<\body> Stories in America: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

White House Admits Fault on "Mission Accomplished" Banner

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Bush said at the time. "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes on."
-Bush, April 1, 2003

August 21, 2006

BUSH: The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

QUESTION: What did Iraq have to do with it?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing.

At least 49 U.S. troops died in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month since September when 65 U.S. troops died. And an untold number of Iraqis have been killed.
The White House said Wednesday that President Bush has paid a price for the "Mission Accomplished" banner that was flown in triumph five years ago but later became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly war in Iraq.

KBR Workers in Iraq Stole Weapons and Art

In case you need a break from the non-stop coverage of Rev. Wright:
KBR employees working in Iraq stole weapons, artwork and even gold to make spurs for cowboy boots, two former company workers told Senate Democrats on Monday.

Appearing before a Democrats-only panel looking into allegations of contracting abuses in Iraq, the witnesses accused their former co-workers of widespread improper activity.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said the company would not comment at length because the claims are part of ongoing lawsuits.

"The witnesses who testified today raised claims that KBR has previously addressed. The government has reviewed the claims and refused to join lawsuits asserting them," Browne said.

Linda Warren, a 50-year-old Abilene woman who worked as a laundry foreman and recreation director for the Houston-based contracting giant in Iraq, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Monday that some of her American colleagues doing construction work in Iraqi palaces and municipal buildings took woodcarvings, tapestries and crystal "and even melted down gold to make spurs for cowboy boots."

Monday, April 28, 2008

This week on Your Call Radio

Here's what's coming up on Your Call this week.

A live call-in radio show, Your Call airs from 11 am - noon PST on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco.
You can listen live or podcast the show.

*Monday - Why aren't military contractors held responsible for the crimes they commit in Iraq, including murder and rape?
We'll speak with two attorneys and a woman who says she was raped while working for former Halliburton subsidiary KBR in Iraq. She's spent the past two years fighting for a trial.

*Tuesday - A conversation with Michael Eric Dyson, author of April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America

*Wednesday - Do vitamins work?

*Thursday - On May Day, we'll talk about the state of American workers. Guests include a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The union's 25,000 members plan to shut down all 29 West Coast ports on May 1 to protest the occupation of Iraq. Truckers across the country are planning a diesel shutdown to protest high gas prices.

*Friday - Media Roundtable: How did the media cover the week's top stories?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Laura Berg's Letter

NYT Editorial:
The PEN American Center, the literary organization committed to free expression, is honoring an American most people in this country have never read or even heard of: Laura Berg. She is a psychiatric nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital who was threatened with a sedition investigation after she wrote a letter to the editor denouncing the Bush administration’s bungling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

That’s right, sedition: inciting rebellion against the government. We suppose nothing should surprise us in these days of government zealotry. But the horror and the shame of that witch hunt should shock everyone.

Ms. Berg identified herself as a V.A. nurse when, soon after Katrina’s horrors, she sent her impassioned letter to The Alibi, a paper in Albuquerque. “I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government,” she wrote. “We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.”

Her superiors at the hospital soon alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and impounded her office computer, where she keeps the case files of war-scarred veterans she treats. Then she received an official warning in which a Veterans Affairs investigator intoned that her letter “potentially represents sedition.”

It took civil rights litigators and Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico to “act forcefully” in reminding the government of the Constitution and her right to free speech. The Department of Veterans Affairs retreated then finally apologized to the shaken Ms. Berg.

Even then, she noted, one superior told her it was preferred that she not identify herself as a V.A. nurse in any future letter writing. “And so I am saying I am a V.A. nurse,” Ms. Berg soon boomed out in a radio broadcast. “And some of my fire in writing this about Katrina and Iraq is from my experience as a V.A. nurse.” Thus declared Ms. Berg, well chosen to receive the new PEN/Katherine Anne Porter First Amendment Award.

Millions in Iraq Contracts Never Finished

Even more money well spent by the Bush administration:
Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG's review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors' actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children's hospital in Basra, only to "essentially terminate" the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

See this Film: Motherland Afghanistan

Here's a clip.

Do you think health conditions are improving for Afghan women?

No. My opinion about U.S. work in the health sector in Afghanistan has not changed. There is still a lot of waste.
-Dr. Nafisa Mojadidi
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001, Afghan hopes were high that democracy would bring enormous progress for Afghan women in the arena of health and education. But as of 2006 one of their most fundamental rights—adequate health care—has not been met.

In MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN, Afghan American filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi journeys to the heart of this medical tragedy by following her father's return to Afghanistan to battle one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Dr. Qudrat Mojadidi is an OB/GYN who was forced by political pressures to emigrate from Afghanistan to the U.S. in 1972. In 2003, nearly two years after the Taliban’s fall, he is invited by the U.S. government to help rehabilitate the largest women’s hospital in the country, Rabia Balkhi, now under U.S. sponsorship with a newly re-named Laura Bush Maternity Ward. He returns to his homeland with great hopes that with U.S. funding, he can help set in motion the large-scale changes necessary to stem the epidemic of maternal mortality in the country.

But when Dr. Mojadidi arrives at the Laura Bush Maternity Ward in Kabul, a city still plagued with danger and unrest, he finds deplorable conditions, with limited supplies and unsanitary facilities. As he tries to bring hope to the ward and make the best of archaic equipment and an untrained staff, the film introduces the women behind the statistics and exposes how the U.S. government's Department of Health and Human Services has impacted Afghan lives, particularly in terms of the devastating epidemic of maternal mortality.

After several months, Dr. Mojadidi leaves the hopeless conditions at Rabia Balkhi in frustration. Despite his disillusionment, he continues to search for ways to make a difference in his homeland. Two years later, he returns to Afghanistan, this time with Shuhada, an Afghan-led non-governmental organization that runs hospitals, schools and shelters in the rural Jaghori district and throughout central Afghanistan. At the Shuhada hospital, Dr. Mojadidi attempts to pass on his knowledge to the over-worked and under-trained doctors and to help the hundreds of women who have traveled days to see him. He encounters patients who will test his ability to make a difference, but also finds that despite their lack of financial and human resources, Shuhada has an encouraging vision for change based on education and prevention.

Set against the backdrop of a land in turmoil and transition, this inspiring film reveals the devastating stories behind a reproductive health crisis essentially neglected by the Western media and provides a rare glimpse into the heart of humanity through the quiet deeds of those who attempt to heal.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Americans Tell It Like It Is To the Iraqis

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Follow the Oil Money

Oil company contributions brought to you by Oil Change International:

Oil company contributions:

McCain - $291,685

Clinton - $289,950

Obama - 163,840

Giuliani wins with: $659,158

Monday, April 21, 2008

12,000 Veteran Suicide Attempts Per Year

Unbelievable. And the national media is still talking about flag lapel pins? This is from CBS:
In a recently filed lawsuit, the Department of Veterans Affairs is accused of deliberately misinforming the American public about the number of veterans committing suicide. Armen Keteyian reports.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How the Pentagon Spread its Message

Excellent investigative reporting by the New York Times. Here's the audio and a link to the article:
In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Iraq Vets Seize National Archives Building

IVAW members seized the National Archives Building on March 19th, 2008 in front of hundreds of surprised museum visitors. Response from visitors including teachers, students, vacationers was highly positive, though there were a few horrified faces in the crowd. IVAW read the terms of their Citizens Arrest Warrant and stood their ground for 90 minutes. They were allowed to leave without being arrested in a spectacular civil disobedience display. Next stop was the Justice Department, where the call for Bush and Cheney's impeachment was repeated, then to the White House where similar demands were made.

This action comes on the heels of IVAW's Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan, held at the National Labor College in Silver Springs, M.D. in mid-March, where these and many other vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan war testified about their experiences.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Iraqi: We Just Want All the Foreigners to Leave

From the Washington Post:
The congressional testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker has barely registered in Iraq.

Several parliament members were unaware of what was said at the hearings. Many Baghdad residents had no idea they had taken place. Even on Alhurra, a U.S.-funded Arabic satellite channel, the testimony was the 10th and final report on Wednesday's evening newscast, following dispatches on Egyptian politics and the state of emergency preparedness in Syria.

"The Americans have hundreds of meetings and testimonies like this, and what has it done for the Iraqi people? Nothing," said Allah Sadiq, 49, a carpenter in the capital's Karrada district. "So why do we care? We just want all the foreigners to leave and stop causing disasters for our country."

Excellent Article on the Future of the Environment

by Margaret Kriz of the National Journal:
The Environmental Protection Agency is failing to live up to its name these days, its legions of critics agree. At a time when the nation's top environmental regulators face increasingly complex pollution problems, President Bush is pushing for dramatic cuts in EPA's budget, his administration's strained, pro-industry interpretations of environmental laws have repeatedly been laughed out of court, and the White House is widely perceived to be running roughshod over agency scientists and lawyers.

In the meantime, disgruntled EPA professionals are longing for the day when the next administration takes over their agency. "It's not a Republican-versus-Democrat issue," said union representative Hirzy. "It's just that in the last eight years we've had a reactionary operation here that has just been murderous. 01/20/09 -- that's the magic number."

American Colonel Killed in Green Zone

The Green Zone is the most heavily fortified compound on Earth. This is from Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell:
For years, the deaths of U.S. military personnel in Iraq have often been reported to the press and public by the Pentagon on extremely sketchy ways, while remaining "under investigation." These are often cases, it turns out, involving death by illness or accident or suicide. Often, the efforts of local newspapers bring out the truth while the lengthy investigations go on and on.

Yesterday, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times revealed that Col. Stephen Scott, 54, had died on Saturday while working out on a treadmill in the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone after it was rocketed by insurgents earlier this week, according to his sister. He was only the ninth officer at his level killed in the war to date. The treadmill symbolism is painfully apt, of course.

Another officer, Maj. Stuart Wolfer, 36, who leaves behind a wife and three young children, died in the same place at the same time while exercising. He had been serving in the Army Reserves when called to duty. His name was invoked by Rep. Robert Wexler in questioning Gen. David Petraeus in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

The Associated Press earlier this week carried an item, based on the Pentagon's offiical release, which stated only that "two soldiers have died in Iraq of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their unit with indirect fire."

Rep. Wexler said that he had talked to Len Wolfer of Boca Raton, Fla., the night before and asked what he wanted to ask Petraeus. That family was relieved that their son "was in the Green Zone, for they hoped he would be safe there. He was not." Wexler said the father wanted to know: "For what? For what had he lost his son?"

Wexler urged Petraeus not to simply say it had been "to remove a brutal dictator."

"That's not good enough," Wexler said. "There are many dictators in the world. For what did Stuart Wolfer and the other 4,024 sons and daughters (killed in Iraq) die for? And how do we define victory so we can bring this never-ending war to a close?"

Petraeus told Wexler and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "what we are fighting for is the national interest....Ambassador Crocker and I, for what it's worth, have typically seen ourselves as minimalists, we're not after the Holy Grail in Iraq and we're not after Jeffersonian Democracy."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Iraqis Want the Occupation to End

Iraqi woman shouts slogans demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq during a demonstration organized by the Independent Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions downtown Baghdad, Saturday, April 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency the Worst

From a great site, the History News Network:
“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.”— George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb10, 2008

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hurricane Katrina Quotes

I ran across these quotes while going through some old email. Sadly almost three years later, not much has improved.

"What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them."
–Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 5, 2005

"Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"
–House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 9, 2005

"I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."
–Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Sept. 6, 2005

We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
–Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) to lobbyists, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal

"I also want to encourage anybody who was affected by Hurricane Corina to make sure their children are in school."
–First Lady Laura Bush, twice referring to a "Hurricane Corina" while speaking to children and parents in South Haven, Mississippi, Sept. 8, 2005

Rapists in the Ranks

I'm sure this is at the top of the DOD's list. Don't worry, girls. Your government will protect you. After all, you are a member of the military:
The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer. Afraid for her standing in her unit, she feels she has nowhere to turn.

Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported -- 73% more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released this month, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of "insufficient evidence."

Friday, April 04, 2008

MLK: Beyond Vietnam

A year to the day before his assassination, on April 4, 1967, King gave a speech, Beyond Vietnam, at the Riverside Church in New York City:
"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing Clergy and Laymen Concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
"This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
What's the cost of today's military industrial complex?
A congressional report released Tuesday said the U.S. Defense Department's spending on weapon systems has surged to a record high of $1.6 trillion in 2007 from $790 billion in 2000.

Despite budgets being strained by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department still plans to invest about $900 million over the next five years in weapon systems' development and procurement, including more than $335 billion, or 37 percent, for new major weapon systems, the report added.

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. In his famous essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King responded to religious leaders of his day who publicly criticized him for being "impatient" and "disruptive:"
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have become gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season". Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Why America Lost Iraq

If you truly want to know what went wrong in Iraq, please read Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq, by Guardian correspondent Jonathan Steele. He knows the history well and he actually interviewed Iraqis before and after the invasion to hear their opinions. Everything they predicted came true. He also writes about the arrogance of Paul Bremer, the man who went into Iraq with an iron fist and literally wrote their constitution.

Unlike most reporters, Steele was not "embedded" with the U.S. military.

The narrative we're hearing in the U.S. media is extremely simplified and fails to provide any sort of historical context.

PLEASE read this book and share it with friends.

Jonathan Steele will be on my radio show tomorrow at 11 am PST.