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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Throwback Thursday: “Tiger Cage” protest, Los Angeles, c. 1973

September 18th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Found and scanned yesterday….

with Rev. Al Cohen

In 1970, members of a Congressional delegation visiting South Vietnam disclosed the existence of so-called “tiger cages” being used at a prison on Con Son Island, where prisoners were kept in conditions that clearly amounted to torture.

Peace activists in the U.S and internationally quickly seized on the tiger cages as a symbol of what was happening in Vietnam. Replica tiger cages were set up in public places as the starting point for public dialog and discussions about the war and U.S. policy.

I believe this early selfie was taken in 1973 during a tiger cage protest somewhere in the Los Angeles area. I took a turn in this replica cage with Rev. Al Cohen, a leading figure in the religious community in Southern California. At the time, I think Al was a campus minister, and this could have been on his campus. I don’t recall.

I was in the Los Angeles area at the time for “orientation” for my new job with the American Friends Service Committee, which had its regional office in Pasadena.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Tiger Cages of Viet Nam” by Don Luce.

The Tiger Cages

In 1970, President Nixon sent a delegation of ten Congressmen to Viet Nam to investigate pacification. A part of their mandate included a visit to a prison in South Viet Nam as a way to be allowed to visit a prison where U.S. POWs were held in the North.

Tom Harkin, then an aide to the congressional group, convinced two of the Congressmen to investigate stories of torture in the Tiger Cages off the coast of Viet Nam (the French built them in 1939 to hold political opponents; similar ones in French Guinea became famous in the movie Papillion, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman). The congressman requisitioned a plane for the 200-mile trip to Con Son Island. I was asked to go as an interpreter and specialist in Vietnamese prisons. At that time I was working for the World Council of Churches.

On the way out Frank Walton, the U.S. prison advisor, described Con Son as being like “a Boy Scout Recreational Camp.” It was, he said, “the largest prison in the Free World.”

We saw a very different scene when we got to the prison. Using maps drawn by a former Tiger Cage prisoner, we diverted from the planned tour and hurried down an alleyway between two prison buildings. We found the tiny door that led to the cages between the prison walls. A guard inside heard the commotion outside and opened the door. We walked in.

The faces of the prisoners in the cages below are still etched indelibly in my mind: the man with three fingers cut off; the man (soon to die) from Quang Tri province whose skull was split open; and the Buddhist monk form Hue who spoke intensely about the repression of the Buddhists. I remember clearly the terrible stench from diarrhea and the open sores where shackles cut into the prisoners’ ankles. “Donnez-moi de l’eau” (Give me water), they begged. They sent us scurrying between cells to check on other prisoners’ health and continued to ask for water.

The photos that Harkin, today a U.S. Senator from Iowa, took were printed in Life Magazine (July 17, 1970). The international protest which resulted brought about the transfer of the 180 men and 300 women from the Cages. Some were sent to other prisons. Some were sent to mental institutions.

Also see “Viet Tiger Cages revisited here,” Miami News, Feb 8, 1972

→ 2 CommentsTags: General

Trying to parse Rep. Gabbard’s position on the new Iraq War

September 17th, 2014 · 6 Comments

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard today said she opposes President Obama’s plan to arm and train select rebel groups in Syria, the beginning of what some commentators are calling the Third Iraq War.

According to a press statement released to day by her office:

“This proposed strategy actually reflects a lack of commitment to really destroy ISIL,” Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said this afternoon during debate on the House floor. “We must focus on one mission: to destroy ISIL and other Islamic extremists who’ve declared war on us. Our mission should not be to topple the Assad regime, which would make the situation in the region even worse and more unstable than it is today. We’ve heard this story before. We know how it ends. Look at Iraq. Look at Libya. Clearly, our leaders have not learned their lesson. We must focus on taking out our enemies and investing in our own country here at home.”

Congresswoman Gabbard also called the strategy unrealistic, the mission unclear, and said we do not understand who the opposition forces are, cannot trust them, and raised the prospect that our weapons could fall into the hands of our enemies.

It’s unclear whether Gabbard is saying that she would support a direct, boots on the ground offensive against Islamic State fighters by U.S. troops. Is that what she means by “taking out our enemies”?

Despite that uncertainty, her position does seem consistent with the stand she took last year in opposition to U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war. At that time, she said it would be “a serious mistake.”

She made several arguments in support of her position last year.

“As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy—including the support of the American people—and an exit plan,” Gabbard said in a press release. “The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria.”

She went on.

“Presently, Syria does not present a direct security threat to the United States. Military action will undermine our national defense, as even a limited strike could very easily escalate into a regional conflict, stretching thin a military that has been at war for more than 12 years.”

And, further:

“We should learn from history; we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman. The United States should not insert itself in the midst of this civil war, which is rooted in sectarian hatred and animosity between various warring religious groups.

Last month, Gabbard called for the U.S. to supply heavy weapons to Kurdish forces which have been fighting the Islamic State in the north of Iraq.

According to The Hill newspaper:

“We need to arm the Kurds with heavy weapons, because they are doing the hard work on the ground. They are fighting against ISIS, and we can augment that and support that with our targeted air strikes,” she said on “This Week.”

But her statement drew a critical response from Matthew Hoh and Matt Southworth, also Iraq veterans working with Washington-based nonprofits.

Their response, also appearing in The Hill, said in part:

Entering the conflict on behalf of the Kurds, as promoted by Gabbard, (and coincidentally, the one million dollar a year Kurdish lobby industry in Washington, DC) in order to help the Kurds protect the oil-rich territory they hold would put the United States, again, into direct combat with non-Kurdish Sunni and Shia communities throughout Iraq.

Such combat will not force the political compromise necessary for the reduction and eventual cessation of violence, but will make such a compromise much less likely. Why would the Kurds be inclined to make concessions while they enjoy robust US military support and greater autonomy from Shia governed Iraq?

Recent news reports seem to support their cautious advice.

My Hawaii Monitor column in Civil Beat today cited some of these (“Hawaii Monitor: Thinking Clearly About the Islamic State“).

The U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State is already yielding unexpected consequences. While the U.S. is trying to push the new Iraqi government toward increased inclusiveness in order to end the brutal sectarian civil war, Shiite militia fighters are reportedly using the military advantage provided by American bombing to spread their own brand of terror in Sunni areas recently freed from Islamic State occupation.

“The unlikely coalition of Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Shiite militias and the U.S. air force won a major victory when it broke a siege of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli last week and drove ISIS from 25 nearby Sunni towns and villages,” reported Isabel Coles last week, writing in Lebanon’s Daily Star.

“But the aftermath is far from what the Americans envisioned. Smoke now rises from those Sunni villages, where some houses have been torched by Shiite militias. Others are abandoned, the walls daubed with sectarian slogans.”

A Shiite militia commander told Coles, “There is no way back for them; we will raze their homes to the ground.”

→ 6 CommentsTags: Politics · War & Peace

More than $850,000 at stake in legal appeal by disgraced former union leader

September 16th, 2014 · 6 Comments

A case involving Gary Rodrigues is back before the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Most readers likely remember Rodrigues, the former state director of the United Public Workers, which represents blue collar employees of the state and counties. He was once considered one of Hawaii’s most influential political figures, sometimes referred to as the “26th Senator.”

Rodrigues was accused of defrauding the union and its members, and convicted in 2002 on 101 federal counts of mail fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. He served four years in federal prison after exhausting all appeals in the criminal case.

Here’s how the 9th Circuit Court summarized the criminal case:

In his capacity as the State Director of the United Public Workers, AFSCME, Local 646, AFL-CIO (“UPW”) Petitioner Gary Wayne Rodrigues negotiated contracts with dental and health insurance providers, ostensibly on behalf of UPW members and their families. The providers were Hawaii Dental Services (“HDS”) and Pacific Group Medical Association (“PGMA”). At Rodrigues’s request, the providers included in these contracts what purported to be “consultant’s fees.” These fees were effectively to be paid by UPW members as part of their insurance premiums to the insurance providers, but the fees eventually ended up in the pockets of persons Rodrigues designated as the “consultants.” As it turned out, the purported consultants were (1) the stepfather of Rodrigues’s girlfriend and secretary, Al Loughrin, and (2) shell companies of which Rodrigues’s daughter, Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini (“Sabatini”), was the sole share- holder, only Director, and simultaneously the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. During the investigation of these relationships and transactions, it was discovered that neither designated consultant did any real consulting work on these contracts, and that part of the “consultant’s fees” were diverted to Rodrigues’s personal use — circumstances unknown to the UPW.

The case now pending before the Hawaii Supreme Court is the culmination of a set of parallel civil lawsuits involving Rodrigues and the union.

Following his criminal conviction, UPW filed a federal lawsuit seeking to hold Rodrigues responsible for losses stemming from a series of investments made by a union trust fund in a Florida start-up company, Best Rescue.

According to the Supreme Court summary: “Following a bench trial in March 2008, the U.S. District Court determined that Rodrigues was liable to the Trust in the amount of $850,000.00 plus costs and fees for negligent breach of fiduciary duties.”

In December 2008, Rodrigues’ lawyers filed a lawsuit in state court asking that UPW be required to indemnify the former union leader and cover the $850,000 in losses, as well as attorneys fees and costs.

They have argued that Rodrigues’ actions were all taken in his capacity as an agent for UPW, and were authorized by the union and the board of the trust fund.

Both the trial court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals rejected Rodrigues’ claim. The appeal of that ruling is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court.

You can find a concise description of the case and the issues being argued, and a link to a recording of last month’s oral arguments, on the Judiciary website. The ICA decision, issued earlier this year, can be found here.

Rodrigues is represented attorneys Eric Seitz and Della Au Belatti, a state representative and chair of the House Health Committee. Belatti’s latest financial disclosure reports she earned income of between $50,000 and $100,000 as an attorney for Seitz’ law firm during the past year.

→ 6 CommentsTags: Court · Labor · Politics

East-West Center lands former Harvard fundraising executive

September 15th, 2014 · 8 Comments

The East-West Center appears to have scored a big coup with the hiring of Paul T. Keenan as acting head of its fundraising arm, according to word spreading among EWC supporters.

Keenan is expected to take over the reins of the East-West Center Foundation, which operates as a private nonprofit organization. He comes to the foundation after 15 years at Harvard University, the last six years as Senior Associate Dean and Director of Development for the Faculties of Arts & Sciences. He left that job in June 2014.

An EWC representative confirmed Keenan’s appointment as acting director of development. It is, at least for now, a temporary and part-time (65%) staff appointment. He begins work next week.

The foundation position had been filled on an interim basis by the center’s director of external affairs, Karen Knudsen.

Without the congressional clout of the late Senator Dan Inouye, who was widely credited with staving off repeated GOP attempts to pull the plug on federal funding for the EWC, private fundraising is likely to play an increasingly important role in keeping the institution alive and growing. The EWC Foundation is the key to that effort.

Keenan’s most recent Harvard position is described on his LinkedIn profile:

Chief development officer for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), including Harvard College, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, overseeing 150 professional and administrative staff and an annual operating budget of $16 million.

Set overall strategic direction for fundraising at largest school within Harvard, including planning and executing $2.5B capital campaign for FAS, as largest single part of $6.5B university-wide campaign. Surpassed $1B in commitments prior to launch and greater than 50% of goal by end of year 1 of public phase.

Keenan has extensive experience in Asia, and has been publicly credited with landing a $15 million donation to Harvard back in 2006.

Keenan is also president of his own consulting firm, Keenan Associates, which consults with universities and nonprofit organizations. In an announcement last month, Harvard said it would be maintaining a consulting relationship with Keenan Associates.

Keenan is the long-time partner of Daniel Grabauskas, the executive director & CEO of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Education · Politics

One of those mornings

September 14th, 2014 · 2 Comments

It was one of those rare, clear mornings in Kaaawa. The horizon, typically at least partially obscured by clouds on a normal morning, was absolutely clear.

On mornings like this, it’s hard not to see the green flash, and we did. It was the second green flash in a week.

I did a quick look back, and the same thing happened last year at virtually the same time. Last year, we saw the 2nd flash on September 5, so we’re about a week off in 2014.

The top photo was taken as we walked past Swanzy Beach Park.

The bottom photo was taken just seconds before we saw the “flash”, and shows the overlapping outlines of Molokai and Maui in the distance.

Swanzy Beach Park

Molokai & Maui

→ 2 CommentsTags: Kaaawa · Photographs