Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our Deregulated Disaster

The moment has finally arrived. This moment, that of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, has been brewing for some time and was predicted by those who had the long-term vision to look beyond the rhetoric of deregulation. This is the same concept of deregulation that has its roots in Reaganomics and manifested itself in the form of the legislative efforts of Phil Gramm. Gramm worked to pass the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 ; both of which attributed to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and ushered in the deregulatory practices which have contributed to the crisis that the U.S. finds itself in today.

In response to the collapse of numerous institutions, President Bush has proposed a plan that would effectively give Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson complete control over $700 billion of taxpayer money to bail out some of the major financial institutions. Not only would this plan give Paulson complete control over this money, but there would be no oversight and no accountability for any actions that Paulson may take with this money. From Section 8 of the plan:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

It is language such as this that has led some to describe this bailout plan as an economic version of the PATRIOT Act. This parallel references the speed with which this act is being pushed through Congress after a crisis, as well as the sweeping power that would be invested in one central figure, in this case regarding economic policy. In the following paragraphs I will use this opportunity to discuss the viewpoints of three individuals who have given some insight into this recent crisis and will hopefully work to form a more productive narrative in the discussion of these issues.

Naomi Klein is a journalist and the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In this book, her primary thesis is that during times of crisis, the right has pushed through radical economic policies that are otherwise publicly unpopular. It is during this time of crisis where the public is "shocked" and the window for debate on these policies is often very small. Klein argues that this is exactly what is happening with this current financial crisis. This bailout plan is being touted by the government as a necessary fix and there are claims that this plan needs to be approved within the next week in order to prevent further damage from occurring. Meanwhile, this crisis is being used in an attempt to push through policies that Klein claims would worsen the problem. She wrote a recent piece for the Huffington Post in which she describes this:

"The best summary of how the right plans to use the economic crisis to push through their policy wish list comes from Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. On Sunday, Gingrich laid out 18 policy prescriptions for Congress to take in order to "return to a Reagan-Thatcher policy of economic growth through fundamental reforms." In the midst of this economic crisis, he is actually demanding the repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which would lead to further deregulation of the financial industry. Gingrich is also calling for reforming the education system to allow "competition" (a.k.a. vouchers), strengthening border enforcement, cutting corporate taxes and his signature move: allowing offshore drilling."

With the attempt to push through this massive bailout for the financial corporations, Klein also insists that this is a ticking time bomb that will eventually explode on the next administration. Klein was on Democracy Now! earlier this week and explained how this bailout plan may only be the first shock. From the transcript:

I’m also arguing that this is only stage one of the shock doctrine. They’re getting this—they’re lobbying for this huge bailout, obviously, but this bailout is a kind of a time bomb, because it’s all these bad debts, and they are going to explode on the next administration. I mean, we know that the Bush administration has already left the next administration with huge debt and deficit problems. They’ve just exploded those, expanded them. And what that means is that whoever the next president is is going to be inheriting this economic crisis that is being exacerbated by this bailout.

It is predictable, Klein argues, how a John McCain administration would handle this scenario because he has already expressed his support for privatizing Social Security and his willingness to cut social programs. An Obama Administration would also face very serious pressure from the corporate interests which have funded his campaign as well as from campaign advisers such as Robert Rubin. Klein claims that we can learn a lot from the candidacy of Bill Clinton. He ran a populist campaign during the primary season, but when he found himself in the middle of economic troubles, he took a turn towards policies that favored Wall Street at the urging of his advisers tied to corporate interests. There will be immense pressure upon an Obama Administration to do the same, which is why Klein calls for massive grassroots pressure on all the candidates and members of Congress to not pass this bailout plan in its current form and bend to the corporate interests that caused this problem in the first place.

Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator. He is also the author of a few books and currently writes daily for Greenwald has written a few pieces in the recent week regarding this financial crisis and brings an interesting look into some of the issues of hypocrisy surrounding this crisis. From his piece this previous Saturday:

What is more intrinsically corrupt than allowing people to engage in high-reward/no-risk capitalism -- where they reap tens of millions of dollars and more every year while their reckless gambles are paying off only to then have the Government shift their losses to the citizenry at large once their schemes collapse? We've retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses.

This proposed bailout plan does exactly that. It creates a win-win system for those who have engaged in practices and policies which have enriched those on Wall Street to the detriment of the working class. This is a plan that would justify these actions through not only saving these institutions, but by providing no oversight or accountability for the way that the Treasury Secretary will handle the process of bailing these companies out. Needless to say, in light of this it has been confusing to watch members of the right voice grave opposition to the Paulson Plan. We now see the likes of Bill Kristol, Michelle Malkin, and Newt Gingrich vehemently opposed to a bailout plan that would save Wall Street at the expense of the taxpayer. Greenwald explains the reason for this outrage:

They say it themselves: with the looming prospect of an Obama presidency, they may no longer be in charge of that Government and these "small government conservatives" have thus suddenly re-awoken to the virtues of checks and balances, oversight and other restraints.

This very re-awakening that Greenwald describes outlines the very hypocrisy of those on the right who are suddenly interested in regulation and oversight. Many of these figures (including John McCain) have worked for the majority of their careers to limit government regulation and free the market from any kind of oversight. Now, with the very real possibility of the power structure shifting, these same figures are suddenly calling for regulation and oversight. There is sudden concern that too much power would be concentrated in the hands of the Treasury Secretary and these right wing opponents are expressing the need for checks and balances so that one man does not have too much concentrated power. These are the same people who have spent the last eight years voicing their support for legislation such as FISA, the PATRIOT Act, and the Military Commissions Act; all of which had the radical affect of, you guessed it, concentrating power into the hands of one man. Oddly enough, to quote Greenwald: "Right-wing opposition to the Paulson plan is vital for having any meaningful chance to stop it." So we now find ourselves in the odd situation where it is necessary for the right-wing's hypocrisy to help save us from the incompetence of the Congressional Democrats. This would seem to point us toward the conclusion that there could be more wrong with this country than this financial crisis lets on.

This leads me to Dan La Botz. La Botz is a Cincinnati born writer, teacher, and activist who has written numerous books and a recent paper on "Who Rules Cincinnati". The Beacon did an interview with him recently on this topic and I attended his lecture this past week at the main branch of the Cincinnati Public Library. While La Botz's primary focus was on corporate influence in Cincinnati, he also spoke to the recent financial crisis because, as he put it, it would be silly for him to give a financial talk the day after the stock market crash of 1929 and not mention the stock market crash.

La Botz began with the point that this current financial problem is part of a bigger crisis of the American Capitalist system. He gave several reasons for why he believes this is so. Two of which were:

1. The United States embarked upon a plan to control a central source of petroleum in order to expand American interests and control a region of the world from which they would be able to protect these interests. This plan, La Botz argues, has failed. The War and occupation of Iraq have ended up costing the United States, by some estimates, over a trillion dollars and has left the U.S. in debt to several foreign nations (most notably China and Japan).

2. There is a disjuncture between the envisioned economy and what we see around us. As a people, we have been continually told that our economy is strong and that the United States is a top player in the world markets. This contradicts what people see around them. People are experiencing a damaged infrastructure, job loss due to globalization, and the lack of basic needs to members of our society.

These points lead to the conclusion that this crisis is not only about finance, but about the status of our society and our place in the world. Now you have a situation where you have governmental leaders and those on Wall Street running around trying to save capitalism by proposing sticking a band-aid on a gaping wound. It is because of this that Dan La Botz does not think that we have the forces to fundamentally change things. Similarly, Naomi Klein cautions those who think that capitalism is dead:

So, we should be really, really wary of this claim that we’re hearing that free market ideology is dead, that this marks the end of, you know, of capitalism. You know, I’m sorry, that is not the case. It may be going dormant for a little while to rationalize these massive bailouts, but it will come roaring back, and the crisis that is being deepened right now through these bailouts will be invoked for even more radical deregulation, privatization, tax cuts and so on.

In spite of the massive evidence that deregulation and a lack of oversight have caused the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, you still see the same giant corporate forces trying to bailout the very system that led us to this very moment in time. While it may be slightly encouraging to see members of Congress voicing their displeasure with the Paulson Plan it will not be enough to simply amend the plan and end up passing another so-called compromise bill. These are the times when we need to be engaged in a serious discussion about what brought us to this point. We can not afford to make decisions that will lead this country back down the same road which will continue to leave those who have the least suffering the most. Massive public pressure must be applied to the leadership of this country demanding a fundamental examination of these policies and we must begin to have a conversation about the danger of concentrating even more power into the hands of the few and the necessity of returning more power to the people.

This article can also be found at:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Prosecutors Announce That All Charges Against Journalists in St. Paul Will Be Dropped

In follow up to a story that was reported and discussed here at the Beacon, it has just been announced that all charges against journalists arrested in St. Paul during the RNC will be dropped.

The decision was announced by local authorities in St. Paul following widespread public outrage at the detention and the filing of charges against journalists arrested while covering the events outside the RNC. Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul released the following statement:

“This decision reflects the values we have in Saint Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press. A journalist plays a special role in our democracy and that role is just too important to ignore. At the scene, the police did their duty in protecting public safety. In this decision, we are serving the public’s interest to maintain the integrity of our democracy, system of justice and freedom of the press.”

While this is certainly recognized as encouraging news by advocates of independent media and freedom of the press, there are many questions that still remain. Nancy Doyle Brown of Twin Cities Media Alliance states:

"This is an important first step, but many questions remain. We still need answers about why and how journalists got swept up in these arrests in the first place. And more than anything else, we need to ensure that this never happens again. We’ll never know how many important stories never got told because their authors were behind bars, not in the streets."

After the arrest of Amy Goodman and two of her producers from the independent media program Democracy Now!, thousands of people from across the country signed letters and statements calling for their release. The media reform organization FreePress delivered over 60,000 of these letters and statements to St. Paul City Hall demanding that they drop all charges against journalists. Josh Silver of FreePress reacted this news today:

"We’re pleased that the St. Paul authorities ultimately acted to uphold the rights of all journalists -- including those citizens using blogs, cheap cameras and cell phones to report news as it happens. Our task now is to ensure that our press remains free to report on the events, issues and stories that matter to our country, our communities, and our democracy."

Part of ensuring the future freedom of the press and of reporters to report on dissent is to critically examine why these actions were taken and how they can be prevented in the future. The statement from the Mayor's office implies that this is how the system should work; police should detain and arrest indiscriminately and then the courts will end up sorting it all out. Instead of assuming that this is an overall success there needs to be an examination into how these incidents happened, how they can be prevented in the future, and the impact this model of law enforcement has on a free society. The fact that so many people rose up and demanded that these charges be dropped is a victory for the people in standing up for basic rights. While this should certainly be viewed as a victory, it should be viewed through a bittersweet lens. Arresting journalists interrupts the important work that they are doing on the ground during the event being covered and this is valuable time that has been squandard can not be given back. Examination also needs to be done over the strategy of preemptively raiding journalists houses and rented space as was done in the case of I-Witness Video. This practice led police to copy documents and photograph items within the property, detain the individuals inside, and interrupt the journalistic work that was done. The following questions need to be asked in this case:

1. What did police do with the information collected from these locations?
2. Is any of this information being stored in a database that can be used against activists that have not broken any law, in future high publicity events?

There is no telling the amount of information compiled about journalists who have not been charged or convicted with a crime during the DNC and RNC. This is relevant and needs to be addressed.

This article can also be viewed at:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Privatized Iraq and the Expansion of Private Contractors into Afghanistan

President Bush recently announced that he would be sending nearly 5,000 more troops into Afghanistan. Bush stated: "This continuing commitment to the Afghan people illustrates a stark contrast: While the terrorists and extremists deliberately target and murder the innocent, coalition and Afghan forces risk their lives to protect the innocent." Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have both voiced support for increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, but Barack Obama feels that Bush's plan does not go far enough. Obama recently stated, "His plan comes up short. It is not enough troops not enough resources with not enough urgency." While both major candidates for President may agree on sending more troops into the region, a conversation that is rarely discussed is the increased presence of private military contractors within the borders of Afghanistan and the expansion of military basis that hint at a long-term U.S. presence.

The presence of private military contractors inside Iraq's borders has been documented by some within the corporate media and investigated thoroughly by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill. Scahill published a book in 2007 entitled: Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in which he outlines the activities of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide. Blackwater has provided security for contractors, diplomats, and other high-level personnel in Iraq since initially receiving a no-bid contract for $21 million to guard Paul Bremer after the 2003 invasion. Blackwater continues to have their contracts renewed despite their involvement in incidents such as the Nisour Square Massacre, in which 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were gunned down by Blackwater employees. While arguably the most notable private contracting firm in Iraq, Blackwater is only one of many companies that has a presence in the region. In a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor, it is estimated that there are now over 190,000 private contractors in Iraq as of early 2008, a figure that outnumbers U.S. troops in the country. This continued reliance on such contracting firms, in addition to the expansion of the "Green Zone" and other military bases in the country, indicates that the United States is focused on a long-term presence in Iraq. With both major Presidential Candidates wanting to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and given the announcement of the increase of troops by President Bush, some familiar patterns are beginning to surface.

In a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post, it is reported that the Pentagon has issued a proposal seeking civilian contractors to begin performing various tasks in Afghanistan. It is also revealed that the Defense Department are seeking firms that could supply airborne surveillance services. Other contracts are also being put out by various governmental organizations for a wide range of materials. One contract asks for a contractor who can provide 22 medium to heavy lift helicopters and another for a contractor who can provide storage for 4,600 vehicles. A very telling quote from the article is from Rep. David Price of North Carolina. He says, "The military is stretched very thin, and to keep low the deployments numbers, there is a tendency to go to contractors who have played a huge part in Iraq."

With the expansion of troops to the region and the increased number of requests for private contractors, it is also relevant to look at the expansion of the Bagram prison facility in Afghanistan. Bagram is currently being expanded thanks to a $50 million dollar contract that was awarded from the Army Corps of Engineers to Prime Projects International to expand the prison facility so that it will be able to hold 1,000 high and low risk detainees. This project is not slated to be complete until October 2009. In addition to the physical expansion of the facility, the Pentagon is also looking to expand the role of intelligence operations at the Bagram facility. It was reported by USAToday that interrogators and analysts are being sought by the Pentagon to questions prisoners and provide intelligence that can be used on the battlefield. The report also states that the Pentagon is looking to hire a "trained Mullah" to conduct Islamic services for the detainees and advise the United States on religious issues.

Iraq has been the most privatized war that the United States has ever been involved in. The private contracting firms have never seen business booming at such a rapid rate. The Congressional Budget Office released a report in August, 2008 in which they stated:

The United States has used contractors during previous military operations, although not to the current extent. According to rough historical data, the ratio of about one contractor employee for every member of the U.S. armed forces in the Iraq theater is at least 2.5 times higher than that ratio during any other major U.S. conflict, although it is roughly comparable with the ratio during operations in the Balkans in the 1990s.

The rise in the privatization of the Iraq War has created a template for maximum profitability on services that are carried out by private contractors and often relied upon during a time of war. As private contractors are used more and more to provide services once performed by the military, accountability to international laws and regulations give way to an accountability to the bottom line. This privatization strategy has been embraced by the political leadership of the United States and is now being expanded to play a more prominent role in Afghanistan. This issue needs to be raised during this election season. While John McCain is largely silent on the issue of private contractors, Barack Obama spoke out against the role of contractors in October 2007; however when questioned by journalist Amy Goodman on the issue this summer, Obama refused to state that he would ban contractors from Iraq if elected. Video of that exchange can be found here. Now, as Obama is calling for a greater number of troops in Afghanistan, it is apparent that the level of contractors will only increase as this has been the model that has shown itself to be the best system for large profits. Will these questions be addressed? Is the expansion of the role of private contractors viewed as a problem by political leadership? Perhaps the answer lies in following the money. From a piece written by Aziz Choudry on

An April 2008 Centre for Responsive Politics report states that US Congress members invested US $196 million of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to US armed forces, ranging from aircraft and weapons manufacturers to producers of medical supplies and soft drinks.

Or perhaps part of the answer lies in an understanding of the foundation of the very conflict with which the U.S. has been involved in since 2001. It is summed up most recently by Seth Jones, a military analyst with the think tank RAND Corp:

"One thing we have not taken advantage of is just trying to understand what is motivating people to join the insurgency."

This article can also be found at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9/11/01: Seven Years Later Where Do We Stand?

As I sat in Memorial Hall this past Monday and listened to Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader address the crowd on various issues, my mind began to wander through all that has happened in this country since September 11, 2001. We often hear that it was the "day that changed everything" and our current leaders often accuse critics of thinking in a "pre-9/11 mindset", but with so much of this rhetoric used in order to achieve political gain we often find ourselves in discussions that are empty of substance. It is simply unproductive and intellectually dishonest to operate under the mindset that a second time-line of historical events began on 9/11/01. While it is certainly true that the events which transpired on that day radically altered the foreign and domestic policy of the United States, these attacks and the subsequent policy decisions implemented by our country's leadership must continue to be understood within the broader context of history and examined with a critical eye.

Immediately following 9/11 the Bush Administration and the leadership in Congress embarked upon a foreign policy that has resulted in an occupation of two countries, a crackdown on civil liberties at home, and the expansion of economic forces into areas of the world that are of strategic importance to so-called "American interests". This expansion of economic forces has led to a rapid increase in the corporate influence over war and occupation. It was first reported in the Los Angeles Times in July, 2007 that the number of private contractors in Iraq exceeded the number of U.S. troops. The private contractors in Iraq do everything from providing oil services to guarding high level diplomats:

The most controversial contractors are those working for private security companies, including Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Erinys. They guard sensitive sites and provide protection to U.S. and Iraqi government officials and businessmen.
Security contractors draw some of the sharpest criticism, much of it from military policy experts who say their jobs should be done by the military. On several occasions, heavily armed private contractors have engaged in firefights when attacked by Iraqi insurgents.
Others worry that the private security contractors lack accountability. Although scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.

Most importantly, these private contractors who perform functions usually designated to the military, are not beholden to any public interest but to a bottom line. Companies like Blackwater, have already had their contracts renewed in Iraq and are expanding their services domestically (which I will discuss in a moment).
Like the foreign policy decisions implemented since 9/11/01, domestic policy has been passed which has done little for the advancement of Democracy. The PATRIOT ACT was passed a little over a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and has only aided in the crackdown on civil liberties and dissent within the United States. The most recent example of this was in St. Paul, Minnesota for the Republican National Convention. This Convention saw preemptive police raids on media groups and journalists arrested for doing their job. The city of St. Paul with the help of Federal officials worked to stamp out dissenting voices using police intimidation and force. 8 members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were arrested in one of the preemptive house raids and have been charged with "furthering terrorism" under a Minnesota law that is similar to the PATRIOT Act. This is explained in a recent piece authored by Nat Perry and posted on

The language of the Minnesota law is eerily similar to the original Patriot Act, passed hastily in the aftermath of 9/11. Section 802 of the Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as "activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to influence policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (ii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. ..."
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association have long objected to this definition, particularly the provision of (B)(i). The prohibition against seeking to influence government policy by "intimidation" is so vague and so subjective that virtually any act of civil disobedience or confrontational protest could fit under the definition, the critics have said.

In addition to vague legislation which is being used to clamp down and even criminalize dissent, we are now seeing the domestic expansion of private contracting firms. Blackwater is notorious for their actions in Iraq and most notably for their involvement in the Nissour Square Massacre, but a recent article in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Jeremy Scahill makes it clear that private contracting firms see the United States as an open market as well:

Blackwater is also winning at home. The company recently fought back widespread local opposition to its plans for a new warfare training center in San Diego. When residents and local officials tried to block it, Blackwater sued the city. A federal judge, appointed by President Bush's father, ordered San Diego to stand down. Now the company is entrenched, guns a blazin', in San Diego and is well positioned to cash in on the increasingly privatized border-patrol industry.
Blackwater's California expansion is just one of several ventures that reveal how Blackwater is growing. Among the others:
* Prince's private spy agency, Total Intelligence Solutions, is now open for business. Run by three veteran CIA operatives, the company offers "CIA-type services" to governments and Fortune 1000 companies.
* Blackwater was asked by the Pentagon to bid for a share of a whopping $15-billion contract to "fight terrorists with drug-trade ties" in countries such as Colombia, Bolivia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Analysts say it could be the company's "biggest job" ever.
* Blackwater is wrapping up work on its own armored vehicle, the Grizzly, as well as its Polar Airship 400, a surveillance blimp Blackwater wants to market for use in monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given the accountability concerns that were discussed earlier in this piece as well as the overall concerns over a corporation performing these types of services, I decided to ask Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader about this issue during his recent discussion at Memorial Hall. I asked Nader if he would speak to the significance of the growing influence of private contracting firms with tasks that have traditionally been run by the government. Nader stated that this is "another step towards fascism" in today's society. "There should be a group whose purpose it is to put Blackwater out of business," Nader continued, "There have got to be indicators when a society is on their way to fascism...these are the indicators."

So here we are, seven years after the attacks that have led to a war on a feeling, the occupation of countries, the suppression of rights and liberties at home, and the failure to have an honest discourse on exactly what is happening to this country. It should have been an indication to the path we were on when President Bush had to be pushed into even having an investigation into the 9/11 attacks by the family members of those killed. Critical thinking and transparency have been sacrificed in the name of fear and security and those who stand up to defend the Constitution are now labeled as "soft on terror" and caught in the "pre 9/11 mindset". While the attacks on 9/11/01 were a defining moment in the eyes of many Americans we simply can not let ourselves be caught up in the rhetoric that so often surrounds that day. We must view 9/11 in its historical context and examine the events that have happened since that day by utilizing a full historical timeline. Violations of the Constitution should not be acceptable simply because "we were attacked" and detainees shouldn't be tortured because "there are people who want to kill us." The path on which this country finds itself is unacceptable and we must stand up and demand that it change. Let us use this seventh anniversary of these attacks to mourn those who were lost that day, mourn those who have become casualties of imperialist policies since that day, and declare that all of this madness has gone far enough.

This article can also be found at:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Crackdown of Dissent in St. Paul: Preemptive Raids, Journalist Arrests, and Police Intimidation

At the end of my last article in which I summarized the police reaction to dissent during the DNC, I mentioned how there were already indications that we would see more of the same in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention. This observation unfortunately turned out to be accurate and now that the RNC has concluded, there is an opportunity to look back and examine how police dealt with dissent and with the independent media.

The first incident, which I discussed briefly in my past article, involved three members of the group Glass Bead Collective who were in town to document incidents of police misconduct. As reported in the Minnesota Star Tribune, members of this group were detained for over an hour after they were questioned about a rash of car burglaries in the area. Police searched the belongings of all three members without their consent and confiscated video cameras, cell phones, a laptop, and other items that belonged to the group. This incident set the stage for an array of police action that targeted peaceful protesters and journalists.

On the Saturday prior to the start of the convention members of I-Witness Video were gathered for a meeting in a house that they were renting while they were in town for the RNC. I-Witness video is a New York based organization that uses video to document police interaction with protesters in order to protect civil liberties. I-Witness video was largely successful during the 2004 RNC in New York City in providing video to clear many peaceful protesters of allegations by police. On Saturday August 30, members of I-Witness Video were gathered in their host house in St. Paul when they received two visitors at the front door. An FBI Agent and a Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff were at the door and inquired about the location of a gentleman that supposedly lived at that location. The Sheriff and FBI Agent specifically stated: "we're not here about the convention" and asked when the gentleman of interest may be returning home. The people inside the house said that they did not know and the agents then left. Two hours later upward of 20 officers arrived back at the house and surrounded the location. Those inside the house were told that if they left, they would be detained. The officers did not have a search warrant at that time, but stayed surrounding the house until one arrived over two hours later. The only problem was, that the warrant was for the address next door. Police moved into the location next door, detaining the owner of the building, and then moved into the I-Witness Video apartment by busting through the attic with guns drawn. 7 members were detained in the backyard while police took photos, made copies of documents, and searched through the entire house. When the police concluded their search, they released all of those detained and left the property. Video of this incident can be found here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. This video was shot by former Democracy Now! producer Elizabeth Press while she was inside the house working with I-Witness Video. You can also view comments by the landlord of the property here.

While this incident was one of many that occurred on the Saturday before the beginning of the Convention, it was not the last for I-Witness Video. Police returned to the same location that was raided on Saturday on Wednesday, September 3rd. Members inside the house noticed that police had pulled up to the house and started to unload equipment from their vehicles. An attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, Geneva Finn, went out and spoke with police. The officers said that they had received information that anarchists were holding people hostage inside the home and that they were responding to a kidnapping. Finn escorted the officers in to the location and showed them that no one was being held hostage at the location and then asked the officers to leave. The officers refused to leave until their Sergent arrived on the scene. After the officers left the members of I-Witness video were informed that their landlord wanted them to immediately leave the house due to all of the commotion over the past week. I-Witness video packed up, left, and set up shop at Free Speech TV's studios in St. Paul. I-Witness Video admits that all of this harassment by police has greatly interfered with their ability to do the job that they had set out to do.

In addition to preemptive raids on locations prior to the Convention, journalists found themselves targeted as they went about trying to do their job during the Convention. As was posted earlier in the week on this site , two producers of Democracy Now!, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, along with host Amy Goodman, were arrested on Monday, September 1. Kouddous and Salazar were arrested as they were reporting on a protest that police converged upon and Goodman was arrested when she asked to speak with a commanding officer about the arrest of her producers. Salazar videotaped her own arrest and you can view the video here and you can view Goodman's arrest here. At the time of this article felony charges have not yet been filed against Kouddous and Salazar and Amy Goodman has been charged with a misdemeanor of obstructing a legal process and interfering with a peace officer. Along with the three Democracy Now! members, Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke was also arrested and later released.

On Wednesday, September 3, about two dozen journalists were arrested as they attempted to cover the protests on Marion Street Bridge. Protesters and journalists (including AP reporters Amy Forliti and John Krawczynski) were trapped by riot police on the bridge over an interstate highway. Police blocked both ends of the bridge, ordered approximately 200 people to sit down and keep their hands over their heads as police then arrested and led away protesters and journalists two at a time. You can view videos of this incident from WCCO here, The Uptake here, and Pioneer Press here. Police have been criticized in this incident and in other incidents from the week, for utilizing force against otherwise peaceful protests.

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned these arrests and the organization FreePress has stated that the arrests were "an orchestrated round up of independent [media] covering the Republican National Convention." FreePress collected 60,000 letters by concerned citizens and delivered them to Mayor Chris Coleman's office on Friday demanding that all charges be dropped against journalists arrested during the Convention.

A preliminary tally has placed the number of those arrested during the RNC at 818 people, this number does not include those who were detained, like those of I-Witness Video prior to the Convention. As journalists and videographers were rounded up with other protesters a new precident for police action has been set. In future situations where large amount of citizens will protest I fear that the actions taken by the police in St. Paul will be viewed not only as a success, but as a new model of cracking down on dissent. The kind of preemptive raids on locations were seen on the Saturday prior to the Convention are of particular concern. In these scenarios, no crime had been committed and police detained and searched the locations preemptively. This type of action blurs the line between the protection of important rights and the action that police feel they can take against those who they feel have the potential to commit a crime. At the time of this article, 8 members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an organization that provided logistics and coordination for many of the protests, have been charged with "conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism", a felony punishable by up to 7 1/2 years in prison. Those charged with this crime were arrested in the house raids before the Convention started and police have admitted to infiltrating this group in order to build a year long case against these individuals. Attorney Bruce Nestor is the Minnesota Chapter's President of the National Lawyer's Guild and states:

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.

We will continue to follow these incidents and those individuals who have had charges filed against them and report back on the outcome. Regardless of whether many of the filed charges result in convictions, it is clear that St. Paul will be looked upon as a great success in the cities ability to contain and suppress dissent.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Amy Goodman arrested at the RNC

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar were arrested yesterday by St. Paul police outside the Republican National Convention. Kouddous and Salazar were covering the protests and filming when they were arrested and detained. Both Kouddous and Salazar had proper press identification but were manhandled by police. Salazar was dragged by her leg and received scrapes and a bloody nose. Kouddous was slammed against a wall which has resulted in chest and back pain. Amy Goodman was arrested after she approached police and asked to speak to a commanding officer regarding her producers. Police then yanked her by the arm and arrested her. Video is below:

Amy Goodman was released and is being charged with obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace officer. There have conflicting reports on whether Kouddous and Salazar have been released, but I just placed two calls to the Ramsey County Detention Facility where they confirmed that both were still being held and have not yet been booked. I attempted to confirm the reports that both were being charged with a felony of suspicion to riot, but the jail could not confirm this at the time. I have left a message with the Mayor's office of St. Paul for comment, but at the time of this article, have not had my call returned. I should also note that my first call to the Ramsey County Detention Facility resulted in the woman on the other end of the line becoming very confused as I attempted to spell: Sharif Abdel Kouddous. When I told her that I would be spelling three parts of his name she stated, "just how many names does this guy have." I informed her that I was asking about one person to which she replied, "I bet this guy had a hard time learning how to spell this in kindergarten."

While an employee of Ramsey County Detention Facility feels that detaining journalists is a time for jokes, all those who hold freedom of the press as an important right should be calling for the immediate release of Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar as well as for dropping all charges against them. In a society that depends on an independent press it is imperative that journalists are not arbitrarily arrested and held on trumped-up charges. Below is a video of Amy Goodman discussing the arrests after her release.

You can call the Mayor of St. Paul to weigh in on this issue at:


You can also reach the Ramsey County Detention Facility at:


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