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Saturday, 28 April 2007
Crime report
Topic: urban issues

No need to recount here the crimes and misdemeanors of US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The Bush crony’s reputation as facilitator of torture and political corruption is well-documented – a national and international embarrassment that just won’t go away.

So what’s with Rochester’s gracious welcome for this S.O.B on April 26? Well, it was all about cold, hard cash: a $2.5 million handout from the Justice Department for local anti-gang work through Pathways for Peace and other initiatives.

I have serious problems with the kind of policing that some of this money will support. But for now, all I can think of is how disgusting our local “leaders” are – helping Gonzales, whose specialty is paving paths to violence and war, rehabilitate his public image and ride out a political storm.

Gangs, indeed. There’s no more dangerous bunch loose in communities all over the world than the Bushies, of which Gonzales is a charter member. If our “leaders” had any principles, they would have put the rhetorical cuffs on him when they had the chance, not lubricate his escape from accountability.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 09:40 EDT
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Sunday, 22 April 2007
That was the week that was - and will be again
Topic: politics

What a horrible week it’s been. Not as bad as one late-winter week in 2003, admittedly – I mean the beginning of Bush’s preventive/aggressive global war – but still pretty dismal.

Tax Day set the tone, along with yet another odd “weather event” of the sort we’d better get used to. I want to make it clear this is no orthodox rant against income taxes, which I firmly support, provided they’re progressive and otherwise fair. No, I’m protesting the use of my tax dollars, the bulk of them, for warfare – mass murder for political ends. April 15 marks my annual guilt-trip about contributing to a system that makes ancient warrior states like Rome look like lost Edens. My pride in being a pacifist is conditioned by the knowledge that what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and soon perhaps in Iran, is being done in my name.

But more than any other single event, the mass murder at Virginia Tech defined this week. I heard the news kind of late in the cycle, my news-junkie tendencies notwithstanding. So there I was at noon, standing in front of a class at RIT, not knowing that the issues of violence and injustice we were discussing were playing out in real time at another technical college.

As part of a nationwide academic community, such as it is, I was stunned. I thought of the young people I’m privileged to teach. I thought of some professors down in Blacksburg – like the Canadian, a Québécoise, who tried to stop the shooter by barricading the door to her French class and died with most of her students. She was by all accounts a warm, devoted teacher. She was also in the end a hero. So different from the people who ordinarily grab the headlines: miserable cowards and fools like Alberto Gonzales (what a pathetic figure the US Attorney General cut this week in Senate hearings), Dick Cheney (against whom, thank goodness, Dennis Kucinich has started the impeachment process), and Dubya himself (how dare he console anyone while he escalates the murder of Iraqis?).

Then I thought more about Canada, and Australia, and the UK. Already on Monday, voices from abroad were saying the things our own media were ignoring, as usual. Why are Americans transfixed by the “glamour” of guns? asked a US correspondent for the UK Independent. Even Australian leader John Howard, a staunch rightwinger in many respects, criticized Americans for not clamping down on guns; he reminded the world that Australia had responded to a string of gun atrocities, capped by the infamous Port Arthur mass killing, by getting serious about gun control.

Meanwhile, American media and political leaders feed us more crap, for the most part. First, instead of displaying appropriate sensitivity and maturity and simple decency, they indulge in emotional voyeurism, milking the grief that has descended on Blacksburg for everything it’s worth. (And you can bet it’s worth plenty to them, in terms of capturing future viewers and voters.) And second, they impose something close to a blackout of intelligent discussion regarding the gun culture – but give a podium to the gun nuts.

If you don’t believe me, watch the video of Newt Gingrich, former bigmouth of the House and possible future presidential candidate (saints preserve us!), being interviewed on This Week with George Stephanopolous. Gingrich told Stephanopolous essentially that everything would have worked out fine at Virginia Tech if faculty came to class fully prepared. Gingrich seriously suggested that Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who reportedly used his own body to barricade his classroom door and was shot dead, might have stopped crazed mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho then and there – if only Librescu had been armed.

Of course, Gingrich is a died-in-the-wool brownshirt; you expect the worst from him. But I note that SUNY Geneseo, despite the lack of any palpable threat, just revised official policies so that campus security personnel will pack heat. (The latter had access to weapons before, but now they’ll have them at the ready as they patrol.) Another victory, albeit a minor one, for the gun culture, and for the national obsession with shooting first and asking questions later, if at all.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 12:29 EDT
Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007 09:43 EDT
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Sunday, 15 April 2007
Be theatrical before it's too late
Topic: preservation

Very late notice:

Tomorrow night (Monday, April 16, 6:30 pm) neighbors from the Monroe-Oxford-Goodman-Meigs area, plus some Ellwanger and Barryites like myself and people from other parts of the city and suburbs, will converge on City Hall (Room 302-A) to rescue the Monroe Theater.

Once again a developer proposes to demolish most of the historic building, putting an end to its long purgatorial existence as Show World, but doing the neighborhood no other favors. The proposal, having got the kid-glove treatment so far, entails using only the façade of the theater as a Potemkin village in miniature for a grossly out-of-scale Rite Aid meant to replace the equally ugly but thankfully smaller Drug Box just across the street. (Rochesterians of a certain age will remember that Rite Aid started out on Monroe where the fish market now is located, at the corner of Rowley; it was bad enough when the company weaseled its way into the faux plaza behind Blockbuster.)

Armed with a passle of variances granted by cooperative zoning officials, the developers now will take their dog-and-pony spectacle to the city’s planning commission. The good news – at least for the next 24 hours – is that folks might stop the insanity.

Haven’t we lost enough theaters already? And, as others are asking, isn’t the city looking for performing arts spaces? Enough drooling over Renaissance Square. Save the Monroe! 


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:08 EDT
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Saturday, 31 March 2007
The wages of public broadcasting
Topic: media criticism

With this year’s fundraising auction on the horizon, WXXI’s relentless not-for-profiteers are out fishing for donations. But if you’re an artist thinking about throwing a pot or painting their way – or if you’re just anybody who might write a check – consider the following.

After some emails about salaries at the station landed in my inbox, I went straight to wxxi.org and checked last year’s IRS 990 form. The latter indicates that in 2005, WXXI CEO Norm Silverstein walked away with roughly $345,000 – including about $237,800 in straight salary, more than $50,000 as a "one-time payment of deferred compensation, and more than $47,000 in benefits. (If I remember right, when I covered this business six or seven years ago, Silverstein was getting "only" about $160,000 in salary.)

According to the 990 for 2005, Chief Operating Officer Susan Rogers got about $139,400 in salary plus $33,900 worth of benefits. Even lowly Jeanne Fisher, who often totes the begging-bowl during the station's endless membership drives, got well over $80,000 total. And the guy who hosts WXXI’s "Second Opinion" show, an New York City-based independent contractor named Dr. Peter Salgo, got $72,000 for his occasional services. (On the other hand, considering we're talking here about a mainstream MD, maybe the station is getting a deal.)

I could list a dozen donation-killer problems with WXXI programming – like Bob Smith's regular stroking of rightwing guests from the Israeli Consulate, to the exclusion of sane voices from Israel/Palestine; or the station’s persistent disinformation campaign aimed at Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!; or practically anything done by the supremely irritating Curt Smith. But the station’s outrageous compensation packages for its top dogs are enough reason to keep your hands in your lap when the auction begins. Your money would be much better spent on DN!, Pacifica, Indymedia, Free Speech TV, and other actually independent media.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:09 EDT
Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007 13:20 EDT
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Saturday, 24 March 2007
Much more than an ounce of prevention
Topic: antiwar

Progressive media are addressing some very big items at the moment – and of course, apart from climate change and its effects, the biggest items are the US occupation of Iraq and legislation dealing with related longer-tern issues, such as eventual control of Iraqi oil. But there are deceptively small items that should command attention. For example, I’m concerned about two little words that, in their quiet way, lead us toward make-or-break, indeed life-and-death decisions.

The words are “preemptive” and “preventive.” You’ve probably noticed one or both - most often “preemptive” - popping up in editorials and columns lately, even in alternative media that should know better. You can be forgiven for thinking these words are interchangeable, because that’s how they’re generally used. Yet there’s an important distinction.

“Preemptive” describes a form of war that’s legal (whether it’s moral is another matter) in the context of international agreements and understandings like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1927), the United Nations Charter, and the Nuremberg Principles. The idea is simple: If you know you’re about to be attacked, you have a right to pre-empt the attack by striking first. There must be solid evidence of an immediate physical threat. The best-known (and most-debated) example of preemption is the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East. There are very serious questions about Israel’s justification for firing first (Egyptian moves at the time, among other things, may not have constituted a prelude to invasion). But at least in this historical case, it’s certain that both sides were on a war-footing, and that there was mutual hostile intent.

The case of the US vs. Iraq is vastly different. Even if Iraq had possessed WMDs and other offensive capabilities, it had given absolutely no evidence of using threatening force against the US at home or abroad. Iraq had actually been under periodic attack by US forces for years, and these attacks plus the murderous economic sanctions of the Clinton Era had rendered Iraq entirely vulnerable, i.e. in no position to threaten anyone. So no war that the US might launch against Iraq could rightly be labeled “preemptive.” No, the kind of war the US launched in 2003 is properly termed “preventive.” Which is just a polite way to say it lacks justification, that it is in fact what’s known as “aggressive war,” a term that further reduces to “criminal.”

Shades of Nuremberg. Which reminds me: I recently learned that US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals, hailed from the Southern Tier. Jackson actually was born in Warren County, PA, but he grew up and worked as an attorney in Jamestown, NY, which is now home to the Robert H. Jackson Center (www.roberthjackson.org). If you thought Lucille Ball was Jamestown’s only famous offspring, think again.

Think harder, though, about Jackson’s famous words at the Nazi trials. He hammered home the plain truth: “To initiate a war of aggression,” he said, “is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

So connect the dots. Following on Jackson, you can’t escape the conclusion that what US leaders have been doing since 2003, if not before, is no different purely in legal terms from what the Nazis did. And that the crimes US troops have committed - atrocities large and small in Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and many other places – may be horrendous, yet in the final analysis, they’re less serious than what George W. Bush and company have dictated.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:49 EDT
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