Politics: March 2004 Archives


Ray Sanchez has found New York City transit's Achilles heel, or at least the one vulnerability which is most likely to endanger the lives of the millions of people who use the system every day - a vulnerability which would be devastating after a terrorist hit, since survivors may then have to get out of the tunnels to remain survivors.

It has long been known that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit have problems communicating effectively with its customers. This was most evident anytime transit officials were asked to explain fare increases and service cuts.

But in a time of train bomb massacres, it is becoming disturbingly apparent that the people who run the New York subway system also have difficulty communicating with one another - including when lives are at stake.

Read Sanchez's report on Annie Chamberlin's experience February 29.

But stupidity and incompetence, if not criminal malfeasance in this post 9/11 world, is not limited to New York's planners and administrators. The Bush administration budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for $5.3 billion for transportation security, but only $147 million of it is allocated for everything other than air security. That $147 million is supposed to cover ports, roads, bridges, tunnels, power plants and rail systems.

And what is it we're now told we have to pay for an Iraq war which had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism, fear of which the administration hopes to use to maintain its power? Was it $100 billion? But much more important, I'm thinking that so far the cost is the nearly 600 American lives alone, and the thousands (again only the American count) injured or maimed.

We shouldn't tolerate the use of terror for political purposes. The Bush regime and its lieutenants have to be thrown out before we cash in more than just our freedoms in exchange for a tin security.*



The evidence could be stacked up forever, but one inarguable fact reported today in the Washington Post [via Atrios] should alone be enough to demolish any remaining illusions about either the sincerity or the competence of the gang in the White House, above all when it's a question of protecting us from terrorists.

In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows.

. . . .

The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks.

. . . .

"Despite multiple terror warnings before and after 9/11, [Bush] repeatedly rejected counterterrorism resources that his own security agencies said was desperately needed to protect America," said David Sirota, spokesman for [the Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta], which plans to post the documents on its Web site today.

[image from the myria network]

in Madison Avenue this afternoon

What if they threw a demonstration and everbody came, except the media? Would you be able to get people into the streets next time? Think about it, while you search for coverage of the massive antiwar demonstration in New York today, and especially if you're looking in the New York Times. See bloggy for the story about the missing story.

Is the conservative U.S. establishment still afraid to show the popular opposition to a disastrous goverment and its disastrous foreign adventures, even when those disasters have finally become so obvious? Does it think a crude media blackout will discourage its critics? And, more important, will it?

While I'm also thinking just now that the demonstrators who marched out to Versailles in 1789 didn't need the NYTimes to help them bring their own king back to Paris, where he was capitally eliminated a few years later, I have to admit that the French have generally been much more courageous about seeing that their governments remain responsible than we have.

Later this afternoon I expect to have a gallery of about two dozen photos up on this post, taken while we marched with Palestinians and Jews Against the Occupation.


UPDATED: Photos are now here; captions will arrive later on Sunday.


UPDATED: Captions are now atteached to the photos.

I think this was supposed to be a positive image

No reason for putting this up this at this particular moment. I just neglected to post this wonderful rant I found in Newsday when it first appeared, over ten days ago. It's been in my head ever since, and I thought that finally letting it out here might let me move on [I don't like to have to think about Giuliani. I really, really don't].

Jimmy Breslin [omigosh, someone I know was actually surprised to hear he was still around when I mentioned his name recently!] has no love for our former mayor, and he's not shy about writing about the man's bogus reputation as somehow divine, even when his column is really about another cheap charlatan, George W. Bush.*

He was a nobody as a mayor and in one day he became a hero. This sudden career, this door opening to a room of gold, all started for Rudolph Giuliani when his indestructible bunker in a World Trade Center building blew up. He had personally selected it, high in the sky, and with tons of diesel fuel to give emergency power.

And Guiliani walks on. He walks from his bunker, up Barclay Street and went on television. Went on and announced his heroism and then came back every hour or so until he became a star, a great figure, a national hero, the mayor who saved New York.

Most of this comes from these dazed Pekinese of the Press. Giuliani was a hero with these news people. He did not pick up a piece of steel or help carry one of the injured off.

He made the trade center his private cathedral. Police commanders were terrified of letting you in. There was only Rudy, who flew his stars, Oprah and the like, down to see it.

Breslin begins this March 7 column, with characteristic restraint, "In his first campaign commercial. George Bush reached down and molested the dead."

[Image by Joe McNally, from "Faces of Ground Zero"]

throngs escaping underground New York, February 29, 2004

It's worse than we could have imagined.

Ray Sanchez wrote another excellent column in Newsday on Monday, about disaster preparedness in the New York transit system. A second piece appears today. They're both very scary.

After February 29, and the reporting of Sanchez, we could no longer fool ourselves that the MTA knew what to do in the event of a subway emergency, even two and a half years after 9/11. Now, thanks to Sanchez's columns, we know that the city's Office of Emergency Planning (OEM) isn't interested in the MTA. But that's not all. It also seems that the various parties who have to work together in real emergencies can't even work together to plan for emergencies.

MEANWHILE: I've been "de-gayed" and "de-clawed" by Time Out

On a related note, I can report an interesting follow-up to my own experience, or at least to my report of that experience. Last week Time Out/New York included a surprisingly and offensively glib (careless?) piece on the fire which shut down a number of subway lines two Sundays back, injuring some passengers and frightening, even terrifying, many others. I felt I had to call them on it, so I went to my keyboard.

Last night I found that some form of my letter appears at the top of their current "Letters" section. Unfortunately neither the original article nor the letter can be found on their site, but since they made some very interesting changes in my text, I'll try to illustrate here what happened twixt my laptop and their hard copy.

I admit that I was kinda thrilled with the novelistic title they slapped at the top of the letter, "Tracks of my fears," and when I first read the five inches of printed text I thought they might not have cut my original letter at all. Then I checked, in what I thought was just an excess of conceit, and I uncovered some interesting edits.

I should have expected the subjective, fairly arbitrary word or syntax changes I saw, but what I found more interesting is that they decided to totally eliminate my partner Barry. Gee, I'd hate to think that you can only be queer, ok, even "gay," in Time Out if you're in the entertainment listings.

Also, even though I understand that TONY is basically just a [pretty good] entertainment rag and therefore I should not have been surprised by the tone of their article, I think it's significant that they were careful to eliminate my critical reference to their reporter's slant [which was in fact far more facile than I had indicated in my letter].

Finally, I notice that they chose to subtly eliminate my more alarming descriptions of what the situation was like underground, somewhat diluting the letter's basic argument.

What follows below is first what I sent them by email:

Along with almost the entire media establishment of the New York region, TONY missed the real story in the February 29 subway fire and evacuations. Even worse, Ayren Jackson makes light of it in "Talking Points" this week, and you all should know better. The next time might not be so entertaining to your readers.

People were discomforted and terrified, some were injured by smoke, but the real story is what the experience says about New York's ability to cope with a real terrorist incident, or even a disastrous accident. A single homeless man throwing debris can cause people to be trapped for hours in the subway?

My partner and I were confined below ground from 5:30 until 7:30. Our train was apparently one of the more fortunate, since some people weren't free until 9, and many suffered smoke inhalation requiring hospitalization. After the first few minutes of explosion and fire there was little smoke where we were, but many of us were terrified, and we still had to wait over two hours from the time the train was initially halted, more than an hour after we were told help was on its way, and certainly long after the tracks were "no longer juiced", in Jackson's words.

When we were finally permitted to exit, the route involved simply walking out an open subway door, stepping along a 15-foot shelf to an emergency exit, and then climbing a couple flights of stairs to the busy Village street above.

What the experience says about easily-imagined future disasters makes us seriously question living in NYC, and we're crazy about this city.

This is what they actually printed:
Tracks of my Fears

Along with almost the entire media establishment of the New York region, TONY missed the real story in the February 29 subway fire and evacuations ["Talking Points," Out There, TONY 441].

People were discomforted and terrified, some were injured by smoke, so the real story is what the experience says about New York's ability to cope with a real terrorist incident, or even a disastrous accident. A single homeless man throwing debris can cause people to be trapped for hours in the subway?

I was confined below ground due to this incident for two hours. My train was apparently one of the more fortunate, as some people weren't freed until hours later, and many suffered smoke inhalation, requiring hospitalization. After the first few minutes of explosion and fire, there was little smoke where we were standing; however we still had to wait more than two hours from the time the train was initially halted, more than an hour after we were told help was on its way and a long time after the tracks were "no longer juiced." What the experience says about easily imagined future disasters makes me seriously question living in NYC.

Giuliani's Emergency Operations Center on the 23rd floor of 7 WTC

Regular readers know why I have such a keen interest in the former 7 World Trade Center [friends who fled the building on September 11, a years-long office there myself and disgust with the human impact of many decisions made by its tone-deaf owner, Larry Silverstein, and his friend the American media-hero Rudolph Giuliani], and some know that I have tried in the past to bring attention to the reason for the monstrous building's astounding collapse that afternoon. Well, that reason may finally have attained real legitimacy, since Newsday reports today:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press secretary is accusing Rudolph Giuliani's emergency management chief of making dubious decisions that led to the fiery destruction of a Ground Zero skyscraper.

Press secretary Ed Skyler leveled the charge at Jerry Hauer, the former director of the Office of Emergency Management, after The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Hauer yesterday criticizing Bloomberg for weakening OEM.

"It's funny he didn't mention his decision to put OEM's headquarters at 7 World Trade Center, complete with enough diesel fuel to burn down the entire building on Sept. 11," Skyler said.

The building collapsed hours after the Twin Towers fell; ignited diesel burned long afterward, contributing to the pall of black smoke that hung over lower Manhattan.

. . . .

Skyler's comments echo private remarks from Bloomberg administration officials who have criticized Giuliani-era decisions, including the decision to site OEM's Brooklyn headquarters in a flood zone.

Hauer's criticisms of the Bloomberg administration's handling of OEM doesn't seem to address these damning assertions, suggesting they are not even arguable.

I suppose it would be even more interesting if these guys were not all working in Republican adminsitrations.

[I had first seen this image, or one like it, from NYC OEM, two and a half years ago - it was hastily removed from the site soon after September 11 by the Giuliani administrartion, but it has returned at some point in the interim, although I believe it may be much smaller this time]

Socialist Party supporters celebrate their party's win today in Madrid

Yeeaa for Spain!

We all grieve for you still, but now we're all encouraged by your good sense and courage in throwing the current government into the streets where it belongs. If it had been there all along, 11 millions Spaniards just might not have had to stand in those same streets on Friday.

It's a remarkable turnaround from just a few days ago, when all pundits had been predicting a large victory for the conservative Popular Party, until now Bush's second partner in the coalition of willing rogue nations responsible for the Iraq invasion and occupation.

Blair should be quaking in his boots. No, maybe he's even soiling his pants by now, since he's had plenty to worry about ever since the WMDs evaporated into thin air.

In the meantime, maybe Italy can do something about their own embarassing toady. [Say, just how much in bribes has Washington been offering these governments, whose populations have been so unwilling? There's no other sensible argument for their support.]

Unfortunately here in never-never land we're going to have to wait until November for a regime change, but the population of the U.S. is neither as informed or bold as that of Spain, Britain, or even Italy, so nothing can be certain even about that date. Atrios wrote about that on Saturday:

Terrorism and Elections

Conventional wisdom, which we'll assume to be true for the moment, tells us that if the people responsible for the horrific bombings in Spain were al Qaedaish or Islamic extremists or something similar, rather than ETA terrorists, that it could cause the defeat of Aznar's party, PP, in the elections tomorrow. The reason being that Iraq was not popular with the Spanish people, and if Aznar directed resources to fighting a non-threat instead of spending time to find real threats, or if the terrorism is a response to their participation in the Iraq war, then he and his party obviously failed in their duty.

On the other hand, I would say that conventional wisdom in this country would be that a major al Qaedaish terrorist attack in this country before our election would be good for the Republicans and Bush. I have no idea if this, or the other, conventional wisdom is true, but the contrast is interesting.

Bloggy has an excellent post on the events and the mood in Spain.

[image from Yahoo! News]

Peter Maxwell Davies

The great British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has been appointed Master of the Queen's Music.

The Guardian site begins its report thus:

Buckingham Palace yesterday admitted that the Queen has chosen Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, a gay, self-styled "old-fashioned socialist" and republican, as the Master of her Music.

The fact that Maxwell Davies is also perhaps the pre-eminent British composer of the day appears not to have been a handicap for a job which has seen some previous musical talents overlooked in favour of justly obscure nonentities.

Although previous incumbents have included Sir Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax, the 380 year-old post inaugurated by King Charles I has also been held by the likes of Nicholas Staggins and Maurice Greene, chosen instead of Henry Purcell and George Frederick Handel.

Perhaps understandably, there is little in the Guardian article about his musical production. We have just about every recording of his music ever available in the U.S., so for us at least the music needs no introduction. The paper also neglects describing just how beautiful a man Davies is [very], but it seems to have missed little else in composing a report that succeds in being exquisitely provocative.
The composer made clear at the weekend that had the job been offered by the government he would not have accepted because of his opposition to Tony Blair and the Iraq war, which he described as the worst foreign policy decision since the crusades.

The Sunday Times quoted him as saying: "I voted for Blair twice, but never again. He has betrayed the principles of the Labour party, not just on Iraq, but on tuition fees and foundation hospitals. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned socialist and I feel utterly let-down."

His principles did not prevent him accepting a knighthood in 1987, as an honour for music, though he threatened to send it back seven years later because of plans to amalgamate London's orchestras.

He has accepted the job for 10 years, rather than for life, on the basis that it may be used to promote music, rather than for the composition of anthems and other ceremonial music for royal occasions.

A palace spokeswoman said tactfully yesterday that the post, which carries with it a small stipend, placed no obligations on its holder.

. . . .

His works have been performed all over the world and are said to be becoming more accessible to general audiences, which may come as a relief to a royal family of generally limited musical interests - the Queen paid her first visit to the Proms for 50 years last summer.

She may be relieved to know that Maxwell Davies has been known to write compositions to mark propitious events, including a lullaby for the first baby born on the Orcadian Island of Hoy for 25 years. She may be less impressed that his previously best-known work about royalty, Eight Songs for a Mad King, was a meditation on the insanity of George III.

This is also the man who composed the extraordinary opera of the Antichrist, "Resurrection", described in these excerpts from an amazing review in the NYTimes [byline uncredited]:
Begun in the early 1960s but not performed until 1987, Resurrection, with music and libretto by Mr. Davies, is one of the fiercest works of social criticism ever to come from the pen of a classical composer.

. . . .

The savage parody could easily turn preachy and heavy-handed, and it is to Mr. Davies's credit that he, like Weill, knows how to handle such material with an irreverent, comic touch. The libretto is witty, often ingenious and viciously anticlerical. (A minister sings: "For we can make the Book mean just anything we please,/And use it as a weapon to bring you to your knees,/With the promise of salvation shining on your steadfast face,/By the word of God, this Book, we can keep you in your place.")

The composer helpfully describes in clinical detail the transformation he has in mind during the metamorphosis of the patient into the Antichrist: "Despite the lack of testes, which the Surgeons removed, the Patient's penis slowly becomes erect - a huge submachine gun, directed over the audience."

. . . .

It is also a protest against the sexual conformity demanded in a Thatcherite England and a Reaganite America. A recurring theme of Resurrection is the homophobia spouted by the hypocritcal political and religious establishments. In one particularly memorable scene, three of society's supposed moral guardians - a Policeman, a Judge and a Bishop - have an unscheduled meeting in a stall of a public lavatory.

. . . .

It is impossible to listen to the opera without finding it chillingly timely. The message of Resurrection could easily be transplanted to the United States, circa 1996. But it is doubtful that it could be staged in the present [January 1996] political climate. Somehow, one imagines that Federal, state and corporate support would not be forthcoming.'

Ain't opera grand?

[image from MaxOpus]

I like Newsday, and I guess they like me. Last week pictures of me or my signs at a same-sex marriage rights demonstration appeared in their pages twice in one day. Yesterday Barry and I were the subject of a column on our outrage about MTA disaster preparedness, and today they're including an edited version of my letter to the editor on the same subject.

Just coincidence. Still, maybe I should lie low for a while if I don't want to be shut out because of overexposure. It's going to be a nosiy year. I just might still have something important to say.

Phil Reed, Chris Quinn, their colleagues and all kinds of friends, in front of microphones and cameras this morning at City Hall

A number of New York City Council Members today called on Mayor Bloomberg to state his position on the issue of same-sex marriages, with Council Member Chris Quinn leading the challenge:

"When Mike Bloomberg ran for office, he said he was going to be leader and not hide behind politics. Today, 793 days into his mayoral administration, we still don't know the Mayor's position on this critical civil rights issue."
Among the speakers at a press conference outside City Hall this morning were Alisa Surkis and Colleen Gillespie with their child Ella, but rivalling their profound impact were the words delivered by Council Member Phil Reed, who described how he first found out that his parents had had to go to Mexico for their mixed-race marriage. If more people understood that marriage didn't have to be described by superstition and prejudice the institution would be more popular than ever - or in the best of all possible worlds it would simply cease to exist as a legal contract, its important practical ends served better by the application of principles of equity.

Hovering over the speakers this morning were two sets of signs I had hurriedly made on Saturday night and again last night in the hope of clearing the air of the religious fanaticism which so obscures the subject of marriage in this country. [yeah, as if . . . .] One reading, "IT'S A RIGHT", was to the left of its partner which continued, "NOT A RITE". The other pleaded, "KEEP MARRIAGE CIVIL". [Barry came up with the language of the second sign. I really like its gentle alternate entreaty] Some of the questions reporters directed to the Council Members after they delivered their initial statements suggested that there might be the beginnings of an understanding that the discussion of marriage is dominated by religious cant.

Unfortunately we have a lot of work cut out for us on every issue, since in this country every discussion is dominated by religious cant.

People working for the recognition of same-sex marriage in New York will be back at the northeast corner of City Hall tomorrow, this time for a demonstration from 8am until 9:30. They will be supporting the dozens of couples who are expected to enter the Marriage Bureau in the Municipal Building across the street to ask the City Clerk for marriage licenses.

For more information see New York Marriage Now.

Dennis J. Kucinich

Just got back from our polling station across the street. Somehow I had absolutely no trouble finding Kucinich's name, even though the NYTimes and so many others seem to have lost it. [the name happened to be at the top of the list, as it has been for me all along]

Today's article about New York's Democratic voters mentions only Kerry and Edwards (repeatedly). In fact the list of names on today's New York State ballot also includes Kucinich, Lieberman, LaRouche, Dean, Sharpton, Gephardt and Clark. The only suggestion that there might be other choices for voters is this one oblique reference, in the fourth paragraph, to a larger contest:

The two front-runners [my italics], Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, spent the final day before the so-called Super Tuesday primary campaigning in other states, leaving New York and the battle for its 236 delegates to surrogates.
Elsewhere in the paper, a lead article on the front page discusses the Capitol Hill non-relationship between the two "front-runners", once again totally neglecting to mention Kucinich (who also happens to be work in Congress) or of course Sharpton and the others.

Oh yes, to be fair, I have to confess the paper does include one article devoted exclusively to Kucinich, "Kucinich's Campaign Leaves Hometown Voters Wondering". The piece never really explains what they are wondering about , other than to suggest that he may have, by the paper's own account, ". . . distanced himself too much from the hometown voters who have sent him to Congress four times." One 79-year old interviewed volunteered, "He has done some good locally, but I think he's gone bananas." This stellar NYTimes source said she thought [my italics again] she had voted for him in the past. Ok, there is one specific criticism mentioned. A woman described as a Catholic said she would no longer support him because he had reversed his longtime opposition to abortion.

Alright, I'm now giving the Times far too much attention. Bloggy found more interesting stuff elsewhere: For a real look at Kucinich and at what happened to his campaign, see at Matt Taibbi.

[image is from the campaign site, photo by Eric Rife]

The media is keeping Jay Blotcher very busy these days.

He calls the New Palz area his home, and he married his boyfriend in the Village last week. That same week saw the braking of the story of his being fired as a stringer for the NYTimes [they found he had once been part of ACT UP, and I guess that's somehow a big bad].

Jay hardly ever misses a thing. Jay is a writer. Jay now has a website [set up by bloggy], and anyone interested in these stories will enjoy a visit.

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg must be feeling very guilty, because before condemning Ralph Nader to perdition [almost] this week he runs through an elaborate paean to the great man's undoubted, generous, world-altering accomplishments.

[The list* is magnificent by the way, and it should be read by all of us, whether or not we lived through times which once, incredibly, resisted these obviously good works.]

But Hertzberg then continues his current "The Talk of the Town" piece:

More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the fact that George W. Bush is President of the United States.
How does a thoughtful liberal miss the point entirely? If Bush occupies the Oval Office it's because we were all stupid enough to let him get there - and to let him stay on. Incredibly, the sophisticated weekly's Editorial Director claims that Al Gore and G.W. Bush are both essentially blameless for the plagues which now lay so heavily on our land, the former because he attracted enough votes to win the 2000 election and the latter because he didn't. The only villain is Nader.

We've all heard the argument before, in one form or another, but for a number of reasons there is no way to calculate the impact of Nader's candidacy then or now. We can say that democracy has never been defined as a two-party system, even in this damaged republic where the Left was destroyed almost a century ago. We can also say that discouraging the number of candidates and parties (if we must have political clubs) is the practice of dictators and not of free peoples.

In the midst of their internal argument, even the members of the Democratic Party family are not listening to the putative heavy himself. Last week one NYTimes reader offered the best and most succinct explanation of Nader's decision to run again in 2004 that I've heard yet:

Ralph Nader, Roiling the Waters

To the Editor:

Re ''Nader, Gadfly to the Democrats, Will Again Run for President'' (front page, Feb. 23):

Ralph Nader's central thesis is that corporate influence on lawmakers is a greater danger to democracy than even a Bush presidency. In this context, Mr. Nader's run for president is easier to understand.

Somerville, Mass., Feb. 23, 2004

Now let's all get out there and act like democrats, even if we're only Democrats. Vote well.


*Hertzberg's litany of Nader's accomplishments:

More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the existence of automobiles that have seat belts, padded dashboards, air bags, non-impaling steering columns, and gas tanks that don’t readily explode when the car gets rear-ended. He is therefore responsible for the existence of some millions of drivers and passengers who would otherwise be dead. Because of Nader, baby foods are no longer spiked with MSG, kids’ pajamas no longer catch fire, tap water is safer to drink than it used to be, diseased meat can no longer be sold with impunity, and dental patients getting their teeth x-rayed wear lead aprons to protect their bodies from dangerous zaps. It is Nader’s doing, more than anyone else’s, that the federal bureaucracy includes an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a Consumer Product Safety Commission, all of which have done valuable work in the past and, with luck, may be allowed to do such work again someday. He is the man to thank for the fact that the Freedom of Information Act is a powerful instrument of democratic transparency and accountability. He is the founder of an amazing array of agile, sharp-elbowed research and lobbying organizations that have prodded governments at all levels toward constructive action in areas ranging from insurance rates to nuclear safety. He had help, of course, from his young “raiders,” from congressional staffers and their bosses, from citizens, and even from the odd President. But he was the prime mover.

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