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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Iraq: IRAQ IS DYING

The possibility of saving Iraq as a viable Arab nation is in question, even if American public opinion forces the withdrawal of U.S. troops. For some American hawks, a dismembered Iraq may not be ideal but would no longer be a strategic threat.

The Nation
By: Tom Hayden
August 9, 2006

Those were the morbid impressions I formed after two days of discussion with Iraqis gathered in Amman, Jordan, at an unprecedented meeting initiated by Code Pink and attended by Cindy Sheehan and a smattering of peace activists that included Iraq Veterans Against the War and United for Peace and Justice.

That so many Iraqi representatives wanted to meet antiwar Americans was a hopeful sign. Attending were official representatives of the Shiite coalition now holding power, the minority Sunni bloc, the anti-occupation Muslim Scholars Association, parliamentarians and torture victims from Abu Ghraib. Their broad concensus favored a specific timetable for American withdrawal combined with efforts to "fix the problems" of the occupation as the withdrawal proceeds. Recent surveys show that 87% of Iraqis hold the same view.

Dr. Habib Jabar, carefully balancing the divisions within his majority Shiite parliamentary bloc, stated that "we don't need American forces to protect us from each other. We have been here 1,000 years. My wife is a Sunni. I don't need the Americans to protect her from me." He is seeking a consensus to demand that the United Nations Security Council formally end its authorization of the U.S. occupation when it meets this December. At the same time, the U.S.-backed Shiite representative was diplomatically noncomittal on dissolving deaths squads or the Badr Corps now operating with little or no restraint by the Interior Ministry. Nor did he acknowlede the plans of dominant Shiite leaders like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for an autonomous Shiite region running from Baghdad south to Basra, which would require mass removals of the Sunni population.

Even Sunni political representatives, while demanding a timetable for withdrawal, increasingly worry that they will be more exposed to vengeful Shiite and Kurdish militias when the Americans leave. The Sunni bloc representative, Salman al-Jumaili, said with frustrtration, "We want the Americans out tomorrow. But we want negotiated timetables to fill security gaps and prevent a power grab." He indicated that the nationalist insurgency "is looking for recognition...and a road map to ending the occupation through negotiations."

These are more nuanced positions than the demands for immediate withdrawal that Code Pink's Medea Benjamin recalls hearing in Baghdad street interviews three years ago. The qualified Iraqi demands for withdrawal reflect the civil war that has arisen in the wake of the U.S. occupation. Like victims of repeated battery, many Sunnies fear escalating attacks on their civilian population if the streets are dominated by the Badr militia after the Americans leave. They feel pressured by the Americans to abandon their aspirations for a unified Iraqi state, accept minority status in a partitioned country, or join as partners with their American occupiers to fight against pro-Iranian or Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.

The raging war in Lebanon has reinforced Iraqi paranoia that the United States, Britain and Israel intend to divide the Middle east into quarreling sects. Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Sunni-based Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which lost 100 campaign workers in killings during last year's election, said, "Lebanon could be even easier to send into civil war than Iraq." On the other hand, the U.S.-backed Shiite coalition in Baghdad is loudly supporting it Shiite bretheren in Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Not only are the complexities mind-boggling, but the pressures on the insurgents and Sunni organizations are beyond anything described in the mainstream American media. For example, on the flight home I met an American contractor with 30 years of security experience, who is a counselor to to top Sunni official in the new Iraqi government. "There are 10,000 or 12,000 Sunnis, mainly teachers, lawyers and professionals, being held without charges in Iraqi prisons, and the [Iraqi] guards are drilling holes in them," he said bitterly. Of course, there are Sunni or foreign militias attacking the Shiite population as well, but the Sunni minority neighborhoods bear the brunt of the attack. One member of Parliament, a Sunni, told us that "half of my friends have been kidnapped." She lives most of the year in Jordan, returning only for parliamentary sessions.

At least 4 million Iraqis like this parliamentarian have become refugees since 2003, with 3 million sheltered in Syria, 1 million in Jordan and many thousands more living in various places from the United Arab Emirates to Europe.

It is difficult to estimate to what extent all this carnage is intentional, a cycle of revenge, blowback from the U.S. occupation---or all three. Iraqis at the meeting complained of their country becoming a battleground in America's war against Syria, Iran and jihadists in general. The U.S. case for a divide-and-conquer strategy has been supplied by Stephen Biddle (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006 and July/August 2006), who advocates using military threats to maintain leverage with both the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority. He writes that the United States could remove the current constraints on Iraqi security forces and provide them with tanks, armored personal carriers, artillery, armed helicopters, and fixed-wing ground-attack aircraft, enlarging the capacity for the Kurds and Shiites to "commit mass violence against the Sunnis...dramatically...threatening such a change could provide an important incentive for the Sunnis to compromise [their withdrawal demand]."

At the same time, Biddle believes that "a U.S. threat to cease backing the Shiites, coupled with a program to arm the Sunnis overtly or in a semi-clandestine way, would substantially reduce the Shiite's military prospects." Biddle's goal would be to "keep U.S. troops in Iraq as long as would be necessary to protect the parties who cooperate." A perfect equilibrium for the occupiers, in other words. But for Biddle, there is one bothersome factor: recent polls of U.S. public opinion are not encouraging." That could be a problem, Biddle believes, if voters can be convinced of the importance of keeping U.S. troops in place. "sacrificing U.S. lives now could save many more later, and staying is imperative."

Biddle's worries about public opinion is justified. Americans share his enthusiasm for sending troops into the midst of an Iraqi civil war. The very phrase "civil war," delicately hinted by U.S. generals in recent Congressional hearings, is code for the tipping point in Iraq. Even Thomas Friedman called for a "Plan B," meaning a withdrawal strategy, in the New York Times this week.

Despite all its complexity, the Iraq debate now heating up in American politics should favor opponents of the war. The White House's insistence on "staying the course" sounds bankrupt given the daily news from Iraq. Antiwar candidates, alongside the peace movement, can offer a defensible alternative, as the interviews in Amman show, including:

1. A declaration by the United States of its intention to withdraw troops within a fixed timetable, including no permanent bases.

2. A parallel commitment to fix as many mistakes as possible in the same timetable.

3. An amnesty for Iraqi nationals who have fought against the occupation. If a U.S. withdrawal timetable is agreed, the foreign jihadists will lose the margin of support they currently have.

4. An end to Paul Bremer's de-Baathification policy and restoring former military and other professionals to security and civic roles.

5. Termination of U.S. support, training, financing or advising of sectarian militias.

6. A paradigm shift away from neoconservative extremism toward diplomatic and political solutions to he region's problems.

7. International efforts to rebuild Iraq after fifteen years of sanctions, bombardment, invasion, war and civil war.

The most contentious of these points concerns amnesty for Iraqis who have fought for the occupation. But it should be remembered that the American Civil War ended with amnesty for Jeffereson Davis. Amnesties always are included in negotiated settlements, and this endgame looks to be no different. If we don't achieve this, we will face a future of faith-based militarism until, as they say, the end of days.

Politics: THE GOP's TRILLION-DOLLAR RIPOFF FOR THE SUPER-RICH

A group of Congressional Republicans, led by House Majority Leader (*and sent to do this by J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), John Boehner (Ohio), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (Calif), and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn), orchestrated a shameless taxpayers ripoff at 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, July 29, giving the America's wealthiest 7-8,000 families what could amount to a $1 trillion tax cut over the next decades. Through the worst kind of parliamentary chicanery, this group of GOP zealots bundled the first hike in minimum wages in a decade, and a package of needed small business, middle class, and R&D tax benefits, into a bill that vastly and permanently cuts the estate tax for America's super-rich, thereby extorting Congress to choose between vitally needed measures or a defeat of the $1 trillion taxpayer ripoff on behalf of the super-rich.

By a vote of 230-180, the House ultimately passed the marathon bill, and departed Washington for a five-week recess until after Labor Day, leaving the Senate to take up the measure the week of July 31. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) vowed that the entire measure would be defeated, to avert the trillion-dollar tax ripoff, however, this wipes out the vital package of tax relief and an urgently needed, long overdue hike in the minimum wage.

One senior Congressional staffer, contemplating the arrogance of the Republican cabal that pushed through the estate tax cut scam, complained bitterly: "These people are out to shut down the Federal government altogether. They do not want the government to function on behalf of the needs of the American people. This is beyond the pale."

Rep. Charles Nagel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, had issued a press release 2 days before the final vote, preemptively denouncing the GOP ploy in the most blunt terms. "The reputation of Congress is at stake, as the House Republican Leadership holds the pension bill and the tax extenders hostage for the benefit of a wealthy few. Millions of hardworking Americans are looking to Congress for some assurance that their life savings and pensions will be secure, yet we find House Republicans catering to the whim of less than 1% of the American people who are eligible for estate tax relief." The press release noted that the estate tax bill component would benefit "roughly 7,500 of the wealthiest families in America, at a cost of nearly $300 billion." Rangel asked: "How in the devil is this small group of people so powerful that they can hold hostage legislation that affects millions of working families?"

The release noted that "among the many popular provisions that have expired, or will expire by the end of 2006, are the extension of the credit for research and development, deduction of State and local sales taxes, deduction for qualified tuition, work opportunity tax credit, and extension of qualified zone academy bonds." These legitimate tax benefits must be renewed every two years.

Rep. George Miller (Calif), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued a seperate press release following the 1:30 a.m. vote, also denouncing the GOP action.: "In a cynical effort to provide political cover to vulnerable members of their party, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed a minimum wage increase that stands little chance of approval in the U.S. Senate because it is coupled with massive tax breaks for the wealthiest estates in the country. Democrats had offered alternative legislation, raising the minimum wage without including the controversial tax provisions, but Republicans defeated it."

Miller, who had been working for months on the minimum wage hike and a viable bill to salvage the nation's private employer fixed-payment pension system, was quoted: "Republicans have killed this chance to give a raise to the millions of American workers who need it most, but Democrats will not stop fighting for a minimum wage increase. What American workers deserved was a straightforward vote in Congress on whether or not to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. What they got instead was one of the most shameful and cynical acts of political deception that I have ever seen. It's no wonder that the American people are so fed up with the ways things work in Washington, D.C."

In addition to the fact that the estate tax "poison Pill" was attached to the minimum wage bill, to ensure that it would be either killed, or trumped by the massive tax give-away to those who need it least, the bill that was finally attached to the legislation at the last moment, was significantly watered down from the minimum wage plan put forward by the Democrats. The GOP bill excluded more than 1.8 million workers from the minimum wage gain , and imposed an actual minimum wage "cut" on restaurant workers and others who receive gratuities. It also "eliminated" the extension of the minimum wage boost to the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. territory that houses slave labor sweatshops, boosted by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and his former K Street lobbyist crony, Jack Abramoff.

"Republican leaders are holding a minimum wage increase for 6.6 million workers hostage to tax breaks for just 8,200 families," Miller continued. "It's hard to decide what's worse: that Republicans still won't allow a vote to increase the minimum wage with no political strings attached, or that Republicans believe the American public would be fooled by their sham minimum wage bill."

This act of politicl treachery by Boehner, Thomas, and Frist has also infuriated some more honest Republicans, including Charles Grassley (Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley along with Mike Enzi (R-WYO), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had been pressing for the tax extenders to be added to the pension bill, which had finally come out of House-Senate conference, and which also passed the House the week of July 24, and will likely be approvd by the Senate. Grassley called a leadership meeting on July 27, to confront Thomas and other House Republicans on their efforts to sabotage these vital small business, R&D, and middle class education tax breaks, by attaching them to the estate tax. House Republicans flat-out boycotted the meeting and refused to confer with the GOP Senators, before pulling their late-night stunt. Only July 29, Grassley told the Washington Post, "When my credibility is abused and used, I resent it." He said that he had been "stabbed in the back."


Loss of Revenue: Do the Math

Under the best possible estimates, the cost to the taxpayers of the permanent reduction in estate taxes over the next ten years, will be $268B. However, as the full cut in estate tax rate kicks in several years from now, if passed, the costs will balloon. According to a fact sheet prepared by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Ways and Means, between 2011-21, an estimated $800B in tax revenue will be lost, and when interest on these revenues is factored in, the loss in Federal government tax revenues soars toward $1 trillion! According to the fact sheet, an average of 7,500 estates per year will get all the benefits from the tax cut, and an estate worth $20M (approx. 800-900 of America's ultra-rich families) will each get $5.6M in tax relief.

Senate Democratic Leader Reid, who has voted to defeat the measure---with a filibuster if necessary---told the Washington Post, "Republicans have made perfectly clear who they stand with and who they are willing to fight for: the privileged few."


***Need I say more? If you are not one of the very privileged few, then the Republicans aren't going to work for you, no matter what they tell you on the campaign trail. To do this when the House Republicans are in so much trouble this election season, is beyond arrogant. They don't care what you or I have to say or think about anything! They have only proven that they could care less about the "real" American people! Anyone who votes for them is crazy! They could care less about you. Show them that you could care less about what happens to them this election season. Just let them fade into history. Think about it. What have these Republicans and this Republican administration done for you since they came into power? If you have to think, then they are not the ones for you. If you can name off a lot that has been taken from you since they took over, then get rid of them. It is your individual choice!


EIR
By: Jeffrey Steinberg
August 2006

Environmental Issues: ANTARCTICA DATA MAY BE BAD NEWS

New research by a team of international scientists, including several from the University of Maine, shows that rising global temperatures have not significantly changed weather patterns in the interior regions of Antarctica.

Bangor Daily News
August 12, 2006

But researchers cautioned against interpreting the data as good news on climate change. Instead, they said the lack of additional snowfall over interior Antarctica---coupled with more alarming news on melting ice sheets in Greenland---could mean that global warming could have even more severe impacts than previously thought.

Sixteen researchers, including Paul Mayewski of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, used ice core samples and models to analyze annual snowfall in Antarctica during the past 50 years. Two UMaine graduate students, Daniel Dixon and Susan Kaspari, also worked on the study.

Contrary to popular perceptions of Antarctica as a snowy hell, much of the interior of the continent is considered a "polar desert" and therefore receives relatively little precipitation. The extreme cold merely keeps snow and ice from ever melting.

Climatologists and polar researchers have predicted that rising global temperatures caused by human-induced buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase moisture levels above Antarctica because warmer air holds more moisture.

More moisture above Antarctica should translate into more snowfall over the continent. This is important because one prominent scientific theory predicts that this additional snow will help thicken the Antarctica ice sheets, thereby helping slow a rise in sea levels worldwide.

But the researchers, who published their work this week in the journal Science, found no "statistically significant global warming signal of increasing precipitation over Antarctica" during the past five decades.

Another scientific study published in the same edition of Science reports that the Greenland ice sheets are melting much faster than previously believed.

Mayewski, a world-renowned expert on climate change, said during an interview Friday that parts of Antarctica already are experiencing the effects of global warming.

Coastal glaciers have been retreating for several decades, floating ice areas are collapsing, and marine air masses are traveling farther inland, he said. At the same time, global temperatures and sea levels are rising.

The fact that precipitation levels in interior Antarctica have not changed could suggest that Antarctica is seting up for a "significant climate change" once the weather patterns finally shift, he said. Antarctica is one of the last parts of the globe that will be effected by climate change, Mayewski said.

"All we are saying is the [global warming] process has not come into the interior yet, therefore the warming we have experienced so far is a subdued version of what we will see in the future," said Mayewski, who heads the international scientific expedition that gathered the ice cores.

The study will also provide a baseline of information to gauge future precipitation and climate change, he said.

The study's lead author, meteorologist Andrew Monaghan with Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center, said the findings suggest that scientists may not be able to count on Antarctica to mitigate the rising sea levels from melting glaciers an ice sheets.

Monaghan said more long-range study is needed to determine global warming's impact on all of Antarctica's ice sheets. But he said it would be "quite a misinterpretation" of the group's findings to read it as evidence against global warming.

The director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, Mayewski has led more than 35 expeditions to Antarctica and other remote portions of the globe. He said Friday that he is preparing for another two-to-three-month expedition beginning this November to collect more ice cores from Antarctica.

Veterans Issues: FIGHT MENTAL ILLNESS STIGMA

A debate has emerged as to whether military personnel returning from Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress are getting the treatment they need for their emotional and psychological problems.

VA Watchdog dor Org
Larry Scott
Story By: Tennessean dot Com
August 13, 2006

Experts have said not getting the needed therapy and medication can lead to escalating rates of divorce, domestic violence and DUI arrests, among other problems.

Unfortunately, one thing that is not debatable is many military personnel do not want to disclose emotional problems, fearing that it may jeaopardize their careers.

Others say a stigma attaches to soldiers who admit having problems, prompting many not to tell the truth on military mental health questionnaires.

Such an example can be found in a report issued in May by the Government Accountability Office indicating that fewer than one-quarter of the Iraq and Afghanastan war veterans who showed signs of post-traumatic stress between 2001 and 2004 were referred for further mental health treatment or evaluation.

A 2004 report by the New England Journal of Medicine found in part that "in the military, there are unique factors that contribute to resistance to seeking such help, particularly concern about how a soldier will be perceived by peers and the leadership.

Concern about stigma was disproportionately greatest among those in need of help from mental health services."

Mental health is a disease.

Over the years, there has been a stigma attached to mental ullness just as a stigma was attached to cancer for a long period of time.

But the stigma keeps people from seeking help.

That should not be the case with military personnel or anyone else.

Pentagon officials need to make sure treatment of PTSD is available for military personnel returning from the war, but they also need to work to help erase the stigma of mental illness.

Military personnel who need emotional and psychological help must not be afraid to seek it.

Neither should anyone else.