Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, October 22, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Ehren Watada gets some legal news, the treaty still waits, and more.
Starting with Ehren Watada, the first officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq.  Lt Watada refused to deploy in the summer of 2006 (June 22nd).  An Article 32 hearing took place in August 2006In February 2007, a court-martial began but Judget Toilet (John Head) -- sensing the prosecution was losing -- ignored objections from the defense team and ruled a mistrial.  Head announced that a new court-martial would begin the next month.  It never did.  In November 2007, federal Judge Benjamin Settle ruled in Watada's favor stating that the issues needed to be resolved.  Hal Bernton (Seattle Times) reports today that Judge Settle has ruled that "Watada cannot face a second court-martial on three of five counts" which "leaves open the possibility of a second prosecution on two other counts involving conduct unbecoming an officer."  As UPI explains, "A federal judge in Tacoma ruled an Army officer cannot be tried a second time for refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.  In a ruling on the technicalities of Lt. Ehren Watada's first trial, U.S. District Judge Ben Settle said prosecuting Watada again would amount to double jeopardy."  The Honolulu Advertiser adds, "Settle barred the military from retrying Watada on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq, taking part in a news conference and participating in a Veterans for Peace national convention."  And they quote Ehren's father Bob Watada stating, "It's obviously good news.  It's very good news." While that aspect is good news, as Bob Watada notes, the Pentagon has a lot of money and may attempt to appeal the decision or to try Ehren on the other two charges.  Yet again, Ehren's life is in limbo.  His service contract expired in December of 2006.  He has been kept in the military all this time so that the military could pursue charges against him.  As always, he continues to report for duty at his base. 
Turning to Iraq and the treaty.  Leila Fadel (Baghdad Observer, McClatchy Newspapers) explains yesterday's events, "After a 4 and 1/2 hour meeting little was accomplished in a cabinet meeting to discuss the 'final' draft of a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq that would replace a United Nations mandate that currently governs the U.S. presence here.  Following the meeting it was no longer final, Shiite ministers once again raised objections to the wording of the draft.  The Foreign Minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, conceded that it was unlikely the agreement would be finalized before the U.S. elections on Nov. 4, he told Reuters.  The clock is ticking; the United Nations mandate expires on Dec. 31."  AFP reports, "Iraq warned on Wednesday it would not be bullied into signing a security pact with the United States despite US leaders warning of potentially dire consequences if it failed to approve the deal" and quotes Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraq spokesperson, declaring, "It is not correct to force Iraqis into making a choice and it is not appropriate to talk with the Iraqis in this way."  al-Dabbagh was referring specifically to the chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen.  China's Xinhua quotes al-Dabbagh stating, "Deeply concerned, the Iraqi government received the comments of Admiral Michael Mullen.  These comments are not welcomed by Iraq. All Iraqis and their political parties are aware of their responsibilities and they know how important to sign or not to sign the deal in a way that it is suitable to them."  As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Mullen and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were using bullying tactics with Gates tossing out, "I don't think you slam the door shut, but I would say it's pretty far closed" and "Clearly, the clock is ticking"; while Mullen was threateinging "significant consequence" if the treaty -- masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement -- wasn't pushed through. Alissa J. Rubin and Katherine Zoepf  (New York Times) term Mullen's remarks "a stark warning to the Iraqis to think hard before rejecting the agreement."  The International Herald Tribune editorializes about the road block the treaty has encountered "The most obvious motive is located at the intersection of patriotism and politics. With provincial elections coming up early next year and public opinion surveys indicating that more than 70 percent of Iraqis want an end to the U.S. occupation, Iraqi ministers are striving to align themselves with public opinion."
The reality is more complex and has a great deal to do with Iraqis questioning tricky wording in a contract being shoved before them.  Rubin and Zoepf note that the 'aspiration' of withdrawal in 2011 wording has been noticed, by the Iraqis, to allow for the US to decide.  Similarly, Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) points out  issue of  off duty US troops being tried in Iraqi courts for crimes also includes the US determining when the soldiers are off-duty.  In other words, the decision on both issues remains US decisions.
At the White House today, spokesperson Dana Perino stated of the treaty, "Well, the text was negotiated by both sides and it's now before the Iraqi government, as you say, Secretary Gates put it well yesterday, which is that the door wasn't slammed shut but it's pretty much closed, in our opinion.  So the -- I'll leave it to our negotiators to look at any suggestions that the Iraqis have, but I think that any changes would -- it would be a very high bar for them to clear. . . .  We are working towards it.  As we said -- and I said the door is closing fast, the expiration date for the UN mandate is December 31st and there will be no legal basis for us to continue operating there without that."  At the State Dept today, deputy spokesperson Robert Wood was asked to expand upon Perino's comments and replied, "Well, look, as we said yesterday, this text is in front of the Iraqi government right now.  And as we've said previously, we believe this is a good text.  It's a text that promotes Iraqi sovereignty as well as allows a legal basis for our troops to operate in Iraq.  And we think the Iraqis need to take a decision on this now.  And I don't have anything really to add from -- to what Dana said this morning.  But you know, it's -- the Iraqis need to make a decision.  The door is not slammed shut, but it's closing."
"Recent attacks and threats against Christians have caused alarm from Baghdad to the Vatican to the United Nations," Missy Ryan (Reuters) summarizes.  On the plight of Iraqi Christians, Bradley S. Klapper (AP) explains that the estimated 10,000 Christians who have fled Mosul since the most recent outbreak of violence are not returning thus far (despite being offered the US equivalent of $865 to return) and that Amr Moussa, Arab League chief, issued a statement noting, "We can't remain silent as brutal crimes are being committed against the Christian Iraqis." Meghan Walsh (Arizona Republic) notes a Phoenix demonstration in support of the victims where an estimated 100 people gathered to show their support.  Jennifer O'Neill (WBBM780) reports on Michighan's demonstration in Dearborn which had an estimated turnout of 1,000 and notes: "Steve Oshana is Policy Director of the Assyrian American National Coalition. He says the groups are asking Illinois congressmen for support on Assyrian proposals that are currently on the table in Washington D.C."  Philip Pullella (Reuters) explains that Reverend Federico Lombardi, spokesperson for Pope Benedict, states the Vatican is troubled, "We are extremely worried about what we are hearing from Iraq. The situation in Mosul is dramatic.  The victims are Christians and many thousands of people are fleeing precisely because they are subjected not only to the fear of periodic sttacks but a systematic campaign of threats.  This is extremely worrying and we ask ourselves if these people are sufficiently protected by the authorities or if the authorities are not able to protect them or if there is insufficient willingness to protect them."  Missy Ryan (Reuters) reports that al-Maliki again met with Iraqi Christians leaders "and again promised protection" but that protection doesn't appear to be coming, now does it? Ryan notes al-Maliki's vague statements about culprits, the US military's insisting that it's "Sunni Islamist militants" and whispers that it's the Kurds who are responsible for the attacks.  The Kurdish Globe notes the Kurdish region's president Massoud Barzani today was "vociferously denying fringe allegations that Kurds in Mosul are behind the attacks on Christians that have recently drove many from the city.  President Barzani classified such ridiculous insinuation as baseless, extremely malacisious, and a distraction from the real issue at hand: aiding the Christian families that have been forced to leave their homes out of fear for their personal safety."  The president "classified"?  Looks like the Kurdish Globe "classified" as well with the choice of "ridiculous".
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 Baghdad sticky bombs that claimed 3 lives and left seven people wounded, a Mosul car bombing that claimed 4 lives and left four more wounded, and a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 police officer. 
Reuters notes a Mosul shooting that wounded an Iraqi soldier.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad, the head of a man kidnapped last month was discovered in Tuz Khurmatu and 34 corpses were discovered in Anbar Province. Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney was a guest on NPR's Talk of the Nation today.  There seemed to be confusion or outright hostility aimed at her from Ken Rudin and host Neal Conan.  A perfect example is when Cynthia was asked how her run was different from independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's run.  Either the two men were extremely dense or they were hoping to create some slug-fest. 
"Well first of all," she began, "I'm running as part of the Green Party" which has over 200 elected officials in the US . . . But it was lost on the two men.  She then attempted to explain that November 5th the Green Party would still be in place.  For some reason, this was confusing and very hard for the two men to understand.  Cynthia is not the independent presidential candidate, she is the nominee of a party.  That is one way in which her run and Ralph's run are different.  Somehow that was either confusing to the men or they were just hoping that Cynthia would launch a slug-fest.
What she did have to speak about they weren't interested in.  That included the death penalty and who would have guessed that was a 'fringe' issue to NPR?  Repeatedly pressed as to how much difference she saw between the Republican and the Democratic Parties, she offered as an example the issues that get addressed and discussed and the ones that do not.  Cynthia pointed out that the death penalty has been ignored by the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain.
There wasn't any interest in exploring the death penalty issue even after Cynthia pointed out that it hadn't been included in the debates.  There was no interest in exploring anything.  Asked about her run at the start, she began, "Well basically, le me sort of bring you up to speed on when all of this started and how all of this started."  She then briefly recounted how she found herself, last year, standing in front of the Pentagon and delivering a speech about how the shift to a Democratically controlled Congress (following the November 2006 mid-term elections) had not resulted in any movement, how the Democratic leadership had become complicit on issues they supposedly opposed such as the Patriot Act and the illegal war in Iraq.  The boys weren't interested in that.  They weren't interested in her tying her departure from the Democratic Party to "the footsteps of people who a hundred years ago declared their independence" -- referring to the suffragette movement and the "260 women and 40 men gathered in a room and they also declared their independence" was about all she got to before the boys wanted to cut her off. 
It wasn't a conversation, it wasn't a discussion.  It wasn't pleasant to listen to.  At one point Cynthia McKinney was attempting to discuss the issues she and her running mate Rosa Clemente supported such as college education and how the government will "spend $720 million" for violence and war but not to put America's youth through college.  "People need the opportunity to hear a different set of issues discussed," she would explain.  But college education didn't matter to the boys. 
Repeatedly, Cynthia would present a topic and either be cut off or allowed to make her remark only to have the topic immediately switched by the boys.  It was not a professional interview, it was not a joy to listen to.
Cynthia wisely chose to take the Sarah Palin path. (Palin in the Democratic and Republican vice-presidential debate: "And I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let 'em know my track record also.")  Since Neil and Ken weren't interested in a discussion or anything even approximating a follow-up question, Cynthia was correct to talk beyond and over them noting that she and Rosa were "broadening the political discourse and we're representing those people and their values who've been locked out of the two party paradigm."  She explained she and Rosa were on the ballot in 32 states and that people in 17 other states could write the McKinney-Clemente ticket in.  A caller named Daneil phoned from North Carolina to explain that, "In our state, North Carolina, we can't really write in a candidate" because there's a space but he doesn't believe a write-in vote will be tabulated.  Cynthia discussed the hurdles involved involved in just becoming a write-in candidate in North Carolina and, had the boys paid attention, they could have explored this issue in depth.  Instated, they came to the interview with a set of questions they were going to work through regardless of any reply or topic raised.  Facts also weren't important which is why Cynthia had to correct Neil when he wrongly characterized her as not having campaigned in the north.  (Also true is her running mate Rosa has done multiple events in the north.) 
What may have been most shocking considering the boring trivia the boys started the hour with -- first African-American woman to head a political party ticket (answer, Charlene Mitchell the 1968 Communist Party presidential nominee).  The fumble, stumble, eat up time with bad guesses would have only been worthwhile had the overgrown boys ever taken a moment to ask Cynthia about her own historic run.  Needless to say, two tired boys are rarely interested in discussing progress for women.  Cynthia next appears Saturday October 25 on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.
Your experience with the Counter-Intelligence Program of yesterday is instructive today now that the Patriot Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Funding for the War on Terror Act are all carved into the law. Kathleen and Natsu and, of course, King Downing, and others can describe how vastly the legal landscape has changed. But there is one aspect of the operation to neutralize your good works and your good name that has not changed. And that's what I want to talk about today.  
How many times has the corporate press used the word "spoiler" in reference to the 2000 Presidential election and every Presidential election since then and how many times have they reported accurately the number of black votes cast and not counted or the way in which black voters were disfranchised?  
How many times did the corporate press use the word "conspiracy," not in conjunction with the September 11th tragedy, but in conjunction with those who want to know the truth about what happened on that day?  
How many times did the corporate media lie to the people of this country and the world in the lead-up to the war against Iraq?  
In the wake of accounts of torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, how many times were prisoner abuse and torture inside this country mentioned? How many times was Attica, the Angola 3, Chicago's Area 2, or the San Francisco 8 mentioned?  
In this, an election year, how many times have stories on election integrity been written that inform and warn potential voters of the problems they might face at the polling place and what their rights are if they encounter them?  
Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) believes Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama will be swept into office and notes how 'calming' his signals to conservatives are: "He makes it clear he will address black people directly only when chastisement is on the agenda.  If anyone has doubts, the sight of Obama campaign commercials featuring one or two black faces, Obama's included, seal the deal for the two Christophers and their friends.  What will Progressives for Obama have to say about the conservative pitching and wooing for their candidate? If past history is any indication, they and other progressives will say nothing at all.  They made a decision to collude with the Obama agenda that progressives ought to oppose.  The praises of Buckley and Hitchens will have no effect on them any more than the pledges to keep troops in Iraq or to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  Obama will make history in more ways than one.  He won't just be the first black president.  He will be the first president in modern history that convinced millions of people not to believe the words that came out of his own mouth.  'Change' is the campaign slogan, but his policy agenda tells us we will see anything but that.  Hitchens and Buckley are certainly convinced that there won't be any changes that aren't to their liking."
Senator John McCain is the Republican presidential nominee and Governor Sarah Palin is his running mate.  Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports on "Sweat Equity," the new ad from McCain-Palin '08 that takes issue with Barack's "spread the wealth around" comment to Joe Wurzelbacher.  Jake Tapper, Matt Jaffee and Imtiyaz Delawala (ABC News, Political Punch) echo CBS News' Scott Conroy from earlier in the week noting of Palin, "In the last two weeks, Palin has fielded questions twice from the Palin traveling press corps on board the campaign plane, and on Sunday night, Palin took impromptu questions from reporters on the airport tarmac in Colorado Springs, Colo., on issues ranging from her thoughts on Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama to the role of robocalls in the election.  An hour later, she took questions again from the press pool during an unscheduled stop for ice cream before returning to her hotel for the night.  Palin has also become increasingly accessible to local and national media."
I wanted to take a moment and post, with her permission, an email we recieved from a supporter after a McCain event in Missouri. Thank you Melanie for your support, it is because of the support and activism of people like you that keeps this country great. Thank you for fighting for a better America. If you'd like to join Melanie and stand up for what's right for America, click here to take action today. Additionally, if you want to share your story from the campaign trail, please send them along to    
I had the honor to be seated right beside Senator John McCain today for an informal lunch in Columbia, Missouri. I can tell you that he is the real deal. We had an opportunity to ask him questions, share a few laughs and provide him with insight from fellow Americans. He listened, he provided us with real answers and I truly believe he not only has the experience and the right plan but also a big heart for America. The media was present when he first entered the room and then were asked to leave as we had lunch with him. He wasn't interested in pandering to the media. He instead wanted to spend time with the people. If you want to know his answers to questions regarding the economy, support of small businesses, job creation, national security, education funding, etc. let me know. I got the answers I needed. John McCain is the right choice.  
I have voted on both sides of the fence in the past, Democrat and Republican. I know what it's like to only have $30 to my name. I know what it's like to work hard to get a job. It took me 3 years to get the job I wanted as a teacher. I know what it's like to start a business from absolutely nothing. And I know what it's like to pay student loans for 15 years. Why? Because I believe in opportunity. I didn't ask for a hand-out. I just wanted the opportunity to use my skills, to help others and to provide for my family. Sound familiar to the rest of you? I bet we all have similar stories. America is a country of endless opportunities. We are not a country of hand-outs. We are a country of leg-ups. People...get the word out...we need a leader that has had more than 144 days of experience in the U.S. Senate. You are as good as your word. But actions speak louder than words. Honor, Honesty, Hard Work should matter... must matter.  
Columbia, Missouri 
Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate, Matt Gonzalez is his running mate.  Nader notes:
The three so-called presidential debates--really parallel interviews by reporters chosen by the Obama and McCain campaigns--are over and they are remarkable for two characteristics--convergence and avoidance.

A remarkable similarity between McCain and Obama on foreign and military policy kept enlarging as Obama seemed to enter into a clinch with McCain each time McCain questioned his inexperience or softness or using military force.

If anyone can detect a difference between the two candidates regarding belligerence toward Iran and Russia, more U.S. soldiers into the quagmire of Afghanistan (next to Pakistan), kneejerk support of the Israeli military oppression, brutalization and colonization of the Palestinians and their shrinking lands, keeping soldiers and bases in Iraq, despite Obama's use of the word "withdrawal," and their desire to enlarge an already bloated, wasteful military budget which already consumes half of the federal government's operating expenses, please illuminate the crevices between them.

This past spring, the foreign affairs reporters, not columnists, for the New York Times and the Washington Post concluded that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are advancing foreign and military policies similar to those adopted by George W. Bush in his second term.

Where then is the "hope" and "change" from the junior Senator from Illinois?

Moreover, both Obama and McCain want more nuclear power plants, more coal production, and more offshore oil drilling. Our national priority should be energy efficient consumer technologies (motor vehicles, heating, air conditioning and electric systems) and renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Both support the gigantic taxpayer funded Wall Street bailout, without expressed amendments. Both support the notorious Patriot Act, the revised FISA act which opened the door to spy on Americans without judicial approval, and Obama agrees with McCain in vigorously opposing the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

What about avoidance? Did you see them speak about a comprehensive enforcement program to prosecute corporate crooks in the midst of the greatest corporate crime wave in our history? Did you see them allude to doing anything about consumer protection (credit card gouging, price of medicines, the awful exploitation and deprivation of the people in the inner city) and the ripoffs of buyers in ever more obscure and inescapable ways?

Wasn't it remarkable how they never mentioned the poor, and only use the middle class when they refer to "regular people?" There are one hundred million poor people and children in this nation and no one in Washington, D.C. associates Senator Obama, much less John McCain, with any worthy program to treat the abundant poverty-related injustices.

What about labor issues? Worker health and safety, pensions looted and drained, growing permanent unemployment and underemployment, and outsourcing more and more jobs to fascists and communist dictatorships are not even on the peripheries of the topics covered in the debates.

When I was asked my opinion about who won the debates, I say they were not debates. But I know what won and what lost. The winners were big business, bailouts for Wall Street, an expansionary NATO, a boondoggle missile defense program, nuclear power, the military-industrial complex and its insatiable thirst for trillions of taxpayer dollars, for starters.

What lost was peace advocacy, international law, the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, taxpayers, consumers, Africa and We the People.

The language of avoidance to address and challenge corporate power is spoken by both McCain and Obama, though interestingly enough, McCain occasionally uses words like "corporate greed" to describe his taking on the giant Boeing tanker contract with the Pentagon.

Funded by beer, tobacco, auto and telecommunications companies over the years, the corporation known as the Commission on Presidential Debates features only two corporate-funded candidates, excludes all others and closes off a major forum for smaller candidates, who are on a majority of the states, to reach tens of millions of voters.

In the future, this theatre of the absurd can be replaced with a grand coalition of national and local citizen groups who, starting in March, 2012 lay out many debates from Boston to San Diego, rural, suburban and urban, summon the presidential candidates to public auditoriums to react to the peoples' agendas.

Can the Democratic and Republican nominees reject this combination of labor, neighborhood, farmer, cooperative, veteran's, religious, student, consumer and good government with tens of millions of members? It will be interesting to see what happens if they do or if they do not.