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Not in Our Name

After heated debate, Albany County legislators vote against a resolution to end to the war in Iraq

 

The nationwide debate about the war in Iraq came to the Albany County Legislature Monday night when, following an evening of dramatic debate, the mostly Democratic legislature voted down a resolution that called for an end to the war and the swift return of all U.S. soldiers.

The symbolic one-and-a-half page bill stated the costs of the war in Iraq both in monetary terms and in terms of the lives lost during the conflict. If it had passed, a copy of the resolution would have been sent to all other counties in New York state, the New York congressional delegation, and President George W. Bush.

“Eighty percent of my district was against this war and wanted me propose a resolution against the war,” said Legislator Douglas Bullock (D-District 8), who pledged to sponsor the resolution as part of his recent campaign.

Bullock claimed to have fielded argumentative phone calls for much of Monday afternoon before the public hearing, after a local conservative radio talk show gave out his home number on the air and urged its listeners to harass him.

Citizens lined the walls of the chamber and overflowed out of the public-seating area into the hallway as people of all ages spoke on behalf of or against the resolution. Many of the speakers were forced to compete with the din of the crowd gathered for the hearing. Supporters of the bill came equipped with facts and statistics and voiced their war-weary frustration to the Legislature, while the opposed claimed that such sentiments emboldened the enemy and endangered the troops.

The legislators themselves talked of the opportunity to make a statement about the war. Younger legislators, such as Ryan Horstmyer (D-District 25) and Christopher Higgins (D-District 6), expressed a distrust of the Bush administration and its handling of the war. Many cited friends, family, and constituents who were involved in the war.

But the key argument of the night came from Daniel McCoy (D-District 10), who delivered an impassioned speech condemning the resolution. McCoy, who served in Iraq for 12 months with the New York Army National Guard, paused frequently as he recounted his experiences in Iraq. The legislator was particularly put off by the language used in some of the articles of the bill.

“This is the first time in my life I felt like a ‘baby-killer,’ ” said McCoy. “That’s how Doug made me feel with the language that he had in this resolution. I think it was way off-base and it was one-sided.”

Much of the Legislature lined up behind McCoy, with several previous supporters openly admitting to withdrawing their support for the bill based on his opposition. Most agreed with the spirit of the resolution but not the way it was implemented, with some calling for the resolution’s wording to better reflect the body’s full support of the troops. Others claimed it was not the Legislature’s business to deal with the war in the first place.

Bullock attempted to rally. He expressed his support for the troops and asserted that the resolution was meant to be a statement against the war to help put pressure on Congress and the president.

“I’m not hurting the troops, I’m trying to save them from this slaughter,” said Bullock. “It’s time to bring them home. This has gone far enough.”

Following a long roll call that included a loud “no” from McCoy, the resolution failed 15-22.

“It was a defeat, but I’ll be back. I’m not defeated,” said Bullock. “It’s just going to make me more adamant to stop this war.”

Legislator Phillip Steck (D-District 15), co-sponsor of the resolution and a candidate in the race for the 21st Congressional District, said that a caucus was held to give other legislators the opportunity to bring any objections to the language of the resolution to the sponsors before it was formally voted on, as is the usual procedure.

“No one requested any changes,” he said. “Tonight, for the first time, this was raised. I think that there is a clear consensus against the war and to bring the troops home.” Steck, as well as other legislators who support the spirit of the resolution, has encouraged Bullock to sit down with McCoy to refine the language of the resolution to be more agreeable to both parties.

“It just really bothered me,” said McCoy. “Honestly, I have no intentions of ever sitting down with [Bullock] over this. Phil Steck I probably would, him I wouldn’t.”

—Jason Chura


What a Week

Senate Say Spy Away

The United States Senate voted on Tuesday to expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans and granted amnesty to telecommunication companies that cooperated with President Bush’s eavesdropping-without-warrants program. Bush has since demanded that the House of Representatives move on a similar bill. “Liability protection is critical to securing the private sector’s cooperation with our intelligence efforts,” said Bush. Although about 30 senators, including Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), voted against the measure, it seems that most chose to ignore the fact that Bush has historically low approval numbers and should functionally be a lame duck. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted for the measure. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), as well as a number of other senators, did not vote at all.

Obamamentum

After winning eight straight primaries and caucuses this past weekend, most analysts show Barack Obama in a clear lead in both pledged and superdelegates over Hillary Clinton, and momentum to carry him through the next few weeks of primaries leading up to the big contests in Ohio and Texas. Obama’s stump speeches of late have focused less on Clinton and more on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. However, analysts say the delegate-rich states Ohio and Texas pose a problem for Obama, because of their strong Latino populations, a base Obama has had trouble winning over. According to both Clinton and the pundits, Ohio and Texas could be Clinton’s “firewall” for Obama’s momentum.

Super Duper Delegates

While the Republican primary has all but been decided—or would be if Mike Huckabee found a new hobby—the Democratic race is unbelievably down to the wire. As it stands, even if Obama or Clinton secured an all-out sweep of all the remaining states, they would still not likely have the required 2025 delegates to win. One of them would have to sweep every state by absolutely crushing margins. At this point, the superdelegates almost certainly will decide the Democratic nominee for president.



Education Across Borders

Activists ask local universities to give free tuition to Iraqi students

 

Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak spent this January in Syria helping Iraqi youth prepare for their English exams. Their friends back home had been working diligently to secure those Iraqi students with tuition waivers to American colleges.

In the summer of 2007 Huck and Kubasak decided that, in response to the massive wave of Iraqi refugees entering Syria who have lost their opportunity for higher education, they would start the Iraqi Student Project to help provide Iraqi college students with free tuition in the United States. So far the pair have had to deal with bureaucracy on levels they never expected, from the United Nations high commissioner of refugees, and government agencies in Iraq and Syria, to the universities they would like to send their students to.

The result is that the goals they originally set may not be so realistic.

“Originally we made up the number 40 (one of those magic numbers) as a goal for number of students studying in the U.S. next fall,” wrote Huck and Kubasak in a newsletter. “We won’t get there. We might get 15 to 20 but even that still presumes that the colleges will like what they see when the documents and TOEFL scores go to them and, even more, that the consulates here and in Amman will like what they see and hear when these students who are accepted present themselves for F-1 visas to the U.S.”

Locally, Carole Ferraro said that she and a number of professors and activists have approached universities about providing tuition waivers to Iraqi students. Ferraro said that a number of universities have pointed to existing scholarships prospective Iraqi students could qualify for without agreeing to provide anything specifically for them. She understands that financially they may not be able to just hand out tuitions.

Ferraro also noted that she suspects universities will be more welcoming to the idea of the ISP if students rally and press for it. Ferraro asked that universities that have not been supportive not be named, as she does not want to pressure anyone. In fact, Ferraro requested that one local university where a lot of progress has been made (thanks to work by students and faculty) also not be named, so that the process can work out without added pressure or attention.

“I’m kind of just the messenger trying to bring it to this area. I’m not really doing anything more than that,” said Ferraro. “The story is with Gabe and Theresa.”

According to Huck and Kubasak, the real story lies with the Iraqi youth they are trying to help. There is Sarah, who graduated from high school with good grades, only to have her father murdered and her mother move the family to Syria where schooling is too expensive. She wants to study law in the United States. There is Rahman, who was studying to be a clown when a number of his fellow theater majors were killed or threatened. He fled to Syria and wants to continue studying theater in the United States.

As Huck and Kubasak put it in their newsletter, “It can be said that these students and others with ISP were not among the poorest of Iraqis. They had families who could give them encouragement in studies. But the invasion and the years of violence changed everything. In many cases, the fathers of these young people were kidnapped, disappeared, were murdered. The mothers, new to poverty and new to Syria, are wonderful and strong. They have this Iraqi passion for education.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net

For more information, visit www.iraqi studentproject.org.


PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Bottle Ready

Activists gathered at the Legislative Office Building in Albany Tuesday for a budget hearing on the Bigger Better Bottle Bill. Members of conservation and environmental groups wanted to show support for Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to include funding for the bill in his 2008-09 budget, New York Public Interest Research Group said in a press release. The bill would extend the 5-cent bottle deposits to bottles of water and other noncarbonated beverages. Further, it could generate revenue for the state of $222 million yearly, by forcing beverage companies to turn over collected deposits on unreturned bottles.




Loose Ends

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