On the front lines at Woodstock 99

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(Ed note: Jeff Benner, who wrote this Must Read, was one of four Mother Jones staffers we sent to Woodstock 99, where riots broke out last weekend.)

A group of reporters from Syracuse newspapers provide unbiased and comprehensive coverage of the Sunday night riots at Woodstock. It’ s the kind of reporting we would have done if we weren’t such wimps. Although this article‘s time line begins at 10 p.m., from our perspective, the writing was already on the wall by 8 p.m. At around that time, near the Mother Jones booth from which we were frantically distributing free magazines, a mini-riot had already broken out. Two groups were throwing plastic bottles at each other, which quickly escalated to steel drums, and anything else they could get their hands on. The exchange was not antagonistic, but it seemed like just the kind of “play fight” which under some conditions can quickly turn real. Next, they started taking a fence down, which yielded 10-foot steel poles to pound on things with.

I asked a “peace patrol” person who was strolling by the melée if there were any other security personnel left (we hadn’t seen any all day), and if they planned to do anything. “We’ve been instructed to touch no one and do nothing,” he said. A few dozen yards away, a young man was hacking on the fence with one of the “liberated” steel poles. The band Megadeath was playing on the west stage, the wind was kicking up and storm clouds loomed. All the signs were pointing toward one conclusion: This was a bad scene waiting to happen. We packed in five minutes and headed out. I was genuinely afraid for those vendors who were next to us. They would have to stay all night to protect their stuff.

Accounts like the one linked to here, which is posted on SYRACUSE ONLINE, all seem to indicate that our hunch was correct, but also that things could have been far worse. The rioters seem, in general, to have been interested primarily in damaging property, not attacking people. Considering that by Sunday the concert was a complete security vacuum in which one could have literally gotten away with murder, the lack of more violent attacks on the innocent is a faint silver lining to an otherwise ugly cloud of negativity and destruction.

Perhaps saddest of all, is that the whole scene could have been avoided if the tough talking promoters had spent less time running their mouths and more time organizing a competent and professional security staff (instead of giving lip-service to the issue of security and then not following through). Instead, they chose to use volunteers in T-shirts. These under-trained, under-equipped, and under-appreciated folks, predictably, walked off the job. Yet instead of calling for back-up early Sunday, the promoters apparently chose to sit back, cross their fingers, and hope they could sneak out the back door with their loot.



Feds defend Yellowstone wolves

July 29, 1999

The US Government and several enviro groups are jointly appealing a 1997 Wyoming court ruling which provided for the “removal” of gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park, according to REUTERS. The endangered wolves had been reintroduced to the park in 1995 after a 60 year absence.

The American Farm Bureau is defending the higher court ruling, saying ranchers’ ability to make a living could be imperiled if gray wolves that wander out of the park should choose to snack on their livestock. Here’s the reasoning: The beef industry is already troubled with the lowest market prices in years, and can’t afford any more blows to its bottom line. Um, is it just me, or is an economics 101 lesson in order here? Let’s see: more gray wolves = fewer cows = decline in beef supply (and assuming demand remains constant or rises, as the USDA reports is the case) = higher beef prices. The gray wolf should be the freaking mascot for these yahoos.



Stupidity of smart bombs

July 28, 1999

OUT THERE NEWS, which isn’t so much out there as on top of things, has posted this zinger of an indictment of so-called smart bombs, focussing specifically on their use in US attacks on Iraq since the Gulf War.

Experts in this report say the US has massively inflated its claims of smart bombs’ effectiveness and the scale of the damage they have caused. It turns out that the whiz-bang war toys haven’t quite lived up to their advanced billing in quite a few ways, not the least of which is that fully 20 percent of them have missed their targets.

The report makes some good points about the likelihood that Iraqi forces could easily hide any biological weapon labs from the even best smart bombs. And it asks the very cogent question: What happens when you blow up a lab full of anthrax? Military experts, we are told, are close to finishing an “implosion bomb” technology which somehow (they’re not explaining their logic here) would not disperse the toxins through the air. I feel safer, don’t you?



Mexican women take a stand, sit

July 27, 1999

Last Friday, instead of taking to the streets to protest the sometimes deplorable treatment of women in Mexico, many Mexican women did nothing. As a protest, that is. In a protest organized by the Mexican Pro-Woman Movement in honor of the International Day of Domestic Workers, homemakers put down their brooms and mixing bowls and rested for the cause, according to the MIAMI HERALD. The quiet statement was an attempt to make unhelpful husbands recognize the importance of work done in the home.

The action is an opportunity to shed light on other injustices Mexican women suffer. In addition, large numbers are victims of rape and domestic abuse — 1,500 sought help from a single women’s center last month. Many households are so male-dominated that women must seek permission from their husbands to go to school.

Several men interviewed said they didn’t mind if their wives didn’t do the housework for a day — as long as they got it all done the next. Perhaps this is why the Pro-Woman Movement is planning to turn up the volume with a march scheduled for next year.



Arab appointments stir controversy

July 26, 1999

Under strong pressure from Jewish groups, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt quietly withdrew his nomination of Salam al-Marayati to serve on the (U.S.) National Commission on Terrorism earlier this month after opponents claimed al-Marayati condones terrorism.

A similar controversy is swirling around Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s appointment of Hashem Mahameed to the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, yet Barak refuses to withdraw the appointment and continues to staunchly defend Mahameed. According to the LOS ANGELES TIMES, it will mark the first time a non-Jew is appointed to such a sensitive government post in Israel. Mahameed, an Israeli Arab, has spoken out against Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon, among other things. The opposition Likud party has filed a no-confidence motion against Barak’s government in response to the nomination.




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