If you watched the debate last night between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic primary debate, you may have felt, as I did, that we had a "Me too!" candidate. Senator Clinton was asked about NAFTA, with repeated questions while she was in the midst of answering, and she laid out her plan in great detail. Then the question went to Senator Bambi who opened with, "I will make sure that we renegotiate, in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about." He then restated everything she had said.
It was like hearing the kid in English class try to stumble around an answer, when he had not done his required reading, by repeating what other students had stated.
I noticed that throughout the debate but I think it is best demonstrated in this section on Russia:
RUSSERT: Before the primary on Tuesday, on Sunday, March 2, there's an election in Russia for the successor to President Putin. What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?
CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he's a hand-picked successor, that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin can control, who has very little independence, the best we know. You know, there's a lot of information still to be acquired. That the so-called opposition was basically run out of the political opportunity to wage a campaign against Putin's hand-picked successor, and the so-called leading opposition figure spends most of his time praising Putin. So this is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we're going to deal with Russia going forward.
I have been very critical of the Bush administration for what I believe to have been an incoherent policy toward Russia. And with the reassertion of Russia's role in Europe, with some of the mischief that they seem to be causing in supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions, for example, it's imperative that we begin to have a more realistic and effective strategy toward Russia. But I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin.
RUSSERT: Who will it be? Do you know his name?
CLINTON: Medvedev -- whatever.
RUSSERT: Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?
OBAMA: Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government. And, you know, it looks -- just think back to the beginning of President Bush's administration when he said -- you know, he met with Putin, looked into his eyes and saw his soul, and figured he could do business with him.
He then proceeded to neglect our relationship with Russia at a time when Putin was strangling any opposition in the country when he was consolidating power, rattling sabers against his European neighbors, as well as satellites of the former Soviet Union. And so we did not send a signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to be serious about issues like human rights, issues like international cooperation that were critical to us. That is something that we have to change.
The question is "do you know anything about him?" The answer is obviously, "No, I do not." Instead of being forthright, Senator Bambi again attempts to bluff his way through the question. You can find a complete transcript of the debate at The New York Times. "Russert" is Tim Russert for anyone who wonders but does not have time to use the link. He and Brian Williams were moderators of the debate.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Wednesday, February 27, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US Congress holds some hearings, a journalist dies in Iraq, the Turkish invasion continues in northern Iraq and more.
Starting with war resisters. Earlier this month, Paul Boers (The Goshen College Record) reported on war resister Rob Weiss. At age 17, Weiss signed up for the US military and, following high school graduation and basic training, the Army sent him to Germany where he was stationed. For 18 months all was fine until he was home at the end of 2006 when the fiance of his sister died en route to the hospital and, as Boers explains, "This event caused Weiss to start thinking about his own mortality, especially as a soldier." Weiss explains to Boers about how he would explain his death, "What would I say? 'Sorry, I didn't have time to go to church. I was hung over.' I thought, 'maybe it's time that I would do something productive with my life other than getting bar fights and getting hammered drunk'." Exploring these issues and turning to the Bible, Weiss explains, "I was shocked by this message of peacemaking. There is a constant, recurring message of not responding in violence, unlike in the Army where they teach you to kill everything." On June 6, 2007, Weiss filed his conscientious objector status and as he waited for a response, he was sent to Iraq. While in Iraq, the decision came down: his CO application was denied. While on leave, Weiss self-checked out and went underground in the US. Speaking to Boers, Weiss explained, "I think it's better to turn yourself in and get it over with. I don't want to live in people's basements until the day I die."
Meanwhile war resisters who have moved to Canada were dealt a serious set-back when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. Today, Canada's Parliament remaining the best hope for safe harbor war resisters have, you can make your voice heard by the Canadian parliament which has the ability to pass legislation to grant war resisters the right to remain in Canada. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (firstname.lastname@example.org -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use. That is the sort of thing that should receive attention but instead it's ignored.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
Meanwhile IVAW is organizing a March 2008 DC action:
In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.
Click here to sign a statement of support for Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan
March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'." As part of their fundraising efforts for the event, they are holding houseparties and a recent one in Boston featured both IVAW's Liam Madden and the incomprable Howard Zinn as speakers. IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause. Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible. The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies. It won't be easy but it must be done. Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it."
Staying with veterans, the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs' subcommittee on Health held a hearing today. Subcommittee chair Michael Michaud explained in opening remarks, "Today's hearing is an opportunity for the VA, Veteran Service Organizations and members of this subcommittee to discuss draft legislation dealing with Fiscal Year 2009 VA construction. 38 United States Code requires statutory authorization for all VA major medical facility construction projects over $10 million and all major medical facility leases more than $600,000 per year. This hearing is a first step in this important process." Dennis Cullinan, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US, testified on behalf of the VFW regarding the proposed "Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Facility Authorization and Lease Act of 2008." Cullinan felt the budges were too low and placed the blame for that on "the administration" which "saw fit to halve the major and minor construction accounts from the Fiscal Year 2008 levels, failing to meet the future needs of our veterans." The White House has played it on the cheap with veterans care throughout this decade and they've generally gotten away with that. Cullinan stated the proposed legislation "demonstrates that this Congress is ready, able and willing to correct this situtiona and to advance VA's construction priorities so that future generations of veterans -- such as those currently serving in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Aghanistan -- will have a first-rate VA health care system ready to fully meet their needs." The proposal, as US Dept of Veterans Affairs' Donald Orndoff noted, mainly is about the "authorization for six major medical construction projects and twelve major medical facility leases".
Meanwhile, Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of the Medical University of South Carolina testified to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs yesterday on the subject of PTSD and this morning he testified to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Kilpatrick is the direcyor of the National Crimes Victims Research and Treatment Center. And for context, the American Public Health Association's 135th Annual Meeting last November utilized these numbers for PTSD -- 12 percent to 20 percent of all veterans from the Iraq War will suffer from PTSD, over 52,000 veterans have already been diagnosed and treated with PTSD. In December 2006, Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reported, "U.S. soldiers serving repeated Iraq deployments are 50 percent more likely than those with one tour to suffer from acute combat stress, raising their risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Army's first survey exploring hos today's multiple war-zone rotations affect soldiers' mental health." In his opening remarks today, Kilpatrick explained the basics.
Kilpatrick: I will begin with some background information of posttraumatic stress disorder. Briefly described, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person after a traumatic experience. Someone is diagnosed with PTSD if, in response to that traumatic experience, he or she develops a cluster of symptoms that include
* reexperienceing the traumatic event as reflected by distressing recollections, memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
* avoidance of anything that reminds them of the traumatic event
* emotional numbing or feeling detached from other people
* hyperarousal as reflected by trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, outbursts of anger, and having to always be vilgilant for potential threats in the enivornment
* impairment in social or occupational functioning, or clinically significant distress
The focus of the hearing was not PTSD, however. Kirkpatrick and others were members of the Institute of Medicine committee studying veterans health issues with a primary focus -- today -- on the ratings. Is the Scehdule for Rating Disabilities -- currently used to determine the financial benefits paid to wounded veterans -- adequate or even fair? Former American Medical Association president Dr. Lonnie R. Bristow gave an overview of areas the committee felt needed futher exploration and these included compensation for loss of quality of life, the differences in employment income for those suffering brain injuries as opposed to physical ones. Scott Zeger, of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health noted veterans with "medical conditions that develope after military service" and the need to for "Congress or the Department of Veterans Affairs . . . to make a 'presumption' of service-connection so that a group of veterans can be appropriately compensated. Presumptions are made in order to reach decisions in the face of unavailable or incomplete information." The Center for Health Research and Policy's Joyce McMahon also addressed compensation and the need for a system that was inclusive, "Congressional language indicates that the intent of VA compensation is to provide a replacement for the average impairment in earning capacity. VA compensation is not an individual means-tested program, although there are minor exceptions to this." As with most studies, by the committee members own statements, the emphasis was on males and before Congress creates an 'inclusive system,' it would be better to actually be inclusive. At this late date, there's really no excuse to set up a system that will treat male as the norm and take decades of pressure to include women in the studies and then to begin addressing health and disability issues specific to women. Aaron Glantz (War Comes Home) reported last month on the continued crisis in veterans health care and noted, "The average wait time for a veteran's disability claim to be decided is now 183 days. More than 600,000 disabled vets are waiting. Tens of thousands more veterans are being totally denied medical care and disability benefits they were promised after serving abroad." The 600,000 waiting should especially stand out to those who remember the 2004 presidential debates. Senator John Kerry noted the crisis -- it was then and it is now a crisis -- in veterans health care and among the lies Bully Boy tossed out (and the likes of FactCheck.org quickly swallowed) was that the wait-time was going smoothly, right on track, boom-boom-boom. The reality, as Kerry pointed out repeatedly before the debate and after was that the wait-time was increasing. So when the figure of 600,000 emerges today, it has recent historical roots. Let's return to PTSD to note this from AP (November 2007): "About 42 percent of the Guard and reserves compared to 20 percent of active-duty troops, were identified as needing medical health treatment in two screenings. The first testing was immediately upon return from Iraq and the second six months later. Problems showed up more often on the second screening. . . . For those citizen soldiers, the military's Tricare health insurance benefits expire after six months: VA benefits expire two years after a soldier's return to civilian status." Ron Jacobs (Dissident Voice) reviews Michele Barrett's Casualty Figures and notes of PTSD, "We associate this disorder primarily with veterans of combat. What many people do not know is that this disorder was included into the bible of therapeutic mental health disorders only after a long struggle by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and some other US veterans organizations in the 1970s."
Meanwhile the US House Committe on Oversight and Government Reform's subcommitte (Government Management, Organization and Procurement) held a hearing today where the issue was contractors and focused on three proposals (H.R. 3033, H.R. 3928 and H.R. 4881). Normally, this isn't a committee worth watching but US Rep Chris Murphy was in charge of the bulk of the hearing. Murphy had some serious exchanges with Paul Denett (Office of Federal Procurement Policy Office of Management and Budget) who appeared to be present mainly to throw a road block in front of the three proposed bills. "Your remark in your written testimony was" about stifling competition, Murphy noted, but "we already have this information . . . when it comes to public companies . . . Why are we concerned that simply requiring private companies to disclose a modicum of what we require public companies to disclose" would adversly effect competition?
Denett's reply was, amazingly, given with a straight face, "There are a lot of small busines who would be discouraged . . . [because] they don't want their employees to know what they're making." "Executive compensation" was the issue and Murphy wanted to know why these contracts -- to companies such as Blackwater -- result in executives making more -- in these private companies -- than the executives of public companies. Denett attempted to dismiss the issue by maintaining that "fixed price contracts" don't explore a company's compensation; however, Murphy noted that you can't determine fair price without knowing the profit margin and whether "10% to 20% is being taken off the top for executive compensation." Murphy noted that "any private investor" considering investing in a company would factor these facts into a decision of whether or not to invest in the company, so why doesn't the government factor them in when awarding contracts? US House Rep Peter Welch would also explore this noting that there has to be "some public disclosure" when these business are wanting tax payer dollars. Welch asked the US Government Accountability Office's John Hutton if the proposed legislation would cause Hutton professional problems and Hutton begged off with a lot of words that went no where leading Welch to observe, "I don't understand what you just said." Welch reminded that the money being handed ou twas "tax payers' dollars" and what was being asked for was "public information" -- "We're just simply asking for some information -- in this case salary information -- I don't see how it would in any way interfere with the procurement process." US House Rep Carolyn Maloney (apparently dressed to battle Dr. Doom -- what were those things, wings? -- I'm sorry, you wear that to a meeting, you're asking for your outfit to be discussed) noted that the legislation proposed is not out of the norm and already applies to construction companies. She futher wanted to know what was happening with regards to companies being awarded federal contracts when they didn't pay taxes? By then the hearing was already over because the committee's chair, Edolphus Towns, had finally arrived. The annual CBC report explains Towns but, for those who've never read it, let's just note the first question Towns elected to ask, "What needs to be done to bring you on board?" The question, naturally went, to Big Business and Pork Cheerleader Alan L. Chvotkin (Professional Services Council). As if that wasn't bad enough, after the hearing, Eldophus Towns would be walking around the hall clutching Chvotkin's beefy right arm. POGO's Scott Amey testifed as well and his opening remarks (PDF format warning) can be found here.
Yesterday Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) and an interpreter visited the Iranian ambassador in Iraq and the interpreter noted that he was "the second ruler of Iraq . . . After [US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan] Crocker." Fadel notes, "She never mentioned the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al Maliki. She expressed what most Iraqis feel, Iraq is a tug of war for power between Iran and the United States." Which might be a good time to note that al-Maliki's back in London again -- he always seems to flee the country whenever there's a problem. The big problem for him these days is the invasion of nothern Iraq by Turkey. Kevin Whitelaw (US News and World Reports) explains that despite US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling for Turkey to 'quickly' complete it's invasion, "Turkish diplomats say the incursion will continue as long as the Turkish military deems necessary." Some have described the puppet government in Baghdad as 'anguished' and certainly al-Maliki's cabinet ministers (especially Kurdish ones) have called for Turkey to cease the military invasion. But al-Maliki, out of the country yet again, can't be feeling too much 'anguish.' Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times) observes that today is day six of the invasion and that Turkey has rebuffed Iraq's insistance upon a speedy withdraw with Ahmet Davutoglu ("Turkish envoy") declaring, "Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until . . . those terrorist bases are eliminated." Ben Knight (Australia's ABC) explains the time frame being addressed, "The US says Turkey should end its military campaign against Kurdish rebels in Iraq in a matter of weeks, rather than months."
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing that claimed the life of 1 person and left another injured, another bombing "targeting a Caprice carrying fuel cans" claimed 1 life and left two more injured, a Mosul bombing claimed 2 lives, two people were wounded in a Diyala Province bombing and, in the latest known attack on officials, Col. Anwar Qadir (chief of police) was targeted for assassination via a car bombing today but survived.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports unknown assailants shot dead 1 border guard outside Tirkit and left two wounded, unknown assailants shot dead police Lt. Raid Khudair in Basra and (Tuesday night for this crime) unknown assailants shot dead a student at Mosul University. Reuters notes an armed clash in Mosul left two people dead and that unknown assailants "attacked a checkpoint manned by Iraqi police and members of U.S.-backed neighbourhood police unit, killing two and wounding three". Wisam Mohammed (Reuters) notes that Shihab al-Tamimi is dead from wounds received this weekend when he was attacked in Baghdad (gunfire) and notes the 74-year-old man "was an independent journalist working for many local newspapers. He was known for his outspoken views against the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the continued presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses were discovered in Baghdad and 1 corpse was found in Babil Province
In the US, how sad it must be to be Dana Perino today (let's be kind and leave it at today). The White House Flack declared earlier this week (Feb. 25th), "The President has been working towards reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shia, and it's actually working on a political level in some ways. Especially we saw that last month, when they passed three laws in one day, which was quite a significant achievement for the Iraqis." It's no longer "three," it's now "two." CBS and AP report, "Iraq's presidential council rejected a measure Wednesday setting up provincial elections, sending it back to parliament in the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts. The three-member panel, however, approved the 2008 budget and another law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. Those laws will take effect once they are published in the Justice Ministry gazette." Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times) explains, "The Bush adminstration downplayed the setback. 'This is democracy at work,' said White House press secretary Dana Perino." Perino also declared today "I don't know if he has." That was in reply to the question (at today's press briefing), "The US military conducted 19 focus groups throughout Iraq last November, and its report on those focus groups stated that Iraqis from every ethnic and sectarian group are united in the belief that the US invasion is the root cause of the sectarian violence in Iraq and that the departure of the US military is the key to national reconciliation. And I wondered, has the President seen the military's report on those focus groups?"
In US political news, Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) shakes her head (rightly) at The Nation magazine:
It is incomprehensible that The Nation magazine endorsed Obama after making the following statement. "This magazine has been critical of the senator from Illinois for his closeness to Wall Street; his unwillingness to lay out an ambitious progressive agenda on healthcare, housing and other domestic policy issues; and for post-partisan rhetoric that seems to ignore the manifest failure of conservatism over these past seven years."
If The Nation has so many qualms about Obama, why endorse him at all? The editors could have simplay made a statement of non-support for Obama or Clinton. The sad plight of progressives is all too bovious. "While his rehtoric about 'unity' can be troubling, it also embodies a savvy strategy to redefine the center of American politics and build a coalition by reaching out to independent and Republican voters disgruntled and disgusted with what the Bush era has wrought." The Nation should explain to readers why Democrats ought to "redefine the center" with independents and Republicans instead of having their own agenda and fighting to make it a reality.
For another Nation critique, see Kat regarding Nader, and last night Bambi lied in the debate. Rebecca notes it here and it was also noted here. We may have time for that in tomorrow's snapshot.
iraq veterans against the war
the new york times
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