Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In Memory, and then . . .

I try to be very careful how I think and talk about 9/11. It is a deeply emotional topic, personal in some ways yet never as personal to me as to the friends and family of those who died - and yet I'm also aware that it must be kept in a certain perspective. We Americans are undeniably self-absorbed, and it's important that we do not let our own tragedies blind us to equal or greater tragedies abroad.

But grief is not a zero-sum equation. I am concerned about the political legacy of 9/11, but that does not mean I do not mourn.

My favorite conservative blogger, Mike from Polipop, has put together a moving QuickTime film: "The Story of the World Trade Centers." I like it because it takes in the sweep of the WTC's history, rightfully reminding us of its place in the fabric of New York City. The World Trade Center was emblematic of the relationship of New York to the world - these real, grimy streets connected to the vast web of humanity. And New York plays a unique role in the relationship between America and the world. 9/11 was mourned from all ends of these connections. I may disagree with the conclusions Mike and other conservatives draw from the tragedy. But I join him in honoring what the World Trade Center was.

The Grand Old Illusion (Part One)

On August 29 (the weekend of the RNC), the New York Times Magazine featured a treatise by David Brooks on the future of the Republican Party (the article can be found here, but note that you have to pay for archived articles). Over the next few days, I'm going to use Brooks' piece as a basis for my own examination of the GOP: where the party stands, and where it might be headed. Brooks outlines his hopes for the party, and ties those hopes to a specific strand of Republican thought and tradition. But is he being realistic?

The Grand Old Party seems to be entering a period of crisis. This relates in large part to its nearly comprehensive grip on American government today, though power brings with it contradictory fortunes. One the one hand, control of government can defuse internal conflict, as elected officials feel less cause to argue theoretical questions of ideological correctness, and expend more of their efforts toward bringing home the proverbial bacon. On the other hand, when problems arise, the party finds no one else to blame, and inevitably must turn on itself: thus the dissatisfaction among many Congressional Republicans with the Bush administration, and even whispers that some GOP Representatives would be more comfortable with a Bush defeat in November - if only to save their control of Congress.

The Republicans have gotten where they are today because of a specific strategy, which has tied them to the so-called "culture war" raging in America since the 1960s. The question is whether this legacy - the source of their success - can sustain them much further. An additional question might be: can America as a whole bear the consequences of this strategy any longer?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Return of the Navigator

Principall Navigations has been on hiatus for a while, while I focused on work and other writing that needed to be done. But I'm back, and hope to be posting at least semi-regularly from here on out.

First, a brief update on the Pier 57 story. am i patriotic noted a few days ago that there is evidence suggesting that Pier 57 may have been leased by the Republican Party during the convention. If true, the implications of this are disturbing: a political party arranging its own private gulag with the cooperation of New York city agencies. I should stress that this has not been confirmed. Meanwhile, the RNC protest defendents are considering their options with regard to pursuing civil lawsuits against New York City. The NYCLU and The National Lawyers' Guild have more.

So there's no such thing as normalcy in NYC, but the fever has subsided a bit, even with John Kerry in town delivering fiery speeches and George Bush in town clowning before stony faces at the UN. With the elections coming and the terror alert glowering yellowy-orange, our "interesting times" continue, but meanwhile there's at least a chance to enjoy the last days of summer.

Just don't talk to me about the Mets.

Friday, September 03, 2004

RNC: in the Streets (Part 4)

Originally uploaded by manteo.

I'll be moving on from convention coverage this weekend and beyond, with some thoughts about the future of the Republican Party and reports on the aftermath of the RNC for New Yorkers - including those arrested and held at Pier 57 this week. I'll also be talking about life and politics here in Brooklyn, and how it relates to everything everywhere . . .

Thanks to the Tank for hosting Blogger Alley, and for actually helping to make the task of watching a GOP convention fun and exciting. Also, thanks to all the bloggers (and assorted cool kids) I had the pleasure of meeting, and especially to Kyle of am i patriotic? for sharing his computer and for being good company.

Oh, and thanks to I Want That Pizza for being conveniently located.

RNC: in the Streets (Part 3)

Defense de Dubya
Originally uploaded by manteo.

It was a very intense demonstration. We were packed together outside the enemy's fortress, with barricades and riot police surrounding us. The protest was noisy, electrified, angry. I even found myself chanting, and as I've said before, I hate chanting.

"Peace Now."
"Bush must go."
"No more years."

Even a tribute to one of the most famous chants of the sixties: "Hey, Bush, whaddya say? How many kids did you kill today?" Typing this now, it seems perfectly cliched and corny. And it would feel that way (to me, at least) at almost any other political rally. But last night, it was real and urgent.

After having witnessed the Veterans for Peace gathering at Union Square, last night's demonstration compounded an almost surreal understanding - a realization, finally, on a gut level - that there really is a movement in this country, such as there hasn't been for decades. As I've said before, just because we're in the streets doesn't mean we're winning - far from it. But it is exhilarating.

RNC: in the Streets (Part 2)

State of the Union
Originally uploaded by manteo.

Among the many clever protest signs were these parodies of the traditional state delegation markers.

RNC: in the Streets

Defend America
Originally uploaded by manteo.

I thought I'd wrap up my coverage of the RNC with a few pictures from last night's protest outside the Garden. Thousands of people packed Eighth Avenue below 31st Street, for a rally before Dubya's speech.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

George W. Bush's Iraq War "Freedom" Cake (Extra Rich Recipe)

Max Gordon
Originally uploaded by manteo.

By Max Gordon (pictured).

Preheat a gas oven to 911 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix together one unfairly selected president, a vice president with corporate ties and a neo-conservative agenda. In large pan, take the grief from a tragic national incident and place on stove, turning heat to high. Scramble the truth and slowly add grief while whipping "war on terrorism" and "axis of evil" propaganda until firmly set. Carefully fold in lies and confusion. (For darker recipe, use a black National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to distract from racist implications of the war while placing AIDS, unemployment and the black community on a back burner.) Divide country and cut all dissenters of war into small pieces. Separate those who fit the war's racist profiling and freeze anti-war discourse. Drain international goodwill and taxpayers' money to fund war. (If you can't find any "weapons of mass destruction" you may substitute "the liberation of the Iraqi people" instead.) Cover (up) all dead U.S. troops and Iraqi casualties while thickening combined batter with grandiose statements like "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring it On." Grease pans generously with oil from Iraq and cover finished cake with American and Iraqi blood.

Serves none.

Boots: Together

Boots: Together
Originally uploaded by manteo.

Each boot represents 20 soldiers killed.

Despite the festive atmosphere at Union Square, the memorial itself was a zone of quiet rememberance.

Veterans Against the War, Part 2

Boots: Solitary
Originally uploaded by manteo.

Boots placed at Union Square in memorial of American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Iraq Veterans Against the War
Originally uploaded by manteo.

A powerful moment at Union Square: at gathering of Veterans for Peace, soldiers home from Iraq spoke passionately against the war, decrying both candidates for their failure to bring the troops home, but most especially pressing the point that regime change is desperately needed here at home.

"Guantanamo on the Hudson"

The NYCLU has written to Mayor Bloomberg to express its concern about unsafe conditions at Pier 57, where hundreds of arrested protestors have been held awaiting arraignment. Meanwhile, NYC Indymedia reports that the city is defying a court order to release 117 detainees who have been held for over 38 hours without being arraigned - many of them innocent bystanders caught up in police sweeps.

I know this is being covered on other blogs, but it needs to be broadcast widely. The police have been inexcusably heavy-handed this week, and their treatment of detainees is outrageous.

Along with others, I will be following up on this story tonight (if possible) and in days to come. Abuse of power is not okay at Guantanamo, and it's not okay in Manhattan.

Turning the Corner

Debate on 42nd St.
Originally uploaded by manteo.

Stumbling home from the Tank last night, still in shock over how scary Zell Miller was, I came across an RNC delegate wrapped up in debate with a protestor. It was a remarkably low-key and civil discussion, almost inaudible over the ambient roar of Times Square. They were asking each other questions that began with phrases like "Do you really think that . . ." and "But don't you feel that . . .": that is to say, they were actually listening to each other. The previous night, on that very same corner, I'd come across a guy screaming at a delegate to go home, while the delegate screamed back: "get a job". While that encounter resonates on an emotional level, it's heartening to see that sometimes even entrenched political enemies can still hold an actual dialogue, even if it's anonymous, in passing, drowned out by the cacophany of the Crossroads of the World.

But of course, it's a fundamental liberal error to let our respect for discourse blot out our determination to win political victories. And as New York braces for the arrival of George the Lesser, I can't help feeling a sense of optimism, an informed hope that the American left is putting itself together in more powerful ways, and learning from its old mistakes.

It used to be that "liberal" was a proclivity. You were "liberal" like you were "nice," or "consciencious." Conservatives had a movement, radicals had a (small) movement, but the mainstream American left had no sort of coherence or verve. The idea that CNN somehow provided a "left" equivilant to Fox News or right-wing talk radio could be bandied about unchallenged.

But now, on the internet, on the radio, in private clubs and nonprofits and even in some realms of commercial life, the American liberal left is starting to cohere, to develop not only a sense of identity, but of entitlement, by which I mean: righteousness. We are learning to stop saying "you may be right" all the time, and to start saying "you're wrong." And we can do this because we have the newfound strength that comes from a sense of self-identity.

This election may or may not go our way. But whatever happens on November 3, some broad outlines are emerging for the political future of this country. One is that the Republicans are entering into a sort of crisis phase (more on this at a later date). The other is that there is a more confident, focused mainstream left cohering, and at some point it will be strong enough to launch itself into a position of power, if only it can recognize the opportunity.

So, looking at this photo of a debate on 42nd Street, don't just think "how nice - they're talking to each other." Think: "I hope she's kicking his ass."

Edit: I forgot to add, props to PBJ Diddy of Daily Kos for the Zell Miller photoshopping.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Axis of Pure Evil

It's interesting: Zell Miller and Dick Cheney, a valuable lesson in different modes of scary. Zell: violent, stabbing looniness. Dick: creepy, creepy, creepy.

If last night was all about "compassionate conservatism" (you know, the kind of "compassion" where you call unemployed workers "girly men"), tonight is the return of the Big Bad Wolf.

Update: The delegates are even scarier. This is a hatefest. And Cheney has nothing to say about Bush beyond banal platitudes. The whole speech is about hating Kerry.

Axis of Eve, Part 3

One Eve
Originally uploaded by manteo.

Just across the street, Republican delegates were filing out of their hotel and boarding busses, to be shipped uptown to their shindig (braving the jeers of a small group of New Yorkers nearby). Despite all the faux-jollity in the Garden, I can't imagine that they're even capable of having the kind of fun that the Axis of Eve demonstrators did.

Axis of Eve, Part 2

Showing the Flag
Originally uploaded by manteo.

I know I should be talking more about the Axis of Eve, but the damn Reagan video hasn't finished yet, and I'm desperately fighting the urge to vomit violently.

And now they're interviewing Orrin Hatch. That's not helping my stomach at all.

Axis of Eve

Axis of Eve
Originally uploaded by manteo.

I caught the second half of the "Mass Flash" sponsored by Axis of Eve, which was conveniently thrown right outside my office. It was a media frenzy, as expected: the perfect combination of Lead Story and Sex. Brilliantly conceived.

OT: I don't know if there's such a thing as syrup laced heavily with cheese, but imagine that there is, and that you're being smothered to death in it. That's what it's like watching the GOP's Ronald Reagan tribute video.

It's also dishonest as hell, but that's par for the course where the ol' Gipper is concerned.

Democracy: Times Square

Democracy by Example
Originally uploaded by manteo.

An anti-war group put this massive sign up at 42nd and Broadway.

In some ways, this week is heaven for a political junkie. The streets of the city are awash in political argument; there's a real charge running through daily life, and every other person seems to be wearing some kind of political badge or button (almost always liberal or left-wing): it's how I thought life in a democracy should always be.

Of course, that electricity is generated by a very dangerous power system . . .

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

What Democracy Looks Like

Mike Marfatia is telling me about his experience this evening outside Tavern on the Green, where the New York delegation (sponsored by Kodak!) was meeting. Mike stood outside with a massive sign reading "God help us: Bush is trying to steal another election!"

Apparently the sign got pretty well under the delegates' skin. Mike and his friend shouted at the Republicans as they left: "Fox News lies for Bush," and so on. The delegates shouted back. Mike tried to engage some in discussion, but he found no takers.

All over New York, GOP delegates are being called out and challenged, in groups small and large. They thought it was a simple proposition to come here to soak up the "glow" of 9/11. But they're finding that in New York, there's no escape from democracy.

(PS - It's a pleasure watching the Gropenator get booed here at the Tank. This is a truly offensive speech.)

America Welcome

So I just met Anna of annatopia (she's also been doing some great guest blogging over at majority report radio), and it occurred to me that I haven't been entirely clear about something.

I'm a New Yorker (by immigration, not by birth - like so many New Yorkers). And I am fiercely protective of my city, and suspicious of those who come here from other parts of the country in bad faith.

But I am also an American, and I believe (maybe foolishly, but I don't think so) in the redemptive possibilities of this nation. And when I meet a person like Anna, this amazing woman from the great (yes, great) state of Texas, who is working to shift the tides and turn America around, it inspires me, and all my New Yorker snarkiness ("look at the rubes trying to figure out the subway") evaporates. I firmly believe that, within ten years, Texas will turn around - and when it does, it will be thanks to people like Anna, fighting and sweating, even though every day must be so frustrating, so unrewarding. We liberal New Yorkers have it easy - we can coast along in our own little mainstream, safe in the knowledge that everyone around us more or less feels the same way we do. But if this country is to be saved, it will be thanks to those doing the real work, deep in the red heart of America.

Live from Blogger Alley

I'm laptopless, but posting thanks to the extraordinary kindness of Kyle from am i patriotic?, who, incidently, has some great photos from the protest at Fox News today.

I've been watching kos submitting to a fashion shoot; I briefly met atrios (who really looks like some damn actor whose name I can't remember, but I'm sure he's Canadian). And Air America is broadcasting live from here in the Tank as we speak. I'm feeling pretty small, the way one does when contemplating the universe, except slightly nerdier.

There really is a counterconvention in this town, and it's a beautiful thing to see. It's far more than just what's going on at the Tank: all over New York, people are working together in groups large or small, offering an alternative world, an entirely different version of America. As bad as things are now, nothing like this existed during the Clinton era. Something is awake and growing. It's a curse to live in these times, but a blessing to witness the birth of something better.

I Heart Fortress NY

"New York City is a fortress, and I love it," said one Republican delegate, quoted in the Times. Of course, ordinary New Yorkers feel rather differently. The city has not had such a heavy seige atmosphere since the days immediately after 9/11. And besides the fact that it's unpleasant to be so viscerally reminded of that day, it is deeply offensive, when we are forced to live through a week-long security crisis, to hear that those who are the cause of that crisis are rejoicing in it.

The anxiety and the heavy security have little to do with the protests, and everything to do with fear of terrorist attack. The GOP, stumbling over themselves to exploit an earlier attack on this city for their own political gain, have brought another crisis into town with them. And they love it. And they're lovin' this town, lovin' 9/11, riffing endlessly on our blood and our loss, invoking it again and again from the podium and the convention floor. It's their lucky charm, their ace-in-the-hole, their crowning glory. GOP to NY: Thanks for Dropping Dead!

Before I start foaming at the mouth (which is sort of considered a faux pas here in the office), I'll sign off with a couple short notes. First: if you're still hungry for pix from Sunday's big march, Sale bete has an excellent account of the day - with better photos than I've seen even from a lot of big-time news organizations (the BBC's photos, especially, were inexplicably lame).

Also, Anya Kamenetz of the Village Voice has more on the scuffle on Eighth Avenue yesterday (see below): seems the police claim that one of their detectives was knocked off his scooter and beaten unconscious, but there may be more to the story than that.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Monday Night at the Fights

Designated Protest
Originally uploaded by manteo.

I got to MSG at around 8:30 this evening, and had a hell of a time making my way from the Sixth Avenue Penn Station exit to Eighth Avenue, site of the designated protest zone. There was a lockdown on the streets extending several blocks south of the Garden. Agitated legal observers and bemused, angry anarchists roamed in small knots, and the police presence was even heavier than I'd expected.

Turns out I'd just missed the drama. I put the story together as best I could, interviewing both NLG volunteers and demonstrators who'd been there.

The trouble had come at the end of the Poor People's Economic Justice March, sponsored by Still We Rise. The march had begun peacefully enough, with a rally near the UN. The two thousand or so attendees then set off down Second Avenue and then turned west along 23rd Street, their numbers swelling as the march progressed. At a few points along the way, contingents of police charged into the crowd to arrest particular marchers, though nobody seemed to know why: one demonstrator I spoke to suggested that they might have been taken for suspects in yesterday's dragon-burning escapade. (Bloomberg News says that two of the arrests were for "disorderly conduct," but that can mean almost anything in practice.)

As the march arrived at the RNC designated protest area on Eighth Avenue below 30th street, the police suddenly and without warning (this is how the legal observers, not just the protesters, described it) ran a barricade across the Avenue at 29th Street, cutting the procession in two and causing a melee. Some protesters told me that the police had used pepper spray and even tear gas, but it was hard to get solid confirmation of that.

This seems very much like a case of the police overreacting when they percieved some possibility that they might lose control. The massive demonstration yesterday was handled in a very relaxed and professional manner, probably in large part thanks to the efforts of the organizers to make it run smoothly. Tonight's event was more spontaneous (the march did not even have a permit, but the police allowed it to take the streets), and that unpredictability didn't go down so well with the forces of law and order - especially as the group approached MSG.

By the time I arrived, only a handful of demonstrators remained, shouting slogans at the steel and glass walls of the GOP's temporary fortress, that monstrosity which squats atop the ruins of the old Penn Station. One used to enter New York like a king, it is said, now one scurries in like a rat.

There may be a coronation going on in there, but even from behind the barricades, a block and a half away from the back end of the Garden, New Yorkers can smell a rat.

Welcome to America

The Republicans have come, and they're a little bit upset with the welcome.

"I left God's country," said Leon Mosley of Waterloo, Iowa, co-chairman of his state party. "They could use a bunch of people from Iowa to come here to show New Yorkers what life is all about, what being patriotic is all about, and what country is all about. I'm as confident about Bush being re-elected as I am that eggs are going to be in New York tomorrow morning.''

And they wonder why we don't like them.