Friday, December 21, 2007

The Cheney effect (Stephanie Mencimer)

On Wednesday, Jamie Leigh Jones told a House Judiciary Committee her now-famous story about having been allegedly drugged and gang-raped two years ago by several coworkers shortly after arriving in Iraq as a contractor for KBR, an engineering and construction firm contracted with the military to provide logistical support to the troops. Jones' story has prompted widespread outrage, partly because the Justice Department and the military failed to prosecute her attackers, but also because it appears that Jones can't sue KBR for placing her in harm's way.
When Jones went to work for KBR in Texas, and later for its subsidiary, Overseas Administrative Services, she signed contracts containing mandatory binding arbitration clauses, which required her to give up her right to sue the companies and any right to a jury trial. Instead, the contracts forced Jones to press her case through private arbitration, which she did in 2006. In that forum, the company that allegedly wronged her pays the arbitrator who is hearing the case. For that she can thank Dick Cheney.
At the time of the alleged attack on Jones, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the behemoth military-contracting and oil-technology firm. (KBR was sold off earlier this year.) So Jones is covered by the Halliburton dispute-resolution program, which was implemented when Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. The system bears the markings of Cheney's obsession with secrecy and executive power. On his watch, Halliburton, in late 1997, made it more difficult for its employees to sue the company for discrimination, sexual harassment, and other workplace-related issues.
One day, Halliburton sent all its employees a brochure explaining that the company was implementing a new dispute resolution system. The company sold the new program as an employee perk that would create an "open door" policy for bringing grievances to management and as a forum for resolving disputes without expensive and lengthy litigation. In practice, it meant that anyone who had a legitimate civil-rights or personal-injury claim signed away his or her constitutional right to a jury trial. Anyone who showed up for work after getting the brochure was considered to have agreed to give up his or her rights, regardless of whether the employees had actually read it. In 2001, the conservative and pro-business Texas Supreme Court overturned two lower courts to declare that this move was legal.

The above is from Stephanie Mencimer's "Cheney: No Justice for Jaime Jones" (Mother Jones) and, for those wondering, the New York Times this morning? Nothing on Jamie Leigh Jones. Rather surprising when you consider the nature of the case which brings up issues of rape, corruption, contractors, lack of governmental supervision and a host of other issues. Or maybe just surprising when you consider how Anita Hill's story helped women. I'm referring to the issue of awareness and truth telling but it's equally true that coverage of it helped some careers and certainly the paper's managing editor knows that. It also needs to be noted that ABC's 20/20 was reporting on this last week -- real reporting, not the "Here, New York Times, we're releasing this report in 18 hours. But we'll pass it over to you and you can call it a 'scoop' even though you've done no reporting and just offering a summary of a report that will be public a few hours after most people read your paper tomorrow morning."

The Times doesn't have to advocate for Jones. They do have to cover the story because it is news and a gang-rape of a contractor is a bit more important than most of the junk in the paper such as today's 'story' about the impact of ___ who got pregnant at 16. They try to churn out a parent & child on the street piece but the reality is it's not front page news. Unless you're a tabloid. Mencimer is offering another aspect of the story and it is news.

Changing topics, for many this is the holiday seasons and that includes for many in Iraq. This is from Tina Susman's "Deadly attacks shatter holiday in Iraq" (Los Angeles Times):

A suicide bomber edged his way into a crowd of Iraqi officials and U.S. forces gathered for a meeting north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing as many as 12 people, including an American soldier.
It was one of three attacks nationwide that shattered what had been the peaceful start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Wednesday for Sunni Muslims. Shiites begin celebrating the four-day holiday today. The violence included a bombing in central Baghdad that targeted a row of liquor stores and, police said, killed three Iraqis.

There will be some other notes regarding the season in the next entry. For now, we'll stay with the violence from yesterday. On the first attack that Tina Susman notes above,
Paul von Zielbauer's "Bomber Hits a Gathering of Civilians and G.I.'s" (New York Times) provides the following:

The Iraqi police said that 14 people, including one of the Americans, were killed as the soldiers were giving holiday gifts to residents in Kinaan, in the continually violent Diyala Province. But an American military spokesman said only five people had been killed, and he denied that soldiers were handing out gifts for the Id al-Adha holiday.
The attack also wounded 18 civilians and about 10 American soldiers, Iraqi police and American military officials said.

So that's some of yesterday's reported violence. If you missed the big budget for next year -- the central (puppet) government claims they can't afford to continue the minimum rations offered now for the Iraqi people and yet there are millions going to payrolls -- which should automatically kick in an audit -- while the police and security (or at least those over them) get
funds, the realities are different for others. An Iraqi correspondent writes of the "Teachers' Strike" (Inside Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers):

The teachers' union called for a strike two weeks ago to be for one simple day put Sunday 16th of this recent month as a start demanding all teachers of the fifteen Iraqi provinces ( without the other three provinces in Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq) to take part in it. As this step is for the benefit of them , teachers of Basra, Anbar , Mosul , Baghdad and the other provinces in the south , west , east and centre of Iraq carried it out hoping to get its result so soon.
The aim of this strike is to make those teachers of the south and centre of Iraq in a balance with those teachers in Kurdistan region by having the same salaries and privilege. Teachers in Kurdistan get double and they reach triple the salaries of those in all over the country. The question is why we have this double standard in dealing with teachers.
Are the teachers in Kurdistan better than those in other parts of Iraq? Are they suffer or face more difficulties to be compensated? Does the education system differ in a way which forces the teachers to give more efforts? Do teachers have to travel so far of their homes to get extra money for transportation? The answer is so simple: NO. I can tell after having thirteen years of experience in teaching that teachers in the south had suffered a lot during Saddam regime.
Kurd teachers didn't suffer as much as those teachers in the marshes or the desert or even in the cites. We know that they suffered during Saddam's regime or of the previous regimes. But teachers in other parts and especially in the south suffered more than that. In the past, I had to teach in two different schools in one salary of about three dollars a month. Nowadays my colleagues get about 125 $ per month spending at least 50 $ on transportation.

The 'brain drain' has been commented on by the mainstream media repeatedly. The trend of attacking educators less so. Individual deaths get noted but there's little attempt on the part of the mainstream to report the realities of this trend and how it is an attack by religious zealots who do not want education and see education as a threat. From Ali al-Fadhily's "'Bad' Women Raped and Killed" (IPS):

Graffiti in red on walls across Basra warns women against wearing make-up and stepping out without covering their bodies from head to toe, Alwan said.
"The situation in Baghdad is not very different," Mazin Abdul Jabbar, social researcher at Baghdad University told IPS. "All universities are controlled by Islamic militiamen who harass female students all the time with religious restrictions."
Jabbar said this is one reason that "many families have stopped sending their daughters to high schools and colleges."
Earlier this year Iraq's Ministry of Education found that more than 70 percent of girls and young women no longer attend school or college.

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