Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bad Moments of Bully Boy Bluster

So that's April 2, 2006's "Bad Moments of Bully Boy Bluster." I was revisiting Bully Boy's infamous "Bring 'em on!" remarks (he made them July 2, 2003).

What stands out most though is going through the archives and grasping that between the comic I re-posted last week and the one above, I took two weeks off.

I used to do that all the time. Now I worry that C.I. will get stuck doing everything. So I hate to take a Sunday off. If I'm going to, I usually try to line up someone else to do a text post so C.I.'s not feeling like she has to do her own work and then double it to make up for me. I'm doing two comics for the New Year right now. I haven't colored in either one. One I've inked the other's still a rought sketch. So I've really got nothing on my mind but finishing those two comics. That's how it goes.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 31, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, questions are being raised in Iran and England about the release of a British hostage, questions in the US seemingly don't exist, can you be commander in chief while sending the message that you don't take seriously the loss of US troops, a new poll finds the bulk of Americans see no improvement in Iraq in the coming year, and more.

Peter Moore is alive. Alan McMenemy's status is unknown. The same as it was during
yesterday's snapshot. May 29, 2007, the two men were kidnapped at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad along with three other British citizens: Jason Crewswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan. The League of Righteous staged the kidnapping using official vehicles of the Baghdad security forces and using official uniforms of the Baghdad security forces. Moore was released yesterday, Alan McMenemy's status remains unknown and the other three men are dead.

July 29th, the families and loved ones of the five held a press conference. The bodies of the two Jasons had been turned over and there were rumors that Alan and Alec were dead as well.

Haley Williams: These reports are the worst possible news for us but we continue to hope that they cannot be true. But whatever Alec's condition, he no longer should remain in Iraq. We appeal to those holding him to please send him home to us. I speak to you as the mother of Alec's son. We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men, we would release them to you but we don't. Please send him home because as a family we can't cope with this anymore.

That is what Haley Williams stated. But, as noted in the
July 29th snapshot, American audiences didn't get to hear all of Haley's statement. Most outlets ignored it and CNN cesnored it, stripping out this section: "We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men, we would release them to you but we don't." American audiences couldn't be told that the five British citizens were being used as barganining chips by the League of Righteousness. [See Deborah Haynes (Times of London link has text and also has video of the press conference) report for the families statements.]

Now that's really important. And it's important to what's happening right now and it's important to understanding how the whole thing played out. The British government never wanted publicity. They told the families -- they LIED to the families -- that going public would risk the lives of the five. They weren't trying to save the five. They never managed to, in fact. If Alan's alive and they save him, he'll be the first one they saved.

The British government was inept and it may have been criminally negligent. The kidnapping was high profile and the British government -- already being run out of parts of southern Iraq with their base destroyed and used as lumber by the Iraqi resistance -- had enough embarrassments on its hands. The government's request for a media blackout was never about the five men, never about saving them. It was always about saving Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from any further embarrassments. That's why Gordon Brown, current prime minister of England, could grand stand yesterday and speak of "Peter" yet only weeks before he refused to meet with Peter Moore's father.

They never wanted to talk about it to the media or to the families but when they think they have a photo op Brown and his administration are all over the press bragging and self-congratulating. For what? They didn't accomplish a damn thing and shouldn't be allowed to use Peter Moore as a shield to hide behind. Three British citizens are dead and on one knows Alan's state.

When the families held their press conference at the end of July, they did so over the objections of the British government. Why CNN elected to censor what was said is a question that everyone needs to be asking and part of the answer goes to the fact that few want to talk about how Peter Moore and three corpses were released. From the
June 9th snapshot:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "
U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
The League of Righteous conveyed to the British government (which should be asked about those 'channels' of communication) that as long as their leader, his brother and other members of the League of Righteous were held in US-run prisons in Iraq, the five British hostages would remain hostages. That was their demand, that was the kidnapper's ransom. It's awfully silly for CNN to leave that out when the families of the kidnapped are making an appeal to the kidnappers. It explains to CNN viewers what the kidnappers want. But it got censored right out of the story at the request of the White House. CNN needs to explain that. They need to explain, first of all, why they're allowing the White House or any government body to determine what they broadcast when the First Amendment exists to make sure that doesn't happen. Then they need to explain specifically why they were told they couldn't air any reference to release of prisoners?

In ten years, you'll probably read the whys to both in a New York Times column because that's how CNN works. The British government never wanted press coverage of the kidnappings (until the poll challenged Gordon Brown could hide behind Peter Moore like he did yesterday) and the US government didn't want coverage after Barack Obama became president. The Bush White House never gave 'notes' to CNN on this story. Not when the kidnapping took place, not any time after. But CNN took notes from the Obama White House including from Barack himself. Anyone going to get honest about that?

For the British, it was an embarrassment. Under Bush, the following was conveyed to the British government (through various channels including the State Dept and the White House itself): US forces will patrol and look, special forces can be deployed for search missions, but NO Iraqi prisoners will be traded for the British hostages. That was the policy under Bush. And the weak and inept British government couldn't do a thing to save their own citizens. With Barack, who fancies himself President of the World and not President of the United States, an appeal was made.

The appeals started before Barack was sworn in and there's confusion as to the dead. It's thought, in retrospect, that when the talks began that only one was known/assumed dead (although two on Barack transition team state it may have been known/assumed that two were dead) but before the June release of prisoners, it was known that three were dead and a fourth was assumed. Before the US released the prisoners in June, it was known that only Peter Moore might be alive.

Peter Moore is a British citizen. It was the responsibility of the British government to work to secure his release. That can include asking other governments for help. In Barack's case? The prisoners were responsible for a raid on a US base and the deaths of 5 US service members. The Iraq War had not ended nor had the Afghansitan War. Meaning, you still have boots on the ground, you're still sending people over there. As President of the United States, his first duty was to the American people. That includes the five US service members who died and it includes their families and their friends. It also includes all of the men and women he is deploying to war zones.

Barack Obama's actions spit on the military. There's no way to pretty that up. The scheme/scam never should have been entered into. George W. Bush was, by no means, the brightest bulb in the lamp, but even he grasped the issues on this.

Barack Obama is commander of chief of the US military. The military's commander made 2009 about saying that the lives of US troops do not matter. The actions he took state that 1 British citizen is more important than 5 dead Americans. He was elected to be president of the United States, it was a job he wanted and it was a job he said he was up for. He's clearly failed throughout 2009 at his job. But how do you, as commander in chief, now ask any other service member to deploy?

How do you do it? You've just 1 British life trumps five American soldiers. How do you do it? How you earn their trust now? How do you tell him the crap about fight with honor when everyone knows that the US military held the ringleader of the attack on the US base in prison and you ordered his release?

In the US, the media's largely avoided the story. Despite this, when we speak to the military or military families about the Iraq War, since July, this topic has regularly been raised by them. This under-reported issue of the US release is known and discussed.

Barack Obama has falsely accused the left of spitting on soldiers after Vietnam. Barack has a habit of accusing others of what he does. It's called projection and this habit became obvious during the 2008 primary campaign. While he was making that statement this year, he had already engaged in spitting on the troops.

Last night, Alice Fordham's "
Peter Moore freed after US hands over Iraqi insurgent" (Times of London) reported:The British hostage Peter Moore was dramatically set free yesterday after the United States handed over an Iraqi insurgent suspected of planning the deaths of five American servicemen. Mr Moore, an IT consultant, was freed by League of the Righteous, or Asaib al-Haq (AAH) -- an extremist Shia group allied to Iran -- after 31 months and spent his first night of freedom at the British Embassy in Baghdad. He is expected to fly home today. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that officials had worked tirelessly to secure his release but strongly denied that the British Government had given ground to his captors. He said: "There were no concessions in this case. There was no -- quote, unquote -- deal." Foreign and Commonwealth Office sources confirmed, however, that the transfer from US custody a few days ago of Qais al-Khazali, a cleric and commander of AAH, helped to pave the way for Mr Moore's release. They also admitted that British diplomats had been pressing the US to hand over al-Khazali to the Iraqi administration. Today Suadad al-Salhy, Mohammed Abbas, Khalid al-Ansary, Missy Ryan, Mohammed Abbas and David Stamp (Reuters) report, "Iraq said on Thursday its judges could soon free the leader of a Shi'ite group believed to be behind the 2007 kidnapping of Briton Peter Moore if they found no criminal evidence, only a day after the hostage was released." Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane and Guy Grandjean (Guardian) report:The men -- including Peter Moore, who was released yesterday after more than two years in captivity -- were taken to Iran within a day of their kidnapping from a government ministry building in Baghdad in 2007, several senior sources in Iraq and Iran have told the Guardian. They were held in prisons run by al-Quds Force, a Revolutionary Guard unit that specialises in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.
[. . .]
One of the kidnappers told the Guardian that three of the Britons – Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan – were killed after the British government refused to take ransom demands seriously.Part of the deal leading to the release of Moore involved
the handing over of the young Shia cleric Qais al-Khazali, a leading figure in the Righteous League.Let's zoom in on the Iranian issue. First, some question the Guardian story. BBC News' Fred Gardner (link has text and video) offers, "The findings in the Guardian's year-long investigation into alleged Iranian involvement in kidnapping Britons in Iraq are being disputed by both British and Iraqi government officials. A senior Foreign Office official said that while it was 'not impossible' that the British hostages had, at some stage, been taken across the border into Iran, that did not mean the Iranian authorities themselves were behind the kidnapping. The British government view remains that there is no firm evidence to suggest Iranian government involvement." Second, whether or not the Iranian government was involved, it shouldn't be used to push for war on Iran from the US. Though war on Iran is wanted by the White House, the reality is that the Obama administration was not forced into the deal. This deal has nothing to do with the United States until Barack made the call to release the prisoners. That decision was idiotic and stupid. But he wasn't forced into it and it's not a reflection on Iran or a reason for war with them. That's why we're stressing the White House deal right now and stressing it firmly. What was a few remarks in passing to many has now become a steady drip and as more and more talk about the deal, some in the press will report it and some factions will seize upon it saying, "We must go to war with Iran!" No, that's not what it says. Iran had nothing to blackmail the US with, had nothing to force the US. Barack made the decision to release the prisoners. Don't mistake his weak actions for an attack on the US by Iran. While the government of England and Iran are in denial about what took place, notice that in the US no one's even forcing the White House to go on record.

Meanwhile the world gets ready for a new year and that's true in Iraq as well.
Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) notes wishes of some Iraqs such as school teacher Ali Abbas, "I wish the new year will bring peace and security improvement to my people, and I wish that all Iraqis will take part in the vital parliamentary election which we hope it will draw better future. I wish my people will elect the right people for the coming parliament because we have suffered enough by the existing politicians. The ball is in my people's field, hopefully we will have for better future." That wish could be heard in any country. Ali Abbas isn't an enemy of anyone. The US government declared war on Iraq and it's the Iraqis who suffer. And the American citizens. The US government doesn't really suffer, now does it? Yesterday on KPFA's Flashpoints Radio Nora Barrows-Friedman spoke with the program's Iraq correspondent Ahmed Habib and we'll note a section of that (this broadcast is archived at KPFA and Flashpoints Radio).

Ahmed Habib: The bombings, the violence, that we witnessed today, of course, is another chapter in the destruction of Iraq for the last seven years. We've seen over one million people die. Five million people have become refugees in a record time. We see that the infrastructure of the country has not only not been rebuilt but in fact been destroyed. The systematic theft of Iraq by American military contractors, by a corrupt government, has really left the Iraqi people in a situation where survival is their upmost priority. And of course, in contrast to that, we see an Iraqi government that seems adament at trying to project itself as a democratic institution. We just now, of course in the last few months of the year the Iraqi Parliament was able to get itself together and pass an election law and really these elections, what they're going to translate in terms of reality and people's lives in Iraq is that there's going to be an increase in violence. The way that politics under -- sort of unfolds itself in Iraq -- as perhaps not what our listeners in the United States are used to, you know, in terms of expensive television commercials or boring debates. But in Iraq, unfortunately, these sort of differences are dealt with through violence, bombings, car bombings. And, you know, in the last few months of the year, we saw bombings that ripped through the heart of Baghdad and I think that's a real sign that the election campaign in Iraq is under way. And the Iraqi Parliament? Last week there was a session held in the Iraqi Parliament that was going to discuss the budget for Iraq in 2010 and a whopping number of 12 members of Parliament showed up so I think it's really indicative of how serious the Iraqi government is about governing Iraq. Again the most important indicators of success in Iraq unfortunately are ones perhaps that aren't found only in the number of people killed but acts of violence are also buried in the chronic failure of the Iraqi govenrment to provide for its people. In the city of Baghdad, the capitol city of Iraq, the city of five million people, there is still a shortage of electricity, some areas of the city get only up to five or six hours a day of power, there is a complete lack of health care in a country that has already been destroyed by over a decade of genocidal sanctions that killed over one million people. And the lack of basic services and education and of course we've seen that Iraqi youths wander the streets of Baghdad searching for bread crumbs, searching for dignity and employment. And those are the real indicators that we should be looking at -- not election dates, not how many members of Parliament are running for which party. That is the kind of language and discourse that the Iraqi government, in conjunction with their American occupiers, are very busy trying to push but the people of Iraq are very cognitive of what the reality on the ground is. It's corruption, it's killing, it's chaos. And although people that have been reporting from outside of Baghdad are sort of trying to portray, have been trying to portray, an image of relative calm and improvement in the situation with security -- and that might be the case compared to the horrifying conditions that Iraqis lived in at the peak of the so-called sectarin violence in 2007 but that is not a reason or an accurate descrition that should lead us into a state of complacency thinking things in Iraq are heading in the right direction. The Constitution, which is sectarian in its most fundamental ethos, is still at the heart of the decisions in the way that political power is being divided. We seethe sell off of Iraq resources in the absence of legal mechanism to measure the transparnacye of such decision is now really being highlighted with the dozens of oil contracts that have either been signed or about to be signed . And I think that it important for people in the west, particularly to our listeners in the United States to hold their government accountable for their war profiteering and the destruction of Iraqi society that we're seeing. And, of course,the way to look at Iraq is not to look at it in a vaccum but to look at it within the context of Israeli apartheid, within the context of the occupation of Afghanistan, within the contest of the war mongering -- the beating of the war drums with countries we're seeing like Iran, with countries like Yemen. And I think it's important to look at it as another tragic episode in this so-called war on terror which is really a war of terror itself.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That's the voice of our special correspondent Ahmed Habib speaking to us from Doha. Ahmed, let's talk more about the Obama administration's agendas over the past year. Obama inherited this occupation and has only sought to expand the war budget, continue the occupation, continue the policies of his predecessor, hire more private contractors. What are your biggest concerns and also what are your wildest dreams for your country, for Iraq, as 2009 draws to a close? Talk about the concept of revolution in a time of great suffering and deep despair in your country. Talk about that.

Ahmed Habib: There is no doubt that the Iraqi people have a great tradition and history of revolution. And the people of Iraq hold an immense ability to be resisting in the face of this violence and brutality that has gone hand-in-hand with the American occupation -- an extension, of course, of the kind of genocide Iraqis experienced under the sanctions and of course an extension of the genocide that they experienced under the American-sponsored dictorship of Saddam Huseein as well. So there is no doubt that the Iraqi people will be able to overcome these conditions and will talk later about some of the tremendous things that are happening in Iraqi communities and the diaspora. But I think it's important for our listeners to sort of dispell many of the myths that had been promoted by the Obama adminstration with regards to their attempts to "end the war in Iraq." The Obama administration has not only inherented many of the same policies that were adopted by the Bush administration and we saw early on in the year the Obama administration's refusal to publish images of people that had been tortured and de-humanized and bases that had become prisons throughout Iraq and of course in Afghanistan as well. But we also saw the emergence and sort of the truth unveiled about the Status Of Force Agreement -- known as SOFA in the American media. And this agreement was, of course, was supposed to be the agreement that would embody the withdraw of American troops from Iraq and subsequently lead to the end the occupation. What many people didn't know is that within this agreement there are clauses that will not only keep permanent military bases in Iraq but will give the America the ability to conduct military operations without the permission of the Iraqi government, that America will control air space above a certain altitude in Iraq, and, of course, America's political strangle-hold on the Iraqi government through, as you were mentioning, the ascent of thousands of military contractors in Iraq, through the privatization of the most fundamental sectors of Iraqi economy are the real elements of the American occupation here. We see, for example in Iraq, fundamental sectors such as agriculture and education -- ironically in a country that invented both agriculture and education -- now being sold off to American corporations under the guise of of American occupation. We also heard early on in 2003, Colin Powell speak about how NGOs are part of the American occupation and, in fact, on the front line. And this has become very true in Iraq as well. And the American occupation of Iraq is perhaps no longer constituted by American soldiers on the ground raping, killing and maiming Iraqi civilians but now has really taken on a much scarier and more longterm identity in terms of the strangle-hold it has on many of Iraq in terms of all the things I have mentioned but also in terms of how Iraqi politics and the day to day running of the government also unfolds.

Meanwhile a new Associated Press-GfK poll [PDF format warning,
click here] found that 65% of respondents rate the Iraq War as "extremely/ver important" -- the same number who stated they oppose the Iraq War. (5% said the illegal war was "not at all important"), only 49% approve of Barack's handling of the Iraq War (40% disapprove). Asked if they thought conditions in Iraq would improve in 2010, get worse or stay the same, 53% stated things would stay the same.

In other news, 5 Blackwater mercenaries received news today that there would be no prosecutions for the September 16, 2007 massacre in Baghdad.
BBC News reports that Judge Ricardo Urbina reviewed the evidence submitted by the prosecution and found it was built around statements the five made to US State Dept staffers -- despite the five being told that any statements to the State Dept would not be used against them. There will be a lot of disgust over Urbina's decision; however, Urbina's not the problem. If that was the agreement with the State Dept and that's what the prosecution relied upon, the charges had to be tossed aside (and, like it or not, it was fair). The problem has to do with the decision to grant immunity to begin with -- a decision that was called out in real time. So Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough walk. And the judge's decision was a fair and accurate one. After blaming Condi and others at the top of State in 2007, the blame should then go to the current Justice Dept which damn well should have known not to use those statements. Ball, Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough start the new year with this legally behind them.

alice fordham
the times of londonreuterssuadad al-salhymohammed abbaskhalid al-ansarymissy ryanmohammed abbasdavid stampthe guardianmona mahmoodmaggie o'kaneguy grandjean
jamal hashimxinhua

Read on ...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The tyranny of the 'independents'

From March 12, 2006, that's "Bully Boy Negotiates with 'independent' Republicans Olympia Snowe & Chuck Hagel." And Snowe, of course, was important to the plan Barack's decided to force on the American people (legislating that we all by insurance, not providing with insurance, understand).

It's weird to think of how Olympia Snowe has such oversized importance. She's one senator. Everybody courts her. I don't think Hagel's even in the Senate anymore, is he?

Does it matter thought? Bush supposedly left the White House Jan. 21, 2009 but, to look at any of the 'new' policies, it's as though Bush never left.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Gen Ray Odierno shows leadership many below him lack, there's no 'safe' religion in Iraq, Congress is going to hold the VA accountable when?, and more.
The Ashura pilgrimage is ongoing in Iraq and so is the violence. Shi'ite Muslims head to Krbala for rememberance and mourning. As with all pilgrimages in Iraq -- and despite Nouri al-Maliki's claims of having brought 'security' to Iraq -- the pilgrims are targeted. AP reported 11 dead and seventy wounded in bombing attacks on the Pilgrims today in Babil Province -- AP has now updated the 11 to 13 dead and the number may continue to rise throughout the day. Li Xianzhi (Xinhua) explains, "An explosive charge went off at a parking lot in the center of Hilla, some 100 km south of Baghdad, detonated at about 1:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. Minutes later, a car bomb parked at the site went off after Iraqi security forces and onlookers gathered at the scene, the source said." Al Jazeera notes yesterday's attacks which led to the deaths of 4 pilgrims in Baghdad and twenty-eight more injured. CNN adds, "Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein was killed in battle in Karbala in 680, one of the events that helped create the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main Muslim religious movements." Michael Hastings (Washington Post) provides this context, "The Shiite festival, commemorating the death of Imam Hussein in 680 AD, has been marred over the past six years by sectarian violence." Along with Shi'ite pilgrims, Iraqi Christians are also being targeted. Catholic News Service provides some of the recent history of targeting:

In July, a series of church bombings in Mosul left at least four dead and more than 30 injured. A flare-up in violence in October 2008 claimed the lives of 13 Christians and forced thousands to flee the city.
In February 2008 Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped, and his driver and two bodyguards were killed. Two weeks later his body was recovered after kidnappers revealed where it was buried.
His replacement, Archbishop-elect Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul, is scheduled to be ordained in January. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his election in November.

Alsumaria reports, "Iraqis are celebrating Christmas discretely due to deteriorated security and because of mounting attacks against Christians. Christmas ornament is decorating timidly Iraqi streets and Christian families are staying home after Mass." AFP explains, "Since the US-led invasion of 2003, hundreds of Iraqi Christians have been killed and several churches attacked. Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but their number has since shrunk by a third or more as members of the community have fled abroad, according to Christian leaders." Muhanad Mohammed and Suadad al-Salhy, Mustafa Mahmoud, Aref Mohammed, Missy Ryan, Alison Williams and David Stamp (Reuters) report 1 Iraqi Christian was shot dead in Mosul today along with another man (who may or may not have been an Iraqi Christian). Tuesday AFP reported that the Iraqi military was on high "alert" according to the Minister of Defense, Mohammed al-Askari, who stated, "We have put our forces on alert in Baghdad, the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, including its capital Mosul, where our Christian brothers will be celebrating their holidays, because we have intelligence indicating they could be attacked during this period." Shi'ite Pilgrims and Iraqi Christians haven't seen any evidence of "high" alert. Saturday, noting the various high-level bombings in Baghdad, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy asked a question about the government's 'security strategy' that applies here as well, "After four bloody and brutal explosions, I wonder who has a strategy. Does our government have a security strategy or the enemy has a killing and destroying strategy????"
Reuters notes 1 man shot outside his Mosul home. AP notes a Sadr City which claimed 9 lives and left 33 people injured -- they were participating in a funeral process, while a Baghdad bombing resulted in the deaths of 4 pilgrims and ten being injured. Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports today on Wednesday violence: 3 police officers shot dead in Baghdad, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two Shi'ite pilgrims, a Baghdad mortorcyle bombing claimed 1 life and left seven people wounded, a Falluja roadside bombing targeting Sawha leader Efan Sadoun and leaving two of his bodyguards injured (Sadoun is not reported harmed), and a Baghdad car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and wounded "a candidate to the coming national election" as well as relative accompanying the candidate. (I believe the other incidents Al Dulaimy reports on were noted in yesterday's snapshot.)
Now let's switch topics to the US military. First off, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, continues to demonstrate common sense (if you doubt that, you were not paying attention when David Petraeus was top US commander in Iraq). Mohammed Abbas, Missy Ryan and Jon Hemming (Reuters) report he stated that, starting January 1st, there will be no criminal punishments for soldiers in Iraq over the non-crime of pregnancy. If you're lost, consider yourself fortunate. Tuesday ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer covered the issue of Gen Tony Cucolo playing God an issuing an order that pregnancy was now a crime for any soldiers serving in northern Iraq. Thankfully, Diane Sawyer has a great deal more on the ball than Kate Snow who presented a one-sided 'report' that found time to quote Cucolo at length, to quote anonmyous internet chatters (misquote actually) who agreed with Cucolo's policy, to quote a military 'expert' (forever wrong) who agreed with Cucolo's policy and the only noted objection in her report was 47 words from NOW president Terry O'Neill -- or as Snow wrongly called them "National Organization of Women" (it's the National Organization for Women). Snow did note, "A group of female senators today also sent a protest letter to the Secretary of the Army." She failed to identify the senators or to quote from their letter. The letter was in the Tuesday's snapshot and we'll note it again:

December 22, 2009

The Honorable John McHugh

Secretary of the Army

101 Army Pentagon

Washington, DC 20310-0101

Dear Secretary McHugh:

It has come to our attention that Major General Anthony Cucolo III -- the Commander of Multi-National Division-North, Iraq -- has implemented a stricter policy that criminalizes pregnancy for members of the United States Armed Forces under his command and for others "serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military. While we fully understand and appreciate the demands facing both commanders and service members in Iraq, we believe this policy is deeply misguided and must be immediately rescinded.

Under the policy, it is possible to face punishment, including imprisonment, for "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a Soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne" Area of Operations. The policy even extends to married couples jointly serving in the warzone.

Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martialunder this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline. This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.

This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child. This defies comprehension.

As such, we urge you to immediately rescind this policy. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this most important request, and for your continued commitment to our men and women in uniform.


Barbara Boxer

United States Senator

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator

Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senator

Barbara A. Mikulski

United States Senator

If you need more background on this story, Feminist Wire Daily has a comprehensive item that they posted yesterday (so they don't note that Odierno has now killed the policy). We've covered this since Saturday and I'm assuming most reading are fully aware of this issue -- and I know the many service women e-mailing to complain about the policy know it very well -- including the issue that women who were sexually assaulted wouldn't be punished . . . after they'd proven their sexual assault. As if sexual assualt has ever been easy to prove in the military. Back to ABC where Snow quoted women from chat pages and Facebook who stated they were for the policy. She cherry-picked in order to just present women supporting the policy. But in terms of some women feeling that this policy punishing pregnancy was a good thing, why would women say that? Because there's a stereotype that women get pregnant to get out of service. That's a false stereotype and, in reality, it's no more common than straight males announcing they are gay in the hopes of being discharged. Instead of exploring that stereotype, Kate Snow just endorses it. (It's a sexist stereotype like the sexist and racist stereotype of the so-called "Welfare Queen" that Ronald Reagan always 'saw' -- remember he suffered from dementia.) Now there are women who say yes to the policy and women who say no and you can go through this American Women Veterans Facebook thread and find both. (Or you can be like Kate Snow and just pick the ones you agree with.) But what the policy plays into is a lot of hostility towards women and what you're hearing in what Kate Snow quoted is frustration women have with the system and their mistaken belief that it's "all" these women getting pregnant to get out of the military who are hurting their own chances to advance. No, girls, you're being lied to yet again. You're accepting a false stereotype that exists to turn you against other women and to blame other women instead of blaming a command culture that refuses -- despite multiple Senate investigations -- to move into the 20th Century even now as we are in the 21st one.
Let's note the end of Snow's 'report' (and you can stream video here at Sarah Netter and Luis Martinez's ABC news story which was much more balanced than anything Snow offered):
Diane Sawyer: But you're not saying that there was no criticism from inside --

Kate Snow: I'm certainly not saying that.

Diane Sawyer: -- the military?

Kate Snow: No, no. We scanned online, there is both. There are men and women in the military thinking this is a bad policy.

Diane Sawyer: But if he is the only general in Iraq with this policy is he going to be forced to back down?

Kate Snow: Not so far.
Kate Snow, with a straight face, insisted that she wasn't saying there was no objection -- when her entire report was built around that premise. (For full transcript, click here.) She then lied and said "Not so far," when Diane asked her if Cucolo was backing down. Uh, yeah, he was backing down. He'd declared Saturday he'd court-matial and imprison and on Tuesday he was rushing to say he'd decided not to do that. That's backing down, Kate Snow.

Repeating, Gen Ray Odierno has common sense. The order dies January 1st. Good for Ray Odierno. Thank you for having common sense, Ray Odierno, and showing leadership on the issue. No one else stepped up to the plate.
Okay so Odierno steps up to the plate, what about the US Congress? We have to ask that question because yesterday Kimberly Hefling (AP) broke the story that the GI Bill payments due at the start of the fall semester? Some still haven't received them. "Thousands" still wait. For the checks that should have been cut no later than the first day of the fall semester last August or September (depending on when the semester started which differed for some campuses). It is now the end of December. It is now Christmas in fact. And veterans are still waiting. The year will end with them still waiting. Now let's be really clear, the rent doesn't wait, the food doesn't wait, the bills don't wait. Veterans have to take care of all of those things. While waiting for the VA to get off it's happy and bloated ass and do what it should have done months ago.
October 14th, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. At that point, veterans across the country were struggling as they waited for the VA to make good on the payments they were led to believe would start with the fall semester. And the Committee should have focused on that but they didn't. They fretted that Shinseki kept his "light under a bushel" (that's a direct quote from a member of Congress) and that he needed to hire a PR person so that everyone would know what a wonderful job he was doing. What wonderful job? The scandal had broken, the press was all over it and the committee was kissing Shinseki's ass instead of holding him accountable. They all played dumb when he volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, that a huge number of veterans would wait and wait and wait for checks. The Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew.
Of course, they didn't. They weren't holding him accountable. It was embarrassing in real time and it's only more embarrassing today as we now know the problem that Shinseki said was fixed has not, HAS NOT, been fixed. Here's the money quote from Shinseki, here's what he told Congress:
I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take.
He knew. He knew when he came into office. He was told it and he confirmed it with an outside consultant. But he never told Congress. No one ever told Congress and no one told the veterans waiting for the checks. "Thousands" of whom are still waiting all this time later.
The October 16th snapshot covers the October 15th appearance of the VA's Keith Wilson appearing before the Subcommittee that US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chairs. We'll note one exchange from that hearing:
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?
Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.
Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along. If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.
In that hearing, Stephanie Herseth repeatedly asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits. She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know. She wasn't alone in stating that. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us." Congress hasn't been informed of these problems and if the checks still aren't out, then obviously the VA needed additional staff. Obviously. Another VA witness lies to Congress (or doesn't know the status) and veterans are again waiting. And when does Congress intend to take the VA to task? This is nonsense. No veteran who enrolled for the fall 09 semester should still be waiting for the monies owed to them from the new GI Bill. That is ridiculous, that is insulting and until Congress gets ready to hold the VA accountable, there won't be any improvement.
The next hearing on this issue should get to when a problem was known and why Congress was not immediately notified. The next hearing should probe whether a decision was made to keep Congress out of the loop. Congress is supposed to offer supervision and thus far the VA has thwarted that by repeatedly providing the Congress with false information -- and a good portion of the false information was provided intentionally.
It is outrageous that as so many use tomorrow to celebrate with families or reflect, veterans continue waiting for fall '09 checks. It is outrageous that the New Year will begin with these veterans still waiting. If the Congress doesn't pursue this and do so strongly, then their behavior will be outragoues. Right now, it's just sad.
In other news, Black Agenda Report is not on 'holiday' this week (many sites are). Among their new offerings is a commentary by Glen Ford (link is text and audio) which includes):
It is now beyond question that civilian military contractors -- mercenaries -- are permanently embedded in the structure and longterm planning of the United States Armed Forces. In recent years, about half the U.S. personnel in the combined South Asia theaters of war -- Afghanistan and Pakistan -- have been civilians, according to Pentagon figures. The one-to-one ratio of military to civilians -- a percentage that would have been unthinkable prior to the invasion of Iraq -- may become even more lopsidedly mercenary with President Obama's troop escalation in Afghanistan. The Congressional Research Service estimates that as many as 56,000 civilian contractors may accompany the 30,000 uniformed troops scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan. That's a ratio of almost two-to-one civilian to military. The Afghanistan/Pakistan theater has become the modern world's first large scale corporate/civilian war.
In an update to that, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports on a new proposal by the Dept of Defense to replace contractors with "full-time federal personnel" as a cost-cutting measure. The only thing to add to his article is that such a shift would carry with it the belief (right or wrong) that accountability would be easier since these would be government employees with codes of conduct.
Turning to England, the Iraq Inquiry concluded public hearings for the year December 17th. They resume public hearings January 5th. In the new year, they will hear from former prime minister Tony Blair and current prime minister Gordon Brown. Helene Mulholland (Guardian) reports that the latter "has been called to give evidence to the Iraqi Inquiry" as have David Miliband (disclosure, I know Miliband) and Douglas Alexander, but all will testify after England's upcoming elections. Mulholland also notes: "Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former chief spin doctor, is included on the list alongside the former prime minister hemself, who recently caused controversy by telling the BBC he would still have thought it right to remove Saddam Hussein if he had known he had no weapons of mass destruction." In addition, Miranda Richardson (Sky News) adds, "Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General whose advice on the legality of the 2003 invasion has been at the centre of controversy, will give evidence in January or February." Yesterday the Liberal Democrats released the following statement:

"Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Commenting on today's statement from Sir John Chilcott which reveals that Gordon Brown, David Miliband and Douglas Alexander will not appear before the Iraq inquiry until after the election, Edward Davey said:
"Giving special treatment to Labour ministers not only undermines the perception of independence of the inquiry but will damage the public's trust in politics further still.
"This looks like a deal cooked up in Whitehall corridors to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music.
"Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day.
"British soldiers will not be impressed by a Prime Minister unwilling to step into the firing line."
William Hague has accused Gordon Brown of "the very opposite of open and accountable government" after it emerged that he will not give evidence to the Iraq Inquiry until after the General Election.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary said that the public will rightly ask why it is that numerous officials have given evidence to the Inquiry about their role in carrying out the Government's policy on Iraq, but not a single Minister has had to face questioning.
William said that it was becoming "clearer and clearer" why Gordon Brown delayed setting up the Inquiry for so long after it should have begun its work, and he added:
"His intention throughout has been to ensure that the Inquiry won't report until after the coming General Election -- and now we have the added effect of Ministers not having to give evidence at all before the election."
That the political establishment in Britain and the US have no interest in conducting an honest inquiry into the war is not surprising, given its legacy. Iraq is a fractured country with a wrecked economy and simmering sectarian and ethnic tensions that threaten to engulf society in violence.
George Bush and Tony Blair's war, supported by the Tories and the rest of the political establishment in Britain, is the cause of this.
When the allied occupation - "Operation Iraqi Freedom" - began, Iraq was thrown into chaos. Widespread looting broke out and millions of Iraqis were cut off from electricity and water supplies. But the main priority for the occupying forces was not to prevent Iraq's social collapse but to secure oil fields and ministries.
US and UK multinationals immediately began a lucrative contract carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry, and the supplies of arms and military equipment - the least priority being rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and supplying the Iraqi people with essential services.
For the US capitalist class "regime change" in Iraq meant unchallenged control and profits from an abundant oil supply.
Oil wasn't the only reason for going to war. The war was part of a wider agenda of strengthening US imperialism's prestige - a message to third world leaders and imperialist rivals that any opposition to US hegemony would not be tolerated.
This inquiry will be used as a PR tool by the political establishment to attempt to appear to be listening to the public, particularly those directly affected, such as military families.
But in the eyes of millions who opposed the Iraq war and continue oppose the war in Afghanistan, they are guilty and should be tried as war criminals.
We need 'regime change' of the rotten political establishment in Britain, who conducted the war on behalf of big business and imperialism, by building a mass socialist opposition.
Francis Elliott (Times of London) reports, "But the evidence of Mr Brown, Mr Miliband and Mr Alexander will be saved until the inquiry resumes its public sessions next summer, after the election." Michael Savage (Independent of London) continues, "However, Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion and remains in the Cabinet, will be questioned before the election. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, Alastair Campbell, his former spokesman, and Jonathan Powell, Mr's Blair's former chief of staff, will also give evidence before the start of any election campaign." Olivia Midgley (Spenborough Guardian) reports Pauline Hickey wants Blair to answer questions: "Her son, Christian, a sergeant with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was killed by a roadside bomb during a foot patrol in Basra - just three days before he was due to return home, in 2005." Meanwhile Joe Murphy (London Standard) reveals, "A letter by Jack Straw asking Tony Blair to consider alternatives to invading Iraq is set to be revealed at the official war inquiry." Dmitry Babich (Russia's RIA Novosti via the Telegraph of London) reports that M16 head John Sawers is insisting that Russia -- by refusing to go along with sanctions as a member of the UN Security Council -- forced England into the Iraq War but that Andrew Billigan's response is, "I would say to John Sawers: 'Nice try.' but I don't think there is any truth in what he said at all."
Today, Chrismas Eve, Free Speech Radio News examines the costs to Iraqis of the Iraq War in a special half-hour broadcast:

Iraqis make up the world's largest population of refugees. The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq released a wave of violence and economic instability and brought with it the destruction of key infrastructure and the near-collapse of basic services. More than 2.7 million Iraqis have been displaced within their borders and another two million have fled their country, largely to Syria and Jordan. Today we bring you a special FSRN documentary called, "Guests in the Waiting Room: Iraqi refugees in Jordan," produced by Hanan Tabbara and Salam Talib.
Next snapshot, which will probably be Monday, will note this article by David Price. Closing with this from Sherwood Ross' "Federal War Spending Exceeds State Government Outlaws" (Veterans Today):

The U.S. spends more for war annually than all state governments combined spend for the health, education, welfare, and safety of 308 million Americans.
Joseph Henchman, director of state projects for the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C., says the states collected a total of $781 billion in taxes in 2008.
For a rough comparison, according to Wikipedia data, the total budget for defense in fiscal year 2010 will be at least $880 billion and could possibly top $1 trillion. That's more than all the state governments collect.
Henchman says all American local governments combined (cities, counties, etc.) collect about $500 billion in taxes. Add that to total state tax take and you get over $1.3 trillion. This means Uncle Sam's Pentagon is sopping up nearly as much money as all state, county, city, and other governmental units spend to run the country.
If the Pentagon figure of $1 trillion is somewhat less than all other taxing authorities, keep in mind the FBI, the various intelligence agencies, the VA, the National Institutes of Health (biological warfare) are also spending on war-related activities.
A question that describes the above and answers itself is: In what area can the Federal government operate where states and cities cannot tread? The answer is: foreign affairs---raising armies, fighting wars, conducting diplomacy, etc. And so Uncle Sam keeps enlarging this area. His emphasis is not on diplomacy, either.

Read on ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bullies and The Tyrants

That's "The Bullies And The Tyrants" from March 5, 2006. Thhat was a day when I was searching for an idea.

I finally merged the Mamas and the Papas debut album cover with Bruce Springsteen's Born In the USA.

I think this works visually. I think it was okay for a day's comic. I don't think it has any staying power. It was visual at least.

When you're doing a weekly comic, there's a lot of pressure. Now days, I do several comics each week and I can really feel like the well has run dry.

And let me take a moment to thank Betty and Ann for their kind words.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:

Thursday, December 17, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry decides it's all about them, the US House prepares to give even more money to the Pentagon,

Starting with War Hawk Tony Blair, former prime minister of England and lapdog to George W. Bush.
Neil Clark (First Post via Information Clearing House) notes that the Blair War Crimes Foundation has "an online petition addressed to the President of the UN General Assembly and the UK Attorney General, which lists 14 specific complaints relating to the Iraq war, including 'deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war' and violations of the Geneva Conventions by the occupying powers." Tony Blair is set to testify next year to the Iraq Inquiry in London. Today at the Iraq Inquiry, Chair John Chilcot declared will be in public. At the end of the hearing, he declared:

Evidence will only be heard in private in the narrow circumstances we have set out in the published protocols on our website. But I would like to be absolutely clear about this: eveidence sessions with key decision makers, including the former Prime Minister, will be in public. They will be openly questioned about the big issues that they were involved in.

Will come back to today's hearing in a minute. Of the remarks made by Tony Blair over the weekend that he would have found another rationale for the Iraq War if WMD hadn't been handy,
Mick Hume (Spiked) offers the opinion that people are missing the point:

Today the obsession with the tired arguments about Iraq's imaginary nuclear arsenal is also distracting attention from the bigger political questions about the war. Yes, we all know now there were no WMD, it seems the authorities knew it before they invaded Iraq, and many of us had firm suspicions about all that for years beforehand. So, why did Blair and New Labour take Britain to war?
There are two bigger issues here that should be examined, which have little or nothing to do with WMD, or indeed with events in Iraq. The first is about old-fashioned great power realpolitik -- the importance of the US-UK alliance to the British state. The second concerns a more contemporary problem: the domestic crisis of authority facing the British elite.
The role that Britain's relationship with America played in drawing the UK into the invasion has been raised around the Iraq inquiry, but only in terms of what one former official described as Blair's 'sycophancy' towards President George W Bush's administration. The New Labour leader may well have loved the limelight on the White House lawn. But the fact is that any UK prime minister from any establishment party would have found it hard not to sign up for the Iraq War.
Standing alongside America in such conflicts is about more than being Washington's 'poodle'. It is the one chance Whitehall still has of looking like a British bulldog on the world stage. Being a nuclear power with the military force to play a part in great power politics is what still gives the British government a place at the top table of world affairs. That is why, for all the talk of how Gordon Brown would pursue a very different policy towards America from the 'sycophant' Blair, Brown is now the main European cheerleader and lieutenant for President Obama's Afghan adventure. It will take a more courageous political class than this to face up to the truth about Britain's place in the world.

Another opinion is expressed by Aijaz Zaka Syed (Arab News): "Blair and Bush told us this war had been absolutely critical to the security and stability of the "civilized world." Just like the morally bankrupt politicians before them did, they told us the war was necessary for peace! Even when the whole world stood up against the war, from Americas to Asia, the coalition stuck to its guns, insisting the war on Iraq -- already on the brink after two major wars and years of devastating Western sanctions -- was essential to rid the world of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction! And now Blair turns around to tell us WMD or no WMD, the Coalition of the Willing would have invaded Iraq anyway. Ironically though, in doing so, the man who has turned the old-fashioned deceit and lying into a refined art, may be telling the truth for a change! In a now infamous interview with BBC's Fern Britton, Blair gloated: 'I would still have thought it right to remove him (Saddam). I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat'." Sian Ruddick (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reminds, "It is against international law to attack a country on the basis of regime change."

Binoy Kampmark (CounterPunch) focuses on the Inquiry members themselves, "The body reeks of musty establishment. [Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken] Macdonald is quite right to note the less than taxing nature of the proceedings so far. Questioning has been 'unchallenging' and the chair, Sir John Chilcot, has done nothing to suggest that things might change in 2010." Media Lens (via Dissident Voice) has a similar conclusion, "In short, Brown's selection of the Chilcot inquiry committee was one more establishment insult to the British people and to our victims attempting to survive in the wreckage of Iraq. It was one more gesture of contempt for compassion, truth and democracy." Of what the Inquiry has seen during public testimony, Adrian Hamilton (Independent of London) offers: "Senior officials from the Foreign Office turned up before Chilcot to whine about how they were kept out of the loop of Blair's planning, with the implication that somehow it might all have been different if they had been brought in. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our representative to the UN before the invasion and in Baghdad after, even declared that he was prepared to resign if another UN resolution went against us. Prepared to resign? Anyone who has ever worked in an organisation knows that the threat of future resignation isn't worth the paper it isn't written on." Chris Ames (at Iraq Inquiry Digest) looks at some of the press on the inquiry:To get the headline issues out of the way first, the Daily Mail and others focus on witnesses' doubts about whether the human cost of the war was justified by the outcome, the Independent and Mirror look at Sir John Sawers' admission that Britain had some advance knowledge of problems at Abu Ghraib and the BBC covers both issues, as well as pointing out that:"Panel member Sir Roderic remarked that [Lt Gen Sir Robert Fry] was the first witness to suggest that the UK's contribution was 'critical' to winning the war."The BBC's Peter Biles also says that:"With the steady accumulation of evidence over the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable and welcome change of tone at the inquiry."Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) offers this take on Sawers, "So, according to the head of MI6 - who also happens to be a former foreign-affairs adviser to Tony Blair - it was not 'reasonable' to assume the violence should have been foreseen and that only President Mubarak of Egypt predicted the manner in which the invasion of Iraq would exacerbate the threat of al-Qaeda-related terrorism, inside and outside Iraq. Is he lying, suffering from amnesia or just plain ignorant? It must be one of the three because I can assure Sir John that countless intelligence reports, terrorism experts, diplomats, politicians and pundits, at home and abroad, warned that invading Iraq wouldn't be the 'cakewalk' predicted by the neocons and that it would only radicalise Muslims across the globe, destabilise the country and the region and provide new opportunities for jihadists to attack western troops on a Muslim battlefield." Sawers' testimony isn't the only one being loudly questioned. From yesterday's snapshot:In addition to Sawers possible problems noted earlier by Sparrow and Ames, the Belfast Telegraph states that another witness, also with M16 at one point (Sawers is the current head of M16) has problems: John Scarlett. They note his claim that the assertion of Iraq being able to attack England "within 45 minutes" was both "reliable and authoritative" is refuted by Brian Jones ("senior WMD analyst"): "Dr Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff in the run-up to the invasion, said that it was 'absolutely clear' the intelligence the Government relied upon was coming from untried sources. The 45-minute claim was one of the key assertions that convinced MPs to take Britian to war."Today Michael Savage (Independent of London) reports:The Iraq inquiry committee has come under pressure to recall Britain's former spy chief to give further public evidence after allegations that he misled them over Saddam Hussein's ability to use weapons of mass destruction. Sir John Scarlett, who oversaw the drafting of the government's controversial 2002 dossier outlining the case for invading Iraq, had claimed that intelligence indicating that Iraq could launch missiles within 45 minutes was "reliable and authoritative". But Dr Brian Jones, the most senior WMD analyst who saw the original intelligence, told The Independent that it was vague, inconclusive and unreliable.

And those sort of opinions -- which are held by a great many -- may be why today's hearing seemed to be less about the witnesses and more about the Inquiry itself.
Jim Drummond, Martin Dinham and Stephen Pickford appeared before the committee (link goes to transcript and video options -- unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the transcript). Today Chilcot announced that the hearing would draw to a close . . . and then went on to speak and speak in a defensive manner (including the already quoted section about Blair testifying in public). On and on he spoke. "With that I will draw this session to a close" appears at the bottom of page 113. And then launches into a defensive ramble that finally ends at the bottom of page 118. "We have . . ." "We expect . . ." "We will . . ." Criticism appears to be getting to Chilcot (that's a good thing). Let's hear a bit of the defensive posturing:

Chair John Chilcot: In the hearings so far, a huge amount of valuable and illuminating evidence has been uncovered, and that's why we approach the opening phase of hearings in the way we did. We have not been trying to ambush witnesses or score points. This is a serious Inquiry and we are not hear to provide public sport or entertainment. The whole point of our approach has been to get to the facts. We have been asking fair questions and have been expecting, and getting, full and truthful answers. That is the essence of a formal public inquiry and witness[es] have responded to this approach by being commendably open and candida, highlighting a number of issues which we shall examine much more closely as the Inquiry continues. Our model of questioning and our selection of witnesses in the hearing up until 11 January is designed to help to establish the narrative. We took a conscious decision to do this through the oral hearings rather than through the publication of a mass of documentary material because we believe that this is the most helpful way to provide the necessary context. We have, therefore, not yet made any requests to government to declassify documents to allow them to be published. As we move into the next phase of evidence taking, where we will hear from ministers and the most senior civil servants and military officers, the Inquiry will increasingly wish and need to draw on government documents and records which are currently classified, in some cases highly classified, in its questioning.

Chilcot's salutation, or 'ring off,' came as the Iraq Inquiry rested for the rest of the year. They will next reconvene January 5th in the new year. When that happens, they might try pursuing a list of questions
Michael Evans (Times of London) has proposed including: "Why was no action taken when intelligence arrived in March 2003 -- just before the invasion -- that Saddam's chemical weapons had been disassembled?" We may go over today's hearing in tomorrow's snapshot but the big point today was Chilcott's need to offer a lengthy defense of the inquiry he is chairing.

In other news,
Andy Sullivan (Reuters) reports that yesterday in the United States, the House of Representatives signed off on a $636 billion military spending bill (395 members voted for it, 34 against it). The huge figure only covers operations through the end of the 2010 fiscal year (September 30, 2010) and doesn't include the monies US President Barack Obama will need for his Afghanistan 'surge.' Today the Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation breaks down the bill that $497.7 billion of that is just Dept of Defense "base" spending and not to fund the "military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." The analysis by Christopher Hellman shows that weapons and gadgets rank third on the funding (under "Procurement" with $105.2 billion) and they include such big ticket items as F/A-22 "Raptor" Fighter, C-130J Transport Aircraft, Joint Cargo Aircraft and C-17 Trasnport. $1.6 billion is budgeted for EA-18G Jamming Aircraft. Jamming aircraft?

All that money goes to waste if the military doesn't even understand the importance of encrypting.
Mike Mount and Elaine Quijano (CNN -- link has text and video) report an "unamed" US Official has told them that 'insurgents' have been able to monitor the live streaming feeds the Predator drones flying over Iraq have been sending to the US military. The story was first reported this morning by the Wall St. Journal's Sibohan Gorman, Yochi J. Dreazen and August Cole who noted, "Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber -- available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet -- to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter." Brett Israel (Discover Magazine) blogs, "The Defense Department has responded by saying they discovered the vulnerability a year ago, and are working to encrypt all drone communications links in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, there are at least 600 unmanned vehicles and thousands of ground stations to upgrade, so the security improvement will not happen overnight. However, officials say they have made technical adjustments to systems in key threat areas to block the signal interception." Chris Gaylord (Christian Science Monitor) provides the walk through: "The setup requires a PC, satellite dish, satellite modem, and software such as SkyGrabber, which was developed by the Russian firm SkySoftware. Because of Iraq and Afghanistan's rough terrain, military officials cannot assume the Predators will have a clean, line-of-sight connection with the bases that send them orders. To work around the problem, the drones switch to satellite linkups. However, unlike credit card payments and cellphone calls, this military satellite data is not encrypted." Ewen MacAskill (Guardian) offers, "The US air force is responsible for drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CIA for those in Pakistan. The CIA video feeds are reported to have been encrypted, while some of the air forces ones were not." Take away? Declan McCullagh (CBS News) observes that the "apparent security breach [. . .] had been known in military and intelligence circles to be possible".

Another known is that Iraqi Christians have been repeatedly targeted throughout the Iraq War.
Tuesday two Christian churches were targeted with bombs in Mosul. Meelad Qaseera (Azzaman) reports today that Yonadam Kanna ("the Christian representative in the Iraqi parliament") believes that the targeted is based on "political motives rather than religious beliefs" and "Kanna said it appeared that the government and its troops were incapable of protecting the Christian minority and bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice." Catholic News Agency reports, "Archbishop Francis Chullikat, the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, has demanded the immediate intervention by Iraqi leaders to 'guarantee the necessary safety of the Christian minority,' in the wake of the attacks on two churches in the city of Mosul." Asia News quotes the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, stating, "The situation is very tense. Just last week two Christian brothers were killed and two more were abducted. Where was the local government? And the Central government? Where are the representatives of the ruling parties?" Spero News interviews Biship Shlemon Warduni ("the Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad")

[Question:] What is the current situation of the Christian community in Iraq?[Bishop Shlemon Warduni:] Our situation sparks concern and pain. The context is well-known: for years, Iraq has been ravaged by internal and external wars that have robbed the people of peace and basic social services like health and education. The consequences of the last war and military occupation are tragic. The political instability and anarchy has generated misery and destruction. This is why many Christians - along with thousands of other citizens - have had to leave the country. We have lost about a third of our community. It is a tragedy of vast dimensions, which is witnessed by the world.[Question:] Have you noticed improvements in the last year? What do you hope from the new elections?[Bishop Shlemon Warduni:] What has occurred is that the lack of political planning has led to the proliferation of terrorism, which today has its own agenda and destabilizes the country. Legality and security are lacking, the government is weak, and the elections (not yet established with certainty) will have to address these urgent needs, otherwise they will be useless. Meanwhile, attacks on churches and Christians continue: in the last two weeks there have been explosions in three churches in Mosul, not to mention in Baghdad, where three months ago a car bomb outside a church killed two young people and wounded 30, causing great material damage. [For us], tranquility is a small break between two attacks.

Alsumaria reports, "Christians started preparations and shopping for this year's season wishing peace security and happiness for all Iraqis." But AINA offers a different picture for Iraqi Christians in Basra, "Christmas is likely to be a subdued affair for the dwindling Christian population of this once-cosmopolitan city. This year, the holiday falls amid the Shiite festival of Ashoura, when much of the city's population will take to the streets to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson -- many by ritually cutting themselves and whipping their backs with chains." In other religious minority news, AFP reports a Yazidi Murad Sardar was arrested on Monday and his family has not seen him since. His crime? Apparently selling alcohol in Babylon Province. He is the last known seller of alcohol. "Freedom brought to Iraq by the USA! This message brought to you by the Re-Elect Barack Obama Committee."

In other news of violence . . .


Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing targeting "lawmaker Nadeem al-Jabiri" in which 1 person died and ten people were douned (but al-Jabiri was not present), a Baiji grenade attack which injured police officer Mudher Ahmed, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured two people, a Kirkuk car bombing which injured a police officer and a Mosul bombing that left one child wounded.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 "Christian lab assistant . . . shot dead . . . in Mosul," another police officer shot dead in Mosul

Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.

In the US,
March Forward! is a new group, one that's "an affiliate of the ANSWER Coalition," composed of veterans and active-duty service members including James Circello and Michael Prysner whom we've noted here before. The group has a "10 Point Program for Struggle:"1) We demand the right to refuse illegal and immoral orders.Service members should no longer be bound to carry out the plans of the Pentagon and Wall Street in violation of U.S. law, international law and people's right to self-determination. Service members deserve the right to resist, without persecution, orders that conflict with internationally recognized laws or that conflict with their own conscience. 2) We demand an immediate end to the criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Service members should no longer be sent to fight, kill, die, be seriously wounded and/or psychologically scarred furthering the domination of U.S. corporations over other nations. We have nothing to gain from these wars. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan serve only the interests of the rich, not the service personnel who are sent over and over to repress people who have the right to determine their own destiny. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are not our enemies. The more than 800 U.S. bases in 130 countries around the world should be shut down and the troops, fleets and air power brought home. 3) We demand an end to the existing officer corps. The existing class stratification in the military must end. Officers -- who are overwhelmingly from more privileged sectors of society -- enjoy a much higher standard of living. They are paid significantly more, are provided much higher quality housing, and have access to services not available to enlisted personnel. Officers advance their careers on the backs of enlisted personnel, going so far as to send their troops into harm's way for the good of their resumes. The existing officer corps should be dismantled and replaced by enlisted service members who are democratically elected by their units and who are subject to recall at anytime. Officers should no longer enjoy special privileges, including hand salutes. We also demand the right for lower enlisted ranks to unionize and form committees to address grievances with the chain of command, the unit and the military. 4) We demand an end to racism, sexism and homophobia prevalent in the military. These are intentional barriers to rank-and-file unity against the will of the Pentagon, and must be eliminated through comprehensive education and strict disciplinary action. We demand an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and all other discriminatory measures against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender individuals. 5) We demand adequate funding for The Department of Veterans Affairs.Veterans should have full access to quality health care. Services should be drastically expanded to meet the real physical and mental health needs of veterans and their families. Independent medical investigations should be initiated to research the effects of potentially harmful experimental drugs and chemical, biological and nuclear agents to which service members have been exposed. Any service member who has served in a combat theater should automatically receive lifetime compensation from the VA for being forced to suffer or inflict physical and/or psychological harm in advancing the interests of U.S. corporations. 6) We demand the right to a job, housing, health care and education for all.Service members are lured into the military with the hopes of escaping economic hardship as a civilian, and to obtain education benefits and job training. Yet thousands of service members must remain in the military, literally trapped due to the lack of opportunities in the civilian world. No service member should have to choose between military service and poverty. Housing, a job, and access to free quality education and job training should be a right for everyone. 7) We demand the immediate end to all military aid to governments in service of US imperialism. U.S. domination is not only exercised through direct military involvement, but also through a myriad of brutal client regimes and comprador governments that are funded, supported and directed by the U.S. government. Service members should not have to serve a military that uses billions of dollars in funds and weapons to prop up governments that are guilty of committing war crimes or repressing their citizens for the interests of the Pentagon and Wall Street. Aid to such countries as Israel, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, South Korea, Uganda and Egypt should be immediately cut off. All remaining funds, military equipment and weapons should be repossessed. Reparations should be paid to the populations that the military aid was used to repress. 8) We demand the immediate dismantling of the permanent military-industrial complex. As long as there is a system in place that allows U.S. corporations to reap massive profits from going to war, there will be war for profit. The domination of the military-industrial complex has caused the death of tens of thousands of service personnel, and millions of innocent people -- all in the name of profit. All private military corporations should be shut down or nationalized. The more than 1 trillion dollars a year that feeds the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex should be used to meet people's needs. 9) We demand that all those involved in pursuing war for profit be indicted.To ensure that service personnel no longer have to fight for the interests of the rich, all those responsible must be held accountable. Politicians, policy makers, lobbyists, CEOs and others involved in pursuing warfare -- both military and economic -- as a means to reap profit should be indicted for war crimes. Media outlets involved in disseminating false information in support of these plans should also be held accountable. 10) We demand full reparations paid, with interest, to all victims of the U.S. military. As service members in the U.S. military, we have been told that our enemy is the poor and oppressed abroad. But they are not our enemies. To begin to undo the injustices in which we have been forced to take part, the U.S. government should pay for the rebuilding of every structure bombed, compensating families for every person killed and providing a lifetime of health care and disability benefits for every individual wounded, including resistance fighters who took up arms against the U.S. military.

Joe Wolverton II (The New American) adds, "In what is sure to be a controversial call to action or inaction, the organization March Forward, a group of patriotic retired and active-duty servicemen, has recommended that soldiers refuse orders to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Tonight on
Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN):Roy Hallums was kidnapped in 2004. He was rescued in 2005. He endured 311 days as a hostage in Iraq. He was actually buried alive when he was rescued and now we have the exclusive videotape of his rescue. We'll show you how the special forces team did it. Hallum says what might appear hyperbolic with a calm earnestness. "I hoped they wouldn't decide to just cut off my head and videotape the occasion for mass distribution to the international media." Instead, we have the videotape of his rescue. Michael Ware reports Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

Unrelated to Iraq but US House Rep Jared Polis has a column at CNN ("
No good reason to be in Afghanistan"). Staying with the topic of TV, "Can a breakthrough health care innovation in Rwanda work in the U.S.?" asks NOW on PBS this Friday (on most PBS stations -- check local listings):In rural Rwanda, the simple and time-tested idea of medical house callsis not only improving the health of the community, but stimulating itseconomy as well. On Friday, December 18 at 8:30 pm (check locallistings), NOW travels to the village of Rwinkwavu to meet the Rwandandoctors, nurses and villagers who are teaming up with Boston-basedPartners in Health and the Rwandan government to deliver medicine andmedical counseling door-to-door. Would such an innovation work inAmerica? In the capital of Kigali, NOW's David Brancaccio sits down with RwandanPresident Paul Kagame to talk about international aid and Kagame'sultimate vision for a healthy, financially-independent Rwanda.

We'll close with this from independent journalist
David Bacon's "In Oakland, Hunger Is Multicultural" (East Bay Express):

Everyone knows that Oakland is diverse. Probably more people from more races and nationalities live in the city than anywhere west of New York or north of Los Angeles. But before we celebrate diversity, think of its most diverse places. Some of them are surely the lines of hungry people lining up for food.
Oakland has many food pantries -- programs run primarily by churches on a shoestring. Church elders are often found at the Alameda County Community Food Bank's huge warehouse out by the airport, buying as much food as they can for as little money as possible. They worry that the bags of cans and produce they distribute will run out before everyone in line gets one.
Reverend Lee from the Cornerstone Baptist Church, a food bank stalwart, fills the small storefront off MacArthur Boulevard with white plastic bags of cans, dried goods, and bread. Then the people come. Mostly Chinese-American and African-American families get their food from the African-American activists from his church.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). And I'm going to squeeze in one more thing. Last month, AK Press released The Battle of the Story of The Battle Of Seattle by David Solnit and Rebecca Solnit. We did a book discussion about it at Third. It's a strong book and an important one. A good holiday present if you're looking for ideas. With Aimee Allison, David Solnit authored the must read and community favorite Army Of None. His sister Rebecca Solnit is known for her own numerous writings as well as for her work with Courage to Resist.

the independent of londonmichael savageadrian hamiltonchris ames
the socialist worker
bbc newsthe times of londonmichael evanssian ruddick
mike mountthe wall street journalyochi j. dreazenaugust cole
mcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudicnnanderson cooper 360anderson coopermichael ware
pbsnow on pbs
david baconkpfathe morning show
david solnitaimee allisoncourage to resist

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