Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Short break in Berlin from Sarah Palin - PLUS: Disturbing FBI raids on antiwar activists: Civil liberties under attack

As I mentioned in the comments, I made a short business trip to Berlin, which gave me a nice break from all things Palin. I have to admit that I have been suffering from "Palin Overkill" after continuously writing about that insufferable woman for many weeks. So the trip gave me a welcome opportunity to get some distance from the dark soul of Sarah Palin and let my thoughts flow.

Berlin is a very special place for me. My sister has lived there for about 25 years, and I have often visited Berlin, even before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fortunately, I had the chance to spend some time in the old East-Berlin, the divided city, before it disappeared. I also visited East-Germany as a child several times before the reunification, as we have relatives in Thuringia. As is the case with many other West-Germans, this gave me an unique opportunity to get good insights into a dictatorship, without actually having to live in one myself. The special situation of a Germany divided in a free part and a dictatorship after the second world war constantly reminded Germans how precious freedom actually is.

Sarah Palin loves to screech "Freedom is not free, freedom is worth fighting for", but what Sarah Palin, other prominent wingnuts and her Palinbots seem to forget in their rage against the "evil liberals" is that freedom can only be achieved if all parts of society respect and tolerate each other. When the East-Germans began their uprising in 1989 against the communist dictatorship, they remembered a phrase of the famous German socialist politician and antiwar activist Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered in 1919 and later undeservedly became an "official icon" for communist East-Germany: "Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters."

"Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of "justice", but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when "freedom" becomes a privilege."

These words helped to give dissenters in East-Germany "a leg to stand on" - they gave them a "justification to dissent", as they were originally written by a "communist icon." But apart from that, this definition also seems to me to be a simple but poignant description of freedom: If you don't tolerate the freedom of others, there will be no freedom at all. Rosa Luxemburg clearly would not have condoned the intolerant communist regime of East-Germany.

When we talk about Sarah Palin, it's very easy to get distracted by entertaining but ultimately minor facts: Has the audience really booed, has she sent a moronic tweet again, which comedian has now made fun of her etc. We shouldn't forget the bigger picture as well, especially since the media in the USA seems to be fully preoccupied by the "entertainer", the "celebrity" Sarah Palin and even happily invites her as a "guest commentator" on entertainment shows, ignoring her extremist political views and her proven track record of being a very nasty and divisive person. The media doesn't seem to be able to get past her "pretty face", do they?

Let's take a look at some "souvenirs" from Berlin. One of my favorite place to visit in Berlin each time I am there is the "Kunsthaus Tacheles", a large building in East-Berlin where several German and especially international artists work (and sometimes live) and produce truly alternative art. I introduced Kathleen to the Tacheles, and it's one of her favorite places in Berlin as well.

This "arthouse" has existed since 1990, when artists occupied the building which was about to be demolished. Later, the occupation was legalized and although the future is notoriously uncertain, the place still exists and is as wild and exciting as ever.

One of the artists is Tim Roeloff, who produces very fascinating montages, dealing with Berlin and international issues. Many of his pictures can be viewed and ordered on his website

Here are two examples, with Berlin as his typical subject matter:

Berlin - Don't fence me in 2

Berlin - Horses in Prenzlauer Berg 2

Another great artists currently "residing" in the Tacheles is the Russian painter Alexandr Rodin. He paints huge, complex and fascinating paintings. A website with good pictures is HERE, and with smaller pictures in English language HERE.

Many years ago, probably in 1987 or 1988, I took some b&w pictures in Berlin, with the wall still standing strong. I only recently rediscovered these old pictures. I took them on a dark, cloudy day, which I now regard as a stroke of luck, as it gives them a dark, menacing look. What these pictures show is history now, and a reminder that freedom is precious:

Berlin Parliament

The building behind the wall today serves as the Parliament for the City of Berlin.

Berlin - Potsdamer Platz

Potsdam Place during the separation: Just a plain, eerie green field.

Berlin - Düstere Mauer

No Freedom here.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate when it was still a cold, lonely place.


Which brings me to the second part of this post.

There was bad news last week. The FBI raided several houses and a couple of offices in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago and North Carolina. The official justification was that the FBI was looking for proof that the people living in those houses were involved with organizations that "lent material support to terrorists."

These raids targeted anti-war activists. "Democracy Now!" reports:

"Antiwar activists are gearing up for protests outside FBI offices in cities across the country today and Tuesday after the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis Friday. The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East."

Amy Goodman from "Democracy Now!" made an incredibly interesting broadcast about these events. Her guests were:

Jess Sundin, longtime antiwar activist in Minneapolis. Her home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.

Joe Iosbaker, employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008. His home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower based in Minnesota. She was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2002.

Joe Iosbaker, one of the targets of the raids, describes in the interview what happened:

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, it’s the exact same story. It was a nationally coordinated assault on all of these homes. Seven a.m., the pound on the door. I was getting ready for work, came down the stairs, and there were, I think, in the area of ten agents, you know, of the—they identified themselves as FBI, showed me the search warrant. And I turned to my wife and said, "Stephanie, it’s the thought police."

AMY GOODMAN: And they came in?

JOE IOSBAKER: They came in, and they proceeded to set up their operation in our living room, and they proceeded to photograph every room in our house. And over the next, I don’t know, thirty or forty-five minutes, they proceeded to label every room and then systematically go through every room, our basement, our attic, our children’s rooms, and pored through not just all of our papers, but our music collection, our children’s artwork, my son’s poetry journals from high school—everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And were they explaining to you what they were doing as they were raiding your house?

JOE IOSBAKER: There was—there were—some of the officers, you know, were telling us what they were doing. Most of them were not. But they gave us some explanation.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly did they say to you?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, they—all they said in terms of the content of what they were looking for is that they—you know, they showed us the search warrant, and I was—my wife and I were both subpoenaed, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: What organizations are you involved with, Joe? What do you think they’re looking for?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, as you said at the start, I’m a trade unionist primarily. That’s how most people know me. I’m also the staff adviser at UIC for the Students for a Democratic Society chapter.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s University of Illinois, Chicago.

JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. And, you know, I’ve been a political activist for thirty-three years, so I’ve been a member of a lot of organizations and campaign.

Alternet comments on the events:

"In short, the government is attempting to criminalize the organizing of antiwar protests. Furthermore, it wants to make opposition to the the government’s assistance in repressing struggles for self-determination illegal. Other repressive actions by law enforcement against US citizens, including the sentencing of a videographer to 300 days in jail for trespass after he tried to film an unauthorized talk in Chicago and the acknowledgement by the Pittsburgh FBI office that it had spied on peace activists and used a private agency to help out, makes it clear that the PATRIOT Act and its excesses are alive and well under the Obama administration. Repression is a bipartisan activity, especially when it comes to the repression of the left.

These raids are a clear and vicious attempt to intimidate the antiwar movement. The grand jury is a fishing expedition, as evidenced (for example) by the warrant asking for papers from no determined time. This intimidation is a continuation of the harassment of the Twin Cities left/anarchist community that began before the 2008 Republican National Convention. As I recall, several organizers had their homes and offices raided prior to the convention. In addition, hundreds of protesters were arrested and many more were beaten by law enforcement thugs. Eight organizers were eventually charged with a variety of charges including conspiracy. As of September 25, 2010, three of those charged had all of their charges dropped and the rest face trial on October 25, 2010.

This is not just about the movement in the Twin Cities, however. The September 24 raids also took place in Chicago and North Carolina. There is a grand jury being convened in October 2010 with the intention of perhaps charging some of the people (and maybe others) subpoenaed on September 24. These raids are an attempt by the federal government to criminalize antiwar organizing . They are also an attempt to make support for the Palestinians and other people fighting for self-determination illegal."

By coincidence, the "National Lawyers Guild" published on the same day an extensive report on "The Policing of Political Speech" (download PDF). The report identifies practices which have a chilling effect on "free speech" - and which came to light also during the raids on September 24:

"Falsely labeling protest rhetoric and political hyperbole as “true threats” to justify aggressive policing and prosecution. “True threat” is a legal standard that provides police with the presumptive justification they need to conduct surveillance, execute search warrants on organizing spaces, and charge individuals with serious offenses such as conspiracy to riot.8 Police portray activists as either “peaceful” or “violent.” Those deemed violent are characterized as security threats that trigger aggressive police and prosecutorial response.

Using grand juries to harass political activists by imprisoning them, without specific criminal charges, for noncooperation with government investigations. This practice reached its height during the Nixon administration, and prosecutors continue to abuse the power of coercive detention to punish protesters. Twenty-two year-old Carrie Feldman sat in jail for four months, refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation seeking information about a break-in at an animal testing facility that occurred when she was 15 years old and that she has stated she was not involved in.

Prosecuting leaders and those providing support to activists, often before or during events. Over-prosecution of perceived leaders occurred at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia where prosecutors set an unprecedented $1 million bail for an organizer. At the 2009 G-20 Summit prosecutors charged a well-known activist with terrorism-related charges for “Tweeting” about police activities to other protesters.

Labeling, and stigmatizing, activists as “domestic terrorists.” The broad language of the USA PATRIOT Act9 and a rash of local and federal anti-terrorism legislation including the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act10 use this term, and prosecutors have begun charging protesters under these laws. Several animal welfare advocates were sentenced to prison for running a website that posted information about protest activities around the country.

False statements by police, and laws prohibiting the photographing of police. Independent media has documented incidents revealing how some police officers have falsely reported events to shift blame from police officers to activists. In New York, police actually altered a videotape that showed officers arresting an individual who was not participating in protests. Laws in 12 states forbid the photographing of police on duty, making it a crime to document police misconduct.

Preemptive actions by police in the absence of illegal activity, including the entrapment, arrest and detention of large groups of innocent people, often for days, until protests are over.

Repression based on “evidence” fabricated by the police. Since the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, police in D.C. and St. Paul have told the media, with much fanfare, that they found Molotov cocktails and buckets of urine at organizing spaces— high-profile claims that have been disproved or retracted but that perpetuate demonization of protesters.

Police-initiated violence and abusive use of less-lethal munitions against civilians, often in violation, or absence, of departmental policies on use of such weapons. The misuse of less-lethal munitions and other forms of police-initiated violence have been verified and criticized by several after-event independent review boards.

Negative media coverage, fostered by the police, continues to portray activists as prone to violence and mayhem, reinforcing law enforcement’s distinction between “good” and “bad” protesters used to justify excessive security measures and unnecessary displays and use of force."

The police, meanwhile, is equipped with heavy armor and terrifying devices in order to strike against protestors. Pictures from the report of the National Lawyers Guild:

Police in riot gear 2

Caption: An officer at the Pittsburgh G20 Summit stands ready with a face-shield,
a less-lethal munitions launcher and flex-cuffs. Photo by Jenna Piasecki.

Police with Acoustic Device 2

For more information about "less-lethal weapons" read here. This article includes a picture of a young woman named Sri Louise Coles being shot in the face by less-lethal ammunition at an antiwar demonstration in Oakland in 2003. I found the documents of the following court case against the City of Oakland HERE. Press report HERE. In total, 58 peaceful protestors were injured at this protest in Oakland through "less-lethal ammunition" without having given any cause for the police action. Further press report HERE.

So why am I writing about this topic on Palingates? It's simple: The broad, vague provisions of the Patriot Act and similar laws together with a terrifyingly armed police force are just an invitation for extremists in Government to strike against their enemies. The raids on antiwar activists by the FBI on September 24 happened in "Obama-country." I don't even want to imagine in detail what would happen if Sarah Palin and her friends, who hate and despise everything which could be considered "liberal", came to power. They certainly will not be concerned about the freedom of liberals or the freedom of dissenters. One of the most frightening aspects of this scenario is that Sarah Palin wouldn't even need to create emergency laws, as they are already in place and also open for abuse, as the laws directed against "terrorists" can be widely interpreted.

These hypothetical scenarios and real-life events should remind us what the political fight against Sarah Palin is really all about: It's a fight to preserve freedom - which already is under heavy attack in the USA, although you won't hear about it when you turn on Fox News, and I am not sure that the other main channels are any better in this respect. It's also a fight to preserve peace - which is another thing that Sarah Palin is not concerned about at all.

Therefore, let's not get sidetracked with the daily distractions. Shame on ABC that they willingly give a radical and hateful politician like Sarah Palin a platform on a TV-show which is designed to provide light entertainment. Have they forgotten that ABC is part of the "lamestream media" which Sarah Palin loves to attack at any given opportunity, in her ongoing attempt to intimidate the media, so that she continues to be treated by them with kid gloves?

Shame on them.

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