Friday, December 17, 2010

Wasted hours

First off, did you catch this news:

Cover Blown: CIA Station Chief in Pakistan Removed From Country

ABC News - Luis Martinez, Martha Raddatz - ‎2 hours ago‎
The CIA's station chief in Pakistan has been called back to the United States after being publicly outed in Pakistan earlier this month by a man who claims his relatives were killed in a recent CIA drone strike.
Telegraph.co.uk - AFP - RTT News - The Guardian



Fresh Air? NPR and Terry served up a bad actor (and unattractive) on Wednesday (Ryan Gossling) while Thursday Terry chatted up an actress (Melissa Leo) and then a male economist. Reality, both programs were wasted hours.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


Friday, December 17, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the United Nations notes the targeting of Iraqi Christians, Ayad Allawi speaks, the US Justice Dept files suit against city and state, and more.

Starting with Iraqi refugees, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has announced its objection to Europe's forced returns of Iraqi refugees. Spokesperson Melissa Fleming states, "UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country." UNHCR adds, "In the latest incident, Sweden on Wednesday forcibly returned a group of some 20 Iraqis to Baghdad, including five Christians originally from the Iraqi capital. Fleming, speaking to journalists in Geneva, said UNHCR staff in Baghdad had since interviewed three of the Christians and three Arab Muslims among the group. One of the Christian men said he escaped Iraq in 2007 after militiamen threatened to kill him. He travelled through several countries in the Middle East and Europe before reaching Sweden, where he applied for asylum." And as wrong and as bad as that is, The Local reports that the Swedish government deported one 52-year-old male to Iraq . . . but he wasn't from Iraq. He was from Iran.

The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming noted today, "This forced return comes at a time when our five offices in Iraq are noting a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdistan Regional Government Region and Ninewa plains [in the north." She cited 68 as the number of people killed in the October 31st attack on the church. Joe Sterling (CNN) notes 70 were killed (53 of which were Iraqi Christians). Fleming explained 1,000 families as the number that has left Baghdad and Mosul for northern Iraq. She also noted that Iraqi Christians are also fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with UNHCR offices in each country registering an increase in the "number of Iraqi Christians arriving and contacting UNHCR for registration and help." She put the efforts of the European countries doing these forced deportations into perspective when she noted one Iraqi Christian male in Jordan had been forcibly returned to Iraq "just days beforehand" by a European country she didn't identify. He "left the church minutes before the bombing took place." No, (I'm saying this) it is not safe for Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq. If they want to, every one has the right to live their lives as they see fit. But no host country should be forcing Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq. Katherine T. Phan (Christian Post) covers the statements: "The agency expressed dismay that Sweden forcibly repatriated this week a group of 20 Iraqis, including 5 Christians from Baghdad, after their applications for asylum were rejected." Martin Chulov (Guardian) notes that the figures Fleming offered on Iraqi Christians leaving the country were seen as too low by the head of the country's Christians Endowment Group's Abdullah al-Naftali who says, "I can tell you that the numbers the UN are citing are too low. We have recorded a 213% increase in normal departures since the church massacre. It is not a slow, or steady exodus -- it is a rapid one."

October 31st started the latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians. Latest wave. For a look at key moments in earlier waves, BBC News offers a timeline here. Stephanie Nebehay (Reuters) notes that, before the start of the Iraq War, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq and that the number has fallen to approximately 850,000. Aaron Howard (Jewish Herald-Voice) quotes the Univerisy of Chicago Medical Center's Dr. Elmer Abbo who is also the executive director for Assyrian American National Coalition, "I will clearly say this: What is happening in Iraq is, at the minimum, ethnic cleansing. Other people will say it is genocide,e ven if the numbers are not there, because the Assyrians are being killed in a deliberate and strategic way. We're being oppressed to the point where we're being pushed out of the country. Sometimes, it is under direct force where people come to your door and say 'convert, be killed or leave.' Those are the options. Whenever there's a church bombing, it says: You are not welcome here. Leave, or we will kill you." Asia News notes that, in addition to barrier being erected around churches in Baghdad and Mosul, there will be checkpoints and that, "The Christmas celebrations will consist of masses and small parties within the boundaries of the parishes, but there is frustration among the faithful." Alan Holdren (Catholic News Agency) quotes, Father Georges Jahola of Mosul stating, "Christians are being extinguished in Iraq, while Iraq remains Muslim. [And people want to leave due to safety] They see that there is no longer a place for Christians in Iraq. Even for us as a Church, we cannot deny it." Rebecca Santana (Associated Press) speaks with Ban Daub who was at Our Lady of Salvation Church with her nephew when it was attacked October 31st and she states, "We are afraid for our sons and our children. There is no life in Baghdad for the Christians." The editorial board for the Orange County Register offers, "It may be that it will prove impossible for a Christian community to thrive in an Iraq that is officially Muslim, and that almost all Iraqi Christians will eventually flee. That would be sad; some of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world are in Iraq. It would not, however, be unprecedented. In 1948, after the establishment of the state of Israel, almost all of Iraq's Jews fled the country."

Wednesday's snapshot included:

Meanwhile Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Iraq closed another chapter on the Saddam Hussein era Wednesday when the United Nations Security Council lifted most of the sanctions that it had imposed after the late ex-dictator's invasion of Kuwait 20 years ago." Obvious benefit? $700 million from the oil-for-food program is about to be "into Iraq's escrow account". Previously, they couldn't touch the money. File it under "I'll have what Joe's snorting," BBC News reports that US Vice President Joe Biden -- who chaired the meeting -- declared, "Iraq is on the cusp of something remarkable -- a stable, self-reliant nation." Where have we heard that before?

That's really all that was worth saying. A number of articles were written -- some passing as analysis, none worth linking to. But Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, held a press briefing after the meeting and I am surprised his remarks weren't covered. We'll note his opening statement in full:

Well today was a momentus day for Iraq. And a happy day. After years of being sanctioned by the Security Council resolution due to the agressions, the beligerance of Saddam's regime, I think today we close a chapter, a dark chapter. And today's session? So the passage of three security resolutions demonstrated the international support for Iraq to get rid of previous sanctions and restrictions on its sovereignty and independence. So my country and I'm personally very, very delighted to have this support. We are overwhelmed by this support. And I think this shows Iraq is coming back truly to its rightful place among the community of nations. Iraq has been a founding member of the United Nations and many other organizations and I think today is a great day for the people of Iraq, for the country. Still we have some way to go to be completely free of Chapter 7. That is, we need to fulfill our obligations toward our brotherly country Kuwait. I think today event will give us momentum in fact to address all remaining issues with Kuwait under Chapter 7, to close that chapter in a good faith and a mutual trust between our two nations. This will be the task of the of the new Iraqi government which is in the forming and it's formation is imment. It would be announced very, very soon, it wouldn't be weeks, it would be days. And this issue of the situation between Iraq and Kuwait will be a top priority for the next government to address it.

Evenlyn Leopold (Huffington Post) does one of the better reports which was published today:

Specifically, the meeting on Wednesday adopted three resolutions: on weapons of mass destruction, on ending the oil-for-food program and on ending immunities that protected Baghdad from claims during the Saddam Hussein era.
Iraq has signed prohibitions against chemical and biological weapons and cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog. One resolution allows it to develop a civilian nuclear program, although the Council in February said Iraq first had to ratify an agreement, the so-called Additional Protocol that would allow intrusive inspections by the IAEA. Parliament has not ratified yet and the resolution requires it to do so as soon as possible.
Another resolution formally shut down the mismanaged oil-for-food program, which was supposed to bring in supplies to ordinary Iraqis suffering under sanctions. France abstained on this measure, concerned that it did not sufficiently protect BNP Paribus, the Paris-based bank, which handled payments. And a third resolution dissolves in June a special supervised fund over how oil revenues are spent and protected Iraq from legal claims. About $22 million in claims are still outstanding.
But resolutions concerning Kuwait were left intact, including compensating for stolen items and demarcating the border, especially the waterways. 5 percent of the Iraq's oil revenues will continue to be earmarked for Kuwait.

And my praise is for the reporting (she also has several opinions throughout which are a little to Up With Democratic People for me). Outside the US media, Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) offered his take on US efforts:

First, the Obama administration played a key role in Sunnifying the Iraqi nationalism of Iraqiyya so that it could be more acceptable to Iran: By encouraging Iraqiyya to accept a junior, "Sunni" role in a power-sharing arrangement for the next government where the Iranian-supported Shiite parties clearly have the upper hand, Washington basically gave Iran what it wanted in Iraq in terms of a politics defined in sectarian fronts. To add insult to injury advisers to Obama went on to spin the US involvement in the affair as a triumph of American diplomacy against Iran! Today the US government went a little further: To celebrate the latest "progress", it decided it was time for the UN Security Council to give up some of what little remains of outside-world leverage in Iraq, including a formal termination of the oil-for-food programme and restrictions relating to weapons of mass destruction.


At the press briefing, Zebari was asked about his future in the next government of Iraq and his reply was, "Well I'm here as the Foreign Minister of Iraq now."

A power-sharing agreement has allowed Nouri al-Maliki a crack at forming the government. He needs to nominate cabinet minister and get Parliament to vote in his nominees and he has eight days left to do that. There are a few tiny cracks emerging as the clock ticks. First up, the Kurds. Over the weekend, KRG president Massoud Barzani spoke of Kurdish independence. Some feigned shock. Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) explores the remarks and context today:

Once again, the people of Kurdistan have realized that neither the media nor those who raised a brouhaha over President Barzani's statement about self-determination seem to have understood or want to understand what the new Iraq is about.
Barzani has been under fire for publicly stating that Kurds have a right to self-determination, an argument that is not new. He was simply repeating a long-held Kurdish position on self-determination.
This should not have shocked anyone -- but the exaggerated, critical response to Barzani's statement shows that the new reality of Iraq is not accepted by everyone.

Again, this was news when it happened and remains news now. Barzani's party (KDP) won in the July 2009 elections, destroyed Jalal Talabani's party (PUK), due to the fact that Barzani knows not to call Kurdish independence a "dream" that won't and can't come true. It was a signal to Kurds in Iraq and across the globe and it's part of the leveraging that the US press is ignoring but is going on currently as Barzani attempts to play maybe-we-walk to force Nouri to make additional concessions to the Kurds or risk tanking his shot at a second term as prime minister.


March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a National Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now nine months, nine days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."



Nizar Latif (The National) explains, "Negotiations continue, with parliament due to discuss the matter in tomorrow's session. Parliament will make the final decision on exactly what status the council is to have, and it will require a constitutional revision. Amending the constitution involves navigating a labyrinth of parliamentary procedure, something likely to take many months. Until all of that is complete, the council will have no powers at all, regardless of any agreements between rival blocs." Parliament's scheduled session for tomorrow was supposed to take place on Tuesday. In a completely no-surprise move, the session was postponed. Tuesday, Ayad Allawi's spokesperson made a statement. Supposedly that was the end of the story. Not so fast. Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reports that Allawi declared his joining the government is conditional upon the National Council for Strategic Policies being created and being independent (this is the council he would head). Allawi is quoted stating, "He [Maliki] was clear in his words and right to the point. We hope things will go properly to achieve these issues without any obstacles. We don't believe the important issue is how many ministries we will get in the coming government, but rather the partnership that we will share in making decisions on Iraq futuer."




Yesterday's snapshot included the following:

Cameron Joseph (National Journal) reports that Daniel Ellsberg was at the White House today "chained to its snowy gates as part of a protest organized by Veterans for Peace [. . .] Ellsberg was one of dozens arrested, the Associated Press reported." David Jackson (USA Today) explains, "It's cold and snowy in Washington, D.C., but that didn't stop protestors from showing up at the White House today to demonstrate against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police appeared to arrest an unknown number of protestors as they sought to chain themselves to the White House fence." UPI offers a photo essay of the protest by Kevin Dietsch. David Swanson's War Is A Crime offers video of the protest. Paul Courson (CNN) states 131 is the number of activists arrested and cites US Park Police spokesperson David Schlosser as the source for that number. At Stop These Wars (umbrella group for the various groups and individuals organizing the action) it's noted, "131 veterans and others were arrested December 16 in front of the White House. Preliminary gallery of photos here. More to come."

There were not a large number of stories filed on the protest. I included a link to a video and there was nothing but video there which did create a problem for those who can't stream or who have hearing issues (no closed captioning in the video) but were trying very hard to follow this story. My apologies for that. I should have realized it would create a problem with an under-covered news event. We'll note the protest again today and all details and quotes without links come from the video at David Swanson's site.

"Mr. President, please talk to us!" cried protesters outside the White House Thursday morning after they marched there from Lafayette Park. President Barack Obama didn't speak to them and it's unknown whether he even heard them.

Around the same time, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room,
ABC News' Jake Tapper asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about "the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of the American people say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting anymore. That's a high. Considering that the U.S. withdrawal date is not until 2014, how can the Obama administration continue to wage this war with so little public support?" Platitudes were offered by the Secretary of State who seemed decades -- if not centuries away -- from her former self as First Lady in the 90s when she worried about the children. Never in her answer -- possibly in keeping with her new position -- did she mention children -- Iraqi or Afghan or American -- who are growing up in the constant shadow of war and all the fear and doubt that comes with it.
Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times via San Francisco Chronicle) reports on an Iraqi teenage girl named Ban whose life once seemed so perfect but then milita/assailantss shot her father, both of her parents were placed on a kill list, the family had to uproot themselves and flee to Najaf where they knew no one and her country is still torn apart by war. Maybe at some point Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates (as well as others in the administration) can stop a minute to think about what eternal war has done to a generation of young people?

At yesterday's press conference, Clinton replied to Jake Tapper's question, "I'm well aware of the popular concern and I understand it. But I don't think leaders, and certainly this President, will not make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling. That would not be something that you will see him or any of us deciding. We're trying to do the very best we can with the leadership that we've all been entrusted with to avoid making the mistakes that were made in previous years, where we did not develop the kind of relationship and understanding and coordination with either Afghanistan or Pakistan that would enable us to have a better way of interacting with them and perhaps preventing some of what came to pass, and where, frankly, we walked away at some critical moments in the last 25, 30 years that created conditions that we had a hand in, unfortunately, contributing to." Secretary Gates also played the people-are-too-stupid-we-know-best card declaring, "First of all, let me just add to Secretary Clinton's response to you that I think if you look at polling in almost all of our 49 coalition partners' countries, public opinion is in doubt. Public opinion would be majority -- in terms of majority, against their participation. I would just say that it's obviously the responsibility of leaders to pay attention to public opinion, but at the end of the day their responsibility is to look out for the public interest and to look to the long term." Neither secretary holds a post to which they were elected -- nor has either ever won a national election -- but they seem to hold their own views in higher esteem than the views of the majority of Americans.

While democracy and rule of the people were being kicked aside in the press room, outside in 24 degree weather, activists were chanting "Peace now!" and "Stop the killing! Stop the wars!" and "The war is a lie!" A number of them walked past the barricades and up to the White House fence. Pressing their backs against the fence, they faced the press, the police and many other activists as a police officer walking through the demonstration appeared to tell his partner, "This should be fascinating."

Activist and
author David Swanson explained, "I'm here to help those who are doing more than saying the right thing to pollsters on the telephone. A majority of Americans saying we've got to end these wars, the president sitting there saying 4 more years and then we'll rename it non-combat -- that's outrageous, it's unacceptable, it's against the majority will of our people, of the Afghan people, of the people around the world. Veterans for Peace have been asking for a meeting with this president on behalf of the majority for years. We can't get a meeting. we're coming here, we're going to go to jail. The good people are in jail. The people who have not been charged with any crimes are in jail and the criminals are roaming free."

The activists sang "We Shall Overcome" and "Down By The Riverside."
Stop These Wars observes, "As the light snow increased to heavy and began accumulating, activists kept warm by singing and chanting. At about 12:30, police began arresting protesters who remained along the fence, while supporters who did not want to risk arrest were moved across the broad street."

Iraq War veteran and March Forward's Mike Prysner summed up why he was demonstrating, "They're not going to end the wars. And they're not going to do it, because it's not our government. It's their government. It's the government of the rich. It's the government of Wall Street, of the oil giants, of the defense contractors. It's their government. And the only language that they understand is shutting down business as usual. And that's what we're doing here today, and we're going to continue to do until these wars are over. We're going to fight until there's not one more bomb dropped, not one more bullet fired, not one more soldier coming home in a wheelchair, not one more family slaughtered, not one more day of U.S. imperialism."

"We have postcards that we want to deliver to the president," declared
Veterans for Peace's Mike Ferner. "We have asked him in a letter three weeks ago to meet with us and to hear our concerns as military veterans of this tragedy and the wrong headedness of these wars. We've not been able to meet with him so we have a number of these postcards that have been signed by people around the country."

Since he wouldn't meet with them, they "delivered" the postcards by tossing them over the fence, onto the White House yard in what several present dubbed "airmail."


Meanwhile the US Justice Dept has filed a lawsuit against the city of Brockton and the state of Massachusetts over Iraq War veteran Brian Benvie whom they argue was denied a promotion in the Brockton Police due to his service. The Justice Dept issued the following notice yesterday:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Justice Department Files Complaint Against City of Brockton, Massachusetts, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts for Violating the Employment Rights of an Iraq War Veteran
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today the filing of a complaint against the city of Brockton, Mass., and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for violating the rights of an Iraq war veteran, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated Brockton Police Sergeant Brian Benvie's USERRA rights when they failed to fully recognize the retroactive promotion to sergeant he earned after taking a make-up promotional exam upon his return from active duty military service in Iraq in 2007. Benvie's score on the exam placed him at the top of the promotional list, and he was promoted to sergeant in July 2008. Benvie subsequently learned that another patrolman with a score lower than his had been promoted to sergeant in October 2007. After initially refusing, the city eventually retroactively adjusted Benvie's promotion to the date he would have been promoted but for his military service. However, the defendants subsequently failed to give full effect to that promotion by denying Benvie the opportunity to take the lieutenants' promotional exam.

Among other things, the suit seeks to provide Benvie with a makeup exam for the lieutenants' promotional exam that he was not permitted to take; place Benvie on the appropriate eligibility list based on his score on the lieutenants' exam; and, should his score merit it, retroactively promote Benvie to lieutenant with all of the rights, benefits and seniority that he would have enjoyed if he had been permitted to take the exam in October 2008 and had achieved the same score.

"No service member should miss out on opportunities for advancement in the civilian workplace because he or she answered a call to duty," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We will use all of the tools at our disposal to protect the rights of those men and women who serve our country and make sacrifices to protect our rights."

U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz said, "Our service men and women make the ultimate sacrifice by serving our country. We cannot allow employers to disadvantage them based on their military service or military status."

The Justice and Labor Departments place a high priority on the enforcement of service members' rights under USERRA. "Our two agencies work closely together to ensure that our service members are treated right when they return from service," said Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint Benvie filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). After an investigation, DOL determined that Benvie's complaint had merit and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.


TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Janet Hook (Wall St. Journal), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Martha Raddatz (ABC News) and Pete Williams (NBC News) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is " The Sincerity Test." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Debra Carmajam. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nicole Kurokawa and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is a discussion on the topic of our bodies, our health. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Editor's Note
A full-length "60 Minutes" program has been prepared, but due to live CBS Television Network programming before and after Sunday's broadcast, whether time will allow a whole hour cannot be determined until Sunday night. Both programs will contain the two-part story listed below.





Endless Memory
Lesley Stahl reports on the recently discovered phenomenon of "superior autobiographical memory," the ability to recall nearly every day of one's life. Stahl interviews the handful of individuals known to possess the skill, which scientists are only now beginning to study. (This is a double-length segment) Watch Video



60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.


iraq
the local
cnn
joe sterling
the guardian
martin chulov
bbc news
rudaw
hiwa osman
reidar vissar
the national
nizar latif
pbs
washington week
to the contrary
bonnie erbe
cbs
60 minutes

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Cult of St. Barack

As Black and African-American members of the community, we decided to do a group post. We invited Ty in and this will run at Third Estate Sunday Review on Sunday. The rest of us -- Betty, Marcia, Stan and Ann -- will post it tonight at our sites. We did not invite Cedric or Isaiah. Not out of ill will (please, Ann is married to Cedric) but because Cedric's doing a humor site (joint-posts with Wally) and Isaiah's focusing on archiving his comics due to community members complaining about how difficult it is to locate comics from his five years and counting of doing political cartoons for The Common Ills.

In today's snapshot, C.I. provides an excerpt from Joy of Resistance, the segment featuring Jill of Feministe which led three of us to visit (Betty, Marcia and Ann) and that quickly involved everyone because we were hugely bothered by one post.

The post is entitled "What (white) Progressives Don't Understand About Obama" and we give credit to Jill for the title. Seriously. Check out our latest "The Black Roundtable" as well as Betty's "Kiss my Black ass, Matthew Rothschild" and Marcia's "Matthew Rothschild patronizes Black people." We applaud Jill for inserting White into the headline because Blacks and African-Americans are progressives as well (and we are conservatives, and libertarians, and Republicans, and Democrats, and Socialists, and Greens, and Communists, and independents and swing-voters and apolitical and more). And we heard Hillary Clinton speak of the White working class at the end of her 2008 primary campaign and fully got her point and saw no racism in it. But the same people who trashed her and tried to read racism into her remarks are the ones who always want to install a little fence around their Progressive Clubhouse and leave us on the outside.

So we applaud her for that.

We are confused as to why any feminist would link to Ishmael Reed. We're not saying we haven't read him. We're saying that, in fact, because we have read his writing.

Two of us (Ty and Marcia) are gay and we all believe in the full spectrum of equality including marriage equality. That's among the reasons we can't get behind Ishmael.

It's noted in the comments that he has problems with women (don't worry, we'll get to it). He also has problems with gay men. His writing and his remarks are very clear. He considers them "weak." The post Jill has linked to by Ishamael is really a homophobic straight man trying to provide cover for his hero (Barack Obama) whom he apparently suspects is gay. Ishmael's in the midst of homosexual panic. We have no idea why, but he's been in that panic his entire career and his attemtps at macho are both laughable and tired. His homophobic attacks, however, are not a laughing matter and we seriously doubt anyone who links to him. They either don't know what they're doing or they think his repeated attacks on gay men who were involved in the making of Precious are okay with these linkers. We're not fans of the film Precious. But we're also not fans of homophobia.

Then there's the issue of his attacks on feminists. He especially loathes Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. He may have reason to. While we support Gloria and Robin we have publicly criticized them when we felt it was warranted. But what we didn't do, was lie about them. In one of his many attack pieces on Hillary in 2008 ("Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man") one that reads like he's trying to rip off Jesse Jackon Jr.'s attack and use it (did she cry!!!! -- he always wants women to cry and to suffer), he deliberately distorts reality. He insists that Gloria was harder on Barack than she was on Bill Clinton. What? We wish, in 2008, Gloria had had the good sense to call Barack out. But she didn't in the primaries and she didn't in the general election (in fact, she supported him in the general election).

But he's big on putting words into Gloria's mouth. Claiming she said something or did something when she never did. It's all over the bad column entitled "Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man."

We could stay with Ishmael and all of his problems forever and a day but we don't have all night. And we need to get to the comments.

A number of whiny babies, no other word for it.

First off, stop being ahistorical. No one's in the damn mood for your revisionary history.

At least twice we see whines (with a third offering a variation) of 'Barack's doing what Bill did and they didn't trash Bill.' We're sorry you're so grossly uninformed. Before the 1996 elections, a number of notables and 'notables' from the left -- such as Frances Fox Piven -- had publicly declared that they wouldn't vote for Bill.

The idea that the Christ-child Barack is experiencing something no one else ever did is just not reality. We get it. He's your political virgin and you're really hoping to see his pubes grow in like he's Christopher Atkins in "Blue Lagoon." But you need to grow the hell up.

Barack has not been accused of killing a wide variety of people the way both Bill and Hillary were. We're sorry you don't know reality but that's your problem, grow the hell up.

What Bill did economically is something you can disagree with. Most people do. Today.

Today, most people do. On the left.

But when Bill came into office "Reinventing Government" was the new hulu hoop. The way the cracked writing of Thomas Frank or the nonsense of "framing" are hulu hoops today. The public-private partnerships were going to save the economy and the country.

It was false and that's not what happened. But Bill's publicly spoken of the realities about the economy. He's done that in looking back. Looking back at what he did ten years ago.

There's no excuse for Barack to be aping Bill ten years later. Bill knows it was mistake why doesn't Barack?

Today, most on the left can call out what was the privatization of the public sphere and public goods and public needs. But coming off the wowie-we-love-him frenzy of Ronald Reagan, Democrats were trying to figure out how to appeal to voters. "Reinventing Government" is a mistake and should never have happened. Clinton-Gore was the first effort to test it out. It's been tested. Why Barack can't grasp that is on him.

In one of the most laughable comments, we read that we have to -- have to? -- vote for Barack in 2012 because otherwise who will replace Ruth on the Supreme Court!

Who cares?

He's given us two moderates. Not lefties, not liberals.

We also find it interesting how Barack is "Black." He wasn't, you know, until Bobby Rush kicked his ass when Barack thought he was ready for the US Congress. He was still bi-racial then and in his alumni newsletter. He only became Black (and borrowed the walk he currently uses) after Black voters backed Bobby and flipped the bird at Barack.

PRI had an interesting report today:

More Biracial Americans Experiment with Fluid Identity

A research paper published by the Social Psychology Quarterly drew some interesting conclusions about the way that members of our increasingly diverse society are experiencing and experimenting with structures of identity. Titled “Passing as Black: Racial Identity Work Among Biracial Americans,” the paper argues that with less stigma attached to any one race, people of mixed heritage are, more frequently than before, declaring themselves biracial one day, or all one race the next. But what does this fluidity mean to the idea of race in our country at all? And How does one rationally and honestly navigate the conundrums of identity?

ListenAddDownloadComments [21]

You can call him what you want. We call him "mixed" or "bi-racial" and have done so since 2007. One who disagreed with us was LIEFACE Melissa Harris-Lacewell. We should have seen it coming, when Melissa kept ignoring Barack's White mother and insisting Barack was Black, we should have seen it coming. What?

Turns out the woman who bullied the media and everyone else and wanted to self-present as the guardian of Black identity . . . she's got a White mother too. A detail she kept hidden because it would have defeated her whole argument. Which makes Melissa Harris-Lacewell (yes, we know she's remarried -- if it lasts more than two years, we may try to learn her new last name) like the housekeeper's daughter in "Imitation of Life." We picture Melissa screaming and crying as she shows up at her mother's funeral after years of denying her mother and passing.

We think Barack Obama has been a huge problem for Black America. We still don't have our first Black president. We've had to lie and pretend because that's how he was sold to us. Black men are hurt worse than any other sector in the work force under Barack in terms of employment. He's done nothing for us and because a bunch of pampered little assholes want to insist he's Black, we got stuck with him for four years.

We can't afford four more.

It's past time that the asshole was called out by all races.

Guantanamo is not closed. The Iraq War is still not over. He's done nothing on the employment issue. He refused to give us real health care but is more than happy to force us to buy bad health care and enrich the corporations who installed him despite the myth of those 'small donors.'

We're sick of his sexism and his homophobia. Proposition 8 passed in 2008 because? Among the many reasons, supporters of Prop 8 used Barack on their robo calls. That's because he stood with Prop 8. Did he call it out? No. He stood with them. And he put homophobes on stage at campaign events in both the primaries and in the general election. Then he invited his b.f.f. homophobe to the inauguration.

We're damn sick of hearing how easy Bill supposedly had it.

If any other Democratic president had so sold out the Democratic Party and its base, their poll numbers would be even lower than Barack's currently are.

Ishmael Reed 'explained' in a bad interview this year why he supports Barack: Because he doesn't like the people who don't like Barack.

That's the sort of simplistic reaction that Ishmael tries to pass off as deep thought and exploration. We don't have time for it.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


Thursday, December 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Joe Biden mentions Iraqi Christians, news about the Kurdish deal with Nouri surfaces, Julian Assange is out on bail, activists protest the war outside the White House, and more.

Last night on WBAI, Joy of Resistance (available in the WBAI archives for 89 days from today) found host Fran Luck addressing the topic of "Swedish and US rape laws and the current wave of misogny that has surfaced in response to rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange" with attorney Jill Filipovic. Excerpt:

Fran Luck: We're going to be looking at some of the aspects that haven't been discussed very much, certainly in the leftist media, about -- or in the right wing media, only in the feminist media -- about some of the kind of side effects of the rape accusations against Julian Assange that have kind of brought up huge amounts -- almost dust clouds -- of misogyny that, amazing, has been all over the internet. And we're going to look at that and we're also going to look at Swedish law on rape with Jill who is a feminist lawyer as well as being a blogger for Feministe. I was first alerted to this when I began to see these huge amounts of just absolutely evil posts calling, oh, God, talking about women as just these revenge motivated monsters, acting out of jealousy, all of the tropes, everything that women in court rooms have to confront when they are accusing men of rape, okay, their characters are defamed, etc. Now my position on this whole thing is that I don't know what happened. I don't know if Assange is guilty of these charges, I don't know that he is not. I know many people feel the circumstances are suspicious and I agree with that. I also am very much rooting for WikiLeaks and I think what they're doing is absolutely marvelous for the world. However, you know, that doesn't mean that their founder is a wonderful person. We don't know. He may be wonderful in some aspects and not in others. I think we need to keep an open mind to both sides. I certainly am not going to dismiss any rape allegations by any woman. So, Jill, what's your take on this?

Jill Filipovic: Well I think that's right. I think that part of the problem with the Julian Assange accusations is that there's become such a cult of personality around Assange himself that he's now so tied to the WikiLeaks project that any criticism of him at all is seen as somehow feeding into this right-wing target that's been painted on his back. You know, I think we can all agree Assange is under fire and he is in a very difficult situation and he is heading up what I believe is a very valuable project. We can believe that and also realize that life is complicated and he can head up a very valuable project and also potentially have done some very bad and illegal things. We can also withhold judgment on whether or not he's guilty. And, at the same time, we can withhold judgment on whether or not the women who have accused him of rape are just making up their accusations.

Fran Luck: Mm-hmm. I know the lawyer for the two woman has said his clients have been assaulted twice. "First physically, before being sacrificed to a malevolent online attack." And the women were having a very tough time and we know one of them has now fled which has some people saying, 'Well the charges weren't real, that proves it." And, you know, as a feminist I can understand caving under that kind of pressure, that kind of assault. Another target has been the government of Sweden and the laws of Sweden. There's been a lot of misrepresentation. I mean, all over the internet, there are posts that say: 'Oh! A man can be arrested for not wearing a condom in Sweden.' Which is also very funny, right? Tell us why.

Jill Filipovic: Right. I mean that is such an incredible mischaracterization. You know, what I think has happened, there's been a series of, I think, over-reliance on statements made by Julian Assange's criminal defense attorneys. I believe they're the ones who first used that phrase "sex by surprise" which isn't actually a crime in Sweden, isn't a legal term in Sweden. A lot of the reporting on it is centered around one tabloid, Daily Mail article that used the "sex by surprise" term and that also basically said that these accusations are about a broken condom and a lady who was mad because a condom broke when, if you actually read what the Swedish prosecutors have said in public -- which isn't a whole lot, but they've made the charges pretty clear, is that one of the women says that she was physically held down during sex and Assange also refused to wear a condom. And the second woman says that Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep. That's very different than: The condom broke and we all agreed we would just keep going and the next morning I have -- what a right-wing blogger called --'buyer's remorse' and so I'm going to report this man for rape. These are crimes that involve physical force, that involve lack of consent, that are serious crimes and that would be considered crimes -- that would be considered sex crimes and sexual assault in place other than Sweden which has been sort of painted as the lefty feminist out of control country when in fact their rape laws are entirely reasonable.

Fran Luck: Why don't you talk about their rape laws and how they differ from US rape laws.

Jill Filipovic: Sure. I'm not an expert in Swedish rape laws so I don't want to put forth the idea that I'm issuing some sort of expert Swedish opinion here. But I have read the Swedish penal code and I have been doing a good deal of reading of how rape is treated in Sweden and, you know, it's clear that in Sweden they have what would sort of be our first degree rape law which is forceful sexual intercourse and then they also have a law that covers sexual coercion. So a law that basically says if there's a lack of consent, if sex is coerced, then that's a sex crime. And I think that is sort of what fits into a lot of what we've been talking about here in the Assange case which is that one of the accusers has said that the incident started out consensually and that at some point consent was withdrawn and Assange didn't stop. When you actually think about how that plays out, if you're having sex with someone consensually and then you say "No stop" because the condom broke or because it hurts or because something just went wrong, most people are going to stop at that point. The only person that's not going to stop at that point really is going to be a rapist. And it's not such an out there thought that consent should be able to be withdrawn at any point during sex. The idea that consent can be withdrawn -- even after sex has commenced -- is not the law across the United States. It's the law in some states, it's not the law in others. In a lot of states, it's very unclear whether or not you can withdraw consent. You know, in the US, we really hang a lot on the idea of force when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Fran Luck: In our laws.

Jill Filipovic: In our laws. And I think in our culture as well. But legally we pin a lot on this force issue and the way that consent tends to be used in rape trials and in rape cases is with the defendant saying 'well she consented' as a defense. You don't see a lot of folks being prosecuted based on the idea that the woman did not consent. Instead, what you see is you see the prosecution focusing on the force issue, you know, whether or not there was violence involved, how much, how much force was used, how much force you can prove. You know, there aren't -- The idea of consent and a lack of consent translates into assault is just not really part of American legal culture which I think has led to a lot of confusion and, I think, a lot of the derision of Swedish laws.

Fran Luck: Mmm-hmm. What's the basic philosophical difference between basing your rape laws on lack of consent versus force?

Jill Filipovic: I think the basic philosophical difference is how you view sex versus how you view crimes and violence. As someone who is a big proponent of a "Yes Mean Yes" model of consent -- affirmative consent -- my view is that sex is something that should be fun for everyone involved. That sex is great. And people should like it. And they should have fun with it. And, you know, at the point where you are creating sexual assault laws that don't just say any sex without consent isn't assault but instead say, "Eh, if you don't consent that's maybe not assault. You have to physically do violence to someone, you have to hold someone down, you have to hit them, you have to punch them, you have to threaten them with a weapon and only then are we going to say that you broke a law, to me, is a really sexually unhealthy way to view the world, to view sex." And I think that a much better model and a much clearer model for all of us would assume that sex is something that shared, something positive. And as much as I hate to compare women's bodies to objects, you know if I leave a hundred dollar bills out on my table it doesn't mean that just because you're in my house you get to take that and walk away and then claim that because I didn't say that you couldn't have it, that I gave it to you. It's a little bit of an icky metaphor.

Fran Luck: So-so here we are with Sweden being just vilified and being seen by many misogynist men as home of these crazed radical feminists who -- which another wonderful term, I think --

Jill Filipovic: "Leftist, atrocious sluts" is what one blog post call them.

Fran Luck: Oh, okay. Yeah, we have some examples. You know, here's one. "She is one" -- I guess they're talking about one of the rape accusers, "She is one of the many Swedish women who advocate using false rape charges in the name of gender equality. In other words, she's a complete raving lunatic and should be" I can't say this, something-"slapped and subsequently put in jail." And in another one, one of these women is called a psychotic bitch and Sweden is a" another word I can't say, a word that goes with the word "whipped." What you're saying when a woman is dominating a man, that it's that kind of country. So this is all over the internet and in reality there laws are really -- should be -- they should be honored because they are kind of advanced. So I wanted to -- I did want to talk about that.

Again, for those who can enjoy online streaming, the episode is available in the WBAI archives for 89 days. Fran's other guests were Susan J. Douglas, Lu Baily and Amanda Marcotte. The next installment of Joy of Resistance will air January 5th. Trina caught the broadcast and noted, "On The Issues magazine was mentioned repeatedly thoughout the show so I'm giving a link to that in case listening/streaming audio doesn't work for you (due to equipment issues or hearing issues) and you can read a number of strong articles including a few by some of the guests."

Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times) reports, "After nine days in jail, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was granted bail Thursday in a politically charged case concerning alleged sex crimes in Sweden. [. . .] But he must surrender his passport, submit to monitoring by an electronic tag, abide by a curfew and report to the police daily." BBC News adds he will be staying at the home of Vaughan Smith. BBC News' Maddy Savage reported on the day for PRI's The Takeaway: "Dramatic scenes in the last few minutes as supporters outside the court are cheering and screaming in joy at the decision. What happened here is that the decision to grant Julian Assange bail has been upheld following an appeal by prosecutors and this means that he should be able to leave jail shortly". Al Jazeera quotes Assange stating, "I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations." Generally speaking, a defendent sees evidence during a trial.

At The Atlantic, David Samuels writes, "Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service by making hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents available on Wikileaks -- and, predictably, no one is grateful. Manning, a former army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces up to 52 years in prison. [. . .] It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean." You know what? It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of innocent until proven guilty to see David Samuels convict Bradley Manning.

Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. As Daniel Ellsberg reminded from the stage in Oakland last September, "We don't know all the facts." But we know, as Ellsberg pointed out, that the US military is attempting to prosecute Bradley. Paul Courson (CNN) notes Bradley is a suspect and, "He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say." Cameron Joseph (National Journal) reports that Daniel Ellsberg was at the White House today "chained to its snowy gates as part of a protest organized by Veterans for Peace [. . .] Ellsberg was one of dozens arrested, the Associated Press reported." David Jackson (USA Today) explains, "It's cold and snowy in Washington, D.C., but that didn't stop protestors from showing up at the White House today to demonstrate against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police appeared to arrest an unknown number of protestors as they sought to chain themselves to the White House fence." UPI offers a photo essay of the protest by Kevin Dietsch. David Swanson's War Is A Crime offers video of the protest. Paul Courson (CNN) states 131 is the number of activists arrested and cites US Park Police spokesperson David Schlosser as the source for that number. At Stop These Wars (umbrella group for the various groups and individuals organizing the action) it's noted, "131 veterans and others were arrested December 16 in front of the White House. Preliminary gallery of photos here. More to come."
.

Moving to the topic of Iraqi refugees, Michael Sheridan (New York Daily News) reports, "A desperate journey for freedom met a horrific end after a boat believed to carry as many as 80 asylum-seekers from Iran and Iraq broke up and sank off the Australian coast on Wednesday. The wooden craft smashed against jagged rocks near Christmas Island, breaking into pieces and dumping its passengers into the cold ocean, as witnesses said they were helpless to do anything." Bonnie Malkin (Daily Telegraph) adds, "As the refugees -- women, children and men -- were thrown, or jumped into the water, residents launched desperate, but ineffectual, rescue efforts: lifejackets were tossed but then thrown back by the wind, a rope was thrown, but it broke. The passengers stood no chance, said one resident. Another spoke of the horror of children dead in the water. Yet another told of the utter despair at being unable to help." The Telegraph estimates that at least 28 people have died but "Navy boats managed to pluck 41 people from the water and one man swam to shore. The rescue effort was suspended over night but fresh attempts to search for the estimated 28 people still missing in the morning were being hampered by continuing bad weather." Matthew Taylor (Guardian) adds, "According to figures from the UNHCR, 128 boats carrying asylum seekers have landed in Australia so far this year."

Iraq is the largest refugee crisis in the MidEast. Violence and instability has created the crisis (both stem from the US-led Iraq War). ". . . the recent atrocities committed against the Iraqi Christians. There is a shared consensus and empathy between the government and the Iraqi people to provide security and safe environment for Iraqi Christians who have played an important role in the Iraqi national heritage and-and movement in rebuilding our country. International support is critical to encourage Iraqi Christians to stay in their homeland as an integral part of the Iraqi society," Hoyshar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, declared yesterday at the United Nations Security Council meeting. The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. Asia News notes the kidnapping of an Iraqi Christian in Mosul yesterday and quotes Monsignor Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka declaring to the European Parliament on Wednesday that "Iraq's Christians live in fear of the future." C.M. Sennott (Global Post) quotes the editor of the Catholic weekly periodical America stating, "What is often unnoticed in the Middle East is the devastating effect of US policy on Christians in the region. US policy makers have never taken the plight of Christians seriously, whether in Iraq or in Lebanon. There may be protests of specific violations, but not in those areas where the US or Israelis have other strategic interests. For all the communication with US government over the past 20 years, I have seen no serious action from any administration to improve protection for Christians. Religious freedom is basically a reporting matter and no more."

We'll try to note more on Zebari and the UN in tomorrow's snapshot. There's not time or space today. At UN Security Council meeting yesterday, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the UN Security Council and stated, at one point, "Attacks by extremists remain an unacceptable aspect of daily life in Iraq. We're particularly concerned about recent attempts to target innocents because of their faith, including both Christians and Muslims, and to lash out at security forces working to keep the country safe." Of Bident's remark, Katherine T. Phan (Christian Post Reporter) quotes USCIRF Deputy Director Elizabeth K. Cassidy stating, "We were pleased that he mentioned that issue in his statement although it was a fairly general statement." In speaking, he became the highest ranking official in the administration to speak out against the targeting of Iraqi Christians thus far (last month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on the issue). The US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued the following yesterday:


WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned the terrorist attack of December 14 against worshippers at a mosque in Chabahar, Iran, and similar attacks in Iraq, on the eve of the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura and called on governments in the region to be especially vigilant in protecting all religious worship during this holiday season.

"This is the latest of a long string of despicable attacks launched by the forces of extremism and intolerance against innocent religious worshippers in the region," said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. "From Ashura to Christmas, public religious observances during this time of year continue to provide targets for religiously motivated violence in the Middle East and other parts of the world. We strongly urge greater protection for worshippers during this special season."

Similar violence has struck Ashura celebrations in neighboring Iraq this year. Over the past few days, several attacks have targeted Shia pilgrims in Iraq, including a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Tuesday that killed at least 39. During last year's Ashura observance in Iraq, a series of bombings killed at least 19 individuals and injured more than 100. A recent wave of attacks against Christians in Iraq, including the October 31 attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, also has heightened concern about the prospect for escalating attacks as the Christmas holiday approaches.

The Ashura holiday commemorates the death of Imam Hussein in 680 A.D.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at
tcarter@uscirf.gov This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or (202) 523-3257.

While Iraqis continue to die in Iraq and outside of Iraq, thug Nouri al-Maliki may indeed win a second term. Time magazine is wrapping up the year and they note Nouri as a "People Who Mattered." Ishaan Tharoor's sketch includes this: "Revelations in WikiLeaks' Iraq war logs, published in October, counted thousands of previously unreported civilian casualties, many at the hands of Maliki's state security forces. It's bad press the controversial politician could ill afford." Meanwhile UPI notes, "Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, told London's pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that, while the main Shiite alliance in Iraq backed many proposals offered by the Kurds, the Iraqiya slate was holding up several measures. He said Iraqiya is opposed to measures describing the territorial boundaries of the Kurdish provinces and authority over the Kurdish military force Peshmerga." Kholoud Ramzi (Niqash) notes the potential obstacles to the power-sharing deal that's led to Nouri being declared prime minister-designate, "But even before the agreement was signed, the Kurds supported Maliki. In bilateral talks with the President of the Kurdistan region, he had sought to reassure the Kurds that he would resolve some of the controversial issues causing tension between the central government and that of the region. These include the oil and gas law, the financing of the Peshmerga forces, the population census process, and the deployment of the Iraqi army in areas usually described as "disputed", most notably Kirkuk province." Why did they support Nouri? UPI provides one reason: "In a previously undisclosed August-dated Kurdish communique published by the Iraq Oil Report, Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani pressed Baghdad to drop its opposition to KRG contracts with foreign oil companies, agreements the federal government deems illegal."


March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a National Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now nine months, nine days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."

Dr. Serhat Erkmen, Middle East Advisor of the Ahi Evran Universtiy Dept of International Relations, (Today's Zaman) outlines the two issues he feels are the most difficult:

Henceforth 11 days were left for this difficult task. For this reason, Maliki try to accelerate the process to form the goverment as soon as possible during the negotiations. Some analysts point out that the constitutional limitation, laws and the timing were violated many times before. Therefore, Maliki may break the deadline. This assumption could be regarded as correct considering the previous examples. Besides the deadline issue is a vital problem for Iraq politics with each passing day, because it is observed that al Irakiyya waits for the opportunity in case Al Maliki fails.
Second political issue is that the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani focused on the right of self determination in the speech made in 13th Congress of KDP on December 11 and its effects. Two subjects from Masoud Barzani's speech that contain several massages cause serious reflections. The main points of the speech were poverty, fight against corruption, and respect for ethnic and sectarian identities, the Kurd role in government formation process, Kurdish claims of Kerkük and the right of self determination. The last two of them starts new arguments in Iraq politics. Different reactions come to the idea of self determination right and the claims that Kurds will not give up from Kerkük. These reactions are generally critical.


Yesterday, Joe Biden chaired the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iraq.


US Vice President Joe Biden: Since President Obama asked me to oversee our administration's Iraqi policy when we took office, let me assure you that the United States will continue to work with Iraqi leaders on the important tasks that lie ahead: Conducting the census, integrating Kurdish forces into Iraqi security forces, keeping commitments to the Sons Of Iraq, resolving disputed internal boundaries and the future of Kirkuk, passing critical hydrocarbon legislation and a fiscally responsible budget in helping stabilize its economy. We must also continue our efforts to protect and support those displaced by war and to help enable voluntary, safe, diginifed and sustainable returns.

Grabbing the issue of Sahwa (Awakenings, Sons Of Iraq), Lara Jakes (AP) reports that plans to bring Sahwa into the fold appear "at risk of being derailed" and that Nouri and those close to him are pushing the problem off on "local officials and the Shiite dominated Interior Ministry" of being resistant and they state that the plan is to pie-in-the-sky to be achieved. Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured. Xinhua reports that in addition to those three injured in Baghdad, a Dujail bombing left five people wounded.

Turning to the US, 4433 is DoD's figure for the number of US service members killed in Iraq. One of the fallen is Sgt Michael Ferschke, another is Spc Morganne McBeth.

Charlie Reed and Chiyomi Sumida (Stars and Stripes) report
that Ferschke's widow has finally -- by an act of Congress (not joking) -- been allowed to reside in the US with their son. That's providing Barack signs it into law -- it passed the House yesterday (the Senate earlier this month):

Congress move essentially grants an exemption to U.S. law that will allow Hotaru Ferschke to relocate from Okinawa to the Tennessee hometown of her husband, Sgt. Michael Ferschke.
"I kept my promise to my son. This is what makes me feel so much better than anything," said Robin Ferschke, Michael's mom, who has been fighting to help her daughter-in-law move to the U.S. "I am sure my son is proud of me."

WBIR adds, "The effort to pass the measure in the House appeared dead for the year, but Knoxville Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. was able to secure a final vote with just hours remaining in the current 111th Congress" and they quote Duncan stating, "This is something that everyone has wanted to support all through this process, and it is a great moment for this family. Helping people caught up in extraordinary circumstances like the Ferschke's is one of the most basic and important jobs of Congress, and I am so grateful for all the bipartisan support in the House and Senate."

Spc Morganne McBeth was killed in Iraq as well and apparently by those she served with.
Drew Brooks (Fayetteville Observer) reports that Spc Tyler Cain faced an Article 32 hearing yesterday at Fort Bragg: "Prosecutor Capt. Mike Lovelace argued that Cain lied to officials investigating the death of Spc. Morganne McBeth by giving two versions of the events that led to her death. Cain's lawyers, including Maj. Greg Malson, argued that Cain only clarified his earlier statements and that there was no intent to deceive investigators." Wisdom Martin (Fox) reports Lovelace is charged with conspiracy and Spc Nicholas Bailey with involuntary manslaughter. He also quotes Sylvia McBeth (Morganne's mother) stating of the military, "They're still trying to cover this thing up from us because they're still not contacting us and letting us know anything. We did not even know there was going to be a hearing today."

Meanwhile Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and his office issued the following today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the House of Representatives passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (S. 3447), a bill introduced by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka to improve educational assistance for those who served in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Monday and now awaits the President's action.

"Assisting veterans who are pursuing an education is a vital part of our commitment to the young men and women in the armed services," said Senator Akaka. "This bill will improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, and I applaud my colleagues in the House and Senate for supporting it. I thank the veterans service organizations that came together to help us develop and pass this important measure. I urge President Obama to sign the bill into law."

The committee report for S.3447 can be found here. For more information on the GI Bill, please visit http://www.gibill.va.gov.



iraq
wbai
joy of resistance
the los angeles times
henry chu
bbc news
the new york daily news
michael sheridan
the daily telegraph
bonnie malkin
the guardian
matthew taylor
time magazine
ishaan tharoor
upi
the gulf news
mohammad akef jamal
pri
the takeaway
the stars and stripes
charlie reed
chiyomi sumida
wbir
the fayetteville observer
drew brooks
wisdom martin

Blog Archive