Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Barack steps in it again

Hump day, hump day. Have you gotten Carly Simon's Never Been Gone yet? It's like having a little bit of the weekend in your iPod.

Well Barack's stepped into it. Again. This is from Jonathan Allen's piece at Politico:

One of the 20 finalists in health care video contest run by Barack Obama’s campaign arm features a mural of an America flag splattered with health care graffiti until it’s covered completely by black paint.

In the video – which is accompanied by the sound of a heart monitor pumping and then flat-lining – words such as “pre-existing conditions,” “homeless” and “death panel” ultimately obliterate the flag, which reappears on screen seconds later with the words “Health Will Bring Our Country Back to Life” on the blue field where the 50 stars usually are.

According to the Organizing for American Web site, the 20 finalists in the “Health Reform Video Challenge” were chosen by a panel of “qualified” Democratic National Committee “employee judges.”

Oh, Baracka. If you still had issues floating around about your patriotism (flag pin, pledge, etc.), it probably wouldn't be a good idea for your organization to pick a contestant whose video defaces the flag. Just saying . . .

Also be sure to read Jake Tapper on the White House's VIP treatment for big donors. And hats off to Jake Tapper whose spent the last two weeks acting like a member of a working press when so many don't. I'm referring to the White House attacking a news organization and the reporting on how women are being shut out of networking opportunities especially. He's done some real work.

Okay, this is "Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on the Need to Extend Unemployment Insurance:"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold sent the following statement urging his colleagues to swiftly pass an extension of unemployment insurance.

“We must quickly pass an unemployment insurance extension to provide desperately needed relief for Americans, including thousands of Wisconsinites, who are in danger of exhausting their unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance provides a crucial lifeline to families to help them afford housing, food, medical expenses and other essential needs as they work to get back on their feet. With Wisconsin’s unemployment rate over eight percent, now is the time for Congress to support this extension.”

On September 16, 2009 Feingold wrote the Senate Finance Committee urging the Committee to take steps to extend unemployment benefits soon. According to the National Employment Law Project, without action by Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits, approximately 24,000 Wisconsinites and 1.3 million Americans will exhaust their federal benefits by the end of the year. A copy of Feingold’s letter can be viewed here.

This should already have been taken care of and I have a feeling it won't be. If the Congress keeps putting this off, remember that Feingold did call for action.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, still no election law in Iraq, more on the Iraqi govenrment's desire to go nuclear, Najaf gets a new bank, the KRG gets a new cabinet, and more.

The US military announced yesterda: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – A Multi-National Corps-Iraq Soldier died today of a non-combat related injury at Camp Victory. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." DoD identifes the fallen as Maj David L. Audo from Saint Joseph, Illinois who was 35-years-old. The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4352.

"How stable is Iraq?" asked Riz Khan last night on his self-titled Al Jazeera program. "Stable enough for national elections in January?" He was joined by a panel consisting of Iraqi Laith Kubba, the New America Foundation's Steven Clemmons and one-time director of the US Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq J. Scott Carpenter.

Riz Khan: Let me ask a question that came from our Facebook page, and I'll put this to Steven Clemmons here, this came from Ninveh Albazi in California, Steven, here in the US. And Ninveh says, "The longer the US military stays, the more terrorists will come in Iraq to fight. If they leave, more bombings over power will occur. Either way the Iraqi people will suffer." How do you feel about that -- the presence of -- US presence actually being a trigger for these kind of attacks?

Steven Clemmons: Well I think that there are some people in society -- and we've seen it throughout the Middle East -- that react very viscerally and negatively to the sense that they're being occupied by foreign troops. In Afghanistan, it's one of the things that's driving Pashtun resistance beyond the question of, uh, the Taliban. And-and so, I think it would be wrong to-to-to argue that in fact the American troop presence doesn't drive some violent minorities. I think on the whole, Iraqi society has felt as if the United States has done more beneficial things recently and so those feelings are not as widespread. But-but certainly there are people like Robert Pape at the University of Chicago among others that have shown that foreign troop deployments do drive a kind of -- drive suicide bombings, drive some of the more radical responses from societies. So there is some truth to it. I don't think I would agree with the-the decibel level of the questioner's comments though.

Riz Khan: Well, Laith, this came in via Twitter to us, a viewer by the name of Mosharraf Zaidi who says, "Even with stability in Iraq, does Maliki have the sense to ensure a free and fair process? Is it even up to him?"

Laith Kubba: Well, I mean, the good news is there is sufficient, I think, awareness and organization in Iraq to have elections that are, generally speaking, fair and free. I think the last elections had a high turnout -- about 70%. Of course, there were cases of fraud. But by and large, I think it was representative. So that's on the good side. But I think on the negative side, even if you had representatives in Parliament, the system is in a grid-lock because it's a parliamentary system, not a presidential system. It does not produce an effective executive that takes the country and move forward. You have, ultimately, a quote over power and that paralyzes government.

Riz Khan: I'll get to the intracacise of that in a moment because there are some interesting intracacies to the elections in Iraq but, Scott, if I could put this to you from LiveStation chat room, people are online here, Crane in the USA says, "How can fair and transparant elections be ensured when there are repeated bombings?" And let me ask you, do you think the elections will go ahead in January with all the delays and potential problems?

J. Scott Carpenter: I do. I'm a perinally optimist about this, that at the last minute -- however late the last minute is, the Iraqis will find some way to have these elections because they see how important they are to the political future of Iraq, to American withdrawal -- frankly. I do think there will be elections that are credible in Iraq because people don't trust each other and so there will be lots of observation which is what drove the credibility and legitimacy of the provincial elections is that there were so many political party observers watching one another that when the results were broadcast, no one really questioned the legitimacy of the results.

Riz Khan: Steven Clemmons, do you think the west, there are those who think the west is really pushing for the elections as a way of closure to finally dust their hands and finally close the chapter on Iraq.

Steven Clemmons: I don't think it's just to dust their hands and put a punctuation point. I mean I think everyone would like to see that what we did there succeeded in something. But I think that we've seen Iraqi society already get near ripping itself in shreds internally and the reason why elections and civil institution building and these democratic processes which J. and Laith were speaking about are so important is it creates opportunites for cohesive and collaborative governance within Iraq. That if it doesn't proceed and move forward, the place has a high possibility of pulling itself apart. So I think it's much more than us saying we're done with this -- with this experiment although, clearly, I would like us to move on as well and see Iraqi society take responsibility for itself succeed. But on the other hand, I think that this is an important part of showing that the Iraqi government can have some durability and sustainability after we begin to much more greatly downsize our troop presence.

Riz Kahn: We have this came in, I'll put this to you, Laith, this comes in from Facebook as well and it's from Cambodia where a viewer by the name of Heidi Aljani in Pursat says, "We were warned of the United States' prolonged military presence when Obama spoke of Iraq. The new excuse: Iraqi people and their government are to blame for the inability to govern themselves." Now do you believe that the elections are definite and looking at this issue that Iraq has too much of an issue trying to govern itself. What's your view?

Laith Kubba: Well two things. Number one, I think elections will take place, that's not the issue. Yes, there is a problem currently in finding the right formula on how Iraq should govern itself. But I think by and large, it is the right thing to do is to leave Iraqis to work it out for themselves; however, that does not mean walking out. I think it's really too idealistic. I think that will create enough power vacuum and might lead to escalating violence where the US has to send back some troops and intervene again.

Staying with the issue of the elections, this morning Dow Jones reports that the KRG's represenative Qubad Talabani is stating that, following the January elections, the draft oil law may "finally pass." Sahar Issa and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) report that a bill may be presented "to parliament for a vote within days". Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani "demanded" today that Kirkuk become a part of the Kurdistan Region. Kirkuk is disputed territory due to Saddam Hussein forcing Kurds out of the region during his reign. Both the Baghdad-based government or 'government' and the KRG claim Kirkuk really belongs to them. This is not a new issue. It is so not a new issue that the 2005 Iraqi Constitution addressed the issue and mandated that a referendum be held on the matter. Article 140 has never been followed. The issue has not been resolved. It is repeatedly pushed aside. Sort of like the draft election law. Weeks ago was the deadline for passing the elections law and the deadline was missed. Appearing before the US House Armed Services Committee last week, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy insisted that time remained:

Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned.

It is now one week since Flournoy claimed Iraq had two weeks. There is no progress. The same day she was testifying to Congress, "
Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported, "The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and United Nations elections experts have said Iraq needs at least 90 days to adequately prepare for the vote. Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." The court ruling would appear to render obsolete Flournoy's claim that the law for the 2005 elections could still be used with just passage of legislation for a new date. In addition, 90 days? There are 3 days left in this month, 30 in November and 31 in December. That's 64.

90 days needed. 90 minus 64 (check my math always) is 26 days. That would be January 26th, if legislation passed Parliament today. If. And maybe. The Iraqi Freedom Congress' Amjad Ali weighs in with "
Amid violence, Iraq Freedom Congress calls for a sovereign, secular, transitional government" (Flesh & Stone):

Over nearly seven years the "political process" did not result in anything but ferocious fighting between the forces and the parties that were part of this process in order to gain as much privilege, influence, power and wealth as possible. This conflict resulted in prolongation of the political chaos, an insecurity in Iraq, exacerbated poverty and destitution, and curtailed social and health services.
The elections, one of the mechanisms of imposing the "political process," have never solved the issue of the power struggle because none of the elections held changed the sectarian and ethnic quotas. And that means the elections merely reproduced the same forces that are currently in power.
All of the elections have been characterized by farces such as fraud, political assassinations, and the delayed announcement of voting results until agreements among the influential forces had been reached. However, after every election, we witnessed an increase of violence and terrorist activities as part of political arm twisting among these forces.
National reconciliation was one of the themes to bring together the political movements that did not participate in power sharing with the forces that supported the war and occupation. The reconciliation was projected by the occupation administration to involve the pan-Arab nationalist forces who were excluded from the formation of a new Iraq to impose security and political stability. However, fears of the parties in power (political Islam, Shiite in particular, and Kurdish nationalists) has undermined national reconciliation.
In the midst of the current political situation, neither the occupation nor the successive governments have been able to establish a state in Iraq. The conflict among the parties and the forces has always been a key factor in that lack of progress. Moreover, the conflict over what would be the identity of the state -- whether an Islamist Shiite, a Islamist Sunni, Arab nationalist, or federal moderate Islamist --is another obstacle to the establishment of an Iraqi state.
The ongoing violence, which is another form of political conflict, will not end through a political process that was brought by the occupation. And the experience of nearly seven years of conflict between the political forces taught us that the violence would not be terminated. In fact, it would only reproduce more violence and terror. What is happening today, such as restructuring old alliances and forming new ones and the escalation of the conflicts within the one party, is an explanation of how deep the crisis is. As a result we could hear the prime minister and a number of political parties calling for an end to the rule of consensus or democracy through consensus.

Whenever the elections take place, they'll be the first national elections since 2005. In January 2009, provincial elections were held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. In July the Kurdistan Region's three provinces held their elections. Today KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih's cabinet was sworn in: "Dr Salih was appointed Prime Minister by the Kurdistani List coalition, which won the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections in July with 58 percent of the vote, and voter turnout of nearly 80 percent. Mr Azad Barwari, a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister." AFP reports the swearing in was "clouded by several MPs walking out after a refusal of separate votes for each minister." Vahal (Mideast Youth) offers this:

In a ceremony attended by the president of the region, Mr. Massoud Barzani, the outgoing PM, Mr. Nichervan Barzani as well as the Iraqi first lady, Mrs. Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, the sixth cabinet was sworn in at the Parliament.
The new cabinet will have only one woman, Asos Najib Abdullah who will be the minister of labor and social affairs.
Here is some poetic justice, the man who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death by hanging, judge Ra'ouf Rashid will now be the minister of Justice in Barham Salih's cabinet.

Sunday's bombings resulted in many deaths which means many burials. Saad Fakhrildeen (Los Angeles Times) reports, "The cars streamed into Najaf over the last two days as families buried loved ones killed in Sunday's double bombing in Baghdad. By Tuesday afternoon, what was thought to be the last of the dead were brought to the Valley of Peace cemetery, the most sacred burial ground for Iraq's Shiite majority. Undertaker Mehdi Assadi had listened to mourners' screams as at least 80 of the estimated 155 killed in Sunday's Baghdad bombings were buried in the Valley of Peace." Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports approximately 60 children are still missing following Sunday's Baghdad bombings with some believing they may be buried/trapped under the rubble and the Iraqi military rejecting the assertion with the following statement: "There is no truth in reports that there are bodies under the rubble of the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad. All the martyrs and injrued have been taken to hospitals." The military is awfully sure of themselves. Suprising when you consider Monday's report by Miguel Martinez on ABC's World News Tonight with Charlie Gibson where Martinez showed some of the destruction and noted, "This is the hole created by the explosion. It goes down about twenty-five feet. The blast was so powerful they burst a water main, flooding this section of Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who faces re-election in January has campaigned on his ability to make Iraq safer. His opponents say this bombings proves the military is infiltrated." If you saw the broadcast, you know no one could see to the bottom of the crater -- the very wide crater -- because it was filled with water. On Sunday's bombings, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy poses a number of questions at Inside Iraq, beginning with: "Is it completely correct to keep accusing only the neighboring countries all the time? If we assume they are involved, who implement their plans in Iraq?"

Yesterday's snapshot noted Martin Chulov (the Guardian) report on Iraq attempting to "become a nuclear player [. . .] The Iraqi government has approached the French nuclear industry about rebuilding at least one of the reactors that was bombed at the start of the first Gulf War. The government has also contacted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations to seek ways around resolutions that ban Iraq's re-entry into the nuclear field." Today he does an audio report at the Guardian on the issue.

Martin Chulov: I think Iraqi politicians are looking around and they're seeing that they're out of options as far as delivering services to their -- to their constituents. It's got no electricity capacity, or very little. It has very little water capacity. And not much for science and technology so they figure now that a new reactor may help them serve their energy needs and all sorts of other scientific and health needs that might lead them forward.

Jon Dennis: Iraq hasn't had a very happy history with its nuclear technology.

Martin Chulov: It certainly hasn't. Three decades of Saddam during which he attempted to make good and maintain a nuclear program ended in catastrophe. All three nuclear reactors were bombed and destroyed. And he was invaded twice, partly on the basis that he had these reactors. So it's been a long and fraught and ultimately fruitless history with nuclear energy in Iraq but now, six years after Saddam was ousted, the Iraqis are looking to have another go at it.

Jon Dennis: But how could Iraq ensure that any new nuclear facility would be secure?

Martin Chulov: And this is indeed the problem and this is going to be a giant step -- a giant obstacle in getting any sort of approval. Iraq is a signatory to a number of non-proliferation treaties that were -- that were imposed after the invasion and which a number of yellow cake vials did, in fact, go missing. There are some contaminets out here in the Iraqi community that have not been recovered in six years since. Iraq has shown a very limited capacity to ensure its essential sites including four of its ministries which have been destroyed over the past three months by suicide bombers who have been able to drive straight up to the gates.

The report is a segment of Guardian Daily, the newspaper's daily audio broadcast. Today Oliver August (Times of London) observes:

Iraq's new masters insist they have no intention of trying to develop nuclear bombs. "We are co-operating with the IAEA and expanding and defining areas of research where we can implement nuclear technology for peaceful means," the Science and Technology Minister, Raid Fahmi, told the Guardian.
That is unlikely to reassure Iraq's neighbours, however, given the chaotic conditions that reign in the country.
The insurgency is by no means subdued, with a group linked to Iraqi al-Qaeda claiming responsibility for the latest bombings, which killed more than 155 people on Sunday. The Sunni extremist group said on a website that its "martyrs . . . targeted the dens of infidelity".

The New Zealand Herald adds, "Iraq has also begun lobbying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations to overturn resolutions which ban Iraq using atomic energy." At Iran's Press TV, a commentator named Jaled Ali Ayoub shares this opinion, "wake up, stupids they destroyed all irak with their amunitions and know they are going to reconstract irak with the companies, owned by them and paid by all the irakis population. You cannt by more ignorents, because when the morality of the iraks gain the power of irak, i sware that they will destroy it again. look to another horizon the green go and the english, they only represents death to all arabs and muslim. 10 of billions of US$ was stolen from your country."

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded six people, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the lives of 3 women and left four men injured and a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed 4 lives and left six people injured. Reuters notes a Tikrit roadside bombing "blew up an oil tanker" claiming 2 lives in the process ("the driver and his assistant"). Lin Zhi (Xinhua) reports a Diyala Province bombing which left three people injured (one female, two males) and a Diyala Proinvce "makeshift bomb" wounded a father and son.


Reuters notes that Iraqi and US forces "killed a suspsected al Qaeda member" in Mosul yesterday.

Meanwhile Mu Xueuqan (Xinhua) reports Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, stated today that the UN will send someone to the country "for preliminary consulations related to Iraq's security and sovereignty." Khaled Farhan (Reuters) reports Najaf has a new bank, "In one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest cities, a bank has opened a branch only for women, hoping to tap a potentially large market and meet pent-up demand from Muslim women for financial services that meet their needs."

The Iraq War drags on and, if you doubt that, you're not paying attention. In the US, Pamela E. Walck (Savannah Morning News) reports Fort Stewart is sending 400 soldiers from the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry to Iraq for a year. Jessica Fitzgerald's husband (Spc Kevin Fitzgerald) is among those deploying and she tells Walck, "This is his second deployment. It's not any easier this time." Spc Carla Robinson tells Walck, "I'm really feeling pretty positive right now. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can come home." And Sgt Brandon Bodily states, "This is my first deployment. I'm just hoping I come back safely." P. Norman Moody (Floriday Today) reports, "Florida National Guard soldiers from Cocoa began intense training this week for deployment in January to Iraq and Kuwait. The Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade kicked off the training for 2,500 troops in what's expected to be the largest single-unit deployment of the Florida National Guard since World War II." Meanwhile Sify News reports that India qill not be sending troops to Iraq or Afghanistan according to Defense Minister A.K. Anthony. That declaration came on the same day that UPI reports, "U.S. and Indian forces wrapped up their largest joint military exercise to date, practicing a set of maneuvers simulating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Turning to the US. Tony Perry (Los Angeles Times) reports the US military believes they've stumbled onto a category of people with an advanced level of detection when it comes to roadside bombs: "Military researchers have found that two groups of personnel are particularly good at spotting anomalies: those with hunting backgrounds, who traipsed through the woods as youths looking to bag a deer or turkey; and those who grew up in tough urban neighborhoods, where it is often important to know what gang controls which block." You have to wonder why the military can spend money studying that but they can never seem to study rape within the ranks? That issue was a topic yesterday on Democracy Now! (link has text, video and audio) as Amy Goodman and Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with a director of a new documentary.

AMY GOODMAN: Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within is a documentary that focuses on the cases of three female service members victimized by rape and other forms of sexual assault. One of the victims, Tina Priest, she was found dead in Iraq in March 2006, just weeks after she had accused a male soldier of raping her. Her family was told she took her own life, but they don't believe that. They think she may have been killed because she came forward with the rape accusation. In this scene from the film, Tina Priest's mother, Joy Priest, visits her daughter's gravesite.

    PASCALE BOURGAUX: How did she die?

    JOY PRIEST: She died in Iraq from what the Army says was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her chest. That's what the Army says. I don't -- I don't know how she died. I want to find out how she died.

    PASCALE BOURGAUX: What do you think?

    UNIDENTIFIED: Don't know what to think.

    JOY PRIEST: There are so many different opinions. I don't -- I don't see her killing herself. But if she did, I can understand why --


    JOY PRIEST: -- she did. Yes, because of the trauma that she had been through with the rape and the way that people treated her afterwards. And so, I can see how she would be depressed enough to do that. But it's not like her.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Rape in the Ranks: The Enemy Within. For more, we're joined by the film's director, Pascale Bourgaux, a French journalist and filmmaker. The film had its premiere last night here in New York at the Independent Film Festival.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about Tina and the other three women you profile.

PASCALE BOURGAUX: So, Tina, the -- you've seen in the excerpt, it's -- I mean, the family is still looking for the truth, because they're convinced that she didn't commit suicide, that she was killed. But the case is dead. They asked answer -- they ask answer to the Army, but they never -- you know, they never answer those questions they raised. And then, the three other cases. There is Suzanne. She was raped by her command. She deserted. She refused to go back to Iraq to escape from her commander. And then she was in jail.

Finally, Grammy, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning singer-songwriter Carly Simon appeared on NBC's Today Show this morning and performed "You Belong To Me." The Carly classic (which Carly co-wrote with the Doobie Brothers' Michael McDonald) is part of a new album released this week, Never Been Gone. Carly offers two songs she hadn't previously recorded for commercial release as well as ten of her best-loved classics that she's reimagined to find diferent levels in and meanings to including "You're So Vain," "Anticipation," "Let The River Run," "The Right Thing To Do," "Boys In The Trees" and "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." Thursday she's on Tavis Smiley (PBS) and also on NPR's Talk Of The Nation. Click here to watch Carly on Monday's Good Morning America (ABC).

martin chulov
the guardian
jon dennis
al jazeera
the new york times
rod nordland
iraqi freedom congress
amjad ali
mcclatchy newspapers
hannah allam
sahar issa
the los angeles times
saad fakhrildeen
abc news
world news tonight with charlie gibson
miguel marquez
the times of london
oliver august
jenan hussein
savannah morning news
pamela e. walck
florida today
p. norman moody
tony perry
amy goodman
democracy now
carly simon