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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, May 14, 2007

 

How Rudy Cleaned Up NYC

"While the city had a safety plan for workers, it never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators.
At the same time, the administration warned companies working on the pile (the remains of the Twin Towers) that they would face penalties or be fired if work slowed... officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers."
-From the New York Times, Ground Zero Illnesses Clouding Giuliani’s Legacy by Anthony DePalma

It seems that people forget that right before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Rudy Giuliani's approval rating among his constituents was somewhere in the neighborhood of George W. Bush's today. Politically speaking, 911 was a popularity windfall for "America's Mayor", whose stock rose across the nation.

In 2000, when Hillary Clinton was running to become the Junior Senator from New York state, her Republican competitor was none other than Rudy Giuliani himself. At the beginning of the campaign, it looked as if Rudy was the only Republican who could possibly beat the incumbent First Lady, but then Rudy began to show his true colors.

Rudy became New York city's dictator, ruling the city as a medieval king might rule his kingdom. He ignored advice from advisors, surrounded himself with "yes-men" and began to do as he pleased, rather than govern competently. (Does any of this sound familiar, GW?)

It was then that Rudy decided to divorce his wife, the mother of his two children, former New York TV newswoman Donna Hanover. You see, America's mayor wanted to be with his girlfriend. (in the old days, we would have called Judith Nathan, now Judith Giuliani, his "mistress".) In the process, Rudy forgot to tell his wife of his unhappiness and decided to inform the whole of America via a newscast that he was getting divorced. His wife found out as we all did, on the ten o'clock news.

At the same time Rudy was cleaning up New York, forcing strip bars in many of the city's "more desirable" areas to close, he was playing doctor with Ms. Nathan, a registered nurse. Some of my friends even joked that, as the strip bars closed, "Rudy still got his."

 

(Oh, and for all of you who point to Rudy's cleaning up NYC, I'd like to remind them all that it was the Clinton Crime Bill which put 100,000 new cops on the streets of America. It's a bill that has been rescinded by the Bush administration.)

Giuliani's popularity was so low that Ms. Clinton's election was a shoo-in. It was then that Rudy was informed that he had prostate cancer. That was the opening which he was looking for. Rudy cited his illness as the reason that he would drop out of the race for the US Senate. Funny how he didn't retire from the mayor's office as well, isn't it? One would think that running the world's most complicated city, with the most crowded Island in the world on any given weekday (Manhattan) would be harder to do than run for an open Senate seat.

But as he was finishing the job in NYC, Rudy was making sure that downtown New York would be open again to all who wanted to venture into it. This was going to happen even if it wasn't safe for workers to work there or residents to live there. By the way, I work down in that area anywhere from two to five days per week (cough! cough!). Good thing he had the Bush administration and EPA head Christie Whitman, the former New Jersey Governor, to act in complicity and tell us all that it was safe to work and live there again.

“The city ran a generally slipshod, haphazard, uncoordinated, unfocused response to environmental concerns,”
-David Newman, an industrial hygienist with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health

No, Mr. Newman, Rudy ran the city the way he would run the country, and that should scare us all.

Those construction workers and New York City's Firemen and other city workers who worked at ground zero were at risk. Approximately seven thousand of the ten thousand recovery workers at, what has been termed, "the pit" have been treated for breathing problems while two-thousand firemen, nicknamed New York's Bravest, have been treated for serious respiratory illnesses. This on top of the 343 firefighters who died at the scene on September 11, 2001. Remember that prior to that date, and as early as 1993, it was recommended that NYC firefighters and police use the same radios and radio frequencies for cross-communication. Had Giuliani's mayor's office taken care of this, there would have been less FDNY members who would have died that day.

And in true Bush-like fashion, City officials are stating that those who are now suffering decided not to wear protective gear, by choice. Even if true, one might have thought that had the city insisted, the firefighters would have had no choice but to acquiesce.

“I would describe it as a conspiracy of purpose. It wasn’t people running around saying, ‘Don’t do this safely.’ But there was a unified attempt to do everything as fast as possible, to get everything up and running as fast as possible. Anything in the way of that just tended to be ignored.”
-Suzanne Mattei, director of the New York office of the Sierra Club

Just what would a President Giuliani do in the name of "expedience", one wonders? In fact, getting the financial district, where the twin towers were located, up and running again was "job one" for America's mayor, regardless of the health and well being of those who are put in harm's way.

You have to wonder why Rudy rushed to get the are cleaned up so fast in spite of his own health department's analysis that the air was full of asbestos. I think it comes down to dollars and cents. after all, had the Giuliani administration been diligent and careful for their workers' lives, some of the financial institutions might have moved out of the city. So Rudy had to weigh lives against dollars, and, in that case, dollars will always win.

In a memo to Deputy Mayor Robert M. Harding from a Giuliani assistant, the city was worried, in fact, about law suits “including toxic tort cases that might arise in the next few decades.” This is the probable reason that Mayor Giuliani asked New York's US Congressional delegation to attempt at passing a bill in Congress to limit all liability cases stemming from the aftermath of 911 to $350 million.

And did Rudy care? It doesn't appear that way.

“I don’t think I ever saw the mayor at a 9/11 hearing on health,”
-Rep. Jerry Nadler (DEMOCRAT-NY)

I'd like Rudy to answer a few questions, not the least of which is "Why?" Was it, in fact, only for monetary reasons that workers were allowed to risk their lives in "the pit"? Maybe he has a different answer. In any even, I certainly hope the Republican faithful who are going to vote in the 2008 primary have their answers ahead of time. After all, they don't want to be swayed by "catapulted propaganda", do they?


-Noah Greenberg



Surging Forward

"The Pentagon has notified more than 35,000 soldiers and Marines to be prepared to deploy to Iraq beginning this fall, a move that would allow commanders to maintain the ongoing buildup of troops through the end of the year if needed. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday the deployment orders, which have been signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, do not mean that the military has made a decision to keep the increased level of 20 brigades in Iraq through December.”

-submitted with a grimace by Victoria Brownworth



THE WAR ON TERROR COMES TO PHILLY
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007, Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.


Are there terrorists in Philadelphia?

I’m not talking about the numerous gang leaders and other thugs roaming our city’s streets with illegal guns. I’m referring to the arrest of six alleged terrorists in the Bustleton section of the city and the Cherry Hill suburbs. The six were part of a group of 12 men who were allegedly plotting a series of terrorist attacks, including one on nearby Fort Dix where they intended, according to tape-recorded conversations, to blow up and shoot as many soldiers as possible in a quest to achieve their own private jihad.

The men involved–three brothers, the brother-in-law of the three brothers and several of their close friends–were, like Timothy McVeigh, America’s most murderous homegrown terrorist, just “regular guys,” according to all who knew them. Each had a blue-collar job, none had a police record. Like the men involved in the July7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London, these were men who had no reason to be proclaiming jihad against their neighbors.

And yet, according to the 30-page indictment against them, that’s exactly what they had planned.

The men–all Muslim and half in the country illegally–have been being watched by the FBI since January 2006, when their actions first came to light after a Circuit City employee in the Northeast alerted the FBI when the group dropped off a video to have copied onto DVDs. The video showed ten men (the six indicted among them) firing assault weapons, in a frenzy, calling for jihad and yelling in unison “God is great” in Arabic. The indictments presented on May 7th indicate that the video was of the group’s training for their alleged jihad. The trainings took place outside tiny Gouldsboro, in the Poconos. The group’s plans included attacks on Fort Dix, as well as Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the U.S. Coast Guard Building in Philadelphia.

None of the attacks was carried out, but six of the ten co-conspirators were arrested on May 7th when they attempted to buy assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades from undercover FBI agents.

The facts presented thus far in the case are disturbing: a group of seemingly average men, all having lived in the U.S. for the majority of their lives (even though three of them were here illegally), suddenly engaging in plotting terrorist acts.

The six were denied bail on May 11th at a hearing at the federal courthouse in Camden. The FBI said they did not have enough evidence to indict the other four members of the group, but were continuing to “watch them.” The six are in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia.

The arrests came as a result of continued surveillance of the men since the appearance of the video in January 2006. Two more men infiltrated the group–paid FBI informants, both Egyptians. (The six indicted were Albanian, Jordanian and Turkish.) The informants tape- recorded conversations over the past 16 months. The conversations and the weapons-buying led to the arrests and indictments. Only one of the six opposed his detention–the alleged leader of the group, Jordanian-born Mohammed Schnewer, 22.

Charged are Dritan Duka, 28, Shain Duka, 26 and Eljvir Duka, 23. The three brothers live in Cherry Hill and have been living illegally in the U.S. for more than a decade. The other two indicted are Serdar Tatar, 23, a Turkish-born resident of Philadelphia and Agron Abdullahu, 24, brother-in-law of the Dukas. The Dukas and Abdullahu are native Albanians from Yugoslavia.

All but Abdullahu are charged with conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers and face life in prison if convicted. Abdullahu is charged with aiding and abetting illegal possession of firearms and faces 10 years in prison. Abdullahu’s wife is five months pregnant with the couple’s first child.

The case of the Fort Dix six raises numerous questions about the so-called war on terror.

The affidavits are pretty damning; the six were clearly very interested in doing what they discussed–killing as many U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix as possible. Schnewer, the group’s leader, had access to Fort Dix and made deliveries there regularly.

But how large a role did the FBI play in the case? Until the Circuit City employee contacted the FBI, the ten guys playing jihad in the Poconos were still just playing, albeit with assault weapons. (But as Philadelphians know all-too-well, such weapons are not illegal in Pennsylvania.) Now five of the men may go to prison for life and another for a decade while the other four–still unnamed by the FBI–remain on a watch list.

The case poses troubling questions, but the local media has focused only on the usual questions: details of the plot and the human interest elements.

That human interest reporting has been fairly provocative. Local news reporters have yet to find a single relative, friend or neighbor who is not absolutely stunned by the arrests. Their shock is obvious and genuine, and in the case of Abdullahu’s wife and Schnewer’s father, heart-breaking.

This is *not* the story of the London bombers. Those men were angry and vengeful and according to many sources, had fallen under the spell of local clerics fomenting jihad. They were known to be both in trouble and trouble-makers. The Fort Dix six somehow managed to keep their alleged plots utterly secret from all who knew them.

So how did they go from playing at jihad to formalizing a plan and buying weapons? That’s the troubling part of the case.

Most people have already tried and convicted the six, and understandably so. Presumption of innocence has gone out the window since 9/11. Americans no longer take threats against our own quietly.

But what exactly did these guys do? The tape in and of itself is free speech. Like it or not-- and I don’t like it–it’s still no different from the white supremacist groups touting their desire to kill all the immigrants, which I also loathe. Unsavory, despicable and racist, but still covered by the same First Amendment that allows me to speak out against the President and his murderous policies in Iraq. Free speech is for everyone in America, not just the people we like.

Thus, it was not until these men bought their weapons with the intent to attack that an actual crime took place. And that was 16 months in the making.

It seems clear that these young men, for whatever reason, did in fact want to do major damage. But until the FBI informants led them down that path–while being paid to do so–was it ever more than just talk?

The six had access to guns all along. And Schnewer had access to Fort Dix. And there are venues all over Philadelphia that are readily accessed if one wanted to inflict major damage to a symbol of American government.

But none of that happened. Why not?

From the tape-recordings, it appears that the group had the intense desire, but not the direction. No one seemed to know exactly how to go about carrying out a terrorist attack. They watched the Islamist videos. They made their own video. But when it came down to performance, they are heard asking the paid Egyptian FBI informants how to pull off their own plan.

A few weeks ago, I was joking with some of my students that I know better than to own a gun because if I had one, I would use it.

Now, I doubt I actually *would* ever use a gun on another person, but I do believe that when guns are available and anger is involved, it’s easy to answer one’s rage with a bullet. We see it every day in Philadelphia.

Isn’t possible that these men had some simmering anger about the war on Iraq or the way the Bush Administration has treated the global Muslim community, and were acting out their rage the way teenaged boys do playing Grand Theft Auto? Isn’t it possible that until the informants with a script came into the group, they were all talk and no action? Isn’t it possible that this was the terrorist version of NBC’s *To Catch a Predator*–a sting operation that turned wannabees into gonnabees?
I’m not excusing these guys. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about the violence men perpetrate in this world, whether they are doing it with guns in Philadelphia or war on Iraq or Islamist radical jihad.

Yet although I am not excusing them, I am questioning the role of our government in this case.

Six bloody years after 9/11, why are we dependent on Circuit City employees to stop terrorist attacks? Don’t we have a network of spies and intelligence agents in place for that?

Aren’t paid informants a little like torturers? They have an agenda and a quota–won’t they do anything to get paid?

Why are we setting up illegal aliens instead of just deporting them? Half these men are here illegally. Should the government have just taken steps to deport them–thus splitting up the group–back in January 2006?

How many tax dollars went into this sting operation?

The Fort Dix six case makes me queasy. I have become so distrustful of my own government, due to the endless lying, corruption and flat-out indictments in the Bush Administration, that I am left questioning a case like this: Where was the terrorism before the FBI informants stepped in?

Conspiracy is one of the most dangerous crimes: We’ve seen it for much of the Bush Administration, as the President and his cohort have plotted and schemed and gotten this country mired in a war we can’t extricate ourselves from abroad, while working to dismantle the Constitution at home.

Conspiracies scare me. But I’m not convinced these guys were conspiring until someone who really knew how conspiracy works came in and showed them how to do it.

As I said, I don’t like what these ten guys were doing and saying. But I like what the FBI did even less.

On April 26th the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) arrested six other would-be homegrown terrorists. These men were members of a group calling themselves the Alabama Free Militia. Like the Fort Dix six, they were not affiliated with any other group.

According to the FBI, the group allegedly planned to attack Mexican immigrants near Birmingham, Alabama with grenades, semi-automatic weapons and 2,500 rounds of ammunition. The weapons and ammunition were confiscated during a raid by the ATF.

These cases raise troubling questions that seem easily answered: The access to guns and other massive weaponry in this country promotes it use. As I said–if I had a gun, might I not use it? There’s never been a person in America who has owned a gun who *hasn’t* used it.

When we put disgruntled and angry young men together with readily accessible weapons of mass destruction, isn’t that a recipe for disaster?

No doubt someone from the NRA or other gun lobby group will say that the Oklahoma City bombing was done with fertilizer and 9/11 with airplanes. And they would be right about these most egregious terrorist attacks in our country.

But most of the other killings in America are done with guns. It seems counter-productive for the FBI, CIA, ATF and Office of Homeland Security to be focusing our tax dollars and their manpower hours on small groups of angry young men, if we are going make any and every weapon known to man available to those same groups.

Seung Hui Cho is out of the news cycle already. So are the Alabama Free Militia. Soon, so will the Fort Dix six.

But the underlying problem of how we grow violence in America has yet to be addressed, even as wave after wave of violence–or the revelation of violent attacks in the making–are revealed.

Maybe the Fort Dix six would have killed and maybe they wouldn’t have. But without ready access to an unbelievable range of weaponry in this country that any one of us could buy with nothing more than a driver’s license and a credit card, how exactly are we going to protect ourselves from that nice young man next door when he takes out his weapons and begins to kill whether in the name of Allah or just the Second Amendment?



In response to mom Barbara and son George W. Bush, Victoria Brownworth writes:

Many thanks for reminding everyone that the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree with the cartoon of Barbara and Georgie for Mother's Day.

Thousands are still displaced by Katrina, but Bush is now doing photo ops in Kansas. If this weren't a family newsletter, I would say what I really think about them both. Happy mother's day, indeed.



And Dorothy Schwartz adds:

I love the "Mother's Day card." I think you should print some out and distribute them.

It's a real Hallmark moment. -NG


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-Noah Greenberg