain or is it fear? Is it both? Barry remarked that the distance they maintain is unprecedented among modern vice presidents and cabinet secretaries. I think they don't believe that there really are any "people." I would add that the incredible character both of the origins of the administration and of its likely early demise should have suggested the pattern from the start. We are currently under a junta established by a coup, but we just might still have the ability to dump them all.


If wishes were horses,
Beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches,
I would wear one by my side.
And if 'ifs' and 'ands,'
Were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers!

[traditional nursury rhyme, via Mom]

Reza in North Carolina, in the rain

Reza is in Newark today, and will be crossing the George Washington Bridge Thursday morning before running down the island to the World Trade Center site - where he has been told he is not welcome. I suspect that, like all decent people, he wouldn't want to be around Dick Cheney anyway. Still, it seems a real shame.

This is from the email I received from Dave Hyslop, who is travelling with Reza:

On Thursday, Sep. 11th we will begin on the Jersey side of the bridge at 8:00 am. Anyone wishing to join Reza (the more the merrier) need only show up.

We'd like to cross the bridge and head down Broadway all the way to Ground Zero. Some have suggested the mix-use trail that runs along the Hudson River (I'd be open to anyone's comments on that plan).

Access permitting Reza would like to get as close to the Ground Zero site as possible. We had requested from Mayor Bloomberg's office that Reza be allowed to run into the ceremony, present a bouquet of flowers, pay his respects and then run out but were told that while Reza's efforts were certainly commendable, surely we could see that this wouldn't be appropriate at a ceremony like this.).

How many Middle Eastern people died that day?

Reza will have a private momemnt at Ground Zero and then run to Battery Park where there will be a reception at 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM (one hour) in the "Verrazzano Basque" section of the park. I'm told this is located between the "Castle Clinton Monument" and "East Coast Memorial."

Reza has been accompanied by an orphaned, affectionate black dog since Arkansas. "Rocky" will be running with him. For more, see this website.

Yea! I was just about to write to Reza's travelling companion/friend David Hyslop, wondering why we haven't heard a thing about his run since July, when I found this story on the Newsday site. I assume it will be in tomorrow morning's (Sunday) ediion.

He's gone through 12 pairs of sneakers and run about 3,700 miles, all in the name of peace. He has been undeterred by rough terrain, or by immigration officials who detained him. And now, Reza Baluchi plans to finish his journey in New York City on thursday, the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Reza is somewhere in New Jersey right now, but he should be at the World Trade Center site in five days. Now there's a real alternative to a deadly Dick Cheney star turn or "9/11 families" demonstrating about tombstones rather than inquiries.

More details as I receive them.


You are not busy this Tuesday at noon - not until now.

This just in, from people who keep their eyes on the Constitution and on those who would destroy it:

On Tuesday, September 9, Attorney General Ashcroft will visit New York City to attend a closed meeting with law enforcement officials to build support for the USA Patriot Act and impending Patriot II legislation. Hundreds [no, make it more!] of New Yorkers will meet his arrival and gather together to tell John Ashcroft to stop his attack on the Bill of Rights and to affirm and uphold our rights and liberties.

Join United for Peace and Justice, the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign and a coalition of dozens of civil liberties, immigrants' rights, peace and justice organizations, and political leaders on Tuesday, September 9, at 12 noon on Wall Street and Broad Street, for a rally for the Bill of Rights.

Today the government can get a secret warrant to search your home without telling you until later.

Today the government can monitor your Internet use, read your emails, and examine your online purchases.

Today you can be detained without access to a lawyer, without being charged with a crime.

Today the FBI is authorized to monitor your political and religious activities.

We can only guess what tomorrow will bring.

The United States is at risk of turning into a full-fledged surveillance society. The fact is, Orwell's vision of "Big Brother" is now, for the first time, technologically possible.

[image courtesy NPR]

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