Commentary

Groups Write to Congress Against Iran Sanctions Bills

Peace and religious groups joined the National Iranian American Council in writing to Congress in opposition to current Iran sanctions bills before Congress, urging changes to minimize the impact on Iranian civilians. The letter is here.

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Civil Society Leaders Issue Letter to President Obama Urging U.S. to Join Mine Ban Treaty

Leaders from 65 nongovernmental organizations delivered a letter to President Obama Monday urging the U.S. to relinquish antipersonnel landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty without delay.

Here is the press release. Here is the letter

Can President Obama Mobilize His Inner Rachel Corrie?

Today is the seventh anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie in Gaza by Israeli government bulldozer, and the anniversary this year comes at an unusually bad time in US-Israel relations - by which I mean, of course, that it comes at an unusually wonderful time in US-Israel relations, one of those rare times in which the US appears to put some real effort into establishing narrower boundaries for Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians.

It's easy for long-time observers to be cynical. We've seen it all before: strong words from the US to Israel followed by abject retreats. And there's something in our collective consciousness that counts false hope a greater danger than false pessimism. The pessimist will be right more often; but the optimist will contribute more to positive social change. Each person has to ask herself which is more important: to be right more often, or to contribute more to positive social change?

It's not every day that the press carries reports that the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, the top military commander of all our armed forces, and the Vice-President of the United States are telling Israel that its treatment of the Palestinians is endangering US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Mark Perry notes in the cover story at Foreign Policy, "There are important and powerful lobbies in America.... But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military."

Support Our Troops: Boycott the Israeli Occupation

I don't know about all you commiepinkos, but I believe we should Support Our Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and Vice-President Biden say that Israel's actions toward the Palestinians are putting our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in danger. That's why, to Support Our Troops, the U.S. government must effectively pressure Israel to end its military occupation of the West Bank. And one thing every American can do to Support Our Troops is to shun products from companies linked to the Israeli occupation.

In January, Foreign Policy reports, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus sent senior military officers to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the perception of the U.S.' Arab allies that the U.S. was failing to pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

 

If One Phone Call Could End the War

If you could end the war in Afghanistan by making one phone call, would you make that call? Would you press 10 buttons to stop the wanton destruction of the lives of American soldiers and Afghan civilians?

I suspect that the majority of the literate adult population in the United States, if faced with that choice, would press 10 buttons to end the war.

Unfortunately, there isn't one phone call that will end the war. But there is a plausible chain of consequence that connects a phone call made to Congress today to ending the war in the foreseeable future.

In the next few days the House of Representatives is expected to debate and vote on a "privileged resolution" - H.Con.Res. 248 - introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich that would establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.

Schakowsky to Clinton: Investigate Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

Nine Congressional Democrats have written to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to "fully investigate reports of severe human rights abuses in Honduras." The Members of Congress say that the U.S. "must make it clear that the ongoing intimidation and persecution of activists and dissidents is unacceptable." In addition to Rep. Schakowsky, the signers were: McGovern, Grijalva, Farr, Barbara Lee, Oberstar, Honda, Conyers, and Waters. The letter is posted here.

Kucinich Forces Congress to Debate Afghanistan

Today Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Con Res. 248, a privileged resolution with 16 original cosponsors that will require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Debate on the resolution is expected early next week.

Original cosponsors of the Kucinich resolution include John Conyers, Ron Paul, José Serrano, Bob Filner, Lynn Woolsey, Walter Jones, Danny Davis, Barbara Lee, Michael Capuano, Raúl Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Johnson, Yvette Clarke, Eric Massa, Alan Grayson, and Chellie Pingree.

The Pentagon doesn't want Congress to debate Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants Congress to fork over $33 billion more to pay for the current military escalation, no questions asked, no restrictions imposed for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy.

Ideally, from the point of view of the Pentagon, Congress would fork over that money right away, before the coming Kandahar offensive that the $33 billion is supposed to pay for, because you can expect a lot of bad news out of Afghanistan in the form of deaths of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians once the Kandahar offensive starts, and it would sure be awkward if all that bad news reached Washington while the $33 billion was hanging fire.

Defense Daily: Hill To Weigh War Supplemental Next Month

Hill To Weigh War Supplemental Next Month
Defense Daily, March 2, 2010, Volume 245, No. 39, pg. 2
By Emelie Rutherford
http://www.defensedaily.com/publications/dd/Hill-To-Weigh-War-Supplement... (subscription required)

Congress is expected to start considering in mid-April President Barack Obama’s $33 billion request for supplemental war funding for the current fiscal year, which is expected to be approved without any major skirmishes.

Though Obama pledged to end the Bush administration practice of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through such emergency appropriations bills, he has requested the $33 billion FY ’10 supplemental to fund a buildup of troops in Afghanistan.

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) is expected to kick off consideration of the measure with a markup session on or around April 15. That date falls on the week after a two-week congressional recess set to begin on March 27. Until then, the congressional defense committees will continue to be enmeshed in hearings on the Pentagon’s request for a $548.9 billion base budget and $159.3 billion in war funding for FY ’11, which begins Oct. 1.

Senate appropriators are also expected to take up the FY ’10 supplemental soon after the congressional recess.

The $33 billion war-funding proposal is dominated by operations costs and does not include much procurement. Yet it notably seeks $1.1 billion for buying additional Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) for Afghanistan; that money combined with $3.4 billion in the Pentagon’s war-funding request for FY ’11 is intended to meet the Pentagon’s requirement for 28,882 trucks in the MRAP family of vehicles, which includes the newer MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV).

Is the UN Violating Haiti's Minimum Wage Law?

Press reports haven't provided enough detail to be certain, but there seems to be some evidence that the United Nations may be violating, if not the letter, then at least the spirit, of Haiti's minimum wage law with its cash-for-work program.

A recent AP report indicates that the minimum wage in Haiti for non-garment sector work is the equivalent of about $5 for an eight hour day. (If you're producing clothes for export to the United States, you can be paid less than the minimum for other workers - about $3.09 for an eight hour day.) Estimating from other press reports, I gather that the minimum wage in Haiti is actually 200 Haitian gourdes for an eight-hour day, or about $4.97.

A UN press release says workers in the UN's cash-for-work program are "receiving the equivalent of just under $5 a day."

But press reports here and here seem to indicate that the actual wage is 180 Haitian gourdes, or about $4.47, for six hours of labor.

If one looks at the UN wage as an hourly wage, then it's 30 Haitian gourdes an hour, or about 75 cents an hour. At that rate, a person working for eight hours would make 240 gourdes, or about $5.96. So, viewed in this hourly way, the UN could argue that it is paying more than the Haitian legal minimum.

But as we all know, food, shelter and clothing for a worker and a worker's family cost the same whether the person is working for 8 hours or 6 hours. There's no reason to believe that workers in the UN program have other wage income - the UN certainly hasn't provided any.

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Rachel Corrie Gets Her Day in Court

On March 10, in the Israeli city of Haifa, American peace activist Rachel Corrie will get her day in court. Rachel's parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are bringing suit against the Israeli defence ministry for Rachel's killing by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003.

Four key American and British witnesses who were present at the scene - members of the International Solidarity Movement - will be allowed into Israel to testify, despite having been barred previously by the Israeli authorities from entering the country. This reversal by the Israeli authorities is apparently due to U.S. government pressure, the Guardian reports. (Three cheers for any U.S. officials who contributed to this pressure. What else could you make the Israeli government do?)

A Palestinian doctor from Gaza who treated Corrie after she was injured has not been given permission by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza to attend. (This would seem to be important testimony concerning the nature of Rachel's injuries - did U.S. officials exert pressure for his appearance?)

This case isn't just about accountability for Rachel's death. It's a test case for the power of the rule of law in Israel, when the rule of law comes into conflict with the policies of military occupation.