Archive for October 2nd, 2012

Over the weekend, investigative journalist Jose Vicente Rangel warned of backroom opposition attempts to prevent another election win for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Citing a private meeting between members of opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and Caracas based diplomats from the United States and Spain, among others, Rangel warned of ongoing efforts to “convince” the international community that anti-Chavez candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski “is set to win the October 7th election”. Inflating expectations in the press, Rangel explained, MUD strategists intend to carry out the recently-uncovered “Rapid Reaction Plan”, a violent post-election strategy made public late last week by Chavez Campaign Coordinator Jorge Rodriguez.

Speaking to viewers on Sunday 23 September during his weekly television program Jose Vicente Hoy, former Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel warned of suspicious opposition positioning in the final weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign. Referring specifically to a September 12 meeting held at the private residence of opposition gubernatorial candidate Richard Mardo, Rangel explained how “representatives of the Venezuelan opposition tried convincing foreign diplomats that Capriles is set to win the October 7 election, even if only by a small margin”.

According to the investigate journalist, “special guests” at the private meeting included Paolo Serpi, Antonio Perez-Hernandez, and Luis Raygada Souza-Ferreira, the Caracas-based Ambassadors of Italy, Spain, and Peru, respectively. James Derham, the top US diplomat in Venezuela, as well as Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s highest authority in country, also attended the luncheon. Brazil’s Ambassador in Caracas, Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho, turned down the invitation.

In addition to Richard Mardo, the MUD’s candidate for Governor of Aragua State, those representing the Venezuelan opposition at the meeting were Luis Miquilena, an open supporter of the 2002 coup d’ etat against President Chavez, Marcel Granier, Managing Director of radical opposition media network Radio Caracas de Televisión (RCTV), and Carlos Bardasano, member of private media giant Venevisión’s Board of Directors.

According to Rangel, Mardo used the backroom meeting to express his “total lack of confidence in the National Elections Council (CNE)” and promise those present that he and “his people” are “prepared to take to the streets, using both motorcyclists and civilian groups to combat the Chavistas”.

What was “most surprising” about the meeting, Rangel said, was how “some of those in attendance cautiously requested further information while others made worrying affirmations and expressed their firm, radical positions”.

Private news media including opposition dailies El Universal and Noticias 24 also reported on the meeting, stating that Mardo and the others simply had gathered “to analyze Venezuela’s electoral situation”.

“Rapid Reaction Plan”

In addition to the troubling talks between foreign diplomats and the MUD, National Coordinator for the Chavez Campaign Jorge Rodriguez recently denounced what he called “irresponsible right-wing extremists within the (opposition’s) campaign” who have developed and circulated a document that details plans to cause political unrest in the aftermath of next month’s presidential election.

Titled the “Rapid Reaction Plan”, the document is said to have been prepared by Alejandro Plaz, former Director of Sumate, the US-financed NGO tasked with fomenting a greater opposition presence in Venezuelan politics. In the context of next month’s vote, “the authors of the Rapid Reaction Plan discuss criteria for selecting key sites to be taken over”, Rodriguez explained.

These sites include “national and regional freeways, major avenues, emblematic plazas, Governors’ and Mayors’ offices, strategic non-civilian points – meaning military installations – news media offices, ports, and airports”.

“What do ports and airports have to do with voting centers?” he asked. “What do military installations have to do with an election booth, with an electoral contest?”

Warning the Venezuelan people to “watch out” for possible opposition violence, Rodriguez added, “this plan describes nothing more than a desperate minority looking to react to a pending Chavez victory”.

Majority with Chavez

Consistent with polls reflecting a double-digit lead for President Chavez, but surprising to many in Venezuela’s anti-Chavez minority, Rodriguez also made public an email written by opposition lawmaker Julio Borges in which the Capriles ally affirmed “the majority of people are with the ruling candidate (Chavez), and this is something that can’t be denied”.

Not just any politician, Borges is the National Coordinator of Capriles’ Primero Justicia (PJ) party. Sent to Miami-based, anti- Chavez blogger Eric Ekvall, who suggested to Borges that the opposition should “claim fraud” after the October election, the email includes Borges telling Ekvall that, in Venezuela, “claims of fraud are simply an urban myth – elections are won through the vote”.

“Henrique (Capriles) is struggling against a tide that doesn’t allow itself be penetrated”, Borges wrote. In response to the message’s content, Borges denied having “any contact at all” with Ekvall and claimed the email address cited by Rodriguez (julioaborges@gmail.com) is “an account that doesn’t exist, and never has”.

Investigative journalist Mario Silva, on the other hand, followed up on Borges’ denials by showing two different articles written by the right-wing lawmaker and published in Venezuelan dailies El Universal (23 April 2008) and Ultimas Noticias (19 July 2009). Both pieces, analyses that advocate an end to the Chavez administration, were signed by Borges and included his aforementioned email address.


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Abby Martin takes a closer look at the incestuous relationship between the White House and Monsanto, by calling out Romney and Obama’s longstanding ties with the company.

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The New York Police Department is planning to double the size of its gang unit to 300 officers who will have the ability to utilize social media outlets such as Facebook using false names to track suspects.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly made the announcement before he was scheduled to appear at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San Diego on Tuesday.

Gang (or crew) activity in New York City is nothing new; famous rivalries such as “The Bloods” and “The Crips” have long been operating in the city. However, while these established and well-known gangs are often engaged in drug warfare, the new initiative will instead focus on loosely-organized gangs engaged in turf wars associated with local neighborhoods.

“Their loyalty is to their friends living in a relatively small area and their rivalries are based not on narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf,” Kelly said in his prepared remarks. “In other words, ‘You come in to my backyard and you get hurt. You dis’ [disrespect] my crew and you pay the price.’”

The program has been named Operation Crew Cut, and will double the number of detectives involved in tracking and preventing gang violence in New York. In an interesting twist, the detectives will work closely with social media monitoring divisions and will be able to assume false internet identities if they receive permission from the department. The additional detectives will be assigned from internal positions, new hires will not be considered for the division.

Social media and Facebook monitoring has been shown to be successful in monitoring gang violence; in September, the NYPD brought charges against 49 gang members from the feuding “Rockstarz” and “Very Crispy Gangsters” in Brooklyn. The charges ended a turf war that had lasted three years, included ten shootings, and taken three lives. The feud was fuelled in large part by public Facebook posts of gang members bragging about their exploits and taking photos of themselves on ‘enemy’ turf.

“Because of these individuals’ insatiable desire to brag about what they did, these investigators were able to draw a virtual map of their activities and bring them to justice,” Mr. Kelly announced in September, as reported by the New York Times.

The NYPD insists it has strict guidelines for the undercover detectives who will be patrolling the internet “to instill the proper balance between the investigative potential of social network sites and privacy expectations,” Kelly said in San Diego.


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After Judge Katherine Forrest, on Sept 12th, ruled part of the National Defense Authorization Act unconstitutional on its face in the case brought by Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, and Daniel Ellsberg, the Obama Department of Justice sought an end run around the ruling and proceeded directly to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Although Judge Forrest had said she would, at the government’s request, reconsider her stay on the law’s enforcement on September 19th, the DoJ could not wait those seven days, and managed to convince a Court of Appeals judge to lift Judge Forrest’s stay on September 17th.

Judge Forrest made national news on May 16 of this year when she issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of section 1021(b) of the NDAA which authorizes the indefinite detention without trial of those who “substantially supported” or “directly supported” al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and/or other “associated forces,” three phrases that are given no further definition in the law.  Under that section, the detention may last until “the end of hostilities.”

The fact that the Obama administration styled its defense of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act in the way that it did shows that it is truly seeking the vast expansion of executive power that the vagueness in the law would enable.

Obama’s Department of Justice, it must be concluded, deliberately provoked Judge Forrest to make such a rare, pre-trial constitutional ruling (the convention is to avoid making rulings on constitutionality if it can be avoided) by refusing to answer her direct questions.  During the May hearing on whether or not to grant a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the law, Forrest (an Obama appointee) asked the Attorney General’s lawyers to give some definition to the terms that Hedges, et al. object to.  The transcript of the hearing reads as follows:

Judge: Give me an example.  Tell me what it means to substantially support associated forces.

Government: I’m not in a position to give specific examples.

Court: Give me one.

Government: I’m not in a position to give one specific example.

Tr. 226.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Forrest asked again: What does ‘directly supported’ mean?

Government: We have not said anything about that in our brief.

Court: What do you think it means?

Government: . . . Your Honor, we had focused so much on the phrase that was challenged by the plaintiffs, ‘substantial support’ that I have not thought through exactly and we have not come to a position on what ‘direct support’ and what that means.

Tr. 229-230.

Judge Forrest tried five times to get the government to state a position such that would allow her to avoid the responsibility of striking down a federal law by posing different journalistic scenarios, such as posting a YouTube video of a Taliban leader.  The government, both in its oral argument and its written brief, refused to state whether or not published or future works of the plaintiffs would subject them to the Act’s broad coverage.

The government could have done as little as to state that it did not intend to prosecute First Amendment activity under the NDAA.  Then Judge Forrest would have had to hold a full hearing on the suit and determine which side was more worthy of belief.  Instead the DoJ engaged in ipse dixit — simply repeating over and over that the NDAA contains no new powers, in spite of the appearance of these new terms for the first time.  Thus they bet the farm and lost big.

Showing her intellectual brilliance, Judge Forrest used the government’s arguments to lift the stay against them.  She rebuffed the DoJ’s cries of urgency by saying, “Since you just argued to me that the NDAA grants the government no new powers, then you don’t need a stay of my injunction” (paraphrase).

In issuing the permanent injunction on the record, Judge Forrest wrote: “This Court rejects the Government’s suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention.”  Each of the plaintiffs testified that they read the statute and could not understand its meaning.

To find an equivalent example of executive facedown with the courts, one must recall when Jose Padilla, after being picked up as a supposed “material witness;” days later had his designation changed to “enemy combatant,” was deprived of his counsel, sent to a military brig, and held in solitary confinement.

Before he became Bush 43’s Attorney General, Judge Michael Mukasey presided over this immediate post-911 test case where the DOJ similarly baited him and stonewalled his efforts to determine what due process Padilla, an American with Muslim sympathies, might be entitled to.  The material witness statute had never been used to hold an American without charge, except in mafia cases.  Ashcroft’s next assertion was that Padilla wasn’t entitled to a lawyer, nor access to civilian courts, because that would — get this — derail ”the military’s efforts to develop a relationship of trust and dependency that is essential to effective interrogation.”

Even after six months in the brig when Judge Mukasey ordered the DoJ to permit his lawyers to see him, DoJ refused to comply.  Then-Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock commented: ”In times of war, the president must be able to protect our nation from those who join with our enemies to harm innocent Americans.”

Padilla was ultimately only charged with amorphous conspiracy charges in 2005, not the original allegation that he was a “dirty bomber,” affiliated with al-Qaeda.  The switch to civilian courts came only on the eve of the case making its way back up to the US Supreme Court, which had ruled in June 2004 (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld) that “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.”  This last-minute switcheroo left unresolved the legal questions of whether the government can pick up anyone anywhere in the world and deprive him or her of counsel, without habeas corpus rights, and subject that person to “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

In 2005, Solicitor General Paul Clement said that the court that rebuffed him did not have the authority to “disregard a presidential directive.”  Obama’s lawyers similarly argued to Judge Forrest that “Fundamentally, it is not for plaintiffs — or this Court — to determine which authorities are necessary or appropriate for the conduct of an ongoing war.”

A full three-judge panel of the Second Circuit will consider the government’s request to dissolve Judge Forrest’s permanent injunction on September 28th.

Ann Schneider, Esq., is a member of the NYC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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