Monday, March 25, 2013

Bloomberg and other nuts

Gun control advocates should be groaning.  Michael Bloomberg and his big ego enter the controversy.  CBS Evening News's John Miller (link is video) reports Mr. Bloomberg is launching ad campaigns in 13 states calling for gun control.

If you think that is good news, you are as crazy as Mr. Bloomberg.  The billionaire tossing $12 billion into a cause looks ridiculous.  Even more so when you are talking about a billionaire who bought the position of Mayor of N.Y.C. 

No city has as poor an image as N.Y.C.  And the city works very hard to live up to that bad image.

In the report, Michael Bloomberg whines, "I live in America!"  He sounds like an old lady.  His voice actually sounds like an old woman (take it from this old woman).  He is just ridiculous and this will probably be seen as a turning moment in the conversation.

Equally true, they cannot affod to many more 'moments' -- gun control advocates.  If you missed it, a crazy loon phoned into The Diane Rehm Show on Friday, first hour, insisting that, to prompt gun control, photos of the children in Newtown should be released.  Did you cringe just thinking of it?

Yes, me too.  And the advocates for gun control have no idea how unhinged they are coming off.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Monday, March 25, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue,  John Kerry visits Iraq, calls for Anbar and Nineveh to vote in next month's elections continue, Dan Choi prepares to go on trial this week, and more.

This week, Iraq War veteran Lt Dan Choi again goes on trial.  Margaret Cho (Huffington Post) notes:

He is an Arabic linguist -- the kind of soldier desperately needed there -- yet because he is gay and proud and refused to stay silento n the matter of the military's systematic homophobia, he was unfairly discharged and now has to stand trial.  His work as a gay activist led to the eventual demise of Don't Ask Don't Tell which allowed LGBT folks to serve openly in the military, and in a cruelly ironic twist of fate, is still being asked to pay for the "crime" of being gay.

Nine a.m. Thursday morning, Dan goes into the US District Court in DC and this is over his 2010 protests at the White House:

Three years after Choi’s handcuffing protests, the US Federal Attorney’s Office refuses to dismiss the charges against him. The prosecution is being pursued by Assistant US Attorney, Angela S. George.
Generally, White House protestors are arrested and required to pay $100 fine to a municipal court, the equivalent of a parking ticket in the District of Columbia. Instead, in this case, the US Attorney’s Office is invoking a seldom-used federal level criminal charge called "Failure to Obey".
Lt Choi retorts:
“The charge is baseless. It assumes traffic was blocked, but there is no traffic to block on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The main reason for this charge is to prevent me from re-joining the military, to paint me as simply disobedient. It prevents my rejoining (the military) in a vindictive waste of resources. I stand trial to assert my rights and the rights of all to be treated equally under the law.”
Choi’s case is the first time since anti-Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan was prosecuted, that a protestor has been tried federally for demonstrating at the White House.
National Security Agency whistleblower, Navy and Air Force veteran Thomas Drake remarked: "This is yet another sad example of the federal government overstepping their bounds against critics they do not like."

Today, Lela Gilbert (Huffington Post) notes a conversation she had recently in Jerusalem with an Iraqi Jew:

He told me that he and his family had fled Baghdad in the late 1970s, driven out of Iraq like hundreds of thousands of other Jews from Muslim lands between 1948 and the early 1970s. They escaped ever-increasing dangers -- matters of life and death. He said, "The Christians saw what happened to us. But they didn't read the writing on the wall about what would happen to them."

Yesterday,  Alsumaria reported a Christian in Kirkuk was released after his family paid the kidnappers a ransom.  Last week, The Economist noted, "The lot of Iraq’s Christian population is particularly glum. Though a steady trickle had been leaving for decades, the exodus became a flood after the American invasion in 2003, when radical Islamists unleashed a sectarian onslaught against Shia Muslims, Christians and others. The ferocity of attacks such as the one against the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in 2010, which left at least 58 Christians dead, speeded the departure of many more. In the past decade as many as two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5m Christians are thought to have emigrated." Iraqi Christians make up a significant number of Iraq's refugees who've left the country.  In addition, many of those who have stayed have left their homes and moved to northern Iraq (the Kurdistan Regional Government) in an attempt to find safety.  Rana told Annabel Roberts (NBC News) last week, "I didn't like Saddam Hussein, but he didn't bother the Christians.  He was a dictator.  When he went, the gangs came from everywhere."  So she sought asylum in London:

In a pew near Rana sat Wasseem, a 26-year-old who arrived in the U.K. five months ago. The murder of his friend Rariq haunts him, Wasseem said through a translator. Rariq, also a Christian, was a driver for American forces in Baghdad and was kidnapped on his way to meet Wasseem. Rariq’s dismembered body was returned to his family five days later.

 Anugrah Kumar (Christian Post) translates the departures into an easy to understand context, "Iraq had 300 churches and 1.4 million Christians in 2003, but now only 57 churches and about half a million Christians remain" -- from 300 churches to 57.

The Christian presence isn't the only one on retreat in Iraq.  Arwa Damon (CNN) Tweets on leaving Iraq.

24 Mar
Gutted 2 B leaving ...very worried about people & future. friend last night said in his area sectarian threats resumed & assassinations

23 Mar
going through notebooks & stuff gathered from last 10yrs in ..."700 bodies this month in "..."complex IED attack against US"...

Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf writes for Foreign Policy about the retreat of press freedoms:

Television is particularly difficult. With almost every bombing, the government imposes a new layer of regulations. Police and soldiers who used to talk freely now need permission from the Interior or Defense Ministry. Being allowed into a press conference at the prime minister's office involves handing over your watch as well as your pen and notepad. Tape recorders are completely out of the question.
Even entering the parliament building now requires prior written permission, and both cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs are considered a security risk and confiscated at the entrance. Once you get in the building, parliamentary session themselves still aren't open to the media. The press gallery was closed years ago, "for security reasons," and the only recordings of proceedings are an edited, delayed television feed.
For the first time since the Saddam era, there are official travel restrictions. The government recently announced that foreign journalists need prior Iraqi Army permission to travel to the restive Anbar Province, where Sunni protesters have been staging regular demonstrations against the government. Journalists for foreign news organizations trying to cover the ongoing protests have been stopped at Iraqi Army checkpoints. Some have been arrested.

Yesterday, Iraq had a prominent visitor.  Jane Arraf Tweets some thoughts on the visit:

    1. Anyone else find it odd that Kerry comes to Baghdad near 10th anniversary of war and talks to travelling US reporters but not press?
    2. How can he talk to them if the Iraqi government doesn't invite the press?
    iraqi govt did invite press but there was no presser. Seems state dept wanted event more controlled and dare I say, undemocratic.

I believe Sohar Hamudi with Amar-Iraqiya is an Iraqi journalist and US Secretary of State John Kerry.  He is one of three reporters Kerry took questions from at the US Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday.  In response to Hamudi's question, Kerry's response included:

With respect to demonstrations, we believe very strongly that every citizen has the right to have their voice heard. And under the constitution of Iraq, people have a right to be able to affiliate, to express any political view, and nobody should be penalized for that.
So we urge people to demonstrate peacefully if they choose to demonstrate. We do not want to see, nor do we advocate anything but peaceful demonstration, but we urge the government to respond to those demonstrations in an appropriate way – not with violence, not with repression, but rather with the openness that a democracy merits. The country will be stronger for people having the right to be able to express their views in a peaceful way.

Along with Hamudi, Kerry took a question from Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) and Anne Gearan (Washington Post).  Hamudi was the only one to ask about Iraq proper.  Richter and Gearan's concerns were Syria.

The protests have been going on since December 21st.  Approximately 10% of the country has participated in the protests.  What are they about?

The same thing that happened in 2011. We'll do this as briefly as possible.  March 2010 saw Iraqis go to the polls and vote in parliamentary elections.  Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.  Per the Constitution, Iraqiya was due to have the prime minister-designate.  That's a 30-day position.  They name someone to be prime minister but he or she has only 30 days to put together a full cabinet.  Failure to do so within 30 days means someone else is named prime minister-designate.  Nouri refused to step down as prime minister.  He refused to let the process go forward.  For eight months after the election -- with the support of the US White House -- he brought things to a standstill.  The whole time the US government was leaning on the political blocs, telling them Nouri could go 8 months more, telling them if they cared about Iraq, they'd be the grown ups and they'd let things move forward.  That's when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement gets introduced.  It's a legal contract.  The US says it's legal binding.  Give Nouri a second term as prime minister and the Kurds can get Articel 140 implemented.  All sorts of deals were written in to get the political blocs to agree to go along.

Nouri used this contract to get a second term.  But he refused to honor the promises he made in the contract.  He instead initiated a power-grab.  This lead to the 2011 protests that started in January and got really active in February.  The Iraqi people were tired of not having potable water and dependable electricity, they were tired of the lack of jobs, of the 'disappeared' in the so-called Iraqi 'justice' system, they were tired of the lack of jobs.  They took to the streets.  Nouri got them to leave the streets by promising if they gave him 100 days he would fix everything.

Nouri lies and Nouri stalls.  He did so to get his second term.  He did so to send the protesters packing.  After 100 days, nothing had changed.  This led the Kurds, Iraqiya and cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr to publicly call for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented.  Tensions continued to build.  There is no progress for the Iraqi people.  On top of that, fall 2012 saw reports emerge that made the Iraqi 'justice' system even more disgusting: Women and girls were being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers. 

Eli Sugarman (The Atlantic) sums it up this way:

Iraq's increasingly powerful Shi'ite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, started accumulating power following the 2010 parliamentary elections. He secured a second term -- after a drawn out eight-month power struggle - by promising to share power with other political blocs, including Iraqiyya (a more secular party that has attracted Sunni support) and the Kurds. That promise quickly disintegrated. Instead, Al-Maliki preferred to assert personal control over the security forces, target senior Sunni officials with arrest, and otherwise eviscerate many of the safeguards enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. His actions ignited widespread protests in Sunni majority provinces in December 2012 that continue as of writing. Today, many in Iraq's Parliament fear that he is a dictator-in-the-making.

Iraqis took to the streets after Nouri began publicly targeting rivals again.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported:

Iraq's Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi said Thursday that "a militia force" raided his house, headquarters and ministry in Baghdad and kidnapped 150 people, and he holds the nation's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, responsible for their safety.  Members of the al-Essawi's staff and guards were among those kidnapped from the ministry Thursday, the finance minister said. He also said that his computers and documents were searched at his house and headquarters. He said the head of security was arrested Wednesday at a Baghdad checkpoint for unknown reasons and that now the compound has no security.

December 21st, they took to the streets and the protests have continued ever since.  The response from Nouri?  His forces have twice killed protesters -- once in Falluja, once in Mosul.  Amnesty International has condemned the killings, Human Rights Watch has, even the United Nations have. From United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's report to the UN Security Council this month:

By 4 January, demonstrations spread to Anbar, Salah ad-Din, Ninewa and Diyala Provinces and in northern Baghdad [. . .]  On 6 January, the demonstrators issued a list of demands, focusing largely on the implementation of the rule of law and governance, including the suspension or abolition of article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, parliamentary adoption of the General Amnesty Law and abolition or review of the Justice and Accountability Law.  They denounced structural problems within the overburdened judiciary and alleged corruption in law enforcement.  The demonstrators demanded the immediate release of all prisoners who had already been released by the court or had yet to be charged, and women who were in custody in lieu of their kin. 

Let's stop there.  In lieu of their kin?  Article IV allows Nouri's forces to go after a suspected 'terrorist' and, if not able to secure him or her, to grab his family members -- children, parents, spouses, you name it.  Back to the report.

They also called for the transfer of women detained on criminal charges to their respective provinces as well as investigations into human rights violations, specifically alleged torture, confessions obtained under duress and abuse of female detainees.  The protests led to the temporary closure of crossing points on the border with Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic (Al-Walid, Trebil and Rabia) between 9 and 18 January.

Ghana News reports:

The demands from tens of thousands of Iraqi demonstrators on human rights issues and access to basic services must be urgently addressed by the Government, the top United Nations envoy in the country said today, warning that not doing so would increase volatility in the streets.
Since late December, thousands of demonstrators in Iraq’s western provinces have taken to the streets to voice their grievances. While the Government has taken measures to address some of their concerns, the Secretary-General’s Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, stressed that more needs to be done, especially in the area of human rights.
“[Demonstrators] feel unprotected, insecure, and excluded,” Mr. Kobler told the Security Council as he presented the latest report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). “Around the country, we listened to the demonstrators’ frustrations. Over time, they spoke more harshly and proposed more radical solutions.”

Kerry's remarks quoted earlier are the strongest remarks any US official has made thus far regarding the attacks on the protesters.  Al-Manar notes of Kerry's visit, "The top US diplomat will also push for Iraq's government to better engage with the country’s minority, which has been protesting since December."  Yet, US commentators -- not unlike the two US reporters who were allowed to ask questions of Kerry -- can only obsess over Syria -- for examples, check out Jason Ditz (, Victor Hanson (National Review) (Libertarian and right-winger -- and here on the left?  We have talking points from the White House!  We don't have time to cover things that actually happen!).  How sad that their obsessions blind them to actual news. 

Alsumaria notes that Kerry asked Prime Minister and Thug Nouri al-Maliki to reconsider his decision to postpone provincial voting in Anbar Province and Nineveh Province.  April 20th, provinicial elections are supposed to be held.  Nouri's said Anbar and Nineveh must wait six months due to violence.  Then it was due to fraud.  Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) reports the newest reason given:   "Maliki said Sunni demonstrations made it unsafe for election workers."

All Iraq News reports Nouri is denying rumors that he's changed his mind on the postponements. National Iraqi News Agency notes that following his meeting with Kerry yesterday, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi issued a statement declaring the postponement of Anbar and Nineveh to be unconstitutional and illegal.  Alsumaria notes that al-Nujaifi is meeting with the leaders of the various blocs in Parliament today to discuss the postponements.

This is what John Kerry stated publicly in Baghdad yesterday about the elections:

Fundamental to any democracy anywhere is an election. And the United States is working very closely with the Iraqi electoral commission and with the United Nations in order to ensure the will of the Iraqi people can be reflected through the provincial elections this next month, and then, of course, through the national elections next year. In my meetings today, I stressed our concern that local elections in two provinces have been delayed, and I urged the cabinet to revisit this decision. And the Prime Minister said it was appropriate to revisit it with the cabinet.

[. . .]

Well, there are two provinces I mentioned, both in Ninewa and in Anbar, where the election – the provincial election has been suspended. And from the perspective of the United States, we strongly urge the Prime Minister to take this issue to the cabinet and to see if it can be revisited, because we believe very strongly that everybody needs to vote simultaneously. The fact is that while security has been put forward as a rationale for that postponement, no country knows more about voting under difficult circumstances than Iraq.
The first election here was conducted under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances, but Iraqis came out and voted. So we believe very strongly that all of the countries should vote at the same time in these provincial elections, and we hope that the Prime Minister, through his cabinet, will be able to revisit this issue. There is still time for that election to take place in those provinces.

We'll do some more on Kerry's one-day visit in tomorrow's snapshot.  I'll note that the biggest surprise of some accompanying him was how out in the cold Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is and how that includes within al-Mutlaq's own National Dialogue Front.

For your enjoyment, we'll provide some of the unbelievable remarks Nouri al-Maliki recently made.

Nouri al-Maliki:   . . . the situation in Iraq now is based on a Constitution that actually dispels the fears and the need for sectarianism and racism.  The Constitution is the first ever that Iraq knew and through this Constitution the political process is governed where power is peacefully changed.  The Constitution puts an end to coups and tanks rolling in the street to change the government.

That's Nouri speaking at Australi's Lowy Institute (link is video).  It's from 2009.  How quickly he turned on the Constitution.

On the issue of Syria, the Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweets:

  1. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari: giving the Arab League seat to the Syrian opposition violates the AL charter

Alsumaria notes a Diyala Province attack has left 1 Sahwa dead and three more injured.  National Iraqi News Agency notes a Tikrit sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 taxi driver, a Tikrit sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, a Baghdad sticky bombing left one police captain injured1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead today in Mosul2 Baquba bombings claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and five more were left injured,  and Col Wesam Abdullah al-Obeidi survived a Kirkuk bombing assassination attempt.

On the topic of assassinations, All Iraq News reports, "The Iraqiya Alliance headed by Ayad Allawi announced that the Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, ordered the security forces tasked to protect Allawi's house and offices to immediately withdraw."  The move follows the news of Iraqiy'as Salah al-Ubaidi being assassinated in southern Baghdad yesterday.

In other news, UPI reported Saturday, "The head of a Kurdish separatist group in Iraq declared a cease-fire in its long-running conflict with neighboring Turkey, starting Saturday."  Hurriyet added:

“We declare a cease-fire starting on March 23. If the [Turkish] Parliament and government do the legal groundwork for a commission, we could withdraw [from Turkey],” Karayılan is quoted as saying in the video broadcast by the Germany-based Kurdish TV channel Nuce TV and published on a website known to have close ties with the PKK. Karayılan also guaranteed that unless PKK militants were attacked, no assault would be launched, according to daily Hürriyet’s report.

Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." 

 Sunday at Third, Ava and I called out the latest attempted Circle Jerk.  The Circle Jerk is where a group bands together to pretend like a non-story should be consuming our attention.   Failed journalist Greg Mitchell was asked to write a piece for the Washington Post's Outlook section about the broad themes of the mea culpa.  He failed to do so, turning in instead a bad laundry list about how A admitted being wrong, B admitted being wrong, C admitted being wrong . . . It didn't even qualify as a bad column.  It was just a list.  It was not worthy of publication in the Outlook section.

Greg was never really a journalist.  He wrote for Crawdaddy where his sexism flourished so well he became an editor.  He was a joke then and only those too young to remember the time are impressed with his past credits.  He's had trouble adjusting to new media where his sexism gets called out.  He's had less trouble with regards to errors because he just vanishes them without any correction notice at his blog.  What he wrote was almost good enough for self-publishing on his blog -- or in one of his sad little, self-published e-books.  Well, not so sad.  A number of us back in the day, a number of us women who were offended by the trash he promoted and the way he disrespected us, knowing one day the bastard would get his.  And he has.  And that's not sad at all.

As Joan Wilder notes in Romancing the Stone (written by Diane Thomas), "If there's one law of the west, it's bastards have brothers."  So Michael Calderone Tweets repeatedly Sunday morning about poor Greg then shows up hours later at the Huffington Post to maintain that poor Greg "got a lot of attention Sunday morning on Twitter" -- but 'forgetting' to disclose he was one of the ones repeatedly Tweeting about it.  Roy Greenslade tried to drum up support from England with a one-sides story at the Guardian, DS Wright at Firedoglake tries to churn up the outrage, never one to point the finger at US outlets (but never wanting to get honest about why they ditched Adam Kokesh's highly popular TV program) RT waded in this afternoon to prove just how factually challenged they can be:

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade has since picked up on Miller’s blog, and has responded with a piece of his own. With that case, though, Greenslade sided with something the Post surely wouldn’t be willing to print as a headline. His piece is called “Washington Post accused of censorship.”
The Post has since fired back, issuing a statement saying they thought Miller’s piece “offered too much of a rundown of the apologies, rather than drawing many broader analytical points or insights. So we decided against running it. We expressed this to Mr. Mitchell and offered him a kill fee. He expressed his disagreement.”

Roy Greenslade wrote about it today.  The Washington Post issued their response yesterday.  You can check that by using the link to Michael Calderone's Sunday Huffington Post piece which quotes the Post's statement.

 Now Greg's taken to The Nation website to continue to play ultimate victim.  He's not a victim.  He's a bad writer.  For a long time, in the entertainment press, his having a penis outweighed him being a bad writer. Times change.  Thing is, all of us, all of the women he objectified and ridiculed for nearly a decade?

We sucked it up.  We weren't little bitches whining in public.  We weren't little cry babies.  We knew we had talent and we knew a sexist pig attacked us because we had talent.  Now the same little piggie squeals because times have changed and he can't sell his bad writing anymore.  It's really not all that surprising.  As Joss Stone sings:

I am what I am, you did what you did
I'm glad I'm not a sinner baby, cause here's a twist
You are what you are, I saw what I saw
Karma's your master, and you're the bitch

-- "Karma," written by Joss Stone, David A. Stewart, Martina McBride, Brad Warren and Brett Warren, first appears on Joss' LP1

Greg can try to churn up the Circle Jerk all he wants but the reality is he's a bad writer who has a karmic debt that's being called in. Reality is that Greg's spent a week now praising himself -- which seems perfectly naturally to pigs, they think that's normal -- when he refused to write the brave war resisters and he refused to write about what's going on in Iraq today.  As long as Greg Mitchell can write about Greg Mitchell, he's got a ton to say.  It's just that none of it has been worth reading.  A few commentators are trying to pitch Greg's piece against another Post piece and insisting the difference is the paper ran the piece that said the media really wasn't responsible.  The paper did run that piece.  To its embarrassment and shame.  That's utter fiction.  But if you're going to compare and contrast, there's another difference -- that fictional piece?  It's well written.  It's not a laundry list. Comparing the two pieces doesn't do Greg any good, it just points out how useless he is -- he couldn't even compete with that. 

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "CORPORATE EDUCATION REFORM HITS SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY COLLEGE" (Truth Out):

SAN FRANCISCO, CA  (3/18/13) - On March 14, the day before the Trustees at San Francisco Community College District handed in the report that may decide the life or death of California's largest community college, student and faculty marchers headed downtown to City Hall.  A sinuous line of hundreds of chanting, banner-waving people stopped traffic on Mission Street, the main artery through the city barrio. Their mood combined equal parts of desperation at the prospect of the closure of the school, and anger and defiance at the kinds of changes that authorities are demanding to keep it open.
Shanell Williams, urban studies major and president of the Associated Students at SFCC, told a rally at the march's starting point on the college's Mission campus that the required changes are part of a larger effort to turn students into commodities, and move towards the privatization of education.  "Next year students will be affected by the Student Success Act," she warned.  "Every student will have to have an education plan, there will be repeat limits, and a 90-credit cap on the Board of Governors fee waiver [that allows poor and working class students to petition to waive tuition fees].  Now is the time when they need more student services and support from the administration, but they're cutting part time counselors and taking other actions that will be even greater barriers."