Saturday, August 07, 2010

In this economy?

"Job growth remains weak" (Ben White, Politico):

The tepid job creation figure comes as the White House economic team is in transition. Romer is leaving her post as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Budget director Peter Orszag recently departed.

High-level departures such as these are common around the two-year point of an administration but they nonetheless come as an economic recovery that gained strength early this year now appears close to stalling.

It also remains unclear what weapons the administration has left at its disposal to jump-start the recovery. The $862 billion stimulus that was supposed to put a floor under the economy, on the way to creating or saving 3.5 million jobs, will soon work its way out of the system.

There is little hope for further stimulus beyond the $26 billion state aid package set for final action in the House next week.

That's Barack, that's our president, that's our leader. Boy, did we make a huge, huge mistake as a country.

But don't fret, the sorry state of the economy has not resulted in Michelle Obama cutting back. She's still wallowing in gluttony, rolling in it her sty and proving herself to be the biggest little piggie in the entire White House.

Michelle could have taken a vacation that was low-key. Could have and should have. A 60-plus person journey to Spain? Uh, Michelle, you're not rich. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Barack is out of office. Will he earn large amounts of money? If they intend to continue to live high on the hog, he'll need to.

But the easiest answer would be for someone to explain to both Obamas how badly America is hurting and how it looks when the Obamas do outrageous things.

Then again, neither Barack or Michelle has ever been known as a very bright person (by people who actually know them).

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, August 6, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, 2 US service members died Monday but no one wanted to 'cramp' Barack's style by announcing it, and more.
Jaimee Lynn Fletcher (Orange County Register) reports 300 soldiers with the California National Guard's 1-140th Aviation (Air Assault) Battalion deploy to Iraq this weekend. "Air Assault" -- doesn't sound like non-combat forces. And they're "also known as Task Force Long Knife." B-b-but, Monday, Barack Obama, President of the United States, stood up in front of cameras and creation in Atlanta, Georgia and insisted that no combat troops would be in Iraq after the end of this month. Are those California National Guard soldiers deploying for a few weeks and then flying back to the US?
And about that 'wowie' speech . . .
Elise Labott: Well he said that the US would maintain a longterm cariment -- commitment to Iraq in terms of the ever growing civilian presence on there but he spoke about bringing the war in Iraq to a responsible end and he's saying that the August 31st deadline for the military to bring their troops down to 50,000 is the closing of a chapter and that the US is going to be transitioning towards a more normal relationship with Iraqis as it does with many other countries. I mean, this is really for the US kind-of signaling the end of so-called occupation . But you -- What you have right now is a five-month deadlock on the government forming up, you have the drawdown of US troops and a lot of the, you know, instability in the country. You've seen a lot more violence. al Qaeda is doing a lot more recruiting to try and fill this void right now that the government isn't meeting because it's very much deadlocked. And the US is concerned that it's going to be leaving the country as there's more instability in the country. And you even saw Tariq Aziz, the Deputy to Saddam Hussein, say, "Don't leave Iraq right now! You're leaving them to the wolves!" So it kind of signals that the US is growing increasingly worried that the government won't be in place before all of these troops come out and America's clout diminishes further.
Susan Page: But you know in a way there was no news in President Obama's speech? He's simply reaffirming what he said before. So why -- why give the speech?
Jonathan S. Landay: Oh, I think there was -- I'm going to be really cynical about this. You're facing -- he's facing these Congressional elections coming up in Novmeber in which his party has got an uphill battle -- basically an uphill battle. And at the same time, he sent an additional at least 52,000 more American troops to a place called Afghanistan. The other thing that I feel when I look at this in a cyncical way is the fact that he's meeting requirements that were actually negotiated with Iraq by the Bush administration. And it seems the deadline for getting American troops -- combat troops out, the deadline for getting all American troops out, the fact is that he seemed to be trying to take credit. He used -- he used the expression all American combat [clears throat]. Excuse me. American combat troops will be out by the end of this month "as promised and on schedule." As if he's the guy who's fulfilling this promises when, indeed, these are required under an agreement that the Bush administration negotiated with the Iraqi government.
That's Susan Page filling in for Diane Rehm on today's The Diane Rehm Show (second hour) where she was joined by Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers), Elise Labott (CNN) and James Kitfield (National Journal). Cynical?
How could anyone be more cynical than the White House was. As Barack Obama was still boning up on his speech, the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War stood at 4413. However, last night Reuters reported 2 US soldiers killed on Monday -- and we only learn now. USF/MNF has nothing posted. When on Monday did they die?. Barack began speaking in Atlanta a little after 11:30 a.m. EST. That would have been 6:30 p.m. in Baghdad. Were they already dead by then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOYCE LUCEY: Absolutely, absolutely. His girlfriend said that, a year prior to this, he would never, never have thought about taking his life. I mean, that wasn't Jeffrey. That wasn't Jeffrey at all. And to listen to him when he came back and to sit on the deck -- and I remember sitting there going, "Who is this person? This isn't my son." I didn't understand what he was saying. It just seemed like it was my son's body, but the person was no longer my child. He was totally changed, and he was lost. He was in his own world, of everything going through his head, not really looking at me, just kind of staring out and reliving things, you know, saying things in fragments, so that you never really got the whole story. But you knew whatever he had gone through was horrific to him.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Hot Line is 1-800-273-TALK. Talk is something you can apparently do easier in foreign media. The Hindu minces no words when analyzing 'Barry ends the war':
Thirdly, Washington's talk of reduction covers only combat troops and conceals the fact that the U.S. will maintain a network of gigantic bases in Iraq. The one at Balad, about 100 km north of Baghdad, can house 20,000 personnel; it covers 40 sq km and has an internal bus service and the usual American facilities. Inside, U.S. law applies and staff need not even set foot outside. The Al Asad base, 160 km west of Baghdad, holds 17,000 troops; one of its runways is 4.26 km long. The base is to be connected to the national electricity grid. Other U.S. stations in Iraq include Camp Falcon-al-Sarq at Baghdad, and Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport, which can take 14,000 troops. The plan is apparently to maintain 70,000 troops and 200,000 contractors, or mercenaries by any other name, in Iraq.
The terms "enduring bases" and "permanent access" do more than evade the Congressional ban on permanent bases in foreign countries. The creation of such huge outposts in Iraq is entirely consistent with the Quadrennial Defense Review and the National Defense Strategy, both of which in effect put U.S. interests above the sovereignty or independence of other states.
In Iraq, a letter's been delivered. Not just any letter. Barbara Slavin (Foreign Policy) reports the letter is to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and is from Barack and it calls on al-Sistanit "to prevail upon Iraq's squabbling politicians to finally form a new government". The timeline on the letter? After Biden's visit at the start of last month -- "shortly after." Which would appear to indicate that nothing came of it. Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) offers, "The letter from Obama to Sistani should simply be seen as the US pulling out all the stops for an Iraqi government. However, should it fail in its objective, which is quite likely, then it could be yet another depressing sign of Washington's diminishing influence in the country." However, Press TV reports, "Sadr City's Friday Prayers Leader Seyyed Muhammad al-Musawi accused the US of trying to portray the Iraqi government and security forces as weak and incapable of providing security for the Iraqis in order to justify the country's occupation." March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 28 days.
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured, another left fifteen wounded (and may have claimed 2 lives -- according to a "police source"), a third one claimed the life of 1 police officer (five people injured), a fourth left six people injured and one late yesterday left two people wounded.
Yesterday the US State Dept released "Country Reports on Terrorism 2009." There are 12 paragraphs in the Iraq section:
Iraq remained a committed partner in counterterrorism efforts. As a result of the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, Iraqi security forces assumed primary responsibility for the security and stability of Iraq, with support from Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Together, U.S. and Iraqi security forces continued to make progress in combating al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated Sunni terrorist organizations, as well as Shiite militia elements engaged in terrorism. A significant reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, beginning in the last half of 2007, continued through 2009, with a steady downward trend in numbers of civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.
Still, terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued their attacks on Iraqi security forces, civilians, and government officials using IEDs, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and suicide bombers. Although a scattering of small scale attacks continued to hamper the country's progress toward broad-based security, terrorist elements focused their efforts on high-profile and deadly attacks in Baghdad, as demonstrated by attacks on August 19, October 25, and December 8. The three sets of attacks targeted Iraqi government buildings with simultaneous, multiple suicide and/or remote-detonated VBIEDs in Baghdad. While AQI claimed responsibility for the violence, some Iraqi government officials publicly blamed Syrian-based individuals with alleged ties to the former Baath Party.
U.S. forces conducted full spectrum operations with the Iraqi forces to defeat the evolving threats employed by AQI. Their efforts to defeat AQI cells, in addition to an increasingly violence-weary Iraqi public, forced AQI elements to consolidate in Ninewa and Diyala provinces. Despite being limited to smaller bases of operation within Iraq, AQI retained networks in and around Baghdad and in eastern Anbar. In Ninewa, U.S. and Iraqi security forces focused efforts against AQI and other Sunni extremists through operations targeting warranted individuals and judicial detentions of senior leaders, and targeted the terrorists' operational support systems. AQI, whose apparent goal in 2009 was to discredit the Iraqi government and erode its security and governance capabilities, targeted primarily the Iraqi security forces, government infrastructure, Sons of Iraq (SOI) groups, and tribal awakening movement members. Despite the improved security environment, AQI, fueled in part by former detainees, still possessed the capacity to launch high-profile attacks against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure.
In addition to reducing the strength of AQI and Sunni extremists, Iraq made progress in containing other terrorist groups with differing motives, such as Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandiyah (a Sunni nationalist insurgent group with links to the former Baath Party that advocates the removal of occupation forces from Iraq) and Kata'ib Hizballah (a Shia militant group with ideological ties to the militant wing of Hizballah).
The flow of foreign terrorists from North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries greatly diminished, although they continued to enter Iraq, predominantly through Syria. AQI and its Sunni extremist partners mainly used Iraqi nationals, including some females, as suicide bombers. Terrorist groups receiving weapons and training from Iran continued to endanger the security and stability of Iraq; however, incidents of such violence were lower than in previous years. Many of the groups receiving ideological and logistical support from Iran were based in Shia communities in central and southern Iraq.
Iraq, Turkey, and the United States continued their formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Iraqi leaders, including those from the Kurdistan Regional Government, continued to publicly state that the PKK was a terrorist organization and would not be allowed a safe haven in Iraq. The trilateral discussions and other efforts continued through the end of the year, with a ministerial in late December.
The Iraqi government increased its efforts to garner regional and international support against terrorism. The Expanded Neighbors Process continued to provide a forum for Iraq and its neighbors to address Iraq's political and security challenges in a regional context. In October, the Iraqi government sent representatives to Egypt to participate in the sixth Neighbors Process working group on border security, in which the group sought ways to enhance and integrate border security systems in preparation for Iraq's 2010 parliamentary elections. Iraq also became a more active voice at the UN in 2009.
The Iraqi government pressed senior Iranian leaders to end support for lethal aid to Iraqi militias, and the Iraqi army carried out operations against extremists trained and equipped by Iran in Basra, Baghdad, and other areas. Although attacks by militants have sharply decreased, concerns remain that Iranian-supported Shia groups may be stockpiling weapons to influence the elections or the subsequent government formation. Shia militant groups' ties to Iran remained a diplomatic and security challenge and a threat to Iraq's long-term stability. National unity efforts to involve Iraqi Shia groups with Iranian ties, such as Asaib ahl al Haq (League of Righteousness) in the political process, decreased Shia-linked violence.
The Iraqi government faced internal and external pressure to relocate the Mujahadeen-e Khalq (MEK) organization, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, from the group's current location in eastern Iraq. The Iraqi government committed to act with respect for human rights in any efforts to relocate the group, and UN and international observers monitored the situation.
The Iraqi government attributed security gains to Iraqi security force capability and proficiency, as well as to increasing popular support for Iraqi government actions against AQI and other extremist groups. SOI and other groups provided U.S. and Iraqi forces with valuable information that helped disrupt terrorist operations and exposed large weapons caches. The SOI began integration into Iraqi security forces in 2008, and many more transitioned to non-security ministries throughout 2009. Sunni tribal awakening movements continued alliances with U.S. forces against AQI and extremist groups. AQI targeting of Christian and other minority churches, schools, and institutions indicated that AQI pursued strategies that required the least resources and yielded the highest payoff in the media and minds of Iraq's citizens. Despite this, ethno-sectarian violence continued to decline.
On June 30, U.S. combat troops pulled out of cities, villages, and localities, in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, and after that conducted all kinetic operations in partnership with Iraqi security forces. The focus of U.S. operations moved from urban to rural areas where international support will remain critical for the Iraqi government to build its capacity to fight terrorist organizations. All U.S. military operations are conducted with the agreement of and in partnership with Iraqi authorities.
Iraq's intelligence services continued to improve in both competency and confidence but will require ongoing support and legislative authority before they will be able to adequately identify and respond to internal and external terrorist threats.
Meanwhile an Iraq War veteran remains imprisoned in Iraq. Danny Fitzsimons served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as Iraq. He returned to Iraq last fall as a British contractor, or mercenary, accused of being the shooter in a Sunday, August 9th Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. From yesterday's snapshot:

PA quotes Danny stating, "I'm making a direct plea to Mr Cameron asking him, telling him that it's a disgrace that I'm here. I served nine years for Queen and Country and I served another five years serving big British business in Iraq, you know. So, in a way that's five years serving the country as well. [. . .] I should be in hospital in Britian, in a mental hospital getting the treatment that I need. You know, I shouldn't be in a dungeon in Baghdad. Worst case scenario is guilty and death by hanging. I don't want to die. I don't want to end it here." Chris Jones, Peter Devine and Sunday Mirror reporters (Manchester Evening News) quotes Danny's step-mother Liz Fitzsimons stating, "Eric is on anti-depressants because of the terrible conditions Danny is behind held in, and it has all been a very, very stressful situation with no end in sight. Danny feels like he has been abandoned by the military. Some of the people who have been held in Iraqi prisons, and whom we have spokenw ith, have said they would rather face the death penalty than serve a life sentence in those conditions. Mentally, it must be a very, very tough for Danny because he is not being allowed outside, not getting adequate food and water and he is sharing a cell with 17 others who don't speak English, and we are very concerned. He is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder."

Amnesty International issued the following yesterday:

Responding to a new televised appeal to David Cameron made by Danny Fitzsimons, the British security contractor detained in Iraq and awaiting trial for murder, Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:
"It's obviously right that private military and security contractors are made fully responsible for any alleged wrongdoing when they're working in places like Iraq, but we're very concerned about this case.
"Iraq has an appalling record of unfair capital trials and there's a definite danger of Danny Fitzsimons being sentenced to death after a shoddy judicial process.
"David Cameron should certainly seek assurances from the Iraqi authorities that Mr Fitzsimons will receive a fair trial and that the death penalty will be ruled out from the beginning."
Iraq is one of the biggest users of the death penalty in the world. Last year Iraq executed at least 120 people, the third highest of any country in the world. Approximately 1,000 prisoners are currently on death row, many reportedly close to execution.
TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Joan Biskupic (USA Today), Gloria Borger (CNN) and Eamon Javers (CNBC) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "What's to Celebrate, Mr. President?" This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with a number of female panelist on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast (Fridays on most PBS stations -- but check local listings) features a discussion on WikiLeaks, the Gulf Disaster, prison reform and more. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Cost of Dying
Many Americans spend their last days in an intensive care unit, subjected to uncomfortable machines or surgeries to prolong their lives at enormous cost. Steve Kroft reports. |
Watch Video

The Patriarch
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the 300 million-member Orthodox Christian Church, feels "crucified" living in Turkey under a government he says would like to see his nearly 2,000-year-old Patriarchate die out. Bob Simon reports. |
Watch Video

Chef Jose Andres
Pioneering Chef Jose Andres takes Anderson Cooper's taste buds on a savory tour of his culinary laboratory, featuring his avant-garde cooking technique, molecular gastronomy. |
Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, August 8, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A huge step forward

Thanks to a brave federal judge, marriage equality may be possible in California if not elsewhere. Someday. Which is no comfort and I don't mean it as sop. But for someone who was an adult before 2000, this decision was monumental, a huge, huge step that says the country might still have a shot at being all the things so many wish it were. Marriage equality alone will not make that happen -- even in all 50 states; however, that is a huge issue and the battle for it (which is still ongoing) attests to that.

If you click here, you can see the coverage of the story from The NewHour (PBS). You have the option of audio, video and transcript.

I really think this is one of those moments of history that comes along oh so rarely, a moment where you can feel the entire country take a step forward.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, August 4, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the costs of war are noticed, Barack's broken promises are as well, and more.

Today United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the issue of Iraq in a report the the United Nations Security Council. His [PDF format warning]
remarks included:

I am concerned with the overall human rights situation in the country, notably the high rate of indiscriminate and targeted attacks against the civilian population. Ongoing violence and targeted assassinations also continue to be reported against government officials, newly elected members of the Council of Representatives, media workers, minority and ethnic and religious groups. In May, approximately 100 Christian students travelling in buses to the University of Mosul were injured and a bystander was killed when two roadside bombs exploded as the buses passed. In April, approximately 50 civilians were killed as the result of bombings in Shi'a neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Between May and June, political figures were also the target of indiscriminate attacks: five family members, including three children, of an Awakening Council member were killed in Baghdad; a newly elected member of the Council of Representatives, Bashar Hamid al-Egaidi, was assassinated in Mosul; and a parliamentary candidate, Fares Jasim Al Jabour, was killed in his house in West Mosul on 5 June. Journalists and media workers continued to be targeted in attacks aimed at restricting freedom of expression and opinion. A 23-year-old freelance journalist, Sardasht Othman, was kidnapped outside the Salahaddin University in Erbil and was later found shot dead on 6 May near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in eastern Mosul. Mr. Othman was known for his writing critical of members of the Government. KRG is currently investigating the matter.
The UNAMI Human Rights Office continued to monitor government detention centres in Kirkuk, Basra and Erbil, in which poor conditions have been reported. In the detention cenre in Basra, the Human Rights Office reported that the physical conditions of the prison did not meet minimal international standards. In another incident of concern, on 12 May, seven detainees suffocated while in transit from Al-Taji detention centre to Al-Tasfirat pretrial detention facility in Baghdad. It was reportedly the result of Iraqi army personnel transporting 100 detainees in two windowless vheicles whose capacity was for only 15 persons.

Not quite the rah-rah Barack Obama spun earlier this week. He also spoke of the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and,
in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 28 days. The Secretary-General noted:

[. . .] I am concerned that continued delays in the government formation process are contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the country. Not only does this risk undermining confidence in the political process, but elements opposed to Iraq's democratic transition may try to exploit the situation. The number of recent security incidents throughout Iraq, mainly in the north of the country and in Baghdad, including attacks against newly elected members of parliament and religious pilgrims, are of particular concern.
In this context, I urge all political bloc leaders to work together through an inclusive and broadly participatory process to end the present impasse. After exercising their right to vote on & March, there are high expectations among the Iraqi people that their leaders will adhere to the Constitution and ensure an orderly and peaceful transition of power. I firmly believe that this will contribute to the country's stability and the prospects for national reconciliation. In accordance with their mandate, my Special Representative and his team in UNAMI stand ready to assist.

Salam Faraj (AFP) reports that Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya is supposed to be in a better position currently as a result of the split between the Iraqi National Alliance and State of Law over Nouri's insistance that he remain prime minister. Tariq Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) ponders the stalemate:

[. . .] what is the difference between Nouri al-Maliki and Saddam Hussein? Al-Maliki is saying that Allawi won the elections by only one vote, and that he does not consider this to be an election defeat, while Saddam used to say that the Iraqis had elected him with 100 percent of the vote; therefore what is the difference between them? The most important question that must be asked here is, in this case, why did the US forces even topple Saddam Hussein, if they are going to allow another Saddam -- Nouri al-Maliki -- to rise up and appear to us and the people of Iraq, but this time with democratic cover?

Still on the stalemate, dropping back to the
April 26th snapshot: "At The Huffington Post, former Booz Allen Hamilton employee, current Truman National Security Project fellow and Georgetown PhD candidate Peter Henne advocates for Ayad Allawi as the new prime minister:" Today at the Huffington Post, he again advocates for Allawi:

This latest phase in Iraq's struggle began with March's parliamentary elections. Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Prime Minister who was initially placed in power by the United States, won a slim majority over the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi won in part through support from secular-minded Iraqis, but also through the votes of many Sunnis -- who were wary of al-Maliki -- and divisions between al-Maliki and some of the religious parties who had been his partners. The vote was too close to call, however, and al-Maliki refused to relinquish power. The ensuing stalemate continues -- despite intervention by Vice President Biden -- resulting in sectarian tensions and
degraded government capabilities.
My arguments about the danger al-Maliki poses still hold true. Al-Maliki proved willing to stir up sectarian sentiment when it benefited him politically, then reframed himself as an Iraqi nationalist when facing opposition among some Shiites. His attempts after the election to hold on to power, which included threatening comments about his role as commander of the military and a move to disqualify some candidates in Allaawi's bloc due to reputed Baathist ties, demonstrate he is still likely to place personal advancement over Iraq's stability.
Yet, there is also much going for Allawi besides not being al-Maliki. Despite becoming Prime Minister while Iraq was under U.S. control, Allawi proved a responsible and effective leader, albeit one undone by his U.S. ties. Moreover, his Shiite identity and secular tendencies make him legitimate to a majority of Iraqis and less threatening to its Sunni and Kurdish minorities than the more Islamist al-Maliki. Finally, his Sunni-Shia coalition gives him cross-cutting appeal. This provides Sunnis a stake in the system and Allawi a disincentive to draw on sectarian tensions to increase his political standing, as this would alienate many of his supporters.

For those late to the party, you have not missed this site's endorsement. I'm not an Iraqi. Their leader is a decision for them to make. Nouri is a thug and he's always been a thug and we've called him out since he first showed up as the compromise candidate. Iraq would be a lot better off if Nouri were out of office for a number of reasons. But other than that, we're not making any calls because the issue goes to Iraq to decide. That should not be read as, everybody kick back and relax. The White House has done an awful job of helping to resolve this crisis. Iraq continues to receive money from the US and it continues to receive special status that other countries (Iran, for one) do not. It would be very easy to convey that if talks are not conducted and a leader not chosen quickly, certain favors and actions will be placed on hold. The US could have done that and should have done it. Long gone are the White House claims that Iraq would install a new government long before the August drawdown. Does the press even remember those claims? They don't appear to.

But instead of the White House doing the above, insisting that the groups come up with a leader, they've interfered. It's one thing to say, "We'll take this back, we'll place this on hold." That's fine. It's another to say, "You will choose this person." And, as
UPI again reminds today, the White House continues to insist that a deal must be worked out (okay so far) which allows Nouri and Allawi to share power.

No, no such deal MUST be worked out. In fact, such a deal isn't even genuinely possible in Iraq's Constitution. Part of the reason for the stalemate has been that instead of putting pressure for parties to come to a decision, the US government has felt the need to tell Iraqis, "This is what your decision will be." That's how colonialism worked (or 'worked') and how empire works (or 'works') but it's not how democracy works.

Since the White House appears to have forgotten the Iraqi Constitution (or maybe Barack never knew it -- Joe Biden used to know it), let's go over how it works. Parliamentary elections are held. Votes are counted and certified. The political slate or party receiving the most votes has first crack at forming a government. They need 163 seats in Parliament to become the ruling government. If they get that either due to the results of the Parliamentary elections or due to being able to assemble a power-sharing government with other slates and parties, then that's that. If not? First crack only. If, after the first attempt, others want to form their own, that's fine. It's a scramble and whomever can get to the magic number first (163) is the government. That's how it works. It's a winner take all system. There is nothing in the Constitution about "You be prime minister this year, then I'll be prime minister. We'll share the term."

By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into such an agreement, the US government is sending a number of messages and none of them are appropriate. The most irresponsible message is: If you don't like what the Constitution says, just ignore it. The March elections were only the second Parliamentary elections since the start of the Iraq War. If the Constitution is being tossed aside now, don't expect it to last through a third round or Parliamentary elections.

By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into a power-sharing arrangement, the US is also guaranteeing Nouri a seat at the table -- the government table, not the formation. And yet one of the biggest stumbling blocs has been Nouri. State Of Law was supposed to trounce everyone and come in far ahead of the others. That didn't happen and the fact that it didn't happen is a reflection of the will of the Iraqi people. The will of the bulk of Iraqi leaders is that Nouri needs to go. That's why the alliance between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance just collapsed. As Iraqi leaders work to convey the message of the people (as well as their own message) that Nouri's not welcome, the US government should not be demanding that Nouri get a spot in the new government.

And to be clear, my criticism above is of the White House and the 'leadership' provided by Barack Obama. Peter Henne can have any opinion he wants and is free to express it (and, having expressed it, he's open to any and all criticism -- that's life in the public square). I'm not slamming him for his opinion and I'm not endorsing his opinion.

Right or wrong, many feel that the political stalemate has resulted in increased rates of violence in Iraq.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing late last night left "two traffic police" injured and a Shirqat roadside bombing left one Iraqi soldier wounded.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer was shot dead in Baghdad early this morning while Sahwa member Mohammed Abu al Jeez was shot dead in Diyala Province.

Well over one million Iraqis have died since the start of the illegal war. Iraq is a nation of one million widows.
Some of the widows share their story with BBC News and we will note Adawyia Mutar Hussein:

I lost my husband while I was pregnant with our daughter, who is now six years old. She became fatherless even before she was born.
My husband was killed in 2004 in a family dispute and left me with two daughters to take care of, alone. I have tried to get my husband's entitlements but no-one seemed to help, neither the government nor my family.
My first source of income is from my neighbours and well-wishers who collect money for me every now and again. My second source is from working as a cleaner at party and wedding venues.
More than half of my income goes on rent for the house that I live in at the moment, which consists of one room. I currently live with my two daughters and my 35-year-old orphaned nephew who is completely disabled.
We want only one thing from the government, and that is a small piece of land to build the simplest house just to keep the family all together under one roof.

Barack didn't speak to or of the Iraqi widows in his 'big speech' at the start of the week.
Dale McFeatters (Scripps Howard News Service) observes, "Obama will be giving a series of speeches this month, drawing attention to the fact that his administration had met the Aug. 31 deadline 'as promised and on schedule.' But Operation Iraqi Freedom has left behind a familiar litany of problems -- armed Shiite and Sunni gangs, Kurdish separatists in the north, a meddling Iran on its borders, al-Qaida seeking to regain a foothold ,and dysfunctional power grids and oilfields." Abdel-Karim Abedl-Jabbar tells Anthony Shadid (New York Times), "Wherever the Americans go, the situation is going to stay the same as it was. If anything, it's going to deteriorate. The peace Obama's talking about is the peace of the Green Zone." But did Barack keep his promise? Gareth Porter (IPS via Asia Times) provides a walk-through:

That statement was in line with the pledge he had made onFebruary 27, 2009, when he said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."In the sentence preceding that pledge, however, he had said, "I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months." Obama said nothing in his speech on Monday about withdrawing "combat brigades" or "combat troops" from Iraq until the end of 2011.Even the concept of "ending the US combat mission" may be highly misleading, much like the concept of "withdrawing US combat brigades" was in 2009.Under the administration's definition of the concept, combat operations will continue after August 2010, but will be defined as the secondary role of US forces in Iraq. The primary role will be to "advise and assist" Iraqi forces.An official who spoke with Inter Press Service (IPS) on condition that his statements would be attributed to a "senior administration official" acknowledged that the 50,000 US troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline would have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn.

Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) also questions the claims put forward by Barack Obama on Monday:

Part of that "transition" to civilian control is the construction of a new U.S. army in Iraq managed by the State Department rather than the Defense Department. The U.S. military's Stars and Stripes magazine
announced on July 21: "Already, however, the State Department's requests to the Pentagon for Black Hawk helicopters; 50 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; fuel trucks; high-tech surveillance systems; and other military gear has encountered flak on Capitol Hill."
And Obama's announced withdrawal does not include the army of private security contractors employed by the United States in Iraq. National Public Radio
reported on August 3 that the "Pentagon estimates about 86,000 private contractors in Iraq and more than half of those contractors are American."

There's much in the exchange to note but the most telling moment may have been at the end. Melissa Block asked, "And, Tom, another deadline coming up at the end of next year, 2011, when every U.S. soldier is supposed to be out of Iraq. Is that a realistic timetable?" Once upon a time the only answer -- remember how we were lied to? -- was the SOFA means the US leaves!!!! Remember Jar-Jar Blinks and all the other liars -- many of whom have attacked this site for stating the obvious and providing a legal analysis of the SOFA from the start (one that is and was accurate)? Tom Bowman replied, "You know, many people I talk with say it's not realistic. That deadline is part of a deal signed two years ago by the U.S. and Iraq, and we may see that agreement renegotiated. That's because the Iraqis will still need these trainers, logistics help, maybe even security help at the end of 2011. So the sense is some number of soldiers will end up remaining, not to mention American contractors." The SOFA replaced the UN mandate. Another agreement will replace the SOFA, that's a given. Whether or not it allows for US forces in Iraq is the only question.

Along with all the deaths, the Iraq War has had other costs. "So thinking about the war in Iraq, America, you already bought it -- but do you have any of the price?" John Hockenberry asked that question today on
PRI's The Takeaway. He and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke to economist Linda Blimes.

John Hockenberry: You know, when we spoke quite awhile ago, your estimates [for the financial cost of war] were theoretical. We're much less theoretical now. Is there a running tally of what's actually gone out the door and -- versus what we're committed to?

Linda Blimes: Well I think that people are familiar with the fact that we've already spent close to a trillion dollars in real terms on combat operations in Iraq. But what is less well known is that there are still trillions of dollars of costs more that we have already incurred but not yet paid out. So drawing down the number of troops doesn't save nearly as much money as you would think.

John Hockenberry: And when you say what we're committed to, when you say trillions, is that two trillions or is that going to be six trilliion? You know, you used plural.

Linda Blimes: Well when you think about the costs that we still have ahead -- There are several costs which are going to add. We have estimated a minimum of two trillion dollars more ahead. And first of all we should just be clear that we're still going to have 50,000 troops or so in Iraq for the next year and a half.

John Hockenberry: Right.

Linda Blimes: And we also have troops, thousands of troops stationed in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and our Navy ships in the region who are not being withdrawn and who are supporting them. So it costs billions of dollars every month just to keep them there. But there are at least five big costs that are still ahead. First of all veterans disability claims.

John Hockenberry: Right.

Linda Blimes: And two million US troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and already about 450,000 of those who have returned have filed for disability compensation.

John Hockenberry: And that's a huge fraction.

Linda Blimes: I mean, that is huge fraction because --

John Hockenberry: It's 20%.

Linda Blimes: Well it's more than that because half of the troops are still deployed.

John Hockenberry: There you go.

Linda Blimes: So it's about 40%.

John Hockenberry: Wow.

Linda Blimes: And the vast majority of these claims will be approved and the government will be paying out benefits for many decades.

Lynn Sherr: And you're saying that figure is not counted in up front? That's a -- that's a lag figure?

Linda Blimes: That is a lag figure, that's a good way of putting it. That is not counted up front. Even though we know from previous wars that the peak year for paying out disability payment comes many, many decades later. But in this war we have fortunately a much higher survival rate, so that means we have a much higher rate of those who are wounded or for whom something happens to them during their period of service.

PRI's The Takeaway continues their week-long look at Iraq tomorrow with a focus on the Kurdistan region. Staying on the topic of Iraq War veterans, Bradley Manning. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Philip Shenon (Daily Beast) reported last month that the US government is attempting to track down WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. This month, the military charged Manning. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported last month that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. The Bradley Manning Support Network is organizing a rally for this Sunday (at noon) outside the Quantico Marine Corps Base when Bradley's being held. Military Families Speak out has issued the following press release:

August 3, 2010

Mike Ferner, Veterans For Peace, 419-729-7273
Deb Forter, Military Families Speak Out, 617-983-0710
Jose Vasquez, Iraq Veterans Against the War, 917-587-3334
As organizations, we represent veterans and military families. We have personally carried the burden of the war in Afghanistan, along with wars past. We are glad that the truth about the war is getting out to the public with the recent 92,000 documents on Wikileaks. Hopefully, this will inspire a massive outcry against this war that is wreaking so much destruction to our exhausted and demoralized troops and their families while draining our national coffers. Obama administration officials are trying to spin events in their favor. Their words must be carefully examined. On the one hand, in an effort to downplay the significance of the release, we are told the documents contain no new information. On the other hand, some high ranking members of the U.S. military are trying to: 1) intimidate anyone else from doing the same thing and 2) turn public opinion against whoever leaked the current documents. Towards those goals, we are told that grievous harm will surely come to many Afghans and U.S. military personnel -- if not now then certainly later. A more damning statement could hardly be imagined than this one from Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family." While we certainly do not wish to see one additional person put at risk in this tragic, wrongheaded war, we must state the following as clearly as we can. As veterans and families with members in the military, we consider statements like Admiral Mullen's to be nothing more than calculated attempts to turn public attention away from the real problem – the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan that has already caused the deaths and injuries of many thousands of innocent people all the while millions of Americans are jobless and face foreclosure or eviction. This suffering in Afghanistan and this bleeding at home will continue as long as our troops remain in that country. Congress must stop funding this war. We must bring our troops home now, take care of them properly when they return and pay to rebuild the damage we have caused to Afghanistan.
# # #
Veterans For Peace is a national organization in its 25th year, with military service members from WWII and every conflict and period since then. Military Families Speak Out is an organization of people opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have relatives or loved ones who are currently in the military or who have served in the military since the fall of 2002. Iraq Veterans Against the War is a national organization comprised of active duty, guard, and reserve troops and veterans who have served since 9/11. We call for immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations to the people of those countries, and full benefits for returning service members.

iraqthe asia timesgareth porternprall things consideredmelissa blocktom bowman
the takeawayjohn hockenberryceleste headlee
mcclatchy newspaperssahar issa

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Their silences

"The Ballad Of Penny Evans" (written by Steve Goodman, from the album The Original Steve Goodman):
Oh my name is Penny Evans and my age is twenty-one
A young widow in the war that's being fought in Viet Nam
And I have two infant daughters and I do the best I can
Now they say the war is over, but I think it's just begun.

The Iraq War is not over and it is appalling how many people want to pretend that it is. It's equally appalling how few will call that nonsense out or call out Barack's awful speech. We can count on C.I. but have you noticed how many we can't count on?

The Progressive? Where are they? Unable to weigh in, Matthew Rothschild? But maybe silence is better than whoring?

In These Times is silent. So many silences. So few speaking out.

So many stupid.

Joan Wile is probably the stupidest of all. She's got another bad poem posted all over the place online. Joan Wile, for those who've forgotten, did her part for Barack by writing 'plays' about Hillary and Bill in bed together. Yes, she is that tacky, yes, she is that trashy. "Reds in Bed" would offend her but she's more than willing to use the same tactics apparently.

In her latest paean to her own stupidity, she chants:

You helped us hope once more
Got us wired and inspired
We thought there'd be no more war
Fear and despair were retired
But, things didn't change as expected

Where did the promises go?
Bad policies stayed uncorrected
Your "Yes" slowly transformed to

"We thought there'd be no more war."

Silly Joan. So convinced she'd found another Leon, Joseph, et al to blindly follow. What a tired old idiot.

Barack always said he was for war -- just not "dumb wars," Joan.

Joan doesn't think there's a "smart" war (the one point she and I may be able to agree on) but she wasn't smart enough herself to see Barack for what he was.

I think it was C.I., in 2008, calling out Phyllis Bennis, who put it best when she compared those hopping on board with Barry to the mother in Sophie's Choice attempting to decide whether to kill the son or the daughter? Because that was what Barack said. He said he'd end the war in Iraq (we're still waiting, Barry) but he'd focus on the 'real' battle Afghanistan. So those voting for Barack had to decide which lives mattered more to them: Iraqis or Afghanis?

A lot of people whored in 2008. It's amazing they are comfortable being seen in public these days. They've got blood on their hands. In this community, we didn't whore.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, August 3, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, at least 26 Iraqis died today and at least 62 injured, Iraq gets coverage and gas baggery, one and only broadcast one network thinks to report from Iraq, the political stalemate continues, and more.

Yesterday US President Barack Obama served up some pretty lies on Iraq and the result was a 'surge' of media interest in Iraq. Today on
PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke with Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) about Iraq.

John Hockenberry: So Jane, let me begin with you. Is there any way of assessing the quality of life in Baghdad and what the trend line stands at this morning as, the president says yesterday, we're on schedule for the drawdown of US forces?

Jane Arraf: Well I think that's a great question but like so many of those simple, vital questions, a little difficult to answer because the standard is so different here. As you pointed out, it's not normal in New York City or Chicago or anywhere else to face roadside bombs, no electricity every day -- all the other things that people face here routinely. And this is a country where people are used to war, they're used to hardship. But by that measure, things are really still tough. They're not nearly as dangerous as they were three, four years ago at the height of the civil war. The economy is somewhat better but day to day you see people struggling. A lack of jobs, a lack of electricity, a spike in violence. It might not be a rise in terms of a long-term trend but it is certainly a spike and things are very, very fragile here still.

John Hockenberry: Jane Arraf didn't even mention the fact that since the elections earlier this year, there is still no official government in place in Iraq. Joost Hiltermann, what do we make of that? The surge was supposed to be a success. If there's no government and a spike in violence, it seems like something's come awry here.

Joost Hiltermann: No, it's a -- it's a serious problem. And for ordinary Iraqis who are suffering from the problems that Jane has listed, the absence of a government just makes things worse because there is no governance, there is no prospect that some of these issues will be addressed. And, moreover, the bickering politicians give Iraqis the image that there is no solution to their problems and that the politicians don't reallly care about their concerns. And they fear that if things continue this way, violence will recur because they-they think that, if no agreement can be reached, these various political faction leaders will resort to violence through their various militias and that civil war will return.

[. . .]

Lynn Sherr: Jane Arraf, what about ordinary people in Iran -- in Iraq, excuse me. Are they basically glad or sad that the troops will be leaving?

Jane Arraf: Well it's kind of a very complicated set of emotions, Lynn. You know a lot of people -- most people, I would say -- do not want to see foreign troops in their streets. They haven't seen them in the streets for awhile ever since they've withdrawn to the bases for the most part. There aren't a lot of visible combat operations anymore that include US forces. But there is but there still the perception that this is a country that is under occupation -- even though legally Iraq has full control of its sovereignty and its security, it's considered still an occupation.

PRI's The Takeaway intends to explore Iraq all week. Yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Chip Reid covered the speech and the actual breakdown of numbers and facts.

Chip Reid: When he came into office, there were 144,000 US troops in Iraq. Today there are 81,000 and, by the end of this month, there will be 50,000. Officially, they'll be designated as non-combat forces but that may be misleading because the troops will still be in harm's way and continue to support Iraqi combat forces. They also can engage in 'targeted counterrorism operations.' And while the US troop reduction is on schedule, Iraq's transition to a stable nation is not. The President today said violence is near the lowest level in years but the Iraq government disagrees. They say July was the most violent month in more than two years

World News with Diane Sawyer (ABC), Sawyer cited an ABC News - Washington Post poll. Diane Sawyer, "As their mission ends, most Americans -- 55% -- say the war was not worth fighting." 55% said no, 42% said yes. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams was the only network evening news to offer anyone in Iraq.

Brian Williams: Our NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is back in Iraq tonight, a place where he spent much of the last eight years. He's with us from Baghdad tonight for a closer look at the fragile state of things. Again, after seven or so years of war, Richard, I talked to you earlier today. You had the rare distinction of hearing the President speech from Baghdad. What is the state of life there these days?

Richard Engel: Many people here don't share the same kind of optimism that was expressed not only by the President but also by analysts across the United States today. Life in Baghdad right now is very difficult. This is not what you could consider a normal or stable city. Just coming in from the airport this morning and driving to our bureau -- it's about a twelve mile journey along a short stretch of road -- we had to pass through six different checkpoints, there is a curfew in place tonight as there is every single night. And that gives you an idea of how much stability there is here -- not very much at all. Also, Iraqis only have about three hours of power every single day. They had 24 hours of power here in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. While the United States might want to 'close the door' and 'turn off the lights' on this conflict, many Iraqis are not even able to turn the lights on in their own homes. Many couldn't even watch the speech today because they didn't have power.

Brian Williams: Richard Engel, our veteran of that conflict, back in Baghdad for us tonight. Richard, thank you for your reporting.

here and here for The NewsHour (PBS) coverage (audio, video and transcript). The first link is Gwen Ifill covering the speech and providing an overview of Iraq. The second link is a waste of time and really kind of tacky and cheesy in a reality-TV manner -- they pit two advisers (one to Barack, one to Bush) against each other. The NewsHour, you would expect to tell you about Iraqis, but instead they went with strong-winded American gas bags who really aren't experts on much of anything. At CNN (link is text and video), Rick Sanchez reviews some of the supposed key moments in the war that didn't turn out to be key moments. Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Michelle Norris spoke with Anthony Shadid (New York Times) about the situation on the ground in Iraq.Anthony Shadid: Well you know we're experiencing what's turned out to be a remarkably long stalemate that followed Iraqi elections in March. Iraqis went to the polls, the elections by most accounts were pretty successful. But what's followed has been basically a standoff between the winners of that election. It's nearly five months now and that stalemate seems to be nowhere near reaching an end. In fact, some predictions are saying they could last weeks, even months longer. What it leaves us with in Baghdad is basically political paralysis, a dysfunctional political system, an environment where you haven't had a law passed in months, you don't have a government and you have minisitries adrift and perhaps even security forces fraying around the edges with no leadership in the country.

On the speech, Dimiter Kenarov offers "
Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq" (Esquire):

1. The Iraqi Police hate the Iraqi Army. Sounds like a poorly-scripted domestic dispute -- wife clawing at husband, husband slapping wife. And it is. Everybody's heard of the conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a, but few are aware that the Ministry of the Interior hates the Ministry of Defense and, by proxy, the local cops hate the hometown troops. (Note to self: the U.S. State Department isn't exactly on the best terms with the Pentagon, either.) While I was in Iraq, nobody could quite explain to me the roots of the problem, but it all looked like the usual turf war, with two government rackets fighting for lucrative territory.Since Iraq is still in a state of emergency, the army is actively involved in the internal security of the country, stepping with their military boots on the bare toes of the cops. As one Iraqi police general, Abdul Kareem Hatim, complained to me, "Right now our biggest problem is the Iraqi army. We want the army out of internal security, out of the cities. When a bomb goes off, the police and the army start arguing who's responsible for the breach of security. We need the army out, so we can take full responsibility. All the security breaches happen because of lack of coordination." The main problem in Iraq today, if I had managed to follow his logic correctly, was not too little security but too much. I wonder if the road to peace in Iraq might not be getting rid of the security forces altogether.

Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) spoke with the Commission on Wartime Contracting's Grant Green about what happens if the US military leaves and Green explained that the US State Dept takes over the contractors who will "fly an aircraft, [be] driving armored vehicles, providing Medivac, dealing with explosive ordinance disposal" -- "contractors who are doing military or quasi-military functions."

The Iraq War has not ended. Nor have US forces even left Iraq. Something a great many seem unaware of.
4413 US service members will not be returning home and who knows how high the death toll will be when the US military finally leaves Iraq -- whenever that may be.

Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
-- "Till They All Get Home," written by
Melanie (Safka) and first appears on Melanie's Crazy Love.

Over a million Iraqis have died in the illegal and never-ending war. Deaths continued today.
Lu Hui (Xinhua) reports a wave of attacks today on police officers in Baghdad with 5 dead and fourteen injured and one group of assailants planting "the flag of al-Saida's self-styled Islamic State of Iraq on the site before they fled the scene". Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports "gunmen armed with pistols with silencers ambushed Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in western Baghdad, killing five, Iraqi police officials said" and observes it's the second time in a week that the group has planted a flag. Kelly McEvers (NPR's All Things Considered) reports some residents of Baghdad are stating that the attacks would not be taking place if Sahwa ("Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq") were still patrolling. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) notes that it's "the second deadly attack in a week on security checkpoints" while BBC falls back on another news agency, "An AFP correspondent in Kut said the streets were 'covered in blood'." Mu Zuequan (Xinhua) explains twin bombings in Kut have resulted in at least 20 deaths (fifty more injured). In other violence . . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded two people, two Baghdad roadside bombs resulted in the death of 1 "traffic police officer" and left three bystanders injured, a Baghdad bombing injured two police officers and two Iraqi soldiers who were part of a team attempting to defuse another roadside bomb, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured one person and a second Baghdad sticky bombing left two people wounded.

Iraqis have died in isolated violence and in waves of violence. Over one million Iraqis have died in this illegal war. In Barack's pretty lies speech yesterday, he failed to note that Iraqis died at the hands of the US military. He insanely hailed the assault on Falluja as something praise worthy. At World Can't Wait,
Chris Floyd observes:

Years ago, I wrote about
the use of chemical weapons in the American assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.
I was attacked at the time for my "wild accusations" by many people, across the political spectrum, even by stalwart dissidents, who felt that such "exaggerations" undermined the "effectiveness" of the anti-war movement, preventing it from being taken "seriously" by the "serious" players in the power structure.
Later, of course, American military officials -- and serving soldiers --
admitted using white phosphorus and other chemical weapons in the assault.
Over the years, small-scale medical studies have pointed to the horrific effects of these USA-WMD attacks. Now, a new comprehensive medical study has shown that the "dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia" in Fallujah since 2004 have "exceeded those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,"
The Independent reports.The Independent story follows up on an initial video report by top BBC journalist John Simpson last week -- a story that was almost universally ignored, not only in the fawning corporate press but also across the "dissident" blogosphere (except by a very few, such as Winter Patriot). Both stories make clear that the chief victims of the American WMD are, overwhelming, children:
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Paul Street (ZNet), writing the day before the speech, also notes Falluja:

Didn't Obama use his opposition to the highly unpopular Iraq War to advance his presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008? Yes, he did, but once he succeeded in exploiting the Iraq War to gain the nation's highest office, Obama became commander in chief of the world's greatest imperial killing machine. He and his handlers hardly want to do anything that might inhibit the American military's freedom of action as he conducts a "five-front terror war" (Glenn Greenwald) in Iraq (where Obama has defied his campaign promises by acting to sustain the U.S. occupation), Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It should also be remembered that U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Obama repeatedly voted to fund the Iraq occupation, campaigned for pro-war against anti-war Democrats in the 2006 congressional primaries, and never once criticized Cheney and George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq on moral or legal grounds. Candidate Obama's only problem with the Iraq occupation was that it did not make strategic sense for the interests of the supposedly benevolent and exceptionally humane and democratic American Empire. He saw the Iraq occupation like the elite Democratic "doves" of the late 1960s saw the Vietnam War -- as a tactical "mistake" carried out with the best, indeed an excess, of democratic intentions. In late 2006, speaking to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Obama even had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his claim that most U.S. citizens supported "victory" in Iraq: "The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah [emphasis added]." This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for colossal U.S. atrocity – American crimes included the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city – by the U.S. military in April and November of 2004. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dared to resist U.S. power. Not surprisingly, Fallujah became a powerful and instant symbol of American imperialism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It was a deeply provocative and insulting place for Obama to have chosen to highlight American sacrifice and "resolve" in the imperialist occupation of Iraq. For these and many other reasons detailed in the fourth chapter of my early 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), it is hardly surprising that Obama as president is going after an America Iraq war crime whistleblower, not American war crimes in Iraq.

Barack Obama insists his daughters should be off limits but then continues to go on yacking about them in public -- most recently, calling dinner with them a "prize." In his speech on Monday, he never once noted the many children killed in the Iraq War. Apparently, to him, they were no prize at all.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and,
in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 27 days. Sunday Ernesto Londono (Washingont Post) reported that the Iraqi National Alliance has broken off talks with Nouri's State Of Law -- apparently damaging Nouri's efforts to remain a strong-man/dictator in Iraq -- and MP Bahaa al-Aaraji is quoted stating, "We found that our negotiations with State of Law weren't serious." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that Ahmed Chalabi is stating Nouri will give up his desire to continue as prime minister or the Iraqi National Alliance will not have further talks with State Of Law. His spokesperson Entifadh Qanbar states, "It's becoming clear that it's going to be very difficult for him to remain as prime minister. His insistence to stay in power is the main reason for the delay." During all of this, Kelly McEvers (for NPR's Morning Edition) reported that Iran is using "a more soft-power approach" and attempting to influence politics while providing Iraq with a growth industry in tourism (predominantly to relegious sites). Michael E. O'Hanlon (Brookings) who, to his credit, notes that the Iraq War has not ended, then goes on to explain what the political stalemate means in his opinion:

But the plan to leave next year was negotiated by Iraq and the Bush administration, and is now codified in a formal bilateral understanding. It cannot just be discarded. It must be formally renegotiated and revised. And only a new Iraqi government will have the legitimacy to do that.
So we have to wait while the Iraqis find a way to end their political stalemate -- even if that means Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden may need to increase their role in coming months. The president is not done with the hard work needed on this project just yet.

Yesterday the Institute for Public Accuracy released "
Obama Speech and Iraq Realities:"
Today, Obama made remarks about Iraq to a veterans group convention in Georgia. The New York Times today published a piece titled "
A Benchmark of Progress, Electrical Grid Fails Iraqis." Obama made no mention of it, but today is the 20th anniversary of Iraq invading Kuwait and the beginning of the buildup to the early 1991 Gulf War. DENIS HALLIDAY Available for a limited number of interviews, Halliday is a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and headed the humanitarian effort in Iraq during the 1990s until resigning in protest over the economic sanctions on Iraq. JOY GORDON Gordon is author of the new book Invisible War: The U.S. and Iraq Sanctions. She said today: "Twenty years ago Iraq was subjected to the most severe economic sanctions in the history of global governance, followed by a war in which the U.S. and its allies systematically destroyed all of Iraq's infrastructure -- electrical generators, water treatment plants, roads, bridges. When the occupation began in 2003, also led by the U.S., there was massive corruption on the part of U.S. agencies, and virtually nothing was done to rebuild and to restore critical public services. For the last 20 years, the U.S. has continuously imposed destruction and hardship on Iraq. We must really consider that the U.S. presence is one of the significant sources of violence in Iraq, not a force for peace or stability." HADANI DITMARS Ditmars, author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone, has been reporting on Iraq since 1997 when she wrote a feature for the New York Times. As a co-editor at New Internationalist, she recently traveled to Iraq during the March elections to write and photograph the May issue, "Iraq, 7 Years Later, the Legacy of Invasion." According to Ditmars, "Almost a fifth of Iraq's population are refugees or internally displaced, and almost half live in abject poverty -- despite $53 billion in 'aid' spent since the 2003 invasion (funds that lined the pockets of foreign military contractors and corrupt officials but left 70 percent of Iraqis without potable water or predictable electricity)." BBC News recently reported: "A U.S. federal watchdog has criticized the U.S. military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the U.S. Department of Defense is unable to account properly for 96 percent of the money. Billions have gone to rebuild Iraq but much of the money is impossible to trace, says a U.S. audit. Out of just over $9 billion, $8.7 billion is unaccounted for, the inspector says." PHYLLIS BENNIS Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies; her books include the 2009 Ending the Iraq War: A Primer. She said today: "No question Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a violation of international law -- but it was hardly the first country in the region to invade and occupy a neighbor. Bush Senior's decision to use that violation as justification for a unilateral war, however masked in forced UN endorsements, was not about Iraqi human rights violations -- which the U.S. had long accepted and even helped by providing arms to use against Iran, money, and seed stock for biological weapons. Certainly it was about control of oil and preventing either of the two potential regional powers (Iraq and Iran) from challenging U.S. domination in the region. But the most important reason Amb. April Glaspie gave Saddam Hussein at least a 'yellow light' anticipating his invasion of Kuwait was to maintain Washington's position as a global super-power when its super-power rival, the Soviet Union, was collapsing. "There is no question that the aftermath of that war, including the devastation caused by years of U.S.-driven sanctions and the invasion and occupation that began in 2003, was one of the major causes of violence against Americans in the Middle East and beyond." For transcript of April Glaspie's meeting with Saddam Hussein on July 25, 1990, see Information Clearinghouse. For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020

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