Wednesday, February 03, 2010

At least 20 dead as Iraq again slammed by bombing

Iraq has been slammed with another bombing today. Yousif Bassil and CNN report a Karbala motorcycle bombing has claimed 20 lives and left at least one-hundred-and-seventeen people wounded. Tom Bonnet (Sky News) notes that, "Women and children were among the dead after the explosives-packed vehicle blasted through the crowd on the outskirts of Kerbala, 68 miles south of Baghdad." Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) cites Iraq's al-Iraqiya TV's report that the bombing took place "near the Institute of Art" and says the death toll and wounded numbers are coming from the Ministry of the Interior. Al Jazeera says the motorcycle bombing was actually a suicide bomber on a motorcycle and quotes Saad al-Muttalibi ("an adviser to the Iraqi council of ministers") stating, "The security forces need to be more proactive and more aggressive in fighting these Wahhabi groups. The prime minister [Nouri al-Maliki] hands are completely tied, putting him in a very weak position to question his ministers and hold them accountable for their misconduct."

Meanwhile Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports an agreement reached between Iraq and China in which China would "write off 80 percent of Iraq's" $8.5 billion debt. In other agreements Iraq is entering into with other countries, Anne Tang (Xinhua) reports Iraq declares it is willing to turn 46 Jordanian prisoners over to Jordan and notes the Arab Organization for Human Rights, "According to the organization, there are 46 Jordanians jailed in Iraq, of whom many are held with no charges and are either students or traders." While those talks between Iraq and other governments continue, Today's Zaman reports the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is in Ankara meeting with Turkey's Interior Minister Besir Atalay. Alsumaria TV quotes Odierno stating, "It is important that we develop a common unerstanding of the root causes of violence, so we can assit in determining political, economic and security measures that will contribute to increased security and safety of the Turkish and Iraqi people." Scott Fontaine (The Olympian) reports on increased tensions between US forces and Iranian forces on the Iraqi border.

Yesterday in the US, the Senate Armed Services Committee spent a little over an hour addressing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. All three broadcast networks' evening news covered the story. Some did better than others. Starting with ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer because they led with the story at the top of the broadcast.

Diane Sawyer: Good evening. For the first time ever, America's military leaders said it is time to end the Pentagon's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy toward gays. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen said men and women in uniform should not be forced to lie. They want time for the ranks to absorb what this means, but Martha Raddatz says it was a dramatic day on Capitol Hill. Martha?

Martha Raddatz: It was, Diane. This will be dramatically debated for days to come but what we heard today from the military on Capitol Hill was truly historic. It was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officer in the nation who said today what no one in his position had ever said before

Adm Mike Mullen: It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.

Martha Raddatz: Adm Mullen's statements ran into stiff opposition from Republican senators

Senator Saxby Chambliss: Persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk for those high standards of morale.

Martha Raddatz: Senator John McCain, who just a few years ago said "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says we ought to change the policy, we ought to consider seriously changing it," today said something quite different.

Senator John McCain: At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Martha Raddatz: Defense Secretary Robert Gates also supports repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell but wants at least a year to review several issues including benefits for gay partners, base housing and morale. At today's hearing was one young soldier who is really at the heart of this debate. Lt Dan Choi is a West Point graduate, an Iraq veteran and one of the few Arabic speakers in the military. Like thousands of others, he now faces dismissal from the army for saying publicly that he is gay.

Lt Dan Choi: I was living in the closet. Then I realized, no, this is really a violation of the honor code which, on the first day of West Point, we learned: You will not lie or tolerate those who lie. And I believe in that honor code.

Martha Raddatz: Lt Choi's case is still pending but he also told us if you're actually thinking about national security first and you're saying that it's okay to fire Arabic speakers because somebody's uncomfortable with gays, then you have your priorities in the wrong place.

Martha's report is fine (actually better in some ways than any report filed on the network news) but Diane's intro is off. Gates, despite being attacked by McCain, gave the I-am-only-following-orders impression (and that's putting it mildly). Moving over to CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

Katie Couric: In other news, it's been US policy for nearly 17 years now, gays and lesbians may serve in the military but only if they keep quiet about their sexual orientation. Today the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff made an impassioned plea to Congress to change the law. From the Pentagon tonight, here's David Martin.

David Martin: The top man in uniform did a lot more than just dutifully salute the president's desire to allow gays to serve openly in the military, he gave it his personal endorsement.

Adm Mike Mullen: It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

David Martin: Joint Chief's Adm Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy which forces gays in uniform to keep quiet about their sexual orientation is fundamentally dishonest.

Adm Mike Mullen: We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizen.

David Martin: While 428 gays were discharged from the military last year, Defense Secretary Gates made it sound like it is no longer a question of if gays can serve openly but when.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we must -- how we best prepare for it.

David Martin: Today's testimony made clear it will not happen any time soon -- certainly not this year, if at all. For one thing, Gates wants a year to study.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: What the-the men and women in our armed forces really think about this.

David Martin: For another, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a law enacted by Congress

Senator John McCain: I'm happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to pass a law to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

David Martin: Right now with the military fighting two wars, there are not enough votes to repeal.

Saxby Chambill: The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk.

David Martin: Until the law is changed, Gates says he will try to make enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell more lenient. Katie?

Martha offered a human reaction and that was missing from the other reports. David Martin was the only one offering perspective in terms of the chances of the law being repealed. He captured what the mood was among the senators and his was the only network report which did. There was a lot of rah-rah and Martin didn't go there. There's not much point in cheer leading and I'd rank his report higher than Martha's just because I know Dan Choi isn't playing rah-rah and she had footage of that which was not used. (Supposedly due to time constraints.) But David's wrong -- absolutely wrong -- when he states "Gates says he will try to make enforcement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell more lenient."

Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and he raised that idea -- leniency and a moratorium while the study was going on -- and Gates gave a mealy mouthed reply that indicated consent before rejecting it and stating that it was the law and there was no say or choice in his executing the law. He questioned the legality of such a move. Now we move to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams:

Brian Williams: 62 years ago today, President Truman ordered the Defense Secretary to take the needed steps to remove discrimination in the military. He was talking about race. Today the topic was sexual orientation, specifically the Clinton era policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- a policy that is now on borrowed time. More on this story from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.

Jim Miklaszewski: In a hearing today on Capitol Hill, the nation's top military commander revealed the worst kept secret in the armed services.

Adm Mike Mullen: I have served with homosexuals since 1968.

Jim Miklaszewski: Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said it's time to scrap Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the law that prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

Adm Mike Mullen: We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.

Jim Miklaszewski: In his State of the Union, President Obama made repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell a political priority.

President Barack Obama: This year, I will work with Congress --

Jim Miklaszewski: Today Secretary Gates said he supports the president but indicated it could take two years to implement the change.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change but how we best prepare it -- for it.

Jim Miklaszewski: That drew a blistering rebuke from Republican Senator John McCain suggesting Gates was playing politics.

Senator John McCain: . . . and it requires an agreement of Congress in order to repeal it and so your statement is obviously one which is clearly biased.

Jim Miklaszewski: There's an estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians in US military and 69% of Americans believe they have the right to serve. Gay rights advocates claim the shift in public opinion is generational.

Aubrey Sarvis (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network): The majority of service members today are between 18 and 34 and they have no problem serving with gays and lesbians everday.

Jim Miklaszewski: For now, Secretary Gates would like to loosen up on enforcement. To allow more gays to remain in the military while Don't Ask, Don't Tell is still the law. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

Jim makes the same mistake as David? No. He says "Gates would like to loosen up on enforcement." I disagree with that opinion but it's an opinion. Jim's opinion is Gates would like to, my opinion is Gates wouldn't. Unlike David, Jim doesn't say Gates has agreed to so he's not making the same mistake. Brian Williams, by the way, had the strongest into in my opinion.

PBS' NewsHour, like Diane Sawyer, led with the issue. Margaret Warner offered the best report of any of the correspondents. She also offered more variety in her report when quoting from the hearing -- except for Jim, all the above reports had quoted from the opening statements plus Saxby Chambliss -- and why did everyone glom on Chambliss who really said nothing remarkable? (They did because it allowed them to quote the policy. If you are opposed to Don't Ask, Don't Tell being repealed, Chambliss was not your speaker. McCain and Sessions were stronger on that side of the issue.) (For any confused, I am not on that side of the issue -- I support LGBT rights and that includes marriage equality and service equality. I was at the hearing, however, and Chambliss' moment was a passing bit with no real impact on the hearing. McCain and Sessions laid out what sounds like the Republican mid-term campaign strategy.)

MARGARET WARNER: It was a watershed moment in the U.S. military. At a Senate hearing today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said it's time to end the ban on gays in the ranks.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, chairman, Joints Chiefs of Staff: Speaking for myself, and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.

MARGARET WARNER: The hearing was called after President Obama pledged in last week's State of the Union address to eliminate the current policy, known as don't ask, don't tell.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This year I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

MARGARET WARNER: Current law forbids the military from asking recruits if they are gay or actively hunting for them in the ranks. But gays who openly declare their status or engage in homosexual conduct are subject to being discharged.

At today's hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he's ordering a yearlong study of the practical impact and issues involved if the law is repealed.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. Secretary of Defense: The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we must -- how we best prepare it -- for it.

We have received our orders from the commander in chief, and we are moving out accordingly. However, we can also take this process only so far, as the ultimate decision rests with you, the Congress.

MARGARET WARNER: Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said it was high time Congress did so.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-Mich.: Ending this discriminatory policy will contribute to our military's effectiveness. To take just one example, dozens of Arabic and Farsi linguists have been forced out of the military under don't ask, don't tell, at a time when our need to understand those languages has never been greater.

An army is not a democracy. It is a meritocracy, where success depends not on who you are, but on how well you do your job.

MARGARET WARNER: But Arizona Republican John McCain said he was dismayed at Gates and Mullen's attitude.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: I'm deeply disappointed in your statement, Secretary Gates. I was around here in 1993 and was engaged in the debates.

And what we did in 1993 is, we looked at the issue, and we looked at the effect on military, and then we reached a conclusion, and then we enacted into law. Your statement is -- the question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.

It would be far more appropriate, I say with great respect, to determine whether repeal of this law is appropriate and what effects it would have on the readiness and effectiveness of the military, before deciding on whether we should repeal the law or not. And, fortunately, it is an act of Congress, and it requires the agreement of Congress in order to repeal it.

MARGARET WARNER: Illinois Democrat Roland Burris insisted that repealing don't ask, don't tell was a question of basic fairness, just as it was letting blacks serve with whites decades ago.

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS, D-Ill.: What we need is a policy that allows any individual who has the integrity and the commitment to serve this country to serve this country. And we can go back to President Truman, who took the audacity to integrate the services. At one time, my uncles and members of my race couldn't even serve in the military. And we have moved to this point where they're some of the best and brightest that we have had.

MARGARET WARNER: Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions disagreed, and questioned whether the Pentagon review will be impartial, given that the president, Gates and Mullen have already spoken.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: If it was a trial, we would perhaps raise the undue command influence defense. And I think we need an open, and objective, and a fair evaluation of this. A lot of things that have been said I would note that are not accurate, at least in my view, at least or misrepresent certain things.

MARGARET WARNER: While the review is under way, Gates said, the Pentagon is also looking at what it can do under existing law to ease enforcement.

ROBERT GATES: We can raise the bar on what constitutes a reliable person on -- and on whose word an inquiry can be initiated. Overall, we can reduce the instances in which a service member who is trying to serve the country honorably is outed by a third person with a motive to harm the service member.

MARGARET WARNER: Though Secretary Gates said it wasn't a question of whether, but how the policy will change, the tone of today's hearing showed how emotional an issue this remains. And the same range of emotions were expressed by members of the audience.

Normally, I note the community posts here. Before we do that, let's note the ones in the community reporting on the hearing. Wally was at the hearing and guest blogged at Rebecca's site with "Armed Services Committee, Heroes" and, like Warner, he quoted from Burris -- who probably had the strongest and most moving remarks. Trina focused on Mike Mullen's opening remarks "Senate Armed Services Committee DADT" -- and Trina's take is like David Martin's, nothing's happening. That was our take based on the hearing and based on speaking to a few aids and senators after the hearing. You can especially see that in Kat's "Barack pretends to care about Don't Ask Don't Tell." Marcia takes this issue very personally and quizeed all of us (including Ava) at length before writing about it in "Not doing cartwheels right now."

Becky notes this from Roger Ray's "Contemporary lies contrast with Zinn's historical truths" (Springfield News-Leader):

Frankly, I expected President Bush to lie to the public and he never disappointed me but when President Obama adamantly announces that all combat troops will be out of Iraq by the end of August you have to know how to dissect political double speak to know what he is saying. All "combat" troops will be out by the end of August but we'll still have 50,000 Americans in uniform in Iraq and we'll still be spending trillions of dollars on Iraq that we borrow from China because no matter whom we elect to be president, our nation is apparently now run by the corporations who get our tax dollars. Bush had an empty head and Obama is, evidently, an empty suit.

And we'll close with this from the Green Party of Michigan:

Green Party of Michigan

** News Release **
** ------------ **
February 2, 2010

For More Information, Contact:
Linda Cree, North Country Greens
(906) 942-7076

Douglas Campbell, SCC
(248) 542-5216

John Anthony La Pietra, Media Committee/GPMI
(269) 781-9478

Michigan Greens Point Out Disconnects
in Obama's "State of the Union" Agenda

The Green Party of Michigan (GPMI) has deep concerns about much of the agenda President Obama laid out in last week's "State of the Union" speech.

"As usual, President Barack Obama delivered a polished presentation, but I am forced to wonder if his speechwriters aren't a little disconnected from reality," notes Douglas Campbell, a registered professional engineer in Ferndale, Michigan and a member of GPMI's State Central Committee. "The Democratic Party has had control of the House, the Senate and the White House for more than a year now, yet little or nothing resembling a 'democratic' agenda has been enacted.

"Budget-busting bank bailouts and war funding appropriations have sailed through this Democratic-controlled Congress," Campbell adds. "But instead of withdrawing American troops, contractors and mercenaries from the Middle East, the military operations are being escalated. Guantanamo remains open for business; there is no health-care-funding reform act; and nothing enacted during George Duhbbyah Bush's two terms has been repealed."

"Obama claimed there would be no freeze on Social Security and Medicare, but there already is a freeze this year on both of those programs," says Linda Cree, an active Green Party member in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. "Not only that, last year, for the first time in 30 years, Social Security recipients did not receive a cost of living adjustment because the government felt there hadn't been enough inflation to warrant one. That translates to a two-year freeze already."

Robert E. Wicke of the Green House Outreach Project in Detroit points out, "Obama promised to freeze all the discretionary spending that is not military, while the expenditures of the Department of Defense and the other agencies where military expenses are kept is free to expand. Let me make sure we get this right: what the President's plans would do is shrink the very expenditures that we particularly need in an economic downturn, in order to feed the monster that has been steadily bankrupting the country."

"Thirty percent of US casualties in Afghanistan have come on Obama's watch," agrees John Anthony La Pietra of Marshall, who takes a "Stand for Peace" at the town's famous Brooks Fountain most Saturdays. "People went to the polls in 2006 and voted in Democrats to end the wars, and then elected Obama in 2008 hoping to put an end to military aggression in the Middle East. Instead, we see conflict in the region is widening."

"As to health-care reform," says Art Myatt, chair of GPMI's Platform Committee, "it was ironic that the President called for other ideas -- when he kept the one most Americans seem to want, universal single-payer health care which would mean expanding Medicare to everyone, off the table from the beginning."

Another area of disagreement with Obama is his proposed energy agenda. "His call for a 'new generation' of nuclear power plants, for offshore drilling, and for 'clean coal' is dooming our nation to keep making the same mistakes," Cree says. "Many people hoped Obama would lead us down a new path of sustainable, earth-gentle power production such as wind and solar. His State of the Union speech made it clear, however, that taxpayers will continue subsidizing nuclear, coal, and oil in a substantial way."

Greens do agree that new regulations for financial institutions are needed. "But we should all be aware that the regulations are needed because, under Clinton and Bush, the protections put in place by the New Deal were systematically destroyed," says GPMI Treasurer Lou Novak. "Without those protections, we very nearly had another Great Depression. Now we'll have to see if this Congress will replace those protections with anything truly effective."

"Obama is pushing a conservative, corporate agenda," Cree concludes. "My hope is that people will see how the two major parties work together to keep needed change from happening when it comes to helping people, protecting our environment, having healthier food, and so on -- and that they'll begin voting for Greens every chance they get. Then we'll see what genuine hope, reform, and commitment can do."

GPMI plans to have similar commentary on Jennifer Granholm's final "State of the State" speech -- which will be delivered tomorrow evening to an audience sealed off from the people. Authorities at the Capitol have announced that, unlike in recent years, they plan to bar the hundreds of expected protesters -- including some Greens -- from entering the building even to use a restroom.

Michigan Greens will be planning how to win seats for next year's speech -- by winning some seats in this fall's elections -- at a state party meeting February 27-28 in Lapeer. GPMI will nominate candidates at a statewide convention in Lansing May 15-16. And local Greens can nominate candidates within their counties at caucuses until August 3.

For more information on the issues, values, and candidates of the Green Party of Michigan, please visit the party's homepage:

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Green Party of Michigan
548 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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