Thursday, May 15, 2008

Congressional Candidates Hosts Town-Hall Meeting

Iraqi Immigrants’ Stories Dominate the Event


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, Top: Dave Patterson, Patricia Law, Mike Copass

Bottom: Mike Copass with Mazin and Layla al-Nashi

Mike Copass, running an uphill insurgent campaign for Congress against four-term incumbent Susan Davis in the June 3 Democratic primary, announced at the start of his May 11 event at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest that he wanted it to be more than a campaign rally. Sponsored by the San Diego chapter of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), which has endorsed Copass’s campaign, the event was billed as a “town-hall meeting” aimed at brainstorming ways to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq — but the event turned into a series of cries of despair about the war’s impact and a realization that the war won’t end unless progressives are able to win elections and replace the Republicans and pro-war Democrats who authorized the war and are keeping it funded.

Copass invited four speakers to share the podium with him. One, Dave Patterson of the San Diego chapter of Veterans for Peace, talked about the toll the war has taken on those who’ve been sent to fight it. Patterson recalled being at a meeting of the San Diego Veterans’ Council two weeks earlier. “One of the World War II/Pearl Harbor survivors said his grandson had just returned from Iraq — alive,” Patterson said. “Two months later his grandson committed suicide. Later that afternoon I received a call from a Gold Star Mother [a woman who’s lost a son or daughter in a foreign war] who was having trouble dealing with her depression. Nobody seems to know about the pain and suffering this war is causing.”

Patterson said the troops currently serving in Iraq are so overstressed that a local paper in Ramona recently ran a story about an Iraq veteran who was just sent back there — on his seventh tour of duty. Patterson recalled his own experience in 1968, when the unit with which he was serving in Viet Nam was called out of the country for an “intel briefing” in Thailand. “They said we were losing the war,” he remembered, “but that we should just continue to do what we were doing so we could get North Viet Nam to the peace table. We were asked to keep killing people because Congress didn’t have the courage to end the war.”

The next speaker was anti-war activist Patricia Law, who was put on the panel largely because of the symbolism of having a mother speak on Mother’s Day. “I have two sons of draftable age, and I don’t want my sons to go to a non-winnable war,” she said. She spoke of the war as part of a broader attack by the current administration and its Congressional supporters and enablers on women’s right to reproductive choice, the continuing “gender gap” between what men are paid and what women are paid for jobs of comparable worth, sexual and industrial slavery in Third World countries, threats to universal access to education, and access to health care.

The health issue really hit close to home. “I’ve been a single parent for 21 years and for 20 of those years I had no health coverage,” she said. “Any time I had a situation with either of my sons, I had to pay $800 up front just for tests, before they even found out what was wrong with them or offered any care. That is an exorbitant fee.”

The other two speakers were Mazin al-Nashi and his wife Layla, Iraqi expatriates and U.S. citizens whose troubles started when Mazin decided to answer President Bush’s call that “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” Mazin hired on as an interpreter for the U.S. in Iraq under contract with the Titan corporation, but when he was injured in Iraq — by U.S. soldiers, he claimed — and left blind, Titan couldn’t wash their hands of him fast enough. Instead of caring for him in Iraq, Titan’s staff shipped him to Germany and then to the U.S. without bothering to tell his wife what had happened to him. “She only knew I was on my way because she’d called me,” he said.

The al-Nashis’ attempt to sue Titan for the damages ran afoul of the company’s take-no-prisoners legal strategy. According to the an-Nashis, they were forced to represent themselves against 18 attorneys from the highest-priced law firm Titan’s profits could afford. When they appealed for help to their Congressmember, Duncan Hunter, his staff aide told them point-blank, “We cannot help you. We have a good relationship with Titan.” (For more information on the al-Nashis’ story, see the February 2008 issue of Zenger’s Magazine or visit on the Zenger’s blog.)

“Mazin’s story disturbs me greatly,” Copass said after the al-Nashis finished their presentation. “Whatever we can do together so this suffering doesn’t go on should be our obligation.” Copass said he was inspired to run for Congress in the first place when he attended two of incumbent Davis’s open meetings in her district and “there was a sense of frustration, bordering on anger” among the people there who had voted for Davis hoping that she would be part of a Democratic Congressional majority that would refuse further funding for the Iraq war.

“The only way to continue a war is to fund it,” Copass explained. “My aunt told me that they way they finally ended the Viet Nam war was they focused their lobbying on the House Appropriations Committee to end the funding, and eventually they did. That is the only way to bring this war to a responsible end. In May 2007, when an open-ended funding bill came to the House floor, it passed with the support of 87 Democrats” — and, Copass added, Susan Davis was one of them. Copass had been frustrated when, as a member of the Progressive Democrats of America, he had lobbied Davis to co-sponsor a Democratic alternative that would have funded only a troop withdrawal and would have banned the U.S. from building permanent bases in Iraq. She refused.

According to Copass, Davis voted for the open-ended bill in May 2007 after the administration threatened “to take money from veterans’ programs and other things the public supports” to continue the war if it didn’t pass. Copass felt that Davis and the Democratic leaders should instead have called Bush’s bluff. “I say let Bush and Cheney bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Of course, they’ll say you don’t ‘support the troops’ if you don’t support the war. “ Copass said that the House Democrats should have hung together, defeated the war funding on a party-line vote if necessary, and impeached Bush and Cheney if they attempted to continue the war by shifting money out of other programs to pay for it. He said Davis’s total refusal even to consider impeachment was another reason he decided to run against her.

What’s more, Copass said, “There is another funding bill, $179 billion, that was supposed to be voted on last week. It combines $70 billion in carry-over funding through 2009 and another $101 billion for operations after that. This will commit us to the occupation for three more years.” In other words, if this bill passes the U.S. occupation of Iraq will continue at least two years into the administration of the next President — dashing the hopes of many anti-war voters that electing a Democratic President will mean the end of the war. Meanwhile, Copass said, Susan Davis recently sent out a newsletter which bore the headline, “Good News for Veterans” — over a story that boasted she had helped secure $22 million to expand the military cemetery at Miramar.

“I had talked to a member of Davis’s staff,” added Law, “and they said they did not want to end the war because they wanted it as a political issue to use against the Republicans in 2008.”

“Congress needs to listen to the voice of the American people,” Copass replied. “Two-thirds of them oppose the war. The enormous drain of the war on the U.S. treasury is the reason why we can’t afford health care, not even for children. There is a universal health care bill before Congress, HR 676 (Kucinich/Conyers), and we need to make it a priority for the next Congress to get that passed. Any further consideration of funding for Iraq should be contingent on full care for GI’s and a six- to 12-month timetable for withdrawal.”

In response to an audience questioner who asked what we should do if we withdraw from Iraq and the Iranians move forces in to take over, Patterson replied that this sounded an awful lot like the “domino theory” the administration used in the 1960’s to justify continuing the Viet Nam war. “We were told we had to stay there because the North Viet Namese would take over,” he recalled. “Now Bush is over there shaking hands with the president of Viet Nam. If we don’t decide collectively to get out of Iraq, we never will.”

Mayoral candidate and former San Diego City Councilmember Floyd Morrow recalled his own generation’s “domino” war in Korea. “I was in Korea and they said the dominoes would fall,” he said. “War is not the answer. It’s an illegitimate war. We have no right to be there. We need to invoke the Geneva court. Everything about it is illegal. We need to realign our priorities from top to bottom. We could realign $2.5 million every week just by ending the war. We need to realign our priorities at the federal, state, regional and local levels.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Copass. “The role of government is to defend the liberties of the people and represent what they desire. There are enormous untapped reserves of talent from the American people, including our troops. The country was born from people who dreamed. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said we were going to put a man on the moon within the decade, and we did. That’s the kind of vision we need now to solve our country’s problems and not waste resources fighting in illegal, immoral and unjust wars.”