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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 »

Strife, leadership change at Alameda County GOP

A controversial resolution calling for a non-interventionist foreign policy – meaning a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq – was shot down by the Alameda County Republican Central Committee last night, even as the committee’s chair changed hands between the party’s warring factions.

Former chairman Jerry Salcido – among a faction of “Constitutional Republicans,” a group often associated with former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. – announced his resignation last week after just a few months in the post. He told me today he’s moving back to Utah to start his own law firm with his brother.

a party dividedThe Constitutional Republicans and the mainstream GOPers some call “neo-conservatives” have been embroiled in a battle for a year and a half. Committeeman Paul Cummings Jr. of Oakland has a lawsuit pending against several of the Constitutional Republicans, claiming their June 2008 election to the committee was invalid because they hadn’t been affiliated with the Republican Party for at least three months before their candidacy filing dates, and/or because they’d belonged to other parties within a year before filing, in violation of the state Elections Code. (A hearing on this is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 18.)

So with Salcido leaving, a struggle for control ensued: The Constitutional Republicans put up Brian Eschen, 34, of Pleasanton, while the neo-cons backed John Wyrwas of Berkeley. Wyrwas – a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at Cal – narrowly prevailed, winning the county GOP’s chair one day after his 25th birthday.

“We’re all very excited about the next year,” Wyrwas told me this aftneroon. “I think starting in January our committee is going to be a lot more civil than we were in the past, and I think a lot of our problems will be behind us.”

He noted he ran as a moderate: “There’s a lot I agree on with both factions… We’re looking at a lot of potential.”

Salcido, 31, of Fremont, wished Wyrwas “the best of luck, he seems like a really good guy…. I’m hoping he’ll be impartial with the two factions that are there, because Lord knows we need it.”

Cummings, 53, of Oakland, said he’s thrilled and optimistic at the resolution’s defeat and Wyrwas’ election – he feels as if the good guys are back in charge. Walter Stanley III, among the Constitutional Republican faction’s leaders, isn’t so happy, knocking Cummings’ faction as “pro-national-offense Republicans… They don’t care about the Constitution, they don’t care that it’s an undeclared war, the just care about protecting George Bush.”

Salcido said he was “very disappointed” by the defeat of the foreign-policy resolution, which he co-authored and presented to the committee last night.

“It’s just an indication to me why the Republican Party is having such troubles nowadays, they just want to hold onto this pro-war, interventionist stance that is killing our soldiers and bankrupting our country,” he said, noting the opposing faction seems “more interested in power rather than principle. … They actually said the reasons why terrorists want to kill us is because we’re free and we’re prosperous, they actually believe that, and that’s incredible to me.”

(Note: A server-upgrade glitch has made my previous post about the foreign-policy resolution, from yesterday, temporarily unavailable; my tech people tell me they should be able to restore it and other posts tomorrow morning. UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY: THIS HAS BEEN FIXED.)

Stanley said the foreign-policy resolution had 13 votes in favor and 20 against, but at least it was “an educational opportunity” that drew a few new observers to last night’s committee meeting – and expanding the party’s base of members and activists is supposed to be the committee’s goal.

“What they would prefer to do is absolutely nothing,” he charged of committee members such as Cummings and Dick Spees of Oakland, whom he described as “the leader of the ‘George Bushers…’ These guys couldn’t be doing better to sabotage the efforts of the Republican Party if they were Democrats.”

But Stanley said he’s optimistic that Constitutional Republicans will gain more ground on the committee in 2010. “We’ll keep doing things by the book… we’re going to be there, they’ll be forced to deal with us, and we’re going to attempt to get the Republican Party back on track.”

“We have nowhere to go but up, and that’s what we’re trying to do in Alameda County.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Alameda County, Iraq, Republican Party, Republican politics | 17 Comments »

Alameda County GOP infights over foreign policy

Expect fireworks at tonight’s Alameda County Republican Central Committee meeting, as there’s a debate and vote on a proposed resolution endorsing a non-interventionist foreign policy – which in the short term means pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The resolution was introduced by committeemen Jerry Salcido, Walter Stanley III and David LaTour – the county GOP’s chairman, vice chairman and assistant treasurer, respectively. All three are “Constitutional Republicans” aligned with the Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-leaning group often associated with former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. The county GOP’s executive committee last week voted 4-1, with one absention, to approve the resolution and send it to the full committee’s monthly meeting for a 2/3 vote.

The Alameda County GOP has been torn by strife for well over a year now, with a lawsuit still pending over these and other Ron Paul supporters’ election to the committee.

The California Court of Appeal in September reinstated the case, in which committeeman Paul Cummings Jr. of Oakland claims Stanley, of Livermore, and several other Constitutional Republicans were ineligible for election to the committee in June 2008 because they hadn’t been affiliated with the Republican Party for at least three months before their candidacy filing dates, and/or because they’d belonged to other parties within a year before filing, in violation of the state Elections Code.

This resolution is likely to deepen the rift. Among its many “whereases” are that our foreign policy of the past century is deeply flawed and hasn’t served our national security interests; that “the terrorist threat is a predictable consequence of our meddling in the affairs of others and has nothing to do with us being free and prosperous;” and that “torture, even if referred to as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ is self-destructive and produces no useful information and that contracting it out to a third world country or a corporation is just as evil.”

Incidentally, that’s not unlike the verbiage in a resolution approved last month by Berkeley City Council calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and contractors for Afghanistan (or, for that matter, several other resolutions that council has approved in recent years).

Compare the county GOP’s proposed resolution also to an Afghanistan-withdrawal resolution approved Sunday by the California Democratic Party’s executive board.

And that’s not sitting well with GOP committee members other than the Constitutional Republicans.

“I’m certainly in knots about it,” Cummings said today. “I’m a retired Navy officer, and I’m shocked that while we have troops in the field, we would put together a document that is so disparaging of our policy in the war on terror. Some of the comments in it are beyond the pale.”

Read the full text of the resolution, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Alameda County, General, Iraq, Republican Party, Republican politics, War on Terror | 3 Comments »

Report: Vets need consideration in drug cases

California is doing more than many states, yet perhaps not yet enough, to deal with veterans returning from war with disorders and injuries that lead to drug abuse, according to a national organization’s new policy brief.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s brief says as thousands of troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries and other maladies, many could end up in trouble with the law, especially for nonviolent drug offenses. The brief says that in 2004, about 140,000 veterans were in state and federal prisons with tens of thousands more in county jails, many for crimes related to substance abuse.

The brief recommends that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense adopt overdose prevention programs and policies targeting veterans and service members who misuse alcohol and other drugs, or who take prescription medications, especially certain narcotic painkillers.

It also calls for veteran treatment programs to expand access to medication-assisted therapies like methadone and buprenorphine, which it says are the most effective means of treating opioid dependence. And state and federal governments should modify sentencing laws and improve court-ordered drug diversion programs in order to better treat — rather than lock up — veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related crimes, the brief says.

On that latter suggestion, California is making some headway, the report says:

A California law provides that veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance abuse or psychological problems as a result of their service in combat and who commit certain nonviolent offenses may be ordered into a local, state, federal or private nonprofit treatment program instead of jail or prison. The law, however, is not widely used; many defense attorneys are not even aware of its impact for their clients, and it does not automatically apply to veteran defendants. Furthermore, the law only applies to lesser, probation-eligible offenses, so many veterans do not make use of it, choosing standard probation instead.

And…

Legislation now in the California Assembly, Assembly Bill 674, would provide for diversion of psychologically wounded veterans to therapy instead of jail or prison, and would drop charges upon completion of therapy, for probation-eligible offenses. Drug testing results could only be used for treatment purposes, not as the basis of a new criminal charge. The defendant would not have to plead guilty and would emerge with no criminal record.

Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Mary Salas, D-Chula Vista, introduced AB 674 in February but asked in April that its Public Safety Committee hearing be cancelled. Salas will chair a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing this Thursday morning, Nov. 5, in San Diego on veterans’ courts and alternative sentencing.

“Increasing numbers of Iraq and Afghan War veterans are returning home with psychological injuries. Many of them are going untreated and, some are encountering problems with the law,” she said in her news release announcing the hearing. “Our country has a duty to our most troubled veterans. We must recognize that these veterans’ psychological injuries were sustained on our society’s behalf. We need to consider if their injuries should be taken into account in the administration of justice. Ensuring these young men and women receive the care they need will also enhance public safety in the long run.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Assembly, Iraq, Public safety | Comments Off

How they voted on the war supplemental

As I reported Monday, Bay Area House members were being pressed by anti-war progressives on one side and by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the other about how to vote on the $106 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House passed the bill late Tuesday on a 226-202 vote. Here’s how the Bay Area delegation voted:

No: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Yes: George Miller, D-Martinez; Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco

The 32 Democrats voting against the bill did so mainly for anti-war reasons, while most of the 170 Republicans who opposed it did so because the bill included more than $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund. The bill passed overwhelmingly last month, but changes in conference committee led to an intense battle to get it through again.

Here’s what Lee had to say about it:

“I cannot support any funding for Iraq that was not dedicated solely for the redeployment of our troops and military contractors. I am also unable to support the open ended military escalation in Afghanistan. We need a better balance between humanitarian and military spending in Afghanistan and we need an exit strategy. The supplemental appropriations bill does not reflect a fundamental shift in direction. Therefore, I cannot support it.”

And here’s what Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said:

“Our men and women in uniform deserve far, far better than to be treated like this. Republicans supported a troop funding bill last month, and we are prepared to do so once again. But this is a politically-motivated stunt that uses troop funding as bait for a global bailout that should be judged on its own merits in its own legislation. Let’s give our troops the resources they need for victory in a real troop funding bill free of a costly global bailout.”

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Some liberal bloggers are singling Miller out for heat, because he’s among Democrats who voted against the war funding last month “when their votes stood no chance of actually blocking the funding” but voted for it Tuesday, as AfterDowningStreet.org’s David Swanson put it. Swanson described this group as “the Hall of Shame. These Congress members voted No for show when it didn’t matter, and voted Yes to fund wars when it came to crunch time.”

Elsewhere, the Down With Tyranny blog called Miller “another progressive who let pressure get to him and has now jumped the fence and is voting for more war.”

Miller, a close political ally of Pelosi, explained his shifting vote to the Chronicle:

“I understand the deep frustrations regarding this bill; I’ve voiced them myself and have consistently voted against the war,” Miller said. “I don’t support the war in Iraq, and I want to bring it to a close. I registered my concern, but now it is time to give President Obama what he believes he needs to make progress. This bill is part of the price of cleaning up the mess of the failed policies from the previous administration.”

It’s worth noting that the progressive community was split on this: Although lots of left-leaning groups opposed the bill, some significant heavyweights – including the Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for American Progress, Democracy for America, Moveon.org, Talking Points Memo, and True Majority – didn’t.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Iraq, Iraq War, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

House members pressured on war funding vote

Several Bay Area House members are among targets of a progressive Democratic phone/fax/email lobbying blitz pressuring them to vote against the $100 billion Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan war supplemental spending bill, even as the Obama Administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to whip votes into line for it. From Democrats.com:

All 178 House Republicans plan to vote against the $100 billion Iraq/AfPak War Supplemental to protest $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund. That means 39 Democratic opponents could defeat the bill. 34 Democrats on the right promised to vote no, so we only need 5 more.

On May 14, 51 Democrats voted no and 4 Democrats were absent. Most were Progressives who oppose the war funding, but a few were Bluedogs who want to cut unnecessary spending.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, already are on the list of lawmakers who’ve vowed to vote against the bill. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, is on the “voted with us on May 14 and still with us as far as we know” list, but I guess they can move her onto the sure-thing list with Lee, Stark and Woolsey now, based on the statement she sent me a few minutes ago:

“I voted against the Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental last month because I have serious problems with the current wars and do not believe that escalating the conflicts make America or the world safer.

“Increased military operations, with the inevitable civilian casualties, only inflame local resistance and increase the number and severity of violent attacks.

“While other items are included in the supplemental – many of which I support – this is, foremost, a vote for or against funding the wars. For that reason, I will again vote no when it comes to the floor.”

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were listed the same as Speier; I haven’t heard back from either of their offices yet.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, is listed among those who “voted with us on May 14 but now oppose us.” And Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is listed among the unknowns; his spokeswoman, Sarah Hersh, said McNerney “has received a similar number of calls, emails and faxes on this subject as compared to other major issues. Of those who have contacted his office, there’s about equal support and opposition. The Congressman looks forward to hearing from his constituents on this and other issues.”

Posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Iraq, Iraq War, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 4 Comments »

Most local lawmakers oppose war spending bill

The House of Representatives this afternoon passed the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act – $96.7 billion in military spending, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, through Sept. 30 – on a 368-60 vote; the U.S. Senate continues working on its own version.

Most Bay Area House members, unsurprisingly, opposed it: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. Voting for the bill were Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; and Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, while Pete Stark, D-Fremont, was absent.

I spoke a few minutes ago with McNerney, who said that as far as Iraq goes, he supports the additional funding so long as President Obama follows through with his timeline for drawing down troops there.

Afghanistan, McNerney said, is “a little bit more complicated, a little more difficult – I’m very concerned about what’s happening over there. … The president has a good team over there and I want to see him have an opportunity to carry out an acceptable outcome.”

More commentary, after the jump…
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Posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, General, George Miller, Iraq, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Barbara Lee/Obama honeymoon over?

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, had this to say today, more than a week after the Obama Administration asked Congress for $83.4 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“I applaud President Obama for moving forward to address the difficult situations in Iraq and Afghanistan which he inherited from the Bush Administration.

“As the only Member of Congress to vote against the resolution authorizing the use of military force on September 14, 2001, I believe now as I did then that the resolution gave a blank check for military action not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world in the Bush Administration’s so called ‘war on terror’, and that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.

“Military escalation, which places our brave troops in harm’s way, will be counterproductive to the goal of creating a more stable country. A new direction which places greater emphasis on — and devotes substantially more financial and human resources to — regional and international cooperation, humanitarian and development assistance, and non proliferation efforts is needed.

“With regard to funding for the occupation of Iraq, I have consistently worked on a bipartisan basis to ensure that no permanent bases be built in Iraq and have stated that I will only support fully funding the safe and timely redeployment of our troops and contractors out of Iraq.”

Remember, Lee was an early, ardent supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; her disappointment at having to issue this news release is almost palpable.

Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Iraq, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

A whole lot of upcoming political events

First up: Me.

California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro was kind enough to invite me to participate in a panel discussion on California politics at 7 p.m. tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 18, along with Chronicle columnist Phil Matier, state GOP communications director Hector Barajas and Steve Frank, publisher of the conservative California Political News and Views site. It’s at the Contra Costa Country Club, 801 Golf Club Road in Pleasant Hill. Tickets are $25 each; email tom@politicalvanguard.com or director@contracostagop.com for reservations.

Lots more happening in coming days, after the jump…
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Posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Under: Barbara Lee, General, George Miller, Iraq, Pete Stark, Political events, Republican Party, Republican politics | No Comments »

What they’re saying about Obama’s Iraq plan

Bay Area House reactions to President Barack Obama’s plan for drawing down troop levels in Iraq were predictably varied, with one major Obama ally’s displeasure particularly unsurprising. Said Congressional Black Caucus chairwman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“As one of the co-founders of the Out of Iraq Caucus I opposed the Iraq war and occupation from the beginning and have spent nearly seven years working to extricate the United States from this fiasco.

“I welcome President Obama’s pledge to the American people to end the war and withdraw all combat troops by August 31, 2010.

“However, I am deeply troubled by the prospect that President Obama’s plan contemplates leaving up to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. It is far from clear how or why troops deployed for combat operations will be viewed differently by Iraqis simply by designating them as ‘support’ troops. Ending the war and occupation means redeploying all troops and all military contractors out of Iraq. It also means leaving behind no permanent bases and renouncing any claims upon Iraqi oil.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to hasten the day when war and occupation of Iraq is ended and all American troops and military contractors have been withdrawn and reunited with their families and loved ones.”

Some differing views, after the jump…
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Posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, Iraq, John Boehner, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | No Comments »