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Poizner sues to further Iran divestiture

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner says he’s suing to challenge last month’s finding by the state’s administrative regulation watchdog that his efforts to stop insurers from investing in Iran amount to an “underground regulation.”

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit – in which Poizner is represented by state Attorney General (and Governor-elect) Jerry Brown – contests the California Office of Administrative Law determination – which had been sought by insurance companies – and seeks to clarify Poizner’s authority to address “insurer support of the Iranian terror regime and the solvency of insurer investment portfolios,” his office said in a news release.

“I intend to ensure that any insurance company licensed in California is not doing business, in any way, with the Iranian regime,” Poizner said in the release. “Insurance premium dollars that Californians pay should not end up supporting a regime that has shown time and time again its disregard for the concerns of the global community. The consensus is clear, as seen in the sanctions that the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. government, and the California Legislature have imposed over the past two years — responsible businesses should not be doing business with Iran. Since companies doing business with Iran face financial risk, I have the authority to protect insurer portfolios from investments in those companies.”

Poizner’s release said recent statements by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicate divestment actions like this and other sanctions are “posing significant hurdles to the country’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.”

Poizner in June 2009 launched an initiative to identify Iran-related investments in the portfolios of insurers doing business in California, asking that the 1,300 insurers licensed here identify all investments in companies doing business with the Iranian nuclear, defense, and energy sectors. His department identified 50 companies, including the well-known corporations Royal Dutch Shell and Siemens, with ongoing business activities in Iran. This spring, Poizner requested a “moratorium,” calling on insurers not to make any new investments in companies on his list; more than 1,000 signed onto this moratorium.

Poizner’s release says financial reports that insurers file quarterly with his department show his initiative produced change: The insurance industry last year had invested nearly $1 billion in companies on his list, but that figure plummeted to $32 million in new investments during 2010’s second quarter of 2010, the first quarter in which the moratorium was in effect. The value of existing insurer investments in companies on the list declined by $337 million dollars in 2010, indicating that some insurers are moving beyond the moratorium and actually divesting Iran-related assets that had been acquired over the previous two decades.

“These numbers tell a promising story, both in the reduced involvement of California insurers in Iranian business activities and by demonstrating that insurers can drop companies on the Department’s list from their investment portfolios without adversely affecting their investment returns,” Poizner said.

UPDATE @ 4:14 P.M.: The Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, Association of California Insurance Companies, Personal Insurance Federation of California, American Insurance Association and American Council of Life Insurers just issued this joint statement:

“Our associations asked the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) to review the Department of Insurance’s directives on insurer investments because we believe that the department, just like all other state agencies, must obey the law.

“When the Department of Insurance adopts regulations, it must follow the requirements that the Legislature established in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The OAL determined last month that the department should have followed the APA when the department issued its directives. We believe the OAL is correct.

“Our associations do not support or defend any insurer that makes investments that violate state or federal law, which prohibit investments in Iran and other terrorist regimes. We asked the OAL for a determination simply to resolve the issue of the Department of Insurance’s compliance with the APA.”

UPDATE @ 1:50 P.M. WEDNESDAY: OAL Director Susan Lapsley is not amused, according to a statement she issued in response to Poizner’s announcement. Read all about it, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
Under: Iran, Steve Poizner | No Comments »

Lawmakers urge Iran to release hikers

California’s U.S. Senators were among six who today announced a resolution urging the Iranian government to immediately, unconditionally release three UC Berkeley graduates who have been detained in Iran since last July.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Sarah Shourd’s, Josh Fattal’s and Shane Bauer’s capture hiking in a poorly marked border area in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced today’s resolution.

Boxer, Casey, Franken, Klobuchar and Specter in May publicly urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to immediately release the three hikers, or at least that their families be allowed to visit them; the hikers mothers subsequently were allowed to visit.

The full text of the Senators’ resolution:

Urging the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Immediately and Unconditionally Release Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal, and Shane Bauer on Humanitarian Grounds
Whereas on July 31, 2009, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and Shane Bauer were taken into custody by Iranian officials after they may have inadvertently crossed the poorly marked Iranian border while hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq;
Whereas Sarah, Josh, and Shane have been held since last year in Evin prison in Tehran;
Whereas the amount of time Sarah, Josh and Shane have spent in prison is unjustified in relation to their alleged offense of illegal entry into Iran;
Whereas during the period of their detention, Sarah, Josh, and Shane have only been afforded the opportunity to see their families during a brief visit in May;
Whereas according to their families, Sarah and Shane may be suffering from potentially serious health problems;
Whereas the families of Sarah, Josh and Shane have suffered greatly in the absence of their loved ones;
Whereas July 31, 2010 will mark the one-year anniversary of their detention;
Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate, That Congress—
recognizes that Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal, and Shane Bauer have been held in custody in Iran for one year; and
urges the Government of Iran to immediately and unconditionally release Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal, and Shane Bauer, on humanitarian grounds and allow them to reunite with their families in the United States.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also released a statement on the hikers today. Read that after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, July 30th, 2010
Under: Arlen Specter, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Iran, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Local Iranians fret over opposition group’s fate

As my colleague Matt O’Brien wrote back in August, Iranian-Americans in the Bay Area continue to worry about the fate of an Iranian opposition group that has been living in Iraq for decades, but may now be in danger from the new U.S.-supported Iraqi regime.

Hamid Azimi of Albany, a spokesman for the Iranian-American Community of Northern California, said today the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to ensure members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran – a group of Iranian dissidents who oppose the Islamic government that has ruled Iran since 1979 – won’t be put in harm’s way as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki follows through with a plan to relocate them this week from “Camp Ashraf,” the group’s settlement since the mid-1980s. All Washington has done so far is “urge caution.”

U.S.-led coalition forces disarmed the group in 2003, and protected the settlement until turning authority over to Iraqi security forces at the start of this year – a move that struck fear into the group’s supporters’ hearts, as they believe the Iranian government has considerable influence over the new Iraqi regime. Indeed, a July skirmish between Iraqi security forces and camp residents claimed 11 residents’ lives, leaving hundreds wounded. (See some video here.)

But despite high-visibility tactics such as hunger-strikes, Iranian-Americans have found it hard to build a lot of concern and sympathy for the PMOI, as the U.S. government has designated it as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997 (a move some said was meant as an olive branch to the somewhat reformist regime then in power in Iran).

Rep. Bob Filner’s H.Res.704, “deploring the ongoing violence by Iraqi security forces against the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq,” has amassed bipartisan support from 115 cosponsors since the San Diego Democrat introduced it at the end of July. Among those co-sponsors are Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

As advocates for and relatives of Camp Ashraf residents prepare for an event tomorrow in Washington, Azimi – whose wife’s cousin lives at Ashraf – wants the public to turn up the pressure on members of Congress who haven’t already signed onto Filner’s legislation, in order to create pressure in turn on the State Department to intervene. So far, Azimi says, “The State Department is very interested in making sure there is not democracy in Iran, they are very adamant about it.”

Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009
Under: Iran, Iraq, Uncategorized | No Comments »

The ‘World’ Has Not Had Enough

No, it’s not meant as a Bond reference, but rather to mean that when a protest group outlives that which it was formed to oppose, you can bet it’ll pivot smoothly to the next target.

In this case, “World Can’t Wait — Drive Out the Bush Regime” shows no sign of slowing down now that the Bush Regime is being Driven Out. The Bay Area chapter will hold a “No Endless Wars” march from 3 to 5 p.m. today, Monday, Nov. 10, starting in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park (at Allston and MLK Jr. Way) and wend its way through downtown to target the military plans of… wait for it… president-elect Barack Obama.

“Despite people’s hope for change after eight years of the Bush Regime’s crimes — the changes Barack Obama will deliver will not be at all what the people want,” organizer Giovanni Jackson said in a news release, which also said:

World Can’t Wait points to Obama’s positions on widening the war to send 10,000 more troops into an illegal, unjust war in Afghanistan (calling this a “good war”) – his plans to keep 50,000-80,000 more troops in Iraq, not including private mercenary forces like Blackwater – his call to increase the U.S. military by 92,000 more troops (more military recruiting in inner city schools) – his promise for more pre-emptive attacks on the (sovereign country of) Pakistan, and naked threats of war against Iran.

Jackson stated further: “Obama voted for illegal government spying under the new FISA, and he voted for the Patriot Act. As for torture – Obama refused to filibuster the Military Commissions Act which legalized torture, and he has already said no war criminals responsible for the torture will face prosecution during his first term.”

Posted on Monday, November 10th, 2008
Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Berkeley, General, Iran, Iraq | No Comments »

‘Palling around with terrorists’

From the New York Times:

Ms. Palin delivered her scathing attack lines in a cheery but determined voice. She strongly questioned Mr. Obama’s acquaintance with Mr. Ayers and asked what he knew about Mr. Ayers’s past and when.

“He didn’t know he had launched his political career in the living room of an unrepentant domestic terrorist until he did know about it,” she said in a mocking tone, earning uproarious applause.

More “turning a page” from the “Straight Talk Express,” I guess. Too bad this maverick won’t turn such an inquiring eye toward her own house.

After all, Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd, for the better part of seven years was a registered member of the Alaskan Independence Party, of which the primary goal is to call a vote on whether Alaska should secede from the United States. Its founder, Joe Vogler, reportedly once said “My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand,” and encouraged federal bureaucrats to wear red so they’d make better targets for the Magnum he carried. From Salon:

Vogler’s greatest moment of glory was to be his 1993 appearance before the United Nations to denounce United States “tyranny” before the entire world and to demand Alaska’s freedom. The Alaska secessionist had persuaded the government of Iran to sponsor his anti-American harangue.

That’s right … Iran. The Islamic dictatorship. The taker of American hostages. The rogue nation that McCain and Palin have excoriated Obama for suggesting we diplomatically engage. That Iran.

(The Iran connection has been reported before, btw.)

But instead Vogler disappeared in May 1993; his remains were found more than a year later in a gravel pit:

The blue tarp and duct tape in which the remains were wrapped, officials said, matched a description given by a convicted thief, Manfred West, who confessed last summer that he had killed Mr. Vogler in a plastic-explosives sale gone bad and had then buried him.

Fighting the U.S. government? Iranian sponsorship? A plastic-explosives deal gone bad? That’s quite a resume for an American political-party founder. And none of it kept Sarah Palin from exhorting the AIP to “keep up the good work” earlier this year:

Hmm. Who’s been “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”

And what does this all mean? Not. A. Damned. Thing.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just as it doesn’t matter that decades after Bill Ayers was part of a radical group that embraced bombing as political discourse, he – by then a renowned education professor – moved in the same liberal Chicago circles as Barack Obama. Ooooooh, hey, Obama was in Ayer’s house once! Oh my gosh, they sat on a nonprofit’s board together! Hold the phone, they tried to improve Chicago’s schools together!

Not. A. Damned. Thing.

But hey, y’know what does matter?

It matters that your 401k may well have lost about a third of its value in recent weeks, as mine has.

It matters that millions of jobs – certainly mine, maybe yours too – are hanging by a thread today, even as uncounted families struggle to hold onto their homes or have lost them already.

It matters that more than 8.1 million American children lack health insurance.

It matters that one candidate’s proposal to toughen fuel-efficiency standards could impact oil consumption 21 times as much as the other candidate’s proposal to “drill, baby, drill” off our shores.

And it matters that we’re still at war, where things aren’t going well and our national reputation has suffered to the point that it’s hard to find help.

Doesn’t all the meaningless mudslinging — at a time when the nation is desperate for smart, strong leadership — just frustrate you, disappoint you, infuriate you?

So, “my friends,” how’s about we put a lid on this rampant campaign-trail hypocrisy, this wild casting of stones from within a very fragile glass house, and get on with the job of setting this struggling country right.

You don’t have to be “in the tank” for Obama to be in the tank for the truth.

Posted on Friday, October 10th, 2008
Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Elections, Iran, John McCain, Sarah Palin | No Comments »

Barbara Lee: No covert action in Iraq

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, yesterday introduced H.R. 6951, the “Transparent Actions over Covert Tactics in Iran Act of 2008” (“TACT in Iran Act” — ah, political acronyms!), which would bar the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense from providing covert or clandestine support, including military training or advice or equipment for military activities, for the purpose of overthrowing Iran’s government.

Lee says her bill “will send a loud message that the United States again recognizes the importance of diplomatic engagement and smart power as the preferred instruments for advancing American interests. Covert action by the United States to destabilize the Iranian regime would be reckless and contrary to both international law and U.S. interests.”

“My legislation will help repair the damage done to our nation’s reputation in the world by making it clear that it is not a policy of the United States to undermine or overthrow by covert or clandestine means the government of Iran,” she said.

The bill’s six original co-sponsors include Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, with whom Lee co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It has been referred to the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Posted on Friday, September 19th, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Iran, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | No Comments »

Bay Area activism, near and far

There’s plenty of liberal activism a-brewin’, as usual.

El Cerrito piano tuner and longtime pro-Palestinian activist Paul Larudee, a cofounder of the Free Gaza Movement, and his cohorts are about to set sail from Cyprus en route to the Gaza Strip in an effort to “raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation.” It won’t be a cakewalk for this international band of activists; Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday that Israeli defense officials “favor forcefully blocking” the boats’ arrival, as “allowing the ships to reach the Gaza coastline could create a dangerous precedent.”

Closer to home, CODEPINK is gearing up for the Democratic National Convention in Denver next week. Bay Area doyenne of dissent Medea Benjamin and her group will be holding a “Peace Room” pre-convention party “to make art, friends, plans, and a peace platform” from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 19, in the CODEPINK/Global Exchange office on the second floor of 2017 Mission St. in San Francisco. Later this week, they’ll have an “All Aboard for Peace” send-off for six Bay Area activists getting on Amtrak to Denver; that’ll be at 8:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 22, at the Emeryville Amtrak station, 5885 Horton St. According to their news release, they’re headed to Denver and later to the RNC convention in St. Paul, Minn., to “demand, in full creative force, that an end to the occupation of Iraq, no war with Iran and a commitment to peace be at the top the political agenda… CODEPINK will also be speaking out against the financing of the conventions by oil, telecom and pharmaceutical companies, exposing how corporate money corrupts the political system.” They’ve even put their schedule of actions at the conventions online.

And, speaking of the conventions, some prominent Bay Area activists — including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg of Berkeley and “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan, who’s now running an independent Congressional campaign to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco — are among those who’ve issued an open, online letter calling on people to go to Denver “to protest war, torture, and repression.” Other signatories include Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney; historian and activist Howard Zinn; and Vietnam veteran and activist Ron Kovic (“Born on the Fourth of July“).

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Democratic Party, Elections, General, Green Party, Iran, Iraq, Nancy Pelosi, Republican Party | 1 Comment »

‘No war with Iran’ rally tomorrow in SF

Groups like Direct Action to Stop the War, CodePink, World Can’t Wait and Stop AIPAC are concerned that House Concurrent Resolution 362 — “Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony” — is a prelude to war with Iran.

Their news release notes the bill “demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran…” That, they say, is pronounced “blockade,” and could too easily slide toward war.

The resolution now has 220 cosponsors including more than 100 Democrats, but not a single one from the greater Bay Area. Nonetheless, activists want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco — a strong supporter of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which have been pressing hard for this resolution — to put a stop to this, and so they’ll rally at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, July 8, outside the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco.

What’s Pelosi’s official, stated position on the resolution? Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami told me a short while ago he’s still trying to get me an answer to that question. “However, the speaker has publicly stated that she is supportive of strong international sanctions on Iran and an aggressive diplomatic efforts focused on the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2008
Under: Iran, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Kucinich moves on impeachment, locals react

kucinich.jpgRep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, last night introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush.

From Article I — “Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq” — to Article XXXV — “Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders” — the former Democratic presidential candidate laid out a comprehenisve indictment of the President’s actions. And he spent about five hours last night reading them into the Congressional record.

Reactions from Bay Area House members varied.

“I applaud Congressman Kucinich for bringing these articles of impeachment before the House and I support his effort,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, the Bay Area delegation’s newest member, went much further, commending Kucinich “for shining a light on the malfeasance of President Bush and his administration.

speier.jpg“I agree that America would not have gone to war, and more than 4,000 service members would still be alive, had the President not lied about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction,” Speier said. “Congress must continue to hold this administration accountable, now, and after they leave office next January.

“Had I been in Congress two years ago, I would have supported impeachment, but now, just months until the end of his term, it would not be the best use of taxpayer money to hold hearings that would accomplish nothing more than the calendar and the Constitution will take care of in due time,” Speier continued. “In fact, I believe impeaching the president would take longer than Congress has time left in this session. The only sure way to rid ourselves of the incompetence, arrogance and abject dishonesty of the last seven and a half years is to make sure we elect Barack Obama this November.”

But my requests for comment from House Speaker Nancy “Off the Table” Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, went unanswered today.

UPDATE @ 12:4O P.M. WEDNESDAY: Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, issued this statement today supporting impeachement:

“Five years ago, President Bush undertook a deliberate and concerted campaign to send our nation to war against Iraq. This was not a war of necessity, but a war of choice. President Bush manipulated the intelligence in order to convince the Congress, and the American Public, that Iraq represented a clear and present danger to our national security. A threat so grave, we were told, that continued diplomatic efforts would lead to mushroom clouds.

“There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and no terrorist connections between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that President Bush planned to invade Iraq long before Congress gave him the authorization to do so, and that he undertook a campaign to manipulate the intelligence regarding Iraq’s supposed weapons program.

“More than 4,000 brave men and women have paid for President Bush’s mistake with their lives. And tens of thousands of others will forever bear the physical and mental wounds of war. As a coequal branch of government the Congress owes it to each one of them, and their families, to hold those who led us to war under false pretences accountable.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Iran, Iraq, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, Lynn Woolsey, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, President Bush, U.S. House | No Comments »

Barbara Lee talks to Iranians

lee-talks-to-iranians.JPGThe Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Rep. Barbara Lee is co-chairwoman, and the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran held a news conference on Capitol Hill today urging dialogue between ordinary Americans and ordinary Iranians as a means of heading off what they say is the Bush Administration’s drumbeat for war with Iran. Lee, D-Oakland, and others used a row of 60’s-era red “hotline” telephones to talk directly to average Iranians in Tehran.

“We have been down this road before and Americans have learned a simple truth from five hard and bitter years in Iraq: No unjust war ever produced a just and lasting peace! It has not worked in Iraq. It will not work in Iran,” she said. “What we need is not another rush to unwarranted, unnecessary, and misguided military action but rather a diplomatic surge for peace and reconciliation. One of the important first steps we should take is to have direct, comprehensive, and unconditional bilateral talks with Iran.”

Lee’s H.R. 5056, introduced in January and now backed by 14 cosponsors, would do exactly that.

Read Lee’s entire statement as prepared for delivery, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Iran, U.S. House | No Comments »