Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Unprotected on weekends

Queen Mary 2 sails under Verrazano  Bridge
by Fortgal Queen Mary 2 sails under Verrazano Bridge

Paltalk News Network

NEW YORK - Security was beefed up here in New York Monday following the two Moscow subway suicide bombing attacks - with additional cops and national guardsmen patrolling transportation hubs and subways. But even as these precautions were being taken, the New York Daily News learned that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had yanked weekend security from the Verrazano Bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

The cops that were stationed at the entrances to the bridge and tunnel have been replaced with high tech surveillance cameras. A great idea if the only thing you're using those bodies for is to help the driver of a car that has broken down or can't find the cash to get through a toll booth. But potentially disastrous if you're looking for suspected terrorists.

The added scrutiny at New York's bridges and tunnels began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Ever since then, cops look at the drivers of every vehicle approaching the crossings suspiciously. They regularly stop vehicles to question the drivers - and sometimes even conduct searches.

It's not the kind of situation one wants to confront in the United States of America. We believe in the freedom to travel where we want without being harassed by law enforcement.

But it's a prudent step in the wake of September 11. One that most drivers recognize as a necessary convenience.

It's been well documented that the MTA is undergoing financial duress. It just announced proposed elimination of bus and subway lines which will lead to overcrowding and increased commute times for thousands of New Yorkers. And the costs of stationing cops to peruse every vehicle at these crossings is immense. But it is absolutely necessary nevertheless.

It is, of course, possible, that even with police officers stationed at the entrances of the Verrazano, a huge multi-level bridge that links Staten Island with Brooklyn, and the Queens Midtown Tunnel that something untoward could still occur. But their presence makes driving those routes just a little bit safer.

The MTA may be saving money here - but what is saved pales in comparison to the the costs - both financial and in human numbers if - God forbid - this decision opens the door to some kind of a terrorist attack. The cops should be returned to their posts. No later than this weekend.


Talk to Gary at 5 PM New York time weekdays on News Talk Online on the Paltalk News Network at www.joinchatnow.com. There is no charge.



Three years ago, a beautiful Israeli woman disappeared while vacationing in Tulum, Mexico. The fate of Dana Rishpy is yet to be revealed. There have been many clues and hopeful conclusions since but no resolve.

While her family celebrates Pesach, they continue to mourn her absence. Dana was last seen in the company of two men, Matthew Walshin and an unknown white male. Walshin is an uncooperative witness, who consistently denies guilt although facts show otherwise. The family is still seeking the assistance of the public in identifying the unknown white male in the photograph shown. Someone out there knows.......

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bloomberg's Hippie Act Only Goes So Far (Updated) »

Bloomberg's Hippie Act Only Goes So Far (Updated) »

Mayor Bloomberg hasn't let his performance as a flower-child hippie at Saturday’s “Inner Circle” show go to his head, the DN's Frank Lombardi reports.

Asked for his position on legalizing marijuana for medical use at Q&A with reporters today in Jamaica, Queens, hizzoner firmly rejected the notion, saying: “If I had to vote today, which I'm not asked to vote, I would vote against (it).”

UPDATE: Lombardi sent a fuller version of Bloomberg's quote:

"One of the problems of legalizing marijuana is marijuana keeps getting stronger and stronger, the Health Department says. And it gets more...it may very well lead to greater use of drugs, which isn’t good."

"And while I’ve always thought that people have a right to, as long as they are not hurting anybody else to do what they want, I guess if I had to vote today, which I’m not asked to vote, I would vote against legalizing marijuana.”

Bloomberg donned hippie garb and a long wig during his skit with the cast of Broadway’s revival musical of “Hair" for a mock production of "Mair" in which he starred as an aging peacenik named "Berg" who is mulling a future in politics.

While the performance may have brought back fond memories of the days when he has said he tried the weed - and inhaled with pleasure - it apparently didn’t convince him to join the med-mar advocates who have been lobbying for years in Albany.

The legalization of pot for medicinal is moving - albeit slowly - at the Capitol. The measure has been passed by Assembly committees, as per usual, but a new development this year was its inclusion in the Senate Democrats' budget resolution.

The Senate majority sees med-mar as a potential new (read: taxable) revenue stream. So far, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver isn't on board with that idea.

The mayor was asked about the pot issue after announcing a push to recruit 300 volunteer lawyers to help endangered homeowners stave off foreclosures.


(Photo credit: Spencer T. Tucker).

"Mentally Not a Warrior"

Lia Petridis

Lia Petridis

Posted: March 17, 2010 06:20 PM

News about a record number of suicides within the US Army, 160 soldiers on active duty who took their own lives in 2009, sparked a debate in the US media in late 2009 that didn't last very long. The shame, the horror and if nothing else, the war fatigue is at least strong enough now to draw the attention of the Pentagon. Their Top Brass is striving for change and is trying to redefine the "American Warrior." Depression and other mental illnesses are to receive the same recognition and medical treatment in the future, as are physical injuries related to the war effort. Many returnees to the US are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Their condition will now be investigated more thoroughly and there is hope that taboos surrounding mental illness can be overcome. More and more veterans from different eras speak up.

This is their story.

Sgt. Loyd Sawyer is searching for words when he explains why he joined the US Army in 2005. He wanted to "do his part," for the country, in what he called "the cause in Iraq." The horror makes him falter. Mighty are the memories of war he is coping with these days.
Upon joining the Army Loyd, the general manager of a funeral home in rural Virginia, was assigned to a mortuary of the U.S. Air Force in the quiet town of Dover, Delaware. After his basic training in the U.S., he was transferred to the military base at Balad, north of Baghdad in Iraq.

"It was my job to prepare the bodies of my deceased comrades for their return to the US," Sawyer explains. He picked them up from the military hospital and drove them to the morgue. Upon a search of their pockets, he found letters, lucky charms, and very personal items. The dead are then flown back home in body bags. On his days off he helped to embalm the bodies. Sawyer was responsible for identifying individual body parts. The arm of a Marine soldier, recognizable by his "Semper Fidelis" tattoo, the Marines motto of unconditional loyalty till death. A foot. Facial skin he has to stretch out on a table.

Once, after a plane crash, he spent 82 hours in order to line up the bodies, "...and sometimes the remains are so hot that they melted the body bag." When Sawyer speaks, he sounds as if he is unable to believe or fathom the things he had to experience.

Back in Iraq, Sawyer was not allowed to share his experiences outside the base; instead, he started drinking excessively. After seven months, a much different Loyd Sawyer returned to the US. One who stays up all night because in his sleep he meets the dead. One who can't control his aggression and who is estranged from his wife and two sons. The smell of diesel fumes in the streets of his home town, or the scent of blood in the meat department of the supermarket pull him instantly back into war. He is not looking for company and avoids people whenever he can. "My wife realized that something was wrong with me. She wanted me to get help, but I hesitated. I was afraid that would be the end of my military career."

Shame about the fact that after multiple military deployments something was not right made soldiers fall silent for the longest time, or worse, drove them into death. More than 2100 soldiers have committed suicide since 2001, almost twice as many as have been killed in Afghanistan so far. It is nearly half as many casualties the war in Iraq has produced to this day.

PTSD is as old as war itself. The American psychologist Jonathan Shay describes in his book Achilles in Vietnam - War Trauma and Change of Personality the parallels between Vietnam veterans and the Greek warrior Achilles who felt numb and helpless after the war experience. He refused to eat anything and was tortured by a furious desire for revenge and suicidal thoughts. Ultimately Achilles mutilated an opponent beyond recognition and showed, as Shay explains, all symptoms of PTSD. During the American Civil War the phenomenon was called "Soldier's Heart." After the First World War the men were "Shell Shocked", and as a result of the Second World War they showed "War Fatigue." Thousands of US soldiers were showing "Combat Stress" or suffered from "Post Vietnam Syndrome." The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan produce more numbers: According to a study of the US Department of Veteran Affairs, since September 2009, 106,726 soldiers who quit their service after deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan have been diagnosed with severe mental disorders so far.

Twenty-two percent have been found to suffer from PTSD, but the estimated number of unreported cases is most likely higher. However, the number doesn't include soldiers who are still serving or seek help outside the Veterans organizations of the US Government. Many veterans remain silent because they don't want to ruin their chances of obtaining a civil job after being discharged. Soldiers who are still in service are afraid of a fatal stigma, because inside the Army the slogan "A real man survives anything" persists. The numbers, according to a study by the U.S. Army, prove otherwise: Of 1000 soldiers who committed suicide from 2003 to 2009 the majority is male, white, married, aged 21 to 25 years and had at least one Army deployment.

The fatal combination of the image that a soldier who must overcome the cruelties of war, without psychological assistance and strong emotions of patriotism lead to Sgt. Coleman Bean's death. After returning from his first tour in the fall of 2005, he displayed symptoms of PTSD: "He went into the custody of the Government Office for veterans where he was diagnosed with PTSD, but he did not treat it, because he was still in the military and the boys were supposed to go on further missions," Coleman's father, Greg, a retired journalist, says. He speaks of the panic attacks, which tormented the young man repeatedly, ever since he had seen women and children burning to death in a bus in Iraq. Coleman also started binge drinking after his return from the first tour. He became aggressive and sought fights in local bars, and eventually was imprisoned for drunk driving. His patriotism, however, remained undiminished. "Coleman believed in serving his country unconditionally. This is a tradition within the Bean family. He saw an opportunity to form and pursue a career. He was also looking for direction in his life and wanted discipline. On September 6 of 2001 Coleman Bean joined the Army. The events occurring five days later, the destruction of the World Trade towers, "Changed everything for him," his father says. "From that time on he was very convinced of his purpose. He completed his basic training and was among the first soldiers in Iraq."

In the summer of 2007, the army deployed him a second time. Coleman traveled once again to Iraq. His mother advised him, "We could flee across the border." Strongly believing in the honor code of the U.S. Army, Coleman refused the easy way out. His father Greg explains, "He said shortly before his second deployment, if I do not go, they send somebody else." Softly the father adds, "But mentally he was no warrior at all. "Coleman also survived his second deployment in Iraq, and reached his hometown Brunswick, New Jersey in the spring of 2007. Only a few months later, he fell into his old habits. "He didn't sleep, was unable to focus on his goals, experienced panic attacks and could not escape from the problems caused by alcohol abuse."

On the morning of September 6, 2008 after a car accident and another arrest for driving under the influence, Coleman Bean shot himself in his apartment in South River. He was 25 years old.

Thus Coleman Bean is one of 160 soldiers who took their lives in 2009; that is the highest level since 2003. Only then did the armed forces in general begin to count the suicides. The news rocked the war-weary nation and in military circles, awareness has seemed to develop now that this fact can no longer be trivialized. Better, the Army is frantically looking for solutions.

An incident in early November 2009 started a wider debate about mental health support within the U.S. Army. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who worked as a psychiatrist at Fort Hood with traumatized soldiers, shot 13 people at the army base in Texas. In his case religious zeal and ideological radicalization are joined by his own trauma and the missed opportunity for rehabilitation.

After the publication of suicide statistics in the U.S. Army and the catastrophe at Fort Hood Army officials responded promptly. General Peter Chiarelli, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff announced in late November that it was "absolutely unacceptable" that soldiers were suffering in silence, just out of fear that they would experience the malice of their peers or that their careers would be affected. Chiarelli wants to redefine the "warrior ethos" and give mental health the same importance as physical health, or the ability to shoot with a rifle.

In April of 2009 the Army created a special unit for the early detection of depression and suicide. Enlisted soldiers are now participating in courses to learn what to look for in potentially traumatized classmates and comrades. Their education also teaches how they should deal with the situation. In particular, officers are equally involved, a crucial step that veterans had been calling for.

Hugh Bruce, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, who served in Vietnam is particularly vocal when it comes to soldiers' trauma. Bruce is in his late 60's now; he volunteered for military service at 17. "Patriotism played a role, but mostly I just wanted to get away from my father." He proudly wears the insignia of the Veterans for Peace, an organization that has been engaged with issues of war and peace since 1985. While they are vociferously present at anti war demonstrations, "Demonstrations hardly happen anymore. The anger that people had back in the late 60's, that drove them on the streets, I miss that." If you ask Bruce about his Vietnam experiences, he says, "They were terrible. What do you think?"

He does not go into further detail, but the red veins in his face tell their own story. "When we came back from Vietnam, the majority of the veterans had either alcohol or drug problems. I drank enormous quantities of alcohol and ended up in the emergency room far too often."
The increase in the suicide rate in the U.S. military he explains by repeated deployments of servicemen and women. "Eighteen months was the limit in Vietnam," says Bruce. The serious-faced veteran also complains about the macho culture within the Army and adds, "After World War I soldiers were 'Shell Shocked', now they call it PTSD. The fact is we are not made for war." Bruce is disappointed in President Barack Obama. "Disgusted," he was of the speech that the Nobel Peace Prize winner delivered in early December 2009 at West Point. Obama forcefully declared that "the country's security is at stake." Therefore the U.S. president would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and promised at the same time, to start withdrawal them 18 months later. The first Marines took off to Afghanistan at Christmas. "That was the philosophy of George W. Bush in embellished words of someone who had promised change. It's the same poison!"

Psychologist Mike Rankin served from 1964 to 1969 as a staff physician of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He then spent three decades working with Vietnam veterans. After his return he had learned how poorly the psychological support for returnees had been organized by the U.S. government. In his view, the situation has improved only marginally, "The U.S. Army to this day is still not able to provide adequate service for veterans. The same was true for Vietnam, but at the time we simply ignored the PTSD symptoms." Rankin opposes war strongly, "I am against any form of military intervention, even though I have lost family members in the Holocaust. There are better ways to resolve conflicts."

Barbara Vandalen, chairwoman of the nonprofit organization Give an Hour describes the shortage of psychological staff in the U.S. army as an "acute emergency". After buying a copy of "Nonprofits for Dummies" she started Give an Hour in 2004 and contribute to the solution of the problem by providing free mental health services to vets and their families. The psychologist was highly concerned, "that we are losing an entire generation of young people as had happened in Vietnam". But change doesn't happen over night, she knows, "The US Army is now working very hard to modify their image, but it still requires a massive, cultural shift at the Pentagon. It will take time and intensive education." Vandalen was able to mobilize a total of 4600 psychologists throughout the United States, who freely offer their services.

The Bean family mourn their son. The anniversaries are especially hard, says Greg Bean. The family also receives help from Give an Hour. "I believe that the U.S. military slowly understands the problem and they do the best to help the soldiers," Bean explains. "Only for my boy, it is too late."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interview with Fatima Bhutto

Now Dateline’s feature interview with the boldly outspoken Fatima Bhutto, the 20-something niece of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister, assassinated in late 2007. A former journalist, now a writer, clearly Fatima is the black sheep of one of the best-known, albeit ill-fated, political dynasties in the world. You could never accuse her of pulling her punches. Her late aunt and her aunt's husband, Asif Ali Zardari - currently Pakistan's President - are her prime targets. But not even Barack Obama has escaped her lash - "Bush-like" is her insulting write-off of his approach to Pakistan and its unabating troubles. Her new memoir, ominously is entitled 'Songs of Blood and Sword'. George Negus spoke to her from the Bhutto family's ancestral home, on the outskirts of Karachi.

REPORTER: George Negus

GEORGE NEGUS: Fatima, thanks very much for joining us. I have to say I've never seen a cover of a book quite like yours. It actually lists not one, but four, members of your family who have been killed in very tragic circumstances - your grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, executed in 1979, your uncle murdered in 1985, your father, assassinated in 1996, and, of course, your aunt Benazir Bhutto, assassinated just recently, in 2007. I wonder why, quite honestly, you would want to be in public life at all when, if you like, the Bhutto name is such a curse - in fact, some would say a potential death threat. Why do you make yourself so public in your views with that family background? It's pretty horrific.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I don't really consider myself to be in public life as such. I'm not involved in politics in any active role.

GEORGE NEGUS: But you do write a lot about politics, so I guess whilst you say you're not really in public life, you write a lot about politics in a very - if I could put it this way - aggressive fashion, which would make you a target for at least criticism, if not something worse maybe.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I do write on political and social issues and the idea that one shouldn't - or the idea that we should censor ourselves - doesn't really work for me because it would be doing the government's job for them. And I'm not interested in doing that. I think what we need very much in Pakistan is to be able to discuss the corruption and the violence that really colours most of our life here.

GEORGE NEGUS: The most recent member of your family to die was Benazir, your aunt. It could be said that you've hardly held back on your criticism of her, both personally and politically. Why do you feel so badly towards her?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I never criticised my aunt, Benazir, personally, I always spoke about her political record. There are two Benazirs. There's the Benazir that people saw in the West, who was an English-speaking, brave, quite photogenic politician - "one of us" or one of you, actually, if you will. And then there's the Benazir we lived with in Pakistan.

GEORGE NEGUS: It sounds like you believe that Pakistan would have been better off without her in politics. I mean, you've accused her of hijacking the democratic cause, you've suggested that her political posturing was ‘pantomime’, you've accused her and her husband of corruption. I mean, do you wish that she never had entered public life, let alone political life, let alone become a leader of your country?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, you see, the corruption cases that both my aunt, Benazir, and her husband, the current president, Asif Zadari are accused of not only ran into the billions of dollars, but they were being prosecuted in Switzerland, in England, in Spain and across the world. Certainly, if we believe in democracy and democratic systems, when she failed to pass any legislation, really, at all in her first two years in government during her first term and in fact had a tenure that was marked not only by gross corruption but by human rights abuses, that should have been a time for people to say, "Well, OK, we've given you an opportunity and you haven't bettered the institutions, you haven't strengthened the democratic cause - we may not vote you back." But of course, in Pakistan we have four choices that seem to be predetermined for us depending on what the United States of America would like at the time.

GEORGE NEGUS: What do you mean by that? "Depending on what the United States of America would like at the time." That's very political, if you don't mind me saying.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I think it's not only political, but I think it unfortunately happens to be a fact. We had 11 years of General Zia-ul-Haq in government, not because he was a great government in the 1980s - not because he was a great president - but because he was helping the Americans fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. So we had a military dictator who was not only incredibly violent and repressive but brutalised Pakistan society, who held public floggings, public executions, public stonings. And Zia-ul-Haq remained in power only because the United States of America - and, actually, Margaret Thatcher's England - supported him. And then again we had Musharraf now, for a good while as well.

GEORGE NEGUS: So are you saying that Pakistan under those sort of leaders were merely puppets, that those leaders were puppets of the United States of America? That Washington was calling the shots all of those years?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, we didn't elect them. So someone put them in there and someone kept them and it wasn't the Pakistani people.

GEORGE NEGUS: You actually said that your aunt's husband - who is now the President - was "one of the most venal figures in Pakistan". You don't like him, clearly.

FATIMA BHUTTO: I don't think it's about me liking him. I think we have to take into consideration that before he ascended to the office of the president - in exactly the same way that General Musharraf ascended, through a parliamentary vote, rather than a national vote - Asif Zadari was facing four murder cases in Pakistan, involving the deaths of 11 men.

GEORGE NEGUS: Help me here. How can a man with that kind of record become the leader of any country - in your case, Pakistan? That's almost unbelievable.

FATIMA BHUTTO: It IS unbelievable. It certainly is unbelievable. Not only did he have four murder cases against him, but again, as I said, corruption cases proceeding against him, in the billions of dollars in Spain, England, Switzerland and indeed within this country. However, I think we have to go back to the American bogeyman - we have to understand that this is a country which currently allows American drones to fly over our skies and bomb our people on an almost weekly basis, this is a country that survives on American aid in the billions. Today's headline in the newspapers is about America stepping up arms supplies to Pakistan.

GEORGE NEGUS: Would you say that the death of democracy occurred in Pakistan when your grandfather was executed? Or is that being too simplistic?

FATIMA BHUTTO: I think what happened when my grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was executed is you had a military dictator allowed to come in here and put to death a democratically elected ruler. You had that military dictator celebrated in the White House, you had him accepted into the UN, you had him, really, as an ally for Western and so-called democratic governments the world over. And that set a very dangerous precedent.

GEORGE NEGUS: You have said that your aunt was "morally responsible" for your father's death. Of course, she denied that. Why do you feel that she was responsible for your father's death?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, there are several reasons. You have to look first at the Karachi of that period. During Benazir's second government, Karachi was a battleground and within the two years - or the 1.5 years, officially - that Operation Clean-up was in effect some 3,000 men were killed in this city in the same manner in which my father was killed. The police and the security forces were empowered to target and kill opponents of the government, people who'd been critical of the government's record.

GEORGE NEGUS: But you're not saying she was directly responsible.

FATIMA BHUTTO: There are two things. There was the moral responsibility, and that, first, is creating an atmosphere where the security forces can kill with impunity, where they can turn up at a place, shoot seven people - really at point-blank fashions - and then get away with it and be, in fact, promoted. And then there is the actual responsibility, the governmental responsibility. My aunt's government forbade us, initially, from filing a police report - which is every Pakistani citizen's right under the law. She also after my father's murder did not allow us to proceed with a criminal investigation, a criminal case. She put into place a tribunal that was to have no legal authority. And that tribunal, in fact - though it could not pass sentence - said the only ammunition spent was that of the police, who used an excess amount of force, and that the permission for my father's assassination could not have come except from the highest level of government.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've said you don't believe in birthright politics, and obviously you were referring to the fact that the Bhutto family are regarded as one of the world's best-known political dynasties. You've said that you don't appear Well, you don't appear to have any political ambition, even though the country has said - I've read this quote somewhere - that "the country needs right now a true Bhutto to do the job" of cleaning up this mess, if you like, of a country that's Pakistan. Where does that leave you?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I think that our reliance on dynasty is part of the problem here, because dynasty is inherently undemocratic. It's a very entitled thing to suggest that only one member of one family can save a country of 180 million people. It has to be about people who live in constituencies coming forward to represent them, not the sort of parachuted, elite class that comes in, wins elections and then leaves.

GEORGE NEGUS: In America this week they've been talking about rebuilding relations with Pakistan, and in fact the US is saying a victory of sorts has occurred, that change is occurring, there's a wind of change. But a lot of other people regard Pakistan as a country for so long now being a country at war with itself. You've said it's a country hell-bent on self-destruction. Is it too late to save Pakistan?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Pakistan is, I always feel, hopeful. You know, our system of government is not, and the system of foreign policy whereby we do whatever is asked of us as long as the price is right only proves to fundamentalist outfits and to militant groups that when we talk of things like democracy, when we talk of things like foreign policy, what we're really talking about is being pro-American.

GEORGE NEGUS: So if you're not pro-America, there's no point?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, unfortunately the people who claimed to be democrats here and the people who claim to be working in democratic interests receive $10 billion cheques from the United States of America, $12 billion. Now we're talking about $7 billion as part of this Kerry-Lugar bill. So it's one thing to speak of being supportive of democratic institutions and it's another thing to talk about really being pro White House policies.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can we talk about the Obama Administration and Barack Obama's attitude towards Pakistan? You've made quite a statement when you said he's remarkably 'Bush-like' in his approach to this whole problem of Pakistan. Do you think that the Americans should back off and just let Pakistan sort its own problems out? Because they're actually involved now in conflict, what with the drone war, as we could call it, that's going on in the north-west.

FATIMA BHUTTO: I think we also have to look at the fact that Pakistan is still reeling from what America did to us in the 1980s. A lot of the problems we have today are really aftershocks, if you will, of our American adventure and an adventure of the 1980s. And now we look at Barack Obama, and like everyone else my age, really, I was incredibly inspired by President Obama during the campaign and really hoped that his time in government would be very different, but just this week there have been nine people killed in two separate drone attacks over Pakistan. So not only has Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, but he's has brought a new war to the front - he's brought this war in Pakistan. He is really just pouring money into these very corrupt coffers, as President Bush did. So in the Bush era we heard about $10 billion cheques to the Pakistani Army. Well, it's not that different now.

GEORGE NEGUS: Hillary Clinton said when she became Secretary of State that "Pakistan poses a mortal threat "to the security and safety of not just the US but also to the world". There are those people who go so far as to say that Pakistan, because of the trouble there and the ramifications of it, could be the theatre for World War III.

FATIMA BHUTTO: It has gotten worse. We didn't have an indigenous Taliban before 2008. We didn't have a war in Swat before 2008, we didn't have a war in Waziristan. We never, in our 63-year history, we have never allowed unmanned Predator drones from ANY country to fly over our skies and kill our citizens.

GEORGE NEGUS: What would prompt you to pick up the cudgel, as it were, not of the Bhutto family, but your own, and get directly involved in politics?

FATIMA BHUTTO: It wouldn't. I mean, I think it's perfectly possible for us to stay outside of power politics, or parliamentary politics, and speak about things like the American hegemony in the region or speak about the unjust war on terror that's been brought to our borders. In fact, if you look at people within our government, they seem to be quite enthusiastically fighting the war against their own people at the behest of the United States. So it doesn't seem to me that the strong way to oppose this is by joining politics at all, but just to keep speaking and to keep talking about it.

GEORGE NEGUS: We have to leave it there unfortunately, but all the best with your life and your book.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GEORGE NEGUS: Fatima Bhutto, 28. London's 'Telegraph' newspaper wrote "Beauteous she may be, but Ms Bhutto lacks little by way of seriousness." Well, after that - spot on. There's more on our website, including my take on Pakistani politics having interviewed both Fatima and Benazir Bhutto and also "the dictator you have when you don't have a dictator", Pervez Musharraf. Pop onto our website - sbs.com.au/dateline

Interview Producer/Researcher

America's main parties both risk injury in tussle over healt

March 24, 2010

Put aside the procedural shenanigans that will doubtless occupy hours and hours in the US Senate as Democrats nurse through their health-care plan, and Republicans try every possible means to stop them.

Put aside, too, a constitutional challenge by 10 state attorneys-general who fear a massive shift in costs from the federal government due to Obamacare.

And forget, for now, the ranting that America has crossed a Rubicon and this 2500-page bill offering the hope of insurance coverage for about 30 million more Americans actually crimps on the American dream - "fewer freedoms, less opportunity'', as Sarah Palin portrays it.

Certainly, there are issues that will be the subject of ongoing and fierce debate. The passage of the $US940 billion ($A1.03 billion) bill this week was historic, exhilarating even. But more mundane questions remain over its long-term effect on US finances and over some of its finer points that appear to shield drug companies from generic competitors, that could put the squeeze on Medicare for the elderly and could land the middle-classes with higher taxes.

It is complicated legislation. Every day, opponents throw up new objections, claiming to have unearthed ambiguities; every day, media pick at the tapestry and run with a thread that seemingly contradicts the bigger picture.

Little wonder, then, that most Americans seem bewildered about just how the changes will affect them. Which is a moot point for Democrats: after 13 months of bitter political wrangling and three incarnations of the bill, they are still struggling to sell its merits to an electorate deeply suspicious of Big Government and the imposition of any new tax.

So how will it play for the big political parties, and for the President himself? Certainly, the Democrats look to be facing the toughest road to November's mid-term congressional elections. The incumbent majority usually does.

Within weeks, the parties will be in full battle mode, and at a time when Democrats will want to be seen to be pushing hard to get Americans back to work - 20 million have no job or not enough hours to sustain their household - they will face constant sniping from Republicans determined to muddy their healthcare triumph.

It's impossible to predict with any confidence likely Democrat losses. A fresh opinion poll conducted by CNN revealed 59 per cent of respondents opposed the bill, compared with 39 per cent in favour.

Americans have yet to buy, it seems, the narrative being parlayed by Democrats that the reforms are as significant as those of the civil rights era.

And yet the same poll harboured a warning for Republicans, too. Many people who opposed the bill did so because they said it was not liberal enough, having jettisoned an earlier public insurance option. In fact, 52 per cent either support the legislation or think it should be more liberal.

The risk for Republicans is that they have locked themselves into abject opposition. They have pledged to repeal the bill should November deliver them control of Congress. But what if the Democrats' hard-sell gives them traction?

Many of the measures are attractive: they encourage more competition between private insurers that could lead to lower premiums; they allow parents to include children in a family insurance plan until age 26 (up from 22); they prevent insurers from refusing cover to people with pre-existing illnesses; and they scoop up millions of the uninsured with tax breaks that will let them afford basic coverage.

Having voted unanimously against the bill, the Republicans have punted heavily against health-care reform, as William Saletan noted on Salon.com. "If the public hates the program, they'll be rewarded at the polls. But if the public likes it, they're in for trouble."

As for the 44th president, health-care reform might well be the signature item of Obama's political obituary, whenever it is written, but it won't be the only issue that determines the term of his White House occupancy. The President's plate is full enough with issues of state: he meets Israel's Prime Minister in Washington today to try to heal a fissure in US-Israeli relations; he is prosecuting war in Afghanistan while seeking to extract US troops from Iraq; he is pushing hard for nuclear non-proliferation but is struggling to clinch a weapons deal with Russia, while Iran continues a recalcitrant dance with the international community; and he is challenged by China and by America's global economic partners alert to any hint of rising protectionism in the US.

But issues of state are what US presidents typically deal with, and he can expect little thanks from the American people, whose main focus remains local. Few people outside the US fully appreciate the damage the "great recession" is inflicting on local communities, with some shouldering unemployment rates above 20 per cent. Local municipalities in 17 states have opted for four-day school weeks and deep cuts to other services in a bid to balance budgets starved of tax revenue.

On the one hand, Obama has 2½ years to prove himself an alchemist, transforming hope into palpable change. But his dilemma is this: should the Democrats lose control of Congress, his agenda will be stymied and his prospects of a second term diminished.

Simon Mann is The Age's United States correspondent.



Hmmmm interesting to see all the hypocrisy about medicare in the states seeing as how quite a few state governments (including republican ones) and public organizations have resorted to obtaining their drugs for their plan members from Canada where costs are significantly lower due to the evil 'communist' socialists have established an universal healthcare system for all. Yet such an official system is all wrong for the good ol' US of A. . .

Canuck13 - March 24, 2010, 10:31AM

What you don't say is how much of the $US940 billion ($A1.03 billion) were bribes, additional unrelated expenditure, to get it passed.

bloodsportforall | canberra - March 24, 2010, 12:28PM

As weak as it is, the legislation could at least be seen as a step on the path toward universal care. It's relevance to Australia in positive terms is moot, though a vague reference may have been made to all being on the same tram now, given that so many drooling idiots of the Australian right right tend take their cue from the drooling idiots of the Amerikan right. However, this slight positive is now likely to be swamped by a flood of inanity stemming from the likes of the truly mad and bad Palin for instance. Insane rhetoric such as '"fewer freedoms, less opportunity'' - what the hell has this got to do with anything? It is a healthcare debate - incredible. To see programmes where so many yanks have to pile into football stadiums, to get elementary medical and dental treatments that are otherwise beyond them. To have all their pensioners drive up to Canada to get prescriptions - a practise made illegal by yank politicians in the pay of big pharma. Against this, to have this poisonous moron Palin saying "fewer freedoms, less opportunity'' - what the hell is she talking about? Unfortunately, the group of people resident in Oz and known generally as 'Australians who really want to be Amerikans' - being the traitorous and treasonous bunch they are, will take up these extremist and mad rallying calls from the nutcases in Amerika and continue their attempts at undermining our health system.

Leon T | Melbourne - March 24, 2010, 12:35PM

Oh Canada! That bastion of freedom where a conservative commentator cannot even be heard but for the hatred of ideologues who won't tolerate the existence of an alternative view:


If their systen is so good why did one of their provincial governors race off to Amerika last year for a bypass procedure?

@Leon: how easily you dismiss the very foundation on which the American democracy was established, that being a Constitution written in defiance of European monarchies that esposed a mindset that government knows best. You may interpret the erosion of freedoms and opportunity as 'insane rhetoric' but I can assure you they are at the very core of the American experiment. Hall hath no fury like an independent told he must buy health insurance or face a visit from the IRS.

brian - March 24, 2010, 1:51PM

>The passage of the $US940 billion ($A1.03 billion) bill this week was historic

I think you mean $A 1.03 Trillion


Osi | Melbourne, Facing Front. - March 24, 2010, 2:36PM

More fluffy rhetoric brian - lets have a few bars of yankee doodle dandee or something while you are at it. Goons who go all misty like when ever the idea of Amerika is even mentioned are the true cretins of our age. It is you who threaten every freedom. Young kids who cannot get access to medical services, being marginalised in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Yeah - '"fewer freedoms, less opportunity'' - sure d...h...!

Leon T | Melbourne - March 24, 2010, 5:09PM

Big difference between 1.03 billion and 1.03 trillion. quite a slip-up especially since this writer gave a lecture a Melbourne Uni last year on the use of stats and figures in journalism!

Elena | Melbourne - March 26, 2010, 10:36AM

Saturday, March 27, 2010

* Improved benefits ahead for New York's 2.8M Medicare subscribers under Obama's new health care law

Saturday, March 27th 2010, 4:00 AM

Medicare beneficiaries won't see a decline in care, they'll  receive improved benefits under the new health care law.
Siegel for News
Medicare beneficiaries won't see a decline in care, they'll receive improved benefits under the new health care law.

No one is "pulling the plug on granny" under the health care bill President Obama signed this week. If anything, experts say, granny will soon be pulling down new benefits.

While Obama's health care overhaul does eventually trim subsidies to Medicare Advantage - which are privately managed policies that some seniors pay extra for - older Americans should see little or no decline in care.

New York's 2.8 million Medicare beneficiaries should actually find several new goodies in the new law, among them $250 rebates this year to help fill the so-called "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage.

"This health reform improves benefits, it does not take away benefits, for seniors," said Tricia Neuman, vice president for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "It strengthens Medicare by keeping it fiscally stronger for longer, and it puts in place reforms that should genuinely improve quality of care."

The new law also eliminates co-pays for checkups and other preventive procedures under Medicare starting in 2011 and guarantees balanced books for Medicare through at least 2026.

There are changes in store for Medicare Advantage - privately run plans that some 360,000 city seniors pay a little extra for.

The policies were created in the 1980s, when private insurers argued they could meet or beat Medicare's services in exchange for federal dollars that were about 5% less than regular Medicare.

Today, the math is reversed: Taxpayers fork over 14% more to Medicare Advantage companies to care for seniors - a $12 billion pot that Obama called an unnecessary windfall for the industry.

The law will freeze Medicare Advantage payments to insurers in 2011, then gradually align them with regular Medicare payments by 2014.

Some have worried that the trims could force Medicare Advantage plans to raise premiums, but experts say it's unlikely - the bill also includes cash bonuses for companies that keep costs down and health up.

"What we hope will happen is a race to the top among plans that really want ... to get those additional bonus payments," said Joe Baker, president of the nonpartisan Medicare Rights Center.


Days after "RELOAD!" rhetoric, Palin defends herself from accusations of "inciting violence"

March 26, 2010 4:54 pm ET
by Eric Hananoki

While introducing Sen. John McCain today, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin referred to the "ginned up controversy" in "news reports" about conservatives "inciting violence because we happen to oppose some of the things in the Obama administration." Palin added: "We know violence isn't the answer. When we take up our arms, we're talking about our vote."

On Tuesday, Palin posted a list of House Democrats who voted for health care reform with crosshairs aimed at their locations. In a March 23 tweet about her map, Palin wrote: "'Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!'"

It's not just "news reports" which have questioned conservatives such as Palin -- it's some of her own supporters. Yesterday, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who introduced and endorsed Palin during the 2008 campaign, strongly condemned her for contributing to a climate of violent rhetoric. During a segment about threats against politicians, Hasselbeck called Palin's list "purely despicable" and "insane." Hasselbeck added: "The names that are next to and being highlighted by those crosshairs -- I think it's an abuse of the Second Amendment in advertising. I also feel as though every single person on here is a mother, a father, a friend, a brother, a sister, and to take it to this level -- it's disappointing." Rep. Pete Olson also called Palin's map "inappropriate."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Don't fence off Jerome Park Reservoir anymore, cries nabe

Thursday, March 25th 2010, 1:00 PM

See  full size image

The city is running out of excuses for continuing to keep the area around the Jerome Park Reservoir fenced off, according to local residents, who say the reasons offered so far don't hold water.

The 125-acre area around the reservoir has been fenced off since World War II, but in 1994, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Parks Department agreed that the outer fence would eventually come down, according to Anne Marie Garti, head of the Jerome Park Conservancy, which brokered the deal.

In 2004, when the state Legislature offered $200 million for Bronx parks improvements to overcome local opposition to a new filtration plant, $5 million of that funding was earmarked for a recreational path around the reservoir.

Since then, however, DEP has backed off its original commitment and now says the agency is on the fence about the fence around the reservoir.

"The commissioner is in the process of making a determination and he's looking at all the options," said DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla.

At a recent meeting of the facilities monitoring committee for the Croton Filtration Plant project, attended by new DEP Commissioner Caswell Holloway, agency officials told residents that one reason they wanted to restrict public access was that chlorine - a dangerous chemical used in water treatment - would be stored at the site.

However, the environmental impact statement for the reservoir work stated several times that chlorine will not be stored at the site after the filtration plant is completed.

Previous DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said a permanent perimeter fence was necessary to protect the city's water supply, suggesting that Jerome Park water flows directly to household faucets.

But Garti pointed out that the water would first flow through the Croton Water Treatment Plant.

Another reason DEP has given for keeping the fence is that its workers need the area clear in order to operate the active reservoir.

Garti, who has spent over 15 years fighting to reopen Jerome Park to the public, countered that DEP had no problem operating the Central Park Reservoir when it was active, despite droves of Manhattan joggers on its surrounding running path.

"Why do they have a problem doing it in the Bronx?" asked Garti. "I think they have a prejudice against the Bronx."


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Explaining American Politics Again: The Health of Democracy

People protesting against their own interests somewhere (everywhere) in America.

By Jerry Krase
so many people who will actually benefit from it protested against it (and continue to do so). Attempts like this one are doomed to failure but I least I can say "I tried." (Ci ho provato)

Not everything is easily translated from English to Italian and vice versa. In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origins and Italian cognates give me agita. Case in point; when Italians demonstrate (dimostrano) or protest (protestano) against something they don't go to demonstrations (dimostrazioni) they go to manifestazioni (demonstrations) instead.

Similarly difficult to understand are the sad sights of people protesting against their own best interests (contro i loro propri interessi) as in the photo above taken while I was (hands free - a mani libere) driving out of a shopping mall where half of the stores are shuttered and wannabee drug pushers walk their mixed breed pit bulls because they aren't making enough money to buy a real one.

Anyhow, not far on Main Street in the proud but semi-depressed Connecticut downtown one can find a public health center, social service offices, a Salvation Army store, and lots of unhealthy unemployed men and women aimlessly cruising the streets or hangin' in the park. When Italians demonstrate at manifestazioni they go in piazza. In America they go where the traffic is, like this intersection where a number of ill-dressed men and women held up signs I am sure they didn't understand. In fact some probably were folks in need of employment being paid to hold up signs they didn't understand such as one about "Cap N Trade"' which even oil company executives haven't a clue but they're against it anyhow because it sounds "green."

Anyhow, Sunday night my wife and I were watching a bit of TV (TiV├╣) as preparation for sleep (soporifero). All day long CNN and other droning 24/7/52 cable news stations were drooling with inane equivocative conversations about the United States House of un-Representatives' pseudo-debate on the latest version of President Barack Hussein Obama's campaign-promised "Health Care Reform." I went to bed early, preferring not to waste my sleep time with fuzz-faced Oscar-the-Grouch clone Wolf Blitzer and the next morning when I looked at the front pages of The New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Newsday, and The World Street Journal after a not very brisk two mile quasi-run with my friend Michael-the-Lawyer, almost all of the headlines announced something "Historic" had happened during my Dreamtime (Altjira).

When I got back to the house and opened my e-mail while eating breakfast, I saw this message from my good friends Ottorino and Letizia:

"Dear friends and colleagues,
A few minutes ago the House passed the Health Care Reform Bill.
It shouldn't escape notice that this historic event takes place in large part thanks to the joint effort of the first African-American President and the first Italian-American Woman Speaker of the House.
We would like to collect your feelings for i-Italy: anything from 3 to 10 lines would do.
Would you take your time and send us a short email message?"

Which I did, but now feel the need to expand on said few lines which went as follows:

"When I asked my wife Suzanne for comment on Nancy Pelosi's 'victory' over a recalcitrant House of un-Representatives she said 'Go girl!.' Having been surrounded virtually all my adult life by Italian American women I was certain that only someone like Nancy Pelosi could get the job done in our dysfunctional legislative family dominated by males with government funded very expensive health care. For example, in my wife's all Italian American family, as well as my own half-Sicilian one, the women were the "generals" whose untiring efforts and constant strategizing led the family through thick and thin. My wife and daughters have been pushing for health care reform for ages (preferring a single payer system but willing to take almost anything at this point). As I wrote some time ago in i-italy 'Nancy for President and Other Proposals'
'Which brings me back to Nancy Pelosi; Italian American, bright, beautiful, articulately liberal Democrat who has the courage to go head to head with both enemies and friends to do the best for her country...If I weren't already married to a similarly endowed woman, I'd be chasing her all over the place. Since I can't propose marriage, I will simply propose Nancy Pelosi for President.'"

says that “What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) is a book written by American journalist and historian Thomas Frank, which explores the rise of conservative populism in the United States through the lens of his native state of Kansas. Once a hotbed of the left-wing Populist movement of the late nineteenth century, it has become overwhelmingly conservative in recent decades. The book was published in the United Kingdom and Australia as What's the Matter with America?

Two things for me to note here. One, I read the book and it is great, and scary as it iterates and reiterates redundantly how easy it seems to be for people to vote for other people who constantly sc(r)ew(er) them. And, two, Frank writes one of the only reliable columns that remain in The Wall Street Journal and, to prove the point, sometimes shares the same page with liable nemesises Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh.

Finally as to convincing people that they shouldn’t be protesting against their own interests, it isn’t an easy task. One must remember that 50% of the human population is below average intelligence and, in my estimation; half of what's left is clearly uninformed. The right wing in America has done a very effective job in dis- and mis-informing people. Those who get their information from Fox News, The New York Post or Tea Party forums where savants (scienziati) like Sarah Palin keep their store of knowledge on the palm of their hand (and I believe it was on only one of them) are hardly educable and now that our once esteemed Supreme Court, on which ‘loose lips’ Sam Alito sits and childishly fidgets like a naughty boy in a grade school classroom, has lifted the remaining restrictions on corporate politicking, I think it will only get more difficult to convince people that human evolution (sviluppo umano) and corporate greed (ingordigia corporativa) are facts of life. This, mental, health care crisis is one we need to quickly address as it threatens the health of all Americans, with and without brains.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

President Obama signs health care reform bill; amps up push to sell reform to public

Originally Published:Tuesday, March 23rd 2010, 10:16 AM
Updated: Tuesday, March 23rd 2010, 5:50 PM

Obama emphasized the health care bill's most immediate impacts.
Obama emphasized the health care bill's most immediate impacts.

WASHINGTON - President Obama invoked the memory of past champions of health care reform Tuesday, dedicating the landmark legislation to his late mother and others penalized by insurers as he signed the historic bill into law.

"We are done," Obama proclaimed at 11:57 a.m. after signing his name with the last of 20 pens used to commemorate the momentous occasion.

Underscoring the high drama of the moment, Obama signed the groundbreaking measure in the East Room, scene of so much triumph and tragedy throughout American history.

Vice President Biden captured the special aura of the occasion as he introduced the President to the standing room-only audience.

"History is not merely what is printed in textbooks; it doesn't begin or end with the stroke of a pen.

History is made when men and women decide that there is a greater risk that we cannot bear and in steeling our spine and embracing the promise of change," Biden said.

"Mr. President, you're the guy who made that happen."

In singling out Americans who might have benefited from the bill, Obama began by saying: "I'm signing this ... on behalf of my mother."

Ann Dunham died of uterine cancer at age 52.

During the crusade to pass the health bill, Obama frequently mentioned she had been forced to argue over coverage with health insurers in her final months.

Obama highlighted parts of the new law that go into effect this year, including tax credits for small businesses, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and a ban on ending coverage for people who become sick.

It also allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26 and provides a $250 Medicare prescription drug rebate for seniors.

The Senate will next take up the House health care reconciliation bill to make some minor fixes.

It will take most of the week to complete that work unless Republicans figure out a way to delay the process. Busloads of Democratic senators and House members were brought in for the signing.

Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who championed the health care reform issue, was seated in the front row.

Kennedy's son, retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and his cousin Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, also attended.

Obama and Caroline Kennedy blinked back tears as he paid tribute to Ted Kennedy, who succumbed to brain cancer last fall.

The White House is well aware they still have to sell the virtues of the new law to the American people. Obama plans to travel to Iowa City Thursday to promote the legislation.

Obama unveiled his health care plan there during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The President is expected to make more campaign-like health speeches around the country in coming weeks.

White House aides believe the health bill, though well short of a more comprehensive plan preferred by many Democrats, will stabilize and energize Obama's presidency, which has struggled in recent months.

After signing the bill, Obama and Biden thanked more supporters at an Interior Department event.

"Health care is no longer a promise, it is the law of the land," Obama exulted to boisterous cheers.

Harlem's new political elite

With old-guard figures like Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Charles B. Rangel under fire, the time seems right for the next generation to step in. But they aren't as interested in running for office.

The other morning, while tourists were lining up for an early lunch at Sylvia's soul food restaurant in Harlem, Rodney Capel and Basil Smikle were finishing breakfast -- and dissecting the travails of the local political machine.

Usually by now they'd be chewing over lists of Democrats eager to jump into primaries this fall and scoping out Republicans hinting at making a run.

"But everything is in limbo, seized up," said Smikle, sipping his coffee. "It's just such a weird time."

In the span of a few months, the ground seemed to open up and swallow New York's first black governor, its black powerhouse in Congress and a beloved elder statesman, all products of the Harlem machine that for decades forced whites in New York and leaders across America to accept blacks as full-fledged partners.

The collapse of this dynasty has pained Harlem, and there are no rising stars to carry on. The new political elite is less interested in getting elected than in having influence in a broader sphere of the community. With their Ivy League educations, button-down shirts, blazers and jeans, the next generation represents a victory of sorts for the previous one, because the younger men occupy a place in society that the old guard could not have imagined.

They're busy as consultants to black and white politicians and as lobbyists. They teach at majority-white universities and are regulars on political talk shows. They're connected to an array of ministers, educational reformers, community leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs across the city, not just to a handful of men from central Harlem.

Several of these younger Harlem activists cringed early this month when a meeting of black leaders was arranged at Sylvia's, a longtime hangout of black politicians, to discuss whether to prop up embattled Gov. David Paterson. The convener was the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Harlem-based advocate for black causes who has had little success at the polls.

"It's so old-school and somewhat insulting," Smikle said, "to have a 'summit' like that when much of the electorate does not live in a world where they blindly abide by decisions made in smoke-filled backrooms by a few people."

It's not that Smikle and Capel, both 38, aren't regulars at Sylvia's. They takeclients there to talk politics and devour fried chicken and waffles and pancakes swimming in grits.

But they don't have the absolute political sway of their elders. Presidential hopefuls don't feel obliged to sup with them the way they did with the influential quartet of Rep. Charles B. Rangel; Basil Paterson, the governor's father; former mayor David Dinkins; and the late power broker Percy Sutton. (Even Barack Obama paid a courtesy call at Sylvia's during the 2008 presidential primary season when the Harlem machine snubbed him in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

Though Smikle, Capel and their friends with a taste for politics acknowledge a debt to the men known as the Gang of Four, they also hold them accountable for not cultivating new talent.

"In Harlem, there were never enough seats in this game of who is going to run for what," Smikle said. "There was always someone ahead, and my generation hasn't had people saying, 'I'll make you the next me,' so no one our age is stepping up to the plate now."

Over the last five decades, Harlem groomed just about every trailblazer in black politics in New York: Dinkins became the first black person to be mayor of New York City; former Comptroller H. Carl McCall was the first elected to statewide office; Herman D. Farrell Jr., a state assemblyman, was the first to chair the state Democratic Party; and David Paterson was the first black lieutenant governor and, later, governor.

Yet the election of the first African American president happened in spite of Harlem's clubhouse -- and was a sign of its power fading. The landscape had been shifting for years. Black voters had been moving to the outer boroughs and suburbs, and Harlem's political heirs came to prominence in places like southern Queens and central Brooklyn.

Still, both Capel and Smikle were attracted to Harlem politics and its storied tradition.

Capel grew up in the thick of the dynasty in Lenox Terrace, a 1950s-era apartment complex close to Sylvia's. It was one of the few middle-class enclaves in Harlem, and many political families lived there and, like Capel, still do.

"I knew what it meant to grow up around black royalty," Capel said. His father is Rangel's chief of staff and worked with the Gang of Four. "They were all my heroes."

After college he was drawn into the family business, so to speak, and after working on McCall's successful campaignbecame the first black executive director of the state Democratic Party. Capel considered running for the state Senate in 2006 but said he was told he couldn't jump ahead of older black officials.

Smikle was raised by his mother, a public school teacher from Jamaica. He grew up in the Bronx hearing about the Harlem gang "that had carved up the black political world and said, 'We'll own it.' "

After college he was determined to settle in Harlem.It was 1994, and the New England Journal of Medicine had reported that men in Harlem had a lower life expectancy than their counterparts in Bangladesh. The city owned two-thirds of Harlem, and much of it was abandoned or burned out. But Smikle was not deterred, not even by the crack dealers on his block.

"The brownstones were wrecked but they were great, and I dreamed of being a part of making a difference," Smikle said. At Columbia University, where he studied international relations, Smikle met Dinkins, who recommended him for a job revitalizing Harlem; he joined a historic Masonic lodge and a political club, where he met Capel.

It turned out they'd dated the same woman -- at the same time -- as undergraduates. "Neither of us knew," Capel said, smirking at his pal.

Over the last 15 years, Smikle and Capel have developed their own alliances with activists working on local, state and presidential campaigns. Capel was deputy state director for N.Y. Sen. Charles E. Schumer when Smikle held the same job for Sen. Clinton. They experienced politics at its most grinding and at its heights, traversing America with presidential candidates and accompanying U.S. senators on diplomatic missions.

Yet neither Capel nor Smikle nor their under-40 friends have shown much interest in seizing power from their elders. Certainly now would be an opportune moment.

The first blow came in December when Percy Sutton died at 89. He was a mentor to Gov. Paterson, not to mention Malcolm X's attorney. "After Percy died," Capel said, "it felt like everything else began crumbling."

After two turbulent years in office, Paterson, 55, was accused of intervening in a domestic violence case involving one of his aides and soliciting free tickets to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium. Under pressure from his party, he decided in February to end his campaign to keep his job for the next four years.

The same month, a congressional panel chastised Rangel, 79, for allowing a lobbyist to pay his way to a conference in the Caribbean. After losing the support of his colleagues, he resigned as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee while a probe continues into allegations of tax fraud and his use of four rent-stabilized apartments.

A 20-term congressman, Rangel was about the same age as Smikle and Capel when he took on -- and unseated -- Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a political giant who had been stripped of his seniority by a House panel because of an ethics investigation. But the younger men are too busy forging other paths to attempt what Rangel did to Powell.

Capel works for a lobbying firm; Smikle teaches public-sector marketing and communications to graduate students at Columbia and has settled in West Harlem on historic Sugar Hill, in the same 1936 building that was once home to Paul Robeson, the actor, civil rights activist and hero of Harlem.

"When I talk to kids about public service," Smikle said, "it's hard to create the impression with what's been swirling around that politics is so great. You can't defend the indefensible."

Capel is more sympathetic, particularly to Rangel for building coalitions in a district where blacks now account for only 3 in 10 residents.

"It's sad that Harlem won't have the historic leadership positions in government and politics, that raw, sexy, political power of the Gang of Four," Capel said.

Smikle jumped in: "But that doesn't mean that we won't have a Gang of Four in other fields."

Capel picked up: "There are a lot of black women in Harlem who own businesses. There could be a Gang of Four in banking, in law or entertainment from Harlem."

They live in a Harlem that has been revitalized by young professionals, both black and white, attracted to its renovated brownstones and less-expensive neighborhoods. This new Harlem is more a museum of black urban America than an epicenter of its politics.

As Capel and Smikle left Sylvia's, they passed tourists from Holland, Israel and Japan waiting for tables. A Dutch woman observed the two nice-looking men, both 6-feet-plus, and whispered to someone she thought might know, "Who are they?"

Smikle and Capel exchanged self-effacing looks. They don't have the celebrity or magnetism of the old gang -- but they are making their way nonetheless.

"I think Rodney and I are fortunate to be of a generation that doesn't have to seek one kind of success," Smikle said.

geraldine.baum@ latimes.com