Friday, September 26, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announced another death, did the Obama-Biden plan for Iraq slip out accidentally, and more.
Starting in Iraq. The Parliament passed a bill for provincial elections that now awaits approval (or rejection) by the presidency council. This afternoon, the New York Times' Eric Owles posted at Baghdad Bureau an audio conversation between the paper's Iraq-based correspondents Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell discussing the bill. Excerpt:
Alissa J. Rubin: Well they were under pressure to pass a law actually three or four months ago. The idea had originally been -- and the requirement was that they would hold provincial elections by Oct. 1st. That was in one of the previous laws they passed and I'm not, I cannot remember in which one. And that, obviously, that deadline was missed when they were unable to agree pretty much in May to an election law. And then as the summer wore on it became clear that they may not even be able to have them this year. But there was a gathering upset, some anger, frustration from political groups that were not represented or are not represented now in the provincial councils and there was a strong feeling that if they wanted to maintain stability they needed to give those people a place at the table -- at least, although perhaps not the size place that they wanted but at least they have to include them in some way.
Stephen Farrell: So it's not just a technical question, it actually matters for the future stability of the country is that what you're --
Alissa J. Rubin: Yes, it matters a great deal. And there are two levels on which it matters. First, it matters because in some areas, notably Anbar Province to some extent and in Salahuddin and in several of the other northen provinces where there are large numbers of Sunnis there is this new movement, the "Awakening" Councils which are more tribal, local people, which are beginning to really represent a lot of the interests of the people living in those areas but the provincial councils which are the centers of power in these largely Sunni provinces are dominated by one political party -- the Iraqi Islamic Party -- and a few other smaller parties but that is the dominant one and those people don't necessarily represent or don't, in some cases, don't at all represent the people in the region. And so the "Awakeing" Councils and the "Awakening" leaders would like to have a chance to be elected and to weild power there. So that's very important and if they don't weild power they will -- or if they aren't allowed to weild power, there's a real risk that they will return to violence. Many of them were insurgents, not all, but certainly some of them. And it would not be a very representative situation. The same to some extent is true in the south as well which is predominately Shia. You have a large numbers of people loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite cleric, and they're very much -- in some provinces they are absolutely the majority and they don't have any place on the provincial councils or they have just one or two seats and the council? Say thirty, thirty-five members . So they are not able to influence how the council is governed. So it's important for stability to have those people also have their voices heard and be able to sort of plot the course of events.
Stephen Farrell: The provincial election laws sounds incredibly technical but what it seemed to me when I was thinking about it is that we hear all the time out on the street out in the provinces that it's a bit like a game of musical chairs. That the last time the music stopped four years ago some people weren't sitting on a chair, some people weren't in the room, some people weren't even in the country -- in those blunt terms. Broadly speaking, is that roughly what we're talking about? People demanding that the new reality on the ground be recognized.
Alissa J. Rubin: Absolutely that's what's happening and it's very important not just for the provincial elections. But these provincial elections are going to be something of a dress rehearsal for the national elections -- the Parliamentary elections that will be held at the end of 2009. And so it's quite important that more people be included before those elections are held so that those elections also, or that body, Parliament, begins to represent a bit better the country as a whole. At the moment, there's still quite a few people left out. Many of them didn't vote in the last election because they didn't want to vote in the country that they viewed as an occupied nation -- occupied by the Americans. So they abstained but the result is that they didn't end up with any power and yet they are here and there more and more influential for a variety of reasons depending upon which part of the country you're in.
Stephen Farrell: So boiling it down, what we have is that the Sunnis would argue the Kurds are very over represented in areas such as Mosul where the Sunnis did not take part in the last round of elections and I think that certain Sunni parties in Anbar who didn't even exist four years ago would now be saying, "Well we are the Awakening. We are the ones who brought peace to Anbar. It's time for the old guard to move aside and for our contribution to the country to be recognized." I mean, in effect, people crying out for recognition of realities of achievements made over the last four years.
Before moving on further with the various factions in Iraq, last Friday's snapshot mentioned an article by Leila Fadel. As noted Saturday, "U.S. strike kills civilians, Iraqis say" was written by Leila Fadel and Laith Hammoudi. That was my mistake. My apologies. This is in the Friday snapshot because Trina and Betty post that one and it saves them having to copy and paste from another snapshot during the week.
Back to factions. Kurdish friend Peter W. Galbraith makes a series of hypothesis in "Is This a 'Victory'?" (New York Review of Books) but what should raise eye brows is a declaration he makes. (Someone get Tom Hayden a chair. He'll need to sit down. We'll get to it.) Galbraith sketches out a scenario where all the factions are in direct competition and opposition. That's in part to his own desire to represent the desires of the Kurdish region by advocating that Iraq not be a nation but a federation. Tom-Tom's long had a problem with Senator Joe Biden's support for a fedeartion. The popular term for that, which Biden rejects, is "partition." Galbraith has long favored a partition. This is not the Iraqis making that decision but it being imposed upon them. (The Kurds have long favored partition.) Near the end of the article, Galbraith -- an Obama inner-circle accolade of many years -- makse some critiques of Sentator John McCain including: "He has denounced the Obama-Biden plan for a decentralized state but has said nothing about how he would protect Iraq's Kurds, the only committed American allies in the country."
The Obama-Biden plan? That was once Biden's proposal, long before he was on the Democratic Party's presidential ticket in the v.p. slot. But Obama supports partitioning Iraq? Again, Galbraith is part of Barack's inner circle. It's not fair to call him an "advisor" because he goes so very far back. (He is the one who, in fact, introduced Barack to Samantha Power in a kind of War Hawk mixer. Power, who, for the record, also supports partition.) What was once the Biden plan, Galbraith inadvertantly alerts, is now the Obama-Biden plan.
Tuesday's snapshot noted the Defense Dept press briefing by Lt Gen Lloyd Austin III where he attempted to sell the October 1st 'inclusion' of (some of) the "Awakening" Councils into the central government. NPR's JJ Sutherland attempted to figure out what the 54,000 members being moved over means and what their duties will be in Baghdad since, at present, they run checkpoints. Repeatedly, Austin demonstrated no awareness of what Sutherland was asking:
JJ Sutherland: Sir, I understand that but I'[m saying, "What happens in October? I understand eventually you want to have them be plumbers or electricians. But in October, there are a lot of checkpoints that have been manned by the Sons of Iraq. Are those checkpoints all going to go away? Are they only going to be staffed by Iraqi police now? That's my question. It's not eventually, it's next month.
Lt Gen Lloyd Austin: Yeah. Next month the Iraqi government will begin to work their way through this. And there's no question that some of them, some of the checkpoints, many of the checkpoints, will be -- will be manned by Iraqi security forces. In some cases, there may be Sons of Iraq that will be taksed to help with that work. But in most cases, I think the Iraqi government will be looking to transition people into different types of jobs.
Tim Cocks (Reuters) quotes Maj Gen Jeffrey Hammond declaring in Baghdad today, "This cannot be something that's allowed to fail. If the programme were to fail, obviously these guys would be back out on the street, angry, al Qaeda out recruiting them ... We don't need that." An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy raises the issue of the checkpoints noting, "The Iraqi people and especially Baghdad is fed up with promises by officials and security commanders of the improving of the security situation. Millions of students in schools and universities started their new studying year this week which will add more traffic in Baghdad and more targets for the car bombs. If the check points lessen the car bombs, we are happy with them. Instead, we have soldiers and policemen who wave for the cars to move like traffic policemen who are useless." Meanwhile Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports on a new questionnaire being distributed by Iraqi soldiers which asks a home's occupant for the a copy of their house deed, the names of their children and the name of the family's tribe "which identifies his religion and ethnicity. In Iraq, such a request has often been the first step toward death."
Back to the topic of elections, Iraqi elections, Alsumaria's "What's after approving Iraq elections law?" offers an overview of the steps for approval as well as the basics on the legislation: "The law stipulates to use an open list electoral system where voters can choose specific candidates while the old law refers to a closed list system where they could only select political parties. The new law does not cover the three provinces of Kurdistand. Polls there will be conducted according to a separate law that the region's parliament needs to write and pass." Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) observes that if the provisional elections are scheduled, they "will stir debate over the lack of central services, such as electricity and water. Many suspect that incumbents will have a hard time getting voter support because of an ongoing lack of basic utilities" and quotes Baghdad Univeristy poli sci professor Abdul Jabbar Ahmad stating, "Democracy does not only mean having an election or passing a law in the legislature. A real government provides services." And a government that doesn't puts the citizens in jeopardy. From yesterday's snapshot: "Meanwhile AP reports 327 case -- confirmed cases -- of cholera in Iraq." Leila Fadel (McClatchy's Baghdad Observer) notes the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction most recent report which found "only 20 percent of families outside of Baghdad province have access to sewage facitlities. Driving through Iraq's province is all the proof one needs. In many southern provinces the sewage runs like rivers through the towns while children play nearby and young kids swim through the dirty river water." Remember what professor Abdul Jabbar Ahmad stated? "A real government provides services"? Cholera's outbreak in Iraq is now an annual summer event. It is completely expected and little is done to prevent it. The UN's WHO pushes societal obligations off as individual ones as if individuals are the ones at fault for the lack of electricity nad the lack of potatable water? There has been no improvement in providing potable water, electricity continues to falter in Iraq and purchasing fuel to heat water (and make it safe) is problematic as fuel prices continue to rise. But the 'answer' is to repeat what they repeat every year and pretend that the central government in Iraq is not failing and that Nouri al-Maliki isn't sitting on billions that should have long ago been used for reconstruction. The UN is working on one water project in Iraq. Jiro Sakaki (The Daily Yomiuri) reports that the UN's Environment Program's International Enivornmental Technology Center is attempting to save the marshlands.
In diplomatic news, Xinhua reports today a reception took place in China "to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-Iraq diplomatic relations." In other diplomatic news, at the end of this year, the UN mandate that the US has been operating under in Iraq (a mandate put in place after the start of the illegal war) expires December 31st. Puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki has twice extended it (circumventing Parliament). The White House is attempting to push through treaties (and, to circumvent the Senate, is calling them SOFAs). Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reports that US Ambassador Ryan Crocker is stating Iran is attempting to prevent the puppet and the White House from reaching an agreement and that "Crocker also speculated that Iran may be tightening its ties to Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq and co-opting them from anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, who for the last year has ordered his followers to largely refrain from violence. He said Iran has a history of using members of political or other opposition groups in other countries to its advantage." Damien McElroy (Telegraph of London) adds, "Iran has condemned leaked drafts of the bilateral agreement to replace the mandate. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, replaced professional diplomats on the negotiating team with members of his private office in August, a development that has pro-Iranian politicians at the heart of the negotiations. Baghdad maintains that US efforts to secure immunity from prosecution in Iraq for troops and contractors is an unacceptible demand. David Satterfield, the top US negotiator, travelled to Baghdad with a counter proposal but Mr Crocker admitted Mr Maliki was unwilling to concede the principle when popular opinion in Iraq was overwhelmingly opposed." Yesterday Michel Ghandour (Al-Hurra) interviewed US Secretary of State Condi Rice at the Women Leaders Working Group in NYC:
Michel Ghandour: Madame Secretary, why do you think there's no agreement yet with the Iraqis regarding the American presence in Iraq, and what role do you think Iran is playing in this regard?
Condi Rice: Well, I don't know what role Iran is playing, but it's not for Iran to determine. It's for the Iraqi Government and the represenatives of the Iraqi people to determine. And it's a negotiation that's continuing that I think has actually got a good spirit of cooperation. People do understand that without an agreement -- American forces can only operate on a legal basis, and so we need a legal basis. But we're working very well with the Iraqis on this. They're not easy issues, and so it takes time. But we are working very well and we're working toward agreement.
The take-away is a question: If the US Ambassador to Iraq is telling the truth, why didn't Rice also grab the talking point yesterday? (The question offered it to her.)
In a readily established conflict between Iraq and another country, Hurriyet reports that Turkish military planes bombed northern Iraq Thursday night "and hit 16 locations" thought to belong to the PKK. Al Jazeera states 10 military planes were used in the bombing. BBC quotes an unnamded PKK spokesperson saying three people were wounded in the bombings.
It's a Friday. Very little violence gets reported on Fridays.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Anbar Province (four more wounded) and 1 police officer shot dead in Anbar province (one more wounded). Reuters notes 2 "Awakening" Council members shot dead outside Samarra and 1 person killed in Mosul.
Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division - Center Soldier was killed Sep. 25 when a roadside bomb struck a vehicle that was part of a combat patrol near Iskandariyah. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and official release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq to 4173 since the start of the illegal war with 22 for the month thus far.
Turning to TV, check your local listings. NOW on PBS explores the bailout and attempts to answer for "Americans: How will this affect me? This week, NOW on PBS goes inside the round-the-clock efforts in Washington to craft a bailout plan of monumental proportions." Meanwhile, tonight's debate is on -- for both of the corporatist candidates at any rate. PBS' Washington Week is going to do two live broadcasts on Friday. One before the debate and one after. Gwen's guests will include Michele Norris (NPR), Michael Duffy (Time), David Wessel (Wall St. Journal) Dan Balz (Washington Post), and a scribe for the New York Times.
Four presidential candidates are shut out of tonight's debate. Two are Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin. The other two? Cynthia McKinney is the Green presidential candidate and she notes on the economic meltdown:
Last week, I posted ten points (that were by no means exhaustive) for Congressional action immediately in the wake of the financial crisis now gripping our country. At that time, the Democratic leadership of Congress was prepared to adjourn the current legislative Session to campaign, without taking any action at all to put policies in place that protect U.S. taxpayers and the global community that has accepted U.S. financial leadership. Those ten points, to be taken in conjunction with the Power to the People Committee's platform available on the campaign website at (http://votetruth08.com/index.php/resources/campaignplatform), are as follows:
1. Enactment of a foreclosure moratorium now before the next phase of ARM interest rate increases take effect;
2. elimination of all ARM mortgages and their renegotiation into 30- or 40-year loans;
3. establishment of new mortgage lending practices to end predatory and discriminatory practices;
4. establishment of criteria and construction goals for affordable housing;
5. redefinition of credit and regulation of the credit industry so that discriminatory practices are completely eliminated;
6. full funding for initiatives that eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in home ownership;
7. recognition of shelter as a right according to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which the U.S. is a signatory so that no one sleeps on U.S. streets;
8. full funding of a fund designed to cushion the job loss and provide for retraining of those at the bottom of the income scale as the economy transitions;
9. close all tax loopholes and repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% of income earners; and
10. fairly tax corporations, denying federal subsidies to those who relocate jobs overseas repeal NAFTA.
In addition to these ten points, I now add four more:
11. Appointment of former Comptroller General David Walker to fully audit all recipients of taxpayer cash infusions, including JP Morgan, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, and to monitor their trading activities into the future;
12. elimination of all derivatives trading;
13. nationalization of the Federal Reserve and the establishment of a federally-owned, public banking system that makes credit available for small businesses, homeowners, manufacturing operations, renewable energy and infrastructure investments; and
14. criminal prosecution of any activities that violated the law, including conflicts of interest that led to the current crisis.
Ellen Brown, author of "The Web of Debt" writes at http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/, "Such a public bank today could solve not only the housing crisis but a number of other pressing problems, including the infrastructure crisis and the energy crisis. Once bankrupt businesses have been restored to solvency, the usual practice is to return them to private hands; but a better plan for Fannie and Freddie might be to simply keep them as public institutions."
Too many times politicians have told us to support the "free market." The unfolding news informs us in a most costly manner that free markets don't work. This is a financial system of their making. It's now past time for the people to have an economic system of their own. A reading of the full text on the Congressional "Agreement on Principles" for the proposed $700 billion bailout reveals the sham that this so-called agreement truly is. Today our country faces an economic 9/11. The problem that is unfolding is truly systemic and no stop-gap measures that maintain the current bankrupt structure will be sufficient to resolve this crisis of the U.S. economic engine.
Today is my son's birthday. What a gift to the young people of this country if we were to present to them a clean break from the policies that produced this economic disaster, the "financial tsunami" that former Comptroller General David Walker warned us of so many months ago and instead offered them a U.S. economic superstructure that truly was their own.
Power to the People!
McKinney's running mate Rosa Clemente will be speaking at the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) Saturday, September 27th. Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate and he is also shut out of tonight's debate. Nader notes that, more than any cash infusion, the country needs leadership with spine:
Congress needs to show some backbone before the federal government pours more money on the financial bonfire started by the arsonists on Wall Street.
1.Congress should hold a series of hearings and invite broad public comment on any proposed bailout. Congress is supposed to be a co-equal branch of our federal government. It needs to stop the stampede to give Bush a $700 billion check. Public hearings should be held to determine what alternatives might exist to the four-page proposal advanced by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson.
2.Whatever is ultimately done, the bailout plan should not be insulated from judicial review. Remember there is a third co-equal branch of government: the judiciary. The judiciary does not need to review each buy-and-sell decision by the Treasury Department, but there should be some boundaries established to the Treasury Department's discretion. Judicial review is needed to ensure that unbridled discretion is not abused.
3.Sunlight is a good disinfectant. The bailout that is ultimately approved must provide for full and timely disclosure of all bailout details. This will discourage conflicts of interest and limit the potential of sweetheart deals.
4.Firms that accept government bailout monies must agree to disclose their transactions and be more honest in their accounting. They should agree to end off-the-books accounting maneuvers, for example.
5.Taxpayers must be protected by having a stake in any recovery. The bailout plan should provide opportunities for taxpayers to recoup funds that are made available to problem financial institutions, or to benefit from the financial institutions' rising stock price and increased profitability after being bailed out.
6.The current so-called "regulators" cannot be trusted. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), "the investigative arm of Congress" and "the congressional watchdog," must regularly review the bailout. We cannot trust the financial "regulators," who allowed the slide into financial disaster, to manage the bailout without outside monitoring.
7.It is time to put the federal cop back on the financial services beat. Strong financial regulations and independent regulators are necessary to rebuild trust in our financial institutions and to prevent further squandering of our tax dollars. The Justice Department and the SEC also need to scrutinize the expanding mess with an eye to uncovering corporate crime and misdeeds. Major news outlets are reporting that the FBI is investigating American International Group, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lehman Brothers.
8.Cap executive compensation and stop giving the Wall Street gamblers golden parachutes. The CEOs who have created the financial disaster should not be allowed to leave with millions in hand when so many pensioners and small shareholders are seeing their investments evaporate. The taxpayers are bailing out Wall Street so that the financial system continues to function, not to further enrich the CEOs and executives who created this mess.
9.Congress should pass the Financial Consumers' Information and Representation Act, to permit citizens to form a federally-chartered nonprofit membership organization to strengthen consumer representation in government proceedings that concern the financial services industry. As the savings and loan disasters of the 1980s and the Wall Street debacles of the last few years have demonstrated, there is an overriding need for consumers and taxpayers to have the organized means to enhance their influence on financial issues.
10.The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, separating traditional banks from investment banks, helped pave the way for the current disaster. It is time to re-regulate the financial sector. The current crisis is also leading to even further conglomeration and concentration in the financial sector. We must revive and apply antitrust principles, so that banking consumers can benefit from competition and taxpayers are less vulnerable to too-big-to-fail institutions, which merge with each other to further concentration.
11.Congress should impose a securities and derivatives speculation tax. A tax on financial trading would slow down the churning of stocks and financial instruments, and could raise substantial monies to pay for the bailout.
12.Regulators should impose greater margin requirements, making speculators use more of their own money and diminishing reckless casino capitalism.
Ask your representative a few questions: "What should be done to limit banking institutions from investing in high-risk activities?" "What should be done to ensure banks are meeting proper capital standards given the financial quicksand that has spread as a result of the former Senator Phil Gramm's deregulation efforts?" And, "What is being done to protect small investors?"
P.S. Shareholders also have some work to do. They should have listened when Warren Buffett called securities derivatives a "time bomb" and "financial weapons of mass destruction." The Wall Street crooks and unscrupulous speculators use and draining of "other people's money" out of pension funds and mutual funds should motivate painfully passive shareholders to organize to gain greater authority to control the companies they own. Where is the shareholder uprising?
We've highlighted some of Jo Freeman's outstanding reporting on the 1976 political conventions recently. Freeman also covered this year's Democratic and Republican convention for Senior Women Web and you can find her articles here. We'll note this from her "Sarah Palin: A Risky Move and A Gift to the Women's Movement" (Senior Women Web):
Like Hillary's 2008 run for President, Ferraro's 1984 run for the second spot brought all sorts of sexism out of the closet. It was an eye-opener for everyone. In the end, this bold, risky choice didn't seem to affect the outcome. The exit polls showed that having a woman on the ticket was a prime concern for only a few. These voters about equally divided between those who told pollsters that they voted for a woman and those who said they voted against one.
Ferraro's candidacy had a bigger effect on those who answered the annual polling question (in a different poll): Would you vote for "a well-qualified woman of your own party for President"? After Ferraro a party gap appeared. Republicans were 50 percent more likely than Democrats to answer "No." Republicans have continued to say they would not vote for a well-qualified (but unnamed) woman for President at a much higher rate than Democrats.
Wonder what they will tell the pollsters this year?
Governor Sarah Palin is the v.p. nominee on the Republican ticket. Yesterday The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric aired the second part of Couric's interview with Palin. Excerpt:
Katie Couric: As we stand before this august building and institution, what do you see as the role of the United States in the world?
Sarah Palin: I see the United States as being a force for good in the world. And as Ronald Reagan used to talk about, America being the beacon of light and hope for those who are seeking democratic values and tolerance and freedom. I see our country being able to represent those things that can be looked to … as that leadership, that light needed across the world.
Couric: In preparing for this conversation, a lot of our viewers … and Internet users wanted to know why you did not get a passport until last year. And they wondered if that indicated a lack of interest and curiosity in the world.
Palin: I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world. No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.
Part one aired Wednesday evening and both links have text and video. As Jo Freeman noted, Palin is following in Ferraro's footsteps (Palin has publicly acknowledged that and that she follows in Hillary Clinton's footsteps as well). Genevieve Roth (Glamour) spoke with Ferraro to get her tips for Palin and Ferraro offers many worthwhile reflections and suggestions but probably sums it up the best with this: "The bottom line is, Sarah Palin doesn't need advice from me or anyone. She wouldn't be in the position she's in if she wasn't able to deal with the campaign."