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People to People

Local woman returns from two weeks in Iran trying to foster understanding


Priscilla Fairbanks had just stepped off the plane. She handed the customs officer her passport. “What were you doing in Iran?” he demanded. “I told him I was a part of a peace delegation,” said Fairbanks. “He replied belligerently, sarcastically, ‘I don’t know who you think you are kidding.’ ” Fairbanks said that during her two-week trip to visit Iran, the country the Bush administration paints as America’s latest No. 1 enemy, the only negative reaction she encountered was from a uniformed officer of the U.S. government. Not once was Fairbanks greeted with disdain or contempt in Iran.

Traveling as part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group that organizes peace trips around the globe in hopes of fostering bonds between citizens of countries that are at odds with each other, Fairbanks, a resident of Poestenkill, got to meet with Iranian citizens in five cities, including Tehran. However, unlike past trips put together by FOR, Fairbanks’ group was not allowed to meet with scholars or civil-rights groups because of limitations set by the Iranian government. “There was a last-minute stipulation with our visas that we could not meet with groups. I think the government is worried about a velvet revolution.”

Fairbanks said that the Iranians she met smiled when she informed them she was an American. They would tell her, “We love Americans; we just don’t like Mr. Bush.” Banks said that her group attended a prayer vigil where the Iranians around her chanted, “Death to America! Death to Israel!” but Fairbanks said she was not concerned. “I saw a few women do some strong arm gestures while saying that, but with the rest of them I saw absolutely no commitment in it at all, and at the same time they would turn around and smile to us the whole time. It was clear they were doing it because they have to, not because they believe it.”

Fairbanks also met with groups that are dedicated to helping victims of chemical weapons from the Iran-Iraq war—a war that Fairbanks said Iran is still reeling from. Fairbanks said that America’s influence on the Iran-Iraq war is not lost on Iranians. “They lost so many people to that war. There is a whole population that has been maimed. There are victims of chemical warfare, and they know that we supplied those chemicals to Saddam Hussein and now our economic sanctions against Iran prevent them from getting medicines that would help these victims.” But Fairbanks said groups representing these victims were eager to meet with Americans to talk about how to move forward.

The most striking event of her trip was the release of the National Intelligence Estimate report that stated that Iran had been working on nuclear weapons program but stopped in 2003. “For Iranians I got the sense the NIE was a sigh of relief. They seemed to be saying, ‘Now will you believe what we are telling you?’ I brought back a newspaper from Tehran that has a picture of Bush on front with a very pouty face. I can’t read Farsi but the picture says a lot.”

Fairbanks said that, despite the NIE report, she is worried about Bush’s motivations and intentions towards Iran. “I don’t think the coast is clear. But we have to take this opportunity, this moment, we have to keep pushing our decision-makers that diplomacy is a must.”

—David King

What a Week

Beat it, Just Beat it!

U.S. Justice Department statistics show a dramatic 25-percent increase in incidents of police violating the civil rights of citizens frome 2001 to 2007. The sharp increase in police brutality and civil-rights violations has been attributed by some to a shortage of quality law-enforcement candidates, as the candidate pool has been drained by the desperate need for military personnel.

Down Boy! Or I’ll Shoot!

The professional mercenaries of Blackwater used by the U.S. government for “protection” in Iraq have a funny way of making friends everywhere they go. According to employees of The New York Times Baghdad bureau, Blackwater guards shot their office dog, Hentish, to death. Blackwater personnel were securing the Times office in preparation for the arrival of a U.S. diplomat, when Hentish allegedly attacked one of Blackwater’s bomb-sniffing dogs. A Blackwater spokesperson told Reuters that the shooting was unfortunate but necessary. “The K-9 handler made several unsuccessful attempts to get the dog to retreat, including placing himself between the dogs,” Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell told Reuters by e-mail. “When those efforts failed, the K-9 handler unfortunately was forced to use a pistol to protect the company’s K-9 and himself.”


Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut who caucuses with the Democrats, made another forceful move in his staunch support of the war in Iraq this week: He endorsed Republican warhound candidate John McCain. McCain once captured the imagination of some Republicans and Democrats as a candidate with enough integrity to actually work with both parties, but that was a long time ago, and fewer Republicans these days take his candidacy seriously as he continues to align himself with the flailing Bush administration. But Lieberman framed his endorsement as a daring bipartisan move and said that McCain—who also picked up some key newspaper endorsements this week—could “create a new unity in America.” Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination for Senate last year due in large part to his support of the Iraq war, but he won reelection as an Independent. Lieberman staffers reportedly have told the press his endorsement of McCain is the “hangover” from the 2006 elections.

Wrong Aid?

Plans to build another pharmacy on Troy’s Hoosick Street have some people upset


Nothing gets a small but determined group of Trojans more upset than the proposal of a national chain store setting up shop in their neighborhood. Especially when that store will be razing a historic building and pouring down a parking lot in its place.

A new battle is brewing over the ever-more-congested Hoosick Street in Troy, where Rite Aid Pharmacy has proposed building a new store at 272-282. Critics of the proposal have started an online petition, which has drawn more than 350 signatures. At the top of their list of complaints about the proposal is the redundancy of another pharmacy on Hoosick—Rite Aid already has two stores within a half-mile stretch.

The petition reads: “There will be a new Walgreen’s at the top of Hoosick St. There are an abundance of box store pharmacies locally, including CVS, Walmart, Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, Price Chopper pharmacy, etc.

“We believe that these new Rite Aids will detract from the aesthetic appearance of the city and will increase traffic substantially.”

Another cause of outcry is that a half-dozen historic homes currently are located on the proposed building site. One building, a former fraternity house, is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Last Thursday (Dec. 13), the Planning Board heard the proposal, but did not vote.

Representatives of Rite Aid and the petition could not be reached by press time.

—Chet Hardin

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

If Doughnuts Could Float

If you were in downtown Albany on Tuesday, there was a good chance you saw them: 3-foot-tall doughnut balloons, tossed around the tops of parking meters or being carried away by state workers. It was a publicity stunt to hype the release of the Simpsons movie on DVD. The balloons were tied to the parking meters, indicating that the parking fees for that particular meter had been picked up for the day by the production company. But a couple of things no one seemed to consider: One, people steal balloons. And two, helium doesn’t float in the cold.





Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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