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Saturday, 3 March 2007
It's your money - no, it's the Pentagon's
Topic: politics

The next time you’re challenging some politico or pundit to explain why we don’t have national health care, adequate public housing, decent mass transit, etc., etc., and he (it’s usually a he, in this context) tells you in a George Bushian exasperated tone, “We can’t afford it,” refer the schmuck to the War Resisters League.

Every year as people scurry toward April 15, the League puts out an informative two-page document that tells “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes.” My copy just arrived in the mail; you can get a copy via

WYITMRG puts the plain facts on the table, the kind of facts that even smooth political talkers can’t dispute – at least not without making even bigger asses of themselves.

The fiscal 2008 edition of WYITMRG says that out of total federal outlays of $2.347 trillion, with a “t,” fully $1.188 trillion will go for military purposes. (The figures do not include trust funds like Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately, i.e. not through income taxes. The War Resisters rightly charge the feds with “deception” for presenting a so-called “unified budget” that, by adding in the trust funds, makes the various programs of organized violence seem smaller than they are.)

The $1.188 trillion includes nearly half a trillion for the Pentagon, plus military-related outlays for the Department of Energy (nuclear weapons, @ $17 billion), the military side of NASA, the twelve-figure annual outlay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations; and a huge outlay for interest due on the portion of the national debt attributable to past wars.

Of course, the most burdensome costs of all this military spending are best measured in lost and shattered lives all over the planet. You could say the people of Iraq have been “taxed” to the tune of maybe a half million lives, just since Bush’s dirty little invasion of 2003. Meanwhile, Americans have “contributed” more than 3,000 men and women. Forget this week’s plunge in the Dow and NASDAQ – we need to fire the broker who gave us the “War on Terror,” surely one of the worst long-term investments ever.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:50 EST
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Thursday, 22 February 2007
Local yokels - and a man with a real plan
Topic: urban issues

Maggie Brooks is so shocked, shocked that she’s become a Shock Trooper, trampling the First Amendment as she storms the Central Library and threatens to cut off the latter’s county funding. And her small-town mentality – or political cynicism – has given us a nice likeness of Rudy Giuliani vs. the Brooklyn Museum.


What is Brooks’ beef? Goodness gracious, she says, library patrons are being allowed to access “adult” sites, and it’s possible that kids are looking over the pervs’ shoulders. Such are the obsessions of Church Ladies everywhere. They aren’t bothered about small things like attacks on free speech, and the last thing they’d do is consort with groups like American Library Association, which defends freedom of patron internet access. Of course, the ALA has also opposed Bushie designs to spy on library users, and that might give Brooks another incentive to pull a Giuliani. Is she positioning herself for a race for higher office?)


People like Brooks shoot first… but ask no questions later.


What we have here is not real concern for children and community “values,” but an attempt to impose a kind of cyber-apartheid. If Brooks gets her way, Central Library patrons, a large proportion of whom are low-income people with no other internet access, will see only the material their superiors deem safe; meanwhile, the well-heeled, including many Blue Nose Republicans whose money and power keep Brooks and her clones in business, can surf porn securely at home.


I hope this whole business will blow up in the county executive’s face. She’s had too long a honeymoon, almost an endless one, even though her policies are generally indistinguishable from those of her predecessor, Jack Doyle – i.e., retraction of services, maintenance of elite privilege, and a relentless war on the poor.


News of a more uplifting sort: I usually avoid commenting on anything in City Newspaper, though I love the work of my friend Tim Macaluso, the sole remaining staff writer there, and follow the work of George Grella and Frank DeBlase. (BTW, whatever happened to Krestia DeGeorge? Did the heavy hand of CityNews labor policies shove him down the front steps? Has anyone seen anything in the paper about his leaving? I haven’t. You’d think the publisher would at least acknowledge his contributions and wish him well.) But now Rochesterians should check out an article in the Feb. 21-27 issue by Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum, a man who’s definitely got smart things to say about the local economy.


In the article, the first of two on the subject, Greenbaum casts a skeptical eye on orthodoxies like promiscuous tax breaks, which never to seem to go away. And he looks hopefully toward alternative “path[s] to a better business climate,” including the policies that made Finland’s economy one of the healthiest in the world - several notches above the US, in fact.


But this issue of the paper has a dark side, too. After you read Greenbaum’s piece, turn to “The Mail” on page 2. There you’ll find a prime example of “alternative” hypocrisy and screwy thinking, in the form of an editor’s response to a letter about a recent ad. I’m not so interested in this particular ad debate, which centers on some odd, pseudo-edgy Toronto tourist pitches. What bugs me is how the editor, Mary Anna Towler, buttresses her defense with a discreditable theory about commercial speech that she’s trotted out at least once before. The first time around, she used it to justify her running a recruitment ad from the Ku Klux Klan. (Maybe some of you remember the firestorm that followed.) This time, she’s trying to justify running cigarette ads, regardless of how they contribute to disease and death.


Briefly, Towler bases her justification in “a commitment to freedom of speech” and claims the paper is “in the business of fostering communication, not suppressing it.” How noble. Or rather, noble-sounding.


And how wrong. Commercial speech doesn’t have full freedom. It’s rightly subject to all kinds of limitations (truth in advertising, etc.) that don’t apply to political, artistic and other forms of expression. Moreover, newspapers and magazines routinely turn down ads that fail to meet content guidelines. Compare CityNews’ own guidelines for “adult” material, which have apparently evolved over time but are nonetheless much more restrictive than those of the Village Voice and other alt weeklies – not to mention “mainstream” internet sources like craigslist.


So what’s the story? I can’t help thinking that with CityNews there’s still a lot less than meets the eye. And that Mary Anna Towler and Maggie Brooks have more than a little in common.



Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:29 EST
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 12:48 EST
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Tuesday, 20 February 2007
Where are the snows of yesterday? (Still on the unshoveled sidewalks.)

However we get around town these days, we should be happy that the Center for Disability Rights is getting tough on unshoveled sidewalks. CDR is a group of, by, and for people with disabilities, and CDR staff and members frequently attack any impediment to full citizenship, whether it’s a legal matter related to the ADA or a physical barrier like snow and ice on the most basic of transportation facilities.

I’ve addressed the sidewalk problem for years – most recently in a December 10, 2006 post, which see below. That post was concerned with the relatively early, and basically lightweight snowfall that effectively shut off access to many otherwise well-used sidewalks. (I gave a limited pat on the back to the Memorial Art Gallery for “cleaning up their act” after many missteps, but after observing recent MAG performance this time around, I take it all back. They continue to shortchange the public walks, even as they lavish labor and salt on the drives and walkways within the fence. And MAG’s parent organization, the UR, is still doing a bad job with some of the public walks under its purview along Mt. Hope Ave.)

Maybe now that CDR is making this a very public issue, things will change. The group recently got Mayor Bob Duffy and other City Hall officials out on manual wheelchairs to see how the other half lives. The officials were all impressed by how hard it was to negotiate even a well-maintained walk – the unshoveled walks were no-go areas entirely. Media coverage highlighted the risks disabled folks encounter almost daily when forced to ride their wheelchairs on busy streets. (Check out CDR’s narrative and photos at

Again, I have to say that this is not a trivial concern. Just as societies are judged by how they treat their vulnerable members, transportation systems (emphatically including pedestrian and wheelchair facilities) should be judged by how they serve the full range of users – and to what extent they insure mobility rights for all.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:16 EST
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Friday, 2 February 2007
Poetry, war, memory
Topic: poetry

Here's a poem of mine about violence, and about the generation before last, whose memory I've been trying to retrieve:


Aunt Mamie

Everything happened longer ago
than we think, back when births
were harder than deaths, and louder,
when nightlong labors squeezed
the cries of two still bound together
from the well of one body
while a midwife, exhausted
as by dreams of a nameless future,
clumped the wet bedclothes
like a basket of warm wash
and called for help.

And has anyone seen the doctor, the priest?
Someone has called them. There they stand
in beneficence, the last ones a woman can stomach,
the men who pronounce the release
blessed, who grip the railing
as they would a shoulder or flailing arm,
slow-marching down the stairs
as they toy with the key to a lost lock,
sinning so we are spared.
Mamie had twelve, then buried five
in a single week.
Diphtheria needs no
secret room, or curtains, or candles -
it dances without making the floorboards
creak, it's too, too kind a visitor.
But we can be every bit as polite:
Thank you, dear stranger, we say,
but don't stay past sundown;
we remember the times you crept
out at dawn, the many times
you woke this woman
to make her blind feeling way
down the hall and crack the door,
rest her head against the cool oak,
and stand listening till all memory
of the diseased work was done,
till the breathing
was choked off,
and the bill again presented.




Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:42 EST
Updated: Friday, 28 March 2008 12:02 EDT
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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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