Friday, April 15, 2011

I'm Over All That

Again with Shirley MacLaine's I'm Over All That And Other Confessions.

This continues to be a controversial topic in e-mails. Sunny read me some of the ones that have come in.

First, I don't 'believe.' If I did, I would most likely believe in what Shirley writes about because it is a fair and just understanding of the universe. But if you're so upset -- and only now getting -- that I'm not a Christian or of any other practicing faith, you'll need to go somewhere else. Your e-mails quoting the Bible or whatever other holy text are not going to sway me. I do not live in fear. I am not the product of some mood altering drug. My thoughts are pretty much as they have always been on this subject.

I do not insult people for believing and, honestly, I envy them. But I belong to no religion or spirituality. That's who I am. Accept it or move on.

So that's to the ones who just know they can 'save' me for whatever religion they belong to.

Now for those who believe in reincarnation and think I'm missing points of Shirley's writings or those who don't believe in reincarnation and see no reason to pick up Shirley's book.

If The Wizard of Oz is on the TV, I stop and watch. If I know it's coming on, I make plans to watch. I first saw the movie as a child on TV, on a black & white TV. We'd gone to visit my grandmother on my father's side (and this was shortly after my mother's mother passed away). She had a big house, wooden house. The porch was high, high off the ground. Which became an issue to me, a young child, as I watched the house Dorothy was in get tossed around. But I remember my parents and my grandmother going to talk in the kitchen and I was in the living room, in front of my grandmother's large TV. As the movie went along, I scooted back. Soon I was on the couch. Soon I was under the couch. That is where I watched the rest of the film from.

It's a magical movie and one I still love. I love story tellers and great stories. If I believe in reincarnation, I'm sure I would get additional levels in Shirley's writings; however, I can still enjoy her strong writing and story telling abilities.

So can you if you like good writers. I don't have to agree with everything or anything to enjoy a book. I read a lot for work -- journals and studies -- but for my own reading, I want to be taken away. I want to be caught up in the page. Shirley MacLaine's a powerful writer.

I also look to people who will make me think as I read along. She does make me think. I am fully aware that I could be wrong. So be it if I am. But none of that takes away from the joy I get reading her book.

If you're looking for a good book to read, I would strongly encourage you to pick up I'm Over All That. Tricia e-mailed to say the book was 30% off at her Target so you might make Target a starting place to look for the book.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, April 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protesters turn out in Baghdad and call for Nouri to step down, the UN human rights chief calls for an investigation into the assault on Camp Ashraf, and more.
Baghdad has seen protests every Friday since February 25th. Today in Baghdad, AGI reports, "hundreds" are protesting and calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign. They are doing so in "Liberation Square" (Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad) and have rejected the notion that they will be penned inside a stadium. Alsumaria TV adds:

"Demonstrators chanted "Leave Maliki, Leave" and "wind of change has arrived" in the middle of an intensive presence of the Iraqi security forces," the reporter added.
Baghdad Operations had declared on Wednesday that Al Shaab and Al Kashafa Stadiums in Al Rassafa and Al Zawra' Stadium in Karakh were appointed as substitute regions to hold licensed demonstrations instead of Al Tahrir and Al Ferdaws squares.
This demonstration is the first of its kind, since the beginning of demonstrations in February 25, as to calling for Prime Minister Al Maliki to step down. Demonstrations slogans have called to halt corruption and to implement reforms and change. These demonstrations were organized by university students and independent educated people thru social networking websites. It is to be noted that security forces had applied tight security measures and curfew to prevent demonstrators from reaching the gatherings. To that, Iraq police opened fire and many people were killed and injured.

As noted in Wednesday's snapshot, "AFP reports that Baghdad security forces have announced that protests in the capital from now on will only be allowed in one of three football stadiums. The excuse being offered is complaints from shop keepers about traffic issues but the reality is this is yet another effort to hide the protests away." Kitabat featured an essay Thursday rejecting the demand that protesters gather in stadiums, noting that they would instead keep the voices of the protest close to the ears of the Iraqi officials in the Green Zone and would refuse efforts to isolate the voice of the Iraqi people. Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf observed:
Demonstrators gathering in #Baghdad's Tahrir square despite government ban - burning national registration cards in protest about 16 hours ago via web
Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes protester Mohammed Abdul Amir speaking to the crowd, "Why should we go to Al-Shaab stadium? Are we going to play a football match with the police? No! We will demonstrate here!" Human rights activist Sarah Abdallah tweets:
The demands of the Iraqi people are clear: free all political prisoners, down with #Maliki and end the criminal 8-year US #occupation. #Iraq about 1 hour ago via web
Tens of thousands marched through #Baghdad today for the "Friday of the Free," in defiance of the #Maliki regime's ban on protests. #Iraq about 1 hour ago via web
At Al Jazeera's live blog of MidEast protests today, Jane Arraf reported that some activists "burned their Iraqi identiy cards in protest against the government. Military and police units deployed at the square did not prevent the gathering".
On the subject of protests we're again left with the crazed rantngs of Raed Jarrar (see Sunday's "And the war drags on . . ." for a dissection of his previous crazy). How fitting that his latest revisionary history shows up at Iran's state controlled Press TV -- what would propaganda be without a propaganda mill? Making like Moqtada al-Sadr's girlfriend -- the Eva to Moqtada's Adolph, Raed's again writing about Saturday's protests. If you're wondering, no, he's not written of any of the other over 30 big protests which have taken place across Iraq in the last three months. But his Mookie Moqtada didn't have a hand in those and Raed's all about spreading the love for Mookie: "the prominent nationalist Shia cleric" -- does anyone else see the hilarity in referring to chicken Moqtada hiding in another country (Iran) as a "nationalist"? But, hey, the hilarity is right there the minute you apply "nationalist" to Moqtada. He's attempting to make Iraq a satellite of Iran, don't mistake that for nationalism unless you're grossly uneducated.
All of the protests that came before are reduced by Raed to a one and a half sentences: "Iraqis had already been demonstrating in the streets of Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities for a week as of this writing. So far most of the protests have focused on better services". He. Just. Can't. Stop. Lying. Protests have been going on in Iraq since February, not for a week. There's been a sit-in that's gone on non-stop for weeks, day after day. Better services? No. What an insulting thing to say, insulting and uninformed.
Iraqi protests this year kicked off in February and kicked off outside of Baghdad. It's amazing because people died in these protests but they're being stripped from the record by Moqtada's Fan Club. As January wound down, Ned Parker. reported on the secret prisons for the Los Angeles Times and Human Rights Watch issued their report on it. Parker's January report on the secret prisons and how they were run by Nouri's security forces, the Baghdad Brigade followed up on his earlier report on how the Brigade was behind the prison that he and the paper exposed in April 2010. All the whilte Nouri insisted that there were no secret prisons in Iraq. Such as February 6th when Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "The Iraqi government on Sunday denied a human rights organization's allegation that it has a secret detention center in Baghdad, run by Prime Minister Nur al-Maliki's security forces." The report then quoted Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi stating, "We don't know how such a respectable organization like Human Rights Watch is able to report such lies." Camp Honor is a prison that's under Nouri's control, staffed by people working for him. Amnesty International would also call the use of secret prisons out while Nouri continued to deny them.
But while many in the press would play dumb, the Iraqi people knew better. They knew their loved ones were gone, disappeared into Iraq's legal system. That is what began the protests in Iraq: the prisons. It's what fueled them throughout. And that's not "going on for a week as of this writing." From the Feb. 10th snapshot:
Alsumaria TV reports protests took place in Babel Province today with one protest calling for the release of prisoners and another calling out the continued lack of public services. Dar Addustour reports the the Council of the Bar Association issued a call for a Baghdad demonstration calling for corruption to be prosecuted, for the Constitution to be followed and sufficient electricity in all the schools. Nafia Abdul-Jabbar (AFP) reports that approximately 500 people (mainly attorneys "but also including some tribal sheikhs") marched and that they also decried the secret prisons. They carried banners which read "Lawyers call for the government to abide by the law and provide jobs for the people" and "The government must provide jobs and fight the corrupt." Bushra Juhi (AP) counts 3,000 demonstrating and calls it "one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Iraq" this year. Juhi also notes that attorneys staged smaller protests in Mosul and Basra today. Al Rafidayn reports that five provinces saw protests yesterday as the people demanded reliable public services and an end to government corruption. Noting the Babylon Province protest, the paper quotes Amer Jabk (Federation of Industrialists in Babylon president) stating that the provincial government has not provided any of the services the province needs, that basic services have deteriorated and that heavy rains have not only seen streets closed but entire neighborhoods sinking. Hayder Najm (niqash) observes protests have taken place across Iraq, "The protesters' grievances have been many and varied: the quality and level of basic services, government restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of expression, violations against civil servants, and the rampant financial and administrative corruption within state institutions. [. . .] Eight years after the US invasion of Iraq, the electricity supply in most areas of the country still does not exceed two hours a day, and the country still suffers from poor infrastructure, a weak transport network, and an acute crisis of drinking water and sanitation."

"This is in solidarity with the Iraqi people," said Kadhim Zubaidi, spokesman for Iraq's lawyers' union in Baghdad. "We want the government to sack the corrupt judges."

Noting recent reports by human rights groups revealing secret prisons in Iraq, Zubaidi added: "We also demand that the interior and defence ministries allow us to enter the secret prisons … We want to get information about these prisons."

And that's not when the protests started. We can go further back than that. But Raed Jarrar -- as usual -- does not know what he's writing about or is intentionally attempting to deceive. You cannot distort events to suit your own political aims and be considered credible. It just makes you a liar. Raed wants to get to the SOFA possibly being extended and does as he wraps up. To his credit, he shows a stronger understanding of the SOFA at the end of his column than he has prior. He doesn't want the SOFA extended. I don't either. But I'm not going to lie to make my point. Raed states that if the SOFA is extended "without approval by Iraq's legislators" [which appears to mean he's acknowledging at last that Nouri has twice extending the occupation without the permission of the Parliament -- he did so in 2006 and in 2007] "it would be the last straw that would destroy the Iraqi government's legitmacy and end the credibility of the country's political and electoral systems. It would push many Iraqis who have joined the government to boycott the political process and resort again to violence."
What would is Raed living in? The last elections concluded March 7, 2010 (early voting started the Thursday before Sunday the 7th). Sunnis turned out in larger numbers and did so because they'd skipped the 2005 national elections in large numbers and felt short changed (to put it mildly) in the years that followed. Were it not for the increased Sunni turnout, the commnetary would have been on how low the turnout was. That's because Shi'ites stayed home in large numbers. You're seeing disenchantment in the turnout already. If the puppet government survived Nouri extending the SOFA in 2006 (to cover the year 2007) and in 2007 (to cover the year 2008), you're going to have to offer some sort of support for your claim that his doing so again will destroy Iraq. In 2008, he did take the matter (then the SOFA, not the UN mandate) to the Parliament. And, try to remember, he promised that the people would get to weigh in. They'd get a referendum on the SOFA. And they could reject it!!!! They could say no!!! They could end the war!!! (They actually couldn't. Had they said "no" in July 2009, per the SOFA, the Iraq War would have continued until the end of 2010 -- read the SOFA.) But that July referendum? Never held. And did the puppet government fall apart?
No, it didn't. Repeatedly the occupation's been extended, repeatedly Iraqis have been lied to. There is outrage. There has always been outrage. The puppet government has not fallen. Which isn't to say it wouldn't. It is to say that if Raed wants to assert a claim that it likely will, he's going to have to offer some supporting evidence for his conclusion because, at present, the facts argue otherwise. What has kept the puppet government in control has been the US military on the ground. My guess has always been that it's very likely the puppet government falls when the US finally leaves. If there's a case to be made for it falling while US forces are on the ground in Iraq, Raed needs to make it. But his wet dreams about Moqtada aren't doing it. Nouri attacked Moqtada's forces in Basra and Baghdad. And Moqtada's forces melted away. Many of them ran at the start of the attacks. Though it drove up Moqtada's popularity, it didn't drive up his authority. Again, if you're going to offer predictions, try to provide supporting evidence for them as opposed to distorting events and reality to fit your own personal desires.
Reality doesn't need 'improving.' You can't offer an honest take if you distort. And the claim that people might lose faith in the government begs the question of who still has faith in Nouri? The Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq note:
These days, Iraqi authorities feel free to carry out arbitrary arrests, physical assault and torture of Iraqi citizens who participate in peaceful demonstrations. In fact, they have begun to recruit and utilize of the expertise of the masterminds who were part of the horrific Baathist regime of Saddam. In doing so, they announce the end of any commitment to human rights stipulated in the Constitution they have offered to the Iraqi people as a social contract.
Yesterday, on April 13th at 1:45 pm, armed military\secret-intelligence forces arrived in three vehicles, stormed the offices of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and also the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), for the second time in one month. They arrested OWFI affiliate youth activist Firas Ali, one of the leaders of February 25 Group on Facebook and in Baghdad's Tahrir square. Those who raided the building intimidated all the youth present, calling them terrorists, though they were the organizing team of a group of demonstrators within Baghdad's weekly protests who have clearly shown their peaceful intentions, week after week. The armed forces immediately blindfolded Firas Ali, handcuffed him, and took him away, where demonstrators are detained and tortured with the same feared methods used under Saddam's reign. The armed forces had no court order for the arrest of Firas Ali, or for breaking into the offices.
Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of February 25 Group, was arrested in much the same manner on April 8th, and he remains in custody. It is thought that he is jailed in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, along with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.
The Maliki government thinks it can silence the youth, determined to end what have become the signature characteristics of its rule - oppression and corruption. All the Saddam-style violations, group arrests, and torture will not deter the youth from demanding an end to corruption and to start to an era of equality and freedom, expected in any civilized society.
The OWFI demands the immediate release of Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil. OWFI reserves the right to take to court all those who have given orders for arbitrary arrest, and those who physically assaulted the youth activists. The OWFI also warns those who consider the further torture of freedom lovers such as Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil… They will be pursued, brought to trial for their crimes against humanity, and thrown in the same prisons they now misuse.
We warn the Maliki government to stop denying the human rights of the demonstrators, and we demand an immediate official response, stating any legitimate charges against our activists, their place of detention, and physical condition. We also hold them directly responsible for any and all physical abuse or torture which our activists have been subjected to.
Down with the Baathist oppression
Down with the oppressive and corrupt despots
No more torture of youth activists… Enough is enough!
Yanar Mohammed
OWFI president
Firas Ali, an Iraqi political activist, was detained at the office of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, Baghdad, at about 2pm on 13 April. A protester, Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, is believed to have been detained on 1 April on Tahrir Square, Baghdad. Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and remains in custody. It is feared that they and other detained activists are at high risk of torture.

Political activist Firas 'Ali, 30 years old, is reported to have been detained by members of the armed forces early in the afternoon of 13 April, at the Baghdad office of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq. An eyewitness told Amnesty International: "Two men in plain clothes and three soldiers asked about Firas 'Ali. They did not show an arrest warrant. Later I could see Firas 'Ali blindfolded and handcuffed being forced by soldiers into a vehicle and taken away." Friends of Firas Ali have not been able to contact him via his mobile phone since his detention and his whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears that Firas 'Ali is at high risk of torture.

Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, a 24 year old casual worker, attended protests at Tahrir Square on 1 April for the first time. He was with two friends who briefly left him at about 11.30, but when they returned about 10 minutes later he was no longer there. There were no witnesses to his detention. However, Iraqi activists have told Amnesty International that on previous occasions protesters have been "discretely" led away from the protests and detained. A member of his family who is a political activist told Amnesty International he fears that Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif was taken instead of him. His family has searched at hospitals and made inquiries with the authorities but has still no information of his whereabouts.

Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and he remains in custody. It is believed he is being kept j in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, together with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English or Arabic. We provide a Model Letter below to be sent to the following email addresses: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Add also the address of your nearest Iraqi embassy that can be found at the following link: (Please send appeals before 26 May 2011 to the Iraqi embassy in your country)

Please send copies also to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it so that we can keep those campaigning for their release informed.

For more on the protests and the risks protesters face in Iraq, see Amnesty International issued the report [PDF format warning] "DAYS OF RAGE: PROTESTS AND REPRESSION IN IRAQ." See Tuesday's snapshot for more on the report and Mona Dohle covers the report today at Bikya Masr.

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing injured four people, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one Iraqi military officer, a Mosul grenade attack injured a police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing injured an Iraqi military officer, and, dropping back to Thursday, a Kirkuk sticky bombing left two people injured.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, UN observers confirmed that 34 residents of Camp Ashraf were killed in last Friday's assault. Louis Charbonneau and Todd Eastham (Reuters) report that United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has noted that "most were shot and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles" and is now calling for an independent investigation into the assault. Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) adds:
The Iraqi military, which rings the perimeter of the 19-sq.-mi. (49 sq km) camp, denies using firearms and says only three residents were killed -- when they threw themselves in front of military vehicles. Major General Ali Ghaidan, commander of Iraqi ground forces, told a group of reporters briskly bused to the vicinity of (but not into) Camp Ashraf that violence broke out after security forces sought to give parts of the camp back to farmers who allegedly owned it before Iraq's then dictator Saddam Hussein gave the land to the MEK in the 1980s. He insisted that only batons and water cannons were used. Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh sought to explain the shooting deaths by telling Agence France-Presse that "the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape."
"The Iraqi military were well aware of the risks attached to launching an operation like this in Ashraf," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement. "There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties. There must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted."

The news that Nouri's government did kill 34 residents of Camp Ashraf and lied -- and LIED -- about it is news. Unless you're the New York Times which only has room for three brief sentences by Michael S. Schmidt on the issue. Al Kamen (Washington Post) notes that US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher will be leading a visit to Camp Ashraf in June. Considering the abusive rulers who've fallen in the last fifty or so years, you'd think the paper would want to have their documentation ready in real time for the inevitable. Human Rights Watch issued the following today:

(New York) - Iraq should ensure that a promised investigation into deadly clashes between the Iraqi army and Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq dissidents at Camp Ashraf be thorough, independent, and transparent, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 14, 2011, the United Nations said that 34 camp residents were killed and dozens wounded during clashes six days earlier, on April 8. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the army used excessive force against the unarmed Iranian dissidents.
Iraq's military initially said three Ashraf residents were killed and the Iraqi Defense Ministry said on April 12 that it would investigate the incident. Authorities have still not made public the results of an investigation into a July 2009 raid by Iraqi security forces on Camp Ashraf that killed at least seven Mojahedin-e Khalq members. No one is known to have been held to account for those deaths.
"The residents of Camp Ashraf don't need more lip service about yet another investigation," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi authorities need to reveal the results of the 2009 investigation and appoint credible independent experts to look into this latest incident."
UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said on April 14 that the UN team had seen 28 bodies at Camp Ashraf, and that most had been shot, including several women. Six bodies were missing, Colville said.
Details of the incident remain murky, with camp residents and security forces blaming each other for the deaths and violence in widely different accounts of what happened. The Iranian exiles said that Iraqi security forces invaded their camp, killing 34 unarmed civilians and wounding more than 300, in an unprovoked attack that involved security forces opening fire and crushing people under Humvees.
On April 14, Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister's office, told Agence France-Presse that "our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape ... They had already committed similar acts in the past." Iraq's military had initially said three dissidents were killed when security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers.
The deaths are the latest in a series of violent incidents at Camp Ashraf, where members of an Iranian dissident group, Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, have lived for over two decades. The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein allowed the Mojahedin-e Khalq to base itself in Iraq in 1986. In 2011 more than 3,000 persons remained in Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad; they surrendered their weapons to US forces following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many Iraqis have alleged that the group's members actively participated in campaigns against opponents of Saddam Hussein's government, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has indicated its intention to shut down the camp.
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty." The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials "shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force" and may use force "only if other means remain ineffective." When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must "exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence."

Amnesty International has warned Iraqi authorities against taking any unnecessary military action that would put civilian lives in danger, amid reports of a military build-up inside a camp for Iranian exiles north of Baghdad.
Amnesty International has received reports that new troop movements and military construction are taking place inside the camp, only days after an assault on the camp by Iraqi security forces on 8 April left over 30 camp residents dead and many others wounded.
"Camp Ashraf's residents are looking on in fear and trepidation as Iraqi troops appear to be preparing for a new assault on them and their homes," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"The Iraqi government must not allow a repeat of last week's deadly attacks and ensure that Iraqi forces refrain from taking any military action that would further endanger civilian lives."
"Iraqi forces are supposed to be stationed at the Camp to protect the residents, not to assault or intimidate them and restrict their movement."
Camp Ashraf, located in Diyala province around 60 km north of Baghdad, is home to some 3,400 Iranian exiles and refugees, many of them members and supporters of the the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition group outlawed in Iran.
According to PMOI spokespeople, on 14 April, several Iraqi engineering battalions completed a 6-kilometre-long embankment on the northern edge of Camp Ashraf's main road.
The embankment cuts across the camp from east to west and is reportedly wide enough for military vehicles to patrol along its length. Control towers have also been set up along the embankment.
"Given the nature and scope of these new military installations, we're very concerned what Iraqi security forces may be planning," said Malcolm Smart.
"Excessive force must not be used against Camp Ashraf's residents, who are unarmed and include many women and children."
On 8 April, 34 camp residents were killed when Iraqi security forces attempted to take greater control of the camp. Many of the dead, six women and 28 men, died of gunshot wounds inflicted by Iraqi security forces using live ammunition. Others appear to have been deliberately run over by military vehicles.
Iraqi officials maintain that their forces took action to put down a "riot" in the camp and deny that their troops opened fire despite the strong evidence to the contrary.
On 14 April, the Iraqi authorities released six men who they had detained during the 8 April military operation. Shortly after their release, the men told Amnesty International that they had been beaten and threatened with deportation to Iran during the course of their detention. Talking to Amnesty International from the camp on 14 April, one of the men said that Iraqi soldiers were then in the process of surrounding the camp.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Iraqi authorities not to forcibly evict or repatriate Camp Ashraf's residents, some of whom are refugees who would be at grave risk of torture and other serious human rights violations, including execution, if they were to be forcibly returned to Iran.
Meanwhile a former UN employee has been convicted in the US and could face up to 30 years in prison if he received the maximum sentence for each count he was found guilty of (no one expects that to happen). Scott Ritter was a voice of . . . something. Not the peace movement because he sneered at the peace movement and the notion of peace. (He also got bitchy in an interview where he mocked and attacked Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan.) Ritter had little to offer the peace movement but was embraced by elements of it and especially elements of the antiwar movement (the two are not the same thing). At this site, we noted him from time to time but were not 'followers' or 'groupies' and then we stopped noting him when a friend with CNN called me to ask what I was thinking? I was unaware that Scott Ritter had twice been arrested for attempting to have sexual relations with an underage girl and that he'd copped a plea in at least one of those arrests. When this was noted, we drew a strong line between Pig Ritter and ourselves and we mentioned only when it was required that he be called out such as in the May 29, 2007 snapshot:

"You have Cindy Sheehan running around, a symbol of the peace movement. A symbol of what? Who is she? Who nominated her to be the spokesperson? She did one brave thing. I'm all for what Cindy Sheehan did last August. But people say, 'She sacrificed so much.' She didn't sacrifice anything." That lovely statement was made (or snorted) by the pig Scott Ritter when speaking to Colorado Springs Indy (an alternative weekly) in 2006. From his stye, he snorted that and he snorted a lot more. For some reason, Ritter is built up as a hero by some 'left' types.
Apparently heroic is having the mainstream media report that you, over 40 years old, were twice arrested for trying to arrange meet ups with underage girls? That is the reality of the Scott Ritter (and when CNN offered him the opportunity to explain the first arrest, he refused to do so). Here's another reality of Scott Ritter: Katrina vanden Heuvel keeps publishing him. In the magazine and via Nation Books, she publishes Ritter who does not move books. Now you may, as some wrongly do, assume Ritter is a lefty. Until 2004, Ritter admits he voted Republican every time -- which he will no doubt return to doing in 2008 but how 'nice' of The Nation to give a twice busted Republican an outlet.
Now here's how polite society worked once upon a time, when someone was reported to have been twice busted for pedophilia, that was really it for them. They didn't get write ups, they didn't pen op-eds. They weren't invited on programs to chat. But for some reason, Pig Ritter is seen as a voice the 'left' needs to adopt. Scott Ritter was allowed to repeatedly attack Cindy Sheehan on his joint-tour in 2006 (The Sky is Falling Tour -- DVD set retails for $19.99 unless you're going for the NC-17 version) and everyone looked the other way and most of the press (big and small) just chuckled. That's why he felt brave enough to issue the nonsense in an interview proper (and one that didn't require him to be handcuffed -- how novel that must have been for him).
The peace movement needs to be inclusive, no question, but that doesn't translate as: "Because we have the Peace Mom, we need to have the Pedophile Man." That's not inclusion, that's stupidity on ever level (including legal liabilities should anything happen to an underage female). We washed our hands of him a long time ago in this community. He is "pig" when noted here for any reason. His name is being mentioned here (for the first time since he went public in attacking Sheehan) only because there are some who seem unable to believe it could be true. Well it is. And it's equally true that you need to ask your outlets why they have repeatedly featured a man who will not explain his criminal busts and allows to stand the mainstream media's reporting that they were for attempting to hook up with young (underage) girls online. It is amazing that the same independent media that wants to scream 'crackpot' and 'crazy' to make sure they are not associated with certain groups is perfectly happy to break bread with a pedophile. Repeatedly.

While we publicly called him out, many others looked the other way -- including Katrina vanden Heuvel, Amy Goodman and Laura Flanders. Flanders would take offense to Gary Glitter's song being used by some sports team in 2008 because of Glitter's similar convictions yet she never called out her frequent guest Scott Ritter. As we pointed out many times, if a young girl is molested, assaulted or raped by Ritter, those who presented him as a person of trust would share in culpability. Mere months ago, Glenn Greenwald was presenting Scott Ritter as a trusted voice and a victim wrongly picked upon because, Glenn insisted, the two arrests happened when Bush was in the White House and they were trumped up charges resulting from the fact that Ritter was speaking out. Greenwald was apparently unaware that the arrests took place before Ritter spoke out. He was also unaware that in the fall of 2009, months after Barack was in the White House, Ritter was again arrested for the same thing.

AFP reports, "A former UN weapons inspector nabbed in an online sex sting was convicted on Thursday on six counts, including unlawful contact with a minor, for exchanging explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl in a chat room and then performing a sex act on himself." Subrina Dhammi (WNYT -- link has video and text) has him on camera as he repeatedly insisted of his multiple felony convictions "an extraordinary disappointing decision and it will be appealed" and, unlike in the footage the jury was shown of Ritter jerking off -- he kept his clothes on for Dhammi, despite a camera being present. As Betty noted last night, Ritter endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Where there was sexism and attacks on women -- whether it was Hillary Clinton or Lara Logan or any other woman -- you could find Ritter's work endorsed. We've already noted Glenn Greenwald's embrace of Ritter. in addition there's crazy ass Ray McGovern who joined Glenn and others in attacking two women who may have been raped by Julian Assange. Crazy Ass McGovern was treating Ritter as a "trusted source" only months ago and slamming Hillary for refusing to meet with the twice arrrested sexual offender. Those guys stick together, make no mistake. When you exist to hate and degrade and attack women, you tend to ban together. Which is why Ritter's work could be found at so many faux left outlets including Consortium News. Strangely, despite his many, many appearances on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman 'forgot' to include Pig Ritter's conviction in today's headlines. Ritter will be sentenced next month and, hopefully, head off to prison. His after prison-life will include being a registered sex offender which will limit some of his media appearances since many interns are under the age of 18 and he won't be able to be around them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Guardian and belief

C.I.'s often warned you that the Guardian is a party organ and that it's a party organ of New Labour. She's backed those charges up by demonstrating how when talking of the Downing Street Memos could have hurt then-prime minister and New Labour poster boy Tony Blair, the Guardian acted as if they didn't exist. The paper didn't even less than was done in the US. She's demonstrated many other examples.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has responded to the March 26 half-million strong Trades Union Congress (TUC) demonstration against the government’s £100 billion austerity programme with barely concealed hostility.

Due to the refusal of the unions to call a single significant strike or protest of any note for nearly a year, this was the first opportunity for working people in Britain to voice their hostility to the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government’s agenda. It demonstrated that the TUC has been sitting on a well of pent-up rage that must inevitably find explosive political expression.

The Guardian has chosen as its mission to mount an ideological offensive with the modest aim of painting black as white—insisting that the majority of the population support cuts and that the worst possible mistake that can be made by the Labour Party and the TUC is to side themselves with an unrepresentative minority.

While virtually every other opinion poll to date has shown a majority of people opposed to the austerity measures of the government, a Guardian/ICM poll published the day before the demonstration somehow contrived to find overall support for the government.

So we knew or should have.

Sunny told me about two e-mails regarding Shirley MacLaine's I'm Over All That And Other Confessions.

First e-mail is one claiming that you cannot enjoy the book if you don't believe in reincarnation. Yes, you can. She's a great writer. I enjoy great stories from great storytellers.

The second e-mail insists that I don't believe in reincarnation because I am "one of those Bible thumpers" and that's the kindest accusation in the e-mail.

I'm sorry to pop your bubble.

You clearly don't know me.

If I had faith, I'd believe in reincarnation. It's a wonderful narrative and one in which life actually makes sense. However, I do not believe.

But I can be happy with those who do.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US government declares no region of Iraq safe, Barack Obama wants to cut costs but not wars, a study on Iraqi refugees is presented at a conference in Honolulu, US Senator Bill Nelson fights for the rights of spouses and children of service members who've passed away, and more.
US President Barack Obama was speechifying (rhymes with lying) this afternoon. David Swanson (War Is A Crime) offers this analysis:
Obama's speech on the deficit on Wednesday was a flop. He proposed to end no wars, make no serious cuts to the military, REDUCE corporate taxes, tax no estates or investments, raise no taxes on any billionaires, and give an unelected commission the power to slash Medicare.
Obama began by blaming tax cuts, wars, and healthcare:
"[A]fter Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program -- but we didn't pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts -- tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade. To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this: in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years."
Notice that the possibility of ending wars got dropped from that last sentence.
"Look to Iraq," declared Barack Obama in his January 2011 State of the Union address, "where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. American combat patrols have ended, violence is down and a new government has been formed."
Actually, Barack, let's look to the US State Dept which issued a warning yesterday that began, "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks inherent in travel to Iraq and recommends against all but essential travel to the country given the dangerous security situation. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated November 5, 2010, to update information and to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns for U.S. citizens in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence." And at a time when Europe continues forced returns, note that the alert insists "no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions"
And the war drags on. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) speaks with US military brass in Iraq and observes "a growing concern by American officials that the Iraqi governmetn is closing the door on a new aggreement for US troops in Iraq past the end of this year. The comments to a small group of reporters also signaled a concern that a militarily weak Iraq could be another destabilizing factor in what has become a volatile region." Brendan McGarry (Bloomberg News) reports from the Penatgon today and quotes Army Chief of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey stating, "It would certainly be in our interest to see Iraq remain on its current path and becom even more stable. As a member of the national security team, that would be my advice." US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spent several days in Iraq last week pressing the case for the US military staying on the ground in Iraq past December 31, 2011. In what appears to be an attempt at arm twising by the US White House, Anwar Faruqi (AFP) quotes an unnamed US miliary official stating, "If we left -- and this is the health warning we would give to anybody -- be careful about assuming that we will come running back to put out the fire if we don't have an agreement. Rudaw adds:
Chief of Staff of Kurdistan's president said today that the extension of the presence of American troops in Iraq is directly linked to the federal government of Iraq and the agreement between Baghdad and Washington.

This statement by the President's Chief of Staff Fuad Hussein was in reference to the question of American troops being stationed in the Kurdistan Region after the US withdrawal.

"American troops are here only based on the agreement between Iraq and the United States and this agreement will expire by the end of this year." said Fuad Hussein. "If Iraq wants these troops to stay longer, it will have to sign a new agreement."

Fuad Hussein said that only the Iraqi state can sign international agreements and that the Kurdistan Region can do nothing in this regard.

Jane Arraf explains, "If there is no new status of forces agreement, the United States could still negotiate bilateral pacts for specific training and assistance missions but those, too, would be expected to come under the scrutiny of Iraqi cabinet."
The government of Iraq remains frozen. Nouri al-Maliki still has yet to fill the security ministries. His 100 day clock (to show real reform) is ticking away and the political blocs appear to be unraveling. Dar Addustour reports that Ayad Allawi, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi met yesterday to firm up plans for the shadow government. Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) adds that a source close to the planning notes this was the first meeting between the three leaders to address the shadow government and how to exercise oversight of the Parliament. The article also notes that Nouri al-Maliki, who had previously made noises about forming a 'majority government' (kicking out the winners) is now publicly stating he's dropped the plan (which, knowing Nouri's record, doesn't mean he actually has dropped it)and that he now insists a wide partnership of all the parties is needed. Al Rafidayn notes that Parliament resumed sessions yesterday (after yet another week long break) and that Hisham Darraji is seen as the favorite among the nominees for Minister of Defense. David Ali (Al Mada) observes that Iraq is still without a Minister of Defense or Minister of Interior and that Nouri is left attempting to assure Iraqis that this isn't a problem and that the matter is being resolved. Ali notes that some political observers are not so sure that Nouri will be able to reassure the Iraqi people and an opinion that popular favorite Hashim Darraji is being penalized (by Nouri) due to his congratulations to Ayad Allawi on Iraqiya's win in the elections. (Nouri was State Of Law which came in second in the national eelections.) Aswat al-Iraq reports that the political process was the topic of a discussion today between KRG President Massoud Barzani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujiefi. While Nouri's spokesperson released a statement on a Tuesday meet-up, "The meeting, attended by the Chairman of Baghdad's Provincial Council, Kamel al-Zaidy, Baghdad Governor Salah Abdul-Razzaq, the Chariman of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, Moaya al-Lamy and a large number of journalists, as weel as the Chairman of the Free Youth Gathering, Jalal al-Shahmany, discussed the demands of Baghdad citizens and means to present necessary services for them." The statement was released shortly before another development took place. AFP reports that Baghdad security forces have announced that protests in the capital from now on will only be allowed in one of three football stadiums. The excuse being offered is complaints from shop keepers about traffic issues but the reality is this is yet another effort to hide the protests away. Academics are among those participating in the protests. They are also among those again targeted. UPI reports that the Iraqi class that returned or that managed to hang on during the so-called "brain drain" is once again finding itself targeted by unknown assailants. This was common from 2004 through 2008 but said to have tapered off with 'improved security'.
As the security posts have gone unfilled, Nouri has handled them by himself as a 'temporary' Minister. Some have seen this as an effort to consolidate the powers of the post into the post of prime minister. Others see it as further proof that Nouri lacks the ability to lead and pull the country together. What most can agree on is that while the three posts have remained vacant, the violence has increased in Iraq.
Press TV reports a southern Iraq US military base was attacked with mortars today and that this was "the third such attack on US forces in Iraq over the past week. On Sunday, three rockets targeted a US camp in Diwaniyah, a city south of the capital Baghdad." One of the keys to the reduction in violence in Iraq -- according to Congressional testimony provided repeatedly by Gen David Petraeus and then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker in April 2008 -- was the Sahwa. These were largely Sunni fighters (but, according to Petraeus, they weren't all Sunni) who were paid by the US government not to attack military equipment or soldiers (that was the order Petraues used repeatedly when testifying before Congress). Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 snapshot when the two appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."
In that same hearing, Crocker declared, "What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible." The reverse may have taken place as Sahwa ("Awakening," "Sons Of Iraq") were taken off the US payroll with the expectation that Nouri would pick up the costs. When, a year after the April 2008 hearing, Nouri finally did, he frequently didn't pay the Sahwa. They were also frequently targeted by his forces (on his orders). Many have spoken to the press in the last two years explaining how it's been made clear that Sahwa are not wanted by the government out of Baghdad. Today Aswat al-Iraq reports four Sahwa were arrested and one ("a young man") put a knoose aroun dhis neck and hanged himself. That took place in Kirkuk which was also the site for a car bombing today which claimed 1 life and left sixteen people injured and a Baquba roadside bombing wounded the "Director of the al-Saadiya district and three of his companions." Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured Lt Col Najat Hassan, a Baghdad bombing left three people injured and, dropping back to last night, a Ramadi attack resulted in 1 shop keeper being murdered.
Lara Jakes (AP) reports that at least 17 injured residents of Camp Ashraf were "forcibly removed from their hospital beds" by Iraqi forces and left at Camp Ashraf. Jakes adds, "Three women were among the patients, many of whom were bandaged, according to the doctor and an ambulance driver who spoke on condition of anonymity because that were not authorized to speak to the media." Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Iran's Fars News Agency reported last week that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday." Friday saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Yesterday AP's Lara Jakes reported that the Iraqi Parliament voted today to close down the camp. AP reported that last Friday, at a UN Security Council meeting, Iraq's Ambassador to the UN, Hamid al-Bayati, declared that Iraq would "not force" the residents back to Iran "but it will encourage them to go to a third country." Alsumaria TV reported yesterday that Ali al-Dbbagh -- aka Nouri's mouth -- has declared, "The council of ministers has committed to implement an earlier decision about disganding the terrorist group People's Mujahedeen of Iran, by the end of this year at the latest, and the necessity of getting it out of Iraq." Alsumaria reports today that MP Safiya al-Suhail has declared turning the dissients over "to Iran does not go along with Iraq constitution and laws and the respect of human and individual rights regardless the fact that these refugees are in Iraq as a result of a political decision of the former regime." He states that due to "the humanitarian cases inside the camp, Iraq is bound in front of the international community to provide the needed for the members of this organization to get asylum countries."
More refugees. Iraqi refugees account for a large number of the world's refugees. UPI notes that that John Hopkins University's Dr. Farrah Mateen has observed the number of Iraqi refugees is growing as she noted the study she worked on which "presents the first results of a large national pilot project by the United Nations to monitor neurological disease in displaced people." The study of Iraqi refugees was presented today in Honolulu at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Dr. Mateen explains the study in this video.
Dr. Farrah Mateen: So the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees recognizes more than 40 million refugees in the world today and there are currently more than 30 active, armed conflicts and we know very little about neurological disease in humanitarian emergencies and in times of humanitarian crisis. The war in Iraq actually began more than eight years ago now, March 20, 2003. And the UNHCR recognizes more than 3.5 million persons of concern of Iraqi origin and currently there are more than 2 million refugees who live outside of Iraq. The United States as well as western Europe, Australia and Canada are major recipients of Iraqi refugees today and continue to be. Iraqi refugees often have to seek humanitarian assistance in the countries where they flee to. And its been found over recent years that developing country paradigms for understanding neurological disorders in refugee situations have been inadequate. And so we previously knew very little about neurological disease. It was limited to mortality outbreaks involving meninga coli outbreaks and polio outbreaks but very little was known about the more chronic disorders that refugees faced. So the Refugee Assistance Information System, or RAIS, is a pilot program run by the UNHCR which began January 1, 2010 in the kingdom of Jordan because Jordan has just over 6 million people overall and it's estimated there are about 450,000 Iraqi refugees there right now. 36953 are registered with UNHCR and 7,642 are in receipt of humanitarian and health assistance. So the objective of this study was to look specifically amongst those people receiving health and humanitarian assistance, what is their burden of neurological disorders and what specifically are those disorders? So we found that there are 1,295 refugees over the course of one year who had neurological diagnoses and RAIS is a program involving more than 100 centers country wide in Jordan with more than 25 partner organizations. The most common neurological diagnoses in this group were back pain -- which was 378 individuals, headache -- 171, epilepsy -- 164, nerve, root and plexus disorders 126, cervical disc disorders -- 93, dizziness 90, cerebral vascular listed as ICD, other cerebral vascular disorders -- 55, intervertebral disc disease, migraine and cerebral palsy followed that. In the whole data set, there are 70% of individuals from Baghdad, 78% were adults. The age range was less than one. So, at the time of birth, to 103 years old. The total data set had a median age of 37 years and 49% were male. Along people with neurological disorders, the median age was slightly higher, 43 yrs, 46% female and a high number of disabled 10%. Notably the UN in general feels that 10% of the world's population is disabled. [. . . ] Among people with neurological disorders, 4.97% -- approximately 5% -- self-reported a history of torture. This compares to 3.1% among people without neurological diseases. So that's a relative risk of 1.47. Neurologists were involved with a very small fraction of all cases of neurological disease among Iraqi refugees, 177 cases in total, which is about 14%, a very small number. Following neurologists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons were the next most involved medical specialists. Amongst the people with neurological disorders, 763 required medications which is also a very high number. So some of the conclusons of the study are Iraqi refugees -- I just want to emphasize how high some of the numbers are and how this is a large data set. It's the first of its kind. But neurological disorders are highly present in this population. So they account for -- I think it's 17% of all people seeking humanitarian assistance in this study. This is basically a marker of health care utilization. This is not a prevalent study. It's also not necessarily an assessment of health care needs which we would assume would be much igher. This is health care utilization. The strengths of this study are that it's an active, country wide, national surveillance system. RAIS is expected to expand throughout the Middle East and throughout northern Africa as conflict continues in the regions. So this is an initial goal for this system. But I want to recognize here that there is a potentially higher burden of neurological disorders. This is a country of first-asylum for many people. The existing studies -- they have been from third country resettlements and have had very small numbers and so there is a potentially high need for neurological care for Iraqi refugees, it's a global problem and it's a long term problem as well.
For the study, researchers used a UN database in Jordan. A total of 1,295 refugees were reported to have a brain or nervous system disorder, or four percent of all registered Iraqi refugees. Of those, 10 percent were disabled.
The study found that five percent of refugees with brain or nervous system disorders reported a history of torture compared to 3.1 percent of those without a diagnosed brain or nervous system disorder. The most common diagnoses were epilepsy (30 percent), back pain (27 percent) and headache (nearly 12 percent).
Neurologists were involved in 14 percent, or 179, of these cases and health education was available to about 11 percent of refugees with brain disorders.
"Our study highlights the great need for neurological health services, health education regarding neurological disorders and long-term disease management for refugees from war-torn countries," said Mateen.
The study was supported by the 2010 American Academy of Neurology Foundation Practice Research Training Fellowship grant.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 22,500 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology and its upcoming Annual Meeting, visit
If, in watching the US Congress, you're ever frustrated by their inaction, take comfort that you're not frustrated and serving in Congress. February 2nd, US Senator Bill Nelson's office released a statement which included the following:

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again. That's what eleven lawmakers did today when they re-introduced longstanding legislation in the Senate aimed at giving some 55,000 military widows and widowers an improvement in benefits.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), David Vitter (R-LA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Kerry (D-MA) filed legislation to end the practice of offsetting survivor benefits paid by the Defense Department by the dollar amount of a benefit provided by the VA -- in cases where someone qualifies for both.
More specifically, veterans who die from a service injury or who were disabled before death are entitled to benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some of these vets had also purchased or qualified for life insurance offered by the Defense Department's Survivor Benefit Plan. But, due to a quirk in federal law, the survivors of vets who chose to buy that insurance have had the insurance benefit greatly reduced -- or, offset by the VA benefit -- by as much as $1,200 a month.
The legislation does a second thing. It allows certain spouses to keep lump sum insurance payments they'd previously received from the military.
In January, the St. Petersburg Times reported the military was forcing a Brooksville, Florida woman, Freda Green, to pay back $41,000 from a defense department life insurance policy she received upon the death of her husband in 2003, simply because she got remarried. The move to recover the money resulted from federal court ruling that said the military hadn't followed a confusing section of federal law when it failed to award the full amount of both VA and defense department survivor benefits to spouses who remarried after age 57. But, instead of restoring full benefits to Ms. Green following the ruling, the military demanded she begin repaying the money they'd sent her years ago.
What the statement didn't note was that Senator Nelson has repeatedly introduced this measure for the last decade. When you have to introduce a measure again, it's because it didn't pass or was altered in the process. This afternoon, Senator Bill Nelson appeared before the US Senate Armed Services' Subcommittee on Personnel, chaired by Senator Jim Webb, to make the case for the legislation again.
Senator Bill Nelson: I want to come and speak about this legislation that you accurately noted that we have filed every year about the inequity in the treatment of military survivors. There's a long standing problem in our military survivor benefits system. And the requirement for a dollar to dollar reduction in the survivor benefit plan annuity by the amount -- and offset, by the amount of the dependency and indemnity compensation received by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It's that inequity that I want to address and that I have addressed each year that I have been here. And over the years we have chipped away at it. But the basic inequity is still there. Obviously we are in a tough fiscal environment. And obviously there are many worthy pieces of legislation to be funded. So I realize that in this environment we are going to have to find an offset. Now what has typically happened, we always pass this in the Senate and it goes to the conference and, because of the cost of this legislation, it's dropped in conference or it is whittled away at in a minor way. Interestingly, the cost is dropping as the survivors increasingly diminish in number. The cost of this, accurarely projected is-is dropping. But nevertheless I am here to say to your Subcomittee, Mr. Chairman, that I am committed to finding an offset. Now I don't want to tell you what the offset ought to be because what I learned from last week's experience is that you can be very creative in finding offsets and new sources of revenue as we found in the negotiations that went on between the President and the Majority Leader [Harry Reid] and the Speaker of the House last week. This benefit plan is an optional program for military retirees offered by the Department of Defense. And the military retirees pay a premium out of their retirement pay to ensure that their survivors will have income upon their death. It's reasonably priced insurance. But from the public marketplace, that's not necessarily available reasonably priced. Usually because there are service connected disabilities and health issues. And so SBP is a way for retirees to provide income insurance for their survivors, their family, and it pays them 55% of their pay. SBP is also paid to survivors when the service member dies on active duty. So it's an insurance program. On the flip side, dependency and indemnity compensation -- DIC -- is a survivor benefit administered by the Veterans Administration. And when military service cause the service member's death -- either due to service connected illness or disability or active duty death -- survivors are entitled to monthly compensation of just over $1100 a month from the VA. Well of the 270,000 survivors receiving Survivors Benefit Plan, about 54,000 of them are subject to the offset. And according to the Defense Accurarey, 31,000 survivors SBP is completely offset by DIC, that the survivor receives no SBP and must live on that $1100 alone. Retirees bought into the Survivors Benefit Plan in good faith, they paid good money. These military families planned for the future and the government offsets it. And there are other complications to the existing offset including a court decision in '09 which really is strange. It requires surviving widows to remarry after age of 57 in order to eliminate the offset. I can't figure that one out. And obviously, this shouldn't be tolerated. So, Mr. Chairman, I had a little bit of experience in insurance before I came to the Senate as the elected Insurance Commissioner of Florida and this offset is troubling. When somebody buys an insurance policy and there's another government program over here called Disability Indemnity and I know of no purchased annuity that would deny payment based on the receipt of a different payment. Now you recall, you are not only a student of history, Mr. Chairman, you are a historian and you are a great writer and you certainly recall those immortal words of President Lincoln in his second inaugural address in which he said, "[. . .] finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." And that encapsulates what I've been trying to say here and have been trying to say for a decade. To honor these service members, the government should take care of these veterans, their widows and their orphans. And since '05, the Senate has supported this almost every year and then we go in the provision being offset when we go into conference. We made some steps in the right direction and I hope that we can find mandatory spending offsets to pay for this legislation which is always the reason that is given to ax it. CBO informs me that it will cost roughtly $6.6 billion to completely eliminate the offset over ten years. When I started out on this a decade ago the cost was upwards of $12 and 15 billion for a ten year period. I would ask you all in this Subcommittee to consider that as we put the legislation together for the authorization bill. And I would just conclude, Mr. Chairman, by saying that as the president in his second inauagrual address, in the midst of the Civil War, said, 'To take care of him, his orphan and his widow is the cost of war.' One of the costs of war is not only what we buy in the way of equipment and salaries, but a cost of war is taking care of our veterans and their survivors. And I humbly submit this to the Committee for your consideration.
Lastly, Ellen Willis passed away in the fall of 2006. Her survivors included her husband Stanley Aronowitz and their daughter Nona Willis-Aronowitz. Nona is an author and writer herself and she's also compiled a number of her mother's writings online and is the editor of the forthcoming Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music which collects her mothers writing on rock music from The New Yorker, The Village Voice. The book comes out in May and, April 30th, there will be a conference at NYU entitled "Sex, Hope & Rock 'n Roll: The Music Writing of Ellen Willis" which will feature a large number of participants including Bikini Kill and Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna, music journalist Richard Goldstein, Maxim's Joe Levy (formerly of Rolling Stone), the Los Angeles Times' Ann Powers, Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield, Georgia and Robert Christgau, Elle's Karen Durbin, Donna Gaines, the New Yorker's Alex Ross, Billboard's Evie Nagy, NYU's Susie Linfield and music journalist Joan Morgan.