Politics: November 2003 Archives

Day for night

To control the crowd

No buses tonight

Jay-Z “disappeared” in Madison Square Garden late Tuesday night, but New York City police thought that afterward he and/or his friends and fans were making an appearance in a club on West 23rd Street. The sweet night doorman in our own buildiing, which is roughly across the street, told me it’s called ZeZa. [I can’t confirm the name, especially as there’s no lettering on the canopy which stretches to the curb, and I’ve seen the space undergo more than a few reincarnations over the years.]

Commissioner Kelly’s forces totally shut down to traffic the entire block from 7th to 8th Avenues, brought in high-powered illumination spots and set them up outside the doors of the club. They also parked two large, ominous police wagons within easy reach, and that was the extraordinary sight which awaited Barry and I as we rounded our corner on the way home from a late supper at Florent.

We knew nothing about the reason for the police action, but I was more than curious, expecting somebody was up to no good, so I walked up to a few onlookers [whether party-goers or passers-by, I couldn’t tell] already installed on the sidewalk to see if they might enlighten me. I got cold shoulders, nothing, and only then did I try asking a couple of guys in uniform who didn’t look particulary busy at the moment. I was told “Some rap star closed his big show uptown and moved his people down to this club.” No one would supply a name, but later I heard about Jay-Z’s retirement party and the final concert which had been staged at Madison Square Garden that night.

Why were the police interested in Jay-Z or this particular party? One of the blue uniforms told me that he and his colleagues were there on 23rd Street “for crowd control.” Uh huh.

There was absolutely nothing going on and, aside from the police presence, from the time I had arrived there was never above a couple of dozen people on the entire length of the block, so I headed home, more than a little disturbed by what I had seen and heard.

As I walked into my lobby I passed a neighbor and explained the little I had learned about the fantastic sight of a ghostly 23rd Street. His response? It’s a good thing that they’re on top of things.” I wish I could be so easily reassured.

No, actually I don’t.

Satirical cartoon from the Democratic weekly, The Verdict, 1890's

There's a revealing photo on page A20 of the NYTimes print edition this morning showing Tommy Thompson, Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services, being congratulated by Arthur Lifson, President of the insurance giant, CIGNA. The occasion was the Senate's passage of the Republicrats' corporation-friendly Medicare bill on Saturday. The location was the "lobby" of the Senate.

Where's William Novelli, the AARP's chief executive? Probably next in line, if he had not in fact cut in front of Lifson.

The picture doesn't appear anywhere on line, so far as I can determine right now, but Barry and I are both shocked that photographers were allowed to record the encounter in the first place. I guess nobody really cares about observing the proprieties any more. The [more and more only theoretical] voters sure don't seem to mind.

Actually the Times article which seems to accompany the image of Lifson and Thompson thanking our Senate for its toadiness doesn't refer to either man, but is instead a short discussion of the budget implications of the bill.

For a useful commentary, see Paul Vitello in Newsday, although he admits that like everyone else, except for 17 very privileged people in Congress, he doesn't understand the 90-page bill so hastily passed yesterday but not to be put into effect until three years from now:

It is a Gordian knot of promises that seem designed to entice and befuddle and send millions rummaging in the junk drawer for the calculator - while Congress rushes to adopt the thing in time for Thanksgiving.

Go figure your way through this plan, then. It makes few unconditional promises except one - and that is to the drug companies. They are promised no price controls; no limits on how much they can charge or how much they can keep spending on television advertising for those remedies they make to combat all of life's ills except old age and poverty.

Viagra, Nexium, Lipitor, Celebrex, Zoloft, constipation, reflux and depression will remain your companions in TV-viewing for the foreseeable future, rest assured.

In his conclusion, Vitello shows us the bottom line: ". . . by the time people figure out whether this is more good than bad, the Republican presidential re-election campaign - complete with a prescription drug benefit - will be over."

[image from Ohio State University, Department of History]


"first, do no harm"

I can hardly believe that in the year 2003 I had to be in the street demonstrating against the imminent privatization and evisceration of virtually the only sliver of public health care now available in this once proud nation. But there I was this morning outside the New York offices of the AARP, screaming my head off and holding a big, mean sign, condemning the largest seniors advocacy group in the country for the greedy betrayal of its members.

The AARP is supporting the Republican Medicare bill and is now spending millions of its members' dues to pay for advertising pushing immediate passage of the legislation as proposed. The AARP has finally become just another insurance company.

We should not be dithering over the kinda, sorta medical help with which the wealthiest country on earth might deign to reward some of its citizens, some of the time. We should not have to be talking about this particular absurd bill. We should not be talking any more about how to care for the drug and insurance companies. We should instead be talking about how to care for people, with an efficient, comprehensive single-payer national healthcare system.

Working on ideas for the obverse of my "AARP SOLD OUT!" sign last night I had come up with "GET YOUR PROFITS OFF OF MY HEALTH CARE". I almost immediately hesitated however, because of doubts that an American audience was able to digest the concept of health care divorced from profit-making. Barry reassured me by offering the analogy of the federal highway program. A government which can make roads its direct responsibility can also make the health of its people its responsibility.

The text made the cut.

If we have to deal first with the bill now on the table, can we at least insist that Congress "first, do no harm"? On Public Radio this morning Ted Kennedy recalled that famous admonition of Hippocrates while chastizing his colleagues' haste in fiddling with Medicare.

The House and the Senate should both tear the damn thing up, and instead, do something really worthy of its charge.

[image notes: Most of the people in the crowd today would be eligible for AARP membership; almost without exception the few demonstrators there under 50 were AIDS or queer activists (where was everybody else?); one "partisan" sign survived totally unchallenged, even though there might actually have been an old-school Republican or two in the crowd; Bill Falk, who was representing SAGE today, is holding my sloppy sign in the third picture; and the last image is of a real activist burning her real AARP card (some people announced earlier that they were going to go walk straight into the organization's offices and demand a refund of their dues)]

In the fifties the accusation which could terrorize American liberals, especially if they held or were hoping to hold office, was that of being soft on communism.

Today, the same nasty little minds are at it again, but there's a new scary noun. The current campaign of intimidation is being waged over whether one is sufficiently hard on terrorism, whatever that means.

After months of sustained attacks against President Bush in Democratic primary debates and commercials, the Republican Party is responding this week with its first advertisement of the presidential race, portraying Mr. Bush as fighting terrorism while his potential challengers try to undermine him with their sniping.

The new commercial gives the first hint of the themes Mr. Bush's campaign is likely to press in its early days. It shows Mr. Bush, during the last State of the Union address, warning of continued threats to the nation: "Our war against terror is a contest of will, in which perseverance is power," he says after the screen flashes the words, "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."

Can a president be president if always hidden and always hiding?

The one being protected always has the last word. For examples, look at the public behavior of every legitimate chief executive we've ever had.

Some people and agencies are responsible for offering a president the maximum possible degree of security. But when is it overkill? In the end the protectee decides upon the amount of protection, which today more and more means real isolation, to be tolerated at any given time or place. This is especially true since even the most extraordinary measures cannot guarantee success in the end.

The decisions a president makes about personal mobility and visiblity will rest on many factors, including his or her intelligence, awareness, familiarity with the world, democratic concept of office, both desire and ability to communicate, self-assurance, pride and yes, personal courage. I didn't even mention popularity. Bush fails in every area, so we shouldn't be surprised that he has been in a virtual cocoon since seizing office. Even his few public appearances are invariably before invited guests, preferably on military installations or in government spaces.

The one thing he posesses indisputably is power. Power buys a lot of reassurance, and almost enough security, but it guarantees isolation..

This week we've seen him locked up inside the blockhouse of Buckingham Palace and the solid steel vault of his 10 or 12 thousand pound tank, a prisoner of his public indifference, his evil policy and his cowardice, but most people on this side of the water are only vaguely aware of the extent to which he and his bloated establishment have gone to isolate him on this supposedly triumphal and celebratory trip.

Some of his handlers' wildest schemes have been shot down by hosts otherwise far too accomodating of White House obsessions, as James Rideway reports this week in the Village Voice:

One British official told the press that preparations for the Bush visit had been "hijacked" by the U.S. Secret Service. "They wanted to make structural changes to the Queen's home, and this was never going to happen," said the aide. "Agents brought in structural engineers who said walls must be strengthened and the blast-proof glass replaced with something stronger. They were obsessed, and still are, by the threat of an attack from the air."

There was even a plan for a Black Hawk helicopter to hover over the palace grounds. But the Brits said no.

They were going to re-build Buck House? 'nuff said.

No ordinary armored car. And by the way, look at the Queen's equivalent. Where's the hero in this story? He's certainly not in a flight suit.

Still trying to make my point, still asking the questions.

Ms. Bush today leaving the American armored personnel carrier, the protection of which incidently puts to shame even the best of those assigned to our men and women in Iraq.

Ms. Windsor last year entering the British unarmored state vehicle, designed for maximum human visibility - good sightlines for both the occupants and the public.

Point of information: When Vladimir Putin made his own state visit to Britain this June the two heads of state rode through London in the traditional horse-drawn landau. Not all who watched supported their presence, but it was all in a day's work for the occupants of the open carriage passing among a free people.

NOTE: In a move which significantly distinguishes their efforts from the contemporary American solution, the manufacturers of the Bentley designed it to run on LPG, or liquid petroleum gas, allowing for an increased range while reducing polluting emissions. Also, no white-wall tyres. Don't those Yanks know there's a war on?

[image of the Cadillac from Reuters/Jason Reed on Yahoo News, that of the Bentley from royal.gov.uk]

Lindis Percy, doing her good thing yesterday

Don't underestimate the Brits, or the seniors. Reuters supplied the picture and the following caption:

Lindis Percy, an anti-war protestor, stands on top of the gates of Buckingham Palace with an upside-down U.S. flag with the inscription 'Elizabeth Windsor and Co we don't want him here,' November 17, 2003 as a British police officer stands below. The woman, wearing a fluorescent waistcoat, dodged tight security to scale the six-meter high wrought iron gates on the eve of U.S. President's George W. Bush's state visit to Britain.
The BBC reports, "Mrs Percy, of Hull, who was arrested and later bailed, said she was 'amazed' she had been able to unfurl a banner declaring Mr Bush was not welcome in the UK."Lindis Percy is a creative and limber 61-year-old grandmother of four. She is a career health worker and a respected activist with an impressive history.

I suspect there is one thing Lindis Percy is not, in spite of the family name. Judging from the text of her excellent sign, she may not be a monarchist, unlike so many of her countrymen, but also unlike so many of the submissive subjects of Britain's current unwelcome guest.

Incidently, Bushie didn't use the gates. He landed on the palace grounds in a helicopter, to save the emperor the embarassment of being confronted on the roads by thousands of outraged "allies".

[image from REUTERS/David Bebber]

what's wrong with this picture?

(I mean, aside from the white-wall tires.) Notice the windshield pillars. Aside from the fact that it's clearly not a pretty sight, what does it actually mean that Bush is the first American emperor to have to travel by tank wherever he goes?

The so-called Cadillac limousine which was first used at Dubya's inauguration is actually a tank disguised as an automobile, a very big and very, very, very heavy vehicle.

We aren't allowed much information, even if one way or another we did pay for it, but today the BBC tells us this much about the truck/tank they have dubbed "Cadillac One", and it's a lot more than we've gotten from any other news source up until this moment:

1. The car is a special version of the Cadillac deVille, with five inch thick armour, able to withstand rocket-propelled grenades
2. The tyres are designed to function even if punctured
3. The exact dimensions and specifications of the car are kept secret, and a second decoy car is always used
4. The car is designed to withstand chemical and biological attacks
5. The underside of the car is also armour-plated
6. The car can carry six people
Two miles per gallon, tops, I'd say.

The same article explains why this particular tank doesn't need a gun turret on the top, while reassuring us that lesser mortals, if also well-funded, may have recourse to offensive as well as defensive devices when ordering their own vehicles.

Clearly a man like President Bush travels with a huge security entourage tasked with counter-attacking assailants while his vehicle escapes.

But for those with something short of a private army, there are other counter-measures available on the market.

One of the leading companies in the field offers to create hidden weapons compartments, strengthened bumpers for ramming other vehicles off the road and, in extreme circumstances, concealed gun ports in the doors.

Gosh, it seems like just yesterday President William Jefferson Clinton was driving around in his open-top Mustang. Hey, it really was just yesterday!

By the way, the SS (Secret Service) now insists that when they are retired all presidential limousines must be destroyed rather than preserved in museums or put on used car lots - for security reasons, they maintain.

But it's not just the car of course. Bush is just a puppet, so why does he need to be surrounded by hundreds of assistants on what is clearly only a ceremonial trip? Nobody's even going to see the puffed-up little little warlord! And who would miss him if he were gone?

From the Guardian on Wednesday, in the account, "Laura, me and 700 friends", comes one figure not disputed elsewhere:

Mr Bush, his wife, Laura, and a 700-strong entourage worthy of a travelling medieval monarch, flew into Heathrow airport slightly late, at 7.22pm. The couple were greeted by the Prince of Wales, then whisked to the palace by [armored] US military helicopter.
Aside from his staff, his staff's staff, everybody's hangers-on and members of the invited and adoring press, Bush's personal armed security detail in England numbers in the hundreds by any account, all authorized to shoot to kill, and it's augmented by about 14,000 local police officers in London alone.

Shouldn't we at least be asking how we got to this point, was it inevitable, where will it end, and can we do anything to change it?

[image from the BBC]

New York City Hall steps, yesterday afternoon

Yesterday afternoon the New York City Council held a hearing on the Equal Benefits Bill, which would require companies that contract with the city to offer domestic partner benefits on the same basis as spousal benefits. The image above is of a press conference organized by the bill's sponsors on the steps of City Hall immediately preceding the session.

Included in the picture are, among others, councilmembers Quinn, Jackson, Lopez, Sears, Perkins, Lopez, O'Donnell and Reed, Public Advocate Gotbaum, State Senator Duane, Assemblymembers Glick and Gottfried, Empire State Pride Executive Director Van Capelle and members of SEIU Local 32BJ, Housing Works people and a pretty diverse assembly of supportive citizens of this city state.

In addition to these faces, those who attended the hearing itself yesterday saw, sitting as supportive members of the Councilmembers Yassky, Clarke, Stewart, Katz, Liu and Gerson. Testifying were some of the figures on the steps earlier as well as Cynthia Goldstein of the San Francisco Human Rights Commisison, Brian McLaughlin of the AFL/CIO, and a number of others.

The most eloquent voices were those of Chris Quinn (as usual), Mararita Lopez, Helen Sears, Alan Van Capelle, Tom Duane, Cynthia Goldstein and Brian McLauglin.

A number of the speakers addressed the fact that the bill was not designed only for same-gender couples, but was intended for any unmarried partners. In New York, over 70% of those who have registered with the city as domestic partners since the office was established a number of years ago are male-female couples.

Some 37 or 38 council members have already signed on as supporters of the bill, INTRO. NO. 271, making it virtually veto-proof, a reference I have to insert here because in fact Mayor Bloomberg is perversely opposed to it at this time.

Two lawyers for his administration who spoke at the hearing were entirely unable to defend his opposition, and ended up making themselves more subjects of pity than of anger or frustration. In fact Council members asked that the administration bring the "Laws Department" next time if it really wanted to offer testimony. I have never seen lawyers act and speak with such lack of assurance and incompetence. I suspect that they had found themselves unable to defend professionally what they must personally abhor. Let's hope the Mayor does the same in the end.

In the end the lawyers, led by Terri Matthews who read a statement, had seemed to be defending the bigotry of the Catholic Church, or at least the importance of not discomfiting that bigotry, since they considered its contractural business operations so important to the city.

Lopez argued both outside City Hall and inside the hearing room that if faith-based paid city vendors have attitudes and policies that are antithetical to the welfare of the city they plainly should not be given the taxpayers' money. More fundamentally, she insisted, when a religious institution balks at conforming to city law and policy because of its religious principles, both it and the city have a problem even more major than the issue of benefits owed to an employee's partner or dependents. Lopez asserted that faith-based organizations may have a fundamental difficulty in providing the health care New York needs. If as a vendor the organization cannot at the very least separate its faith from the services for which it is contracted by the city it has no business being a New York City vendor at all, she concluded. Indeed, New Yorkers are not supposed to be subsidizing religious organizations in the conduct of their religious teachings and activities.

When asked by a reporter on the steps outside the hearing, the Reverend Harvey of the New York Episcopal Diocese replied that, yes, his own church had been providing domestic partner benefits for at least several years. It seems that the Roman Catholic Diocese is a utility in neither sense, that of monopoly or that of benefit.

Queens Council Member Helen Sears contested the argument that Matthews had repeated a number of times, that "social policy" should not be made through the procurement process, and disagreed with her colleague Lopez's insistence on the priority of the economic utility of the bill being discussed over its social utility. Sears insisted proudly and emphatically that the New York City Council is interested in social justice, even if denying it also has economically burdened, and would continue to directly burden, the health services of the city, because the consequence is that people are going without medical insurance.

It's not about marriage, Duane reminded the room when he observed that when a company gives a health care benefit to its employees for their married partners, it is not giving it because the employees are married, but because they are employees. In fact, of course, for many employers right now family health benefits are functionally a reward for marriage. Duane also pointed out that New York has always used its purchasing policies to pursue social justice, as seen in the ways it addressed Northern Ireland and South African issues. Finally, he was not subtle in telling the mayor that he should do the right thing at a time when same-sex couples are being threatened everywhere in this country by "people of his persuasion". He emphasized that he meant Republicans.

The big Irish guy in a suit who representated the AFL/CIO spoke of partnerships and loving human relationships, and the importance of recognizing and supporting them, when he referred to the more than 700 union members who died September 11. "Each of them had someone who loved them."

Goldstein assured the Council that San Francisco's experience has shown that a domestic partner bill like the one being offered now in New York was a win-win proposition. There simply was no downside, she argued, especially since her city had already done all the hard work in its breakthrough effort.

Van Capelle was just really good all around. A hardworking associate in the development of the bill, a loud cheerleader on the steps, an articulate spokesman inside and out, and, if you were watching yesterday, obviously a caring mentor and partner with other activists. He's also beautiful.

Councilmember Stewart thought that the bill was too narrowly drawn, that it should not be restricted to partners defined by sexual relationships, and while others in the room were certainly not unsympathetic, it's a battle which will probably have to wait for another day. The best victory would be a single-payer national healthcare system, but this is Bush's America, even if it's still our New York.

Pollyannna time. I was very impressed with the councilmembers who serve New York these days, or at least those who were visible yesterday afternoon. Barry suggests that our local politicians may be among the very few elected officials in the entire country who can still say what they really want to say - and be elected, even reelected. Maybe New York really does have to get out of the U.S. The only alternative for many of us, and it's perhaps more and more inescapable, may be emigration.

Meanwhile, back on earth, near the end of one of his statements, Stewart asked what he probably thought was a rhetorical question. Why did it take so long to get this bill going? A mumbled answer came from a couple seats to my left. "Giuliani." It was the wonderful Andy Humm, muttering under his breath while he scribbled his notes. I would like to add another answer, "Vallone". Good riddance to them both.

Bloomberg has to be next.

Chris Quinn for mayor!

Nothing any New Yorker could write about this would be more damning than the naked story itself.

Washington - Republicans, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rep. Vito Fossella, are considering docking a luxury cruise ship in New York Harbor where members of Congress and lobbyists could stay and play during the GOP convention next summer.

. . . .

The cruise ship, with accommodations for 2,200 guests and 14 bars and 10 restaurants, would mirror other hospitality suites DeLay (R-Texas) has championed for members of Congress at past conventions. At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, DeLay secured private railroad cars, where members could meet and mingle with invited guests such as lobbyists - no media allowed. He also provided members of Congress with cars and drivers. The amenities were funded by corporate contributions to a political action committee.

"It's as if Tom DeLay is the personal concierge for members," said one Republican staffer who refused further identification.

Buckingham Palace Throne Room

He doesn't belong there either.

Bush and his wife are planning to be in Britain this month on a very rare "state visit".

There are a lot of Americans who would be very very happy to see him thrown out. The Brits have our best wishes for every success in accomplishing that, but I expect they'll do very well indeed without any help from us (even if that were possible, protests already having been effectively proscribed here in the U.S., where they are not totally ignored).

Forgive us the presumption, but, Like Lord Nelson, we expect every Englishman and Englishwoman to do his or her duty. The urgency arises from the fact that we ourselves cannot.

It's interesting that most of the peaks and perks that actually define such a glamorous visit seem to have already been ruled out, because of the British and American authorities' fears that the people will in fact be doing exactly that when the Bushes arrive.

President Bush, visiting London in November for three days, was looking forward to meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

This was to have entailed a grand procession along the Mall with all the pomp and ceremony of a state visit, but it has been cancelled over fears that antiwar campaigners would stage a colourful and angry protest to overshadow the event.

The President was also due to address the British Parliament on his three day visit. However, that too has been cancelled.

I mean, Harold Pinter is on the barricades! How much more respectable can a movement be? See the Stop the War Coalition site for details and helpful hints..

[image from ExploreLondon]

Sound familiar? The English-born Christabel Bielenberg and her German husband Peter were eventually to become part of the German resistance, but although both were intelligent, priviledged, educated and hailed from politically-involved families with international contacts, like so many others in all societies who hope to ignore "politics" they did not see what was happening until too late.

"But it's true that we didn't protest soon enough about Hitler," she told an interviewer during the filming of "Christabel." "We just didn't know what had hit us. You read about horrors in the newspapers, but you don't really wake up to them until they touch you personally."
The Guardian places the couple within the larger context of a sophisticated but fatally-flawed society which might have prevented disaster.
They shared upper-class manipulative skills and assumptions of privilege, as well as a "distaste" (her word) for the excesses of the Nazis, especially their petty-bourgeois obsession with "respectability".

Inevitably, they joined the small minority of aristocratic, professional and intellectual dissidents whose opposition to Nazism was aesthetic and moral rather than political and practical - until Germany's impending defeat was obvious.

Peter Bielenberg's disastrous early take on Hitler makes me think of my own original dismissal, in a succession sometimes blessedly interrupted, of Nixon, Reagan, and both George Bushes.
Neither Bielenberg nor his girlfriend had much interest in politics, and when they attended an open-air Nazi rally, he led her away as Hitler rose to speak. "You may think that Germans are political idiots," he confided, "but I can assure you that they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown."
The rest is history, for Germany. Today the consequences of an overestimation of a people's intelligence are still in the future, for the U.S. In both cases, the mistake would be paid for by the entire world.

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

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