This is why the so-called left sucks and we have the wars we're in.
This dumb and dopey article is in The Nation magazine. Even worse, funds were given for the 'research.'
Lou Dobbs is a personality. If you confuse him with a journalist, you're in a lot of trouble. (The article won't help you there.)
He used to be a TV personality but he stepped away. He still does his radio talk show as far as I know.
The thrust of the piece is "Lou Dobbs used undocumented workers for his personal staff!"
That's where we're going?
Is Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor and publisher of the magazine) about to get honest about her history (and her families) with undocumented workers?
No, she's not.
But she wants to ridicule Lou Dobbs.
Now in the real world, Barack Obama has continued the torture policies that began under George W. Bush.
In the real world. But The Nation wants to dig around Lou Dobbs' trash can and tell us that's reporting.
If you don't get how awful it is, Jane Mayer used to write about torture. But that when Bush occupied the White House. Now she writes about what Republicans choose to fund or not fund.
That's what happens when a Democrat (in name only) is in the White House.
The so-called left forgets their ethics, whores their beliefs and spends four years with a magnifying glass on the right so that they can say, "They're worse!"
They have to study the right so closely to prove that they are worse because the Democratic president is doing such an awful job that you really need a long rap sheet for the Republicans for the Democrat to come out looking even just okay.
I am sick of it.
I am sick of these petty little wars.
In 2008, I made the decision not to vote for War Hawks under any circumstance. I will not do it. I will not do it ever again. That often means I won't be voting Democrat anymore. Oh well.
If members of Congress don't do the right thing and vote the right way, I can't slam them for that if every two years I'm rushing into the voting booth holding my nose to pull the lever for the Democrat. If I want members of Congress who stand up for what they believe in, I have to stand up for what I believe in.
The change starts with every one of us. As each of us stands up, it makes it that much easier for someone else to. That's a movement, that's a real movement. Not some faux left get-out-the-vote for the Democrats staged in DC.
Friday, October 8, 2010. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, Nouri announces who he says will be president of Iraq, the prime minister position is still up for grabs (though Nouri acts as if it's his), Baghdad learns to utilize phantom stockers in grocery stores, Cindy Sheehan explores the US government attack on peace activists, and more.
Administrations love to and live to demonize those who don't agree. For the Bully Boy Bush administration, one of their biggest targets was former US Ambassador Joe Wilson who had been sent, in 2002, on a fact-finding mission to Niger to determine whether there was any evidence supporting rumors (from Iraq's thug community then in exile but soon to be ruling and ruining Iraq) that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire yellow cake uranium (as opposed to Betty Crocker's yellow cake mix) from Niger. Wilson investigated and found nothing to back up the baseless claim. He reported those facts back and was debriefed. It should have ben the end of it. But as much as administrations love to demonize, they also love to lie. So January 28, 2003, Bully Boy Bush gave his Constitutionally-mandated State of the Union speech and declared, "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Wilson thought at first that Bush was speaking of another African country but, when he found out it was Niger, he began speaking to reporters (including New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof) on background. And he wrote a column for the New York Times which they published July 6, 2003 entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa."
The White House reaction was swift. They began shopping around to reporters that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. They weren't lying. She was a CIA agent and they blew her cover and all the overseas operations she'd worked on. Robert Novak was the first reporter to run with it. (Matt Cooper and Judith Miller were among those who also had the story shopped to them.) Plame's cover was blown, the cover of everyone she'd worked with was blown. And you might want to remember that Robert Gates never fretted over that. (A reference to his high drama over WikiLeaks.) What Novak did wasn't a crime. What the White House did was. (And Bully Boy Bush can thank his own father for that. Jake Tapper covered this in 2003, George H.W. Bush's Intelligence Identity Protection Act.) Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame and Sean Penn plays Joe Wilson in the film Fair Game which was screened Wednesday at the MoMA in New York.
The New York Daily News quotes Wilson stating at the screening, "I just came back from Baghdad. And it's a mess. And I would really like to see us talk about why the f--- we're in there. We have 50,000 kids there. What are they doing?" Joe Wilson is -- yet again -- correct. We do need to be asking that question. Instead, we're silent or else repeating the lie that the Iraq War ended. WRAL reports that yesterday came the news Fort Bragg would be deploying troops to Iraq. John Ramsey (Fayetteville Observer) reports over 750 members of the 18th Airborne Corps will deploy in January. News 14 Carolina (link has text and video) adds that this will be the third eployment for the XVIII Airbone Corps. WTVD (link has text and video) notes of the new phase christened "Operation Iraq Freedom," "The new name reflects a change in mission but the danger remains the same."
Yesterday we quoted from a soldier's e-mail that Thomas E. Ricks posted. I hadn't read the post itself (and the quote was read to me over the phone) but we should note that Ricks writes in his post (before the quote) that the Army itself is saying that combat has not ended. There's an interesting comment by Jim Gourley on the post and we're going to excerpt a section of it:
I don't think Obama's statement declaring the end of the war was any less transparent to the initiated than Bush's was. Though the similarity in their specific verbiage of "combat actions" is eerie, I didn't see any articles in the major news sources making remarks to that effect. The greater public should have picked up on the sound of those words coming from Obama's lips like a fire bell in the night, though.
We paid a heavy strategic and operational toll for assuring ourselves things were all wrapped up in 2003. We risk paying a societal toll today.
Others discuss the way media coverage has fallen off regarding Iraq since Obama's proclamation and the footage of units rolling out of the country. That's just the symptom on the surface. The real malady lies beneath, and it's deeply disturbing to me.
By its own admissions, today's network news media chases the audience. Their news content and presentation format is specifically designed to ensure ratings. We can draw an unsettling conclusion from that nature-- the truth about combat activities in Iraq isn't getting covered in the media because the American public doesn't want to hear about it anymore. Perhaps, as Tom notes, the emperor doesn't have any clothes in this case, but the people are more than ready to see the resplendent attire he's put on, and so they do. It seems we only have the capacity to fight one "real" war at a time. If we're going to focus on Afghanistan, then Iraq must become the "forgotten one."
A media critique/dialogue is taking place in the comment thread (absent Keller or "Keller") and one poster (Cow Cookie) is insisting that the media is calling out the White House spin of combat being over. No, it's really not. AP called it out. Some individual journalists for print publications have called it out . . . in interviews they've given (including interviews to NPR -- and also during the international roundtable on The Diane Rehm Show). But it's not called out by most outlets and not repeatedly called out.
Like Bush's 9/11 and Iraq linkage, the spin and the lie is repeated. Barack repeats it himself. Just last week, we were calling out his claim that he has ended the Iraq War. I don't believe anyone's called him out for that lie in the MSM. The publication was Rolling Stone, where Barack insisted, "When I was campaigning, I was very specific. I said, 'We are going to end the war in Iraq, that was a mistake,' and I have done that." That interview was covered by every major news outlet but not one of them covered his lie on Iraq. The Iraq War didn't end. 7 US soldiers have died since he gave that stupid August 31st speech.
More examples? Earlier this week ("It's all a joke to Jamie Elizabeth Stiehm"), we were calling out the idiot at US News & World Reports who 'shared' that the Iraq War was over. Now we could do those entries every day because every day some idiot is penning a column or report claiming the Iraq War is over. We did that entry because a woman e-mailed the public account very upset by Steihm's b.s. (The woman's brother died in the Iraq War and this war that's 'over'? The woman's cousin is serving in the Iraq War right now.)
These false claims are repeated over and over. We usually note most stories on the wounded service members. We ignored the crap the Tennessean served up this week. A two-parter. Do you know how Brandon Gee and Chris Echergaray opened their little story? Here's what two idiots can serve up if they try really hard to whore: "The Iraq war is officially over, but it continues in the heart of Patricia Shaw, who lost her only son."
This is exactly like the 9-11 and Iraq lie. The media would periodically express puzzlement that so many Americans believed this lie -- that the media spat back out over and over. The media was scared -- as a whole -- to correct Bush and they just quoted him. It's the same thing with Barack. And he's giving speeches as these fundraisers right now claiming he's ended the Iraq War. But find the outlets which are correcting him. You can't pick up a paper, turn on a cable chair, without getting a 'report' on Barack's latest fundraiser. But they never find the time to call out the claim. Though some of them are quoting him directly and repeating it.
Though the illegal war has obviously not created a functioning government -- or the desire for one -- it has created the largest refugee crisis in the world. "UNHCR does not consider the security situation in Iraq adequate to facilitate or promote returns. We nonetheless continue to assist refugees who voluntarily express their wish to return, in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities," declared UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming today in Geneva. Flemming noted that a survey of Iraqi refugees had been taken in Syria -- utilizing over 2,000 respondents -- and the majority are not talking return to Iraq. She noted, "A similar survey on the Iraq-Jordan border among some 364 families (representing approximately 1450 individuals) found that none were returning to Iraq permanently." SwissInfo interviews Happy Talker and Low Information Official Walter Kerns of the United Nations.
swissinfo.ch: Before your visit, you called on the Iraqi authorities to end the displacement of people within the country. What specifically is the problem?
W.K.: It was not so much the displacement. After people were forced to flee the violence between religious communities in 2006, the government failed to organise any sort of assembly points – no camps, no collective accommodation. That means that many poorer people squatted on land or in buildings that are publicly-owned. At least there they were slightly protected, but a moratorium on evicting them has been lifted. I appealed for these people not to be thrown out onto the street – that would only make the humanitarian and social problems worse. Instead, let them remain where they are until the government has come up with a solid plan for finding solutions – whether it's allowing them to return or to settle where they are.
swissinfo.ch: Did your appeal work?
W.K.: It didn't fall on totally deaf ears. I had a very long discussion with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was very open to the idea that the relevant ministries should work out a strategy for dealing with these displaced people, including the allocation of land on which they could build houses. From that point of view, I think it was good. There was no assurance that another moratorium on evictions would be announced, but the suggestion wasn't rejected. We'll see.
Walter -- and the outlet -- seem unaware that 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq and that Europe is forcibly evicting Iraqi refugees. Or maybe that's an example of something not falling "on totally deaf ears"?
Press TV reports today that the central government or 'government' out of Baghdad is complaining about the American military "moving around the city without being escorted by Iraqi forces, while using Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles as a disguise." Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh is quoted stating, "We Iraqi people cannot accept the presence of foreign troops on our land soldiers, it is crushing the national feeling and that is why we have been happy that the troops are leaving and the balance of the troops is going to diminish next summer."
Last night, Press TV interviewed US journalist Wayne Madsen about the charges and he stated, "The fact that Americans are found to be wearing Iraqi uniforms in Iraqi military vehicles looks like it's a complete, blatant switch tactic where it was announced with much fanfare that the US was ending its combat mission in Iraq, and now we find US troops still engaged in combat missions in Iraqi uniforms." And, as the US government and the Iranian government vie for most influential in Iraq, you better believe Press TV is going to run with this story. Meanwhile, today on Morning Edition (NPR), Peter Kenyon offers an analysis of several factors at play in Iraq including Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman who states, "They tried very hard -- they had Jesh al-Mahdi, but Jesh al-Mahdi didn't behave well, they were not as clever as Hezbollah. But now still they have such a possibility -- that's exactly what they are aiming at. Iran is aiming at making the Sadrists a sort of Hezbollah in Iraq." As Kenyon's report notes, the political stalemate continues.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and one day and counting.
Last Friday, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc was announcing their support for Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister and some wrongly thought it meant end of stalemate. It didn't even mean end of discussion. As the editorial board of the Japan Times observes, "That move could break the deadlock, but it does not mean that a deal is imminent. Considerable horse-trading is still required to form a government. Ultimately, however, there needs to be power-sharing with Mr. Maliki's chief rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Failure to do so could result in another outbreak of sectarian violence." This morning,
Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) reports, "In Mr. Allawi's first interview since the Maliki-Sadr tie-up, the former prime minister said he had agreed to restart power-sharing talks with Mr. Maliki that were broken off last month -- but only if all top posts, including who serves as prime minister, are on the table for discussion." Alsumaria TV reports that tribal Sheik Sabah Al Shumari is calling for all parties to speed up the process.
Which is where the Obama administration's inattention to Iraq, accelerated drawdown of U.S. troops, and appointment of Christopher Hill -- an ambassador without expertise on Iraq -- comes in. These factors combined to reduce U.S. influence at this crucial juncture of Iraq's democratization. U.S. military leaders backed up the administration for far too long, claiming the drawdown would have no effect on Iraq's political landscape. The spike in violence and the withering of political compromise in Iraq these seven months are the result of our declining engagement and the Iraqis' declining confidence in us.
Into this void has now stepped Moqtada al-Sadr, dilettante son of a revered Shi'ia cleric and leader of sustained insurgent activity against U.S. forces. Since the surge pulled the rug out from under his legitimacy through violence approach, he has been in Iran burnishing his religious credentials, garnering support from the Iranian government, and mobilizing his political forces.
Kori Schake is a reserach fellow with the right-wing Hoover Institution. Pay close attention to that critique because it is going to be the Republican critique on Iraq. We noted this in real time back before Hill was confirmed. (For example, see April 5, 2009's "And the war drags on . . .") We noted that the Republicans were lodging their objections on the record and doing so because they couldn't blame the military, that's not what they do. They needed a civilian to blame. And Barack Obama was too stupid to grasp that you don't hand your opponents Chris Hill. Hill was the utlimate stooge, completely unqualified. And the narrative will be that Bush 'won' the Iraq War (false) and Barack screwed it up by appointing Chris Hill (true on the second point). Back then, Republicans in Congress were bragging about how it was setting them up for 2010. Events in Iraq and their own perceived luck in the midterms mean they're now prepping it for the 2012 election. Appointing Chris Hill was a stupid, stupid thing to do. Barack never should have nominated and the Committee shouldn't have passed his nomination onto the full floor. He was completely unqualified, he broke his first promise (on how quickly he'd depart once confirmed) before he even made it to Baghdad, and his 'low energy levels' (people should have read those personnel files) ensured that Iraq -- not a success by any means when he arrived -- would only further unravel. Why is their stalemate? In part because Chris Hill was the US Ambassador to Iraq.
Turning to safety. For this paragraph, dropping back to yesterday's snapshot: A con artist offers you what sounds like a really good deal but there's a qualifier to it, usually something along the lines of, "there's a limited window of time" as they attempt to hurry you into making a risky move. Remember that as you read Leila Fadel's report (Washington Post) about US officials such as the Commerce Dept's Francisco Sanchez leading an Iraq tour and telling business execs, "If you want to really play a role here, you have to be here now." As Fadel points out, "Iraq is ranked fifth from the bottom on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index - tied with Sudan and ahead of only Burma, Afghanistan and Somalia. Iraq's ranking has dropped drastically since 2003." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes Sanchez insisting, "I'm not trying to sugar-coat this but what I am trying to say is, the Iraqi government is sorting through some of these challenges as the physical security increasingly improves. You can't wait for everything to be perfect." Serena Chaudhry (Reuters) notes, "Companies on the mission included Boeing, Bell Helicopter Textron, ICON Global Architectural Engineering and Wamar International." One wonders Sanchez will promise to attend any and all funerals? Probably not. He'll pitch to get American business into Iraq but he'll be busy if and when the funerals roll around. Like most con artists, he'll have moved on to his next mark.
There's our context. There's the US government insisting that US companies need to get started in Iraq because it's good business and safe, and it's safe, and it's safe. (Nod to Bob Hope in My Favorite Brunette.) Today Yasmine Mousa (New York Times' At War) reports on a new Baghdad super market (multi-story supermarket) which is doing big business. There are a few . . . what Sanchez might call 'bugs' to be worked out:
Food and loading trucks are nowhere to be seen, yet the aisles are stocked with kitchen utensils, brands of shower gels and clothing.
"Because of the security situation we have to work like thieves; right before dusk or soon after dawn we hastily carry our merchandise into the store in batches, in saloon cars," said Fareed Sadoun Salih, an employee.
Mr. Rifai added: "We cannot rely on remote suppliers. We purchase from nearby vendors."
Business is good, but the staff members maintain a low profile because their biggest fear is "getting kidnapped." Such is life for anyone with money in Iraq.
And that's the environment that the US Commerce Dept is attempting to send business into. Meanwhile Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses were discovered in Baghdad (one shot dead, the other "with signs of torture"). Reuters adds 1 police officer was shot dead in Baghdad "by a sniper" and there was an attack on a river in Basra in which seven security guards were left wounded. The boats were by a prison and, inside the prison, a riot reportedly broke out.
Jess Sundan: On Friday, September 24th, I awoke to the sound of pounding at my door around seven in the morning. By the time I got downstairs, there were six or seven federal agents already in my house.
Cindy Sheehan: How many?
Jess Sundan: Six or seven.
Cindy Sheehan: [Laughing] Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you said 57. Six or seven, that's bad enough.
Jess Sundan: [Laughing] No, I don't think they would have fit if it was that many. But my daughter and my partner were already awake and they showed us the search warrant which allowed them to take - to search and seize my house -- seize things in my house -- including -- I don't know how many boxes they carried out filled with papers and books, CDs, checkbooks, computers, cell phones, my passport, photographs. They spent about four hours here going through everything in our house. And when they left, they not only left a bit of a mess but they left a subpoena for myself and my partner for a grand jury in Chicago.
Cindy Sheehan: And what makes you so dangerous or subversive to national security that they would do that to you?
Jess Sundan: Well I'm an anti-war activist and myself and all the other people who received subpoenas or had their homes raided that day are people that I've worked with for several years on different anti-war campaigns. We also have in common, all of us have a real perspective of international solidarity. Many of us have traveled to other countries and in our anti-war work tried to give voice to those most affected by US policies abroad. So in their search warrant they were specifically looking for evidence that we had given material support to foreign terrorist organizations -- including naming someone from Palestine and someone from Columbia. Most of our subpoenas and search warrants were roughly the same. And they named the Antiwar Committee and we also had our offices searched --
Cindy Sheehan: Of Minneapolis, right?
Jess Sundan: Yeah, that's right. So I think, their real concern is that we've been very effective . And secondly, that we've -- in the anti-war movement -- done good work to break the information blockade, making sure that real stories and pictures come back home to the United States from places where the US is militarily involved.
And we'll note this from the show when Cindy's asked about the legal issues in terms of the grand jury and appearing before it.
Jess Sundan: Well the main things is the grand jury which all of us are very concerned about. A grand jury meets in secret. If you appear before a grand jury, you can't have an attorney with you. There's no one to object if you're mistreated. And if you don't testify, there's a risk of jail time and so we're very concerned. It's a very undemocratic court., you know. Except it's not really a court. None of us have been charged with any crime. A purpose of the grand jury is to investigate possible crimes and see if they can generate enough evidence to make a case against someone. We haven't been told who is the target of the grand jury -- like who they think may have committed a crime or what crimes may have been committed but obviously there whole search warrant was around this material support to foreign terrorist organizations. Any of us that were served on any of these subpoenas, and also some people were named on a search warrant at the Antiwar Committee office in addition to those of us that got subpoenas -- any of us realize that at any time there could be indictments brought against us. We don't know, we don't really know what our legal standing is. So we're working with our attorneys. I know that I myself intend to plead the Fifth [Amendment] which means that I will not testify.
We believe we have been targeted because of what we believe, what we say, who we know. The grand jury process is an intent to violate the inalienable rights under the Constitution and international law to freedom of political speech, association and the right to advocate for change. Those with grand jury dates for October 5th and those whose subpoenas are pending have declared that we intend to exercise our right not to participate in this fishing expedition.
The statement was from a press conference Tuesday. Fight Back! News reports Pastor Dan Dale spoke at the conference noting an interfaith statement people were signing on to: "We are people of faigh and conscience who condemn the recent FBI raids in Chicago as a violation of the constitional rights of the people organizations raided. They are a dangerous step to further criminalize dissent. The FBI raids chisel away and byprass fundamental constitutional rights by hauling activists before grand juries under the guise of national security."
Michael Ratner: Yeah. Jim Fennerty, what people in Chicago are you personally representing and what's their political story? Why do you think they're targets?
Jim Fennerty: Well this is the thing. I was just at the US Attorneys office. I had another case in federal court this morning and the US attorney afterwards -- turns out it's the same attorney on these cases -- and he wanted to talk to me. Basically, so far he has not told me anybody who is actually a target, so we're concerned what that means. Now I've been lied to before when I went down to Florida in the Sami al-Arian case with somebody else who was involved with that. And they said, they couldn't tell me, they couldn't tell me. I get down there, we take the Fifth Amendment and they say, "We're not offering your guy immunity, go home." And then I, you know, a month or two later, he gets an indictment. Under their manual, tecnically, they're not supposed to send out a subpeona in a grand jury for a target unless they get higher authority to do that.
Michael Ratner: Heidi and I were talking about that.
Heidi Boghosian: So let's just explain for our listeners about grand juries a bit. When you talk about a target, you mean an individual who is under suspicion for violating the law.
Jim Fennerty: That is correct.
Heidi Boghosian: But what's happening now is that individuals are being given subpeonas in what we call a fishing expedition to try to get information about other people?
Jim Fennerty: That's what it sounds like now but I -- like I said, that's what they told me but it's happened before where somebody told me something and it didn't actually work out true but that's what I've been told today. Basically, a grand jury in its inception historically, you know, hundreds of years ago, was supposed to be citiznes coming together and determining if charges should be filed criminally against somebody. But what it's become, it's become almost, to me, almost like a rubber stamp for the government because basically what happens is the government, US attorneys, can be inside the grand jury. There's usually around 23 people who are called, citizens, to be at the grand jury and what happens is that the US attorney can be inside, they can ask you questions, you can refuse to answer those questions, but your side never gets told to these 23 people. In other words, your lawyer can't come in there and argue for you and give your side of it. That's why it's, like I said, it's pretty much a rubber stamp for what the prosecutors want and people should be very, very concerned about going there because what you say could be twisted around and you've just got to be very vigilant about what you do. You know, most cases, people can say they don't want to testify at the grand jury, they're going to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against incrimination. What they could do at a grand jury, they could offer you immunity which is use immunity, it's not total immunity, but what that means is they offer you immunity and then you refuse to testify, you can be taken to a judge, they'll read the question to the judge and then they'll ask you the answer to that question. If you continue to refuse to answer that question, then a judge can hold you in civil contempt and you could be incarcerated for the remaining time of the grand jury.
Heidi Boghosian: And that can be a long time.
Jim Fennerty: Well that can be depending how long the grand jury is sits. But your lawyer can go back periodically and say, "Look it, Judge, this person's been there for three months or whatever and they're not going to testify. They're still not going to testify. So it makes no sense to keep continuing to lock them up." And hopefully you'll get a sympathetic judge for that.
Heidi Boghosian: Because it is -- it is lawful to hold someone in civil contempt, to incarcerate them as a method of coercion --
Jim Fennerty: Correct.
Heidi Boghosian: -- but not as punishment --
Jim Fennerty: Correct.
Heidi Boghosian: -- and that's why we try to argue that it's not doing any good.
And we'll again note this section from the broadcast because activists are being targeted.
Michael S. Smith: Heidi, when the FBI knocks, what do you do?
Heidi Boghosian: It is crucial that if anyone listening to this show is contacted by the FBI or if your friends or family members are, that you do not talk to them. You just say, "I would like to consult with my lawyer. May I have your business card? My lawyer will get back to you." Never say anything because anything you say, no matter how seemingly mundane -- answering a question: Do you live here?, Is your name such and such? -- can be used against you in further grand jury proceedings.
Michael S. Smith: Well they can go after you saying that you lied to them. Don't talk to them. Call your lawyer. Call our hotline. Get out a pencil. Heidi, give them the hotline.
Heidi Boghosian: If you're visited by the FBI, you can call the NLG's Hotline. It's 888-NLG-ECOL. Or 888-654-3265.
Michael S. Smith: Heidi, please repeat the hotline.
Heidi Boghosian: The hotline is 888-NLG-ECOL. And how you can remember that is that originally we started this as a hotline for environmental and animal rights activists so it was for ecology. It was Eco Law but we shortened it.
And on Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US," two people e-mailed about getting it in book form. It is available online for free. Some people don't want to read a screen. Some people have problems with PDF files. Some people use public computers -- such as at a library -- where they have limited time to be on them. For those reasons and more (including maybe you want a book to give as a gift), please note that the report is available in booklet form. For all NLG publications, click here. Click on the title you want and they will give you info -- usually it's an e-mail address. It's below five dollars a copy but I don't know the exact price, sorry -- and the cost is strictly for postage and handling.
TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Peter Baker (New York Times), Joan Biskupic (USA Today), Michael Duffy (Time) and David Wessel (Wall St. Journal) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "The Risks and Rewards of Party Purity." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Karen Czarnecki, Avis Jones-DeWeever, Nicole Kurokawa and Irene Natividad on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online is extra is on cyber bullying. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stations: "A report on the jobs situation profiles an unemployed baby-boomer couple and two Millenials; and details a federally funded, temporary jobs program. Included: ex-labor secretary Robert Reich and Sara Horowitz (Freelancers Union) provide perspective." Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
The Speed Traders Steve Kroft gets a rare look inside the secretive world "high-frequency trading," a controversial technique the SEC is scrutinizing in which computers can make thousands of stock trades in less than a second.
Mandela A collection of his memoirs, mostly from the 27 years he spent in prison, reveal the innermost thoughts of the international civil rights giant Nelson Mandela, whose movement brought down the apartheid regime of South Africa. Bob Simon reports.
Eminem CNN's Anderson Cooper profiles the chart-topping rapper from Detroit who overcame addiction to reclaim the winning style that made him the biggest selling artist of the past decade.
To get a more complete understanding of our current crisis, we need to look at the history of events that led up to it. We need to peer deeply into the inner workings of the Global Banking Intelligence Complex. Without acknowledging and exposing the covert forces that are aligned against us, we will not be able to effectively overcome them.
In the past I have shied away from going too deeply into the details of the intelligence world out of fear of being written off and dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. If I hadn't spent the majority of the past 20 years investigating global financial intelligence operations, I certainly wouldn't believe half of this myself. Given the severity of our current crisis and the imminent devastating implications, I now realize that I must go deeper into covert activities than I publicly ever have. The information I am about to report is very well-sourced and documented, and needs to be covered before we can proceed to exposing present operations.
Tonight, I found an article that really underscores how America is poorly served by the press. The article is David Sarasohn's "In 2010 politics, must be the season of the witch." Yes, it's an embarrassing column about Christine O'Donnell. (A sexist article, in fact.)
Now you may read that paragraph and think, "So what?" Because, after all, it is the press' job to inform the voters and bad columnists are nothing new, right?
But, help me out, O'Donnell's running for the Senate out of which state?
That's right, Delaware.
But that article I cited, where was it published?
Use the link if you need to check that out. Yes, a columnist living in Oregon, writing for an Oregon paper is writing about what? A candidate running in the state of Delaware.
Oregon has a Senate race. Ron Wyden, the incumbent, is running against Jim Huffman.
So, grasp that, instead of doing something that would serve the readers -- maybe even inform them, a man wants to hop on a water cooler topic and write about that. It's the dumbing down of America. Blame the press, don't blame the people.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the US takes 'meetings' on the stalemate, violence in Iraq did not drop last month, Iraq's religious minorities remain persecuted, US peace activists refuse to testify to grand juries as part of the governments fishing expedition, Congress is out of session but Chair Daniel Akaka holds a hearing, and more.
The US hasn't left Iraq and who knows if troops ever will? Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) interviewed Iraqi Staff Lt Gen Anwar Ahmed who states that Iraq will not be able to protect its own air space for many, many years to come: "In the modern military sense, the Iraqi air foce cannot be completed . . . before 2020, and until then we would not be able to say that the air force is ready to defend the skies." In possibly related news, the editorial board of the Washington Post frets that if Congress doesn't fork over all the money the administration wants to spend on Iraq, Iraq's so-called 'democracy' or whatever will fail. Newsflash: Democracy doesn't depend on cash. Forget that the GAO found that Nouri's sitting on billions (the Post has forgotten), democracy is made by citizen participation, not by money. Iraq has been a sinkhole for US tax payer dollars and at a time when Barack's "Fiscal Commission" is making noises about slashing Social Security and veterans benefits, forking over more money to Iraq is insane. That money needs to go towards helping people suffering in the United States from the Great Recession. What the Post confesses, if you read between the lines, is that conventional wisdom is puppet Nouri will be re-installed and he can't hold onto the position he and the other exiles were installed into by the US government without US money to control and attack the people of Iraq. Democracy doesn't depend on money. During the Great Depression, the US didn't stop being a democracy. It's really juvenile -- not very mature, not very 'fiscal,' -- to claim that the US needs to waste more tax payer monies during a recession. At Politico, a War Hawk and former Bushie stomp their feet over the same issue. By contrast, Greg Sheridan (The Australian) argues it's time for the US to leave both Iraq:
In Iraq I believe it was reasonable for the Americans to intervene on the evidence they had at the time. What did they achieve?
They brought an end to the rule of the most murderous tyrant, Saddam Hussein, in the second half of the 20th century. They ensured Iraq would not revive its nuclear weapons program or threaten its neighbours any more. And they gave Iraq a chance at a better future, something approaching self-government and democracy. The violence that accompanied the process was the cause of the terrorists and extremists who opposed the US-led operation, which shortly after it began acquired the legitimacy of UN sanction. Now it's up to the Iraqis.
Or at least up to the exiles the US government installed in Iraq.
Alsumaria TV reports today, "Head of the Islamic Supreme Council Ammar Al Hakim's visits to Iraq's neighboring countries aim to hold talks with Arab leaders and brief them over the situation in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council's media advisor Bassem Al Awadi told Alsumaria." Harry Smith (CBS' The Morning Show) offers today, "This news is amazing on a number of levels if true. [Moqtada] Al Sadr helped fan the flames of what turned out to be close to all out war between Sunnis and Shiites back in 2006 when as many as hundred civilians a day were getting killed in Iraq." What's everyone talking about? The political stalemate and talk that it may be nearing an end as a result of al-Sadr backing Nouri al-Maliki. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains, "As the country lurched into the history books with one of the longest delays in government formation ever after holding elections, followers of hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced they had withdrawn their opposition to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and would back him for a second term."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-nine days with no government formed.
As Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) notes, the US lodged their objection to al-Sadr being part of the government yesterday via US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey. Whether or not this is a deal breaker remains to be seen but al-Sadr is not the only one being objected to in recent days. Pakistan's Daily Times notes, "Ninevah Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi said in an Associated Press interview Sunday that Iraq is "headed for a dictatorship" if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki secures a second term. His warning shows the serious challenges to US-led efforts at bringing Iraq's rival groups together in a unity government to end a nearly seven-month political impasse." Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) surveys the landscape and notes there is no done deal at this point and feels Syria will be a major player: "In theory, neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran is 100% committed to either Maliki or Allawi. Iran is very keen however, on not making Allawi premier in as much as Saudi Arabia insists that it will not tolerate another four years of Maliki, who it sees as a sectarian politician who greatly harmed the interests of Sunnis. This is where Syria's say comes into play, given its excellent relations with Sunnis and Shi'ites, creating a balance that neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran enjoy. Syria has the ear of Hakim and Muqtada of the INA and also is very influential with Allawi and Sunnis." International Crisis Groups' Joost Hiltermann speaks with the Council on Foreign Relations' Bernard Gwertzman about the stalemate:
Bernard Gwertzman:So, despite these latest stories over the long weekend, you're not necessarily enthusiastic that a deal has been struck?
Joost Hiltermann: No deal has been struck. The only thing that has happened is that Maliki was chosen to be the designated prime ministerial candidate for the Iraqi National Alliance, which is the reconstituted Shiite alliance minus the Islamic Supreme Council [headed by Adel Abdul Mahdi] and some other independents and smaller groups. So that's the only thing that has happened, but Maliki, even with that kind of blessing, simply doesn't have the number of seats that he needs in order to form a government.
AFP reports that Nouri and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (and one-time acting Secretary of State) William Burns met today in Baghdad and that Nouri's office issued a statement noting, "The prime minister expressed the hope that in the coming days, there would be openness in the ongoing negotiations between the political blocs to form a government of national partnership." Wang Guanqun (Xinhua) reports that that Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Issawi visited Turkey today and held a joint-press conference with the Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Minister of Turkey, and that al-Issawi stated that the cause of the stalemate has been foreign intervention. Meanwhile Hurriyet Daily News notes that the government of Turkey presented "a motion to [the Turkish] Parliament to extend a mandate for military strikes against bases in northern Iraq belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK." If the motion is extended, it would be the third time since 2007 that the Parliament has extended it. Today's Zaman states it's a one year mandate and "The motion allows the government to stage cross-border operations to eradicate terrorism threat and attacks against Turkey from north of Iraq." Rudaw reports that Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Babakir Zebary has stated, quoting Zebary, "the Iraqi Army has no capabililty and readiness to fight the PKK." From the Kurdish rebels to the KRG, Charles McDermid (Time magazine) interviews KRG head Barham Salih:
[Charles McDermid:] Do the Kurds in Iraq want independence?
[Barham Salih:] Yes. Every Kurd dreams of independence. But life is not about what you want; it's about doing what you can do with what you have. I believe we made the right choice to work for a democratic and federal Iraq -- one that guarantees Kurdish identity. Had we pursued our own state it could have been an arduous journey with uncertain consequences. Working for a federal Iraq could have more tangible gains, and I genuinely believe most of the Kurdish people are with us. We have to see if Iraq ends up being truly democratic and federal.
[Charles McDermid:] How long, in your opinion, before a new central government is formed in Baghdad?
[Barham Salih:] I don't know, but I hope not long. This has gone on for far too long -- while the country is plagued by violence and collapse of basic services. It is embarrassing and shameful.
According to the "IPI World Press Freedom Review 2009: Focus on the Middle East and North Africa", in 2009 Iraq was the eighth most deadly country for journalists, down from 'most deadly' in 2008 -- a title it had held since 2003. So far in 2010, Iraq lies fourth behind Mexico, Honduras and Pakistan, all of which have seen significant conflict and lawlessness in 2010. During the height of the Iraq War between 2003 and 2008, 167 journalists were killed in Iraq, according to IPI's Death Watch, with Iraq consistently topping the list as the world's deadliest country. Last year, however, saw a significant drop in journalist casualties in Iraq, with four journalists killed compared to 14 in 2008 and 42 in 2007.
"The recent increase again in violence against journalists in Iraq is a growing concern," said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. "So far this year we have seen more journalists killed in Iraq than in the whole of last year. Whilst, thankfully, this toll is nowhere near the heights seen during the war, Iraq cannot be allowed to slide backwards. On the contrary, the authorities must ensure that the killers of journalists are brought to justice. If a culture of impunity is allowed to continue to thrive, it may fuel further journalist killings."
In today's violence, Reuters notes a Kirkuk rocket attack which injured one person and a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing which injured two police officers.
Meanwhile, as last month came to an end last week, the spin was that September was less violent. Using Ministry of Health figures for dead (273) and wounded (485), many outlets insisted that violence was down as a result of lower totals. Two questions: Why would belive a ministry's figures and why aren't news outlets able to keep their own tolls throughout the month? At Third Sunday, we tallied up the reported deaths and wounded and, no, the ministry figures do not match up. The number reported wounded -- by Reuters, McClatchy, New York Times and Xinhua throughout the month -- came to 697, nearly seven hundred and over 200 more than the 'official' figures. Please note that reported deaths and reported wounded do not cover all the dead and all the wounded -- many go unreported. For those who need or want to check the numbers, from Third's piece:
In Iraq, the thugs target everyone: LGBT (and those suspected of being LGBT), women, religious minorities, professors, doctors, journalists, etc. First to Iraq's Jewish community and dropping back to the August 30th snapshot for the starred ("**") excerpt:
** Turning to DPA's "Iraq demands the return of a rare Jewish scroll from Israel," if the basic facts are correct (they may be, they may not be -- DPA is wrong as to the number of Jews in Iraq in 2003 -- they woefully undercount the Jewish population which I don't believe hit a dozen utnil some time in 2006), Israel is in possession of a Torah which the Tourism Ministry of Iraq is stating ought to be returned. It ought to be?
No. This has none of the complexities of the earlier call by the Iraqi government for Jewish documents. In the earlier case, the US, after the 2003 invasion, had discovered a large number of records that were kept by the Iraqi government on Jews in Iraq -- it was spying on them. They brought the records back to the US to preserve them -- they had been submerged in water when the US found them. Iraq demanded them back. The dispute was between Iraq and the US, between the occupied and the occupier. As I noted at Third, I was surprised the Israeli government did not step in on that. If they had and had made a claim on the documents, there would have been reasons to dispute claims. However, the US was the occupier and the documents were taken out of the country.
Iraq felt no need to protect the Jewish citizens from targeting by various thugs since the invasion began. The Jewish population was targeted and was wiped out either by violence or by fleeing. To now assert that they have some right to Hebrew artifacts? They have no right. Nor do they or did they ever belong to Iraq. Whose culture was it? And since when can a nation-state, developed centuries later, attempt to lay claim to the people's property?
These are not documents that the Iraqi government kept. Even now the Tourism Ministry can't state whether it was ever in the government's possession, whether it was privately owned by someone in Iraq or whether it belonged to a Jewish facility in Iraq (as many as 100,000 Jewish people were living in Iraq as late as the 1940s). These are religious artifacts and they belong to the people of that religion. The scroll is in Israel and in Israel is where it should remain. Iraq did not protect the Jewish population, it allowed it to be decimated. It has no claim or right to the scroll.
Iraq is created in 1932. The scroll predates the creation of the country by centuries. Having no Jewish population today, the fact that they would even assert a right to the scroll is rather offensive. And that's before you even wiegh into consideration the fact that Iraq's unable to keep their treasures, artifacts and museums open to the public. **
From zero up to seven is the Iraqi Jewish population (all in Baghdad) according to a 'man of the cloth' known and caught spinning. But 7 Iraqi Jews may remain in Baghdad. At Huffington Post, David Harris has reworked his 2003 essay on being Jewish and we're emphasizing the Iraq part because it should further explain how Iraq has no claim on any Jewish artificat:
And I wonder if you have ever heard of the Farhud, the breakdown of law and order, in Baghdad in June 1941. As an AJC specialist, George Gruen, reported:
In a spasm of uncontrolled violence, between 170 and 180 Jews were killed, more than 900 were wounded, and 14,500 Jews sustained material losses through the looting or destruction of their stores and homes. Although the government eventually restored order ... Jews were squeezed out of government employment, limited in schools, and subjected to imprisonment, heavy fines, or sequestration of their property on the flimsiest of charges of being connected to either or both of the two banned movements. Indeed, Communism and Zionism were frequently equated in the statutes. In Iraq the mere receipt of a letter from a Jew in Palestine [pre-1948] was sufficient to bring about arrest and loss of property.
At our peak, we were 135,000 Jews in 1948, and we were a vitally important factor in virtually every aspect of Iraqi society. To illustrate our role, here is what the Encyclopedia Judaica wrote about Iraqi Jewry: "During the 20th century, Jewish intellectuals, authors, and poets made an important contribution to the Arabic language and literature by writing books and numerous essays."
By 1950 other Iraqi Jews and I were faced with the revocation of citizenship, seizure of assets, and, most ominously, public hangings. A year earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa'id had told the British ambassador in Amman of a plan to expel the entire Jewish community and place us at Jordan's doorstep. The ambassador later recounted the episode in a memoir entitled From the Wings: Amman Memoirs, 1947-1951.
And now we turn to Iraqi Chistrians. As David E. Miller (Arab News) noted last month, violence has resulted in Iraq's Christian population being cut in half -- some dead, some fled. Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) explained last month, "The persecution of Christian communities across the Muslim world has escalated rapidly since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Christians are often seen as the natural allies of western occupiers and, as a minority, are highly vulnerable to retaliation. In one case in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul a few years ago US soldiers damaged a mosque with their vehicle and Sunni Arab insurgents retaliated by bombing two churches." Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports today that more Christians are planning to leave Iraq and "Alarmed that their flock could face extinction, Iraqi Christian leaders appealed to the Vatican for help. Pope Benedict, also worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops for October 10-24 to discuss how churches can work together to preserve Christianity's oldest communities."
Kelley McEvers: Abu Ahmed researches militant groups in Iraq and is writing a book about the Sunni insurgency. He doesn't want to give his full name because he maintains contact with some militants. He calls the most recent iteration of al-Qaida in Iraq the Third Chapter. The first one was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who led al-Qaida operations during some of Iraq's most violent years. He was killed in 2006. The Second Chapter was headed by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi. They were killed in April. The Third Chapter, Abu Ahmed says, is made up of men who worked with Zarqawi, left Iraq for a time, and have now returned; and men who've recently been released from American and Iraqi detention centers after serving out short sentences. Abu Ahmed says this group is just as fiercely committed to waging jihad as Zarqawi was. But there are some key differences.
She establishes the point that 'cutting off the head' doesn't kill the group. (He tells her al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is in yet another stage.) What he's saying is in keeping with any political theory and yet the US government didn't grasp that under Bush and they don't under Barack. In fact, the current drone attacks on Pakistan will most likely mean terrorism remains a dominant force for many decades. (Terrorism is a response. It is not an initiating action.) Robert Jensen (War Is A Crime) notes:
Today the United States spends as much on the work of war as the rest of the world combined, and we are the planet's largest arms dealer. Professor Catherine Lutz of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University reports in her book The Bases of Empire that we maintain 909 military facilities in 46 countries and overseas U.S. territories, and we have more than 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilians working at those sites. That's in addition to U.S. bases, military personnel, and contractors occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military is there to project power, not promote peace. We regularly use these destructive forces, especially in the Middle East, home to the largest and most accessible energy reserves. Flimsy cover stories about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, or self-indulgent tales about U.S. benevolence toward the people of the region, cannot obscure the reality of empire. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were unlawful, in direct violation of international law and the U.S. Constitution, but such details are irrelevant to empires.
Terrorism is real, of course, as are weapons of mass destruction. Law enforcement, diplomacy, and limited uses of military force need to be vigorously pursued through appropriate regional and international organizations to lessen the threats. Most of the world supports such reasonable and rational measures.
In its global policy -- especially in the Middle East -- U.S. policymakers prefer force, not only though invasion but also by backing the most repressive Arab regimes in those regions and unconditional support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. In the short term, this cynical and brutal strategy has given the United States considerable influence over the flow of oil and oil profits.
We believe we have been targeted because of what we believe, what we say, who we know. The grand jury process is an intent to violate the inalienable rights under the Constitution and international law to freedom of political speech, association and the right to advocate for change. Those with grand jury dates for October 5th and those whose subpoenas are pending have declared that we intend to exercise our right not to participate in this fishing expedition.
The statement was from a press conference yesterday. Fight Back! News reports Pastor Dan Dale spoke at the conference noting an interfaith statement people were signing on to: "We are people of faigh and conscience who condemn the recent FBI raids in Chicago as a violation of the constitional rights of the people organizations raided. They are a dangerous step to further criminalize dissent. The FBI raids chisel away and byprass fundamental constitutional rights by hauling activists before grand juries under the guise of national security."
This morning the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing held a hearing on the VA's IT program. Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Committee and his office notes:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on the status and future of VA's Information Technology (IT).
"Information technology plays a critical role in all that VA does, from delivering benefits to veterans' health care records," said Chairman Akaka. "VA's use of information technology has been marked by successes and failures. When it was first created VA's electronic health record was on the cutting edge, and I have faight that under the current leadership, VA's use of technology will continue to progress."
The hearing related to both health and claims processing information technology systems, and looked specifically at how aspects of IT have impacted GI Bill recipients. Witnesses at the hearing included top VA IT officials, a VA computer specialist, and a private sector authority on IT and electronic health records.
More information about the hearing, including statements, testimony and the webcast, is available here: veterans.senate.gov
Ranking Member Richard Burr noted early in the hearing, "Mr Chairman, I thank you for your willingness to schedule this hearing even though the Senate is out of session. I want to thank my colleagues Mr.[Mike] Johanns and Mr. [Scott] Brown, for being here." And if you're Senator was present, you should be thankful as well because the IT problems include the notorious lack of tuition payments to veterans that began in the fall of 2009 and continued well into the spring of 2010 (to be clear, waiting for their fall 2009 education benefit checks -- to cover tuition, books, lodging -- through the spring of 2010.) This is a serious problem and Burr, Brown and Johanns didn't have to be there and not only did Chair Akaka not have to be there, he's the one who had the say-so in whether or not the hearing would take place. He made the call to hold the hearing and deserves strong credit for that. In his opening remarks, Johanns noted that when he was US Secretary of Agriculture (2005-2007), "IT systems were the bane of my existence" so the current problems were not shocking to him.
Burr noted that failed programs and discontinued ones by IT have costs tax payers "millions" of dollars. He noted what he saw as a "genuine effort" on the part of VA Assistant Secretary for IT Roger W. Baker who was confirmed to that position 15 months ago. Baker was one of the witnesses appearing before the Committee. The others were Belinda J. Finn from the VA's Inspector General Office, Tom Munnecke who was a VA IT official, Edward Francis Meagher who chairs VisA Moderinzation Committee of the American Council and Glen Tullman who is CEO of Allscripts. We'll note this from Finn's opening remarks but LTS refers to the "fully automated claims processing system that utilizes a rules-based engine to process Post 9/11 GI Bill Chapter 33 veterans' education benefits."
Belinda Finn: Finally, our audit of the GI Bill Long Term Solution reported that OI&T developed and deployed both LTS Releases 1 and 2 on time; however these releases did not always meet the functionality that was expected for those releases. We concluded that the program still needed more management and disciplines and processes to ensure the project meets both the performance and the cost goals required.
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Baker, what can you point out that would help persuade the Committee that VA has learned from its past and that will not experience expensive IT failures in the future?
Roger Baker: Thank you, Senator, I will keep this answer brief because I'd love to give you ten minutes on that one. I think the biggest lesson that we took from the failure of the Replacement Scheduling Application was that we have to make certain that the hard decisions are faced and made. From there, I think you've seen a series of hard decisions made at the VA relative to other projects. Stopping 45 projects in July of last year was frankly a hard decision for our customers -- based on that those projects were not delivering. Stopping some of those projects and saying 'We're not going to be successful at those,' has been a series of hard -- of hard decisions. Frankly, reforming a few of them was not -- was not viewed positively but we recognized that they were not going to deliver if we didn't change them to an incremental delivery. Even some of the more notable ones that I think that we get criticized for -- for example, stopping the FLITE program [Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise], they're hard decisions. They're not decisions that we take lightly. And they're not decisions that we view from only one aspect. But in the end, we have to determine: Can we be successful? And if we believe we can't be, if we believe it's an overreach, we need to not do the program. So I would -- I would point you to not just some of the things we've done, some of the programs we've instituted but the results of those programs. And, most importantly, we don't allow a project to move forward today if they don't have a customer facing deliverable within the next six months. What that means is they're not going to go a long time like Replacement Scheduling did. Replacement Scheduling went years without delivering anything before they finally figured out it couldn't deliver anything. We now are implementing a technique we're calling "Fail Fast." If it's going to fail, figure it out quickly and stop spending money on it. That has generated a lot of facing up to those hard decisions again inside the organization. So I would give you those two things. Again, in many ways, that's my life inside the VA, is making certain we don't replicate those things from the past and we don't have anymore replacement scheduling. One thing I would add I've also promised Secretary [Eric] Shinseki that we will not have another replacement scheduling while he and I are at the VA.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Well let me give the other witnesses a chance, if you want to add anything to that about how to avoid these high profile failures. Mr. Munnecke?
Tom Munneck: Yes, as a software architect faced with these demands on the technical side, I often find that the users -- and this might come from Senate and Congressional committees, by the way -- want to have the penthouse suite on the skyscraper but they don't want to pay for the lower 22 floors and the foundation of the building. And so they say, "I want this thing up at the top, give it to me tomorrow or yesterday." And everybody else just scrambles to build the rest of the skyscraper -- the building. And, as an architect, you say, "First of all, I have to dig a hole in the ground to build a foundation.' They say, 'No, no, I want this skyscraper. I want this penthouse suite.' So I think Mr. Baker's approach, which I wholly endorse, should also include the requirements that people are building and not make gold plated penthouse suites but maybe even the 10th floor of an existing building and scale it down and allow it to evolve over time rather than go for the big push and the big bang that may not be possible. So it should be a process of discovery and working forward gracefully rather than expecting the gold-plated requirement to be met immediately.
Edward Francis Meagher: One thing I would add to this answer is this notion of accountability, personal accountability. When you have the projects broken up into small pieces, where you make sure all the parts are in place before you begin, that there's agreed upon business requirements, there's a business owner, there's competent, experienced program managers and then you hold people accountable for their deliverables and for meeting their milestones. That's a culture change that is taking place, I would suggest over the last 18 months that's very dramatic and is probably one of the main pillars as to why I think you're seeing the turnaround now that some of you have recognized and I really believe is there.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Tullman?
Glen Tullman: Yes, I'd again compliment Assistant Secretary Baker on the progress and what I heard today. You know, we believe that the private sector should play an increasingly large role in developing these systems. We're developing very similar systems for the civilian health care system and increasingly what we're seeing is these two are meshing together so people are moving back and forth in and out of the military and other services and the government as well. So we'd like to make sure that, number one, that the government is looking at what the private sector has to offer. And two, we believe that there are much better systems to form the community that my counter-part here talked about: A community of the VA, they're out there, they're social networking systems, their open platforms, their Microsoft-based systems. They're not based on what is essentially a 25-year-old transaction processing language called MUMPS. So we'd like to see the new system based on newer, broader standards and have the government in the role of setting the standards for what they want and let the private sector compete to deliver and get the and be punished if they don't.
Kat will cover more of the hearing at her site tonight.