Possibly AG Pick Perez Asked about Risen, Lauds "Fourth Branch of Government"

Today, as I sometimes do, I submitted a question at a National Press Club news maker event. Today, it was Labor Secretary Thomas Perez who is apparently being considered for the attorney general position.

Here's the question I submitted: "Your name has been mentioned as possible AG pick. Many are concerned about the fate of New York Times reporter James Risen and the several whistleblowers the administration has prosecuted -- more than all other administrations combined. As you know, Risen, who broke the original NSA mass surveillance story nearly ten years ago, is under threat of imprisonment to name a source. Would you as AG continue this attack on journalism and whistleblowing?"

My question didn't get asked per se, but a question about Risen was asked by the moderator, Myron Belkind that was much kinder to the administration, and didn't raise the issue of whistleblowers at all: 

Myron Belkind: [around 53:00 on the C-Span video, their transcript] "Attorney General Holder says he won't send journalists to jail for doing their job, suggesting that in New York Times reporter is unlikely to spend time behind bars. Specifically he said in an interview with MSNBC, he's that I stand by what I said. No reporter is going to jail as long as i'm attorney general. Would you maintain a position, should you happen to become attorney general? Or if not, do support that position?"

Thomas Perez: "My singular focus is on the job of being at the Department of Labor. I know the attorney general very much values the role of the press as the fourth branch of government. He served as teh deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. He often participated in her weekly conferences, whether it was good news, bad news, or indifferent. He was out there with her in those press briefings. He understands the critical importance of the press in so many aspects of our life."
It should be clarified, what Holder recently said on MSNBC is: “I stand by what I have said: If a reporter is doing that which he or she does as a reporter, no reporter is going to go to jail as long as I am attorney general."

Which doesn't really say much. As Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler [with whom I'm associated via accuracy.org and exposefacts.org] recently wrote in the Nation: the "pivotal concern for the First Amendment hinges on what 'doing his job' is understood to mean. For the men and women who work with integrity as journalists, the job must include protecting rather than betraying confidential sources. Yet the official position of the Obama administration insists on such betrayal. In a brief to the Supreme Court in April, the Justice Department argued that the government should enforce what it called 'the longstanding common-law rule that reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources.'"

[At 59:00] Myron Belkind: If I can ask you the last question, in the Labor Department, can they do anything about the employment situation of journalists? [laughter]

Thomas Perez: [in over the top enthusiastic tone] There are a few things that keep me up at night more than the employment situation of journalists. What we do is, we hire more journalists so that they can tell our stories. Journalists like so many others have similar challenges. I hope you continue to do the great work you are doing to shine a light. When I signed your book, I said you are the fourth branch of government. Thank you for coming today. 

Flier for whistleblowing: "If you see something, say something"

This flier -- "If you see something, say something" -- can be passed out at the entrances to government and corporate buildings. The graphic of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg it features is from a billboard that was placed at strategic locations throughout Washington, D.C. (See New York Times article: "An Ad Campaign for Whistleblowers.") These billboards were co-sponsored by ExposeFacts.org and RootsAction.org. This flier is available via @PapersProject

From Gaza to Ferguson, Making an Appointment with Regrets

Establishment politicians and media sent the same message to the protesters in Ferguson and to Palestinians: If you are not violent, we will ignore your oppression. If you are violent -- even the slightest bit -- or even seem like you might be violent -- we will condemn you. 

A piece I wrote 20 years ago tells a slice of the story -- "Business as Usual After L.A. Verdict" for FAIR from 1993: 

The “Rodney King riots” in Los Angeles last year prompted some journalists to think critically about their failure to fully cover the urban problems that lay behind the unrest. At the time, MacNeil/Lehrer’s David Gergen (5/1/92) admitted that there “has really been almost a conspiracy of silence within our political leadership and often with our press about what’s really happening in this country.” Gergen, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and now a Clinton adviser, spoke of “the division into two societies, the division by race, by haves versus have nots.”

But after the second trial of the police officers who beat King ended in a mixed verdict—and no major protests—it was back to business as usual for most journalists and commentators. When Benjamin Chavis, the new head of the NAACP, was interviewed about the verdict on CBS’s Face the Nation (4/18/93), he tried to bring up issues of jobs, healthcare and childhood programs. But host Bob Schieffer seemed puzzled: “Well, things are calm,” he said, reinforcing the message sent by much of the media that violence is the only way to get attention.

Coverage of the federal trial focused on the drama and the “human interest” aspects, not on the underlying social problems. NBC interviewed Jesse Jackson at a church in Los Angeles while the verdict was being read (4/18/93); as Jackson began to speak of how the Clinton administration should address the widespread problem of police brutality, the reporter interrupted: “I saw tears in your eyes as the verdict was being read.”

The TV political spectrum does not usually extend to those who think that something can and should be done to solve urban problems. On Face the Nation(4/18/93), liberal Christopher Matthews agreed with conservative strategist Bill Kristol that what is needed is thousands more police officers. “The country is not clamoring for a jobs bill,” Matthews said. In fact, in a New York Times poll last year (5/11/92), a majority of respondents said jobs and training programs were the number one solution to city unrest. Sixty-one percent said that too little was being spent on improving the condition of African-Americans. More police was last in a field of six possible solutions.

A Global Legal Intifada: If It's a Genocide in Gaza, then Invoke the Convention to Stop it

On Monday, Iran is hosting a meeting of the Non Aligned Movement urging global action to end what top Iranian officials have called the "genocide" in Gaza. Certainly meaningful action is desperately needed. And if Iran and other governments are serious about taking action and the charge of genocide, they have an avenue open to them: Go beyond denunciations and invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel. 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused Israel of "genocide" as has Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: "We have repeatedly warned of this genocide conditions in Gaza." 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called Israel's attack "genocide," adding: “I am saddened and disappointed to note the silence of international community against this injustice. The silence and ineffectiveness of Muslim Ummah [community] has made Palestinians more vulnerable and made Israel more aggressive. World must stop Israel from this naked and brutal aggression.”

Others who have charged that Israel is committing genocide include Bolivian President Evo Morales, who recalled that country's ambassador from Israel, as have Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru. Said Morales: "What is happening in Palestine is genocide."

Similarly, from the the Venezuelan government: Israel has "initiated a higher phase of its policy of genocide and extermination with the ground invasion of Palestinian territory, killing innocent men, women, girls and boys."

Leading legal scholars have also called what Israel is doing genocide. It's important to note that you don't need millions of dead bodies and a Nazi industrial system of extermination to constitute genocide under the relevant convention. See from President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner: "UN's Investigation of Israel Should Go Beyond War Crimes to Genocide" and the piece "More voices describe Gaza slaughter as a ‘genocide.’

But none of these governments seem to be moving to actually invoking the relevant legal remedy for the charge they make: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Professor Francis Boyle at the University of Illinois is proposing that they do so -- and has laid out a legal strategy to do so that attempts to shortcut the predictable obstructionism from the U.S. and Israel. He recommends countries that are signatories to the Genocide Convention:

Immediately institute legal proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, request an Emergency Hearing by the Court, and obtain an Order by the Court against Israel to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against the Palestinians. This Order will then be transmitted by the Court to the United Nations Security Council for enforcement as required by the United Nations Charter. In the event the United States were to exercise a veto at the Security Council against the enforcement of this World Court Cease-and-Desist Order against Israel, you can then invoke the General Assembly’s Uniting for Peace Resolution of 1950 in order to have the World Court Order turned over to the United Nations General Assembly for enforcement against Israel. Under the terms of the Uniting for Peace Resolution, the General Assembly can recommend enforcement measures against Israel to every state in the world that would be lawful for them to carry out. In addition, the U.N. General Assembly could also admit Palestine as a full-fledged U.N. Member State. 

John Quigley, a leading expert on genocide at Ohio State University, who was an expert witness at the trial of Pol Pot, agrees that invoking the Genocide Convention could work. He notes that many countries that are signatories to the convention have stipulated reservations to the critical Article IX. The U.S. has a reservation to this Article. But Israel doesn't. Venezuela and other states currently have reservations and would be hindered in moving forward until they dropped them. However, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Gambia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Russia, Tunisia, Uganda and other countries are perfectly positioned legally to do so. (The list of signatory states is here. If there's no footnote for a country regarding Article IX, that country can move invoke the convention against Israel.) 

Notes Quigley: "A country with a reservation to Article IX could drop it and then sue. A country lacking a reservation cannot add one. A reservation can be entered only upon becoming a party."

So, what's stopping these countries from invoking the treaty against Israel? In part, it appears to be the Palestinian Authority. Or more exactly, the Palestine Office at the United Nations. Which is ironic, since PA head Abbas has called it genocide: “It’s genocide -- the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.”

It's imperative that countries that may be considering action along these lines not be hindered by the PA -- over the course of decades, it's been clear that the PA does not have a legal strategy in play that will meaningfully protect the life and well being of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. The Palestinian establishment in Ramallah is either unwilling or unable to meaningfully protect the Palestinian people. Any move by a nation that has been critical of Israel to invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel will obviously be welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and likely their own publics. 

Most assessments regarding Israel's legal culpability center for the carnage in Gaza around the International Criminal Court. But Quigley, Boyle and others have criticized the ICC as being extremely selective about who they prosecute. Indeed, the Palestinians were initially rebuffed by the ICC and the ICC has shown that it is most interested in going after Africans who are critical of the Western powers. The ICC was glaringly silent when it came to the invasion of Iraq.

Some -- like Human Rights Watch -- have urged "Palestine: Go to International Criminal Court." So far, those at the Palestine mission in New York have not taken the final steps to doing so. (Human Rights Watch comes with their own set of double standards, like many legal observers, they criticize Israel, but don't take the steps that would actually put Israel in legal jeopardy, for example, they have not invoked the term "genocide" with regards to Israel, though of course they did for example with regards to Iraq.)

The Palestine mission to the UN could fear that if they went to the ICC, that court would go after Palestinians for relatively minor crimes just as the ICC has done for Africans. Or it could be because the Palestinian Authority does not want to upset Israel, either because they are defacto operating in collusion or because they fear that such a legal move against Israel would mean Israel will use even more violence, including in the West Bank and conceivably targeting PA officials and their families.  

AP recently reported
Nearly a month into Israel's fierce assault on Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing mounting domestic pressure to seek war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. 

He has hesitated in the past because such a move would instantly put the Palestinians on a risky collision course with Israel. But with about 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to health officials, Abbas has signaled he might move ahead — cautiously.

Palestinian officials said Thursday that Abbas asked all Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad, to give their written consent to such a move. Different PLO factions signed up in a meeting in the West Bank earlier this week, while Abbas is still waiting for a response from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they said.

In trying to make a case against Israel, Abbas could also expose Hamas, a bitter rival turned potential political partner, to war crimes prosecution because it has fired thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities over the years.

The French lawyer Gilles Devers has filed a complaint on behalf of the Palestinian justice minister at the International Criminal Court

Whatever the cause for the PA's not fully embracing the ICC, the clear remedy is for other states to take up the flag, to in effect launch a global legal intifada against Israel using the Genocide Convention. It would be particularly poignant for countries who understand colonialism to do this -- it may even help them come to terms with their own histories.

Some, like James Paul, a longtime UN observer and former head of the Global Policy Forum, wonder if such legal proceedings could take years. Boyle however states that his strategy could win an emergency order in three weeks -- and he has a record to back it up, having successfully filed genocide charges on behalf of the Bosnians: "I filed that lawsuit on March 19, 1993 and won the order April 8, 1993 and it was immediately transmitted to the Security Council." In either case, given the recurring bombing campaigns by Israel, meaningful legal action is long overdue.

What's plainly not needed is that various states take the carnage in Gaza to simply make pronouncements denouncing Israel and the United States for political gain without invoking the legal remedies that are available to them to potentially protect Palestinians in Gaza. Of course, such a course will likely mean serious retribution of some sort from Israel and likely the United States. But that's the nature of meaningful solidarity. It's not pronouncements, it's actions that can help the oppressed and achieve justice that invariably entail risk.

Or perhaps the greater risk is not invoking the legal mechanisms available. The Palestinians are the targets today. Who will be the target years from now unless the rule of law is meaningfully asserted now?

An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists

This piece appear in the New York Times on Sept. 9, 1989. As some have reported, Israel backed Hamas -- sort of a microcosm of the U.S. backing the Majuhadeen in Afghanistan. This is an example of that actually being openly advocated. Might write more about this later, but thought it important to get it out and, to avoid accusations of pulling out of context, show it in full. -- Sam 

An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists 
by Clinton Bailey

Jᴇʀᴜsᴀʟᴇᴍ -- As the episode of Israel's abduction of Sheikh Abdul Kareim Obeid, A Lebanese Shiite clergyman, fades from the headlines, the influence of Islamic fundamentalism in the occupied territories deserves the attention of Israeli and American policymakers. Surprisingly, these fundamentalists may hold a key to a Middle East towards peace settlement.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists are known for violence and hostage-taking. Not only is fundamentalism been behind the uprising against the Israeli occupation, but the spirit of fundamentalism has largely sustained it for 21 months. Recently, fundamentalists have attacked Israelis deep inside Israel further destabilizing the situation.

Moreover, an estimated majority of the Arabs in the territories (80 percent to 90 percent in Gaza, 40 percent in the West Bank) now adhere to the fundamentalist umbrella organization Hamas (the Movement of Islamic Opposition) and no longer consider the Palestine Liberation Organization their representative. 

At present, Hamas leaders are looking forward to competing with the P.L.O. in the elections that are part of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir peace initiative. Their aim is not to advance the peace process, they say, but to show they represent 60 percent of the Arab population.

A deep ideological gap separates Hamas and the P.L.O. Hamas holds that a Palestinian state must be Islamic with a constitution based on the Koran. The P.L.O. advocates a secular state for Palestinians and includes factions that are Marxist and atheistic. Hamas does not intend to challenge the P.L.O. until the Palestinians are free of Israeli occupation, but its leaders express no doubt that an armed clash will ultimately come.

Many western leaders, concerned about the growth of militant Palestinian fundamentalism, urge a hasty resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations with the P.L.O. Perhaps understandably, little thought has been given to the possibility of using fundamentalist influence in the occupied territories in the service of a compromise solution.

Viewed ideologically, a compromise based on Hamas's participation seems impossible. Its charter stresses that all Palestine is a trust from Allah to the Palestinian Muslims and must be under Islamic rule. There is nothing to negotiate with Israel except its dismantling. Even Hamas's elected representatives, in the event of future elections, would not negotiate with the Jewish state.

On a pragmatic plane, however, Hamas has unwritten positions that demand attention. For example, it holds that determination of the Israeli occupation of any Muslim territory is preferable to the present situation. Its members claim that, while Hamas would never negotiate a compromise with Israel, it would not obstruct others from doing so. And, unlike the P.L.O., it would not insist on tying an Israeli withdrawal to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hamas also views with equanimity the prospect of Jordan's assuming primary responsibility for the occupied territories. Its adherents cite a history of amicable relations between the Muslim Brotherhood -- the main component of Hamas -- and the Hashemite regime. They would not oppose a return to Jordanian rule, perhaps in a confederation.

These position, held by an organization that claims to represent the majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, should not be disregarded. The Israeli public will be persuaded to cede territory only if it feels such actions will not endanger its security. And the P.L.O.'s unwillingness to stop attacking Israelis makes the prospect of a P.L.O.-led state seem too great a risk. On the other hand, having lived peaceably with Jordan for 18 years, most Israelis might be persuaded to cede land to Jordan in exchange for peace and proper security agreements.

Thus, if America and the international community decide to concentrate their efforts on implementing Security Council 242 with an Israeli-Jordanian accord, they might find the ground largely prepared in the Palestinian camp -- ironically, by the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the fundamentalists' emphasis on regaining whatever territory they can might leave room for compromises with Jordan that the P.L.O. does not allow itself to make.

These possibilities are not without danger. The fundamentalists' ultimate aim of placing all Palestine under Islamic rule hardly differs from the PLO's plan for regaining all of Palestine by stages. Both advocate using any land that Israel cedes as a springboard for gaining more. The survival of the Hashemite regime after it assumed authority over a largely fundamentalist Palestinian population would also be problematic.

These dangers can be met. Without doubt Israel and Jordan, as well as other parties to the peace agreement, would have to exercise a firm hand against extremists that oppose territorial compromise. If, however, an end to the Israeli occupation were coupled with generous international aid for Palestinian development, much of the malaise that swells in the ranks of extremist fundamentalism would wane.

In light of the deadlock that blocks progress towards peace between Israel and the P.L.O., it is vital to remember that another option involving Hamas may exist.

Words Mean Things: Stop Calling Him "Justice" Roberts

One of my favorite poems by Rumi is "Who says words with my mouth?" It can most obviously be read as a meditation on the self, the soul and free will. 

But too often this question can be directly answered in our time: the major media, the political establishment they are intertwined with and all who thoughtlessly echo them -- that is who puts words in people's mouths that are endlessly parroted. 

Case in point is how so many call John Roberts "Justice John Roberts." Even discounting one's views on Roberts, this is a particularly misguided use of title and convention since Roberts himself has said before and since getting on the court that "justice" is not the job of the "Chief Justice." 

I first heard Roberts say this just after he was nominated to the court by George W. Bush in the summer of 2005. C-Span Radio broadcast a talk Roberts gave at Georgetown University in 1997. He tells a story of "Justice Holmes, when he was getting out of a carriage and going up to the court to do his work, a person yelled out after him 'Do justice!' Quite angry, he turned around and said 'That’s not my job!' And it very much is not the job of the Supreme Court." [Clip; full video, (at about 10:30 mark)].

Still, in the Nation, Eric Alterman writes of "The Roberts Court’s Stealth Campaign Against a Free Press," but the prefix "Justice" remains fixed to Roberts' name -- no matter how nefarious his actions. Similarly, David H. Gans in the New Republic asserts in "The Roberts Court Thinks Corporations Have More Rights Than You Do" that "Chief Justice Roberts has opened new fronts in his First Amendment revolution." And David McCabe in the Huffington Post writes a piece titled "Chamber Of Commerce Emerges As Big Supreme Court Winner" that states: "Under Chief Justice John Roberts ... the Supreme Court has been far more likely to issue a ruling favorable to the chamber than the court was under his immediate predecessors, according to the [Constitutional Accountability Center's] analysis."

I wrote the piece "Why Is Everyone Still Calling Him 'Justice' Roberts?" shortly after the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling in which the Supreme Court struck down overall limits on campaign donations making this argument. As if to highlight how difficult it is to break out of calcified habits, an editor at the website that published the piece initially ran a caption calling him "Justice John Roberts" -- overlooking the basic premise of the piece (this was later dropped). 

It becomes a world of glazed over and empty dead eyes when words we say -- including the most profound words like justice -- are used as mere formalisms, with the meaning emptied out of them. In Robert's entire talk he comes off more at times an expert clerk than as one aspiring to be in any way the Embodiment of Justice. What does it say about our society and major institutions that the man referred to as "Chief Justice" doesn't think that's his job? 

We should add the honorific "justice" for those on the courts to the list of words like "defense" -- as in "Department of Defense" -- that are ridiculous Orwellianisms. Anyone thinking about what they are saying should scrutinize words if they are to have integrity and not to all join the ranks of the Hollow Men. 

There's some evidence that the U.S. public -- despite numerous obstacles -- is becoming more clear eyed. Gallup recently noted that confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped from 48 percent in 1991 to 30 percent today, following the same trend as the public's confidence in the president and congress. Notes Gallup: "While the Supreme Court, with unelected justices serving indefinite terms, is immune to the same public pressures that elected members of Congress and the president must contend with, it is not immune to the drop in confidence in U.S. government institutions that threatens and complicates the U.S. system of government."

Rumi aims in his poem to "Break out of this prison for drunks." Indeed, we need to sober up in the language we use. Speaking of himself, Rumi says "This poetry, I never know what I'm going to say. I don't plan it. When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all." In contrast, we see so many prepared with their talking points, pre-rehearsed and polished in their deformity. We must dispense with the conformity of many seemingly desperately seeking to be relieved of the burden of thinking about the words coming from their mouths.

Thanks to Avram Reisman. 

Questioning Deputy Israeli Defense Minister About Israel's Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

Today, Deputy Israeli Defense Minister Danny Danon spoke at a news maker event at the National Press Club. Mine is the third question. I asked him about Israeli's nuclear arsenal and how his government could be taken seriously regarding their pronouncements regarding Iran when they will not acknowledge their own nuclear weapons arsenal. Danon talked about how "Arabs" were concerned about Iran's nuclear capacity. I attempted to follow up drawing a distinction between autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, which are in defacto alliance with Israel, and the people of the region, but got cut off. 

Immediately following my question was a question about Israeli spying against the US by Jafar Jafari of Al-Mayadeen. There was also an interesting question on Israel's non-ratification of biological and chemical weapons treaties. Here's audio of Q and A: 

Kerry's Incredible Projection

John Kerry: "Everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative."