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Ministry of Information

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor makes things happen and watches people in New York City and Budapest. Founding member of the Open University and of Think Tank X, artist and situation-maker, she teaches anthropology at Hunter College and Cooper Union in New York.



"Rites of Return" Remembering Europe in Palestine

The "shift from a reformist to a radical agenda in political Islam is best understood in the context of the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism", writes Mahmood Mamdani.  In his book Good Muslim Bad Muslim, Mamdani explains the historical processes that have produced political Islam and "Islamic fundamentalism", what he argue are markedly modern forms. Focusing on Afganistan, he contextualizes how the word Muslim has become a synonym for terrorist on the tongues of many in a broader history of first colonialism and then the Cold War.

I want now to historicize the story of Palestine, which got its name from the Romans in the second century.  Palestine came under British "protectorship" at the end of World War 1, when the Ottoman ("Turkish") and Austro-Hungarian Empires were divvied up by the triumphant League of Nations. From the late 19th century onward, European Jewish "zionists" began to settle in the region, which until then had only a small Jewish minority (9%), prompted by their periodic and often severe persecution in Europe.  The Holocaust that killed an estimated 6 million European Jews was a decisive moment for the foundation of the Israeli state. Many Jews fled to Israel for their lives, and their wishes were now supported by the collective guilt of allied counties after the war.

By 1917 the British had already agreed to support the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration. In the next few decades, Muslim peasants were displaced to make room for zionist settlers.  In 1947, a day before the British Mandate in Palestine would have been terminated, Israel proclaimed itself an independent state. The UN had drawn up a partition plan for the territory, but a war broke out between "Arabs" and Israelis, because Palestinians were still set on self determination for the region as a whole. Native Palestinians, feeling that the partition was unfair, were aided by Arabs from the newly independent neighboring states, defying all predictions that the Palestinians were "too weak" to fight.

770,000 Palestinians fled their homes, leaving not only the parts designated to become Israel in the Partition plan, but also those that Israel captured in the war.  Although the UN passed a resolution declaring that refugees wishing to return should be permitted to do so and that those wishing not to should be compensated for their property, few did, resulting in a refugee crisis. Refugees and those descended from them now amount to 4 million.

The 1993 Oslo agreements meant the withdrawal of Israeli defense forces from Gaza and the West Bank. Since then, Israel has taken over some of this territory, and Israeli settlers continue to colonize portions of it.  The Camp David Peace summit in 2000, at which agreements were expected to be made on refugees and their right of return, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and territorial issues was followed by the second "shaking off", or intifada, inspired by the failure of the Palestinian parliament to declare an independent Palestinian state.

Even with Israel's concessions, like the "disengagement" implemented in 2005, one only need to superimpose the map of the original 1947 partition plan and the current map of the region to see what a brilliant job Israel has done in expanding itself, and naturalizing borders less and less favorable to Palestinians.  But perhaps even more naturalized is the idea that the conflict between Jews and Palestinians are age old enemies in the region, rather than between a local population and European settlers.  This is not to say that we should desire Israel to disappear, and ore than we can expect Europeans to leave the New World to the Native Americans. We can, however, remind ourselves of that history.

But lets go back to the question of refugees and citizenship. One of the major obstacles to a long term peaceful agreement is the issue of the right of return for displaced Palestinians and their descendents. Defined as a "Jewish state", Israel's demographic weight would be tipped by any such move. In fact, allowing Palestinians to return would ultimately mean that Muslims would outnumber Jews in Israel.  Israeli nationality laws are written in favor of people with Jewish heritage, regardless of their birthplace, while those Muslims born on what is now considered Israeli soil who did not remain there face great difficulties. This right, ironically, is called "the Law of Return."

It is thus that Israeli citizens, even those who may wish for peace and justice for Palestinians, find themselves in a problematic situation-their own ability to become Israeli citizens is the flip side of the impossibility of such citizenship for Palestinians.  This fact is so obvious that 200 Jews in the diaspora renounced their legal right to Israeli citizenship in order to pointedly declare that they reject Israel's dispossession of Palestinians (see The Israeli state is a contradiction. It is a modern state that emerged after WW11, yet it defines citizenship in religious terms.  Zionist settlers, persecuted as they were in Europe, were nevertheless European colonists in the Middle East.


Mary Taylor

[Ministry of Information] vol.06




The MINISTRY OF INFORMATION cordially invites you
to a reception at the center of the global economy in the magnificent
City of New York.

On the Occasion of the Passing of the Year 2008

It is 1930 and the tallest building in the world has just been completed in our proud metropolis. Some citizens pay "voluntary taxes" of food for the growing ranks of the unemployed, while others retreat to gilded bordellos free from agitators. On the way to the Ministry of Information New Years Eve Party your driver skirts the University in Exile roadblock and passesWashington Square Park, where the arch is being aligned with 5th Avenue by
Metropolis and University to facilitate auto traffic through the park.  Markets are plummeting. Soldiers and civilians die in the wars.  SOMETHING IS IN THE AIR.

--We warned you.


• March 2003  Invasion of Iraq
• September 2005 Hurricane Katrina Dispossesses New Orleans' African Americans
• July 2007  Global Stock Markets Tumble
• October 2008 Layoffs Sweep From Wall Street Across New York Area
• November 2008 Barack Obama Elected President of the United States of America

• 10:00 Cocktails
• 12:00 Toast
• 12:30 Big Band Orchestra, Mambo.

 Official Recession Event. Bring the liquor of your choice and only those guests whom you trust.  Jacket required.



[Ministry of Information] vol.05



On November 12, 2008the Headline of the New York Times read "IRAQ WAR ENDS".  If you looked closely you might have noticed that this 14 page edition was dated July 4th, 2009.
A product of the mass coordination of conceptual artists, craftspeople of various trades, and ordinary citizens, this version of the New York Times made it intro the hands of hundreds of New Yorkers. The fake New York Times of November 12 lays out a vision of the future that is possible for us to produce.
Dancing, hugging, and shouting for joy, more than half the voting public celebrated the victory of the first Black man to be elected the President of the United States, Barack Obama takes the helm of the nation at a crucial time in our history as our economy hits the greatest crisis since the Great Depression, dragging the entire global economy down with it.  Indeed, the election of Barack Obama and the financial crisis constitute once event.
We, the people, must take this opportunity to act.  While savoring the thrill of Obama's victory and our part in it, we must now lean our massive weight on him to assure that he steers this nation and its effects in the right direction and fulfills his mandate to us.
The author of a July 4th New York Times article entitled "POPULAR PRESSURE USHERS RECENT PROGRESSIVE TILT" writes that "not since the Great Depression has the interaction between popular movements and public leaders been so robust."  Predicting that the relationship between legislative process and citizen action will reach the levels of the Great Depression, s/he reminds us that the Wagner Act, National Labor Relations Act and the Glass-Steagall act were enacted because people did not wait for the government to decide for them. FDR's New Deal was a legislative compromise with united citizens.

Mary Taylor

[Ministry of Information] vol.04



A Class Act
(the financial coup of 2008)

    Ralph Nader is famous for saying that the Republican and De3mocratis parties are two heads of the same monster. The financial crisis is a perfect example of both how similar and how different the two parties are (and part of our problem here is the shifting ways in which the term liberal and liberalism is used).

    Lets start with the basics. The current crisis is the result of a slow steady series of policies of deregulation that date back to Carter, are more noticeable in the Reagan years, take off in the Clinton years, and peak in the Bush years. The roots of this crisis are bipartisan.

    Now just what was being deregulated? Recall that FDR was elected in the midst of the Great depression and was able to enact what would be called in Europe "social democratic" policies that created employment, helped the flow of capital, and bettered the infrastructure. But the FDR administration also pushed laws designed to avoid the kind of credit crisis that had caused the credit crisis. One of these was the Glass Steagall act, which led to the differentiation between speculating investment banks, and commercial banks that deal with the public, take deposits, take savings, make mortgage loans. The government agreed to back those commercial institutions that deal with the public and not speculative investment banks. An insurance company, the FDIC, was created to back deposits for the public, and only these. Over the ensuing decades, these two types of banks have merged, and finally in late 1999, the Glass-Steagall was repealed in Congress.

    Other kinds of merging have been going on, and understanding them will help us to see the bipartisan nature of this crisis. The Treasury is supposed to represent the government and the economy, and the Fed is supposed to be the board of directors of commercial banks, but now Wall Street plays both sides of the game. It not only supplies the heads of the Fed; it supplies the Secretary of the Treasury. And that's why I said the class war is back in business with a vengeance. Glass-Steagall was designed to prevent what has happened by keeping investment banking apart from commercial banking. Now the banking system commits its deposits-savings- into exploitive loans.  So if a bailout favorable to the banks rather than to mortgage holders passes, finance will have won the bet-it will have succeeded in this strategy of a massive act of dispossession of the more vulnerable parts of the population.

    Now lets talk about Phil Gramm, top adviser to McCain. Gramm has been a major force behind the diminishment of the information that we need to understand this crisis. He knew that if we how these characters are making money, they are going to be forced to pay taxes on it. The result is that the regulatory agencies don't anymore collect the information that allows them to evaluate what is happening. For example, the government has no adequate statistics on what the value of real estate is, what the amount of debt is. If such statistics existed they would unequivocably show that the amount of debt far exceeds the ability of debtors to pay. Gramm's strategy has been to decrease taxes on finance and to shift the burden onto industry and industry.

    The strategy of the Federal Reserve has been to bail out the big fish. It is the pension funds and small investors who will not be bailed out, The government has come down on the side of the architects of the disaster. And the bailout bill in all of the forms we have seen so far will lock in and prevent any new administration from coming in and cleaning up the mess. The people who've made the mess are now in control.  We are on the verge of a blatant executive coup that would put finance in power.

    This, I repeat, is not a Republican strategy. In fact, it was Republicans who stopped the bill from passing so far. It was those Republicans that truly believe in the free market they preach who cried "socialism" at the public expenditures mandate by this bill. Obama, for example, is not against it, and Paulson has bet his cards on the Democrats to get the bill through!  It was, after all, a Democratic president, Clinton, under whose watch the Glass-Steagall act was repealed, and Democratic secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, who supported it.  Rubin is a top adviser to Obama. Like the current Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson used to collect a salary at Goldman Sachs, as have a number of people in Washington.

    The two parties, Republican and Democratic, show more similarities than differences. Both believe in a liberal market and both have participated in bringing about the massive deregulation that has occurred at accelerating rates since the Truman's watch. They have done away with all of the laws and practices, designed on sound knowledge of the Great Depression, to avoid a crisis like this.  The question that remains is- who will make away with the loot?  If the government passes a bill that is not punitive to the financial sector, that does not provide for small homeowners and business owners, that does not allow for legislative oversight and review of the policies enacted by the treasury, the country will come awfully close to what FDR defined as fascism- government controlled by private economic power. As Ralph Nader said a few days ago, "once this happens, it's not going to be reversible". Once it happens, "then the chance for comprehensive regulation and all the other changes to make Wall Street accountable" will be gone.

[Ministry of Information] vol.03



Democracy, Now?

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a `community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities," said Sarah Palen as she accepted her nomination for vice presidential candidacy at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota on Wednesday, September 3rd.  How does Palin's delegitimation of community organizers, those volunteer activists who dedicate their un or underpaid time to exercise democracy connect with broader trends related to this political moment?

Zoom out, now, from the XCEL Energy Center to a quiet St Paul suburb. And rewind to Saturday, August 30th. Pan across town, to 3240 17th Avenue South, where 23 year old Monicka Bicking, her roommates, and her guests are all asleep. At 8:00 in the morning, police come banging through the back door, equipped with automatic weapons and assault rifles, ordering everyone to the floor, face down, cuffing their hands behind their backs and proceeding to search the entire house. Monicka and two others were eventually taken off to jail, while the others were released one by one, once photographed, searched, and ID'd.

Monicka Bicking is a member of The RNC Welcoming Committee, a group working to facilitate protests at and about the Republican National Convention. Their aim was to help other people from out of town to engage in protest by arranging for housing, medical and legal support, child care, and strategic coordination.  "They were not planning the activities... but rather, facilitating them (Bicking 2).

Fast forward to 2:45PM on that same day, Saturday.  Pan across town. Members of the collective I Witness Video, dedicated to documenting police violence at the convention, are gathered in a pretty blue house -949 Iglehart Avenue-as police bust in with drawn handguns, proceeding to handcuff everyone inside, corralling them into the back garden. After collecting their personal information and completing a search (for what? we might ask), the police uncuffed everyone and departed.  I Witness, coincidentally, was "remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers"(Mattson 1). When the warrant finally arrived on Saturday, it was for the neighboring 951 Iglehart, from which police, once having detained the residents, hacked their way into the attic of the pretty blue house.

Zoom in again, we're back at the XCEL Energy Center. Its Monday, now, September 1st, still two days before Palin takes the stage. Journalist Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now! Radio is on the convention floor preparing to interview the Minnesota delegation when her cell phone rings. Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar have been violently arrested outside, she learns, while reporting on the protests. "Out of breath" she arrives at the parking lot, immediately approaching the line of riot police. Asking to speak to a commanding officer, she tells them that they have arrested accredited journalists.

They grab her, pull her behind the police line, forcibly twisting her arms behind her back, handcuffing her. Seeing Abdel Kouddous "his arm bloody, his credentials hanging from his neck", she repeats that they are accredited journalists.  A Secret Service agent comes over and ripps her convention credential from her neck (Goodman 2). She is taken to the St. Paul police garage where the very same cages she had reported on a month ago are awaiting protesters. She was charged with obstruction of a peace officer and Abdel Kouddous and Salazar with riot charges.

Lets return once again to community organizers and responsibility. Many of us writhed and shouted, wrote petitions and letters  and staged protests of all sortswhen the PATRIOT act was passed, and again renewed.  Monicka Bicking, a community organizer, is one of the eight activists charged with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism in relation to the RNC.  This charge derives from a law passed after the attacks in New York on September 11th, and its definition parallels that found in the federal PATRIOT Act, and covers "any criminal act, in this case at least a felony, designed to influence or coerce public opinion or to disrupt a public assembly" (Nestor 2).

"These charges are very significant for any political activist or anybody that cares about the right to organize politically or for freedom of speech. By equating plans or stated plans to blockade traffic and to try to disrupt the convention with acts of terrorism, the conspiracy nature of the charge, where you punish people for what they say or advocate, but not for what they do, really creates a possibility that anybody organizing a large-scale demonstration, at which civil disobedience may be a part of it or where other individuals may then engage in some type of property damage, creates the potential that all those organizers can be charged with these conspiracy charges and face significant penalties."(Nestor 2).

If politicians are the only responsible political actors, and community organizers, activists and journalists are thus without responsibilities then their practices can be framed as irresponsible to the public and therefore dangerous.  What does this mean in a moment when such "irresponsibility" can be labeled terrorism and the perpetrator placed outside the rule of law? Similar formulations have presented themselves in the 20th century.


Mary Taylor