tony blair and gordon brown - war hawks of a feather

The mother of a teenage soldier killed in Iraq broke down today as she told an inquiry she wanted Tony Blair to be held to account for the "illegal war".
Anne Donnachie, whose son Rifleman Paul Donnachie was killed in Basra in April 2007, was among a number of families addressing the Iraq inquiry committee at a regional meeting in Bristol.
Earlier this month in a similar meeting in London, Sir John Chilcot, the committee chairman who had invited the bereaved families to tell him the issues they believe he should focus on, was left in no doubt what they wanted investigated – legality, equipment and the role of Blair.
Today it was the turn of Donnachie to add her voice to the growing clamour for accountability, as committee members Sir Roderick Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert looked on.

the above is from karen mcveigh's 'Soldier's mother wants Tony Blair to answer for Iraq war' (guardian). and the illegal war tony blair started? gordown brown continues it. this is from the bbc: 'British naval personnel are to return to Iraq to train local forces, Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell has said. The announcement comes after politicians in Baghdad passed legislation allowing their return.'

where's the protest in england?

the uk is sending troops back to iraq ... to guard oil.

and where's the protest?

let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'

Friday, October 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, still no 'progress' on Iraq's election law, Iraqi Christians consider fleeing due to violence, the United Nations says Iraqis should not be forced to return to Iraq (pay attention England and Denmark), Gordo Brown decides British lives are worth less than Iraqi oil, the US Congress forgets Iraq, and more.
This morning on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show (second hour, international hour), Diane was joined by panelists Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Moises Naim (Foreign Policy) and Janine Zacharia (Bloomberg News). Iraq was noted in the following:
Diane Rehm: Let's go right back to the phones, to Kansas City, MO. Good morning, Ron.
Ron: Good morning. My question deals with the economic development. I was -- I traveled in Iraq and one of the things that I saw there wasn't really -- for all the billions of dollars that we were spending over there -- there's not a lot of economic development taking place. So, you know, that's lacking. My understanding of Afghanistan is that they were once -- they are geographically located in what was known as "The Old Silk Trade" -- that's between the Middle East and Asia. And I want to know what's going on to try to redevelop that in the way of infrastructure with roads and railroads which would allow them to have a place into the global economy which should be the essential goal that the United States would want?
Diane Rehm: Let's take Iraq first. Abderrahim?
Abderrahim Foukara: Well the issue of economic development, it has at least two impediments in Iraq. One is corruption. And the second one is political instability. Now Prime Minister Maliki was here in Washington recently. They're saying -- both he and President Obama have been saying -- Iraq is now stable enough to start focusing on economic development. Now that's one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is that the whole focus on economic development as we have seen it talked about here in Washington during Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Maliki's visit is that Iraq, which has sort of fallen off the radar here in the United States, is actually still not doing well politically. And talking economic development is one way of diverting attention -- people's attention -- from the real problems that continue to bedevil Iraq. [. . .]
Diane Rehm: Janine?
Janine Zacharia: Well you know too echo what Abderrahim said, Prime Minister Maliki came again this week to say "Iraq's open for business" but it truly is not open for business when you still have the sec -- Correct, the political situation is involved so we don't know what's going to happen with January elections, but the security issues is still paramount. You cannot -- American businessmen or international businessmen cannot go and roam around Iraq and set up shop right now and import Coca Cola and do all these things without being worried about being blown up. [. . .]
Diane Rehm: Moises?
Moises Naim: Economic development is very, very difficult. Economic development in the middle of a war is impossible. So it doesn't matter. There's no country ever that's developed on the basis of foreign aid. You can pour as much money as you want and unless you have a functioning market and investors, commercial activity -- development will not happen. And it's impossible to have that if you have a war going on.
We're not doing the "Afghanistan snapshot" so "[. . .]" indicates they then turned to the issue of Afghanistan. We will note Afghanistan in a moment, in terms of a Congressional exchange led by US House Rep Susan Davis. But first, let's note the political referred to above.
Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "Once again the US finds itself hostage to Iraqi politics -- this time as a result of a standoff among Iraqi political parties over an overdue election law." If you're saying "Huh?", you were sleeping last week when Gina Chon was warning the Thursday date was approaching and Iraq appeared to be missing it. Parliamentary elections in Iraq are said to take place this coming January. That's after they were already kicked back. They were supposed to take place in December. They kicked it back to January. Last week, on Thursday, they were supposed to have passed the law and didn't. And still haven't. On Wednesday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and stated that Iraq actually had two more weeks to pass it. (Kat covered the hearing here.) Flournoy also stated they could just pass legislation on what day to hold the election and leave all matters to the 2005 election law -- which, no, would not be 'progress'. She left out the part about Iraq's court system finding that law to be unconstitutional. While Flournoy attempted to downplay, others aren't doing so. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) observes, "The US military may have to put on indefinite hold its plan to dispatch additional troops to Afghanistan if Iraq's election does not take place on time in January. [. . .] On Wednesday, after prolonged debate, the Iraqi parliament admitted failure in its efforts to draft a new election law to govern the coming contest and asked the Political Council for National Security to take on the task." "Thrown in doubt" is the call Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) makes and goes on to note of the High Electoral Commission: "The commission, responsible for organizing polls in Iraq, has said that it needs 90 days to print and distribute ballots. Iraqi and UN officials fear that the election could be delayed if lawmakers fail to pass a revised election law this week." The New York Times editorializes in "Counting Backward" that when it comes to the elections, Iraq's Constitution must be followed (they appear to forget that Iraq's Constitution also covers Kirkuk -- click here for more on that and don't miss the latest Inside Iraq for the issue as well). Barbara Surk (AP) reports today that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's spokesperson stated the Ayatollah wants the elections to take place January 16th as has been announced. Howard LaFranchi explains:
The situation, which caught Obama administration diplomats off guard as they have focused attention on Afghanistan and the electoral crisis there, is reminiscent of the stalemate the Bush administration faced in 2007 concerning a series of "benchmark" laws the US Congress sought in return for continuing support to Iraq.
At that time, US diplomats spoke of "two clocks" in the two capitals to explain the discrepancy between Washington's demand for quick political action and Baghdad's refusal to be rushed.
The two clocks are on display again, with US diplomats including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton imploring Iraqi leaders to pass an election law. For their part, some Iraqi politicians say it is Americans and not Iraqis who feel a need to hurry on legislation that cuts to the heart of Iraq's power struggles.
The election law should have been approved by Oct. 15 in order for elections scheduled for Jan. 16 to go forward, according to the Iraqi constitution.
Alsumaria reports that the National Security Political Council will discuss the election law tomorrow when they meet. Former Reagan administration official Lawrence J. Korb (Center for American Progress) is on the ground in Iraq gathering impressions and, in his latest piece, he notes:
Iraq is a fragile state, and it can become a stable or failed state depending on whether the government increases or decreases in legitimacy and competence. If it does not become more competent or regresses, there is danger of a coup. Losing legitimacy could lead to a civil war.
From Parliament issues to the US Congress, we're dropping back to yesterday. And we'll start with a question: Does the US Congress exist to help scoundrels rake in more ill gotten gain?
Thursday, we (Ava, Wally, Kat and myself) attended a hearing that was a complete waste of time unless you're a lobbyist/business person needing Congress to give you a stamp of approval. We attended the waste of time hearing because it was entitled "Afghanistan and Iraq: Perspectives on US Strategy." Due to votes, there was a lengthy break in there and, if we'd been smart, we would have bailed during the break because after one hour of that hearing, one hour when NO ONE mentioned Iraq, it was as obvious as it was embarrassing -- embarrassing for the US House Armed Services Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Do they have trouble reading on the Hill?
For most of us in the United States, a hearing entitled "Afghanistan and Iraq: Perspectives on U.S. Strategy" would be about . . . Afghanistan and Iraq. So where the hell was Iraq?
They didn't have time for it. They had time to call war mongers "public servants."
What the hell is Barry McCaffrey doing testifying to Congress to begin with? Retired general? BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC is his company. And his company is in the business of prolonging wars so when he says the military has to stay and when he refers to the 'justifiable' "anger" Americans had towards Afghanistan -- and laments it being gone -- every damn word out of his mouth is suspect because he's working the street, under the street lamp, trolling for bucks.
In April 2008 documents obtained by New York Times reporter David Barstow revealed that McCaffrey had been recruited as one of over 75 retired military officers involved in the Pentagon military analyst program. Participants appeared on television and radio news shows as military analysts, and/or penned newspaper op/ed columns. The program was launched in early 2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The idea was to recruit "key influentials" to help sell a wary public on "a possible Iraq invasion."[1]
[. . .]
Shortly after the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, McCaffrey exclaimed on MSNBC: "Thank God for the Abrams tank and... the Bradley fighting vehicle." The "war isn't over until we've got a tank sitting on top of Saddam's bunker," he added. The Nation noted, "in March [2003] alone, [Integrated Defense Technologies] received more than $14 million worth of contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware." [15]
The above says he's got nothing to say that isn't either suspect or paid for. He sells war and he profits from it. There is no reason the US Congress needs to waste their time or US tax payer dollars getting Barry's opinion on Afghanistan. He is not, no matter how many times some members of Congress got it wrong, "a public servant." He is a lobbyist and he lobbies for war. That's reality.
Reality is also that if you're hearing's entitled Iraq and if US forces are in Iraq -- more than are in Afghanistan -- it's pretty damn stupid and insulting not to even shoot the s**t about Iraq in passing during the hearing. Now Pakistan the subcommitee made time for in the hearing despite Pakistan not being in the hearing's title.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert made an idiot of himself (no surprise there) in an online discussion with David Brooks (Brooks was no better but the world has grown accustomed to that). Here's Herbie:
Bob Herbert: David, the president is deciding what we should be doing with regard to troop deployments in Afghanistan. It seems to me that however one feels about this war and the war in Iraq, the environment here on the home front is bizarre. This is as weird a wartime atmosphere as I can imagine. For most Americans, there is nothing in the way of shared wartime sacrifices. There is no draft. We have not raised taxes to pay for the wars. Except for the families of those in the military, most Americans are paying very little attention to these conflicts. I've brought this matter up a few times on college campuses and the response has been, in essence, a collective shrug.
We addressed that in terms of the press last night (click here). But, hey, Bob Herbert, what does it say when the US Congress forgets the Iraq War? Riddle me that, Bob Herbert.
Here's a section of the hearing:
US House Rep Susan Davis: Help me with this issue because we are continuing to raise the issue of the role of women and whether or not we're abandoning them in any way if we move into negotiating or how we're able to have some kind of reconciliation in Afghanistan -- we want to focus on them. Where -- where does security lie because clearly the military has paved the way for many efforts in Afghanistan. I mean there's no doubt about that. And yet on the other hand, I understand that it's perhaps overly ambitious of us to believe that all of those efforts with the military and civilian capacity both are not necessarily in the best -- are picking up the best -- the best interests of the Afghan people -- or the region, assuming that Pakistan we're talking about as well. Do you want to -- Ms. Cole?
Beth Ellen Cole: I think that with governance -- like all of these issues -- we have to enlarge our view of security. I mean security is not just something that military forces can bring to the communities of Afghanistan. In the United States, we think of the security as school guards and bank guards and people who protect judges. And it's not just a question of military or police forces. Border guards, people that are dealing with looking at money laundering and bank operations and we -- in that sense, this -- the debate about troops is a very, very important debate but we have to think about the other assets that we have to bring to bear including -- with the Afghans -- including putting women as police officers in certain places or as school guards which we've shown we can do in Liberia. [. . .]
US House Rep Susan Davis: General Barno, do you have any thoughts?
Lt Gen Dave Barno (retired general): Two things. I think one, on the issue of security, you're absolutely correct that there -- it's not a sequential problem of security and reconstruction and development, these things are concurrent , these things have to parallel with one another. [. . .] The other question I think you alluded to was this idea of "What does it mean to women if we negotiate with the Taliban?" That's a paraphrase of what, perhaps, I think you were saying you were saying. And-and I do think we have to be aware that in my estimation, I think from a policy standpoint right now, having the Taliban be part of the government of Afghanistan is not where this is going, is not the objective. Having reformed Taliban, ex-Taliban, Taliban that have rejected violence, put down their weapons and join the political process, that's a very different outlook. The small "t" if you will, the individuals, not-not the movement. And I think that's where we have to be careful that we don't inadvertently send this message that we're willing to negotiate with the Taliban because we're really trying to exit -- as opposed to we're willing these Taliban, former Taliban fighters, lay down their arms and become part of this political process. Our goal when I was there was not to kill the Taliban -- collectively in the big strategic picture, it was to make the Taliban irrelevant, make no one want to become part of the Taliban, no one aspire to the Taliban and that takes a very nuanced approach of many different elements of simply security and military forces.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Mm-hm. Mr. Waldman, can I just real quickly get a response from you on that?
Matthew Waldman: Sure. I-I-I mean, in terms of security [. . .] But as has been said by Ms. Cole, the notion of security is much broader and-and of course, really security will political strategy which is indigenous In terms of women, you're absolutely right to raise this, I think it's a very serious issue. I think the-the-the -- when one travels the country and talks to Afghans, it's very clear that they want their girls to go to school -- if you look at the numbers now, over 2 million girls in school, yeah, you know, there's this universal desire to see that happen and for women to have the uh, in most areas, for women to be able to work and have rights, freedoms and rights that-that men have. It is alarming that the Shia law was passed recently, which you're probably aware of. And I certainly think that one has to ask about the commitment to the current administration to --
Us House Rep Susan Davis: Yes --
Matthew Waldman: -- women's rights.
US House Rep Susan Davis: -- which is doubtful.
Matthew Waldman: Yeah, yes. It certainly is. And uh we've yet to see real substance behind the-the-the work to try to-to empower women and to uh support their opportunities and rights. But you're also right that there is concern about women's rights after -- as negotiations move forward. Now of course reconciliation -- truth and reconciliation -- is essential in Afghanistan.
To review the participants above: Cole works for the US Institute of Peace (US government), Waldman works for the Carr Center AGAINST Human Rights (US government mouthpiece with a major in counter-insurgency studies and cheerleading) and Barno (Near East South Asia Center For Strategic Studies -- billed as "the preeminent U.S. Government institution for building relationships and understanding in the NESA region"). So the US government is more than well represented and we can all chuckle and pretend the stammering and stumbling Waldman represented the land of academia as well. So what did Barry represent? The War Machine. So that gets a seat at the table in front of Congress? That's really pathetic and really shameful and it's past time that Barry was pulled from Congressional panels because he's not an expert and he uses the fact that Congress calls on him as part of his business portfolio.
Now we didn't highlight the above exchange to say: The US must stay in Afghanistan for the women! That's b.s. The Afghanistan War's gone on long enough. Suddenly, the US gives a damn about women's rights? No, it's time to fly that false flag and see if you can get anyone to salute it.
No one should.
And you need to relate it back to Iraq where women did have a higher social standing, the highest in the region. And they've lost all that. It's much too late to worry about women's rights. Women were sold out by the US government and it was not by accident or happen-stance. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US government made the decision (after making the decision for illegal war) to install thugs with US ties that they thought they could interact with (in stealing the natural resources of both countries) and that they thought could terrorize the local population (the non-exiles) into a state of fear where they would not fight back.
They went for thugs. They installed thugs. Thugs don't respect rights. They don't respect women's rights, they don't respect women. At the start of this month, Najaf banned alcohol -- and not out of any concern over alcoholism but to 'condemn' the 'sin' of drinking alcohol. They're reactionary zealots and thugs and they were installed because that's what they were.
We do not need to get caught up in the cry of "for the women!" -- of Iraq or Afghanistan. The US has destroyed the lives for women in both countries and the US is not the one who can fix it. They've had more than enough time to try. They don't give a damn. With Iraq, US President Barack Obama could have sent a powerful message by making the US Ambassador to Iraq a woman. He wasn't interested. He went with the inept Chris Hill. And, as Republicans in the Senate knew, Chris Hill would screw things up because that's what he does -- as his personnel file demonstrates -- and they knew they could turn around and use him in any campaign. "Chris Hill screwed up Iraq!" "We had the surge and everything was wonderful! Then Chris Hill was installed!"
The Obama administration refuses to learn from mistakes and refuses to anticipate them. The arrogance is what is bringing them down (and, yes, they are being brought down -- the hero worship is over). Republicans (the current incarnation) would not attack Ray Odierno. He's military. So if they wanted to attack on Iraq -- a very serious issue to many voters -- they were going to go civilian. Therefore, who Barack appointed as ambassador was a serious issue. He or she was going to be attacked regardless. A competent woman doing a wonderful job would still have been attacked by the Republicans. But that said (whomever was installed in the post would be attacked), it's no excuse to install an incompetent of either gender but that's what happened with Chris Hill.
As Janine Zacharia observed on NPR today, violence continues in Iraq.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing last night (no one wounded or killed apparently), a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier. Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 man and left his wife and their three children wounded and a Baaj roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul on Friday, 1 traffic police officer shot dead in Mosul and one police officer wounded in a Mosul shooting.
Tuesday Mike noted, "Reuters reports, 'Iraq will temporarily shut down thousands of schools in two provinces and some in Baghdad after discovering 36 new cases of the H1N1 flu virus, Iraqi officials said on Tuesday'." Today John Leland (New York Times) reports on the "nearly 2,500 school closings" which have resulted from the fears or concerns: "Dr. Ihsan Jaafar, general director of the Public Health Directorate in the Health Ministry, said the number of cases was insignificant, especially compared with neighboring countries, where infection rates were much higher."
UNHCR is concerned about the fact that some European states have begun forcibly returning Iraqi originating from the region of Central Iraq over the last few months. In our guidelines issued last April, we noted that in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates, asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection. UNHCR therefore advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from Central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country.
This reminder comes after the UK attempted to forcibly return 44 Iraqi men to Baghdad earlier this month. They were reportedly unsuccessful asylum claimants held in immigration removal centres in the UK. Iraq only accepted 10 who were allowed to leave the chartered aircraft in Baghdad, and the remaining 34 were returned to the UK and placed in immigration centres.
Other European states have signed readmission agreements with Iraq for voluntary and forced return. Denmark has forcibly returned 38 people originating mainly from Central and Southern Iraq since signing its agreement in May 2009. Sweden has undertaken some 250 forced returns with an unspecified number of returnees originating from the five central governorates of Iraq since signing an agreement in February 2008. UNHCR has also concerns about the safety and dignity of these returns.
Concerning asylum-seekers from the three northern governorates, as well as those from the southern governorates and Al Anbar, UNHCR recommends that their protection needs are assessed on an individual basis.
A significant number of Iraqi refugees are Christians. Mindy Belz (World Magazine) recounts some of the recent violence aimed at Iraqi Christians: "In May a 32-year-old Christian teacher was kidnapped in Kirkuk, but freed two weeks later by a joint operation between the Iraqi army and Awakening forces, or former insurgents now siding with Iraqi and U.S. forces. On Aug. 18 insurgents kidnapped a 50-year-old Christian physician named Samir Gorj. A passerby, also a Christian, who tried to come to his aid during the abduction was shot and killed." After his family piad a larger ransom, Gorj was released. "Then on Oct. 3 Imad Elia, a Christian nurse in Kirkuk, was kidnapped in front of his home and found dead in the street two days later." Meanwhile Sardar Muhammad (niqash) reports that Iraqi Christians are weighing whether or not to flee Kirkuk due to an increasing violence, "Local Christians say that they are now targets of armed groups and tens of them have been killed and kidnapped, while their churches have been bombed."
Iraqi refugees aren't the only ones being returned by others. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports the British government is sending the country's Royal Navy back to Iraq "to help train Iraqi sailors and protect oil platforms" according to the UK's Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell. To protect the oil, imagine that. Of especial interest to the US is this section of Rammell's statement:
The House will be aware that the UK concluded combat operations in Iraq on 30 April, and that our combat forces were withdrawn by the end of July in accordance with our previous arrangement with the Government of Iraq.
"Combat forces" are 'gone.' Because "protecting oil" is a non-violent effort? Point: The UK returns to Iraq. There was no withdrawal. "Combat" forces is a joke. Combat forces as opposed to that brigade of Iyengar Yoga instructors the US military usually deploys? On the UK's return, as Rebecca observed last week, "gordo even screws up a withdrawal."
In the September 4th snapshot, the following appeared:

Meanwhile Quil Lawrence (NPR -- text only) reports that Iraqi security forces are using an instrumbent to detect bombs that probably doesn't do that: "Many U.S. officials say the science is about as sound as searching for groundwater with a stick. [. . .] One American expert in Baghdad compared the machine with a Ouija board but wouldn't comment on the record. A U.S. Navy investigation exposed a similar device made by a company called Sniffex as a sham."

SniffexQuestions comments:

The NPR story you mentioned about a dubious explosive detector understates the problem. This is the latest in a long history of fraudulent explosive detectors that are dowsing rods. 15 years ago, the FBI busted the company, and when they opened the detectors they found they were empty. When they raided the factory, the FBI found the company was photocopying a Polaroid photo of cocaine in order to tell the detector what the molecular signature was. And in a stroke of genius so that competitors or foreign countries could not reverse engineer the "detection signature chip" they printed the photocopies on black paper. The company moved overseas, has changed the name of the product multiple times, but it has never passed a test showing it is more effective than flipping a coin as to finding explosives or drugs.
Sniffex was a copycat product by a Bulgarian "inventor" that came out a few years ago. The US distributors were arrested and prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for using the device as the basis of a stock scam, but the new Sniffex Plus is still for sale to consumers overseas. I have been to the Middle East, and seen these in use outside hotels and other businesses.
TV notes. Tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings), NOW on PBS explores global warming:

Is climate change turning coastal countries into water worlds? NOW travels to Bangladesh to examine some innovative solutions being implemented in a country where entire communities are inundated by water, battered by cyclones, and flooded from their homes.
Imagine you lived in a world of water. Your home is two-feet under. You wade through it, cook on it, and sleep above it. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, coastal populations on the front lines of climate change.
Only weeks before world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, NOW senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa travels to Bangladesh to examine some innovative solutions -- from floating schools to rice that can "hold its breath" underwater -- being implemented in a country where entire communities are inundated by water, battered by cyclones, and flooded from their homes.
Many PBS stations begin airing Washington Week tonight as well (remember there is a web extra to each show if you podcast and you can check out the web extra the following Mondays when it is also posted to the website). Joining Gwen around the table this week is Dan Balz (Washington Post), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), David Sanger (New York Times) and Deborah Solomon (Wall St. Journal) -- and the show plans to remember journalist and Washington Week panelist Jack Nelson who passed away earlier this week. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Bernadine Healy, Avis Jones-DeWeever and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Medicare/Medicaid Fraud
Medicare and Medicaid fraudsters are beating U.S. taxpayers out of an estimated $90 billion a year using a billing scam that is surprisingly easy to execute. Steve Kroft investigates.

Fighting For The Cure
More Americans are suffering from epilepsy than Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis combined. Katie Couric reports on a disease that may not be getting the attention it deserves. | Watch Video

Tyler Perry
When Hollywood refused to produce his films his way, Tyler Perry started his own studio in Atlanta and now his movies - including the popular "Madea" series - are drawing huge audiences. Byron Pitts profiles the new and unlikely movie mogul. | Watch Video

60 Minutes, this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.


now that is scary





The United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." From the introduction:

This report summarizes patterns and trends in the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during the first six months of 2009. The data in this report is based on information available as of 28 September 2009 unless otherwise indicated. It covers the 38 European and six non-European States that currently provides monthly asylum statistics to UNHCR.
The numbers in this report reflect asylum claims made at the first instance of asylum procedures: applications on appeal or review are not included. Also, this report does not include information on the outcome of asylum procedures, or on the adminission of refugees through resettlement programmes, as this information is available in other UNHCR reports.

The report uses the terms "the 44 industrialized countries" referring to: "27 Member States of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America." The study found that all the countries are seeing increased claims for asylum and the US "continued to be the largest single recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2009." The top five countries for most asylum claims are (in descending order) the US, France, Canada, UK and Germany.

Number one country of origin for aslyum seekers? From the report:

Iraq again became the main country of orgin of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries in 2006, having previously been the main source country in 2000 and 2002. Iraq also continued to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants during the first six months of 2009 with 13,200 asylum claims lodged by its citizens. The latest figures, however, show a decreasing trend, with roughly one third fewer Iraqis requesting international protection compared to the previous two semesters. The decrease in Iraqi claims was particularly signficant during the second quarter of 2009 when 5,400 applied for asylum in the 44 industrialized countreis, the lowest quarterly level since the second quarter of 2006.
During the first six months of 2009, Iraqis lodged asylum applications in 38 out of the 44 industrialized countries covered by this report, but the distribution of claims is not equally spread across countries. More than half of all Iraqi claims were submitted in just four countries: Germany (3,000), Turkey (2,600), Sweden (1,000) and the Netherlands (950). The decrease in Iraqi asylums was observed among all major receiving countries, and in particular in Sweden, where figures plummeted, from an average of roughtly 9,300 claims per semester during 2007, to 1,000 during the reporting period. Although the levels and trends in asylum flows are often difficult to explain, they can sometimes be related to concrete policy changes. In the case of Sweden, the change in Swedish decision making on Iraqi asylum claims, following the Migration Court's determination that the situation in Iraq is not one of "armed conflict", may have led to a shift in flows to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.

This was the fourth year in a row that the number one country of origin was Iraq. UNHCR also released [PDF format warning] "Developing a Livelihoods Assessment and Strategy: Case Stduy from UNCHR Jordan." The report estimates there are currently 685 Iraqis seeking asylum in Jordan and 500,413 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

The Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has come from various educational and societal backgrounds. Many had become very frustrated and suffer psychological distress due to the isolation and idleness that they face. Many were asking for an opportunity to be involved in delivering services to the refugee community (which also can be used as a method to enhance the community based approach), and many asked for opportunities to expand their existing skills and capacities.

And how many Iraqi refugees did the US accept? In the August 19th snapshot the Eric Schwartz (Asst Sect of Population, Refugees and Migration) State Dept press conference was covered. He asserted in that press conference, regarding Iraqi refugees being accepted by the US, "The numbers -- let me -- I think I may answer your next question. The numbers for fiscal year 2008, I think are on the order of about 13,000. I'm looking to my team here. And the numbers for fiscal year 2009 will get us -- will probably be up to about 20,000." Click here for transcript and video of the press conference. Following the November 2008 election, Sheri Fink (ProPublica) reported on the issue and noted, "A State Department official contacted by ProPublica said, 'We really do recognize a special responsibility.' The official said that resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009 was a minimum target. 'We hope to bring in many more.' The U.S. will also be accepting Iraqis who worked for the US through special immigrant visas, a program [7] that resulted from legislation introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (discussed [8] recently by Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues)." So how many Iraqi refugees resettle in Fiscal Year 2009? According to the US State Dept this month, the number is 18,838. Bare minimum was reached and a tiny bit passed. So what is that? The partially nude minimum? What a proud moment for the US government.

Staying with the US government, at the State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about Iraq and the 'intended' elections for January 2010 and he responded:

The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and -- I guess -- Iraqi law or the-the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What's happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text. The whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security which is composed of the head of the main parties and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President and (two) Vice Presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And, of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a -- this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a -- this is the kind of a process that you don't see very often in Baghdad. So, in some ways, it's encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.

McClatchy's Jospeh Galloway notes the 'intended' elections in a piece where he weighs in on the 'change' (non)delivered by US President Barack Obama, "The president-to-be promised a swift withdrawal from the Iraqi quicksand, but that hasn't come to pass, either. Instead, we witness a slow-mo pullout that will sort of end things on the Bush administration's timetable of late 2011 for the last American combat troops to be gone, and God only knows when for the rest to leave. That's if the Iraqi parliament can pass a new election law in time for elections to be held on schedule in January." Yesterday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy told the US House Armed Services Committee that the delay was not currently a problem. She stated that Parliament had two weeks to act and that they could "simply have a vote on an election date" and leave all other issues by the wayside as they utilized the law from the 2005 elections. This would not only mean that the elections would be on a closed-list, it would also mean the issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed. (The long post-poned issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed.) On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday (a new one begins airing tomorrow night), Jasim Azawi explained "an open list is where a group, they list every single candidate running for office, for parliament. While a closed list-- just like happened in 2005 -- you really don't know who you are voting for." Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was on the show and he is among those calling for an open list -- as is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- and Allawi offered this, "In fact, this is another failure by the Iraqi Parliament to produce a strategic law that would -- hopefully would be cementing democracy. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Likewise, the Parliament has failed in producing a law for the parties -- to say where the funding for these parties are coming from, what they are, who they are, are they national, are they sectarian, are they secular. So there are no laws -- no laws of election. Indeed, the Iraqi people are disenchanted with the so-called closed list because usually it's either voting for the sect or voting for the -- for the leader of the list." Along with using the former election law being seen as a failure by Iraqs, there's also the what Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Michele Flournoy did not reference that decision to the committee yesterday. Which doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Other problems include Faleh Hassan (Middle East Online) reports that the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is currently "facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections" Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the "supreme Shiite religious tuhorities," the Marajiya, have concerns about the elections including the issue of the lists, "Another Iraqi who's close to the Marjaiya said their foremost goal was to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that replacing the system of party lists of candidates with direct votes for representatives would serve this aim."

US State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly was also asked today about the US Embassy in Baghdad and "shoddy work" and he sidestepped the issue with, "Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you." What was he avoiding? Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the costly ($736 million) US Embassy is the subject of a new study by the State Dept's Inspector General which finds, "contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., failed to properly design, construct and commission the largest U.S. Embassy overseas. It also cites failures by the former leadership of the State Department bureau that's responsible for constructing overseas diplomatic posts. Officials there said that those failures had been rectified, and they took issue with some aspects of the inspector general's report." And they note McClatchy's previous coverage of the US Embassy construction issues including the following:

New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ready — six months late
At new U.S. Embassy in Iraq, even kitchens are fire hazards
Mammoth new U.S. Embassy marks new stage for Iraq

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Iraq's 'intended' January elections"
"Those amazing and wonderful Iraqi security forces"
"Stop 'nation building"
"Where it stands"
"The joke that is Norman Solomon"
"russ feingold on citizens united"
"A new Watergate?"
"US House Armed Services Committee: Define stability"
"Iraqi elections"
"No government should attack the press"
"Barack's still a pig"
"Faded glory"


russ feingold on citizens united

longterm reader sherry e-mailed saying, 'you never note russ feingold anymore. are you off him?' no. just forgot. this is his statement on citizens united vs. the f.e.c.:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Mr. President, I want to thank the Senator from Arizona for all the work he has done over many years to improve our campaign finance system. We have been partners in this effort for over a decade, and there is no one in this body whom I admire more than John McCain.
In early September, Senator McCain and I had the opportunity to walk across the street to the Supreme Court and hear the oral argument in the Citizens United case. It was a morning of firsts: The first case that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has heard since the Senate confirmed her nomination to become only the third woman to sit on our nation’s highest court. And the first oral argument that Solicitor General Elena Kagan has done since becoming the first woman to hold that important position in our government.
And it was the first time since the Tillman Act was passed in 1907 prohibiting spending by corporations on elections, and the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 clarified and strengthened that prohibition, that a majority of the Court has suggested it is prepared to hold that Congress and the many state legislatures that have passed similar laws have violated the Constitution. Such a decision could have a truly calamitous impact on our democracy.
Until a few months ago, no one had any idea that the Citizens United case would potentially become the vehicle for such a wholesale uprooting of the principles that have governed the financing of our elections for so long. The case started out as a simple challenge to the application of Title II of the law that Senator McCain and I sponsored, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The issue was whether the provisions of BCRA relating to so-called issue ads could constitutionally be applied to a full length feature film about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The movie was to be distributed solely as video on demand.
Yet at the end of its last term, instead of deciding the case on the basis of the briefs and arguments submitted by the parties early this year, the Court reached out and asked for supplemental briefing on whether it should overturn its decisions in McConnell v. FEC, the case that upheld BCRA in 2003, and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1991 decision that upheld a state statute prohibiting corporate funding of campaign ads expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. That set the stage for the recent special session to hear reargument in the case. And now we await the Court’s verdict on whether these longstanding laws will be in jeopardy.
I certainly hope the Court steps back from the brink. A decision to overturn the Austin decision would open the door to corporate spending on elections the likes of which this nation truly has never seen. Our elections would become like NASCAR races – underwritten by companies. Only in this case, the corporate underwriters wouldn’t just be seeking publicity, they would be seeking laws and policies that the candidates have the power to provide.
We were headed well down that road in the soft money system that BCRA stopped. It may seem like a long time ago, but hundreds of millions of dollars were contributed by corporations and unions to the political parties between 1988 and 2002. The system led to scandals like the White House coffees and the sale of overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom. The appearance of corruption was well documented in congressional hearings and fully justified the step that Congress took in 2002 – prohibiting the political parties from accepting soft money contributions.
Before BCRA was passed, corporations were making huge soft money donations. They were also spending money on phony issue ads. That’s what Title II was aimed at. But what they were not doing was running election ads that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a candidate. That has been prohibited in this country for at least 60 years, though it is arguable that the Tillman Act in 1907 prohibited it forty years before that. So it is possible that the Court’s decision will not just take us back to a pre-McCain-Feingold era, but back to the era of the robber baron in the 19th century. That result should frighten every citizen of this country. The Court seems poised to ignite a revolution in campaign financing with a stroke of its collective pen that no one contemplated even six months ago.
Mr. President, while I have disagreed with many Supreme Court decisions, I have great respect for that institution and for the men and women who serve on the Court. But this step would be so damaging to our democracy and is so unwarranted and unnecessary that I must speak out. That is why Senator McCain and I have come to the floor today.
To overrule the Austin decision in this case, the Court would have to ignore several time-honored principles that have served for the past two centuries to preserve the public’s respect for and acceptance of its decisions. First, it is a basic tenet of constitutional law that the Court will not decide a case on constitutional grounds unless absolutely necessary, and that it if there is no choice but to reach a constitutional issue, the Court will decide the case as narrowly as possible.
This is the essence of what some have called “judicial restraint.” What seems to be happening here though is the antithesis of judicial restraint. The Court seems ready to decide the broadest possible constitutional question – the constitutionality of all restrictions on corporate spending in connection with elections in an obscure case in which many far more narrow rulings are possible.
The second principle is known as stare decisis, meaning that the Court respects its precedent and overrules them only in the most unusual of cases. Chief Justice John Roberts, whom many believe to be the swing justice in this case, made grand promises of what he called “judicial modesty,” when he came before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005. Respect for precedent was a key component of the approach that he asked us to believe he possessed. Here’s what he said:
I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness. It is not enough -- and the court has emphasized this on several occasions -- it is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided. That really doesn't answer the question, it just poses the question. And you do look at these other factors, like settled expectations, like the legitimacy of the court, like whether a particular precedent is workable or not, whether a precedent has been eroded by subsequent developments. All of those factors go into the determination of whether to revisit a precedent under the principles of stare decisis.
Talk about a jolt to the legal system. It’s hard to imagine a bigger jolt than to strike down laws in over 20 states and a federal law that has been the cornerstone of the nation’s campaign finance system for 100 years. The settled expectations that would be upset by this decision are enormous. And subsequent developments surely have not shown that the Austin decision is unworkable. Indeed, the Court relied on it as recently as 2003 in the McConnell case and even cited it in the Wisconsin Right to Life decision just two years ago, written by none other than Chief Justice Roberts. To be sure, there are justices on the Court who dissented from the Austin decision when it came down and continue to do so today. But if stare decisis means anything, a precedent on which so many state legislatures and the American people have relied should not be cast aside simply because a few new justices have arrived on the Court.
Third, the courts decide cases only on a full evidentiary record so that all sides have a chance to put forward their best arguments and the court can be confident that it is making a decision based on the best information available. In this case, precisely because the Supreme Court reached out to pose a broad constitutional question that had not been raised below, there is no record whatsoever to which the Court can turn. None. And the question here demands a complete record because the legal standard under prevailing First Amendment law is whether the statute is designed to address a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that result. My colleagues may recall that when we passed the McCain-Feingold bill, a massive legislative record was developed to demonstrate the corrupting influence of soft money. And the facial constitutional challenge to that bill led to months of depositions and the building of an enormous factual record for the court. None of that occurred here. And furthermore, the over 20 states whose laws would be upended if Austin is overruled were given no opportunity to defend their legislation and show whatever legislative record had been developed when their statutes were enacted.
Instead, the Court seems to be ready to rely on its intuition, its general sense of the political process. From what I observed at oral argument, that intuition is sorely lacking. One justice blithely asserted that the 100-year-old congressional decision to bar corporate expenditures must have been motivated by the self-interest of members of Congress as incumbent candidates, ignoring the fact that the modern Congress prohibited soft money contributions even though the vast majority of those contributions were used to support incumbents. Another justice opined that it was paternalistic for Congress to be concerned about corporations using their shareholders’ money for political purposes, even though most Americans invest through mutual funds and have little or no idea what corporations their money has actually gone to.
For the Court to overrule Austin and McConnell in this case would require it to reject these three important principles of judicial modesty. It would amount to the unelected branch of government reaching out to strike down carefully considered and longstanding judgments of the most democratic branch. It would be, in my view, a completely improper exercise of judicial power.
Let me discuss for a moment the consequences of this decision. A fundamental principle of our democracy is that the people elect their representatives. Each citizen gets just one vote. Our system of financing campaigns with private money obviously gives people of means more influence than average voters, but Congress over the years has sought to provide some reasonable limits and preserve the importance of individual citizens’ votes. One of the most important and longstanding limits is that only individuals can contribute to candidates or spend money in support of or against candidates. Corporations and unions are prohibited from doing so, except through their PACs, which themselves raise money only from individuals. The Supreme Court may very well be about to change that forever.
According to a 2005 IRS estimate, the total net worth of U.S. corporations was $23.5 trillion, and after tax profits were nearly $1 trillion. During the 2008 election cycle, Fortune 100 companies alone had profits of $605 billion. That’s quite a war chest that may be soon unleashed on our political system. Just for comparison, spending by candidates, outside groups, and political parties on the last presidential election totaled just over $2 billion. Federal and state parties spent about $1.5 billion on all federal elections in 2008. PACs spent about $1.2 billion. That usually sounds like a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to what corporations and unions have in their treasuries. So we are talking here about a system that could very easily be completely transformed by corporate spending in 2010.
Does the Supreme Court really believe that the First Amendment requires the American people to accept a system where banks and investment firms, having just taken our country into its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, can spend millions upon millions of dollars of ads directly advocating the defeat of those candidates who didn’t vote to bail them out or want to prevent future economic disaster by imposing strict new financial services regulations? Because that is where we are headed. Is the Court really going to say that oil companies that oppose action on global warming are constitutionally entitled to spend their profits to elect candidates who will oppose legislation to address that problem?
The average winning Senate candidate in 2008 spent $8.5 million. The average House winner spent a little under $1.4 million. A single major corporation could spend three or four times those amounts without causing even a smudge on its balance sheet. Mr. President, this is not about the self-interest of legislators who will undoubtedly fear the economic might that might be brought against them if they vote the wrong way. This is about the people they represent, who live in a democracy, and who deserve a political system where their views and their interests are not drowned out by corporate spending.
At the oral argument last month, one justice seemed to suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for a tobacco company to try to defeat a candidate who wants to regulate tobacco, and to use its shareholders’ money to do so. This is the system that the Supreme Court may bequeath to this country if it doesn’t turn back. Some will say that corporate interests already have too much power, and that members of Congress listen to the wishes of corporations instead of their constituents. I won’t defend the current system, but I will say -- imagine how much worse things would be in a system where every decision by a member of Congress that contradicts the wishes of a corporation could unleash a tsunami of negative advertising in the next election. In light of the immense wealth that a corporation can bring to bear on such a project, I frankly wonder how our democracy would function under such a system. We are talking about a political system where corporate wealth rules in a way that we have never seen in our history.
Once again, I thank my friend from Arizona for his friendship and his courage. We will continue to fight for a campaign finance system that allows the American people’s voices to be heard.

i know that's a lot and hadn't intended to slap you with so much tonight.

longterm readers know i have a huge crush on feingold. it's my only senate crush, believe it or not. i wish he'd run for president and believe he would have gotten the nomination. maybe next time. (maybe in 2012 because i don't see barry as re-electable.)

let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'

Wednesday, October 21, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi Parliament still has not passed an election law, the issue was raised by the US Congress today, Congress has a problem getting the Defense Department to show them a draw-down plan, and more.

"Today the Committee meets to receive testimony on the status of the US Military Redeployment From Iraq: Issues and Challenges," explained US House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton this morning. The Committee heard from the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy, Vice Admiral James Winnefeld, Alan Estevez and Lt Gen Kathleen Gainey. Chair Skelton observed, "I don't think anyone on this committee thinks this will be the last hearing on this subject. We have been involved in Iraq for a long time, and I believe we will be involved there for a long time to come." In her opening remarks, Flournoy noted that

Michele Flournoy: Examples of the kinds of excess equipment that we intend to transfer to the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] are tool kits and sets, individual clothing and equipment items such as helmets and body armor and commercial trucks. We requested the authority to streamline the material process and transfer some non-excess equipment such as 9mm pistols, cargo trucks, airfield control and operations systems, M1114 up-armored HWMMVs and armored gun trucks. We would like thank the Committee for including this authority as it will help ensure that the ISF can fulfill their mission by the time US forces depart, an absolutely vital step toward the goal of a soverign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral James Winnefeld
made like Fatboy Slim. The original . . .

Fatboy Slim: We've come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d

The pale copy . . .

Vice Admiral James Winnefeld: Meanwhile the Iraqi Security Forces
which we'll refer to as "ISF"
have come a long way
since the security agreement was signed in November 2008.

Like most people, I prefer the original; however, it should be noted that both are creative -- even if only one is recognized as such while the other is treated as 'fact' by a cowed media.

Chair Ike Skelton: Back on July 22nd, Madame Undersecretary, we asked that the Department of Defense provide our committee with a copy of Up Forward 0901 which is, so the members will remember, the order that lays out the organizations and responsibilities for various functions and how the redeployment will work. Despite repeated requests, by our staff, of the Dept of Defense, that Up Forward 0901 has not been provided nor has their been a legal reason given for not providing it for us. Now we pass legislation based upon testimony, based upon briefings, based upon documents. And all of this goes together to put us in position to receive compliments like Admiral Winnefeld just gave us on putting out good legislation. But this one piece of legislation, which is highly important on redeployment from Iraq, thus far, unless you're willing to give it to us this morning, has not been furnished.

Michele Flournoy: Sir, I am -- we are quite happy to have -- to bring that O plan over to you to have staff brief you on the details --

Chair Ike Skelton: And you will leave it with us in our classified --

Michele Flournoy: And I regret that we were not more responsive to your request earlier. But what we'd like to do is come over and-and share it with you, brief you on it and we can work out the details of how it should be handled.

Chair Ike Skelton: Well the details are not just coming over and show it to us and then walk back with it.

Michele Flournoy: I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: We are very responsible in this committee and responsible with classified material as you know.

Michele Flournoy: I understand. Right.

Chair Ike Skelton: It's some 400 pages long --

Michele Flournoy: [Overlapping] I understand.

Chair Ike Skelton: -- and come over and give us a rough look in 400 pages is pretty difficult. And we would expect full cooperation. And really, is there some reason? We really want to know --

Michele Flournoy: There is --

Chair Ike Skelton: I'm not trying to be difficult I just really want to know.

Michele Flournoy: There is no intention to keep the information from you at all and-and we want to be responsive to your requests.

Chair Ike Skelton: But that was July 22nd?

Michele Flournoy: I understand. I think it was recently brought to my attention and we want to make sure that we are responsive to your response as quick -- as soon as possible. I don't have it physically with me today but I can promise you that we will get it to you.

Chair Ike Skelton: You'll bring it over and leave it with us in a classified manner so we will have the time to go through the 400 pages? Is that correct?

Michele Flournoy: Yes.

Requested July 22nd and three months later still not provided. Why would the administration work so hard to avoid sharing the plan with Congress? And didn't the secrecy leave with George W. Bush? ("No" on the latter.)

Iraq still hasn't passed the election law. The one that was supposed to have been passed by Parliament no later than . . . last Thursday.
Jeff Mason (Reuters) reports that "Barack Obama urged Iraq on Tuesday to complete an election law so that a January poll is not delayed" and it didn't make a damn bit of difference. Iran's Press TV reports the Parliament took a pass again today and quotes Speaker of Parliament Iyad al-Samarrai, "The issue has failed and has been moved on to the Political Council for National Security." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) quotes al-Sammaraie stating, "Lawmakers felt they had reached a dead end and couldn't move forward any further so we are giving this to the political leaders." They are now 'planning' to vote on Monday . . . "if the council, comprising of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the leaders of major political parties, make a proposal by Sunday." Laith Hammoudi and Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) report that Dawa Party member Ali al "Adeeb told McClatchy in a phone call that the Kirkuk issue is the main problem with the new law. He added that Arab and Turkomen want to use 2004 voter records, because those after the 2005 election reflect a large increase in the province's Kurdish population. The Kurdish bloc in the parliament, however, wants the province's representation to reflect that increase, which Kurds argue merely reverses Saddam's 'Arabization' campaign." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports, "The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, said further delays in passing the law may call into doubt not only the Jan. 16 election date, but also the credibility of the result." Melkert is quoted stating, "It is the collective responsibility of members of parliament to now rise to the occassion and be ready to account to the Iraqi people, who expect to exercise their right to express their preference in the upcoming elecitons." Rod Nordland (New York Times) adds, "The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and United Nations elections experts have said Iraq needs at least 90 days to adequately prepare for the vote. Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Jane Arraf observes in "Discord as elections looms in Iraq" (Global Post):As Iraqi parliamentarians struggled over the past week with exactly how democratic they really want to be, it was telling that the brightest spot of democracy and certainly the savviest public relations campaign was playing out across town in Sadr City. Members of parliament for the past two weeks have been trying to pass an election law that would pave the way for national elections by the end of January, which are wanted by the voters and required by the Constitution. A vote Thursday became bogged down in a dispute over how voting would take place in Kirkuk, the city disputed by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and every other group that wants to lay claim to its oil and historic homelands. It stalled again on Monday.The delay has so alarmed both the U.S. and the U.N. that they've both issued statements urging parliament to get its act together and pass the law. The U.S. has been so fixated on the January elections that worry over the timing and type of elections has eclipsed the almost unspoken fear lurking in the background that elections done badly could be even more destabilizing than no vote at all.

The lack of an election law was raised during today's hearing.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have this article that was written [by Oliver August] in the London Times yesterday. The title is "
Violence Threatens Barack Obama's pledge to pull troops out of Iraq." And what they're basically saying is that they're threatening to move back the election from January. The election can't be held until their Parliament passes an election law. And, uh, al Qaeda doesn't want to have an election. And they want to do what they can to disrupt it. [The top US commander in Iraq] General [Ray] Odierno feels that he needs to keep his troops there thirty to sixty days after the election to ensure a peaceful transition of government. Do you have any intelligence showing that -- or any feeling that the election is going to be postponed?

Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications. But I just want to reinforce, right now, on the ground in Baghdad, here in Washington, just yesterday, our focus is on trying to stick to the current election timeline. The [US] President [Barack Obama] personally impressed upon Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki the importance of sticking to the Constitutionally specified timeline for the Iraqi elections and we are putting all of our diplomatic effort towards that end. That said, of course we will have contingency plans to adjust if necessary. But right now, we're using all of our diplomatic and other leverage to try to make sure the elections happen on time.

Ranking Member Howard McKeon: We won't be forcing General Odierno to withdraw our troops if they don't hold the election in a timely manner? We will still be flexible and allow him to keep the troops there? To provide the national security so they don't -- they don't put themselves at risk in trying to rush out in the couple of month period?

Michele Flournoy: The draw-down plan is not rigid. It is got -- it is conditions based, it leaves room for re-evaluation and adjustment in terms of the pace of the draw-down between now and the end of 2011 so, if need be, we will re-examine things based on conditions on the ground.

The above will shock a few. Especially those who, for example, foolishly believed Barack wanted all troops out and was promising that when he ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Barack made clear to the New York Times that everything was contingent and that he would send troops back in if there was a problem. Of course, the New York Times confused the issue with their write up of that interview (Tom Hayden got confused, for instance) and it was only if you read the transcript of the interview that you discovered what Barack was actually saying (when Hayden discovered that, he suddenly was alarmed but, like all of his alarms, it was a twenty-four hour, viral kind of alarm).

From the
November 2, 2007 snapshot

Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.

You can also see
Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview.

Or we could paraphrase Samantha Power (to the BBC in March of 2008) and offer that Barack can't be held, in 2011, to any promise he might make as a president in 2009 because things on the ground change. And though many work overtime to avoid that potential occurence, it was raised in the hearing today.

US House Rep Vic Synder: What if things really go badly in Iraq and President Obama who has already made the decision, he's already sent 17,000 additional troops has changed the leadership in Afghanistan and clearly is making Afghanistan a higher priority, what if he were to decide, in the Secretary's words, be flexible, we're going to have put troops back in? Uh, you say we have adequate capacity, we didn't. We didn't for six or seven years. If we had it, I don't know where they were but we didn't as a country respond to the need in Afghanistan. What assurance do we have adequate capacity should we decide that we need to return troops to Iraq.

Vice Adm James Winnefeld: I'd say right now our-our principal focus right now is to make sure that-that-that Iraq goes on the same trajectory that it's on and we don't have to confront that decision. And so far [. . .]

So far. So far. So far isn't a concrete state, now is it?

In one of the more interesting exchanges, Chair Skelton brought up an issue from the prepared statements that he found puzzling and it was interesting to watch as Flournoy fumbled and stumbled.

Chair Ike Skelton: Before I call on Mr. Hunted, Madame Under Secretary, let me add, on page six of the written [opening] statement furnished us, it says that "we have made contingent support of the Iraqi Security Forces contingent on their non-sectarian performance. Now, I suppose that means, contingent upon the Shi'ites not shooting Sunnis. How will this work? How will we make judgments on this? Have we placed any other conditions on future assistance? Tell us about it.

Michele Flournoy: Well, I think, this is something that we are in dialogue with the Iraqi government about and Iraqi commanders about on an ongoing basis. We are supporting the development of the ISF towards a certain objectives and one of those is a -- is making sure that the military is truly representative of Iraq, it's a national institution, it is not a tool that anyone individual or party or person in power can use for sectarian aims. We continue to monitor that. In many instances, we've had uh-uh many opportunities to work through specific issues and frankly the Iraqis have been very responsive over time on this point. They understand that the only way we can get the support here to support them is to demonstrate that truly are a non-sectarian institution. So we continue to bring that home at every level -- from the tactical all the way up to the headquarters to here in Washington when we have interactions.

Chair Ike Skelton: If we do see some sectarian performance, what do we do?

Michele Flournoy: Uh, generally what's happened is the ambassador [Chris Hill] and General Odierno have uh have gone -- have called the, uh, the government and the military on the issue, immediately gone in to discuss it with them and-and worked out remedial steps to either isolate a unit, to step in and deal with a situation and so forth. They've also taken very proactive initiatives such as to try to get the ISF, for example, and the [Kurdish forces] peshmerga much more closely in border areas where the two forces come up against each other. So I think that they've done both reactive steps and proactive steps but, again, we have seen -- you know, we've seen a decrease, a decline, in that kind of behavior over time, uhm, and so that is the good news. Something we need to continue to be watchful for but it's something that has been very well managed up to this point.

Chair Ike Skelton: If there is a severe sectarian act, at what point do we say, 'Sorry, we're out of here?'

Michele Flournoy: Well I, uh, again, I think, uhm, you -- you know, I don't want to speculate on what exactly could provoke that kind of thing. What-what I can say is we take it very seriously, we've taken it very seriously and

Chair Ike Skelton: Well the important thing is do they take it very seriously?

Michele Flournoy: They-they certainly understand when this is happen -- you know, in the instances this has happened, the reaction from us has been very swift and very clear and uhm it's had impact. So I don't think there's any question in the minds of the Iraqi government where our red lines are on this issue.

Let's zoom in on one section of that exchange:

Chair Ike Skelton: If there is a severe sectarian act, at what point do we say, 'Sorry, we're out of here?'

Michele Flournoy: Well I, uh, again, I think, uhm, you -- you know, I don't want to speculate on what exactly could provoke that kind of thing. What-what I can say is we take it very seriously, we've taken it very seriously and

You don't want to speculate? Interesting because I can't think of a single time when the United States government would be involved with another government known for human rights abuses and they would not stick a qualifier on it as in, "You do X and we pull our backing." Now "X" might be far after the point that I'd want the backing pulled, but there is always a line that will not be crossed and there is nothing speculative about it. So it's interesting that Flournoy wants to claim otherwise and what it really indicates is that the US government has no intention of pulling out for any reason. Her claims that, in the past, a 'scolding' led to changes is ridiculous. It was not a civil war in 2006 and 2007. I've used that term here myself and I've stated in the last twelve or so months that I was wrong on that. It was genocide. There were not two equal sides in that 2006 and 2007 conflict. There was an armed and funded side and there was the Sunni side. It was genocide, it was ethnic cleansing. And it only stopped because it 'worked' for the Shi'ites. Had it not worked, it would continue to this day. There was no desire on the part of Nouri to stop it because he was getting a scolding from the US and you really have to be in a child-like state (to put it nicely) to buy that or what Flournoy attempted to sell in that exchange.

Violence continued in Iraq today . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Kirkuk bombing which claimed the life of 1 journalist (cameraman) and wounded another. Reuters notes an Iskandariya bombing which left six people injured. Xinhua reports that twelve people were wounded in the Iskandariya bombing and that it took place "at a busy marketplace".


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 adult and 1 child were shot dead in Nineveh Province. Reuters notes that 2 people (parents of a police officer) were shot dead in Mosul.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi police officer was stabbed to death in Falluja.

Nouri al-Maliki continues his stay in the US.
Carl Azuz (CNN Student News) reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is visiting the U.S. this week, meeting with American leaders and taking part in a conference about his country's business opportunities. During yesterday's meeting with President Obama, the two talked about Iraq's economy, but they also discussed that nation's security situation. President Obama says he's committed to all U.S. troops leaving Iraq by the end of 2011. But both leaders are concerned about an increase in violence in Iraq and the possibility that the country's upcoming parliamentary elections could be delayed."

Two US service members have been announced dead in Iraq this week. One was Bradley Espinoza, the other was Daniel Rivera. Myrian Rivera is Daniel Rivera's mother and
she tells WIVB (link has text and video), "This war has to end . . . because they're little, they're kids. He's 22, he's a kid. They're kids dying." Susan Reimer (Baltimore Sun) reports on Peg Mullern who recently passed away and fought to find out why her son Michael died while serving. Reimer traces Peg Mullen's legacy on through Cindy Sheehan (mother of Casey Sheehan) and Marty Tillman (mother of Pat Tillman). Meanwhile Lauren DeFranco (WABC -- link has text and video) reports Christal Wagenhauser gave birth to a two month premature daughter and she and the family want Cpl Kieth Wagenhouser -- currently stationed in Iraq -- home to see the baby: "If the baby's condition deteriorates, it would take Wagenhauser a week to get home. At that point, it would be too late."

In the US yesterday, a twenty-year-old Iraqi woman was run over along with her 43-year-old friend.
James King (Phoenix News) reports that police are looking for the twenty-year-old's father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, whom they supsect of running the two women down and that the alleged motive is that the daughter was "becoming too westernized." Katie Fisher (ABC 15 -- link has text and video) reports the 20-year-old woman is Noor Faleh Almaleki and her 43-year-old friend is Amal Edan Khalaf and the friend is also the mother of the twenty-year-old's boyfriend.

mcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudi
the wall street journalgina chon
jane arraf
the new york timesrod nordland
lauren de franco
oliver augustthe times of london