Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 21, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the Vatican has concerns, Ralph Nader gets broadcast-network attention, the treaty hits a bump, and more.
Starting with the US race for president, NBC Nighly News with Brian Williams featured a report on the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader yesterday.  Tonight Nightly News begins the first of two-nights inteviewing the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Ron Allen interviewed Nader at length for the report and the interview is available online at Nightly News.  Below is a transcript.
Ron Allen: I think the first question everybody has is why do you keep doing this because it would seem you really don't have a chance of winning?  So why do you keep pursuing this?
Ralph Nader: You have to keep justice on the front burner.  The forces of injustice never take a vacation and the forces of justice can never take a vacation.  So as long as I can go around the country putting the progressive agenda on the front table for people, giving voters a choice, I feel I have to do it.
Ron Allen: So what is winning? Is there a specific policy, a specific change of the process that in your mind, makes this worth it?
Ralph Nader: There are a lot of different definitions of winning.  One of them is building for a future third political force that can really win an election.  The second is bringing lots of people into local, state and national elections as candidates -- especially young people in the future.  The third is to push the two parties -- a tugboat candidacy to either make them less worse or a little better which is a historic function of third parties.
Ron Allen: And do you think -- do you think -- is there a way to really measure what you've accomplished, do you think?
Ralph Nader: Oh we'll see.  We're pressing for example for single payer health insurance.  They're 93 members of the House who've signed on John Conyers HR 676 so let's say we get a good vote and we're trade marked by this agenda -- more people sign on, we think we've played a part.
Ron Allen: This time your signature issues seems to be the rescue package, the bail-out, your opposition to it.  It's a consumer-ish issue which is in your wheelhouse.  Do you think however -- the administration, the Congress seemed to insist that this was absolutely necessary to avert wider catastrophe -- do you think your message is getting through though?
Ralph Nader: Yes, because I think it was the wrong kind of bail-out.  They shouldn't have bailed out first the speculators and the high-risk paper, you should have helped the prudent institutions and the prudent savers  that developed a wall to protect them from the ruinous fall-out from Wall St. Second, I think that there should have been re-regulation because de-regulation opened the doors to this excessive speculation and most important the Congress should have made the speculators pay for their bail-out with a tiny tax, 1/10 of 1 percent of the security transactions that are traded every year.  That would produce $500 million.
Ron Allen: Part of the rescue package -- without getting too much -- contains some of that, some of the broader principles that Obama and McCain and others argued for, seemed to contain some of that.  That tax payers would be investors, that there would be a return on this.  Is that not enough?
Ralph Nader: It wasn't thorough enough, it's too easily evaded in terms of the tax payer equity.  For example, they weren't given any representation on the boards of directors and there was a cut-off below which they wouldn't have any equity and it was very complex and not really very enforceable.  I think when it came to the $700 billion bail-out of Wall St., Washington had Wall St. over a barrel.  They could have gotten anything in that bill because Wall St. wanted that $700 billion and, instead, Wall St. pushed Washington in the barrel and rolled it to a blank check.  That's why I think Congress has got to revisit this issue.
Ron Allen: Now there's an issue where there was a lot of support for that point of view in the country as there have been for other ideas you have pushed.  I hear both candidates, for example, talking about public works projects which you were talking about only a moment ago. Do you think that, having run for the office so long and been out there for so long and not increased your margin significantly, do you think that perhaps you're not the best messenger for your own cause now?
Ralph Nader: No, I think I am the best manager because it's very hard to be nationally known for any candidate unless you're a multi-billionaire.  And I am nationally known, I have a track record, I have constituencies around the country which I have helped over the years so I thank I am the candidate for those positions.
Ron Allen: But some people would argue it's the ideas, it's the positions, it's not you.  And I think that Obama and others have suggested that in their assessment of you, it's too much about you and it's not about the ideas.  I think he said something to the effect that his sense was that if you don't agree with everything Nader stands for, he thinks less of you, he thinks you're not substantive. I think was the word he used.
Ralph Nader: Well let's put it this way.  Take all our speeches -- my speeches, Senator Obama's, Senator McCain's -- and count the number of times they say "I" compared to the number of times I say "I" and I think that's your answer.  I'm the least egotistical candidate probably in presidential history. 
Ron Allen: Let's take them individually.  Senator McCain, Governor Palin, what's wrong with them?
Ralph Nader: Well they're corporate candidates.  Except for Governor Palin -- she did stand up to the oil companies.  But if you look at Senator McCain's positions he is for restricting the rights to have their full day in court of wrongly injured people.  That's tort reform, for example.  He has consistently supported a bigger military budget.  He is very militaristic towards certain countries in the world.  He wants the idea of a hundred military bases around the world.  He has a cockamamie health insurance plan that's not going to give sufficient health care to all the people in this country.  And Governor Palin has fallen in line.
Ron Allen: What do you think of her?
Ralph Nader: Well I think that she has been mistreated.  But I think that it was the fault of the Republicans because they introduced her to the American people not as a governor of a state, they introduced her as a soccer mom, they introduced her as having five children, NRA member, a hunter, a fisherman, and once you have that folksy image it's easy to prick the balloon and give the impression she's empty.
Ron Allen: Do you think she's qualified?
Ralph Nader: She's as qualified as any other presidential and vice presidential candidate.  What do you have to be to be a member of the two parties and run for president?  All you have to do is know how to read and write, get advisers and follow corporate orders.
Ron Allen: When you were talking about -- when you were talking about Senator Obama, you said prepare to be disappointed if he wins.  What did you mean by that?
Ralph Nader: Because I think he is very receptive to corporate power and that's why he doesn't have a full Medicare plan for the American people, that's why he doesn't press for a real living wage, just to keep up with inflation on the minimum wage it would be $10 an hour instead it's $6.55 an hour.  He doesn't have a platform to crack down on the corporate crime wave that the mainstream press keeps reporting.  He doesn't have a program for the bottom 100 million poor Americans and that's just the beginning of what we're going to see of Senator Obama if he wins.  
Ron Allen: And you were also in there railing against the mainstream media, us.  Why do you think it is that you think you don't get a lot of coverage?  Why is it that you don't get any coverage?  I think the editors would say, as I think they've told you, you're not that relevant you're not going to win why should we spend the time devoting scarce resources at what you're doing?

Ralph Nader: Because I think the media should be interested in a competitive democracy.  I think they believe there should be a competitive economy.  I think that without a competitive democracy, voter choices are narrowed and the voters that are their audience and one would think they would give more voices and choices in their own reporting other than the same routine daily, redundant, five-minute speeches by Senator Obama and Senator McCain. Reporters keep telling me how bored they are covering the presidential campaigns.  Well, we can give them some excitement.
Ron Allen: And also listening to you, it sounds like, it sounds like for you it's not about, you don't seem to -- you're not telling your audiences 'we're going to win, we're going to go to the White House'  Winning is a much different goal.  You talked about some thirty-odd states where it's not going to be a contest, you can vote your conscience in other places.  Have you gotten much more realistic about this?
Ralph Nader: Well I'm always realistic but I know that if you don't allow seeds to sprout, you'll never get plants or trees and if business doesn't allow entrepreneurs a chance, you're never going to rejuvenate the business community but somehow the press has bought into this two-party duopoly which is very exclusionary on presidential debates, on ballot access and this two party duopoly can't be regenerated unless small political starts have a chance to be heard by the American people and that means the mass media.
Ron Allen: And in terms of the two parties, there are still some people out there who -- you may never live this down -- as you know, there are many people who, there are people out there who still blame you for Al Gore's loss in Florida and in 2000 and therefore for the last eight years.
Ralph Nader: Well Al Gore doesn't blame the Green Party to his credit.  He thinks he won the election --  which he did in the popular vote but the electoral college threw it into Florida and he can give you chapter and verse on how it was taken from him illicitly from Tallahassee all the way to the five Republican politicians on the Supreme Court who selected  George W. Bush as president.  But it's interesting that you raise this because I don't think the mass media can have it both ways.  On the one hand they say, Nader-Gonzalez doesn't have a chance to win therefore don't cover them.  On the other hand, they say well Nader-Gonzalez may be 'spoilers,' that bigoted political word, and tip the election by tipping some of the close states.  Well, which is it?
Ron Allen: I think that was the case back in 2000. I don't think people think that's the case now.
Ralph Nader: Well because of recent polls but they thought that back in July.
Ron Allen: Do you think you're going to influence some of these battlegrounds?  I've heard you suggest that Colorado, Nevada, places where you think you could in fact effect the outcome.
Ralph Nader: Well we want to get as many votes as we can so we're traveling and getting votes in all fifty states but if we are going to be able to be heard more by going into the close states and effecting the margins, we'll be very pleased to do it because our interests are the health, safety and economics well being of the American people not the plight of one party over another.
Ron Allen: But do you actually think, is there a state where you think that you are really going to have an impact at this point, just a few weeks -- couple of weeks -- before the election?
Ralph Nader: Well it could be Ohio but it's trending towards an Obama landslide so Ohio I suppose is close maybe Florida is still close.  What else would there be?
Ron Allen: But again in states where you seem to be running the strongest, Colorado, Nevada,
Ralph Nader: Yes, in Colorado --
Ron Allen:  Even if you don't effect the overall outcome, do you really think you're going to have an impact?  Where do you think you're going to have the greatest impact?
Ralph Nader: Well I think the greatest impact will be where ever the media covers us the most and they'll probably cover us the most when we go into the small states.  Assuming there isn't a landslide by then.
Ron Allen: Do you think -- how do you think the election is going to turn out?
Ralph Nader: Right now?  If nothing happens in the next two weeks, I think it will be a big Democratic landslide for the Congress and probably 330 electoral votes for Barack Obama.
Ron Allen: And what's wrong with that? 
Ralph Nader: Well one thing that is not wrong is that the Democrats will control the White House and the Congress with large minorities and they'll have no more excuses How many times have I gone up on Capitol Hill and said, "Why don't you strengthen the consumer protection laws and why don't you end these corporate subsidies?  And why don't you get full health insurance and living wage?"  And they always say well we can't get it through because Republicans will stop us.  No more excuses.  If there's a Democratic landslide we're going to put so much heat on Congress and the White House that they're going to have to move for the American people and stop succumbing to the demands of their corporate pay masters.
Ron Allen: And if there was one idea or one thing you would like to accomplish, of if there was one part of a platform or a policy proposal that McCain or Obama or the Democrats or Republicans were willing to adopt that would say, that would make Ralph Nader say "Okay, I'll stop running for president I'll join you" what would it be?  What would have to happen for you not to do this?
Ralph Nader: Well that they take the populist positions that we have on our website VoteNader.org and --
Ron Allen: The whole thing?
Ralph Nader: They're very long overdue. Western Europe has most of them, out of the rubble of WWII full health insurance, living wage, decent pensions, four weeks paid vacation, university free tuition at public universities.  The kind of elementary civilized benefits like paid maternity leave, paid family sick leave, decent day care, they've had these for years and we're the richest country in the world. Barack Obama and John McCain will not come out for these straight and clear. 
Ron Allen: That sounds like a very socialistic position.
Ralph Nader:  Well it's called a Social-Democratic position in Europe and basically to me it's just elementary humanity because if we really love our country we will have to love the people in our country and people who are poor or disabled or otherwise disadvantaged but work hard and want to play a role in our society and raise their children why can't we give them a lending hand?
Ron Allen: And lastly, why -- why is someone not wasting their vote if they vote for you?
Ralph Nader: Because they'll be voting for their conscience.  They'll be voting for what a middle-aged man told me in Syracuse recently when he came up to me and he said, "I'm voting for myself, therefore I'm voting for Ralph Nader."
Ron Allen: Meaning?
Ralph Nader: Meaning -- meaning that for forty years I've demonstrated that I will not succumb to corporate power, I will not be tempted by corporate accouterments.  I will stand for the people of this country from A to Z, I will stand for their just treatment by the powers that be whether they be in Wall Street or whether they be in Washington.
Ron Allen: And again what is -- when you look back on this campaign months from now what will -- what will have made it a success?  What does it take to make this a success for you?
Ralph Nader: Well we're turning a corner on the violations of candidates' civil liberties by winning cases to break down the ballot access barriers in many states that deny voters a choice.  These are Jim Crow type laws to keep candidates off the ballot and without candidate rights, voter rights aren't worth as much because voters won't have a choice.  That's a clear trend that we are advancing.  Number two, we keep alive a future progressive enlightenment in our country.  All of the things that are so overdue that the American people need and deserve and are being denied because of the concentration of power and wealth in so few hands.  Number three and the most gratifying for me is the young people who are volunteering, who are going to be the political leaders of the future, who are learning the skills of clean political activity.
Ron Allen: And do you still think that you can be an effective messenger for that cause, again, given the last number of years that you've run unsuccessfully, the criticism that you've endured, the fact that a significant number of people don't take you seriously you still think you can be an effective messenger?
Ralph Nader: Well I take the American people seriously and that's enough for me.  But I remember the famous progressive writer I.F. Stone who once said that every social justice in this country started by people who lost and who lost and who lost but in the process of losing built more and more support for the breakthrough that made this a better country.  So I am not afraid to keep losing and losing as long as we are expanding awareness and galvanizing energies of the American people for a better future.
Nightly News has the video of the report from last night as well as the interview Allen conducted with Nader (the latter is a "web only" feature).  Warning, the clip will quickly feature the gutter trash of MSNBC including IDIOT Rachel Maddow -- the War Hawk Elaine caused to meltdown back in 2005.  So Rachel The Dog Face Anchor likes to brag about her alleged big brain and yet the IDIOT has no idea that there's a difference between Socialism and Communism.  (People, she's a dumb ass.)  Ralph Nader has been blocked out by many outlets -- including the alleged public airwaves of PBS -- so when NBC Nightly News does a report on him, we will open the snapshot with it.  It is big news. 
Today US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke about the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  David Morgan (Reuters) reports that Gates declared, "I don't think you slam the door shut, but I would say it's pretty far closed."  Meaning no more discussing the 'text' with those silly people who think they should have a say -- what do they think Iraq is, their own country?  That really is the attitude and how much of that is genuine and how much of that is for-show (to attempt to make the Iraqis think it's a take-it-or-leave-it offer) no one knows but he used one of the oldest ploys, "Clearly, the clock is ticking."  What has Gates so touchy?  Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) explains, "The Iraqi cabinet Tuesday called for reopening negotiations over a draft agreement to keep U.S. forces in this country beyond 2008, in the most serious sign yet that the accord is in trouble."  Sheridan notes that Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "We are clearly running out of time."  It's a mantra.  Expect Condi Rice to next declare, "Tick-tick-tick."  For the US administration, it all fell apart today with reports that Iraqis were not going to be easily bullied.  Damien McElroy (Telegraph of London) explained that, "in a sign that opposition is growing to a prolonged American presence, the largest political faction issued a statement demanding additonal revisions" in the treaty.  And AFP reported that the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, is attempting to bully Iraq into approving the treaty and that "Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also charged that Iran was working hard to scuttle passage of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA." Mullen's bluster betrays the calm the US State Dept attempted to project at yesterday's press briefing where deputy spokesperson Robert Wood attempted to act as if everything was fine and dandy and kept stressing the democratic process, refused to speculate on going to the United Nations to talk of possibly extending the mandate which expires December 31st and is the only legal framework that allows foreign forces on Iraqi soil.  BBC notes Gates' foot stomping and that he "has warned of 'dramatic consequences'."  Despite the threats, so far, Iraq isn't immediately buckling.  CNN reports, "The Iraqi government has unanimously agreed that a security pact with the United States lacks "some necessary amendments," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Tuesday."  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) puts it a little more bluntly, "The Iraqi Cabinet dealt a blow today to a draft agreement to allow US forces to stay in Iraq beyond the end of the year, demanding changes to the document to make it more acceptable. The nature of the amendments were not specified, but Iraqi MPs said there are concerns about the lack of a guaranteed date for US forces to withdraw. Another worry is whether Iraqi courts would in practice be able to try US soldiers who commit serious crimes. There are even gripes about differing interpretations in parts of the US and the Arabic versions of the draft accord."  At the White House, spokesperson Dana Perino declared of the process, "Well, we knew it was going to take a little while to get this done. I think we feel pretty comfortable with the strategic framework agreement. That is a broader document; it talks about our relationship moving forward on the political and economic issues. The strategic -- I'm sorry, the status of forces agreement is a little bit more complicated. We knew that the Iraqis would have several steps to go through. I saw reports that they want to -- today, and the Council of Ministers have suggested that they want to see some changes. I don't think we have seen those yet. And I'll let the negotiators in Baghdad talk about that when they get them."  At the US State Department today, spokesperson Sean McCormack stated he had not used the term "final draft" and he hasn't, he's called it "a text" nearly throughout.  He also stated, "We believe that this is a good text.  We wouldn't have had the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense making phone calls about this text if we didn't think it was a good text.  So we'll see what the Iraqi comments are."  And what of the puppet of the occupation?  CBS and AP report Nouri "Al-Maliki wants his coalition Cabinet to sign off before sending it to parliament. Al-Maliki fears he could end up politically isolated if he pushes forward with the agreement without solid national backing."
In other US and Iraqi relations, on the topic of Iraqi Christians, Niraj Warikoo (Detroit Free Press) covers today's rally in support of Iraqi Christians "held by the Network of Iraqi-American Organizations and the Michigan Christians of Mosul Relief Committee. After the rally, some are to travel to Washington D.C. to express their concerns to U.S. government officials, members of Congress, and the Iraqi embassy." Assyrian International News Agency explains this evening's rally will be "at the Mother of God Chaldean Church Hall, 25585 Berg Road, Southfield, MI 48033. The rally will start at 5:30 PM."  Philip Pullella (Reuters) reports, "The Vatican on Tuesday called on the Iraqi government and human rights groups to do more to protect Christians in Mosul, where half of the minority community has fled after attacks and threats.Pope Benedict's spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, told Reuters that the Vatican was asking itself if there was 'insufficient willingness' on the part of Iraqi authorities to protect Christians. 'We are extremely worried about what we are hearing from Iraq,' Lombardi said."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded four people and a Baghdad mortar attack that wounded five people.
CNN reports Mowaffak Merhi ("department director for Iraq's largest oil refinery") was shot dead in Shirqat today.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports  1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.  Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Mosul and, dropping back to yesterday, 9 discovered in Latifiya.
In the US a vote on Iraq flares up like a club and lands on John Kerry's face.  The US Senator was more than happy to back Barack Obama and to rip Hillary Clinton to shreds for voting for the 2002 authorization and now it's come back to bite him in the ass. Mike Underwood (Boston Herald) reports Kerry's Republican challenger Jeff Beatty declared in last night's debate that Kerry had "blood on his hands" and "You knew.  You knew when you voted for that war that we didn't have what we needed for the war . . . and you didn't care because it was always about getting elected president.  You have got blood on your hands."  Kerry denied it but Underwood leaves out whether or not he did so before first checking his own hands.
In US presidential race news, Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney will appear Wednesday October 22nd on NPR's Talk of the Nation and Saturday October 25 on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.
The Republican presidential nominee is John McCain and Sarah Palin is his running mate.
Matt Lira posts this to the McCain-Palin campaign blog:

ICYMI: Chicago Superintendent Gives Obama An F

The former head of the Chicago education system has spoken out against Barack Obama. The education foundation headed by Barack Obama "failed to monitor projects and funded school 'reform' groups that campaigned against boosting academic standards."

Paul Vallas, who was the superintendent of the Chicago school system when Obama chaired the Chicago Annenberg Foundation, said "There was a total lack of accountability. If you went back and asked, you'd be hard-pressed to find out how the money was spent."

Click here to read the full article.
McCain-Palin also note that Govenor Tim Pawlentry believes John McCain is ready to be president on day one, "John McCain is respected around the world because of his national security, military, and foreign affairs experience.  The country is struggingly economically and in many other ways and we don't need the added pressure of some sort of invitation or tempation by others to see that kind of weakness.  This is not coming from me or from somebody on our side, this is coming from his own vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, who repeatedly has suggested Barack Obama's not ready."  Delilah Boyd (A Scriverner's Lament) has the run down on Biden's statements (the sort called out in 2004 when Republicans made them during a presidential election). 
And Ralph Nader and his running mate Matt Gonzalez released the following "Brief Statement on War, Education:"
The United States, through its various agencies and aid programs, touts itself as a leader in global humanitarian and educational assistance. A glance through USAID's FY 2008 Budget Appropriations report indeed reveals an extensive list of programs broken down by country to which our government is donating. But while the list may run long and cover a wide range of programs, the amount of cash this country sends overseas in assistance nowhere near matches the amount it spends to fight Bush's costly, illegal wars.

At a rate of $14 million per hour, 24 hours per day, the US spends roughly the same amount of money occupying and destroying Iraq in one hour as it does annually to fund the three American universities in the Middle East (The American University of Beirut, The American University in Cairo, and The Lebanese American University).

This demonstrates the folly of a foreign policy based on militarist interventionism as opposed to a foreign policy driven by true humanitarian principles. A humanitarian foreign policy is much less costly and much more effective in both the short and longterm, especially if more democracy is the goal at home and abroad.

One can only imagine how much support and goodwill we would find around the world if we spent a significant fraction more overseas promoting education and knowledge rather than wasting hundreds of billions devastating and destabilizing entire countries, regions, and their peoples.

To truly gain credibility and earn trust as a humanitarian superpower, the US must reverse its current foreign policy by immediately ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ending all military aid and supplies to Israel used to brutalize its Arab neighbors. Instead, we need to use some of those funds to invest in education and help rebuild the nations we destroyed and the much larger amounts to rebuild the public works and infrastructure inside the United States. Good jobs are created in both places.

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