Midtown Manhattan? In August?
I live in Waldo County now, but I used to live in New York City. I would occasionally get on Amtrak at Penn Station, to go visit my folks in Maryland; and I got off the subway at Herald Square every day on the way to work. I've been feeling a rather strong twinge of regret for not being there to be part of the historic -- albeit troubling -- events taking place there this past week.
In a phone conversation yesterday a Big Apple friend of mine said, "What I don't get is why, if they're concerned about security, they are having the Convention at Madison Square Garden." My reply showed how much of my New York edge I've lost in the last seven years: "Oh, wow -- you're right!"
We've all been reading and hearing about the intense security measures that New York, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security and I-don't-know-who-all have put in place for the Republican conclave. But, when my friend asked that question, I closed my eyes for a second and got a New Yorker's feel for the immensity of the task.
Madison Square Garden is in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. On any weekday afternoon in the general area of 7th Avenue and 34th Street, the sheer press of pedestrian and auto traffic is a wondrous thing to behold. The normal, everyday flow of traffic has the appearance, to the unaccustomed observer, of absolute gridlock. The crosstown buses are regularly outpaced by pedestrians who, having waited for a bus that was too full to get onto, have walked the same route. Midtown Manhattan is, by any stretch of the imagination, a mind-bendingly busy place.
The epicenter of all this density is Madison Square Garden -- or, to be precise, Penn Station, which is directly underneath. Without going outside of this one station, commuters can make connections on Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and the New York City A, C, E, 1, 2 and 3 subway lines. (And, from a terrorist's point of view, we must include the New Jersey PATH train, whose track to nearby Herald Square runs within bombing distance of MSG.)
Now, I understand that the NYPD, in cooperation with various other agencies, is doing its level best, that there are lots of bomb-sniffing dogs, electronic sensors, undercover officers, automatic weapons (and that's not counting the aerial photography). But, I ask you, is there any conceivable way they could possibly be up to the task? Are they going to scan or frisk every single person who walks past or rides under Madison Square Garden for an entire week? Is there any conceivable way that a long-planned, high-profile convention at Madison Square Garden could truly be secured against suicide-bomber attack?
But we're at Orange alert, people! The government says it's taking the threat of terrorism seriously, and intelligence reports have been hinting for months about a heightened risk of attack aimed at disrupting the elections.
Surely, from a military point of view, the Javits Convention Center is much easier to defend. It is way over at the shore of the Hudson River, with no trains running under it at all, and is quite difficult to reach on foot. This was, as I'm sure you can see, the essence of my friend's question. If they're concerned about security, why did they hold the convention at Madison Square Garden?
I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I puzzled over this question for an entire day before the reason came to me. Madison Square Garden was chosen as the site for the Republican Convention for the precise reason of its tremendous visibility and the absurd difficulty of actually defending it. People know that a terrorist threat exists, and that security precautions must be taken. What better way to bring that home to people than by holding the convention in the most publicly vulnerable place you could find anywhere? That ensures that as many people as possible will see and feel the presence of security forces protecting Very Important People against evil attacks by twisted Muslims. (It will also cost an ungodly amount of money, not just in direct costs but also in lost productivity as Manhattan spends a week -- in sweltering August, no less! -- in the throes of cranky and senseless gridlock.)
Just so we're clear on this, I am not suggesting that I believe there is no real terrorist threat. I'm not sure about the nature of that threat, but our country was attacked by terrorists, and precautions must be taken. I'm just saying that in choosing Madison Square Garden as their convention venue, the Republican Party and its associates in New York are tipping their hand. They're making it clear to us all that political theater is their #1 priority -- even at the expense of endangering thousands of innocent people.
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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A more secure (and appropriate) choice for the Republican convention site might have been Guantanamo, or Abu Ghraib. Anyway, what's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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