Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, June 18, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, a fire blazes in Baghdad, Iraq's LGBT community gets some attention, Gordon Brown paints himself into a corner,  the Senate votes for more war, Norman Solomon makes a fool of himself yet again and more. 
Today Phil Sands and Nizar Latif (The National) report, "American troops may have to remain in violent cities such as Mosul and Baquba after the end of this month, despite plans for a complete US pull-out from urban areas, according to an official in one of Iraq's most powerful political parties.  Mohammed al Gharawi, of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), the largest single party in Iraq's parliament and the group in control of the ministery of the interior, said he would support an extension for the US military presence to prevent a worsening security situtation."  Meanwhile AFP reports on "U.S. army commanders" who stress that there is confusion ("mired in confusion") over the so-called departure from Mosul by June 30th ("when U.S. soldiers must leave cities and major towns nationwide") and that "[t]hey also believe the political message emanating from Baghdad about the U.S. withdrawal has created a false impression among Iraqi citizens that U.S. troops will no longer be seen on Mosul's streets when, in fact, they will."  
The Iraq War hasn't ended.  Ann is filling in for Ruth and Tuesday she noted a Jackson Sun article her aunt passed on of "how 140 Tennessee National Guard members were being deployed to Iraq." The Mercury reports Maj Gen Vincent Brooks is headed to Iraq (and "900 members of the headquarters of the Big Red One are deploying"). Vinnie Brooks became famous at the start of the Iraq War as The Daily Liar though his official title was "Deputy Directo fo Operations". Karen Middleton (The News Courier) reports "80 members of the Athens-based 203rd Military Police Battallion" will be leaving for Iraq (departure certemony tomorrow at Beasley Field, 4:00 p.m.). And Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) notes approximately "125 soldiers with the post's 47th Transportation Company will head for western Iraq for a 12-month tour of duty." ("The post" is Fort Bliss.)  Monday on  KPFA Flashpoints, Iraq Veterans Against the War's Camilo Mejia appeared (noted and quoted in Tuesday's snapshot) and we'll again note one section:
Camilo Mejia: For an organization like Iraq Veterans Against the War for instance, who depend greatly upon contributions from the public and support from ally organizations, we're having a very difficult time right now getting through to people and fund raising and doing things like that because the sense right now within the larger public is that the Iraq War is ending, that the Iraq occupation is coming to an end -- which is not true, and that the Afghanistan War is now the good war and that the -- Basically the Iraq War became indefensible.  People turned against it.  And they needed a new centerpiece for the global war on terror which is just another excuse for invading and occupying another country to go after their natural resources and Afghanistan is that war now.  So a lot of people are on the fence or skeptical or giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt. If you add to that the financial crisis and a lot of people out there who are holding on to their savings and taking pay cuts and  unemployed and not contributing the same and don't really feel like anti-war issues are any more that relevant, not as relevant as before.  So that's the civilian side of things.  I think right now we are on a stand-by when it comes to the civilian side.  When it comes to the GI side?  Regardless of what the official rhetoric is soldiers are still being deployed -- soldiers, marines, air service men and women -- we're still being deployed.  And people are still coming back form Iraq and Afghanistan with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, returning to poverty in a broken economy being recycled from Iraq to Afghanistan.  The VA crisis is really bad.  We're short staffed.  We have people who are suicidal who are waiting months to see a psychiatrist or psychologist or even a case worker.  So regardless of the state of the civilian side of things we're going to continue to resist because our experience hasn't changed.
The Iraq War is not over and it will not be over this year (or next or . . .).  Jeremy Scahill (RebelReports) examines Tuesday's House vote for the War Supplemental and reports, "New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, who voted against the war funding in May -- when it didn't matter -- only to vote Tuesday with the pro-war Dems, sounded like an imbecile when he made this statement after the vote: 'We are in the process of wrapping up the wars.  The president needed our support.'  What planet is Weiner living on? 'Wrapping up the wars?' Last time I checked, there are 21,000 more US troops heading to Afghanistan alongside a surge in contractors there, including a 29% increase in armed contractors. Does Weiner think the $106 billion in war funding he voted for is going to pay for one way tickets home for the troops? What he voted for was certainly not the 'Demolition of the 80 Football-field-size US Embassy in Baghdad Act of 2009.' To cap off this idiocy, Weiner basically admitted he is a fraud when he said the bill he voted in favor of  'still sucks'." Joshua Frank (Dissident Voice) observes, "No longer can the blame for the turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan rest at the feet of George W. Bush alone.  This is now Obama's War on Terror, fully funded and operated by the Democratic Party. [. . .] Had Bush pushed for more military funds at this stage, the antiwar movement (if you can call it that) would have been organizing opposition weeks in advance, calling out the neocons for wasting our scarce tax dollars during a recession on a never-ending, directionless war.  But since Obama's a Democrat, a beloved one at that, mums the word."  As Trina observed earlier this week, "never forget that Iraq was always seen by other countries as a chance for Big Business to take control. A tag sale enforced at gun point. There are no uncharted countries on the earth so the 'missions' these days aren't to discover new markets in a new world. The missions are to take a country under and create a new market on top of the corpses." 
At a press conference today, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared of her party and the House she leads, "As you know, the veterans issue has been a high priority for us. We planted that flag when we took the majority in the Congress. We did more in that first two years than had been done in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. It's now 78, 79 years old. We have a Democratic President in the White House. Secretary Shinseki, working with him, we are able to do even more."  Some argue that those who care about veterans go out of their way to ensure that more wounded ones aren't created by continuing illegal wars.  Today the Senate followed the House lead.  Perry Bacon Jr. (Washington Post) reports Barack got his War Supplemental with 91 votes supporting more death, destruction and financial waste and only five voted no.  They are Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Jim DeMint, Mike Enzi and Tom Coburn.
This morning the House Veterans Affairs' Health Subcommittee held a legislative hearing and US House Rep Deborah Halvorson stepped in to chair the subcommittee.  She did a strong job as chair.  Not "as a first-term member of the House, she did a strong job," she did a strong job period.  US House Rep Jerry McNerney was among those speaking on legislation.  He introduced HR 1546 and we'll note some of his remarks explaining the need for it.  HR 1546: "To amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish the Committee on Care of Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: More than 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and about half of those brave men and women are now veterans.  Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI has become the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Rand Corporation Study estimates that up to 320,000 troops who served in these conflicts suffer from brain trauma.  Milder forms of TBI can result -- these are milder forms -- can result in cognitive problems such as headaches, difficulty in thinking, memory problems, abnormal speech or language and limited functioning of arms and legs.  TBI's effects on veterans and their families can be devastating.  I've met personally with several veterans from my district who suffer from severe brain injury in Iraq.  One is doing well in my hometown with a four year scholarship from the Sentinels of Freedom. I just had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago and I'm very pleased to see how well he's adjusted.  Unfortunately, many wounded veterans face an even more arduous path to recovery.  The brain is probably the most adaptable organ of the body but any time there is a traumatic injury or section of the brain is damaged, it takes time to adjust and compensate.  When a soldier's wounded, he or she is first transported to a trauma center to treat brain swelling.  Brain swelling is the biggest and most immediate risk from a brain injury.  After being stabilized, soldiers may face invasive surgical procedures and painful cooling treatments to combat inflammation followed by extensive physical and psychological therapy.  I've seen first hand how difficult this treatment is and we owe our veterans the very best.                         
Blasts from improvised, explosive devices have become one of the most common causes of injury for troops currently serving in combat zones and recent studies show that 59% of blast exposed patinets at Walter Reed have been found to have some form of TBI.  In April of 2007, the Veterans Administration began screening veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of October 2001 for symptoms that may be associated with TBI. Of the 61,285 veterans that the VA screened for TBI 11,804 -- or 19% -- of those veterans screened positive for TBI symptoms.  Department of Defense and Veterans Administration experts note that TBI can occur even if a victim does not suffer from an obvious physical injury -- which sometimes takes place when the person is in the vicinity of a powerful detonation.  In these instances, signs and symptoms of TBI -- such as the ones I mentioned earlier -- are not often readily recognized.  According to the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration's mental health experts, mild TBI can also produce behavioral symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health conditions. And TBI almost always causes Post Traumatic Stress. The relationship between TBI and Post Traumatic Stress can further complicate diagnosis and treatment.  As a result, further research must be conducted to examine the longterm effects of these injuries which are not yet fully understood and the best treatment models to address TBI and improve coordination care for injured veterans.                        
Traumatic injuries -- Traumatic Brain Injuries have often effected a large number of female service members and as the number of women enlisted in the armed forces continues to grow, we must ensure that our focus on health care continues to encompass all veterans.  I hope we can continue to collect data to ensure that the women veterans receive the same quality of care as their male counterparts and I am committed to working on this committee to assist in that endeavor. 
When a solider is transitioning to civilian life, it is imperative that we have a system in place that is able to properly evaluate and assess the risks and challenges if any these veterans and their families might face.  Given that evidence suggests that combat related TBI is an increasingly frequent occurance and that the effects of TBI are still poorly understood, prioritizing research and oversight will help plan for addressing treatment and  long term care.  Research in TBI is also particularly important for understanding Post Traumatic Stress because the amnesia that often occurs as a result of TBI increases the challenges of Post Traumatic Stress treatment.  Studies have shown that, in the absence of factual recall, individuals may have delusional or reconstruct memories of trauma.  These individuals may retain false memories rather than factual results.
Turning to England where the good times keep coming for Gordon Brown.  His efforts at a behind-closed-doors 'inquiry' appear to be falling apart.  Philip Webster (Times of London) reported this morning, "Parts of the Iraq war inquiry may now be held in public after Gordon Brown was forced into a partial climbdown." James Kirkup and Alastair Jamieson (Telegraph of London) add that Lord Bulter was "critical of the decision to hold hearings behind closed doors".  At the Guardian, Toby Helm stated that "Buter will accuse the government of 'putting its political interests ahead of the national interest'" today. Andrew Grice, Kim Sengupta and Nigel Morris (Independent of London) report it's not one noted person who'll be speaking out against Brown, it's two: Lord Hutton and Lord Butler.  Great Britain's Socialist Worker notes the crony-infested panel for Gordo's inquiry: "John Chilcot, its chair, was part of the last Iraq whitewash, the Bulter inquiry.  Another committee member, Sir Lawrence Freedman, wrote Tony Blair's 1999 Chicago speech setting out the idea of 'humanitarian' war." The Belfast Telegraph reports that Gordon's closde-door policy has been criticized by former Prime Minister John Major who states: "The Government's decision to hold the inquiry into the Iraq war in private is inexplicable -- not least in its own interests. [. . .] The arrangements currently proposed run the risk of being viewed sceptically by some, and denounced as a whitewash by others.  I am astonished the Government cannot understand this."  ITN quotes Bulter stating, "The form of the inquiry proposed by the Government has been dictated more by the Government's political interest than the national interest and it cannot achieve the purpose of purging mistrust."  Rebecca will be blogging about this topic tonight and should remember to include these words "I told you so." (Because she did.)
The executive editor of the Merced Sun-Star, Mike Tharp, is back in Iraq for McClatchy Newspapers. Today at McClatchy's Baghdad Observer, Tharp explains a trip in the Green Zone, "Haider, our driver, and I were threading our way through 108 degrees and a narrow concrete path hemmed in by blast walls in the International Zone (IZ).  .  .  . At a dozen points along the 20-minute route, we were checked for IDs, and sometimes body-searched, by Iraqi soldiers, police and hard-eyed Peruvians.  The modern-day Incas were armed with AK-47s and looked as if they wanted to revenge Pizarro by humiliating any gringo in range.  The name of their private security company is Triple Canopy.  In what passes for military logic, some of the checks and searches were only 30 or 40 meters from the last one, in plain sight of the next group of gunsels, who had just watched their comrades force us to dump everything from our pockets into a plastic bowl." 
In Baghdad today, Xinhua reports, fire fighters attempted to battle a blaze at the Ministry of Health's 11-story building: "Dozens of the ministry's employees have been stranded in the upper stories, but Iraqi civil defense managed to evacuate them, the source said."
Iraq's LGBT community remains under assault. Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reports on those who have sought refuge in Turkey including 28-year-old Ameer who fled after repeated death threats.  Ameer now hopes he will be granted refugee status in the US -- but the 'fierce advocate' for gays and lesbians in the White House is doing nothing.  While the federal government has done nothing, the city councils in Los Angeles and San Francisco have spoken out as have many California legislatures.  Cynthia Laird (Bay Area Reporter) notes this announcement:
Gays Without Borders/San Francisco will hold a fundraiser for Rainbow World Fund/Iraq Friday, June 19 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Cafe Flore, 2298 Market Street in San Francisco.
The event takes place after last month's successful local action to bring attention to the fact that LGBT people are being persecuted in Iraq, including reports of torture, beating, and killing of gay Iraqis in an effort by police to "clean up" the country by getting both beggars and gays and lesbians off the streets.           
Gary Virginia and Michael Petrelis are two San Francisco activists who have taken the lead on local organizing efforts; the Rainbow World Fund is serving as a fiscal sponsor to collect and distribute the funds raised.                      
The plight of gay Iraqis has garnered attention from politicians. Last week State Department spokesman Ian Kelly condemned acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals in Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Earlier this month, 45 California lawmakers, led by state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and the LGBT Legislative Caucus, called on the Obama administration to prevent the persecution of LGBT people in Iraq.             
For more information about this week's fundraiser, contact Virginia at (415) 867-5004. Donations can be made online at               
While California activists again pick up the slack, Barack ignores the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community just as Bully Boy Bush did.  Duncan Osborne (Gay City News) reports:
Writing in Gay City News, Doug Ireland first broke the story in March of 2006 that Iraqi gays were being killed by death squads. Ireland and other gay press outlets continued covering the story in 2006 and into 2007, with the mainstream press offering occasional stories. The killings and the gay press reports on them have continued into 2009.      
In September 2007 -- nearly two years ago -- Gay City News sent a Freedom of Information request to the State Department that sought all records "that relate to or identify homicides, assaults, or other violent acts committed against homosexual persons in Iraq."              
On May 26 of this year, the department responded, releasing two documents, totaling nine pages, that represent all the records that agency compiled from March 1, 2003, roughly the start of the Iraq War, through the date of the records request. No documents were withheld and only a small portion of the released documents was blacked out.           
Two pages consist of a letter, dated March of 2007, from Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, to the department that forwarded an email from a constituent who was concerned about the killings.         
The other seven pages are mostly internal emails --  three pages are a 2006 Washington Blade story on the killings -- with one from September 2006 and the rest from 2007.
ORAM, Organization For Refuge, Asylum & Migration, [PDF format warning] issued a press release noting: "ORAM, a groundbreaking international refugee advocacy organization, announced its launch today.  The Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to focus exclusively on refugees and asylum seekers fleeing sexual and gender based violence. ORAM provides free legal counsel for LGBT refugees in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), who have escaped violence, executions and 'honor killings' in their home countries."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a mortar attack on the Green Zone, a Mosul roadside bombing which wounded an Iraqi soldier and a Diyala Province sticky bombing which injured one man and his son. 
Reuters reports 1 person shot dead (from "a speeding car") in Mosul and an Iraqi soldier accidentally shot another Iraqi soldier to death in Mosul. DPA notes 2 Iraqi police officers were shot dead in Mosul.
DPA reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.
At CounterPunch today, professional media hooker Norman Solomon demonstrates that, even with a plush bankroll, you can't teach an old whore new tricks.  Normy gave it up for Barack.  He could have remained neutral but he whored it.  And he LIED because he didn't think he needed to tell people he was supporting Barack, that he was a pledged delegate for Barack.  He noted it in his columns but his radio appearances?  'Surely no one would pay attention.'  He thought wrong.  His reputation in tatters, he keeps trying to slink back in as an 'independent' voice.  You can only lose your cherry once, Norman.  In "Obama and the Antiwar Democrats" (no link to trash), Norman wants to YET AGAIN tell you what to do.  Forgetting that's what got him into trouble in the first place.  He wants you to support . . . Marcy Winograd.  Why the hell should anyone support her?  Because Norman loves her?  Last year, he was spreading for Barry O -- his judgment is a joke.  Norman wants you to know Marcy's different.  Really?  Back in May, Ruth wondered, "Why should anyone vote for Marcy Winograd?"  Noting Marcy's sexual ravings over Barack (she pants as easily as does Norman), Ruth wrote, "She is perfectly fine with all of Mr. Obama's cavings last week (military tribunals, torture photos, etc.).  She said so.  What is progressive about that stance?"  Not a damn thing.  Not one damn thing.  And after you hijacked the peace movement and whored it out for Barack in 2007 and 2008, shame you on you, Norman Solomon, for showing up in 2009 and telling people the answer is a 2010 election.  Norman Solomon really needs to consider retirement.  He's destroyed his reputation and he apparently has nothing left to offer except, "VOTE!"  Norman's confused a high school civics lesson with activism.
Pity Norman didn't want to teach history instead.  That's needed.  May 28, 2009, Alyssa Rosenberg (Government Executive) was reporting on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement that "domestic partners of gay and lesbian diplomats" would be granted "many of the same rights and protections as the spouses of heterosexual Foreign Service officers."  That would be the same Hillary who issued a statement June 1st noting this month is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.  Poor Barry O, he spent the primaries going around declaring, "What she said!"  All this time later, he still can't lead.  Yesterday Barry O finally had a remark to offer on . . . Well, no, he didn't and no one called him out, now did they?  Click here for the White House video of Barry's remarks.  Search in vain for "gay" or "lesbian."  He says "the people that they love are of the same-sex" and gets in one ref to "LGBT employees". And Homophobic Barry Obama never notes that it's Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.  How embarrassing.  He's still a half-assed copy of Hillary.  Marcia, Cedric and Wally covered the do-nothing Barack last night.
You need to grasp how much you would ridicule a White president who refused to mention Black History Month while signing legislation effecting African-Americans during Black History Month.  There's a lot of bigotry going on and not all of it can fall under "soft bigotry."  Witness raging homophobe Harry Jackson who was a guest on today's Diane Rehm Show (NPR) and lied and flamed and made a real ass out of himself.  First off, Harry, no photographer has a license.  A photographer who doesn't want to take a photo doesn't get a "license revoked."  No surprise that a bigot like Harry Jackson would also be an idiot.  Maybe if he wants to weigh in on life today, he needs to do a little more research. Most jaw dropping moment when he likened same-sex relationships to suicide.  He also used "you people" to refer to gays and lesbians, insulted them as a "sudden population" (that will apparently die out? or be executed?), whined repeatedly about "reverse discrimination" and how "my kids are going to be taught . . . my kids will be taught in school" that people like Harry Jackson are bigots.  And people like Harry Jackson are bigots so apparently Harry Jackson also wants to declare a war on education.  Harry whined about how he's been intimidated.  As dumb as he is, one has to wonder how he'd even know if someone was trying to intimidate him.  Harry basically told every caller and e-mailer they were idiots and was especially patronizing to those in Diane's audience who self-identified as Christians.   
State of journalism.  The Washington Post's Walter Pincus has written an essay for Columbia Journalism Review and it's worth reading but I've been asking, "When is anyone going to ask the real questions?"  Janet Coleman interviewed him for Monday's Cat Radio Cafe on WBAI and she didn't raise what I feel are the big issues.  It's a fine interview, Janet always does strong interviews and knows her craft.  You have eighty or so days to catch it at the WBAI archives and I believe it stays up at Cat Radio Cafe as long as that site is up.  But before Walter's interviewed next, notes.  Politico is not a site I care for (obviously) and it's nothing but Rona Barrett's DC! But Walter needs to be asked about it because this is an online version of what he attempted in the early seventies -- only not as gossip, as news.  There were eight or nine places around the country where the paper he and others were planning would be printed and service those communities.  Especially with various laid off, forced retired et al journalists willing to explore doing an online combine today, Pincus should share the insight on why that project did not work.  In passing, and on his own, he alluded to that with Janet.
Walter Pincus: I'm one of these people who, years ago, tried to start a paper and had to learn the hard way that it's the business side that takes the hardest work.  We all know how to write stories, to some degree know how to find out information. But making it pay and producing a package that appeals to a wide enough number of people to support advertising is the trick. And I think this younger generation once they put down their Twitters and all these superficial electronic gadgets that are headline services and do something really worthwhile are going to come up with some ideas and we'll have a new generation of press entrepreneurs.
Walter Pincus, and others, were planning their paper at the start of the seventies.  There would be national coverage in all the papers and some regional coverage would migrate into the other papers.  That was the plan.  It was ambitious.  And he speaks above, briefly, about a paper that failed.  If you're talking about the state of journalism today, that passage above is as important as anything in his essay.  Maybe more.  By the way, Liza Featherstone also has an article in the new CJR, she's covering the identity crisis at the Wall Street Journal.
PBS note, this week on Bill Moyers Journal (begins airing tomorrow night on most PBS stations, check local listings, and it streams online -- video and audio -- and offers transcripts):
Instructed by a dream and organized in prayer, Leymah Gbowee and
thousands of everyday women in Liberia - both Christians and Muslims
alike - confronted warlords and a corrupt president to successfully
fight for peace and dignity in their war-torn nation. "I realized that
every problem we encounter on this journey, I'm going to rise above it
and lead these women because they trusted me with their lives and their
future," says Gbowee. Journal guest host Lynn Sherr interviews Leymah
Gbowee and Abigail Disney, who documented their inspiring tale in the
award-winning film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL. Lynn Sherr is a
long-time broadcast journalist who most recently covered events in
Liberia for PBS' news program, WORLDFOCUS.