A colleague of mine often says, “I make television; I don’t watch it.” I’m not so absolute. I don’t get to watch MUCH television, but I do watch some.
I don’t often get to see commercials. That’s not because I restrict my viewing to public television. It’s more that I like to watch cable channels that are commercial free, like Turner Classic Movies and HBO and public access.
Recently, however, I’ve come across an American Express commercial that I adore. It really captures some of the spirit of New York, and it’s very low key about the sponsor — just a small logo at the end. It’s one of the nicer tributes to our city.
American Express has just given us another tribute. Yesterday they announced that next spring they plan to return to their headquarters in lower Manhattan. When last I saw it, there was a big piece of one of the World Trade Center towers embedded in it.
One of American Express’s major competitors in the credit-card business is Visa, the name we now use for the old BankAmericard, issued by the Bank of America. The Bank of America is donating three fire trucks to New York City, to replace some of the dozens that were lost on September 11.
Others are being paid for by “Pennies for Fire Trucks” campaigns being conducted at schools across the country. And today’s New York Times has a story about the company that makes New York’s fire trucks, Seagrave in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Not only are they racing to replace our lost vehicles, but their employees also offered a week’s free labor if the company would donate the parts for a fire truck. Thanks, all.
Today’s Times is full of heartwarming stories. One is about evangelical pastors wandering around downtown, asking businesses what they’ve lost, and writing out checks on the spot to cover them. Each check has a little, handwritten “Jesus loves you” at the lower left, but otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any preaching involved — just an occasional hug. And they declined to contribute to a tavern owner.
Another story covers one small aspect of the story of the million daffodil bulbs that were donated to us by a Dutch businessperson. We’ve received tulip bulbs, too.
Then there’s a story about 12-year-old Thomas Panevino, displaced from his home in Battery Park City and living in a hotel on Manhattan’s East Side. When he has to do computer-based homework, he goes to a Kinko’s where the staff has decided he is one of their most important responsibilities. He’s been submitting reports with full-color professional-looking graphics and garnering praise. His mother brings his report cards to the shop to share with the employees.
In a benevolent gesture, the Times today even credits its competitor, the Daily News, with breaking the story of our fire department’s deciding that, from September 11 to September 29, its missing firefighters must have still been at work, and, therefore, earning lots of overtime (320 hours). The families will receive the full salaries plus the overtime pay. The police department is doing the same, and the mayor is asking the state legislature to allow the payments to be used in the calculation of pensions (normally based on the last year’s earnings).
Those were the heartwarming stories in today’s Times. Tomorrow’s paper has a story about resentments resulting from inequities in the charity process. Some police families don’t like the extra charity going to firefighter families. Some firehouses are receiving more charity than others, and it’s not proportional to firefighters lost. Families of financial workers killed in the September 11 attacks complain about both the charity and the access to the site that the families of the uniformed service members are getting.
The story doesn’t even go into the feelings of other bereaved families, such as those on American Airlines flight 587. The fact that they are not beneficiaries of great largess may have nothing to do with it, but they were largely from a specific ethnic group.
There was a story in today’s Times about how Afghanistan, like Yugoslavia, might be split into different countries, each with a different dominant ethnic group. What was odd about that story was not so much its ideas as its location; it was in the “Arts” section. Is it a story about the “art” of war?
Nearby was a photo of a swarthy, turbaned man with a long beard. That photo had nothing to do with the Afghanistan story. It was, instead, a review of an organ concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York.
There’s a beautiful pipe organ in Tully Hall, but that isn’t what Dr. Lonnie Smith, the bearded, turbaned man (born in Buffalo), was playing. “The Turbanator,” as Dr. Smith is sometimes called, was instead playing “soul jazz” on a Hammond B-3 electric organ.
Alice Tully Hall is one of the theaters at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The Metropolitan Opera House is another.
At dawn today, I started work on the first Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of the season; this evening, I’m working on a television recording from the same venue. We’re shooting “Die Meistersinger.” As Cookie Monster said in “Don’t Eat the Pictures,” a Sesame Street special I worked on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “It going to be long night.”
Across the street and slightly down the block from the TV truck is the Fiorello La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, successor to the school of “Fame” fame. Lori Berenson went to La Guardia high school. Remember her?
On January 11, 1996, after she was sentenced to life imprisonment in Peru at the end of her trial for terrorism by a secret military tribunal, our State Department protested that she hadn’t been “tried in an open civilian court with full rights of legal defense, in accordance with international juridical norms.” There was more:
“The United States remains concerned that Ms. Berenson receive due process. We have repeatedly expressed these concerns to the Government of Peru. We call upon the Peruvian Government to take the necessary steps in the appeals process to accord Ms. Berenson an open judicial proceeding in a civilian court.”
Why was it unacceptable to us for Peru to try an accused foreign terrorist in a secret military tribunal but acceptable for us to do the same — or worse? Peru offered several levels of appeal (even before our complaints); the executive order calling for our secret military trials of accused terrorists allows none.
The Times conservative commentator William Safire had a second column on the subject on Monday. He noted that the administration says the proposed secret tribunals are “‘implementations’ of the lawful Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“Military attorneys are silently seething because they know that to be untrue. The U.C.M.J. demands a public trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt, an accused’s voice in the selection of juries and right to choose counsel, unanimity in death sentencing and above all appellate review by civilians confirmed by the Senate. Not one of those fundamental rights can be found in Bush’s military order setting up kangaroo courts for people he designates before ‘trial’ to be terrorists.”
It’s the old totalitarian refrain: “First we will give you a fair trial. Then we will execute you.”
It would be bad enough if that were all we were up to. But it’s not. This is the opening paragraph of Anthony Lewis’s commentary in today’s Times:
“On the basis of secret evidence, the government accuses a non-citizen of connections to terrorism, and holds him in prison for three years. Then a judge conducts a full trial and rejects the terrorism charges. He releases the prisoner. A year later government agents rearrest the man, hold him in solitary confinement and state as facts the terrorism charges that the judge found untrue.
“Could that happen in America? In John Ashcroft’s America it has happened.”
In a column titled “It Can Happen Here,” he tells of the case of Mazen al-Najjar, who, after reportedly being exonerated and released, “is not only back in prison, he is being treated with exceptional severity, indeed cruelty. He is in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. He is not allowed to make telephone calls, and he may not see his family.”
Today’s New York Times reported that John Ashcroft is thinking about allowing the FBI to spy on political and religious groups in the United Stares. One might think the Bureau’s agents and officials would be happy to have the additional flexibility, but, according to the article, they’re not.
They were also reportedly not happy about the announcements on October 12 and 29 of “vague but credible threats of a possible second terrorist attack.” And there’s more that we’re doing.
This is the beginning of an article in the Los Angeles Times by Eric Lichtblau: “The document seemed innocuous enough: a survey of government data on reservoirs and dams on CD-ROM. But then came last month’s federal directive to U.S. libraries: ‘Destroy the report.’
“So a Syracuse University library clerk broke the disc into pieces, saving a single shard to prove that the deed was done.
“The unusual order from the Government Printing Office reflects one of the hidden casualties of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: the public’s shrinking access to information that many once took for granted. Want to find out whether there are any hazardous waste sites near the local day-care center? What safety controls are in place at nuclear power plants? Or how many people are incarcerated in terrorist-related probes?”
According to the article, “The Government Printing Office has begun ordering about 1,300 libraries nationwide that serve as federal depositories to destroy government records that federal agencies say could be too sensitive for public consumption.” And, in Freedom of Information Act requests, “officials no longer have to show that disclosure would cause ‘substantial harm’ before rejecting a request.”
Francis Buckley, the government’s superintendent of documents, said this is the first time documents in public libraries have ever been ordered destroyed for security reasons. Julia Wallace, who heads the government-publications library at the University of Minnesota, asked, “Do you pull all the Rand McNally atlases from the libraries? I mean, how far do you go?”
Lewis concludes today’s commentary thus: “With all the extreme measures taken by the administration in recent days — detaining hundreds of people, ordering thousands questioned, establishing military tribunals — Mr. Ashcroft and President Bush have assured the country that they will enforce the measures with care, and with concern for civil liberties. Their motto is, ‘Trust us.’
“The Al-Najjar case shows that there is no basis for trust.”
Our freedoms are threatened, and not just by terrorists. Nevertheless, I draw hope from the results of a poll conducted by International Communications Research on behalf of National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Americans’ opinions about the military tribunals. These were the first two questions:
“When it comes to non-citizens who are legally in the United States, should they have the same legal rights if they are arrested as U.S. citizens arrested for the same thing, or should they have fewer rights?” Of the respondents, 70% said the same and 25% said fewer.
“Would you still feel the same way if they were charged with being terrorists, or would you think they should have fewer rights?” This time, only 35% of the total felt the accused deserved the same rights.
It’s only in contrast to another poll that I can draw hope from those figures. The Gallup Poll found George W. Bush’s approval ratings continually dropping and disapproval continually increasing from his inauguration through a poll conducted between September 7 and 10. At that time, 51% approved of the job he was doing and 39% disapproved.
In the next survey, his approval rating shot up. In the poll conducted September 21 and 22, it stood at 90% approval and only 6% disapproval. Those are the highest ratings Gallup has ever measured. They are higher than Mr. Bush’s father’s at the end of the Gulf War, the previous record. They are higher than any ever received by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, or Kennedy. And the levels of approval and disapproval have not changed appreciably since September 22.
So I am encouraged. Roughly six times as many Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush’s plans for military tribunals as disapprove of the overall job he is doing.
There is hope.