Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NOW, Iraq and more

Hump day, hump day. I think we need a smile to get ready for tomorrow (then it's the weekend!!!). Frank DeFord's kind of grumpy and he does a sports commentary every Wednesday for NPR's Morning Edition. Today he was griping about the lack of sport's heroes currently:

The networks who bring us golf tournaments are completely discombobulated. They keep showing us Tiger Woods instead of who is actually winning the tournament. No golf journalists remember how to cover golf the way it was pre-Tiger Woods. So, as a consequence, not only is Tiger Woods a bad memory we can't escape, but golf itself has disappeared down a rabbit hole.

Meanwhile, in women's golf, first Annika Sorenstam, the closest thing to a female Tiger in our time, retired to start a family. So now the women's tour doesn't exist, either. It's like Snow White waiting for some tournament to kiss Michelle Wie and finally make her the fairest of them all.

Lance Armstrong is a fading Tinker Bell. Clap, boys and girls, if you're sucker enough to believe in him. Ben Roethlisberger, Middle America's blue-collar quarterback, is suspended for being, well, extremely nasty. The less said about Roger Clemens, the better - too bad for old Roger that he felt obliged to say more.

So that's an example of his commentary. Bet you smiled at least once while reading it. (Unless you don't follow sports at all.) Okay. The White House and their appointees. Ay-yi-yi. NOW has issued the following:

Join NOW's "Tits for an Ass" Campaign and Call on President Obama to Fire Alan Simpson

Join NOW's "Tits for an Ass" Campaign and Call on President Obama to Fire Alan Simpson

Former Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson, who this week called Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits," is unfit to continue as co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. If he doesn't have the decency to resign, President Obama should fire him.

TAKE ACTION: Join our "Tits for an Ass" Campaign! For every $5 you send to the National Organization for Women, we'll deliver a baby-bottle nipple to the White House in your honor as we call on President Obama to relieve Simpson of his duties on the commission.

Alan Simpson has made no secret of his hostility toward Social Security. Now he has also come forward with a shockingly demeaning email that suggests the roots of his hostility may lie in sexism and ageism against the women who depend on Social Security to survive.

In a recent e-mail to Ashley Carson, Executive Director of the Older Women's League (OWL), Simpson said: "I've spent many years in public life trying to stabilize [Social Security] while people like you babble into the vapors about 'disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism' and all the rest of that crap." He contined, telling her to "take a look at the chart on Page 6 which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs."

Simpson concluded his sexist rant with the following:

"And yes, I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work! Al"

TAKE ACTION NOW: Join our "Tits for an Ass" Campaign! For every $5 you send to the National Organization for Women, we'll deliver a baby-bottle nipple to the White House in your honor as we call on President Obama to relieve Simpson of his duties on the commission.


President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by executive order, ostensibly to recommend legislation to eliminate the federal budget deficit by 2015. He named as co-chairs former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, a longtime foe of New Deal programs like Social Security, and Democrat Erskine Bowles, who advocated for risky privatization schemes in the 1990s.

Although Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit, Simpson has used his position as commission co-chair to attack Social Security from the get-go. On the very day the commission was created -- before it had even begun to gather facts about the budget deficit -- Simpson told Fox News: "We are talking about Social Security." A scant four days later, he reaffirmed to CNBC: "We are going to stick with the big three [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid]."

Simpson has spent his entire time on the commission trying to convince the U.S. public that cutting Social Security benefits will somehow help reduce the federal deficit. That simply isn't so. Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit. Its financing is completely separate from general revenues. In fact, by law, Social Security funds are not permitted to be directly spent on government operations other than its old age, survivors and disability programs.

Oh, and that tired old saw that Social Security isn't solvent, and won't be there when most of us retire? That's not so either. Social Security is solvent all the way to 2037 because of steps taken back in 1983, which successfully prepared the system for the retirement of the baby boomers. And with very modest tweaking, the system can be solvent through 2084. (For more details, see the Social Security Trustees 2010 Report.)

The good news is that the people of this country are not fooled. They know that Social Security belongs to the workers who earned it, not to the government and certainly not to Alan Simpson's Fiscal Commission. Polls show overwhelming opposition to cuts in Social Security -- huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, even Tea Party supporters don't want benefit cuts. And despite Simpson's cynical efforts to pit the young against the old, calling Social Security recipients "greedy geezers," huge majorities of young, old and middle-aged people say they don't support benefit cuts, now or in the future.

Here's what we hear Social Security-cutters like Simpson and Bowles are talking about:
  • Privatizing the system: Republican leaders have suggested trotting out this idea again, even though it went down in flames when George W. Bush tried to sell it in 2005.
  • Republicans and some Democrats have suggested directly cutting benefits to anyone who earns more than $60,000 per year -- these are said to be high-income earners.
  • Increasing the official age of retirement to 70 years. This has also been floated by Democrats as well as Republicans. It is a cruel and unworkable idea that would penalize workers who perform heavy physical labor, like nurses who lift on average about one ton per day. Anyone who physically can't work to age 70 would have to take "early" retirement and receive substantially lower benefits for the rest of their lives. It's estimated that each year of increase in the retirement age is equivalent to an 8 percent cut in benefits.
  • There is also talk of raising the cap on taxable income for the payroll tax from its current level of $106,800 per year. This is something NOW agrees should happen, but only for the purpose of strengthening the Social Security system when that will be needed decades down the road -- not for bailing out the federal operating budget.
The fact that the Fiscal Commission is mostly white and male makes their suggestions particularly reprehensible, because raising the retirement age and/or cutting benefits would fall most harshly on lower-income workers and people of color. And women are particularly at risk.

For millions of women, the "three-legged stool" of retirement (pension, savings and Social Security) is already frighteningly wobbly. Less than one-third of women have pensions. Moreover, after a lifetime of wage discrimination, many women have little in the way of personal savings. The picture is worst for women of color. Almost half of single African-American women and Latinas aged 18 to 64 have zero or negative net worth, according to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Between the recession and the jobless recovery, millions more women have lost their jobs and their homes and have seen their savings and investments disappear. As a result of all of this, Social Security is the one thing that keeps millions of women from falling out of the middle class and into poverty.

Alan Simpson's abusive email to the executive director of OWL is only the latest example of his disdain for women as a class. His calculating attacks on Social Security recipients demonstrate that same disdain -- and with frightening consequences for millions of us.

Please join our "Tits for an Ass" campaign! For every $5 you send, we'll deliver a baby-bottle nipple in your honor to the White House as we demand that the president fire Alan Simpson.

Simpson needs to go. There's no excuse for his actions. Nor does his apology 'excuse' his actions. He came forward with an apology only after this became news. He needs to step down from the commission. Immediately. Barack needs to ask Simpson to resign.

Today Iraq saw tons of deaths. I wouldn't be surprised if by sunfall the death toll had reached 1000. But CBS News has someone in Baghdad:

CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy is in Baghdad and spoke with the top U.S. general there about Iraq's security.

Coordinated attacks took place across Iraq today, - all within a two-hour period. It was, as America's top commander in Iraq today said, a bad day.

"I am fairly certain it is al Qaeda, maybe with some other groups working with them," General Ray Odierno said. "It's about the terrorists trying to make a point about the lack of a government, trying to challenge the security forces, put doubts into peoples' minds about whether they are ready or not."

The attacks came just one day after the U.S. pulled out its last combat troops, trusting in the ability of the Iraqis to keep the insurgents at bay. Fifty-thousand U.S. troops remain in Iraq, mostly involved in training Iraqis.

So there's a taste of Iraq and here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday August 25, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq is slammed by bombings, the refugee crisis continues, the political stalemate continues, the Pentagon finds new ways to disrespect gays and lesbians, and more.

Iraq was slammed by violence but before we get to that, the Pentagon found a new way to insult gays and lesbians this week as, apparently, apparently did President Barack Obama. Instead of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Barack's promised to study it for a year. He didn't need a study when he made it a campaign promise. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is the policy put in place in the early 90s to allow gays and lesbians the ability to serve. It did not allow them to serve openly. The policy was they couldn't tell and they couldn't be asked. It was a compromise policy. People were being asked and were being kicked out the military for their sexuality. The policy never worked the way it was hoped because the questions and witch hunts continued. It was a step and the most then-President Bill Clinton could get in the face of opposition from Congressional Democrats and Colin Powell. Time does move on, thankfully. And Barack campaigned on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell so that gays and lesbians could serve openly without fear of being kicked out for their sexuality. But instead of doing that, he announced a 'study' was needed. If the study says "Don't Repeal!" will Barack still repeal? Ask Magic 8-ball, it's more honest than Robert Gibbs. As offensive as the study option was, it's now gotten worse. 150,000 questionaires were sent out this month by the Pentagon . . . to the husbands and wives of service members asking for their input.

Next up look for the Pentagon to check with the cable guy of service members and, after that, their dry cleaners. That should eat up enough time that Barack will be out of the White House and his 'promise' long forgotten. If you want to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, you repeal it. It's not that difficult -- unless Barack's saying that, like his cigarette smoking, homophobia is a personal addiction for him.

In the United States today the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, spoke in Chicago. He was speaking to a variety of business leaders and the thrust of his speech was how returning veterans were a valuable employment resource with skills companies would be more than fortunate to have. He took questions (although he refused to address topics that had nothing to do with him or his position -- including the Water Cooler topic that the chattering types can't shut about). Alex Keefe (Chicago Public Radio -- text and audio) quotes him stating, "This is a - an effort on the part of al Qaeda, in particular, in Iraq to re-ignite the sectarian violence." He addresses the Detroit Economic Club tomorrow and he spoke with Steve Courtney today on the Paul W. Smith AM Show (WJR).

While Mullen offered hypothesis. At least 60 dead at least 265 injured today as Iraq is slammed with bombings -- mocking Joe Biden and the speech he gave to the VFW on Monday. That always happens. Attempt to serve up a wave of Operation Happy Talk and expect Iraq to correct your spin with a bracing splash of reality. As Jackson Browne once sang, "With all the times that I've been burned, by now you'd think I'd have learned" ("Rosie"). Ned Parker and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) explain, "The violence shook at least seven cities from north to south and appeared timed to undermine confidence in the Iraqi army and police as the U.S. military ends it formal combat mission in the country." Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) note the assaults appear "to be part of a coordinated wave of attacks" and they quote Mohammed Abbas who lost a cousin in one of today's bombings: "There may be a state, there may be a government. But what can that state do? What can they do with all the terrorists? Are they supposed to set up a checkpoint in every house?"

Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explain, "Car bombs were used in the attacks in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Baquba, Kirkuk and Wasit, the officials said in statements." In addition, they note, "Vice President Joseph Biden and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said at separate events yesterday that the administration is confident Iraqi forces are capable of taking on the primary security role." Barbara Surk and Hamid Ahmed (AP) point out, "The attacks made August the deadliest month for Iraqi policemen and soldiers in two years, and came a day after the U.S. declared that its troop levels were at their lowest level since the war began in 2003." BBC News reminds, "Iraq's top army officer recently questioned the timing of the pull-out, saying the country's military might not be ready to take control for another decade." On the attacks, Reuters notes a Baghdad suicide car bombing claimed 15 lives (plus driver for sixteen) with fifty-six injured, a Kut suicide car bombing which claimed 30 lives (plus driver) and left eighty-seven injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five people, a Dujail car bombing which injured twenty people, a Basra minbus bombing which injured twelve people, a Kirkuk car bombing which killed 1 person (nine more injured), six Balad Ruz roadside bombings which injured thirteen people, a Falluja suicide car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left ten people injured, a Baghdad, a Muqdadiya car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left eighteen injured, a Ramadi car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left thirteen wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people, a Baghdad car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left fourteen people wounded, two Samarra roadside bombings which wounded Col Mustafa Hameed and three of his bodyguards, a Tikrit roadside bombing which injured two police officers, a Tikrit roadside bombing which injured two college students and five Iraqi soldiers, and a Baghdad attack on a police checkpoint which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed 1 life, a Wasit car bombing 10 people (fifteen injured), a Karbala car bombing claimed 1 life (eight more injured) and a Mosul suicide car bombing which claimed the lives 3 Iraqi soldiers (thirteen more injured). By 7:30 a.m. US EST this morning, the totals were at least 60 dead, at least 265 injured. BBC offers a slide show of the aftermath of some of the bombings. Jason Ditz ( reports, "Though the casualty figures are still coming in and may change, at least 86 Iraqis, including a large number of security forces, were killed and 371 others were wounded in the attacks." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports "Day of violence hits every corner of Iraq." Mike Hanna (Al Jazeera) states, "It does appear the primary targets are police stations, check points [and other] symbols of the attempt to create a system of law and order within Iraq." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) explains, "U.S. commanders and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly have blamed the attacks on a hodge-podge of insurgent groups, including extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and, separately, to Iran. They allege the groups are trying to take advantage of a political vacuum -- politicians have yet to form a government after March polls -- and sow fear amid the U.S. withdrawal." Jane Arraf, Laith Hammoudi and Mohammad Dulaimi (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) report, "No group has yet taken responsibility but Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's office blamed the attacks on Al Qaeda and Baathists. The statement said the bombings would not derail the 'historic national achievement' of the troop withdrawal in line with Iraq achieving full national sovereignty." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The US military faces mounting pleas from Iraqis to reconsider its exit." Tang Danlu (Xinhua) notes the continuing political stalemate as the violence continues.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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 5 months and 18 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.

Lebanon's Daily Star covers the rumors that Moqtada al-Sadr may move "to Beirut to escape Iranian pressures to endorse a second-term for incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki" and that "On Tuesday, Ziyad al-Darb, a lawmaker from Iraqiya said Sadrist lawmakers were throwing their weight behind Allawi for prime minister."

BBC News' Hugh Skyes appeared on The Takeaway today supposedly to offer insight but instead apparently wanted to convey that Judi Dench is far from Britian's only drama queen. For the record, if he's going to admonish the host, he ought to get his facts correct. The drawdown is not, IS NOT, mandated by the Status Of Forces Agreement (" . . . that their forces are down to the 50,000 required by the State Of Forces Agreement here"). Know what you're talking about Hugh before you lecture someone else. What a putz. I can't imagine anything more stupid than being a reporter on Iraq and not knowing what the SOFA says and what it doesn't. Especially at this late date. The evening of November 27, 2008, the White House finally provided a copy of the Status Of Forces Agreement to the American people. (Even the US Congress was working with a translation of it prior, the White House did not provide Congress with a copy.) Read over it and find that 50,000 in the SOFA, Hugh Sykes. You won't. Because it's not in there as Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) and countless others have attempted to make clear over and over for nearly two years now. The 50,000 is Barack. It is not the SOFA which was signed on off before he was president. I don't think I've ever heard a guest on American public radio treat a host so rudely. And the reality is that while Hugh got his knickers in a wad, he's the idiot who doesn't even know what the SOFA says. Before he offers his next condescending lecture, he might try familiarizing himself with the basic facts.

Monday Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) spoke with Marco Werman for PRI's The World (link has transcript and audio) about life in Iraq.

Marco Werman: Egyptian society is typical of much of the Middle East. It's conservative. But one country stands out from its neighbors. That's Iraq. Prostitution, drugs and pornography are now widespread there. It wasn't always this way but it's part of the enormous change that the country has gone through in the past eight years. Jane Arraf has witnessed the changes in Iraq as a reporter, first for CNN and now as a freelancer. Jane, how is Iraq different from its neighbors and when did it change?

Jane Arraf: Well I think the thing about Iraq is that with the toppling of Saddam, it basically lifted the lid on pretty much everything. It wasn't as if prostitution didn't exist before the war. It certainly did. And particularly in that period of sanctions when there were international trade sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s and even middle class women who couldn't find food for their families were turning to prostitution. I think the thing is now though that essentially it became lawless after the invasion, after Saddam was toppled, then law was imposed again. It has become quite religious. So it's this really odd combination of increasing religiousness -- Islam, of course -- and an openness and the two things coincide rather unhappily.

Marco Werman: Gives ua an example. Perhaps you can talk about the pornography situation in Iraq. I mean what was Saddam's point of view on pornography and what is the kind of the national approach to pornography today?

Jane Arraf: Well, essentially pornography is bad. It's about as simple as that. It certainly doesn't jive with any sort of religion and it's frowned on. But, having said that, this is a country where young men particularly do not have many avenues open to them. They can't really have sex. They certainly can't have sex with women for the most part. And pornography is one of the few ways that they have access to that sort of thing. It's the same on US military bases. There's a prevalence of pornography on the bases even though it's officially banned there. But really the thing about Iraq is, well, I think is, it's a country that's very much still coming to grips with what kind of country it wants to be. And we've seen that in the spate of recent killings of gay men. This has been an openness that many people have taken advantage of. They couldn't have dressed the way they dress under Saddam Hussein's era. They couldn't have engaged in the kind of behavior, danicing in clubs, that they did then. Men with men. But, having said that, it's collided with an increasingly religious atmosphere here. It has resulted in the death of at least a dozen gay men and they've eseentially gone underground, gone to Syria, gone to other places and gotten the message very clearly that even though things seem open here, they're not really.

Jane Arraf went on to explain, "Sexual experiences between young men are considered fairly normal before they get married. So that if you have an experience of that sort with another man, you're not necessarily considered gay here. The thing that really offends people is not so much the sex, it's the appearance of being gay. It's the perception that you're gay, that you're effeminate."

Psychologically speaking, it is the rejection of self and what the man has done which frequently manifests itself in homophobia and leads to lashing out -- verbally and/or physically -- at those who may or may not be gay (or bi) but whose appearance might result in that assumption. Along with the rejection, there's the projection and, of course, the almighty quaking fear that if "Mustaffa" is gay and you don't attack Mustaffa, you may be thought to be gay as well.

Turning to the issue of Iraqi refugees, as July was winding down, Iraqi Osman Rasul took his own life. Owen Bowcott and Natalie Hanman (Guardian) reported that the 27-year-old man who was seeking asylum in England lept to his death after being "perched on railings surrounding the seventh floor balcony of a Nottingham tower block. He blanked out police officers attempting to talk him down and [. . .], placing his hand on his heart, he looked up to the sky and leapt." He was not allowed to work in England and his legal aid was cut off. Corin Faife (Ceasefire Magazine) remembers him: "Over the three months that he lived with me I heard more stories from him: of the murder of his father and brother by a militia in Iraq, and his fear for his own life; of his journey to the UK in the hold of a ship, and his impossible struggle to prove his origin and identity when he had arrived with nothing; of his arrest and imprisonment after a false accusation, and his bitter disbelief when he was aquitted, a year later, to be thrown back out on the street with no life to go back to. Living with Osman I saw firsthand the spirit-crushing inhumanity of the British asylum system, and how unremittingly bleak life can be for those who are left in limbo. Prohibited from working, with no access to housing or financial supports after his first claim was rejected and still awaiting furhter documents to make a fresh claim, he was left destitute, forced to rely on the charity of others to his continual chagrin." Great Britian's Socialist Worker adds, "He had applied for asylum, but it was denied because he could not prove he had a legal right to be in the country. He then applied to stay so that he could be with his children, who have British citizenship. This too was turned down. He was destitute and had been forced to sleep on friends' floors or on the street. Osman was not alllowed to work and was living on food parcels and charitable donations." His wife, Malgorzata Gajda, told the Coventry Telegraph that she believed he phoned her before he lept to his death, "I said 'Hello, hello' but no one answered. I'm sure it was him. He wanted to hear me and the kids for the last time."

This week UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg published a list of "The Top 5 Most Ignored Humanitarian Crises" and coming in at number one: Iraqi refugees: "The invasion, occupation and subsequent civil war in Iraq war caused one of the biggest refugees crises in recent history. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 1.7 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan. There are another 1.5 million Iraqi IDPs. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its regional response plan for Iraqi refugees in January. The appeal called for $367 million to support the refugees. So far, though, only 17.9% or $65 million is funded. The United States has contributed $17 million to the fund."

In the United States, candidate Barack Obama swore he would provide $2 billion for Iraqi refugees. President Barack Obama has yet to do so. Kevin Robillar (PolitiFact) explained at the start of this year that the money wasn't being allocated: "If Obama is going to provide $2 billion over the course of four years, he would need to spend $500 million a year. That would be more than a third of the total amount the United States spends on refugees in 2010, which would seem unlikely." Today Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) reports on the State Dept's Eric P. Schwartz and on the issue of Iraqi refugees. Sheridan's reporting on Schwartz' life and his testimony (before a body staffed with US lawmakers) and mentions a body of lawmakers. The Commission On Security & Cooperation in Europe aka the US Helsinki Commission -- not a Congressional committee. But they did issue a statement this month:

WASHINGTON--The United States needs to develop a plan to assist the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked, or continue to work, for the U.S. in Iraq, 22 U.S. Senators and Representatives said today in letters to both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

The letters authored by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) follow a recent hearing titled "No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies" that highlighted the dire situation of Iraqis employed by the United States. These men and women are considered "traitors" or "collaborators" and are marked for assassination by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

"Time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches," the letters say. "The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives -- and the lives of their families -- to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest."
(Full text of both letters below. To view a pdf of the letter to Secretary Clinton click here. For the letter to Secretary Gates, click here.)

Since resettlement to the United States is the safest option for many of our Iraqi allies, the signatories of the letters called for changes to the Special Immigrant Visa program to accelerate the application process and fulfill more of the current availability of 15,000 visas, only 2,145 of which have been used to date. This follows the legislative work of Co- Chairman Hastings, whose successful amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 calls on the Departments of Defense and State, in consultation with other federal agencies, to develop a plan to expedite resettlement of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis at risk as the United States withdraws from Iraq.

"Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection," the letters state.

The letters are signed by:

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commission Chairman*
U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Commission Co-Chairman*
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Senate Assistant Majority Leader
U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN)
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)*
U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)
U.S. Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO)
U.S. Representative Howard L. Berman (D-CA)
U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA)
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
U.S. Representative William D. Delahunt (D-MA)
U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA)
U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
U.S. Representative Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL)
U.S. Representative Darrell E. Issa (R-CA)*
U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield (D- NC)*
U.S. Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO)
U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI)
U.S. Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA)
U.S. Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS)

* denotes member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

Text of letters follows:

August 12, 2010

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

We write to bring to your attention the plight of our Iraqi allies, those Iraqis who have worked alongside our troops and diplomats as interpreters and in other capacities since 2003, and who are now threatened for their service. We urge you to work with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to develop contingency plans to protect these allies as our forces redeploy.

Since 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis have worked, or continue to work for, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, U.S. government contractors and other U.S. government funded entities in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq have labeled these Iraqis traitors, collaborators and worse. Many have already paid the ultimate price for their service, and many more may be at risk after U.S. troops depart Iraq.

Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees. We commend the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for expanding and accelerating the admission process for Iraqi refugees during the past three years. However, we are advised that the application process for Iraqi refugees currently takes a year or more on average, and that fewer than 5000 of those resettled to date were employed by the United States in Iraq. This process will not work quickly enough when U.S.-affiliated Iraqis need it the most urgently.

A second path to resettlement, Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), has also underperformed the current need. As you know, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 expanded the availability of SIVs to enable our Iraqi employees to resettle to the United States. Out of a current availability of 15,000 SIVs, only 2,145 have been issued to principal applicants to date. We believe that the underuse of the SIV program is due in large part to a consular interpretation that improperly restricts the scope of that legislation by extending eligibility only to Iraqis who had worked for the United States as direct hires, contractors, or subcontractors. This has denied eligibility to a class of Iraqis whom the Act sought to protect -- Iraqis who have worked for NGOs or private implementing partners funded by the United States Government through grants and cooperative agreements. Many of these individuals provided critical support to U.S. efforts and personnel in Iraq and face threats that are just as grave as the threats faced by direct hires and contractors. It is extremely unlikely that Iraqi extremists will consider the difference in funding mechanisms between grants to NGOs or contracts to companies when choosing which Iraqis to kill. We urge you to amend this interpretation as quickly as is practical.

Finally, we should consider an airlift, for later processing, out of Iraq for those Iraqis who worked for or on behalf of the United States, who wish to leave Iraq, and who cannot be processed before all U.S. troops depart. The British did exactly this as they departed Basra and militant thugs openly hunted Iraqis who had worked for the British, airlifting their surviving Iraqi employees directly to a Royal Air Force base in England. Each of America's principal coalition partners -- Britain, Denmark, and Poland -- has honored its moral obligation to endangered Iraqi employees through airlifts to military bases.

There is precedent for a similar undertaking by the United States in Iraq. In the 1996 Operation Pacific Haven, the United States airlifted more than 6,000 Iraqis to Guam in a matter of weeks, where they were safely processed for resettlement to the United States. While circumstances are somewhat different, our country also used Guam as a processing center for tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in 1975.

Madam Secretary, time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches. The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives -- and the lives of their families -- to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest. Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection.

SIGNED (listed above)

Let's hope Hillary tossed that letter in the trash can. (She didn't, but she should have.) Why?

Pay attention -- and how stupid and uninformed are members of the US Congress -- Hillary's not over Iraq. Maybe it's time to bring back a literacy test? Not for voters, mind you, but for members of Congress. If you can't pass it, you're out. That's how it should work. And Cardin and the rest need to stop wasting Hillary's time with letters that should have never been sent.

In a suitcase tied with string
On the highest shelf
In the closet down the hall
Hidden from myself
Fits of madness, pools of grief
Fevers of desire
How peculiar these remain
Salavaged from the fire
For some I crumpled
Some I burned
Some I tore to shreds
Liftetimes later, here they are
The ones I saved instead
Letters never sent to you
Letters never sent to you
Letters I never sent
Letters never sent to you
-- "Letters Never Sent," written by Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman, first appears on Carly's Letters Never Sent album.

Why should that letter have never been sent to Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State? Because she's not over Iraq and it is damn well known -- or damn well should be -- that she's not over Iraqi refugees. Press statement by Robert Gibbs, White House spokesperson and plus-size model, on August 14, 2009:

Further to discussions that took place during Prime Minister Maliki's recent meetings in Washington, President Obama is pleased to announce that Samantha Power, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council in the White House, will coordinate the efforts of the many parts of the U.S. government on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense.

Who did Barack put in charge of Iraqi refugees? That's right. The old War Whore Samantha Power. So why the hell are lawmakers wasting time by addressing the letter to Hillary? And when can we propose a literacy test for all members of Congress?

And continuing this week's plan to highlight at least one truth teller on the drawdown in each snapshot, today we'll note Camilo Mejia, Iraq War veteran, conscientious objector, speaking to Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! last Friday (link has video, audio and text):

JUAN GONZALEZ: Camilo, your reaction now to this so-called news of the withdrawal of the last combat brigade from Iraq?

CAMILO MEJÍA: My reaction is that this is just another media stunt, because what is not being reported as strongly as the final troop leaving Iraq is that we're still leaving 50,000 troops in country, not to mention that the 4,000 who are leaving are being replaced by 7,000 security contractors, called "dirty gangs" by Iraqis. I think that basically what we have is just a recycling of forces in what effectively could be called a transferring of military duties from the US military into the hands of corporate paramilitary forces in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Camilo, as you see the coverage over the last twenty-four hours, first, you know, as one of the leaders of Iraq Veterans Against the War, do you think this is the right move, what President Obama is doing? And then, what are your thoughts, hearing, watching soldiers talking about their experiences?

CAMILO MEJÍA: I have not been really tracking the testimonies of soldiers about the alleged withdrawal of the troops. But I do think that it's very troubling to see how the corporate media are covering this withdrawal, because very little to nothing has been said about the fact that we are privatizing just absolutely everything. Now we have the situation in Iraq where huge contracts are going to be given to these corporations to do what the US Army used to do, not that one is better than the other. I think there probably will be less accountability for private security contractors to be doing the job that soldiers, who are at least subject to be court-martialed, but are now going to be in the hands of people like Erik Prince and people like that. We already have over 100,000 contractors in Iraq operating, many of them operating in the capacity of mercenaries. If you read the coverage by the New York Times, you realize that these are not just going to be security guards, these are going to be highly specialized former military personnel who are going to have the skills and the ability to operate radars, to go out there and find improvised explosive devices, so we're talking about EOD personnel. You're talking about people who are pilots. You're talking about people who are going to be operating drones in Iraq. So this is not just people who are going to be bodyguards. You're talking about highly specialized individuals who are going to be replacing soldiers from the US military and other special operations units within the Army. So, basically, it's the privatization of a military occupation. It is what we're witnessing right now, the transferring of military authorities and duties from the US military into corporate paramilitary forces.

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