Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The economy

Joseph Kishore (WSWS) reports:

The US government reached its official debt ceiling on Monday, as White House and Congressional Republicans and Democrats intensified their push for historic cuts in social programs and in pay and benefits for governments workers.

The federal government has said it will be able to continue financing operations until early August under the old limit through various accounting measures. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that the government would delay payment into two government employee retirement funds and borrow funds from one of them.

The debt ceiling will be used to blackmail the population into accepting draconian cuts in social programs. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called for Congress to raise thLinke $14.3 trillion limit quickly in order to "avoid catastrophic economic consequences for citizens."

Vice President Joe Biden is chairing meetings by a group of Democratic and Republican congressional leaders aimed at reaching an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans have called for cuts equal in magnitude to any debt increase (i.e., $2 trillion in cuts for a $2 trillion increase). Obama has already committed the administration to trillions of dollars in cuts over the next decade.

The two major political parties are going to work together to serve the corporations and screw the people. (And on "screw" -- it is not the same as rape and the various men making 'jokes' about the IMF sex scandal? Try grasping that fact.)

We can't trust them. And we especially can't trust them when they decide to work together on the economy. That's how Social Security benefits get cut, the age of retirement gets raised, etc. We've seen this all over and over. And it's past time that we said: ENOUGH.

The government has to be made to work for us. If that's what we want to see happen, I think protecting the safety net is the battle to pick because they want to gut it.

Two biggest economic stories right now? I vote for this:

PC Makers Are Seeing a Slowdown

New York Times - Laurie J. Flynn - ‎1 hour ago‎
The world's two largest personal computer makers, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, said Tuesday that a slowdown in sales to consumers in the first months of the year damped overall revenues.

And for this related bit:

HP revenue outlook dims as PC sales drop 20%

Los Angeles Times - David Sarno - ‎1 hour ago‎
The world's largest computer maker startles analysts by scaling back its revenue forecast for the second time in as many quarters.

And how does the economy recover with that? I don't see it. Nor do I see a desire on the part of the administration to help the economy recover.

Pretty soon we may all be like Shenehneh (Martin Lawrence) in Skank Robbers -- grabbing a gun and hitting a bank while explaining/apologizing, that we just couldn't keep waiting for the stimulus. (If you've seen the sketch from the 2009 BET Awards, you know what I'm talking about.)
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Tuesday:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a lengthy Basra protest gets some results, the Kurds want the US to stay in Iraq, Tom Bowman wants to half-inform you in his half-assed way, Senator Patty Murray gears up for an important Senate hearing, and more.
Al Sabaah reports Iraq's political blocs have agreed to address whether or not to extend the US military presence in Iraq. This reconsideration is at Nouri's request. Wednesday, Nouri al-Maliki raised the issue and said if 70% of the political players agreed to extend the US presence, then that's what would happen. As we've repeatedly noted, that's not an impossible to reach number. The Kurds would want them to stay -- and our statement on that is backed up by Fars News which reports today, "The Kurdistan Patriotic Union issued a statement on Sunday, asking the US military troops to extend their mission in Iraq." That's roughly a third of the Parliament right there. Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Most of political blocs in Kurdistan believed that the US withdrawal at the end of this year is unsuitable that will tense the security situation in the country and return of violence. Spokesman of the National Kurdistan Party, headed by President Jalal Talabani, Azad Jindiyani said to Aswat al-Iraq that 'the US withdrawal is unsuitable due to the delay in building up Iraqi forces and the existence of political problems in the country'."
The uninformed and deluded will continue to insist that Moqtada al-Sadr has power (Shi'ite leader of the small Sadr bloc). Let's provide the context they keep missing by dropping back to two reports on Moqtada's last attempt to stop US troops from staying, November 22, 2008. This is from Mary Beth Sheridan's "Sadr Followers Rally Against U.S. Accord" (Washington Post):
Thousands of followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrated Friday against an agreement that would extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq, shouting "America out!" and burning an effigy of President Bush.
The rally was held in Baghdad's Firdaus Square, where U.S. soldiers toppled a statue of President Saddam Hussein in an iconic moment of the 2003 invasion. Friday's demonstration followed two days of boisterous protests by Sadr's loyalists in parliament, which is scheduled to vote next week on the agreement.
The Sadrists do not appear to have the strength to derail the bilateral accord, which would allow American troops to stay in Iraq for three more years. The group has only 30 seats in the 275-seat parliament. Friday's protest drew thousands of people but was smaller than a massive demonstration held by Sadr loyalists in the same central Baghdad plaza in 2005.

And this is from Stephen Farrell's "Protests in Baghdad on U.S. Pact" (New York Times):

In Firdos Square, protesters sat in rows of 50 stretching back more than half a mile. They filled Sadoun Street, beside the Palestine Hotel and in front of the colonnaded traffic circle where five years ago American troops pulled down the dictator's statue in scenes televised around the world.
While the rally was billed as a cross-community effort, to be attended by Shiite and Sunni clerics, the vast majority of those in attendance were Sadrists. Many had come from Mr. Sadr's stronghold of Sadr City, and the chants the crowd took up were "Moktada, Moktada," "No, no to America," and "No, no to the agreement."
Sadrist officials said they opposed the security agreement because they did not believe assurances that the Americans would ever leave. They depicted the pact as a successor to colonial-era treaties with Western powers in the last century that, they said, had "sold the Arab and the Muslim lands into occupation."

Despite the protests, days later the SOFA would pass Parliament. If Moqtada had the power so many are convinced he had, the SOFA never would have gone through. And, in 2008, Moqtada was a lot more influential than he is today when he's concerned that many of his lieutenants are eager to lead and not follow.
One US view for staying? Today Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes ("former executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus and a professor of military history at Ohio State University") Peter Mansoor stating, "Let's be clear -- the reason we should stay is to keep the Iraqis from fighting each other, particularly the Kurds and the Arabs. We can couch it in whatever terms we want to but . . . they need us to protect them from themselves." To be clear, this site has always supported, and continues to, immediate and full withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

The US staying? November 27, 2008, the Iraqi Parliament voted on the Status Of Forces Agreement (or those who bothered to show up -- many skipped the vote, for the record, 149 MPs voted in favor of the SOFA -- Parliament then had 275 members). As soon as it passed the Iraqi Parliament, the White House finally released a version of the SOFA.
Prior to the SOFA, each year the US and Iraq had to request that the UN mandate be renewed for the US military to legally operate on Iraqi soil. (This is the occupation. No UN mandate provided for the war itself.) The SOFA replaced the UN mandate. The UN mandate covered a variety of countries (including England and Australia) but it also put Iraq in a type of protective receivership. Nouri was prevented from gaining access to certain funds (among other things). This is why Nouri didn't want the UN mandate renewed.

When it was decided that the UN mandate would be ditched, every country that planned to stay in Iraq needed to negotiate their own contract (bilateral agreement) with Iraq. The US went with the SOFA.

The SOFA could run for three years, if neither side exercised their 'out clause.' Article 30 of the SOFA covers this noting in section one: "This Agreement shall be effective for a period of three years, unless terminated sooner by either Party pursuant to paragraph 3 of this Article." Either side could terminate the SOFA at any point but there was no immediate termination. Section 3 of Article 30 covered this: "This Agreement shall terminate one year after a Party provides written notification to the other Party to that effect."
Lies were told from the beginning. For instance, in an attempt to clamp down on outrage and ensure it passed the Parliament, Nouri al-Maliki insisted the people would get a say in this. In fact, a referendum would be held in July 2009! That referendum never took place. It really didn't matter in terms of ending the SOFA right away. If it had taken place and the vote had been to end the SOFA and Nouri had immediately notified the US that Iraq was breaking the SOFA, the SOFA would end . . . one year after Nouri gave official notification.
The SOFA is a contract. Like any contract, it can expire, be renewed and it can be replaced. Expire? It would run through Decemeber 2011 and not be renewed (or replaced). Replaced? A new bilateral agreement could be agreed to by the US and Iraqi governments. Renewed (or extended)? That's Article 30, Section 2. We have repeatedly opposed efforts for the US Congress to praise the SOFA with meaningless 'honorary' bills. While Iraq's Parliament was able to vote on the SOFA, the US Congress had no say. The Bush White House yet again circumvented the US Constitution -- specifically the section on treaties (treaty clause), Article 22, Section 2, Clause 2 which requires the Senate's advise and consent on all treaties the US enters into with other countries. Barack Obama was 'outraged' that the Senate was being bypassed . . . until he became president-elect. At which point Barack (and Joe Biden) dropped their objection to the US Constitution being circumvented -- this despite Barack being one of the 13 co-sponsors of Hillary Clinton's Senate bill insisting the SOFA come before the Congress.
After it was a done deal, why did it matter?
Because (A) the Constitution is the supreme law of the land in the US. Violating it is no minor thing. (B) It sets a precedent. (C) The SOFA can be extended.
And how is it extended? Article 30, Section 2, "This Agreement shall be amended only with the official agreement of the Parties in writing and in accordance with the constitutional procedures in effect in both countries."
What does that mean?
It means that the precedent is Nouri's Cabinet and the Parliament have to sign off in Iraq while, in the US, only the White House has to want it.
I don't know how to make that any clearer. Offering that very basic legal analysis was controversial in 2008; however, events have backed up what we've said. It's only the most idiotic that can't grasp it today.

Enter Tom Bowman (NPR). Today on Morning Edition, he reports on one of two plans. But gets many things wrong. First, he's unaware -- or unwilling to pass on --that this is one of two plans currently. What he's covering is plan B for the US administration. It's their back up plan, not their preferred plan.

The preferred plan is extending the SOFA. If that doesn't happen, US forces that remain in Iraq -- and some will though Tom Bowman 'forgets' to include that aspect in his report -- will be under the State Dept's control. In addition, as Bowman report, there will be many contractors brought in (who will also be under the State Dept's control).
Throughout his report, Bowman repeatedly states as fact that all US troops leave Iraq at the end of this year. First off, they don't. Even under plan B (Bowman's topic), some remain in Iraq. (Bowman might need to attend Congressional hearings on this subject. If he had, he'd be well versed in this topic instead of flying blind. Here are two hearing you can refer to, the February 1st Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and the February 3rd Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.) Second, facts are what has happened. US troops have NOT left Iraq. Some may leave at the end of 2011, some may not. And with Iraqi blocs agreeing to discuss the issue, you'd think NPR would be concerned about their reporters getting the facts correct.
Bowman insists, "On the ground, it's the same story. American soldiers and Marines will leave." Marines will leave? What kind of a moron is Tom Bowman?
Who the hell does he think protects US Embassies around the world?
This is the Marine Embassy Guard Association's website. Tom Bowman should familiarize himself with the page since he obviously has no idea that it is the US Marines who protect US Embassies around the world. Let's give him a movie reference, maybe film will help him? When Jason Bourne enters the US Embassy in The Bourne Identity and quickly begins fighting American forces? Those are Marines. From About.com, "Marine Security Guards are responsible for providing security at about 125 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Those on MSG duty are primarily responsible for embassies' interior security, normally the lobby or main entrance. Guards are trained to react to terrorist acts as well as a variety of emergencies such as fires, riots, demonstrations and evacuations." They're trained at Marine Corps Base Quantico and you can click here for a story on the training written by Lance Cpl Skyler Tooker.
And it wouldn't be just three or five Marine guards under the Embassy in Baghdad's control. At this late date, you'd think a journalist would know what came before. For example, in February the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a 20 page report entitled [PDF format warning] "IRAQ: THE TRANSITION FROM A MILITARY MISSION TO A CIVILIAN-LED EFFORT." This section should be rather clear:
The State Department is scheduled to assume full security responsibilities in a still dangerous and unpredictable environment and must strike a difficult balance between maintaining a robust presence and providing sufficient level of security. In almost any scenario, the United States will continue to have military personnel stationed at the American embassy in a non-combat role under the Office of Security Cooperation. As in many countries around the world, these troops will be responsible for enhancing the bilateral defense relationship by facilitating security assistance. But the size, scope, and structure of this presence remain undetermined, even at this late date. Perhaps most significantly, it is unclear what kind of security relationship the incoming Iraqi Government would like with the United States.
"In almost any scenario, the United States will continue to have military personnel stationed at the American embassay in a non-combat role under the Office of Security Cooperation. As in many countries around the world, these troops will be responsible for enhancing the bilateral defense relationship by facilitating security assistance." Clear enough? The report offers the following three scenarios: 1) All US troops leave at the end of 2011 ("except for a limited Office of Secuirty Cooperation housed within the embassy") which would require the State Dept scale back their current plans. 2) Many US troops leave at the end of 2011 but the Office of Security Cooperation is expanded with "military forces" who will "provide logistical support for the Iraqi army, shore up administrative gaps within the Ministry of Defense, and prove 'behind the wire' capabilities". 3) A new security agreement is negotiated to allow the US military to continue in Iraq. ("This approach should only be considered if it comes at Iraq's request".)
Jane Arraf counts "about 150 marines" in Iraq after 2011 (if no extension takes place). I have no idea where she's getting her numbers (I'm not questioning her numbers) because when the US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and various heads of military and Robert Gates have publicly raised the issue to Congress, they haven't had a number. Carl Levin, in his role as Chair of the Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly noted that. Again, I don't question Jane Arraf's numbers but find it interesting that someone in the US military or (more likely) with the US Embassy in Baghdad is providing her with numbers when they've refused to do the same to the House or Senate Armed Services Committee or the Senate Foreign Affairs Committe (the chair of the latter, John Kerry, has also pursued this). Without an answer to that question, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee estimated the State Dept would need between $25 to 30 billion over the next five years for Iraq alone. Though the State Dept was quite happy to send Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Congress to fight their battle (and he was stupid enough to do it -- no head of any department is caught up enough in their own work to take on the work of another department), as they continued to insist they needed more money. As Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) reported last February, the reality for the 2012 budget would be "about $10 billion" on Iraq alone -- as opposed to the $5.2 billion the State Dept tosses around to the press and public.
At a time when -- supposedly -- we're all having to make sacrifices, the State Dept wants a huge increase in funding and can't even provide solid numbers. The Iraq War has been a financial sink hole exactly because it was pay-as-you-go. That started under Bush. Though Barack promised there would be no more supplementals for war spending, they have continued. And when a Department asks for money but will not provide the details of how many US military forces and how many contractors it would cover, you have the recipe for further cost overruns -- at a time when the United States supposedly cannot afford it.
Equally important, Barack was supposed to usher in a new age of transparency in government -- his promise, take it up with him and that's not happening when the State Dept continues to conceal the very basic numbers involved from the citizens of the United States. Not only is there no transparency, there's an attitude of 'we don't answer to the American people.' While some of that attitude -- which needs to be dropped immediately -- can be pinned on the national security types who will be pulling the strings, that's no excuse and the State Dept needs to get its act together and remember it works for the American people.
More true than ever as Behrouz Saba (New American Media) reports today, "Three countries which have received billions in U.S. foreign aid -- Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- made the top ten list of the world's failed states, in a survey conducted by Foreign Policy magazine. Moreover, Transparency International reports that Iraq and Afghanistan are just about the most corrupt countries in the world -- edged out only by Myanmar and Somalia -- among the 178 nations rated. Pakistan ranks 143, just slightly better than Haiti and Iran."
Now let's go back to the SOFA because there are a few more points to be made but we'll stick to one. Iraq did not force the US on this treaty. Nouri al-Maliki knew then (and knows today) that he is in danger of losing his post (prime minister) if US forces aren't present to 'maintain' the 'democracy.' This was stated outright to Nouri in 2008. Despite that, some claim that the US was forced into concessions. Noam Chomsky, in fact, made that claim in Syracuse last week. He's not the only one who's done so. An idiot that Elaine rightly slammed last night buys into that claim for her own vanity (doing so means her time wasn't 'wasted'). What appears to confuse some people is that (A) they don't realize how long the process was and (B) they don't realize that the US was more than happy to have Iraq focus and obssess over certain details while ignoring others -- especially since the clock was ticking. On (A), negotiations began in 2007. Article 25 of the SOFA notes that Condi Rice notified the UN that the mandate would not be renewed on December 7, 2007. On (B), articles like Deborah Haynes (Times of London) in June of 2008 mean nothing in terms of the SOFA. The US wanted what it wanted and knows how to play the game. Meaning on things minor to them, they'll happily play along but they will get what they want in the end. The non-English press was filled with these reports by October of 2008. The English language press largely ignored it. One foreign outlet in English that covered it was Iran's Press TV with their November 28, 2008 report entitled "Jannait: Iraq passed US deal out of force:
"Washington echelons repeatedly threatened to overthrow the Iraqi government if they continued their opposition to the security deal," said Tehran's interim Friday prayers leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.

Iraq's al-Morsad reported on Oct. 10 that US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had warned that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be 'ousted' unless he signed the US-proposed security pact.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has also claimed that the Bush administration had threatened to cut off vital services to Baghdad if it further delayed the accord, saying the threats were akin to 'political blackmail'.

"It was really shocking for us…Many people are looking to this attitude as a matter of blackmailing," al-Hashimi said on Oct. 26.
Why is any of the above important -- and so important that we had to walk slowly through it?
If, in 2008, the press (including NPR) had done their jobs and told the truth (instead of swearing the Iraq War was now over -- a prediction, not a fact), attempts to encourage the American people to ignore Iraq and to stop working to end the war would not have been as successful as they were. In less than seven months, we'll find out what happens in Iraq (whether US troops get switched to State Dept supervision or whether a new agreement allows them to remain on the ground and under the Defense Dept). It is very important that accurate information is provided to the American people at this point.
Those who want the Iraq War to continue (and there are probably at least 28% of Americans who do want that) have every right to know what is going on so they can weigh in and lobby their representatives. Those opposed to the Iraq War have the same rights. The press has whored enough. We don't need more whoring from Tom Bowman. Tell the truth or do like Diane Rehm and just pretend that Iraq fell of the map. Seriously, your lies did enough damange over the last three years. If lies are all you intend to offer over the next seven months, do the country a favor and take a vow of silence. You're not helping anyone.
Iraqis continue to in their efforts to help themselves out of a puppet government and into something more responsive. The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "With the Sologan ALL OF ANBAR IS TAHRIR: The Youth of Anbar will be starting a new SIT-IN very shortly since their SIT-IN was ended by force." In addition Revolution of Iraq notes that there will be an 11:00 am demonstration outside the Iraqi Embassay in Cairo this Friday. Free Iraq Uprising offers video from Mosul yesterday and notes, "Government repression did not stop young people." Meanwhile an oil workers strike in Basra paid off. Ben Lando (Iraq Oil Report) notes that the Ministry of Interior has created "3,300 new full-time positions for the Iraqi Oil Police" in response to the ongoing protests.
Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes a college employee was shot dead in Mosul, 1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left two employees of North Oil Company injured and the Interior Ministry's Col Jasim Mohammed was shot dead in Baghdad. AFP adds that 21 corpses have been discovered in Falluja "in body-bags with Latin letters and numbers on them" and that Falluja mayor Adnan Hussein is stating they were killed in 2004 by the US military and that "the black body-bags and the manner in which they were buried proves this." Aswat al-Iraq notes a bombing attack on US forces in Wassit Province which left a woman and her daughter injured (no US injuries reported) and a Baghdad bombing killed 1 person and left three more injured.
Meanwhile Alison Matheson (Christian Post) reports on Ashur Issa Yaqub whose body was found yesterday in Kirkuk. The Iraqi Christian, who appears to have been tortured before he was killed, was kidnapped and the ransom was $100,000 which his family was unable to meet. The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen drastically throughout the Iraq War as they have been the focus of one wave of targeting after another. The latest wave began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Spero News adds that Ashur had three children and that "horrific marks of torture" were on his corpse (including his "head had been cut off and the eyes gauged out of their socket"). Iraqi Christians are targeted. We do cover the issue. There's a report in the Guardian we aren't interested. Andrew White is a liar. We do not cover him, we certainly do not glorify him. He's lied too many times publicly. But we had our fill of it when he gave testimony about the Jewish population in Iraq and said they were all gone. He apparently thought he was providing closed testimony. Too bad for him, it was public. The Jewish population was not all gone and when confronted by a reporter, he threw a snit fit and insisted that his testimony (which was false, understand that, grasp it) could not be reported on. Andrew White is a liar. He's actually much worse than a liar and should he ever stop visiting Iraq (he doesn't live there), we can go into exactly what he's done. But we'll bite our tongues while he continues to do his lay overs in Baghdad.
At times in Iraq, it seems everyone except the exiles the US put into power are being targeted. Hasan Kanbolat (Todays Zaman) reports there's a new wave of targeting Turkman:

One week after the new political restructuring of the ITC, on the morning of May 12, Er┼čat Salihi's Kirkuk home was attacked. Despite the fact that his house was guarded, the attacker succeeded in tossing explosives into his house and planting mines around the outside of the home. And thus, the first large-scale attack on a Turkmen leader in Iraq took place. Luckily, no one was hurt during these events, even though Salihi and his family were at home during the attack. But the fact that the convoy of Kirkuk Police Chief Cemal Tahir was attacked as Tahir and his team returned from inspecting the evidence at Salihi's home shows that whoever carried out these attacks was very organized and resolute in their actions.

Also on the rise, Rebecca Santana (AP) reports, are attacks on US service members "in southern Iraq, where Shiite militias trying to claim they are driving out the U.S. occupiers have stepped up attacks against bases and troops. The uptick in violence serves as a warning about what American forces could face if U.S. and Iraqi officials come to an agreement about keeping more U.S. troops in the country past Dec. 31."
In the United States, the first of two major veterans hearings takes place. Senator Patty Murray's office notes:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray will question the Deputy Secretaries of both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on major problems confronting those agencies in caring for veterans with the visible and invisible wounds of war. Murray will focus on DoD and VA's joint disability evaluation process, military and veteran suicides, the lack of cooperation in certain areas between the two agencies, and care for amputees.

The hearing is the first of two that Chairman Murray has scheduled as part of her efforts to prevent service members and veterans from falling through the cracks of the VA/DoD system. The second hearing on these issues is scheduled for next Wednesday (5/25) and will feature first-hand accounts from veterans.

WHO: Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray

The Honorable W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs

The Honorable William J. Lynn III, Deputy Secretary of Defense

WHAT: Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing on the State of VA/DoD Collaborations and the Challenges those Agencies Face in Caring for Veterans

WHEN: TOMORROW: Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

10:00 AM EST/7:00 AM PST

WHERE: Russell 418

WEBCAST: http://veterans.senate.gov/