Daily Archives: July 24, 2004

Fortress America

The Republicans, whose paranoia is reaching epidemic proportions, have already shut down Washington.

[I]n the past, Washington had remained completely open through four presidential assassinations, eight attempts on the lives of presidents, a Civil War that raged only miles away and two world wars. But now, it is closed. All because of 19 men, armed with box cutters, who were able to enter the country only because of incompetent immigration officials. To continue to close off the nation’s capital to the very people to whom it belongs seems both unwarranted and misguided, say a growing number of critics. The need for common-sense vigilance, they say, has now slipped into ugly paranoia.The grassy area in front of the south lawn of the White House, known as the Ellipse, was once a favorite place for Sunday touch football games played by Georgetown University students, and a choice photo spot for tourists. Today, it is now largely a part of the White House’s security zone, which the Secret Service calls “the box.” Legally, the Secret Service has virtually unlimited discretion to do what it feels necessary to protect a president, and there is talk of expanding the security zone around the White House to include Lafayette Park, which faces the north side of the White House and has been a place of giddy protest for generations.

The section of Pennsylvania Avenue fronting the White House is already closed, and the north lawn of the mansion can now be seen only through a 6- foot chain-link fence. Just a few hundred yards from the White House, across Constitution Avenue, the Washington Monument is encircled by an ugly 10-foot gray wall. Officials say it’s only temporary and will be taken down once a more permanent and less intrusive earthen wall is constructed.

Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the extensive redevelopment of the Capitol grounds. It was once a splendid bucolic setting of century-old oak trees and slopes of Bermuda grass, where this writer once enjoyed reading the Sunday papers on a picnic blanket, and where friendly passing National Park Police would look the other way if they spotted an open beer bottle — an offense in Washington. Today, the grounds are being torn up to make way for a new underground visitor’s center, which will include sweeping new security measures. The outer perimeter near the surrounding streets have been lined with a series of concrete barriers.

Closer in, a wooden wall and chain-link fencing have been thrown up around the Capitol itself, preventing walkers or joggers from stepping onto the grounds except at the main entrances.

The overall effect suggests that security planners want to transform the Capitol (known historically as “the people’s house”) into an enclosed facility like a military base with specific points of entry, where only people with the right papers, or with appointments, will be permitted to pass unsightly security huts.

“Trying to have an open city is hard,” Washington Mayor Tony Williams said recently. “But our city is a working symbol of democracy. We could make it really a lot safer by putting Jersey barriers around everything, but then we wouldn’t have much of a city to protect.”

That’s the idea, apparently, because they’re going to do the same thing in NY for the Pub Convention: shut it down and turn the Convention Center (MSG) into one of their patented ‘bubbles’–protected, restricted, heavily re-inforced and guarded areas where Junior doesn’t have to even see an actual, in-the-flesh voter at close range.

New York once again looks like a threatening, alien land and the party of the President whose greatest claim to fame is that he’s made Americans “safer” is about to treat the city as if it were Baghdad.The free-speech limiting, life-disrupting, artificial-reality-inducing security “bubbles” that empty the globe’s central cities as George Bush and Dick Cheney travel through them, are already well known. From August 30 through September 2, when the Republican National Convention invades New York, the GOP wants to see the same – a Manhattan emptied of life and the entire event “bubble-ized.” The estimated 48,000 people who will attend the Convention including 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternate delegates, their hotels, their outings, their travels around the city, the massive media presence (sequestered away in the Farley Post Office Building, connected to MSG via an enclosed, climate-controlled pedestrian bridge to be built across Eighth Avenue); along with the RNC’s convention headquarters at Madison Square Garden will all be locked inside that bubble — and kept from the sight of the feared hundreds of thousands of citizens heading for the Garden to tell the President he’s “not welcome.”

To contain protesters and “protect” GOP’ers and fellow travelers, New York City is engaging in some of the same sorts of permit games that typified the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago. For example, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has, with a helping hand from the city’s parks department, thwarted efforts of the national coalition, United for Peace and Justice, to secure a permit for a march ending in a large-scale demonstration in Central Park. Officials have cited fears that the park’s grass, home in the past to large demonstrations and huge concerts, would take a beating. Just recently, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly decreed that the Park would be off-limits, as would Times Square. Instead, UFPJ was told it could utilize the sure-to-be-sweltering, distant West Side Highway.

We can’t have a demonstration in Central Park because it might hurt the grass??!! Does Bloomberg think the whole damn country is going to show up to protest this president? Or even the whole damn city? Ten million people in Central Park would certainly do a number on the vegetation. But a glance at the planning for this event suggests that it isn’t the grass that worries Mike Bloomberg (not the famous crazy rock guitarist, btw; that was Mike Bloomfield, although they share a certain similarity of outlook–it’s called ‘paranoia’).

Bloomberg and his associates clearly hoped that a lot of tough talk, terrorist alerts, and traditional New York City Police Department tactics — interlocking metal barriers (if not closed pens), horses, street closures, misinformation (telling protesters they can’t enter a certain area or sending them on wild odysseys to non-existent protest entry-points), and a conspicuous show of uniformed and riot-gear clad force– would contain protestors inside a police-imposed bubble, if not simply scare them off. The NYPD is, of course, a massive army unto itself; a force of about 40,000, approximately 6,500 of whom are slated to “patrol the Garden, hotels, bridges and tunnels, protest sites and points of interest for delegates” while another 5,500 have been assigned to patrol the subway system, commuter trains and the railroad and bus stations. Roughly one-third of the department, armed with handguns, batons, and tear gas canisters — and some, apparently inside a new state-of-the-art SWAT vehicle — are to be deployed in support of the convention.Back in February, this was considered more than enough manpower for whatever was coming and tough-talking NYPD spokesman Paul Browne simply stated that the city’s police did “not anticipate the need for federal troops” to augment their forces. Since then, however, fears of the size of the coming protest — given growing dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and possible uncontrolled, autonomous protest actions across all five boroughs — led New York officials to take another tack. Raymond Kelly, the city’s pistol-packing Police Commissioner (he carries a .38 in an ankle holster), soon flip-flopped on his department’s position, noting, “If people want to give us help, we’ll take it.”

With the chief moving in reverse, and fearing the NYPD might be outnumbered and overwhelmed, New York governor George Pataki made the call to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge requesting federal assistance and, on July 9th, Ridge (with Pataki, Bloomberg, and former mayor Rudy Giuliani in tow) announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be designating the Republican National Convention in New York (like the DNC in Boston, which is undergoing its own lockdown) a “National Special Security Event.” With the invocation of that status the NYPD was relegated to a backseat role, while the United States Secret Service became the “lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.”

By the end of August, at least portions of the Big Apple will be under the control of the Feds….

A president who needs the National Guard and all 48,000 member of the NYPD to protect him from his own citizens, to paraphrase Tony Williams (not the jazz drummer; different guy), can’t be much of a president. Island Dave wrote in a recent post:

Unfortunately, the GOP, and Rove for sure, are far from finished in this political fight.Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Well, Dave, you’re seeing some of Rove’s planning in NY. Turning NYC into an armed camp has two terrific advantages for Karl:

1) He has near-total control of everything we will see on television and most of what we will read in the papers. The protestors will be on the West Side Highway, for chrissake, and the convention will be well inside the tightly-controlled bubble around MSG. It’s a control-freak’s dream come true.

2) The very setting sells the Admin’s main theme: fear. All those troops and Humvees and armed guards on the streets of our largest city to protect the ‘war-time’ president from imaginary cadres of evil terrorists who would do anything to stop the Only Man in the World who is their sworn Nemesis, and never mind the little fact that Bush has proven to be OSB’s best recruiter and has done so much to bring about the conditions he thought were necessary for a successful jihad that he might well think of Junior as his most loyal subject.

Look at the military base the paranoid radcons are turning Washington into; look at the armed and garrisoned fortress-bubble they’re turning NYC into. That’s their vision for America: Guns. Screw the butter.

Update: A commenter named Grant claims he lives in DC and the Chronicle article is a tissue of lies. His ‘evidence’ for this charge is anecdotal and as an ideologue who claims to be ‘non-ideological’, he doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility to start with. However, since he not only left the link for his blog, Properwinston (I have no idea what the title means) in comments but emailed it to me, he wants to make sure he has his say. I’m not convinced, but you can read it here and make up your own minds.