Monday, November 01, 2010

Death toll rises in church siege, stalemate continues

Yesterday in Baghdad, Iraqi forces swarmed Our Lady of Salvation Church where people were being held hostage by assailants. Jonathan Adams (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "The incident, which began Sunday afternoon, highlights the continued threat to Christians in Iraq, whose number has shrunk from 800,000 to 550,000 since 2003 as members have fled abroad or been killed. Radical groups continue to launch attacks on religious and non-religious sites as political leaders struggle to form a new government some eight months after controversial elections." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) reports, "The siege began when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades took an entire congregation hostage. Some 120 people were held in the church for at least four hours." The Telegraph of London explains (link has text and video) the death toll has risen to 52. BBC News offers a photo essay of the siege. Alsumaria TV quotes France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stating, "France firmly condemns this terrorist action, the latest in a deadly campaign of targeted violence which has already led to more than 40 deaths among the Christians of Iraq. France repeats its attachment to the respect of fundamental liberties such as religious freedom and supports the Iraqi authorities in their struggle against terrorism." Vatican Radio quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating, "Last night, in a very serious attack on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, dozens of people were killed and wounded, including two priests and a group of faithful gathered for Sunday Mass. I pray for the victims of this senseless violence, all the more ferocious as it affected defenceless civilians." Vatican Radio also reports:

"No-where is safe anymore, not even the House of God", says auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Shlemon Warduni, the day after an unprecedented attack on the Christian community of the Iraqi capital. Together with Patriarch Delly he visited survivors and wounded of the Sunday massacre, in which over 50 hostages and police officers were killed when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held hostage by al Qaeda-linked gunmen. Between 70 and 80 people were seriously wounded, many of them women and children.

Friday October 22nd, WikiLeaks released 391,832 US military documents on the Iraq War. The documents -- US military field reports -- reveal torture and abuse and the ignoring of both. They reveal ongoing policies passed from the Bush administration onto the Obama one. They reveal that both administrations ignored and ignore international laws and conventions on torture. They reveal a much higher civilian death toll than was ever admitted to. The Pueblo Chieftain notes, "The documents show a weak, fractured national government in Baghdad despite a dramatic reduction of violence. This points out the need to keep forces there long after the time when President Barack Obama would want all of them removed by Dec. 31, 2011." Fractured government?

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 twenty-five days and still counting.

CNN reported that King Abdullah of Suaid Arabia is calling for Iraqi politicians to meet up in Saudia Arabia ("after the Hajj pilgrimage in November") to attempt to end the political stalemate. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quoted the king stating, "It is well-known to everyone that you are at a crossroads, a fact that necessitates your uniting the ranks, rising above your wounds, distancing the shadows of differences, and extinguishing the fire of abhorrent sectarianism," said the king, as reported by SPA. Our hands are outstretched to you. Let us work together for the security, integrity and stability of the land and brotherly people of Iraq." Today RTT News informs, "Iraq's Shiite alliance has turned down an offer extended by Saudi Arabia to host an all-party talks involving Iraqi political leaders for ending the months-long political deadlock that has prevented formation of a coalition government in that war-ravaged country after the indecisive March elections." Zee News notes a contrasting reaction, King Abdullah's offer "has been hailed across the gulf region". MD Rasooldeen (Arab News) quotes Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, stating, "It showed the king's keenness to preserve the unity of Iraq and to support the Iraqi people to live in an atmosphere of peace and security."

We'll note this from David Swanson's "It's Jobs or Wars, Not Both" (War Is A Crime):

The Washington Post's David Broder thinks more war will bring us more jobs. Unlike in Germany, where the president was forced out of office earlier this year for suggesting that war in Afghanistan could benefit the German economy, Americans don't seem to have serious moral qualms about slaughtering human beings for no good reason. We've got three significant wars and a variety of secretive military actions going on now without the slightest mention in our elections. A majority of Americans tell pollsters that the wars should end, but virtually no one tells candidates. However, one has to assume -- for the sake of one's own sanity -- that even Americans, if they knew, would seriously object to further damaging our economy through war and allowing people like David Broder to paper over that process with demonstrably false claims.

Contrary to partisan myths and stereotypes, U.S. military spending has been on the rise these past two years. And military towns have seen a boom this past decade. But spending money on the military, even in the United States, hurts the U.S. economy. Spending money on foreign wars is even worse, but all military spending is economically destructive. It's worse, economically, than doing nothing. Failing to spend that money and instead cutting taxes would create more jobs than investing it in the military. Investing it in useful industries like mass transit or education would have a much stronger impact and create many more jobs. But even nothing, even cutting taxes, would do less harm than military spending. And that's domestic military spending; spending on foreign wars, funding the Taliban, funding Karzai, misplacing $17 billion, etc., all does even more economic harm.

Yes, harm. Every military job, every weapons industry job, every war-reconstruction job, every mercenary or torture consultant job is as much a lie as any war justification. It appears to be a job, but it is not a job. It is the absence of more and better jobs. It is public money wasted on something worse for job creation than nothing at all and much worse than other available options.

Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, of the Political Economy Research Institute, have collected the data. Each billion dollars of government spending invested in the military creates about 12,000 jobs. Investing it instead in tax cuts for personal consumption generates approximately 15,000 jobs. But putting it into healthcare gives us 18,000 jobs, in home weatherization and infrastructure also 18,000 jobs, in education 25,000 jobs, and in mass transit 27,700 jobs. In education the average wages and benefits of the 25,000 jobs created is significantly higher than that of the military's 12,000 jobs. In the other fields, the average wages and benefits created are lower than in the military (at least as long as only financial benefits are considered), but the net impact on the economy is greater due to the greater number of jobs. The option of cutting taxes does not have a larger net impact, but it does create 3,000 more jobs per billion dollars.

Bonnie notes that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Presidential Dress Up" and we'll close with this from John Anthony La Pietra's campaign:

John Anthony La Pietra for
Fairer, Better Elections
Secretary of State * Green Party
386 Boyer Court * Marshall, MI 49068

News Release: October 31, 2010

La Pietra, Renewing Offer Made "Dozens of Times",
Invites Joint Recount of Secretary of State Race
It's No Trick -- and John's Not Asking His Rivals to Treat, Either;
He's Pledging Again to "Pay My Fair Share -- If You All Will Pay Yours"

Also Urging Consensus on Fairer, Better Rotation of Candidates on Ballot

Is Reporting on Offer by Green Candidate Too Scary for Mainstream Media?
It's Only Been Published as Letter to Editor -- by Three out of 200 Papers

John Anthony La Pietra, the Green Party of Michigan's candidate for Secretary of State, isn't giving up yet on working with his opponents to "boost the faith of the people of Michigan that it’s worth voting -- that their votes will count . . . and be counted."

But he's not going to rely on the media any more to pass on his invitation to join forces and pay fair shares of the $50,000+ fee for a statewide recount of the election. He's e-mailing a letter directly to the campaigns of all four rivals. In alphabetical order by last name, they are:

Jocelyn Benson -- Democratic Party <>
Scotty Boman -- Libertarian Party <>
Robert Gale -- US Taxpayers Party <>
Ruth Johnson -- Republican Party <>

And he's making a further point about his campaign theme of "Fairer, Better Elections" by rotating that order in addressing them -- pointing out that "research consistently shows the first candidate listed on a ballot can gain a significant advantage from voters.

"And if we can agree on that," he continues, "perhaps we can all call upon the new Legislature to amend the Election Code to provide Michigan voters and candidates with a fairer, better ballot order than the one now required by statute."

Recount Wasn't John's First Choice -- But Can't Do
More Cost-Efficient Sampling Audits Under Current Law
The Michigan Election Reform Alliance has been offering a legislative proposal since 2008 for the kind of sampling audits to check election returns that other states do. In his letter to his competitors, John gives them a link to that proposal:

And he tells them that MERA's best estimate, based on other states' experience, is that auditing would cost about eight cents per ballot -- "which might be a bargain, considering it as 'democracy insurance'."

But Michigan law does not yet provide a mechanism for such audits. "So I have been proposing the next best thing available: that we agree to call for a statewide recount of our race, sharing the cost of the approximately $50,000 fee in proportion to the percentage of the votes we get.

"That's $10 per precinct times the figure of 5,050 precincts statewide mentioned in this year's Biennial Precinct Report," John adds, showing his work. "And I've pledged to pay my fair share of that fee -- if you all do the same."

And John has maintained the pledge despite the fact that, as he puts it, "if I do at all well in Tuesday's vote, my pledge could commit me to the single largest expense of my campaign." He's been running a Clean Elections-style campaign financially: "I don't take any PAC money -- and while I'm delighted to take 100% of anyone's vote, I won't take more than $100 of anyone's money."

John's promise is also right in line with the Standing For Voters “Super Pledge” he has signed:

And he would welcome having company on that, too.

Still Looking to Spread the Word (Even If the Media Won't) --
and to Work Together to Make Elections Fairer and Better
John has been equally forthright about promoting the recount proposal. He's mentioned it "dozens of times":

* In responses to ten different candidate surveys from the media,
including an MiVote "interview" at Detroit Public Television
for the MiVote project.

* At candidate forums from Flint to Iron Mountain.

* In one of the first of his campaign "discussion papers" -- this
one about protecting election rights -- posted on his Website
on August 22, before two of his challengers had even qualified
officially for the November 2 ballot:

* In four news releases and an "open letter to Michigan’s voters --
in care of Michigan’s newspaper editors".

Only the open letter has gotten any notice from the general media. "Outside of some kindly blogs," John tells his rivals in the letter, "the only mention I can find is that three newspapers (out of almost 200) published my open letter: two _Observer & Eccentric_ papers and my almost-hometown Battle Creek _Enquirer_." Each of his news releases has gone out to twice as many media outlets as the letter.

John had high hopes of telling the other candidates about his proposal in person -- or at least through their representatives -- at a forum scheduled for the evening of Friday, October 28 as part of the Student Debate Series at Ferris State University's Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids.

But after two follow-up e-mails in the week before the event, John heard back from the faculty advisor for the event in an e-mail sent 10pm Thursday evening that none of the other candidates had felt willing or able to commit to that debate -- so the event was canceled.

After confirming the cancellation, John took some time over the weekend to "look around the Internet for any evidence that anybody in the media ever passed my offer on to you or to the public." Not finding any -- and not having heard back from his rivals based on their monitoring his Website or those blogs that did mention his news releases -- he has today made direct contact.

Noting that the media's delay in reporting this proposal has now lasted until Halloween, John adds with a wry smile, "I hope the thought of reporting on this issue- and process-related proposal, made by an alternative-party candidate and re-issued today, isn't too scary for them."

And he assures his rivals: "I realize that time is short, but I still hope to hear from you all. And if I do, I will happily publicize the fact.

"After all, we as candidates may sometimes slip and think the election is about us -- but it's really for the voters. And we owe it to them to do what we can to make our election fairer and better for them however we can."

A copy of John’s letter to his opponents is visible on John’s Website at

# # #

The e-mail address for this site is