Thursday, December 16, 2010

Barack and the groupies

As Black and African-American members of the community, we decided to do a group post. We invited Ty in and this will run at Third Estate Sunday Review on Sunday. The rest of us -- Betty, Marcia, Stan and Ann -- will post it tonight at our sites. We did not invite Cedric or Isaiah. Not out of ill will (please, Ann is married to Cedric) but because Cedric's doing a humor site (joint-posts with Wally) and Isaiah's focusing on archiving his comics due to community members complaining about how difficult it is to locate comics from his five years and counting of doing political cartoons for The Common Ills.

In today's snapshot, C.I. provides an excerpt from Joy of Resistance, the segment featuring Jill of Feministe which led three of us to visit (Betty, Marcia and Ann) and that quickly involved everyone because we were hugely bothered by one post.

The post is entitled "What (white) Progressives Don't Understand About Obama" and we give credit to Jill for the title. Seriously. Check out our latest "The Black Roundtable" as well as Betty's "Kiss my Black ass, Matthew Rothschild" and Marcia's "Matthew Rothschild patronizes Black people." We applaud Jill for inserting White into the headline because Blacks and African-Americans are progressives as well (and we are conservatives, and libertarians, and Republicans, and Democrats, and Socialists, and Greens, and Communists, and independents and swing-voters and apolitical and more). And we heard Hillary Clinton speak of the White working class at the end of her 2008 primary campaign and fully got her point and saw no racism in it. But the same people who trashed her and tried to read racism into her remarks are the ones who always want to install a little fence around their Progressive Clubhouse and leave us on the outside.

So we applaud her for that.

We are confused as to why any feminist would link to Ishmael Reed. We're not saying we haven't read him. We're saying that, in fact, because we have read his writing.

Two of us (Ty and Marcia) are gay and we all believe in the full spectrum of equality including marriage equality. That's among the reasons we can't get behind Ishmael.

It's noted in the comments that he has problems with women (don't worry, we'll get to it). He also has problems with gay men. His writing and his remarks are very clear. He considers them "weak." The post Jill has linked to by Ishamael is really a homophobic straight man trying to provide cover for his hero (Barack Obama) whom he apparently suspects is gay. Ishmael's in the midst of homosexual panic. We have no idea why, but he's been in that panic his entire career and his attemtps at macho are both laughable and tired. His homophobic attacks, however, are not a laughing matter and we seriously doubt anyone who links to him. They either don't know what they're doing or they think his repeated attacks on gay men who were involved in the making of Precious are okay with these linkers. We're not fans of the film Precious. But we're also not fans of homophobia.

Then there's the issue of his attacks on feminists. He especially loathes Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. He may have reason to. While we support Gloria and Robin we have publicly criticized them when we felt it was warranted. But what we didn't do, was lie about them. In one of his many attack pieces on Hillary in 2008 ("Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man") one that reads like he's trying to rip off Jesse Jackon Jr.'s attack and use it (did she cry!!!! -- he always wants women to cry and to suffer), he deliberately distorts reality. He insists that Gloria was harder on Barack than she was on Bill Clinton. What? We wish, in 2008, Gloria had had the good sense to call Barack out. But she didn't in the primaries and she didn't in the general election (in fact, she supported him in the general election).

But he's big on putting words into Gloria's mouth. Claiming she said something or did something when she never did. It's all over the bad column entitled "Ma and Pa Clinton Flog Uppity Black Man."

We could stay with Ishmael and all of his problems forever and a day but we don't have all night. And we need to get to the comments.

A number of whiny babies, no other word for it.

First off, stop being ahistorical. No one's in the damn mood for your revisionary history.

At least twice we see whines (with a third offering a variation) of 'Barack's doing what Bill did and they didn't trash Bill.' We're sorry you're so grossly uninformed. Before the 1996 elections, a number of notables and 'notables' from the left -- such as Frances Fox Piven -- had publicly declared that they wouldn't vote for Bill.

The idea that the Christ-child Barack is experiencing something no one else ever did is just not reality. We get it. He's your political virgin and you're really hoping to see his pubes grow in like he's Christopher Atkins in "Blue Lagoon." But you need to grow the hell up.

Barack has not been accused of killing a wide variety of people the way both Bill and Hillary were. We're sorry you don't know reality but that's your problem, grow the hell up.

What Bill did economically is something you can disagree with. Most people do. Today.

Today, most people do. On the left.

But when Bill came into office "Reinventing Government" was the new hulu hoop. The way the cracked writing of Thomas Frank or the nonsense of "framing" are hulu hoops today. The public-private partnerships were going to save the economy and the country.

It was false and that's not what happened. But Bill's publicly spoken of the realities about the economy. He's done that in looking back. Looking back at what he did ten years ago.

There's no excuse for Barack to be aping Bill ten years later. Bill knows it was mistake why doesn't Barack?

Today, most on the left can call out what was the privatization of the public sphere and public goods and public needs. But coming off the wowie-we-love-him frenzy of Ronald Reagan, Democrats were trying to figure out how to appeal to voters. "Reinventing Government" is a mistake and should never have happened. Clinton-Gore was the first effort to test it out. It's been tested. Why Barack can't grasp that is on him.

In one of the most laughable comments, we read that we have to -- have to? -- vote for Barack in 2012 because otherwise who will replace Ruth on the Supreme Court!

Who cares?

He's given us two moderates. Not lefties, not liberals.

We also find it interesting how Barack is "Black." He wasn't, you know, until Bobby Rush kicked his ass when Barack thought he was ready for the US Congress. He was still bi-racial then and in his alumni newsletter. He only became Black (and borrowed the walk he currently uses) after Black voters backed Bobby and flipped the bird at Barack.

PRI had an interesting report today:

More Biracial Americans Experiment with Fluid Identity

A research paper published by the Social Psychology Quarterly drew some interesting conclusions about the way that members of our increasingly diverse society are experiencing and experimenting with structures of identity. Titled “Passing as Black: Racial Identity Work Among Biracial Americans,” the paper argues that with less stigma attached to any one race, people of mixed heritage are, more frequently than before, declaring themselves biracial one day, or all one race the next. But what does this fluidity mean to the idea of race in our country at all? And How does one rationally and honestly navigate the conundrums of identity?

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You can call him what you want. We call him "mixed" or "bi-racial" and have done so since 2007. One who disagreed with us was LIEFACE Melissa Harris-Lacewell. We should have seen it coming, when Melissa kept ignoring Barack's White mother and insisting Barack was Black, we should have seen it coming. What?

Turns out the woman who bullied the media and everyone else and wanted to self-present as the guardian of Black identity . . . she's got a White mother too. A detail she kept hidden because it would have defeated her whole argument. Which makes Melissa Harris-Lacewell (yes, we know she's remarried -- if it lasts more than two years, we may try to learn her new last name) like the housekeeper's daughter in "Imitation of Life." We picture Melissa screaming and crying as she shows up at her mother's funeral after years of denying her mother and passing.

We think Barack Obama has been a huge problem for Black America. We still don't have our first Black president. We've had to lie and pretend because that's how he was sold to us. Black men are hurt worse than any other sector in the work force under Barack in terms of employment. He's done nothing for us and because a bunch of pampered little assholes want to insist he's Black, we got stuck with him for four years.

We can't afford four more.

It's past time that the asshole was called out by all races.

Guantanamo is not closed. The Iraq War is still not over. He's done nothing on the employment issue. He refused to give us real health care but is more than happy to force us to buy bad health care and enrich the corporations who installed him despite the myth of those 'small donors.'

We're sick of his sexism and his homophobia. Proposition 8 passed in 2008 because? Among the many reasons, supporters of Prop 8 used Barack on their robo calls. That's because he stood with Prop 8. Did he call it out? No. He stood with them. And he put homophobes on stage at campaign events in both the primaries and in the general election. Then he invited his b.f.f. homophobe to the inauguration.

We're damn sick of hearing how easy Bill supposedly had it.

If any other Democratic president had so sold out the Democratic Party and its base, their poll numbers would be even lower than Barack's currently are.

Ishmael Reed 'explained' in a bad interview this year why he supports Barack: Because he doesn't like the people who don't like Barack.

That's the sort of simplistic reaction that Ishmael tries to pass off as deep thought and exploration. We don't have time for it.

Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Joe Biden mentions Iraqi Christians, news about the Kurdish deal with Nouri surfaces, Julian Assange is out on bail, activists protest the war outside the White House, and more.

Last night on WBAI, Joy of Resistance (available in the WBAI archives for 89 days from today) found host Fran Luck addressing the topic of "Swedish and US rape laws and the current wave of misogny that has surfaced in response to rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange" with attorney Jill Filipovic. Excerpt:

Fran Luck: We're going to be looking at some of the aspects that haven't been discussed very much, certainly in the leftist media, about -- or in the right wing media, only in the feminist media -- about some of the kind of side effects of the rape accusations against Julian Assange that have kind of brought up huge amounts -- almost dust clouds -- of misogyny that, amazing, has been all over the internet. And we're going to look at that and we're also going to look at Swedish law on rape with Jill who is a feminist lawyer as well as being a blogger for Feministe. I was first alerted to this when I began to see these huge amounts of just absolutely evil posts calling, oh, God, talking about women as just these revenge motivated monsters, acting out of jealousy, all of the tropes, everything that women in court rooms have to confront when they are accusing men of rape, okay, their characters are defamed, etc. Now my position on this whole thing is that I don't know what happened. I don't know if Assange is guilty of these charges, I don't know that he is not. I know many people feel the circumstances are suspicious and I agree with that. I also am very much rooting for WikiLeaks and I think what they're doing is absolutely marvelous for the world. However, you know, that doesn't mean that their founder is a wonderful person. We don't know. He may be wonderful in some aspects and not in others. I think we need to keep an open mind to both sides. I certainly am not going to dismiss any rape allegations by any woman. So, Jill, what's your take on this?

Jill Filipovic: Well I think that's right. I think that part of the problem with the Julian Assange accusations is that there's become such a cult of personality around Assange himself that he's now so tied to the WikiLeaks project that any criticism of him at all is seen as somehow feeding into this right-wing target that's been painted on his back. You know, I think we can all agree Assange is under fire and he is in a very difficult situation and he is heading up what I believe is a very valuable project. We can believe that and also realize that life is complicated and he can head up a very valuable project and also potentially have done some very bad and illegal things. We can also withhold judgment on whether or not he's guilty. And, at the same time, we can withhold judgment on whether or not the women who have accused him of rape are just making up their accusations.

Fran Luck: Mm-hmm. I know the lawyer for the two woman has said his clients have been assaulted twice. "First physically, before being sacrificed to a malevolent online attack." And the women were having a very tough time and we know one of them has now fled which has some people saying, 'Well the charges weren't real, that proves it." And, you know, as a feminist I can understand caving under that kind of pressure, that kind of assault. Another target has been the government of Sweden and the laws of Sweden. There's been a lot of misrepresentation. I mean, all over the internet, there are posts that say: 'Oh! A man can be arrested for not wearing a condom in Sweden.' Which is also very funny, right? Tell us why.

Jill Filipovic: Right. I mean that is such an incredible mischaracterization. You know, what I think has happened, there's been a series of, I think, over-reliance on statements made by Julian Assange's criminal defense attorneys. I believe they're the ones who first used that phrase "sex by surprise" which isn't actually a crime in Sweden, isn't a legal term in Sweden. A lot of the reporting on it is centered around one tabloid, Daily Mail article that used the "sex by surprise" term and that also basically said that these accusations are about a broken condom and a lady who was mad because a condom broke when, if you actually read what the Swedish prosecutors have said in public -- which isn't a whole lot, but they've made the charges pretty clear, is that one of the women says that she was physically held down during sex and Assange also refused to wear a condom. And the second woman says that Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep. That's very different than: The condom broke and we all agreed we would just keep going and the next morning I have -- what a right-wing blogger called --'buyer's remorse' and so I'm going to report this man for rape. These are crimes that involve physical force, that involve lack of consent, that are serious crimes and that would be considered crimes -- that would be considered sex crimes and sexual assault in place other than Sweden which has been sort of painted as the lefty feminist out of control country when in fact their rape laws are entirely reasonable.

Fran Luck: Why don't you talk about their rape laws and how they differ from US rape laws.

Jill Filipovic: Sure. I'm not an expert in Swedish rape laws so I don't want to put forth the idea that I'm issuing some sort of expert Swedish opinion here. But I have read the Swedish penal code and I have been doing a good deal of reading of how rape is treated in Sweden and, you know, it's clear that in Sweden they have what would sort of be our first degree rape law which is forceful sexual intercourse and then they also have a law that covers sexual coercion. So a law that basically says if there's a lack of consent, if sex is coerced, then that's a sex crime. And I think that is sort of what fits into a lot of what we've been talking about here in the Assange case which is that one of the accusers has said that the incident started out consensually and that at some point consent was withdrawn and Assange didn't stop. When you actually think about how that plays out, if you're having sex with someone consensually and then you say "No stop" because the condom broke or because it hurts or because something just went wrong, most people are going to stop at that point. The only person that's not going to stop at that point really is going to be a rapist. And it's not such an out there thought that consent should be able to be withdrawn at any point during sex. The idea that consent can be withdrawn -- even after sex has commenced -- is not the law across the United States. It's the law in some states, it's not the law in others. In a lot of states, it's very unclear whether or not you can withdraw consent. You know, in the US, we really hang a lot on the idea of force when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Fran Luck: In our laws.

Jill Filipovic: In our laws. And I think in our culture as well. But legally we pin a lot on this force issue and the way that consent tends to be used in rape trials and in rape cases is with the defendant saying 'well she consented' as a defense. You don't see a lot of folks being prosecuted based on the idea that the woman did not consent. Instead, what you see is you see the prosecution focusing on the force issue, you know, whether or not there was violence involved, how much, how much force was used, how much force you can prove. You know, there aren't -- The idea of consent and a lack of consent translates into assault is just not really part of American legal culture which I think has led to a lot of confusion and, I think, a lot of the derision of Swedish laws.

Fran Luck: Mmm-hmm. What's the basic philosophical difference between basing your rape laws on lack of consent versus force?

Jill Filipovic: I think the basic philosophical difference is how you view sex versus how you view crimes and violence. As someone who is a big proponent of a "Yes Mean Yes" model of consent -- affirmative consent -- my view is that sex is something that should be fun for everyone involved. That sex is great. And people should like it. And they should have fun with it. And, you know, at the point where you are creating sexual assault laws that don't just say any sex without consent isn't assault but instead say, "Eh, if you don't consent that's maybe not assault. You have to physically do violence to someone, you have to hold someone down, you have to hit them, you have to punch them, you have to threaten them with a weapon and only then are we going to say that you broke a law, to me, is a really sexually unhealthy way to view the world, to view sex." And I think that a much better model and a much clearer model for all of us would assume that sex is something that shared, something positive. And as much as I hate to compare women's bodies to objects, you know if I leave a hundred dollar bills out on my table it doesn't mean that just because you're in my house you get to take that and walk away and then claim that because I didn't say that you couldn't have it, that I gave it to you. It's a little bit of an icky metaphor.

Fran Luck: So-so here we are with Sweden being just vilified and being seen by many misogynist men as home of these crazed radical feminists who -- which another wonderful term, I think --

Jill Filipovic: "Leftist, atrocious sluts" is what one blog post call them.

Fran Luck: Oh, okay. Yeah, we have some examples. You know, here's one. "She is one" -- I guess they're talking about one of the rape accusers, "She is one of the many Swedish women who advocate using false rape charges in the name of gender equality. In other words, she's a complete raving lunatic and should be" I can't say this, something-"slapped and subsequently put in jail." And in another one, one of these women is called a psychotic bitch and Sweden is a" another word I can't say, a word that goes with the word "whipped." What you're saying when a woman is dominating a man, that it's that kind of country. So this is all over the internet and in reality there laws are really -- should be -- they should be honored because they are kind of advanced. So I wanted to -- I did want to talk about that.

Again, for those who can enjoy online streaming, the episode is available in the WBAI archives for 89 days. Fran's other guests were Susan J. Douglas, Lu Baily and Amanda Marcotte. The next installment of Joy of Resistance will air January 5th. Trina caught the broadcast and noted, "On The Issues magazine was mentioned repeatedly thoughout the show so I'm giving a link to that in case listening/streaming audio doesn't work for you (due to equipment issues or hearing issues) and you can read a number of strong articles including a few by some of the guests."

Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times) reports, "After nine days in jail, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was granted bail Thursday in a politically charged case concerning alleged sex crimes in Sweden. [. . .] But he must surrender his passport, submit to monitoring by an electronic tag, abide by a curfew and report to the police daily." BBC News adds he will be staying at the home of Vaughan Smith. BBC News' Maddy Savage reported on the day for PRI's The Takeaway: "Dramatic scenes in the last few minutes as supporters outside the court are cheering and screaming in joy at the decision. What happened here is that the decision to grant Julian Assange bail has been upheld following an appeal by prosecutors and this means that he should be able to leave jail shortly". Al Jazeera quotes Assange stating, "I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations." Generally speaking, a defendent sees evidence during a trial.

At The Atlantic, David Samuels writes, "Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service by making hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents available on Wikileaks -- and, predictably, no one is grateful. Manning, a former army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces up to 52 years in prison. [. . .] It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean." You know what? It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of innocent until proven guilty to see David Samuels convict Bradley Manning.

Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. As Daniel Ellsberg reminded from the stage in Oakland last September, "We don't know all the facts." But we know, as Ellsberg pointed out, that the US military is attempting to prosecute Bradley. Paul Courson (CNN) notes Bradley is a suspect and, "He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say." Cameron Joseph (National Journal) reports that Daniel Ellsberg was at the White House today "chained to its snowy gates as part of a protest organized by Veterans for Peace [. . .] Ellsberg was one of dozens arrested, the Associated Press reported." David Jackson (USA Today) explains, "It's cold and snowy in Washington, D.C., but that didn't stop protestors from showing up at the White House today to demonstrate against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police appeared to arrest an unknown number of protestors as they sought to chain themselves to the White House fence." UPI offers a photo essay of the protest by Kevin Dietsch. David Swanson's War Is A Crime offers video of the protest. Paul Courson (CNN) states 131 is the number of activists arrested and cites US Park Police spokesperson David Schlosser as the source for that number. At Stop These Wars (umbrella group for the various groups and individuals organizing the action) it's noted, "131 veterans and others were arrested December 16 in front of the White House. Preliminary gallery of photos here. More to come."

Moving to the topic of Iraqi refugees, Michael Sheridan (New York Daily News) reports, "A desperate journey for freedom met a horrific end after a boat believed to carry as many as 80 asylum-seekers from Iran and Iraq broke up and sank off the Australian coast on Wednesday. The wooden craft smashed against jagged rocks near Christmas Island, breaking into pieces and dumping its passengers into the cold ocean, as witnesses said they were helpless to do anything." Bonnie Malkin (Daily Telegraph) adds, "As the refugees -- women, children and men -- were thrown, or jumped into the water, residents launched desperate, but ineffectual, rescue efforts: lifejackets were tossed but then thrown back by the wind, a rope was thrown, but it broke. The passengers stood no chance, said one resident. Another spoke of the horror of children dead in the water. Yet another told of the utter despair at being unable to help." The Telegraph estimates that at least 28 people have died but "Navy boats managed to pluck 41 people from the water and one man swam to shore. The rescue effort was suspended over night but fresh attempts to search for the estimated 28 people still missing in the morning were being hampered by continuing bad weather." Matthew Taylor (Guardian) adds, "According to figures from the UNHCR, 128 boats carrying asylum seekers have landed in Australia so far this year."

Iraq is the largest refugee crisis in the MidEast. Violence and instability has created the crisis (both stem from the US-led Iraq War). ". . . the recent atrocities committed against the Iraqi Christians. There is a shared consensus and empathy between the government and the Iraqi people to provide security and safe environment for Iraqi Christians who have played an important role in the Iraqi national heritage and-and movement in rebuilding our country. International support is critical to encourage Iraqi Christians to stay in their homeland as an integral part of the Iraqi society," Hoyshar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, declared yesterday at the United Nations Security Council meeting. The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. Asia News notes the kidnapping of an Iraqi Christian in Mosul yesterday and quotes Monsignor Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka declaring to the European Parliament on Wednesday that "Iraq's Christians live in fear of the future." C.M. Sennott (Global Post) quotes the editor of the Catholic weekly periodical America stating, "What is often unnoticed in the Middle East is the devastating effect of US policy on Christians in the region. US policy makers have never taken the plight of Christians seriously, whether in Iraq or in Lebanon. There may be protests of specific violations, but not in those areas where the US or Israelis have other strategic interests. For all the communication with US government over the past 20 years, I have seen no serious action from any administration to improve protection for Christians. Religious freedom is basically a reporting matter and no more."

We'll try to note more on Zebari and the UN in tomorrow's snapshot. There's not time or space today. At UN Security Council meeting yesterday, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the UN Security Council and stated, at one point, "Attacks by extremists remain an unacceptable aspect of daily life in Iraq. We're particularly concerned about recent attempts to target innocents because of their faith, including both Christians and Muslims, and to lash out at security forces working to keep the country safe." Of Bident's remark, Katherine T. Phan (Christian Post Reporter) quotes USCIRF Deputy Director Elizabeth K. Cassidy stating, "We were pleased that he mentioned that issue in his statement although it was a fairly general statement." In speaking, he became the highest ranking official in the administration to speak out against the targeting of Iraqi Christians thus far (last month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on the issue). The US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued the following yesterday:

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned the terrorist attack of December 14 against worshippers at a mosque in Chabahar, Iran, and similar attacks in Iraq, on the eve of the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura and called on governments in the region to be especially vigilant in protecting all religious worship during this holiday season.

"This is the latest of a long string of despicable attacks launched by the forces of extremism and intolerance against innocent religious worshippers in the region," said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. "From Ashura to Christmas, public religious observances during this time of year continue to provide targets for religiously motivated violence in the Middle East and other parts of the world. We strongly urge greater protection for worshippers during this special season."

Similar violence has struck Ashura celebrations in neighboring Iraq this year. Over the past few days, several attacks have targeted Shia pilgrims in Iraq, including a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Tuesday that killed at least 39. During last year's Ashura observance in Iraq, a series of bombings killed at least 19 individuals and injured more than 100. A recent wave of attacks against Christians in Iraq, including the October 31 attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, also has heightened concern about the prospect for escalating attacks as the Christmas holiday approaches.

The Ashura holiday commemorates the death of Imam Hussein in 680 A.D.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or (202) 523-3257.

While Iraqis continue to die in Iraq and outside of Iraq, thug Nouri al-Maliki may indeed win a second term. Time magazine is wrapping up the year and they note Nouri as a "People Who Mattered." Ishaan Tharoor's sketch includes this: "Revelations in WikiLeaks' Iraq war logs, published in October, counted thousands of previously unreported civilian casualties, many at the hands of Maliki's state security forces. It's bad press the controversial politician could ill afford." Meanwhile UPI notes, "Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, told London's pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that, while the main Shiite alliance in Iraq backed many proposals offered by the Kurds, the Iraqiya slate was holding up several measures. He said Iraqiya is opposed to measures describing the territorial boundaries of the Kurdish provinces and authority over the Kurdish military force Peshmerga." Kholoud Ramzi (Niqash) notes the potential obstacles to the power-sharing deal that's led to Nouri being declared prime minister-designate, "But even before the agreement was signed, the Kurds supported Maliki. In bilateral talks with the President of the Kurdistan region, he had sought to reassure the Kurds that he would resolve some of the controversial issues causing tension between the central government and that of the region. These include the oil and gas law, the financing of the Peshmerga forces, the population census process, and the deployment of the Iraqi army in areas usually described as "disputed", most notably Kirkuk province." Why did they support Nouri? UPI provides one reason: "In a previously undisclosed August-dated Kurdish communique published by the Iraq Oil Report, Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani pressed Baghdad to drop its opposition to KRG contracts with foreign oil companies, agreements the federal government deems illegal."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a National Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now nine months, nine days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."

Dr. Serhat Erkmen, Middle East Advisor of the Ahi Evran Universtiy Dept of International Relations, (Today's Zaman) outlines the two issues he feels are the most difficult:

Henceforth 11 days were left for this difficult task. For this reason, Maliki try to accelerate the process to form the goverment as soon as possible during the negotiations. Some analysts point out that the constitutional limitation, laws and the timing were violated many times before. Therefore, Maliki may break the deadline. This assumption could be regarded as correct considering the previous examples. Besides the deadline issue is a vital problem for Iraq politics with each passing day, because it is observed that al Irakiyya waits for the opportunity in case Al Maliki fails.
Second political issue is that the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani focused on the right of self determination in the speech made in 13th Congress of KDP on December 11 and its effects. Two subjects from Masoud Barzani's speech that contain several massages cause serious reflections. The main points of the speech were poverty, fight against corruption, and respect for ethnic and sectarian identities, the Kurd role in government formation process, Kurdish claims of Kerkük and the right of self determination. The last two of them starts new arguments in Iraq politics. Different reactions come to the idea of self determination right and the claims that Kurds will not give up from Kerkük. These reactions are generally critical.

Yesterday, Joe Biden chaired the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iraq.

US Vice President Joe Biden: Since President Obama asked me to oversee our administration's Iraqi policy when we took office, let me assure you that the United States will continue to work with Iraqi leaders on the important tasks that lie ahead: Conducting the census, integrating Kurdish forces into Iraqi security forces, keeping commitments to the Sons Of Iraq, resolving disputed internal boundaries and the future of Kirkuk, passing critical hydrocarbon legislation and a fiscally responsible budget in helping stabilize its economy. We must also continue our efforts to protect and support those displaced by war and to help enable voluntary, safe, diginifed and sustainable returns.

Grabbing the issue of Sahwa (Awakenings, Sons Of Iraq), Lara Jakes (AP) reports that plans to bring Sahwa into the fold appear "at risk of being derailed" and that Nouri and those close to him are pushing the problem off on "local officials and the Shiite dominated Interior Ministry" of being resistant and they state that the plan is to pie-in-the-sky to be achieved. Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured. Xinhua reports that in addition to those three injured in Baghdad, a Dujail bombing left five people wounded.

Turning to the US, 4433 is DoD's figure for the number of US service members killed in Iraq. One of the fallen is Sgt Michael Ferschke, another is Spc Morganne McBeth.

Charlie Reed and Chiyomi Sumida (Stars and Stripes) report
that Ferschke's widow has finally -- by an act of Congress (not joking) -- been allowed to reside in the US with their son. That's providing Barack signs it into law -- it passed the House yesterday (the Senate earlier this month):

Congress move essentially grants an exemption to U.S. law that will allow Hotaru Ferschke to relocate from Okinawa to the Tennessee hometown of her husband, Sgt. Michael Ferschke.
"I kept my promise to my son. This is what makes me feel so much better than anything," said Robin Ferschke, Michael's mom, who has been fighting to help her daughter-in-law move to the U.S. "I am sure my son is proud of me."

WBIR adds, "The effort to pass the measure in the House appeared dead for the year, but Knoxville Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. was able to secure a final vote with just hours remaining in the current 111th Congress" and they quote Duncan stating, "This is something that everyone has wanted to support all through this process, and it is a great moment for this family. Helping people caught up in extraordinary circumstances like the Ferschke's is one of the most basic and important jobs of Congress, and I am so grateful for all the bipartisan support in the House and Senate."

Spc Morganne McBeth was killed in Iraq as well and apparently by those she served with.
Drew Brooks (Fayetteville Observer) reports that Spc Tyler Cain faced an Article 32 hearing yesterday at Fort Bragg: "Prosecutor Capt. Mike Lovelace argued that Cain lied to officials investigating the death of Spc. Morganne McBeth by giving two versions of the events that led to her death. Cain's lawyers, including Maj. Greg Malson, argued that Cain only clarified his earlier statements and that there was no intent to deceive investigators." Wisdom Martin (Fox) reports Lovelace is charged with conspiracy and Spc Nicholas Bailey with involuntary manslaughter. He also quotes Sylvia McBeth (Morganne's mother) stating of the military, "They're still trying to cover this thing up from us because they're still not contacting us and letting us know anything. We did not even know there was going to be a hearing today."

Meanwhile Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and his office issued the following today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the House of Representatives passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (S. 3447), a bill introduced by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka to improve educational assistance for those who served in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Monday and now awaits the President's action.

"Assisting veterans who are pursuing an education is a vital part of our commitment to the young men and women in the armed services," said Senator Akaka. "This bill will improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, and I applaud my colleagues in the House and Senate for supporting it. I thank the veterans service organizations that came together to help us develop and pass this important measure. I urge President Obama to sign the bill into law."

The committee report for S.3447 can be found here. For more information on the GI Bill, please visit

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