Friday, September 25, 2009

Janis Ian soars, VA fumbles

An Evening with Janis Ian

Thursday, October 22, 2009

6:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Click Graphic to Purchase Tickets

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An Evening with Janis Ian
Thursday, October 22, 2009
6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Click Graphic to Purchase Tickets

Janis Ian will be performing in Dallas on October 22nd. She is on tour right now and Dallas is only one stop but a friend of C.I.'s asked that the stop be promoted so Kat and C.I. are noting it at least once a week. I know the friend as well and due to that and thinking Janis Ian is the rare contemporary artist who continues to improve, I wanted to note the stop in Dallas as well.

Folk Is The New Black is Ian's latest studio album (there's been a greatest hits since). I enjoyed that album. But then I got involved with Mike. Mike knew nothing about Janis and got the CD based on Kat's review of it. He loves the CD and I have heard it forever and ever. I love the CD myself. I enjoyed it on my own but his constant playing of it really let me discover new levels to it. (His favorite song is "All Those Promises," mine is "The Great Divide.")

The VA has been in trouble all week (C.I. told you it was coming at the start of the week). They end the week on yet another sour note.

"Vets caught in red tape waiting for new GI Bill benefits" (Dena Burns, OC Register):

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the senior woman on the Armed Services Committee, is spearheading a letter from the California congressional delegation to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, letting him know that the performance of the VA in this matter is not acceptable.

Leading up to the implementation of this law, said Sanchez, D- Santa Ana, "we were asking is everything ok. We were told yes. Now we're hearing these horror stories about people signing up for classes and taking out loans or schools giving them grace periods.''

In her letter, Sanchez tells Shinseki that "it is extremely concerning that despite all the preparation the VA was unable to successfully provide our veterans with the funding for the education that they earned by serving our country.''

That's just the tip of the iceberg, by the way, the failure to have the tuition, housing, et al checks issued. There is a great deal more and C.I. was telling members of Congress about it Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The VA is out of control. There is no accountability in the VA. I should note, again, that I am speaking of the officials. I am not downing or dissing any care giver working for the VA.

It should be the topic of the weekend. That veterans are having to take out loans because their tuition checks didn't come in. C.I. covers it in the snapshot.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, September 25, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Talabani buries a prized request in his UN speech to emphasize a momentary one (already addressed as it turns out), the VA has a really, really bad week and ends the week on a bad note, Nouri's forming his own coalition and right now it's . . . well Nouri, and more.
Yesterday (6:18 pm EST), Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President, addressed the United Nations General Assemnbley. He tapped the microphone four times before he began reading his prepared speech for the next 17 minutes and four seconds
The most important challenges we face in the near future is the legislative elections due to be held in January 2010 for which the political parties have already started preparations. The success of these elections will put the current political regime based on democracy, pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power on the right path. The success of the elections will transfer the political process from the establishment stage to one of permanence and stability and will promote stability and security in Ira. The elections will strengthen our capabilities in building national institutions qualified to fulfill the requistes of a strong state based on law, living peacefully with its own people and neighbors and to be a key factor in the security and stability in the region. This will reflect postively on Iraq's Arab, regional and international relations and its active return to the international community.
The real danger currently facing Iraq is outside interference in its internal affairs which has committed the worst crimes against innocent Iraqis from various segments of society, men, women, children and the elderly. In an attempt to destabilize security and stability achieved in Iraq during 2008 and 2009, Iraq has witnessed recently a series of bombings and terrorist attacks, the last of which was the Bloody Wednesday explosions that targeted the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance which targeted the country's sovereign institutions on 19 August 2009. This led to many innocent victims, including many employees of the government, diplomats and administrators. These criminal acts and large number of victims have reached the level of genocide and crimes against humainty subject to punishment under international law. We believe these acts at this level of organization, complexity and magnitude cannot be planned, funded and implemented without support of external forces and parties and primary investigations indicate the involvement of external parties in the process.
Therefore, the government of the Republic of Iraq puts this important matter on the table of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and requests its submission to the Security Council for the purpose of forming an independent international investigation outside the jurisdiction of Iraq and bring those found guilty to a special international criminal court.
The Iraqi government finds itself obliged to resor to the United Nations to protect its people and stop the bleeding of innocent Iraqis and we are looking to the assistance of the international community and its support ot the Iraqi positions in the formation of an independent international commission to investigate the crimes of terrorism against the Iraqi people we request the United Nations Secretary General to name a senior offficial to evaluate the extent of foreign intervention that threatens the security and integrity of Iraq and to consider terrorist crimes as genocide. We also look for better cooperation and coordination with the neighboring countries and other concerned states to control Iraq's boraders, exchange information, coordinate efforts and prevent the groups that support terrorism and work against Iraq under any cover.
It was a far cry from his speech to the United Nations September 25, 2008 when he was speaking of the importance of ensuring that women were able to participate in "all spheres of influence". This year, almost 12 months to the day, he stood before the United Nations and wanted to open with what can be seen as an attack on Syria. Bloody Wednesday, Black Wednesday, August 19th, whatever you call it, no one knows who was responsible. Nouri al-Maliki had been in Damascus and met with Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, to demand that Syria turn over 179 Iraqis residing in Syria to Iraqi authorities. This demand wasn't new. When Nouri was hiding out for 18 years in Syria, there were many calls from Saddam for Syria to turn Nouri and others over to Iraqi authorities. Syria refused then to turn over anyone without proof and Syria stands by that policy today. The demand for the 179 to be turned over came before the August 19th attacks.
Like George W. Bush, Nouri used an attack to push through things he already wanted. Nouri and others thought Turkey would be the one to lean on because Turkey does conduct raids in (and assaults on) northern Iraq. Their 'right' to do so was just renewed and the hope of Nouri and his allies was that the desire to renew would mean Turkey would automatically side with Iraq against Syria. That's why Iraqi officials made idiotic statements in the last few weeks on Arabic TV claiming that Turkey agreed with Iraq and said the 'proof' offered by Iraq that Iraqis in Syria were responsible for the August 19th bombings was irrefutable. Turkish officials didn't say that, nor did they feel that. Their role was to get the two sides to come together. That's how they saw it. It's doubtful that Turkey's desire for continued raids could have been leveraged by Nouri to begin with but the fact that Iraq suffers from a drought and needs Turkey for water further undercut any hopes that Iraq could strong-arm Turkey.
So yesterday Jalal Talabani took the matter to the United Nations. Not to the Arab League. They don't want to take it to the Arab League because a Cairo meeting this month did not go well for Iraq and indicated that other governments saw Iraq's 'evidence' to be as weak as did Syria. Despite attempting to bypass the Arab League, Talabani claimed to the United Nations yesterday that "we seek to establish better relations with the Arab and Islamic countries and we are committed to the decisions of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference."
How much can one person beg for? Traditionally, you beg for one thing. Jalal was begging non-stop. After demanding an international inquiry, he then went into how Iraq should be spared of its debts and obligations. Is Iraq a new country? No. And the 20 million-plus Iraqis that lived there before the start of the illegal war (approximately 26 million was the CIA estimate in 2002; they estimate 28 million today which apparently includes external refugees and corpses in the count) are still in Iraq. So what's going on?
Under a United Nations mandate authorizing the foreign occupation of Iraq -- issued after the illegal war started (no UN mandate was issued on the illegal war) -- Iraq was seen as a ward that needed protection -- not only from foreign forces but also from the international community. The treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement was wanted by the White House and by Nouri. Nouri wanted it so that Iraq was no longer a 'ward of the state'. As such, Jalal Talabani pressed the UN to lift Iraq's debts, "Therefore, we request a clear resolution issued by the Security Council to terminate all resolutions issued under chapter VII which affected the sovereignty of Iraq and led to financial obligations which are still binding on Iraq because the situation which necessitated the adoption of those resolutions no longer exists. We and the Iraqi people look forward to the day when Iraq is released from chapter VII sanctions."
To some degree, Talabani's second round of begging will most likely be met. However, he will forever be criticized historically for making that his second request and not his first and only request. Nouri's petty-grudge war resulted in the Iraq basically being taken out of receivership on the internaional stage becoming request number two and not the primary one. This request was the one the non-representative government in Baghdad had worked the last three years on and suddenly it became a secondary issue in Talabani's speech. With news from Alsumaria that Foreign Minister Hosheyar Zebari has declared Syria, Turkey and Iraq have agreed "to form a Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi investigtation committee," Talabani's decision to emphasize August 19th over the economic issues looks like an even bigger mistake.
Yesterday, there was a prison break in Tikrit with sixteen prisoners escaping -- one of whom was later caught, five of whom had been sentenced to death. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) notes the curfew and that "American search dogs and aircraft" are being used to hunt for the escapees. Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) reported this morning that two of the sixteen have now been captured and that 4 "prison guards were under investigation on suspicion of helping the detainees escape. The prison director was dismissed and detained while under investigation, officials said." BBC News reports 5 of the escapees have now been caught and that the "police detain 100 staff for questioning about the breakout." Nada Bakri (Washington Post) adds, "Authorities said Friday that at least 100 prison officials and guards, including 10 officers, have been arrested and three special committees formed to investigate the prison breakout in Tikrit." Bakri also notes that with 5 of thte 15 escapees back in custody, the curfew in Tikrit has been lifted. Iran's Press TV notes that posters of the escapees "have been distributed across Tikrit and other cities in Salaheddin province to ensure that the 10 remaining jail breakers will not remain long at large." Reuters notes Iraqi officilas are now saying 6 of the 15 escapees have been captured.
In other prison news, Anne Tang (Xinhua) reports Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, stated of allegedly violent prisoners in Iraqi prisons, "Those people, who had been involved in killing Iraqis must be punished. [. . .] We hear voices calling for release of criminals under claim that they have been defending rights of minorities and (religious) sects, forgetting that those criminals had been behind catastrophes." Nouri's words are laughable since he's so tight with the League of Righteous (responsible for an assualt on a US base in which 5 US service members were killed, responsible for the kidnapping of 5 British citizens in Baghdad -- four of whom are known to be dead -- those are the crimes they've claimed credit for). He's so tight with them that he got their leader (and the leader's brother) released from a US prison earlier this year and has met with them repeatedly. Despite the fact that a fight British citizen is either still held hostage or dead. Thug Nouri runs with his own. And his pretense to care for Iraqi lives is laughable when he sits on billions and Iraqis struggle for something as simple as potable water.
In Iraq today 15 Iraqi soldiers were killed in Baashiqa. Xinhua reports that the 15 were in northern Iraq attempting "to blow up a large arms and ammunition depot" but things went horribly wrong. In addition to the 15 dead, another is reported injured. BBC has the bombing taking place while the soldiers were transporting "confiscated bombings to a disposal area". However, Nada Bakri (Washington Post) reports, "The explosion took place in a lot where security forces store and detonate explosives and ammunition confiscated from insurgents." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) explains, "Officials described the blast as an accident but provided few other details." Gulf News adds, "Witnesses said American soldiers had cordoned off the area. The US military did not immediately respond to queries for additional details."
In other reported violence today . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two police officers. Reuters notes two other Baghdad roadside bombings from yesterday which injured four people and an attack on a Mosul military checkpoint which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left another injured.
Moving to political news. September 11th on Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq (a transcript excerpt is in this snapshot), Kassim Daoud repeatedly insisted to host Jasim Azzawi that there was still the possibility that Nouri al-Maliki might join the Shi'ite alliance.
Jasim Azzawi: al-Maliki has refused to join the new bloc that has been created and you are a member of that bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance primarily because of the presence of Ibrahim al-Jaafari and perhaps because of Moqtada al-Sadr. Can Maliki win without your bloc?
Kassim Daoud: Well that's a very difficult question. I mean it's premature to answer the question like this to comment that the Alliance, actually, is still open to everybody. We announced it as a bloc which has to be the foundation for the national mandate or the national enterprise. We cannot say that Maliki didn't join us so far, the negotiation is still going on.
Jasim Azzawi: Kassim Daoud, it seems to me that his answer is final. He wanted to be the sole candidate to run for the premiership as well as he wanted a limitation on to Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Moqtada al-Sadr blocked. That has become amply clear.
Kassim Daoud: Well the problem before you is clear but for me since I'm an insider, actually, I'm not looking at the situation as it is. The guy having sort of a political mandate, he would like to pursue with his mandate. The Alliance would like to -- their own mandate so I cannot say the negotiation terminated. I think still we have room although the room is probably slim but I think that we cannot give such a sharp answer till we have to wait for probably too more weeks.
Jasim Azzawi: Slim indeed it is.
Slim indeed. Alsumaria reports that Nouri has revealed he's creating his own coalition and "will announce" it in the next week. The coalition will be Dawlat al-Qanun (State of Law) and will be a mixed coalition as Nouri attempts to paint himself more secularist due to the January 2009 elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces indicating that fundamentalists were not popular with the people. Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on the plans by the politicaly party SIIC (Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council) which include recruitment and appearing open (possibly being open, but time will tell on that) and to point out the current government's broken promises: "The cleric critiqued the government's management of electricity and vowed his list would improve basic services. He heaped scorn on the country's current electricity minister, Kareem Wahab, for failing to improve power."
Alsumaria also reports that the Kurds are calling for elections to take place in Kirkuk and not be postponed "under the pretext of voters' register incomplete scrutinizing." The upcoming elections are scheduled for January 2010 and the fate of Kirkuk will not be, according to Nouri, addressed then. Despite the Iraqi Constitution long ago calling for a referendum on Kirkuk (disputed territory claimed by both the KRG and the centeral government in Baghdad).
On the topic of the elections, they're often presented as the saving moment for Iraq that will change everything. Last week Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) offered another take after recounting the US government's distaste for the recent elections in Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan:
The similarity in American thinking about the role assigned to elections in the Iraqi and Afghan case bears particular attention. In each case, the elections are supposed to do very specific things for American strategy: legitimate the political order, bring excluded challengers into the political process, resolve enduring political conflicts, create a political foundation for the counter-insurgency campaign. In Afghanistan, the opposite appears to have happened. Should this worry those assigning the same hopes to Iraq?
This is not to say that the scheduled Iraqi elections don't matter (even if it were an American decision to hold them, which it most assuredly is not). The looming elections have very clearly profoundly shaped Iraqi politics. The jockeying over electoral coalitions, questions about Maliki's power or vulnerability, and reshaping of both intra-communal and inter-communal politics have dominated the Iraqi political arena for months. The outcomes will matter in important ways-- Shia politics could fragment or reunite, Maliki could emerge as the power broker many hope for or fear, Sunni groups might find a better entree into the ruling coalition, particular groups may rise or fall --- and in contrast to most Arab elections, the outcomes are not pre-ordained.
But things could go in bad directions as easily as in good directions -- or, even more likely, could shuffle the deck without producing any miraculous breakthroughs in national reconciliation. Certainly the 2005 elections produced their fair share of negative results -- worsening the spiral towards civil war, locking in communal representation, and paralyzing the government for months over the inability to agree on a Prime Minister. The January 2009 provincial elections were seen, by contrast, as a great success. But as the Times pointed out the other day, disillusionment with the results of the provincial elections -- which carried similar weight in U.S. thinking -- has grown in Anbar as new leaders fall into old habits.
Scholar F. Gregory Gause (Abu Dhabi's The National Newspaper) also questions whether too much emphasis is put on the elections:
But neither immediate security concerns nor short-term electoral politics will determine the future of Iraq. Ultimately, political stability in Iraq will depend on how Iraqis (and, for the near future, the American government) define the kind of state they want to have. Do they want a strong centralised government? Or do they want to empower regional governments and carefully divide and circumscribe power in Baghdad? Neither quantifications of terrorist violence nor the 2010 parliamentary elections will answer that question.
[. . .]
There is certainly an argument to be made that what Iraq needs now is strong leadership. State-building is rarely done effectively by committee, and Iraq is still in the midst of rebuilding the institutions that were hollowed out by Saddam Hussein and then upended by the American occupation. The core of al Maliki's appeal, and his argument for a new term as prime minister, is that only a strong leader can build the institutions necessary to maintain security, promote economic development and prevent the political fragmentation of Iraq. Of course, a strong leader is no guarantee of such progress. Plenty of kleptocratic states are headed by strongmen; Zimbabwe is no model for state development. But it is hard to see how al Maliki's rivals in the Kurdish leadership or in the sectarian Shia Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which in the past has advocated a Shia regional government on the model of the KRG, could rally Iraqis across ethnic and sectarian lines to support the rebuilding of the state.
But after the disastrous experience of Saddam's rule, perhaps Iraqis would prefer a central government that is both weaker, in terms of its authority over the provinces, and more divided, with a separation of powers in Baghdad – so that no single figure can consolidate power, even if that means relatively inefficient governance. The risk of a new dictatorship, in this view, trumps arguments about security and efficiency and the logic of centralised state power. The political groups forming coalitions against al Maliki will make that argument in the upcoming elections. The major Kurdish parties, invested in their own autonomy in the KRG, certainly see things this way. Even Arab parties that in the past have advocated strengthening the centre are reluctant to ally with al Maliki, at least right now.
Turning to the US where Gregg Zoroya and Mary Beth Markelein (USA Today) report, "Nearly a month into the fall college semester, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid benefits for fewer than half the former Iraq and Afghanistan veterans requesting under the new post-9/11 G.I. Bill, according to a VA estimate." And they quote the director of the VA Education Service, Keith Wilson, stating, "We realize we're not meeting everybody's expectations." David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) notes Amber Oberg's expectations. The army veteran has been attending UC Davis for a month. And the promised funding? Hasn't arrived. Oberg states, "I didn't expect to get out of the military and then have to wait and wait for the education money that was promised me. Now she and her kids are in danger of being homeless as she waits for the promised monthly housing payment of $1,736. Across the country, veterans check the mail looking for the promised funding. Audrey Hudson (Washington Times) reports John Kamin has been waiting and thought he had good news yesterday only to open the envelope and discover he was being notified that he might "be called back into active duty." He tells Hudson, "It felt like salt in the wound. That was really disheartening." Jessica Calefati (US News & World Reports) explains that "some 70,000 eleigible veterans who filed claims for this school year are still waiting for their first checks." After a very bad week for the VA, they knew it was time to spin into action. Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that the department stated late today "that checks will be issued starting Oct. 2." That link, by the way, also includes an earlier report by Hefling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki making statements. I am saying this, he is either ignorant of what he is speaking on or he is lying through his teeth. He pushes the problem off on the colleges. The VA program is no different than the US Pell Grant program. There is no delay in the Pell Grants so for him to claim it's the colleges screw up reveals extreme stupidity on the subject matter or a gross eagerness to lie. He also tries to hide behind drop and add periods. What an idiot. Drop and add periods. Anyone who has gone to college and received assistance is damn well aware that the assistance starts at the start of the semester. They're also damn well aware that students have many, many more weeks to drop classes. We'll go with stupidity because it wasn't just college tuition, it was book allowances, living allowances and more. Shinseki embarrasses himself and that's also part of the reason for the late announcement that checks will be out starting October 2nd. They don't want people digging to deep into his spin. When the entire department already looks incompetent, it's not a good idea to go into the weekend with the focus on the director's stupidity. If you're late to the party on the VA's bad week, you can refer to Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot" covering a hearing which Kat covers in "Crooks in the VA" and there was more on Congress addressing veterans issues in Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and Kat's "House Veterans Affairs Committee."
The homeless problem continues to grow while the VA offers excuses and, no doubt, promises of a toll free number on the way that will be the 'answer' to everything. Thom Patterson (CNN, link has text and video) reports on the homeless veterans and notes the numbers for Iraq War and Afghanistan War veterans could be over 7,000 with the VA estimating "about 10 percent of all homeless veterans are women." Iraq War veteran Angela Peacock shares her story with Patterson which includes raped while serving, PTSD, self-medicating leading to a drug addiction, loss of spouse, eviction from apartment. For more on the issue, we'll drop back to the June 3rd snapshot, when US House Rep Bob Finer chaired the House Committee on Veterans Affairs committee for the hearing entitled "A National Commitment to End Veterans' Homelessness:"

The number of women veterans who are homeless is rising. [Vietnam Veterans of America's Marsha] Four observed, "There certainly is a question of course on the actual number of homeless veterans -- it's been flucuating dramatically in the last few years. When it was reported at 250,000 level, two percent were considered females. This was rougly about 5,000. Today, even if we use the very low number VA is supplying us with -- 131,000 -- the number, the percentage, of women in that population has risen up to four to five percent, and in some areas, it's larger. So that even a conservative method of determinng this has left the number as high as [6,550]. And the VA actually is reporting that they are seeing that this is as high as eleven percent for the new homeless women veterans. This is a very vulnerable population, high incidents of past sexual trauma, rape and domestic violence. They have been used, abused and raped. They trust no one. Some of these women have sold themselves for money, been sold for sex as children, they have given away their own children. And they are encased in this total humiliation and guilt the rest of their lives." About half of her testimony was reading and about half just speaking to the committee directly. Click here for her prepared remarks. We'll come back to the issue of homeless women veterans in a moment.
[. . .]
Marsha Four: I believe, sir, that there are very few programs in the country that are set up and designed specifically for homeless women veterans that are seperate. One of the problems that we're run into in a mixed gender setting is sort of two-fold. One the women veterans do not have the opportunity to actually be in a seperate group therapy environment because there are many issues that they simply will not divulge in mixed gender populations so those issues are never attended to. The other is that we believe, in a program, you need to focus on yourself and this is the time and place to do your issue, your deal. In a mixed gender setting, let's say, interfering factors. Relationships are one of them. Many of the veterans too come from the streets so there's a lot of street behavior going on. Some of the women -- and men -- but some of the women have participated in prostitution and so there's a difficult setting for any of them to actually focus on themselves without having all these other stressors come into play. So we feel that's an important issue.
While some veterans go homeless, efforts are made to deport the spouses of some deceased veterans. Most recently, the September 17th snapshot, we noted Kristin M. Hall (AP) report Hotaru Ferschke, a military widow. Her husband, Sgt. Michael Ferschke, died serving in Iraq August 10, 2008. They had tried to have children for some time and when they learned she was pregnant, he was already in Iraq so they got married by proxy and the US military recognizes the marriage but the US Immigration and Naturalization Service plays dumb. She and their son Michael "Mikey" Ferschke III, are now facing deportation. INS is stating that the proxy marriage could be a fake because it wasn't consumated. Consumated? He remained in Iraq and they're not counting their long relationship prior to the proxy marriage. Her mother-in-law, Robin Ferschke told Hall, "She's like my daughter. I know my child chose the perfect wife and mother of his child."

Bob Yarbrough (Volunteer observes, "Too bad we can't legislate common sense. If we could, Hotaru Ferschke would be raising her son in Maryville without fear of being kicked out of America." Tim Morgan (National Ledger) adds, "What should become of her and her son - should they not get to stay in the US for her husband's ultimate sacrifice? Right now Hotaru Ferschke, and the baby are living in Tennessee with his parents." Matthew Stewart (Daily Times Staff) reports that Second Battle, a documentary about Hotaru's struggle and those of another military widow, was shown at Maryville College and Stewart notes, "Ferschke and his bride had been together in Japan for more than a year, and she was pregnant when he deployed. They married by signing their names on separate continents and did not have a chance to meet again in person after the wedding" and he quotes immigration attorney Brent Renison stating, "She is being denied because they are saying her marriage is not valid because it was no consummated -- despite the fact that they have a child together."
Winding down, we'll note the opening of Sherwood Ross' "PENTAGON TAKING OVER U.S. FOREIGN POLICY" (Veterans Today):

The Pentagon has virtually replaced the State Department in making U.S. foreign policy, The Nation magazine charges.
"Quietly, gradually---and inevitably, given the weight of its colossal budget and imperial writ---the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of US foreign policy-making," reporter Stephen Glain writes in the Sept. 28 issue.
In addition to new weapons and war fighters, the Pentagon's budget "now underwrites a cluster of special funds from which it can train and equip foreign armies---often in the service of repressive regimes---as well as engage in aid development projects in pursuit of its own tactical ends."
Although these programs technically require State Department approval and are subject to Congressional review, Glain writes, "legislative oversight and interagency coordination is spotty at best."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon "is pushing for full discretionary control" over large sums that Glain points out "would render meaningless the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which concentrated responsibility for civilian and military aid programs within the State Department."
This is the opening to "'We Made them Millions, and they Complain About Insurance,' Lupe Chavez, a housekeeper at the San Francisco Hilton, tells her story to David Bacon" (ColorsNW):

I was born in Santa Tecla, near San Salvador. My father was a big rig driver and my mother was a stay at home mom. We had a big family -- four brothers and two sisters. When I was old enough, I worked in the Armando Araujo coffee and soap factory. We Salvadorenos are hard working people.
From the time I was twelve my aunts took me with them whenever they had a demonstration. They were teachers, and taught me that we have to fight for what we need, because that's the only way to achieve anything. Even before the war, it was dangerous to be involved with a union. After the war started, many died protesting.
I was nineteen years old when I came to the U.S. to care for an elderly woman. My family was very poor and when the opportunity came I didn't hesitate. The woman eventually returned to El Salvador, but I stayed on with her family. I thought I was going to earn money and help my family, but they didn't pay me for an entire year. They told me I had to repay the transportation fee and all the money they'd spent on me.
A friend of my grandmother told me I was being treated as a slave. She said she'd rescue me, so I found my passport where they'd hidden it, grabbed my bag and left. But my rescuer took me to another home, to care of another elderly woman. They hardly paid me anything -- just $100 a month. When I said I wanted to go to school, they told me immigration officers would get me.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).
TV notes. Washington Week begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and joining Gwen around the table are John Harris (Politico) Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Karen Tumulty (Time) and Nancy Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Melissa Harris Lieface, Irene Natividad and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

As the news from Afghanistan moves to the front pages of Americans' newspapers, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, tasked with turning things around there, tells 60 Minutes that the spread of the violence in Afghanistan was more than he expected. David Martin reports. | Watch Video

The Liquidator
The man in charge of recovering assets from Ponzi scheme king Bernard Madoff says there is about 18 billion still out there that he hopes to recover for victims of the scam. But it won't be easy. Morley Safer reports.

A Living For The Dead
Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis are dead and now, so is Michael Jackson. But as Steve Kroft reports, they are very much alive when it comes to earning money for their estates.

The season premiere of 60 Minutes, this Sunday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The forgotten women of Afghanistan

"Meet the Afghan Army" (Ann Jones, ZNet):
The big Afghanistan debate in Washington is not over whether more troops are needed, but just who they should be: Americans or Afghans -- Us or Them. Having just spent time in Afghanistan seeing how things stand, I wouldn't bet on Them. Frankly, I wouldn't bet on Us either. In eight years, American troops have worn out their welcome. Their very presence now incites opposition, but that's another story. It's Them -- the Afghans -- I want to talk about. Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. In the heat of this summer, I went out to the training fields near Kabul where Afghan army recruits are put through their paces, and it was quickly evident just what's getting lost in translation. Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful. Professional and highly skilled, they were dedicated to carrying out their mission -- and doing the job well. They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men, their bodies swollen by flak jackets and lashed with knives, handguns, and god only knows what else. Any American could be proud of their commitment to tough duty.

When I read the above, I think of all the silence when the administration made clear their intentions of 'bringing in' the Taliban. I think of all the silence. The refusal among women to call it out.

We called it out. We did a roundtable just on Afghanistan the night the news broke of what the administration was planning.

All the women in the community gave their time to take part in that roundtable because it was important. Afghanistan's not our focus, but it was important to call it out, to call out attempts to sell Afghan women.

If you looked around, we stood pretty much alone.

A few months later, a few showed up to offer meek peeps of protest, between slavish praise of Barack. Like the silly little twit who hosts Uprising and tries to make a name for herself as a defender of Aghan women but, reality check, she couldn't and wouldn't do a damn thing when push came to shove.

So I read that and think, "Another article about the men of Afghanistan? How sweet. How very very sweet."

Don't get me wrong, Ann Jones is not being lumped in with the women who were silent; however, I think we've had more than enough articles on the men of Afghanistan in the last few months. The women's stories are not being told. An article like Jones' only makes that very obvious.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, September 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, an inquiry into the death of an Iraqi in British custody resumes, the US Congress hears how th VA regularly employes friends and family and violates every ethical rule -- as well as labor laws -- on the book, the VA's prescription mail program has little to no oversight, CBS Evening News wins an Emmy for veterans coverage, and more.

"This is a hearing on SES bonuses and other administrative issues at the US Department of Veterans Affairs," US Rep Harry Mitchell explained as he brought the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing to order this morning. The SES bonuses? Bonuses awarded by the VA. Are they being awarded fairly? What's the process? Who's overseeing? In addition, there is concern over hiring practices including issues of nepotism. "Since 2007," US House Rep John Hall said, "I have been -- and this committee has been -- deeply concerned about this issue of bonus awards at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I hope that this hearing will demonstrate the steps that the VA has taken to make bonuses about rewarding excellence not about helping out friends or families."

At a time when the country's experiences an economic crisis, the bonus issue has already gotten headlines in the corporate world. Now it comes to the public sector and does so at a time when many are surprised top officials in the VA still have jobs with all the problems veterans face attempting to access care. Hall put it more nicely.

US House Rep John Hall: Recent news articles and reports from the VA's Inspector General have shed light on rampant nepotism and abuse by those in a position of power. The Associated Press detailed an embarrassing episode in which a VA employee, having an affair with their superior, was reinbursed for 22 flights between Florida and Washington. One office at the VA received $24 million in bonuses over a two year period. $24 million is a lot of money in this economic climate, with many veterans living on an ever tightening budget, and it's irresponsible for us to allow this to continue without taking a careful look at who is earning the bonuses and who is not. As many of you know, I introduced a bill in the last Congress that required no bonuses to be paid out to senior VA officials until the claims backlog was under 100,000 claims. I think we can all agree that our first priority is to the veterans that served our country and paid the price. In this Congress, I'm considering other ways to make sure that bonuses are awarded fairly and within reason and, to me, an increasingly backlog indicates that there are some at VA who should not be receiving bonuses?

Today's hearing follows multiple reports of veterans struggling to get needed care. Friday,
Tom Philpott (Stars and Stripes) reported on a forum and noted Army Cpl Kevin Kammerdiener's mother Leslie Kammerdienr explaining how her son, a veteran of both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, suffers when attempting to receive care:

One of their worst experiences occurred Labor Day weekend last year when she and Kevin, who was severely burned and lost the left side of his brain to an explosion, arrived at the VA Polytrauma Center in Tampa, Fla., for follow-up treatment and no one knew he was coming. "We had no medications for him. We had no bed for his burned body and we had no food for his feeding tube -- for 30 hours," Leslie said. "My son suffered for 30 hours because this system was not ready." Just a week ago, she said, Kevin signaled that he wanted to take his own life by hanging. She called the VA hospital for help. "Days went by and nobody called me." Finally, she confronted VA doctor at a social event "and said, 'Look, you guys have to help us ... I'm not trained. I'm not a nurse. I'm not a neurosurgeon. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a therapist. I'm just a mom. And I don't have any help with this'."

Elaine noted that article on Friday and observed how common these type of stories are, "At a certain point, I don't think you can be immune to these stories (nor do I believe you should), but I do think it gets to a level where you can no longer pretend that it's an isolated incident or a series of isloated incidents. The VA isn't doing their job. Why is that? It goes to the top and it goes to a disrespect of veterans at the top."

Today's hearing certainly backs that up -- as have other hearings. Subcommittee Chair Mitchell explained, "We all know that the Department of Veterans Affairs has some of the hardest working and dedicated employees; however, there are concerns about the VA bonus process and how the VA matches pay to individual and organizational performance." Again, the problem's at the top. It's not the workers having direct contact with the veterans. But there is a culture of neglect at the top, a culture of abuse as well. US tax payers fork over money for any number of things and among those things that hopefully only a small number would complain about is veterans health care. However, when the money that is supposed to go to veterans health care goes elsewhere, there's a serious problem which should result in serious investigations.

The subcommittee heard from two panels. The first panel was James O'Neill from the VA's Inspector General's Office (joined by Joseph G. Sullivan and Michael Bennett). The second panel was the VA's Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould (joined by John Gingrich, John U. Sepulveda and Willie L. Hensley). Subcommittee Chair Mitchell put the witnesses under other before they testified.

In his opening statement, James O'Neill observed, "Federal law states that a public official may not apoint, employ, promote, advance or advocate for the appointment, employment, promotion or advancement in or to a civilian position any person who is a relative of the public official." That seems pretty clear.

But some officials at the VA seem confused. O'Neill detailed attempts by a VA official to get a contractor to hire her friend, the same official passing on "nonpublic VA procurement information" which the friend could use in seeking employment from a contractor, anoter woman working for the VA broke policies and used preferential (illegal) treatment to hire five friends, she went on to then give two of them higher pay than was warranted, a male manager used his position and influence to see that an unqualified family member was hired in the same division, he also abused his position (and the rules) by getting an additional family member appointed to the Austin Human Resource staff, another official informed her subordinates involved in hiring that she wanted her friend hired, to ensure that this friend working for a contractor was 'familiar' with the job, the official began bringing her "into government day-to-day business," closed the job because, by rules, a veteran was ahead of the friend in the relisting and then had the job relisted so her friend could reapply, three employees pushed friends to the top of the applicant pool by falsifying information and spreadsheets. Education? VA officials helped one another attend George Washington University at the tax payer expense despite the degrees not being related to their positions, they 'curiously' failed to track the spending and the Inspector General's Office had to get the information from GWU. Despite a departmental shortfall -- a known shortfall -- senior managers awarded $24 million in retention bonuses and awards over two years.

As O'Neill noted, "OI & T officials broke the rules to hire, favor and financially benefit their friends and family in so doing they wasted VA resources that could have been put to better use and they failed to ensure that the best qualified individuals were hired so veterans can receive the best possible service that they deserve and have earned."

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: Why did you go to OI & T [Office of Information & Technology]? How did you happen to pick that? Have you done other divisions or departments? Was it tipped off or what?

James O'Neill: It was an allegation that we received, sir. Specifically about certain individuals in OI & T. That launched our investigation.

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: And this is the only section that you've looked into? Was OI & T?

James O'Neill: In this matter, sir.

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: In this matter. But you don't know if nepotism or the bonuses or anything other departments you'd find the same type of behavior in other departments?

James O'Neill: That would be speculation because I don't have any data to support it. We periodically have conducted investigations relating to allegations of nepotism in the past but, frankly, I can't recall the last one we had. It's been awhile.

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: I guess I was saying that a lot of your investigations are based on somebody coming forward and allegating, making some sort of allegation of some misuse or improper procedure.

James O'Neill: Particularly administrative investigations, yes, sir.

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: What are the top three recommendations that you've made for the VA to ensure that the procedures that you've outlined and that we know that are there are actually enforced?

James O'Neill: Well in this particular matter -- uh -- we recommended that they determine and apply the appropriate administrative actions against the eight individuals that were cited in the report, that they issue bills of collection where appropriate for improper payments related to the graduate degrees in particular, determine what corrective actions would be appropriate to deal with the problems we identified during our investigation. Someone hired under an expired direct hire authority? They -- VA has to take some corrective action. Uh -- provide training on hiring and the provision of awards throughoout OI & NT. And review the use of the hiring authorities and the funding for academic degrees and retention allowances to ensure compliance with applicable standards.

Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: I guess maybe you've kind of answered this but what oversight function in the VA broke down in the Human Resources process?

James O'Neill: I would say that um the leadership of OI & T did not pay adequate attention to the awards that were being distributed, the hiring practices that we cite in our report and uh and of course the payment for academic degrees so I would lay it at the feet of management of OI & T at the time and whatever oversight HR would provide would also need addressing.

Ranking Member David P. Roe was bothered by the awards and bonuses and twice noted the case of one VA new hire who had not completed her first 90 days but was given $4,500 award/bonus from a supervious who now claimed not to remember why that was. As Roe noted, when this happens, others know and it destroys morale. Roe noted that it was difficult to grasp "how this wasn't picked up," the various violations including hiring your family.

US House Rep John Hall: Does the Department have guidelines for administrative action to cover this type of behavior, for instance, hiring multiple members of one's family?

James O'Neill: Certainly, sir.

US House Rep John Hall: Good. Glad to hear it. Is there a timeline for the implementation of your recommendations by the Office of Human Resources

James O'Neill: Well as I mentioned earlier, I belive the timeline request came in to extend -- in order to, uhm, take the recommen -- the recommend action, the individual against whom the action is recommended has a period of time for an appeal so I think that the request is to allow that time to pass to provide a formal response to us. We -- I have reasion to believe this is pursuing on track.

US House Rep John Hall: I will take that -- I will take that to mean we shouldn't have to worry that the VA is looking at this with the seriousness with which the public and this committee sees it.

James O'Neill: I am absolutely confident they are looking at it with quite serious eyes.

US House Rep John Hall: What do you think is the top number one action out of your report that would improve the way bonuses are given out? We're all expressing a concern that they reflect performance rather than just being automatic, yearly, like a Christmas gift.

James O'Neill: Well we made a specific recommendation to review retention bonuses within the Office of Information and Technology. Retention bonuses make up a large portion of the "bonus" [C.I. note, he made air quotes when saying bonus] pool that is expanded in that area and perhaps elsewhere in VA. But they -- our recommendation, I think, is very specifically directed at retention bonuses. Uh, we didn't make a formal recommendation to look at, uh, awards beyond that but it would be clear to me that, after reading this report, that the current management would feel required to look at it. This is pretty appalling when you talk about a $4500 award for GS5, I've been administrating awards for a long time and we have GS13s that risk their lives and don't get anything close to that so it's glaring. I think that our report will prompt a close review of these processes.

Last week.
Julia O'Malley (McClatchy's Anchorage Daily News) reported on Iraq War veteran John Mayo who was on multiple medications and was charged by the military with shoplifting -- an crime Mayo can't even remember taking place. As a result he was discharged and he and his family became homeless when the military immediately showed up, during dinner, at their base home and kicked them out. Mayo suffers from PTSD. His mother Cathy Mayo feels Iraq change her son, 'broke' him and, "What they did to him, you don't do it to a dog. I lost my son."

It's in that climate, where veterans are struggling for help and not getting it or getting the wrong kind of help and the realization that this comes down to economic issues resulting not from an attempt to spend generously on veterans or a bad economy but from abuse and misuse by the VA that Congress really needs to launch an investigation. This is a disgusting misuse of tax payer money -- and Congress controls the purse. In addition, it should be criminally prosecuted when the VA money is misused. Regardless of whether or not, for example, the money going to bonuses was from a special section of the budget and didn't take away monies already budgeted for care, it's still a misuse and it should result in criminal penalties. Not simply firing, not simply making someone pay it back. It's criminal and it should be treated as such. Bonuses are far from the VA's only problem as Congress learned on Tuesday. Before that, a correction to
yesterday's snapshot. This appeared "(Ranking Member Dan Rohrabacher attempted to follow up on Berman's question and got the same run around)". That is wrong and incorrect and it is my mistake and I apologize. US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is Ranking Member and my apologies for my mistake.

Now from
yesterday's snapshot, "At a US House Veterans Subcommittee hearing today, US House Rep Debbie Halvorson declared, 'We need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service'." As promised, we're covering yesterday's House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health which was chaired by US House Rep Michael Michaud and the hearing was composed of two panels. The first panel was made up of Georgetown University's Jack Hoadley, Columbia University's Frank Lichtenberg, Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman and the National Council on Patient Information's William R. Bullman. The third panel was VHA's Michael Valentio (with Paul Tibbits and Chester Good also of the VA). The meeting explored the pharmaceutical needs of veterans and the need for the hearing was outline early on.

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: This is one of the issues that is probably brought up more and more every time I get together with my veterans so I appreciate having the opportunity to ask questions. Many times people will come to me and say, 'How come these drugs are covered and all the sudden I get a notice saying that this will no longer be covered anymore?' So again, I thank the chairman for putting this together because this is one of those important issues that we need to get to the bottom of and make sure that we take care of our veterans. Our motto here is "If you were there, we care." And we need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service.

Richard F. Weidman noted that the process is flawed with "most" of the decisions taking place behind closed doors which, he noted, is not how it goes at DoD. He noted that the metrics need to be reviewed and updated. The first panel was making recommendations, many of which have been made before. We'll focus on the second panel which was composed of US HHS' Iyasu Solomon, VA's Office of Inspector General's Belinda J. Finn (with Irene Barnett). VAOIG issued a
report this year on the inability of the VA to track their inventory of drugs they mail out. Belinda Finn explained that the VHA and CMOP delivered "126 million prescriptions" and "We reported VHA medical facilities and CMOPs could not accurately account for non-controlled drug inventories because of inadequate inventory management practices, record keeping and inaccurate pharmacy data. VHA needs to improve its ability to account for non-controlled drugs to reduce the risk of diversion and standardize its pharmacy inventory practices among its medical facilities and CMOPs. Without improved controls, VHA cannot ensure its non-controlle drug inventories are appropriately safeguarded -- nor can VHA accurately account for these expensive inventories." We'll focus on the exchange between Finn and US House Rep Vic Snyder who is also a medical doctor.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Ms. Finn, I need you to educate me here. Is this an inventory problem or is it a record keeping problem at the time drugs are prescribed? I mean is the -- where's the accuracy and inaccuracy? When you go in and count up the number of pills and drugs available in the storeroom, do we think that's accurage and that the record keeping was wrong? Or do we think that the record keeping is right but somehow either too many pills were sent in or some are walking out the door unannounced? Which is the problem? Or do you know?

Belinda Finn: The problem I think is we can't tell which is really accurate because the physical inventories --

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Is different than the record keeping.

Belinda Finn: -- are different from the records. We know there are problems with the transactional records and we know there are problems with the actual taking and recording of the physical inventories.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Now -- okay, there are problems on both ends. Now if somebody had asked me an hour ago when I got to the airport do I think that somebody could make a phone call to a VA pharmacy and say, "How many Lipitor, 40 mg, prescribed last year?" -- I would say, "Yeah, they can probably do that within an hour." But apparently that's not right. I thought because of the electronic record keeping there would be an ability to come up with those numbers fairly quickly. Is that right or wrong?

Belinda Finn: They may be able to give you an answer. I couldn't vouch for its accuracy.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Accuracy. So let's suppose it was inaccurate. Where would the inaccuracy come from? Prescriptions are written and they never get sent to a patient? What would be . . .

Belinda Finn: Part of the problems that we saw is that the pharmacy may dispense pills using a reprint function which may not actually hit the pharmacy records so there could be prescriptions dispensed that aren't being recorded because they're using an informal method.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Now in terms of the inventory, you had quite a range of potential problems, right? Do we think at any time that this interferes with veterans getting medication because of the inaccuracies or inefficienes? Or veterans getting prescriptions, they're told by the pharmacist, 'Well this one isn't in, we didn't order it in a timely fashion' or not?

Belinda Finn: No, sir, we didn't see any evidence of any harm to veterans because the pills were not available.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Well I don't necessarily mean harm. I mean just kind of inconvenience?

Belinda Finn: No, none of that either.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Okay, so then it becomes an issue of cost.

Belinda Finn: It becomes an issue of cost and accountability.

I don't see any coverage of yesterday's hearing. (There's a lot more to cover than what we emphasized with one highlighted exchange.) The press needs to utilize their oversight power. And when the press is suffering from bad images, you'd think they'd run with an issue like this. Not only does it improve their images, it can result in awards.
CBS Evening News with Katie Couric just won an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism in a Regularly Scheduled Newscast. The award was for the series of reports on veteran suicides. Armen Keteyian, Pia Malbran, Keith Summa, Rick Kaplan, Ariel Bashi, Craig Crawford, Matt Turek and Catherine Landers worked on that series (Armen was the on air journalist for the reports). From their award winning coverage, CBS Evening News notes these reports:

Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans Veteran Suicides: How We Got The Numbers Congress Vows Action On Vets' Suicides VA Admits Vet Suicides Are High VA Says E-mail Was "Poorly Worded" VA Official Grilled About E-Mails Soldier Suicide Attempts Skyrocket

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing targeting "a senior tribal leader" that injured his bodyguard and a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers. Reuters notes another Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another wounded.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul attack in which 1 police officer was killed and another left injured.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul home with "signs of stabbing".

In England today, the inquiry into the death of Iraqi Baha Mousa (while in British custody) resumed. (See
Monday's snapshot for opening remarks.) Sangita Myska (BBC News) reports that Daoud Mousa, Baha's father, declared today that "he had reported Queen's Lancashire Regiment members for breaking into a safe" and that he believed his son may have been killed in retaliation. Baha died September 16, 2003. Adam Gabbatt (Guardian) explains Baha's father was forced out of the police by Saddam Hussein and that he and his family saw the arrival of British troops in 2003 as a good thing, "We welcomed the troops; we gave them flowers. They were walking about everywhere in the markets, quite free of any concern. That was in light of the good relationship between the people of Basra and the British troops." The Telegraph of London emphasizes that Daoud saw "three or four British soldiers breaking into a safe and taking out packets of money which they stuffed into the pockets of their uniform and inside their shirts." The London Evening Standard also emphasizes that aspect of the testimony and adds that Daoud lodged a complaint with a British officer whom he knew as "Lieutenant Mike," following that, Daoud saw the hotel employees on the floor face down, including his son, "I believe that my son may have been treated worse than other people because I had made a complaint to Lieutenant Mike that money was being stolen from the hotel safe."

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki testified through an interpreter. He spoke of what he encountered when he went to Ibn Al Haitham Hotel looking for his son Baha. He denied that Ba'athist were using the hotel to meet up -- stating he would have known if that was taking place as would his son.

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I used to stop at the hotel to take him home with me because each morning I had to drop one of my daughters to school, which was not far from the hotel, and she was taking her final exams at the time.

Gerald Elias: So on this morning, at about what time did you arrive at the hotel?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: It was eight or less than eight.

Gerald Elias: When you approached the hotel, as you have said in your statement, did you see the presence of British soldiers outside?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I noticed some British vehicles outside the hotel and I saw a crowd in the street. There was one soldier standing guard at the gate.

Gerald Elias: As you approached the hotel, did you look through the hotel window and see something inside?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: As I approached the hotel, I saw through -- through the glass of doors of the hotel. I saw soldiers, British soldiers, breaking a safe with two points -- two poitned sides, one round pointed side and the other was broad.

Gerald Elias: How many soldiers did you see trying to break the safe?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I am not quite sure. Three to four.

Gerald Elias: Three to four. Did they break into the safe?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: They broke the safe from behind and made a hole in it.

Gerald Elias: When they had made a hole, what, if anything, did the soldiers do then?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: They reached inside from behind and took out packets of money, part of which they put in their pockets. They had side pockets in their uniform which had more than one pocket and they put the others inside their shirts on their naked body.

Gerald Elias: When you talk of packets of money, you mean, do you, packets of notes, paper money?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: What I am talking about and what I mean is notes.

Gerald Elias: Do you remember how many soldiers were actually putting money in their pockets?Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I didnt' focus on this side of events, but somehow I think there were three to four.

Gerald Elias: When you saw that, what did you do?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: After I had seen that, I thought that it was a violation of English dignity and honour and the honour of English troops, so I asked a soldier standing by the door to allow me to get in as a crime had been committed inside. I did enter the hotel after that.

He recounts how he was taken to Lt Mike, given a red pen to write a statement, did so, Lt Mike called to one of the soldiers discovered money in his pocket, grabbed his gun and told him to leave the hotel. He speaks of being informed two days later that his son was dead and taken to see the body.

Gerald Elias: Did he have marks to his head and face and to his body?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: Yes, yes, there were traces, there were marks.

Gerald Elias: How extensive were the marks and bruises about his body?

Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: There is so many and so many intensive injuries and marks as a result of hardship, as a result of the violence inflicted on the body, the hitting on the body, strong hitting on the body.

There were attempt to discredit Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki as a witness. Repeatedly, a document was referred to, written in September 2003. Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki's statement says Lt Mike slapped the soldier with money in his pockets. And now he states that did not or may not have happened.

But Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki's statement wasn't presented. What was presented was a statement in English. He neither speaks nor reads English. He didn't write the statement. It has his signature but, as he pointed out, he was told it was a translation of the written statement he gave (in Arabic). This was repeatedly cited during questions and the point was an attempt to discredit him as a witness. It was, honestly, rather shameful. Attorneys may want to win a case but there are certain things you really shouldn't do.

A transcript to Monday's testimony is up at
The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry. A transcript for today has not yet been posted but will be. (I've used a copy of the transcript and reports from friends attending the inquiry today for the snapshot.)

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bonnie Raitt on tour with Taj Mahal

"After 4 decades, Raitt still keeps an 'ear open'" (Larry Rodgers, Arizona Republic):
Question: Do you still feel you are learning and evolving musically after four decades?
Answer: Absolutely. I'm an avid fan first . . . . Because I don't write all my own material, I've always had my ear open . . . listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of albums and songwriters, reading reviews, sniffing around the Internet.
(Before) the jewel of finding "I Can't Make You Love Me" or any of the
songs I've ended up recording . . . there was months of listening to stuff (that) wasn't right for me. It's daunting, but it's also a thrill when you turn over a rock and actually find something.
Q: You have a big birthday coming up in November.
A: I remember meeting Muddy (Waters), John Lee (Hooker), (Howlin') Wolf and Sippie Wallace when I was in my early 20s, and they were the age I'm at now. And now I understand why they were so relaxed, calm and confident, and almost bemused. . . . You don't care as much what people think.

That's from an interview with Bonnie Raitt who is on tour with Taj Mahal.

"Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal hitting Mandalay Bay for BonTaj Roulet' tour" (Mike Weatherford, Las Vegas Review-Journal):
"We've all been friends, both our bands, for so long," she says. "To be able to eat dinner and travel around the country and see our friends and play music together backstage, it's really been a treat."
The two play separate sets with their own bands, do a few acoustic songs together in between, and then combine both bands for a blowout finale. The live shows are recorded, but there is no immediate plan for when they might be released or in what form.
Raitt talks about how hard it is for people to come up with concert cash these days. But when asked if promoters might have preferred she focus on her early '90s era of hits, she dismisses the notion.
"I've had the same job now for 40 years, so my fans come see me whether I've got Grammys or not, or a new album out," she says. "The blessing of having got started when I did is if you're lucky, and you keep stretching and keep giving them something interesting to watch, people will stay loyal and come and see you."

Reviewing in my head, I may have seen Bonnie in concert more times than I've seen any other performer except the Rolling Stones. She's correct, we tend to see her (those who enjoy her music) regardless. I can remember seeing her when Warner Brothers had dropped her. I was really kind of ticked off. Not at her but at Warner Bros because I thought they really did a lousy job of promoting "No Way To Treat A Lady." That's the song Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance (I hope I have his name correct) wrote for her Nine Lives album. Bonnie just went to town with that one. She really owned it. I'm not sure if another performer could give it as much as she did.

I have seen her on her own, I have seen her as part of festivals.

There really aren't a lot of artist who you can say that about. Carly Simon (whom I love) has serious issues with stage fright and that kept her off the road. There are reasons for other women as well (including that we're generally the ones responsible for all child care). Bonnie's really the one. Like John Hiatt or James Taylor or Loudon Wainwright III, Bonnie's probably the only woman who can make the claim to be part of people's lives from the road. Linda Rondstadt could have made that claim prior to the early to mid eighties. Bonnie's the road warrior. Especially now that Tina Turner tours less and less.

As someone who has seen her repeatedly, I would encourage you to make a point to check her out if she's coming to your neighborhood. If you know the name but aren't connecting the songs, her hits include "Runaway," "I Can't Make You Love Me If You Don't," "Thing Called Love," "Nick Of Time," "Something To Talk About" and "Have A Heart."

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, September 22, 2009. Chaos and violence, a refugee camp in France is ripped apart, an Iraqi refugee in the US sues a school district for an assault on her son, a US soldier is charged with two counts of murder for alleged actions in Iraq, Iraq wants to shirk its debts and more.

A US soldier serving in Iraq was charged with two counts of murder. He's accused of murdering a contractor. A number of contractors have been murdered so we'll drop back to the
Spetember 14th snapshot: "Meanwhile, AP reported yesterday that KBR contractor Lucas Vinson was shot dead on Camp Speicher (US base in Iraq) and a US soldier stands accused of the shooting. Tim Cocks and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) added the unnamed US soldier has been arrested in the shooting." Gregg K. Kakesako (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) reports Spc Beyshee O. Velez, 31-years-old, has been charged with "two counts of murder, three counts of assault, and one count of fleeing" in the death of Lucas Vinson

Turning to asylum seekers.
Last Tuesday, Muntadhar al-Zeidi was released from Iraq prison. December 14th, Bully Boy Bush (still occupying the White House at that time) held a press conference in Baghdad with Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and US-installed thug, where they lied and smiled and signed the treaties Bush pushed through (Strategic Framework Agreement and the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement.). Muntadhar was a journalist attending the press conference. He hurled two shoes at Bush while denouncing him ("This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss you dog!" and "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.") World Radio Switzerland reports he wants to move to Switzerland and that he spoke of being tortured. RIA Novosti quotes him stating, "I do want to move to Switzerland, because this is a neutral country which did not support the occupation of Iraq."

al-Zeidi has celebrity and, therefore, he'll find it much easier to be granted refugee status than many other refugees.
Ice News reports, "The Danish immigration minister has made an about turn on her policy of accepting Iraqi refugees under the United Nations agreement. Just eight weeks ago Immigration Minister Birthe Ronn Hornbech announced that Denmark would be accepting a quota of refugees from the Arabic nation." Hanna Hoshan (Al Arabiya) reports on Iraqi refugees in Syria who are concerned by the tensions between the governments of Syria and Iraq and fearful they may be deported as a result. Meanwhile Iraq and Afghanistan refugees seeking sanctuary in France have been assaulted. Iran's Press TV reports French riot police raidied refugee camp Calais beginning at dawn today, and that police carried "flamethrowers, stun guns and tear gas". Jerome Taylor and Robert Verkaik (Independent of London) note the French government has been under pressure from the United Kingdom to 'address' the issue and quotes UK Home Secretary Minist Alan Johnston stating the news "delighted" him and "Both countries [England and France] are committed to helping individuals who are geunine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach." Delighted? China's Xinhua reports, "According to witnesses, most of the migrants, mainly Afghans including many minors, watched police destroy their shelters, while some held up placards protesting the action. . . . Many [paperless]* . . . immigrants from war-torn Afghanistan and some Arab countries head to France as a transit point, from where they try to enter England but, with entry into Britain becoming more difficult, the number of migrants stuck in Calais has increased, as has their shabby tent city." BBC News has a photo essay. Some press reports state that there were as many as one police officer involved in the raid for every immigrant -- looking at the photos it appears that there may have been two police officers for every immigrant. Nicolas Garriga (AP -- report has photos that are not in the BBC essay) reports, "Scores of police sealed camp exists about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and, amid angry denunciations from humanitarian groups present, extracted the immigrants from the crowd one by one, lined them up and led them to buses. Numerous immigrants were seen sobbing or quietly shedding tears. They were later taken away to special centers for processing." Angelique Chrisafis and Haroon Siddique (Guardian -- link has text and video of the bulldozers tearing the camp apart) quote human rights activists Sandy Buchan (Refugee Action) and Sylvie Copyans (Salam). Buchan states, "They should never have been allowed to rot there like this. It's appalling neglect and has allowed false expectation to be built." Copyans states, "It's exactly like when they closed Sangatte. They are saying no immigrants in Calais, they can't stay here. But if they are made to leave they will just go to another squat. It's more and more difficult every day." She's referring to the Red Cross camp in Calais that was torn apart in 2002. As many as 278 immigrants were arrested today. As the Belfast Telegraph observes, "Hundreds of Afghan and Iraqi migrants living in squalid conditions on the outskirts of Calais fled their tarpaulin homes yesterday in a bid to avoid being rounded up by armed police in an anticipated raid today." Angelique Chrisafis (Guardian) speaks to a few who made it out and are now sleeping on the street in Paris. Jon Snow (UK Channel 4) observes, "These are the human consequences of the allied adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the moral obligation upon those who have participated in these 'wars of choice' for taking in the huddled masses who have fled their activities?"

The raid comes a day after the European Union met to discuss the refugee issue.
Deutsche Well reports that yesterday in Brussels, "The meeting was chaired by Sweden's Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency. On Monday ahead of the talks, Billstroem stressed that resettling refugees in the European Union can be a crucial step in fighting [undocumented]* immigration. If a refugee stranded in Jordan had the chance to enter the EU [with proper papers]*, there would be no need for him to secretly cross the Mediterranean, Billstroem said. Jordan is for many migrants the starting point to illegally enter the EU in Cyprus." ("*" indicates that we're not using a term. We will some undocumented immigrants, we will say paperless, that's it.)

While Europe shames itself, the US can't puff its chest with pride.
Tim Hull (Courthouse News Service) reports Amna al Qaisi is suing Tuscon Unified School District over a November assault by other students on her 13-year-old son whose targeting with abuse and threats had been witnessed by "teachers, monitors, administrations and the school nurse" prior to the assault but nothing was done. Everyday Christian provides a list of 16 things aid groups tell Iraqi refugees coming to the US ("You may be a victim of a hate crime" does not make the list). Peter Elliott (Everyday Christian) notes there are approximately 2 million Iraqi external refugees and, "The State Department has designated 10 aid organizations as administrators of resettlement efforts -- not just Iraqis -- four of which have overtly Christian ties in World Relief, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service." Meanwhile Mike Giglio (Houston Press) reports that efforts by the YMCA International and their refugee director Dario Lipovac have resulted in Nahlah Qasim Radhi receiving a termporary (six month) visa to the US. Her son, Marwan Hamza, was a translator for the US military and was granted asylum. A car accident has left him in a coma. Mandy Kao (Titan Managemetn Corporation) has donated an apartment to Nahlah Qasim Radhi for the six month stay.

Along with Iraq's external refugees, there is also the internal refugee crisis. The NGO
Pax Christi issued a statement on their delegation's visit to Iraq where they met with "Patriarch Cardinal Emanuel Delly, Bishop Rabban Al-Kass, Chaldean Bishop of Amadya-Shamkan and Erbil, Bishop Louis Sako, Chaldean Bishop of Kirkuk, Bishop Georges Casmoussa, Syriac Bishop of Mosul and Qaraqosh, Father NageebMikhail, OP, the Chaldean Seminary in Erbil and many other religious leaders and representatives of civil society groups in the north of Iraq," and spent time in Kirkuk, Mosul, Erbil and Dohuk:

The delegation encountered many good examples of work for peace. The extraordinary efforts among religious leaders in the oil city of Kirkuk made it possible for them to visit Sunni and Shiite mosques and to interact with Muslim leaders. In Dohuk they learned about the program of Bishop Rabban's coeducational, interreligious International School which brings together Muslims, Christians, Yezidie and Turkman to provide a base of human values and an introduction to human rights.
They learned from the Dominican sisters of Mosul about their commitment to peace education at a primary level and met dedicated health care professionals in Kirkuk who serve Muslims and Christians alike. In Erbil the delegation met with Iraqi Non-Violence group LaOnf, an Iraqi nongovernmental organization building a network on nonviolence. Pax Christi's organizational commitment to reconciliation and nonviolence made theseand other similar efforts particularly interesting to the delegation, which also experienced enormous tensions in the country. There were two major bombings while they were there and they encountered among people they visited a great fear of being kidnapped. Of the areas the delegation was able to visit, the level of security in the Kurdish provinces in the north of the country was much better than in the so-called disputed provinces, Mosul and Kirkuk. But even in the Kurdish provinces, the sense of long-term physical and economic security was lacking and UN representatives described human rights violations, particularly against political prisoners and women. 100,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in the same area.Christians and other minority groups continue to feel threatened in Iraq and to leave the country. This fact is of deep concern to many people the delegation met, who believe that reconciliation is the way forward and that the loss to Iraq of the Christian community, which was established there in the second century, would be a grea ttragedy. At the same time, the delegation was told that the conflict in Iraq is political rather than religious, with violence erupting over the balance of power. Minority groups are faced with the choices to join the struggle for power, to remain neutral or to work for a society where everybody has a place. Finally, they heard from many people about the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure during the first Gulf War that had still not been repaired and about the impact of the long-lasting harsh sanctions that punished ordinary people. They were told that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed security and created many new problems for the Iraqi people. The delegation agrees with the Iraqi non-violence network that "refuses occupation and war as a way to build democracy and establish rule of law, even when it is presented as the only possible option."

Last week the
International Organization for Migration released it's six month profile on the 1.6 million internal Iraqi refugees in the 18 provinces and find the three needs remain: shelter, food and employment. On the last need, unemployment is highest for refugees in Kirkuk (99%) and 'lowest' in Baghdad and Diyala (60% and 58%). The high unemployment rate has resulted in many refugee children setting aside school in attempts to raise money "through begging, petty trade or doing the odd job." They note women head one-in-ten internal refugee families. The report also states, "Water too is emerging as growing issue." [As the central government in Baghdad continues to beg Turkey for more and more water (Turkey stands accused by its neighbors of using dams to divert the natural flow of the rivers), water is a pressing issue in Iraq.] Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) observes, "According to IOMs interviews, most of the IDPs say that they would like to return to their place of origin. But few have, which is suggestive of the tenuous and patchy nature of security improvements. Despite some legislative and Prime Ministerial initiatives, little still appears to have been done to deal with the likely consequences of such returns, which could re-mix the communities separated by the sectarian cleansing of 2006-07 and create a tidal wave of competing property and reparation claims."

1 in 10 internally displaced families are headed by women.
Women for Women's Zainab Salbi (at Huffington Post) explores the situation for women in Iraq today:

I visited my mother's grave yesterday and learned that her tombstone was destroyed by a missile two years ago in one of the clashes between the militias and the US troops. "Not even the dead are spared from the bombings in Iraq," I thought to myself. But at least my mother is not witnessing the pain many Iraqi women are witnessing as they try to find space for themselves in the "new Iraq."
Few of the women of my mother's generation -- a generation of educated women who have worked in all different sectors of the country -- are still holding on. They are few -- many professional women who were doctors, professors and journalists were assassinated in the past seven years as part of what I believe is a larger, strategic approach by extremist militias to "cleanse" Iraqi society of its intellectual and professional elite. Those who have survived the killings and the temptation to leave the country in search of a safer place to live have either retreated within the home or taken advantage of quotas that have opened opportunities for women to become members of the Iraqi parliament.
Today in Iraq, women have no one unified reality. At the same time as many women increase participation in the political sector -- Iraq's Parliament and local councils are required to have 25 percent female representation -- thousands more are experiencing brutal hardship and extreme poverty. There are now more destitute women in Iraq than ever before -- estimates of the number of war widows range from one to three million. These and other socially and economically marginalized women are vulnerable and at high risk of trafficking, organized and forced prostitution, polygamy, domestic violence, and being recruited as suicide bombers, something that the society is still trying to process and understand. In a single day's journey around Baghdad, one can see all these many and conflicting realities of Iraqi women -- that was my day today.

"So Iraq is as important as ever," US House Rep Bill Delahunt said Thursday as he chaired the US House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, "albiet, it may be forgotten by some."
Wally, Kat, Ava and I attended the hearing and due to so little Iraq coverage in Western media today, we'll drop back to it today. Congressional Research Service's Ken Katzman was among those appearing before the subcomittee. He didn't read his opening statement, he summarized it and we'll note this section.

Ken Katzman: In general, Iraq's political system can be characterized by peaceful competiton rather than violence; however, sectarainsim and ethnic and factional infighting continue to simmer and many Iraqi views and positions are colored by efforts to outflank, outmanuever and constrain rival factions. These tendencies will only grow in the run-up to the January 16, 2010 national elections in Iraq which may also concurrently include a vote, a referendum, on the US-Iraq agreement subject to --that that would have to be approved by the National Assembly to have the referendum -- that decision has not been taken yet. Compounding the factional tensions is the perception that Prime Minister Maliki is in a strong position politically. This is largely a result of the strong showing of his Dawa Party in the January 31, 2009 provincial elections. His showing in those elections was in turn a product of his benefitting from an improved security situation, his positions in favor of strong central government as opposed to local tendencies or regionalism, and his March 2008 move against Shi'ite militias who were virtually controlling Basra and Um Qasr port. Although Maliki's colalition was the clear winner in these elections, the subsequent efforts to form prvoincial administrations demonstrated that he still needs to bargain with rival factions including that of the radical, young, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is studying Islamic theology in Iran with the intention of trying to improve his standing in the clerical heirarchy. Possibly as a result of his strengthened position, Maliki is seen by rivals as increasingly authoritarian. He is widely assesed by US and Iraqi experts as attempting to gain control of the security services and build new security organs loyal to him personally rather than to institutions. Some have accused him of purging security officials he perceives as insufficeintly loyal. He has also reportedly been using security forces to intimidate opponents including in Diyala Province. For example. 4,000 Special Operations commandos, part of the Iraqi security forces -- the official forces of Iraq, report to Maliki's office of the commander in chief and not to the Defense or Interior Ministries. Some of Maliki's opponents and critics say these political tactics mimic the steps taken by Saddam Hussein when he was rising to power to centralize his rule.

It should have reminded the Subcommittee members of when US Ambassador Chris Hill appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee and always seemed confused (a natural state for Hill, granted) when asked of rumors that Nouri was attempting to consolidate his power. Committee Chair Howard Berman, for example, received a non-response.

Chair Howard Berman: According to Ken Pollack, in the most recent of the National Interest , over the past year, and I quote, "Malaki has been deploying more of Iraq's nascent military power to the north and goading the army into regular provocations with the Kurdish militia," the pesh merga. My questions are: Is Pollack's assertio accurate? And a little more detail -- you touched on this, but what are the prospects that there will be a serious outbreak of hostillities between Arabs and Kurds? Are growing Kurdish-Arab tensions the biggest threat to Iraqis stability?

Hill responded in his usual rambling form, randomly strung together words that a generous person would count as 21 run-on sentences.

Chair Howard Berman: Let me interject --

Chris Hill: Yeah?

Chair Howard Berman: -- only because I only have about 20 seconds left .

Chris Hill: Yeah?

Chair Howard Berman: But is this assertion regarding purposeful deployments in the nature of provocations by the Iraqi army to the north?

Chris Hill: Yeah. I haven't read Dr. Pollack's article.

Yeah? That's how a US Ambassador speaks to Congress? Yeah? So Chris Hill -- in the best Condi Rice fashion -- played Beat The Clock, stringing together nonsensical words, stammers and "uh"s to keep the clock ticking down about an article he never read. He could inform he'd had a 36 hour sleepover in the Kurdistan region but he intentionally and repeatedly avoided all questions -- from Democrats and Republicans (Ranking Member Dan Rohrabacher attempted to follow up on Berman's question and got the same run around) -- about Nouri attempting to increase his own power. US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee is asking him about Nouri's power-grab in relation to Camp Ashraf and, yet again, he stalls and never can supply her with an answer. She even has to explain the basics to him, that regardless of whether Nouri is in control or the US is in control, the State Dept lodges objections to human rights abuses at the very least.

Alsumaria reports that representatives from Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara met in New York today -- Turkey in the position of counselor -- over the increased tensions between Syria and Iraq. And they note that Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President will speak to the United Nations about that. Of course, he will speak about other things as well. And that was underscored in the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday as US reps spoke of the need to get Iraq back to its pre-Gulf War status in terms of agreements and laws and commerce. That's part of the two agreements signed by the US as well. That's, in fact, among the reasons why Bush didn't want to renew the United Nations mandate nor did Nouri. Nouri wouldn't be in charge of as much money as he is now without the 'occupation' of Iraq 'ending.' People have yet to grasp what the security agreements actually did and why Nouri and Bush wanted them. But, in fairness, the Thursday hearing wasn't covered by the press, now was it? Talabani is expected to call for an end to the $25 billion in reparations Iraq owes Kuwait. The 'thinking' is that, "Saddam did it! Not Iraq!!!! Saddam's gone!!!!" It's amazing, considering how reparations effect so many countries -- including the US where there are calls for reparations to be made for slavery -- that the notion that one leader died so there is no longer an obligation to make reparations goes unchallenged. But it does, day after day, week after week, with no comment or objection. And were Iraq still under the UN mandate for the occupation, it wouldn't have a shot at getting the reparations cancelled. Among the many reasons Nouri didn't want to renew the UN mandate.

On the tensions between Syria and Iraq,
AP reports Nouri's created "a backlash over a bitter fight he picked with Syria" -- a backlash within the Iraqi government. Nouri insists that Ba'athist in Syria (a secular group) teamed up with al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (a fundamentalist group) to carry ou the bombings of Bloody Wednesday aka Black Wednesday on August 19th. Nouri has been fortunate in that the Western press has largely been happy to spin for him and indicate that he's requesting two people be turned over. But it's not just the US, here's Robert Fisk (Independent of London) reporting earlier this month, "Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, demands an international tribunal because Syria won't hand over a couple of Iraqi Baathists whom he blames for the suicide bombing deaths of at least 100 civilians in Baghdad." A couple? Nouri's asking Syria to hand over 179 people. And because of the August 19th bombings? No. Nouri was demanding those 179 people be turned over to Iraq in his face-to-face August 18th meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A day before the bombings. Nouri's been very lucky, very lucky, that the Western press has been so eager to run with his morsels and refused to explore the public reality. (Most of which was reported in the Arab press well before the bombs of August 19th began exploding.) AFP also reports on Talabani's intention to call for an investigation. (Left unstated is that Talabani's trip to the US is only in part due to the UN, he's also having medical treatment while he's here.) As Talabani gears up for his US trip, Iyad Al Samarraie, Speaker of Parliament, is visiting France. Alsumaria reports his trip is "to promote bilateral releations and cooperations between both countries' parliaments." Meanwhile Iran's Fars News Agency reports that Yasin al-Mamouri who heads Iraq's Red Crescent Society began his visit to Iran yesterday. The Tehran Times adds, "Al-Mamouri is scheduled to inspect Iran's Red Crescent Society's different organizations and sectors in his one-week travel." Iran continues to hold US citizens Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd. The three were visiting in Iraq and hiking in northern Iraq when they allegedly crossed into Iran July 31st. They have been prisoners ever since. Kiersten Throndsen (KBCI CBS 2 -- link has text and video) reports on efforts by family members to have the three released.

Meanwhile, as noted in
yesterday's snapshot, the Kurdistan Regional Government published a letter they sent to Oslo's DNO International (oil company) objecting to "the recent misleading and incomplete publications by the Oslo Stock Exchange ('OSO') in relation to its internal arguments and disputes with DNO." The KRG feels it was caught in the crossfire "between DNO and OSE" and that the KRG Minister was targeted in the battle with "misleading information." The letter notes these decisions by the KRG:
1) Suspend all DNO's operation and its involvement in the Kurdistan Region with immediate effect, and appoint the other PSC [Production Sharing Contract] Contractor Entities to manage the day to day operations instead. All oil exports will cease and DNO shall not be entitled to any economic interest in the PSCs during the suspension period.
2) The suspension period shall be for a maxium period of 6 weeks, and during which DNO must find ways to remedy, and to our full satisfaction, the damage done to KRG reputation, and once and for all to sort its internal problems with OSE and any other disputes that they may have with any other third parties with respect to any claims related to the PSCs ("Claims").
3) If within this suspension period, DNO satisifes KRG's requirements; all its PSC rights will be reinstated with our continuous support to its operations. However, if DNO fails to remedy the damages caused and fails to remove any other Claims the KRG may consider termination of DNO's involvement in the Kurdistan Region with or without compensation. Any compensation, if offered, will factor in the magnitude of the damages caused to the KRG.
Marianne Stigset and Meera Bhatia (Bloomberg News) report, "The exchange disclosed that the Kurdish authority acted as a middleman in a transaction of 43 million shares of DNO in October last year. DNO had sought to keep the authorities' role undisclosed after a probe discovered contacts between Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami and DNO Chief Executive Officer Helge Eide. DNO is delivering 45,000 barrels a day from its Tawke field through a pipeline to Ceyhan, Turkey. It owns 55 percent of the field, which has reserves of 150 million to 370 million barrels. Other companies in the region are Heritage Oil Plc, which is combining with Turkey's Genel Energy International Ltd. and Addax, bought by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec. Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. also explores in the area." Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reveals that the source of tension began when KRG Minister of Natural Resources Ashti "Hawrami was annoyed by a document released Friday by the Oslo Stock Exchange that showed him involved in the sale of DNO's shares to Genel Enerji in October 2008. The document named him holder for the U.K. nominee account into which 175.50 million kronor ($30.04 million), or 4.8%, of the Oslo-listed oil exploration company's shares were sold and where Genel Enerji was the beneficiary." AP's Sinan Salaheddin adds, "Oslo-based DNO was the first independent Western oil company to secure an oil deal in post-Saddam Iraq, signing a production sharing contract with the Kurds in June 2004 to develop the Tawke field. DNO also has stakes in two other oil fields in the region, which are both still at the exploration level." Spencer Swartz (Wall St. Journal) reports, "DNO scrambled Tuesday for a response to the situation" and quotes the company's CEO Helge Eide stating, "Our main priority is now to seek dialogue with the [Kurdish government] as soon as possible and try to bring clarity to the situation and what is needed to find a solution."
In other resource news,
Muhanad Mohammed, Tim Cocks and David Stamp (Reuters) explain $85 million contracts for the installation of gas turbines have been awarded by the Baghdad government to Iraq's URUK Engineering Services (for a Taji power plant) and Canada's SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (for a Hilla power plant).

As Barack continues pushing what
Trina, Ava and I have dubbed ObamaBigBusinessCare, PBS Special Report: Health Care Reform airs this Thursday on most PBS stations. It is a 90 minute special (that should start at 9:00 p.m. EST on most PBS stations) which is pools the talents of NOW on PBS, Tavis Smiley and Nightly Business Report. Tonight on HDNet World Report, Tamara Banks reports from Iraq in a documentary entitled Iraq: Inside the Transition which begins airing at nine p.m. EST.Independent reporter David Bacon knows a country's greatest natural resource is always the people. In "A Factory Like A City" (Political Affairs), he combines text and photos to tell the story:Last month Toyota announced it would close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California, after General Motors annnounced it was withdrawing from the partnership under which the plant has operated for over two decades. The plant employs 4500 workers directly, and the jobs of another 30,000 throughout northern California are dependent on its continued operation. Taking families into account, the threatened closure will eliminate the income of over 100,000 people.People have spent their lives in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, probably more time with the compressed-air tools at their workstations than with their families at home. The plant is like a city, thousands of jobs and thousands of people working in a complicated dance where each one's contribution makes possible that of the next person down the line. And like a city, it supports the people who work in it. David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).

At a US House Veterans Subcommittee hearing today, US House Rep Debbie Halvorson declared, "We need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service." Agreed. We'll cover the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot and other veterans and service member related issues. (If the hearing gets no press, I'll go through my notes. If it gets press, we'll probably just highlight various outlets. The hearing was on the VA and prescription drugs, by the way.)


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