Issue #15/96, August 3 - 17, 2000   smlogo.gif


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Delegates, Achtung!

by Matt Taibbi

LOS ANGELES, CA, July 18 (AP)-Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, addressing heightening concerns about safety on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, assured city residents today that all possible precautions were being taken to ensure the continuity of the democratic political process when the event is held next month.

Parks told reporters that his department would be deploying sizzling lava moats around the convention center, as well as releasing hundreds of thousands of rats into crowds around the building to ensure the safe passage of delegates and highly-ranked party officials such as Vice President Al Gore through the center gates.

Parks said the rats, which will be fed strychnine and artificial hormone stimulants to ensure their extreme hostility, will be dropped from space and fired into crowds from specially-designed rodent cannons strategically placed on the roof of the convention center. The cannons, he said, are designed to make the animals spin clockwise at high enough rates of speed that their fangs will automatically bare from the weight of gravitational force.

"The rats will land biting and thrashing," Parks said. "We're firing them in concentrations which are calculated to pinpoint between twelve and fifteen rats on each human target."

Tests on prisoners at San Quentin, Parks said, revealed a median blinding rate of 97%. In several cases, the rats ate the prisoners' hearts while they were still alive and shrieking.

"Coupled with steady rubber bullet fire from the rear to block off retreat, these rats are an effective crowd control technique," Parks said.

The statesmanlike police chief, who unlike predecessor Daryl Gates enjoys a warm relationship with the city's mayor, added that the neighborhoods of Compton, South Central L.A., and Crenshaw would have their streets fully electrified during the convention as an additional precaution.

Residents of these neighborhoods will be allowed to walk to and from their janitorial assignments between the hours of six and eight in the morning, and between five and six-thirty in the evening.

These same residents will enjoy a choice of NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN on their home television sets. Apart from the usual statutes, there will be no restrictions on the choice of music in these or other neighborhoods.

For law enforcement officials like Parks, there are fine lines dividing the security needs of the city and the convention and the 1st Amendment rights of protesters.

"People keep forgetting that our No. 1 priority is not the demonstrations,"

Parks said. "Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the 4 million people who live and work here. The second issue is to have the convention go on orderly and conduct their business. The third issue is dealing with these protests."


No, just kidding... the above article is a fake, except for the last two paragraphs. Those were pulled verbatim from an article published this past Monday in the Los Angeles Times, a piece entitled "Convention Protests Loom as Defining Test for LAPD" and written by Times staffer Jeffrey Rabin. They fit nicely, though.

In fact, Rabin's article is funnier than the eXile version, mainly because it's true. I didn't see "The Blair Witch Project," but I couldn't imagine being scared by it, because it's fiction. But if it were real! If something really ate those kids on camera! Now that would be something. And Rabin's article is real.

Try this on for size. There are no rat-cannons and lava moats, but at both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions (in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, respectively), city authorities have created so-called "free speech zones" for the armies of protesters police are expecting to arrive. In Los Angeles, the proposed 1st-amendment paradise appears in the form of a "designated protest area", which, as Rabin puts it, is actually a "fenced-in parking lot on the north side of Olympic Boulevard between Francisco and Georgia streets."

Earlier, the city had plans to erect 14-foot fences around the convention center, but those plans have—for the time being—been shelved. The corpse of Thomas Jefferson reportedly sighed in relief at the news.

The city of Philadelphia, as befits the host of the Republican party, has gone even farther than L.A. in its jackboot absurdity. The Philly City Council has actually passed an ordinance which prohibits the wearing of bandanas or masks on the streets during the convention. In case you're wondering, this measure is designed to guarantee that riot police who may be forced to deploy tear gas against protesters can be sure the gas will actually work. It's a law that allows a rare glimpse of the weird adolescent frustrations that must provide the primary motivation for a lot of police behavior. In Philly the cops are openly complaining: what's the point of having tear gas, if people can just wear bandanas and breathe through the stuff?

"Free Speech Zones"—when I first heard the phrase, I thought it was a joke. It sounded like a reject concept from some would-be Forster-esque Utopian novel, written by some humorless lefty from Madison or Berkeley or some other such communist paradise. You can imagine the author, beard-clad and in a grimy Mr. Zog's Sex Wax t-shirt, trying the idea out on his heavy-legged hippie girlfriend while plucking out Phish tunes on his acoustic guitar. "Yeah, totally," she says, taking a drag on a joint, moved to ruminate pleasantly over the abstract conflict between women's liberation and the "feminine obligation" to be supportive to one's male partner in situations like this. An interesting question; she'll have to think more about it later, maybe talk to her Comp-Lit professor about it over lunch, the one who last week hinted that he's interested in cheating on his wife. But that's later. In the meantime, she exhales and says, "Yeah, you should definitely follow up on that, Soren. That's a good one."

Only some asshole like that girl's boyfriend, you'd think, would see such a heavyhanded, transparent concept as "Free Speech Zones" as biting satire. "You see, man, the point is," he'd tell you— and you're amazed you're still listening— "the point is that the whole country is supposed to be a ‘Free Speech Zone'. It's a contradiction in terms, man!"

But this didn't come from some dumb hippie—it's true! And, what's more, it's being played out in the actual American public exactly is would probably be played out in a dumb hippie's bad novel. When the "Free Speech Zones" are announced, there is no public outcry over it in any of the newspapers or on television, which are filled instead with news of sports, celebrity gossip, distant counterinsurgency wars against violent and unreasonable rebels, and terrible natural disasters which compel to acts of great heroism the state's indefatigable relief workers, who are captured for the consumption of live TV audiences. Book or life? Both.

In both bearded Soren's shitty book and in real life, not a single major newspaper publishes an editorial questioning the wisdom of introducing the idea of "free speech zones" into a society created for the express purpose of making such measures irrelevant and unnecessary. And even in the population as a whole, no one cares or even seems to understand the import of the free-speech zones, apart from a few doomed truth-seers like Soren's sensitive, bearded protagonist (like the author an activist from Berkeley or Madison, only inevitably a much better guitar player in the book, an "undiscovered genius" whose playing so seduces his female friends and followers that he has worked hard through song and yoga exercises to convince of the need for respectful, non-exploiatative mutual relations between the members of an important movement... for Soren's world-weary hero, the movement always comes first).

Sadly, this is exactly the way things are turning out in the U.S. this summer— like an amateur science-fiction allegory written by a retard hippie named Soren. At this writing, neither the Los Angeles Times not the Philadelphia Inquirier—the two papers of record in the host cities—have even broached the "free speech zone" issue in their official editorials. Well, okay, the Inquirer did come close to broaching the subject once, in its Sunday, July 16 editorial, "In Peace and Protest." Close-but not quite.

That official editorial argued at length for the unassailable (to the majority of the Inquirer's readers) aims of peace and non-violence for the convention. While noting-with a faintly detectable tone of reluctance—that many of the great events in Pennslyvania's history, from the forming if the state out of religious protests, to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the forming of some of the country's first labor unions through lengthy protests against working conditions in the anthracite coal fields, the paper nonetheless sees the concept of protest as a decidedly two-sided coin, with one side much heavier than the other.

"The best protests have set standards of freedom and justice for which most of the world still yearns;" the paper wrote. But it added quickly; "But the worst [protests] cut wounds too deep ever to heal."

This has been the tone of virtually every media response to the upcoming protests. Protests are a good thing, the papers usually agree, only they're bad if they get of control. That the protesters themselves and the newspaper editors may thoroughly disagree on what constitutes "out of control" is seldom if ever mentioned in these articles. WTO protesters in Seattle, for instance, saw disruption of the WTO meetings through non-violent means as a reasonable protest objective, one worth willing to go to jail for. The police, and in turn papers like the Inquirer, disagree entirely that such acts of civil disobedience are sanctioned by common-sense morality, or that anything supercedes the right of businessmen to conduct meetings. Instead, they tend to feel, and argue strongly, that forcible segregation of such protesters from their target sites is "regrettable" but necessary in the interests of maintaining public order.

That this forcible segregation involves walled-in "free speech zones" and paranoid laws banishing bandanas is seldom mentioned in the media arguments in support of the various police plans. The Inquirer editorial mentions neither the preposterous "speech zone" proposal, nor the bandana business, nor other pressures put on protesters by the police. Instead, it spends an inordinate (for an official daily newspaper editorial) amount of time enlisting some of the great peace ambassadors of human history in implied support for the Philadelphia Police plan.

The editorial quotes such luminaries as Pope John Paul II, Robert Kennedy ("That dissent which seeks to demolish while lacking both the desire and the direction for rebuilding...is merely self-indulgence"), the irritating and unwelcome Doris Day ("We must do the impossible; love our enemy"[eds. note: is the Inquirer admitting that Gore is the people's enemy?]), Vaclav Havel, a traitorous-out-of-context Mohandas Gahndi ("Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst, therefore, it is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody else's freedom of conscience."), St. Augustine, and even that great hero of disruption and civil disobedience himself, Dr. Martin Luther King, raised from the dead to go to bat for George Bush ("Resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may become a new kind of violence.")

It goes without saying that virtually everyone on this list, with the probable exclusion of the deserving-each-other duo of the Pope and Doris Day, would vomit uncontrollably at the thought that their writings had been used by the Philadelphia police force to help defuse legitimate protests by ordinary Americans. That's in particular if these heroes knew that the protesters had a perfectly reasonable grievance with a government which has effectively silenced them by depriving them of meaningful electoral choices. Can you imagine one-time insurgent candidate Bobby Kennedy siding with the current New York Times editorial board, and calling for a general election "unfettered by minor candidates" and "indulgent" campaigns like that of Ralph Nader's? Or Martin Luther King delivering the black vote to Gore because "we have no choice and that's the reality"? Not likely.

Beyond that, virtually none of the above quotes by the Inquirer's stable of saints even apply, in even the most basic logical way, to the greater share of the protesters.

Gandhi, were he raised from the dead and shown the scraggly volunteer protesters gathered in Philly—and what they're up against in terms of police, the hostility of the mainstream media, and above them the Democratic Party with its thousands of wealthy power-broking friends—he would hardly conclude that these protesters were any kind of a threat to "impose [their] conduct upon all." He might conceivably, however, conclude the opposite about the protesters' targets.

And would Dr. King conclude that environmental protesters at these conventions, or protesters against campaign finance abuses, had used the "tactic of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence", or that their aim was not "reconciliation"? Of course not. These protesters might very well want wholesale changes made in the political system, and they might even want to throw some people out of office, or even (in extreme cases) in jail. But that's called justice and progress, not violence, and it doesn't preclude King's Christian idea of forgiveness and reconciliation.

For the Inquirer and the Bush campaign, forgiveness and reconciliation means not harping on the coke thing or the death penalty thing or the stupidity thing, and to express this forgiveness by not causing an embarrassing scene in Philadelphia anywhere near CNN until Bush is nominated. In return, the Republicans and the City promise to "reconcile" with these cooperative, non-protesting voters by extending their hand after the election to accept their properly-directed letters of complaint for consideration. You try hard for us now; we'll try harder for you later. That's a pretty one-sided journey to "reconciliation".

When it is done dragging out the reluctant great dead to plead the message of saintly restraint in general, the Inquirer moves on to make explicit its more concrete desire for the protesters to follow the proposed police plan:

"Asking for tolerance of other viewpoints and respect for individuals, their rights and their property is not the same as squelching protest," the paper writes. "There are hundreds of methods of creative nonviolent resistance. They should be used."

Translation: "We're not squelching protest here. We've left you plenty of approved, legal ways to protest which we think are satisfactory. Use them— or else."

That's nearly a thousand words of warnings, threats and an recrminiation directed at a group of protesters who haven't done a thing yet, while not a single word of reproach is directed at the creators of "freedom of speech zones" that are already a fact, nor a single word of caution and patience to a Philly Police force that unlike the protesters will be carrying very heavy arms and have plenty of practice, even recently, in using them to inspire all kinds of interesting news stories. And there was nothing about the delicious precedent the government might be setting by saying it only allows its people to protest in cages. No, none of that— just a stern warning to the protesters to be nice, and not to try anything they'll regret. Or else. Get ready for a long summer.

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