Saturday, February 18, 2012


"'Human Rights' warriors for empire" (Glen Ford, ICH):

Under Obama’s “intelligent” (as opposed to “dumb”) imperial tutelage, colonial genocidaires like France now propose creation of “humanitarian corridors” inside Syria “to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres.” NATO flatly rejected such a corridor in Libya when sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans were being massacred by militias armed and financed by the same “Friends” that now besiege Syria.
Turkey claims it has rejected, for now, the idea of setting up humanitarian “buffer zones” along its border with Syria – inside Syrian territory – while giving arms, training and sanctuary to Syrian military deserters. In reality, it is Syrian Army troop and armor concentrations on the border that have thwarted the establishment of such a “buffer” – a bald euphemism for creating a “liberated zone” that must be “protected” by NATO or some agglomeration of U.S.-backed forces.
NATO, which bombed Libya non-stop for six months, inflicting tens of thousands of casualties while refusing to count a single body, wants desperately to identify some sliver of Syrian soil on which to plant the “humanitarian” flag of intervention. They are transparently searching for a Benghazi, to justify a replay of the Libyan operation – the transparent fact that prompted the Russian and Chinese vetoes.
Faced with the certainty of superpower-backed attack under the guise of “protecting” civilians in “liberated” territory, Syria cannot afford to cede even one neighborhood of a single city – not one block! – or of any rural or border enclave, to armed rebels and foreign jihadis. That road leads directly to loss of sovereignty and possible dissection of Syria – which western pundits are already calling a “hodge-podge” nation that could be a “failed state.” Certainly, the French and British are experts at carving up other people’s territories, having drawn the national boundaries of the region after World War One. It is an understatement to say that Israel would be pleased.

I really can't believe how eager to lap up the Libyan War so many of my 'companions' (lefties) were.  Forget the need to self-delude that Barack is holy and noble.  That was an illegal war.  There was nothing 'humanitarian' about it and, in addition, it was another case of CIA backed exiles.

Now they want a Syrian War.  It is nothing but empire and death and destruction.  There is no peace element to Barack Obama.  In fact, he's worse than Nixon.  Nixon was held in semi-check by the people.  There's no effort to hold Barack in check.  Instead, it's forever applauding him because he's a 'first.'  It's applauding and feeling good about yourself for applauding.

It's blind applause, it's applause that's leading to the deaths of so many people, it's self stroking.

There's no excuse for the craven who've decided Barack can do whatever he wants and they'll look the other way.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, February 17, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, hours are spent searching a few Camp Ashraf residents, State of Law takes to the airwaves to attack Tareq al-Hashemi and the country's Constitution, and more. 
If you're one of the many who've thought so much of the US coverage of Iraq in the last years has been sub-standard, you found out why today on The Diane Rehm Show.  Anthony Shadid has died.  He was an award winning writer for the Washington Post and then he (and his wife) moved over to the New York Times.  At the Post, there was an effort to impose some journalistic guidelines on the writing and he chafed at that.  The Times gave him free reign and that was not anything good.  I've noted my opinion of his feature writing passed off as hard news reporting. And he, many times, made his clear his opinion of my critique.  I had no plans to mention him or his writing today.  (He died in Syria from an asthma attack that people are assuming was brought on by exposure to animals -- horses -- on the part of the people smuggling him in and out of Syria.)
But there was Diane Rehm and her guests David Ignatius (Washington Post), Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) and James Kitridge (National Journal) describing what made Shadid -- in their opinion -- a great reporter.  I'm sorry but that's not reporting.  It's travel writing.  It's feature writing.  It's not reporting.
David Ignatius: What I would say about Anthony -- and Nancy and James also knew him -- is that he really represented the thing that makes great journalism special.  Uh, he had a way of grasping not the facts but the essence of the story.
Yes, David's correct.  And Shadid would have made a great novelist.  But that's not what makes a great reporter.  A great reporter grasps the facts.
"It was magical story teling," said Nancy Youssef.  It was.  It was the novelization of the news which is to reporting what novelizations of films are to movies.  They're similar, they're just not the same.  "You know to me his-his articles were almost love letters about the people he was writing about," gushed Nancy.  Again, you're not describing a reporter.
And that goes to why the news is so awful today.  Whether it's Iraq or any other topic.  The industry doesn't even embrace reporting.  They want to be something else.  And in the process, they are dumbing down America.  This is Bob Somerby's criticism, the heart of his criticism.   He  momentarily caught up in the 'framing' 'issue -- an early '00 hula hoop -- briefly.  But it's the novelization of the news -- news for people who can't process news.  It goes beyond the crimes of narrative and hook.  It's why Gail Collins is a columnist.  They won't cover the facts, they won't stick to whether something's legal or not, they want to give you the 'essence.'  They want to give you subjective because it's so much easier to produce and so much quicker to produce. (Anthony Shadid, to be fair, had a real talent for novelization.  He truly would have made a great novelist.  And as feature writing, some of his 'hard news' reports are amazing examples of style and even insight.  But it's  not news and that's only more obvious when he moves to the New York Times.) And the proof of that is in the coverage of Shadid's death which is not news, which treats him as though he's Whitney Houston or some other celebrity and refuses to offer an honest appraisal of his strengths and weaknesses.  Why else cover a reporter?  And the fact that the news industry goes into hype mode ('greatest foreign correspondent of his generation') goes to the tawdry excess that has for too long passed as hard news.  What should have been a private moment is turned into a media event.
It's the novelization, not actual news, bad writing that seizes on a partial quote to 'illuminate' -- not a full quote because a full quote actually rejects what the writer is trying to novelize. The public -- as well as the news industry -- would be a lot better off if the press realized that you can't distill the essence and instead started covering that which is observable and verifiable in the physical world?
And for those who will whine this was so unfair, oh heavens, clutch the pearls.  I didn't set out to write about Shadid today.  I focused on other things.  But we didn't get Iraq on The Diane Rehm Show's international hour.  We did get testimonials to Shadid.  And those who aren't functioning adults and don't grasp that blind praise isn't how we evaluate should take comfort in the fact that I avoided writing at length about the obvious point: 'Shadid was a wonderful person.'  A great reporter? When Sy Hersh dies, people will point to stories he wrote, stories he broke.  The same with Carl Bernstein, the same with Robin Wright, Ned Parker, Sabrina Tavernise, Alexandra Zavis, Nancy A. Youssef and many others.  Whether it's The Diane Rehm Show, The Takeaway or the multitude of programs covering Shadid's death today, no one could point to any news. Because feature writing isn't news writing. If I wanted to be mean, I would've opened with that point and expanded on it for several paragraphs.
I listened to The Diane Rehm Show because, with David on as a guest, I thought (wrongly) we might actually hear something about Iraq.  You know their Vice President is in the news cycle. That's actual news. And it matters a great deal on the international scene.
It certainly matters to the Iranian government which is why the Iranian media has been all over the story.  There's the Press TV article declaring, "The Supreme Judicial Council said on Thursday al-Hashemi and his employees were behind years of deadly terror operations against security officials and civilians in Iraq."  And of course they rushed to put on MP Saad al-Mutallibi (link is text and video) from the rival State of Law political slate who declared:
Because this is the independent, one hundred percent independent justice system, speaking on its behalf, and representing itself and putting forward the accusations and the implication of Mr. Al Hashemi to 150 terrorist attacks against the nation of Iraq against individuals, against the police forces, against the army, against national institutions and of tremendous, as I said, consequences, with direct implication from Mr. al-Hashemi. This would put a tremendous pressure, I believe, on the Kurds to take the right decision and probably surrender him to Baghdad to face trial.  Unless of course he escapes the country as the other terrorists have done and spend the rest of his life in exile. There is no way that this matter could be resolved politically.

The Voice of Russia reports Tareq al-Hashemi declared he may leave the country.  And why not?
It's not just State of Law using the meida to convict him.  It's also the so-called independent  judiciary of Iraq.  Nine judges with the Iraqi Supreme Court issued a finding that Tareq al-Hashemi is guilty. There was no trial.
And yet the Supreme Court issued a finding.  It is the Supreme Court because they used the Supreme Court spokersperson (Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar) for their press conference and because, as the BBC notes, the nine-member review was "set up by the Supreme Judicial Council."

Tareq al-Hashemi is an Iraqi citizen and, as such, the Constitution (Article 19) guarantees he is innocent unless convicted in a court of law. There has been no trial. The judiciary has not just overstepped their bounds, they have also violated the Constitution.

Lower courts hearing the case in Iraq now will know the feeling of the Supreme Court (which can overrule them) and that could influence a verdict. So, no, he cannot receive a fair trial now.  Also at issue is Judge Saad al-Lami.  Al Mada notes he can't stop whining about alleged threats against him from Tareq al-Hashemi's supporters and how al-Hashemi publicly named him. And whine on. He did this at the press conference. Is he a judge or not? That's not the behavior of someone reserving judgment. That's the behavior of someone with a conflict of interest.  Along with being very anti-Sunni (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya and he is also a Sunni), the judge also has problems with Iraqiya.  Just a little while ago,  AFP was reporting on that judge, how he was demanding that Iraqiya MP Haidar al-Mullah lose his immunity so he (the judge) could sue him:

Abdelsattar Birakdar, spokesman of the Higher Judicial Council, said Mullah was accused of having offended Judge Saad al-Lami in a late November interview.
Lami filed a complaint, after which a court "studied the case and then issued an arrest warrant against him and sent a request to parliament to lift his immunity in order to prosecute him," Birakdar said.
Mullah said Lami was "influenced by Maliki."

(If that link doesn't work, click here for the AFP article.)  That's one of the 9 'objective' members of the court who decided Tareq al-Hashemi's guilt -- despite 'forgetting' to provide him with a trial.
Turning to the issue of Camp Ashraf, Victoria Nuland, US State Dept spokesperson, issued the following statement yesterday:
The United States continues to pursue a peaceful, humane solution to the untenable situation at Camp Ashraf. The critical next step is the voluntary movement of the first group of 400 Ashraf residents to the new transit facility at Camp Hurriya (former Camp Liberty). The United States supports the UN's call for the Iraqi Government and the residents of Camp Ashraf to continue to cooperate and begin this movement peacefully and without delay. Once the first group arrives at Hurriya, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can immediately begin verification and refugee status determinations, a necessary step for Hurriya residents to safely depart Iraq.
On January 31, following successful work by the Government of Iraq, the UNHCR and UN Human Rights Office in Baghdad determined that the infrastructure and facilities at Camp Hurriya are in accordance with international humanitarian standards for refugees, as required by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the United Nations and Government of Iraq last December 25. Secretary Clinton, joining European Union High Representative Ashton, has publicly supported this MOU, which fully respects the sovereignty of Iraq. The United States welcomes the Iraqi Government's continued cooperation with the UN; urges the Iraqi government to fulfill all its responsibilities, especially the elements of the MOU that provide for the safety and security of Ashraf's residents; and calls on the leaders at Camp Ashraf to cooperate with Iraqi authorities and the UN to make this and all further stages of the relocation successful.
The United States urges this voluntary movement to Hurriya to begin on schedule February 17. The U.S. will not walk away from the people at Camp Hurriya. We will visit Hurriya regularly and frequently, and continue to work with the UN to support their temporary relocation and subsequent peaceful and secure resettlement outside of Iraq, consistent with our respect for Iraq's sovereignty and in accord with Iraq's responsibilities for their humane treatment and security.
Camp Ashraf?  Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."
Howard Dean is the former Governor of Vermont and a peace candidate in the 2004 race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  More recently he was Chair of the Democratic National Committee (2005 - 2009).  Today Ellen Ratner interviewed him for Talk Radio News Service (link is audio -- and Ellen is the sister of Michael Ratner).  Excerpt.
Ellen Ratner:  I'm here with Governor Dean and, Governor Dean, you are really interested in the situation in Iraq.
Howard Dean: Right. As we have pulled out, there are 3400 unarmed Iranian dissidents who've been living in Iraq for about 25 years. And we promised to defend them when we disarmed them and then we left them high and dry.  And Prime Minister Maliki, at the bidding of the Iranian government. went in and killed 47 of them. Unarmed.  These are people who voluntarily disarmed and who the FBI has screened to make sure none of them are terrorists. And we need to get them out of there.  So what I'm involved with -- with a number of both Democratic and Republican  ex-officials -- is trying to get these people off the American terrorist list -- which they don't belong on and which they've been removed from other lists under threat of law and our courts have also told the State Dept they didn't belong on the terrrorist list -- so they can be moved to another country so they don't get killed basically. Shot. They're unarmed.  We promised to defend them.  We haven't done that.  We're trying to move them out so we can -- so we can save their lives
Ellen Ratner:  Well this is really interesting because of course America wants to keep it's promises. How did you personally get involved in this Governor Dean?
Howard Dean:  I got invited to go give a speech to this group and of course about a year ago I saw them on the terrorist list so I had a lot of qualms. Then I saw the other people who were speaking including people like Jim Jones who was a former security advisor to President Obama, Mike Mukasey a former federal judge who was the Attorney General under Bush,  Tom Ridge -- Honeland Security under Bush  who I served with as governor when he was governor of Pennsylvania, Patrick Kennedy, Bill Richardson -- former Ambassador to the UN. And I thought: If these people are all involved with this, this can't be crazy. So I went over there, I met them, I heard their stories.  And basically this is a group that was disarmed by the United States.  They were the guests of Saddam Hussein because they were against the mullahs in Iran. and during the Iraq-Iran war of course, Saddam Hussein wanted anybody who was against Iran.  But of course after Saddam was done in, they had no further role. They converted to a democratic opposition  and disarmed and we promised to protect them.  And I just think we ought to keep our promises any part in allowing genocide by an army that we trained and armed which is the army of Iraq.
Ellen Ratner: Well governor you and Governor and Secretary Tom Ridge are both involved in this. Have you been able to move this at all? Is our government responding?
Howard Dean: Well they are responding but it is very slow going.  There's lots of discussions, negotiations, and, of course, they responded late.  But today is the day that these first 400 of these folks are supposed to be moving to an interim camp. Now the problem with this interim camp is it's more like a prison than a camp.  But we are very hopeful that the State Dept -- which I think  is beginning to work hard on this problem -- we'll get these folks out of here and this will be a transient cetner which is what it's supposed to be.
Ellen Ratner: And two questions -- just foreign policy questions dealing this group.  How do they relate to the government of Iraq right now? And what is the government of Iran trying to do to them?
Howard Dean: The government of Iran is trying to kill them and unfortunately the government of Iraq essentially works for the government of Iran.  They've been in there twice  and killed 47 of them who were unarmed already. So the problem here is that we are not working with a friendly government.  Maliki is not our friend. He's a puppet of the Iranians.  And he's a big problem for us.  And, of course, all of which I predicted eight years ago when I was running for president, that this would be the end of the Iraq War, that we'd make Iran much stronger, which is exactly what we've done.
Ellen Ratner: You certainly did predict it, Governor.
Howard Dean: And it's a very difficult situation.  And, unfortunately, we delayed so we don't have as much leverage as we did when we had troops on the ground.
AFP adds, "The European Union called on Iraqi authorities yesterday to guarantee the security of an Iranian opposition group transferring to a new camp near Baghdad."  Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) speaks to one of the 400 being moved, Bahzad Saffari, who states, "[The Iraqi authorities] are creating problems.  The process has been painfully slow.  We are expecting things to be much worse."  AFP adds, "Behzad Saffari, the legal adviser for residents of the camp, told AFP by telephone that the searches began around 2:00 pm (1100 GMT), and that more than 300 people had been searched as of 10:30 pm (1930 GMT). It was not clear when they would depart the camp."
Violence continued in Iraq.  Reuters notes a Hawija sticky bombing which injured on person, a Khalis attack which claimed the life of 1 police officer and, dropping back to Thursday night for the last two, 2 police officers were killed in a Baghdad attack and 1 police officer was killed and so was his driver.
Even with American troops reportedly no longer stationed in Iraq, the Pentagon has submitted a brand new budget request of $2.9 billion for post-operation "activities" in the war-torn nation.
After the U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq was completed in December, a new budget request by the Pentagon, called Post-Operation NEW DAWN (OND)/Iraq Activities (pdf), comes at a time when it has been reported there are no longer any U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. The new budget request likely includes a "black" budget for special operations forces still conducting business there.

The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.
The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.
Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.
Maj Troy Gilbert died in combat in the Iraq War. A small amount of tissue was found in his plane after it crashed. His body was carried off by assailants who would use it a year later in a propaganda video. His family was informed that any search for him was off, that the small amount of tissue discovered in the plane meant that he wasn't classified as found.
His widow Ginger Gilbert Ravella told Brian New (KENS 5 -- link has text and video) earlier this month, "Someday my five kids are going to ask me, 'Did you do everything, did the government do everything to bring Daddy home?' I want to be able answer I did and they did absolutely everything." New notes, "During a 2006 mission near Baghdad, Maj.Gilbert was credited with saving twenty Americans under fire when he destroyed a gun truck from his F-16 jet. The Air Force pilot then turned around to attack another truck when the tail of his plane hit the ground."  Jim Douglas (WFAA -- link is text and video) spoke with the parents Ronnie and Kaye Gilbert who explained that they were scheduled to meet with the Defense Dept later this month where they will attempt to convince the military to change the qualification from "body accounted for."
The Gilbert family (his parents, his sister and his wife -- among others) had waited and been patient. Informed that there would be no search for their loved one, they did something very smart this month, they took the issue public, shocking the nation in the process, a nation that only the month before had heard US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, pontificate about how the military leaves no comrade behind. The family went public ahead of their February 24th DoD meeting.

The Pentagon wants to defuse a public relations nightmare before that meeting takes place. Luis Martinez (ABC News) reports:

An Air Force official said Thursday that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley agreed with the family that the search for the rest of Gilbert's remains should resume.
According to the official, Donley sent a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy requesting an "exception to policy" so that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) could "assume a proactive pursuit of Major Gilbert's remains and to bring the fullest possible accounting of his remains."
Donley's request must still be approved by the Under Secretary.

And approving a request doesn't necessarily mean that serious efforts will be made as many families from previous wars can attest. The reality is the American government did nothing for years. [Major Gilbert died in 2006.] There's a strong chance that when the media runs with "DoD wants to help," DoD goes back to ignoring the issue.
Honoring our Nation's fallen overseas has been our purpose since the Commission's creation in 1923.  We perform this mission by commemorating service and sacrifice worldwide -- at sites entrusted to our care by the American people.  It is our responsibility to honor America's war dead and missing in action, where they have served overseas.
That's former US Senator Max Cleland, Vietnam veteran, speaking before Congress yesterday.  US House Rep Jon Runyan chaired the House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing Cleland was speaking before.
Chair Jon Runyan noted the National Cemetery Administration, specifically a problem at the Fot Sam Houston National Cemetery which had a row of head stones misaligned.  Runyan reviewed that the families of the fallen were informed and that an audit of the national cemeteries to find out if there were others with those problems and five were quickly found while the audit was still in its first phase.  Where were the mistakes coming from?
The work being done by outside contractors.  Runyan explained "The reason this is relevant to a budget hearing is because in most cases the contractors' work was approved and payment made without adequate oversight or review to ensure the quality and accuracy of the work done. Because of an omission of fiscal oversight the work has to be done right the second time and a nationwide audit at great expense conducted."
On the subject of oversight,  US forces still have one Missing in Action service member in Iraq.  Matthew M. Burke (Stars and Stripes) reports on the only person classified MIA from the current Iraq War, Staff Sgt Ahmed Altaie:

The Iraqi-born reservist from Michigan was abducted more than five years ago in Baghdad after breaking the rules and sneaking outside the wire to meet his Iraqi wife.
In the days after he went missing, 3,000 coalition soldiers conducted more than 50 raids to find their comrade. At least one soldier was killed; others were wounded.
As the trail turned cold, Altaie's family and friends grew frustrated by what they say is the U.S. government's lack of effort to find him.
"They won't talk about it," Altaie's ex-wife and self-described best friend, Linda Racey, said from Michigan recently. "They feel he's not worth looking for. They're not doing anything."
Senator  Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES                           
Friday, February 17th, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
MONDAY: Murray in Olympia to Hear frm Veterans
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Monday, February 20th, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will hold a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide. This will be Senator Murray's first discussion with local Olympia veterans as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Senator Murray will use the struggles, stories, and suggestions she hears on Monday to fight for local veterans in Washington, D.C.
WHO:          U.S. Senator Patty Murray
                     Local veterans
WHAT:        Veterans listening session with Senator Murray
WHEN:        Monday, February 20th, 2012
         2:30 PM PT
WHERE:    Harbor Wholesale Foods
                                3901 Hogum Bay Rd. NE
                                Lacey, WA 98516
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Morning blog

Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Alice In Barackland"

Alice in Barackland

"The New York Times and Obama's cave-in on contraceptives" (Kate Randall, WSWS):

Within a day of the Obama administration’s reversal last week of a ruling requiring religiously affiliated employers to provide contraceptives as part of their medical coverage, the New York Times rushed in to provide political cover for Obama’s cave-in to reactionary religious elements.

On January 20, Obama announced a decision that would have required employers, including church-affiliated universities, schools, hospitals and charities, to provide free access to contraceptives as part of their employee health insurance plans. As a concession from the start, churches themselves were to be exempt from the rule.

Only three weeks later, on February 10, Obama capitulated to a volley of right-wing agitation and reversed the decision. He now said that religiously affiliated institutions would no longer be compelled to offer contraceptives as part of their health coverage for female employees, and that this would instead be provided and funded by the insurance companies.

Obama’s cave-in represented a blow against the fundamental democratic principle of separation of church and state laid down in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. In defending his climbdown,

I highlighted her earlier on this topic, so I'll highlight her now.  Last night, I had various thoughts on this article.  I'm sure I'll remember them as the day goes by.

This morning?  Nope.

It's an important topic.  Barack's caves are never ending and always to the right.

Have we ever seen him cave to the left?


I marvel over how so many otherwise intelligent people willingly self-delude themselves about him.

They have a need to self-deceive that's far greater than their need to recognize reality.

C.I. addressed that deception in "Walt's insane, McEvers is the new Judy Miller" yesterday.  Go read that (again or for the first time),she can process in the early morning hours unlike yours truly.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, February 15, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks Camp Ashraf, another prep meet-up for a national conference takes place, Iraq continues to struggle to pass a 2012 budget, the US House Veterans Affairs Committee hears from the VA about their budget requests and more.
President Barack Obama, don't threaten veterans.  That was the message of House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller this morning.  What was he talking about?  He was noting that other departments know whether or not sequestration would effect them but VA doesn't.  In 1985, the Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Budget Act.  If the budget triggers sequestration, then automatic cuts would take place.  Chair Miller explained that they had repeatedly attempted to get a clear answer from the White House on this issue but that they still had no answer.  "If the president won't lead on this issue," Chair Miller declared, "then we will."
It was a lively hearing.  So much so that all overshadowed Miller's opening remarks.
The hearing was about the 2013 budget and two panels appeared before the Committee.  The first panel was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (with the VA's Robert Petzel, Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, Roger Baker and Todd Grams).  Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, VFW's Ramond Kelley, Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante, AMVETS Diane Zumatto and the American Legion's Timothy Tetz.  We'll note the second panel in tomorrow's snapshot and focus on the first panel today.  The White House has put out their trial budget.  The House Veterans Affairs Committee was focusing on the budget in terms of veterans issues.
Chair Jeff Miller: In the -- in the current budget submission, it has a billion dollars for Veterans Job Corps. We all are keenly aware of the high number of unemployed veterans in our country today. And not a single member of this Committee nor this Congress should be in any way satisifed with that number. And we have tried to do things in this Commitee to help bring those numbers down.  My concern is there's no detail in the budget submission. Where did the number one billion dollars come from?  You know, it was chosen to be provided in your entitlement accounts to be dispensed over a five year period.  And so I think we all benefit from a conversation, Mr. Secretary, as to who's going to be focused on, what area of the veteran population, how's it going to work and what will happen to these jobs once the funds run out?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Chairman, the proposal for the Veterans Job Corps, the $1 billion piece of that, is a program that we're seeking Congressional authorization on and we are putting together the details of that which we would provide to you and you would have a chance to review. I would say that the intent here is to put up to 20,000 veterans back to work over the next five years on projects that will protect and restore our public lands. Projects would be in national parks, forests, rivers and trails, wild life refuge, national monuments, other public lands. Veterans could work on park maintenance projects, patrolling public lands, rehabilitating natural and recreational areas and in administrative, technical, law enforcement-related activities. The Veterans Job Corps program is a project that's going to be coordinated with other departments and we are a -- sort of a oversight of the distribution of funds but there are others who will be participating.  I'm told that uh -- and I'm confident that uh VA resources won't be diverted to fund this $1 billion that it will come from elsewhere.  And I don't know exactly where at the moment.  But, Mr. Chairman, I'll share that with you as soon as I have clarity.
And we'll note, from his written statement about the Veterans Job Corps, "The program will serve all Veterans, but will have a particular focus on post-9/11 Veterans."  So the 20,000 jobs are not guaranteed to veterans of today's wars.  I'm not saying they should be but I am saying 20,000 wasn't, to me, an impressive number, and became less so when it was going to address not only the largest unemployed veterans population (young veterans of today's wars) but all veterans.  US House Rep Corrine Brown would bring up the issue of contracts and outsourcing and asking why every contract the VA outsourced didn't have a clause in it about hiring veterans?  Not really an answer. "You're not answering the question," Ranking Member Bob Filner pointed out to the VA's Allison Hickey as she went on about how one contract has seen a company hire 15% veterans and how they have conversations with contractors.  Filner pointed out that Brown's question was why didn't they mandate this in the contract, why have conversations when you should be writing it into the contract?  Hickey attempted to reply but Shinseki took over.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, we'll take a look at this.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on, you can give me some kind of answer.  Are you saying we can't do it legally?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: She must know the answer [gesturing to Hickey].  I mean, come on. This is not rocket science here.  You issue contracts 100 times a day.  Why can't we have contracts that do this?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  You can. And I don't know the circumstances of this contract. And I would --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: But she apparently does. Why didn't we do it here?
Allison Hickey: So, Congressman, I will go back to our physician folks to ask --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Oh, come on.  You guys know the answer to this.  Why are you so afraid to just tell us?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I'm not sure it wasn't in the contract, Mr. Filner. That's why -- 
Ranking Member Bob Filner:  Well she's sure --
Allison Hickey: Congressman --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: You started off your testimony, "I know the contract." So did it specify or not?
Allison Hickey: I will find out and get back to you for the record --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't understand this.  You know this better than you're saying here.
US House Rep Corrine Brown then noted that one of the biggest complaints she gets is that VA does billions of dollars of work and they're not doing it with veterans, they're not hiring them and this at a time when so many veterans are unemployed. Brown noted employment elsewhere in the hearing as well.  US House Rep and Dr. Roe raised the issue of the large number of suicides and shared that one thing he's hearing from veterans is that they're doing well in one-on-one sessions and then they're moved on to groups and that's not working.  "These needs aren't being met in large group settings," he explained. The short answer is that the VA is currently evaluating with plans to increase in the numbers hired where needed.
US House Rep Corrine Brown: Sir, I have a follow up on that, you said can we hire -- are we not -- are we trying to hire all those people or are we working with other agencies as far as subcontracting out? Because we're not going to be able to hire enough people.  He talked about the group setting, some people can benefit from the group setting, everbody don't need that one-on-one but some people do. So based on the resources, how can we better utilize the dollars to meet the needs?
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congressman Brown.  We do contract in the community.  We do provide on a fee basis mental health care. And as the Secretary was just pointing out to me a new modality that's becoming increasingly important is tele-mental health where we provide both evaluation and therapy in a tele-health setting -- where the patient may be remotely, a hundred miles away. They're on a television screen with an appropriate supervisor and the psychiatrist or psychologist is back at a larger medical center.  It has been very successful in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders.  And I think that this is going to become a more common practice as we move forward.
FYI, Petzel called every female House Rep, throughout the hearing, "Congressman." Maybe here we'll call him "Mrs. Dr. Petzel" in the future?
Last week, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, participated in a Virtual Town Hall, an online Town Hall which allowed her and veterans all over the country to interact. The Virtual Town Hall was sponsored by Disabled American Veterans and a full transcript of the exchange can be found here.  Various veterans participating in the Virtual Town Hall noted the delays and backlog with regards to claims -- not surprising, over 500,000 claims are currently backlogged according to the VA's Allison Hickey testimony in today's hearing.  Senator Murray observed, "I receive so many complaints from veterans and their families about long waits for claims. I visited the Seattle Regional Office a few months ago and was astounded at the mountain of paper work and had the opportunity to really see what we are facing.  I am working hard to try and help the VA get a handle on this.  We do have to recognize that the claims are increasingly complex and there are more of them with the number of service members coming home today.  We want them to be done efficiently but correctly.  This will remain a top priority for me."  And in today's hearing, Ranking Member Bob Filner touched on the issues of backlog and Agent Orange.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I just want to ask a couple -- focus on a couple areas that I've been involved with over the years. One is the claims backlog.  In your budget presentation ou title it "Eliminate The Claims Backlog." But I don't see any real estimate or projection or anything of when you think you're going to do that but I still think that -- in the short run, at least -- to get this turned around your notion of -- I think you used the word "brute force" a few years ago, if I recall that.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: It was probably a poor choice of words.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: No, it's okay. It was good. Gives me something to shoot at, you know? I don't think it's going to work.  I just think all this stuff you have is good stuff but it's too big and, as you point out, there's all kind of factors making it bigger.  I still think you have to take some, I'll say, radical step in the short run -- whether it's to grant all the Agent Orange claims that have been submitted or have been there for X number of years or, as I've suggested at other times, all claims that have the medical information in it and have been submitted with the help of a Veterans Service Officer you accept subject to audit. That is, unless you take some real radical step to eliminate a million of them or 500,000 of them, you're never going to get there. It's going to always be there.  You don't want that as your legacy -- I don't think.  So -- Nor do we.  I think you're going to have to take some really strong steps in terms of accepting stuff that's been in the pipeline a long time, again, that has adequate -- by whatever definition -- documentation and help from professional support. Plus this incredible situation of Agent Orange where, as you know, not only have those claims increaded but we're talking about -- as you well know -- your comrades for thirty or more years that have been wrestling with this.  Let's give the Vietnam vets some peace. Let's give them a real welcome home. Let's grant those Agent Orange claims.  Let's get those -- whatever it is, 100,000 or 200,000  of our backlog -- just get them off the books.  I don't know if you want to comment on that but I still think you're never going to get there with -- All this is good stuff.  We've talked about it on many occasions.  But it's not going to fundamentally -- or at least in the short run change it around so you can get to a base  level of zero or whatever you want to be and move forward from there.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, I'll call on Secretary Hickey for the final details but we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims. I think we're well down on the numbers. I'll rely on her statistic here.
Many other issues were touched on.  We'll note the exchanges on women veterans.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: The House passed a bill that I had put forward a year or two ago called a Women's Veterans Bill of Rights.  It got through the House, it got stuck in the Senate.  [He's referring to HR 809 which he introduced in the 111th Congress and which the Senate didn't pass.  He reintroduced HR 809 in the new Congress in February of 2010.]  I would just ask that you look at that.  You can do stuff administratively. You could post something in each of our centers and clinics. We have a long way to go on this but women veterans need to feel that this institution is evolving to meet their needs.  And a statement at the front door of their rights, I think, would be very helpful. So I would just ask you to look at that.  We didn't do it legislatively but I think you could do some stuff administratively. 
Shinseki replied that women veterans' issues in the proposed budget increased by 17%. Dropping back to his written statement, he gives 8% as the number women make up in VA's total population, women are "nearly 15 percent of today's active duty military forces and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves."  337,000 women access care through VA and, "The 2013 budget includes $403 million for the gender-specific healthcare needs of women Veterans, an increase of 17.5 percent over the 2012 level."  Later in the hearing, US House Rep Linda Sanchez would raise the issue of women veterans and we'll jump to her exchange.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Secretary Shinseki, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Patient Alligned Care Center at the Long Beach VA facility and I want to applaud the efforts there to provide an integrated system of care. But one of the things that's been brought to my attention is the levels of staffing for the new models that will be put in place. I heard from doctors, nurses and other pracitioners to discuss how thinly they feel they are being stretched in this new system. And it's a system that they want to see succeed. They're employed there because they believe in the mission, they want to provide the service.  But I'm wondering if you could maybe go into a little bit of detail  as to how the $433 million that is proposed for patient-centered care -- how that will go towards staffing to make sure that we have the staff availble to meet the needs of those veterans.
Secretary Eric Shinseki:  I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Sure.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Congressman Sanchez, when we implemented the PAC [Patient Aligned Care] program, several years ago, the first thing that we did was a survey of what we call PAC readiness.  One of which was to determine how many support people there were in place for each one of the providers in a PAC clinic.  The desirable ratio agreed to in the entire health care community is 3 people per provider. We found that there were places that were reaching that goal and then others that weren't.  One of the major things that has been involved in the PAC model financing has been to provide the medical centers with -- and the clinics with -- the number of people that they need to support the provider.  I will look specifically at Long Beach and I can, in fact, get back to you. But our goal -- and we're very close to it as I understand -- is to have 3 support people per provider in each one of our clinics.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Okay because I hear stories about staffing being stretched and no new hires or people leave and are not replaced. And so the concern is to have the appropriate amount of people available to provide the services that are needed.  And I would appreciate you following up with me about that.  To the Secretary, I know that you and I have previously discussed some of my concerns -- specifically with respect to the VA employing female specialists to assist specifically female veterans with VA services.  And I know that the administration's budget contains $403 million to address the needs of women veterans.  I'm wondering if you can tease that out a little bit and provide more specifics on how that money will be used to address the growing needs of the female veteran population?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, thank you, Congresswoman. I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel for the details but this is confirmed that you and I have had discussions about this.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez: Yes.
Dr. Robert Petzel: I thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Uh, the -- our goal is to ensure that every female veteran has a choice of providers and that, if they wish to, they will be able to be seen by a female provider.  About 75% of women choose to have a female provider.  And we are able to meet that need in virtually every setting except perhaps some remote community-based outpatient clinics where we just don't have those sort of uh facilities.  I can, for the record, give you the details about how much staffing -- what kind of staffing is to be associated with the $403 million increase we're seeing in women's health programs. I don't have that number at the tip of my fingers but it is important to us as I'm sure it is to you that women have a choice, that if they wish to see a female provider, they are afforded that opportunity.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez:  Yeah, one of the things on my tour of the Long Beach facility is that they do have a sort of separate women's clinic area where women can choose that to be their point of entry to the system.
Dr. Robert Petzel: About sixty of our largest medical centers have specific women's centers, women's health centers where all of the services are provided in that same environment. The rest of them are sort of associated with women specific primary care clinics when they're not as large. And then, in community based outpatient clinics we have trained the primary care providers in the necessities of women's health.
Homelessness was touched on by US House Reps Corrine Brown and Dr. Phil Roe.  We're ignoring that for two reasons.  1) Roe brought up that once a case worker has X number of clients, the VA isn't issuing vouchers so even though there is space a veterans left sleeping on the street or somewhere else (he or she receives no voucher).  Shinseki noted that homeless veterans were decreasing.  Are they?  Or is this program -- which tracks beds used in shelters -- not factoring in that veterans aren't receiving vouchers if their caseworker is maxed out?  That's not addressed and until it is, I'm not interested in going into the figures.  2) What we do know is that one group of homeless veterans is increasing and it's not the stereotype of the homeless veteran.  Earlier this week, Peggy McCarthy (The Day) reports on homeless veterans. Andy and Miriam Miranda live with their young son in a New Haven shelter. Andy's a veteran, they both have degrees and were teachers and their home was foreclosed during these economic hard times. McCarthy reports an emerging trend for homeless veterans is that it's no longer a single veteran but families. Connecticut saw 15 veterans family appealing for help via the homeless programs in 2008 but last year saw 135 families which mirrors what's happening on a national level (2010 saw "an 86 percent increase over 2009").  This increasing group -- homeless veterans with their femilies -- was not addressed in the hearing.  The VA budget calls for "$1.352 billion for programs that will prevent and treat Veteran homelessness" (Shinseki's written statement) and I'm fine with noting that figure but, repeating, if VA is saying that the number of homeless veterans is decreasing and US House Rep Roe is telling us -- without any dispute from Shinseki or anyone from the VA on the panel -- that homeless people are being turned away when beds are available, that they're not being given vouchers, then I think the VA needs to clarify how they're collecting their numbers.  I'll also note that Shinseki's defined as "VA's goal" for 2013 "to serve 32,000 homeless veterans."  Also on the issue of homeless veterans, Senator Patty Murray's office released the following this afternoon:
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tester Press Office (202) 228-0371
Snowe Press Office (202) 224-8667

VETERANS: Chairman Murray and Senators Tester and Snowe Call on VA and HUD to Provide Answers about Homeless Women Veterans

After GAO report emphasizes data collection partnership opportunities between VA and HUD, Murray, Tester, and Snowe ask Secretaries for answers ahead of the March 14 Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on veteran homelessness

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray, Committee Member Jon Tester, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe sent a joint letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinkseki and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan asking for explicit answers to questions in light of a GAO report highlighting missed opportunities for the two departments to improve services for homeless women veterans. The report also highlighted limitations in available housing options for women veterans with children and an inability to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of women veterans in mixed-gender housing facilities.

"It is critical that we continue doing absolutely everything we can on behalf of the brave men and women who have already made tremendous sacrifices for our nation," the Senators wrote. "Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need to find adequate and long-term housing for them and their families. In doing so, we must make every effort to ensure we are addressing the needs of our entire veteran population, particularly our women veterans, to ensure their needs are being met and they are not falling through the cracks."

The Senators have requested a response in advance of the March 14 Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing scheduled on veteran homelessness.

The full text of the Senators' letter follows:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Honorable Shaun L.S. Donovan
United States Department of
Housing & Urband Development
451 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Donovan,

We appreciate your ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness among our nation's veterans, and applaud your request for an increase of $333 million for programs to end veteran homelessness in the fiscal year 2013 budget. Recent reports of a 12 percent reduction in the homeless veteran population over the last year are certainly a testament to your hard work and leadership. Despite these gains, we have concerns that the particular needs of homeless women veterans are frequently being overlooked. As we see more and more women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly critical that we do more to help them transition home.

As you know, a recent Government Accountability Office report, "Homeless Women Veterans: Actions Needed to Ensure Safe and Appropriate Housing," highlighted an opportunity to increase collaboration between your two agencies when it comes to gathering data about homeless women veterans. As you would undoubtedly agree, without that data, it is impossible for us to have a clear understanding of the demographics of this population or to develop a strategy that can effectively address their particular needs.

The report also highlighted limitations in available housing options for women veterans with children. Although VA has a referral policy in place for temporary housing, it is not being implemented uniformly nationwide. As a result, homeless women veterans in some parts of the country are forced to return to the streets until they are admitted into the Grant and Per Diem or HUD-VASH programs. Additionally, infrastructure needs such as private and secure rooms and showering facilities are often lacking -- placing women veterans in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations. We can and should do better.

In light of this report, we request responses to the following questions:

* What steps are your agencies taking to better capture information on our homeless women veteran population?

* How do you track both the demographics and particular needs of this population?

* What strategies are being employed to effectively address their unique needs?

* What improvements will be made to VA's implementation of its referral policy?

* What type of gender-specific safety and security standards will be implemented for VA's Grant and Per Diem program?

* What additional steps need to be taken to reduce the rate of homelessness among female veterans?

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that, although the overall number of unemployed veterans has decreased significantly over the past year, the unemployment rate amongst women veterans is now more than double the national average. As unemployment rates often directly correlate with rates of homelessness, how closely are your Agencies working with the Department of Labor to reduce the homeless women veteran population by addressing one of the underlying symptoms of their unemployment or underemployment?

It is critical that we continue doing absolutely everything we can on behalf of the brave men and women who have already made tremendous sacrifices for our nation. Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need to find adequate and long-term housing for them and their families. In doing so, we must make every effort to ensure we are addressing the needs of our entire veteran population, particularly our women veterans, to ensure their needs are being met and they are not falling through the cracks.

We appreciate your attention to this matter, and request a response to inform our views in advance of the March 14 hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on veteran homelessness. We look forward to working closely with both of you to address this critical issue.


Chairman Patty Murray

Senator Jon Tester

Senator Olympia J. Snowe

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Violence continued in Iraq today.  Reuters notes a police officer's Jurf al-Sakhar home was attacked with gunfire and grenades leaving his wife and their two daughters dead and him injured and a Baquba roadside bombing left two people injured.  Aswat al-Iraq adds that a Mosul bombing left 1 person dead and one police officer injured.
From the never-ending violence to confusion.  Confusion over AFP and Reuters' reporting and confusion over United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Let's set the stage by noting what we were noting this morning.  We're talking about the residents of Camp Ashraf, approximately 3,500 Iranian dissidents who were welcomed into Iraq decades ago, following the Iranian revolution. Nouri al-Maliki does not care for the residents and has, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US President, twice ordered their assault. They are protected persons under international law and Nouri gave his word that he would ensure their protection. Nouri's word is worthless. They are being relocated to Camp Liberty. The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom's Muriel Turner offers this in a guest column for UPI:

The 3,400 residents will be housed it what can only be described as veal crates, in an area not much more than half-a-kilometer-square. Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, has admitted to Ashraf residents that they will still be denied medical facilities. There will be no way to care for the disabled and nowhere to tend to the injured.
There isn't even any drinking water!
Their instructions mandate that, residents can only take "individual belongings" with them -- basically as much as they can carry. Vehicles and other property that they have worked hard for over the 30 years in Ashraf will have to be abandoned.
The Iraqi government has designated Camp Liberty to be a "temporary transfer location." That's because it does not meet the standards required of a refugee camp.
Once inside Camp Liberty, the 13-foot-high walls will close in on them and they will no doubt be forgotten. They will have no way of contacting U.N. observers other than by telephone, which the Iraqis will disconnect as they please. They are to be fingerprinted upon arrival, as if they were prisoners of war. One report said Iraqi guards, perhaps even the same guards who killed their friends and relatives, will be based inside the camp.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq is Martin Kobler. He penned a column on Camp Ashraf for the International Herald Tribune which includes:

As a first step, it calls for the camp residents to voluntarily relocate to a transit site at the Baghdad airport. In contrast to Camp Ashraf, this site would be monitored around the clock by observers from the United Nations. There, the residents would be interviewed by the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, to determine their eligibility for refugee status, paving the way for their resettlement outside of Iraq. Most have filed refugee claims. A small number have returned to Iran in recent years, but many others will want to go elsewhere.
Under the same agreement, the government of Iraq has made two key commitments that it must uphold. First, it has accepted full responsibility for the safety and security of the residents, from the relocation process throughout their stay at the new facility. Secondly, it has promised that nobody would be forced to go to Iran or elsewhere against their wishes.
The new site is a former U.S. Marine base that can hold more than 5,000 people. It has been equipped at considerable expense to receive the residents of Camp Ashraf. It has cooking and medical facilities, space for recreational activities and provisions for women and religious observance. UNHCR has carried out a careful technical assessment and determined that the new camp meets the humanitarian standards it applies for refugee situations around the world.
Yes, the two are at odds over the conditions of Camp Liberty. First, Reuters, Kobler's column was not "an article in Wednesday's New York Times."  It was a column run by the International Herald Tribune.  The New York Times is now the sole owner of that paper and it elected to repost the column to the New York Times website today.  It did not run it in the paper.  This should have been clear with the note the Times' website attached to the column at the end: "A version of this op-ed appeared in print on February 16, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune."  Repeating, the column did not run "in Wednesday's New York Times."  That is an error you should correct.  It's also a minor point except to note that the wires obviously don't read the daily New York Times -- either in print or digital form.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something worth noting.
Confusion.  For some reason, Ban Ki-moon weighed in today.  No indicationthat this would be happening from Kobler's column.  More confusing are his remarks.  The UN News Centre notes:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for the start of the relocation of residents of the settlement in Iraq formerly known as Camp Ashraf, urging the Government and the camp dwellers to continue to cooperate so that the process can be carried out in a peaceful manner.
"The Secretary-General reiterates that the Government of Iraq bears the primary responsibility for the security and the welfare of the residents of Camp Ashraf," said a statement issued by his spokesperson.
"At the same time, the residents of Camp Ashraf also bear a responsibility to abide by the laws of Iraq. Any provocation or violence must be avoided and would be unacceptable."
I'm confused why he made that last statement?  Are Camp Ashraf residents threating to riot or attack?  There's been no reports indicating that.  They aren't supposed to have any weapons, the US disarmed them.  It's a very interesting remark.  Did he say it? Let's go to the UN's post of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's remarks:
The Secretary-General continues to closely follow the situation in Camp Ashraf. Over the past few months, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), under the leadership of his Special Representative, Martin Kobler, and in close cooperation with UNHCR, the European Union, the United States and other interested Member States, has been tirelessly working as an impartial facilitator to promote a peaceful resolution of this issue, within the framework of UNAMI's humanitarian mandate.
At the request of the Secretary-General, the Government of Iraq extended its deadline to close Camp Ashraf from 31 December 2011 to 30 April 2012. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on 25 December 2011 between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq has laid the foundation for a peaceful and durable solution, respecting both the sovereignty of Iraq and meeting Iraq's international humanitarian and human rights obligations.
The Secretary-General acknowledges the efforts of the Government of Iraq to prepare the temporary transit location to host the residents and allow UNHCR to undertake refugee status determination. On 31 January 2012, UNHCR confirmed that the infrastructure and facilities at the temporary transit location are in accordance with the international humanitarian standards stipulated in the MoU.
The Secretary-General believes that the time has come to start the relocation process without further delay. He urges the Iraqi authorities and the residents of Camp Ashraf to continue to cooperate and complete the process in a peaceful manner. The Secretary-General reiterates that the Government of Iraq bears the primary responsibility for the security and the welfare of the residents of Camp Ashraf. At the same time, the residents of Camp Ashraf also bear a responsibility to abide by the laws of Iraq. Any provocation or violence must be avoided and would be unacceptable.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call to Member States to contribute to a durable solution by demonstrating their readiness to accept eligible residents of Camp Ashraf who wish to resettle in third countries.
The Secretary-General stresses that the United Nations remains strongly committed to continue to do its utmost to facilitate a peaceful and durable solution.
Yes, the remarks the UN intended to be attributed to him carry it.  So where is that in the Retuers report?  Or the AFP report?  Not present in either. That's the part that confuses me regarding the two news outlets.  In terms of Ban Ki-Moon, the remarks admonishing Camp Ashraf residents not to resort to violence and the timing of the 'you must move now'  statements are confusing.
Turning to the political scene, Al Mada notes that the Parliament discussed the 2012 federal budget yesterday, they also did a reading (the first reading) of it. The article mainly addresses MP Jaafar al-Moussawi. He is a part of the National Alliance and a member of the Sadr bloc. He is also an opponent/rival of Nouri's for many years now. He has repeatedly, over the years, called for the Constitution to be followed and castigated Nouri when Nouri refused to do so. November 28th, a bomb went off outside Parliament. Dropping back to that day's snapshot:

In the one that will probably have the most impact the Baghdad-based government, Parliament was attacked. Confusion remains as to what it was attacked with. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) puts it this way, "Also Monday, a mortar round landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least two people, police said. The round landed on the outdoor car park that belongs to the Iraqi Parliament compound and hit a car. " Citing the news channel Al-Arabiya, Adnkronos Security maintains it was a rocket. KUNA states mortars and that it "hit a parking lot near the parliament" leaving at least four injured. Aswat al-Iraq notes Parliament's Mohammed al-Khalidi states it was a car and a suicide bombing, "the car exploded outside the parliament building, where the driver was trying enter, but blocked by a military hummer, which obliged him to commit suicide." AFP emphasizes the confusion over details, "The explosion in the parking lot of the Iraqi parliament was caused by a mortar round, said Baghdad security spokesman Qassem al-Moussawi and several other sources. However, at least two sources at parliament said it was a car bomb." Parliament's spokesperson Aidan Helmi declares the attack was an attempted assassination of Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and states the car involved was similar to the cars used in Nujaifi's security detail and that when asked to display a security badge, the car slammed into anothe car, the driver got out and detonated a bomb on his person. Jack Healy, Yasir Ghazi, Andrew E. Kramer and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) observe, "An attempted bombing steps outside Parliament would represent a serious security breach inside one of the capital's most heavily guarded sectors, raising questions about the competence -- or complicity -- of security forces. Parliament sits inside the Green Zone, the locked-down expanse along the Tigris River that houses many Iraqi governmetn buildings and the American Embassy."

Immediately came the lies. In order to try to elevate Nouri to martyr status, he and his lackeys began declaring that it was an attack on him. He was no where near the Parliament nor scheduled to be. But his vanity is so great that everything must be about him.

The attacks were blamed -- by the press -- on the usual catch-all: al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
More recently, Nouri's asked that the Supreme Court lift Jaafar al-Moussawi's immunity and accused him of being responsible for the bombing. al-Moussawi held his press conference yesterday at the Parliament building and denied any involvement in the bombing or guilt of the charges. He decried unnamed politicians who were attempting to use the media to smear his name. He stated that a DNA test on the body of a corpse thought to be the suicide bomber demonstrates that the man, two hours prior to the bombing, killed someone working for al-Moussawi (a bodyguard). al-Moussawi states he has other information and will be sharing it. Dar Addustour has him declaring that it was not him or people supporting him that did the bombing but people wanting to harm him for Saddam Hussein's execution. Alsumaria TV reports this morning that Spain's Ambassador to Iraq, Jose Turbine, is stating that the national conference is going to resolve the al-Hashemi issue.

Today Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The preparatory committee for the National Conference held its third meeting today with the attendance of all parties, according to a Parliament statement issued today."  Since December, President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to address the political crisis. All this time later, all that's taken place is meetings to prepare for it. Al Mada reports that al-Nujaifi attempted to meet with State of Law for a discussion but they rebuffed him. al-Nujaifi is a member of the Iraqiya political slate headed by Ayad Allawi. They came in first in the March 2010 elections. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law slate came in second. Iraqiya's Haider Mullah is calling for the issues of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to be addressed prior to the national conference. Nouri is demanding that al-Mutlaq (a Sunni and member of Iraqiya) be stripped of his title (and immunity -- so Nouri can sue him for "libel" for his comparison of Nouri to Saddam Hussein) and he issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi (a Sunni and member of Iraqiya) on charges of 'terrorism.' This is what finally prompted press attention in the political crisis that's gone on since December 2010.