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…
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Skinner to GOPers: Follow Specter to our tent

Well, you’ve gotta give Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, extra points for cheekiness: Today she sent to her Republican legislative colleagues an invitation to switch to the “Spectacular” Democratic Party, a la Arlen Specter.

“Democrats will soon have 60 votes in the US Senate and be able to make many decisions without filibusters—but it will take a bit of time for the final stages of legal challenges and to finally count the votes from last November’s election in Minnesota,” she wrote. “If you act quickly, California can lead the nation rather than following. We need 54 Democrats in the Assembly and 27 in the Senate to match this.”

As benefits of being Democrats, she cited:

  • “Big tent, not a pup tent”
  • “No pledges”
  • “No recalls”
  • “Large party with increasing registrants”
  • “Diverse Democratic jury for future advancement and primary electorates”
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    The biggest news in politics today…

    …is U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., switching affiliation to the Democratic Party.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    UPDATE @ 1:06 P.M.: Here’s what U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has to say about it:

    “Senator Specter did the right thing for his state and our country, and I welcome him to the Democratic Party.

    “He has given Democrats a huge lift. Senator Specter’s decision sends a tremendous signal to the country that people who want to bring about change are joining the Democratic Party. People who want to get things done, as Senator Specter does, are joining the Democratic Party.

    “The Democratic Party is a big umbrella. The Republicans have a tiny, little umbrella – if you lean just a bit outside it, you get soaked.

    “So, we are happy to have Senator Specter, and I look forward to working with him.”

    UPDATE @ 4:08 P.M.: Just in from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

    “I welcome Senator Specter back to the Democratic Party. Senator Specter has long been an independent thinker and willing to work in a bipartisan way to do what is best for the American people. I look forward to working with him on issues such as medical research funding, criminal justice, education and other issues to help move this country forward.”


    How they voted on FISA telecom immunity

    The U.S. Senate today passed a bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 so that telecommunications companies which cooperated with the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping will receive retroactive immunity from lawsuits. The final vote came after several amendments seeking to strip out or curtail that immunity were defeated.

    And how did the Senators whom Californians presumably find most important cast their votes? Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, R-Ariz., was absent for the vote, out on the campaign trail. And as for Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

    S.Amdt.5064, introduced by U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to strike the section of the bill granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program:
    Boxer: Yes
    Feinstein: No
    Clinton: Yes
    Obama: Yes
    Final tally: 32-66 (defeated)

    S.Amdt.5059, introduced by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional:
    Boxer: Yes
    Feinstein: No
    Clinton: Yes
    Obama: Yes
    Final tally: 37-61 (defeated)

    S.Amdt.5066, introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to delay any claim of retroactive immunity until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President’s Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress:
    Boxer: Yes
    Feinstein: Yes
    Clinton: Yes
    Obama: Yes
    Final tally: 42-56 (defeated)

    Motion to invoke cloture (ending debate and bringing the bill to a vote) on H.R. 6304, amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978:
    Boxer: No
    Feinstein: Yes
    Clinton: No
    Obama: Yes
    Final tally: 72-26 (passed)

    On passage of H.R.6304, amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978:
    Boxer: No
    Feinstein: Yes
    Clinton: No
    Obama: Yes
    Final tally: 69-28 (passed)

    American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero calls the bill “not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American;” the ACLU plans to sue to challenge it as soon as President Bush signs it into law.

    UPDATE @ 5:10 P.M. WEDNESDAY: The liberal blogs are abuzz with dissatisfaction…

    Glenn Greenwald at Salon: “With their vote today, the Democratic-led Congress has covered-up years of deliberate surveillance crimes by the Bush administration and the telecom industry, and has dramatically advanced a full-scale attack on the rule of law in this country.”

    DownWithTyranny: “…enough Democrats were bribed by the telecom companies to hand Bush the victory he lusted for…”

    Steve Soto at The Left Coaster: “…gutted the Constitution… trashed the Fourth Amendment…”

    Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake: “We need to punish those who stood against us.”

    So it would seem Dianne Feinstein might have some ‘splainin’ to do to many of her constituents… but apparently not to the California Democratic Party, even though Chairman Art Torres late last year said Feinstein wouldn’t vote this way:

    I said I think it’s important that you hear this from me because there’s also concern about the telecom immunity issue which will come before the senate judiciary committee. Don’t believe me, ask my friend Senator Dodd, who will tell you that she led the effort along with him to make sure that that wasn’t in the FISA bill that emerged from the senate judiciary committee. That bill as you know does not include the telecom immunity issue, which was a very important issue for me, and I’m proud that she listened, because she does.

    So I contacted the party today to see if Torres would comment on today’s votes. I got a callback from party political advisor Bob Mulholland, who noted Obama voted for immunity today too as a compromise. “Our attitude as a political party is, let’s win the election and we can start cleaning up the constitutional mess Bush gave us,” Mulholland said.

    With retroactive immunity, that is.


    ‘Real Time’ with Barbara Lee

    It’s practically an East Bay edition of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” this week, as the sage of satire will be joined by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Also on the show will be actor Esai Morales and, joining in via satellite, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. It airs at 11 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, April 4 on HBO.


    Feinstein moves to limit robocalls

    specter.jpgU.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., today introduced a bill to regulate robocalls, those rather annoying automated telephone calls which clog voters’ voice mail bins before every election.

    Concerns have been raised about abuses of this technology, including calls being received late into the night; callers receiving 10, 20 or even 30 calls a night; and callers using misleading information.

    The bill would:
    · Ban calls to any person between 9 a.m. and 8 a.m;
    · Ban more than two calls per organization to the same telephone number per day;
    · Require disclosure at the call’s start of the identity of the group making the call;
    · Require the caller to identify the call as pre-recorded;
    · Ban the calling organization from blocking their “caller identification” number;
    · Empower the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to file civil fines against violators; and
    · Let individuals to sue to stop the abusive calls.

    These prohibitions wouldn’t apply to live volunteer, “in person” phone banks. The bill would be effective 30 days prior to a primary and 60 days prior to a general election.

    feinstein.jpg“During this primary season, we have heard stories about people being called over and over again, at all hours of the day and night. I believe we need sensible guidelines in place,” Feinstein said in a news release. “Something must be done about the worst of these calls. The bill that we have introduced today does not ban robocalls. It merely provides a reasonable framework. It’s a sensible solution that will protect American families from being inundated by calls through the day and night.”

    Commercial calls are already limited by the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list, with millions of individuals subscribing, but political calls were specifically exempted from that list.