Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The environment

William McQuillen (Bloomberg News) reports on Barack Obama reducing regulations (regulations that are supposed to protect the public):

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs changed 76 percent of agency rules submitted for review under Obama, compared with 64 percent under his Republican predecessor, according to the study from the Center for Progressive Reform. Obama also has ignored requirements that he disclose documents exchanged between OIRA and federal agencies, the report said.

“We are disappointed because we thought President Obama had great potential,” Rena Steinzor, president of the center, a Washington-based research group that supports health and environmental rules, said in an interview. “He promised us he would be transparent, but he is just as bad as Bush.”

Suzanne Goldenberg (Guardian) also reports on this issue:

Now, a new report [pdf] from the Centre for Progressive Reform has dug up some key data revealing that the White House in the age of Obama has been just as receptive to the pleadings of industry lobbyists as it was in the Bush era. And it goes far beyond ozone.

Under Obama, a little known corner of the White House - known as the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or Oira - has changed more than 80% of the rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

None of these were changes for the good, the report says.

"Every single study of its performance, including this one, shows that Oira serves as a one-way ratchet, eroding the protections that agency specialists have decided are necessary under detailed statutory mandates, following years — even decades — of work."

I know this isn't the economy. But this is a serious issue. I wish I felt better versed in it so that I could do something more than offer excerpts.

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri announces he's fine with US troops being 'trainers,' Joe Biden, continuing his Iraq visit, rushes to say that they can do that and more, a video of an Iraqi woman being tortured by police emerges, Parliament was attacked by a suicide bomber on Monday, the Senate decided yesterday not to end the Iraq War, realities for women living in Iraq, and more.
In what will hopefully be a front page piece on tomorrow's New York Times, Mark Landler reports that Nouri announced today that "he was open to the eventual return of American troops as trainers." That, of course, is not new. It's long been noted by the Iraqi press, you've had people with State of Law explaining that Nouri needed to be able to say he got all the troops out (and we've noted that Barack needed to pretend on that point as well). So welcome to the party, the appetizers and salad are gone, we just finished the entrees but maybe we can re-slice the dessert for your late arrival?
Mark Landler's piece will be an important one in tomorrow's paper and I applaud him for it but if it just doesn't feel all that amazing to me it's because we've been going over this now for almost two months while others have been silent or lied. Or while others have offered fantasies of Barack Obama.
One of the few not serving up fantasies of rainbows and lollypops was Spencer Ackerman. He writes for Wired and my thoughts on Wired are known but he gets credit for what he did. He gets a link today because a friend called in a favor. He's covering what Nouri said and also what Joe Biden, US vice president, said. And offering, "If Biden gets his way, then U.S. troops returning to Iraq next year won't just be training their Iraqi counterparts, even if that's how Maliki sells it to a skeptical Iraqi populace."
US troops going back in should remind you of something. It reminds me of filling in for Kat last night and noting, "What AFP doesn't tell you is that Rand Paul's measure would have ended the Iraq War, key point coming up, which means if Barack wanted to send US troops back into Iraq, he would need to get permission from the Congress." What was that about? Senator Rand Paul's bill to end the Iraq War finally had a vote on the Senate floor yesterday. Donna Cassata (AP) noted, "The Senate also rejected an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have ended the authority for using force in Iraq. The vote was 67-30." AFP reported: Senator Carl Levin voted against it and insisted, "I just am unwilling to take this risk during the critical transition period." What risk? Hadn't Barack declared the Iraq War over? What does Carl mean about "transition period"?
He means (a) it's not a withdrawal, (b) negotiations continue and (c) Barack might send troops back in. Rand Paul's measure would have ended the Iraq War which meant that if Barack wanted to send US troops back into Iraq, he would need to get permission from the Congress. 30 senators voted for Rand Paul's bill, 67 voted against it. Here are the ones who voted in favor of the bill:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
DeMint (R-SC)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Harkin (D-IA)
Heller (R-NV)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-NE)
Paul (R-KY)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Snowe (R-ME)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Wyden (D-OR)

25 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 1 independent (Socialist Bernie Sanders). If you've forgotten, in 2007, candidate Barack stated that he was comfortable, after withdrawal, sending US troops back into Iraq if Iraq wasn't 'stable.' For more on that refer to the November 2, 2007 snapshot and this piece by Third. So passing Senator Paul's end the war bill would have been highly problematic for the administration. After the vote, Paul declared, "This year we have seen the President commit our armed forces to combat, while Congress has been ignored or remained silent. No present or future administration should be given an indefinite blank check to conduct military operations in Iraq by Congress. Congress must reclaim its constitutional authority over the decision to go to war, or to end a war -- is it one of the body's most important powers."
Let's move over to the violence reported today. Reuters notes a Balad Ruz car bombing left seven people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life, 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul (a person "kidnapped in 2008"), a Kirkuk sticky bombing claimed 1 life and, dropping back to last night for the rest, a Udhaim roadside bombing injured a shepherd and a Samarra home invasion resulted in the deaths of "a fortune teller, his wife, sone and two guests."
In major news on violence today, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers via the San Francisco Chronicle) reports that the Monday attack on Parliament was a suicide car bomber and Issa observes, "The admission that a suicide car bomber had penetrated the fortified Green Zone, the first suicide attack there since April 2007, sent a wave of concern across the capital about the abilities, and loyalties, of Iraq's security agencies." As Sheikah (Dar Addustour) notes the questions about the attack in terms of how heavily protected the Green Zone is and how a "strange car with unknown identities" was able to penetrate the Green Zone. Al Rafidayn notes the need for permits to carry explosives in the Green Zone and indicates that some aspect of the attack was caught on cameras "deployed" in the area. This is major news and has been treated as such in the Iraqi press for two news cycles. As part of Monday's violence, it was noted as an aside in the small number of US outlets that cover Iraq. And a large number of that small number treated the notion that it could be a suicide bomber as some sort of Iraqi delusion. But it was a suicide bomber (not a mortar or a rocket) and the US press is strangely silent.
The answer why can be found in CNN's write-up: "Violence in Iraq remains at its lowest overall level since 2003, according to the White House."
Of course, the press isn't supposed to run with a party line. The press is supposed to be independent and skeptical. It's supposed to be a watchdog forever questioning official pronouncements. But it doesn't do that. As noted this morning, in reply to visitors who felt their favorite news outlet had been treated harshly by me in yesterday's snapshot with regards to the coverage of Joe Biden's visit to Iraq, I was more than kind. Read those articles again, but do so after you go to Time magazine. and read Mark Halperin's "Surprise Visit." You'll note all the details you thought the press had hunted down on their own were in fact spoon fed by the White House.
While the White House pretends violence is at a record low, earlier this week Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported violence was on the rise in Iraq with over 100 recorded deaths this month in Baghdad alone. Who was telling the truth? Sahar Issa who doesn't need to worry about how the truth will effect personal polling or an upcoming election.
On Biden's visit, Al Rafidayn reports that "hundreds" of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers protested Biden's visit by taking to the streets of Najaf and Basra. In Basra, they chanted slogans such as "No, no, to America! No to colonization!" and "Death to America! Death to Israel!" while carrying banners with statements such as "We demand the Iraqi government expel the Zionist Biden from Iraq." Aswat al-Iraq report that Biden's scheduled to visit Erbil today. Erbil is in the KRG and the Kurdistan Regional Government is in the news today for another reason. Al Rafidayn is reporting a crackdown is taking place with the arrest of approximately 2636 people -- a list that includes journalists and activists.
Still on Biden's visit, we're about to present a press release from the White House and do so without comment. Without comment? I agreed to run it before I knew how long it was (and also after an administration friend insisted that they "really don't get to have a say here" -- whatever). This is the White House's official statement and we still have to address the topic of Iraqi women so we don't have time to dispute or reply to it.
For Immediate Release
November 30, 2011

Joint Statement by The United States of America and The Republic of Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee

The United States of America and the Republic of Iraq are committed to forging a strong partnership based on mutual interests that will continue to grow for years to come. Our two nations are entering a new phase in our relationship. We have a historic opportunity to strengthen our ties beyond security and build a multi-faceted relationship through trade, education, culture, law enforcement, environment, energy, and other important areas.
Three years ago, our nations signed the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), affirming both sides' desire to establish long-term bonds of cooperation and friendship. The SFA is a lasting agreement, and one that serves as the foundation on which we are building a durable and mutually beneficial relationship. Today, we gather again in Baghdad to reaffirm our commitment to this important partnership and to the principles of cooperation, sovereignty, and mutual respect articulated in the SFA.
Vice President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki convened the SFA's Higher Coordinating Committee on November 30. Together, they affirmed the significant accomplishments under the SFA thus far and charted a course for further joint efforts.
Cultural and Education Cooperation
The Republic of Iraq seeks the cooperation of the United States in its efforts to build a stronger higher education system, expanding English language programs, and preserving Iraq's rich cultural heritage, especially through assistance in conserving archeological sites such as the Babylon historical site, which the United States has helped preserve, and through support to the Iraqi Institute for Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage.
Energy Cooperation
The United States is committed to supporting the Republic of Iraq in its efforts to develop the energy sector. Together, we are exploring ways to help boost Iraq's oil production, including through better protection for critical infrastructure. The U.S. also supports Iraq through training in operations and maintenance, the provision of spare parts, and the development of the Government of Iraq's Electricity Master Plan, which will guide Iraq's electricity sector development over the next 30 years.
Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation
The United States and the Iraq believe that an independent judicial system is an essential component of a stable, democratic Iraq. The United States has provided assistance and professional support to develop and professionalize the Iraqi corrections system through judicial training programs for Iraqis through the Judicial Development Institute. Under the Police Development Program, the United States will continue providing advisory and technical assistance to the Iraqi police, including an exchange program that will bring groups of Iraqi police to the United States for leadership development over the next three years.
Political and Diplomatic Cooperation
The United States will continue to cooperate closely with Iraq in international fora in pursuit of shared interests. The United States also reaffirms its support for efforts aimed at resolving all remaining Chapter VII issues. In December 2010, the U.S. chaired a special session of the United Nations Security Council to bring closure to several Chapter VII issues dating to the time of the former regime in Iraq.
Services, Technology, Environment, and Transportation Cooperation
The United States is committed to supporting the Iraqi government's plans to improve services, develop its system of roads and bridges, and bring its airports up to international standards. We will improve agriculture and irrigation, support trade, and generate export opportunities through exchange programs between U.S. and Iraqi businessmen. The United States is providing Iraq the expertise it needs to design and implement an advanced banking system that will meet Iraq's current and future needs. The United States pledges to support Iraq in developing its health care services, improving public health, and health awareness campaigns.
Trade and Finance Cooperation
The United States and Iraq will continue their efforts to reinforce their financial and trade cooperation and to strengthen ties between our nations' business communities. For the first time since 1988, the U.S. participated in the recent Baghdad International Trade Fair, showcasing 85 American businesses and organizations and building on the success of the Business and Investment Conference held in Washington, D.C. in 2009. The United States is supporting the Government of Iraq's efforts in the financial sector by providing the technical expertise needed to develop private banks and microfinance institutions. In this context, the United States is developing new lending products for small and medium enterprises, in addition to the roughly $50 million set aside for such loans. Our governments are looking forward to the next meeting and recommendations of the U.S.-Iraq Business Dialogue, a forum of Iraqi and U.S. companies that promises to strengthen commercial ties between our countries.
Security and Defense Cooperation
The United States and Iraq recognize the importance of working closely together in the area of security and defense to strengthen our two countries' security and stability. Through the Strategic Framework Agreement, we have committed ourselves to continuing and strengthening our cooperation, guided by our common interests and shared goals. At the dawn of a new chapter in our relationship, the United States and Iraq stand shoulder to shoulder in increasing our efforts to build a better future for our two nations
I'd argue the purpose of the never-ending press release is to distract from the 'trainer' remarks by Nouri and Joe today.
In yesterday's snapshot, we noted that Minority Rights Group International had issued a new report by Preti Taneja entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq's Minorities: Participation in Public Life" and it notes that female minorities are especially at risk of abuse and that "Minority women are subject to fiolence and discrimination both because of their sex and their minority affiliation." Pages 23 through 28 deal specifically with women.
UNAMI's "16 Days Campaign" at the end of 2010 to raise awareness about violence against women is noted as are these statistics from the campaign:
It was said that domestic violence is a major problem in the country with one in five women reporting that they have suffered physical violence at the hands of their husbands. Fourteen per cent of these were pregnant at the time. Thirty-three per cent said they have suffered emotional violence and 83 per cent have been subject to emotional abuse by their husbands. The report also highlighted the other specific problems women face -- including early marriage, trafficking, female genital mutilation, a lack of access to care and justice, and a lack of awareness about their rights.
Let's stay with human trafficking. Earlier this month, Social Change through Education in the Middle East released a report entitled [PDF format warning] "Karamatuna: An investigation into the sex trafficking of Iraqi women and girls."
SCEME's founder and director Iman Abou-Atta explains in the report's foreword, "When I heard of women trafficking in the Middle East, I simply never believed it. Being an Arab female, I never witnessed any talk or a history of women-trafficking within the Arab world and to find out that this was happening in Iraq, made me want to discover the facts. I started two years ago and as someone who has lived under occupation and suffered attacks due to their ethnicity, I was inspired by those who searched for truth and justice and was determined to find out the reality of this awful sitatuion. What I came across was closed doors, shame, the unwillingness of authorities in Syria and Jordan and the quietness of civil society on this issue. Questions were met with aggression from authorities, letters of dismissal from British Ministers and the unwillingness of families and women to talk about what happened."
The KRG and the Baghdad-based central government both have done little to address the issue of sex trafficking. The report sketches out the reality the Iraq War has provided women:
The occupation; its resulting chaos; the absence of the rule of law; corruption amongst government authorities; the rise of religious extremism; economic strife; as well as familial pressures, have all been identified as contributing to the rise in transnational trafficking. [. . .] The human rights violations taking place against women have been exacerbated by war, moving them into a new dimension in which young women and girls are trafficked, no longer primarily within state borders, but internationally, to countries including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Turkey, Iran and Yemen. Children are especially vulnerable to being trafficked because they are often poorly educated, easy to overpower and easy to convince that they must do what an adult tells them to do. As witnessed in the case of Iraq, children may also be sold and trafficked across state boundaries by family members to support their families.
There's also the Baghdad sex-trade, "Brothels (some of which have been established purely to meet the demand created by United States service personnel), restaurants, beauty salons and places of entertainment are used for the purposes of exploiting women and girls; as well as night clubs, legal in the capital since 2009, which constitute a major supplier of young girls who have been exploited into the sex industry."
The report finds that young girls and women targeted within Iraq are targeted by professional sex traffickers -- often women, sometimes men. They use methods such as kidnapping, misleading a young girl or woman into believing they are in love and want to elope, etc. Cab drivers and female sex workers are often used to lure the girls and women. Throughout the report are personal stories such as this one about Farrah exploited by a health worker:
Following the death of her father in 2003, Farrah was taken to a Baghdad orphanage. Befriended by a nurse who offered to adopt her in order to protect her from the death she faced over the shame she had put upon her family; Farrah was lured to leave the orphanage whereupon she was kidnapped by the nurse and tortured for three weeks, while negotiations were made over her price with a bidder in Dubai. With the help of a local boy, Farrah managed to escape and her captor was arrested. Farrah and her captor shared the same prison for the following 6 months, before Safah was released back to the orphanage.
There's Salma's story of being exploited by her own family:

Salma was forced by her father into a mut'a marriage with her cousin at age 15. After 48 hours, upon sexually exploiting her, he abandoned her. Her father refused to take her back; instead insisting that he take her to Syria to find her mother. At the border, her father left, selling her to a stranger who subjected her to a series of rapes and forced her into sex work in a Damascus nightclub for 2 years. Upon becoming pregnant, she was once again abandoned to the streets of Damascus.
Last week, Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) noted that "across Iraq women now outnumber men." And that was a huge step for the paper that's fallen back to its habit of ignoring women. Under the go-go boys Dexy Filkins and Johnny Burns, NYT wasn't interested in Iraqi women, it took real reporters to start covering women but in the last year or so women again vanished from the paper's coverage of Iraq. It's interesting to note that when a strong reporter who happened to be a woman, I'm thinking of Sabrina Tavernise, was assigned to Iraq, women suddenly began to appear in the coverage. And while other strong reporters who were women -- Alissa J. Rubin, Erica Goode and Cara Buckley being three examples -- were part of the team providing covergae, Iraqi women were covered. But when it became a frat boy atmosphere in the last year or so -- when it again became a frat boy atmosphere -- the first thing that happened was women vanished. That it happened is appalling, that it happened when the New York Times is, for the first time ever, headed by a woman, when the executive-editor is a woman, is beyond sad. But while Kramer took a huge step in focusing on Iraqi women (and hopefully indicating a change in the paper's coverage of Iraq), he seemed completely unaware of divorced women in Iraq and the ways in which they are victimized (he wrongly stated that the term "female head of household" was used to denote a widow in Iraq -- no, that's only one of the many designations). Salma was forced into a marriage and then tossed aside. She's far from the only Iraqi women to experience that are something similar.
For example, Charlotte Ashton (BBC's The World Tonight) spoke with Iraqi women this month to determine how they see their lives since the start of the war. Note the mother in the report, lamenting how divorce changed the way her daughter was seen:

Mariam, who is 38, has six children and has lived in Sadr City all her life. We find the family watching cartoons on a massive TV screen in the corner of their spacious living room. She says their lives have changed for the better since the US-led invasion.
"We have democracy now, freedom of expression. People can breathe and the economy has improved, so it's good for us."
But Mariam has one big worry. Her 19-year-old daughter got married last year but divorced shortly afterwards.
"My daughter used to be a star in the neighbourhood but now people look down on her. They never blame the man. Only the woman. They say she must have done something wrong."
For most women in Baghdad the democracy the US and her allies delivered has not brought more freedom. In fact, Lubna says women's rights have deteriorated.
"Women used to behave in a more liberal way under Saddam. And I hate to say that, because I hate Saddam so much, but women were freer under Saddam."

In 2006, Nouri became prime minister. He's now had a longer run -- five years and counting -- than any of the post-invasion prime ministers. But Iraqi women have seen no improvement in their lives as a result of Nouri's 'leadership.' Over the weekend, however, Nouri wanted to grandstand. Aswat al-Iraq reported:

"We need laws to be activated , as well as education, enlighten and reform to prevent violence against women", he [Nouri] confirmed.
He praised Iraqi women role in the society, particularly in scientific, cultural, media and security spheres.

And Nouri exclaimed that 100 women were currently in the police academy. Yet he failed to point out that when building his cabinet -- November to December 2010 -- he managed to ignore women. Not one minister was a woman. It took extreme pressure on Nouri to even get a woman in the post of the Minister of State for Women's Rights. Mohammed Sawaf (AFP) quoted that minister, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, declaring today, "One-fifth of Iraqi women are subjected to two types of violence, physical and psychological, constituting a very serious danger to the family and society. The most dangerous violence against woman is family violence, from the father, the brother, the husband or even the son."
Women in violence were in the news cycle today as Al Mada reported on a video recording that was spreading across Baghdad like wildfire and one which captured a blindfolded woman in a police station who was tortured mentally and physically. It's being stated that the woman is from Wasit Province and the officials there insist that this video, which was spread via cell phones, is going to be investigated. Deputy Haider Mohammed states that while the woman is from the area, the torture took place somewhere else.

Back to Social Change through Education in the Middle East's [PDF format warning] "Karamatuna: An investigation into the sex trafficking of Iraqi women and girls" which explains, "IMC monitors noted that it is not unusual to see women abused by officials at all levels, from police and security men, to those who work for politicians or state officials, or who have close ties with religious parties or who have personal bodyguards. Such people operate in a climate of impunity, protected by their status and material wealth." Rape has increased in Iraq. In some communities, the actual numbers are not known. The Mandaean community notes 11 rapes since the start of the Iraq War; however, that number is thought to be higher but the stigma attached to rape keeps some families from discussing what's taken place. The Mandaeans do note that 33 females of their community, since 2003, were "forced to convert to Islam." That's usually due to abduction and forced marriage. On that topic:
Yezidi activists have reported that, since 2003, there have been around 30 known cases of Yezidi women being abducted and forced to marry members of the Kurdish security force Asayish. Yezidi families are threatened with reprisals if women and girls refuse marriage with militia members. Such marriages not only condemn women to a life with a man who has proven himself to be capable of violence and abuse, they also effectively seal off these women from their families and communities. Both the Yezidi and Mandaean faiths prohibit marriage outside the religion, and those who undertake such vows thereby renounce their faith.
These threats and others limit women's mobility in Iraq and increase the stress and fears that they have to live with. Christian women report pressure to wear Muslim dress, such as the hijab, Sabean-Mandaeans report pressure not only to convert to Islam but also to cover their heads while they are out in public. 57% of respondents basically state that they cannot be who they are and must pretend to be something else: "Fifty-seven per cent of respondents to the IMC survey said that they believed that women needed to hide their religious affiliation, either by not wearing their religious symbols or traditional makeup, by covering their heads even if they are secular or non-Muslims, or by not speaking in their traditional languages".