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.
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.''
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 attacksincluding the bombing of a synagogue and the burning of a prayer pavilion in France, the beating of orthodox Jews in Berlinpolice blamed the violence on North African Muslims angry over Israeli assaults on Palestinian settlements. Maybe so, but the newcomers are joining a long tradition.
In the case of France, even a brief glance at history would show that despite efforts to cast themselves as freedom fighters against the Nazis in World War II, the French can't hide their history as collaborators in the Vichy government. During the summer of 1942, for example, French police rounded up thousands of terrified Jews in Paris and shipped them to Poland.
There is nothing special about the French in this regard. Most countries in Europe were more than happy to collaborate in implementing the Nazis' final solution.
Likewise today, there is fascist activity across the continent. Next week, if all goes according to plan, Europe will witness one of the largest neo-Nazi demonstrations since Hitler, when the youth wing of Jorg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party hosts a demonstration at Vienna's Heldenplatz--the place Hitler himself came to announce the annexation of Austria. Just last month, a march had the main streets of Vienna ringing with neo-Nazi chants of "Heil Hitler!'' and "Foreigners!''
Haider's party is the most visible of a range of far-right groups clawing for position. "People no longer accept that the problems of overloaded immigration, abuse of the asylum system, foreigner criminality, internal security are not being brought under control," the smooth, youthful Haider said recently. Often compared to Le Pen, Haider told a reporter, "If that's the case, then I'm the original."
Haider's Freedom corps is but the most robust of a rash of protofascist parties. In Denmark, a new right-center coalition is using tough asylum policies to turn back non-natives. For the first time since Franco, conservatives are in power in Spain, and a gay right-winger is leading the charge in the Netherlands. The so-called Progress Party underpins conservatives in Norway. In Belgium, where the far-right Vlaams Blok became the biggest political force two years ago, far-right leaders seek to repatriate all non-European foreigners. And in Italy, last year's election of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate, was widely greeted as an outright rebirth of fascism.
Before it collapsed, the Soviet Union checked the rise of the far right in bloc countrieswith the exception of East Germany, where the secret police, the Stasi, openly courted neo-Nazi skinheads to beat up punk rockers. But when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, Russian nationalists came out of the woodwork, as did neo-Nazis across the Eastern bloc.
To mount a successful challenge to Le Pen and other fascists, it is necessary to see what is really drawing people to them. The most obvious and disgusting aspect is blatant racism. But the racism is linked to European nationalism, which itself is complex. The European Union is eroding the sanctity of the nation state. Le Pen's victory comes on the heels of the elimination of national currencies and the imposition of the universal euro, the latest blow to local culture and identity.
This is a confusing situation, because both the left and the right are enraged over the European Union and the inequities of globalization. The left's antiglobalization movement, the very force that could offer an alternative, ends up arguing some of the same points as the far right.
What's happening in Europe is not all that different from the activities of the far right in the U.S. Here, racists plunged into the vacuum left by both political parties during the disastrous Midwest farm downturn in the 1980s. They met with considerable approval from white working-class people, who felt abandoned by mainstream politicos. In America, the far right also offered an ideological political base, steeped in an oddball racist Christian theory. Left-leaning American politicians don't seem to understand that ideology--religious ideology, in fact--is what appeals to voters' hearts and minds. Al Gore's technocratic Democratic Party, with its constant twiddling with gadgets, just won't do the trick.
Last week California lawmakers passed two new bills that will make search warrants and their supporting documents secret. Thus a Californian whose home is invaded by police may never know why the officers are demanding to search the property. Such records used to be available to the public unless a judge specifically sealed them.
Lawmen back the change. "When affidavits are filed, previously they divulged a large portion of the investigation and where it was heading and that could hamper the investigation and the direction of the investigation,'' David Gorcyc, a county prosecutor told the Oakland Press.
Here's a public record, known as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.''
"I'm going to...get three square meals and have air conditioning. And I want cable television. And I want conjugal visits from Playboy bunnies."-Newly convicted representative Jim Traficant, on Fox, as quoted by Roll Call.
Additional reporting: Meritxell Mir, Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson, and Gabrielle Jackson
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