I like 60s movies, especially if they have (or try for) a pop look of that period. And I used to watch a lot of them as a kid (and also during college when I was, as I've noted before, a toker). The ones I saw in either period don't always hold up -- either because I'm older or not stoned.
So it's interesting to revisit them but some I just can't revisit because they're not available on DVD. One of the ones I am most curious about is Promise Her Anything. I found a copy on DVD (pirated). (Yes, you can get anything at the barbershop, you may have to ask around, but you can get it.) So I was watching that and worried what I would think.
Leslie Caron stars in it with Warren Beatty. I like both performers; however, I like Leslie Caron better than I do her movies. Meaning, she's always my favorite part and I think she's better than her films.
So the big news for me was that this is a Leslie Caron film I like.
Yes, it's goofy and silly and not 'art' but it's an entertaining movie.
She's got a son, John Thomas, and is semi-involved with Bob Cummings' who is a doctor and child expert who loathes kids (she doesn't know that). Her neighbor is Warren Beatty who makes pornos in his apartment.
It works because of the chemistry between the two leads and because the look of the film. It zips along at a fast pace and is never dull. And Leslie Caron is really amazing in her role and it's so nice to see her playing a person when usually she's so idealized that it's a bit much.
Warren's probably at his sixties best in this film with only Bonnie & Clyde excepted. And that little kid playing grinning John Thomas will have you laughing as well.
We're supposed to boo and hiss at Bob Cummings and he gets you to do that.
If you see it on videotape or if it ever comes out on DVD (or if you've got pirates at your local barbershop who can get anything), take time to give this film a look. It's a silly ride and, more and more, those are the movies I'm into. I think it's all the depressing stuff going on in the world and the big depression over the White House switching parties but nothing changing. But at the end of the day, I just want a silly movie lately.
Politics. This is from Hillary Is 44's "A Trough Of Boobery, Bribes, Deals, And Loopholes:"
It’s one full week into the new year and Americans have already been subjected to a decade’s worth of boobery.
In actual show business we have had the boobery of NBC and the return of Jay Leno. On the actual sports business front, we have biracial celebrity boobery, with the Tiger Woods gay sex story growing like John Edwards’ turgid National Enquirer scandal.
But in matters of pseudo show business, pseudo sports, pseudo celebrity and real life flim-flam scams Barack Obama is truly “the one”. What vast talent for boobery this Chicago thug has!
He'll never take responsibility. And as more people grasp that, he'll fall further and further in the polls. I see him being one-term (unless something changes) and leaving office as low-rated as Bush was when Barack replaced him.
And like Bush, I see Barack being a drag on the Democratic Party and something they have to work years to distance themselves from.
Now I'm updating "Those shows with bad ratings . . ." First up, the increasingly unpopular Barry O realized that he couldn't afford to alienate Lost fans so it's been announced that he will not deliver the State of the Union speech, as planned, on the night Lost is scheduled to debut its final season. On the Jay Leno story 'breaking,' I told you how Ava and C.I. were there in November with "TV: The nightly talk shows:"
Jay is tanking in the ratings, Monday through Friday. The hope was that he would at least come in third. It appears they should have hoped "at least fourth" because FX is hauling in significant numbers. Jay Leno's show is a bomb. Not 'the bomb,' a bomb.
And NBC thought they could screw people over. We're not speaking of the audience, we're speaking of station owners -- station owners, not NBC owned stations. We spoke to three owners who carry NBC programming and they're wondering how much longer they can afford to keep Leno on? They reminded us that it was ten years ago that NBC had to face the fact that they could keep producing Another World but the stations wouldn't just keep putting on a lemon that drove audiences away. They're toying with expanding local news or offering syndicated re-runs in place of Leno.
And the damage Jay does to the ratings goes far beyond that last hour of prime time. Local stations are seriously hurting with their nightly newscasts because Jay is their lead in.
NBC seems to think that as long as they make a profit, the ratings don't matter. Too bad for NBC, they only own 10 US stations. Almost 200 of the stations carrying NBC programming are affiliates and they're seeing declining ratings in the last hour of prime time and declining ratings for their nightly news.
Station owners carrying NBC were worried in November about the tanking ratings. From Bill Carter and Brian Stelter's article for the New York Times:
Viewers “just didn’t accept Leno at 10 o’clock,” said Don Ray, the vice president and general manager of WSAZ in Charleston. With Mr. Leno as a weaker lead-in, WSAZ’s 11 p.m. news received a 3 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds last November, down from a 6 rating for the same month last year.
As a result, “we make, in that 11 p.m. time slot, 60 percent of the money we used to make,” Mr. Ray said.
He added that he was excited about the potential move. “It’ll be good to have Leno back following our news instead of leading into our news,” he said.
Misgivings about Mr. Leno’s show deepened in December when local affiliates received ratings books for November — a so-called sweeps month, when ad rates for the next quarter of the year are set.
“I know that several affiliates talked to” NBC after that information arrived, said one station manager who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.
Months later, the New York Times tells you about nerves in November. In real time, Ava and C.I. told you what was going down.
Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, January 8, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry hears that a military coup is possible in Iraq, Nouri's efforts to remain the new Saddam continue, Iran plans to resolve an oil well dispute by . . . building a fence, and more.
John Jenkins: So on that basis, I would say that actually the professionalism of the armed forces is going up, and, to a certain extent, this must partly be because they have retained enough professional expertise and experience within their ranks to make that possible. You will also hear from people who say that this is a risk. It remains a risk by having people who have a Ba'athi background within the armed forces at senior levels, and I think one of the things we have seen since the -- the most recent spike in bombings in Baghdad, which started in August, have been renewed accusations that elements -- unreconciled elements of the Ba'ath Party, based externally, are deeply involved in these attacks and retain the will and the aspiration to re-emerge as a political force, as a sort of politically irredentist, a political force within Iraq. I find it very difficult to judge the force of those claims, but the conclusion I draw is that there is clearly a balance to be drawn between using professional competence and experience of former army officers under Saddam, to provide the backbone of the modern Iraqi security forces and dealing with the suspicions and fears of others, that this is the reintroduction of an element of the Ba'ath Party, unreconiclable elements of the Ba'ath Party, back into the security forces. I don't know how that balance is going to be struck. I don't know exactly what the balance at the moment is, what the reality of this is, but it is clearly a political issue inside Iraq and will remain a political issue beyond the national elections in March, I suspect.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Going beyond the military, we heard from earlier witnesses how a lot of teachers, doctors, civil servants, competent professionals, who had to be in the Ba'ath Party in order to do what they did, were excluded. Do you feel that that has now been corrected?
John Jenkins: I do not have a real sense of that.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Do you want to comment on that?
Frank Baker: If I could. I would comment more about government employees in Ministries across Baghdad where I think it is certainly the case that a large number of Sunnis, and, therefore, by definition, former Ba'ath Party members, are now being employed -- have been employed, in fact, for the last two or three years. If you look at, for example, the Ministry of Water, where a lot of them are technocrats, but the Minister for Water had made an effort to bring back a lot of the previous Ba'athist experience in order to try to get the Ministry up and running properly back in about 2007/2008. So I think the indications there are, yes, they have done so. I think, if I may, just to revert to your previous question about the democratisation, I think these two are related because on of the big changes we have seen since 2005 has actually been the re-emergence of the Sunnis as a political force in Iraq, with the Sunnis having essentially taken their toys out the pram and walked away. Back in 2004, not actually partaking in the 2005 provincial elections, not really being a part of the 2005 national elections, and, in fact, what we saw in 2009 was that they played a full part in that and they are going to play a full part in the national elections scheduled for March this year. In that sense, we are seeing the Sunnis now coming back and trying to play a full role -- a large part of the Sunni movement.
Witnesses offer their take. They may be lying. They may be honest. On the latter, even when honest, it is their view and may be limited or grossly uninformed. Grossly uninformed would probably best describe Frank Baker who apparently doesn't pick up a newspaper. (As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Iraq is currently banning various political groups from participating in elections intended to take place in March). John Jenkins is England's current Ambassaodr to Iraq and Baker is their ambassador to Kuwait. Jenkins and Baker appeared before the Iraq Inquiry in London today offering joint-testimony and also appearing today was Peter Watkins (British Director of Operational Policy) (link goes to video and transcript options). We're done with Baker, obviously. Can't even read the morning paper, not much use in you. We'll instead note the following lengthy exchange:
John Jenkins: I think there was a risk with the national elections in March that the turnout will be lower. Because I think it is still fragile, because I think -- having the habit of mind which sees democracy as something you actually have to work at is difficult and is not common at all in the Middle East. But I think this -- the way that politics has emerged as an alternative to the violent settling of disputes seems to be something that most Iraqis actually want. I think one of the turning points, one of the key -- if you can pinpoint what changed when was when Ayatollah Al-Sistani essentially said to people, "Vote. It is important that you vote". I think one of the lessons that the Shia in particular drew from what happened in the 1920s in Iraq is that they didn't actually participate in the process of conducting a modern state with the British mandated authority at the time. They were determined not to repeat this mistake and they concluded that, as the majority community in Iraq, it was, and is, in their interests to have a system that reflects their weight of numbers in the allocation of power at the centre. They also know that they need to bring along the other communities with them, the Sunnis and the Kurds. They know, I think -- or at least a substantial portion of them know -- that they can't do this by violence. You cannot impose this on the Sunnis. I think that in itself is a guarantee of the sustainability of some sort of democratic system in Iraq. How exactly over the next ten years this system will evolve and what sort of democratic system or accountable responsive system we will be looking at in ten year's time, I still find it quite difficult to predict, but they do have the institutions. They have the Council of Representatives, which is actually functioning pretty well, it passes laws, it has debates, but it doesn't have endless debates without passing anything which happens elsewhere in the Middle East where you have similar assemblies. It is not a done deal. It is not a done deal. If you look at the history of Iraq and the history of military coups in Iraq, you have to think that is always a possibility, a real possibility in the future, but I think where we are at the moment is -- it is much better than we thought it was going to be back in 2004/2005.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes. I mean, obviously, if one goes back to early 2003, one of the stated objective of the leaders of the coalition was that, after Saddam Hussein, there should be democracy in Iraq, and there were people who argued, for precisely the reasons you have given, that this is a singular experience, unique experience in the Middle East and in Iraq's history, that this was simply not realistic. But what you call the democratisation agenda which is now being pursued, but with, as you say, some way to go and no certainty as to success, this is now a realistic agenda?
John Jenkins: Yes, I believe it is.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: In the circumstances of today?
John Jenkins: I believe it is.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Can I ask you about de-Ba'athification? Yesterday, General White-Spunner was telling us how some of the Iraqi generals and commanders he was working with were people who had, as it were, been de-Ba'athified and then had come back into service. To what extent over the last two years/three years, since 2009, has there been a corrective to perhaps excessive de-Ba'athification under the CPA in 2003? Are people being rehabilitated on the basis of their abilities and merits now?
John Jenkins: I'm told -- to be quite honest, I don't know how far this is true, but I am told that many of the senior officers, the generals in particular, in the Iraqi armed forces had -- have some sort of Ba'athi background or background in the Saddam armed forces. Now, of course, it is true that under Saddam, if you want to get on in the armed forces, you need to be a member of Ba'ath Party.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Not just in the armed forces?
John Jenkins: Not just in the armed forces. How far that is being done on the basis of merit, I don't know, is the answer to that. The people who deal most closely with the Iraqi security forces, which are the Americans, say that the standard -- the competence of the Iraqi armed forces is going up. They are getting better and there are elements within the security forces who are very good; elements who aren't so good, but elements who are good. [C.I. note: Next section is where we came in for this snapshot.] So on that basis, I would say that actually the professionalism of the armed forces is going up, and, to a certain extent, this must partly be because they have retained enough professional expertise and experince within their ranks to make that possible. You will also hear from people who say that this is a risk. It remains a risk by having people who have a Ba'athi background within the armed forces at senior leavels, and I think one of the things we have seen since the -- the most recent spike in bombings in Baghdad, which started in August, have been renewed accusations that elements -- unreconciled elements of the Ba'ath Party, based externally, are deeply involved in these attacks and retain the will and the aspiration to re-emerge as a poltical force, as a sort of politically irredentist, a political force within Iraq. I find it very difficult to judge the force of those claims, but the conclusion I draw is that there is clearly a balance to be drawn between using professional competence and experience of former army officers under Saddam, to provide the backbone of the modern Iraqi security forces and dealing with the suspicions and fears of others, that this is the reintroduction of an element of the Ba'ath Party, unreconcilable elements of the Ba'ath Party, back into the security forces. I don't know how that balance is going to be struck. I don't know exactly what the balance at the moment is, what the reality of this is, but it is clearly a political issue inside Iraq and will remain a political issue beyond the national elections in March, I suspect.
From the above section, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) emphasizes that a military coup is still "a real possibility". Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) also stresses that aspect. Surprisingly since this is what stood out to the press (those are just two examples), none latched upon Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's statements Wednesday. Huang Peizhao and Li Xiao (People's Daily Online) reported of Wednesday's remarks:
On Wednesday, a military parade was held in Baghdad "Green Zone" of the unknown soldier monument to mark the 89th anniversary of the Iraqi Army Day. President Jalal Talabani and top military officers attended a ceremony and parade. In his speech delivered on the occasion, President Talabani stressed the need "to build a new Iraqi army with a defensive ideology", and the task of the military is "to protect the population and enforce security within its borders", "to defend the territorial integrity and state sovereignty" and to "fight terrorism". So it is the precondition to reshape Iraqi military for national security, social stability and peaceful environment in its post-war reconstruction, some analysts noted.
According to regulations, a parliamentary election is planned for early March 2010, which represents a major part of the post-war reconstruction and a great event in the Iraq's political life. Whether this incoming national general election proceeds smoothly will determine whether or not Iraqi's future would be heading for stability. To this end, Talabani asked the armed forces to prepare for "escorting" the election at the same time appealing for general public to unite together to greet the election.
Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogs the hearings on Twitter and we'll note this Tweet on today's hearing:
Good heavens - stenographer butts in and says she's been at it formore than two hours and she's had quite enough, thank you very much!
Iraq Inquiry Blogger also explains, "Almost all the witnesses to date -- be they diplomatic, military or civilian -- were people charged with carrying out policies and intructions that had been decided upon by their political masters. From next week we'll also begin to start hearing from the politicians (and members of their innermost circles, eg Alastair Campbell next Tuesday) who took those decisions and created those policies."
The issue of Iraqi women was raised by the committee. We'll note the following exchange:
Committee Member Usha Prashar: My second question is about progress on issues to do with women because it was part of the constitution in 2005. Has there been any progress on that area or not?
John Jenkins: In terms of representation of women nationally, I think there is quite a good story to tell actually. In terms of violence against women, I think this is a national issue in Iraq. We have seen, particularly in the north, in the KRG, a government which is prepared to do what it says it wants to do, which is to take action against honour killings, for example. I think you are dealing with -- and I think in Basra as well the intimidation of women by militias has stopped, and I think other people have said, you know, that actually one of the things the Charge of the Knights [Basra assault in 2008] did was reveal what we all thought, which was that most Basrawis didn't want this to happen, didn't want their lives disrupted, didn't want to be intimidated, didn't want their wives and daughters to be intimidated by the militias. I think -- and there were some very feisty Iraqi female members of Parliament, many of whom I have met. All have very distinctive ideas about how this should be pursued. Sustaining this, of course, is going to be -- like most things in Iraq is going to be a challenge, particularly when there are such strong counter-cultural currents.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: So are you saying there has been a steady progress of women in the political process, in representation?
John Jenkins: There has been progress. Whether this is -- steady? There has been progress. There has been progress, but I think now it will be -- the trick will be to make sure this continues. I think it is patchy, the way this has happened around the country. I think it is certainly easier to achieve -- to achieve progress in urban areas than it is in rural areas on this.
On the subject of Iraqi women and Parliament, NPR's Quil Lawrence examined their participation as candidates in the expected elections on last Sunday's Weekened Edition (link has text and audio).
Peter Watkins testimony focused primarily on the 2007 and beyond role for England in Iraq which includes the British military "providing naval assets alongside the Americans to help protect the oil platforms fromterrorist or whatever threats" and "which is providing officer training at the Iraqi military academy in Al Rustmiyah". Asked by Committee Member Martin Gilbert about Iraqi opinion of the continuing British role, Watkins responded, "My impression was the Iraqis were very keen for us to continue with both the naval training and the oil platform protection and, indeed, the officer training. I imagine the Iraqi military was keener on it than other, but there was not a strong divergence of views across the Iraqi system. They wanted us to continue with those roles." Defining the "Iraqi system" wasn't touched on (except by Committee Member Roderic Lyne much later), nor the populace's long expressed desire to have all foreign occupiers out of Iraq. The UN mandate -- authorizing the occupation, not the invasion (no UN mandate authorized the invasion) -- was touched on. It's still not understood clearly by a number of people (Raed Jarrar for example) which is why the US Status Of Forces Agreement is not understood. The chief player that didn't want the UN mandate (again) extended was Nouri al-Maliki.
Peter Watkins: Basically, this was the part of the pattern of Iraq recovering its sovereignty. The Iraqis did not want UNSCR -- the UNSCR mandates to be extended beyond the end of December 2008. I think Prime Minister Maliki made that clear in his letter, which is attached to UNSCR 1790. They wanted to move to the position of a normal state.
Watkins revealed that the government (Nouri in his counsel by the context of Watkins statement) wanted to do a blanket agreement for other countries continuing their role in Iraq after the SOFA passed the Iraqi Parliament November 27, 2008 and this was proposed; however, this lacked the support of "a number of Iraqi Parliamentarians, members of the Council of Representatives, that they should have been presented with an agreement which they would have seen as binding on both sides. [. . .] There was an increasing feeling that they wanted to have distinct agreements with each country, reflecting the specific roles of those countries." The British went with a Memo Of Understanding and, in Watkins discussions of that, he details how, without a new agreement (the ventual MOU), when the mandate ended, the British would have had to depart. That's basic but since the issue's been confused by the likes of Raed Jarrar, let's point out again that the US SOFA is a contract and can be terminated, can be extended or can be replaced with a new agreement. The same was true of the UN mandate. It could be extended (and was repeatedly), terminated (it was at the end of 2008) and replaced with something else (it was replaced, for the US, with the SOFA at the end of 2008).
Iraqi objection to a foreign presence has long been documented. Roderic Lyne was the only committee member to raise the issue.
Committee Membmer Roderic Lyne: So we wanted to do it, they want us to do it -- I suppose when you say "Iraqis", you mean particularly the leadership of the Iraqi Government, because clearly there are different points of view on the Iraqi side?
Peter Watkins: The Iraqi Government wanted us to do it. It was clear, when Simon MacDonald and I went to Baghdad on 1 June to finalize the text, that they wanted to reach agreement.
Turning to Nouri's attempts to ban political rivals, Nada Barki and Anthony Shadid (New York Times) note, "An Iraqi parliamentary committee moved Thursday to bar a Sunni Muslim lawmaker from national elections in March, outraging his supporters and threatening to worsen sectarian tension here. The lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician, and his group, the National Dialogue Front, were among those disqualified on the grounds of promoting the banned Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein." Leila Fadel and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) observe, "The decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission, in charge of cleansing high-level Baathists from the ranks of the government and security forces, seemed to be an attempt to purge candidates with links to the old political order, many of whom are popular among secular nationalist voters. The move is a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures -- who turned to violent resistance over the past seven years -- into the political fold, part of the U.S. strategy to bolster the government."
But that's not really true. It's true for Sunnis -- "a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures . . . into the political fold" -- but not of Shi'ites. Moqtada al-Sadr's militias were the focus of Nouri's ire in 2008, leading to the assault on Basra. They've been brought in. Nouri's worked overtime to bring the League of Righteous into the system. It appears that only the Sunnis are unwelcome. The League of Righteous, for example, not only attacked a US base and killed 5 US soldiers, they also kidnapped 5 British citizens and one remains missing. But that's not apparently a reason to keep them out of the political process. They still get face time with Nouri and his staff. Afif Sarhan (Islam Online) quotes Saleh al-Mutlak stating, "The government move just show how democracy is far from Iraq and clearly demonstrates a persecution from some other parties. The government will be surprised with the reaction they will get from Iraqis at the country's streets who are our supporters and conscious voters." Nada Barkri (New York Times) reports attempts to protest in the streets of Baghdad today were prevented by Iraqi security forces and quotes Diyala Province's Najim al-Harbi stating, "There is a great popular resentment toward this decision, which lacks any legal justification. The Iraqi street is now boiling."
Doubt that it's just Sunnis being targeted? From Liz Sly's "Iraq bars major Sunni party from election" (Los Angeles Times):
The Justice and Accountability Committee charged with checking that candidates don't have ties to Baathists has named Saleh Mutlak, a prominent lawmaker, among those disqualified from the elections, according to the panel's executive director, Ali Lami.
That means that Mutlak's Iraqi Dialogue Front also will be barred, said Lami, who was detained by the U.S. military for a year on suspicion of ties to Iranian-backed militias.
So you can be a Shi'ite, like Ali Lami, accused of ties to Iran and decide who will participate or not. You just can't have full participation if you're a Sunni. This isn't new and it's really not surprising. When a foreign government (the US) occupies a country and sets up a puppet government staffed with exiles from the country, the exiles are going to seek revenge. That's all that's happened in Iraq, that's the only real 'progress.' The Shi'ite exiles have extracted blood and vengance on various Sunnis -- some of whom wronged them previously, some of whom didn't. And they've made this extraction with US guns, tanks and air power to support them. The occupation was never supposed to be peaceful. That's why thugs were chosen to head the puppet government. You don't put blood thirsty exiles in charge of a country you want to 'heal.'
You put thugs in charge so the entire populace lives in fear with the hope that they will be too cowed to object to the dances the puppets do for the occupying power. And, if you're Nouri, when the populace appears to have moved away from sectarian divides, you work to eliminate your political rivals who might do better than you in the upcoming election. Little Nouri is the new Saddam. He was put in charge by the US and he seeks blood and revenge. This was obvious in yesterday's public hearing of the Iraq Inquiry where British
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner explained that Nouri jumped the gun on a planned Basra operation by several months apparently due to the fact that the governor of the province was a political rival. Not only did that take place, but Nouri had no concern about the civilian population and wanted the British to willy-nilly bomb from the air which would have resulted in massive deaths. That's Little Nouri, the US thug chafing at his leash, ready to kill as soon as he's let off it.
Al Jazeera notes of the move, "This year many Sunni Muslim political parties are expected to take part in the vote. But if al-Mutlaq is barred from the vote, it could lead to widespread Sunni unrest and disillusionment with the political process." Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) explains, "Analysts warned that the move could lead to a broader boycott of the election among Sunnis and raise doubts about the nation's political stability."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Shirqat car bombing which injured seven people.
RTE News reports that 5 suspects were killed by US forces "in prolonged gunbattle that began Friday morning on the Mosul-Baghdad road, south of Mosul" and that another armed clash in Nineveh Province claimed 3 lives and leaving five injured.
Last month, the world attempted to sort out competing claims (as oil prices soared) that Iran had or was occupying an Iraqi oil field. Iran denied the occupation and/or insisted that it was Iran's oil field anyway. Iraq insisted the occupation was taking place and that it was Iraq's oil fields. Some residents of neighboring areas stated that the occupation had taken place weeks before the press reported it and that it was now over. Alice Fordham (Times of London) reports that Hoshyar Zebari (Iraq's Foreign Minister) met with Manouchehr Mottaki (Iran's Foreign Minister) in Baghdad to address the Fakka oil field: "Both ministers indicated after the meeting that they had not been able to resolve the ownership of the parts of Fakka oil field disputed since the 1988 end of the Iran-Iraq war, nor had they agreed on a version of what happened in the incursion. Mr Zebari said that after 'direct action' was taken by the Iraqi Government the Iranian flag was lowered at the site, while Mr Mottaki said that the Iraqi side might have been partly to blame." The Tehran Times reports that the two reached "important agreements for resolving the disputes over their borders" and that Iran would build a fence to settle the Fakka oil field dispute. UPI observes today, 'If Iran took control of the southern fields it, rather than Iraq, would surpass Saudi Arabia, its Sunni-dominated regional rival." Mike noted the meeting of the two ministers yesterday and how Jalal Talabani, Iraqi president, appeared to be going strangely out of his way to suck up to Iran.
In the US, despite three callers raising the issue of Iraq on today's second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Iraq was not a topic for discussion. Martin Walker jumped on one issue raised by a caller for sentence or two to take the conversation where he wanted (Pakistan). He did not, however, address Iraq. He did float, wrongly, the notion that there is uproar in the Arab World (however that's defined) over Judge Ricardo Urbina's decision in the recent Blackwater case. Naturally, Walker couldn't explain the decision because his who point of existance is apparently to inflame. Judging by the callers, MSNBC's night time talk show hosts are among the ones putting out this talking point. Reality, none of those three are reporters, none of the three speak Arabic. The Arab speaking world, judging by Arabic publications, is not 'inflamed' at the US over the decision. To believe that requires a lot of ignorance and bigotry on the part of the person making the assumption.
The Arab speaking world is not a dunce or an idiot. They are as highly intelligent as any other society, they have the same number of less than on the ball people. They're not 'the other' or strange or stunted. The Baghdad shooting took place in September 2007. Over two years later, a decision is not going to 'inflame' them. They're not going to be up in arms because there was never a strong feeling that, if proven guilty, Blackwater would be held accountable. The Arab speaking world is not unaware of the close governmental ties Blackwater had with the previous administration and the current administration. There's anger expressed at the US and anger expressed at Nouri al-Maliki whose grandstanding on the issue has not gone over well (due to the fact that Nouri did nothing on this issue and contractors still remain in Iraq). As someone who can read Arabic, the 'inflamation' allegedly being seen today was present . . . when Steven D. Green received a life sentence and not the death penalty. That outrage was due to the fact that Green didn't deny raping and killing Abeer or killing her parents and her younger sister. His 'defense' was all about not denying the charges. So when he walked -- on a charge that would have resulted in death in many MidEast countries -- it did create an outrage. That outrage was more akin to the outrage over Abu Ghraib (though it never reached the same intensity), the Blackwater decision, judging by Arab language media, is not like either and much of the anger is aimed at Nouri.
In the US, Philip J. Crowley handled today's State Dept briefing. He gave lip service to "respect the rule of law" but mainly bobbed and weaved. One such moment was when he was told that the State Dept was late in responding to an incident that took place last year -- referring to Urbina's verdict. Crowley appeared dazed and not to grasp the word play there -- the decision was announced December 31, 2009. So while it was 'last week,' it was also 'last year.' But he was taken aback and apparently unable to process that fact. He was given the following numbers: 120,000 military contractors in Iraq and 130,000 to 132,000 US troops as of summer 2009. He was asked if this said anything about Iraq's so-called sovereignty?
Philip J. Crowley: I don't have -- I can't verify those numbers. I think there have been some GAO numbers more recently, I think, that puts your numbers well below. I mean, contractors play an important role in any significant operation anywhere in the world, whether it's a military operation, whether it's a humanitarian operation. And it is something that we are going to see in the future. The real issue is -- is what are they doing, how are they doing it, how are they integrating. In the case of Iraq, how well are the operations of the contractors integrated within military operations. In other cases, how well are they integrated within the institutions within specific countries.
November 2, 2009, the Commission on Wartime Contracting was told by the GAO's William Solis that, as of the end of August, there were 128,700 US service members "spread aong 295 bases throughout the country." This despite the fact that the US press had reported 115,000 and 110,000 for the bulk of 2009.
Philip J. Crowley: But nonetheless, I think it's safe to say that in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in other places, contractors will have a role to play and a valuable role to play. But we are looking to make sure that not only their role is appropriate but that where they are there, they have effective oversight, they're fulfilling the terms of their contract, and they're held accountable when things go wrong.
Asked whether or not US contractors might remain in Iraq even if a US withdrawal (of "armed forces") took place, Crowley responded:
It could be a little bit of both. I mean, you have a transition here where, in fact, once we get through the election in early March in Iraq, we will -- working closely with the Government of Iraq and following the strategic agreement that we have with Iraq, we'll begin to transform our relationship. Military forces will withdraw over time. That will have some impact on contractors who are there to primarily support our military presence in Iraq. More of the effort will shift from the military component to the civilian component. We may well have contractors at the State Department, for example, who will continue to function in Iraq to help Iraq itself build institutions of government. But over time, more of this activity will shift from being a U.S. responsibility to being an Iraqi responsibility.
Back to The Diane Rehm Show. As Ruth's "E.P.A. pressures Diane Rehm not to cover mountaintop mining" explained last night, Diane's attempt to cover mountaintop coal mining on Thursday's first hour resulted in objections from the governmental agency.
Diane Rehm: And before we begin, let me tell you that we did contact the E.P.A., invite them to take part in the show. A spokesman said that their work with Hobet mine resulted in Hobet being able to gather more coal, it resulted in 50% less impact on the streams. The spokesman stressed that the E.P.A. does not have the power to stop the practice of mountaintop mining. The spokesman also expressed annoyance with our covering the subject of mountain top mining without giving the E.P.A., whom we contacted yesterday morning, sufficient time to respond. And let me be sure to say to all of our listeners, our subject matters for the next day's show are always decided 24 hours in advance.
TV notes, NOW on PBS begins airing on most PBS stations tonight (check local listings) and this week's program explores the Afghanistan War:
President Obama is sending as many as 30,000 more troops to combat Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan this year, but are we missing the true target? On Friday, January 8 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW reports directly from Pakistan's dangerous and pivotal border with Afghanistan, where Pentagon war planners acknowledge many of the enemy fighters and their leaders are based. The U.S. has been relying on Pakistan to act against Taliban militants there, but the Pakistani army's commitment is in question. NOW takes you to the true front lines for an eye-opening, inside lookyou haven't seen before, and won't soon forget.
And NOW on PBS has posted video online of Pakistan forces fighting the Taliban as a preview for Friday's show. Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen are Peter Baker (New York Times), James Barnes (National Journal), Ceci Connolly (Washington Post) and Tom Gtelten (NPR) who fortunately won't be able to laugh at listeners who call in since this isn't a radio show. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Debra Carnahan, Avis Jones-DeWeever and Leslie Sanchez to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
Watching The Border Steve Kroft reports on the status of the multi-billion-dollar "virtual fence" being built at the U.S.-Mexican border, which is years behind schedule and so far covers only about one percent of the border.
Revelations From The Campaign Authors of a new book, "Game Change," and John McCain's former top campaign strategist reveal behind-the-scenes issues from the Republican and Democratic camps during the presidential campaign. CNN's Anderson Cooper reports. Watch Video
Resurrecting The Extinct Scientists believe they can sustain endangered species - maybe even one day resurrect some that have died out - using DNA technology. Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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