Friday, January 13, 2006

National and SoHo Perspectives January 13, 2006

Many of you are old enough to remember the Kennedy and Nixon years. Jack Anderson was alive and well and was a good follow-up act to Drew Pearson who seemed offer almost daily revelations about how the government had abused its powers in spying on protest groups or political rivals. Watergate was just one example. J. Edgar Hoover had obviously been busy prancing around in drag at home with his boyfriend, but back at the office everyone worth knowing had a file. Abby Hoffman, Martin Luther King, even Elvis had a personal dossier and was being overheard or watched. Hoffman was pursued, King was compromised about his affairs and eventually murdered, and Elvis got a special badge from Nixon. He even flew in to Washington one night to personally pick it up.
The latest revelation that the NSA has been tapping phone lines involving international calls originating in suspect countries like Afghanistan and being received in this country, is a tempest in a teapot. There are Civil Libertarians and there are pragmatists. Even ignoring the fact that we are engaged in a war, of nerves if not terror, who among us does not expect that we might want to know if someone calling from Afghanistan has something up their sleeve that could be interesting or dangerous. It's not a bizarre possibility. The fact hat someone who was up to no good would make a phone call to America with compromising information is actually a good sign. It attests to their stupidity.
With a secret court to approve wiretaps, how would we know if or when a request to tap our phones had even been requested? Even if Bush or his managers approved a wiretap, how would we know? It's like Alice through the looking glass trying to figure out if she can see everything. No way to know. Or, for the most part, why would we even want to know? Why would we care?

What we all really do know is this. Anyone who expects to be completely private in conversations on the phone, e-mails on the computer, or correspondence that is mailed, faxed or handed out to others -- is either doing drugs or needs psychiatric attention. Phone calls made on a cell phone or telephones (as most of us use) that operate off of a wireless base, are excluded from laws requiring wire taps anyway. Devices which operate on "radio frequencies" can be recovered with electronics without any court approval. E-mails as most of know are basically "out there" and can be retrieved in a number of ways, not to mention a simple subpoena issued to the service provider. Practically nothing you do on a computer is ever really private, even without a hacker working to get at you for personal information. The NSA scans billions of bits of data daily through various means to scan for words or particles of words that indicate the need for review.

Which brings us to this conclusion. The Democrats in Congress, including some Republicans like Arlen specter, are miffed about this for another reason. When Nixon and other former Presidents were operating like cowboys in conjunction with their friends at various Intelligence agencies, their prime targets then were not terrorists. And, the fear is that that fact is still true. The real targets that were most worrisome were political adversaries. The complaints by fringe groups, Yippies, black Panthers, Gray Panthers, SNCC and other protest groups that they were being wire-tapped and surveilled were routinely denied by government spokesman -- and most Americans believed the government. As it turned out, they clearly were being watched (as they should have been), but along with the dissidents who were capable of planting bombs and kidnapping people were political rivals and activists working within the system.

The concern is that there could be the possibility that a Democratic opponent (or a Republican dissident) to the existing party in control could qualify for wiretaps under the laws covering terrorism. It would seem much less likely, if the rules governing terrorism wiretaps were properly observed, that even a secret court would approve tapping, say, Hillary Clinton's phone. The possibility that protection against cowboy decisions made by underlings who provide the President with deniability is what upsets members of Congress. And, that is why it is important to find out whether the powers that be are allowing themselves (or their underlings) to go astray in their ability to listen in on everything we have to say.

The ceremony for swearing in Scott Stringer as Borough President was quite an affair. Held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past week, there was an overwhelming turnout at the Temple of Dendur. You can access his speech and some photos of the event. The importance of Stringer's election cannot be overemphasized when you consider the horrendous shape that a few of the Community Boards are in currently.

C. Virginia Fields, Stringer's predecessor, managed to interfere with in several of the previous Community Board elections and in her zealousness and in Community Board #2 managed to appoint bar owners as a reward for substantial campaign donations. She worked hard for the nightlife people right up to the bitter end. Even as a lame duck Borough President, another bar owner friend of the current Chair of Community Board #2 Maria Derr, was recently appointed to the Board. The plan of the nightlife people, which has come to fruition, has been to stack the Board with Bar/Restaurant owners and/or their sympathizers, many of whom are also members of the Chamber of Commerce --in an effort to thwart the will of community activists and residents concerned about quality of life issues. Despite the obvious conflict of interest which exists in several committees on Board #2, not the least of which is the Business Committee, the effort is well underway to relegate true Community-oriented members of the Board to ineffectiveness, without a voice or the ability to vote its interests.
Former Board members like Jo Hamilton, Honi Klein, Tobi Bergman and Ann Arlen have been discarded in favor of bar owners. Quality of life issues are clearly in danger. Community-oriented members of the Boards are in jeopardy. And, the interests of parents with young children are essentially relegated to obscurity. The fact that most parents with young children cannot attend evening meetings of the Community Boards is a glaring issue that has never been addressed. And, that includes many of the elected officials that represent Downtown. The exceptions to this are Alan Gerson, Jerry Nadler, Deborah Glick and Martin Connor. These political representatives have been especially considerate of the full spectrum of their constituency and highly receptive to community-oriented activists.

For those of you community activists on the Downtown political stage, be aware of the fact that the most recent method used in attempting to discredit criticism (especially if you are instrumental in thwarting unwanted businesses, developments or conflicts of interest) is to use the D word against your views -- Discrimination. All of you should be aware that when in doubt, the current political ploy has been to make accusations against political adversaries or opponents by attacking motivation based upon theories of equality. One becomes Un-PC. It's not that noisy bar you are against, it's the person running it that you are against. (This attack was used against activists/residents recently in the case of Besito at 357 West Broadway and Lola on Watts Street).
Criticism leveled against those who speak their mind based upon Sexual-orientation is so basically over as a serious issue Downtown (many Downtown politicians are openly Gay) that it hardly qualifies as a source of legitimate discrimination complaints any more. They persist, but only half-heartedly.
But gender, ethnicity, religion, race, age, nationality, or even hair color -- is currently being rummaged up out of the grab bag of complaints, however, in an effort to discredit Community activists and deflect them from the truth about what is said. This has become the new Nightlife policy and agenda and it has infected Community Board #2. Be aware of this last chance, last round-up type of attempt to discredit your voice.
Don't buy it and don't back off from a thinly disguised attempt to extort political advantage from this vengeful anger at not having complete control over your actions or words. Silence is not golden.

Councilmember Alan Gerson has reached out to us and asked that we make Downtown aware of his artistic commitment to the rebuilding effort at the World Trade Center site. Partly in response to an op-ed piece appearing in the Daily News seeking to argue for removal of the cultural prong to the World Trade Center site planning, his office has prepared a Cultural Imperative which can be found on the SoHo Journal website. It states the case that not only a Memorial and commercial development should proceed, but that a cultural component is vital to the regeneration of the Downtown Community. It is certainly essential to move forward on the Artistic element that Alan has championed so forcefully. Be sure to review it and contact his office to support him by contacting Paul Nagle, his influential aide in these matters.(

Finally, contrary to reports in The Villager, there are a number of candidates being considered for appointment to the Hudson River Park Trust that were not discussed several weeks ago in one of their articles. While Arthur Schwartz, attorney and Chair of the Community Board #2 Parks and Waterfront Committee, was mentioned as a candidate for this position which is appointed by the Borough President -- Scott Stringer's office seemed to be unaware of the fact that he was being considered.
In fact, we have learned that a number of key political insiders believe that Julie Nadel is front and center for reappointment and are hoping that one of the two additional slots may go to attorney/activist Larry Goldberg. The other may go to a yet undisclosed candidate. Madelaine Wils doe not appear to be up for reappointment.
Goldberg, of course, has experience as the Chair of the HRPT Advisory, is a member of Community Board #2, and is a driving force behind the Friends of LaGuardia. He is very knowledgeable regarding waterfront issues and has a good relationship with the Trust Board and executives. He's also a terrific lawyer and has helped SoHo regain some of the Bob Bolles sculpture due to his influential relationships with City agencies. We hope Larry gets the nod.

For those of you who follow the development of the Hudson River Park, you will be happy to know that the AIDS Monument committee has finally completed its design. Any of you who are interested in their work for a permanent symbol of those who died from that disease, you can contact them at:

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