Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Long Time Coming

Al Franken is finally headed to the Senate. It's silly how long this whole thing took. We pretty much had to wait till Norm Coleman was too embarrassed or tired to drag it out anymore.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court says Al won. The Minnesota governor says he'll issue the election certificate. And Norm Coleman sounds like he won't try to take his case to the federal courts.

Congratulations to Al Franken. I hope he remains the Al we know and love, even if he's now a member of the world's most elite club.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Open Discussion Thread

I would like to start doing periodic open threads to hear from you, the loyal readers of BTM, on any topics of your choosing. Consider the comments section on this and other open threads to be the BTM virtual town square. (Just ignore the guy over there doing interpretive dance to his iPod music.) Grab a piece of park bench and gab away. Conversation doesn't have to be politics-y. What's on your mind?

Need help? Here are a few conversation starters:

1. Dueling rallies/demonstrations tomorrow in DC:
Tomorrow is Torture Accountability Action Day.
If you're in Washington, DC, come on out.
9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
John Marshall Park, 501 Pennsylvania Ave
(If you metro, ride to Archives/Navy Memorial and walk a few blocks down Pennsylvania toward the Capitol. The park will be on your left.)
There will be speakers and a rally from 11 to 12, then a march to the Department of Justice to demand the appointment of a Special Prosecutor for torture. Some participants may engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. Here is a list of demonstrations in other cities.

After participating in Torture Accountability Action Day, you can rally-hop over to the National Health Care Reform Rally.
Upper Senate Park Constitution and Delaware avenues, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Closest Metro: Judiciary Square
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
2. Something about secretly flying to Argentina. Huh?

3. It's hard out here for a totalitarian despot!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iranian marchers: "Don't be scared! Don't be scared! We are all together!"

Yesterday was the bloodiest day yet for the Iranian uprising, as the government began to ratchet up the violence. So the marchers in this video, taken today, are chanting, "Natarsim! Natarsim! Ma hameh ba ham hastim," which translates to, "Don't be scared! Don't be scared! We are all together!"

For me, the words recall the heartbreaking scene from yesterday. A young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan (Neda means "the voice" in Farsi) was shot in the chest by the Basij religious militia while she was standing with her father watching the protests. As she is lying on the street taking her last breaths and her father and a bystander are trying to stop the bleeding, her father says, "Neda, don't be afraid. Neda, don't be afraid. Neda, stay with me. Neda, stay with me!"

The man who posted the video (I warn you it's graphic, and you won't soon forget it) wrote:
[She] was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim's chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes.
So today, there are two things I can't get out of my mind: Neda's face and "Don't be scared. Don't be scared. We are all together."

I now believe the days of the hardline clerics' rule in Iran are numbered. I think Ayatollah Khamenei is more afraid than the people he is killing in the streets. Right now, the government is running around trying to prevent any mosque in Tehran from holding a memorial service for Neda, as if the whole world doesn't already know about this crime, as if the Iranian people are going to forget her name. But I doubt the ayatollah will be so lucky.

UPDATE: Here is the correct picture of Neda Agha-Soltan, provided to the AP by her fiance.
File:Neda Agha-Soltan.jpg

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Violence Intensifying in Iran

As evening falls in Iran, it sounds like the government's response to the uprising is more organized today. Batons, water canons, and tear gas are being used to break up the crowds. Riot police have surround Tehran University. Also, Iranian state TV reported a bomb blast at a shrine to Ayatollah Khomeini. Many protesters believe the government set the blast to justify more brutal crackdowns in the days ahead and that it's similar to a trick used in the 1979 revolution. Some are saying the government was reporting the blast before it even happened.

I think this is when the uprising will need either overwhelming numbers or good organization to persist. There have been inspiring reports of solidarity and organization on small scales so far. In previous days, word went out among the resistance to keep houses unlocked, so that if protesters are running from the police they can duck into someone's house.

There's also the new development of "Basiji Hunting" among the resistance. The Basiji are the hardline religious militia who have been attacking people in the streets. They are far more loyal to the regime than the police, many of whom are sympathetic to the uprising. Here's a description of Basiji hunting:

Their resolve is no less than these thugs. They use their phones, their childhood friends, their intimate knowledge of their districts and neighbours to plan their attacks -- they're organised and they're supported by their community so they have little fear. They create the havoc they're after, ambush the thugs, use their Cocktail Molotovs, disperse and re-assemble elsewhere and then start again - and the door of every house is open to them as safe harbour -- they're community-connected.

The Basiji's are not.

These are not the students in the dorms, they're the street young -- they know the ways better than most thugs - and these young, a surprising number of them girls, are becoming more agile in their ways as each night passes on.

In the meantime, the crowds are in the streets chanting, "Death to the Dictator! Death to Khamenei! Allah O Akbar!" It seems that the target of the protests have moved beyond President Ahmadinejad stealing an election, to the legitimacy of the regime itself, to the Supreme Leader. Even if the police and religious thugs disperse the crowds today and the next day and the next, it's hard to imagine how this genie is going to be put entirely back in the bottle. Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave people in the streets of Iran tonight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ignoring Iran vs. Rooting for the Dictator

Over at Daily Kos, Markos announces that he won't be "turning the site green" to support the Iranian protests. In a smug post he makes a valid point about not wanting to be seen as meddling. But does changing a color scheme qualify as meddling? More importantly, Markos runs the most prominent blog of the American Left, and he hasn't said a peep about Iran on the front page. There have been great reader-submitted posts (or "diaries"). But from the front-pagers? Silence. They're too busy writing about Sarah Palin and the latest Republican sex scandal to be bothered with an historic reform movement in one of the world's most repressive countries.

At least it's better than the Neocons who are simply rooting for Ahmadinejad to win. Sure, they support change in Iran, as long as it's the American military and not a grassroots movement that brings it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Courage is Colored Green

Wow. The Iranian government banned the rally. The government threatened to shoot the marchers.

And the people still came.

MSNBC estimates that a million people, stretched over five miles, marched in Tehran.


At least a few people were killed by police and pro-government thugs. But the protesters strike me as remarkably patient. During the main march, they were chanting "Police, police, thank you!" for not attacking the march. There are a few videos of protesters allowing and helping police to escape the crowd. They are doing everything in their power to keep the movement nonviolent. The opposite is true of the Iranian government. There are many gruesome videos online of the pro-government militias and thugs and plain-clothes police attacking unarmed people. There are reports that the government is bringing in foreign Hezbollah fighters to do more dirty work.


I've been looking into what we can do to help the Green Revolution. And one of the biggest things is simply to help keep the spotlight on this story. The mainstream media is beginning to come around and is covering this in a more accurate, more favorable light, instead of just stupidly saying that Ahmadinejad won and people are angry (which by the way is what Ahmadinejad says).

Iranian protesters are putting out pleas through Twitter for international solidarity:
"It'd be great if all Iranians living outside Iran would ask their non-Iranian friends to change their Facebook pictures to green. Facebook has a lot of followers and everyone would hear the voice of Iranians." (Green was the color of the opposition leader Mousavi's campaign and has become the color of the resistance.)
You got it. Let's use this picture, which I grabbed from Andrew Sullivan (who came under cyber attack from the Iranian government today).

(Use this as your Facebook profile pic.)

Facebook or otherwise, find some small way to be a part of this. This is a potential turning point in history, where a diverse people's movement has a chance to topple a brutal authoritarian regime.

More to follow as things unfold.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We Stand With the Iranian Protesters

I have been absolutely glued to the news coming out of Iran.

On June 12th, Iranians went to the polls for the country's tenth presidential election. At the time, most opinion polls showed reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi leading President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, when the Ministry of Interior announced the results, it showed Ahmadinejad (who controls the Ministry of Interior) beating Mousavi almost 2 to 1, 63% to 34%.

The "official" results are not just fraudulent, but ridiculous. There's some evidence that the government simply flipped the results and put Ahmadinejad's name with Mousavi's votes and vice versa. It's as if the regime thinks a bigger lie will be more believable than a smaller one.

Mousavi's supporters, clad in green, took to the streets in protest.

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi in Heidarnia stadium in Tehran

The police and the Revolutionary Guard responded promptly and brutally, clubbing and tear-gassing the crowds. Things have escalated steadily since Friday. The crowds are growing and the government is ramping up its repression. They've shut down cell phone service and Internet in some areas and they're banning foreign reporters from covering the protests.

What's amazing is that, having been bloodied, the protesters aren't quitting. As the government clamps down on the media, Twitter is playing an important role in organizing the resistance. Here's a video of rooftop protest chants in Tehran, organized through Twitter. There's also news through Twitter that the government has deployed tanks on the streets around the Ministry of Interior in Tehran.

Amazing videos are making their way out of Iran right now. Here's one showing protesters evacuating and caring for an injured police officer, after police on motorcycles attacked a protesting crowd.

Here's one showing protesters defending a BBC reporter and his cameraman from plainclothes secret police.

Mousavi's wife appeared in public today and called for a giant peaceful march and rally tomorrow in the center of Tehran, followed by a nationwide general strike on Tuesday. But as the reformers begin to coordinate the resistance, the regime appears to be turning up the terror. There are reports of secret police attacking people with knives in the streets and police blocking the wounded from accessing hospitals. As Andrew Sullivan says over at The Daily Dish, it's pretty obviously an effort to keep people from turning out to the rally tomorrow. They're also silencing foreign reporters and reform-oriented newspapers. So it may get harder and harder to follow what's going on.

But there are hopeful signs. The protests are still spreading, and they are in cities all over the country. There are also signs of division among the establishment and the clerics. Grand Ayatollah Sanei called Ahmadinejad's rule illegitimate and cooperating with his government un-Islamic. A former leader of the Revolutionary Guard published an open letter contesting the election.

Right now the US government's position seems to be, "We're gonna wait and see. We've heard there might have been some irregularities in the voting." Well, they need to drop that and get with it. They need to come out and just say that the election was a complete sham. The progressive community in the US needs to stay plugged into this and continue to show solidarity with the protesters.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. I think that if a large crowd shows up to rally, things could get very ugly when the police and guards and government goons descend on them. But the way it's looking, that may stir the resistance even more.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The "Public Option" is a Generous Offer to Health Insurance Companies

So much to talk about, and so little time after the work day to do it. Have you been following the debate about the "public option" as part of healthcare reform?

It looks like Republicans and Industry are making opposition to a public plan that competes with for-profit coverage their hill to die on. They say that allowing people to choose a public plan, as President Obama proposes, will inevitably lead to insurance companies going out of business and universal, single-payer, government-provided healthcare. Actually, that sounds pretty good to me. But really, if "socialized medicine" is so backwards, why are conservatives worried that Americans will flock to it and abandon the insurance companies if given a choice? After all, it's an option. If you're happy with your private insurance, you can keep it. But under the president's proposal, everyone--especially the 46 million Americans without health insurance--would have the choice of the public option.

The president's proposal is really pretty modest. If it were up to me, we would not have for-profit health insurance companies at all. Some things are too foundational to society, too sacred, to be up for sale. Americans used to think more along these lines. But war, disaster relief, public infrastructure, basic education, etc., all of these things have been up for sale in the recent years of conservative dominance. We've had to re-learn that when corporations who control these things they inevitably have the profit interest instead of the public interest in mind. It's wasteful. The corporations constantly drive up costs and reduce quality of service in order to increase profits. And then our public institutions spend enormous resources to police the corporations and enforce tax laws.

Why not simply place these "pillars of the economy" under democratic control? If that sounds radical, consider how much of the economy already is under democratic control and how nobody's really complaining. No one wants to utterly privatize the Army, elementary schools, or the interstate highway system. These are basic, foundational things that ought to be their for everyone, kind of like healthcare.

This is the direction in which the health care debate should eventually go. But for now, the insurance companies should be happy that they're allowed to exist at all and that they will still exist under President Obama's plan. They will still have the enormous privilege of profiting from providing as little health coverage as possible to sick people. I do think we will eventually take that privilege away from them. After the Bush years, the public seems to have decided that disaster profiteering and war profiteering are wrong, but we haven't quite gotten their on health profiteering. Give it time.

For now, Republicans and the insurance companies should take this exceedingly generous offer from President Obama and the Democrats and accept the public option.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Help Hold Torturers Accountable

BTM has called for the arrest of the architects of the American torture program. Now we are joining with a coalition of Human Rights and activists groups seeking to end American-sponsored torture by holding those responsible accountable. We are seeking justice for those who were tortured and for the war crimes committed in violation of the laws of the United States, the Geneva Convention, and basic human decency.

We are organizing a Torture Accountability Action Day on June 25th in Washington DC and cities across the country.

If you can be in the DC area on June 25th, here are the details:
Where:  John Marshall Park, 501 Pennsylvania Ave NW
When:  Tabling starts at 9am, Speakers and rally are 11am to Noon, March to the Department of Justice at Noon
What:  A day of demonstration aimed at ending torture by holding those responsible accountable. We will call on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a Special Prosecutor for torture and war crimes.
For events in other cities...
Check this page for updates. Events are currently planned in 10 cities. 
Help organize an event in your own city by contacting the coalition.
Wherever you are...
Join the site and become a Torture Accountability Action Member. This will allow you to stay informed about the June 25th action day and future events.
There will be more updates as June 25th approaches. Until then, help spread the word. You know people! Tap your email contacts, your Facebook friends, your Twitter network. Failure to hold the torture masters accountable will guarantee their crimes will be repeated in the future. This is one of those times when grassroots organizing and old-fashioned people power is the only thing that will enforce our nation's most basic laws and uphold the most fundamental tenets of human dignity.