Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy V-Day

Monday, Valentine's Day. We all agreed we'd do short posts tonight due to the holiday. So I'll start with the comic -- Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Little Julie From Jolly Farm," Kat's "Kat's Korner: PJ Harvey sets the standard" and Betty's "Betinna's fall" went up last night. This is Isaiah's comic.

Little Julie From Jolly Farm

Jolly Farm? That's where Stewie wants to go on Family Guy. It's his favorite TV show and it's taped in London so he and Brian end up there on a road trip. Another time, he finds out they're making an American version and he dresses up as a little girl to get a part.

Fringe? Fake Oliva. On her earth. She is, get this, pregnant. And it's probably going to mean Peter will choose her and not our Olivia.

I'm tired and eager to celebrate V-Day. Third? Along with Dallas here is the credit:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And here are the stories we came up with.

Happy V-Day everyone. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Monday, February 14, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, an Iraqi male apparently sets himself on fire to protest unemployment, the White House releases their War Budget (money for war, little left for anything else), Iraq still has no vice presidents, and more.
Al Rafidayn reports young Iraqis demonstrated in Baghad today as parrt of the "Young February 14" calling for the government to deliver basic services, address unemployment, stamp out corruption and for the Sabir al-Issawi, Secretary of Baghdad, to resign. Al Rafidayn notes that the Iraqis used Facebook to organize. Baghdad has seen demonstrations for weeks now including Friday and -- in the al Sadr section -- Saturday. (Friday also saw demonstrations in Basra, Nasiriyah, Mosul and Wasit.) Thaier al-Sudani (Reuters) has a photograph of some of the women participating in the protest who carried signs which read "We need electricity power, not ministers' promises" and "Do not erect a tower, just fix the sewage." Al Mada notes that there were many demands including that the government should leave and hand over public buildings which could be turned into schools or clinics. Turn them over? Munther Mahmoud points out these buildings were taken by over by political parties and their members who were seeking to take advantage of the 2003 chaos at the start of the war. BBC has a Valentine's Day photo essay whose first photo is of protesters in Baghdad today. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) quotes a protester stating, "The high salaries of the parliamentarians and the three presidencies (Presidency office, PM office and parliament presidency office) are not acceptable, while most of us are living on two dollars a day." Azzaman notes that the plan for today's protest in Baghdad is for the protest to continue each day through February 25th and notes that a protest is taking place in Ramadi as well. Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports that, in Najaf, the leader of the al-Sadr's bloc there has called for demonstrations against the lack of basic services and also against the continued occupation of Iraq by the United States. The leader read a statement from Moqtada al-Sadr in which he noted that these protests would be the voice of "the oppressed against the oppressor."
Yesterday saw protests as well. Al Mada noted that there were reports that Abdul Muni Muhammad (also billed as Mohammed Abdul Munir in some press reports) set himself on fire in Mosul today due to the continued unemployment and that reports note he is a porter with four children who "resides in a house with four other families." Citing police sources, Germany's DPA reports the man was 31-years-old and notes, "Thousands of Iraqis have been protesting this month, demanding better living standards, improved services and less corruption." Citing hospital sources, AFP reports he died at the hospital. Azzaman notes that the family of the man has been promised "a monthly stipend." notes the United Nations places unemployment in Mosul at 17%.

Dar Addustour reports that "hundreds" protested in Ramadi Sunday against rampant unemployment and a lack of basic services and protesters are vowing that they will continue demonstrating. Ahmed al-Hiti ( reports that they also called for the province's governor and council chair person to be removed. Worker Ali Jassim declared he and others cannot feed their families with what they are paid and he started a sit-in.

If you've forgotten, last weekend, Iraqi officials couldn't stop pledging their fidelity to the rations system and insisting they would increase the amount and that they understood the pain the Iraqi people were living under. That was then. David Ali (Al Mada) reports a new proposal from the Ministry of Education: Cut the ration cards of those families who have a child drop out of school or college. In other words, cut the ration cards on the most extreme poor because that's who's been forced to drop out, the children of families (if they're lucky not be orphans) who are not making it and who have to take to the streets and beg for the families unless they're among the very few who find a job. Alsumaria reports that MP Bahaa Al Aaraji (of the Sadr bloc) has called out the national government and stated that is unable to serve the people of Iraq.

Dropping back to Friday's snapshot:
Sunday, Iraq's representatives in Parliament are supposed to vote on the vice president. In the past, the country has had two vice presidents. Three has been expected to be the number this year and all men. However, Al Rafidayn reports that there may be four vice presidents and that the fourth expected to be a VP is a woman with the Turkmen bloc, Faihaa Zine El Abidine. Supposedly, on Monday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani asked parliament to allow for four vps and that was to provide a post for "the women of Iraq." The Turkmen bloc issued a statement noting that women in Iraq are maginalized in the current government and that they did not receive any posts from Nouri to his cabinet ("the center of political decision-making"). How very telling that the country might have their first female vice president when Nouri -- his Cabinet still not full -- can't find slots for women. His Cabinet is so bad that even the head of the Ministry of Women is a man.
Sunday came and went and they still don't have those vice presidents. Even after today.
Al Mada reports that the Parliament decided to postpone the vote. The issues they are puzzled over include the number. The last 'government' had two Iraqi vice presidents. The three that were expected to be voted on were Adel Abdel Mahdi (currently the Shi'ite VP), Tareq al-Hashemi (currently the Sunni VP) and newbie Khudair Khuzaie. The leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front issued the following statement Friday:
We, as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, as a political organization defending the legal national rights of the Turkmen nation, thank the President of Iraq for his request for a fourth vice presidency and for the candidate to be a Turkmen. However, we would have wished that the third vice presidency position be offered to the Turkmen and we would like to take the opportunity to ask the distinguished Presidenty why the third vice presidency was not offered to a Turkmen candidate.
The distinguished President could have requested the fourth vice presidency position and refrained from disclosing the names of the three other vice presidents and sending them to the Iraqi parliament before this position was approved.
The names of the three vice presidents presented to the Iraqi Parliament in a single list and a request to the same parliament for a fourth vice presidency position is just a ruse thrown in front of those who obstruct the Turkmen and their legal rights. Those segments have resisted the deputizing of a Turkmen vice president from the beginning.
For this reason, we request that after the fourth vice presidency is approved, the names of all four vice presidents are presented to the Iraqi Parliament together. Otherwise, we must accept that the proposal was not serious and just an incident targeting the rights and jurisprudence of the Turkmen.
Dr. Sadettin Ergec
Leader of Iraqi Turkmen Front
In a desperate attempt to spin, Nouri and the White House are treating nothing like something. Al Rafidayn reports US Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Nouri over the fact that Parliament approved 2 ministers for the Ministry of Electricity, two ministers for the Ministry of Trade and two who will be over food and those pesky basic services. There is still no Minister of the Defense, no Minister of National Security and no Minister of Interior. These are the posts responsible for the country's security. Nouri's holding them, declaring himself the sub for now. For now. Dar Addustour lists the posts filled as follows:

Minister of Elecrticity
Minister of State for Women's Affairs
Minister of Commerce
Minister of State for Civil Society Affairs
Minister of State
Minister of State for Tribal Affairs
Minister of Municipalities.

That's seven, the reports say eight were confirmed, I don't know what the eighth was. The Parliament refused to confirm the Minister of Planning. In other news, Al Mada reports that the meeting between Nouri and Ayad Allawi that KRG President Massoud Barzani was supposed to mediate has now been called off. But let's grab that 'progress' stamp and call that 'progress' too. Today Alsumaria TV reports that Nouri al-Maliki has sworn the electricity crisis in Iraq will be over in twelve months . . . or 20. He's really not sure. 12 or 20. A year or two. (Estimates last month were 2014.) Nouri first became prime minister in April 2006. He's had all that time to address this crisis.
Saturday Salahudin Province was slammed with a suicide bombing. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "At least 38 people were killed and 74 others wounded Saturday when a suicide bomber stepped onto a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in Iraq and detonated himself, police officials said." Al Rafidayn noted that the military states the suicide bomber's explosive vest had at least 10 kilograms of explosives (approximately 22 pounds).Lu Hui (Xinhua) added, "The pilgrims were heading to the shrine city to observe a religious ceremony that marks the death of Imam Hassan al-Askari at his tomb in the shrine of Ali al-Hadi in the Sunni dominated city. The shrine of Ali al-Hadi is one of the four most revered Shiite shrines in Iraq. It contains the tombs of Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868 A.D., and Hisson Hassan al-Askari who died in 874 A.D." Jack Healy (New York Times) observes, "It was the second attack in three days against Shiite pilgrims near Samarra, whose gold-domed shrine was damaged in a 2006 bombing that led to waves of sectarian killings between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite populations." Sunday, Reuters noted that the death toll in the suicide bombing rose to 48.

Also Saturday Al Rafidayn reports, a mass grave was discovered in Baquba wih 153 corpses -- thought to be part of the 2006 and 2007 blood letting. Supposedly, the police got a confession from someone they had arrested two weeks ago (this is according to Maj Gen Abdul Hussein al-Shammari) and that allowed them to find the bodies. Australia's ABC reminds "it is unclear who is responsible for the deaths." An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers (at Inside Iraq) notes the reports of the mass graves discovered yesterday (over 150 dead) and how the government was claiming that these were victims of al Qaeda but the burial evidence indicated otherwise. To find out the truth, the correspondent called a stringer present when the graves were unearthed:

"I was there. I saw them myself. It was incredible -- the way they were each buried -- individually, according to the word of Islamic tradition: their faces towards the Kaaba (Mekka), the libna (mud brick) under the head, the white shroud -- complete to the smallest detail.
"Since when did al Qaida burry its victims observing such details?? No -- These were Qaida fighters for sure".
SO -- I ask: What benefit would security forces gain by distorting this story? Is it to sow more hatred for al Qaida? And if this story -- this unashamed statement by a General, is a lie -- Then what else is a lie? And to what end?
Is this how the Iraqi security forces hope to gain the trust of the Iraqi people? And if we can't believe a General -- a chief of police of a province ….???

Turning to today's reported violence, reports that 54-year-old Iyad David Solomon, Iraqi Christian, was kidnapped from his Kirkuk home last night and that the kidnappers are asking for a $30,000 ransom and threatening to kill him if the ransom is not paid. Alsumaria TV reports on the kidnapping here. Reuters notes today the following Sunday attacks -- an Al-Zab bombing in which four people were injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left two people injured and a Mosul mortar attack which left two people injured. Al Mannarah reported Saturday that rocket and mortar attacks have been increasing on US bases and that Friday the US military base in Dhi Qar saw "heavy rocket fire." In Basra, Al Mada reports, local groups are concerned about the increase in violence against women and Basra saw huge numbers of women killed by people in 2006 and 2007 with the deaths termed 'honor' killings -- and the only alarm is that some of the deaths were at the hands of "strangers." .
Yesterday, economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes' column on the "The true costs of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond" was published in the Washington Post. The two started off noting their 2008 cost projection of $3 trillion for the Iraq War which some felt at the time was too high and how nice they have to update it because that project "was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected." They argue the war has added a $10 cost per barrel of oil, they note the federal debt soared as a result of the wars and the high cost of oil meant more money spent on it and less on purchasing consumer goods which helped the finacial crisis really take hold. Trend Poster maintains, "To the US taxpayer, the cumulative cost since 2001, has been $1,152,218,693,448 (as on Valentine's Day 14th February 2011). That's not millions or billions but trillions. Yes, it's more than one trillion US dollars."
Early this morning, Jim Arkedis (Politico) noted today was something, the day the federal budget is supposed to be released and he declares that "it's time Congress put an end to a tricky Pentagon maneuver that has already cost taxpayers according to my calculations, $200 billion since 2001. The Defense Department must stop defying 70 years of historical precedent in military spending." Meanwhile Andrew Quinn (Reuters) shows more stupidity than Kenneth Parcell and Joey Tribbani combined as he gushes, "Obama, in his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, proposed spending just $16 billion in Iraq -- a significant decrease as U.S. diplomats take over from combat troops under a security agreement between the two countries." First off, $16 billion (that's DoD and State Dept -- we'll get to the breakdown in a moment) is a huge amount of money. It also represents -- pay attention, Quinn -- an increase in the amount awarded to the State Dept for Iraq in 2010. That's what you're supposed to be watching, right? If numbers going up or down? Third, there's no "security agreement between the two countries" that requires "US diplomats take over" -- do you even know what you're writing about? Fourth, when the hell ever has the cost of Iraq for any given year been known before the year was well on its way to over? This is the supplemental war. Bush started it that way and, despite decrying that practice while campaigning, Barack did the same thing once he got into the White House. On the increase for the State Dept, Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) caught it, "The biggest increase would be in funding for Iraq, which would nearly double from the $2.8 billion spent in 2010. The reason for the rise: the State Department will assume responsiblity for more than 400 activities from US soldiers". Christopher Hinton (MarketWatch) notes that the White House's proposed DoD monies are "about 4% above the 2010 appropriation, not including funding for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan." Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) explains, "The new request includes $553 billion in core Department of Defense spending, including weapons procurement, and $117.8 billion in military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the federal budget documents released today." Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) notes that "military operations" in the land of Iraq in fiscal year 2012 are budgeted for $11 billion. "Military operations?" (I'm not questioning Hodge's figure or his terminology. Doing so would be as foolish as questioning James Glanz on an assertion about contractor corruption.) Of the State Dept's $5.2 billion for Iraq, Sara Sorcher (National Journal) notes, "This is in addition to DoD's $11 billion request for Iraq in this year's budget." Foreign Policy In Focus analyzes the budget here. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released the followng this afternoon:
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator Patty Murray, released the following statement on the President's 2012 budget request for veterans programs. The President's budget requests an increase of approximately $2.7 billion for VA health care over current year VA funding in a very difficult budget year.

"When we send servicemembers into harm's way, it is our non-negotiable duty to take care of them when they come home. I know that the President understands that veterans' health care cannot be jeopardized, that mental health concerns must be treated with the same seriousness as physical wounds, and that our benefits process needs to be improved. His overall request for increased funding for VA health care during an exceedingly difficult budget year appears to reflect that understanding.

"But I will want to hear directly from Secretary Shinseki and others at the VA about their specific plans to care for our veterans and make the VA into a 21st century agency capable of meeting the needs of all of our veterans. On first glance, it looks like the President's request is a fair place to start, but the truth will be in the details.

"As we move forward I will be reviewing many of the specifics in this budget proposal, including how the VA can better use technology to address a benefits claims backlog that has gone on too long and must be a top priority for the Committee and the Congress.

"I will also pay close attention to a number of other concerns, including helping homeless veterans get off the streets, helping unemployed veterans find job training resources and meaningful careers, and ensuring that VA is addressing the growing needs of women veterans.

"Providing the best possible care and benefits to veterans is a cost of war, a cost that must be paid in full. As Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I will continue to work diligently to ensure that veterans' needs are met."
Saturday, Al Mada reported on the secret talks taking place to extend the Status Of Forces Agreement and cites Qassim Mohammed Jalal as the source for the extension meetings currently taking place between Nouri's reps and the US inside the Green Zone. Qassam Mohammed Jalal is part of the National Coalition. He is a member of Parliament's Commission on Security and Defense. Bryann Alexandros (Dissident Voice) observes:
The Obama promise of "ending the war" must've been a knee-slapping jest for neo-conservative war planners and think-tanks. The word "Sovereignty" is a euphemistic term for hand-holding and puppetry by its country's occupiers; just as a country being "pro-democractic" is a euphemism for any pro-Western satellite nation that is hopelessly subservient to its interlopers.
But there's much reason to believe that the US won't be retreating so soon even as the declared pullout date approaches. The US Had invested billions of dollars to build a complex military infrastructure here, including the largest embassy in the world that houses more than a thousand personnel to advise and influence every administrative aspect of Iraq. To dispel the myth of complete withdrawal, the July 9th Mother Jones highlights the incredible stake Washington holds here:
"Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center -- and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there -- certainly signals Washington's larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy."
Because of US militaristic interventionism, the unstable, war-ravaged and ethnically splayed Iraq remains devoid of peace with more than a million Iraqis dead since the occupation.
Meanwhile, on the politcal right-wing, Robert Herriman (Foreign Policy Examiner) notes that US House Rep Ron Paul appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe today "and said that the Noebel Peace Prizing winning Mr. Obama is a war monger. I know this must pain many liberal democrats and progressives, but was Rep. Paul wrong?" He feels not and, on Iraq, notes, "He [Barack] has reduced US military combat forces in Iraq by 95,000 since taking office. That being said . . . This can hardly be considered a withdrawal. There will still be 50,000 combat-ready troops staying in Iraq to 'train and advise'. Though Washington has said that the 50,000 were non-combat troops. Retired Colonel David Hunt said in a recent interview that thousands of Special Operations personnel will be among those staying in Iraq. Their duties: the chase around and try to kill terrorists and other insurgents. Non-combat?"
John Wilson: In April of last year, two weeks before the general election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared on The Andrew Marr Show. With opinion polls looking bad for New Labour, Brown was there to face the music in more ways than one. The other guest on the show was singer-songwriter PJ Harvey who performed a new composition, an apparently prophetic song called "Let England Shake."
PJ Harvey [singing]: To the fountain of death
And splash about, swim back and forth
and laugh out loud
John Wilson: That song performed live for Mssers Marr and Brown has become the title track on the new album from PJ Harvey. One of the most creative and restless of musicians, Polly Jean Harvey has reinvented her sound and image many times over the last 15 years or so. Now a resident in her native Dorset she spent the last two years reflecting on England and it's role in various conflicts from the first World War to Afghanistan. When she came to Front Row, I asked PJ Harvey if she'd set out to create a more political song cycle.
PJ Harvey: Well I've always been extremely interested in politics, what's happening in the world. What I hadn't ever felt was that I had the degree of skill with language as a writer to start to talk about such things within the margin of poetry of song that's why I've not really brought that into my scope as an artist before now. Now I'd gotten to the point in my life -- and this is where the change came about -- was that I did feel that I could try -- at least try -- this time because of the things that I have learned thus far coupled with a few other reasons really. I think, one, becoming more impassioned as I get older, more frustrated, more sensing a need to try and voice some opinions about what's going on -- whether it's my voice or adopting other ways of looking at things. But just saying things that I couldn't find being said anywhere. And couple with being so interested in the world we live in today, what's going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and wondering where the officially appointed war songwriter was.
PJ Harvey [singing]: These, these, these are the words
The words that maketh murder
PJ Harvey: Because you've got your poets and your photographers, the artists. Artists like Steve McQueen. And I really relish the idea of fantasizing in my head that I'd been appointed this official songwriter. And so almost took on that challenge myself of, "Okay, how would I bring the story back?"
PJ Harvey's newest album is Let England Shake, it drops tomorrow, Kat reviewed it here.