Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Iraqi refugees, the conceit of the Obama campaign

"UPROOTED AND UNSTABLE" (Refugees International):

Five years into the US military intervention in Iraq, the country is dealing with one of the largest humanitarian and displacement crises in the world. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2.7 million Iraqs are internally displaced, 1.5 million of them after the Samarra bombings of February 2006. The needs of the displaced are not adequately addressed by the Government of Iraq or the international community. This vacuum is quickly being filled by militias and other armed groups, who engage in hearts and minds campaigns and provde assistance as a means of building support for their political and military goals.

In addressing security concerns in Iraq, the US is failing to take into consideration the needs of the civilian population and the consequences of leaving these needs unmet. As for the Iraqi government, it resemebles the rest of the country. Fragmented and torn apart by sectarian rivalries and corruption, it is unable and unwilling to use its important resources to respond appropriately to the humanitarian crisis. The security situation is far from stable, and the likelihood of further displacement is high. In this environment, returns of displaced Iraqis should not be encouraged, and measures must be taken to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to deal with all possible contingencies.

I selected that portion (all posting tonight -- except for humor posts -- are highlighting the report) because I think about the crisis and Sunny and I talk about it at the office but it really seems not to exist to large portions of the country. I think about when C.I. stood alone in November (I believe starting November 5th) in calling out the nonsense that external Iraqi refugees were willingly returning in large numbers.

Where was Panhandle Media? Where was The Nation? Where was Amy Goodman? Where was Matthew Rothschild? Where was Alexander Cockburn?

Now, no question, in this community, we all let C.I. do the heavy lifting. That's not fair but we know C.I. and tend to think, "Oh, I don't have time. C.I. will grab it." C.I. usually does. But what about professional journalists? Amy Goodman, for example, wants so much damn credit for being 'right' about the illegal war. That's 2003, Amy. It's now 2008. What have you been right about recently?

Throughout November, repeatedly, C.I. was sounding the alarm. At one point, reading, I could hear the tremble in C.I.'s voice. C.I. was writing about how these outlets ignoring reality (either by staying silent or by repeating the spin) were going to have blood on their hands. This was around Thanksgiving, when they spin had been repeated over and over. C.I. (rightly) pointed out that as it repeated and repeated, it was going to reach Iraqis who had left the country and convince them that it really was safe in Iraq because that's what everyone was saying.

Today, in the snapshot, C.I. mentions Damien Cave and Cara Buckley. I'm sure there were a few more, just by the wording. But I know C.I. really thinks Cave and Buckley -- who got out in front of it at the end of November when no one else would -- did journalism and then some by getting the word out. This was about life and death. If the spin wasn't challenged, it was going to be accepted (and it was accepted, as C.I. pointed out, in the US by the polling). That would turn this hype and spin into a siren's call to death for many Iraqi refugees.

Now C.I. donates to the United Nations (as do I) and it's a considerable sum and more than enough for C.I. to work the phones as a result. What C.I. was hearing, off the record, was, "We keep saying this isn't true and no one will report it." C.I. was hearing that from friends with the Red Cross and with the IMO.

Where was independent media? Why weren't they calling this out? I got a lot of kind e-mails on yesterday's post (thank you) but what I did was nothing. Calling out the lies, what C.I. dubbed, "The Myth of the Great Return" was something to be proud of. I'm very proud of C.I. for doing that. For doing that from the start of November when the myth started.

But, as proud as I am, I still have to ask what good is Panhandle Media if they can't call out today's spin? Don't give me the crap that you did five years ago and expect me to applaud. I know C.I.'s smart (brilliant, actually), but even if you couldn't see the obvious at the start of November ("you" is the media), you should have seen by the end of November. Cave and Buckley did and they did the job that reporters are supposed to do.

I'm very upset that, even now, C.I. does not get the credit for calling out the nonsense in real time. But I'm also aware that Buckley and Cave don't get their credit either. I guess when you completely ignored the story, you don't want to rush to applaud the two in the mainstream who didn't.

Iraqi refugees are being rendered invisible. When they are in the press, as C.I. has noted at The Common Ills over and over, it is the 'translators' or the ones who helped US troops in some other manner. That's all we can relate to? I don't think it is. I do think it's all we're encouraged to relate to. The Iraqi refugee crisis is the largest in the world and it's not treated as such.

My remarks are confined to the media because I think human beings have a sense of compassion. I just think the media has had no interest (overall) in telling this story.

"HUBdate: Opportunity for All Americans" (Howard Wolfson, HillaryClinton.com):
Opportunity for All Americans: Today, Hillary discusses her own approach to the presidency that will expand opportunity for all Americans at the Newspaper Association of America’s Annual Conference in Washington, DC.
New Ad in the Keystone State: Hillary supporters speak out against Sen. Obama's small town America comments in a new TV ad that will air in Pennsylvania...From supporters: "I'm not clinging to my faith out of frustration and bitterness...I find that my faith is very uplifting...The good people of Pennsylvania deserve a lot better than what Barack Obama said...Hillary does understand the citizens of Pennsylvania better." Watch Here.
"A Can't-Miss Event for Clinton Supporters" in Bristol, PA: Yesterday in Bristol, PA "[t]he gymnasium was filled with red, white and blue signs that read 'Hillary Rocks,' 'Letter Carriers for Hillary' and 'Hillary for President.'...'The economy is the worse I've ever seen it,' the Bristol resident said. 'Oil prices are bad. She's the one who can do something about that. I've always been a Clinton supporter. They haven't let me down.'"
Read more.
PA Endorsement Watch: Hillary received the endorsement of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, earning her the endorsement of mayors from Pennsylvania's "three largest cities": "I support her candidacy and ask Democratic voters in Allentown to do the same."
Read More.
MT Endorsement Watch: "Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy says he is endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton…[Kennedy said:] 'In Montana, going to church or going hunting is part of our heritage, not something we 'cling to' out of bitterness or frustration...Sen. Obama showed a real disconnect with rural Montana. It might work to look down on us from San Francisco, but it won't sell when he comes back to Montana.'"
Read more.
Save The Date: Hillary will appear on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" on Thursday. The program will be broadcasted from Philadelphia and will air at 11:30pm ET.
Read More.
In Case You Missed It: West Virginians aren't happy with Sen. Obama's characterizations about the people who live in America's small towns.
Read More.

My thoughts on the above? Hillary Clinton is the only choice for the Democratic Party nomination. If she doesn't get the nomination, Obama's damaged the potential pool of voters so badly that he has little chance of winning in a general election. [Sidebar, if I didn't already note this, please read Ava and C.I.'s "Stop the madness!" cry the Goodmans, "You first," reply Ava and C.I.]

Obama and his campaign always had a built-in conceit, "I'm so much smarter than you." You can see it in operation currently as Obama refuses to apologize for his offensive remarks. Instead, he 'explains' them. You saw that with Michelle Obama's offensive remark as well. You also see it with those in the tank for him in Panhandle Media. The key message is "Well, what he meant was . . ." When you are that dependent on explaining and re-explaining your point (the current Bitter-Gate is only the latest example), you have a real problem connecting with voters. He is a very weak candidate. He has not withstood the media, he has not withstood a skeptical electorate. (Running against Alan Keyes -- who just announced he's left the GOP, by the way, because it's not right-wing enough -- does not count as a real election.) He's never had to explain himself to the nation.

In fact, he's been treated like an infant from day one. "Oh look, Baby's first words!" He's used it and he's benfitted from it. But it won't win a national election.

Hillary has withstood attacks, she's done that for at least 15 years. National attacks for 15 years. She connects with people. The working class knows what she's saying when she speaks. No one has to rush out, not Bill or any other surrogate, to repeatedly say, "What Hillary meant was . . ."

So what's going on is that the idle not-so-rich decided this was their year and not the Democratic base's. They decided they would take out Hillary at any cost. They gunned for her in 2006 and really thought she'd be out of the race by now. They launched the idiotic attacks on John Edwards, claiming that he was costing Barack voters. That's not going to work with Hillary because she's in the race for the Democratic Party. Not for the little namby pambies like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. She's in the race for the base. It's not a vanity campaign. Hillary's career does not show vanity campaigns. Vanity campaigns would have sent her running to seculsion years ago. She's not a recluse. She's a fighter. She's still in the race -- where she is tied and would be winning if Florida and Michigan were recognized -- because she's fighting for the party.

The vanity campaign is Barack Obama's. He's not in it for anyone except BO. He's a greedy and ungrateful man. He is as pathetic as Patricia J. Williams who thinks he deserves to be president because he was president of the Harvard Law Review. As Ava and C.I. have noted, a college credit? That's not really much for a man over forty, is it? It's not an impressive credit to most Americans. Not for a middle-aged man. Everything has been handed to Barack and now he expects the presidency will be handled to him as well. He's a spoiled, greedy child.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, April 15, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the House Veterans Affairs Committee discusses legislation, Refugee International releases a study on Iraq, and more.

Starting with war resistance.
Richard Marcus (BlogCritics) reviews the new DVD Deserter which offers a a 30 minute look at "a deserting soldier and his young wife as they flee across the country to seek refugee status over the Canadian border. As they move from safe house to safe house, we get to know Ryan and Jen -- two shy, small-town kids from the Central Valley who joined the military because there were no jobs, and find they must make a heroic stand in order to escape an illegal and immoral war. 'Deserter' is a political movie with one of the few happy endings that this war has given us." Ryan and Jen are Ryan and Jen Johnson and they entered Canada in June 2005. Marcus writes, "All the way across America there operates a new Underground Railway, but now instead of helping runaway slaves they are helping young Americans escape from having to serve in what they consider an unjust war. Ryan and Jen are passed from having to serve in what they consider an unjust war. Ryan and Jen are passed from safe house to safe house until just before the border they phone the contact they have for Toronto. They've already been coached on how to get through the border corssing, but that doesn't stop them from being nervous; there is the risk that they could check Ryan for outstanding warrants and find out that he is a deserter."

Meanwhile war resisters in Canada wait to find out whether they will be granted safe harbor. The Canadian Parliament will debate a measure this month on that issue. You can make your voice heard. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (
http://us.f366.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (http://us.f366.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (http://us.f366.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb,
Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Logan Laituri, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum. Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).

Last month
Iraq Veterans Against the War's Winter Soldier took place and KPFA has a live program coming up April 22nd:Live On Air and Online at kpfa.org!
April 22 from 10am-1pm Join us on April 22nd for this very important follow up to Pacifica's groundbreaking
Winter Soldier live coverage. We will be following the San Francisco trial involving wounded vets and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In this first class action lawsuit U.S. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder sue the VA, alleging a system wide breakdown in the way the Government treats those soldiers.During this special broadcast we will be bringing our listeners live updates from the San Francisco federal courthouse, we'll speak with wounded Veterans attorney Gordon Erspamer, (taking this case pro bono because his father was permanently disabled in World War II and never received proper health care) and speak with Veterans advocates including Veterans for Common Sense, and Vets for America.Read more about the broadcast here.

That announcement will appear in the snapshots until the broadcast. If you missed Winter Soldier you can stream online at
Iraq Veterans Against the War, at War Comes Home, at KPFK, at the Pacifica Radio homepage and at KPFA, here for Friday, here for Saturday, here for Sunday. Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz were the anchors for Pacifica's live coverage.

Moving to the US Congress. Today the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held hearings on proposed legislation. Committee chair Michael Michaud noted, "The six bills before us cover a wide range of topics that are germane to veterans' healthcare. Issues addressed in today's bills include Spina Bifida, epilepsy research centers, substance use disorder treament and prevention, expansion of dental care, timely access to care, and a bill of rights."

The first panel offered testimony from members of Congress.
Committee chair Michaud offered testmony on substance use noting, "Our legislation will require the VA to provide the full continuum of care for substance use disorder, and it will require this full spectrum of care to be available at every VA medical center. Our legislation will also direct the VA to conduct a pilot program for internet-based substance use disorder treatment for veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. This will enable our newest generation of veterans to overcome the stigma associated with seeking treatment and receive the necessary care in a comfortable and secure setting." US House Rep Christopher Carney focused on the issue of the dental care and, in his opening statement, provided reasons why this area should not be dismissed including: "The cost of this bill is a cost of war; it is an investment in our way of life and our future. As every member of this subcommittee knows, to ensure a ready fighting force tomorrow we need to take care of our veterans today. I would also like to point out that conditions such as missing teeth and cavities can be barriers in seeking employment and I believe every effort must be made to ensure that there is a smooth transition for our military members who are entering the civilian work force. We must also ensure that disabled veterans from wars past are also given every tool to keep a meaningful job and this includes dental care." US House Rep Ginny Brown-Waite was concerned with the issue of wait time and noted "if a veteran can't see a physician in 30 days she or he should be allowed to see a private doctor." She later pointed that "healthcare delayed is healthcare denied." Rep Phil Hare noted that it's not a "how can we afford" issue with veterans healthcare, "If we make a promise to our veterans . . . we have to keep that promise or we have no business making it." US House Rep Shelley Berkley agreed with that, explaining "For me the cost of the war" includes the "cost of taking care of our veterans" and if that's considered incorrect "then you ought not send them over" to begin with.

Berkley also noted the issue of costs in terms of funding, "If we're going to continue to pile more responsibilities on the VA . . . we better provide the VA with the necessary amount of money that they're going to need to carry out our will and so far I haven't seen that happen. . . . We're playing catch up now. . . . Unless we have a national recognition" of this priority "then we better just forget the whole thing. And thank you for listening to my soapbox." Berkley also noted that the US spends $3,919 a second in Iraq "and if we're going to spend that kind of money" there, Congress ought to be able to fund veterans healthcare. She noted doctors in Nevada who contracted to perform veterans healthcare and "they have not been paid in over a year." If this continues, she noted, "You're not going to get any doctors" who'll be willing to go through this process and take on patients. On the issue of substance abuse, she thought (most will agree) that the idea of treating it via the internet was a bit off the mark and was informed that the internet aspect is just a pilot program. Considering the rural areas that will not benefit why the pilot program is even being started might need to be questioned. (That's me, not Berkley). She noted the son of two of her constituents who served in Iraq. After returning home, he developed a sustance abuse program and was addicted to "five medications". Going for treatment at the VA resulted in him being put on a sixth medication "and he o.d.ed in the facility and he died in the VA." She cautioned, "We better make sure the VA has the tools" and that when someone "checks into a VA, there should be an expectation there" that they those conducting the treatment know what they are doing.

US House Rep Bob Filner focused on the need for an Epilepsy Center for Excellence. US House Rep Ed Perlmutter noted that he has a daughter with epilepsy and the need for the VA "to provide the military veterans coming back that will develop seizures and that develop epilepsy . . . with the best service possible." He reminded the committee of the large number of head injuries in combat and that "some of them are goign to have seizures." (Also offering testimony were US House Reps Brad Ellsworth and Ed Perlmutter.) The second panel offered five witnesses. Disabled American Veterans' Joy J. Illem spoke on the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence (HR 2818) and noted, "The bill would establish a peer review panel, consisting of experts on epilepsy and complex multi-trauma associated with combat injuries, including post-traumatic epilepsy, to assess the scientific and clinical merit of proposals submitted by VA facilities for consideration to be designated as Epilepsy Centers of Excellence under this bill. The peer review panel would be required to report its assessment of such proposals to the Under Secretary for Health, presumably to strengthen the Secretary's decision to designate Centers on the basis of merit -- but the bill does not specify this peer review as a precursor to the Secretary's designations. The Subcommittee may wish to make that minor modification to the bill to ensure the best proposals are considered by the Secretary as determined by the peer review panel. " Ilem felt it should be paired with a TBI center. Veterans of Foreign Wars' Christopher Needham stated "we need an emphasis on this." Chair Michaud asked the five witnesses at the second panel to name the two things the legislature should focus on fixing currently. Ilem stated substance abuse was the issue. Needham stated the same and added "hand in hand is funding issues." American Legion's Joseph L. Wilson stated TBI and blind eye issues. While Vietnam Veterans of America's Bernie Edelman noted "a lot of these health issues are interwoven" and also spoke of the "stigma associated with seeking help". Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman spoke of the diseases today (throughout the second panel) and the impacts on the future. He noted the issue of children of veterans developing diseases and the concerns many veterans had over this issue. Agent Orange was a frequent topic (brought up by many) and an important issue to keep in mind is that Agent Orange (it's effects on future generations) could have been dealt with during Vietnam (it never should have been used to begin with). It wasn't. Veterans of Vietnam have had to fight and fight and fight some more year after year. In terms of the current illegal war, funding, research, etc. needs to take place now. After the Iraq War ends it will be very, very difficult to get the interest of the bulk of Congress or the bulk of the American people on this issue. Vietnam veterans can talk at length about their struggles for basic healthcare and how they're still fighting.

Last week, in the midst of The Petraeus and Crocker Variety Hour, the House Veterans Armed Service committee held a hearing on April 9th and
Trina wrote about it. Read her post, she did an excellent job covering it. Pressed for time, but veteran Michelle Saunders needs to be noted because she advocated very well in that hearing. She knew her facts, she was confident and presented very well. Boiling her points down to the briefiest, veterans can help veterans. She's pursuing that now and attempting an organization that will provide the training/preparation needed for post-military life. She noted that you get weeks of boot camp when you enlist, but when you discharge, it's bye. From her opening statement:

When I left the conference, I was so eager to get in the trenches and start figuring the best strategic approach on how to stop the bleeding, but little did I know it was like trying to put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. I soon started to see the blackness of bureaucracy from the inside as opposed to being the victim on the outside. I started to see how a "success" was measured by a number, how a problem would disappear when it was time to report to the higher chain of command, how the "collaborating" agencies would point fingers at each other of all the pitfalls and the hic-ups, but would leverage each other for the "successes". After reading that, one may ask or presume I am bitter. The answer is, I am not bitter, I am disappointed and I am embarrassed. I am disappointed because I stand next to people every day who are in the positions to make effective change, who make six plus figure salaries a year and are able to go home at night and provide for their families just to start over the next day. I am embarrassed because I can't financially afford to bite the hand that feeds me. For me, it's a little different, I go home at night and I am in pain because I know that my brothers and sisters who once stood by my side at arms and always covered me, are gasping for air because they're worried about where the next pocket of money is coming from, their VA appeal claims, their lack of credentials, because of what their families may think of their, once proud American soldier. These are the parts of the transition that holds the needed healing of the broken soul, how do you heal when you can't stop firing squad?We are still repeating history in a sense that during the 1970's and 1980s, our streets were crawling with Vietnam War veterans with the same issues. The only difference today is our veterans are not being ignored by society and the government is being held accountable. For the first time Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are being recognized as issues and they are abnormal conditions caused by combat trauma and combat stress. We live in a society that does not accept murder as something "normal". We live in a society that is spiritual and compassionate by nature regardless of religious beliefs. When these horrific acts are witnessed or are performed by an American soldier in a time of war, it breaks the spirit in a way that can't be defined. However, we are expected to act "normal" when we arrive back to our home soil. In addition our peers are forced to look at us different and weak because of the mentality of our senior military leadership, we are "STRONG" warriors that aren't supposed to feel, yet we must follow the rules of the Geneva Convention because our morals and beliefs as a nation dictate. Yes there are services in place for those who "need it" but there is a silent voice that is extremely loud that puts those who "need it" in a corner. Fortunately, the American population as a whole is finally pushing back because they understand what our eyes see across the water is not "normal" however; there is still an uncomfortable stigma that is associated with this. Society as a whole wants to help, but that help must happen away from their children and their neighborhoods. We are making a difference however, the flood gates have been opened and an enormous amount of water has fractured the backbone of our infrastructure. It is up to those who can speak for the ones who can not. WE MUST INFORM, EDUCATE AND PROMOTE AWARENESS. The blind eye approach is NOT working; it is MUCH bigger than us, so we must take a different approach.

Turning to Iraq.
Refugee International released a study, authored by Kristele Younes and Nir Rosen, entitled "Uprooted and Unstable: Meeting Urgent Humanitarian Needs in Iraq" [PDF format warning, click here]. In the opening, the report notes, "Five years after the US-led invasion, Iraq remains a deeply violent and divided society. Faced with one of the largest displacement and humanitarian crises in the world, Iraqi civilians are in urgent need of assistance. Particularly vulnerable are the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis who have fled their homes for safe locations inside Iraq. Unable to access their food rations and often unemployed, they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services."

On the issue of returning the report notes the fact that abandoned homes have been taken over and that when there has been a conflict with a family returning, the local militias have sometimes been the ones 'hearing' the dispute. Those who are 're-settled' face the realities of the rations program which does not serve many of the internal refugees (often due to paperwork or lack of it, often due to the the fact that the internal refugees are not in their original home neighborhoods). The report clearly warns: "All relevant actors should discourage returns until the violence subsides and people can receive adequate assistance and protection." That warning echoes the United Nations and Red Crescent's warnings.

On the issue of the militias, the report notes how they are actually weakening the govenrment and how this is with US cooperation (whether US agents/actors are aware of it or not). Control of electric plants is one way in which the militias can determine who gets power and who does not. Control of aid also strengthens the militias while weakening the central government. The report notes Refugees International workers seeing the Baghdad based offices of the Sadr Movement dispensing "clothing, milk, oil, rice, sugar, clothes and fuel for heating and cooking when supplies are available." The NGOs would be one means to counter the weakening of the government but the US and Iraqi governments are little concerned with and little aware of these organizations. A visit by Refugees International to Baghdad's region where Palestinians currently reside led to the discovery that "the community" of 15,000 residents "has not had an international visitor since 2005." The Haifa Club provides assistance to that area. Ethar Associates provides assistance to 5,000 families in Amriya (a section of Baghdad where internally displaced Sunnis have moved) as well as to 4,000 families in Taji and 1,500 in Rashdiye. "When Refugees International mentioned the groups to UN agencies and international NGOS," the study notes, "it became clear that nobody knew of them, despite the important role they play."

In terms of the 'central-government,' Refugees International "observed close cooperation between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi Police, Iraqi National Police and the Facility Protection Services that often protect ministries and are notorious for their lawlessness. Visiting Iraqi ministries and government offices in January and February of 2008, during the Shiite holy month of Muharam, there were overt symbols of Shiite tradition, such as flags and banners, hanging on buildings and walls, as well as television and radio stations playing Shiite religious prayers and songs. The lack of separation between the state and the Shiite denomination intimidates Sunnis and creates the impression of Shiite ownership of government institutions."

On the subject of militias, the report notes that the "Awakening" Council is abosrbing males who have relocated from other areas of Iraq. Leaving the report, Nouri al-Maliki (puppet of the occupation) has questioned the loyalty of the "Awakening" Councils (Sunni militias).
US Senator Barbara Boxer raised that issue last week during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when she pointed out that the US is paying the "Awakenings" $182 million a year, $18 million month, and that now the White House, via US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, "are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias and, by the way, I have an article here that says Maliki recently told a London paper that he was concerned about half of them". So the questions about their loyalties/ties to the central government in Baghdad is in question. But Refugees International's study raises another issue. Due to the fact that these are displaced Sunni males from other areas, their loyalties/ties are also not to the local government. The organization spoke with members in mutliple areas and "found that displaced men have joined armed groups. In some cases locals complain that the displaced are more aggressive and radical than local men who have joined the same groups." In Dora, they're informed by two members of "Awakening" Councils that they came on board for two reasons "money and the desire to take action against Shiites." So (leaving the report) the US government is arming and training these militias and not only are they not loyal to the central government in Baghdad (few Iraqis see al-Maliki as a legitimate leader) they aren't even loyal to their regions and one of the selling points from the Bully Boy and the US military brass is that these militias are "local" forms, "local" bonds. That argument tries to state that the "Awakening" Council is a strengthening force for the Iraqi government and that, being local, it strengthens the local government and that travels upward. But that's not at all what Refugees International found. The "local" militias aren't exclusively "local" and there are little tes to the local government or to the neighborhood. The report notes: "Like the Mahdi army, these Sunni militias also have political goals and are attempting to unite to become a larger movement that will be able to regain Sunni terriotry and effectively fight the Shiite militias and the Shiite dominated government, which they call and 'Iranian Occupation.' In some ways their attitude is, 'The Americans did not buy us, we bought them'." The central government in Baghdad is an installed government. As US Senator Joe Biden noted last Thursday in the Senate Foreign Relations Comittee hearing, the White House wants to negotiate a treaty (Status of Forces Agreement) with the central government but "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be place a year from now -- half the government has walked out." Refugees International's study notes that the Shi'ite versus Shi'ite struggles currently going on take place as Sunnis who feel disenfranchised plan what to do when the US does pull out.

In the meantime, the Iraqi refugees are being denied entry. That may make you think of the US government's refusal to accept Iraqis or of the borders being closed in countries bordering Iraq. However, Refugees International explains that of Iraq's eighteen provinces, eleven have shut their borders to Iraqi refugees from other provinces. As the report notes "eleven Governoates inside Iraq, as well as neighboring countries Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt no longer admit displaced Iraqis. In the event of an increase in violence, vulnerable Iraqi civilians will have nowhere left to go. One imperative for the international community is to consider such a scenario, and start planning for it."

The report demolishes the
Myth of the Great Return. Throughout November the lie was repeated in media outlet after outlet (credit to Damien Cave and Cara Buckley of the New York Times who were among the first American reporters to report the reality -- among the first and among the only). "Iraq is safer!" went the lie. "Iraqis are returning by the busloads!" The figures didn't grow naturally. You had CBS News repeat a figure on the weekend that, by Monday afternoon, had more zeroes added to it. It was a publicity campaign by the puppet government and the White House. It was wrong and it was deadly. Before we get to the report on that, we need to all grasp how wrong that myth was. Iraqis seeking shelter outside of Iraq were being lied to, told it was safer and that they should come back. The Iraqi refugee crisis is already a crisis of global proportion but lying to refugees outside the country to trick them into coming back to Iraq is inhumane and criminal. That point needs to be stressed because Refugees International's study includes this: "According to a UN official, the Bush administration is also putting enormous pressure on the UNHCR to conduct a viability survey and declare Iraq safe for returns." Point, The Myth of the Great Return could strike again. Panhandle Media sat it out in November (and December and January). Real media didn't include many stepping up to the plate (even after Buckley and Cave had reported realities). The report notes that "the Ministry of Migration's return strategy document from late 2007 clearly states that returns, should they occur, would demonstrate the success of the current US-Government of Iraq overall security strategy in Iraq. The return strategy also underlines the necessity for the Government of Iraq to engage in an active media campaign to counter warnings that the potential for returns will adversely impact a security situation already extremely fragile." The Myth of the Great Return existed solely as a p.r. move. After Syria was asked to close their border to Iraqi refugees, a few returned, those whose funds had run out. The report documents this.

Violence never left Iraq; however, today was an especially violent day.
Deborah Haynes (Times of London) notes "a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse and the offices of the provincial government in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, north of Baghdad, leaving at least 40 dead and another 80 wounded" and labels it "one of the deadlist moments in months". CBS and AP quote Abu Sarmad who was in the area to have lunch: "I heard a big explosion and hot wind threw me from my chair outside the restaurant." Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) quotes a Baquba morgue doctor who explains, "Some of the bodies that came to the hospital were, let's say, not bodies, but only a hand or a torso." Kim Gamel (AP) observes, "AP Television News footage showed many of the bodies covered in crisp white sheets and black plastic bags in the main hospital's courtyard while the emergency room inside was overwhelmed with the wounded." Robin Stringer and Camilla Hall (Bloomberg News) note, "The blast destroyed three buses and damaged shops nearby in the attack today, the U.S. military said by e-mail. Iraqi state television reported the explosion without providing futher details." Dean Yates (Reuters) estimates that, throughout Iraq today, over 75 lost the lives and notes, "A second car bomb, believed to be driven by a suicide attacker, exploded outside a popular restaurant in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province west of Baghdad, killing 13 people and wounding 14 others, a hospital source and police said." CNN estimates over 100 were injured in Iraq today. Kim Gamel (AP) quotes eye witness Ahmed al-Dulaimi who was having lunch at the time: "Suddenly a motorcyle parked near the restaurant and a man came running and then a huge explosion took place. Pieces of flesh flew into the air and the roof fell over us."

In other reported violence . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing that claimed 2 lives with two more injured, a Baghdad mortar attack that wounded two, a mortar attack on the Green Zone, a Baghdad car bombing that claimed 1 life and left eight wounded, a Nineveh roadside bombing that wounded four police officers.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Nineveh home invasion that claimed the lives of 3 women and 1 man, an attorney "and her sister" shot dead in Mosul, an assassination attempt on Ali al Fadhli ("representative of the Shiite Cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani") that claimed the life of 1 bodyguard and left another and al-Fadhli wounded, 1 "female student" shot dead in Mosul and an attack in Karbala in which 5 people were shot dead and six were kidnapped.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad.

Turning to US presidential politics. Ralph Nader is running for president as an independent candidate, Matt Gonzales is his running mater. With little national media attention, the Nader-Gonzalez ticket has been polling at approximately 6% in national polling.
Team Nader reports that they're up to 10% in Michigan and notes, "For Clinton, Obama and McCain, ten percent might seem like peanuts. But for Nader/Gonzalez, it shows we're on our way up. It has been our contention all along that the corrupt two-party system cannot stand. Perhaps we are now seeing the first cracks in the facade of the duopoly. We have joined with you in a rebuilding project. Rebuilding a people-powered democracy." Jim Fitzpatrick (WJBC) reports that Nader "delivered the keynote address for Illinois State University's Civic Engagement Celebration" on Monday. The link contains an audio snippet of Nader where he declares, "It's as if these candidates are running for Saturday Night Live instead of the office of the presidency of the United States of American. They can only be rescued by the people, they can only be rescued by themselves."

Cynthia McKinney is running for the Green Party presidential nomination and currently in the lead. The Green Party reports the delegate count is currently 52 for McKinney, 8 for Kent Mesplay, 8 for Howie Hawkins, 2 for Jesse Johsnon and, with 1 each, Kat Swift and Ralph Nader. Howie Hawkins 8 may or may not go towards Nader -- Hawkins was a stand-in/place-holder for Nader. Nader has since stated he is not pursuing the national Green Party's nomination. The party's most recent primary was March 28th and McKinney won 79% of the vote. Rhode Island, which we'll term a caucus here, went for McKinney as well at the start of this month. Among those who have endorsed McKinney is Mumia Abu Jamal who says she provides "not just the illusion, but the reality of 'change'."

Too many K, so we're boiling down the Democratic side. Senator Barack Obama today offered more excuses and no apology for his insult to Small Town Americans. Along with denying that he has to apologize, his campaign continues to insist he's not an elitist out of touch with the American people.
Delilah Boyd (A Scrivner's Lament) reminds all of the 'common touch' of Barack Obama who declared to Iowa voters -- in a 'reach out' -- "Anybody gones into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for argulag? I mean, they're charging a lot of money for this stuff." Arugula. Iowa has no Whole Foods. Meanwhile Fernando Suarez (CBS News) notes that Senator Hillary Clinton joked that her speech today was "off the record" -- the remarks that got Barack into trouble were given at an event in the Bay Area which the press wasn't invited to. Meanwhile Senator Hillary Clinton found more supporters:

Showing strength and momentum in the Keystone State, the Clinton campaign today announced 100 mayors who are endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. Following Senator Obama's remarks dismissing small town America, mayors joined supporters today in Harrisburg to declare their support for Hillary because of her readiness to lead on day one, her plans to jumpstart the economy, and her Pennsylvania roots and commitment to Pennsylvania values.
"I am proud to have such strong support from 100 of Pennsylvania's finest mayors," Senator Clinton said. "From small towns to big cities, these mayors work hard every day to improve the lives of the people they serve and they know they need a strong partner in Washington to help them bring affordable health care and revitalize their local economies."
The 100 mayors endorsing Hillary today will work in the final week of the campaign to get out Hillary's message of change for Pennsylvania and the country. Hillary understands the economic pressures of families who have lost jobs, face foreclosures, and can't afford health insurance or college tuition. She understands what it's like to roll up your sleeve and work hard. As president, Hillary will fight for the issues that matter to all Americans starting on day one in the White House.
Mayor John Antoline, Monaca, Beaver County
Mayor Michele Avvisato, Old Forge, Lackawanna County
Mayor Norman Ball, Tunkhannock, Wyoming County
Mayor Anthony Battalini, Aliquippa, Beaver County
Mayor Sam Benyi ,Clarksville, Greene County
Mayor Ronald Besong, Bell Acres, Allegheny County
Mayor Louis Biacchi, Berwick, Columbia County
Mayor James V. Bitonti, Belle Vernon, Fayette County
Mayor Richard Bowen, Taylor, Lackawanna County
Mayor Thomas Brown, Bentleyville, Washington County
Mayor John B.Callahan, Bethlehem, Northampton County
Mayor Willard Canfield, Hallsted, Susquehana County
Mayor Gennaro Cantalupo, Northern Cambria, Cambria County
Mayor Robert P. Carpenter, Laporte, Sullivan County
Mayor Peter M.Casini, South Connellsville, Fayette County
Mayor Joseph J.Cisco, Ellport, Lawrence County
Mayor Anthony Colaizzo, Canonsburg, Washington County
Mayor Esther Cotner, Washingtonville, Montour County
Mayor Carl Cott, Forksville, Sullivan County
Mayor Joan B. Derco, Youngwood, Westmoreland County
Mayor Christopher Doherty, Scranton, Lackawanna County
Mayor Bernard Dubaskas, Edwardsville, Luzerne County
Mayor Gary L. Durkin, Flemington, Clinton County
Mayor Greg Erosenko, Monroeville , Allegheny County
Mayor Emerson M. Fazekas, Versailles, Allegheny County
Mayor Philip Ferrizzi, Bally, Berks County
Mayor Ned C. Fink, Fountain Hill, Lehigh County
Mayor Richard T. Fluck, Hellertown, Northampton County
Mayor Jim France, East Lansdowne, Delaware County
Mayor Ralph Garzia, Brookhaven, Delaware County
Mayor Richard Gassman, Matamoras, Pike County
Mayor Gerald W. Gross, West Easton, Northampton County
Mayor Connie M. Guy, Mountville, Lancaster County
Mayor John Haberland, Coraopolis, Allegheny County
Mayor Loyce L. Harpster, Burnham, Mifflin County
Mayor David Haslett, Avalon, Allegheny County
Mayor Joseph Herbert, West Wyoming, Luzerne County
Mayor William Jenkins, Larksville, Luzerne County
Mayor Joseph Kazan, New Stanton, Westmoreland County
Mayor Joseph Keating, Pittston, Luzerne County
Mayor James F. Kinder, Mount Wolf Boro, York County
Mayor Donald L. Kinosz, Lower Burrell, Westmoreland County
Mayor Philip Krivacek, Duquesne, Allegheny County
Mayor Joseph Daniel Kudlac, Ellsworth, Washington County
Mayor Maxine J. Kuntz, East Prospect, York County
Mayor Michael M. Kutsek, Finleyville, Washington County
Mayor Leonard J. Larkin, Falls Creek, Jefferson County
Mayor Tom Leighton, Wilkes Barre, Luzerne County
Mayor Patrick Loughney, Dunmore, Lackawanna County
Mayor Thomas E. Loukota, Masontown, Fayette County
Mayor Robert J. Lucas, Sharon, Mercer County
Mayor Bernard M. Luketich, Cokeburg, Washington County
Mayor Edward Lyons, North Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County
Mayor Timothy Martin, Freeland, Luzerne County
Mayor Armand Martinelli, East Stroundsburg, Monroe County
Mayor George McCloskey, Norwood, Delaware County
Mayor Raymond McDonough, North Braddock, Allegheny County
Mayor Beverly Merkel, Jessup, Lackawanna County
Mayor John Milander, Jr., Coplay, Lehigh County
Mayor Christian P. Morrison, Tamaqua, Schuylkill County
Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Mayor Susan O'Connell, Crafton, Allegheny County
Mayor Raymond J. Osmolinski, Sr, Gallitzin, Cambria County
Mayor Salvatore J. Panto, Jr., Easton, Northampton County
Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Allentown, Lehigh County
Mayor Louis Payne, East Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Mayor Joyce Peccon, Carmichaels, Greene County
Mayor Connie Peck, Trappe, Montgomery County
Mayor David Perusso, Wilson, Northampton County
Mayor Delmar Phillips, Frackville, Schuylkill County
Mayor Dennis Pietrandrea, Koppel, Beaver County
Mayor Albert Pipik, Allenport, Washington County
Mayor Dominick Pomposelli, Wilmerding, Allegheny County
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Mayor Judy Reed, Connellsville, Fayette County
Mayor Stephen R. Reed, Harrisburg, Dauphin County
Mayor John D. W. Reiley, Pottsville, Schuylkill County
Mayor Herb Riede, McSherrystown, Adams County
Mayor Joseph Saxton, Bristol, Bucks County
Mayor John Segilia, Moosic, Lackawanna County
Mayor Timothy Shoemaker, Everson, Fayette County
Mayor Matt Sinberg, Yardley, Bucks County
Mayor Joseph E. Sinnott, Erie, Erie County
Mayor Thomas Smith, Blawnox, Allegheny County
Mayor Rick Smith, New Brighton, Beaver County
Mayor Larry Sprowls, Calysville, Washington County
Mayor Jeff Steffler, Wampum, Lawrence County
Mayor Margaret Stock, Butler, Butler County
Mayor F. John Szatkiewicz, Ohioville, Beaver County
Mayor Nicki Todaro, Newell, Fayette County
Mayor Tom Trigona, Johnstown, Cambria County
Mayor TonyWalck, Nesquehoning, Carbon County
Mayor William L. Welch, State College, Centre County
Mayor Leslie Whitehill, Salladasburg, Lycoming County
Mayor Barbara Wilhelm, Dawson, Fayette County
Mayor James E. Wolfe, Tarentum, Allegheny County
Mayor John Yacura, Elizabeth, Allegheny County
Mayor Dorothy Yazurlo, Laflin, Luzerne County
Mayor Jayne Young, Lansdowne, Delaware County
Mayor Stanley Zamerowski, Pringle, Luzerne County


aaron glantz