Wednesday, October 20, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri claims he's about to be crowned Iraq's Biggest Loser (or at least prime minister), Iraqiya has an announcement of their own, Dan Choi stands up (Barack Obama cowers), former US ambassador Joe Wilson shares his thoughts on Dick Cheney, and more.
As AP reported this morning, Nouri al-Maliki is meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Murbarak today in Cairo as he attempts to woo the country's support and backing for him to continue as prime minister.AFP quotes him declaring that "we are now at the end of the tunnel, at the end of the road. If God allows, this government will emerge soon." So now Nouri's blaming a higher power for the political stalemate?
Among the issues Melkert was raising with al-Sistani was the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and thirteen days and counting.
At the US State Dept yesterday, spokesperson Marc C. Toner was asked about the Iranian government announcing their support for Nouri to continue as prime minister and Toner replied, "We've said, as recently as yesterday, that our policy towards Iraqi Government formation is that we want them to move forward as quickly as possible to form an inclusive government. It's frankly, an Iraqi process and it needs to be an Iraqi-led process, and so we don't believe it's our place nor is it the Government of Iran's place to comment or to -- or in any way on that process. Our ultimate concern is that it be an inclusive government." Nussaibah Younis (Guardian) observes, "In what now feels like the distant past, the results of the March 2010 elections were hailed a great success for Iraq. Voters had thrown out the most sectarian parties in favour of al-Da'wah and Iraqiya, who had both campaigned on anti-sectarian, Iraqi nationalist platforms. But seven months on, Maliki's proposed coalition with the Sadrists sounds the death knell for Iraqi cross-communalism and the future of Iraq looks bleak." Xinhua offers a news analysis which opens with, "The re-election of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is still not certain despite the endorsement of Iran during his latest visit to neighboring countries to rally support. Other candidates in the race to form Iraq's new government have the support of other neighboring countries, after all, analysts say." So Nouri is again declaring that he will be prime minister 'soon' -- a declaration he's repeatedly made for over half a year. What is known is that he becmae prime minister in April of 2006. Maria Golovnina and Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) report, "After years of war and neglect, clean water and electricity remain scarce, sewage pipes often overflow into streets, and access to good healthcare is limited." So who would those failures be on? I think they'd be on Nouri who has been prime minister for over four years.
Nouri came to power in April 2006. Iraq's Constitution mandated a census of and referendum on Kirkuk be held by the end of 2007. As usual with Nouri, nothing got done.
Today on Morning Edition (NPR), Peter Kenyon reported from Kirkuk on the census (which supposedly will take place this December). Kenyon (and Steve Inskeep in his intro to the report) sketch out the back-and-forth over the oil-rich Kirkuk and who has 'rights' to it. Kenyon reports that there is fear that the latest delay (kicking the census back two months) is an attempt to avoid the census.
Peter Kenyon: Kirkuk has thrived along the banks of the Khasa River for a long time. It's one of several places that claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs all have historical ties to Kirkuk. But over the centuries, the demographics have been dramatically and sometimes brutally transformed, both before and after large quantities of oil were discovered in 1927. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein's forces uprooted thousands of Kurdish families and leveled their villages. Arab families were relocated to Kirkuk, often lured - like Abu Adel's family - by promises of jobs and inexpensive housing. After Saddam was toppled in 2003, the fate of Kirkuk became a sensitive issue. A three-step mechanism was devised. First, the Arabization of Kirkuk would be reversed, then a census would determine the relative sizes of the various communities, and finally a referendum would determine whether or not residents wanted to be part of the Kurdish-controlled northern territories.
Yesterday the United Nations Special Representative to Iraq, Ad Melkert, was targeted with a roadside bombing in Najaf. (The UN is dancing swiftly for public consumption with a we-don't-know-if-he-was-targeted but privately and off the record they know and discuss it in depth.) Serena Chaudhry (Reuters) interviews Melkert:
"For me, it's actually quite clear that this country, Iraq, needs a strong government to confront violence from all different sides for all different reasons," a still visibly shaken Melkert told Reuters in an interview. "As long as such a strong government with a clear mandate is not in place, there is a gap and the potential for those that don't like the constitutional, democratic development of this country to try to sabotage it."
Nouri didn't fix the violence either. In fact, since the downturn in violence coincides with (a) the refugee crisis and (b) the Sahwa movement (putting fighters on the US payroll so they will stop fighting) and since he's really refused to bring Sahwa into the government in civilian or security posts, you could argue he's been fostering the violence in Iraq,
Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers reported on the practice of temporary marriage in Iraq which has made a comeback with the US invasion. Temporary marriage? It's sex. A man marries a woman for a brief period of time (months or hours) and then he's broken no codes, laws or cultural mores because they were married! The practice was outlawed under Saddam Hussein.
Kelly McEvers: This woman is so ashamed about what happened to her, she doesn't want to give her name. A mother of three, she says her husband abandoned her when she found out he preferred men. She had no way to support the family. A religious figure in the neighborhood promised to help, brought her to his home, locked the door and had sex with her. He offered her $15. For the man, at least, it was a brief moment of muta'a -- the Arabic word for pleasure and the Arabic word for temporary marriage. The woman said the man who had sex with her worked with leading Shi'ite religious clerics in the Iraqi city of Najaf. It's one of the most revered places in Shi'ite Islam.
McEvers speaks to "religious scholar" Aqil al-Shammari later in the report and he brags that he's used the practice "at least five" times and it's fine and dandy because he ended each 'marriage' after one month, the women "used birth control" and he paid them. What a prince. Poor women in the area endure rejection of public services because they aren't judged attractive or, if they're judged attractive, they're forced to have sex with men in 'temporary marriages' to receive the services.
Turning to the US, in July, Lt Dan Choi was discharged from the military for the 'crime' of being gay. With federal Judge Virginia Phillips issuing a halt to discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Pentagon telling recruiters that while Phillips' injunction on discharges is in place, they must not discriminate in recruiting against gays or lesbians (see Rebecca's "don't ask barack because he will tell" from last night), Dan Choi took action yesterday.
COOPER: There's breaking news on the Pentagon's don't ask, don't tell policy, which bars gays from serving openly in the military. Tonight, a federal judge in California denied the Obama administration's request that she suspend her own ruling, which struck down the policy as unconstitutional. Now, the administration will most certainly appeal the decision, but it comes on the same day that we learned of a stunning recruitment change by the Pentagon. For the first time in the history of this country, the U.S. military is now telling its recruiters that they can accept openly gay and lesbian applicants. They made the change because of the federal judge's ruling. Former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi went to a recruiting station in New York today to re-up. He's a veteran of the Iraq war, an Arab linguist, and a West Point graduate who was discharged earlier this year after announcing he was gay. A short time ago, I spoke to Dan Choi. I also spoke to Alex -- Alex Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United, who was also discharged under the policy. He's a plaintiff in the case the judge ruled on. And our own Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst, joined in the discussion.
COOPER: Dan, you were discharged from the Army, what, a couple of months ago. Today, you actually went back to reenlist. What happened?
DAN CHOI, DISCHARGED UNDER DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL POLICY: They allowed me to reenlist. They allowed me to sign up.
We know that don't ask, don't tell has been dead for a week now, seven days. And they're allowing people to sign up and be openly gay.
COOPER: So -- so, I mean, you walked in to, what, the Times Square recruiting office today?
CHOI: That's right.
COOPER: And you -- you tried to join the Marine Corps, but you were too -- you're too old for that.
CHOI: A couple months too old. So...
COOPER: A couple months too old. So -- so, what did you sign up for?
CHOI: The Army took me. And they're processing my paperwork right now. I was an officer before. I graduated from West Point and served in Iraq, but now I get to follow my dreams. I want to be enlisted.
COOPER: Did you tell them today that you were gay?
CHOI: Yes. I said that I was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I have no intention of keeping it secret. I want to sign up and serve with the full measure of integrity and honor and tell the truth of who I am. I don't intend to keep that part of my life silent.
COOPER: And what was the reaction in the office among the soldier you were talking with?
CHOI: Very professional, motivating and very inspirational. Told me all about what the Army is and...
COOPER: They gave you have the regular spiel? Really? That's kind of fascinating.
COOPER: And did you kind of say like, "Yes, I know that part. I went to West Point."
CHOI: They were excited because it's rare to see people who have prior service to come back and particularly in a time of war. They need people of all different skills. And being able to speak Arabic and wanting to be a linguist, they also told me, you know, it's the needs of the Army. It's whatever the Army needs. I said, I've also been through airborne, air assault training, Rangers school and infantry training.
COOPER: By any traditional benchmark for the military you would be a great candidate. CHOI: That's right. So a week ago, even with all these qualifications, I would have been turned away if I would have said that I'm gay, and I intend to be honest about it. Today was very different.
COOPER: And they handed you a pamphlet, too.
CHOI: They said, "Stand up, stand out and stand Army strong." I was very excited.
COOPER: So your paperwork is going through?
CHOI: It's going through, and they're processing it. I'm very happy about it.
WASHINGTON -- Today, Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL -- a national, direct action lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization -- issued the following statement in response to the ruling by a federal district court judge refusing to stay an earlier injunction in Log Cabin Republicans vs. United States of America. The stay was being sought by the Department of Justice against an earlier ruling ordering the U.S. military to immediately stop enforcement of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law:
"This evening, Judge Phillips has once again shown the courage and leadership that has evaded so many of our political leaders -- including President Obama. We applaud Judge Phillips for this fair-minded, common sense ruling and continue to urge President Obama and the Department of Justice to immediately cease their unnecessary appeal of the Federal Court's ruling.
It is past time that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder act in accordance with nearly 80 percent of the American people, distinguished military leaders, active-duty servicemembers, and courageous veterans to ensure that this ruling is carried out immediately. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have the opportunity to act on the right side of history and to stop appeals of this decision."
Where there is an equality victory, there is Barack Obama trying to put the brakes on. AFP reports, "US Pesident Barack Obama's administration asked an appeals court Wednesday to immediately suspend a judge's decision to repeal a ban on gays serving openly in the military. [. . .] The Justice Department urged the appeals court in San Francisco to immediately suspend Phillips's repeal of the controversial 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy, while it considered a reversal of her stay decision." And, NO, there was no need to appeal it. And liars and whores who rush to rescue Barry better check themselves with the public record. They're insisting, as David G. Savage (Los Angeles Times) reports, "The Justice Department said it has a duty to defend the laws enacted by Congress, even though President Obama is urging Congress to repeal the law and to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
Really?: Did they appeal an appeals-court ruling on the ban in 2009? No. Jess Bravin and Laura Meckler (Wall St. Journal) reported in real time (May 19, 2009), "The Obama administration has decided to accept an appeals-court ruling that could undermine the military's ban on service members found to be gay." This is the Margert Witt case. The same issue and they didn't appeal that ruling. Why was that? As Josh Gersein (Politico) explained earlier this week, Barack's concern then wasn't with the law it was with Elena Kagan:
In May 2009, the Obama administration faced a decision about whether to ask the Supreme Court to take up a 9th Circuit ruling that sharply limited the Pentagon's ability to discharge gay service members. The court's opinion in the case brought by Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt was clearly at odds with a 2008 ruling from the 1st Circuit that upheld "don't ask, don't tell."
The Witt case could have produced a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of "don't ask," but the case could also have put Solicitor General Elena Kagan in the exceedingly uncomfortable position of arguing in the nation's highest court in favor of a statute that she once excoriated as "a moral injustice of the highest order."
Oh, it might have made Elena Kagan uncomfortable? That's the difference? For the comfort level of a public servant who elected to accept a job, Barack will bend his so-called rules but for the millions of gays and lesbians in this country and around the world, they're on their own. For CNN, Jeffrey Toobin (link has text and video) offers this legal opinion, "They are in a very bizarre position, frankly, of their own making."
Like millions of Americans, I was terribly saddened to learn of the recent suicides of several teenagers across our country after being bullied because they were gay or because people thought they were gay. Children are particularly vulnerable to the hurt caused by discrimination and prejudice and we have lost many young people over the years to suicide. These most recent deaths are a reminder that all Americans have to work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred.
I have a message for all the young people out there who are being bullied, or who feel alone and find it hard to imagine a better future: First of all, hang in there and ask for help. Your life is so important -- to your family, your friends, and to your country. And there is so much waiting for you, both personally and professionally -- there are so many opportunities for you to develop your talents and make your contributions.
And these opportunities will only increase. Because the story of America is the story of people coming together to tear down barriers, stand up for rights, and insist on equality, not only for themselves but for all people. And in the process, they create a community of support and solidarity that endures. Just think of the progress made by women just during my lifetime by women, or ethnic, racial and religious minorities over the course of our history --- and by gays and lesbians, many of whom are now free to live their lives openly and proudly. Here at the State Department, I am grateful every day for the work of our LGBT employees who are serving the United States as foreign service officers and civil servants here and around the world. It wasn't long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can -- because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you.
So take heart, and have hope, and please remember that your life is valuable, and that you are not alone. Many people are standing with you and sending you their thoughts, their prayers and their strength. Count me among them.
Take care of yourself.
You have value to your friends and family, your community and your country. She's certainly the first in this administration to get that across and a far cry from Valerie Jarrett who was insisting this month that being gay was "a lifestyle choice." It's not just Val. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, is not the hero on this issue so many try to make him. We were at that hearing where he first gave testimony. Only NBC Nightly News got his testimony correctly. CBS, ABC and other outlets lumped him with Adm Mike Mullen. Mullen was speaking only for himself. And the fact that they weren't able to quote Gates or show a clip of him speaking passionately on the issue should have been a clue to all. What he said was, he would follow any order from the president. For those who are confused, Gates isn't in the military. He's in the presidential cabinet. Damn straight he will follow any order from Barack. If he doesn't, he'd be fired. What Gates advocated for -- and no one wants to pay attention to this -- is a study. Not, as Barack keeps saying, to determine how to repeal it but to determine whether to repeal it.
We've gone over this and yet last week you had a bunch of idiots making fools of themselves online at the New York Times praising Robert Gates for his strong support of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's not his position. We're going to try to make that point one more time. No one in the social scene in DC is mistaken about what Gates' actual position is. He's hardly been silent semi-privately. But if you still don't get it, if the basic still elude you, former Lt Col Robert Maginnis is interviewed by Melissa Block on NPR's All Things Considered today. Listen to it. Listen to what he's saying, grasp that he knows Gates' postion (he knows Gates' position very well, the two know each other). Listen to what he's saying. And then you'll grasp why suddenly the Pentagon that was just supposed to be studying how to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell decided to start surveying the husbands and wives of straight (or straight-passing) service members. There was no point in that ever. Unless you were trying to game the study so as to continue Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Administrations love and live to target their enemies (real or perceived). For the Bully Boy Bush administration, one of their biggest targets was former US Ambassador Joe Wilson who had been sent, in 2002, on a fact-finding mission to Niger to determine whether there was any evidence supporting rumors (from Iraq's thug community then in exile but soon to be ruling and ruining Iraq) that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire yellow cake uranium (as opposed to Betty Crocker's yellow cake mix) from Niger. Wilson investigated and found nothing to back up the baseless claim. He reported those facts back and was debriefed. It should have ben the end of it. But as much as administrations love to demonize, they also love to lie. So January 28, 2003, Bully Boy Bush gave his Constitutionally-mandated State of the Union speech and declared, "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Wilson thought at first that Bush was speaking of another African country but, when he found out it was Niger, he began speaking to reporters (including New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof) on background. And he wrote a column for the New York Times which they published July 6, 2003 entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa."
The White House reaction was swift. They began shopping around to reporters that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. They weren't lying. She was a CIA agent and they blew her cover and all the overseas operations she'd worked on. Robert Novak was the first reporter to run with it. (Matt Cooper and Judith Miller were among those who also had the story shopped to them.) Plame's cover was blown, the cover of everyone she'd worked with was blown. And you might want to remember that Robert Gates never fretted over that. (A reference to his high drama over WikiLeaks.) What Novak did wasn't a crime. What the White House did was. (And Bully Boy Bush can thank his own father for that. Jake Tapper covered this in 2003, George H.W. Bush's Intelligence Identity Protection Act.) Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame and Sean Penn plays Joe Wilson in the film Fair Game and the real Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson were on CNN's Situation Room today speaking with Wolf Blitzer (link has text and video):
BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the people involved. You mentioned some of them. And I want both of you to give me your quick reaction when I mention their names, what you think about them. Dick Cheney.
PLAME: I think he has an extremely dark view of the world. And his idea of the One Percent Doctrine, which was, you know, there - if there's a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack or something affecting our national security, we're going to do everything to prevent it. And that sounds good, except what it really means is it undermines the very values that we as a country hold dear.
BLITZER: "Scooter" Libby.
PLAME: I think he's someone who was doing everything he could to protect his boss, Vice President Cheney. And he was left out to dry.
BLITZER: Well, you say that "Scooter" Libby is a traitor and - and Dick Cheney is a traitor. That's a serious word...
BLITZER: And you know, as a diplomat, what that means...
Last night I saw a premiere of the movie Fair Game, the story of how Bush administration officials ruined the CIA career of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, in retaliation for Ambassador Wilson blowing the whistle on the Bush administration's lies about Iraq obtaining yellow cake uranium from Niger - the reason we went to war in Iraq. At the end, Ambassador Wilson urges us, as American citizens, to "stand up and hold our government to account."
I wish everyone could heed Ambassador Wilson's advice, but the reality is, Obama - not Bush - has criminalized whistleblowing.
As Michael Isikoff so poignantly expressed yesterday, the Obama administration's policy dictates that picking the wrong issue to hold the government account for can land you in jail.
Isikoff's recent piece articulates the disturbing disparity - or as Isikoff puts it "double standard" - in the Obama administration's unprecedented criminal prosecution of whistleblowers. Compare, as Isikoff does, the massive disclosures of high-value national security information in Bob Woodward's new book (Obama's Wars) with the relatively minor disclosures of former State Department contractor Steven Kim and lawful disclosures of former National Security Agency (NSA) official Thomas Drake.
Turning to US elections. Mike explained last night that these efforts to get out the youth vote come a little too late and little too light because, so sorry, 18-year-olds who voted in the 2008 election? They're registered at home even though they may be in college. That's a significant chunk of people and for Dems to hold steady or even minimize the damage, they need all the youth voters from 2008 to turn out. Possibly if Barack Obama and his 'team' at the DNC weren't so damn stupid, didn't think they knew everything, they could have spent two months ago getting out the message on you need to register at your college address or be prepared to do a road trip home. (There are people who go to college in their home town. We're not talking about them. Equally true, conservative young people tend to already know this.) Two months ago, they also could have requested an absentee ballot. Those are basics in getting out the vote and the re-organized DNC under Barack doesn't know a damn thing as they prove and over. This isn't a minor issue, it's huge. And while all the useless gasbags have repeated buzz words and wasted our time on NPR and on Pacifica and on TV with their idiotic chatter, Mike's the one who caught the big fish, he's the one who reeled in the most important point. (Maybe Arianna can send buses to colleges across the country to ferry students back to their home voting districts?) Equally true some already in college elected to vote at home in the primaries (some voted at home in the primaries and in their college district -- and yes, that is a violation of the law) especially when the primaries were late in the process. Those Barack voters are going to have a task getting to the polls. The basics of get-out-the-vote? It's not, "Get a stage so Barack can offer some remarks!" It's, get registered and know where you going to vote. You need to know that in most states at least six weeks before the election. Those are the basics and they're beyond the current DNC.
On the first hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show, you heard the best discussion of these mid-terms, the voters and the issues. The topic was France and the protests taking place but Diane and her guests were able to tie it in to the US and they did a great job. Trina's going to cover that -- she hopes tonight at her site but that's if she can't stream the World Can't Wait event. (If she can stream it, she'll the DR show tomorrow.) If you're able to stream online, you should make a point to listen to the show's first hour. I believe it's really getting to the heart of the matter starting around 18 minutes into the show (I'm estimating, I heard the first half-hour live and it started around 23 minutes after, but the archived stream doesn't include the NPR news at the top of the hour).