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Friday, 26 January 2007
The war on downtowns
Topic: urban issues

Just got back from the final report to the community by participants in the Downtown Rochester design charrette. The whole process was great, and I was glad to take a small part in it.

I think many of the ideas that were floated - including the development of new residential tracts (with, hopefully, sufficient affordable housing to meet real folks’ needs and prevent ueber-gentrification), the addition of pedestrian-friendly features, and sensible recovery of badly used public spaces like the Inner Loop – will come to fruition, though it might take longer than most of us would like.

But that’s the rub. Though the charrette (see is undeniable evidence of how much local energy is available for reclaiming the area within and adjacent to the Inner Loop, the lack of state and national urban policy, and the funds to back up the latter, will keep holding us down. I hardly have to tell you why. The nation’s most notorious multi-trillion-dollar campaign is directed elsewhere – almost anywhere else, in fact, but America’s cities. We are all New Orleans now. Or in another sense, and to some small degree, Baghdad.

Not to trivialize what’s happening in Iraq. I just saw an AP report about US military servicemembers being kidnapped and shot to death January 20 by so-far-unidentified insurgents wearing American uniforms. This tragedy obviously has its elements of farce – I mean, so much for vaunted “security” arrangements at US installations, and for Iraqi military effectiveness. But there’s some irony, too. How many times have we heard about gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms as they committed some atrocity against soldiers or civilians? Of course, we’ve been expected to believe that these gunmen had stolen the uniforms for a disguise – instead of the more likely conclusion, that they wore Iraqi army uniforms precisely because they were in the Iraqi army.

So what do we think now? Was there some collusion that helped the men posing as US military to gain entry and seize their victims? And just as important, was there some skullduggery that kept the facts of the January 20 kidnapping and murder hidden from the American people till after the Commander-in-Chief gave his State of the Union? (Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s papers.) When we’re trying to sort out the lies, we need to start at the top, with the incumbent Great Prevaricator.

We should all stand for a moment of silence in solidarity with the peace marchers who'll be in Washington tomorrow. As I write this, a half dozen buses are preparing to leave from MCC. I wish all the freedom riders well - and I'd be with them if I weren't committed to the Northeast Organic Farming Association meeting in Syracuse this weekend. Which is a form of peacemaking, too, I guess.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:57 EST
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Sunday, 14 January 2007
Crap from Bush and enablers - but hope from Kucinich
Topic: politics

Sometimes you’ve got to be a Johnny One-Note. And so it is with the illegality of the Iraq War – and with demands that the US withdraw immediately.

As I’ve said here and elsewhere for many depressing months, the US invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral from Day One – indeed, even before that, since the mere threat of launching an aggressive war, when the threat is backed with the physical means to wage war, violates at least the spirit of international law. And when a nation actually launches an aggressive war, that nation becomes an international outlaw subject to appropriate countermeasures. (Don’t hold your breath; it’ll be a cold day in the globally-warmed future when “coalition forces” of some kind seize Washington, arrest the commander-in-chief and neutralize the weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal.)

But with very few exceptions, politicians and pundits and academics persist in framing the war question as a tactical and strategic matter only. Whether it’s George Bush and his absurd escalation, or the Congressional Democrats offering another path to “success” in Iraq, or media types across the spectrum editorializing about how to extricate our forces from a quagmire (big news: antiwar Senator Chuck Hagel, who’s way to the left of Hillary Clinton on this one, has dubbed it a “bog”), the acceptable range of options still is so pinched that the real issue – that an aggressor state must cease its aggression immediately and unconditionally – can’t squeak through to consciousness. Yet there it is, for all the world to see; and there’s no doubt that most of the world does have its eyes wide open.

So again to quote antiwar veteran and author Stan Goff: “Exit” isn’t a strategy, it’s an order. This country, though its military-industrial fingers have been almost perpetually crossed, has pledged to follow the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, etc. And none of these covenants allow us to keep doing what we’re doing.

Bush is now trying to confound the opposition by demanding that advocates of withdrawal come up with a “plan,” as if withdrawal isn’t more of a plan that his witless “staying the course.” And the Democrats - with party leaders like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, and with an agenda that makes them a sort of Junior Chamber of Commerce next door to the Republicans’ Fat Cats Club – will respond with gestures in the House and Senate as their poli-biological clock runs down to 2008.

You can already tell which way the wind and the hot air are blowing by the Dems’ silence on Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s newly announced run for president. How many will get on board with the one true antiwar candidate? Kucinich’s highly detailed withdrawal plan features a relatively quick pullout of US forces and contractors, a regional conference aimed at stabilizing Iraq, an infusion of UN-controlled peacekeepers, actual reparations to be paid by the US and UK, and guarantees of Iraqi sovereignty and control of the country’s oil wealth. (The plan, viewable at, has some nice touches of the kind you rarely see from Democratic high officeholders – like a clause about keeping the IMF and World Bank from dictating terms during the reconstruction.)

Let’s hope the past won’t dictate the political future here at home. In 2004, the party and its media enablers scrambled for John Kerry while giving Kucinich a kick in the teeth. Thus they, the supposed realists, set back the cause of peace a couple of years. Talk about a mind-boggle as well as a bog.





Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:48 EST
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Friday, 5 January 2007
Talking through his hat
Topic: politics

In his first address to the state legislature, new Governor Eliot Spitzer showed how much less than advertised he really is. Never mind the “reform” mantra – Spitzer is talking about baby steps that seem geared to preserving the status quo indefinitely.

The centerpiece of the governor's program is supposedly health care reform. He grandly spoke to the Leg about “a comprehensive strategy to restructure our health care system.” But the details show no movement toward that goal.

Instead, Spitzer would do things like these: enroll more eligible people in  Medicaid, extend coverage to a half million now-uninsured children, close twenty or so hospitals statewide, emphasize home care rather than institutionalization when appropriate, and use the state’s bargaining power to reduce drug costs. All okay, considering how bad things are for people now shut out of the system – but certainly nothing like a “restructuring.”

Any program worthy of that term would begin with a state single-payer insurance system, which would cover everyone immediately and comprehensively (and much more cheaply). Single-payer is a classic “elephant in the room.” But now we should rewrite the cliché as “donkey in the room,” since the task of ignoring the obvious solution has now fallen to the ascendant Democrats, both in Albany and Washington.

Intriguing footnote: Today’s Democrat and Chronicle has a story about the City of Rochester’s mistakenly paying out close to $200 grand in health insurance premiums for dead people. It’s tough, say city officials, to keep track of retirees and dependents and remove them from the rolls as they expire. Anyway, now that the errors have been found, the Blues/Excellus will reimburse City Hall for the premiums.

A happy ending? Not exactly. This sort of bureaucratic mess, which would be impossible under single-payer, is what happens every day in the labyrinthine world of health insurance, and we all pay for the waste, most of which is never detected – and most of which winds up in the paychecks and dividends of the profiteers, among whom are the million-dollar Blues execs.

Someday we may even have a governor who goes after these Blues-suited pirates. But for now all we’ve got is Eliot Spitzer and his “reforms.”


P.S. and partial retraction: Just after I posted the above, a message came from Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum pointing out a much more progressive feature of Spitzer's reform agenda. The message is below; call MJ at 325-2560 for more information.

"In his State of the State Address, Governor Spitzer told the people of New York that Clean Money Clean Elections is one of his main objectives this year.

To neutralize the army of special interests, we must disarm it.  In the coming weeks, we will submit a reform package to replace the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation with the strongest.

Our package will lower contribution limits dramatically, close the loopholes that allow special interests to circumvent these limits, and sharply reduce contributions from lobbyists and companies that do business with the state.

But reform will not be complete if we simply address the supply of contributions.  We must also address the demand.  Full public financing must be the ultimate goal of our reform effort.  By cutting off the demand for private money, we will cut off the special-interest influence that comes with it.


"Everybody who showed up at one of his campaign stops, sent an email, wrote a letter to the editor, signed a postcard, spoke to a community group, helped with our video- it ALL helped nudge Spitzer closer to taking this courageous stand.

"Now we need to tell our legislators to do the same!" – Jon Greenbaum


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:43 EST
Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007 12:14 EST
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Tuesday, 2 January 2007
New Year winces and wishes
Topic: politics

Planet Earth being what it is, no New Year can begin without a supreme offense to basic morality and contempt toward the actual historical record. And so it is with the death of Gerald Ford.

Yes, we should be as generous as possible to the dead. And so we all extend our sympathy to Ford’s family and friends, who must be feeling a deep loss. We also should concede that Ford was better than his immediate predecessors, and probably most of the presidential pack up to this day – and sure, he was a “nice guy” in the usual strained sense of the term, much as with the Chief Frat Boy who still manages to hold off his political day of reckoning.

But Ford, who’s sometimes credited with steering US foreign policy temporarily away from mass murder and indiscriminate destruction, really did have a lot of blood on his hands. It’s fun to read Alexander Cockburn’s view that the man from Grand Rapids (actually East Grand Rapids, a separate municipality that still is an island of privilege within a sorely stressed Rust Belt city) was our “greatest president,” but of course that’s because the competition is gutter level.

For a quick recap of Ford’s foreign policy career, check out Stephen Zunes’ fine piece posted on There you’ll read about Ford’s collusion with Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu, and other butchers and torturers - most grievously, Indonesia’s Suharto, who infamously got the “green light” from Ford and henchman Henry Kissinger to invade and occupy East Timor, an adventure that cost more than 200,000 innocent lives.

Henry the K is scheduled to eulogize Ford at the latter’s state funeral. Just goes to show you, old war criminals don’t die, or even fade away; they recline on the puffy clouds of high punditry and elder statesmanship.

Now, why doesn’t the nation hold a solemn funeral for the 3,000 American servicemembers killed in Iraq (the 3,000th was felled by an IED while Ford’s official mourning period began and Bush’s Iraq policy renovation crew was meeting in what must have been sober cluelessness) and then use this tip-of-the-iceberg statistical milestone as prelude to a commemoration of the half million Iraqi dead?

I don’t mean a commemoration with vain prayers, slow marches, and lying sacks of garbage at the lectern. I mean one that starts with getting the US the fuck out of Iraq.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:24 EST
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Saturday, 23 December 2006
Apartheid redux - and action plan
Topic: politics

Usually I’m not drawn to designer olive oil in small fancy bottles - and with large fancy prices. And I don’t much like the concept of a “Holy Land” (though the idea that all land/earth is sacred sounds pretty good).


But I’m making exceptions on both counts to push Holy Land Olive Oil, a high-end fair-trade product from farmer cooperatives in the still-occupied West Bank. Some proceeds from sales of this extra virgin, first cold press oil - made from hand-picked olives grown without pesticides and other such chemicals - are directly re-invested in Palestinian communities that have long struggled to maintain their orchards; and this re-investment is vital now, as the Palestinian economy suffers even greater stress than “normal.”


I’ve got an armful of 500 ml bottles of this fine oil in front of me right now; they make great stocking stuffers. You can buy Holy Land at Abundance Cooperative Market, 62 Marshall St., right off Monroe Ave. near the Inner Loop. (Disclosure, if one is necessary: I serve on the Abundance board of directors.)  And you can learn more about the product at


You can also get a taste of the conditions under which such oil is produced by following the work of the Christian Peacemaker Team in the West Bank city of Hebron (, where a small group of extremist “settlers” seek to dominate and dispossess a large Palestinian population - often with tacit or overt support from Israeli troops on hand. (Check out relevant reports from Israeli human rights groups like B’tselem, Below is a recent CPT report from the trenches:


CPT monitors olive harvesting

6 November 2006
By Abigail Ozanne

The olive harvest in Al Khalil (Hebron) began 26 October, following the end of Ramadan. During the harvest, Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members have observed trends in the reactions of Israeli forces and settlers to Palestinians harvesting olives. In several cases, Israeli authorities have allowed Palestinians to pick olives if they have a permit and have protected them from Israeli settlers. Sometimes, at the land close to the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, Israeli forces have not allowed internationals to pick with the Palestinians and have required the Palestinians to get permission from the Israeli District Command Officer (DCO).

On 26 October, a Palestinian who lives directly below the settlement enclave of Tel Rumeida, received a permit to harvest his olives. At the family's request, about a dozen internationals and Israeli human rights workers arrived to help with the picking, while local press observed. The group had to cut razor wire in order to clear the path to the olive trees. Soon after the group began picking olives, Israeli settlers entered the grove and others watched from settler mobile homes.

One settler woman holding a baby began yelling at the Palestinian owner, "You are all terrorists! You want to kill the Jews! You killed my father!" He replied, "No, I'm not a terrorist. I haven't killed any Jews, and my family protected Jews during the massacre of 1929." Then the woman claimed the olive trees belonged to her and shouted at him, "If you want to pick olives, go to Tel Aviv to pick olives!" She kicked one of the olive pickers, causing him to lose his balance and fall. Another settler hit a Palestinian nonviolent activist in the face, injuring him slightly. The young man did not retaliate.

Later, the Israeli police came. They said that the Palestinians could pick olives but the internationals could not help and only journalists and Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) members could observe. When picking resumed, Israeli soldiers and police stood nearby and the settlers watched from a distance.

On Friday 27 October, CPTers and internationals joined another Palestinian family picking olives on their land. After the group had been picking for several hours, a settler boy came down from the settlement caravans and threw a stone at the olive pickers. Israeli military units-after determining that the family had a permit-monitored for the rest of the day. Every time settlers threw stones or tried to approach too close, the officers chased them away.

On 26 June 2006, the High Court of Justice in Israel ruled that Palestinians have the right to enter and work their land, and the military commander is obligated to protect this right. In five cases where CPTers witnessed families harvesting their olives, Israeli authorities prevented setters from interfering with the harvest. In four of those cases, the family had to show their permit to pick the olives on their own land.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 08:59 EST
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