Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US Congress hears about service members' needs and they hear about the neglect military widows (and widowers) and their family suffer from the US government while left to answer questions such as  "'Mom does it hurt to drown?'; 'Why couldn't the Marines save Daddy if they could save the others?'; and 'Was I the last thing he thought of?'"
Starting in the US where the Iraq War has not ended despite claims from some.  Chris Durden (Kansas CW) reports that some members of the Kansas Army Reserve have learned they're deploying to Iraq and a send-off ceremony will take place this Saturday at two p.m. (3130 George Washington Blvd, Wichita, Kansas).  Sending Reserves and Guards out of the US?  The National Guard is supposed to protect the US, right?  Bush threw that to the wind and Barack's continued to do so.
Which is a good time to shift into these comments from this morning.
Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: The [National] Guard and Reserve are unique. A lot of the benefit programs that are in place for them -- even though they have improved over the last ten years are still relics of the Cold War. And as we rely more and more on the Guard and Reserve to be an operational force, we've already been told from fairly high ranking officers that the Guard's mission in Iraq is going to continue well into the future. We will become the peacemakers in Iraq. Not only that but we have the Sinai mission, Africa, Bosnia -- you name, we're there, along with the Afghan mission.  And 90% of the air sovereignty of the United States is flown by Air National Guard pilots. And if we don't do something to retain these people and, as the economy gets better, we're going to start losing real good people. And then what's going to happen is recruiting and retention budgets are going to go up and then we're going to have to spend $100,000 per soldier, per air man to get them retrained. And so we have to find a balance. We have to bring the operational reserve force into the 21st century with pay and benefits. And when we -- when Congress gave the Reserve retirement program, they started it on January 28, 2008. You said from those people who served from 9-11 to that time, "Your service don't count." And yet you still want them to go. We have units right now in Minnesota that are on their fourth rotation to either Iraq, Afghanistan or Bosnia. And, you know, these people are being taken away from their civilian jobs, they're losing their 401Ks, putting stress on the families. Bankruptcy is becoming an important thing in the Guard and Reserve community.   So things have to change. We realize it's stressing the budget but, you know, it's not uncommon to see the rules waived to provide things. We've seen it with the GI Bill. We've seen it with Tri-Care for life.
Cline informs that the Guard and Reserves will continue to shoulder the burden of Iraq -- guess Iraq really is a US colony now, that this screws with their own lives, their own families, their own financial security at present and when they retire.  And he provides that to the House Armed Service's Military Personnel Subcommittee which is chaired by US House Rep Susan Davis.  Joe Wilson is the Ranking Member.  Chair Davis explained at the start of the hearing, "Today the subcommittee will focus on the legislative priorities of military associations and the implications of direct spending on the ability of the Congress to meet these priorities. It has been the tradition of this subcommittee to hear from the beneficiary and the advocacy organizations at the start of the legislative season so that the Subcommittee has a better understanding of the many issues of interest to service members and their families."
Cline was part of the first panel which also included The Retired Enlisted Association's Deidre Parke Holleman, Retired Col Steve Strobridge,  CBO's Sarah Jennings and Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Barnes.
Since, as Davis noted, the point was to hear about the issues, we'll again go to Cline who was speaking of the disparities in pay.
Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: Well I think it would go a long way in solving any future retention problems that we have. You know anytime that we have a deployment, we have soldiers that come home, air man that come home, sailors and marines that come home and their families have said, "I've had enough, you know, I'm tired of you being gone."   The employers are starting to get riled up. These service members are looking at their civilian careers and they're saying, "Every time I'm deployed, I'm losing money out of my 401 K. I'm losing part of my future retirement.  The start of January 28, 2008 for that retroactivity, that was a great start. Your idea of for every two years of service, you get a year early retirement --
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: [Every year] Over 20.
Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: You know, we've been fighting, I've been doing this for 21 years and for 21 years we have been trying to get the H55 retirement.  You know, every place you go -- in fact, I talked to a group of chief master sergeants yesterday, and that's the first thing out of their mouth -- the retroactively or the early retirement. "When are we going to see this?" And unfortunately the public doesn't understand mandatory spending and discretionary spending. When they see $750 billion given to banks and auto makers, or $3 billion in three weeks to clear carlots, a trillion dollars for health care -- they don't understand that it's a different pot of money. We do because we work it every day and try to explain it to our members. But they're the tax payers, they're the voter, they're sitting there saying, "Hey, I've done my service but you're not recognizing me. You know, I've rotated twice before Januay 28, 2008 and you're not recognizing my service." It's like you're sticking them in the side with an ice pick.  
There were two panels that the Subcomittee heard from and the second panel was composed of Gold Star Wives Suzanne Stack and Margaret McCloud. Kat's grabbing some of Suzanne Stack's testimony (at her site tonight) so we'll go with Margaret McCloud for the snapshot.
Margaret McCloud: Good morning. I am Maggie McCloud, proud widow of Marine Lt Col Joseph Trane McCloud who was killed in Iraq over three years ago. Thank you very much, Madame Chairwoman, Congressman Wilson and members of the Committee for allowing us to speak to you today regarding our personal narrative regarding the elimitation of the offset which affects 54,000 military surviving spouses, 94% of whom are survivors of retirees who pay premiums [. . .] and 6% like me who are survivors of active duty deaths. My husband paid for it with his life, the retiree paid for it with premiums and now we are both being denied it. As Suzanee has said and I will echo, Congress has set precedents in removing offsets to military retired pay such as the penalty for military retirees working as federal civilians, concurrent receipt of disability compensation and retirement pay for severely disabled retirees and the Social Security offset to SBP at age 62. The president's budget restores full military retiree pay to all other disabled retirees and therein lies my confusion. Why can't we find the money to fund this offset, one that effects 54,000 military widows, if we are able to find the money to fund these other most worthy benefits? We are told over and over again, year after year that the issue is cost not the principle but the reality has been that finding the funding has not been a priority.  Elimination of this widows' tax was included in the GI bill of  Rights for the 21st Century. Congress acknowledged this inequity by creating the Special Survivor's Indemity Allowance.  Additional money was found last year in the tobacco legislation. Small progress for which we are grateful but recognition of the injustice created by the off-set. In explaining it's opposition to removal of the off-set, OSD has stated an inequity would be created with one select group receiving two survivor annuities. There are already groups receiving two benefits, widows who remarry after age 57 and widows like me who forfeited their SBP annuity to their children to ensure adequate resources to raise our families now and surviving spouses of federal civilians. The vast majority of military retirees did not die of their service but rather they retired and went on to have second careers. My husband did not enjoy the opportunity to have a second career and help raise his children and the DIC should be added to, not subtracted from, his retirement annuity. As it should, the administration has shown its strong support for our military members and veterans for whom the fighting has ended. Well the fighting has ended for our loved ones as well. Whether they fought on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of Vietnam, the desert of Iraq or the countless other places where brave Americans have fought and died. But we their survivors are still struggling each day. And now I also have to answer such questions as "Mom does it hurt to drown?"; "Why couldn't the Marines save Daddy if they could save the others?"; and "Was I the last thing he thought of?" These are the questions the families of the fallen have to face while carrying on and holding our families together. In conclusion, my family continues to support our military service members in any way we can.  You need only look at my living room in December when it was filled with Boy Scout popcorn to send to our troops or currently the hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies that I have yet to mail. It is very important to me to show our support for our military members who willingly leave their families and lay their lives on the line every day to protect and defend our freedom. As a country, don't we have a responsiblity to support their survivors when they don't come home or when they die later from that service ?  How can't our government find the money to fix this widows' tax? Thank you so very much.
SBP is Survivor Benefit Pay.  We'll note that Suzanne Stack's husband, SGM Michael Stack, also died serving in Iraq.  
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: The American people need to know what the widows' tax is.  Ms. Stack, you did an extraordinary job explaining the net. That's horrifying to think that somebody would get a four dollar check, a fourteen dollar check -- that-that -- And so, we have a time constraint here but I really am interested if you could -- both of you -- explain again what the Survivor Benefit Plan is briefly and who administers it and what it's intent, and then the indemnity -- dependency and indemnity compenstation, who administers that and then, without being totally specific, you take a number, you subtract a number and then you come back. The American people need to know this.
Suzanne Stack: I'll start. Thank you so much. It's hard to begin. The SBP is a annuity, it's something that is purchased at retirement when a military person does retire and they make a choice to have a certain portion of their retirement income provided to their spouse if they should die. It also has now been opened up to active duty deaths which is where both Ms. McCloud and I will fall and we receive that same benefit. That is usually figures as a percentage. Our husbands would be considered 100% disabled at a thirty year mark. If they -- My husband entered the service earlier than 1980, so his retirement pay would be based on the last base pay that he had received. I think Ms. McCould's started after that period so hers would be based on the high three. And then there's an average. And you take 75% of that  and then 55% of that is what the SBP is based on.  I don't know if that's clear, but it's easier when you have a chalk board.
Ranking Member: Joe Wilson: No, no, no. But that's good. And then the offset?
Suzanne Stack: Well the DIC [Dependency and Indemnity Compensation] is from the -- the SBP comes from the DoD, the DIC comes from the VA.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: The VA.
Suzanne Stack: And for the two of us, we are provided the DIC on a flat -- rate, flat rate, excuse me, I couldn't think of what it was. A flat rate amount. Again, prior to that, it would be rank based. And if you receive both of SBP and DIC then the SBP is off-set by the DIC. For some people, as you saw in my remarks, they receive nothing. There is a great number that receives absolutely nothing.  And that tends to be the E6 and below -- widows and widowers, we do have some widowers. And that can be very, very difficult and very hard -- very much a hardship on their families. [To McCloud] Can you think of anything that I've left off?
Margaret McCloud:  Well what I would like to add -- and I appreciate your comment about trying to get this story out --  first of all, to all the people from the first panel who spoke so strongly and elequently on our behalf this morning thank you so very much. The military coalition has been a wonderful advocate on our behalf for years now. But the fact remains that as far as who this off-set truly effects, it's 54,000 military widows -- largely elderly women scattered across the country and they keep telling me I'm a young woman, I'm a young widow -- I have to say I feel like I've aged in dog years the past three years -- but so you're asking elderly ladies throughout the country who are in frail health themselves. They gave up so much over the years during their spouses own military career, they followed them around, they gave up their opportunity frequently to work themselves and generate their own retirement income. Then their spouse became ill and they spent year after year after year caring for them at great physical cost to themselves. And then you have the "young widow" such as myself. I'm not a whiner but our plates are very full.   We hold down jobs. We do the work of both parents. My husband was an operational officer -- Operations Officers for the Second Batallion, Third Marine Regiment out of Kaneohe Bay Hawaii and I would like to think he would be in awe of the operation plan that I have to have in effect every day to raise three children by myself, to get them to school, Scouts, church, after school requirements, band. For fun last week, I just had to do a wonderful father-daughter event with my five-year-old daughter because I didn't want her to be there alone. That's what we have to do. Our plates are very full. And then we're told Congress has agreed the benefit in principle this is wrong , it's simply a matter of funding and we need to get the word out. Well we're trying but it's very discouraging and hard to keep coming at this year after year after year and hear: "We support you in principal but we just can't find the money."
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And something -- and my final point -- this effects a family like a thousand dollars a month.
McCloud: Yes.
Ranking Member: Joe Wilson: And so raising small children or people of age, hey, that's a lot of money. And it can be quality of life.  So thank you very much for being here today.
Chair Susan Davis: Thank you  both. I would say it's not just the dollar [. . .] -- it's not just the dollars, it's also the idea that you're fighting for and I think that we certainly acknowledge and recognize.
And Iraqis have, of course, suffered.  A point David Corn raised in debating Michael Rubin on today's Talk of the Nation (NPR). No transcript or excerpt.  Rubin's far too touchy and I'm not in the mood for "--" to note Corn being cut off or the other nonsense.  Short version: Rubin tried to surf a wave of Operation Happy Talk and David Corn stayed factual.  If they could provide Corn as a monologue, it would make for a nice listen but Rubin's too touchy and too eager to stretch the truth -- stretch to the point that it has runners throughout and finally breaks.  Corn is with Mother Jones now. We will note one caller (whom even Rubin knew better than to attack):
I don't think we're better off because of the war. My son was killed in September 2007 in Iraq and the only ones I can see that've gained on this is like Exxon-Mobile and Shell who are now drilling for oil over there and it moved the price of oil from $20 a barrel to $147 during this war.
On the oil issue, Antonia Juhasz and Joseph Juhasz tackle it at Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Last week, Aamer Madhani (USA Today) noted some of the scars Iraqis suffer from:
The soldiers said they had received tips that Senaa's husband and her sister's husband were insurgents against the government in Iraq. Senaa and her four children were hustled outside.     
When they were let back in, they found her husband on the kitchen floor, his bloody body full of bullet holes. Senaa's brother-in-law was dead in the living room.          
"I was sitting on the couch the other day, and all I could do was cry and wish that I was dead," says Abid, recalling her distress as her four young children played nearby.
"I know my psychological situation is fragile," she says. "I am always thinking about committing suicide, but there is a voice inside my head that tells me my responsibilities are too big to leave this world."           
Today Reporters Without Borders notes that journalists Muayad al-Lami and Maytham al-Ahmed both recently escaped assassination attempts:

"The Iraqi authorities must take all necessary measures to put a stop to the violence and to ensure that both attacks are properly investigated," Reporters Without Borders said. "Parliament's delay in adopting a law protecting journalists is prolonging the situation of impunity and seems to be the main reason why attacks on the press are continuing."

Gunmen opened fire on Al-Lami's car as he was travelling through Baghdad's Qadisiya district at about 9:30 p.m. on 21 March, seriously wounding his driver but failing to hit Al-Lami, who sustained no injuries. Al-Lami was previously the target of a murder attempt in September 2008, when a dynamite charge was set off outside the building that houses the union.

In Basra, two men on a motorcycle -- one in a policeman's uniform and one in civilian dress -- threw a grenade into the garden of Al-Ahmed's home on 17 March, seriously injuring his brother's daughter but no one else. The target was clearly Al-Ahmed himself, who is the manager of radio Sindibad and editor of the independent weekly Al-Amani.

Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that the Basra press is currently refusing to cover the activities of the US and British military forces in protest against the way soldiers manhandled journalists during a news conference at which work permits were supposed to have been issued. A number of journalists were detained for several hours after the incident. A US military spokesman has sent a letter of apology to the Basra media.

Reuters notes Iraq saw two Baghdad roadside bombings leaving six people injured.  
And they are still counting the ballots in Iraq. Alsumaria TV offers these projections: "After counting 95% of polling centers, State of Law Coalition is expected to occupy 92 seats followed by Al Iraqiya with 89 seats. Iraqi National Alliance is expected to occupy 64 seats and Kurdistan Alliance 42 seats while Accordance List is expected to occupy six sears and Iraq's Unity Coalition three seats." Those are projections, they are not official results. Catholic News Agency reports that Kirkuk's Archbishop Louis Sako declares himself to be "very optimistic" regarding the vote: "The elections were carried out very well. During the campaign period, the political parties debated their programs in a very civilized way. The last election in 2005 was much more sectarian. Now people have chosen more secular parties, not like last time. Whatever happens, it will be a good result. I am very optimistic about that." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports that talks are ongoing between Nouri's political party and the Iraqi National Alliance -- the two largest Shi'ite parties -- in an attempt at a power-sharing coalition which would "sideline [the political party of] secularist former premier Iyad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition won strong support from minority Sunnis."  Actually, Allawi's political party most likely (there are no knowns until the count is official) received Sunni support.  It also received non-Sunni support. And the party presented itself as a non-sectarian party with a slate of candidates (many of whom ended up banned) who were Shia and Sunni. On those banned candidates, we'll note Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation):
Today, however, I want to focus on the fortunes of the Great de-Baathification Machine, namely, Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, whose provocative purge of more than 500 candidates -- nearly all of whom were associated with anti-Iran and secular, nationalist movements -- polarized Iraq in the weeks before the vote. (Those who've seen "The Green Zone," the thriller starring Matt Damon, saw Chalabi's role as an exile who lied about Iraq's weapons program portrayed beautifully.)                     
Among other things, it appears as if the anti-Baath purge boosted Sunni turnout and turned more moderate Shiite voters away from, rather than toward, Chalabi, Lami, and the Shiite religious coalition that they created.        
Lami, who was Chalabi's ally and head of the Justice and Accountability Commission, got only about 900 votes in the election, according to Visser's count, meaning that he likely won't be elected to parliament. Chalabi, who ran as a stalwart -- indeed, the organizer -- of the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite coalition of religious parties, will take a seat in the next parliament. As Visser reports, the INA -- which included the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrists, and other Shiite parties -- won 16 seats in Baghdad province, and among them Chalabi finished ninth.
Yesterday Warren Olney (PRI's To The Point) spoke with the Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis about the election
Warren Olney: With 5% of the vote still uncounted, the party of Prime Minister al-Maliki is behind the slate led by Ayad Allawi. Both men are Shi'ites but Allawi's support comes largely from Sunnis. al-Maliki claims fraud and says if there's not a manual recount, there could be violence. The electoral commission has refused his request. Brian Katulis is a fellow at the Center for American Progress, he is co-author of The Prosperity Agenda: What The World Wants From America and What We Need In Return.  Good to have you on our program.
Brian Katulis: Thanks for having me on, Warren.
Warren Olney: You've spent time in Iraq, you're familiar with the parties involved and, of course, with the dynamics there -- particularly between sectarian factions.  How -- how concerned are you about this warning from al-Maliki invoking his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces that there might be violence if there isn't a recount.
Brian Katulis It's cause for serious concern. I've-I've said in advance of these elections that these elections were a stress test of Iraqi politics, whether the institutions and the various leaders would actually respect the results. And I think this is a worrisome time. We need to watch it carefully. I don't think he's done anything, as yet, to use security forces or anything like this, but the tone of this -- and I know many US officials are concerned about it --  raises a lot of questions about what might happen in the next coming days when results are finally tabulated -- we think by the end of this week. [. . .] I think it's important to keep in mind that the overall popular vote doesn't matter that much because if you think our electoral college here in this country is complicated, Iraq has a very complicated election system and figuring out how many seats each party gets according to the number of votes is a complicated formula. And I think we'll -- I'll suspect we'll see a lot of disputes over the next coming days -- especially after the results are announced.
Addressing the complicated system is Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) who explains:
In an electoral process full of complicated equations, the allocation of seats for women is one the most arcane. Few of the female candidates can explain the math, but they bristle at being put down as just quota appointees or "political decor," as Nada al Abidi, a candidate from the rural southern Wasit province, put it.         
"As long as there is a quota, people perceive women as gap-fillers and not deserving members of parliament," said Damlouji, who's still unsure if she'll get a seat. "The perception of a man is as an individual, but for women it's as a bloc. So if one woman failed, it's as if the entire womanhood has failed."       
In close races, some male candidates who thought they'd narrowly won a seat will learn that they were bumped to accommodate women who didn't get nearly as many votes. By law, women will make up a quarter of the next parliament -- 82 seats in the 325-member legislature -- but the algorithm for assigning seats is so complex that one diplomat likened it to orbit mechanics.
Trudy Rubin is a Phildelphia Inquirer columnist (and she's syndicated elsewhere) who has long covered Iraq and visited it often.  Her latest column is an open letter to Nouri al-Maliki which opens:
I'm writing you at a time when the outcome of Iraq's election is still uncertain. Your political bloc may get a plurality of votes - or not. Even if you win the most parliamentary seats, you will have to struggle to form a governing coalition, which may take months.
But it's not too early for you (or any other leader who seeks your job) to respond to this question: What kind of Iraq do you want? An Iraq in which Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds are at each other's throats? An Iraq where decent people are jailed for sectarian revenge?
Or an Iraq in which all who are loyal to their country, irrespective of sect, have a role to play?
I have a personal reason for asking. My Iraqi driver and friend, Salam, has been in a Baghdad jail for 15 months because he believed in an Iraq that rises above sect. That belief could cost him his life.
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, at the DC action Saturday, eight people were arrested including Cindy Sheehan who questions the motivations behind the arrest at her website (Cindy's Soapbox)

Was it a coincidence that Camp OUT NOW had two major actions over the weekend to try and hold our campsite that I missed due to being jailed? I don't think so

Well, those two days were some of the most miserable days of my life! We were taken to a lock-up and Elaine and I were put into a freezing room and I had a t-shirt and flip-flops on, being unprepared to be arrested. For four women, our cell had one cement block bench that was about 7-8 feet long, so at least one of us always had to be on the stone-cold floor. Sleeping was fitful as it was very chilly all night -- and very noisy!

Thirty-six hours, and eight bologna-like and cheese-substitute sandwiches later, we were taken to the court for our arraignment and stayed in that cell for seven hours and were finally released at 5pm after we all pled "not-guilty" and were scheduled for a trial on June 9th.

Basically, six of us stayed in jail for 50 hours for an offense that ends up to be the equivalent of a traffic ticket and we even had to go to traffic court to be arraigned. I am positive that everyone in DC who gets a traffic ticket and is from "out-of-town" does not have to stay over night. Then, I found out that the penalty for my charge "Crossing a police line" doesn't even carry any jail time. I spent two nights in jail on an offense with no jail time! The maximum penalty is $300! Boy, I will be even more pissed if I go through a trial and have to pay $300 dollars after I have already spent two nights in jail.         

To make matters even worse, I was the only one who was forced to come back for a trial even though Elaine has more DC arrests than I do. The other seven have chosen to go to trial with me, but they were given the option to "pay and forfeit" which means to pay the fine and forfeit your right to a trial. 

The icing on the entire crappy cake came when the eight of us were given a "stay away order" from the White House -- I asked the Judge how could that be legal because we weren't convicted of anything, but the Judge assured me that conditions could be placed on our release. I also think this is very suspicious considering our Camp OUT NOW actions were focusing on the White House.       

Yesterday's snapshot also noted Daniel Ellsberg's speech at the San Francisco peace action Saturday.  Before speaking there, he spoke with trade unionists in the Bay Area.
Jonathan Nack (OpEd News) reports:

"I think there is no prospect that we will achieve anything of any benefit to anyone in Afghanistan, or to us, by our efforts in Afghanistan," Ellsberg told the audience.
"Obama said " he will be withdrawing troops 15 months from now, 18 months from now. Gates [Secretary of Defense] has said maybe 24 months from now, and maybe it won't be too fast... The implicit promise is that that's a ceiling, that we'll be drawing down from that," said Ellsberg. "I don't think there's any chance of that," he declared.       
Based on his evaluation of the insurgency, Ellsberg predicted that, "there will be more troops in Afghanistan in two years, and still more in four years."
Regarding Iraq, Ellsberg said that, "it's taken for granted in everything I read that Obama is going to carry out his promise to get all American troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011 - all combat troops earlier than that, maybe this year. I don't think there's any chance of that."   
Ellsberg accused President Obama of intending to maintain U.S. Military bases in Iraq for much longer, "not just as long as he's alive, not just as long as he's in office as long as his children are alive!" Ellsberg said he expects there will still be 30,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of Pres. Obama's second term.          
"I'm saying that Obama is lying in the same way, and to the same degree, as my former President Lyndon Johnson did," accused Ellsberg.                 
At MakeThemAccountable, Caro notes an article in which Brent Budowsky proclaims the female century (yes, I'm doubtful but he's offering more than a 'year of the woman'):

With the House of Representative's passage of the healthcare bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has cemented her standing as one of the great Speakers in modern history.

Receiving her Academy Award for Best Director for the brilliant and important motion picture "The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigelow shattered another glass ceiling and brought warmth to the hearts of Americans who honor the men and women who serve our country...

With official Washington unpopular throughout the nation, first lady Michelle Obama has earned sky-high levels of trust and good will from Americans across the political spectrum.

Regarding the scandals of Wall Street and finance, how many perp-walks have involved women? Meanwhile, the National Venture Capital Association recently selected Kate Mitchell, a leading venture capitalist, to be its chairman, making Mitchell a national leader among risk-takers and job-creators.


TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):



In the debate over energy resources, natural gas is often considered a
"lesser-of-evils". While it does release some greenhouse gases,
gas burns
cleaner than coal and oil, and is in plentiful supply -- parts
of the U.S. sit above some of the largest natural gas reserves on Earth.
But a new boom in natural gas drilling, a process called "fracking",
raises concerns about health and environmental risks. 

On March 26 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW talks with filmmaker
Josh Fox about "Gasland", his Sundance award-winning documentary on the
surprising consequences of natural gas drilling. Fox's film -- inspired
when the gas company came to his hometown -- alleges chronic illness,
animal-killing toxic waste, disastrous explosions, and regulatory

Drilling down to the truth about natural gas. Next on NOW.


 David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). We'll close with this from Bacon's "Immigration Reform: We Need a Better Alternative:"
OAKLAND, CA  (3/19/09) - Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham announced Thursday their plan for immigration reform.  Unfortunately, it is a retread, recycling the same bad ideas that led to the defeat of reform efforts over the last five years.  In some ways, their proposal is even worse.                     
Schumer and Graham dramatize the lack of new ideas among Washington powerbrokers.  Real immigration reform requires a real alternative.  We need a different framework that embodies the goals of immigrants and working people, not the political calculations of a reluctant Congress.         
What's wrong with the Schumer/Graham proposal?                
1.  It ignores trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, which produce profits for U.S. corporations, but increase poverty in Mexico and Central America.  Since NAFTA went into effect, income in Mexico dropped, while millions of workers lost jobs and farmers their land.  As a result, six million Mexicans had to leave home and migrate north, looking for work. 
If we do not change U.S. trade policy, millions of displaced people will continue to come, no matter how many walls we build.              
2.  People working without papers will be fired and even imprisoned under their proposal, and raids will increase.  Vulnerability makes it harder for people to defend their rights, organize unions and raise wages.  That keeps the price of immigrant labor low.  Every worker will have to show a national ID card, (an idea too extreme even for the Bush administration).  A problematic ID would mean getting fired, and maybe jailed.
This will not stop people from coming to the U.S.  But it will produce more immigration raids, firings, and a much larger detention system.  Last year over 350,000 people went through privately-run prisons for undocumented immigrants.  That number will go up.