Thursday, December 24, 2009

Iraq departures, changes in personnel, etc

This time last year, I was sitting in the Baghdad office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki when a journalist sitting a few feet from me threw his shoes at President George W. Bush. He became the talk of the world.
It was sad that some considered the reporter, Muntader al-Zaidi, a hero for what he did, and it was unfortunate that some journalists went in a delegation to apologize to the prime minister, even though the prime minister's office staff insulted Iraqi journalists afterward, never apologized and stopped informing us about Mr. Maliki’s conferences.
Mr. al-Zaidi got a taste of his own medicine when someone hurled shoes at him during a news conference earlier this month in Paris, where he was being treated as a hero.

That's the opening of Atheer Kakan's "Why I Left Iraq: Scenes From a Year" at the New York Times' blog. Atheer Kakan is a journalist and, in 2009, he left his country and came to the United States. He addresses that in his blog post but we're only excerpting the opening so use the link to learn more -- and to grasp that he's actually written the spine of a Sunday Times Magazine story -- a realization that will most likely sail over the heads of the Times. Although in fairness, while on the phone with a friend at the paper this morning, he pointed out that they now bill Atheeer Kakan as a journalist. They should have all along. While working in Iraq, he frequently had 'end of movie' credit at the end of articles and he also got byline credit in a number of them. He's a journalist. He's more than earned that title.

I was asked to highlight the above by a friend at the paper. I have no problem with that, it's worth highlighting. Overgrown men playing boys? Not interested so we'll take a pass on the other blog post I was asked to highlight. (War's not a game, when is that going to hit the American journalists covering Iraq?)

Walter Pincus (Washington Post) covers the nuts and bolts that are often overlooked and is probably the last of a dying breed, journalists who could be called "news" persons. He's been around long enough to have taken part in many, many options, plans and schemes for a new journalism model and one of the saddest 'feature story' moments for me in 2009 was hearing him on Cat Radio Cafe with Janet Coleman and realizing either there just wasn't time or he's forgotten his early seventies plans -- the ones that were going to shake up the whole publishing business, change the whole model. Basically be a serious version of Politico but in print and use 'new technology' to reach far beyond DC. As people talking about the 'changing' media and think they've stumbled onto something new, they haven't. And people like Pincus could explain that to them if given the time. He'll never make the time himself, most likely, because he's a nuts and bolts, bread and butter reporter. That's not an insult. The country could use a million more of him. Reporters looking for the stories that aren't going to be gas bagged about endlessly on chat & chews -- in other words a lot of 'horse race' talk as opposed to news about things that really do effect people's lives. He does what he's always done yet again in today's paper noting a new proposal by the Dept of Defense to replace contractors with "full-time federal personnel" as a cost-cutting measure. The only thing to add to his article is that such a shift would carry with it the belief (right or wrong) that accountability would be easier since these would be government employees with codes of conduct.

In news that will most likely have a more immediate impact, Lin Zhi (Xinhua) reports Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, has named a new deputy special representative for Iraq: Jerzy Skuratwoicz: "Skuratowicz will head the political, electoral and constitutional support component of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). He will replace Andrew Gilmour, who has taken up a new appointment as Head of Office in Belgrade. The secretary-general is grateful to Mr. Gilmour for his dedicated service and commitment to assisting the people of Iraq."

In 2006, Iraq War veteran Rodney Watson learned his military service contract had just had three years added to it. He was already troubled by many things he saw in Iraq and he made the decision to self-check out and move to Canada. There he started a life for himself and started a family. In September, the government made efforts to start the deportation process and he sought sanctuary at the First United Church on Hastings Street in Vancouver. Krystalline Kraus has reported on him for Rabble. Vince notes Rodney Watson's column in the Toronto Star:

I have been here in Vancouver since early 2007. I have been self-sufficient. I have fathered a beautiful son whose mother is Canadian. I plan to marry her and to provide our son with a loving and caring family unit.
I have made many friends and I have built a peaceful life here.
My son and my wife-to-be are my heart and soul and it would be a great tragedy for my family and for me personally if I were deported and torn away from them.
I think being punished as a prisoner of conscience for doing what I felt morally obligated to do is a great injustice.
This Christmas I hope and pray that people will open their hearts and minds to give peace and love a chance.
I appeal to the Canadian government to honour your country's great traditions of being a place of refuge from militarism and a place that respects human rights by supporting my decision, and the decisions taken by my fellow resisters to refuse any further participation in this unjust war.

Today, Chrismas Eve, Free Speech Radio News examines the costs to Iraqis of the Iraq War in a special half-hour broadcast:

Iraqis make up the world's largest population of refugees. The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq released a wave of violence and economic instability and brought with it the destruction of key infrastructure and the near-collapse of basic services. More than 2.7 million Iraqis have been displaced within their borders and another two million have fled their country, largely to Syria and Jordan. Today we bring you a special FSRN documentary called, "Guests in the Waiting Room: Iraqi refugees in Jordan," produced by Hanan Tabbara and Salam Talib.

We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "Federal War Spending Exceeds State Government Outlaws" (Veterans Today):

The U.S. spends more for war annually than all state governments combined spend for the health, education, welfare, and safety of 308 million Americans.
Joseph Henchman, director of state projects for the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C., says the states collected a total of $781 billion in taxes in 2008.
For a rough comparison, according to Wikipedia data, the total budget for defense in fiscal year 2010 will be at least $880 billion and could possibly top $1 trillion. That's more than all the state governments collect.
Henchman says all American local governments combined (cities, counties, etc.) collect about $500 billion in taxes. Add that to total state tax take and you get over $1.3 trillion. This means Uncle Sam’s Pentagon is sopping up nearly as much money as all state, county, city, and other governmental units spend to run the country.
If the Pentagon figure of $1 trillion is somewhat less than all other taxing authorities, keep in mind the FBI, the various intelligence agencies, the VA, the National Institutes of Health (biological warfare) are also spending on war-related activities.
A question that describes the above and answers itself is: In what area can the Federal government operate where states and cities cannot tread? The answer is: foreign affairs---raising armies, fighting wars, conducting diplomacy, etc. And so Uncle Sam keeps enlarging this area. His emphasis is not on diplomacy, either.

Actually, we're pairing it with something a friend just asked to be highlighted. This is from Noam Chomsky's "Modern-Day American Imperialism: The Middle East and Beyond" (ZNet):

This is all consistent with a conception of aggression that has developed through the period and right up to today -- it's very lively today. Aggression has a meaning, but that meaning doesn't apply to us. For US leaders, aggression means resistance. So, anyone who resists the United States is guilty of aggression. And that makes sense if we own the world. So any active resistance is aggression against us. So when the US invaded South Vietnam in the early 1960s under Kennedy, Kennedy said we were defending ourselves from what he called "the assault from within." The leading liberal light Adlai Stevenson described it as "internal aggression"-- so, internal aggression by South Vietnamese against us, and of course we were there by right because we own the world. And that continues right to the present, so we'll skip a lot of time, because nothing much changed, and come right up till today. So the big problem in the Middle East now, if you read the Washington Post a couple of days ago, is "the growing aggressiveness of Iran." That's what's causing the problems of the Middle East. Well, y'know, aggression has a meaning. It means sending your armed forces into the territory of some other state. The latest case of Iranian aggression is a couple of centuries ago, unless we count Iranian aggression carried out under the Shah, which we approved of. A tyrant who we imposed conquered a couple of Arab islands, but that was okay. But, nevertheless, we have to defend ourselves against Iranian aggression in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in Gaza, where Iran is carrying out aggression -- meaning people there are doing things we don't like. And Russia isn't around, so we'll blame it on Iran. That's aggression. And there's even a lot of discussion about aggression inside Iraq carried out by the renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. If you read the press, you might get the idea that Muqtada's first name is renegade. There's hardly a reference to him that doesn't talk about "the renegade Muqtada al-Sadr." Why is he a renegade? Well, he opposes the US invasion of his country. Okay, that makes him a renegade or a radical-- obviously. And that's routine. Nobody questions that. It's kind of a reflexive description.
Condoleezza Rice was asked a little while ago in an interview, How could we end the War in Iraq? She said there's a very easy way to end the war, it's quite obvious: Stop the flow of arms to foreign fighters. Stop the flow of foreign fighters across the border. That'll end the war in Iraq. If somebody was looking at this who hadn't been adequately brainwashed by a good western education, they would collapse in ridicule. I mean, yes, there are foreign fighters in Iraq and plenty of foreign arms in there -- namely, from the country that invaded Iraq. But they're not foreign, remember. They're indigenous because we're indigenous everywhere. That follows from owning the world, going back to the infant empire. It spreads. So we're not foreign fighters there or anywhere else. We're indigenous, and it's the foreign fighters who have to be stopped.

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oh boy it never ends