Friday, February 6, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Barack moves back his "immediately" pledge on Iraq, Military Families Speak Up launch their DC action, US war resister Cliff Cornell has returned to the US from Canada, the (partial) election results are sifted through, and more.
Jon Allen (People's Weekly World News) reports on a teach-in entitled "War's Real Impact: Our Voices" that a number of groups staged in Chicago:
Eugene Cherry joined the army at the age of 19 in the hopes of getting money for college. Despite being a good student, he found his options in his impoverished south side neighborhood limited. "I thought the military would be my ticket out, but I found an organization based on racism, sexism and misogyny" he testified before the assembled audience. Later he spoke of "[a] culture of violence and racism" that the military promotes within its ranks. These pressures proved to be too much for Sherry. He deserted for 16 months after being refused mental health support by the army. "I found myself fighting and oppressing a group of people in the name of the war on terror" concluded his remarks to the gathering.
The plight of women in the armed forces proved to be a recurring theme. Patricia McCann, a National Guardsman deployed in 2003, noted during her testimony that instances of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the armed forces have risen but court-martials for these crimes have declined. Another veteran (and current Chicago police officer), Lisa Zepeda, added that victims of assault have no outside authority they can report assaults to; a victim must go through her immediate superior within her unit.
Allen notes that US House Rep "Jan Schakowasky and several Chicago aldermen also took the floor and addressed the audeince. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. and Illinois Senator Roland Burris also sent staff members to reaffirm their support of bringing the troops home."
Military Families Speak Out was among the organizations participating in the Chicago event and today they started a DC action that will run through Monday:
Come to Washington February 6-9 to demand "The Change WE Need"
President Elect Obama opposed the war in Iraq before it started, calling it a "dumb war." But he and his advisors have also said that they plan to spread the return of combat troops from that "dumb war" out over sixteen months and to keep tens of thousands of other troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely.
So from February 6-9, MFSO will be traveling to Washington to bring the new President and new Congress the message that it is long past time to bring all our troops home from Iraq. The four days of events will include:
* A teach-in featuring the voices of military families, veterans, and Iraqis, explaining the need for an immediate and complete end to the war in Iraq -- and the human impacts of continuing the occupation. Friday, February 6 from Noon - 3:00 p.m. at Mott House, 122 Maryland Avenue.
* A solemn procession from Arlington National Cemetary to the White House beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 7. Meet at the front gate of the cemetery right outside the exit of the Arlington Metro stop. Please arrive early.
* A "Meet and Greet" and Legislative Briefing from 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 8 at the Mariott Metro Center.
* Lobbying members of Congress to end the war in Iraq. Meet in the cafeteria of the Rayburn House Office Building at 9:00 a.m. Monday, February 9.
The teach-in takes place this afternoon. Actions continue through Monday. Meanwhile US war resister Andre Shepherd is seeking asylumn in Germany (we last noted Andre in Wednesday's snapshot). Wednesday, he was making his case for asylum to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Andy Eckardt (NBC News) offers a strong report on Andre who explains, "When I enlisted in 2004 and later was sent to Iraq, I believed I was doing the right thing. But then, like other comrades around me, I started questioning why we were there and what we were fighting for. . . . My job was harmless until I factored in the amount of death and destruction those helicopters caused to civilians every day. The government made us believe we would be welcomed as heroes in Iraq, but we saw nothing but hostility from the Iraqis that came to work for us, they wanted to kill us." Meanwhile James M. Brnaum's GI Rights Lawyer.com explained yesterday:
U.S. war resister Cliff Cornell surrendered himself to U.S. border police on Wednesday after being ordered to leave Canada. He was promptly arrested for being AWOL from the U.S. Army, and is now being held at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, Washington, twenty miles south of the U.S.-Canada border.
Cornell's attorney and supporters expressed outrage at the arrest.
"Clifford Cornell came back to the United States so that he could voluntarily return to his old unit at Fort Stewart," stated attorney James Branum. "He stated this intention to the Border Patrol, both verbally and in writing, by way of a letter I drafted on his behalf. I am disappointed that the Border Patrol chose to arrest my client and place him into a county jail with general population prisoners. This should not have happened."
Cornell, 28, fled to Canada four years ago after his Army artillery unit was ordered to Iraq. But despite a popular outcry to provide sanctuary to soldiers who refuse to fight in illegal wars, Canada's Conservative government is pressing ahead with deportations. Cornell, an Arkansas native, had come to call British Columbia home. But he now faces a possible court martial and imprisonment in the United States.
"Cliff Cornell should not be going to jail," said Gerry Condon, director of Project Safe Haven, a war resister advocacy group. "He had the guts to follow his conscience and obey international law," continued Condon. "President Obama should grant amnesty to Cliff Cornell and all war resisters."
Cornell is the second Iraq War resister to be held in the Whatcom County Jail. He follows Robin Long, who was deported from Canada in July. Long is now serving a 15-month prison sentence at Miramar Naval Consolidated Brig near San Diego.
"We want Bellingham to be a Sanctuary City for war resisters," said Gene Marx of Veterans For Peace, "not a way station for war resisters being sent to prison." Bellingham is known for being a progressive city, having passed two anti-war resolutions through its city council.
A public vigil in support of Cliff Cornell will be held outside of the County jail on Thursday from 10 am -- 1pm, organized by the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.
A legal defense fund for Cliff Cornell is being established by Courage To Resist, a war resister support group, at www.couragetoresist.org.
Marie Marchand, Executive Director, Whatcom Peace & Justice Center
(360) 734-0217 (office); (434) 249-5957 (cell), WhatcomPJC(at)fidalgo.net
Gene Marx, Bellingham Veterans For Peace, Chapter 111, 253-653-4423 (cell)
Gerry Condon, Project Safe Haven, 206-499-1220 (cell),
In an update, AP reports that Cliff is being allowed to travel "by bus to Georgia" and will "turn himself in Tuesday at the Army base near Savannah." And, as Gerry Condon stated, Barack Obama should grant amnesty to all war resisters. But the reality is Barack's not even in a rush to end the illegal war.
Staying with the White House, US vice president Joe Biden is headed to Germany. Before he left the US today, he made some public remarks. Edward Epstein (CQ) reports, "He listed the economic crisis and ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as the most pressing issues. Biden used a football analogy to describe the situation in Iraq, saying the United States is 'on the 20-yard-line' and 'driving toward the goal'." Jared Allen (The Hill) states the Biden "admitted that any victory is far from certain, and he reiterated that a victory through military means alone is unattainable." AFP quotes him stating, "Our administration is going to have to be very deeply involved not only keeping the commitment that we've made drawing down our troops in an orderly fashion consistent with what we said."
McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef is convinced that Barack's decision to request a variety of options for 'withdrawal' from Iraq is "the first indication that the Obama administration may be willing to abandon a campaign promise of a 16-month withdrawal." Or it may be Barack wanting to see all options, wanting to check if opinions ever see withdrawal possible (would you listen to someone's opinion if they didn't think the US could pull out in 16, 19 or even 23 months?). Who knows. But withdrawal' is not withdrawl. It is "combat" troops only. The White House unofficially says the number left behind would be approximately 70,000. That's not withdrawal. Youssef reports, "Obama is likely to announce his strategy for Iraq by mid-March, a senior administration official told McClatchy." That would be an indication of a broken promise and Youssef misses that point. At Hopey Changey "Three Facts about Barack Obama and Iraq" which includes this 'fact:' "Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq; successfully ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased."
What did Barack promise? "Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: successfully ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased." Mid-March? Mid-March is "immediately upon taking office"? Immediately upon taking office was when Barack was sworn in. That was last month. It's February. And a White House source is telling McClatchy it will be mid-March before anything's announced. Another case where "Barack kicks the can" and here he's promised "immediately upon taking office". (I have no idea who Nancy Youssef spoke to and this morning I'm being told that is not correct and that Barack will be making an announcement "this month" on Iraq. He may or he may not. But Youssef didn't make up that source. Even if an announcement is made this month, as two insisted this morning, the fact that some White House insider would tell Youssef it wouldn't be until mid-March goes to how unimportant Iraq is in the Obama White House. And "this month" would not be "immediately upon taking office".)
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's strong performance in Iraq's provincial elections was also a victory for American goals." No. al-Maliki wasn't a candidate. That's the lede to Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londono's Washington Post article and it's incorrect and they are not the only reporters/outlet to get it so wrong.
Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in provincial elections. These, as Londono himself has explained, are the equivalent of state legislature elections in the US. Did anyone assert that victory for Republicans in (pick one of fifty states) in (pick 2001 through 2007) was a victory for George W. Bush? No.
al-Maliki wanted to get some press and wanted to make the elections about him. He estimated a minimum of 70% of registered Iraqis would turn out. (51% did.) He thought this was going to be his big moment on the international scene.
For a reporter, it is very tempting to make it about al-Maliki for a number of reasons. For example, making provincial elections about the prime minister frees you of having to . . . cover the actual candidates. And there were 440 winners -- none of whom were named "Nouri al-Maliki." It's so much easier to stamp "al-Maliki Victory" and be done with it. This afternoon Alissa J. Rubin (at the International Herald Tirbune) focuses on Yusef Majid al-Habboubi who "managed to defeat not only the religious parties who controlled the province of Karbala but also Maliki's preferred candidates by a 2-1 margin in one of the bigger surprises in the provincial elections last week." In the preliminatry vote, Rubin explains, it appears al-Habboubi has 17% of the vote over twice what "the next two closest parties" appeared to have received.
This morning, Rubin's "Prime Ministers Party Wins in Iraqi Vote but Will Need to Form Coalitions" (New York Times) did a little better than the Post. The headline writer captures it and Rubin does as well for most of her article; however, sentences like the following trip her up: "In Baghdad, where Mr. Maliki ran a strongly nationalist campaign, he appeared to have had some success in winning votes from Sunnis, but in the Sunni-majority provinces to the north, his party's slate barely made a showing." He ran a strong nationalist campaign? And how many votes did he receive? What did he say in his victory speech? When will he be sworn in?
Here's reality, if you're going to wrongly make the provincial elections about Nouri al-Maliki, you're going to have to judge the success or failure of al-Maliki and the reality is "his party's slate barely made a showing" in the north. The reality is that Iraq has 18 provinces -- three of which have scheduled votes for this spring -- and to claim al-Maliki has 'won' a national campaign is not only premature, it doesn't even jibe with the actual (preliminary) results.
Raghavan and Londono tell you that the Dawa Party (al-Maliki's party) "won in nine provinces" -- with "an outright plurality" (NOT a majority) in Baghdad and Basra while it was a narrow win for Dawa "in the other seven provinces." Or, as Rubin puts it, "the party fell short of being able to operate without coalition-building."
That's a win? 14 provinces held elections last Saturday and Dawa didn't squeak out a majority win in any province, it only got "an outright plurality" in two provinces and, to govern, they need to coalition-build with other parties. That's not a win. Not for al-Maliki -- who was not a candidate -- and certainly not for Dawa.
What is troubling - - and what no one's pointed out -- is that we don't expect, for example, Barack Obama to head over to Oregon when they're electing their state legislature. We don't expect him to campaign for them or butt in. That al-Maliki was allowed to hit the road (attempting to buy votes) goes to how problematic the election actually was. Rubin writes, "Some politicians have voiced concerns in recent months that too much power was being concentrated in Mr. Maliki's hands, and the election results suggested that Iraqis were not ready to rally around a single leader." It's a shame the press never bothered to question why a prime minister was attempting to repeatedly inject himself into provincial elections?
Rubin writes, "Except in areas where Sunnis were voting for the first time, the large, prominent parties with nationally known leaders won the most seats, showing the power of incumbency and the difficulties facing the newer secular parties." Well if you're going to make that observation, you might also question why the country's prime minister is interfering in provincial elections? These are not the equivalent of US Congressional elections (that would be Iraq's Parliament). That issue was never raised. But, no, it is not normal for the highest office holder in the country to try to inject her or himself into local elections. And it's not normal -- when the press is lauding 'democracy' -- for no one to question that injection. Another question to ask: Did al-Maliki's injection depress voter turnout?
In the final paragraphs of Rubin's article she notes Anbar and quotes various complaints from Tamouz ("a nongovernment organization monitoring the elections"). She tells us that the Iraqi Islamic Party is Sunni. She tells us nothing about the make up of Tamouz. Tamouz is making accusations. Readers have a right to know who they are and the use of "nongovernment" will translate to some as 'from outside Iraq.' That's not reality. But we don't get a lot of reality in this morning's election coverage. Back to the Washington Post's article, the following should never happen:
The Obama administration appeared as pleased at what did not happen on election day as it was about the results. "Any election where [there is] fairness and generally aboveboard practices, where the people get a chance to vote and they're not rioting in the streets and throwing bombs . . . is a good result," a senior administration official said in Washington. "We should celebrate that. So far, so good."
There is no reason to grant anonymity for the above. If the 'celebrator' can't be named, his or her comment doesn't need to be included. When you start granting anonymity for prattle, you're degrading journalism standards. James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) attempts to write up Moqtada al-Sadr's political death stating, "British officials see the political setback as the latest sign of Mr Sadr's diminished importance in southern Iraq." Diminished importantce? Rubin says al-Sadr "did surprisingly well, given that his movement decided to support them only two weeks before the elections." BBC notes, "Finals results are not expected to be known for weeks." What is known is that the violence continues with Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Abdulmajeed al Nuaimi, member of the incumbent provincial in Mosul" called the police about an unidentified object outside his home that turned out to be a roadside bomb.
In other reported violence today . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing at a liquor store that left "material damages to the store," a Baghdad grenade tossed at a supermarket leaving "material damages to the store".
Reuters reports, "U.S. and Iraqi security forces killed a civilian and arrested six suspected militants in raids on towns southwest of Kirkuk".
Nawal Al Samarrai is making news in Iraq. Alsumaria Iraqi Satellite Network reports she has resigned as the Minister of Women's Affairs due to the fact that her job is for-show and contains no real power to improve anything. Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Katie Nguyen report Reuters exclusive interview with al-Samarai:
Iraq's minister of women's affairs resigned on Thursday in protest at a lack of resources to cope with "an army of widows, unemployed, oppressed and detained women" after years of sectarian warfare.
Nawal al-Samarai said her status as a secretary of state and not a full minister reflected the low emphasis given by the government to the plight of women in Iraq, once one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women's rights.
"This ministry with its current title cannot cope with the needs of Iraqi women," said Samarai, who was appointed in July.
The Times of India adds, "Samarrai, who took office in July 2008 and had recently chaired two committees on improving the conditions of women and another on the breast cancer, said she would seek a position where she could actually help women." wowOwow covers the story and notes, "She has not, however, heard back from the Prime Minister's office on whether they accept her resignation or will heed her calls and provide more social services for Iraq's women."
Meanwhile, Barbara Starr and Mike Mount (CNN) report, "The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday." Stephanie Gaskell (New York Daily News) observes, "In a rare move, the Army released monthly suicide data Thursday to highlight the growing problem. Last week, Army officials said its suicide rates were at their highest in nearly 30 years. Last year, 128 soldiers committed suicide and another 15 suspected cases are pending. Last month, Army officials believe that 24 soldiers killed themselves - compared with just four in January 2008." Lizette Alvarez (New York Times) quotes Gen Peter Chiarelli stating, "Each of these losses is a personal tragedy that is felt throughout the Army family. The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides." If you mean your words, do something. If not, stop boring us. The military's had more than enough time to notice the suicides and to do something about it. It's done nothing other than a few pamphlets and a 1-800 number. The change has to come from the top in the military because it is a top-down command. Chiarelli wants to change the culture? Great. Otherwise, it's just him using a tragedy to look sympathetic. And if that's harsh, it's harsh that so many suicides have repeatedly taken place and the military has ignored the problem. Or lied about it. It wasn't all that long ago CBS News was catching the VA lying about the number of suicides. CBS Evening News' Kimberly Dozier most recently reported on the suicides in December noting that 1st Sgt Jeff McKinney's family (rightly, my opinion) called him "a casualty of war" because he served, ended up wtih PTSD and did not receive the treatment he needed and he took his own life while serving.. His father, Charles, McKinney, told Dozier, "I think he felt like he couldn't send one more broken body home, one more person home."
Throwing out a link for friends, Washington Unplugged is a new CBS News show. It airs each Friday afternoon. Haven't seen it? It airs online only. Face The Nation's Bob Schieffer is the anchor and I use anchor because it is news reports and, at the closing, Schieffer offers a commentary as he does on Face The Nation. This week his comment is on Tom Daschle. Before that, Kent Conrad appears to make a fool out of himself. Tom Daschle didn't report it to the IRS because he thought the driver and car were a "gift"? Kent, learn the tax code. Such a gift would have to be reported to the IRS. Washington Unplugged streams live online Friday afternoons and archives are available seven days a week. This week (tonight on most PBS stations) NOW on PBS offers:
Is there a solution to the foreclosure mess that's destroying communities?
Across the country, cities are in crisis because of the fallout from the mortgage mess -- property taxes are way down, and abandoned homes are bringing down property values, inviting crime, and draining government coffers. Neighborhoods are being destroyed. Yet the federal bailout money is not going directly to desperate communities and homeowners, but to local and national banks.
This week, NOW investigates the innovative way some cities are fighting back. The city of Memphis, Tennessee is suing major national lenders and banks for deceptive and discriminatory lending practices in an effort to recoup the cost of the financial mess. Other cities suing lenders for their role in the mortgage mess include Baltimore, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Birmingham.
With desperation climbing alongside debt, can the strategy help these blighted parts of America?
Washington Week also begins airing tonight on most PBS stations and joining Gwen this installment is Ceci Connolly (Washington Post), Charles Babington (AP), Michael Duffy (Time magazine) and Jackie Calmes (New York Times). And on broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, no 60 Minutes:
Saving Flight 1549
Hero pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his flight crew together reveal for the first time the sights, sounds and physical sensations they experienced as they pulled off an incredible water landing last month, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549. Katie Couric reports. (This is an extra-length story. | Watch Video
The British rock group that has taken its place among the most popular bands in the world gives 60 Minutes a rare look inside its world that includes a candid interview with frontman Chris Martin. Steve Kroft reports. | Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
60 Minutes Update
Beckham Leaving The L.A. Galaxy?
David Beckham wants to leave the Los Angeles Galaxy and stay with AC Milan after his loan to the Italian club is scheduled to end next month. The 33-year-old English midfielder announced his intentions Wednesday after playing in Milan's 2-2 exhibition tie at Glasgow Rangers. Beckham is about two years into a $32.5 million, five-year contract with Major League Soccer. In March 2008, CNN's Anderson Cooper profiled Beckham for 60 Minutes, discussing his widely publicized move to Los Angeles. | Video