Saturday, August 07, 2010

The limp wristed policies of Barry O






Jaimee Lynn Fletcher (Orange County Register) reports 300 soldiers with the California National Guard's 1-140th Aviation (Air Assault) Battalion deploy to Iraq this weekend. "Air Assault" -- doesn't sound like non-combat forces. And they're "also known as Task Force Long Knife." B-b-but, Monday, Barack Obama, President of the United States, stood up in front of cameras and creation in Atlanta, Georgia and insisted that no combat troops would be in Iraq after the end of this month. Are those California National Guard soldiers deploying for a few weeks and then flying back to the US?
And about that 'wowie' speech . . .
Elise Labott: Well he said that the US would maintain a longterm cariment -- commitment to Iraq in terms of the ever growing civilian presence on there but he spoke about bringing the war in Iraq to a responsible end and he's saying that the August 31st deadline for the military to bring their troops down to 50,000 is the closing of a chapter and that the US is going to be transitioning towards a more normal relationship with Iraqis as it does with many other countries. I mean, this is really for the US kind-of signaling the end of so-called occupation . But you -- What you have right now is a five-month deadlock on the government forming up, you have the drawdown of US troops and a lot of the, you know, instability in the country. You've seen a lot more violence. al Qaeda is doing a lot more recruiting to try and fill this void right now that the government isn't meeting because it's very much deadlocked. And the US is concerned that it's going to be leaving the country as there's more instability in the country. And you even saw Tariq Aziz, the Deputy to Saddam Hussein, say, "Don't leave Iraq right now! You're leaving them to the wolves!" So it kind of signals that the US is growing increasingly worried that the government won't be in place before all of these troops come out and America's clout diminishes further.
Susan Page: But you know in a way there was no news in President Obama's speech? He's simply reaffirming what he said before. So why -- why give the speech?
Jonathan S. Landay: Oh, I think there was -- I'm going to be really cynical about this. You're facing -- he's facing these Congressional elections coming up in Novmeber in which his party has got an uphill battle -- basically an uphill battle. And at the same time, he sent an additional at least 52,000 more American troops to a place called Afghanistan. The other thing that I feel when I look at this in a cyncical way is the fact that he's meeting requirements that were actually negotiated with Iraq by the Bush administration. And it seems the deadline for getting American troops -- combat troops out, the deadline for getting all American troops out, the fact is that he seemed to be trying to take credit. He used -- he used the expression all American combat [clears throat]. Excuse me. American combat troops will be out by the end of this month "as promised and on schedule." As if he's the guy who's fulfilling this promises when, indeed, these are required under an agreement that the Bush administration negotiated with the Iraqi government.
That's Susan Page filling in for Diane Rehm on today's The Diane Rehm Show (second hour) where she was joined by Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers), Elise Labott (CNN) and James Kitfield (National Journal). Cynical?
How could anyone be more cynical than the White House was. As Barack Obama was still boning up on his speech, the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War stood at 4413. However, last night Reuters reported 2 US soldiers killed on Monday -- and we only learn now. USF/MNF has nothing posted. When on Monday did they die?. Barack began speaking in Atlanta a little after 11:30 a.m. EST. That would have been 6:30 p.m. in Baghdad. Were they already dead by then?

The White House knew while spinning all day Monday and continuing on Tuesday that two US service members were dead, killed by a bombing (a third wounded). But they didn't want you to know because it would interfere with Barack's messaging. It would hurt Brand Obama.

Thursday, Ari Shapiro (All Things Considered, NPR) reported, "The White House has been on a good news streak this week, accentuating the positive every day in areas ranging from Iraq to the BP oil well to the auto industry." But it's easy to have a 'good news' streak if you control what information gets out and what information doesn't.

Barack Obama grand-standed on the backs of 3 US service members -- two dead, one wounded. That announcement, which USF should have made on Monday, was killed because Barack needed some sweet-ass headlines.

First order of business for the White House, finding a fall guy or gal to blame the decision to bury the news of the 2 deaths Monday. Tony Karon (Time magazine) notes:
Major U.S. combat operations in Iraq were first declared to have ended in March 2003, in President Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" address aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Seven years and many thousands of casualties later, President Barack Obama made a similar announcement this week. But it remains to be seen whether his note of finality has any more traction than that of his predecessor.
JAY: And weren't they also committed to having all troops out, and not just combat, by, what is it, the end of 2011?
PORTER: They are in fact committed not just by a policy, but by the US-Iraq withdrawal agreement, which was signed in November 2008, to getting all US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011. That's now a treaty commitment, or at least a formal international commitment, if not a treaty.

JAY: Of course, unless Maliki, their guy, happens to say, well, you can stay longer.
PORTER: Well, that's right. And of course we know that US military leaders have been saying, since even before that treaty or that agreement was signed in November 2008, they wanted to keep US troops there long, long beyond, way beyond 2011. We know that even after Obama was elected, the month of the signature of this agreement, November 2008, that General Odierno, the commander of US troops in Iraq, told Tom Ricks of the The Washington Post, when he was asked what kind of US military presence do you foresee in 2014-2015 (that's four years after the supposed event of US military presence under the agreement), his answer was: I foresee, and what I would like to see, is 30,000, 35,000 US troops remaining, and that they would still be on combat mission.
It's the fifth anniversary of the first Camp Casey and Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan reflects on the 'changes' in US policies (here at Peace of the Action, here at Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox):
Back sometime after the Nobel Laureate was installed on top of the IDH, the mission that killed my son was renamed: "Operation New Dawn." So every single one of our troops and Iraqis that have been killed since Obama's reign have been killed in something that resembles dish-washing detergent and most certainly the selling of it. "Operation New Dawn: New and Improved with more Lemony Freshness -- and, boy, does it cut through grease!" Grease is the only thing that Operation New Dawn cuts through, though -- since many of my fellow USAians want to believe that Obama is the "New and Improved" George Bush.
Now, Obama has taken back a promise to have "Combat Troops" out of Iraq by September 1st of this year and now has pledged to have them out by the end of 2011 -- but of course, he has again redefined the mission and the troops are now on a "support and train" mission instead of a combat mission, so the Bots will believe that there is a new "Mission Accomplished." There will be some troops movement and more empty rhetoric about this as the next presidential season is rapidly coming to assault us with more Madison Avenue Trickery. And people on the so-called left and so-called antiwar movement were upset with John McCain when he said that troops would be in Iraq for "100 years?" Well, that is upsetting to me, also, but troops will be in Iraq for 100 years because WE only come out to fight when a Republican is in office and it is apparent that The Empire can tenaciously hang in there until the next cycle when a Democrat takes the "con" of The Empire and neutralizes the "Left" for another four to eight years.
Since I camped in Crawford, Texas beginning August 6th, 2005 --there has been little to celebrate and virtually no progress in a progressive direction regarding any policy.
Bush's troop "surge" in Iraq that was bought and paid for by Pelosi's Democratic Congress only "worked" because just about everybody that could be killed or displaced in or out of Iraq has been. In 2003, Iraq had a population of roughly 25 million and about 5 million of those have been killed or displaced -- that's 1/5 of the population. Devastating figures -- that would be comparable to 60 million USAians being killed or displaced! Significant and tragic figures that mean very little to most daily consumers of what passes for news here in the U.S.
Casey Sheehan died serving in Iraq. Some Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans (as well as some in the military who have not deployed) are dying at their own hands.
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory
Propaganda piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me
I can feel things exploding
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of, the beat of black wings"
[. . .]
"They want you they need you
They train you to kill
To be a pin on some map
Some vicarious thrill
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of, the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat Of Black Wings," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In a Rainstorm
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the Marines released their suicide data and have classified 28 this year as suicides. Last year they saw 52 suicides and the Army saw 160. Today Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) noted that "another 146 [Army in 2009] died by other violent means, such as murder, drug abuse or reckless driving while drunk; another 1,700 attempted suicide." He and Amy Goodman spoke with Gregg Keesling, the father of SPC Chancellor Keesling who was in Iraq on his second deployment when he saw no other solution but to take his own life on June 19, 2009, and with Joyce and Kevin Lucey, the parents of Iraq War veteran and Marine Jeffrey Lucey who received no help from the VA while repeatedly struggling to find some solution other than taking his own life and finally did that June 22, 2004. Excerpt (and remember DN! is watch, listen or read -- video, audio and text formats):
KEVIN LUCEY: I think when we decided to try to bring him to the hospital, we had been trying to negotiate with him for over a month. We had actually hired a therapist to be able to help us get them into the hospital. On Friday, May 28th, 2004, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, Jeff finally went to the hospital. He had no intention of staying. And they did say that he needed to stay. And so, finally, we did an involuntary commitment. It took about six hours to do it. During the three-and-a-half days that he spent there, we thought that he was being assessed, assessed for PTSD and assessed for treatment, but regretfully, they didn't assess him. What they stated was that he had to be detoxed, and they were just trying to detox him. And then he was going to have to stay sober, completely substance-free, for a period of three to six months. And I looked at him, and, in this age of dual diagnosis, I couldn't understand how they could even say that, because I went with the naive belief that the VA were the experts in regards to PTSD.
Despite Jeff divulging how he had bought a hose to kill himself, that he had plans, what happened is that they ended up discharging Jeff three-and-a-half days later. Two days after that, Jeff got into a single car accident, totaled our family car. He was unscathed. And he saved the two coffees that he went to get for his mother and for himself. And then, that weekend, we tried to bring him back, because it had gotten much more severe. And the VA, they didn't even bother calling a person who had the authority to enter him involuntarily. And he just came back home. And at that point, I was furious. I lost faith in the VA.

JOYCE LUCEY: And I'd like to say that my dad did go along with Jeffrey on that second time, along with my daughters, and that he begged. He begged the VA to do something to help his grandson. My dad lost his brother in World War II at twenty-two years old, and he was now seeing his grandson going downhill right before his eyes. And nobody was there to help. So, to me, that -- that's heartbreaking. It really is.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you, obviously, had no doubt from the beginning that the changes in his behavior, in his activities, his destructive activities, were as a result of being in the war, that he was -- he had been fine before he enlisted and went to Iraq?

JOYCE LUCEY: Absolutely, absolutely. His girlfriend said that, a year prior to this, he would never, never have thought about taking his life. I mean, that wasn't Jeffrey. That wasn't Jeffrey at all. And to listen to him when he came back and to sit on the deck -- and I remember sitting there going, "Who is this person? This isn't my son." I didn't understand what he was saying. It just seemed like it was my son's body, but the person was no longer my child. He was totally changed, and he was lost. He was in his own world, of everything going through his head, not really looking at me, just kind of staring out and reliving things, you know, saying things in fragments, so that you never really got the whole story. But you knew whatever he had gone through was horrific to him.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Hot Line is 1-800-273-TALK. Talk is something you can apparently do easier in foreign media. The Hindu minces no words when analyzing 'Barry ends the war':

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"If a girl isn't pretty, like a Miss Atlantic City . . ."

Friday, August 06, 2010

If a girl isn't pretty, like a Miss Atlantic City . . .





Today in the US, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a mark up hearing on various bills. Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member of the minority party. Chair Akaka opened the hearing declaring, "Now that we have a quorum of nine, I invite a motion to proceed to the agenda items and according to tradition we'll vote on the agenda items and then as long as five members remain present including one member of the minority amendments will be in order." Senator Jay Rockefeller made the motion to proceed. After it was unamiously approved, Chair Akaka noted the importance of the process and that any amendments to the bills would result in his seeking additional input from all the stakeholders in the system. Ranking Member Richard Burr spoke out against the tuition stipend in the Post-9/11 GI Bill which some people find -- his terms" "unweildy, confusing and unpredictable." He didn't state it but there are some who find it unfair. (There are also some veterans who have no problem with it.) Kat will, as usual, cover a unique remark by Burr and he had one today so check her site. Ava's going to blog at Trina's site tonight to note Senator Scott Brown.

For an overview, we'll note that Chair Daniel Akaka's office issued the following release on the hearing today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), approved comprehensive legislation to help veterans find jobs, simplify and improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill, get disabled veterans accurate and timely compensation, and make various improvements to VA health care.

"We must never forget that the care and benefits veterans have earned is a cost of war, and must be treated as such. I am pleased with the bipartisan input that has produced these bills, and I will work with my colleagues to move them forward during this session of Congress," said Akaka. Chairman Akaka's full opening statement is available here.

The Committee approved the following bills:

S. 3234, Veteran Employment Assistance Act of 2010 (Committee Print, as amended). To improve employment, training, and placement services furnished to veterans, especially those serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and for other purposes.

S. 3447, Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (Committee Print). To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve educational assistance for those who served in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001, and for other purposes.

S. 3517, Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2010 (Committee Print, as amended). To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the processing of claims for disability compensation filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.

S. 3325, Veterans Telehealth and other Care Improvements Act of 2010 (Committee Print, as amended). To improve the quality of health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, to increase access to health care and benefits provided by the Department, to authorize major medical facility construction projects of the Department, and for other purposes.

S. 3107, Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010. To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for an increase, effective December 1, 2010, in the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans, and for other purposes.

S. 3609. A bill to extend the temporary authority for the performance of medical disability examinations by contract physicians for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An original bill -- S. ____ (Committee Print, as amended). To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance and Veterans' Group Life Insurance and to modify the provision of compensation and pension to surviving spouses of veterans in the months of the deaths of the veterans, and for other purposes.

The bills approved today will be reported to the full Senate for consideration. For a copy of today's agenda, testimony and webcast, visit


Kawika Riley

Communications Director and Legislative Assistant

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

S. 3234, the Veterans Employment Assistance Act of 2010 had an amendment attached to it by Burr. Akaka noted he wasn't sure he could support it. Rockefeller noted his opposition to the Burris amendment and Senator Sherrod Brown introduced a new amendment on behalf of himself, Senators Patty Murray, Rockefeller, Bernie Sanders, Senator Roland Burris and Senator Arlen Specter regarding VA employees collective bargaining abilities. We'll note this portion of exchange.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Is there any objection to making this a separate bill?
Senator Jay Rockefeller: Mr. Chairman, when you say a separate bill, does that mean it would not be -- couldn't be accepted as an amendment?
Chair Daniel Akaka: Well I feel that this is an important question that you raise here. We're only trying to skip a procedural role call vote. What I'm asking is if we can agree to debate this amendment individually? And of course, you will have an opportunity to speak and propose an amendment to this.
Senator Jay Rockefeller: Mr. Chairman, I don't mean to be anymore obnoxious than I usually am, but I thought that's what mark-ups were for?
Chair Daniel Akaka: Yes, Senator Rockefeller. We would like to separate this so that we can handle it separately and not be --
Senator Sherrod Brown: Mr. Chairman, I understand Senator Rockefeller's at least partial reservation. I know he's a co-sponsor of the amendment. Does the stand-alone -- I understand the stand-alone would make its chances of becoming a law greater then if it's part of a bill that there may be some objections to pay-fors on the floor and all of that. There won't be -- I assume there won't be those kind of objections on this. I'll do whatever the Chairman wants.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Senator?
Senator Jon Tester: Chairman, I support it as an amendment or a stand-alone bill so I ask unamious consent to be added to it as a co-sponsor. Secondly, if it increases the possibility of passage as a stand-alone, I support that. If it increases the passage of an amendment, I would support that. So as a co-sponsor of the bill I will go with whatever expedites it the quickest.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Any other comments?

Senator Jay Rockefeller: Mr. Chairman --
Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Rockefeller.
Senator Jay Rockefeller: -- I would withdraw my comments. It is my understanding that this would make it easier to make it become law because of negotiations with the House.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Are there any objections to separating this bill? . . . So no objections, it will be separated. Let me further say that there is merit to this amendment of Senator Brown's I agree that employees should be allowed to grieve as has been mentioned over correct compensation to which they are entitled. So let me call on any further comments. Senator Burr?
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I understand the intent behind the amendment. But I'm worried that we are flying blind here without having the views of the administration and others on how this amendment might impact providing care to veterans. As you know, Title 38, employees can bargain over everything except matters concerning (1) the professional conduct or competence, (2) peer review or (3) employee compensation. Senator Brown's amendment would make all compensation matters except basic rates of pay open to collective bargaining. Here are my concerns. The law granting only certain collective bargaining rights to VA employees has not been amended in 20 years. Doing so without views and without an impact assessment concerns me greatly. In this Congress, and in the last Congress, we had bills proposing to expand collective bargaining rights, both the prior administration and the current one strongly objected arguing patient care would suffer. I understand your amendment is narrower in scope. But I'm still concerned that it would have unintended consequences on care. Here's a brief list of items under your amendment which would be open to collective bargaining: market pay, performace pay, premium pay, on-call pay, [. . .] special salary rates, requirement and retention and bonuses and nurse locality pay. Are we prepared to say that we understand how extending the ability to collective bargaining over these matters will effect operations of the VA health care system? What about the cost associated with doing this? What effect does this have on our veterans health care? Do we know any of the answers to those questions? Again, I truly believe we're legislating without all the facts. Therefore, I would urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment and to wait until we have an opportunity to have some of the answers to these questions.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Senator Brown, did you --
Senator Sherrod Brown: Yes. Let me give you an example of what -why this amendment matters. A nurse in Buffalo worked all weekend to deliver H1N1 vaccines to veterans. It wasn't her normal shift, she should have been entitled by contract to 25% additional pay. She had stepped forward for work that weekend because she wanted veterans to have access to flu shots and they worked during the week. She stepped forward to assist those workers on the weekend. On her paycheck, it didn't reflect the premium pay she was entitled to. She asked her union to help out but was told she couldn't grieve this issue through the union. Now that speaks pretty clearly that this is amendment is narrow and it doesn't make any changes -- It changes the compensation exclusion in the law. It doesn't make changes to the other two exclusions: peer review and direct patient care. It has no impact -- absolutely no impact -- on management's right to determine the best medical procedures or practices for the patient.
And it continued. And we're noting it because half the hearing was spent on this. Was there really a need, for example, for Akaka's motives to be questioned? Did anyone think the Chair was secretly plotting to torpedo the proposal? Part of the exchange was give-and-take, fine. Part of it was just time wasted.
A roll call vote was called with Senators Rockefeller, Murray, Bernie Sanders (by proxy), Brown, Jim Webb, (by proxy), Tester, Mark Begich, Burris, Arlen Specter (by proxy) and Chair Akaka voting yes; Burr, Johnny Iaskson, Roger Wicker (by proxy), Mike Johanns (by proxy), Scott Brown and Lindsey Graham (by proxy) voted no. In other words, the vote was strictly on party lines.

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"The Cult of St. Barack (and Judy!)"

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Cult of St. Barack (and Judy!)






Today United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the issue of Iraq in a report the the United Nations Security Council. His [PDF format warning] remarks included:
I am concerned with the overall human rights situation in the country, notably the high rate of indiscriminate and targeted attacks against the civilian population. Ongoing violence and targeted assassinations also continue to be reported against government officials, newly elected members of the Council of Representatives, media workers, minority and ethnic and religious groups. In May, approximately 100 Christian students travelling in buses to the University of Mosul were injured and a bystander was killed when two roadside bombs exploded as the buses passed. In April, approximately 50 civilians were killed as the result of bombings in Shi'a neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Between May and June, political figures were also the target of indiscriminate attacks: five family members, including three children, of an Awakening Council member were killed in Baghdad; a newly elected member of the Council of Representatives, Bashar Hamid al-Egaidi, was assassinated in Mosul; and a parliamentary candidate, Fares Jasim Al Jabour, was killed in his house in West Mosul on 5 June. Journalists and media workers continued to be targeted in attacks aimed at restricting freedom of expression and opinion. A 23-year-old freelance journalist, Sardasht Othman, was kidnapped outside the Salahaddin University in Erbil and was later found shot dead on 6 May near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in eastern Mosul. Mr. Othman was known for his writing critical of members of the Government. KRG is currently investigating the matter.
The UNAMI Human Rights Office continued to monitor government detention centres in Kirkuk, Basra and Erbil, in which poor conditions have been reported. In the detention cenre in Basra, the Human Rights Office reported that the physical conditions of the prison did not meet minimal international standards. In another incident of concern, on 12 May, seven detainees suffocated while in transit from Al-Taji detention centre to Al-Tasfirat pretrial detention facility in Baghdad. It was reportedly the result of Iraqi army personnel transporting 100 detainees in two windowless vheicles whose capacity was for only 15 persons.
Not quite the rah-rah Barack Obama spun earlier this week. He also spoke of the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 28 days. The Secretary-General noted:
[. . .] I am concerned that continued delays in the government formation process are contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the country. Not only does this risk undermining confidence in the political process, but elements opposed to Iraq's democratic transition may try to exploit the situation. The number of recent security incidents throughout Iraq, mainly in the north of the country and in Baghdad, including attacks against newly elected members of parliament and religious pilgrims, are of particular concern.
In this context, I urge all political bloc leaders to work together through an inclusive and broadly participatory process to end the present impasse. After exercising their right to vote on & March, there are high expectations among the Iraqi people that their leaders will adhere to the Constitution and ensure an orderly and peaceful transition of power. I firmly believe that this will contribute to the country's stability and the prospects for national reconciliation. In accordance with their mandate, my Special Representative and his team in UNAMI stand ready to assist.
Salam Faraj (AFP) reports that Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya is supposed to be in a better position currently as a result of the split between the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law over Nouri's insistance that he remain prime minister. Tariq Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) ponders the stalemate:
[. . .] what is the difference between Nouri al-Maliki and Saddam Hussein? Al-Maliki is saying that Allawi won the elections by only one vote, and that he does not consider this to be an election defeat, while Saddam used to say that the Iraqis had elected him with 100 percent of the vote; therefore what is the difference between them? The most important question that must be asked here is, in this case, why did the US forces even topple Saddam Hussein, if they are going to allow another Saddam -- Nouri al-Maliki -- to rise up and appear to us and the people of Iraq, but this time with democratic cover?
This latest phase in Iraq's struggle began with March's parliamentary elections. Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Prime Minister who was initially placed in power by the United States, won a slim majority over the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi won in part through support from secular-minded Iraqis, but also through the votes of many Sunnis -- who were wary of al-Maliki -- and divisions between al-Maliki and some of the religious parties who had been his partners. The vote was too close to call, however, and al-Maliki refused to relinquish power. The ensuing stalemate continues -- despite intervention by Vice President Biden -- resulting in sectarian tensions and degraded government capabilities.
My arguments about the danger al-Maliki poses still hold true. Al-Maliki proved willing to stir up sectarian sentiment when it benefited him politically, then reframed himself as an Iraqi nationalist when facing opposition among some Shiites. His attempts after the election to hold on to power, which included threatening comments about his role as commander of the military and a move to disqualify some candidates in Allaawi's bloc due to reputed Baathist ties, demonstrate he is still likely to place personal advancement over Iraq's stability.
Yet, there is also much going for Allawi besides not being al-Maliki. Despite becoming Prime Minister while Iraq was under U.S. control, Allawi proved a responsible and effective leader, albeit one undone by his U.S. ties. Moreover, his Shiite identity and secular tendencies make him legitimate to a majority of Iraqis and less threatening to its Sunni and Kurdish minorities than the more Islamist al-Maliki. Finally, his Sunni-Shia coalition gives him cross-cutting appeal. This provides Sunnis a stake in the system and Allawi a disincentive to draw on sectarian tensions to increase his political standing, as this would alienate many of his supporters.
For those late to the party, you have not missed this site's endorsement. I'm not an Iraqi. Their leader is a decision for them to make. Nouri is a thug and he's always been a thug and we've called him out since he first showed up as the compromise candidate. Iraq would be a lot better off if Nouri were out of office for a number of reasons. But other than that, we're not making any calls because the issue goes to Iraq to decide. That should not be read as, everybody kick back and relax. The White House has done an awful job of helping to resolve this crisis. Iraq continues to receive money from the US and it continues to receive special status that other countries (Iran, for one) do not. It would be very easy to convey that if talks are not conducted and a leader not chosen quickly, certain favors and actions will be placed on hold. The US could have done that and should have done it. Long gone are the White House claims that Iraq would install a new government long before the August drawdown. Does the press even remember those claims? They don't appear to.
But instead of the White House doing the above, insisting that the groups come up with a leader, they've interfered. It's one thing to say, "We'll take this back, we'll place this on hold." That's fine. It's another to say, "You will choose this person." And, as UPI again reminds today, the White House continues to insist that a deal must be worked out (okay so far) which allows Nouri and Allawi to share power.
No, no such deal MUST be worked out. In fact, such a deal isn't even genuinely possible in Iraq's Constitution. Part of the reason for the stalemate has been that instead of putting pressure for parties to come to a decision, the US government has felt the need to tell Iraqis, "This is what your decision will be." That's how colonialism worked (or 'worked') and how empire works (or 'works') but it's not how democracy works.
Since the White House appears to have forgotten the Iraqi Constitution (or maybe Barack never knew it -- Joe Biden used to know it), let's go over how it works. Parliamentary elections are held. Votes are counted and certified. The political slate or party receiving the most votes has first crack at forming a government. They need 163 seats in Parliament to become the ruling government. If they get that either due to the results of the Parliamentary elections or due to being able to assemble a power-sharing government with other slates and parties, then that's that. If not? First crack only. If, after the first attempt, others want to form their own, that's fine. It's a scramble and whomever can get to the magic number first (163) is the government. That's how it works. It's a winner take all system. There is nothing in the Constitution about "You be prime minister this year, then I'll be prime minister. We'll share the term."
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into such an agreement, the US government is sending a number of messages and none of them are appropriate. The most irresponsible message is: If you don't like what the Constitution says, just ignore it. The March elections were only the second Parliamentary elections since the start of the Iraq War. If the Constitution is being tossed aside now, don't expect it to last through a third round or Parliamentary elections.
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into a power-sharing arrangement, the US is also guaranteeing Nouri a seat at the table -- the government table, not the formation. And yet one of the biggest stumbling blocs has been Nouri. State Of Law was supposed to trounce everyone and come in far ahead of the others. That didn't happen and the fact that it didn't happen is a reflection of the will of the Iraqi people. The will of the bulk of Iraqi leaders is that Nouri needs to go. That's why the alliance between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance just collapsed. As Iraqi leaders work to convey the message of the people (as well as their own message) that Nouri's not welcome, the US government should not be demanding that Nouri get a spot in the new government.
And to be clear, my criticism above is of the White House and the 'leadership' provided by Barack Obama. Peter Henne can have any opinion he wants and is free to express it (and, having expressed it, he's open to any and all criticism -- that's life in the public square). I'm not slamming him for his opinion and I'm not endorsing his opinion.

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Getting older




Happy Birthday, Barack


Yesterday US President Barack Obama served up some pretty lies on Iraq and the result was a 'surge' of media interest in Iraq. Today on PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke with Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) about Iraq.
John Hockenberry: So Jane, let me begin with you. Is there any way of assessing the quality of life in Baghdad and what the trend line stands at this morning as, the president says yesterday, we're on schedule for the drawdown of US forces?
Jane Arraf: Well I think that's a great question but like so many of those simple, vital questions, a little difficult to answer because the standard is so different here. As you pointed out, it's not normal in New York City or Chicago or anywhere else to face roadside bombs, no electricity every day -- all the other things that people face here routinely. And this is a country where people are used to war, they're used to hardship. But by that measure, things are really still tough. They're not nearly as dangerous as they were three, four years ago at the height of the civil war. The economy is somewhat better but day to day you see people struggling. A lack of jobs, a lack of electricity, a spike in violence. It might not be a rise in terms of a long-term trend but it is certainly a spike and things are very, very fragile here still.
John Hockenberry: Jane Arraf didn't even mention the fact that since the elections earlier this year, there is still no official government in place in Iraq. Joost Hiltermann, what do we make of that? The surge was supposed to be a success. If there's no government and a spike in violence, it seems like something's come awry here.
Joost Hiltermann: No, it's a -- it's a serious problem. And for ordinary Iraqis who are suffering from the problems that Jane has listed, the absence of a government just makes things worse because there is no governance, there is no prospect that some of these issues will be addressed. And, moreover, the bickering politicians give Iraqis the image that there is no solution to their problems and that the politicians don't reallly care about their concerns. And they fear that if things continue this way, violence will recur because they-they think that, if no agreement can be reached, these various political faction leaders will resort to violence through their various militias and that civil war will return.
[. . .]
Lynn Sherr: Jane Arraf, what about ordinary people in Iran -- in Iraq, excuse me. Are they basically glad or sad that the troops will be leaving?
Jane Arraf: Well it's kind of a very complicated set of emotions, Lynn. You know a lot of people -- most people, I would say -- do not want to see foreign troops in their streets. They haven't seen them in the streets for awhile ever since they've withdrawn to the bases for the most part. There aren't a lot of visible combat operations anymore that include US forces. But there is but there still the perception that this is a country that is under occupation -- even though legally Iraq has full control of its sovereignty and its security, it's considered still an occupation.
PRI's The Takeaway intends to explore Iraq all week. Yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Chip Reid covered the speech and the actual breakdown of numbers and facts.
Chip Reid: When he came into office, there were 144,000 US troops in Iraq. Today there are 81,000 and, by the end of this month, there will be 50,000. Officially, they'll be designated as non-combat forces but that may be misleading because the troops will still be in harm's way and continue to support Iraqi combat forces. They also can engage in 'targeted counterrorism operations.' And while the US troop reduction is on schedule, Iraq's transition to a stable nation is not. The President today said violence is near the lowest level in years but the Iraq government disagrees. They say July was the most violent month in more than two years
On World News with Diane Sawyer (ABC), Sawyer cited an ABC News - Washington Post poll. Diane Sawyer, "As their mission ends, most Americans -- 55% -- say the war was not worth fighting." 55% said no, 42% said yes. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams was the only network evening news to offer anyone in Iraq.
Brian Williams: Our NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is back in Iraq tonight, a place where he spent much of the last eight years. He's with us from Baghdad tonight for a closer look at the fragile state of things. Again, after seven or so years of war, Richard, I talked to you earlier today. You had the rare distinction of hearing the President speech from Baghdad. What is the state of life there these days?
Richard Engel: Many people here don't share the same kind of optimism that was expressed not only by the President but also by analysts across the United States today. Life in Baghdad right now is very difficult. This is not what you could consider a normal or stable city. Just coming in from the airport this morning and driving to our bureau -- it's about a twelve mile journey along a short stretch of road -- we had to pass through six different checkpoints, there is a curfew in place tonight as there is every single night. And that gives you an idea of how much stability there is here -- not very much at all. Also, Iraqis only have about three hours of power every single day. They had 24 hours of power here in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. While the United States might want to 'close the door' and 'turn off the lights' on this conflict, many Iraqis are not even able to turn the lights on in their own homes. Many couldn't even watch the speech today because they didn't have power.
Brian Williams: Richard Engel, our veteran of that conflict, back in Baghdad for us tonight. Richard, thank you for your reporting.
Click here and here for The NewsHour (PBS) coverage (audio, video and transcript). The first link is Gwen Ifill covering the speech and providing an overview of Iraq. The second link is a waste of time and really kind of tacky and cheesy in a reality-TV manner -- they pit two advisers (one to Barack, one to Bush) against each other. The NewsHour, you would expect to tell you about Iraqis, but instead they went with strong-winded American gas bags who really aren't experts on much of anything. At CNN (link is text and video), Rick Sanchez reviews some of the supposed key moments in the war that didn't turn out to be key moments. Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Michelle Norris spoke with Anthony Shadid (New York Times) about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Anthony Shadid: Well you know we're experiencing what's turned out to be a remarkably long stalemate that followed Iraqi elections in March. Iraqis went to the polls, the elections by most accounts were pretty successful. But what's followed has been basically a standoff between the winners of that election. It's nearly five months now and that stalemate seems to be nowhere near reaching an end. In fact, some predictions are saying they could last weeks, even months longer. What it leaves us with in Baghdad is basically political paralysis, a dysfunctional political system, an environment where you haven't had a law passed in months, you don't have a government and you have minisitries adrift and perhaps even security forces fraying around the edges with no leadership in the country.
On the speech, Dimiter Kenarov offers "Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq" (Esquire):
1. The Iraqi Police hate the Iraqi Army.
Sounds like a poorly-scripted domestic dispute -- wife clawing at husband, husband slapping wife. And it is. Everybody's heard of the conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a, but few are aware that the Ministry of the Interior hates the Ministry of Defense and, by proxy, the local cops hate the hometown troops. (Note to self: the U.S. State Department isn't exactly on the best terms with the Pentagon, either.) While I was in Iraq, nobody could quite explain to me the roots of the problem, but it all looked like the usual turf war, with two government rackets fighting for lucrative territory.
Since Iraq is still in a state of emergency, the army is actively involved in the internal security of the country, stepping with their military boots on the bare toes of the cops. As one Iraqi police general, Abdul Kareem Hatim, complained to me, "Right now our biggest problem is the Iraqi army. We want the army out of internal security, out of the cities. When a bomb goes off, the police and the army start arguing who's responsible for the breach of security. We need the army out, so we can take full responsibility. All the security breaches happen because of lack of coordination." The main problem in Iraq today, if I had managed to follow his logic correctly, was not too little security but too much. I wonder if the road to peace in Iraq might not be getting rid of the security forces altogether.
Today Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) spoke with the Commission on Wartime Contracting's Grant Green about what happens if the US military leaves and Green explained that the US State Dept takes over the contractors who will "fly an aircraft, [be] driving armored vehicles, providing Medivac, dealing with explosive ordinance disposal" -- "contractors who are doing military or quasi-military functions."
The Iraq War has not ended. Nor have US forces even left Iraq. Something a great many seem unaware of. 4413 US service members will not be returning home and who knows how high the death toll will be when the US military finally leaves Iraq -- whenever that may be.
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
-- "Till They All Get Home," written by Melanie (Safka) and first appears on Melanie's Crazy Love.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The tales the press tells



ACROSS THE ATLANTIC IT WAS LEFT TO THE DAILY MIRROR TO SHOW THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS HOW YOU REPORT ON ASSERTIONS, "He claimed the timetable for withdrawal was on schedule and by September 90,000 fewer U.S soldiers would be in the country than when he took office two years ago."



Princess Tiny Meat took both inches to Atlanta, Georgia where he addressed the Disabled American Veterans. (Click here for the speech at the White House website.) Remember kiddies, vote for a fool who worships Ronald Reagan, don't be surprised by the s**t that flows out of his mouth. Which is how we got stuck with the hoariest of right-wing lies, "Many of you served in the jungles of Vietnam. You also served with honor, but were often shunned when you came home." Princess Tiny Meat's suffering from Rambo damage and apparently jerking both inches raw to a Bedtime for Bonzo poster. What now, Tom Hayden, now that your man's broken your heart yet again?
Celebrity in chief Barry O declared: "As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010 America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised, on schedule."
That was the promise? No, that wasn't the promise. Travel back with us to the July 4, 2008 snapshot:
Turning to the US presidential race. Barack Obama? Arab News notes, "For Obama, who recently changed his positions on campaign finance and a wiretapping law, the suggestion that he was also changing course on a central premise of his candidacy holds particular peril. While Obama has long said he would consult commanders in the field when withdrawing troops, that point might have been lost on many Democratic primary voters who supported his call to end the war." What's going on? A bit of reality on War Hawk Barack. Suzanne Goldenberg (Guardian of London) puts it this way, ".Barack Obama was yesterday fending off charges from right and left that he had abandoned the core premise of his candidacy - the withdrawal of all US combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office - in an attempt to attract voters from the political centre." Suzanne's a little out of it. So were Katrina vanden Heuvel and Arianna Huffington on ABC's This Week last Sunday. Withdrawal in 16 months? That's 'so January 2008.' Barack promised withdrawal of all (combat) troops within 10 months in a speech in Houston, Texas. Always one to carry water for Barack, Tom Hayden immediately penned "End the War in 2009" (which popped up online at The Nation, Feb. 20th and elsewhere a bit later). Hayden: "In his victory speech in Texas Tuesday, Barack Obama promised to end the Iraq war in 2009, a new commitment that parallels recent opinion pieces in The Nation. Prior to his Houston remarks, Obama's previous position favored an American combat troop withdrawal over a sixteen-to-eighteen-month timeframe. He has been less specific on the number and mission of any advisors he would elave behind." (The Texas primary was in March. Barack was in Texas campaigning, for any more confused than usual by Tom-Tom's bad-bad writing.) Texas community members saw the 10 month 'promise' pushed in advertising as well as on the campaign trail. Those were his words (and Tom-Tom notes 'words matter') so let's all drop the nonsense that Barack's plan was 16 months (or at least leave the lying to Katrina who's become so very good at it). Goldenberg's uninformed, ignorant or lying -- take your pick. In her piece (dated tomorrow), she traces the uproar to Thursday when Barack said he might 'refine' his Iraq 'plan.' If that's when the uproar started, is Arianna Huffington psychic? Arianna was calling him out for 'refining' on Iraq Sunday on This Week. More water carrying from the allegedly 'independent' Guardian of London (which never wrote about the Downing Street Memos because 'independence' did not include informing people that Tony Blair lied England into an illegal war -- no time for 'truth-telling' while Blair was in office at any rate.) CNN reports that presumed GOP presidential candidate John McCain and the RNC are calling Barack a "flip-flopper" and they quote Barack's 'clarification' where Barack lies and says he has always said 16 months. No, Barack, you went to ten months in February. AP reports he celebrated the 4th of July in Butte, Montana (Kansas, he's done with you, he got what he needed) eating a hot dog. Tom Baldwin (Times of London) observes, "Grassroots activists whose energy and donations have helped to propel Barack Obama towards the White House are suddenly choking on the bitter pill of disillusion. In less than a month since clinching the Democratic nomination, he has performed a series of policy pirouettes to assuage concerns about his candidacy among a wider and more conservative electorate." Geoff Elliott (The Australian) points out, "Barack Obama has started a dramtic reversal of the policies that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination, softening hardlines stances on the Iraq war and troop withdrawals.
Campaigning in North Dakota, Senator Obama said that while the US could not sustain a long-term presence in Iraq, his trip to the Gulf nation this month might prompt him to "refine my policies" on the war." John Bentley (CBS News) quotes Brian Rogers of the McCain campaign stating, "Today, Barack Obama reversed that position, proving once again his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain's position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. Now that Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words, we would like to congratulate him on taking John McCain's principled stand on this critical national security issue. If he had visited Iraq sooner or actually had a one-on-one meeting with Gen. Petraeus, he would have changed his position long ago." Jonathan Weisman (Washington Post) terms it Barack exploring "the possibility of slowing a promised, gradual withdrawal from Iraq". NPR has two audio reports here.
He started campaigning by promising sixteen months -- and Barack's groupies never called out his grandstanding proposal/demand on Bush in 2007 that would have forced Bush to pull out sooner had it passed -- and he quickly dropped it to ten. Words mattered, whine Tom-Tom Hayden. At least once upon a time. Ten months went and now 16 months have passed by. Tom's old man, poor Tom Hayden.
Go look at your eyes
They're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies
-- "The Last Time I Saw Richard," written by Joni Mitchell, from her seminal benchmark Blue
I don't need any one to tell me pretty lies. Reality is that Barack didn't keep his promise. That's reality. Reality is also that screaming "We want to end the war and we want to end it now!" as his tent revivals of the Cult of St. Barack led many people to believe that the sixteen month or ten month 'withdrawal' meant all US troops home. It was "We want to end the war and we want to end it now!" Not "We want to end the war and leave behind 50,000 US troops!" (Or, for that matter, militarize the State Dept.)
Pretty men who tell you pretty lies. Just pretty lies.
Barry O exclaimed, "Today -- even as terrorists try to derail Iraq's progress -- because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years." He's as bad a liar as Bush. First off, AFP led the pack Saturday with the report of July's violence (see "Over 1043 people killed in Iraq in the month of July") making July the deadliest month for Iraq in two years and two months time. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports, "July was the deadliest month in Iraq since May 2008 [. . .] The figures show a sharp upswing in the level of violence nearly five months after parliamentary elections which have yet to result in the formation of a new government and as the United States continues a major withdrawal of its forces." And this was Iraqi figures, furnished by the Iraqi government. A government notorious for undercounting the dead. As for "terrorists," try Iraqis. Iraqis unhappy with a government installed by the US. Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "Obama's positive words about Iraq, both at West Point and Monday in Atlanta, were reminiscent of former President Bush's talk of 'mission accomplished' and implanting 'democracy' in Iraq. Republican leaders are already suggesting the 'Obama as Bush' response they are preparing for the president as he draws attention to the transition in Iraq."
Armstrongx15: You wonder what happens to these people as they get into power -- They tell the same convincing lies that past politicians in other wars spread. They disgust me so utterly I'm glad I've not had my lunch.
AlanMoore: They're still there, still fighting . . in what was is this the end of anything?
BlueMoonRising: [Quoting Barack] "Let us never forget -- it was Afghanistan where al-Qaida plotted and trained to murder 3,000 innocent people on 9/11." So why did you kill 500,000 iraqis then? Oh i remember, all that oil your stealing...."
LorienQuestion: Should be interesting to see what happens in 2011, when all of the US troops will supposedly be withdrawn. My guess, is that in insurgency will be so strong by then that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will have a change of heart in 2011 and ask for some "Non-Combat?'' America troops to remain. What amazes me the most is this, we seen how terrorist/insurgencies/violent anti-government/etc/ forces operate never before has an insurgency force remain so active and competent for so long. Taken in the consideration, that the opposing force is so technically advance, and numerous; usually as time goes on resources get used up, veteran insurgency officers get killed or captured, all of these things should be difficult to replace and have a detrimental effect on the insurgency efforts, especially with 85,000 American troops etc.
smellyecoli2: I believe every word said by our dear President Obama.I believe in the tooth fairy,the man in the moon and I do speak with Elvis each night as we have dinner!!!

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