Thursday, July 22, 2004

Bubble Boy in the Big Apple 

You know by now that the President's keepers have contrived for him to travel, wherever he might roam, from one Potemkin village to the next: domestically, protestors are herded off into "first amendment zones," in egregious violation of the Constitution, so that our Chief Executive might be spared the knowledge that vast numbers of his countrymen hold him in contempt; abroad, vast armies are deployed to shield him from the outright enmity of the indigenous populations. Tom Engelhardt (of TomDispatch, the site where the introductions are every bit as punchy and informative as the articles themselves) here describes the preparations for the Republican convention in NYC, site of the 9/11 attacks -- a location chosen before it occurred to anyone in the administration that this whole hey!-why-don't-we-export-the-war-on-terror-to-Iraq? thang might possibly go way, way south:
How times change though. Now, angry policemen and firemen are picketing outside Madison Square Garden ("The Republicans are coming to bask in the glow of Sept. 11, and yet the firefighters and police officers who died in record numbers and continue to be the frontline defenders for this city haven't had a contract for more than two years," said Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association); protestors are heading for New York in what may be prodigious numbers; and the Bush administration, suddenly in something like flight, appears capable only of locking itself inside Green Zone Manhattan. Even "security," even "safety" -- less and less this president's selling points -- turn out to be fatal obsessions. As Nick Turse makes clear below, the man who uttered the mocking phrase "bring 'em on" is about to become the safest man on Earth. His ability to ensure his own security remains unparalleled -- and a kind of madness.
And the above is merely a preamble to Nick Turse's feature article, "Fortress Big Apple: Will the President Escape from New York?" -- which likens the President's NYC visit to Snake Plissken's in the John Carpenter movie from 1978:
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. Even in Snake Plissken's Manhattan, Central Park was open! [Other groups have been granted access to more desirable real estate -- S.] . . . .

By the end of August, at least portions of the Big Apple will be under the control of the Feds just as director Carpenter imagined it. In fact, at least "75 government entities" of all stripes including the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be involved. The Secret Service will, according to Bloomberg's office, be "supported by… [the] Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Department of Defense." Further, the FBI field office in New York is already engaged in pre-convention work, with nearly all of its 1,100 agents in the field "collecting intelligence" and attending to "other security tasks." Given the FBI's past COINTELPRO exploits, there's little doubt what kinds of activities these are likely to be. The NYPD will also be in on the black-bag action. The NYPD's crack Intelligence Unit was already caught, by Massachusetts State Police no less, allegedly spying on protesters out of state . . . .

To sum up the "security" scene: Choppers hovering above; military fighters streaking overhead; under foot, fumbling with cameras they never seem to know how to work, those famously easy-to-spot undercover cops clad in bulky sweatshirts (no matter the weather); federal suits listening to their earpieces; protective fences; "frozen zones" (huge swaths of "public" city streets to ordinary citizens); metal barriers; "vehicle checkpoints around the perimeter of the Garden manned with heavy weapons, dogs, and portable Delta barriers, which are enormous metal contraptions that lie almost flat in the road and can be raised very quickly with the flip of a switch"; mounted police; cops on bikes and scooters; NYPD K-9 units; stormtrooper-esque "Hercules" teams; conventional "arrest teams"; cops boarding commuter trains and subway cars one stop before they reach Penn Station, the hub nearest the Garden; permit refusals; murmurs about the invocation of an 1845 law prohibiting mask-wearing under certain circumstances; and Kelly and Bloomberg periodically claiming to know protesters' plans or issuing wild claims about the supposed plans of violent anarchists, "hard-core groups . . . looking to take us on"; and various administration officials issuing vague but chilling warnings of possible terrorism to come.

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