A new report by the US Institute for Peace says the United States is no closer to achieving its goals in Iraq than it was a year ago despite the so-called surge. The authors of the report conclude, "Without political progress, the US risks getting bogged down in Iraq for a long time to come, with serious consequences for its interests in other parts of the world." The study was written by the same experts who advised the Iraq Study Group. The report said lasting political development could take five to ten more years if the US remains fully committed to Iraq. The report was released on Sunday, just two days before top US commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to brief Congress on the war.
In Iraq, at least twenty-two Iraqis and five US troops died Sunday as fighting resumed between US-backed Iraqi forces and Shiite militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Two US soldiers died in a rocket attack on the Green Zone. Another US soldier died in a separate attack on a military base in Baghdad. The Green Zone has been repeatedly pounded with mortar rounds since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a crackdown on Shiite militias in Basra last month.
Senator Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist Mark Penn has stepped down just days after it was revealed that he had been hired by the Colombian government to help lobby for a new trade deal with Washington. It is unclear what role Penn will retain in the campaign. His polling firm will continue to provide polling and advice to Clinton. On Friday, several labor leaders called for Penn’s resignation after the Wall Street Journal reported that he had met with Colombia’s ambassador to help craft a strategy to secure passage of the Colombian Free Trade deal, which Clinton has opposed. Teamsters president James Hoffa said, "How can we trust that a President Hillary Clinton would stand strong against this trade deal when her top adviser is being paid by Colombia to promote it?" It is not the first time Mark Penn’s business deals at the firm Burson-Marsteller have come under scrutiny. Other clients of Penn’s have included the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, the mercenary firm Blackwater and Philip Morris.
In other campaign news, the New York Sun reports a key adviser to Senator Barack Obama’s campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep up to 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010. Colin Kahl’s plan is at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within sixteen months of taking office. Kahl serves as the day-to-day coordinator of Obama’s working group on Iraq but denied the paper represents the campaign’s Iraq position.
On Friday, the three major presidential candidates gave speeches marking the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Senator John McCain attended a memorial at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of King’s assassination. McCain was jeered as he apologized for his longtime opposition to creating a federal holiday in honor of King. In 1983, McCain was one of seventy-seven Republican members of Congress to oppose the King holiday. In 1987, McCain publicly supported the governor of Arizona’s decision to repeal the state’s recognition of King.
At a rally in Memphis, Tennessee, Senator Hillary Clinton recalled seeing Dr. King speak.
Sen. Clinton: "Dr. King’s call to action that evening in Chicago led me to confront a world bigger and broader than the one I inhabited. He had a way of doing that, of pushing us outside our own comfort zone, of making it clear that we had to be part of the revolution that was going on. It wasn’t a revolution of guns. It was a revolution of hearts and minds, of attitudes and actions."
Senator Obama spoke in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Sen. Obama: "Instead of having a politics that’s living up to Dr. King’s call for unity, we’ve had a politics that’s used race to drive us apart, when all this does is feed the forces of division and distraction and stop us from solving our problems."
In other campaign news, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia has formed an exploratory committee to run for president on the Libertarian ticket. Former Democratic senator and presidential candidate Mike Gravel also recently announced plans to seek the Libertarian nomination.
In Haiti, at least four people have died during protests over the rising price of food. The prices of rice, beans and fruit have gone up by 50 percent in Haiti over the last year. The protests began on Thursday and continued over the weekend.
Similar food riots have been occurring across Africa in recent weeks. In Burkina Faso, a nationwide strike has been called for Tuesday. Food riots have also been reported in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. Last week, African finance ministers warned that the rise in international food prices "poses significant threats to Africa’s growth, peace and security." In Sierra Leone the cost of rice has risen by 300 percent.
Last month, the World Food Program issued an urgent appeal for an additional $500 million. Bettina Luescher of the World Food Program says the enormous spike in food prices is caused by a variety of factors.
Bettina Luescher: "I think what we are facing is a perfect storm. More and more people are going hungry and need food aid. At the same time, we’ve got the lowest food reserves in some thirty years on the markets. At the same time, prices have gone up tremendously, sometimes doubled in the last few months, and you’ve got climate change with less harvest, droughts, floods. So the situation is really critical, and we have to act now. We cannot waste time. We have to act now."
Meanwhile, in Egypt, police have arrested more than 200 people in an attempt to crush plans for a nationwide general strike to protest the rising cost of food and basic necessities. In the Egyptian town of Mahalla el-Kubra, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at striking textile workers.
Meanwhile, here in this country food pantries are reporting major food shortages. Aina Duggan says the Food Bank for New York City has seen a sharp drop in food donations over the past year.
Aina Duggan: "We have less food in our warehouse. We’re practically seeing empty shelves every week in the warehouse, when we used to be brimming over and able to turn food around really quickly. What that means is that there’s less food in food pantries and soup kitchens around the city, and you literally have people standing in line for hours at a time waiting for food, only to be turned away because the food runs out."
In other economic news, the US economy lost 80,000 jobs in March, the biggest drop in five years. The official unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent. Since the start of the year, over 230,000 jobs have disappeared.
Brian Fabbri, chief economist of BNP Paribas: "The job losses that we’ve seen over the first three months of this year are basic confirmation of the fact that we probably have been in recession all year long. The idea, I think, is that not only will job losses make things more difficult, it will obviously cause consumer confidence to plunge, but it will also make it more difficult for people to actually go out and buy more things. And this is the downward spiral then that lost jobs create for the economy."
In Zimbabwe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is insisting he beat President Robert Mugabe outright in last month’s presidential election and that no runoff vote is needed.
Morgan Tsvangirai: "A run-off will polarize and traumatize this country, this country does not need another war… It is now therefore imperative for SADC, the AU, and the UN, to move in to prevent this chaos, violence and dislocation that now grips this country. African leaders surely must now say 'no' to Mugabe in the same way the Zimbabwean people have said 'no' to him."
Meanwhile, Mugabe is calling for a recount. Official election results still have not been released. A Zimbabwe court is expected to rule today on whether it has the authority to order the release of the delayed presidential election results.
A leading critic of the American Psychological Association’s stance on interrogations stands a chance to become the APA’s next president. During the initial phase of the selection process, Steven Reisner received the most nominating votes. Reisner is running on a platform opposing the use of psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations of prisoners at Guantánamo and secret CIA black sites.
The International Olympic Committee is privately threatening to punish athletes who take part in protests during the summer games in Beijing. In an internal memo, the Olympic committee said, "(r)ules for athletes clearly state that the venues of the Games are not a place for proactive political or religious expression."
Meanwhile, in London, police arrested thirty-five pro-Tibet activists Sunday after demonstrators disrupted the Olympic torch’s marathon relay. One protester got his hands on the torch before being wrestled to the ground by police.
The Department of Homeland Security has blocked an Irish peace activist from entering the United States. Damien Moran was scheduled to speak today in Colorado Springs about US plans to build a missile defense system in Poland. After he landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Damien was reportedly interrogated about his role in a 2003 action when Irish peace activists sabotaged US military property at Shannon Airport in Ireland.
Here in New York, members of the local rights group Movement for Justice in El Barrio rallied at City Hall Sunday to launch an international campaign against gentrification. The residents say they’re fighting poor conditions at dozens of East Harlem buildings recently purchased by the British investment firm Dawnay-Day Group. Movement for Justice in El Barrio members say they plan to work with other tenants-rights communities facing similar struggles worldwide, including in Spain, England and Mexico.
The artist and peace activist Tom Lewis has died at the age of sixty-nine. On May 17, 1968, Lewis and eight other peace activists made national news when they burned 600 draft records with homemade napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. He was sentenced to three years in jail. Others participating in the protest included Philip and Daniel Berrigan. They became known as the Catonsville Nine. The action was credited with helping to radicalize the antiwar movement. For the past four decades, Lewis remained active in the peace, anti-nuclear and anti-torture movements. In 2002, Tom Lewis appeared on Democracy Now! and talked about the Catonsville Nine action.
Tom Lewis: "We knew we were taking a risk, because draft resisters were being sent to prison, and people were being sent to prison for two years. We knew that there was a serious risk involved. We did not consider the risk as much as the importance of the witness, the importance of making a statement against the war in Vietnam. And we used a weapon of the army, in fact, to destroy the records. We used homemade napalm made from a special forces handbook to really illustrate the outrageousness of the use of napalm. Instead of using it on people, we used it on death certificates."
A fortieth anniversary commemoration of the Catonsville Nine is scheduled for May 8th in Maryland.