Saturday, August 13, 2011

Look who wants to play civil





Turning to Iraq where Nouri al-Maliki's greed was once only fabled and whispered of softly, today it's legendary. As he continues to fleece the Iraqi people, his greed may be the thing that destroys the US-propped up government.

Despite the March 7, 2010 election being seen as a rejection of Nouri -- whose slate came in second despite all of the predictions otherwise as well as Nouri's own abuse of office in an attempt to bring in the votes -- his greed would not allow for anyone else to be prime minister. As Nouri dug in his heels following the election, a few wondered what it would take to get Nouri out of the office he had just lost? Thanks to the US, he didn't have to worry and, after nine months of Political Stalemate I, he and the political blocs agreed to follow the Erbil Agreement. Among other things, the Erbil Agreement called for the creation of a national council on security which would be headed by Ayad Allawi (Allawi's Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections). Then Nouri got named prime minister-designate and promptly trashed the agreement.

Via a series of summer house parties, Jalal Talabani brought together the political blocs and, as late as yesterday, there was praise for Jalal's efforts in the Iraqi press. Political Stalemate II was going to be ended. And before nine months! The political blocs -- including Nouri -- had agreed to return to the Erbil Agreement. Yesterday in Parliament, the most vocal opponents to the creation of the national council were from Nouri's State Of Law. Alsumaria TV reports today, "Iraq Premier Nouri Al Maliki reiterated that he is not convinced by the Higher National Strategic Policies Council as the country is heading towards Ministerial reduction and added that the Council is to be established in order to please some parties and doesn't have any role in solving the problems of the political process. During an interview with Alsumaria TV Maliki said he is not convinced by establishing this council especially that the institutions of the Iraqi State are currently flaccid. Maliki stressed that the situation will deteriorate if politics interfered in security."

Though the body was supposed to be independent and have actual powers, Al Rafidayn quotes Nouri stating that its work would be purely advisory. Nouri's trashing this latest agreement much sooner than he did at the end of 2010. When State of Law carped and complained in Parliament yesterday following the reading of the draft law, many observers knew that they must do so with Nouri's blessing (Nouri is the head of State of Law). Now the surprise over that has been replaced with puzzlement over why Nouri is attacking the agreement he just signed off on? Since the only thing most are aware he got was for others to begin publicly speaking favorably of at least entertaining the thought of US forces remaining on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011, that would appear to be all he got from the summer House Parties -- spreading the blame for a continued US presence all around in the government.
On the subject of whether or not US troops remain in Iraq after the start of the new year,
Robert Naiman (Huffington Post) observes, "John McCain once said that there's no problem with keeping U.S. troops in Iraq forever, just like we do in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. How liberals mocked him! But that's what the Obama Administration is now trying to do: keep US troops in Iraq forever. [. . . ] The Pentagon doesn't want you to notice that at the same time Washington is seized with debt hysteria, and the nation's mainstream media are demanding cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits on the preposterous claim that 'we can no longer afford it,' the Pentagon is laying plans to keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq forever. They call these troops 'trainers,' so we are not supposed to notice. But these 'trainers' engage in combat: they kill Iraqis, and they get killed by Iraqis." Naiman is with Just Foreign Policy and they're asking you to tell Congress no more Iraq War funding after the end of 2011. And while Americans wait for the day that Barack will speak publicly about the efforts of the US government to extend the US military presence in Iraq, the costs are not only finanical but also human lives. A memorial in California has been tracking deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Has been. Jonathan Morales (Contra Costa Times) reports that the memorial in Lafayette has simply run out of space for any more crosses. There is no more space to erect additional crosses to note the deaths and yet the US government wants to continue both wars.
Political intrigue continues in Iraq as well. For example, Al Mada reports that the Sadr bloc is calling for an investigation into the alleged fake contracts and alleged theft of funds in the Ministry of Electricity. Over the weekend, Nouri al-Maliki announced he was firing the Minister of Electricity due to fake contracts worth billions. There were two main responses. First, many stated Nouri didn't have the power to do the firing, only Parliament did. Second, the Minister of Electricity floated that he had many stories to tell. It has since emerged that these contracts Nouri claims to be surprised and appalled by carry . . . Nouri's signature. Nouri and State Of Law's latest move is to note that this member of Nouri's Cabinet is also a member of Iraqiya. I'm not sure how that assists Nouri since, over the weekend, Iraqiya was the first to state that they supported the move Nouri made. Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli (The Middle East Media Research Institute) offers an analysis of what happened:
In July of this year, the Ministry of Electricity signed a contract with a Canadian company, CAPGENT, for $1.2 billion for the construction of 10 power stations with a production capacity of 100 megawatts each. The company was registered in Vancouver, Canada. It also signed a second contract with a German company, Maschinerbrau Halberstadt, for €500 million ($650 million) for the construction of five power stations with a production capacity of 100 megawatts each, to be completed within 12 months from the time a line of credit was extended. It now appears that the two companies are fictitious, and had the contracts been executed they would have would have constituted a monumental case of fraud involving senior officials of the Ministry of Electricity.
The two fraudulent cases came to light thanks to the personal efforts of Jawad Hashim, a former minister of planning in Iraq during the early Ba'thist regime in the 1960s and early 1970s. In a handwritten letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, datelined Vancouver, Canada, August 2, 2011, Hashim detailed the fraud.
As a resident of Vancouver, Hashim decided to investigate the available information on the Canadian company while he asked the former minister of economy and governor of the Iraqi central bank, Fakhri Yassin Qadduri, who resides in Germany, to investigate the identity of the German company.

David Baines (Vancouver Sun) reports that Jawad Hashim (the whistleblower) was convicted of "in absentia, of embezzling more than $50 million from the Arab Monetary Fund" and that Hashim maintains that the charges are false and were revenge for his defection from Saddam Hussein's government and his departing Iraq. Hayder Najm (niqash) questions whether the contracts are indeed with fake companies.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

No mystery





Turning to the Iraq War, if it ends at the end of 2011, why are they still deploying troops to it? Today the Providence Journal reports a send-off is scheduled this Friday (9:00 a.m., Quonset Air National Guard Base) for two units of the Rhode Island National Guard who are deploying "to Iraq for a year. They will provide aviation support for combat and reconstruction operations, the National Guard said." Jennifer Quinn (WPRI) also notes the deployment, "A Company, 1st Battalion 126th Aviation and D Company 126th Aviation will deploy ti Iraq for one year."
March 7, 2010, Iraqis voted. The elections would determine members of Parliament who would then determine who was prime minister who would then determine with the Parliament who made up the Cabinet. This is not a lengthy process. Or it's not supposed to be. But it drug on for a little over nine months creating Political Stalemate I. In November 2010, a deal was hammered out, the Erbil Agreement, saying Nouri and State of Law would get this, Iraqiya would get this, etc. This deal allowed Political Stalemate I to end. And Nouri became prime minister-designate that month. And Nouri quickly disregarded the other elements of the deal, refusing to honor them and starting Political Stalemate II.

Nouri was named prime minister-designate in November. Per the Constitution, he then had 30 days to nominate members of his Cabinet and have the Parliament approve them. But Nouri never nominated a full Cabinet. And to this day, the positions of Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and Minister of National Security have never been filled. Every few weeks comes the speculation that finally Nouri is going to make nominations. It's August, eight months after the positions should have been filled. Will Political Stalemate II last longer than the first one?

Dar Addustour states that "informed sources" state that the issue will be resolved "net week" and that the candidates have already been decided. Al Rafidayn states three nominees will be named by the National Alliance and credits the recent House Party at Jalal's for ending the impasse.

The Erbil Agreement called for the creation of a National Council on security issues and called on Ayad Allawi (whose Iraqiya came in first in the March 7th elections) to head the new body. On the first day Parliament met following the Erbil Agreement, many members of Iraqiya walked out when the agreed to creation of this body was immediately tabled. Al Sabaah reports that people expect today's session of Parliament to be "heated" due to the fact that the issue of the National Council is on the agenda -- finally on the agenda. Aswat al-Iraq reports that National Alliance MP Abdul-Hussein Abtan objected at the first reading of the draft law and is stating that the council would have too much power.

The Cabinet was reduced by 17 positions last month. Nouri had promised everyone something in an attempt to sew up votes for prime minister. As a result, even with three ministry heads not named, Nouri kicked things off in December with a bloated Cabinet. Charges of corruption and protests led Nouri to propose trimming the Cabinet's ministers and deputy ministers. Bilgay Duman (Sunday Zaman) calls out the decision:

This decision which was taken with the agreement of political groups of the Republic of Iraq is seen that will cause new problems for Iraq even if it seems as positive at first. First of all, there is a big question mark that is about which tasks will be given to political groups whose ministries are taken over. On the other hand, associating ministries is in question. For instance, associating Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is being discussed. However, the Ministry of Culture was afforded to the Coalition of Iraqi union under the leadership of Cevat El Bolani who is the former internal affairs minister and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was afforded to one person of Al-Sadr's group. In case of associating these two ministries, the possibility of being a moot question concerning it will be afforded to which group is pretty high. Because of the fact that there has not been any appointment to ministries, it is thought that the new assignments will raise problems in Iraqi politics. This situation may lead the Republic of Iraq to a new crisis. On the other side, the continuing discussions relating to the existence of American soldiers in Iraq and also the disagreement among political groups might deepen this crisis. In the forthcoming period, the issues such as reviewing of government or calling an early election may be anticipated to be brought up to the agenda again.

Patrick Seale (Gulf News) observes, "Iraq's new-found 'democracy', dominated by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, is characterised by a great number of parties and splinter groups, all jostling for advantage. This produces a lot of heated talk but not much action — to the extent that a leading Iraqi (consulted for this article) described the Iraqi political scene as resembling that of the French Fourth Republic."
Filing early and never updating, Reuters notes Wednesday events that they didn't cover yesterday: two Kirkuk roadside bombings injured one police officer, 1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk, 1 corpse was discoovered in Hilla, a Mosul roadside bombing injured a child, another Mosul roadside bombing injured a police officer, a Falluja roadside bombing injured eight people. Interesting. But today W.G. Dunlop Tweets:

wdunlop87 3 dead, 49 wounded in #Iraq violence on Thursday

Ali Yussef (AFP) reports 3 people were killed by a bombing of police officer's Ramadi home leaving 3 dead and 24 wounded. As we noted Monday, home bombings are the new craze in Baghdad -- Sunday an Iskandariya home bombing resulted in the death of 5 family members (nine more injured) and a Baghdad home bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and the life of his son (two female family members were injured) and Monday a Haswa home bombing left four members of a police officer's family injured. In addition, AFP notes four bombings slammed Baghdad after sunset with at least ten people left injured.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An audition



Freed at last from the debt ceiling negotiations, President Barack Obama is vowing an unrelenting focus on jobs. But the world may not cooperate.




Starting with the Libyan War. Black Star News (via San Francisco Bay View) notes that "the entire Black population" of Misrata has been driven out of the city by the so-called rebels and cites this Wall St. Journal report where the rebels boast of being "the brigade for purging slaves, black skin." Were George W. Bush still illegally occupying the White House, there would be a huge outcry over that. Instead it's little reported. Black Star News states the New York Times has ignored the racism of the so-called rebels of the Transitional National Council and the attacks on Black Libyans:
If the case was reversed and Black Libyans were committing ethnic cleansing against non-Black Libyans, does anyone believe that the people who now control the editorials or the news pages at the New York Times would ignore such a story? Evidently, it doesn't bother the sages at the Times that Black Libyans are specifically being targeted for liquidation because of their skin color.
Instead, the New York Times is busy boasting of its support for NATO's bombing campaign -- as in a recent editorial -- which this week alone is reported to have killed 20 civilians. The Times has also ignored Rep. Dennis Kucinich's call to the International Criminal court (ICC) to investigate NATO commanders on possible war crimes in connection to Libyan civilians killed.
The Times can't write about the ethnic cleansing of Black Libyans and migrants from other African countries because it would diminish the reputation of the 'rebels,' who the Times have fully embraced, even after the ICC also reported that they too have committed war crimes. Instead, the Times is comfortable with the simplistic narrative, "al-Qaddafi bad," "rebels good," regardless of the fact that the Wall Street Journal also reported the rebels are being trained by former al-Qaeda leaders who were relesed from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay.
Monday, Elaine noted:
Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) and William Booth (Washington Post) both report that the so-called 'rebels' in Libya, the TNC-ers, have 'reshuffled' their administrative cabinet in a desperate bid to try to calm the fears of their western supporters over the TNC's assassination of their own colleague Abdel Fattah Younis.
I don't believe a simple cabinet shuffle will calm fears. Their supporters are ready to bail on them. The TNC provided a ton of promises and delivered on none of them.
For a roundtable at Third on Sunday, Jim asked what the most important recent news in the Libyan War had been:
Mike: I'll go. I think it was, I'm pulling up Friday's snapshot, give me a second. Okay, on the second hour of Friday's Diane Rehm Show, James Kitfield of National Journal said, "People aren't really talking about but I believe it's in September the UN resolution that really okayed this runs out and given that NATO has gone way beyond what it originally said it was going to do which was just to protect people from massacre from the air to bombing command centers and taking out tanks, it's very hard for me to imagine that they get an extension of that [resolution] through the [United Nations] Security Council so that means that there might be a due-by-date on NATO airstrike and power for this and the further complicates it." I did not know the UN resolution ran out next month. To me, that's the biggest development.

Elaine: I'd agree with Mike but note that another important story is Reuters' report that the so-called 'rebels' were supplied with ammunition yesterday by a Qatari plane. The coverage from Al Jazeera has been one-sided and pro 'rebels.' That plane owned by the government of Qatar? Al Jazeera is also owned by the government of Qatar.

Ann: While those are both important points, I think the points we made last Sunday in "How's that Libyan War going?" were the biggest issue because, all last week, throughout the whole week, the death of Abdul Fatah Yunis continued to have an impact.
All are important items but Ann's correct that the murder of Abdul Fatah Yunis has continued to have an impact. That is why the so-called 'rebels' did the 'cabinet shuffle' and Elaine's right that that's not enough. Last night Amir Ahmed (CNN) reported 'rebel' 'leader' "Mustafa Abdel Jalil has dismissed the rebels' 14-member executive board" and that this is over the assassination of Abdel Fattah Younis. Kim Sengupta (Independent) explains, "The dismissal of the entire cabinet by Mustafa Abdel Jalil was acknowledged as an attempt to reassure the family of General Abdel Fatah Younes and the powerful tribe to which he belonged -- the Obeidis -- that action was being taken over the death. However, the move late on Monday was also viewed as a further sign of schism within the rebel movement, beset by internal feuding six months into a civil war which appears to have reached a stalemate, with Muammar Gaddafi still in power in Tripoli." RT (Journal of Foreign Relations) notes a 70-page plan to force Gaddafi out which would require staging "a mass uprising in Tripoli" which the US and NATO hope would cause people to leave the government's side and support the 'rebels.' The article notes: "Key to the council's strategy will be the creation of a 10-15,000-strong military force, which is to quell any remaining resistance from Gaddafi loyalists. The troops will be paid for by the United Arab Emirates, the plan suggests. They should be recruited amongst Libyans living in the north-west of the country, Tripolitania, so that their presence is not erroneously taken as a foreign occupation by the locals, says the document."
Turning to the Iraq War and starting with economics in the hopes that we won't all be as ignorant on the topic as Steve Inskeep (see yesterday's snapshot). Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared on Yahoo's Daily Ticker today to address the US economy.
Jeff Macke: We've got a massive debt situation effecting this country. We've got the baby boomers all set to retire, Generation X are set to pick up the tab. Is more stimulus the answer to this debt crisis and what's the end game here?
Joseph Stiglitz: Well more stimulus is about the only thing that we can do. One of the other things that we can do is restructure the debt. One-quarter of all Americans owe more money on their home than the value of their house. The home used to be the retirement account, something to pay for their kid's education. No longer true. It's a liability. And we need to restructure these debts. In corporations, we understand the principal. We have something called Chapter 11 which is designed to keep the corporations going, keep jobs and give the corporation a fresh start. We need to do that for all Americans. We need to have what I call "A Home Owners' Chapter 11" to get these millions and millions of Americans who are being dragged down by this excessive debt, pushed by the mortgage companies and the banks. Restructure it and give them a fresh start. It doesn't do anybody any good to force these people out of their homes. An economy in which you have homeless people and empty homes doesn't make any sense and that's where we're going.
Aaron Task: Right. Right and I know we have to wrap it and I know this opens up a whole other can of worms but did you see anything in the debt ceiling that got done, let's forget the cantankerous negotiations for a second, the deal itself that gives you any hope that we're a step closer to resolving our problems?
Joseph Stiglitz: No. And it actually leaves me very pessimistic because if I had been talking, engaged in that kind of discussion, I would have gone back to 2001 where we had a 2% of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] surplus. And [former Chair of the Federal Reserve Alan] Greenspan argued that we needed to have a tax cut because if we didn't we would pay off the entire national debt and it would be dificult for him to conduct monetary policy. So in a span of just a decade we went from this almost unmanageable surplus to an unmanageable deficit. And to answer the question as to what we ought to do, all you need to do is think about how did we get from there to here? Four things made a big difference. In fact, account for almost all of the difference. And if we reverse those four things, we're actually home easy. What are those four things? A tax cut for the rich beyond our ability to afford. Trillion dollar wars that have not improved our security. A major economic downturn. Put America back to work and our tax revenues will increase enormously. And finally a medical part D of Medicare, Medicare Part D, where we put a provision that we not negotiate with the drug companies, estimated to cost by various people giving various estimates as much as a trillion dollars in a decade.You get rid of those four things and were actually on pretty sound basis.
Most experts estimate that the defence budget would lose $600 billion to $700 billion over the next 10 years. If so, let the guillotine fall. It would be a much-needed adjustment to an out-of-control military-industrial complex.
First, some history. The Pentagon's budget has risen for 13 years, which is unprecedented. Between 2001 and 2009, overall spending on defence rose from $412 billion to $699 billion, a 70 per cent increase, which is larger than in any comparable period since the Korean War. Including the supplementary spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, we spent $250 billion more than average US defence expenditures during the Cold War -- a time when the Soviet, Chinese and Eastern European militaries were arrayed against the United States and its allies. Over the past decade, when we had no serious national adversaries, US defence spending has gone from about a third of total worldwide defence spending to nearly 50 per cent. In other words, we spend almost as much on defence as the planet's remaining countries put together.
Today Dan Rodricks (Baltimore Sun) also notes military spending, "While defense spending in the United States flat-lined for a time, it was always the largest chunk of discretionary spending in the federal budget, and it grew significantly after the Sept. 11 attacks. It grew, by some estimates, 110 percent since the advent of the war on terror and the wars in in Iraq and Afghanistan. We spend more on defense than all other countries combined." The editorial board of the Billings Gazette also notes the large financial drain of the wars, "According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States budgeted spending of $51 billion this year alone on the Iraq War. The Afghan war budget for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is $119.4 billion. The amount spent on these two wars over the past decade far exceeds the defense cuts contemplated over the coming decade in the deficit-reduction law. War-related costs already total $1.29 trillion for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom." Press TV (link has text and video) interviews the Washington Peace Center's Paul Mango about the economy and the military. Excerpt.
Press TV: Why doesn't the US right now remove their troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, is it because of their revenue for their security firms of Blackwater and DynaCorp?

Magno: Well, I'm not sure if it's the private security auxiliaries in particular. Certainly, there are a lot of privateers like that and a lot of military contractors who have a lot of profits at stake and perpetuating permanent warfare in the region. And so that ends up being part of the problem and the willingness of our political personalities. The secretary of defense --and the president capitulate to that-- keeps the problem going forward. We haven't accomplished very much in the region in a decade's time, and we ought to get out of there and save our money and save what is left of our dignity, I suppose. And that's what all the American people want...
Meanwhile Fatima al-Zeheri (Eurasia Review) gives Steve Inskeep a run for the money in the stupidity contest. Like Steve, it's difficult for Fatima to stay up to date on facts. Fatima wants the US to pay Iraqis money. Really? No, the Iraqi government or 'government.' No way in hell. The Iraqi people are not and have not been served by the government the US put in place. When the Iraqis are finally free of the exiled thugs the US forced on them, they have every right to demand payment for lands damaged and lives lost. But Fatima wants to reward -- please grasp this -- the 'government' made up of exiles who advocated for the Iraq War. In other words, Ahmed Chalabi going to get paid by US tax payers. The 'government' is corrupt. That's why so much money is missing, that's why it's ranked so low on the transparency index. That's before you get into Nouri's latest scandal where over a million dollars in contracts were signed with companies . . . including companies that don't exist. And while Nouri blames the Minister of Electricity, others point that Nouri was co-signer on those contracts. I'm all for the US government paying for the damage inflicted by the Iraq War -- provided it is to Iraqis or a legitimate government that they chose and that represents them.
Fatima the Foreign Policy In Focus writer also insists that the US "must clean up the mess that it made." No, stop saying that crap. The US needs to get out of Iraq. Only a ______ idiot or a War Hawk would suggest, that the US "must clean up the mess that it made." We addressed that stupidity back in 2004 with "Should This Marriage Be Saved?"
When you say the US "must clean up the mess that it made," you are saying that the US must remain in Iraq in order to, yes, "clean up the mess." Buy a damn clue. Your stupidity hurts. I can't be nice to you, I can't pretty it up for you or say, "Nice effort." Your stupidity hurts.
Clean up? We've used the "white carpet" example repeatedly in this community. From February 16, 2006:
On the radio earlier tonight (on Pacifica), it was noted that the Iraqi government, in wake of the most recent Abu Ghraib pictures, was asking that all prisoners in US custody be turned over to the Iraqi government. But some well intentioned ones (or "well intentioned" ones) still think our government can "fix" things. As though if we just give Karen Hughes enough time to work out her spin-charms, Iraqis will forget all about the raids, the arrests, the bombings, the tag-sale on their industries and public goods . . . Elaine long ago compared this attitude to a jerk who spilled red wine on her white rug. If you missed that story, it was years ago. Elaine had her first "adult" apartment that she could furnish as she wanted and she thought the most adult thing in the world would be a white rug (white couch, white was the theme of that living room). As soon as she had the entire apartment decorated to her taste, she threw a party. As I remember the jerk, he was drunk off his rear. He was loud and annoying and staggering. At any rate, he spills not a drop of red wine but the entire glass on her carpet. The color drained from Elaine's face. I'll never forget that. I made no attempt to go over because I knew how much Elaine loved that rug (although I think it may have been carpet, check with her). The jerk insisted upon helping and was only spreading the stain (possibly because he was drunk but maybe just because he didn't know what he was doing). Elaine kept telling him to get out of her way and let her clean up the mess. (That's when I went over.) But apparently, the well intent set can't grasp that when you destroy something, people aren't waiting for you to fix it -- they just want you to go. They want you to leave.
Elaine told the story the next day at her site. And she's told it many times before in community newsletters as well as at Rebecca's site in 2005 when she guest blogged for Rebecca:
It's the same attitude that says, "We have to stay now because we have to fix our mess." Because, apparently, the Iraqis are children who can't do anything without wonderful us. We are causing more strife and more tension, enflaming the region. We can't fix the problem we've caused because we haven't changed a damn thing about ourselves. We went over there with the attitude that we had a right to do so. Now we think we have a right to "fix" the problems. The only people we see with rights over in Iraq are Americans. We render the Iraqis invisible (when not portrayed as terrorists). Simple children who need us to fix it.
Have you ever thrown a party? If so, you'll probably be able to relate to this story. After a year in practice, I decided I was going to have my dream home and that, foolishly, included white carpet in the living room. One glass of spilled red wine and that was it for the carpet. But when the person spilled it, I didn't want their help in "cleaning it up." I wanted them to step away and let me try to fix my own carpet. It couldn't be cleaned up so I had to replace it.
So here's my point, we've ruined their white carpet and while they're doing a slow burn over that, we're saying, "Hey, we can fix it." They just want us out already.
If that's too difficult for someone to grasp, I'd suggest they read "
Should This Marriage Be Saved?"

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Girl can't help it






You really have to wonder why Edward Schumacher-Matos pretends he's an ombudsperson. NPR's latest comatose selection missed it when Steve Inskeep repeatedly and rudely cut off US House Rep Emanuel Cleaver. And he'll no doubt miss what happened today though NPR should be reviewing the Cleaver interview and the one this morning with US House Rep Barney Frank and wondering if Steve Inskeep needs to take an extended break from public broadcasting?
First, here's a thought, if you host a public affairs or news program (Morning Edition bills itself as news), you need to be up on the news. Last week it was reported that the US government and the Iraqi government were officially in negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond this year. It had been reported for weeks prior that this was the goal. And yet somehow Steve Inskeep never heard of it as was obvious when he asked US House Rep Barney Frank how cuts could be made in the spending.
US House Rep Barney Frank: And that's telling the rest of the world that they can no longer count on America to be their military budget, their policemen. I would begin by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of $125 billion a year.
Steve Inskeep: You mean withdrawing more quickly and more dramatically than is already happening.
US House Rep Barney Frank: Well, withdrawing from Iraq, definitely the president is unfortunately talking about staying Iraq at a cost of billions of dollars a year, beyond the end of this year, which would put him there longer than George Bush. And I'm hoping he could be persuaded not to do that. But in Afghanistan, while there is a withdrawal - there is a drawdown going on, there is no firm withdrawal date, and they're talking about staying there for several more years.
Repeating, Steve Inskeep should have known that. Now maybe he counts on NPR for news? If so NPR NEVER reported on this. NEVER. Yes, it was mentioned in passing in hourly headlines, but NPR never reported on it. How do you do that? How do you claim to be a news organization and, yes, put down each month that you're spending X (it's a large amount, I'm being kind) for Iraq coverage when you're not providing Iraq coverage? That's one to screw over the donors. And the end result is that people end up as stupid as Steve Inskeep, publicly humiliating himself in a conversation with a Congress member because Steve is so far behind the news. That alone should have NPR (and its ombudsperson) wondering. But let's note another section of the exchange.
Steve Inskeep: Congressman, if I can, we've just got a few seconds. You have mentioned defense spending. You've mentioned tax increases. Those are two areas of disagreement. The biggest part of the federal budget is entitlements.
US House Rep Barney Frank: No, wrong. I'm sorry. The defense budget is bigger than Medicare, and Social Security is, in fact, self-financing, still is.
Steve Inskeep: Let's stipulate for this conversation: a very, very, very, very, very big part of the budget is entitlements. Democrats are seen as resisting cuts. Is your side - in a couple of seconds - going to appoint people to the special committee who are ready to make a deal?
US House Rep Barney Frank: I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement - which is where Social Security will be soon - that he has to work four or five more years. But I disagree with you that in terms of draining on the budget, Social Security is largely as self-financed --
Steve Inskeep: Okay.
US House Rep Barney Frank: -- and the military budget is larger than Medicare. So demonizing entitlements and saying that - in fact, here's the deal --
Steve Inskeep: Congressman, I really have to cut you off there. But I do --
US House Rep Barney Frank: Well, I wish you wouldn't ask these complicated questions with five seconds to go.
Would NPR explain why Steve is allowed to editorialize? He did the same thing with Cleaver the week before. He wasn't as rude to Barney Frank (proving that, indeed, Inskeep thought he could get away with disrespecting Emanuel Cleaver because Cleaver was Black) but he wasn't doing an interview, he was editorializing. This is why Bob Somerby is dead wrong when he thinks journalists should be calling out this politician or that one. They aren't qualified to and few are even honest and impartial enough that you'd allow them to make that call.
Barney Frank is correct about Social Security and Steve Inskeep is dead wrong. Barney Frank is the Ranking Member (highest Democrat) on the House Financial Service Committee. And Steve Inskeep -- the king of all dabblers -- wants to 'school' Barney on Social Security and federal spending?
Because Steve's former career as a sportscaster taught him the ins and outs of federal budgets, spendings and programs?
As Barney Frank noted, Steve Inskeep was demonizing the safety net programs. Social Security is its own program with its own fund. If that's news to Steve Inskeep, NPR needs to immediately fire him because he repeatedly chooses to raise that issue without ever having even a semi-functional understanding. Then there's the issue of military spending. Click on the second graph to Teresa Tritch's "How the Deficit Got This Big" (New York Times, July 23, 2011). Still on the Times, Harvard professor and economist Linda J. Bilmes' "True Accountability" notes in the very first sentence, "One out of five dollars spent by the federal government goes to the military. Since 2001, the size of the annual military budget has grown by nearly $1 trillion, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." In a column for the Boston Globe ("Costly inheritance," April 27, 2011), Linda J. Bilmes notes that while tax cuts were being made, "At the same time, military spending -- not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has increased by a trillion dollars -- reaching the highest level since World War II." Bilmes and her colleague Joseph Stiglitz were just cited in a Council on Foreign Relations article by James Wright, "After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the costs of these wars ballooned. In 2010, the United States spent $167 billion on 'overseas contingency operations' in these theaters -- a figure that includes expenditures by the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development but excludes spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated in 2008 that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually cost $3 trillion, and they now acknowledge that the number may be even greater. Much of the expense for these wars have been financed by debt or represents future oglibations."
The issue was addresed yesterday on PRI's The World: -- let's hope Steve Inskeep caught a later broadcast. Excerpt:
Lisa Mullins: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion and that's not counting another trillion dollars in obligations to veterans during the next 40 years. These figures come from a new research project by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University. Boston University professor Neta Crawford was the co-author of the study. It's not surprising, she says, that the price tags of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is higher than what's been reported.
Neta Crawford: In nearly every conflict it's common for public officials as well as the media and the general public to underestimate both the duration and the budgetary costs of war.
Lisa Mullins: So what was the most surprising figure or set of figures for you?
Neta Crawford: Most surprising for me were the costs over the long run of caring for veterans' medical and disability. Now the US has already spent on veterans who've come through the pipeline to go into the VA system, over $30 billion dollars. Now if you take that into the future to the veterans who leave the service now, and into the future, the cost will be between $600 billion and a trillion more in their medical and disability expenses over the next 30 - 40 years.
Lisa Mullins: How do you get that figure?
Neta Crawford: Well Linda Bilmes, an economist at Harvard, did the research on that. And she found two interesting things. One is that the soldiers are using medical benefits sooner than in other conflicts and they are using more of them. So this greater draw on resources sooner is going to drive up the costs on veterans care.
Lisa Mullins: The way this was put together, I mean the numbers you have right now for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, those wars, the price tag is $3.6 trillion. The value of that is what? What does that tell us?
Neta Crawford: Well it tells us a couple of things. FIrst, that we've underestimated and not counted important costs of these wars.
Lisa Mullins: What are we told the cost is? How different is this from what we're told by the government?
Neta Crawford: Well the Congressional Research Service has done an analysis of the cost of the war in terms of Pentagon spending. and they tell us it's about 1.2 trillion for the last ten years in post-9-11 war making.
How is this news to Steve Inskeep? He hosts an alleged news program. He's neither aware of negotiations to keep US troops in Iraq nor of the huge costs of war and military spending? Why is he arguing with the guest? Is he really that stupid or is he attempting to practice something other than reporting?
And, again, how can he not know about the ongoing negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq. Dale McFeatters (Boston Herald) observed Monday, "Iraq's debate over whether U.S. troops should stay in rising to the level of farce. Of course we're going to stay. We almost always do. President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have authorized the government, meaning themselves, to negotiate the terms of keeping U.S. troops there past the year-end deadline for their departure." Joe Randazzao (Burlington Free Press) argues, "No matter how the American debt crisis is ultimately resolved, the end result will be a winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite simply, we can no longer afford them." While the war costs are destroying the nation, it's equally true that sanity rarely parades at the top. In other words, what's so obvious looking at the fall of the USSR was pretty obvious in real time as well. But no one at the top halted the military operations and the country fell apart as a result. That may or may not happen in the US. But I'm trying to make clear that just because the US can't afford them doesn't mean the government will end them. The refusal to be practical is why empires fail. (And all empires fail.) Pat and Chuck Wemstrom (Journal-Standard) also call for withdrawal, "Just bring the troops home. We are not fighting any of these wars because our country is threatened. The Afghan troops we meet in the field were children during 9/11 and rightly believe that they are defending their country from outside invaders. It must be terrible to live in a country where just in the last 150 years the people have had to fight British, the Russians and now the Americans." And in the latest development in the story of non-withdrawal, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Najm al-Din Kareem, governor of Kirkuk, declared at a press conference today "there is a necessity for an extension of some of the U.S. forces, not only in Kirkuk, but in Iraq as a whole, as allies and helpers."

Meanwhile Al Mada reports that the State of Law's Ihsan al-Awadi is stating that the US military is attempting to create a crisis to sell their continued presence on Iraqi soil. What crisis? By saying they can repel Iranians on the border. (Iran is shelling northern Iraq and possibly entering into northern Iraq as they target Kurdish rebels.) In addition, the Ministry of the Interior has stated that weapons are coming across the border Iraq shares with Iran -- echoing claims by the US military and possibly echoing claims for the US military. Alsumaria TV adds, "Iraq Interior Minister former deputy Adnan Al Assadi told Alsumarianews that smuggling arms from Iran thru Missan Province is ongoing in large quantities in an official and unofficial way and it includes rockets and mortars. He also stressed that arms smugglers are being overlooked."

Negotiations with the US government to extend the US military presence in Iraq takes a back seat in the Iraqi press to Nouri's latest scandal. On Saturday, he sacked the Minister of Electricity (which may or may not require the approval of Parliament -- no approval has been granted thus far). His office has stated that false contracts were signed. But, as the story has continued, it's emerged that Nouri's signature may be on some of the contracts as well. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Wasit province police stops a young man from burning himself protesting against the bogus electricity contracts that the Iraqi government is involved in." Dar Addustour reports Sabah al-Saadi, who serves on Parliament's Integrity Commission, states that the dummy contracts had the signatures of Nouri al-Maliki and his deputy Hussein al-Shahristani. The report also notes grumbles in Parliament about Nouri dismissing the Minister with an MP stressing that is the job of Parliament. Aswat al-Iraq also notes, "A Legislature of al-Iraqiya Coalition, led by Iyad Allawi, has charged Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Deputy for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristany and the sacked Electricity Minister, Raad Shallal, with having their signatures on the so-called 'illusionary' contracts made public recently." And noting real world consequences of the contracts, Ammar Karim (AFP) observes, "Mismanagement and bureaucratic deadlock in Iraq's electricity ministry have short-circuited a quick-fix plan for some 50 power plants to alleviate the country's severe power shortage, officials say."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Princess plans his re-election



Barack Obama’s aides and advisers are preparing to center the president’s re-election campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney’s character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely GOP nominee.

The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality. Obama remains personally popular, but pluralities in recent polling disapprove of his handling of his job and Americans fear the country is on the wrong track. His aides are increasingly resigned to running for re-election in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent.




Turning to Iraq, Saturday the editorial board of the Merced Sun-Star called for US troops to leave Iraq: "We've got more than enough of our own problems. We hope that New Year's Eve closes a bloody and barren chapter of our history. Starting a new year out of Iraq would be the best way of ensuring that the sacrifice of more than 4,000 military lives and tens of thousands of shattered military bodies and minds had been worth it. Only be leaving that sad country can we get on with the work of saving our own." But, of course, the US government is in negotations with the Iraqi government to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011. Al Rafidayn also notes that the consensus among the political blocs is that Nouri should be the chief negotiator with the US government on extending the presence of US troops in Iraq beyond 2011. Linda S. Heard (Gulf News) argues of the negotiations, "Either the [Iraqi] government has no real choice in the matter or it's a Vichy-style regime that is collaborating with Washington to promote America's geo-strategic interests above the wishes of the Iraqi people. Given that several members of the cabinet have close ties with Tehran, including Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki who lived there for eight years, I would imagine that Iraq's leadership has little say in the matter. Either way, the government is not fit for the prupose. If it isn't in a position to refuse the deal, it should admit its own impotency and quit fooling the Iraqi poeple that the country is free and democratic or that the occupation is about to end."
Today the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released [PDF format warning] "2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq." The report finds that at least 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence in 2010. There are many important findings in the report including the high rate of torture and how the over reliance on "confessions" in the Iraqi courts feeds into the rate of torture. But the most important section of the report follows:

Article 17 of the ICCPR mandates the right of privacy. This provision, specifically Article 17(1), protects private adult consensual sexual activity, including homosexual behaviour.
In 1994 the Human Rights Committee considered the case of Toonan v Australia. The committee concluded that the criminalisation of sexual acts between consenting adults was a breach of a right to privacy and that the right to be free from
discrimination on grounds of sex included sexual orientation. Since then, the committee has developed and consolidated its own jurisprudence. During the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in February 2010, Iraq expressly and officially rejected calls by UN member States to act to protect persons on account of their sexual preferences, and to investigate homophobic hate crimes and to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice.
UNAMI continued to receive reports during 2010 of attacks against individuals based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation. The topic of homosexuality is largely taboo in Iraq and seen as incompatible with the country's culture and religion.
Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community usually keep their sexual orientation secret and live in constant fear of discrimination, rejection by family members, social ostracism, and violence. The Iraqi Penal Code does not expressly prohibit homosexual relations between consenting adults. However, a variety of less specific, flexible provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code leave room for active discrimination and prosecution of LGBT persons and feeds societal intolerance. Police and courts regularly take into account the alleged homosexuality of the victim as a mitigating factor in relation to crimes committed against persons on account of their perceived or real sexual orientation.
Reports published by Ali Hilli, the pseudonym of the sole publicly known representative of the Londonbased Iraqi LGBT, state that on 16 June, 12 police officers burst into a "safe house" in Karbala' and violently beat up and blindfolded the six occupants before taking them away in three vans. The same report states that the police confiscated computer equipment found in the house before burning it down. The six people arrested reportedly included three men, one woman and two transgender people. Two days later, one of the men turned up in hospital with a throat wound claiming he had been tortured. UNAMI has not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of the other five individuals.
UNAMI continued to follow the cases of ten men who were persecuted in Baghdad because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. As previously reported, the men had suffered extreme forms of violence and abuse at the hands of members of the Mahdi Army, police officers, religious leaders and local criminal gangs, which had forced them to flee to a neighbouring country in May 2009 from where they hoped to seek protection in third countries. While one of these cases was subsequently resettled through UNHCR, some of these men subsequently returned to Iraq because they claimed they lacked funds and adequate means of support. One of them contacted UNAMI stating that he was homeless and alleging that he was being subjected to further acts of violence. He reported that he could not return to his family who had threatened to kill him because of his sexual orientation.

Why is that important? For a number of reasons including the reason that it was time for a new special envoy to Iraq. 'Addressing' the issue in private is not addressing it. Helping Muhammed in private and telling everyone to be silent may assist Muhammed (largely in leaving Iraq) but does nothing to improve or truly address the situation in Iraq for other LGBT-ers (or those suspected of being LGBT). As the assaults on the LGBT community became one of the biggest issues in Iraq, not only was the UN repeatedly practicing a position of silence but, in their silence, encouraged the continued discrimination. The UN's recent decision to treat LGBT rights as they do other human rights is part of a continued examination within the UN of this issue. The report, as is, would not have been published with the special envoy remaining. Specifically, the section we quoted would not have made it into the report. As noted in Friday's snapshot, Martin Kobler will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's new special envoy to Iraq.
The report has many important sections and we'll pull from it in every snapshot this week. Today we'll focus on the section on Iraqi women. The report notes that women have seen continued attacks on their rights: "Respect for women's rights deteriorated in some ways in 2010. While quotas ensured women were elected to the CoR in the general election in March, only one woman was appointed to a cabinet post by the end of 2010 following a prolonged period of government formation. [. . .] Sections of the Iraq Criminal Penal Code, which encourage honour crimes, remain in place, and there is still no law dealing with domestic violence." The report notes that Iraq is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (click here to read the UN contract) whose Article 3 and Article 26 cover the equal rights of women. In addition, the government signed onto the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In addition, Article 14 and Article 16 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees equal rights while "Article 37 prohibits forced labour, slavery trafficking in women or children and enforced prostitution."
A record number of women ran in the 2010 elections for the 80 seats designated for women despite facing "a lack of support from the public at large, public discouragement or even thrats from male relatives, patronizing behavior from male politicians, and internal ideological divisions within the main political groupings on the appropriate role of women in the political, social, and economic life of the country." Women are not represented on many committee in Parliament "such as the Defence and Security Committee, Tribal Committee, and the National Reconciliation Committee." The report notes, "The disappearance of women almost entirely from the cabinet represents a significant shrinkage of space in terms of women's visibility in the political sphere."
The report doesn't note it, but visibility goes two ways. As we noted during the Bush administration and during the Barack administration, the US could greatly help Iraqi women by appointing a woman ambassador to the country. James Jeffrey is the fifth US Ambassador to Iraq (since the start of the Iraq War). How many have been women? Zero. Don't think that doesn't send a message. The US government has hired five people to fill that post and never once hired a woman for it? That's appalling. Chris Hill's tenure made clear that competency on the job was not a requirement but apparently having that "Y" chromosome is.
The report notes that so-called "honour killings" remain a crime. The report does not word it that way when introducing the topic but several pages later (page 33) it suddendly does. These are not honor killings. To accept and use that language is to re-enforce the behavior. These murders take place "regularly" in the KRG. In addition, the report notes that female genital mutilation continues in the KRG with it being most common (in 2010) in Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Anecdotal data "and other information" suggest domestic abuse is a problem throughout the country. The Iraqi government opened two domestic abuse centers in Baghdad, one in February 2010, the other in July 2010. In addition, some Iraqi women are seeking shelter in prison, the report maintains. There are four women's shelters in the KRG.
The report notes that paragraph 41 of the Iraqi Penal Code needs to be repealed. This section (me, not the report which is too weakly worded here) legalizes domestic abuse. There's no way around it, that's what it does. When you say the a "legal right" is "punishment of a wife by her husband," that is legalizing domestic abuse and it can't be prettied up and it shouldn't be. That this was written in while Iraq was occupied demonstrates not only the thug exiles disdain for women but also the US government's.
The report moves to the KRG where it notes 36 seats in the 111 KRG Parliament are reserved for women. Despite this, the KRG only has one female minister (head of a ministry in the Cabinet). 2010 saw more women in the KRG willing to come forward to report abuse:
In the first six months of 2010 alone, the DFVAW registered 2,040 complaints, including domestic violence, killings, burnings and other forms of abuse, compared with 1,446 cases during the second half of 2009. The cases reported between January and June 2010 include 59 murders and suicides, 239 cases of burning and 641 incidents of physical and psychological abuse including 63 cases of sexual abuse. Some of these cases, particularly burnings, were reported as household "accidents" or as self-immolation attempts by women. Others are reported to have been perpetrated by relatives of the women victims. The remaining 1,038 cases involved other complaints by women alleging abuse or harassment by relatives as well as non-family members.
Women are twice as likely to be attacked by a family member as by a non-family members. Victims are more liekly to be married (80% were) and to be between 18 and 30-years-old. The report notes that a 22-year-old woman in Qaladza who is a wife and mother ended up in the "hospital with severe burns" and her 'crime' was asking her husband why he was looking for a second wife "without informing her."
Let's move to the issue of trafficking. In the KRG, this appears to "be a growing problem." Foreign women and Iraqi women are being trafficked with foreign women more often then forced into the role (don't call it a 'job,' this is human trafficking) of "domestic helper" and Iraqi women more likely into prostitution. Now for throughout Iraq. The report notes that men have also been the "victims of trafficking, too." And that foreigners and Iraqis are both subjected to tafficking, resulting in them becoming household servants and sex-workers.
Again, we'll note the report in each of the snapshots this week. Turning to violence reported today, Reuters notes a Haswa home bombing injured four members of a police officer's family, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 child and left an Iraqi soldier injured and, last night, two Baghdad bombings left eight people injured. Home bombings are becoming a new favorite weapon. Yesterday Reuters noted an Iskandariya home bombing claimed the lives of 5 people from one family and left nine more injured and Yang Lina (Xinhua) reports a Baghdad home bombing killed a Sahwa leader and his son while leaving two other female family members injured.

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"More meaningless words from princess"