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Tuesday, 20 December 2005
Have you hugged your library lately?
Topic: urban issues
Sometimes there’s actual deviltry in the details.

Take a sidebar to a recent Democrat and Chronicle story on the fast ferry. The story proper sampled public opinion about a pending $11.5 million bond-issue bailout for the ship. But I think the ancillary material really said more about our public-sector woes.

“The city subsidizes several operations,” read the sidebar. Besides the ferry, the operations named were the Blue Cross Arena (a $373,000 annual subsidy), the Riverside Convention Center (almost $770,000), and the public library system ($4.82 million).

But hold on. Do public funds for the library system constitute a “subsidy”? Yes, it’s Monroe County that has primary responsibility for the system, and so any contribution by the city – or other entities or individuals – could fall loosely into the category. But if that’s so, then city funding of street maintenance is also a subsidy. Or funding of police and fire protection, or whatever. The truth is, on almost any municipal budget line, you’ll find a mix of sources, right on up to Washington.

Yet we don’t talk about subsidies to the cops or firefighters. The money that goes to them is (rightly) considered an expenditure for vital services. The tax money flows to get the job done. In fact, as regards the police, the argument in recent years has been how to spend more and more.

Libraries are every bit as vital as these other services. And as such, they require public spending that is not optional. Without this spending – let’s call it rational investment - democracy can’t survive. How can you have a community without free sources of information and unimpeded access for everyone? How can you talk about education (and the “blah, blah, blah” never stops in Rochester, with much hand-wringing but little effective action) without thoroughly supporting its infrastructure?

America is finding out the hard way what it means to live without fully functioning libraries. Surveying the national scene, the American Library Association concludes: “Reduction in library funding has resulted in severe cuts to operating budgets, library closures, limited hours, reduced materials budgets, hiring freezes or elimination of personnel, and reduced library programming.”

There are many regions under pressure now. But the ALA zeroes in on a neighbor of ours. The Buffalo and Erie County library system, says an ALA backgrounder, “has approved closing 16 libraries, [which] will leave 36 branches open, though library officials noted those locations will operate with reductions in hours, staffing and services.” And this is happening, says the ALA, “at a time when public library activity in Erie County has reached an all-time high, with an annual circulation surpassing 9 million items.”

Here you see Rochester-Monroe County’s future. As our regional economy follows Buffalo-Niagara down the skids, and as working people take more hits from a Congress and White House inimical to every collective endeavor besides war, our libraries will accelerate their decline.

But don’t despair. The malls will keep growing (subsidized through tax breaks, etc.), the gated communities will spread further out into the greenspace (subsidies again), and the wealthy (with tax cuts in their Gucci wallets) will buy more books at Borders.

It’s enough to make you gag at the thought of cappuccino. Luckily, there’s plenty of good reading on the subject. Check out Monthly Review, for example, a fine socialist journal you can read for free at the Rochester Central Library, 115 South Avenue. See you in the stacks.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:59 EST
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Sunday, 11 December 2005
Cruel and not at all unusual
Topic: media criticism
Has The Onion taken over the Democrat and Chronicle?

We wish. But really: Can you imagine anything sillier than what the D&C editorial writers ran with this Sunday?

“Bush can improve on his candor about the war in Iraq,” the editors deadpan. They allow Bush was “arrogant” six months ago in his manner of self-defense. But now, they say, he’s “doing what he should have done” before, including “acknowledging weaknesses in America's approach since 2003.”

I’m not sure the presidential rhetoric has changed in any meaningful way. To me Bush sounds as arrogant and mendacious as ever, though after a recent political confrontation with war critic Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam vet who doesn’t merely play tough on TV, the president’s testosterone levels seem lower.

But in any case, it’s absurd to talk of “weaknesses” when the problem is international lawlessness.
Everything Bush and his henchmen – plus quite a few members of the so-called opposition party – have done in Iraq falls within some category of war crime. An illegal war of aggression doesn’t get better with age. It just mutates into an illegal occupation, and eventually – when the killings, oppressions and humiliations become so routine that they don’t even make the back pages in the imperial press – it degrades into a mature colonial relationship.

The D&C editors are clueless about this, of course. But there’s more. Not satisfied with their own silliness, they go on to endorse torture.

By the back door, of course. Like our national leaders, the opinion leaders do their dirty work with plausible deniability.

First, the editors urge Bush to declare “there will be no mistreatment of prisoners or detainees, and [that] he will hold the military and CIA to a standard of behavior that reflects the moral values of this country while weighing the military circumstances at hand.” But in the next breath, they express their fear that, if Bush isn’t “direct and sure” on these points, “Congress could very well pass laws proscribing torture.” That, they say, could make our “intelligence effort” suffer.

What? If American military forces and agencies honestly reject the use of torture, how can the outlawing of torture affect their operations? I guess the editors really are proposing a clandestine relationship between words and actions: Bush speaks firmly against torture, and the operatives keep doing whatever they want.

Wink, wink, nod, nod. And the abuses keep piling up, along with the bodies.

If the D&C wants to urge a more honest approach to torture (and avoid tortured thinking), it might better look at the strange case of the US v. the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Passed by the General Assembly in 1966, the Covenant says “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…” (article 7).

The US signed the Covenant early on; the Senate ratified it in 1992. But this came with a lot of fine print attached: various weasel-worded qualifications to the text, including one meant to preserve the death penalty, and another to allow continued prosecution of some young offenders as adults.

Reading the fine print, you understand the US objective was to look good while allowing itself, not a bunch of global upstarts, to decide when and where to use strong-arm tactics.

Still, America's name on the Covenant must mean something.

Or it would mean something, if editorial writers spent their time arguing directly and surely against torture – under any circumstances, without qualification. They also might take a page from UN Human Rights commissioner Louise Arbour, who recently made a public appeal for nations, implicitly including the US, to sign and ratify the "Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

And while they’re at it, the high-minded scribblers also could demand the US get the hell out of Iraq.

At the very least, that course of action would make the D&C editorial’s headline – “Honesty as policy” – less Orwellian and Onionesque.



Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:57 EST
Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005 11:06 EST
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Friday, 2 December 2005
Free the CPT Four, and go in peace
Topic: antiwar
“We must be prepared to risk as much in our work as soldiers do in war.” Whatever the wording, this is an old sentiment among peacemakers, though most of us aren't put to the test.

For Christian Peacemaker Team members, though, the saying reflects daily experience as well as core beliefs. I say this from having seen CPT in action in Occupied Palestine.

My wonderful friend Kathy Kern, based in a Mennonite household in Webster, travels globally on CPT missions (here the word doesn’t have the odor of “crusade”). For a long time she lived with other CPTers in the middle of Hebron. And I do mean the middle: the group rented an upper-floor apartment above the main market street, down a few doors from a small but well-armed “settlement” of far-right Israeli Jews whose stated objective was to take all of the city and region from the 150,000 Palestinians there.

The Hebron settlers were clearly as dangerous as they were fascistic, but Kathy and the team didn’t give in to fear. Their purpose was simply to put themselves between warring factions to calm things down, if possible. Just as important, they bore witness to what was happening to Palestinians in Hebron every day: the full catalogue of oppression and humiliation. And with emails and webpages, op-eds and lectures, they let the whole world know.

Last week four CPT members - Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney, Norman Kember, and Tom Fox - were abducted in Iraq. Their captors probably don’t know how CPT has kept faith with the Iraqi people throughout the war (and through the preceding “cold war” of lethal US sanctions). Or how the group played a decisive role in revealing the crimes at Abu Ghraib, among other places. Or how the Baghdad-based team made it a point to live among the oppressed and help shoulder their burdens. (One photo now circulating of Tom Fox shows him cleaning up debris in the streets of Fallujah after the brutal, practically indiscriminate US military attack on that city.)

The captors probably, perhaps understandably, are filled with hatred toward the US, and the CPTers could be facing torture or death. Thus people worldwide are demanding that the four be released unharmed – maybe “praying for” is better than “demanding,” given CPT’s special devotion to prayer in its active, nonviolent, in-the-trenches form.

You can add your name to a petition for their release at www.freethecpt.org, and you can find all sorts of relevant information at www.cpt.org.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:19 EST
Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005 09:36 EST
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Monday, 28 November 2005
Worldwide community and organics
Topic: environment
[Note: Liz Henderson, who surely deserves to be called a “journeywoman” farmer-activist, traveled to Chile early this month on a special mission: sharing information on two symbiotic movements, community supported agriculture (cf. our own Genesee Valley Organic CSA) and what the Global South calls “agro-ecological” farming. The text below is Liz’s summary of a talk she gave in Santiago. For more information, go to gvocsa.org; or contact Peacework Farm directly, 2218 Welcher Rd., Newark, NY 14513, 315.331.9029. - Jack]

“Integrating the Community in Organic Agriculture”
Presentation for the Feria Latinoamericana de Agricultura Organica, Santiago, Chile, 11/03/05
by Elizabeth Henderson

Community Supported Agriculture is a connection between a farmer or group of farmers and the people who eat the food that the farmers produce. The essence of the relationship is mutual commitment: the consumers agree to share the bounty and the risks of organic food production. In the United States, over 1000 farms are involved in community supported agriculture, and Teikei, a similar system, is widespread in Japan.

My farm, Peacework Organic Farm, in central New York State, has been doing community supported agriculture for 17 years. Over 300 households are members of the farm, and all of them participate actively either in administering the project or in helping with farm work. Members have also contributed most of the money to purchase the farmland used by Peacework for the Rochester-based Genesee Land Trust, which will lease the land back to the Peacework farmers for a very long term.

Through their involvement with the farm, community supported agriculture members provide their own organic guarantee by seeing for themselves how their food is produced and knowing the farmers. The fair agreement that governs community supported agriculture demonstrates the Basic Principles of Organic Agriculture of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, in particular the Principle of Fairness.

Based on efforts of this kind, the organic movement worldwide can help create a global policy for economic development which favors small scale agriculture; local food sovereignty; and the right of people to grow their own food, save their own seeds and derive the financial benefits that flow from local germplasm. Chilean organic farmers will find their own way of integrating consumers in their farms and making the principles of organic agriculture become a living reality.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:29 EST
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Thursday, 24 November 2005
It takes more than truth
Topic: antiwar
She doesn’t know when to quit. And unfortunately, she can’t be fired.

Since Mary Anna Towler installed herself as chief foreign affairs commentator for the paper she owns and edits, the insipidity knows no end.

Take the most recent “Urban Journal” entry (City Newspaper, Nov. 23). After needlessly rehashing some very old news from the mainstream press – Bush’s pretexts for invasion and occupation and other material that was in the public domain well before the war started - Towler tells us “the best way, the only way, to support the troops” is “insisting on the truth.”

That’s the kind of talk that makes the neocons shake in their unblemished combat boots. You can imagine the war-room conversations: “Rummy, the liberals are beginning to ASK SERIOUS QUESTIONS about Iraq. I guess we’re toast.”

Only Tom Tomorrow could do that scenario justice - and expose the average liberal's ineptitude.

Here’s a reality check: The White House, with most Congressional Democrats in tow, launched a war of aggression against Iraq. In committing this supreme offense against international law and civilized norms, Bush and his lieutenants became war criminals of the highest order, with the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans on their hands. Now they insist on "staying the course," that is, continuing the criminality.

So all we can do is beg for an explanation?

Is it so difficult to demand an immediate withdrawal of US troops? Or to demand prosecution of the war criminals? (Removal from office would be only a start.)

Is it impossible – or too alternative – to help mobilize people against the war? To inspire street protests, boycotts, strikes, monkeywrenching? To support the war resisters and widen the resistance?

Hint: Those are questions I’d love to see on City Newspaper’s letters page. I’m sure the editorial responses would be oddly entertaining.

Back to the Urban Journal: Towler ends her 11/23 column with a list of the war’s effects, here and over there. No arguing with most items on the list, though again there’s nothing you haven’t seen before in the New York Times. But Towler cites these two as negatives: “the exhaustion of our military” (note the promiscuous use of “our”) and “the expansion of terrorism.”

Now, as anyone who takes more than a parochial view will understand, an exhausted imperial army can only be good news for most of the world. In the long run, or maybe not so long, it's also good for the American people.

Yes, it’s tragic that the weakening of US “force projection” capacities has come as a side-effect of carnage and destruction rather than through domestic political change. And there's always the possibility that this weakening of "conventional" forces will move some desperate hand closer to the nuclear button. But let's be grateful this Thanksgiving for what we've got: a depleted military whose potential for future invasions (Iran? North Korea?) is less than it was.

Let’s be careful about the term “terrorism,” too. Mary Anna Towler tumbles into the rat-hole – using the T word as shorthand for whatever the insurgents are doing, and by omission excusing or morally elevating whatever US forces do. But in reality, terrorism is terrorism. And all military forces, regular and irregular, resort to it.

You might even say the US military doesn’t “resort” to it and maybe never did – No, the Pentagon’s preferred first line of offense is a hefty grab-bag of terror tactics, from aerial bombardment to white-phosphorus “shake and bake” attacks to the machine-gunning of vehicles that “ignore signals to stop.”

Most important in this regard, we have to remember that the Pentagon and White House never heed mere political signals to stop. The policymakers are men and women of action (not the kind who take to the field themselves, of course, but chickenhawks who have others do their dirty work). Counteraction is the only thing they understand.

That’s why a hands-on anti-war mobilization is essential now. And why a polite request for information – including for the “truth” we knew long before Day One – is pathetically beside the point.


UPDATE, 12/16: Towler now writes that "it's time to start leaving Iraq," a conclusion she says has taken her "a while to reach." A while, indeed. The war's almost three years old.

How interesting. She's telling us essentially that up till now she believed we must stay - that the US must keep on fighting an illegal, murderous war and maintaining a destructive neo-colonial occupation. That's tantamount to saying the war was justified all along, and additional evidence that there's little functional difference between mainline hawks and doves.

One more point on the "it's time to start leaving" column. After much padding with material from an NPR interview with former NSA bigwig William Odom (hasn't everyone already heard this stuff on the radio?) Towler predictably turns to the New Yorker and some recent comments by reporter Sy Hersh. She draws a fatalistic dual conclusion: first, that we "won't be leaving Iraq" as long as Bush is in office; and second, that any withdrawal of ground troops will be balanced with an increase in US air power and thus an escalation in indiscriminate violence.

Well, yes, either or both will happen if we accept Bush's authority. But we've got other options. Protest. Resistance. Radical education and independent communication. Presidential power is massive, but mass action can neutralize it. There are many examples of this, past and present - as the late, great alternative newsweeklies used to remind us.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:54 EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 22:35 EST
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