Politics: February 2007 Archives

once the man in the street

I was wrong, or at least not updated. Josh Wolf is still in prison, and were it not for the remarkable fact that today he becomes the longest-incarcerated journalist in modern American history we might not know it. I certainly didn't until today, when I learned in the morning paper that Wolf had been sent back by a judge three weeks after being freed on bail briefly last September. And there he remains.

Sent back to prison for what? Wolf's refusal to hand over his news tapes is simply a heroic defense of our right to the enjoyment of a free press and the absolute necessity of a free press for a free society; interestingly, most of the press hasn't been telling the story, and we should be asking why.

The story is a little complex, but a grand jury to which Wolf was summoned to provide evidence related to a July, 2005, San Francisco anti-war and anti-globalization protest rally which had turned chaotic demanded that the blogger journalist turn over certain video tapes he had made of the demonstrators that day. Wolf refused to do so. The court has declined to accept Wolf's several offers to show to the Judge and to the US Attorney video the footage which the grand jury had asked for, ostensibly to shed light on the matter of a police car allegedly set on fire (the damage was later determined to be limited to a broken taillight) and an incident during the same protest which involved serious injury to a policeman. Neither Wolf nor his camera were witness to either event, and the San Francisco district attorney has dismissed the lone remaining criminal case involving the protest.

It's clear that what the federal prosecutors actually want is Wolf's help in identifying demonstrators who are not in fact accused of criminal acts*, a serious enough assault on what we used to think of [or not think about at all] as rights protected by the Constitution, but Washington's real assignment is surely to use someone they thought of as a little guy associated with an unpopular movement as the means to extend the dark umbrella of the so-called Patriot Act and to establish a major legal precedent for the elimination of the individual states' protections for freedom of the press.

Writing in Bay Area Indymedia Howard Vicini explains how the states' rights issue plays out here:

Wolf claimed exemption from their subpoena under a CA shield law which was designed to protect journalists, their sources, and raw materials, such as interview transcripts and unedited audio or video tape, Sixteen other States and the District of Columbia also afford journalists protections under similar laws.

But, in the upside-down world ruled by George W. Bush since 9/11, where State's rights and legal precedent have given way to extraordinary power-grabs by the federal executive branch in the name of Homeland Security, the simple fact that the SFPD accepted some funding from the Department of Homeland Security gave the government the right to move the case from State to Federal Court where federal protections afforded journalists were already diminished under the Patriot Act and Executive Orders issued by the President
since 9/11.

[from the January 23 press release of the Free Josh Support Group]

Wolf has repeatedly stated and signed a declaration under oath that there is nothing in his footage, which relates to the police investigation. Attorneys for Wolf have offered to show the footage to the Judge and to the US Attorney in order to prove that there is nothing on the tapes which relates to the investigation. Both offers have been refused, raising concerns that the Government is seeking to have the journalist testify (as was specified in the original subpoena).

[uncredited image of April 30, 2004, SF antiwar demonstration from basetree]

a jester whose glance is glum looks on

Our readership doesn't entirely overlap, so to make sure no one misses a great post Barry did this evening I'm linking to it here.

[image from Boise Gilbert and Sullivan archive]

Reuters headline story:

Senate votes not to debate Iraq proposal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan resolution repudiating
President George W. Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to
Iraq failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on Monday, dealing a serious setback to critics of the war.

The resolution needed 60 votes before the 100-member Senate could begin debate, but it got 49, with 47 voting against. Although it would not have been binding on the president, the measure was the first serious effort in Congress to confront Bush over the unpopular Iraq war.

The proposal, sponsored by Virginia Republican John Warner (news, bio, voting record) and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), fell victim to partisan wrangling over the limits and terms of the Iraq war debate. The measure could still be revived, but the way ahead was unclear.

Opponents said the resolution was a thinly disguised political slap at Bush that would dishearten U.S. troops and signal American disunity.

It does not force Bush to abandon his plan and the president has said he will not be swayed by a nonbinding resolution.

Supporters say the measure would be a first step, a warning to Bush that he must revamp his strategy to start moving toward a withdrawal of the 138,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.

An appointed incompetent, treasonous and disastrous president has seized personal rule in the republic and the members of the senate, who are virtually assured of their seats until death, even after the equivalent of a national referendum calling on them to put an end to an illegal foreign war, cannot even agree to consider whether to consider a wimpy resolution which would not have the authority to do anything to change anything anyway.

I really am an incurable optimist if I can still be shocked by the cowardice, greed and perfidy of the American politician.

always good for ratings

Sherry Mazzocchi, of Blog Chelsea, writes to us that she sees NBC has apparently taken for a constructive suggestion the example Barry had used to condemn the triviality of what the networks represent as news. For a look at the incredible Brian Williams's "look at these puppies!" segment recorded last night, go to this video (you'll have to wait fifteen seconds for the advert to run).

[image from zimfamilycockers]

Filip Noterdaeme THE NEWEST™ 2006 model (plexiglass, LED screens, figurines, remote-controlled robotic system) [installation view]*

The Homeless Museum (affectionately referred to as HoMu by both adoring fans and its own creators) will be welcoming visitors once again this Sunday. I don't think anyone could describe this incredible institution as well as the creators themselves do on the museum's website, and I'm certainly not going to try:

A product of New York City's cultural decline, the Homeless Museum (HoMu) is a budget-and-staff-free, unaccredited arts organization that enables and engages cultural dialogue practiced at the intersection of the arts and homelessness.
Originally established mostly as a concept, two years ago the museum found a home in the fifth-floor walkup the founder shares with his partner Daniel Isengart. Once a month they open their doors to guests by invitation. Visitors are encouraged to email ([email protected]) or call (718-522-5683).

The NYTimes has found out about it and last month Dan Shaw wrote an excellent account of its mission and its work. The Believer has an extended article by Samantha Topol in the December/January issue.

I highly recommend a visit to the museum. Barry and I were there several weeks ago and we were charmed by the wit and sincerity of our hosts and delighted with the museum experience. We had first encountered what I'll call the creative humanism of Filip Noterdaeme's projects two years ago when we read about his campaign to shame the Museum of Modern Art (called MoMa by both supporters and critics, with little warmth from either) for its introduction of a compulsory $20 admission charge. Noterdaeme encouraged and inspired visitors to pay the entire amount in pennies, making it necessary for the museum to place buckets beside the station of each ticket clerk.

The admission at HoMu itself is determined on the basis weight (1¢/lb.), cash only. The Times article describes its membership policy:

The museum raises money for the homeless with a twist on the usual cultural memberships. ''We encourage visitors to become members,'' Mr. Isengart said. ''We tell them they can choose from any levels, from $5 to $125, and that they must give the money to a homeless person of their choice directly. We do it this way so that 100 percent of their donation goes to the homeless.''

Filip Noterdaeme Spoon, 1/8 Iroquios drawing

"Spoon, 1/8 Iroquios" is in the museum's collection. It is part of a series which represents a kind of empathetic curating concern absent from any museum of my experience. From the HoMu website:

The One-on-One Collection is a deeply felt and authentic engagement with the grim and stultifying lives of countless homeless adults who yearn for love, but instead must settle for broken dreams, abuse, and danger.

What began as a fascination with the sex lives of homeless men and how they fulfill their sexual desires has inspired this collection of body prints that are reminiscent in style of Yves Klein's Anthropometries. Paintings on paper made by the imprint of naked bodies previously drenched in "Homeless Orange" provide a range of erotic connotations, addressing taboos such as homelessness, public sex, and homosexuality. For example, in "Spoon, 1/8 Iroquois", two silhouettes suggest a hurried sexual encounter between two men.

What's the tie-in between HoMu's championing of the homeless and its critique of the museum? I think it lies in a profound awareness of the contrast between the outlandish sums of money and attention devoted to the increasingly-elaborate (and increasingly-inaccessible) temples in which we house the high-end items branded as our official cultural idols, and an incredibly wealthy society's neglect or spurning of its own most-forsaken things and people, including its own material detritus but above all the homeless, the outsider, and the uncompromised artist. Noterdaeme and Isengart bring it all home with their phenomenal mix of minimalist panache and compassion.

The open house is Sunday from 1 to 6, on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Filip Noterdaeme ISM (The Incredible Shrinking Museum) 2004-2006 model (glycerin soap) [installation view]*

descriptions of the two works shown in model form above, adapted from material furnished by the artist:

"The Newest™" presents itself as a new contemporary art museum. Viewed from the front, it appears to be a building that is inundated by visitors whose silhouettes can be seen moving about behind its see-through façade, outfitted with several slogan-flashing LED screens. But a look behind the scene reveals the effect to be a choreographed deception: The Newest™ is not a building but an oversized stage-set simulating a building front. The visitors turn out to be dummies circulating on conveyor belts and rotating platforms. The machinery is controlled from a computer operated by a single person, the museum director.

"ISM (The Incredible Shrinking Museum)" is a project for an interactive museum consisting of a sixteen-foot cube of glycerin soap. The cube is subject to constant change through exposure to the elements. In addition, visitors will be invited to exploit the structure like a mine until is it is used up, the goal being to reach out to a new audience and challenge visitors to think about their role as active participants in the shaping and destruction of culture through direct participation in the realization and, ultimately, the deconstruction of a museum.

[image of "Spoon" from HoMu]

1/31 changed everything

I'm so embarassed for my friends in Boston. No, wait: Maybe our good neighbors are all actually onto something really, really big (I'm not talking about the suits and uniforms - or an impressively stupid Boston Globe editorial*): the growing role of the artist as the new and very visible hero of whatever pockets of progressive political life may still survive in locked-down America today. Fortunately the best of our twenty-first-century court jesters are not really part of the court, and they're not really just jesting.

This Aqua Team Hunger Force LED bomb scare thing sounds like the outrageous scenario for a summer movie, so why aren't Boston's mayor and police department laughing?

Go here for the press conference archtype for a new age. It's Dada!

the editorial, from this morning's edition, isn't available on line without a registration, so here are some excerpts of "PARALLYZED BY A GIMMICK":

. . . Turner's ad gimmick, undertaken in 10 cities from coast to coast, affected tens of thousands of people in the Greater Boston area. Businesses lost customers. Commuters lost time. Even more serious, first responders from local, state, and federal public safety agencies were called away from their legitimate duties.

One wouldn't expect the promoters of the TV program "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" to score high on a maturity index. But anyone older than 8 or 9 should be able to understand the dangers of staging such a stunt in the post-Sept. 11 world. Homeland Security experts will need to review the response of local law enforcement. Public safety personnel may have overreacted ; local bloggers apparently identified the guerrilla advertising campaign early on. But it's hardly surprising if others who weren't in on the gag were suspicious. As a rule, first responders are left little choice but to assume they are facing a legitimate threat.

Perpetrators of terror hoaxes face prison sentences of up to five years if convicted. Police arrested an Arlington man last night in connection with the ad stunt, but potential criminal prosecution is only one consideration. The tricksters at Turner, a unit of Time Warner Inc., should pay the bill for the consequences of a lame marketing gimmick.

[image of Boston supporters of the artists Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens by Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP via Gothamist]

MSM news

During the station's introductory presentation last night at what was billed as New York's first Blogger Summit, the host, WNBC, reported that its own advance survey revealed that zero percent of their invited blog respondents thought that local TV news was helpful to their posting. This must have come as something of a shock to the network people, although I can't imagine why, because minutes later the station's News and Station Manager, Dan Foreman (who later told us that he had not really expected to enter much into the discussion) asked the assembled crowd of bloggers whether in light of their responses WNBC should just shut down its TV operations and concentrate entirely on developing a blog medium.

A show of hands from the audience, after what seemed like a moment of shock in response to what seemed like a genuinely impulsive question, indicated that there was a strong affirmative response. One blogger however did cry out, "what about the old people?" In the exchange which followed, one guest described local TV news coverage as composed mostly of stories on "fires and murders". Wow: Only two hours later, while awaiting the station's coverage of its own "blogger summit", I noticed that WNBC's 11 o'clock news led with an account of a fire, followed by a report of a murder. I was visiting the site for the very first time since the early 90's, when, because of a vested interest in the "broadcasting" of a politcal message, my friends and I would regularly scan local news coverage of our own creative theatrical actions or "zaps".

While sitting in Studio A last night I was trying to imagine why any smart New Yorker would actually want to, or be able to, regularly wait around for a brief, fixed-schedule television news program in order to learn what was happening in the city - even if that were what was actually to be found on the little screen. At one point last night even Editorial Director Adam Shapiro admitted that the abbreviated nightly news format permitted only very limited coverage of any story.

I think that, except for those employed by NBC, few people in that studio normally watch network news of any kind. Later last night, during the local station's on-air coverage of the summit, technology reporter Sree Srinavasan explained to viewers browsing the web as novices that they would have to be sceptical about the accuracy of the information they find on blogs. He encouraged them to look around and not to trust the face value of anything, suggesting that it would be wise to get to know the sources of the information found: This is always good advice - for both journalists and those they serve, but in this case the scepticism absolutely has to begin with the powerful MSM, best described as our mainstream corporate entertainment media. [footnote: NBC is owned by GE]

On the subject of journalistic malpractice, that most excellent community source, Blog Chelsea, says that Barry put it best, in conversation last night:

ThereÂ’s a war on, but all they can say is, "Look at these puppies!" They talk about ClintonÂ’s sex life, but not about all of the freedom that is slowly being taken away from you.

[image from diamondsintheruff]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from February 2007.

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