Friday, February 26, 2010

Who's to blame?

BULLY BOY PRESS & CEDRIC'S BIG MIX -- THE KOOL-AID TABLE

SHE BROKE CUSTOM, SHE BROKE RULES, SHE MADE HERSELF THE STAR, NOW DESIREE ROGERS IS OUT OF A JOB.

NOT ONLY THAT, THE WHITE HOUSE ISSUED A BITCHY STATEMENT COMPARING HER TO NASCAR.

THESE REPORTERS WERE UNABLE TO REACH CELEBRITY IN CHIEF BARRY O BUT WE DID SPEAK TO SHE HULK.

"DON'T YOU DARE BLAME THIS ONE ON ME," SHE HULK TOLD US. "YOU KNOW THIS WAS THE LITTLE PRINCESS. AS USUAL, HE COULDN'T STAND ANYONE GETTING MORE PRESS ATTENTION THAN HE DID. WHY DO YOU THINK I'VE CALLED HIM 'JEALOUS HEFFER' EVERY DAY WE'VE BEEN MARRIED!"

FROM THE TCI WIRE:

Iraq elections start in less than seven days (voting lasts from March 5th through March 7th) and there's been very little coverage of the campaigns. In part that's due to the restrictive press environment in Iraq which has only gotten more restrictive. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) speaks with Iraqi journalist Nadjha Khadum who made her name with repeated investigative reporting during Saddam Hussein's era. She says that back then, you only had to prove that it was true. Today, it's much worse and journalists are targeted for assassinations for exposes. (This is true throughout Iraq -- in the KRG as well as central and southern Iraq.) Since the start of the Iraq War, things have only gotten worse for the press. Londono notes, "The guidelines that Iraq's Communications and Media Commission issued last month bar journalists from withholding the names of sources and threaten action against those who publish information that incites violence -- a criterion that is ill-defined. The rules also say news organizations must apply for licenses, register equipment with the commission and provide a list of employees." Supposedly this elections (voting starts March 5th and ends the 7th) are monumental. The press and the US administration has invested all this meaning in them which, alone, would mean the campaigning would be covered. When you add in that the increase in violence as well as the bannings give it an increased 'timely' quality and news value (conflict is always news), you should expect to read tons of coverage on the campaigning. That's not happening. And it's in part because Nouri's insisting that those covering the elections register with the government. Most outlets rely on Iraqi journalists to be stringers and eyes and ears as well as to be the co- or sole reporter on news reports but many of the Iraqis cannot register as journalists due to threats that might follow as a result of their occupation being known. This has seriously curtailed a great deal of coverage news consumers would otherwise be receiving. And Reporters Without Borders releases an overview today of the problems in the north where the Kurdistan Regional Government rules. Awene newspaper's founder Asos Hardi states, "The authorities do not stop talking about freedom of expression, constantly boasting of media's independence. But these words are meaningless. In practice, the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan do not believe in freedom of expression." AFP reports on the overview and also notes, "Iraq's election commission has imposed a 9:00 pm curfew on campaigning in Sulaimaniyah province after a number of violent incidents were reported. The province has been the focus of considerable tension between rival Kurdish parties, vying for maximum leverage in the event that the Kurds are kingmakers in the next Iraqi government." Sarwar Salar Chuchani (The Comment Factory) interviews Joost Hiltermann -- he's with the Crisis Group which makes him US government adjacent:

Chuchani: Do you believe the Kurdish participation in multi-list Iraqi elections will weaken their position in Baghdad?

Hiltermann: It will not affect the Kurds' position with regard to key questions concerning Kirkuk and other disputed territories, oil and gas, or the powers of the Kurdistan region. But it may have an impact on a host of other questions, such as most importantly the Iraqi presidency, unless -- I suppose -- the Kurdistani list make certain concessions to Goran that Goran is asking for. I don't know whether they will be able to reach an agreement.

Chuchani: What is the debate over Kirkuk leading to?

Hiltermann: Hopefully to a peaceful, negotiated, compromise solution that can be sustainable.

Chuchani: Do you believe Kurdish parties are committed to the establish of the rule of law, democracy and human rights?

Hiltermann: I don't know. But since they have said they are committed to this, they should be held to their word. In this respect, the opposition parties and the KRG's international sponsors could play a constructive role. International pressure has certainly contributed to a certain progress on this front since 1991.

Kirkuk is the disputed region claimed by both the KRG and the central government or 'government' in Baghdad. Each side argues historical rights to the area. The Kurds have repeatedly called for a census and a vote on the issue. In that call, they are on strong ground because the Iraq Constitution mandates that both take place -- both were supposed to have taken place by 2007 and still haven't. Missy Ryan, Mustafa Mahmoud, Khalid al-Ansary and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) note today that, "The dispute over Kirkuk, which Kurds want to make part of their semi-autonomous northern region, is now seen as a chief threat to security as Iraq emerges from a bloody sectarian war and tests its fragile democracy in national polls on March 7."Voting will take place in 16 other countries besides Iraq due to Iraq's large refugee population. Bassel Oudat (Al-Ahram Weekly) reports from Damascus that no campaigning is going on there yet within the Iraqi refugee community and Oudat notes, "Many had expected changes in the electoral process, but their hopes have been dashed. Now, the refugees believe that the forthcoming Iraqi elections may well turn out to be a farce." In Iraq, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "A little over a week before the Iraq eleciton, the country is a cauldron of political attacks, sectarian divisions, and conspiracy theories that could limit the turnout in the country's most important national elections to date." Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) offers, "In Karbala, a massive turnout of poor people showed up at a rally for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, breaking through security to present him with petitions, knowing that no time is better for ordinary Iraqis to reach out directly to top officials -- and have all their requests answered immediately."

Candidates are running to become one of the 325 members of Parliament. The Parliament elects the Prime Minister. Technically, the current Parliament and Prime Minister (Nouri) aren't 'in office' -- their terms have expired. Elections were supposed to take place in December and then moved back to January and now March. In Iraq, the process is such that the votes will not be counted for several days or weeks. After the vote tallies are released, the Parliament will be known. However, it could be (could be) weeks before a prime minister is named. The naming could take place quickly. If, for example, State of Law holds a large number of seats and enters into political alliance with other major blocs, Nouri could be re-named prime minister in a matter of days. How likely is that? Well, when you run off all your competition, you make it a lot easier. But naming any prime minister may take much longer. There are new factions and parties and the creation of those may have led to grudges that could be hard to put aside. December 15, 2005, the last Parliamentary elections were held (for only 275 seats back then). The election results were not 'official' until January 20, 2006. (They still weren't certified at that point.) And Nouri, who was not the first choice, was not named as prime minister until April 22, 2006.Something similar may take place this time around. If it took as long as last time (which most observers -- including at the UN -- do not expect), it would be July before a prime minister was selected. On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane's panel was composed of Thom Shanker (New York Times), Farah Stockman (Boston Globe) and David Wood (Politics.Daily.com) and, discussing the arrest in Pakistan of Abdolmalek Rigi, Iraq came up.

Thom Shanker: [. . .] and this arrest came literally one week after Gen Ray Odierno, the senior American commander in Iraq, was in Washington spoke very forcefully and for the first time about Iranian influence in the upcoming elections in Iraq and the fact that two leading Shi'ite politicians had been in Iran recently meeting with Quods forces commanders who are on the terror watch list. So this is a lot of sort of, you know, tic-tac-toe and tit-for-tat going on here.

Diane Rehm: Now what about these elections scheduled for March 7th? We're told that the anti-American bloc is gaining power, Thom?

Thom Shanker: Well it's a very complicated situation. The Shi'ite majority have been trying to block some of the Sunni candidates on the grounds that some of their leaders were former members of the Saddam Hussein political party, the Ba'ath Party. Uh -- the Sunni were going -- many parties were going to stay out of the election. They just announced this morning [C.I. note, he means they announced yesterday] they got wisdom and they will participate after all. Although, you know, if it's a fair majority rule vote, they're going to lose. But the Shi'ite majority government did something else very interesting. It reinstated several thousands maybe 10 - 20,000 former Saddam era military officers not at the highest levels but at the mid-levels so there's lots of politicking going on which, overall, is healthy and it's probably going to be thirty, sixty or ninety days after the vote whether we see it will be a stable movement forward or whether things fall apart.

Diane Rehm: And how strong is Nouri al-Maliki right now -- the prime minister?

Thom Shanker: Well, he's in the driver's seat so he has all the advantages of incumbancy but the problem is again that we see in these very tense, kind of confrontations, it's the more radical people who always get the upper hand. In this case, it's Moqtar [Moqtada] al-Sadr who has -- I think the name "fire brand" is permanently attached to his name. He's an extremest, uh, Islamic cleric and led a militia which fought bitterly against US forces for years and was sort of based in Sadr City and so on. It's likely that he will have a major hand in the next government and so the interesting thing is: So what? He can have a lot of anti-American rhetoric and so forth which would be politically helpful but what will it actually mean? US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill said the other day that he'd gotten assurances from major Iraqi political features that whatever agreements Iraq had reached under the current government would still be held by who ever takes power next. Uh, he also said that they'd agreed during his campaign to be nice to each other, not to call each other names and abide by the outcome of the elections, so who knows?

Diane Rehm: Farah?

Farah Stockman: Well it's just fascinating to watch Iraqi politics unfold and if you go back to the days when we were orchestrating everything and the people we put in power and now it's just going to be a surprise to see what happens.


Programming note: Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq begins airing this evening and repeats throughout (and streams online) the weekend. The guest will be Ahmed Chalabi who will respond to comments by Odierno and others. One of the political parties competing in the elections is the Ahrar Party and they issued the following today:

Ayad Jamal Aldin unveils Ahrar plan for security, public services and employment within Iraq
Last night Ayad Jamal Aldin, leader of the Ahrar Party, cemented the Ahrar Party's electoral credentials in a live TV interview, with questioning from a three-man panel and the public, for Al Baghdadiya.
Revealing Ahrar's plan for security, public services and employment within Iraq, Ayad Jamal Aldin received an unprecedented reaction from the viewers.
Following the interview, Al Baghdadiya reported that they received over 1,000 callers and emails supporting Ayad Jamal Aldin and predicting that he could well be the future prime minister of Iraq.
During the interview, the outspoken leader once again challenged current Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, to a live TV debate where he promised to "demonstrate to the Iraqi people how corrupt the current government has become." So far, Maliki has yet to respond to any of Jamal Aldin's previous invitations.
Jamal Aldin, a descendent of the prophet Mohammed, was asked by viewers how his party's secular policies conformed with his clerical garments. "You make a big issue about my clothes. There are many men wearing clerical dress and they used to wear the military uniform during Saddam's time. It doesn't matter what you wear, what matters is how wear it."
Jamal Aldin's secular views and strong anti-Iranian stance have not made him popular amongst certain factions within the country. He's been the victim of six assassination attempts since 2003. However, he reassured viewers over Ahrar's stance on Israel. "Iraq is an Arabic nation and we are part of the Arab League. We take the same position on Israel as the rest of the Arab world."
The Ahrar Plan for reconstruction within Iraq includes inviting the leading construction companies in the world to pitch for business in the future development projects within the country.
One caller stated that other parties were offering free housing; which Jamal Aldin dismissed as frivolous lies. "If any politician says he will build you a housing compound and give it to the people for free, he is lying. Ahrar knows what needs to be done. We will create a new bank, specifically for these projects, and inject an initial $5 billion dollars. We will then ask rich companies from around the world to be part of the bank. This bank's role will be to provide low-interest loans to the Iraqi people to enable them to build their own houses."
Another viewer asked him about the financing of his campaign and the reported $10 million - of his own money - he was using to fund the party. "Would this money not be better off being spent on reconciliation projects for the poor?"
"$10 million is incomparable to the billions of dollars that the people of Iraq have been deprived of through the corruption and wastage of the current government. If my $10 million enables me to win a position where I am able to force changes within Iraq then it has been an extremely worthwhile investment."
When asked about the likelihood of this occurring, Jamal Aldin accepted it was probable that some cheating would occur however urged people to "come out and vote in order to ensure that corruption within the polls is less likely."
For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942http://us.mc366.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=press@ahrarparty.com

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.
Today, Reuters notes a Mosul dumpster bombing which claimed 2 lives and left ten people injured and a Mosul car bombing which wounded nine people (three were Iraqi soliders). Staying with violence, earlier this week Ruth offered "The assault on Iraq's Christians." She's not 'mass media,' but she's covered the topic. Edward Pentin (Catholic News Agency) notes the "mass media" silence on the attcks and on the fact that "Christian families are leaving the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in their droves to excape a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation." He writes:

Chaldean Bishop Emil Shimoun Nona has said that Mosul is experiencing a "humanitarian emergency" and that "hundreds of Christian families" left the city Feb. 24 in search of shelter, leaving behind their homes, property, commercial activities, according to Asia News. The situation "is dramatic", he said, and warned that Mosul could be "emptied completely of Christians".
The families have chosen to flee after a spate of violent attacks which left five Christians dead last week, and members of a whole family murdered on Tuesday. "In one house all the family members were killed -- five people," said an Iraqi member of Open Doors, a non-denominational charity helping persecuted Christians.
Adel Kamal (Niqash) explains how this may be tied into the elections:

Following the Archbishops' memorandum, the Naynawa governor, Osama al-Nujaifi, ordered the Naynawa Operations Command to restore security in Mosul. He called on the army command to "shoulder their responsibilities for protecting the Christian community and disclosing the results of the criminal investigations regarding the crimes committed against them." Al-Nujaifii told Niqash that after the earlier attacks on Christians he asked the Operations Command to set-up a joint security. They responded curtly: "Security is our responsibility." "In that case," al-Nujaifi said, "They must take that responsibility and restore security." The Kurds in the area have boycotted the Governorate Council since al-Nujaifi took office and the governor sees the violence as politically motivated. "There are sides wanting to draw the Christians into a conflict that they are not part of." The conflict he is referring to is between the Arab al-Hadba list, which al-Nujaifi heads, and the Kurdish List. Like al-Nujaifi, the Deputy Chairman of Naynawa Governorate Council, Dildar Zaybari, refused to accuse the Kurds.

Meanwhile Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports on the extra-legal Justice and Accountability Commission's decision to remove 580 Iraqis from the country's security forces for being alleged 'Ba'athists.' Mohammed Tawfeeq and CNN report on the simultaneous announcement yesterday that 20,000 military officers under Saddam Hussein would be reinstated, "Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said al-Maliki was simply trying to secure more votes. 'This contradicts his anti-Baathist election campaign and it is very obvious that he wants to appeal to voters'." Leila Fadel and K.I. Ibrahim (Washington Post) quote the extra-legal commission's Ali Falial al-Lami stating they have proof that banned candidate Saleh al-Mutlaq is a 'Ba'athist.' Apparently, they've forced some more confessions in Iraq yet again. Al Jazeera adds, "Mohammed al-Askari, the defence ministry spokesman, said on Friday the resinstatement would begin immediately."


On Monday the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, gave a briefing in DC where he noted that the draw down could be slowed. This was a testing the water move (by the administration -- though some want to pretend Odierno was a 'loose canon' acting alone). Wednesday morning's New York Times featured a column by former journalist Thomas E. Ricks (speaking for Michele Flournoy to be sure) advocating for a longer US presence in Iraq. Thursday, it was learned that slowing the draw down was actually a request currently submitted to the administration. That's the background. Today Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observes that Barry O's "soft pullout" just got softer while Michael Hastings (The Hastings Report, True/Slant) takes on Rick's suck up to Australian -- who really needs to take his ass home -- David Kilcullen's assertion that entering stupidly doesn't mean you have to depart stupidly. Hastings observes, "So, if you never leave, there's no worry of acting stupid. Except that you never leave. Which seems kind of stupid, too."


Turning to the issue of one-time Haliburton subsidiary KBR, the Democratic Policy Committee earlier in this entry and we'll close with this news release:DORGAN: ARMY DECISION TO DENY MILLIONS IN BONUSES TO CONTRACTOR KBR IS "RIGHT CALL," BUT ONLY A "FIRST STEP" ( WASHINGTON , D.C. ) --- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who chaired Senate hearings on electrocutions of soldiers in Iraq resulting from shoddy contracting work by KBR, said Thursday the Army's decision to deny million of dollars in bonuses to the firm for its 2008 work in Iraq "is the right call, but it is only a first step." Dorgan chaired two Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) hearings in 2008 and 2009 on KBR's shoddy electrical work in Iraq . The hearings revealed widespread problems with KBR's electrical work there including countless electrical shocks including one that killed Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, and perhaps others, and injured dozens more on their own bases as they showered and engaged in other routine activities. Following the hearings, Dorgan and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) wrote the Army asking that it review KBR's work and the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. They also asked the Army to re-evaluate the millions of dollars in bonuses it has routinely awarded KBR for supposedly excellent work, even when the Army's own evidence made clear it was highly questionable. The Army's investigation of Maseth's January 2008 death found that KBR's work exposed soldiers to "unacceptable risk." A theatre-wide safety review that resulted from the Dorgan-Casey request -- Task Force SAFE -- also found widespread problems with KBR's electrical work that exposed soldiers to life threatening risks. "The decision to deny KBR millions in bonuses for its work in 2008 is welcome news, and is a significant change from the Army's past practice, but the Army clearly needs go much further," Dorgan said. "Specifically, it needs to review the $34 million bonus and other bonuses it awarded KBR for shoddy work that may have contributed to other electrocution deaths and other serious electrical shocks." Dorgan said the Army's decision "will send a long overdue message to military contractors that they will be held accountable for their performance. But the Army needs to send that message much more powerfully. Not awarding a bonus for widespread sloppy contracting work that killed soldiers is just the beginning, not the end point, of accountability." Dorgan has chaired 21 Senate DPC hearings on waste, fraud and corruption in military contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Evidence at those hearings he said, "has been overwhelming that KBR's work was shoddy and put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk. KBR's electrical workers were often unqualified, poorly trained and poorly supervised. When questions were raised, they simply denied there was a problem and proceeded with the same shoddy business as usual."Senator Byorn Dorgan addresses the issue in a video at DPC as well. A large number of veterans and contractors have filed suit against Halliburton and/or its subsidiary KBR. Jon Murray (Indianapolis Star) reports that Judge Richard Young of the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiaina dismissed the case filed on behalf of 47 members of the Indiana National Guard with the finding that that he lacked jurisdiction due to KBR being based in another state (Texas) and the exposure (he would say "alleged exposure") took place in Iraq. He only ruled on jurisidiction and did not address the merits of the case. There are at least 22 cases against KBR/Halliburton filed in 22 different district courts across the country. Whether or not the judges in 21 of those will find as Judge Young did isn't known. 21? One of the cases is filed in Texas.
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