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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Molly Bingham's Iraq 

Richard Cranium writes in the All Spin Zone about photojournalist Molly Bingham, who’s brilliant photos take us into places many reporters would rather avoid.

She’s covered the war in Iraq with courage and a willingness to find the real story. Both Richard's post about reportage from Iraq and Bingham’s writing and photos about the war deserve a closer look.

The Freedom Tower 

Ron Rosenbaum writes this week in the New York Observer about the moment New Yorkers have to reassess the proposed Freedom Tower. Security concerns have stopped current design plans and Rosenbaum thinks this is the last moment when the project itself could be scrapped. Rosenbaum points out that the proposed office tower has seemingly supplanted the memorial as tribute to the WTC buildings themselves, as opposed to a tribute to the dead.

Personally, I’m not sure what I think about the Freedom Tower anymore. The tower’s architect moved us when he discussed the ideas he based his design on. Daniel Liebeskind’s thoughts, honoring the US Constitution and the personal freedoms the United States enshrines in the document, seemed to be prodding us to live up to our promise with the building he designed. The original Freedom Tower design itself was inspiring; it looked wounded, but proud.

On the other hand, lofty statements are small comfort to the families of future casualties of an attractive target, who might suffer for having a loved one working in a building that sends the defiant statement that, “We can rebuild, taller, whatever you blow up.” The idealism of Liebeskind’s original design was since changed to be more accommodating to the developer and his priority; including more office space. It seems now as much a tribute to the business of business as to those who perished. Should it go up and will wise people want to work in it? I don’t know. I moved my business downtown after September 11 and I think about whether it was wise, but I'm not leaving because of those doubts.

On the other hand, in New York, we have a target on our back anyway, so something should happen soon down at Ground Zero and it ought to both honor the dead and begin to put downtown back together. The memorial, at least, should go ahead rapidly. The transit center needs to go ahead, the faster, the better. The void left by keeping a huge hole in the ground does nothing for New Yorkers or for those who perished and their families. Perhaps something less grandiose than the tallest tower possible would be a better center for a community rebuilding itself at Manhattan's base. Whatever happens, it shouldn’t be about Governor Pataki's potential run for the Presidency or developer Silverstein's profit margin. We all have a huge stake in the future of Lower Manhattan.

UPDATE: If you were wondering whether there will be any reassessment of the Freedom Tower, wonder no longer.

John Cahill, Pataki’s chief aide and new Ground Zero Czar, made it clear on Sunday Edition with Marcia Kramer that he’s ramming the Freedom Tower forward essentially as is. Cahill said its construction is about “the whole nation.”

Conveniently, no one mentioned Cahill’s boss possibly running for President, with renderings of the Freedom Tower as a backdrop for his patriotic commercials. Nor were there any questions about what's in the best interests of building a 24/7 community downtown.

God's Cocker Spaniel? 

'God's Rottweiller' has appointed a cocker spaniel to succeed him at the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Out with the old boss in with the new boss. More opposition to gay rights, women's rights, and more sweeping abuse by priests under the carpet— now with an improved, more friendly appearance.

Why, exactly, does the Catholic Church need an office dedicated to being an enforcer of doctrine, no matter what level of smooth diplomacy a new hardliner might bring as a spin doctor?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Then and Now 

“…Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things.”

- from a 1954 letter President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to his brother Edgar

While we can assume that Ike would trim his sails to fit the current Republican tide, it is interesting to wonder how we got to a point in history from there when a President feels that much of what Eisenhower thought back then was so, er, antique…

In the same vein, Paul Krugman's column today is also very much then and now— with respect to the difference in today’s sense of responsibility (or lack thereof) of employers and government towards the working person vs. the America of yore.

“…a reminder of how far we have come from the days when hard-working Americans could count on a reasonable degree of economic security.

In 1968, when General Motors was a widely emulated icon of American business, many of its workers were lifetime employees. On average, they earned about $29,000 a year in today's dollars, a solidly middle-class income at the time. They also had generous health and retirement benefits.

Since then, America has grown much richer, but American workers have become far less secure.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.”

Welcome to the ownership society.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Don't Look— 

Apparently, in the Sudan, it’s a crime to photograph a crime.

There’s no Valentine waiting for anyone coming to the country to report on or photograph the genocide in Darfur, in the country’s south.


The Hartford Courant reports today that:

“A Hartford Courant photographer working on a free-lance assignment in Sudan has been released by government authorities after being held in the country since April 26.

Brad Clift, who had been photographing refugees in the war-torn region of Darfur, reached the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Tuesday and was expected to fly out of the country by mid-week. Clift had been detained in the Darfur town of Nyala awaiting charges that he was taking pictures in Darfur without the proper travel and photography permits.”


One hopes we’ll hear more from Brad Clift when he returns to the US. He was courageous to travel there. People in Darfur pray that he’ll keep the faith and speak out after his return to the US.

Maybe his government will be forced to listen.

A Firefighter Speaks Out 

Chief Peter Hayden of the Fire Department of New York did more to point out holes in New York’s (and the US’s) anti-terror efforts in one hearing this week than a lot of more high profile Homeland Security figures have in the last several years. For his efforts, he’ll probably become an isolated figure at the FDNY, or be forced out.

Hayden was the only person to openly question a new Disaster Plan adopted by the City of New York, one that puts the NYPD in charge of any hazardous materials situation (over the objections of the FDNY), whether a patrol officer or the Commissioner of Police is their representative on the scene.

Chief Hayden spoke out at a City Council hearing on the plan, pointing out a tendency that seems to be at the root of most anti-terror effort failures in this country. “Instead of seeking to control each other, agencies must learn how to work together to command these incidents,” Hayden said.

“There is a human behavior element here, where people don’t want to share information because information is viewed as power,” he said. “We see it at every level of government. The CIA does not tell the FBI. The FBI does not tell the NYPD. The NYPD does not tell the FDNY. This is human behavior.”

Hayden’s point strikes at the heart of what needs to happen in order to fight terror effectively. The effort shouldn’t be about creating yet more agencies and powers, as the Bush administration has done. It shouldn’t be about branding every regime we dislike as ‘evildoers’ and invading their countries, overextending our military in the process. It should be about sharing information in order to protect civilian lives and in order to find terror plots out before they happen.

The FBI knew, at a grassroots level, that there was an attempt to learn to fly airplanes without landing them, before September 11, 2001. The government knew there were Al Queda plotters in the US. The CIA knew Al Queda planned to attack the US domestically. The President was briefed on attack plans centered on lower Manhattan, among other places. What was lacking was an ability to share information already known.

Chief Hayden ought to be congratulated for stating the obvious, when so many are looking only to insulate their turf. For more about his testimony, go to 'Tug of War' with Bob Hennelly on the Brian Lehrer Show and to Michelle O'Donnell and Mike McIntyre at the Times.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Perfect Solution 

Paul Krugman’s latest is worth a read; it’s a good wrap-up of the insulting logic of Bush’s Social Security debacle so far, capped by the latest proposal:

“…to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.”

Sunday, May 08, 2005

On the Other Hand... 

After reading this at Paperwight's Fair Shot, I wonder if maybe I'm being a little too tough on the Pope.

'Good' Catholics Should Pray Quietly and Stay in Line? 

An office run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, known now as Pope Benedict XVI, recently showed his power to censor and shut down debate in March, just before the enforcer Cardinal went into campaign mode to succeed Pope John Paul II.

The voice he silenced was that of Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ. Reese used to be the editor of a publication called America, a journal of Catholic thinking published in New York. America is a moderate-to-liberal Catholic publication, one that touched issues that the more right wing Church hierarchy would rather leave alone. Recent America articles featured competing viewpoints on gay rights, dialogue with Islam, punishing legislators who advocate abortion rights, and other hot-button issues. America wouldn’t take a side on these issues, leaving it to readers to see the various arguments in the magazine and decide for themselves.

Apparently, leaving an open door to competing theories was too much for Cardinal Ratzinger and the censors at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an organization he headed. The Congregation, an office Ratzinger was appointed to by Pope John Paul as an enforcer of Church theological conservatism, found Father Reese to be out of theological line, for reasons that were not publicly disclosed when it forced his resignation as editor.

Laurie Goodstein, in Saturday’s NY Times, wrote about the silencing of this well-known Jesuit and the new Pope’s potential preference for removing critics. Today’s Times carries another piece, by Larry Rohter, on the struggle to bring Catholic theology under Rome’s central authority, this time involving both the US and Latin America, where half the world’s Catholics dwell.

In the context of a larger piece on Latin America’s theological divides, Rohter writes about Rev. Gustavo Gutierrrez. Gutierrez is a Peruvian priest who’s seminal advocacy for and leadership of the liberation theology movement has forced his writing and teaching to be done away from his flock (and superiors), largely from the ivory towers of Notre Dame University. Gutierrez recently became a member of the Dominican order, giving up his status under the Peruvian hierarchy in an effort to insulate himself from Church reprisals against his theology of a “preferential option for the poor.”

The signs are in the air that no longer will it be sufficient for critics of the hierarchy to respect Church authority under the new Pope. Now, perhaps the right to merely disagree is too much freedom for an insecure ideological leader to allow beneath him.

This writer’s experience in Central America makes it impossible to see such a development without thinking of the millions of poor who worship in the Church while toiling in the elites’ fields there. Poor Catholics, and the theologians who minister to them, are now being asked to consider their religion separately from their moral understanding of a world where they are kept in poverty, focused solely on a more private, censuring morality, focused on private behavior, not public courage. Whether Pope Benedict can lead for long in this direction without walking alone remains to be seen.

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