WTC Designer Wins $25,000 Prize
9-11 Lawyer's Passion Play
Right Meets Left for Fascist Europe
California Nixes Fourth Amendment
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WTC Designer Wins $25,000 Prize

Next Monday, Washington's prestigious National Building Museum will make a special award to the man who helped design the World Trade Center. This comes at a time when a major investigation is attempting to assess whether the design and construction of the twin towers contributed to their collapse on September 11. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is due to release a report on the disaster, by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on April 30.

According to a press release from the museum, structural engineer Leslie E. Robertson will receive the inaugural Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology for "notable advances and high achievement in the process of construction.'' The prize comes with $25,000.

In a November article in the New Yorker, some credited the structural choices made at the WTC for keeping the buildings standing long enough for thousands to escape. "Ninety-nine percent of all buildings would collapse immediately when hit by a 767,'' said Jon Magnusson, CEO of a firm that included Robertson's main partner.

But the design has also drawn heavy criticism, including remarks from New York fire officials and a report in Fire Engineering Magazine. "Respected members of the fire protection engineering community are beginning to raise red flags, and a resonating theory has emerged,'' said Bill Manning in the January issue. "The structural damage from the planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough to bring down the towers. Rather, theory has it, the subsequent contents fires attacking the questionably fireproofed lightweight trusses and load-bearing columns directly caused the collapses in an alarmingly short time.''

Among other achievements, the press release explained, Robertson is being honored for improvements that enabled buildings to resist lateral winds and for creating a system of fire-resistant walls "now almost universally used" in high rises.

9-11 Lawyer's Passion Play

George Bush and John Ashcroft have turned the law into a theater of the absurd with defense attorneys, judges, and prosecutors acting out parodies of themselves. Even before the Patriot Act was passed by Congress with nary a squeak of protest last year, Ashcroft issued an executive order that removed the barest hint of constitutional rights. Just listen to the experience of Regis Fernandez, an immigration lawyer in Newark.

"When I go to the court, and I want to find out where my client's case is being conducted, I can check in the court waiting room,'' says Fernandez. "Well, after September 11, I would go to court and all the courtrooms were closed, so I didn't really know where my client was. I couldn't hack the 1-800 number because the machine would answer that 'no information can be provided about these cases.' I couldn't check the public waiting-room docket sheet because all the Arab names were erased, or just didn't exist, but the hearings continued to be conducted. So it was pretty pathetic.

"We got to the point of having to knock on all the court doors and just kind of peek in and see if our clients were there. And things kind of came to a head in one case when I got a call from a judge who knew me and happened to catch me in my office and said, 'Look, there's a guy here in one of these special-interest cases, and he says that you're his lawyer, and I can't tell you what his name is or anything else about the case, but I'm going to set it off for another date. But just kind of find out what client of yours is this.' The judge added, "I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to tell you this in the first place.''

Even if the attorneys found their clients inside the secret courtrooms, it didn't make any difference anyhow. "Anything we did was automatically denied,'' Fern Aandez continues. "Like for example, if an Immigration judge granted bail, the Immigration attorney could stay the release, just by appealing the case. And if the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with the Immigration judge that bail should be granted, the INS prosecutor could once again stay the release for several more months just by filing an appeal.

"So basically, through the issuance of an executive order, not a congressional legislative act, just a simple internal memorandum, the attorney general assumed the power to detain hundreds of people without an individualized determination that they were in any way a danger to society.''

Right Meets Left for Fascist Europe

The strong showing of right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French presidential primary last month stunned the world, but it really should not have been such a surprise. Ever since the end of the Soviet Union there have been increasing signs, large and small, of a fascist revival across Europe. After a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks—including the bombing of a synagogue and the burning of a prayer pavilion in France, the beating of orthodox Jews in Berlin—police blamed the violence on North African Muslims angry over Israeli assaults on Palestinian settlements. Maybe so, but the newcomers are joining a long tradition.

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