Friday, March 13, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Friday, March 13, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, actions gear up in the US, Amnesty International calls for a moratorium on executions in Iraq, Republican US senators want a new nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq, and more.
Starting with action. IRAQ: The Logic of Withdrawal author Anthony Arnove (Socialist Worker) notes that MoveOn (aka has moved on from the illegal war:
The message being sent to the antiwar movement is: It's over.  We can "move on."  Leave it to the generals to wind it down.  But if we do that, we will find ourselves without the forces we need to challenge Obama and Congress.   
The year 2011 is already too late to end the occupation of Iraq, which should never have started in the first place.  And shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan is not ending the war.  
Without an antiwar movement that is loud, active, in the streets and raising its own independent demands beyond the limits set by the Democratic Party, U.S. troops will not be coming home. 
The empire has not folded up its tent, and neither should we.
Which is why action is needed and people can take action all next week.  In various cities there will be actions.  On Thursday, for example, many cities will be marking the 6th anniversary of the start of the illegal war.  World Can't Wait has posted an audio message about an action in Berkeley next Thursday:
Hey, listen up.  March 19th is the 6th anniversary of this unjust, illegal, immoral war on Iraq.  Over one million Iraqis have been killed and four million turned into refugees.  There are still almost 150,000 troops in Iraq and another 17,000 are being sent to Afghanistan.  All in the name of the so-called war on terror.  Iraq and Afghanistan are now Obama's wars.  The question is: What are you going to do about it? 
Where are you going to be on March 19th?  Are you going to be in the streets of Berkeley with The World Can't Wait saying stop US occuaptions and torture for empire, "US Out of Iraq and Afghanistan," "No Wars on Iran, Pakistan and Gaza"?  Or are you at peace with being at war?  Are these wars any less bad just because we have a new commander-in-chief? 
Look, if you thought Barack Obama was going to end the war, think again.  Listen to what he's actually said he's going to do.  He's said he's going to leave 80,000 troops in Iraq.  He said he's going to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.  He said he wants to increase the size of the US military by 92,000 more troops -- sending more of our young people to kill and die. 
But you don't have to go along.  It's immoral to wait and see, hoping maybe someday Obama will withdraw some of the troops.  Do not be accepting and supporting the very crimes you hated so much under the Bush regime.  If you care about humanity and don't want the war to continue even one more day than get in the streets this Thursday, March 19th, in Berkeley on the sixth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.  Join us for a rally at three o'clock at Martin Luther King Park, next to Berkeley High.  At four p.m., we're going to march.  To get involved, call us now at (415) 864-5153 or e-mail us at   
Berkeley will not be the only city across the country engaging in protests next Thursday.  World Can't Wait offers a list of other cities holding demonstrations.  Next weekend, those wanting to call out the illegal war can join with groups  such as The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War -- all are taking part in a real action. Iraq Veterans Against the War explains:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st         
As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution,
click here.)              
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.              
For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or
Need some motivation to get active next week?  If you're in Indiana, you're got someone who can explain why it is so important to stand up.  Camilo Mejia is the author of Road from Ar Ramadi.  He is an Iraq War veteran.  He is a conscientious objector.  He stood up to the full power of the US military and he survived and then some.  He is the chair of Iraq Veterans Against the war.  All of that, before you even get into the adventures of his father and mother, is more than worth hearing about and those makes him someone worth hearing.  Those in South Bend and Goshen Indiana have the opportunity to hear him next week.  Monday, he will be speaking at 7:00 pm on the Indiana University South Bend's campus and Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. he will be speaking in Goshen at Iglesia Menonita Del Buen Pastor.  Both events are free and open to the public and more information can be found here.  Mejia is among the early resisters and his actions are noted by Michael J. Mooney (Broward Palm Beach) who explains the struggle war resister Aslan Lamarche is currently undergoing.  He joined the military at the age of 18, he then self-checked out and went to Canada.  His attempt to be granted refugee status in Canada was denied. His parents (from Trinidad and Cuba) remain in Flordia and Aslan states, "It's sad.  My parents came to the U.S. for a better way of life.  And now, their oldest son had to leave that same country for the same reason."  He is taking classes in Toronto and hoping for some good news. He says, "It's hard to be 20 years old and be hated by two governments.  And Canada is a very strange country in a lot of ways.  They just have this blind trust that their government will do the right thing.  The majority of Canadians want us to stay.  They say, 'Don't worry.  Everything will be fine.' But at the end of the day, none of them are willing to fight for us." 
Meanwhile Megan Feldman (Dallas Observer) writes not only the lengthiest article on US war resisters in Canada in some time, it may be the lengthiest yet.  Kimberly Rivera is Feldman's entry point.  The Iraq War veteran, who became the first female US war resister to go public in Canada this decade, hails from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Community members in that area note that the bulk of the copies of this week's Observer are gone.  (The Dallas Observer is a weekly freebie which publishes each Wednesday.)  Feldman's article opens:

Just 5 feet tall, with a baby strapped to her chest and a soft, faltering voice, Kim Rivera is anything but soldierly. Yet two years ago she was a Texas private in the War on Terror, guarding a gate with an M4 rifle and frisking Iraqi civilians at a base in eastern Baghdad.   

Now, on a Wednesday evening in January, the 26-year-old mother of three stands in a room in frigid, snow-covered Toronto. Her fair-skinned face and round blue eyes are framed by auburn hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and she places a hand on her bundled baby as she faces some 100 people seated in folding chairs in the middle-class apartment building's community room.   

Rivera clears her throat and unfolds a sheet of paper.        

"I was fighting your kind for killing my kind," she begins, reading a poem she wrote last summer and dedicated to the people of Iraq. "I was fighting for your liberty; I was fighting for peace." She pauses and takes a deep breath. "But in reality, I was fighting to destroy everything you know and love."      

The audience listens in silence. Some nod. A few wipe tears from their eyes. They are peace activists and professors, fellow American Iraq War deserters in their 20s and American hippies in their 60s, Vietnam draft-dodgers and Canadian mothers.

During Vietnam, the Canadian government welcomed both "draft dodgers" and "deserters."  This go round, no US service member resisting the Iraq War has been granted official status by making a refugee claim.  Despite a motion passed in the House of Commons last year, war resisters have still not been welcomed by the government.  (The motion was non-bidning.)  Approximately 400 war resisters have gone to Canada -- the bulk of which do not attempt to be granted refugee status but instead try to fly under the radar.  (That's me, not Feldman on the last sentence.)  Feldman notes that, during the Iraq War, the "desertion rates have nearly doubled, rising from 2,610 in 2003 to 4,698 in 2007, and military records show a crackdown on deserters since the war in Iraq began. In both 2001 and 2007, for instance, roughly 4,500 soldiers deserted each year. But while in 2001 only 29 deserters were prosecuted, in 2007 that figure was 108."  Ryan Johnson is among the war resisters noted in Feldman's article and she also goes into Joshua Key's case in depth (we'll note that section next week).

Kimberly Rivera, Ryan Johnson, Joshua Key, Phil Hart and others resist the illegal war.  In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki appears ready to resist the Iraqis from his US installed post as prime minister. Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) notes al-Maliki's advisor Sadiq al-Rikabi declaring in DC (last week): "I think that, considering the American's president's speech about the U.S. commitment for reponsible withdrawal, we do not feel a referendum is necessary.  The decision will need to be taken in parliament, as the referendum is currently enshrined in law, and so if it is to be cancelled, we need a new law to say so.  But even if the referendum is held on its assigned date, I'm not worried at all about the approval of the SOFA." Lynch notes that the vote is supposed to be mere months away but there appears to be no preparation for it and wonders if it will be cancelled:
It wouldn't surprise me at all if the U.S. and Maliki would both like to see the referendum quietly dropped. Neither really wanted it to begin with.  For the U.S., it complicates strategic planning, while it was forced on Maliki by the Iraqi Parliament as the price of ratification.   It isn't currently a major issue in the press or for leading political forces,  and preparation for a referendum which is supposedly only four months away (but lacks rules or even a set question) doesn't seem to have begun.  
We've noted before (most recently in the March 4th snapshot) that if that vote's taking place, it's past time for steps to be taken.  Iraq's not really had a full-on election.  The most recent 'big' election was 14 out of 18 provinces and approximately 40% of the eligible population did not participate (some were not allowed to participate, some chose not to).

Monday Thomas E. Ricks author of The Gamble and NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro appeared on Talk of the Nation.  One of the callers was a US service member home on a pass who would be returning to Iraq shortly.  He explained he was stationed in Baghdad and that when they (US soldiers) attempt to train Iraqi police, they don't show up, or only a few do.  Lourdes Garacia-Navarro explained various reasons that could be the case including tensions and hostilities that result from an occupation.  (Garcia-Navarro heads NPR's Baghdad division.) An example of that can be found online. At his site Adam Kokesh - Revolutionary Patriot, Adam Kokesh has posted a video of US forces 'training' Iraqi police officers and Adam notes this is Barack Oabama's "residual force of 'non-combat troops' in Iraq.  This is the US military's Tony Robbins he mentions three areas that we're calling A and B and C (I have no idea what he's taling about):
We're going to talk a little about how you are conducting yourselves as Iraqi police.  Raise your hand if you're in the Mahdi militia.  Let's see it.  Who's in the militia?  Who has militia ties?  Which one of you are more loyal to the militia than to your own country?  None of you?  Bulls**t.  Some of you in this formation are f**king lie right now.  You know why I'm pissed off?  I've come down here with my soldiers to try and train you and you're trying to f**king kill Americans, you're trying to kill your fellow f**king Iraqis cause you got no f**king backbone.  You want everything from me.  You want weapons and ammunition.  You want fuel, you want trucks.  But you're too f**king p**sy to go three kilometers down the road and go get the people that are tearing this f**king town apart.  That's pure f**king cowardice.  I'll take three g**damn trucks down the road any f**king day.          
[To an Iraqi, thumping him on the chest] You think this is f**king funny?  You want to call me out?  You think it's f**king funny?  Why don't I take your ass out back and kick your little  f**king ass? You better shut the f**k up.  F**king pay attention. 
[To all] I have no problems beating anyone of your asses, not one.  Because I don't give a f**k.  Because you're acting like a bunch of f**king women. 
[To one Iraqi] Shut up when I'm talking.  Shut your f**king mouth.    
[To all]  I'm not going to come down here and waste my f**king time or my soldiers' lives because you don't want to do s**t.  You guys better figure out where your loyalties lie.  Are you loyal to Iraq, Shia, Sunni, what is it? You want to fight for your country or are you better off having me die for your country because you're too much of a f**king woman to do it yourself?  You love seeing Americans die for your f**king country, you won't die for it yourself.  I don't see your ass in my hometown.    
[Turning around] And you f**king leadership [ought to?] get off your ass too.  Lead from the f**king front.  When's the last time you went on patrol?  Probably never.  When's the last time you went these guys down to A, when did you take them to A and lead 'em on a f**king patrol? You never did, did you?  Because you're too chicken s**t. 
[Facing front] Figure out what the f**k you want from us or I'm going to stop coming down here. And when the Sunnis from A come down here and cut your f**king heads off, I'm not going to do a g**damn thing about it.  I'm going to let them bomb your f**king ass into oblivion with their mortars because you will not do s**t about it. I will not help people that will not help themselves.  Get your heads out of this f**king bulls**t Mahdi militia and start fighting for Iraq. What do you want?  Questions?  . . . . [Question asked, then translated.]  You wanna erase that image, you want to fix your image. 
This group right here, f**k your stupid checkpoints, they're worthless.  Get together, get all your weapons and start marching south towards the river.  I guarantee you'll get into a gunfight and I guarantee you'll f**k some people up.  Get down there and kick some ass. What?  You don't need trucks.  Take some water, take some food.  [shouting over him]  Hey, quit making excuses.  Don't f**king talk about US patrols.  I never saw your ass down in ledge, where the f**k were you?  I never saw you in B, C, so shut the f**k up.  When I tell you to man up, you shut the f**k up.   You guys want to be men, go down there and start beating some f**king asses. You're supposed to be Iraqi police.  Why don't you try acting like it?  You sit her with your thumb up your ass because you're too f**king scared to do your jobs.
That video is appalling on so many levels.  First off, we do need to note that Iraqi women are under attack.  We need to point out that they have lost rights since the start of the illegal war.  We need to point out that the thug goverment the US chose to install practices rank sexism.  So for any US service member, diplomat, you name it in Iraq to contribute to sexism is spitting on Iraqi women.  SPITTING on Iraqi women.  There is no excuse for it.  There is no "Oh, he's telling it like it is."  He's being a foul mouthed prick and he can be that and we won't raise an eyebrow.  But he cannot degrade women and get away with it.  He is pushing the notion that being a woman is something wrong.  And that he thought that was appropriate goes to a HUGE problem in the US military.  That he didn't realize how offensive, wrong and harmful those statements were, goes to a HUGE problem.  The US has done enough damage to Iraq.  It has no right to inflict further damage on Iraqi women.  And, for the record, Iraqi women are police officers.  They had to fight for the right to carry guns.  That wasn't a problem before the US invasion.  Back then, they could be police officers, they could be armed police officrs.  Today they have to fight to regain their rights.  And when the US military shows up for a 'training' and disrespects women and spits on them with their words and tells Iraqis that there's nothing worse in the world to be than a woman, they make life harder for Iraqi women.  There is no excuse for that.  There is never any excuse for it.  And the US military needs to get to the bottom of this.  They need to figure out where the breakdown is.  They need to figure out how a US military composed of men and women continues to allow these sexist and harmful statements to be made?  That question needs to be answered and until it is, expect more command rapes, expect more harassment and more assaults.  Until the culture is confronted in the military, nothing's going to change.  And to be very clear, the words were harmful to US women in the military as well as to Iraqi women.  How seriously do you think any of those Iraqi police officers at the 'training' are going to take a female US service member?  There was no excuse for it, there was never any excuse for it, it needs to stop.

Other things need to stop as well. Today Amnesty International has called for a moratorium on executions in Iraq: 
Iraq's Justice Minister has been urged to stop the execution of 128 prisoners on death row, amid reports that the authorities plan to start executing them in batches of 20 next week.

The use of the death penalty has been increasing at an alarming rate in Iraq since the government reintroduced it in August 2004. This followed a suspension of more than one year by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Last year at least 285 people were sentenced to death, and at least 34 executed. In 2007 at least 199 people were sentenced to death and 33 were executed, while in 2006 at least 65 people were put to death. The actual figures could be much higher as there are no official statistics for the number of prisoners facing execution.

"The Iraqi government said in 2004 that reinstating capital punishment would curb widespread violence in the country. The reality, however, is that violence has continued at extremely high levels and the death penalty has yet again been shown to be no deterrent," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. "In fact, many attacks are perpetrated by suicide bombers who, clearly, are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of execution."

The Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council informed Amnesty International on 9 March that Iraq's Presidential Council (comprising the President and the two Vice-Presidents) had ratified the death sentences of 128 people whose sentences had already been confirmed by the Cassation Court.

The Iraqi authorities have not disclosed the identities of those facing imminent execution, stoking fears that many of them may have been sentenced to death after trials that failed to satisfy international standards for fair trial.

Most are likely to have been sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), whose proceedings consistently fall short of international standards for fair trial. Some are likely to have been convicted of crimes such as murder and kidnapping on the basis of confessions they allege were extracted under torture during their pre-trial detention by Iraqi security forces. Allegations of torture are not being investigated adequately or at all by the CCCI. Torture of detainees held by Iraqi security forces remains rife.

"Iraq's creaking judicial system is simply unable to guarantee fair trials in ordinary criminal cases, and even less so in capital cases, with the result, we fear, that numerous people have gone to their death after unfair trials," said Malcolm Smart.

"Iraq continues to be plagued by high levels of political violence but the death penalty is no answer and, due to its brutalizing effect, may be making the situation worse. The Iraqi government should order an immediate halt to these executions and establish a moratorium on all further executions in Iraq."

Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to make public all information pertaining to the 128 people, including their full names, details of the charges against them, the dates of their arrest, trial and appeal and their current places of detention.
While Amnesty International calls for a halt to executions, two Republican senators in the US call for a new nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq.  Xinhua reports John McCain and Lindsey Graham state Christopher Hill lacks MidEast experience and doesn't have a background in counterterrorism or counterinsurgency.  The senators apparently do not realize what an ambassador actually does.  Equally true, they both expected the nominee to be retired Gen Anthony Zinni.  At the White House today, spokesmodel Robert Gibbs was asked about the Republican resistance in the Senate -- Hill is nominated, he has not been confirmed -- and whether the White House would continue to back Christopher Hill even if it appeared getting sixty votes to confirm might mean hard work?  Gibbs responded, "Well, let's talk a little bit about Chris Hill. Obviously, he is a very seasoned, accomplished -- seasoned and accomplished -- diplomat. Somebody who has dealt with extraordinary challenges, and is uniquely qualified in a very tough political environment that remains in Iraq, to seek an end to some of the political disputes that are vexing to the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds.   The President  has extraordinary respect for his ability. I think he's proven his ability to understand very complex political situations, to resolve those political situations. Obviously, Iraq is a very unique situation, and the President believes that Chris Hill is uniquely qualified to meet those challenges. And I think that that will be true going forward, and the President is fully confident."  That does not respond to the issue of 60 votes.  Gibbs was then asked about Hill's lack of MidEast background and he 'answered' by ignoring the question.  He once again yammered on about "skills" in what was a worthless response that not only did not answer the question, it also didn't stress Hill's strengths.  When the White House spokesperson doesn't know how to defend a nominee, that's a problem.  When the nominee is Christopher Hill, someone who is actually qualified for the post and the White House is unable to defend the nominee, that's a huge problem. 

At the US State Dept, spokesperson Gordon Duguid was also asked about the objection by McCain and Graham.  Duguid responded that Christopher "Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the Senators' concerns and go into more details about his record.  He is ready for those hearings.  And I do believe, and I know that the President and the Secretary also believe, that Ambassaodr Hill is qualified.  I won't go down the huge list of achievements he's had throughout his career, but simply point on his negotiating experience both in the Six-Party Talks and in the Dayton Accords as being particularly high points.  But again, Ambassador Hill is ready to meet with senators and discuss their concerns, and looks forward to his hearings."  And that, Robert Gibbs, is how you handle the question.  Asked if the Administration is standing behind the nomination of Hill, Gordon Duguid responded, "That is correct. Yes, that is correct."  Again, Robert Gibbs, that is how you handle the question.

In Iraq, Ivan Watson (CNN) notes speculation that Turkey may be considering cross-border raids into Iraq due to the declaration that Turkey is planning to set up border check-points.  This would be part of their continued assault on northern Iraq as they attempt to bomb the PKK -- an organization of rebels labeled "terrorists" by the UK, the US, the European Union, Turkey and Nouri al-Maliki -- the latter in public statements.
In other reported violence today . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 woman and left one man wounded, another which wounded two people, a third which left four police officers wounded, a Baquba bombing that destroyed a building and, dropping back to Thursday night a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed the life of1 police officer and a Basra rocket attack.  

Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 school guard shot dead in Baquba, 1 bus driver shot dead in Baquba and 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul.

In England, the released e-mails showing the fraud involved in the pre-war 'evidence' offered by Tony Blair's government continues to result in attention if, as yet, no inquiry.  Rose Prince (Telegraph of London) notes, "The emails circulated between senior figures in Tony Blair's government were released under the Freedom of Information Act after a ruling by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. They show that unnamed officials also protested that the dossier suggested that Saddam's biological warfare programme was far more advanced than they knew to be the case. In one email, a civil servant warned about 'iffy drafting' and compared hyperbolic claims about Iraq's nuclear capacity to 'Frankenstein' science."  Journalist Chris Ames (Free Speech Blog) weighs in:  "I first asked for these papers in June 2005, nearly four years ago. The Cabinet Office delayed for as long as it could before turning down the request, at which point I appealed to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. Last September, nearly three years on, Thomas ordered that the papers should be released, hinting along the way that they would provide 'evidence that the dossier was deliberately manipulated in order to present an exaggerated case for military action'." Where's the opposition and outcry?  Bob Roberts (The Mirror) explains, "The Lib Dems said: 'This confirms officials and advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq'." The Daily Mail also notes growing outcries over the deception, "Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: 'These minutes shed interesting light on the process by which the caveats in the Joint Intelligence Committee's original assessment of Iraq's WMD programmes were stripped out of the dossier that was presented to Parliament and the British people.'  Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: 'This confirms the widely held suspicions that leading officials and political advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq'."   The Metro reminds, "The dossier was made public in September 2002 by the then prime minister Tony Blair. Critics believe the move was designed to gain public support for invading Iraq the following year." The dossier is revealed to be rigged and filled with intentional distortions. England was lied into the illegal war and proof emerges constantly and publicly. So where is the inquiry? These revelations have become very common in England and they do get press coverage (unlike in the US), so where's the inquiry? Michael Settle (Scotland's The Herald) quotes SNP's Angus Robertson stating, "The case for war in Iraq is now totally exposed as a lie. Gordon Brown, who supported the war, must immediately announce the starting date of an independent inquiry." A real inquiry.  Along with those who have died serving in Iraq, England has seen other deaths as a result of this illegal war. BBC reminds:

The dossier became the cause of a huge row between the BBC and Tony Blair's government following the invasion of Iraq and the failure to find WMD.
The Today programme's Andrew Gilligan reported that an unnamed senior official involved in drawing it up had told him parts of it - specifically a claim that Saddam could launch WMD at 45 minutes' notice - had been inserted against the wishes of the intelligence services even though the government "probably knew" the claim was wrong.
This led on to the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the WMD specialist who killed himself just over a week after being named by the Ministry of Defence as the source for the BBC's report.

Last month, Rose Gentle (Military Families Against the War) noted of the continued stonewallying, "All we want to know is why our troops where sent in to Iraq - this country has the right to know what is in those minutes. I have the right to know why my son was sent there to die. We all know it definitely wasn't for WMD - lets hope one day their kids or grand kids don't go to a war looking for WMD."  Rose Gentle's son Gordon was killed January 28, 2004 while serving in Iraq.
In the US, labor journalist David Bacon offers "WHY LABOR LAW DOESN'T WORK FOR WORKERS" (New American Media):

After months of a media war supporting and condemning it, the Employee Free Choice Act was finally introduced into Congress again this week. The bill has been debated before, but with a larger Democratic majority, its chances of passage are much greater today, and President Obama has said he'll sign it. Employers, therefore, are fighting it as never before.
Behind the verbal fireworks, workers on the ground say that current labor law has no teeth, and must be changed. In Lancaster, California, one of the country's hardest-fought organizing drives highlights the obstacles they face. A year ago, employees at Rite Aid's huge drug warehouse there voted to join a union. On March 21, 2008, the National Labor Relations Board certified that union, giving it the right to negotiate a first union contract. But Rite Aid, workers say, has just been waiting for the year to expire. Once it does, the company can stop the pretense of negotiating.
But an even more serious problem lies beyond. When the year is up, a group of pro-company workers will likely petition for a new election, where the company can try to undo last year's pro-union vote.
These are just the latest maneuvers in Rite Aid's war against the union. For the last three years its employees have overcome one obstacle after another in their effort to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Each obstacle has been placed in their path by this country's weak labor laws, a problem the Employee Free Choice Act was written to correct. That's why Rite Aid and other large employers are fighting the bill in Congress.
EFCA would go a long way toward solving the problems workers have at three crucial stages in union organizing efforts - anti-union firings at the beginning, getting their union recognized, and negotiating that first agreement. Says Angel Warner, one of Rite Aid's most vocal pro-union employees, "if we'd had EFCA, we'd have had our union and contract a long time ago."

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). Public broadcasting notes. NOW on PBS explores the economy in their latest broadcast which begins airing tonight on most PBS stations (check your local listings):

The world's economic superpowers are preparing to meet--will they devise a fix for the financial mess? Next time on NOW.
On March 13, financial ministers and central bankers of the world's economic superpowers will meet in London to lay the groundwork for next month's crucial meeting of their country's leaders, known as the G20. Will their work revolutionize the global economy and lift us out of this economic hole, or will politics get in the way?
David Brancaccio interviews Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard economics professor and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, about how high we should raise our hopes and what's at stake for America and the world.

Washington Week also begins airing tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings) and it's just Gwen and the fellas: Time's Michael Duffy, Slate's John Dickerson and NBC's Michael Viqueira. Good thing it's not Women's History Month, right? Oh, wait, it is. Well that's PBS counter-programming, you understand, because there are so many women dominating Friday night programming! There's . . . Jennifer Love Hewitt! And . . . There's Jennifer Love Hewitt! Hey, look, I love Love, she's one of the sweetest people in the industry, but I had no idea she was so powerful, that she required such extensive counter-programming. We salute you, Jennifer Love Hewitt, you make the PBS programmers tremble. Jennifer Love Hewitt's network home is CBS (The Ghost Whisperer, Friday nights, first hour of prime time) and Sunday, on CBS' 60 Minutes:

The Chairman
In a rare interview with a sitting Federal Reserve chairman – the first in 20 years – Ben Bernanke tells Scott Pelley what went wrong with America's financial system, how it caused the current economic crisis, what the Fed's doing to help fix it and when he expects the crippling recession to end. (This is a double-length segment.)
Alice Waters
She has been cooking and preaching the virtues of fresh food grown in an environmentally friendly way for decades. A world-class restaurant and eight cookbooks to her credit, she's become famous for her "slow food" approach – an antidote to fast food. Lesley Stahl reports. | Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, March 15, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
60 Minutes Update:
Madoff's Guilty Plea
Bernard Madoff has pleaded guilty to 11 felony charges for defrauding investors of more than $60 billion in a giant Ponzi scheme. Financial analyst and fraud investigator Harry Markopolos told Steve Kroft that the Securities and Exchange Commission ignored his repeated warnings about the Madoff fund for over five years. | Watch Video


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