Global Green USA has lined up 30 “environment-friendly rides” for “celebrities wanting to make a green statement on the way to the red carpet of the Oscars.”
IDAHO: Conservative state lawmakers kill an effort to index Idaho’s minimum wage to inflation.
ILLINOIS: State Rep. Greg Harris (D) introduced a bill yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage.
NORTH CAROLINA: State eyeing “green guidelines” to lead the battle against global warming.
WYOMING: Bill defeated in State House that would have banned Wyoming from recognizing gay marriages from other states.
THINK PROGRESS: Pentagon’s Iraq report contradicts White House’s rosy rhetoric on U.K. troop withdrawals.
TAPPED: New York Times Book Review editor explains why there are so few female review: women are unable to write for a “general audience” on issues such as military affairs.
THE GAVEL: Military officials speak out on the strain of escalation on U.S. troops.
FEDSPENDING.ORG: New and improved searchable database of nearly all government spending since FY 2000.
“I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard. … We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren’t serious, and there weren’t a lot of them.”
— Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, 2/22/07, at a press conference at Walter Reed’s Building 18
“Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn’t walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn’t acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation.”
— Dana Milbank, 2/23/07
Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.
A Way Out
Americans are looking for a way out of Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the public want all U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of 2008. Another 54 percent said they would vote to cut off funding for the escalation if they were in Congress. With the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has laid out a plan that would both increase support for the overstretched U.S. military and block Bush’s Iraq buildup. Conservatives have swiftly attacked Murtha’s proposal, which will he will likely introduce next month, claiming that it is a “slow-bleed” plan that hurts the troops and aids the terrorists. But as Americans now recognize, the real injury to our forces comes from sending them into a brutal civil war with inadequate equipment and extended deployments. Next week, the Senate will attempt to “repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military’s role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.” It also plans to incorporate some of Murtha’s proposals, such as ensuring that all combat troops are proper equipment. The Washington Post accused Murtha of “cynicism” and “an alarming ignorance about conditions in Iraq.” But it is the Bush administration that has chosen to ignore the situation on the ground in order to push a dangerous, unpopular policy. As American Progress President and CEO John Podesta and Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb note, Murtha’s actions are the “beginning of the real vote that is good for the country, troops, and Congress.” The Center for American Progress has also put together a plan to strategically redeploy U.S. troops out of Iraq. Read about it here.
TROOPS MUST BE ‘FULLY COMBAT READY’: Conservative lawmakers have already blasted Murtha’s plan, charging that it is a “slow-bleed” strategy. “While American troops are fighting radical Islamic terrorists thousands of miles away, it is unthinkable that the United States Congress would move to discredit their mission, cut off their reinforcements and deny them the resources they need to succeed and return home safely,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). But U.S. troops are already being denied resources by the Bush administration; Murtha’s plan would ensure that they have them. His plan would restrict the $93.4 billion in new combat funds that Bush has requested — requiring that they be used to increase troop readiness. It would bar a buildup in Iraq until all troops are “fully combat ready.” A recent audit by the Pentagon’s Inspector General showed that U.S. soldiers have had to go without the necessary weapons, armor, vehicles, and equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the military lacks equipment and resources for Bush’s escalation plan. The Army and Marine Corps “are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply” the extra 21,500 troops Bush plans to send to Iraq. “It’s inevitable that that has to happen, unless five brigades of up-armored Humvees fall out of the sky,” one senior Army official said. Chairman of the Joint Cefs of Staff Peter Pace told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “the military has about 41,000 armored vehicles in Iraq — fewer than will be needed ‘to cover all of the troops that are deploying.’” Earlier this week, military officials gave “Congress a long list of equipment and reconstruction needs totaling nearly $36 billion, denied earlier by the administration in its $481 billion defense appropriations request for the new fiscal year.” Among those requests included “more than 5,000 armored vehicles, another $153 million for systems that defend against the deadly improvised explosive devices in Iraq and $13 million in language translation systems.”
PENTAGON MUST END ‘STOP-LOSS’ POLICY: Currently, the President is “extending deployment dates of some Army units from 12 to 16 months and Marine Corps units from seven to 12 months.” The Pentagon’s “stop-loss” policies mean that “personnel who could otherwise leave the military when their volunteer commitments expire will be forced to remain to the end of their overseas deployments and up to another 90 days after they come home.” Approximately 170,000 Army soldiers have now served more than one tour of duty in Iraq. These policies are stretching an already overstretched military and breaking the all-volunteer force. George Joulwan, retired four-star Army general and former NATO commander, said, “They [the troops] are stretched thin. Whether they’re broken or not, I think I would say if we don’t change the way we’re doing business, they’re in danger of being fractured and broken, and I would agree with that.” Similarly, the Pentagon plans to send 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year. More than 500,000 Guard and Reserve troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, making up nearly half the fighting force in those wars. Guard officials have also been sending units on foreign deployments every three to four years, instead of the standard five years. Murtha’s plan would help rebuild the strength and morale of the U.S. military by requiring all troops to have at least one year at home for training before redeployment, prohibiting the Pentagon from extending combat tours, and ending the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” policy. Podesta and Korb note, “As anyone knows who has been in the service, like Murtha has, extending deployment times has a crushing effect on troop morale and causes havoc with military families.”
CUT OFF FUNDING FOR PERMANENT BASES IN IRAQ: In 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised that any suggestion the United States “is planning a permanent military presence in Iraq is ‘inaccurate and unfortunate.’” Unfortunately, those suggestions have turned out to be accurate. The Pentagon has “already spent $1 billion or more on them, outfitting some with underground bunkers and other characteristics of long-term bases.” It has also revealed that coalition forces are establishing as least six “enduring” bases in Iraq, Murtha’s plan would ensure that no funding goes toward establishing a permanent presence in Iraq, a proposal that has strong backing from the public, lawmakers, and experts. Seventy-one percent of the American public opposes establishing permanent bases in Iraq, and 71 percent of Iraqis want the United States to withdraw all forces within a year. Last year, both the Senate and the House passed resolutions that stated the Bush administration could not use any appropriated funds for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq. One of the Iraq Study Group’s key recommendations was that the “President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.” A continued U.S. presence in Iraq is not contributing to stability. Almost 80 percent of Iraqis believe that the effect of the U.S. military presence in Iraq is contributing to more chaos, rather than more stability.
CONGRESS HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THE TROOPS: A small group of conservatives in the House and the Senate are charging that Congress has no power to “micromanage” the war in Iraq. But as Podesta and Korb note, “As chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, it is Murtha’s job to get the Congress to do everything it can to mitigate the devastating impact of the president’s surge. Despite conservative claims to the contrary, few in the Congress are in favor of cutting off funding for the war, since almost no one, including Murtha, is for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, the vast majority of those opposing the president are in favor of a phased redeployment of American forces out of Iraq over the next 12 to 18 months. … Through legislation, Congress can place the onus on the president and his appointees as they make policy choices in Iraq, holding them — not the troops or the commanders — responsible for their choices. Congress can also pass measures to help safeguard the welfare of our troops, their families, and the country. This is what Murtha is trying to do by preventing the president from deploying troops that are not combat ready, preventing extended deployments, using the back door draft to keep people in the service beyond their agreed upon times, and overusing the guard and reserve.”
Under the Radar
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — RICE PRESSURES ISRAEL TO REJECT ‘EXPLORATORY CONTACTS’ WITH SYRIA: Today, Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo points to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that reports, “The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.” “In meetings with Israeli officials recently,” the paper reports, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington’s view on the matter.” “The American argument is that even ‘exploratory talks’ would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there.” “When Israeli officials asked Secretary Rice about the possibility of exploring the seriousness of Syria in its calls for peace talks, her response was unequivocal: Don’t even think about it.” As Rice pressures other governments to reject direct talks with Syria, the Bush administration continues to oppose future U.S.-Syria talks because, as Rice puts it, “We’ve generally gotten nowhere” with previous attempts at diplomacy. But former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who supports direct talks with both Syria and Iran, recently rejected the White House’s excuse. “I don’t like the administration saying, ‘Powell went, Armitage went … and [they] got nothing.’ We got plenty,” he said. “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” The Iraq Study Group has called for direct talks because “Syria can make a major contribution to Iraq’s stability in several ways.”
ECONOMY – RECORD NUMBER OF AMERICANS LIVING IN SEVERE POVERTY: America’s poor have yet to reap the benefits of the recent economic expansion as the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” “continues to wide.” In an analysis of 2005 census figures, McClatchy newspapers found that “nearly 16 million Americans are living near deep or severe poverty,” a 32-year high. The analysis revealed that from 2000 to 2005, the number of severely poor swelled by 26 percent — the highest growth rate for any other segment of the population. Steven Woolf, co-author of the study, said the results were the opposite of what his team expected. “We’re not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population,” he explained. “What we’re seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty.” The results show a stark rise in income inequality in the United States, as “the share of national income going to corporate profits has has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries.” Washington, D.C. has the highest rate of people living in extreme poverty — 10.8 percent. The long-term effects of more children growing up in this poverty will be widespread, explains the Center for American Progress, including increased crime rates and health care costs. With such high levels of poverty, the need to invest in resources to reduce poverty such as early childhood education, urban revitalization, and raising the minimum wage, is more crucial than ever.
IRAQ – CHALABI MAKES POLITICAL COMEBACK IN IRAQ, OVERSEES ESCALATION STRATEGY: The Wall Street Journal reports, “In his latest remarkable political reincarnation, onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi has secured a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration’s new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.” The vaguely defined position will allow Chalabi to serve “as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city.” Created by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the position “is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy.” Chalabi has had a sordid history with the U.S. involvement in Iraq. He was paid by administration intelligence agencies to provide evidence for the Iraq war, nearly all of which turned out to be false. Among Chalabi’s questionable activities, he provided dubious Iraqi sources to the administration in the run-up to the war, he helped plant fabricated news stories about Iraq’s weapons, and he was accused of passing U.S. secrets to Iran. In the Dec. 2005 Iraqi elections, Chalabi’s political party failed to win a single parliamentary seat. He has remained, however, “an active behind-the-scenes player in Iraq’s chaotic political scene.” A senior American official said, “The question is whether he is really doing this to help, or whether he’s trying to build himself a new political base in Baghdad or carry water for the Shiites. And we simply don’t know the answer to that yet.”
“Iraq may be facing a deadly civil war, but the Iraqi government is initiating major, costly repairs to its diplomatic building in Washington and expanding its real estate holdings here.” The Iraqi government recently purchased a $5.8 million mansion complete with “heated floors…and spacious bathrooms, one with a Jacuzzi.”
U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday “declared himself at odds with hawks in the US Administration” over Iran. He told BBC News, “I can’t think that it would be right to take military action against Iran. … What is important is to pursue the political, diplomatic channel.”
The White House yesterday announced “plans to replace the assistant defense secretary for health affairs” — William Winkenwerder — “two days after a review was ordered into outpatient care for wounded troops.” The Pentagon claimed the announcement had “no bearing on current events whatsoever.”
Day two of jury deliberations in the Scooter Libby trial produced no verdict. Yesterday, the jury of eight women and four men “requested a large flip chart, masking tape, Post-it notes and a document with pictures of the witnesses.”
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz may appoint a new resident director for Iraq. “This is exactly what he shouldn’t be doing and what the [Bank] board was initially afraid that he would do, which is to use the financial resources of the World Bank to take some of the heat off the U.S. Treasury and U.S. policy,” said Bea Edwards of the Government Accountability Project.
“Ballot initiatives for increasing the minimum wage boosted voter motivation in five targeted states in 2006,” a new study shows. Voter motivation and reported interest in the election was “disproportionately high” among African-Americans, unmarried voters and women.
Parents have complained after ninth graders at a North Carolina school were given anti-Muslim literature in class. The handouts described Mohammed as a “criminal” and “demon possessed,” and included pamphlets with titles such as “Jesus not Muhammad” and “Do Not Marry a Muslim Man.”
And finally: “The tables will turn on Justice Stephen Breyer next month, when instead of posing obscure questions at Supreme Court arguments, he’ll be answering them – with no clerks to help on research.” In an apparent first, Breyer will appear on a quiz show, as the celebrity guest on the March 17 installment of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”