Tuesday, October 5, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate goes on -- some don't grasp it, others try to handicap it, who approved the latest $180 million US tax dollars to be spent in Iraq (on their workforce), more on the efforts to crush dissent in the United States, and political prisoner Lynne Stewart's 70th birthday is this Friday..
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) wonders today if there are signs of a breakthrough. Harry Smith (CBS' The Early Show) bemoans that "the apparent key to [Nouri al-] Maliki's gaining [Moqtada] Al Sadr's cooperation was an agreement to release hundreds of members of the Mahdi army who have been held in prison for years." offers a commentary on the status of Iraq's government here. Steve Inskeep and Michael Wahid Hanna ran the possibilities on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio). Excerpt.
Steve Inskeep: The news headlines suggest that Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, is going to keep his job. Is that certain at this point?
Michael Wahid Hanna: It's not absolutely certain. But it's always been the odds-on most likely result, and that's a function of demography and politics. Iraq is a Shiite-majority country and so although his party was the runner-up in the March elections, it was always likely that he was going up as the premier one more time.
Steve Inskeep: Well, because nobody had a majority so it was a matter of assembling enough building blocks among these parties to have a majority.
Michael Wahid Hanna: That's right. He lost by two seats, his party did, but obviously the next step is to form a government. And it was always going to be difficult for Iyad Allawi, the leader of the rival Iraqiya list(ph), which is seen as a sort of secular list, although he is a Shiite. Most of his votes came from Sunnis and so it was always going to be difficult to construct a parliamentary block where they were the majority.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-eight days with no government formed.
The stalemate continues. Some 'just know' it's about to end. They've 'just known' that for seven months now. The stalemate ends when Iraq forms a government. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports this morning that allies of Nouri and allies of Allawi are in talks currently. The discussions reportedly center around Nouri being prime minister and Allawi becoming president with expanded powers. The Irish Times reminds that nothing is a done deal and that Nouri still doesn't have the needed seats to form a government: "However, Mr Maliki is not there yet. He needs a commitment from Kurdish parties to get a clear majority. They offered yesterday to open talks, although on conditions that are likely to prove difficult. Critical will be a dispute over oil contracts which the Kurdish regional government insists should be part of its remit, and which has halted exports from the region. They also want the government to finance the peshmerga, the Kurdish military." Jane Arraf (CSM) quotes Iraqiya's Ezz al-Deen al-Dawla anticipates it will take over "two months" for a government to be agreed upon and formed. Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) observes, "The United States, of course, isn't sitting on the sidelines. Vice President Biden, who has the Iraq portfolio for the Obama administration, has been on the phone with every Iraqi leader who'll talk to him, but it's quite certain that list doesn't include the Sadrists, who put together the deal with Iran's backing." Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) quotes the US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey stating, "There is not clarity on whether the Sadrist movement is a political movement or it is an armed militia, which carries out political objectives through violent means, and a democracy cannot tolerate that. We would urge our Iraqi friends to be cautious in the kind of positions that they leave open to anyone who has not made clear their position." Asked about a reported deal between Nouri and Allawi that would give Allawi the presidency (a ceremonial post at present) at the US State Dept today, spokesperson Philip J. Crowley stated, "Well, first of all, we're not picking any winners in this. We don't have any favorite candidates for any office. That said, we believe that all four winning blocs, including Iraqiya and State of Law and others, should be able to play a role in the new government. [. . .] Again, we're looking for the emergence of an inclusive government. The Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, and others have to all feel if there's a government that is working on their behalf. That's been our position for the past six months." In related news, yesterday the US State Dept issued the following:
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns will travel to Yemen, Iraq, and Jordan October 4-8. In Yemen, Under Secretary Burns will consult with government officials and political party leaders on ways to enhance regional security and promote development. In Iraq, he will reaffirm U.S. support for formation of an inclusive and representative government, as well as review progress on the transition to a civilian-led partnership with Iraq. In Jordan, he will discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, including Middle East peace, with Jordan's King Abdullah. Under Secretary Burns will return to Washington, DC on October 8.
Meanwhile Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports US Agency for International Development (USAID) has opened bidding on a $180 million contract whose task would be reorganizing Iraq's "civil service of 3 million jobs." What's the lie? It's all so confusing. I believe the last lie was that Iraq might need the US military beyond 2011 because it can't patrol, protect and secure its own external borders. So what's the excuse on this one? And US tax payers are going to fork over $180 million more dollars? After learning that Nouri al-Maliki sits on billions of dollars he refuses to use for reconstruction?
Turning to the violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured 2 Iraqi soldiers, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured two people, 2 Baghdad roadside bombings which injured eight people, a Mosul roadside bombing wounded police Col Hazim Hmoud and two other police officers, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which wounded two people and a Jalawlaa car bombing which claimed 1 life.
Laith Hammoudi Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Brig Gen Mohammed Azeez was shot dead in Mosul, 2 women were shot dead in Mosul.
Laith Hammoudi Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Back to the US, Friday, September 24th FBI raids took place on at least seven homes of peace activists -- the FBI admits to raiding seven homes -- and the FBI raided the offices of Anti-War Committee. Just as that news was breaking, the National Lawyers Guild issued a new report, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." Saturday on Weekend Edition (NPR -- link has audio and text). Excerpt:
DAVID SCHAPER: Early last Friday morning, before 7:00, Joe Iosbaker says he heard a loud, sharp knock on the door of his Chicago home.
Mr. JOE IOSBAKER (Labor Organizer) When I came down the stairs, there were, I don't know, seven, eight, 10 agents standing on our front porch, and I thought they were Jehovah's Witnesses and I opened the door and they showed me a search warrant.
SCHAPER: Iosbaker, a labor organizer, says the agents came in and started searching the house, every inch of it. Joe's wife, Stephanie Weiner, says as many as 25 agents came through their house that day, searching and removing stuff for 10 hours.
Ms. STEPHANIE WEINER: The house was turned upside down, tip to toe, to such an extent that boxes from the '70s and '80s in our attic were brought down and looked through.
DAVID SCHAPER: Weiner, a community college teacher, says the agents went through their teenage sons' belongings too - notebooks, posters. They even went through the words and designs on their T-shirts.
Back to Heidi Boghosian -- along with being a National Lawyer Guild member, Heidi co-hosts WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio (9:00 a.m. EST Mondays -- also plays on other stations around the country throughout the week) with fellow attorneys Michael Ratner and Michael Smith and Monday the program explores the raids with guest Jim Fennerty. You can stream the broadcast at Law and Disorder Radio online and, for the next 89 days only, at the WBAI archives. We noted Heidi and Michael S. Smith's discussion on the raids yesterday, today, we're going to excerpt the conversation that took place with Jim Fennerty later in the week. The raids involved at least eight homes and the Twin Cities Antiwar Committee's headquarters. Excerpt:
Heidi Boghosian: The FBI search warrants indicate that agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Columbia and the Middle East. We're pleased today to be joined by attorney, activist and National Lawyers Guild member Jim Fennerty. Jim, welcome to Law and Disorder.
Jim Fennerty: It's a pleasure to be here today.
Heidi Boghosian: Well you've had a busy last week with the raids taking place all around the country. Can you tell us briefly what your role is in all of this?
Jim Fennerty: Well my role -- and I'm not the only one -- is basically we're putting a group of lawyers together from the National Lawyers Guild to try and represent people at the grand jury and, if any indictments come out of this, to represent people if anybody is indicted. So we have been basically speaking to our clients right now about what a grand jury is, how it functions and telling them that they have a right to refuse to testify at a grand jury or not.
Heidi Boghosian: How many clients are we talking about?
Jim Fennerty: Well as of Friday [the 24th], I knew of about 10 people who got subpeonas. As of Monday [the 27th], I've found out that 2 more people in Minneapolis got subpeonas. So far there's a total of 12 people with subpeonas.
Heidi Boghosian: Now do you think there's a connection between the Supreme Court's decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project and this rash of raids and issuance of subpeonas?
Jim Fennerty: Well I guess my feeling is, I think, after this decision, which I don't know if your listeners know about or not, but I think this emboldens the government to push the envelope and see what they can get away with here. Basically, trying to say that certain things that people have done may involve, as they say, "material aid to terrorist groups."
Michael Ratner: Yeah, that's like giving people free legal counsel is "material aid."
Heidi Boghosian: And we're talking international terrorist groups.
Michael Ratner: Yeah. Jim Fennerty, what people in Chicago are you personally representing and what's their political story? Why do you think they're targets?
Jim Fennerty: Well this is the thing. I was just at the US Attorneys office. I had another case in federal court this morning and the US attorney afterwards -- turns out it's the same attorney on these cases -- and he wanted to talk to me. Basically, so far he has not told me anybody who is actually a target, so we're concerned what that means. Now I've been lied to before when I went down to Florida in the Sami al-Arian case with somebody else who was involved with that. And they said, they couldn't tell me, they couldn't tell me. I get down there, we take the Fifth Amendment and they say, "We're not offering your guy immunity, go home." And then I, you know, a month or two later, he gets an indictment. Under their manual, tecnically, they're not supposed to send out a subpeona in a grand jury for a target unless they get higher authority to do that.
Michael Ratner: Heidi and I were talking about that.
Heidi Boghosian: So let's just explain for our listeners about grand juries a bit. When you talk about a target, you mean an individual who is under suspicion for violating the law.
Jim Fennerty: That is correct.
Heidi Boghosian: But what's happening now is that individuals are being given subpeonas in what we call a fishing expedition to try to get information about other people?
Jim Fennerty: That's what it sounds like now but I -- like I said, that's what they told me but it's happened before where somebody told me something and it didn't actually work out true but that's what I've been told today. Basically, a grand jury in its inception historically, you know, hundreds of years ago, was supposed to be citiznes coming together and determining if charges should be filed criminally against somebody. But what it's become, it's become almost, to me, almost like a rubber stamp for the government because basically what happens is the government, US attorneys, can be inside the grand jury. There's usually around 23 people who are called, citizens, to be at the grand jury and what happens is that the US attorney can be inside, they can ask you questions, you can refuse to answer those questions, but your side never gets told to these 23 people. In other words, your lawyer can't come in there and argue for you and give your side of it. That's why it's, like I said, it's pretty much a rubber stamp for what the prosecutors want and people should be very, very concerned about going there because what you say could be twisted around and you've just got to be very vigilant about what you do. You know, most cases, people can say they don't want to testify at the grand jury, they're going to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against incrimination. What they could do at a grand jury, they could offer you immunity which is use immunity, it's not total immunity, but what that means is they offer you immunity and then you refuse to testify, you can be taken to a judge, they'll read the question to the judge and then they'll ask you the answer to that question. If you continue to refuse to answer that question, then a judge can hold you in civil contempt and you could be incarcerated for the remaining time of the grand jury.
Heidi Boghosian: And that can be a long time.
Jim Fennerty: Well that can be depending how long the grand jury is sits. But your lawyer can go back periodically and say, "Look it, Judge, this person's been there for three months or whatever and they're not going to testify. They're still not going to testify. So it makes no sense to keep continuing to lock them up." And hopefully you'll get a sympathetic judge for that.
Heidi Boghosian: Because it is -- it is lawful to hold someone in civil contempt, to incarcerate them as a method of coercion --
Jim Fennerty: Correct.
Heidi Boghosian: -- but not as punishment --
Jim Fennerty: Correct.
Heidi Boghosian: -- and that's why we try to argue that it's not doing any good.
Jim Fennerty: There's not much difference, is there?
Heidi Boghosian: No. Do you expect there to be more raids, Jim?
Jim Fennerty: I don't know if there's going to be more raids or not. They're not showing us all their cards yet so we don't know where they're going with this but, I mean, there could be raids, but I think that -- it seems that maybe this is like a test. Like a test case to see how far they can push the envelope. since the Humanitarian aid project case (Holder v. ]. And so I don't know if there's going to be any, I can't say. But I think people have to be careful but not so careful that they just shut up, don't demonstrate.
As with the segment noted yesterday, it was stressed that if the FBI contacts you, you should call an attorney (Jim stated have them slide their card on the door and tell them your attorney will contact them) and that the NLG hotline if the FBI visits you is 888-654-3265 or 888-NLG-ECOL. In addition, they stressed the need not to lie. And the reason you shouldn't speak without an attorney present is you may be caught in a lie without knowing it and they can turn around and charge you with lying to a federal officer. Political prisoner Lynne Stewart, Mother Courage, as she is often billed, turns 70-years-old this Friday and you can send her a birthday greeting or write her a letter to let her know you stand with her:
150 Park Row
New York, New York 10007
Heidi noted that the recent NLG convention in New Orleans was the first convention she could remember without Lynne being present (but noted that Lynne was present in spirit).
Back to the attacks on activists, as noted yesterday, in an earlier segment of the broadcast, Michael S. Smith noted that the chilling of dissent in such cases includes that "the movement that you're part of being sidetracked and depleted in its efforts to defend you" and Heidi noted that, after being targeted, "these individuals are caught up in the legal system for two or more years. That, in and of itself, is a disruption of one's life, costly even if they get lawyers who donate some of their services, it still brings an enormous cost to their lives and their immediate community." And Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan is fully aware of that. Last November, almost a year ago, she took part in a peaceful demonstration at Travis Air Force Base. She explains that they were yelled out by war-niks, who continued to harass and approach them and began yelling in Cindy's ear as she was speaking to the press, he slapped a bullhorn in her hand and the police -- civilian and military -- did nothing leaving the women with Cindy in the position of erecting a human barrier between Cindy and the nut. Cindy was then ticketed -- as she was leaving -- for "obstructing traffic" and she goes back into court tomorrow in Fairfield. But before the 8:30 start time, she will join other peace activists protesting the use of drones at Travis Air Force Base: "Take Air Base Parkway off of Interstate 80 and go south to the end of the road to the Main Gate." Her court appearance is at Solano County Superior Court, Traffic Dept 26.
Cindy knows a great deal about efforts to silence dissent. When some people could hide behind her or use her to attack George W. Bush (while apparently just pretending to call out the Iraq War -- and don't pretend that those faux activists ever called out that illegal war on Afghanistan because they didn't), they did so gladly. When she wanted to challenge Democrats other than the small group of women that the so-called peace movement allows you to go after (women and Joe Lieberman who is now billed as "an independent"), she saw how the walls could close. When she ran opposite Nancy Pelosi in 2008 for the House seat in the eighth district, she found out what scorn was as various types attacked her. And excuse the hell out of me, that's my district. I have a say in that district. Katha Pollitt? Is she voting in NYC or Conn.? It's hard to keep track because she keeps flipping her registration? The little __ that produced the T&A feature and saw fit to attack Cindy at The Huffington Post? She lives in Los Angeles. If you can't vote in the race, maybe your opinion on it isn't needed?
I know that's shocking to the likes of Katha Pollitt who always seem to think they're babble is needed. On the plus side, when Katha wrote her attack on Cindy -- an attack in which she claimed to have huge admiration for Cindy -- she finally wrote about Cindy. The rest of the press had been writing about Cindy for three years by the time 'feminist' Katha finally found time to write about the face of the peace movement. A woman. And 'feminist' Katha never thought to write about her before? (Katha's not a feminist. She writes bad poetry, she cries about her ex leaving her for a thinner woman -- most of us are thinner than Katha, she spreads nasty rumors about that woman, she whines and indulges in her addiction of choice but none of that makes her a feminist.) So Cindy knows about internal attacks and she certainly knows governmental attacks. Today at Al Jazeera, she tackles the raids and the efforts to suppress free speech. Excerpt:
There is nothing noble about an agency that has reduced itself to being jackbooted enforcers of a neo-fascist police state, no matter how much the FBI has been romanticised in movies, television and books.
For example, in one instance, early in the morning of September 24, at the home of Mick Kelly of Minneapolis, the door was battered in and flung across the room when his partner audaciously asked to see the FBI's warrant through the door's peephole. At Jessica Sundin's home, she walked downstairs to find seven agents ransacking her home while her partner and child looked on in shock.
These raids have terrifying implications for dissent here in the US.
First of all, these US citizens have been long-time and devoted anti-war activists who organised an anti-war rally that was violently suppressed by the US police state in Minneapolis-St. Paul, during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Because the Minneapolis activists have integrity, they had already announced that they would do the same if the Democrats hold their convention there in 2012.
I have observed that it was one thing to be anti-Bush, but to be anti-war in the age of Obama is not to be tolerated by many people. If you will also notice, the only people who seem to know about the raids are those of us already in the movement. There has been no huge outcry over this fresh outrage, either by the so-called movement or the corporate media.
I submit that if George Bush were still president, or if this happened under a McCain/Palin regime, there would be tens of thousands of people in the streets to protest. This is one of the reasons an escalation in police state oppression is so much more dangerous under Obama - even now, he gets a free pass from the very same people who should be adamantly opposed to such policies.
Secondly, I believe because the raids happened to basically 'unsung' and unknown, but very active workers in the movement, that the coordinated, early morning home invasions were designed to intimidate and frighten those of us who are still doing the work. The Obama regime would like nothing better than for us to shut up or go underground and to quit embarrassing it by pointing out its abject failures and highlighting its obvious crimes.
Just look at how the Democrats are demonising activists who are trying to point out the inconvenient truth that the country (under a near Democratic tyranny) is sliding further into economic collapse, environmental decay and perpetual war for enormous profit.
In political news, this Sunday NBC's Meet The Press is bringing on the Illinois' candidates for the US Senate . . . well some of them. Kimberly Wilder (OntheWilderSide) reports that Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones is not currently invited for this October 10th broadcast and he is calling on Meet The Press to open the gates. A copy of the letter he wrote is posted and people are encouraged to write letters to Meet The Press -- BUT, it's too late for letters. You can send the message "Let LeAlan debate!" by calling 202-885-4598 or you can e-mail Meet The Press by clicking here. But it is really too late to count on the postal service to get your hand written letter delivered in time to make a difference. So if you believe in more choices and if you believe the media needs to cover ALL the candidates, you can call the number and/or you can click here and write an e-mail to Meet The Press. Lynne Stewart, for those who wonder, most likely will not get your birthday greetings until after the weekend even if you send it tonight (the authorities go through her mail first). In terms, in case anyone's wondering, of Meet The Press, this issue needs to be dealt with no later than Friday, a decision made about it. That's why you need to use -- if you're going to write "Let LeAlan debate!" -- the e-mail form online.
Lastly, Vast Left has an interview with Paul Street at Corrente. Click here for part one, here for part two. The sexism of Paul Street apparently can't be hidden (and I'll also note he rewrites personal history a tad). Street's sexism and elitism is one of the main reasons we walked away from him some time ago. But Vast Left does a solid interview and even offers a pushback at one point when Street thinks he can use women as a joke. I should also note that long after we walked away from Street, he embraced authoritarinism publicly as long as it was coming from the left. Again, we have no need for Paul Street. Vast Left did do a solid interview so, for his work, we'll note it.
the early show
michael wahid hanna
the washington post
the irish times