Friday, February 24, 2006

FBI Questions Morrissey After He Calls Bush A Terrorist

Read more here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here's What I Wrote

For the March issue of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter newsletter ...

No reason to be paranoid but the Federal Government is watching and listening. In the last several months we have learned that the Pentagon is monitoring anti-war groups, the National Security Agency is wiretapping Americans without warrants and the FBI is paying informants to infiltrate activist groups.

It would be incredibly surprising if the National Lawyers Guild wasn’t on some of these watch lists. The NLG was labeled “subversive” by the Justice Department during the 1950’s McCarthy era. The House Committee on Un-American Activities even issued a mostly hyperbolic “Report on the National Lawyers Guild” that recommended barring members from federal employment.

Guild members were later integral to the struggle against COINTELPRO, defending its targets and exposing the infiltration and disruptive tactics of the FBI and CIA. The Guild was even a COINTELPRO target itself. In general, the NLG has always been at the forefront of the fight against the fiercest attacks on civil liberties. This has often meant that the Guild itself has been a frequent target of repression.
Of course, even if the NSA is monitoring phone calls to and from our office and, even if the gentlemen who frequently come to our office to repair our heater are actually FBI agents, I don’t believe we have anything to hide so there isn’t much to worry about, right? In a perfect world perhaps, but under present circumstances we still face great risks because of our principles.

Sometimes previously legal activities are deemed suddenly illegal as right-wing politicians seek to further suppress political dissent. So, 10 years ago Lynne Stewart’s actions would have been viewed as merely those of a passionate advocate; but today she is judged a “terrorist” and may face prison time.

Ten years ago donating to certain Palestinian charities or Islamic human rights organizations was philanthropy; today it is considered material support for terrorism. Right-wing groups already describe a lot of NLG activities as support for “the enemy.” Sadly, right-wing groups, however nutty, have more credibility today than they did 10 years ago.

Even if you have nothing to hide, law enforcement or prosecutors can quite often simply make something up. Thousands of criminal defendants accused of petty crimes in state courts all across the country face this reality every day. Our 911 Committee frequently discusses how to better inform targeted communities of this risk. People often agree to speak with agents without an attorney present because they know they’ve done nothing wrong. They don’t realize that their words can be twisted and used against them or their loved ones.

When prosecutors and law enforcement can’t successfully railroad defendants with false testimony or bogus evidence, they may be able to convince a partisan judge or jury to convict by relying on fear or prejudice. Lynne Stewart’s case is a good example: the judge allowed federal prosecutors to prejudice the jury by showing a video of Osama Bin Laden in the courtroom.

The Feds can also harm or destroy individuals or organizations in the court of public opinion. Last year the media was told that a major terrorist cell had been discovered in Lodi but, when the indictments were issued, there were no terrorist charges at all.

If the FBI and other agencies are really trying to protect us from terrorism, why would they spend so much time on individuals and organizations who really pose no actual terrorist threat? In part it’s because other kinds of threats are involved: political, social, and religious for example. But law enforcement often has no idea how to keep us safe.

Hollywood would have us believe that federal law enforcement is well-organized, highly advanced and well-intentioned. Hollywood produces a lot of fiction. I don’t mean to imply that the technology and intelligence of the FBI and other federal agencies shouldn’t cause us great fear, but their sheer power is far more frightening than their often sloppy and haphazard work. Despite their fumbling, they still execute their plans with lethal means and prosecute activists on the shakiest of grounds. The nature of prosecutorial investigations is to win convictions (or worse) at almost any cost. The Bill of Rights is just a nuisance in this process.

So there is a reason that the NLG is almost always in the “dog house” with federal law enforcement. Our politics is antithetical to theirs and our work almost always makes their job harder. But our members have always known we were doing the right thing, and with time we’ve been vindicated. The McCarthy hysteria of the 1950’s is now widely condemned as is COINTELPRO. With time and struggle, the agents scrutinizing this column for a coded message to our followers in Egypt will be but washed up characters from a shameful piece of American history.

Our chapter is presently working in coalition with several other organizations to share information about FBI questioning and surveillance and to develop Freedom of Information Act requests, know your rights information as well as political and legal responses. We are also gathering information about politically-motivated grand juries – a tool that federal prosecutors are using with much greater frequency in just the last year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Here's What I Said

Today at a press conference on the Patriot Act ...

There isn’t much of an opposition party in this country. Bush is breaking the law and the Democrats are driving the getaway car. Their giving in on the Patriot Act, at a time when Bush is enormously unpopular, is just the latest example.

This administration lied to the American people numerous times to force us into a war in Iraq. That war has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Americans, British and others and is costing us billions and perhaps ultimately trillions at a time when Americans are dying without healthcare and New Orleans residents with nowhere to go are being kicked out of hotel rooms. This administration has sanctioned torture and recreated the worst abuses of the Saddam Hussein regime in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo Bay, and continues to assert that the prisoners at these torture camps are terrorists but refuse to put their assertions to a test in any sort of legitimate courtroom. This administration is spying on Americans without court approval, and when confronted with this lawbreaking and gross violation of our civil rights, has the audacity to lash out at whoever leaked this top-secret program to the media. This administration forced the Patriot Act through Congress in the aftermath of 911 using fear of terrorism as its best lobbying tool and now seeks to extend that act, that has done little or nothing to keep us safe, and almost all of our Senators - Democrat and Republican - voted to conspire with the administration to rob our Bill of Rights of much meaning.

Feinstein said, "compromise and consensus require concessions and flexibility." Senator Feinstein, there should be no "concessions" in the battle over our civil rights. Senator Feinstein, Californians do not want leaders who "compromise" with an administration that is as arrogant and defiant as the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice/Gonzales cabal.
Californians deserve better.

We now have two new Supreme Court justices - Roberts and Alito - who will do a great deal of harm to human rights. I have no doubt that these two will work with the other right-wing justices to take power away from us and hand it to an already far too powerful executive branch. This enormous shift in our court system will affect abortion rights, privacy rights, rights against unreasonable search and seizure, speech, association and on and on. It is a historical shift in the wrong direction and most Senators chose to take their place on the wrong side of history. Feinstein, after speaking to the press about how pleaseant Samuel Alito was and how a filibuster was out of the question, eventually agreed to not oppose a filibuster. But, as her Green Party contender Todd Chretien has said, this was only after it became a meaningless gesture to do so. In other words, only after it was clear that the filibuster would fail did Feinstein take a stand to win a few points with her constituents.

It is no surprise, then, that Feinstein does not have the courage to stand with the only 3 Senators voting against the renewal of the Patriot Act. Californians deserve better, and I think there is a movement all across the country to make demands of our leaders and hopefully throw a lot of the bums out if not into jail. Lets get more people involved and broaden our movement so we can accomplish this. Thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Kooks, Nuts and Sleepyheads

The city of Highland in San Bernardino County California has banned the use of city funds for attending conferences in the city of San Francisco. Why? Because we are a bunch of "kooks and nuts." They are most upset about the passage of proposition i - a measure that called on banning military recruiters from public schools and providing more college scholarships as an alternative to going into the military.

The question is whether this will become a trend around the country. It certainly is the kind of grassroots, local movement that ironically was the strategy behind the counter-recruitment campaign in San Francisco. Still, I just don't see small-town America (especially the backward sort) leading a successful change in the direction of American politics. Not to be dismissive, but the reality is that the urban centers have always been the real battlegrounds and the places where change happens. San Francisco, like New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, Tokyo, etc, has more culture, more education, more diversity, more art, and most importantly more people. These cities also tend to be more progressive. Yes, progressive meaning progress, meaning forward political momentum.

There is plenty of reactionary politics in the big city as well. Fox News, which led the smear San Francisco campaign after prop i, is in New York City. Of course, the more right-wingers like Bill O'Reilly say nasty things about San Francisco, the more I know we're doing something right.

Speaking of culture and art, I just downloaded the new Belle and Sebastian album, which I love. I've only been through it about 5 or so times so far, but presently the best tracks appear to be White Collar Boy, Dress Up In You, Sukie In The Graveyard, and We Are The Sleepyheads. It has a sort of 70's fluffy cloud, retro feel. Some of the songs could be children's sing along songs. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Evil Empire

The United Nations and the European Parliament have called on the U.S. to close down the torture camp at Guantanamo Bay or put the prisoners there on trial. White House spokesman Scott McClennan said the report released by the UN "appears to be a rehash of some of the allegations that have been made by lawyers for some of the detainees and we know that al Qaeda detainees are trained in trying to disseminate false allegations."

So Al Qaeda trained these men to make up lies about being captured and held by the U.S. when? Along with those camps where they jog and jump on monkey bars they have a course titled: "How to Disseminate False Allegations About Your Conditions In Case You Are Captured by the U.S." And somehow this is getting to the UN through attorneys for those Al Qaeda trained prisoners, because the UN didn't speak to anyone presently detained at Guantanamo - the U.S. didn't allow it. McClellan's response to the calls to close down the prison just don't make sense.

McClellan also said, "These are dangerous terrorists that we're talking about that are there and I think we've talked about that issue before and nothing's changed in terms of our views." But the UN did talk to former prisoners from Guantanamo who had been released - they must not have been dangerous terrorists, and after a year or so of being held without trial the U.S. finally figured that out. (And if those guys weren't ultimately dangerous terrorists, they were certainly not trained by Al Qaeda to disseminate false allegations.)

Scott, if these are dangerous terrorists, then put them on trial; if they aren't, then shut down the torture camp - you goofy fascist.

Speaking of torture camps, new photos of Abu Ghraib torture were released. Most of the media made much about how embarrassing this is for the U.S. military, not much about how absolutely horrific it is and whether Americans are going to be held accountable.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What Does KFC Have To Do With Cartoons From A Danish Newspaper?

Protesters in Pakistan, who CNN reports were protesting cartoons originally published in Danish newspapers depicting the Prophet Mohammed, attacked a KFC, a McDonalds, a Holiday Inn and a number of other Western businesses, most, if not all, more associated with the United States than Denmark, Norway or any other nation. They also damaged a portrait of "President" GENERAL Pervez Musharraf - an ally to the United States and other Western leaders.

So perhaps the cartoons are really just the straw that broke the camel's back and U.S. foreign policy is like the five tons of straw that the camel had been struggling with for decades.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bring the Troops Home Now!

I was at an organizing meeting of a brand new coalition yesterday in San Francisco. There must have been 40 or 50 people there, most with ties to prominent lefty organizations on the West Coast or nationally. Medea Benjamin and the Coup's Boots Riley were both there, along with a woman who lost her son in Iraq and at least 3 Veterans for Peace who had spent time in Iraq. There were also folks from ANSWER, major labor organizations, United for Peace and Justice, and so on.

The meeting was called to form a broad coalition around the simple proposal to bring the troops home from Iraq now. Though even that was immediately controversial as some people argued for broadening the coalition to impeachment, Haiti, Sudan, the environment and beyond before the coalition was even officially formed. Eventually we agreed to the original idea - simple and reflecting the current majority opinion.

Some might ask why this happened now. It does seem that the anti-war movement is doing the same sort of thing it was doing in 2003. Since then the biggest change, and greatest hope, has come from the counter-recruitment movement. That will continue, but even so, Bush seems as determined as ever to remain in Iraq and possibly even expand his efforts. He faces little opposition, indeed some of the strongest official opposition comes from a handful of Democrats who call for removing troops but increasing other kinds of operations (can't we just bring democracy to Iraq by firing missiles from a battleship miles away?), or using resources to invade Iran and other nearby countries rather than remain in Iraq. Meanwhile, the war has dragged on much longer than most average Americans ever expected and now most have turned against the war. Yet the majority who want us out now or immediately have no voice either in Washington or on the corporate media. Some of the organizations that have done the most work to oppose the war remain isolated, divided or do not appeal to the average American.

So this happened now because the need existed and the time was ripe. I had to leave early but it seems that this new coalition will likely host an anti-war conference, support and build large rallies that are already planned for March and April, and maybe someday adopt a name. It was an incredible task just to get all those folks in one room. Whatever happens I have a lot of hope for a sharp increase in political activity that either ignores the two major parties or forces them to listen or face consequences.

By the way, at this particular union hall - in the SOMA of San Francisco - there was this moving painting (mural?) on the wall (see below). This image was greatly enhanced with photoshop because the actual painting was pretty faded and reflected a lot of light.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Don't Fly Too Close to Lawrence Livermore Labs (and other things on my mind this morning)

They have these new high-powered machine guns that can take out a plane from nearly a mile away. Wouldn't we all be a lot safer if they just shut the place down?

Oh yeah, and how do I put a little space around my images in html so the text isn't right next to it?

And also, what's with these liberals complaining about Bush's spying just because he didn't go to the FISA court? Why can't he just go to a regular court? Oh right, because then Al Qaeda will find out some magic detail about our high-tech spying and change their tactics just in time to finish their evolving plans to blow up every pre-school, church, orphanage, old-folks home and puppy in America.

And on a day when Muslims are rioting, war is raging, the President is illegally spying, and the globe is warming, why do I have to see all these stories about that actor who played a monster on TV dying? On that note, why did I have to hear all those stories about that groundhog last week?

Finally, I can't decide if I'm for Seattle or Pittsburgh, so I'm just not going to watch the game.