Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jimmy Carter

Mike's blogging about something tonight.  I know he's blogging about it.  I'm not upset that he is.  It's not a problem.  But I have topics I have made off-limits here and that is one of them so I won't be blogging about the topic.

I wish the awful Jimmy Carter walled off something, anything, but he is the king of no-control.  USA Today's Catlina Camia should have .

Asked about the 2012 election, Catalina Amia (USA Today) reports that Jimmy Carter says there's no real differennece between Mitt Romney and Barack.

I agree with that.

But I'm not the former president of the US or a fool who endorsed Barack when there was still a chance of Hillary winning the nomination.

Jimmy did that.  Jimmy's worthless -- as worthless today as he was then


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, April 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  the prosecution says they don't have to establish that Bradley Manning's actions resulted in any harm to go after him, the political crisis continues in Iraq, a State of Law flunky disses Biden, and more.
Starting in the US where perceived whistle blower Bradley Manning and his defense have been in pre-court martial hearings this week.  The judge has issued a ruling.  AP reports Col Denise Lind announced yesterday that she would not toss "aiding the enemy" allegation the government has made against Bradley.
Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of pre-court-martial hearings.  Arun Rath (PBS' Frontline) explains, "Yesterday, Army Col. Denise Lind, the presiding judge in the court-martial of alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, announced that his trial would begin on Sept 21.   After weighing arguments from the defense and prosecution, she also ruled that all 22 charges against Pfc. Manning would stand."  Larry Shaughnessy (CNN) adds:
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, argued that the charge should be dropped for two reasons. First, the prosecution failed to show intent in the way the charge is worded, he argued. Second, Coombs said, the charge is so vague and broad that it's unconstitutional.
Coombs argued the charge is "alarming in its scope." He told the judge that if he accepted the government's argument, "no soldier would ever be comfortable saying anything to any news reporter." Coombs said they could even be charged after posting something on a family member's Facebook page.
Trent Nouveau (TG Daily) notes that Maj Ashden Fein, prosecutor for the United States government, states that the government isn't required to prove that any damage took place, "Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant to the charges.  That tomorrow's effect is somehow relevant to the charges on the crime sheet is irrelevant."
That's certainly a curious take on the law.  If there's no injury, what's the point? If Bradley Manning is guilty -- he's thus far entered no plea -- and there were huge damages, the judge would certainly be encouraged by the prosecution to keep that in mind.  The government has not only declared him guilty -- that includes US President Barack Obama who truly does not know the law if he thought pronouncing the accused guilty before a trial was how a president conducts themselves -- they've insisted repeatedly that tremendous damage was done.
Having used that to drive the press coverage, the government now wants to claim that the level of damage -- if any -- doesn't matter?  The court-martial has been set for September 21st.  The Center for Constitutional Rights  Michael Ratner retweets:
In Iraq, violence continues.  Erik West (Australian Eye) reports an Abu Garma home invasion in which 3 children (ages ten to fifteen) were shot dead along with their mother when a killer or killers broke into the home around three in the morning.
KUNA notes that Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, met with Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy, yesterday at the White House and that Biden "reaffirmed U.S. commitment to work with Iraqi leaders from across the spectrum to support the continued development of Iraq's energy sector."  While Joe was making nice, al-Shahristani was showing his ass.  Alister Bull (Reuters) explains, "A simmering dispute between Iraq's central government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan is an internal affair, a top Baghdad official said on Thursday, in an implicit rebuff of U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between the two sides."
Thursday Erbil witnessed what some news outlets are calling a historic moment.  Press TV reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's visit to the KRG  to meet with KRG President Massoud Barzani and the press conference Moqtada held in Erbil.  They quote him stating, "I came here to listen to their (Kurds') points of view (on issues related to Iraq's political situation).  In fact, I adovcate getting closer to the Iraqi people and protecting the Iraqi people before protecting our parties and blocs.  All sides have to pay attention to the public interest and the Iraqi people. The oil of Iraq is for the people and no one has the right to claim it for himself and exclude others. . . . Dialogue is the only solution to end former and current political disputes and all other issues."  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) notes, "During talks with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani yesterday, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mandate insisted that there would be no support for an overthrow of the government, but he did suggest the possibility of not renewing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's mandate as premier. Barzani and Sadr have both called Maliki a dictator in recent weeks, and the increasingly marginalized Sunnis mostly agree with them."  At Foreign Policy, journalist James Traub examines Nouri al-Maliki:
Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, has a remarkable ability to make enemies. As Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group puts it, "Personal relations between everyone and Maliki are terrible." This gift was vividly displayed in March, when the annual meeting of the Arab League was held in Baghdad. Although the event was meant to signal Iraq's re-emergence as a respectable country after decades of tyranny and bloodshed, leaders of 10 of the 22 states, including virtually the entire Gulf, refused to attend out of pique at Maliki's perceived hostility to Sunnis both at home and abroad, turning the summit into a vapid ritual. The only friend Iraq has left in the neighborhood is Shiite Iran, which seems intent on reducing its neighbor to a state of subservience.
[. . .]
But one can be agnostic about Maliki's motivations and still conclude that he is doing harm to Iraq's own interests. No sensible Iraqi leader would pick a fight with Turkey, as he has done. Back in January, when Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested that Maliki should not be waging war against the Sunni opposition at home, Maliki accused Turkey of "unjustified interferences in Iraqi internal affairs," adding for good measure that Erdogan was seeking to restore Turkey's Ottoman hegemony over the region. This in turn led to another escalating round of insults and a mutual summoning of ambassadors.


Moqtada was attempting to address the ongoing political crisis. Briefly, March 2010 saw parlimentary elections.  State of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's slate) came in second to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi).  Nouri did not want to honor the vote or the Constitution and refused to allow the process to move forward (selecting a new prime minister).  Parliament was unable to meet, nothing could take place.  This is Political Stalemate I and it lasted for over eight months.  In November 2010, Political Stalemate I finally ended.  What ended it?

The US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  This was a written document where everyone made concessions and everyone got something out of it.  Nouri got to be prime minister.  He was loving the Erbil Agreement then.  And as soon as he was named prime minister-designate, he began demonstrating he wouldn't honor the Erbil Agreement.  He had called for a referendum and census on Kirkuk for December 2010.  He was supposed to have done that by the end of 2007.  But he refused to even though Article 140 of the Constitution demanded it.  But as he was trying to get everyone to agree to the Erbil Agreement, he was trying to appear resonable and scheduled the referendum and census.  After being named prime minister desisngate, he called off the census and referndum.  It's still not taken place all this time later.  He was also fully on board with the idea of an independent national security commission and it being headed by Ayad Allawi.  But then he got named prime minister-deisgnate and suddenly that was something that couldn't be created overnight but would take time.  17 months later, it's still not happened.


Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get a second term as prime minister and then trashed the agreement.  He used everyone's concession to him but refused to honor his concessions to them.
This is Political Stalemate II, the ongoing political crisis in Iraq and, no, the political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections).  From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):

Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart. 

Kitabat reports Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared today in Karbala that the Erbil Agreement should be published.  The Ayatollah noted that there are disputes about whether or not it was implemented.  He says the way to end the dispute is to publish the agreement and that the people can then decide for themselves whether the agreement was carried out, whether or not it was Constitutional*, whether or not it represented the best interests of Iraq.  The agreement and the Constitution? There's nothing in the Constitution that allows for the Erbil Agreement.  There's also nothing in the Constitution that bars the Erbil Agreement.  The White House and the State Dept examined that at length before it was put into writing.  They brokered the agreement and did so to end the eight-month-plus gridlock (Political Stalemate I).  The agreement is clearly extra-constitutional and we warned about that in real time.  But it is not forbidden by the Constitution.  After getting what he wanted from the agreement, Nouri and his lackeys began to insist that it couldn't be honored because it was unconstitutional.  It's not.  If it is unconstitutional then the Parliament needs to vote on a PM because they haven't freely done that, they've allowed Nouri to become prime minister-designate (and then prime minister) in spite of the Constitution.  An argument can be made that the only known aspect of the Erbil Agreement that might be unconstitutional would be Nouri being PM since the Constitution is specific on how you become prime minister designate (Nouri didn't meet those qualifications and he knows it, that's why he implemented the eight month stalemate) and since it is specific on how you then move to prime minister. 

For those who've forgotten, a prime minster-designate is judged to be competent to be prime minister by forming a Cabinet in 30 days.  That is nominating the people and get the Parliament to vote on each one.  A Cabinet is a Cabinet.  The Constitution doesn't allow for half Cabinets or partials.  Nouri was unable to name a full Cabinet in 30 days (actually more than 30 -- as usual Jalal Talabani broke the Constitution for Nouri thereby allowing him more than 30 days).  The Constitution is clear that if you do not form a Cabinet in 30 days, a new person is picked to be prime minister-designate.

Nouri failed.  Among the posts empty when he was wrongly and unconstitutionally moved to prime minister were all three of the security posts.  He had no Minister of the Interior, no Minister of Defense and no Minister of Natioanl Security. 

For those who want to claim that a full Cabinet wasn't what was intended, that's a flat out lie.  The Constitutionw as written in 2005, not 80 years ago, not 100.  There is only one requirement to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister: building your Cabinet.

And for those who still can't grasp that this means every seat, every post, then at least have the brains -- if not the integrity -- to grasp that there is no way in hell that the Constitution ever intended for Minister of the Defense (army) or Minister of Interior (police) to be empty posts.


When Nouri refused to announce them in December 2010, "critics" (so labeled by the press) turned out to be prophets.  They stated that Nouri wouldn't fill them in the next few weeks (as the press claimed), they siad it was a power grab.  All this time later, these posts are still not filled.

Which is why Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com), reporting on Moqtada's visit to Erbil, observes, "Removing Maliki could be harder than it seems, however, as he is not only the prime minister but the acting Interior Minister, Defense Minister, National Security Minister and chief of military staff. This gives him de facto control over the entire national army and police force."
Massoud Barzani has stated that a solution must be arrived at by the start of September (or the Kurds may include choices on the ballots of their provincial elections).  Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi are calling for a national conference to address the political crisis.  Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi tells AFP, "We could enjoy a prime minister from the Shiite national alliance on the ground that he is committed to power sharing ... and he keeps all Iraqis equally according to the constitution.  This is all what we are dreaming, this is all what we are looking for."
Turning to the United States . . .
Senator Jon Tester: There is a stigma in this country -- and probably in the world
 -- but definitely in America, in the United States, attached to mental health
issues -- injuires.  There are  -- I have multiple stories about folks who won't
go get treatment because they're afraid it wll be on their record,  of afraid they
won't be able to get a job, afraid it might impact the job they do have,
perception by family, friends, colleagues.  Does the VA have an active education
pogram to try to reach out to those folks,  to let them now that this part of --
this is -- as Major General [Thomas S.]  Jones says, it's increasing, it's present,
it's growing and it's not uncommon. Is there -- Is there some kind of education or
outreach going on?
William Schoenhard: Yeah.  Yes, Senator.  There's Make The Connection
Initiative that has just been undertaken. I think it gets back to the primary
care integration of mental health where we're able to screen for PTSD.  And
the other aspect of care that we haven't mentioned today is the vet centers --
Senator Jon Tester: Yes.
William Scoenhard:  -- who are also ways veterans can approach for help if they
have -- for whatever reasons -- reluctance to access the traditional system.
That's from Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  Appearing before the Committee was the Dept of Veterans Affairs' William Schoenhard and Mary Schoh, Iraq War veteran Nick Tolentino who testified about what he observed while working for the VA, Outdoor Odyssey's retired Major General Thomas Jones and VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Diagh.  Four senators participated including Committee Chair Patty Murray, acting Ranking Member Scott Brown, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Jerry Moran.  What was the hearing about?
Chair Patty Murray: Today's hearing builds upon two hearings held last year.  At each of the previous hearings, the Committee heard from the VA how accessible mental health care services were.  This was inconsistent with what we heard from veterans and the VA mental health care providers.  So last year, following the July hearing, I asked the Department to survey its own health care providers to get a better assessment of the situation.  The results as we all now know were less than satisfactory.  Among the findings, we learned that nearly 40% of the providers surveyed could not schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within the 14 days. Over 40% could not schedule an established patient within 14 days of their desired appointment.  And 70% reported inadequate staffing or space to meet the mental health care needs.  The second hearing, held in November, looked at the discrepancy between what the VA was telling us and what the providers were saying.  We heard from a VA provider and other experts about the critical importance of access to the right type of care delivered timely by qualified mental health professionals.  At last November's hearing, I announced that I would be asking VA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities. I want to thank the IG for their tremendous efforts in addressing such an enormous request.  The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling.  We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment and I'm glad the IG has brought those concerns to light.
If there's any confusion, McClatchy Newspapers are featuring an editorial by the editorial board of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (one  of the newspapers McClatchy owns).  It notes the VA problems that were addressed in the hearing. Excerpt:


Even though the Veterans Health Administration reported in 2011 that 95 percent of veterans received a comprehensive mental exam within 14 days of requesting one (the time frame in agency policy), the actual number was 49 percent, the inspector general reported this week. It took an average of 50 days to provide a full evaluation for the rest, the report said.
"VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services," the inspector general said.
Part of the problem is with the way records are kept: Schedulers don't always follow the rules, and the lag between referral by a primary care physician and the evaluation might not be reflected properly.
Part of the problem is a shortage of personnel, particularly psychiatrists. Officials knew the data-keeping was problematic; the inspector general pointed it out in reports in 2005 and 2007.
They also knew of the growing staffing needs and, in fact, increased personnel 46 percent from 2005 to 2010, the report said. But in an informal survey of VA mental-health professionals, requested by Congress, 71 percent of those responding said their centers didn't have enough people to keep up. A veteran seeking treatment at the VA medical center in Salisbury, N.C., for instance, had to wait 86 days to see a psychiatrist, the IG said.
We covered the hearing in Wednesday's snapshot.  Kat offered her take and conclusions in "Fire everyone at the VA."    Ava covered it at  Trina's site with "Scott Brown: It's clearly not working (Ava)" and what she emphasized was the exchange between Brown and Schoenhard with Brown growing more and more irritated at Schoenhard who did not want to answer questions and did not want to own the problem.  From Ava's report, this is when Brown tried to get answers as to why there were delays in care but referrals outside the VA were not being utilized.
Again, it had long ago been established that only 2% had been referred out last year.  But Schoenhard wanted to insist on top of the referral issue that the VA was providing veterans with immediate care.

Before we go further, grasp that the IG report already demonstrated that Schoenhard's claim was false.  Grasp that.



Senator Scott Brown: But they're not.  But they're not.


William Schoenhard:  They should be.


Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not!


William Schoenhard:  We have an obligation to be sure that they are.



Senator Scott Brown:  But they're not!


Then Schoenhard wanted to argue that the VA can provide the best care.

Brown responded, "Sir, with all due respect, that's not happening. That's why we're here.  It's clearly not working."



 Wally covered the hearing at  Rebecca's site with "VA paid out nearly $200 million in bonuses last year (Wally)" and he emphasized Brown's shock over the vast amount of money VA's paying out in bonuses.  Excerpt.
Brown's other big issue was that the country's in a fiscal nightmare.  And yet the VA -- which has had one scandal after another -- is handing out bonuses.
There's been the failure to send out the GI Bill checks.  There's the alarming suicide rate of veterans.  There's lying about the time wait for appointments.  We could go on and on.  So the point is, bonuses are being handed out.
You might not think it's a big deal.  Do you know how much the VA gave out last year in bonuses?
Remember this is on top of the salary and wages they paid.  In 2011, Brown noted that the VA paid out $194 million in bonuses.  Nearly $200 million dollars.  Brown asked what the average salary was for someone receiving a bonus and the VA's William Schoenhard wanted to take that for the record.
On top of that, Schoenhard felt the VA deserved credit for keeping the number so low.  Brown was shocked and asked if Schoenhard was saying that in years prior to 2011 over $200 million was paid in bonuses?  Yep.
Again, only four Committee members were present.  Moran used his time mainly, as he noted, to allow someone to talk about a program that was working -- a non-VA program. Since I didn't note Moran Wednesday, we're going to include a little of  that today.
Senator Jerry Moran:  Part of my interest in this topic is coming from a state as rural as Kansas in which our access to mental health professionals is perhaps even more limited than more urban and suburban states.  And we need to take advantage of the wide array of professional services that are available at every opportunity.  And so I'm here to encourage you -- now that you've made that announcement, let's bring it to fruition. And thank you for reaching the conclusion and getting us to this point.  I want to direct my question to General Jones. I thank you very much for your Semper Fi Odyssey efforts. I had a Kansan visit with me in the last month who has organized a program -- I don't know whether it's modeled after what you're doing -- it's the same kind of focus and effort.  And it's somewhat related to the conversations and questions of Senator Tester about the stigma or lack of willingness to admit that one needs help, the lack of knowledge of what programs are available, how to connect the veteran with what's there.  I wanted to give you the opportunity to educate me and perhaps others on what it is that you've been able to do to bring that veteran who is not likely to know of the existence of your program or programs like yours.  And, secondly, what can be done to overcome the reluctance of military men and women and veterans to access what is available -- such as your program.
Major General Thomas Jones:  Thank you, sir.  Well first off, I think that the Semper Fi Fund that I've been a board member of is --  provides the ability for these veterans to come. Admittedly, most of the veterans that come back to the case workers of Sempre Fi Fund have some problems or they wouldn't be there. I mean, they've had a difficult time making the transition. So when they arrive in western Pennsylvania for one of the weeklong sessions, they arrive with a major degree of skepticism and very tentative and we try to restore them to what was really the strength of their experience in the Marine Corps: the team, the cohesion, team building and basially restoring their trust.  I would say -- trust in the system and trust in others.  I think my work through the Semper Fi Odyssey because of the mental health professionals that have come in and really bought into the program and really advertised the program and allowed me to speak to other groups led me to a project I'm doing with the Institute of Defense Analysis, sponsored by OSD, that looks at best practices.  So, you know, I was a Marine for a long time, we never talked much about mental health issues until recently.  As a Vietnam platoon commander, we never talked about it.  But now there are programs in the Marine Corps and I would say the army too -- Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in the army; Marine Corps' program is Operational Stress Control and Readiness.  It's a great program. But it's not easy to overcome the stigma and the program really rests on the strength of the NCO. No Major General's going to ride into  a Marine Corps squad or platoon or company and build immediate trust.  It's going to come from the NCO. So overcoming that skepticism, that chasm of trust, is difficult but it's happening -- especially those units that have deployed four and five times, young NCOs, young officers are seeing the power of what a squad leader or a platoon commander can do to identify problems when they're still in the category of combat stress injuries and haven't migrated to combat stress illnesses. I think that's the strength of the Marine Corps program. I think the problem -- this is only my opinion now -- of the army program is that it's very well built, the application is not focused on the young NCO as is the Marine Corps program. And I don't say it because I'm a Marine.  I just sense that the NCO identifying in Iraq or Afghanistan, if there's a problem, you can start the dialogue right then, you can start the reconciliation process right then.  You don't have to wait six months after he returns and he's got this problem in his mental wall locker and he pulls out then when he's by himself. So we try to restore and very successfuly restore because all these veterans have come in and actually volunteered their services. 
 
So in one form or another, the above and the work by Kat, Ava, Wally and the Wednesday snapshot have covered the bulk of the points raised in the hearing. 
On the topic of helping veterans, Tuesday Iraq War veteran Jason Moon will take part in a fundraiser for Soldier's Heart at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 246 S. Church St., Grass Valley, California.  The event, which kicks off at 6:00 pm,  is open to the public and free but there is a suggested donation rate of $10.
 
The things that I have done that I regret
The things I seen, I won't forget
For this life and so many more
And I'm trying to find my way home
Child inside me is long dead and gone
Somewhere between lost and alone
Trying to find my way home
-- "Trying To Find My Way Home," written by Jason Moon, from Moon's latest album Trying To Find My Way Home

Iraq War veteran Rick Collier (with No Soldier Left Behind) shares his PTSD story at The Oregonian.  Excerpt:


My time in country left me with traumas and exposures no human should see or be a part of. It also created an environment in which hazing and death threats were part of my ritual coming from my NCO. Without knowing it, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) soon became my reality and at 18 I started to lose control of my life.
Shortly after my return my best friend Daniel Parker died in Iraq. I was the lead pallbearer for his military funeral. After losing Daniel, I felt I lost everything. I struggled with lack of family and support upon my return and found Daniel's death, combined with my PTSD, set me over the edge.
I tried getting help from my command. I spoke with my NCOs in charge and even a Sgt from another platoon. I couldn't take the harassment from my NCO both in country and at home, topped with PTSD and the loss of my best friend. With lack of help I began to drink and numb my pain. My suicidal ideation grew and I began to lose sight of who I was. I ended up going UA (unauthorized absence) with suicide in mind.
When I was brought back to base by Marine Corps Chasers I soon found myself in the brig again with no help from my command. I was left to deal with PTSD in a cell, like a POW. After a couple months in the brig I was court martialed and given a Bad Conduct Discharge. All I needed was help, I never wanted out.
After being discharged, I was released from duty and sent on my way. Here I was a combat vet, a kid, just left out on the street to fend for myself. Not once did I get mental health treatment. It took me two years after my discharge to finally figure out I had PTSD. It took me doing my own research, trying to help myself, to put all the pieces together from symptoms I was showing. It hurt having to do it alone.

And then Collier got help, right?  Wrong.  That's when he begins a long struggle to get the treatment he needs.  That involved the VA, getting a discharge upgrade and much more.  His experience and wanting to assist in others in the same situation led to his founding No Soldier Left Behind
 We'll close with this from the Feminist Majority Foundation:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 27, 2012
Contact: Hannah Gordon, 703-522-2214, media@feminist.org
Feminist Majority Board Member Dolores Huerta to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar, and Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin issued the following joint statement on the announcement that Board Member Dolores Huerta will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:The Feminist Majority Foundation and its board salutes our colleague and friend Dolores Huerta for all of her historic achievements for social justice and equality. We are very proud that she will be awarded by President Barack Obama the highest civilian award.

In response to the announcement, Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin said, "No one deserves this honor more than Dolores Huerta. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who work the farm fields of this country and has been an incredible advocate for women and girls' empowerment."

President Eleanor Smeal said, "For some 25 years, we have worked very closely with Dolores Huerta in our fight for women's equality, civil rights, and worker's rights. Dolores is an inspiration to all of us at all times. She is dedicated to win equality for women in the state house and Congress and she has significantly increased the number of Latina women running for office."

Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar praised Dolores' work, saying, "It has been my great honor to work with Dolores for nearly 25 years to empower women and girls and secure our fundamental rights. I have learned enormously through her example. Despite the hardship she has seen and the difficulties she has endured, she is the single most optimistic person I have ever known. There is nothing that can't be done when Dolores Huerta is involved."
pbs

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Smash

Smash news.

1) It's ratings were up Monday.

2) Debra Messing is the one the show's pushing as lead actress for the Emmys.

3) The new producer is known.  James Hibbard (EW) reports:


Who’s going to take over NBC’s Smash as showrunner for season two?
EW.com has learned the gig is going to Gossip Girl writer and executive producer Josh Safran.

Yes, this will take the show more towards the soap opera side.  That is the plan. 

Now it's obvious.

My thoughts on the above?

If Anjelica Huston had more screen time, I'd debate the issue.  But she's only recently started to get the needed airtime.

So that leaves Debra Messing and the Karen-Ivy pair.  Debra Messing has done a really strong job and she's the best choice for the show to land a nomination and help the show with a little more attention.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, tensions continue to rise between Iraq and Turkey, the US Veterans Affairs Committee has been caught lying about wait time for veterans seeking health care, a witness calls for a cultural change at VA, and more.
 
 
An important hearing took place in DC this morning.  Before it started, Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio) was explaining the problem.  Excerpt.
 
Larry Abramson: Over the past five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs says the number of former service members seeking mental health services has climbed by a third. In response, the agency has boosted funding, and tightened standards. Now, any vet asking for help is supposed to be evaluated within 24 hours and start treatment within two weeks. The VA has claimed that happens in the vast majority of cases. But a new investigation by the agency's inspector general says the VA statistics are skewed to make wait times appear shorter. [. . ] The inspector general's report says rather than starting the clock from the moment a vet asks for mental health care, the VA has been counting from whenever the first appointment came available. That could add weeks or months to the wait time. So while the VA has been saying 95 percent of vets were seen as quickly as they were supposed to be, actually, nearly 100,000 patients had to wait much longer.
 
 
"Today's hearing builds upon two hearings held last year," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order.  "At each of the previous hearings, the Committee heard from the VA how accessible mental health care services were.  This was inconsistent with what we heard from veterans and the VA mental health care providers.  So last year, following the July hearing, I asked the Department to survey its own health care providers to get a better assessment of the situation.  The results as we all now know were less than satisfactory.  Among the findings, we learned that nearly 40% of the providers surveyed could not schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within the 14 days. Over 40% could not schedule an established patient within 14 days of their desired appointment.  And 70% reported inadequate staffing or space to meet the mental health care needs.  The second hearing, held in November, looked at the discrepancy between what the VA was telling us and what the providers were saying.  We heard from a VA provider and other experts about the critical importance of access to the right type of care delivered timely by qualified mental health professionals.  At last November's hearing, I announced that I would be asking VA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities. I want to thank the IG for their tremendous efforts in addressing such an enormous request.  The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling.  We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment and I'm glad the IG has brought those concerns to light."
 
There was one panel. William Schoenhard and Mary Schohn were among those present representing the Dept of Veterans Affairs, Iraq War veteran Nick Tolentino was present as a former VA employee who had an understanding of how the VA worked (and didn't work), Outdoor Odyssey's retired Major General Thomas Jones shared his thoughts and observations, and the VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Daigh. 
 
We'll jump to this exchange where Committee Chair Patty Murray questioned the VA.
 
Chair Patty Murray: First, let me say that I'm very happy that the VA is finally acknowledging the problem.  When the Department is saying there's near perfect compliance but every other indication is that there are major problems, I think it is an incredible failure of leadership that no one was looking into this. In fact, when you sit at that table before this Committee, we expect you to take seriously the issues that are raised here. It should not take multiple hearings and surveys and letters and ultimately an IG investigation to get you to act. I  also would like to suggest that if the reality on the ground could be so far off from what central office thought was happening as it relates to mental health, then you better take a very hard look at some of the other areas of care for similar disconnects. Now what we have heard from the IG is very, very troubling. For months now, we have been questioning whether Central Office had a full understanding of the situation out in the field and I believe the IG report has very clearly shown that you do not. So I want to start by asking you today, after hearing from this Committee, from veterans, from providers and from outside experts, why you were not proactive about this problem months ago.
 
William Schoenhard:  Chairman Murray, we have been looking at mental health for, uh, many years, as you know. With the support of the Congress, we increased our capacity and hired about 8,000 new providers between 2007 and 201.  We relied primarily on a uniform mental health handbook that would be the source of the way in which we would deliver care to our nation's veterans. That has been the focus of the department to ensure that we're getting evidence-based therapies and a staffing model that is largely based on the handbook put out in 2009.  I think what we have learned in this journey -- and we have been wanting to work with our providers -- is a number of things.  As I mentioned in my opening statement, the way in which we measure these performance measures is not a good measure of wait time. We want to work very closely with the IG and with, uh, any resources that are available to assist us in ensuring that we provide veteran centered performance measures --
 
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Shoenfield, with all due respect, I think back in 2005 the IG said this information was there.  So that's a long time with a lot of veterans in between.  So my question is how are you going to address that growing gap that we've seen --
 
William Schoenhard: Well I --
 
Chair Patty Murray:  -- between what Central Office believes and what's actually happening out there.
 
William Schoenhard: As Dr. Daigh described in our response to the IG report, we have a number of things going on.  One is first we have a working group that will report this summer on a new set of performance measures that includes providers on the ground assisting us with ensuring us that we develop measures in conjunction with support from the IG that are really veteran-centered -- that are centered on a veteran's individual condition and one in which we can revamp and go forward. We fully embrace that our performance measurement system needs to be revised and we will be doing that with the work of people on the front lines to assist us.  We have the benefit of, uh, these mental health site visits that are assisting us.  We're learning as we go on other issues to do with scheduling and all of this effort is assisting us in not just having people at Central Office develop proposed solutions but to engage the field the way that we need to in order to ensure that we're veteran-centered and we're able to support our providers in delivering this care.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  I-I appreciate that but it is very troubling to me that this didn't happen five, ten years ago.  That we're just now, after months of this, years of this, that that disconnect is there.  But we'll go back to that because I  want to ask Mr. Tolentino and I really appreciate your willingness to come forward today and I believe your testimony is going to be very helpful to addressing many of the changes that are needed in a timely fashion.  In your testimony, you suggested that VA institute more extensive oversight into how mental health care is actually delivered and funds are spent.  Given how adept many of the facility administrators are at getting around the current system without being caught, how do you think the VA can most effectively perform that oversight?
 
Nick Tolentino: Madam Chairman, to be perfectly honest, I don't have a very good answer for you because of the fact that the gaming is so prevalent.  As soon as something is put out, it is torn apart to look to see what the work-around is.  I-I feel that the reports -- the reporting is -- It's very redundant reporting that feels like it goes nowhere, there's no feedback loop.  It's one way.  We're telling you exactly what -- and most of the times you want to hear -- we did at the facilities and even at the network.  But there's no coming back and rechecking or coming back with feedback to say, 'Well you said you spent the money on these services but there's no workload to verify it. There's nothing concrete to speak to what you say you've done.'  I'm remembering in the short time that I -- that I worked there, many times we got vast amounts of financial monies for different programs but very, very seldomly did we get requests to verify what we've done with work load, with any kind of feedback reports or anything like that. So I think opening the lines of communication and development of feedback loop would be very helpful -- and a very transparent feedback loop at that.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Mr. Shcoenhard, my time is out and I want to turn it over to Senator Brown. But I do want to address an important issue here.  The Department has announced 1600 new mental health care providers and I appreciate that step, I think it's really needed but I am concerned that VA hospitals all across the country are going to run into the same hurdles that Spokane VA has been in not being able to hire health staff and I hope that medical centers are doing everything including using all available hiring incentives to fill those vacancies.  And I assure you, that is the next question this Committee is going to look at. But I want to ask you specifically, how are you going to make sure the 1600 new health care providers that you announced don't become 1600 new vacancies?
 
William Schoenhard:  Chairman Murray, that's a very important question.  And we have stood up in our human resources group and our VHA workforce two task forces to assist us with this.  One is the Recruitment and Retention of mental health providers with particular focus on psychiatry.  That's where our greatest need and problem is in retaining and recruiting mental health providers.  The second task force is a Hiring Task Force.  That is what can we be doing to expedite and make sure that we are having the process of recruitment as speedily as possible.  The group has put together a number of good recommendations that we will be implementing. Part of what Dr. Daigh spoke of earlier in terms of our four-part mission, one of our great assests -- having been in the private sector for many years before coming to VA -- is that many mental health providers including hundreds of trainees today get part of their training in VA and have the opportunity to experience us going forward.  We need to better link with these trainees and ensure that we have a warm hand-off for employment when they finish this.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Okay, that's one issue but then how you arrived at your staffing plan is really unclear to me.
 
William Schoenhard:  Oh, I'm sorry.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  The new 1600 mental health providers that you allocated, the information that we got from the department yesterday on where that was going to go isn't supported by any concrete evidence or facts.  In fact, the VISN 20 director told Senator [Mark]  Begich and I that she learned about the new positions only a couple of days ago, didn't know if it was sufficient and didn't know how the department even reached those numbers. So I want to ask you how did you arrive at that number 1600 and what makes you confident that it's going to be effectively placed across the country?  What is the plan -- staffing plan -- that you used to do that?
 
William Schoenhard:  Thank you.  Uh, I'm sorry, I misunderstood the question and I'm going to ask Dr. Schohn who may want to embellish on that.  We used a model that looks at the volume of services and I wonder if Dr. Schoen might speak to this? We are piloting this in 3 VISINs.  I would be happy to answer further.
 
Mary Schohn: Thank you. Yes, as part of our response to the Committee in November, we planned to develop a staffing model.  The staffing model --
 
Chair Patty Murray:  I'm sorry.  You planned to -- planned to develop a staffing plan?  It's not yet in place?
 
Mary Schohn:  No, no.  We did develop the staffing model.  But we submitted to you that that was part of our action plan in November. We developed the staffing model. We're in the process of implementing it in VISNs 1, 4 and 22 to -- to understand how to implement it so we don't want to simply say, 'Here's the number of staff,' without actually a plan for how this rolled out.  Is this really the right number of staff to really evaluate how well and how effective this methodology is?  Our plan, however, also is not to wait until we get a full evaluation of this plan but basically to staff up so that we'll be fully ready to implement this plan throughout the country by the end of the fiscal year. So we will have -- we are planning --  the plan itself is based idnetification of existing staff at facilities, the veteran population, the range of services offered and the demand for services. And our plan is to be able to use this to project the need so that we will have a standard so that we will have a standard model in the future that is empirically validated, that we will all know how many staff is needed.
 
Murray then passed to Senator Scott Brown who was serving as Ranking Member on the Committee in Senator Richard Burr's absence.  Ava will be covering Scott Brown at Trina's site tonight. Kat will offer her impressions on the hearing at her own site tonight and Wally will be reporting on the hearing at Rebecca's site tonight (and probably covering Scott Brown as well -- in terms of money issues).  We'll move over to some of Jon Tester's questions. Only four Senators were present for this hearing: Chair Murray, acting  Ranking Member Scott Brown, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Jerry Moran.  Both Moran and Tester have rural concers due to their states (Moran represents Kansas, Tester represents Montana).
 
 
Senator Jon Tester: Just from a rural persepctive, I will tell you that one of the reasons the VA can't contract out in a rural state like Montana is because the private sector doesn't have anymore mental health professionals than the VA has.  And I just want to point that out because it's -- it's mental health professionals -- whether it's in the private sector or the VA -- getting these folks is a big problem.  And I very much appreciate Mr. Tolentino's statements about nobody's going to go to work for a year or two years in the VA when, in fact, in the private sector, they have much more predictability in their jobs.  So we need to take that into consideration when we start allocating dollars for the VA to make sure that they have the advantage to compete. And I very much appreciate that perspective. Along those same lines, I just want to ask -- Senator Brown was right in the area of 1500 positions open and an additional 1900 so there is about 3400 positions.  They may not all be psychiatrists, they may not all be clinicians.  But how you're going to fill those in an area where the private sector's sucking folks up because this is a big issue there too.  And the VA, it's interesting to me.  Do you have an allocation by VISN of these 1600 folks?  And if you do -- Do you? Could we get a list of those?
William Schoenhard:  Yes, sir.
 
Senator Jon Tester:  And how they're going to be allocated?
 
William Schoenhard:  Yes, sir.
 
Senator Jon Tester:  And the metrics.  I know you talked about metrics -- number of veterans and that kind of stuff.  Could you give me a list of metrics on why the number are there?  How many are going to be psychiatrists, how many of them are going to be nurses, clinicians?  Are any of them going to be psychologists?
 
William Schoenhard:  Uh, sir, we are leaving to VISN in discussion with the facilities, they could be psychologists --
 
Senator Jon Tester:  Okay.
 
William Schoenhard:  -- they could be family therapists -- a variety of different health care providers.
 
Senator Jon Tester: Okay, thank you. And when it comes to contracting out, do you guys typically only use psychiatrists?  Or can you use psychologists too?
 
William Schoenhard:  No, we can contract with others.
 
 
Senator Jon Tester:  Super. That's good.  Because there are some -- there are some accessibility to those folks in place.  I like Montana. I want to put two things that Mr. Tolentino said along with Major General Jones said.  Major General Jones, I want to thank you for what you're doing. I very much appreciate it.  Mr. Tolentino said when he was there it was fairly common if someone came in with a problem, don't ask if there's another issue.  There are all sorts of correlations here that are wrong but I just want to tell you that, okay, if that's done -- and I believe he's probably right because then we can have a problem.  But if you combine that with what Maj Jones said, that the folks that he's working with, the major stressor is unknown.  We've got a problem in our system here.  Because the only way you're going to find out how to get to the real root of the problem when it comes to mental health -- and I'm not a mental health professional -- is that you've got to find out what that stressor is, you've got to find out what created that problem.  Does that kind of -- Well let me just ask you.  If you had a VA professional in one of the CBOCs [Community-Based Outpatient Clinics] or in one of the hospitals, do you tell their people: Don't ask any questions because we don't want to know?  I'm hoping to hell that doesn't come from your end. And why would they do that?
 
William Schoenhard:  Sir, if that is being done, that is totally unacceptable.
 
 
If it's being done, it's unacceptable?  That's a rather interesting comment.  If the VA hadn't lied about wait time, the hearing wouldn't have been called.  Had Schoenhard been asked if the VA was lying about wait time a month ago, he most likely would have replied, "If that is being done, that is totally unacceptable."  What's totally unacceptable is that the supervision level of the VA doesn't appear able to do their job.  They're in supervision for a reason and that is, yes, to supervise.  So all these things that are going wrong -- these things they allegedly know nothing about and certainly didn't encourage -- these fall on them. Training apparently needs to be done at extremely high levels of the VA to explain review what job duties are and what these duties entail.  There is no oversight at the VA.  That's been clear for some time now.
 
Again, the VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Daigh.  We'll note this exchange near the end of the hearing.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Dr. Daigh, let me turn to you.  As you well know, it's hard enough to get veterans in the VA system to receive mental health care. Once a veteran does take a step to reach out for help, we need to knock down every potential barrier to care. Clearly the report your team produced shows a huge gap between the time that the VA says it takes to get veterans mental health care and the reality of how long it actually takes them to get seen at facilities across our country.  Now VA has concurred with all of your recommendations but I think it's clear we all have some real concerns because some of these issues have been problems for years. So can you address a question of what you think it would take the VA to get this right this time?
 
Dr. John Daigh: I think, uhm, to begin with the veteran population is dispersed across the country and the VA is not evenly dispersed across the country so those veterans that go to fixed facilities to receive their care, the VA -- I'm guessing -- is probably trying to address in this current plan for 1600 people. I haven't come across any details of the plans.  So I think the first issue is to realize you have a problem where you have facilities and where you don't have facilities.  Then I think the second problem is that, as has been stated here, there simply are not enough mental health providers to hire off the street in a timely fashion, I believe.  I mean we looked at it the other day.  There's something like 1200 psychiatry graduates a year in this country from our medical schools so there is a limited pool and there's a great deal of demand for mental health providers.  In our discussions with private sector, they said that because of the downturn of the economy and other factors that the non-VA, non-military demand had also gone up in their experience, ten and twenty percent in the last couple of years. So I think when I look -- We were asked several years ago to go look at access to mental health care in Montana.  And it was a very interesting review for me in that Montana VA had linked up with the community health centers in Montana and I believe -- I may be -- I may be out of date by a couple of years since we did it a couple of years ago but they were, there was an organization of community health centers and by allowing veterans to go to those community health centers which were usually staffed by psychologists and social workers, usually not by physicians, they were able to dramatically improve the access time to get folks to talk to competent people in their neighborhood, in their city, to get some care. I think in order to make that care cohesive, as Mr. Tolentino said, you've got to be able to get medical records back and forth so that there's a coordination of care. So I think the all hands on deck idea is one that I fully endorse and one where if I look at some of the cases -- tragic cases --  we've looked at, in the past it was not infrequent for veterans to show up at a mental health center in their town and because they were veterans, they were sent to the VA and there was not a link, they were not accepted or there was no payment mechanism or there was no authority. So I think that would be a useful step. Secondly, I think you really have to sit down and, as bad as metrics are, you do have to sit down and model what you do and figure out what demand is and try to lay out a business case for what you're doing.
 
Chair Patty Murray: Is that in place at the VA today?
 
Dr. John Daigh: Um, I don't believe that they have for mental health the level of business plan that I think they should have.  Nor do I think they have it for most specializations.
 
 
Daigh's suggestions resulted in a number of people nodding their heads and, as Chair Murray noted, the VA had agreed with the recommendation in the report from Daigh's office.  His responses were common sense ones. So why did the brain trust of the VA need someone from the IG office to make these very basic and obvious recommendations for them?
 
Linda Halliday would note her opinion that the lying about wait time meant that there was a need for "a culture change" at VA.  She's right.  She also called for holding "the facility directors accountable for how well the data is actually being captured."  There needs to be accountability, there needs to be a cultural change.  Nothing in today's hearing provided any indication that there would be.  Senator Murray was very clear in her closing marks which included, ". . . I want to make it very clear, this is not something we're going to have a hearing on and leave and go do something else tomorrow.  This has to be taken care of. We owe it to these men and women."  She was very clear.  But the VA's attitude didn't seem overly concerned and that was only more true as the hearing concluded and three of them ambled towards the door laughing and joking and clearly not bothered by the warnings, by the reprimands, by anything.  Repeating, I don't doubt that Murray means it.  I don't doubt that Scott Brown is fed up with it.  Tester tries to word things more nicely but it was clear he was irritated.  But that hearing had no visible effect on the VA staff that should have walked out of that hearing feeling something other than good humor. 
 
 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues; however, it may be overshadowed by the regional crisis Nouri has created.  Tariq Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) offers this assessment:

With regards to Iraq, al-Maliki is profoundly at odds with the Sunnis, and wants to imprison his deputy, Tareq al-Hashemi. He has also clashed with the Kurds, as well as the Sadrists loyal to Iran, and even with [Abdulaziz] al-Hakim. He is also got involved in an intense dispute with the Iraqiya bloc, led by Dr. Iyad Allawi. So what left for Mr. al-Maliki after all this? Regionally, and in terms of the Arab world, al-Maliki does not have any normal relations with the influential Arab countries of the region, or any countries in the region for that matter, with the exception of Iran. Al-Maliki has launched attacks on Saudi Arabia in language not worthy of a diplomat, let alone a Prime Minister, and he has done the same with Qatar, and now with Turkey! This is not all of course, as al-Maliki is also the one who said: "the [al-Assad] regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?", despite all that the Baathist tyrant of Damascus has done to the Syrian people. Iraq is now creating passageways to help the al-Assad regime by transferring weapons and money and smuggling oil. So what left after all this? How can al-Maliki say that Turkey is a hostile country, inciting sectarianism in Iraq, while Tehran launches an attack on [Massoud] Barzani, on the eve of al-Maliki's visit to Iran, and also accuses al-Hashemi of wanting to restore Sunni rule in Iraq with the support of Saudi Arabia?


And Nouri's stepped in it again prompting State of Law (his political slate) surrogates to rush to the media to play another round of When Nouri Said ____, He Meant ___.  Nouri's called for a federation of Iraq and Iran.  No surprise, that call has alarmed many Iraqis.  Al Rafidayn quotes a State of Law-er insisting Nouri was using a metaphor.  (Ask Nouri to define "metaphor" and, if he can do that, I might believe it.)   Iraq has good relations with Iran, insists Nouri's surrogates, but they do not want to jeopardize their relationship with others. Alsumaria also carries the we-don't-really-want-a-federation-despite-what-Nouri-said story.  Nouri just wrapped up a visit to Tehran, one would assume he could speak plainly.  To listen to State of Law, that's not the case.


The World Bulletin notes Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Minister of Turkey, has rejected Nouri al-Maliki's accusations that Turkey is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs and quotes Davutoglu stating, "Turkey's Iraq policy is quite clear and we have been a direct part of any controversy in Iraq.  We want that all our Iraqi brothers, Shiites, Sunnis, Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds live in peace and in prosperity."  Turkey's one of Iraq's largest regional trading partners. Joe Parkinson (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The two countries have in recent years enjoyed a fast-expanding trade relationship.  Iraq is now Turkey's second-largest trading partner after Germany, with trade swelling 40% to reach $12 billion last year, according to Turkey's government.  However, more than half of that volume is between Turkey and Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region."  This war he's declared on Turkey really doesn't help Iraq nor does it improve relations with the Arabic states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc) that Nouri's already on shaky ground with.   Tony Karon (Time) notes:


And these days, it's not only Iraqi politicians that are courting the Kurds. Turkey last week feted Barzani in Ankara, rolling out the red carpet and affording him a meeting with Turkey's President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and he recently returned from a visit to Washington D.C. where he met with senior Administration officials. Those visits seemed to amplify Barzani's defiance of Baghdad in a dispute over oil revenues, with the KRG prime minister accusing Maliki of paving the way for a return to dictatorship, and warning that absent "radical solutions and a specific time-frame to resolve the present crisis … we will resort to other decisions" -- a not-so-veiled threat to declare independence from Iraq.
Independence, of course, remains the historical goal of Kurdish Iraqis, and a referendum on the issue staged in 2005 saw some 98% vote to break away from Iraq. Geopolitical realities, however, has required a curbing of that popular sentiment. Iraqi Kurdistan is small and landlocked, and while it possesses significant oil reserves, it would require the cooperation of one of its powerful neighbors --Turkey, Iran or Iraq -- to pipe that oil to market. Also, the KRG was carved out in large part because the U.S., which had just overthrown Saddam Hussein, helped ensure its emergence, but made clear it was not ready to support a breakup of Iraq.

Al Rafidayn reports that it's been decided to open up 50% of Baghdad's main streets over the next 45 days due to traffic congestion and other issues.  Dar Addustour notes there is some concern that barriers that have protected various political party offices may also be lifted.  Their fears may be justified and AFP reports that today saw "the offices of two of Iraq's top four Shiite clerics in the central city of Najaf [attacked] with sound bombs".
 
 
 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Smash: Rebecca really wants to help Karen?

Smash airs Monday nights in NBC's final hour of prime time (and you can stream it online at the link).  The latest episode had the usual numbers of twists and turns.

Karen got stabbed in the back by Ellis.  I think Rebecca (Uma Thurman) saved her.

Julia.  Let's start with her.  Debra Messing plays Julia and does a great job.  It's a shame the writers don't.  We didn't need more crap from her nearly full grown son.  Honestly, when he disappears and they finally find where he's hiding, it shouldn't be, "Oh, we're so happy."  He's too old for that nonsense.  He knew better than to disappear.  He was already doing poorly in school, got caught by Julia with pot, swore he wouldn't do it again, got busted by the police after that, there needs to be more structure for that child. 

I felt like he was being used to bring Julia and her husband back together.  That's fine it Leo's just a plot device.

But the Leo storyline demonstrated just how awful Tom the character and, yes, the actor are. 

Is he a gay man or is he Auntie Mame?

When he and Sam should be focused on their relationship, Sam has to ask what's wrong instead?  Why is Tom so on edge?  Tom, near tears, says Leo's disappeared.

That was way too damn much. It was over the top acting.  It was bad writing.

Tom needs to be recast or cut from the show.  There's no reason to have him and, honestly, Will & Grace was a step forward in the 90s.  I'm not in the mood for everyone hops in bed and has sex and the cameras on them except when it's Tom and whichever boyfriend -- in that case we join them after. 

I'm not in the mood for it.

Again, he's coming on like Auntie Mame.

Either he's a person in his own right or he's not.  He needs to stop obsessing over Julia's marriage and Julia's child and start getting a life of his own.  He's pathetic.

I said Anjelica Huston looked good last week, the best she had on the show.  That continued this week in terms of the fashions.  In addition, she had a haircut that was also very flattering.  The bartender Eileen's dating commented on that.  Eileen bumped into her soon to be ex and the young woman he left her for.  She and the bartender (even the young woman) handled it well but that soon to be ex-husband is a problem.  (A good dramatic problem.  They need to use him in more scenes.)

When Ellis tried to get into Eileen's personal business (her dating), she suggested he go help Rebecca as Rebecca's assistant.  (All of Rebecca's assistants are apparently busy finding her a place in Boston.)

Rebecca and Derek are clashing.  Which is actually good.  It's good for the storyline and it's good for the play within a TV show.  Rebecca's decided to be friends with Karen.  I have no idea why.  But she took her to a club where she knew the band and got Karen to sing a number.  She truly was impressed with Karen's talent.  The two of them began going out to club and Karen got her face in the paper and online and was the subject of rumors.  Dev got jealous, only more so when they went out to dinner -- Rebecca, Karen and Dev.  Rebecca and Dev argue.  While that happens,, Karen sees Dev singing in a fantasy. 

A new number was written, a strong one.  Rebecca said to give it to Karen.  She was serious and Karen sung it wonderfully.

So you know trashy Ivy was pissed.  She asked Ellis for a favor.  He texted Karen that she could go home (she and Rebecca were going out for chips) because they didn't need her.

Rebecca comes back.  Derek's furious.  He actually went looking for her and found her in the lobby.  Now he's screaming for Karen (after screaming at the press following Rebecca).  Rebecca tries to explain what happened but he won't listen.  So there's Ivy all ready to sing.

She does so in that obvious way that means she'll always be chorus because she has nothing unique to offer.  Rebecca watches Ivy blow the easily impressed away and announces, at the end, when Ivy's so thrilled with herself that she thinks she should sing the song herself. 

I really think Rebecca's trying to help Karen. 

So that was pretty much the show.  It was a strong one and advanced the plot a little more.

Tom is useless and nothing but a gay stereotype.  He's insulting and disgusting and a lot of that goes to the way the actor plays the role.  They should have never cast him in the role.



"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Tuesday, April 24, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, a prep meeting for a national conference takes place, Moqtada won't take Nouri down but won't stop anyone else from taking Nouri down, Bradley Manning's pre-court-martial hearings continue, and more.
 
 
"Pfc. Bradley Manning made headway Tuesday in his bid to prove that WikiLeaks' publication of more than 700,000 confidential files did not damage national security," reports Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News Service).  "Claiming that the documents [damage assessments] are classified, however, prosecutors have refused to give Manning access.  Military judge Col. Denise Lind ordered the government Tuesday to turn the documents over to the court by May 2."  What's going on?
 
In January, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  In January, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
 
Currently, pre-court martial rulings are being made.  The Center for Constitutional Rights' Shane Kadidal Tweeted the hearing today (Tweeted at CCR's Twitter Feed).
 
 
#Manning hearing: ruling from court tomorrow on arguments re: defense access to grand jury testimony - presumably investigating #Wikileaks
 
 
#Manning trial: defense argues gov didn't cite right disclosure standard. Gov won't publicly disclose even its legal arguments from briefs.
 
#Manning hearing: Judge asks if gov has found material that might be useful to defense but hasn't been disclosed. Gov says yes.
 
 
 
#Manning trial: Coombs: gov has been working to find harm from cables. From docs received so far it's clear answer is 'no damage' #Wikileaks
 
 
AFP explains, "The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said she would review the reports from the CIA, the FBI and other agencies to determine whether the documents were pertinent to Manning's defense. The damage reports, including those from the CIA, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Deparmtent, could cast doubt on prosecutors' claims that the exposure of classified documents on the WikiLeaks site had devastating or lethal results."  Larry Shaughnessy (CNN) adds, "As for the request to dismiss the charges, Coombs said because the prosecutors did not understand the discovery rules, he and his fellow attorneys have not been given information that could help in his defense."  Sky News notes, "A court-martial date has yet to be set and Manning so far has declined to enter a plea on the counts he faces in a case that involves one of the most serious intelligence reaches in US history."
 
Defense motions can be found at David E. Coombs' website Army Court Martial Defense Info.  These are the redacted ones the government is issuing as well as the unredacted ones.  The issue of public access to motions -- a standard in any legal case in the United States -- was raised today and the judge declared that the public could make a freedom of information request if they want documents.  At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the judge's decison that the government had to turn over documents to the defense.
 
 
QUESTION: In the WikiLeaks case, the judge in the Bradley Manning case this morning ordered the State Department, among other agencies, to turn over some of their documents to the defense in order to help the Manning team better prepare its case. Is the State Department going to turn over those documents? And my follow-up is: Does the U.S. still see a negative impact on its relations with other countries in diplomacy because of what happened in the alleged leaking of these documents?
 
 
 
MS. NULAND: Let me take the last part first. I think our view of the entire WikiLeaks incident has not changed at all in terms of the negative effects. With regard to what the court has ordered, Ros, I haven't seen it, so let me take it and see what we know about what's been requested of us and what our response is.
 
 
 
As an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a legal adviser to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, I continue to attend Manning's hearings and can only describe them as a theater of the absurd: the trial involves numerous and lengthy off-the-record conferences, out of sight and hearing of the press and public, after which the judge provides an in-court summary that hardly satisfies standards of "open and public". Perhaps more remarkable is the refusal even to provide the defense with a pre-trial publicity order signed by the judge – an order that details what lawyers can and cannot reveal about the case. Yes, even the degree to which proceedings should be kept in secret is a secret, leaving the public and media chained in a Plato's Cave, able only to glimpse the shadows of reality.
The press and advocacy groups, however, have not been quiet about the trampling of their rights. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on behalf of 46 news organizations, urged the Department of Defense to take measures that would allow the news media to view documents prior to court arguments. The committee pointed out that the trial for the "alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in US history" is of "intense public interest, particularly where, as here, that person's liberty is at stake". The Center for Constitutional Rights, too, has requested access in the interest of an "open and public" trial, but neither appeal has been answered.
This is a clear violation of the law, but it will likely take burdensome litigation to rectify this lack of transparency. The US supreme court has insisted that criminal trials must be public, and the fourth circuit, where this court martial is occurring, has ruled that the first amendment right of access to criminal trials includes the right to the documents in such trials.
The greater issue at hand is why this process should be necessary at all. As circuit judge Damon Keith famously wrote in Detroit Free Press v Ashcroft, "Democracies die behind closed doors."
 
 
In Iraq today, Alsumaria reports that an Anbar Province bombing left seven Iraqi soldiers injured,a Mosul car bombing targeting a checkpoint claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured and 1 person was kidnapped in Nineveh Province.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reports 12 died in Iraq violence yesterday and ten were left wounded.   As violence continues in Iraq, AFP reports that Nouri al-Maliki has reduced the wages of Sahwa (Awakening, Sons Of Iraq) members by 20%."  Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus, then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining the "Awakenings.'
 
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."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".
 
 
 
The Awakening Movement has been in a tricky position for some time. They haven't been integrated into the state and they've also become targets for al-Qaeda extremists, who, after the withdrawal of US troops, started a campaign of intimidation and murder targeting Awakening members. They have been, al-Jibouri says, "abandoned by everyone".   
Previously the Awakening Movement had been seen as a resoundingly successful initiative. Founded in 2006, the armed groups were so successful in their counter-insurgency campaign and in assisting the US troops, that the idea was copied in Afghanistan too. 
No doubt the fact that the US was paying out around US$300 per month in wages to Awakening members also helped – at the height of the Awakening Movement's duties, this cost more than US$30 million a month. In late 2008, the Iraqi state began paying the wages of Awakening Movement members and it also promised to begin integrating the militias into state forces proper. 
However up until today, around half of those involved in the Awakening Movement say that they don't know if they will ever be employed by the Iraqi government. And others say they haven't been paid in months.
 
 
And going without payment in Iraq is difficult when unemployment is rampant and when so many live below the poverty line.  The country of widows and children, as a result of  the wars and the sanctions which killed off so much of the population and left the median age at 20.9 years.  In an oil rich country where there's no effort made to take care of the people, everyone does what they have to in order to survive.  Saleem al-Wazzan (Niqash) reports on child prostitution in Basra:


Naji is 15 years old; he's been working here since he was 12.
"The people I have sex with are generous and kind though," Naji insists. "They are kind hearted and they love me. They bring me clothes and gifts and sometimes give me cigarettes. In return I give them my company and the joy of sex."
 A 2008 study undertaken by the well known Iraqi human rights organization, Al Amal (Hope), found that 72 percent of children of displaced families residing in Nasiriya, near Basra, were engaged in work inappropriate to their age, often more than seven hours per day, such as street cleaning and portering. The study, which surveyed 411 families with a total of around 1,200 children, also found that a lot of the child labourers were selling drugs or their own bodies.
Basra human rights activist, Sami Toman, believes that things are not that different in Basra. "That's despite the fact that Basra is the richest city in the country with regard to resources and oil," he added.
It is difficult to ascertain how widespread child prostitution is in Iraq -- a lot of the children involved won't talk about it because they have been threatened by those who use them. But observers believe child prostitution is particularly widespread among Iraq's displaced families -- that is, families who have been forced to flee to other areas due to sectarian or other violence in their hometowns. And there are an estimated one million displaced persons in the thriving southern province.

The CIA estimates 25% of the Iraqi population lives below the poverty line.  Throughout the war, that rate has remained more or less consistent.  There has been no improvement -- thus far -- for Iraqis despite claims by US officials of 'liberation' and 'democracy.'  Maybe they meant the 'liberation' of children selling sex to keep starving?  At the start of the year, Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) noted:

According to the UNDP, Iraq has a poverty rate of 23 per cent, which means roughly six million Iraqis are plagued by poverty and hunger, despite the recent increase in Iraq's oil exports. Iraq's Ministry of Planning has also announced that the country needed some $6.8bn to reduce the level of poverty in the country.
Zahra concurs.
"No-one in my family has a job," he said. "And in my sister's house, they are seven adults, and only two of them work."
Inside a busy market, Hassan Jaibur, a medical assistant who cannot find work in his field, is instead selling fruit. 
"The situation is bad and getting worse," he said. "Prices continue to rise, and there are no real jobs. All we can do is live today."


Layla Anwar (uruknet.com) noted that while the official unemployment rate is 30%, the actual rate is 50%.

 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Last week, the Congressional Research Service issued their latest report on Iraq entitled [PDF fornat warning] "Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights."   The summary notes:
 
Relations among major political factions have worsened substantially since late 2011, threatening Iraq's stability and the perception of the achievements of the long U.S. intervention in Iraq.  Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallanged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of an outright power grab as he seeks to purge the highest-ranking Sunni Arabs from government and to cripple attempts by Sunni-inhabited provinces to achieve greater autonomy.  Iraq's Kurds have also become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and have begun to similarly accuse him of authoritarian practices.  The political crisis threatens to undo the relatively peaceful political competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances that had emerged since 2007 after several years of sectarian conflict.  Some Sunni insurgent groups apparently seek to undermine Maliki by conducting high-profile attacks intended to reignite sectarian conflict. 
The political rift has stalled the movement on national oil laws that had occured during August-November 2011.  The political crisis has also renewed outside criticism that Iraq's factions lack focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity.
The splits and dysfunctions within Iraq's government that have widened since mid-December 2011 have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement. 
 
 
Noting the Congressional report, John Glaser (Antiwar.com)  observes, "All this, as America continues to give money and weapons to the Maliki government. What exactly do U.S. troops have to be proud about?"
 
On the topic of the political crisis,  Alsumaria reports that an official with Moqtada al-Sadr's movement explained the bloc's position is that if a national consensus forms around an alternative to Nouri, they will support that candidate; without a consensus on who should hold the post, they will not join in a no-confidence vote; that the survival of Nouri in the post of prime minister is not a required goal on their part; and that the Sadr bloc wants the political crisis resolved.  The position isn't a complete walk away, it's also not anything resembling support.

The Sadr bloc is aruging if others will do all the work, they'll support it. Moqtada didn't support Nouri in 2010 until intense pressure from the government in Tehran forced him to go back on his public promise to support only those who met with the approval of his followers.  The Sadr bloc voted for everyone but Nouri. Alsumaria notes Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman is stating Nouri can't be toppled because he has the support of the National Alliance.  State of Law is a part of the National Alliance.  So is Moqtada.  So is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  Those last two, if Nouri loses a portion of their upport, can result in his losing his post.  Al Sabaah notes that Iraqiya's Hamid al-Mutlaq is stating that calls of a no-confidence vote are just attempts to force a resolution to the political crisis.  Meanwhile Dar Addustour noted that a planning meeting for a national conference is supposed to take place this evening.  Alsumaria reports that the meeting was held and another is scheduled for tomorrow.  Iraqiya boycotted the meet-up and noted that they were calling for Nouri to implement the Erbil Agreement (a document where all political blocs made concessions to end the eight-month old political stalemate -- the agreement made Nouri prime minister and Nouri trashed the agreement when he got that post).


There was an endless set of meet-ups to plan for the national conference eventually called for April 5th.  For those who've forgotten, that conference ended up being called off at the last minute on April 4th.  Alsumaria adds that the United Nations today called for Iraq to resolve the crisis (the UN calls it a "political impasse") by utilizing the Constitution to address unresolved issues.

In other news, the Journal of Turkish Weekly reports, "Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said on Monday that Turkey's worrying about its neighbor country (Iraq) did not mean interference in its internal affairs."  What's going on?  Nouri's war of words with the Turkish government.  As Kat noted last night, Reuters is not even attempting to pretend they are impartial in their coverage.  Nouri called Turkey an enemy state and attacked the leadership -- this was a continuation of earlier attacks.  Turkey responded.  Somehow Reuters turned that into Turkey attacking poor, little Nouri.  In the real world, the Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usama Nujayfi has said that continuous contacts and meetings were necesary for removal of the deficiencies in Turkey-Iraq relations." And Reuters tries to bury yesterday with an attempt at balance today, "Turkey summoned Iraq's charge d'affaires on Tuesday, a tit-for-tat move a day after Baghdad summoned Turkey's ambassador in a top-level diplomatic row that has heightened regional tensions."  Today's Zaman quotes Tareq al-Hashemi stating the following:
 
[Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan has defined the current situation in Iraq as ominous. [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] should not have overreacted to that. It is only natural that Turkey be concerned over what is happening in Iraq. Developments in Iraq would certainly affect Turkey, either negatively or positively.
 


Someone needs to pull Nouri aside and explain to him that he and Tehran can be besties all he wants and then some but that's not going to mean a great deal to Iraq's other neighbors and when he starts a war of words with one, he makes Iraq look unstable.  Nouri's public image continues to be the biggest threat to a successful Iraq.  In addition, Thomas Seibert (The National) sees other problems:
 
 
 Analysts expect tensions between Turkey and Iraq to continue to rise because they are part of a growing "Cold War" between Shiite and Sunni Muslim camps in the region.
Late Monday, the Iraqi vice-president, wanted by Baghdad on charges of running death squads but enjoying red carpet treatment while staying in Turkey, fanned the flames by accusing his government of steering the country towards sectarian confrontation.
Tareq Al Hashemi's comments came before he met with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, last night. They were the latest sign that the political crisis in Iraq is part of a wider problem in the region, analysts said.
Iran and Syria have been backing the Shia side with Russia in the background. Turkey and the Gulf states have been supporting the Sunnis, who are also backed by the United States and Israel, Mr Yavuz said. "The fronts are becoming clearer, just like in the Cold War," he said in an interview yesterday.
 
 
 
In the US, the Defense Dept announces: "Master Sgt. William A. Downey was honored as the Army's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year in a DOD ceremony at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes, April 18, as family members, guests and VIPs gathered to witness the presentation."  Downey is quoted stating, "Sexual assaults are destroying our future and our future leaders."
 
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
 
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
TOMORROW: Murray to Hold Hearing on IG Report Showing Major Delays in VA Mental Health Care
On the heels of report showing that VA is failing to meet its own mandate for timely health care, Murray to hear from report's authors and question top VA officials on necessary changes
* Will be broadcast LIVE on C-SPAN.
 
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing to examine the results of a report released yesterday by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General that Senator Murray had requested on the time it takes the VA to provide mental health care appointments for our nation's veterans.  The report concludes, as Senator Murray has repeatedly warned, that the wait times faced by many veterans far exceed that which the VA has previously reported and the time the VA mandates.  At tomorrow's hearing, Senator Murray will question a top VA official and the VA Inspector General on the specifics of the report, and seek answers to the problems it raises.
 
Who:       U.S. Senator Patty Murray
                Office of Inspector General of the Department of Veternas Affairs
                Senior VA Officilas
 
 
What:       Hearing focused on VA mental health care, evaluating access and assessing care
 
When:      TOMORROW: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
                 9:30 AM ET/ 6:30 AM PST
 
Where:      Dirksen 138