One of the more unfortunate byproducts of the Iraq War is the massive exodus of refugees.
In what may be the biggest refugee crisis since 1948, more than 2 million people have fled the violence in Iraq. But finding a safe haven can be costly and difficult.
Where do Iraqis seek sanctuary? Not in the United States, it seems. Last year, only 202 Iraqis were granted asylum in America.
But tiny Sweden took in more than 9,000 Iraqi asylum-seekers last year.
President Bush recently offered to expand the U.S. pool to 7,000 this year. Sweden expects to take in three times that many.
Keep in mind, Sweden was never part of the so-called "Coalition of the Willing." This country deeply opposed the Iraq War. But it has been more willing than any Western country to deal with the steady stream of refugees from Iraq.
In a six month span in 1975, the U.S. allowed 131,000 Vietnamese refugees to enter the country. But now, when there's an even greater refugee crisis in Iraq, we are closing our doors to scores of thousands of Iraqi refugees who are fleeing a civil war zone. Why are we abdicating our moral duty to help these victims of tyranny and civil war? Because the President can't stand to look bad on his war of choice, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees flooding into the U.S. is... politically unpalatable.
So this year, the State Dept is "offering" to review up to 7,000 applications from Iraqis fleeing a Civil War Zone in the Pol-Pottery Barn that Bush built. That's pretty magnanimous.
Where are most conservatives on this moral issue? In a word, absent. They don't care a helluva lot. This isn't gay marriage or Mexicans crossing the border, so it doesn't get their blood pressure up. But, dollars to donuts, ten years from now, when conservatives blame liberals and the media for losing the Iraq war, they will wave the wartime suffering of the Iraqis like a bloody shirt. How could the liberals abandon them, they'll ask.
Let's recall that today marks the 19th anniversary of Saddam's chemical attacks on the town of Halabja. Over five thousand civilians were killed. At the time I was a member of Amnesty International, and was fairly active in various human rights causes. I very clearly remember participating in AI's letter-writing campaign (to Congress) in response to the Halabja massacre. The response to the campaign by the Reagan/Bush administrations was very disappointing. They totally ignored Amnesty International's advocacy until GHWB was making the case for Gulf War I.
Here's a concise refresher on the U.S./Iraq relationship in the 80's by former ambassador Peter Galbraith:
In 1983, President Reagan initiated a strategic opening to Iraq, then in the third year of a war of attrition with neighboring Iran. Although Iraq had started the war with a blitzkrieg attack in 1980, the tide had turned by 1982 in favor of much larger Iran, and the Reagan administration was afraid Iraq might actually lose. Reagan chose Rumsfeld as his emissary to Hussein, whom he visited in December 1983 and March 1984. Inconveniently, Iraq had begun to use chemical weapons against Iran in November 1983, the first sustained use of poison gas since a 1925 treaty banning that.
Rumsfeld never mentioned this blatant violation of international law to Hussein, instead focusing on shared hostility toward Iran and an oil pipeline through Jordan. Rumsfeld apparently did mention it to Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister, but by not raising the issue with the paramount leader he signaled that good relations were more important to the United States than the use of poison gas.
This message was reinforced by US conduct after the Rumsfeld missions. The Reagan administration offered Hussein financial credits that eventually made Iraq the third-largest recipient of US assistance. It normalized diplomatic relations and, most significantly, began providing Iraq with battlefield intelligence. Iraq used this information to target Iranian troops with chemical weapons. And when Iraq turned its chemical weapons on the Kurds in 1988, killing 5,000 in the town of Halabja, the Reagan administration sought to obscure responsibility by falsely suggesting Iran was also responsible.
On Aug. 25, 1988 -- five days after the Iran-Iraq War ended -- Iraq attacked 48 Kurdish villages more than 100 miles from Iran. Within days, the US Senate passed legislation, sponsored by Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, to end US financial support for Hussein and to impose trade sanctions. To enhance the prospects that Reagan would sign his legislation, Pell sent me to Eastern Turkey to interview Kurdish survivors who had fled across the border. As it turned out, the Reagan administration agreed that Iraq had gassed the Kurds, but strongly opposed sanctions, or even cutting off financial assistance. Colin Powell, then the national security adviser, coordinated the Reagan administration's opposition.
The Pell bill died at the end of the congressional session in 1988, in spite of heroic efforts by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to force it through by holding up a raft of administration nominations.
The next year, President George H.W. Bush's administration actually doubled US financial credits for Iraq. A week before Hussein invaded Kuwait, the administration vociferously opposed legislation that would have conditioned US assistance to Iraq on a commitment not to use chemical weapons and to stop the genocide against the Kurds. At the time, Dick Cheney, now vice president, was secretary of defense and a statutory member of the National Security Council that reviewed Iraq policy. By all accounts, he supported the administration's appeasement policy.
In 2003, Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld all cited Hussein's use of chemical weapons 15 years before as a rationale for war. But at the time Hussein was actually doing the gassing -- including of his own people -- they considered his use of chemical weapons a second-tier issue.
The Reagan and first Bush administrations believed that Hussein could be a strategic partner to the United States, a counterweight to Iran, a force for moderation in the region, and possibly help in the Arab-Israel peace process. That was, of course, an illusion. A ruthless dictator who launched an attack on his neighbor, Iran, who used chemical weapons, and who committed genocide against his own Kurds was never likely to be a reliable American ally. Hussein, having watched the United States gloss over his crimes in the Iran war and at home, concluded he could get away with invading Kuwait.
Few if any conservatives gave a rat's ass about the Halabja massacre until it became time for war again. Then, all of a sudden, the "Saddam gassed his own people" talking point was ubiquitous among conservatives, as if the massacre happened yesterday. Ask conservatives what they did or said about Halabja two decades ago when it occurred, and I guarantee you'll get nothing. At the time the typical conservative view was cynical realpolitik: "well, Saddam might be bad, but Iran is worse."
Rahul Mahajan gives us an update of Halabja, and reinforces my basic point I made earlier about the Administration's response to issues like the largely-ignored refugee crisis in Iraq:
Had even a single word about the humanitarian nature of the Iraq war actually been meant or even thought through for propaganda purposes, instead of simply providing a sanctimonious cloak for an assertion of American power and a reaffirmation, to ourselves, of our wondrous goodness, something would have been done for the victims of Halabja. ... The victims of Halabja, coughing their lives out and drinking still-contaminated water, were the ultimate "righteous victims," not like evil insurgents and Communists and hapless "collateral damage." Yet virtually nothing was done for them, either by the United States or by the Kurdish leadership, after the regime change, except the building of a monument to the dead.
Two years ago, as part of a massive shift of U.S. "reconstruction" funds to "security," $10 million that had been approved to renovate and extend the water system was cancelled, a final insult added to the injury that the United States aided and abetted. Last year, at the 18th anniversary commemoration, the victims vandalized their own monument during a protest over the use of the memorial for constant photo ops while no actual aid to the victims was forthcoming. Security forces killed one student in the protest, a young boy whose name, appropriately, was Kurdistan. Jonathan Steele, who recently returned to follow up on that story, quotes a young man who lost half his family in Halabja saying of the memorial, "If they rebuild it a thousand times, I will burn it down a million times."
Vandalizing their own monument? That's not a good indicator.
I guess those Halabja citizens and those millions of Iraqi refugees don't understand that they have been liberated. I bet they are the sorriest collection of genocide survivors and civil war avoiders you've ever seen. They obviously don't understand that "freedom isn't free".
In short, the very Iraqis whom conservatives referenced when they made their case for war (But Saddam gassed his own people!) do not feel "liberated" or "happy". In fact, the residents of Halabja understand that they've been used as political pawns by neocons and wingnuts (and others) who don't really give a damn about their plight.
Da po blog notes that Bush crony company MWI was late on a crucial (no bid) water pump contract for South Florida in 2000, but got bailed out by cooperative weather.
Da po blog compares this to 2006, when MWI's defective pumps in New Orleans avoided any tests by Mother Nature. (Aren't those Bush cronies some of the "luckiest" entrepreneurs you've ever seen?)
And yes, MWI did pick up a $5 million bonus for the defective floodgate pumps they sent to New Orleans even though their products were not manufactured "In Accordance With Contract Requirements". Even worse, MWI got another $4.5 million contract for six replacement pumps so that the Army Corps of Engineers could troubleshoot the original defective MWI pumps (for which they were awarded the $5 million bonus.)
Is that irritating or what? And we haven't even mentioned the whole Nigerian thing.
"I've known Harriet for more than a decade. I know her heart," Bush said of his fellow Texan, whose nomination took Washington by surprise. "I'm confident that Harriet Miers will add to the wisdom and character of the judiciary."
"We have full confidence in his integrity," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said of would-be homeland security secretary Bernard B. Kerik on Friday afternoon -- mere hours before the nomination was doomed by reports of unpaid taxes to an undocumented nanny, unreported gifts from an unsavory company and an unpleasant lawsuit linked to an unseemly assignation.
Q ...Does the President still have full confidence in the Attorney General?...
MR. BARTLETT, [Counselor to the President]: He absolutely has full confidence in the Attorney General.... the President has all the confidence in the world in Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General for the United States of America.
Today, as I listened to Garland Robinette interview former Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert on WWL 870am, I realized that Meffert sounds like a colossal buffoon. His attempts to defend himself from various allegations were confused, evasive, disjointed, and unprofessional. In my opinion, he was totally unconvincing.
After Robinette's hour long radio segment with Meffert, I found it very, very difficult to understand how this guy became so respected. The worst was the cringe-inducing slang Meffert used throughout the interview. It made the "brash computer whiz" seem like a doofus who was attempting to be cool. People in forty states heard Meffert bumble through an explanation as to why he and his "peeps" didn't, like, collude or self-deal on, you know, various city contracts... like, you know.
Honestly, it was embarrassing. Meffert stumbled and bumbled so badly, he made Robinette sound like George Plimpton. I'll try to find an audio file if possible. If you heard it, tell me what you thought.
--- Update:Ashley provides a link to the audio file here.
William Scherer, a lawyer representing MWI (the Jeb! Bush crony company that makes defective pumps) is-- surprise!-- a Bush Pioneer. Yesterday, he responded to unfavorable news reports about MWI's defective pumps in New Orleans.
The MWI pumps in New Orleans definitely would have done their job if needed during last year's hurricane season.
And they will do their job in the coming storm season, if needed.
The pumps were tested by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers again just this last weekend and they performed above required capacity.
Hey, Counselor Mensa, quick question: didja know that the defective pumps were already tested last year... in a rainstorm in December?
And guess what happened? Our streets flooded. Badly. Here's a slideshow, go take a look. [Correction: the faulty MWI pumps likely didn't get tested during the rainstorm, because they were not installed in the interior pumping stations. Thanks to Ray for the notice.] And that storm wasn't even a hurricane, so don't tell us the pumps "definitely would have done their job" last year. That's horseshit. They would've been overwhelmed in a hurricane-- assuming the Category 3 levees held.
One more thing, Counselor Brightstar. About that "test" you referenced, here's what Mechanical Engineer Matt McBride has to say:
Those four [tested] pumps were ordered ... after the other 34 pumps started failing last summer. They were part of an order of six extra pumps to MWI (total charge, about $4 million for all six). These four were actually the last pumps installed - they went just a couple of months ago (they weren't fully hooked up as of January 26, 2007)... That is, they were not in the original order of 34. Using these pumps as a demonstration to show that the other 34 are working is pure lying. The Corps is probably going to turn on those pumps again tomorrow for the Mayor. They represent about 800 cubic feet per second of capacity (theoretically). Pre-Katrina, over 10,000 cfs flowed down the 17th Street canal.
The test last Saturday, like the one last night, only went for about an hour. That was not mentioned in the Times-Picayune article. But ALL the floodgate pumps (there are no spares in case one or more fails during a storm) will have to run for 12 or maybe 24 hours during a tropical storm or hurricane. Why isn't the Corps running tests for the media that last that long? Because they know the pumps and their drive units probably can't hold out for that long.
Don't buy what the Corps is selling.
I'd say we shouldn't buy what MWI is selling, either. But I guess we already did. It was part of that 110 billion trillion dollars that was sent to New Orleans after Katrina. But, sadly, it still wasn't enough to pay for luxuries like armored levees, working pumps, or coastal restoration. 110 billion trillion quadzillion dollars only goes so far, I guess.
So to make this as clear as possible... Not only did the Corps install pumps they knew wouldn't work, not only did they simply give up throughout the entire year of 2006 on repairing the canal walls, they also recommended doubling the order of the known-to-them-to-be-defective pumps and drive units, assumedly with the same manufacturer - MWI.
And I'll try to make it as politically clear as possible: a year and a half after a devastating Federal Flood, we have Bush crony lawyers defending a Bush crony company who got a multi-million dollar Katrina contract and made defective pumps for a city struggling to recover from disaster.
This is how the Bushies operate. No matter how high the geo-political stakes are, no matter how important it is to get something right (whether it be a war or the rebuilding of a devastated American city) the Bushies view major crises, first and foremost, as... business opportunities.
If you think that claim is too harsh, tell me: do you think Jane Taxpayer is getting her dollar's worth in the War in Iraq? Is she getting her dollar's worth in the rebuilding of New Orleans? Seriously, how many cents on the tax dollar are we getting in real value in our Iraq misadventure? How many cents on the dollar are we getting for our investment in a rebuilt New Orleans? Who is laughing all the way to the bank while our national "investments" in Iraq and New Orleans provide such pitiful returns? Who profits while others assume all the risk?
In an economic sense, Crony Capitalism is a bastard form of Fascism.
The Corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment, Moving Water Industries Corp. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., are still struggling to get the 34 pumps, designed and built under a $26.6 million contract, working properly.
The pumps have been plagued by excessive vibration, overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets.
"You want to build confidence, but you have to tell it like it is," said Gwen Bierria, 65, who is rebuilding her home with her husband next to the London Avenue canal, one of two canals that were breached during Katrina and flooded vast sections of the city.
"It's like being pregnant, sooner or later it's going to show," she said. "And Katrina was a big-time show."
MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. And Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The U.S. Justice Department sued MWI in 2002, accusing it of fraudulently helping Nigeria obtain $74 million in taxpayer-backed loans for overpriced and unnecessary water-pump equipment. The case has yet to be resolved.
As for whether the city was as safe as the Corps claimed, Powell said: "We got through a hurricane season without a hurricane so we didn't have to answer that question."
But he said residents should not panic as the new hurricane season approaches. "The corps is working as fast it can to get the systems back up. The levee system is better than it has ever been," he said.
So, according to Bush crony Donald Powell, the levee system-- which failed catastrophically in August of 2005 and drowned a city-- is "better than it has ever been". That's reassuring. The original commitment was to build the best levee system "in the world", not merely a levee system that is better than the one that catastrophically failed before Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi coast. But what if a tropical storm stalls over Southeast Louisiana this summer and the levees hold but the pumps made by a Friend of Jeb fail... will the city flood again? I guess we should just cross our fingers and hope we don't have to answer that question, right?
--- Michael has more, including a great graphic. ---
Levees.org, a nonprofit flood-control advocacy group, kicked off a national television advertising campaign on Tuesday featuring activist actor and comedian Harry Shearer asking, "Don't we all deserve levees that work?"
The campaign aims to explain to other communities protected by levees that they could experience a catastrophic flood like New Orleans experienced during Hurricane Katrina.
"Too many people don't understand that what happened here was a case of engineering failures and poor decision-making, and too many people don't understand that what happened here could happen there as well," said Sandy Rosenthal, the organization's executive director.
A national ad campaign? That's awesome! I'm terribly impressed and excited. See the commercial here. Also, Scout Prime has a related must-read post that is just sublime. (H/T Jeffrey.)
It's fun to see the conservative displeasure over Senator Vitty-cent's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for President. We'll have a lot of fun over this endorsement as Rudy's '08 campaign unfurls, but one thing I want to note is that in the interviews today, Vitty-cent said he has "a lot of confidence" in Rudy's ability to appoint great judges. He gives Rudy a pass on his (somewhat) liberal social stances by asserting that Rudy would appoint qualified, non-activist judges, which Vitty believes is a defining issue for the upcoming President.
So, to be clear, David Vitter thinks Giuliani's excellent appointments set him apart from the pack.
1. This 60 minutes story on Iraqi translators who are being denied asylum in the U.S. really made my blood boil. There are perhaps 100,000 Iraqis like these, who served as translators for American troops, and now that their country is in a low-grade civil war and insurgents are hunting them down and killing their family members... the U.S. has broken faith with the very Iraqis for whom we are building a new nation. You see, allowing a hundred thousand or more fleeing Iraqis into the U.S. is "politically impossible" because it's a concrete admission that the war isn't going well.
We accepted 131,000 Vietnamese into the U.S. within a six month span in 1975, but we're leaving these "Iraqi patriots" to fend for themselves in a civil war zone we helped create. Of course, the thousands of translators who assisted our troops make up only a small fraction of the overall refugee crisis in the Middle East. Almost as an aside, the 60 Minutes report notes:
At the Syrian borders, one can see caravans of cars leaving Iraq and heading towards Syria; no one is going the other way. The border post is mobbed. There were about 1,000 people on the day 60 Minutes stopped by. It's a refugee crisis that is largely unnoticed by the world.
The exodus of Iraqi refugees is one of the most under-reported stories of the war. The United Nations estimates that as many as two million Iraqis have left the country already and at various times over the winter they were coming across the border at a rate of 3,000 a day.
Many of those fleeing refugees are Iraqi Christians, who were able to live through Saddam's reign of terror but not through the sectarian wars that followed Saddam's removal. A 2,000 year old Christian community is being torn apart, and most Christians in this country couldn't give a shit. We're keeping our doors shut to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians who need our help.
I guess they, like the translators, need to learn that freedom isn't free.
2.Emily Metzgar has a "New Day LA" podcast up with Sidney Coffee on coastal restoration. Metzgar rarely does in-depth posts on coastal restoration, so I particularly appreciated this content-rich interview with the chief coastal advisor to the Governor. Kudos!
3. Butterchurn alerts us to the haunting after-effects of Prince's Sinful Silhouette during his Super Bowl performance. We're directed to some copies of post-game complaints made to the FCC.
Key quote: "One of [my sons had] hoped to be a quarterback and now he will turn out gay."
4. Angelina Jolie talks to Newsweek about New Orleans after her latest "Adopt the World" tour:
Newsweek: You're living in New Orleans right now. Is that just because you like the city or because you wanted to bring attention to New Orleans, too?
AJ: A bit of both. Brad was doing a film here and so we were going spend a month here. [We] realized it was a place we liked, we liked the people, I liked the school for the kids. They're very diverse. I liked the other parents. I feel very comfortable with them. We're happy having our children here. Brad is working on rebuilding here.... But for me, just as a mom, I love the other parents and the kids and the schools. I'm starting to work on the education here and the school system here. There's a lot of work to be done.
The Walt Disney Co. has started production on an animated musical fairy tale called "The Frog Princess," which will be set in New Orleans and feature the Walt Disney Studio’s first black princess.
The film, set for release in 2009, also is the first hand-drawn film Disney has committed to since pledging last month to return to the traditional animation that made it a worldwide brand.
"The Frog Princess," a musical scored by composer Randy Newman, is "an American fairy tale" starring a girl named Maddy who lives in the French Quarter in New Orleans, said John Lasseter, chief creative director for Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.