Sunday, January 14, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

A make-or-break speech by a beleagured American president is usually preceded by a demonstration of American might somewhere on the planet and the run-up to Bush's address Wednesday night was no exception. The AC-130 U.S. gunship that massacred a convoy of fleeing Islamists on Somalia’s southwestern border, apparently along with dozens of nomads, their families and livestock, was deployed on its mission on Sunday, to make timely newspaper headlines indicative of Bush's determination to strike at terror wherever it may lurk. Moral to nomads: when the US president schedules a speech, don't herd, don’t go to wedding parties, head for the nearest cave.
President Bush stuck to his expected script and said he plans to boost America’s forces in Iraq by 4,000 Marines to Anbar province and 5 combat brigades -- 17,500 troops -- to Baghdad, in a new scheme to regain control of the city. Past strategies to do this had failed, Bush explained, because of insufficient numbers. He added ominously, "Also, there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."
In other words, the gloves will now be off in the impending onslaught on the areas of Baghdad controlled by Muktada al Sadr and his Mehdi army. In urban counter-insurgency -- the specialty of the politically agile and ambitious new US commander Gen. David Petraeus -- the unrestricted U.S. response to a sniper attack or a street corner ambush will be to level the block and if necessary, the entire neighborhood, in a reprise of the destruction of much of Fallujah at the end of 2004.
But Baghdad is a vast city, and the actual fighting component of the beefed up US force in the whole of Iraq won't be more than 30,000 -- and probably less, so it's impossible to see the new plan as anything other than stupid and cruel, destined only to deepen sectarian hatreds, and to kill, wound and render homeless very large numbers of Iraqis crammed in the slum areas -- i.e., very crowded houses -- which are Muktada's base.
Within ten minutes of Bush’s half-hour address, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois made an unusually spirited rebuttal on behalf of his party, (far better than the usual slither from Obama ) saying military strategies had failed, and that it was time to bring the troops home and tell the Iraqis to figure it out for themselves. But such bluntness won't translate into the only way the Democrats could end the war, which is to refuse to okay the money to pay for it. This is something the Democrats could do, since they now control Congress.
But despite the urgings of Senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Jack Murtha and some others, they shirk the opportunity the voters gave them last November 7. Although heavily pressured by their constituents, a majority of the Democrats in Congress dread White House accusations that to nix the funds would be to leave US troops in Iraq defenseless. So instead they will contrive symbolic votes in protest against Bush's escalation, okay the money and then spend the run-up to the presidential election in 2008, piously saying "We told you so" as the bad news and the bodies come home from Iraq.

The above is from Alexander Cockburn's "Nomads Beware" (CounterPunch) and Kayla noted it. That's an excerpt and there's much more by using the link. Cockburn also addresses the Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Thursday and you won't want to miss his words about Biden. I'm going to pick up on Biden but let's note Barbara Boxer. She pointed out that there was no sacrifice among those making the war decisions. She noted her children weren't serving and her grandchild was too young and she also noted, this was during the questioning of Condi Rice, that the Secretary of State had no immediate family serving.

I only saw a portion of the hearing live. I did catch clips of that this morning when we were working on The Third Estate Sunday Review and Jim got us all to watch. So let's note that Boxer cut to the heart of the matter -- and that some idiots are trying to say she was 'cruel.' The truth's the truth.

On Biden, Cockburn notes that Biden wasted questioning time with his usual wordy-ness. I couldn't agree with that more. I didn't catch the first half (I was speaking), I believe I caught the last half (came in on the exchange between Rice and Barack Obama) but what I did see just emphasized how Biden needs to learn to cut the words. He can't stop. It was like the Alito hearing all over again. But for anyone who didn't grasp how he could not make a simple statement when required and leave it at that, find a transcript because he couldn't end the meeting.

He was sucking up and boo-hooing that the hearing had gone on so late and how Condi had lost 20 minutes of her lunch (we'll get back to that) so the hearing was over . . . But it wasn't. Someone (a Republican) mutters some obvious point (the Congress appreciates the troops) and instead of simply saying, "Yes, important point to make" -- and ending the meeting, Biden had to pontificate on that topic. On and of. Right after groveling to Condi for the length of the hearing. It was a pointless ramble that seemed to never end (and had no point) and then he remembers some announcement he has to make as well. It felt like three minutes after he originally tried to the end the hearing and when it actually ended. Maybe not a big point unless you've groveled to Condi about how sad it was that she lost 20 minutes of her lunch.

On that point, cut the crap. People are losing lives. The US is at war. Condi Rice, anyone, can miss 20 minutes of lunch. They can, in fact, miss an entire lunch. They're not going to die. They're not going to suffer. It's not torture or abuse.

Condi Rice was appointed (by the Bully Boy and confirmed by the Senate) to be Secretary of State. Anyone who thought that position meant you get to dash off to lunch at will is mistaken.
Rice gave no indication that she thinks that; the same couldn't be said for Biden.

Biden's attitude needs to be dealt with quickly and it applies to the bulk of Congress when you leave out his wordy quality. Testifying to Congress is an obligation -- a part of the job. That's true of anyone in the federal government called before Congress. It's part of the job.

It's also an honor because the position held guarantees that what you will say is of interest to Congress. There are Americans who would love to go to DC and have minutes in front of committee to make a case.

It is an honor and I'm old enough to remember when people testifying to Congress started off by thanking Congress for the opportunity to testify.

If Congress wants to have power (own the power they do have -- and this is Dem controlled, Repube controlled), they need to stop acting like they're a pity date. It's one thing to make a single sentence "It's good to see you" statement. It's another to start thanking someone for showing up to give testimony related to their official duties. Some, maybe Biden, think it makes them look polite. It doesn't. It makes them look like doormats and in a nation where not everyone grasps the seperation of powers or knows the Constitution, it sends a message to some that when Condi or Robert Gates or whomever informs Congress, as part of their official role, they are doing a nicety -- that the normal business of government is being put on hold while the administration plays good guy/gal and trots down to Congress.

That's not reality and it reduces the power Congress has in the eyes of some. (And I'd argue "some" is a healthy chunk of the population having had to explain seperation of powers repeatedly last week while speaking.) If Congress wants to be an equal branch of the government, as it was created to be, it needs to stop this nonsense of kissy-kissy everytime someone testifies. It is an honor to testify and it is part of the duties of office. The official testifying should be the one saying thank you for the opportunity and the honor.

Now let's take the lunch nonsense and, again, in what I saw, Condi didn't bring up lunch. (Had she, I'd be ripping her apart right now.) The topic was the escalation. The topic of her testimony was sending more US troops to Iraq. Over 3,000 have died. Someobdy, anybody, missing part of a lunch isn't a tragedy. People who are supposed to represent the citizens of this country are obligated to do so. That includes talking about a topic as serious as escalation and if it means you're late to lunch, oh well, too bad.

Joe Biden turned Iraq into a joke. He turned the dead (Iraqis, Americans, Brits, Australians, etc.) into a joke. None of them were as important in his mind as whether or not Condi Rice got a full hour lunch. (Again, had Condi made the statements about lunch, I would be ripping her apart.) What are people watching supposed to take away from that nonsense?

The country's at war but that's not as important as a Secretary of State's lunch schedule? Biden embarrassed himself repeatedly. That needs to be addressed quickly because he's chairing the committee. More importantly, this nonsense that anything else, short of a breaking national emergency, is more important that a serious discussion (taking as much time as needed) on Iraq is saying to the American people that the Iraq war doesn't matter.

Biden embarrassed himself and he belittled the topic of war in Iraq and the power of Congress. That needs to stop.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq stood at 3012. Tonight? 3019. Let's note some of the reported violence for Sunday. From Reuters, a kidnapping in Balad (one Iraqi soldier, two Iraq officers); corpses were discovered in Baghdad (40), Baiji (severed head), nine corpses found in Mosul, and one corpse in Kirkuk; in Baghdad eight people were injured by mortar attacks, two people were shot dead, and a roadside bomb killed one person and injured six more; in Madaen four Iraqi police officers were shot dead; in Basra, two police officers were shot dead and a third wounded; and in Mosul, nine people were shot dead in and three were wounded.

In addition, the US military announced today: "An improvised explosive device detonated on a Multi-National Division – Baghdad patrol, killing one Soldier near the center of the Iraqi capital Jan. 14." And they announced: "A Task Force Lightning Soldier assigned to the 105th Engineer Group, died of wounds Saturday as a result of an explosion while conducting operations in northern Iraq." And Monday (it's Monday already in Iraq), the US military announced: "An 89th Military Police Brigade Soldier died Jan. 14 of wounds suffered after an improvised explosive device exploded next to his vehicle north of Baghdad." The latter should bring ICCC's count to 3020 for the number of US troops who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. 22,834 is the total ICCC currently lists for US troops wounded in the illegal war.

On the topic of the wounded, Sally notes Aaron Glantz' "Sick, Literally, of Fighting in Iraq" (IPS):

Susan Tileston hasn't seen her son, Levi Moddrelle, in more than two years. Levi served in the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan and then Iraq, where he was stationed for almost a year. He returned home for Christmas in 2003, but wasn't the same.
"I don't know what happened to him in Iraq, but he came home very distressed," Tileston told IPS from her home in Stanford, Kentucky
Tileston said her son had scars on the back of his head that he refused to talk about. When he was supposed to return to nearby Fort Campbell on Jan. 31 for a second tour in Iraq, he disappeared.
"I haven't spoken to him on the phone," she said. "I've gotten no letters or other communications. He hasn't talked to his relatives or friends or any of his other uncles or cousins. He hasn't touched his bank account since Mar. 8, 2004."
In September 2004, Tileston listed her son as a missing person with the state of Kentucky, but all the police could find was a traffic citation from Florida.
Tileston told IPS she doesn't know where her son is, but she has an idea about why he's gone.
"He was providing protection to a contractor's convoy," Tileston said. "An eight-year-old kid with an AK (machine gun) was shooting at his convoy and he shot back and had to kill an eight-year-old kid and that's when he lost it."
Tileston suspects her son has developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can emerge after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. A person experiencing PTSD can lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.

Now we're leaving of the topic of Iraq. When the Saturday entry was done, Keesha and Carl had both noted that Black Agenda Report's website was loading with an error message. So the plan was to pick it up Sunday morning. Didn't happen because I forgot and didn't have time to go through all the e-mails (or even more than the first two pages of them) this morning. So, before it gets postponed again, let's note Margaret Kimberley's "Oprah and Bad Samaritans" (Black Agenda Report):

Is it possible to complain about good deeds? A New York City construction worker, Wesley Autrey, is now world famous because he risked his life to save a stranger. The act was reckless but Autrey is alive, and so is the man he saved from an oncoming subway car. It does seem unkind to criticize.
While Autrey received accolades and/or money from David Letterman, Mayor Bloomberg, Disney World and Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey was winning kudos on the other side of the world. She opened a boarding school, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, in South Africa. It might have been dubbed Good Samaritan Week.
South Africa is definitely in need of help. That nation is still victimized by the apartheid that officially ended nearly 20 years ago. Apartheid was sustained by violence and in its aftermath the country is still racked by one of the highest rates of violence of any nation on earth. That evil system would not have existed if wealth were not concentrated in the hands of the white minority. A change in government didn't inspire that minority to hand over cash to the millions whose labor they profited from. They still have the money and black South Africans still have poverty. The nations also suffers from the world's highest rates of HIV infection.
Oprah’s school cost $40 million and will accept 150 girls, all hand picked by Ms. Winfrey. The recipients of her largesse are surely not complaining, but what is the justification for spending $40 million to educate so few people in a country that needs so much?
The school is a 22 acre, 28-building complex that features a yoga studio, beauty salon and sheets with a 200-thread count. Each girl gets a large closet for her small wardrobe and will eat food on the best china plates. Ms. Winfrey has determined that education can only take place in the lap of luxury.
"What is the justification for spending $40 million to educate so few people in a country that needs so much?"

Keesha and Billie both noted it in e-mails. Also, I've stated here before that Black Agenda Report publishes on Thursday. Billie corrects me, it publishes on Wednesday. My apologies and my thanks to Billie for catching that. And Cedric noted Glen Ford's "Bring Back Black Radio News -- The People's Network" (also Black Agenda Report) and he's highlighting a section of it at his site tomorrow and steering us to this section tonight:

If Dr. Martin Luther King had been allowed to live, he would have long ago mobilized to save local Black radio news from the dustbin into which it has been caste by white and Black corporate owners. In the days leading up to the Memphis Media Reform conference, Hip Hop broadcaster, journalist and historian Davey D has been circulating King's 1967 speech to the National Association of Radio Announcers (the Black disc jockey's organization of that era) in Atlanta:
"I value the special opportunity to address you this evening, for in my years of struggles both North and South, I have come to appreciate the role which the radio announcer plays in the life of our people. For better or worse, you are opinion makers in the community, and it is important that you remain aware of the power which is potential in your vocation.
"The masses are almost totally dependent on radio as their means of relating to the society at large. They do not read newspapers; television speaks not to their needs, but to upper middle class America.
"One need only recall the Watts tragedy and the quick adoption of the 'Burn, Baby, Burn' slogan to [understand] the influence of the radio announcer in the community. But, while the establishment was quick to blame the tragedy of Watts, most unjustly, on the slogan of
Magnificent Montague, it has not been ready to acknowledge all of the positive features that grow out of your contribution to the community.
"No one knows the importance of 'Tall Pall' White and the massive non-violent demonstrations of the youth of Birmingham in 1963; or the funds raised by
Pervis Spann for the Mississippi Summer project of 1964; or the consistent fundraising and voter education done for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the civil rights movement by Georgie Woods, my good friend from Philadelphia."
Dr. King was speaking of the Black masses' total dependence on Black-oriented radio for information relevant to their struggle. After King’s death and the urban rebellions of 1968, news operations proliferated in the exploding Black radio market -- a potent nutrient for the political forces bubbling from the ground up following the death of Jim Crow. Local Black radio news empowered these new forces, treating them as legitimate voices of the people -- no matter what the white corporate media said. Vast cadres of activists became powerful political actors -- made "authentic" by their recognition as "leaders" by local Black radio news staffs.
Local Black radio news was an indispensable ingredient in the formation of a progressive post-Sixties Black political class. It was a fountain of social democracy, focusing the spotlight (microphone) on groupings engaged in the transformation of a Jim Crow America to…something else. The early to mid-Seventies was the Golden Age of both local Black radio news and grassroots urban activism -- an historical synergy. As I wrote in the
May 29, 2003, edition of Black Commentator:
"In 1973, 21 reporters from three Black-oriented radio stations provided African Americans in Washington, DC a daily diet of news -- hard, factual information vital to the material and political fortunes of the local community. The three stations -- WOL-AM, WOOK-AM and WHUR-FM – their news staffs as fiercely competitive as their disc jockeys, vied for domination of the Black Washington market. Community activists and institutions demanded, expected, and received intense and sustained coverage of the fullest range of their activities."
Even stations in small Black markets fielded at least one- or two-person news staffs, nurturing emerging political structures throughout Black America. But this “Golden Age” was not to last long.
It is vital to note that African American ownership of stations played a secondary role in the Seventies proliferation of local Black radio news. By 1976, according to the National Association of Black Broadcasters (
NABOB), there were still only about 30 Black-owned radio outlets, far too few to significantly account for the explosion of inner-city electronic journalism. (In Washington, for example, only Howard University’s WHUR-FM was Black-owned.) However, African Americans almost universally believed that increased Black ownership would lead directly to qualitatively and quantitatively better radio service to the community.
How wrong we were.
The dependence on Black-formatted radio for information specifically relevant to African American life that Dr. King spoke of in 1967 continues to this day -- but the masses have been placed on a starvation and narcotized diet. Black corporate media owners -- the beneficiaries of a people’s aspirations and misplaced political capital -- are among those who are force-feeding the population a news-less and often lyrically toxic broadcast mix.

The importance of news and of local news can't be minimized. Clear Channel is obviously the bulls eyes target but it's far from alone. Davy D can be heard on the radio Monday through Friday as one of the three hosts of HARD KNOCK RADIO on KPFA 4:00 to 5:00 pm PST. And while noting KPFA, Radio Chronicles today featured Carles Bonner reflecting on the civil rights movement, the struggle for equality, recognition and, let's be real here, existance. Howard Moore also spoke of social movements for change.

On The KPFA Evening News, it was noted that Bully Boy said Congress may try to prevent the escalation, "but I've made my decision and we're going forward." His decision? The American people don't work for him, he is a servant of the people, accountable to the people. Gareth notes Stephen Foley's "Shock and oil: Iraq's billions & the White House connection" (Independent of London):

The American company appointed to advise the US government on the economic reconstruction of Iraq has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican Party coffers and has admitted that its own finances are in chaos because of accounting errors and bad management.
BearingPoint is fighting to restore its reputation in the US after falling more than a year behind in reporting its own financial results, prompting legal actions from its creditors and shareholders.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, BearingPoint employees gave $117,000 (£60,000) to the 2000 and 2004 Bush election campaigns, more than any other Iraq contractor. Other recipients include three prominent Congressmen on the House of Representatives' defence sub-committee, which oversees defence department contracts.
One of the biggest single contributors to BearingPoint's in-house political fund was James Horner, who heads the company's emerging markets business which is working in Iraq and Afghanistan. He donated $5,000 in August 2005.
The company's shares have collapsed to a third of their value when the firm listed in 2001, and it faces being thrown out of the New York Stock Exchange altogether. Despite annual revenues of $3.4bn, the company made a loss of $722m in 2005. Those figures were released only last month, nine months late, and the company has not yet been able to report any fully audited figures at all for 2006.

On The KPFA Evening News, Anotnia Juhasz (author of The BU$H Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time) commented on the latest developments noting that Bearing Point has a contract for the privatization of Iraq (including the oil law which would allow foreign companies to take as much as 75% of profits from any oil venture) and a contract that allows one of their employees to sit on that country's Oil Ministry. Stated Juhasz, "Bearing Point has played the role on the ground in Iraq as the company tasked with the job of making sure that Iraqi's new oil law is passed. So essentially there's been a Bearing Point employee who's had no other job but to make sure that Iraq passes an oil law that supports the Bush administration's agenda for Iraq which is to get Iraq's oil as privatized as possible and into US corporate hands. And that has been Bearing Point's job and it seems that BP has done that job quite well. Bearing Point has essentially been the workhorse on the ground and also the constant threat the constant presence of the Bush administration on the ground in Iraq, doing nothing but focusing on getting this law completed and potentially passed in Iraq. [. . .] The Bechtels and the Halliburtons and the oil companises, Chevron, Exxon , Connoco, and Marathon. Those companies have all been beneficiaries of policies that Bearing Point helped develop and Bearing Point was developing policies that simply, again, serviced the Bush administration's interests. It's definitely just a tool of the administration whereas the other companises definitely had their own agendas that the administration in some ways was a tool servicing their interests like, in particular, the oil companies."

Bearing Point is paid to push through the privatization of Iraq's oil, paid by the US government with US tax dollars. Shame spans both sides of the Atlantic, but before we get to that, let's note the demonstrations that are coming up in England. Pru notes "Bush orders more carnage" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Tens of thousands more US soldiers are set to land in Iraq. George Bush promises a “surge” in troops to secure a “final victory”.
But their presence will simply make worse the bloodbath that is occupied Iraq.
Bush and his coterie of neoconservatives want one final push to secure Baghdad and other areas. They have forced out administration members and military chiefs who do not agree with this last, desperate gamble.
An estimated 650,000 Iraqis, the vast majority civilians, lie dead under US occupation. Many more will perish as Bush escalates his war.
The good news is polls show just 36 percent of Americans agree with his plan, while US politicians and the military are deeply divided over whether to back Bush.
On 27 January there will be a massive demonstration against the war in Washington. On 24 February the anti-war movement in Britain needs to flood the streets of London and Glasgow in a mighty surge for peace.
The following should be read alongside this article: »
US troop ‘surge’ to Iraq is last, desperate gamble» Worldwide protests on Guantanamo’s 5th anniversary» Scots mobilise against the war» US aerial assault on Somalia
Demonstrate 24 February Central London
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Now for the shame., another highlight, noted by Pru and also by Kevin, "British government bans dissident Iraqi MP" (again, Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Tony Blair likes to pretend that his murderous war on Iraq has "brought democracy" to the country -- so why is his government refusing a whistleblowing Iraqi MP entry into Britain?
Mohammed al-Deeni, an independent member of the Iraqi parliament, was to address a meeting in the House of Commons about torture, murder and human rights abuses in Iraqi jails. But his visa application was turned down in record time by the British embassy in Jordan -- who didn't even bother to interview him about the reasons for his visit.
Respect MP George Galloway, one of the organisers of al-Deeni's visit, said, "Our prime minister says that Iraq is a democracy. Yet when an Iraqi MP wants to speak to his counterparts in Britain about inconvenient truths he's not allowed into Britain.
"No MP, almost irrespective of their view on the decision to go to war, can allow this to stand. I have today tabled a motion condemning this decision, written to the Speaker, and demanded of the foreign office that they reconsider."
Al-Deeni produced a groundbreaking documentary highlighting abuses at Diyala prison that has been shown around the world. Within days of its broadcast, ten of his cousins were murdered by sectarian death squads.
Urge your MP to sign
Early Day Motion 594 that George Galloway has tabled demanding that the foreign office allow Mohammed al-Deeni to visit Britain.
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