Politics: April 2005 Archives


Chief Bruce Smolka as seen by the New York Press

I'd give almost anything for a jpeg of the news photo in the NYTimes this morning illustrating a story on the latest battle between New York police and folks who want to ride their bikes.

UPDATE: The photo has been found; see May 4 follow-up post.

The thug shown roughing-up a young woman in Union Square last night looks like a Black or Brown Shirt from early in the last century or, better, one of the least sympathetic targets of the social caricatures of Georg Grosz. But looks aren't destiny and perhaps we shouldn't read too much into his physique, so here are the facts alone, described by Kareem Fahim and Jim Dwyer this morning:

In one of the first arrests of the evening, a young woman who was straddling her bike and walking it out of the south end of Union Square Park was seized and personally arrested by Assistant Police Chief Bruce H. Smolka Jr.

"You're riding your bicycle on the sidewalk," Chief Smolka said. "You're under arrest."

The woman protested that she had done nothing wrong. The chief insisted that she get off her bicycle immediately, and then he tried to pull her off. The woman argued, and then other police officers, some of them wearing plainclothes, joined the chief and forcibly removed the woman from the bike.

Ride participants tried to retrieve the woman's bike and scuffled with police officers, who then arrested a second woman.

The sight of a senior chief in the Police Department struggling in a crowded public place with the woman roused the gathering of people.

Cries of "Let her go, let her go," and "fascist state" filled the air, as Chief Smolka and other officers led the woman into a van. A line of 10 motorcycles then sealed the edge of the sidewalk at the intersection of 14th Street and Union Square East. The arrested woman began to give her name in response to a question from a reporter, but only uttered one word - "Lisa" - before she was pushed into the van and the reporter was forced away from her.

Chief Smolka is the police official in charge of southern Manhattan, and oversaw many of the mass arrests made in August before and during the Republican National Convention, including more than 100 arrests of bicyclists at a Critical Mass ride that swelled to include 5,000 riders.

I did a Google search on Smolka and found that he has a very impressive rap sheet. The New York Press sums it up in their current issue, where the Chief is included among their annual list of the "50 MOST LOATHSOME NEW YORKERS":
February 1999: Officers in Smolka's NYPD's Street Crime Unit pump 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo. February 2003: Smolka illegally orders horseback-mounted police to charge a group of peaceful antiwar demonstrators. April 2003: Smolka confronts a group of about 100 demonstrators in front of the Carlyle Group's headquarters with 300 officers outfitted in full riot gear. August 2004: Responsible for securing midtown during the RNC, the smoldering chief could be found standing on "his" perimeter, head clean-shaven, blue eyes piercing, chin jutting, arms folded across his chest like an urban Patton. He personally oversaw the illegal arrest and detention of hundreds during the convention. Then, humiliated by August's 5000-strong Critical Mass ride, he deployed the NYPD's full force in an effort to control the monthly gathering. Until December, that is, when federal judge William Pauley ruled against Smolka's request for an injunction to stop the ride. The only upside of being arrested by this thug is that you have an excellent chance of getting off when your case finally comes before a judge.
To help put this outrageous vindictive campaign into perspective, let me try to get this straight. The police will regularly pull out all stops to keep groups of bicycles off the streets with the formal excuse that they interrupt motor vehicle traffic.
[point of information: the internal-combustion engine is a fairly recent historical development in an increasingly intense and deadly competition with pedestrians and bicycles for the use of the finite area of our streets, and it is the only element responsible for the life-threatening levels of pollution which we grown to accept as routine]
In the meantime, I can't safely walk down a New York sidewalk without expecting to be surprised or assaulted by bicycles swooshing past me from any direction at speeds which threaten all pedestrians, particularly the frail.

The police have no interest in these offences unless it serves their political skullduggery; I know this from having watched them ignore even the most outrageous instances, and also from trying to engage an officer's attention to such offences on several occasions. In any event, riding (not walking) a bicycle on the sidewalk is punishable by a fine (recently increased by the City Council in response to complaints), and NOT by political assault and arrest.

Thugs should not be in the business of carrying out public policy at any time or anywhere, but in New York some of "The Finest" thugs also make public policy - with total impunity, and the courts be damned.

[image from New York Press]

after unpacking a suitcase in Grozny

an installation on Friendship of Peoples Square

"Give them bread, but give them roses too" [traditional socialist cry]

I hate loose ends, so I'm following up on a post I did two months ago with another link to the site of the Emergency Biennale in Chechnya and a story which appeared in the Guardian. The project was formally launched the day after I first wrote about it, but in the nature of this extraordinary outreach it has taken weeks to even begin to record its success. From Dan Hancox writing for the Guardian on April 13:

The 62 contributing artists were asked to submit two copies of their work, and duplicates are displayed in the Palais du Tokyo contemporary art gallery in Paris, along with a series of films and talks about Chechen life. These suitcases of art travelled from Paris across Europe to Grozny. The Chechen Biennale has now been established, with the art on display in Grozny's National Library. It will move on to four other cities, in the care of its Chechen supporters, who cannot be named for safety reasons.

This "arts sans frontières" approach makes the Emergency Biennale more than just another art festival - responding with speed and dedication, they are, like Médecins sans Frontières, working "on an emergency footing". Jouanno and Castro are clearly subscribing to the old socialist idea, "Give them bread, but give them roses too." A cultural life is a human right denied to most Chechens: the Russian authorities consented only a fortnight ago to rebuild the museums.

See the Biennale's site, clicking onto "news" and "artists" for more images.

[images, which I believe must remain anonymous although they are posted by "evelyne," are from emergencybiennale]

clericsin hell.gif
Matthias Gerung Der römische Klerus in der Hölle [Roman clerics in hell] 1546 wood cut detail

They always insist that suicide is a "mortal sin," but at least there's hope for the survivors, the rest of us, those not members of the cult but who have had to suffer its injuries.

As I suspected immediately upon hearing about the appointment of Ratzinger as its chief executive, the Roman Catholic Church seems to have committed suicide. For reasurance, see the essay by the Catholic intellectual Hans Küng which appeared in Der Spiegel several weeks ago, while the last pope was still dying. Küng is the eminent Swiss German theologian who in 1979 was stripped by the Church of his right to teach because of his liberal critique of papal authority. This is only an excerpt from his conclusion:

For the Catholic church, this pontificate, despite its positive aspects, has on the whole proven to be a great disappointment and, ultimately, a disaster. As a result of his contradictions, this pope has deeply polarized the church, alienated it from countless people and plunged it into an epochal crisis -- a structural crisis that, after a quarter century, is now revealing fatal deficits in terms of development and a tremendous need for reform.

Contrary to all intentions conveyed in the Second Vatican Council, the medieval Roman system, a power apparatus with totalitarian features [my italics], was restored through clever and ruthless personnel and academic policies. Bishops were brought into line, pastors overloaded, theologians muzzled, the laity deprived of their rights, women discriminated against, national synods and churchgoers' requests ignored, along with sex scandals, prohibitions on discussion, liturgical spoon-feeding, a ban on sermons by lay theologians, incitement to denunciation, prevention of Holy Communion -- "the world" can hardly be blamed for all of this!!

The upshot is that the Catholic church has completely lost the enormous credibility it once enjoyed under the papacy of John XXIII and in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

If the next pope were to continue the policies of this pontificate, he would only reinforce an enormous backup of problems and turn the Catholic church's current structural crisis into a hopeless situation.

These word were written weeks ago. Today it doesn't look like there's much doubt about what can be expected of the regime which has succeeded that of Wojtyla, since it was the choice of, in Küng's words, the "largely mediocre, ultra-conservative and servile episcopate" he created. Suicide.


[image from Alois Payer]

how do you say "booga booga!" in ten languages?

In an email with the subject line, "My encounter with Pope Benedict XVI," a friend and awesome activist colleague of mine reminds us today that our outrage over what Josef Ratzinger represents has a history, including one very much in our midst. The following paragraphs are an excerpt from Michaelangelo Signorile's first book, "Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power," published in 1993.

[The event described here occurred on January 27, 1988. I will forever be grateful to the new pope for being so integral to my development.]

One protest that was announced was an upcoming zap of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, the German prelate who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. He had written a paper for the Vatican in which he said that homosexuality was "intrinsically evil" and a "moral evil." Cardinal Ratzinger had said the church had to fight the homosexual and fight against legislation that "condoned" homosexuality.

The Ratzinger appearance was at St. Peters, a church known for its modern architecture, at Citicorp Center...When I arrived, the place was packed. It was in a big amphitheater that looked more like the United Nations General Assembly chamber than a church. This wasnt going to be a Catholic mass; St. Peters wasnt even a Catholic Church. Ratzinger may have been a religious figure but he was also a political leader, especially since he was the church's antigay crusader, here to fight against gay civil rights legislation. The church wanted him to speak in a slick, modern, secular-looking space, free of ornate and intimidating religious dcor and adornment. It made the gathering accessible and open to people of all faiths and political persuasions.

Ratzinger sat at the altar, along with Cardinal O'Connor and several other prelates. Judge Robert Bork, the conservative Supreme Court nominee who'd just been rejected by the Senate, sat in the front row. Mrs. William F. Buckley, Jr., was there too, as was an incredible array of Upper East Side women, the upper crust of New York's Catholic Society. There were prominent Wall Street businessmen and local government officials. And rows and rows of nuns, brothers, and priests, perhaps the heads of orders and parishes. I began to feel very small I hadn't seen so many priests since Catholic school.

I looked for protesters, but I couldn't see anyone with a sign or a T-shirt. I wondered for a few moments if anything was really going to happen. I had decided to go there strictly to watch, to check out how these people operated when they conducted these demonstrations. As for myself, I didn't know the first thing about protesting and I still wasn't sure about it. I certainly didn't like the idea of getting arrested.

...Ratzinger took the podium and began to speak. As soon as he finished his first sentence, a group of about eight people to the left of the crowd leaped to their feet and began chanting "Stop the Inquisition!" They chanted feverishly and loudly, their voices echoing throughout the building. The entire room was fixated on them. Activists suddenly appeared in the back of the church and began giving out fliers explaining the action. Two men on the other side of the room jumped up and, pointing at Ratzinger, began to scream, "Antichrist!" Another man jumped up, in one of the first few rows near the prelate, and yelled, "Nazi!" All over the church, angry people began to shout down the protestors who were near them; chaotic yelling matches broke out.

It was electrifying. Chills ran up and down my spine as I watched the protestors and then looked back at Ratzinger. Soon, anger swelled up inside me: This man was the embodiment of all that had oppressed me, all the horrors I had suffered as a child. It was because of his bigotry that my family, my church -- everyone around me -- had alienated me, and it was because of his bigotry that I was called "faggot" in school. Because of his bigotry I was treated like garbage. He was responsible for the hell I'd endured. He and his kind were the people who forced me to live in shame, in the closet. I became livid.

I looked at Cardinal O'Connor, who had buried his head in his hands, and I recognized the man sitting next to him. It was O'Connor's spokesman and right-hand man, Father Finn, who had been the dean of students back at my high school, Monsignor Farrell. A vivid scene flashed in front of my eyes: The horrible day when I was in the principal's office talking to the principal, the guidance counselor, and the dean, the day they threw me out because I was queer. I looked back at Ratzinger, my eyes burning; a powerful surge went through my body. The shouting had subsided a bit because some of the brothers had gotten in front of the room to calm the crowd. The police had arrived and were carting away protestors.

Suddenly, I jumped up on one of the marble platforms and, looking down, I addressed the entire congregation in the loudest voice I could. My voice rang out as if it were amplified. I pointed at Ratzinger and shouted: "He is no man of God!" The shocked faces of the assembled Catholics turned to the back of the room to look at me as I continued: "He is no man of God -- he is the Devil!"

I had no idea where that came from. A horrible moan rippled across the room, and suddenly a pair of handcuffs was clamped on my wrists and I was pulled down....

...I was excited the see something in the New York Post the next day besides the gossip columns: a headline "Gays Rattle Pope's Envoy" next to a photo of an anguished Cardinal Ratzinger.

I joined the ACT UP media committee.

One year later Signorile and I both participated, along with thousands of others, in the 1989 "Stop the Church" action. One of the most important catalysts for its success was our community's anger over Ratzinger's 1986 letter to the bishops of the Catholic church, "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons."

outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, December 10, 1989

[image at top by Domenico Stinellis from the Associated Press via Robert Boyd; lower image is that of a Jack Smith photo on the front page of the Daily News copied from my archives]

(just for starters)

Relativism be now damned! Absolutism has now triumphed! "Dictator" would be nice, but "pope" will do just fine. Besides, it amounts to the same thing, and the costumes are great. The man who would be baby Jesus's vicar on earth knows the certainty of objective truth and he's not going to be shy about reminding us.

Benedict XVI has a lot to answer for, but for starters I'll point to a trespass which has weighed heavily on queers for almost two decades, whether or not they are aware of it. Seven years ago Peter Tatchell warned the world about the sour man who was appointed pope today, Joseph Ratzinger, "arguably the most homophobic of all Vatican leaders":

In 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the infamous Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Ratzinger wrote that a homosexual orientation, even if the person is totally celibate, is a "tendency" toward an "intrinsic moral evil". Moreover, a homosexual inclination is both an "objective disorder" and a "moral disorder", which is "contrary to the creative wisdom of God".

. . .

Most shocking of all, [a 1992 Vatican proclamation written by Ratzinger and authorized by John Paul II states] that when lesbians and gay men demand civil rights, "neither the Church nor society should be surprised when ... irrational and violent reactions increase".

This implies that by asking for human rights, lesbians and gay men encourage homophobic prejudice and violence: we bring hatred upon ourselves, and are responsible for our own suffering. The Catholic Church, it seems, blames the victims of homophobia, not the perpetrators.

This ugly stuff is in the public record, and every cardinal had to read it, but today 115 old men* decided to appoint the man responsible for it as their cult's latest absolute monarch.

I can't imagine good people wanting to have anything to do with this crew, but millions around the world continue to enable the evil they do.

* This is a board whose members almost to a man were selected with the counsel of, and in the mold of, the cardinal whom they chose as pope today. Borrowing some of Ratzinger's own, notorious phrasing: When entrenched reaction demands conformity, "neither the Church nor society should be surprised when ... [it gets it]." I expected a conservative successor to a conservative pope, but I didn't expect the choice would be so obvious; the current college of crimson-robed cyphers has no imagination whatsoever.

[image by Kathryn Gaitens from nowtoronto]

when "relativism" knew its place

[I wouldn't be so interested in this dreck if I hadn't spent the first twenty years of my life as its prisoner, giving me far too much experience of its evils]

How do they keep a staight face? His former boss, Wojtyla, was also no friend of democracy or even of republics, in spite of the illusion manufactured by the media and bought by his weeping fans. At best, the Catholic Church is and always has been indifferent to the concept of responsible government.

In Rome on the same day his corporate board begins the selection of a new CEO, its chairman (perhaps only incidently a former Hitler Youth and Reichswehr soldier, and much later the chief of the Holy Inquisition) can find nothing more important to warn his "princely" colleagues about than a "dictatorship of relativism." Huh?

And they're still allowed to sell this stuff.

[unattributed image from silkeborg amtsgymnasium]

Welcome citizens! (wire and flesh, inside the holding pen on Pier 57)


This is the political nightmare we fear the most. -- joseph Keiffer
Six letters in the NYTimes today discuss yesterday's news article about the confirmation of the false arrest of hundreds of people during last year's Republican Parteitage in New York. They cover a lot of ground and every one of the short contributions is worth a read, but I feel compelled to add my own observation here:
All of this almost certainly means nothing over six months after the damage was done. These people were held captive in miserable conditions, their voices silenced, for up to five days. That time and those assaults can never be restored. The speech silenced then was not and will never be heard; it was unable to influence or effect anything while voices were locked up inside a filthy abandoned pier. [see my archive for posts from the end of August and the first week of September, 2004]

Even if the innocence of these victims is affirmed now, and the malfeasance of the police and city administration is made clearly manifest to the world, what most people are not thinking about is the fact that it worked very well. It silenced a people who thought themselves free, including countless numbers who were frightened into staying at home.

A radical, quasi-fascist regime is now firmly entrenched in the most powerful nation on earth, and there is no effective dissent anywhere.

Worst of all, in spite of what happened in the courts last week, it will work the next time too. The police will continue to suppress all dissent; it's what our leaders want them to do. There will be no reprimands, no directives or new systems which might prevent a recurrence of last summer's shame or an even greater debacle in the future.

[image, repeated from my September 3, 2004 post, via indymedia, by anonymous]

a voice crying in the wilderness

Peter Tatchell
is fabulous, and absolutely irrepressible. We love him!

The AP photo caption reads:

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell makes a protest as he stands in the crowd that were spectating the royal wedding between Britain's Prince Charles and the Camilla Duchess of Cornwall in Windsor England Saturday April 9, 2005.

[image by Peter Tarry from the Associated Press pool; caption also from the AP]

Maurizio Cattalan La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) 1999 carpet, glass, wax, paint as lifesize figure

The incredible fanatical scene which surrounded the death of Karol Wojtyla should be slowing down now that he's buried, but already the latest headlines ominously suggest that the next story will be his canonization. Do we care? Yes, because most of it is a big lie, it was invented by his contemporaries for evil purposes, and unlike its ostensible subject, this one's not going to die.

This pope had a lot of time to write and talk in more than twenty-five years of personal autocracy, and it's mostly all out there on record. Norman Birnbaum's piece, "An Ambiguous Papacy," in the newest Nation [the entire text is only available in the print edition or on-line to subscribers] argues that while some of this stern pontiff's lectures were directed toward enlightened ends like the critiques of war, capitalism and (eventually) capital punishment [all ultimately without any success], when it came to his appalling positions so dearly loved by the media, like those related to gender and sexuality, the man was a total disaster [an amazing success] for ordinary people all over the world, regardless of their sacramental status. His "culture of life" was empty, morally bankrupt, from the beginning.

He was an inflexible traditionalist in denying equality to women in church and society. He regarded homosexuals as sinners and so legitimized the most primitive of hatreds. These are not just matters of dogma. The Vatican's opposition to birth control programs contributes to the poverty of the Third World; its refusal to accept the use of condoms likely facilitated the spread of AIDS; its coalitions with Islamists in international bodies reinforced their capacity to deny rights to women.

Argument and experiment within the church, so creative under John XXIII, gave way to a personalized party line. The great alternative tradition of Catholicism, conciliar church government with the participation of the governed, was consigned to the history books. Theologian Father Hans Küng declared the papacy of John Paul II a monarchical nightmare. Often, the most engaged groups of the Catholic laity had to struggle with their own church for the right to carry its social doctrines into the public arena. The fate of the liberation theology movement is a striking example: In a continent desperate for justice, it was pronounced heretical--setting back reform of Latin American society a generation.

. . .

[In Europe, the] Christian [Roman Catholic] social parties have recently put their energies into an entirely symbolic campaign to write into the European constitution an affirmation of Europe's "Christian identity"--or into supporting anti-Muslim campaigns. In Italy itself, the Vatican and bishops have allied themselves with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a figure who hardly reminds us of Saint Francis.

The case of American Catholicism is especially disappointing. Our great social achievement, the development of an American welfare state, owes much to Catholic thinkers and organizations. . . . . Nevertheless the American Catholic Church--despite the Pope's opposition to the Iraq War, the Bush doctrines of global domination, and the sovereignty of the market--contributed to the defeat of John Kerry. Prominent cardinals and bishops instructed Catholics not to vote for him because of his views on the rights of homosexuals and women.

Too much was given to this man; the least we can do is stop now. This was more than a horrible waste of a life; his was responsible for wasting those of countless others, and the evil will continue for generations.

The shoes of the fisherman stink.

liturgical shoes of pope paul VI.jpg

[Cattalan image from artthrob; image of Pope Paul VI's red shoes from spiritrestoration]

Just call me anti-pope, but the incredible AP story headline looks to me like someone's fantasy: "Americans Mourning the Death of Pope." And not to be outdone, their competition, Reuters, has a story with a banner even more over-the-top, "Pope John Paul Dies, World Mourns."

Now our media will be telling us repeatedly that we're all waiting around for the appearance of his reincarnation, when his reactionary staff chooses his reactionary doppelganger. With a Dalai Lama at least, the world has an even chance each time he dies off.

I'm just sorry they didn't plug him in, as I said two days ago.

For a brief starter course on papal malevolence and malefactory, see Buggery.org.

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

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