Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hey, Ms. blog, WTF?

Thursday night, the gang did theme posts. They each found a piece of critical film writing and then they offered their thoughts:

  • As you can see from the titles, some focused on films, some on actors.  I enjoyed all of them.  Ruth's Valentino post was a complete surprise.  A happy one.

    Not happy at all?

    Me with Ms. blog.  For some reason, Ms. blog has been posting but has refused to post about the death of Nora Ephron.

    Women's Media Center finally wrote about her today.

    Today is when C.I. wrote "Parades, memorials, a 2-year-old Iraqi girl dies" which included:

    Related, as a woman and a feminist, I try to highlight women as much as possible here.  But I'm not interested, for example, in a piece by an idiot who talks about "our boys" with PTSD.  I'm especially not interested when the idiot writing that sexist b.s. is a woman.

    I'll be the bitch when it's required.  I'll, for example, piss off friends who are working on the mural above.  That's fine.  Someone needed to step up, I'll do it.  But at this late date, why am I having to step up and point out that female service members suffer from PTSD?

    At this late date, why?

    I can remember early in the war attending Congressional hearings and my spine would stiffen as some male member of Congress would say "our boys" or "men" and ignore the women serving.  The awareness on women in the service is now so great that rarely do you hear that in a hearing anymore and, if you do, the member of Congress usually rushes to quickly ammend "and women" to his statement.

    So why at this late date do I have to be the one to point out that "our boys" with PTSD is insulting and inaccurate as well as highly sexist?

    Mother Jones and others have picked up on that awful article.  They have no standards.  I still have a few left and I'm not noting that garbage.  By the same token, we'll gladly note the Feminist Majority Foundation when it has something to say about women but I'm not interested in when they use their organization to pimp a man (not going to carry the crap about ObamaCare -- and I find it very interesting that they can issue that and post on that but they've yet to note at Ms. blog that Nora Ephron passed away -- I find that very interesting, very sad and highly disturbing). In an ideal world, every entry here would include a non-community member feminist.  But we don't live in an ideal world.  We live in a world where Ms. magazine, Women's Media Center and other feminist outposts decided not to say one damn word when Naomi Wolf began attacking two women who may have been raped, when Naomi Wolf began insisting that shield laws shouldn't apply to rape victims, etc.  She should have been told to sit her ass down.  Everyone should have done what Ava and I did -- point out Naomi's own involvement in a gang rape (laughing the morning after with the rapists and refusing to stick up for the woman because she didn't want to be considered a lesbian).  Instead, they played dumb and, in doing so, hurt the feminist movement.

    I agree.  It's disgusting.  Ms. blog should have covered the death immediately.  Nora Ephron contributed to the feminist movement in many ways.  Was she perfect?  Hell no.  None of us are.  She was a pioneer and she deserved to be noted.  Shame on, Ms.

    "Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
    Friday, June 29, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Congress hears that a Status Of Forces Agreement was need in Iraq, how can you do oversight when you can't move around in Iraq, the political crisis continues, and more.

     "First," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz  yesterday morning explaining the purpose of the
    Committee, "Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second Americans deserve efficient, effective government that works for them.  Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights."

     Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National  Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which held a hearing on Iraq.

    Appearing before the Subcommittee on the first panel were: US State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, Peter Verga and USAID's Mara Rudman.  Panel two was the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.

    Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
     There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
    -- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
    guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
    the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
    said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
    policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
    The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
    capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
    mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without
     the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that
     many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget
     on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
    is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be 
    facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered 
    some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
    The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of 
    projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq 
    will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense 
    Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement 
    has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air 
    and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has 
    hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionaly 
    able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee 
    staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
     Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According 
    to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out 
    how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges 
    the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission 
    Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating 
    its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change
     in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,      was this a well managed withdrawal?

     The first panel was a joke in so many ways.  Someone please convey to the State Dept that they
    don't look 'manly' offering football allusions to Iraq.  With all the people -- Iraqis, Americans, etc. -- it's really beyond insensitive for State to show up and try to talk football.  There have been far too many deaths for anyone to see this as a game or match and you'd think the diplomatic arm of the government would grasp that on their own and wouldn't need that pointed out.  In addition to the unneeded sports comparisons and examples, there were also the answers which could be honest only if you agreed to ignore the facts. US House Rep Blake Farenthold became Acting Chair where we're doing our excerpt.

     Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
     second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
     college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
    currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
    Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
    lose without compensation all of those facilities?

    Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
    that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
    use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
    part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
    on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
    plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
    statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
     in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
    for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
     former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
    was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
    we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
    us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

     He said it.  Too bad it wasn't accurate or, for that matter, truthful.  We'll jump over to the second

    Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
    discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
    we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
    eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
    Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
    the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
     But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
    agreements or leases. 

    Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
     that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
    basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

    Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
    required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
    sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
    more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

    Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright, Mr. Carroll, I would also like to follow up a 
    question I had on the last panel about the use of Iraqi nationals in overseeing some 
    of our investigations of it -- does that?  I mean, what's your opinion that?  Does that 
    strike you as a good idea, a bad idea or something we're stuck with because there's 
    no alternative? It seems like Americans would be a little more concerned about how 
    their tax dollars were spent than the Iraqi nationals who are the receipients of those 
    tax dollars.  That's kind of a fox guarding the hen house, it looks like. 

    Michael Carroll: [Laughing]  Well I-I personally I think it's a - like-like Ms. Rudman said 
    it's an additive sort of step.  We would do the same thing. For example, in some of the 
    places where it's absolutely prohibited because of security what we will do is contract 
    with a local CPA firm -- primarily out of Egypt -- and do a very comprehensive agreed 
    upon procedures document that they will go out and they will take pictures, they will 
    ask questions, they will do what we would do if we could get there. So I think that it 
    what Mara is talking about as well.  I don't see it as a problem.  In fact, I see it as an 
    adjunct to and it's not a replacement for USAID contracting representatives and technical representatives actually getting out and ensuring that the work is actually being done. 
     That's not what these people are doing.  What these people are doing is just going out, 
    doing some monitoring and observing.  But it does not replace what the 
    responsibilities are for the Americans. 

    Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright. Thank you very much.  And I'm not sure if I 
    want to address this to Mr. Courts or Mr. Bowen -- whichever one of you seems 
    most eager to answer can take this.  I haven't been to Iraq.  My information in the
     field of what it's like on the ground there is based on the things that I've read and 
    the reports that I've seen on television.  But a good many of our facilities are in 
    metropolitan areas including the capital Baghdad and I'm concerned that we are 
    struggling getting food and water to these folks in a safe manner.  I mean, what's 
    the procedure?  Is the food delivered?  How -- how is that handled and why is it a 
    problem in a metropolitan area? There are hundreds of thousands of people in
     these cities, Iraqi nationals, that need to be fed.  Obviously, it's more complicated 
    than just going down to the Safeway but I mean how is that handled?  And why is it 
    such a problem?

    Stuart Bowen:  The State Dept, as Ambassador Kennedy indicated, continued the LOGCAP contract after the military withdrew in December and thus the process for bringing food
     into the country continued as well and that is via convoys that come up from Kuwait.  
    There have been challenges.  That checkpoint has been occasionally closed.  There 
    have been security challenges with regards to those convoys and other reasons that 
    the shipments have been intermittent and has led to an occasional shortage of certain
     food stuff at the embassies.  [Former US] Ambassador [to Iraq James] Jeffrey emphasized repeatedly this spring his desire to move towards local purchase but that's been slow.

    Is it wrong to note that the State Dept's Patrick Kelly was not honest with the Subcommittee or
    that he chose to ignore the questions asked?  He wanted to insist (falsely) that there were leases
    on all the Iraqi property currently occupied by the US diplomatic mission.  Again, that is not truthful.

    In addition, he wanted to insist that turning over a facility the US taxpayer had spent over a million
    dollars on was normal and natural.  It was neither.  US taxpayers, if asked, might have said, "Hey,
     turn it over to an Iraqi orphanage or youth project."

    Or, noting the huge amount of widows due to  the war, might have said, "Turn it over as a facility for women and their children to live in."  But the same taxpayer that had no vote in whether or not to go to war got no vote in how to spend millions in Iraq..

    Patrick Kennedy declared, "It was always our plan to make adjustments to the police development program over time."

    That actually may be true.  (Or it may be another lie.)  But the fact is, the US State Dept refused to share the plan with Congress or the office of the Special Inspector for General Reconstruction in Iraq.  Kennedy might hope we forget that -- and certainly many in the press will rush  to assist him -- but those of us present at the hearings held in the last months of 2011 remember the State Dept refusing to answer questions.

    The State Dept is not an fiefdom, though Patrick Kennedy appears to believe it is.  They are
    answerable to Congress.  It's a real shame that all these issues were not nailed down in real time.

     If  you're confused or playing stupid, the reason it was not nailed down is many Democrats agreed to give the White House a blank check and they weren't even concerned with what figure might be written in on that blank check.  That's not just me.  Let's note Stuart Bowen's testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday about the State Dept's refusal to provide concrete answers:

    Stuart Bowen:  I testified before this subcommittee in November 2011 about our 
    concerns regarding the Department of State's planned multi-year, multi-billion-dollar 
    Police Development Program [PDP].  I raised two overarching issues that threatened
     the PDP's success.  First, the Defense Department had not adequately assessed the 
    impact of its own six-year police training efforts, and thus a key benchmark for 
    future planning was missing.  And second, State had not sufficiently planned for the 
    program, either on the policy or logistical fronts.  It is now beyond dispute that the 
    PDP planning process was insufficient.  It should have produced specific program 
    goals, a time frame for accomplishing those goals, the anticipated total cost for the 
    program, the expected scope of required resources, and a method for measuring
     progress.  The process fell short in each of these areas.  Further, to succeed, the 
    PDP required close collaboration and support from the Government of Iraq.  But
    the GOI's support has been weak, at best. 

     That's why we have the problem we do now.  In other comments? Tim Arango of the New York Times   was attacked by the US State Dept for his writing.  His writing ( "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") was about what the State Dept was discussing.

    He did not attempt to predict what would happen or how it would play out.  We've already noted
    Tim was correct and accurate in his reporting.  We'll note that his reporting only stands stronger
    after the Thursday hearing.  If Victoria Nuland had any class or character, she'd apologize publicly
    to Tim Arango for the attack she launched on him.
     Before we go further, we should fall back to the last hearing Jason Chaffetz chaired that we
    covered.  That's December 7, 2011 and from that coverage, we'll note this:

     Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] 
    Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not 
    have IGs in January.  In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move 
    without delay to appoint replacements.  That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] 
    Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House 
    Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings
     and Ranking Member Tierney.  I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record.  
    Without objection, so ordered.  To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate 
    any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter.  I find that totally 
    unacceptable.  This is a massive, massive effort.  It's going to take some leadership
     from the White House.  These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails 
    to make these appointments.  Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot 
    achieve transparency without inspectors general.  Again, I urge President Obama and 
    the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies  and
     without delay.
     Why is Geisel, who was at that hearing in December, billed as an "acting" anything?  Is the White
    House unable or just unwilling to fill these slots?

     For many of us, the inaction reminds us that Barack Obama, as a member of the Senate Foreign
    Relations Committee was over Afghanistan in terms of subcommittees but never called a hearing
    on the topic.  Someone appears to love credits in the yearbook, they just don't want to work for them.

    This can be seen also with regards to the failed nomination of Brett McGurk for US Ambassador to Iraq.

    There is still no one else nominated for the post.

    Before the e-mails and sex scandal broke, before the ethics questions sprung up, it was always clear that McGurk was an iffy nominee to be confirmed.  The White House apparently planned for no one else to be needed.  So they still haven't named a new nominee.  This issue came up in yesterday's State Dept press briefing. Victoria Nuland was asked about Iraq.

    QUESTION: Just a general question. I know you've addressed this in bits before. But Iraq 
    with the Embassy there, it's been a month since Ambassador Jeffrey has gone. Obviously
     his named successor has withdrawn. In terms of the operations of the Baghdad Embassy, is everything up to speed? Is it – are there difficulties now going on without an 
    ambassador there?

    MS. NULAND: Well, it's always important to have the President's representative in the 
    person of an ambassador. That said, we have a very strong and capable chargĂ© there, 
    Robert Beecroft. His relationships with Iraqis across the spectrum are broad and 
    deep, as they are with principals here in Washington. So the mission goes on, and we 
    are continuing to work with Iraqis across the spectrum to try to encourage them to 
    work together on the political issues that divide them. And of course, we maintain a 
    broad economic relationship and a security support relationship.

    QUESTION: Sure. I know it's a White House issue largely, but the idea of having a new 
    nominee --
     MS. NULAND: Definitely a White House issue.

    Yesterday's hearing was different from many other Congressional hearings: It actually got some
     press attention.  Iran's Press TV (link is text and video) opens with, "The US authorities have
    discussed a new plan to secure them a long lasting presence in Iraq by spending millions of dollars to upgrade a US embassy compound in the war-torn country, Press TV reports."
    I don't think Press TV's out on a limb with that statement.  I think a strong argument can be made-- based on the hearing -- for what the outlet is claiming.

    Yesterday, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported, "The State Department is planning to
     spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month."
    However, I'm surprised that they missed the bigger point.
    I'm not surprised the US press missed it.  Once upon a time, the US press lulled themselves to
    sleep with sticky thighs over the thought of 'maverick' John McCain.

    The press crush on the senator hit the rocks when newbie frosh Barack strutted onto campus.  Which is a real shame since the once-madly-in-love-with-John press could now be penning, "John McCain was right!" columns.
    I'm not saying he was right.  John McCain and I disagree completely on the war.  But he's been
    attacked over and over for comments about a residual US military force in Iraq.  The big news out
    of the hearing was that the inspector generals pretty much all agreed with the non-present
    Senator John McCain.
     What you heard from the second panel repeatedly was that the State Dept was unprotected
    and that cost overruns really couldn't be controlled with the State Dept's inability to check their own projects.

    While Carroll thought Mara Rudman (USAID) hiring 25 Iraqis to supervise US reconstruction projects provided a set of eyes on these projects, there's so much more going on in Iraq.   You had statements from DoD's Mickey McDermott about how the lack "of a post-2011 Security Agreement or Status Of Forces Agreement was affecting aspects of its operations.  Key areas cited by these officials as being impacted included: land use agreements, force protection, passport/visa requirements, air and ground movement, and FMS site stand-up.  The precise impact of these command concerns with respect to achieveing short and long-term OSC-I goals is unclear.  However, having a formal, follow-on Security and Status Of Forces Agreemens was perceived  to have value potentially in clarifying and stabilizing Iraqi government support for day-to-day OSC-I operations, and would benefit longer-term relationship building."
     Again, the statements should have led the press to note that McCain -- ridiculed as crazy and out of  it -- actually can find support for his assertion that there are elements that supported extending the SOFA.  (The military did support that.  We've noted that repeatedly.  Testimony to Congress by
    various generals have made that clear.  But what happened here is that people whose job it is to
    analyze made comments that backed up the claims John McCain was making.)
     Violence continued in Iraq today.  AP reports Balad saw one, two, three bombings "in quick
     succession" today.  AFP notes, "Gunmen shot dead four anti-Qaeda militiamen in central Iraq on
    Friday, while a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi soldier, security and medical officials said."  Reuters adds,  "Police colonel Hassan al-Baldawy said at least six people were killed and 45 wounded" in a combination of suicide and motorcycle bombings.  AP adds that four other Sahwa were wounded  in the Diyala attack.  Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" (and "Daughters Of Iraq" for their female counterparts).  Alsumaria notes that the assailants used machine guns to
    fire on Sahwa.  At the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus,
    then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining Sahwa.

    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".

     This was the second day in a row for attacks on Sahwa.  As Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reminds of 
    yesterday's violence,  "In Iraq's northern central province of Salahudin, gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by government-backed Awakening Council group members in the city of Samarra, some 110 km north of the capital, killing two group members before they fled the scene, a local police source told Xinhua."
    Jason Ditz ( observes of  yesterday's violence,  "A wave of attacks in and around the
    capital city of Baghdad pointed out that the war in that nation is still very much going on, with or
    without the US occupation forces, leaving 38 people killed and over 140 others wounded."
    Laith Hammoudi (AFP) reports on what happens after the bombings:

    Piles of concrete blocks, clothes and furniture are all that remain of many of the makeshift houses in Imam Ali slum after an explosives-packed car tore through the area on June 13, claiming the lives of seven people and leaving more than 20 families homeless.
    The blast has left the Shiite area's impoverished residents mourning relatives and 
    neighbours, and struggling to rebuild their shattered lives.
    Hussein said he looked for houses to rent but the cheapest one he found was 150,000 Iraqi dinars ($125) per month, and it was in poor condition and would have required significant repairs.

    Abeer Mohammed (Institute for War & Peace Reporting via McClatchy Newspapers) offers, " Iraqi politicians from across the ethnic and religious spectrum agree that the recent wave of attacks targeting Shia Iraqis appears to be a deliberate move by extremists to reignite the sectarian conflict of past years."
     There's also conflict -- in what things say they are going to do and what they acually do.  Among their reports is this one on the Ministry of Electricity's Inspector General declaring there are fake contracts for $3 trillion dinars.  If the news seems familiar, it's because fake contracts and the Ministry of Electricity seem to go hand in hand.  Dropping back to the August 12, 2011 snapshot:

     Political intrigue continues in Iraq as well.  For example,  Al Mada reports that the Sadr 
    bloc is calling for an investigation into the alleged fake contracts and alleged theft of funds 
    in the Ministry of Electricity. Over the weekend, Nouri al-Maliki announced he was firing the Minister of Electricity due to fake contracts worth billions. There were two main responses. First, many stated Nouri didn't have the power to do the firing, only Parliament did. Second, 
    the Minister of Electricity floated that he had many stories to tell. It has since emerged that these contracts Nouri claims to be surprised and appalled by carry . . . Nouri's signature.
     Nouri and State Of Law's latest move is to note that this member of Nouri's Cabinet is also 
    a member of Iraqiya. I'm not sure how that assists Nouri since, over the weekend, Iraqiya 
    was the first to state that they supported the move Nouri made.  Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli (The Middle East Media Research Institute) offers an analysis of what happened:

    In July of this year, the Ministry of Electricity signed a contract with a Canadian company, CAPGENT, for $1.2 billion for the construction of 10 power stations with a production 
    capacity of 100 megawatts each. The company was registered in Vancouver, Canada. It 
    also signed a second contract with a German company, Maschinerbrau Halberstadt, for
     €500 million ($650 million) for the construction of five power stations with a production 
    capacity of 100 megawatts each, to be completed within 12 months from the time a line
    of credit was extended. It now appears that the two companies are fictitious, and had the contracts been executed they would have would have constituted a monumental case 
    of fraud involving senior officials of the Ministry of Electricity.

    The two fraudulent cases came to light thanks to the personal efforts of Jawad Hashim, a former minister of planning in Iraq during the early Ba'thist regime in the 1960s and early 
    1970s. In a handwritten letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, datelined Vancouver, Canada, August 2, 2011, Hashim detailed the fraud.
    As a resident of Vancouver, Hashim decided to investigate the available information on 
    the Canadian company while he asked the former minister of economy and governor of
     the Iraqi central bank, Fakhri Yassin Qadduri, who resides in Germany, to investigate the identity of the German company.

    In related news, Ahmed Abbasi (Kitabat) reports over six billion dollars missing from the public
    funds and Abbasi wonders how this continues to happen, where are the courts, where is the
    Integrity Commission?  Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Kirkuk is spending over 93 billion dinars
    on a water project to ensure potable water.  It's considered one of Iraq's largest water projects
     Turning to the topic of intrigue, Kitabat reports on rumors that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad is
    coordinating with the Tehran-based government and Iraq's National Alliance and that they are using cell phones to monitor the movements of Iraqiya and other political rivals and that they are also listening in on phone calls.  If true, this is apparently part of an effort to keep Nouri as prime minister.

    A reported plan by the Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki to call an early election is insignificant. He might be thinking of ways to end the current stalemate and hopefully get 
    a new and broader mandate. He might as well accomplish that since his opponents are 
    weaker and divided. But that surely will not solve Iraq's problems -- assuming that Al 
    Maliki does care.

    The real problem of today's Iraq is the attempt of one political faction to dominate the
     political landscape shutting everybody else out.

    As Al Mada notes today, Nouri is resisting appearing before the Parliament for questioning.  The Constitution is clear on this matter, as the Parliament has reminded Nouri. Alsumaria reports today that MP Mahma Khalil, with the Kurdistan Alliance, states that Nouri must bear responsibility for what is taking place in Iraq and that this is not about withdrawing confidence.  Alsumaria sees this as a retreat from the plan for a no-confidence vote.  It may be.  Or it may be someone grasping the p.r. effect.  Moqtada al-Sadr looks so much more reasonable than many because, since April, he has publicly presented a position (whether it's true or not) of, "I hope it doesn't come to this, only in a last resort . . ."  He has repeatedly noted that the entire process can be stopped by Nouri if Nouri will only follow the Erbil Agreement.  Again, Alsumaria may be interpreting things correctly.  But it's also true that Nouri's began lashing out and trying to win public opinion this week on the issue of the no-confidence vote.  This may be others following Moqtada's lead.  Al Mada reports today that the Kurdish bloc in Parliament is stating that even should Nouri survive the no-confidnece vote, this does not end the push for accountability. Kurdish MP Shwan Mohammed Taha states that, successful or not, the interrogation isn't the end of things.  He cites the Erbil Agreement and the need to return to it.

    In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued  the following today:

    MONDAY: VETERANS: Murray in Seattle to Unveil New Mental Health Legislation
    Iraq and Afghanistan veteran will share his story of having his PTSD diagnosis overturned

    (Washington, D.C.) -- On Monday, July 2, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the 
    Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a press conference at the Seattle Nisei 
    Veterans Center to discuss her new service members and veterans mental health 
    legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012.  This legislation comes as the Pentagon begins a comprehensive military-wide review, which Senator Murray urged [Defense] 
    Secretary [Leon] Panetta to conduct on diagnoses for the invisible wounds of war dating
    back to 2001.  

    The misdiagnosis of behavioral health conditions has been a constant 
    problem for soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center, where to date over 100 soldiers
     and counting have had their correct PTSD diagnosis restored following reevaluation.  
    Stephen Davis, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who had his initial diagnosis of PTSD overturned, will speak at the press conference with his his wife to share his experience.
    The legislation seeks to address problems with DOD and VA mental health care identified during multiple hearings of Senator Murray's Veterans Affairs Committee.  Specifically, 
    Senator Murray's Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 would require DOD to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program, expand eligibility for a 
    variety of VA mental health services to family members, improve training and 
    education for our health care providers, create more peer to peer counseling 
    opportunities, and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental 
    health services.  More about Senator Murray's bill HERE.

    WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
               Sergeant David Leavitt
               Sergeant First Class Stephen Davis and his wife Kim Davis
                Michele Smith, wife of Sergeant Shannon Smith
    WHAT: Press conference to unveil the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012
    WHEN: Monday, July 2, 2012
                1:30 PM PT
    WHERE:  Seattle Nisei Veterans Center
                    1212 South King Street
                     Seattle, WA 98144
    Kathryn Robertson
    Specialty Media Coordinator
    Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
    448 Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington D.C. 20510

    Thursday, June 28, 2012


    Monday, I was noting Rolling Stone's awful list of 'women who rock.'  I did not know that Kat was also covering the topic Monday.  We laughed about it on the phone Tuesday and both planned to blog about it but then Nora Ephron's death.

    An e-mail asked why all of us who blog at night in the community blogged about Nora Ephron last night?

    To ensure she got the attention she deserved.

    We can't complain that the death isn't being covered and the importance noted if we don't do so ourselves.

    Was their a plan?

    More like one person (Betty actually, read her "Director Nora Ephron has died") got pissed about the bad coverage and so we all ended up weighing in.  I think there were some really interesting posts on it.

    I would assume that there would be some note of her passing at Third this weekend as well.

    Maybe something Ava and C.I. write or maybe a group effort.

    I liked how C.I. noted it this morning.

    "Bombings in Iraq" (C.I., The Common Ills):

    directed by

    Nora Ephron has passed away.  The director of films such as Sleepless in SeattleYou've Got Mail, Michael, Julie & Julia, This Is My Life and Bewitched was 71-years-old. Nora got her start in journalism at the New York Post.  Later she would write essays for Esquire and she would become a strong media critic for that publication.  How strong?  Esquire was often uncomfortable with her critiques.  We have called out 'brave' Daniel Schorr here and at Third Estate Sunday Review.  The first time we did, the e-mails were shocking both because people don't really know the story (yes, the left tells fairy tales as well) and because they weren't aware of Nora's critique.

    If Nora was grappling with, for example, her feminist beliefs and bad books by women claiming to be part of the movement, Esquire was thrilled.  But, as she reminded me in 2005 when I told her how few people seemed to know the real truth about Daniel Schorr, Esquire refused to run her article.  She had to publish it in a now defunct media journal (More).  How much has really changed?

    Nora told the truth about Daniel Schorr and that's probably her finest moment as a journalist.  The piece itself is well written.  Schorr got a copy of the Pike Report -- Congressional Committee.  It became CBS News property.  CBS News was weighing to run or not to run it -- the Committee had since decided not to release the report publicly.  Schorr turned a copy of it over to The Village Voice which ran it.  Thus far, the fairy tale and reality match.  What liars leave out is that CBS News launched an internal investigation and Schorr started saying Lesley Stahl must have leaked it and, proof!, her boyfriend (now husband) Aaron Latham worked at The Village Voice!!!!!  That didn't jibe with the 'historic' and 'noble' portrait so many were eager to paint onto Schorr and Esquire refused the piece.

    For various reasons, including moments like that, Nora grew disenchanted with journalism and became a screenwriter.  Her earliest success was co-writing the script for Mike Nichols' Silkwood.  After that, she'd write the best selling novel Heartburn.  The moment everything changed for her was when Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally . . . was released.  Nora wrote the script to the box office smash and it was such a huge hit that everyone connected to the film was going to get a shot at something.  For Nora, that was directing.  This Is My Life was her debut as a director.  It's a small studio film about a woman balancing motherhood and the pursuit of her dreams of being a stand up comic (and it features an outstanding soundrack by Carly Simon).  It's a strong film and an amazing debut.  She followed that up with Sleepless in Seattle, her first blockbuster as a director.

    Last night, those posting in the community (and PBS' NewsHour) noted Nora's passing:

    A director.  Betty's "Director Nora Ephron has died" is exactly right.  It is sexism not to call Nora what she was.  If George H.W. Bush dies tomorrow, are the headlines going to read "Former Vice President Dies"?  I don't think so.  She was director of eight films.  That's her highest credit, that's how you remember her if you remember her in one word: director.

    If you're looking for one interview with Nora to listen to, click here and stream The Bat Segundo Show.  It's an intelligent interview that captures her humor, her interests and her awareness.  We noted it in real time.  Of all the non-film things she did in the last years, I'll remember a 2007 column where  she (The Huffington Post) rightly noted of the Democrats who had control of the Senate (and of the House): "What a bunch of losers, hiding behind the fact that it takes 60 votes to shut down debate and 67 votes to override a presidential veto.  So what?  So pass a law and make Bush veto it.  Make him veto something every single day.  Drive the guy crazy.  What have you got to lose?  And meanwhile what have you done?  You've voted for the surge, you've voted to authorize a war against Iran, and you're about to vote in favor an attorney general-designate who refuses to call waterboarding torture." 

    I really enjoyed that.  Nora Ephron will be missed.

    "Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
    Wednesday, June 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri threatens early elections, we play out the worst case scenario which pits Nouri up against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (it could happen and it would be Nouri's fault if it did), a veterans wife tells the US Senate the VA shouldn't be able to destroy someone's dream of having a family, and more.
    Today the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review observed the vast number of suicides among service members and veterans and noted the work of Senator Patty Murray including the bill she introduced Monday: "The bill spins off the discovery that as many as 285 soldiers -- or 40 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder -- had thos findings reversed at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma since 2007.  A PTSD diagnosis can come with lifetime benefits, so a lot rides on those decisions.  Murray became concerned that costs were becoming a factor in overriding legitimate diagnoses when she learned that a Madigan forensic psyhciatrist urged team members to be cognizant of the bottom line.  It was at Madigan that many veterans were accused of faking symptoms to gain benefits.  Many of those PTSD diagnoses were restored after news of the high reversal rate."  Today she spoke of the bill, S. 3340.
    Chair Patty Murray: The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 is sweeping legislation that improves how VA provides mental health care. I think it is fitting that we are here considering this legislation on National PTSD Awareness Day.  Over the past year, this Committee had repeatedly examined the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health crisis in our military and veterans populations.  We know our service members and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges multiple deployments, difficulty finding a job whenhome, and isolation in their communities.  Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how.  These are the challenges our service membes and veterans know too well. But even as they turn to us for help, we're losing the battle. Time and time again, we've lost service members and veterans to suicide. We are losing more service members to suicide than we are to combat.  Every 80 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life. On average this year, we have lost a service member to suicide once every day.  But while the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know there's a lot more that needs to be done.  We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care, ensuring proper diagnosis, and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments.  The Mental Health ACCESS Act would expand eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans.  It would require VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and create opportunities to train more veterans to provide peer services.  This bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.  This Committee has held multiple hearings on VA mental health care, and we heard repeatedly about the incredibly long wait times to get into care.  It's often only on the brink of crisis that a veteran seeks care.  If they are told "sorry, we are too busy to help you," we have lost the opportunity to help and that is not acceptable.  Without accurate measures, VA does not know the unmet needs.  Without a credible staffing model, VA cannot deploy its personnel and resources effectively.
    That was this morning where she presided over the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  There is a ton of stuff to cover in that hearing.  Tonight at her site, Kat's grabbing Ranking Member Richard Burr as usual, Ava's going to fill in at Trina's site and cover Scott Brown, Wally will fill in at Rebecca's site to cover an aspect of the hearing which may be a cost issue but he's also considering a Bill of Rights and doesn't know yet what he'll go with.  Again, it was a jam packed hearing.  The purpose was to review and/or advocate for proposed legislation so you saw many US Senators not on the Committee appear before the Committee today.  We'll probably note the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot as well because so much did take place but we'll focus on Chair Patty Murray today.  If Murray's actions since becoming chair of the Committee were boiled down to one thing, I would argue she's been very firm that veterans have an equal playing field.  If they're promised something, it needs to be delivered.  If they're not promised something but civilians are, Murray's advocating for equality.  She has two bills she covered in the hearing.  We noted the mental health aspect.  Her other bill is S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012. This pulls the VA into 2012 by recognizing reproductive injuries among other things.  Tracy Keil appeared before the Committee and noted, "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."  But without the bill, many veterans families won't have the opportunity because certain procedures are not covered currenty.  She explained what happened to her and her husband, Iraq War veteran Matt Keil.  This is from her written statement.
    My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
    Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
    Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
    It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about invitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready tos tart a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
    My husband is the msot amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
    We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
    In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were strating to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
    His injury unfortunately prvents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
    I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
    It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.
    They had to jump through hurdles they never should have had to but , on November 9, 2010,
    Tracy Keil gave birth to their twins Faith and Matthew.
    Chair Patty Murray:  The Dept of Defense, as I mentioned earlier, provides access to advanced reproductive treatments.  And recently issued some guidance on offering these services at no cost to severely injured service members and their spouses.  The VA on the other hand can't provide these services and it's pretty clear that they don't meet the reproductive health care needs of veterans who have experienced severe trauma as you outlined to us in your testimony a few moments ago.  When you and your husband Matt were trying to conceive, you faced some very substantial road blocks from both the Dept of Defense and VA.  And since that time, DoD has changed their policy.  They now do offer fertility services for severely injured veterans.  I believe that veterans like Matt have earned DoD and VA coverage and there should be no difference.  I assume you agree with that?
    Tracy Keil: I absolutely agree.  My understanding is that you would need to travel to a military treatment facility in order to receive those services that the DoD is offering -- whether that be Fort Bragg or Walter Reed. That's not an option for families of the most severely injured such as my husband. There's no way that I could travel to one of those treatment facilities  and care for my husband.  And I want him there every step of the way.  So that, for us, would not be an option.  I feel that he, with his service and sacrifice, I feel that he now falls under the VA guidelines  of care.  He is a retired -- medically retired -- service member. And he ultimately is the VA's responsibility.  So I feel that we fall under their responsibility.
    A lot's going on in Iraq -- as usual -- so that's going to have to be it on the hearing for today.
    In Iraq today a new development in the ongoing political crisis.  Khalid Al Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will call for early elections if dialogue fails to resolve a political crisis, his media adviser Ali al-Moussawi said." Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) notes that Nouri is threatening to "call for early elections if other political parties refuse to negotiate to end crisis over power-sharing that threatens to revive sectarian tensions."  To throw some reality at the topic, the crisis could end at any time -- as Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly noted -- by Nouri returning to the Erbil Agreement.  I realize that journalists are cowardly and stupid (friends excepted of course) but do they realize how bad they look as they report on the political crisis without addressing what's going on?  Since last summer, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  For months now, as they have explored getting Nouri out of office, it has been noted that Nouri can stop that effort at any point by returning to the Erbil Agreement.
    Now Nouri's saying that he'll call for early elections if others -- If others.  So the news?  If Nouri's making that threat it is reasonable to conclude that he (still) will not return to the Erbil Agreement.
    What's the Erbil Agreement?
    In March 2010, parliamentary elections were held.  Despite Nouri's 'polls' insisting his State of Lead would win by an overwhelming margin, they didn't.  They didn't even win.  Ayad Allaw's Iraqiya won.  Nouri refused to allow the Constitution to be followed, he refused to step aside and allow someone else to be named prime minister-designate.  He refused for over eight months.  It was Political Stalemate I.  The White House backed Nouri.  Otherwise he would have been forced out of office.  In November 2010, the US government negotiated an agreement, the contract known as the Erbil Agreement.  Nouri and the other leaders signed off on it.  In exchange for various concessions from Nouri, the blocs would allow him a second term as prime minister.
    The tantrum throwing brat was appeased.  Nouri grabbed the Erbil Agreement and ran with it to have a second term as prime minister.  But he refused to honor the written promises he made in the contract.  And the US government was more than happy to play dumb. 
    As noted earlier, this is what the political crisis is about.
    As the calls to return to the Erbil Agreement increased and as Nouri refused to do anything.  People began to explore other possible actions and outcomes.  April 28th, Iraqiya, the Kurdisan Alliance and Iraqiya met in Erbil to discuss withdrawing confidence from Nouri. 
    A press conference followed that meeting as these participants attempted to present a unified front.  And certain questions remained not only unanswered but also unasked.  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) asked the questions when he interviewed MP Diaa N. al-Asadi of the Sadr bloc last week.  For example:
    NIQASH: Who came up with the idea of withdrawing confidence? 
    Al-Asadi: In a meeting in Erbil attended by the leaders of various political blocs and also by al-Sadr, the President [of Iraq] Jalal Talabani suggested it because he felt there was a lot of support for the idea. Talabani himself felt that his role was being marginalized and his powers diminished.  Those who met in Erbil concluded that al-Maliki really had no intention to reform and that the best way change this situation was to initiate a motion of no confidence. Al-Sadr said that he was with them if they collected 124 votes [from MPs] supporting this motion. In which case, he would join them and then there would be enough votes [the Ahrar bloc have 40 votes, 163 were needed].
    Iraqi President Jalal Talabani came up with the idea of a vote of no-confidence?
    Very interesting. 
    For those who've forgotten, Jalal was a big talker.  He also told those present that he could do a vote of no-confidence all by himself, without any need for a petition or a for a call from the floor of Parliament.  But it was decided to go the petition for no confidence vote.  And 176 signatures -- more than needed -- were collected.
    It seemed a done deal.
    Then Jalal came up with a new 'power.'  He could go through and authenticate the signatures -- that's not in the Constitution.  Per the Constitution, he's merely to pass any such petition onto the Parliament.  But authenticity turned out not to be enough for Jalal.
    He eliminated signatures.  How come?  Because people said they signed it but they'd changed their minds.  That's not how a petition works.  Once you sign it, you've signed it.  You can vote in Parliament anyway you want but an MP who says, "Yes, I signed it but I've changed my mind"?  That's someone who needs to be told, "You can register that change when the Parliament takes a vote."  Under Jalal's 'rules' any petition you signed for a stop sign?  Call your local government.  Explain to them that you did sign the petition but now you've changed your mind and you want your name off.  See how long they laugh at you and grasp that Iraqi -- especially in the KRG -- are laughing even longer and harder at Jalal Talabani.
    That's why he fled to Germany for an 'emergency procedure' that required him ignoring the request not to leave Iraq during this political crisis.  (The 'emergeny procedure'? Knee surgery.)
    Nouri's threat to call early elections is only the most recent tactic.  Already, he's been  rejecting calls to appear before the Parliament.  Kitabat reports today that the Speaker of Parliament's office released a statement noting that the Constitution outlines this process and that Parliament is an equal partner in government.  In addition, the statement notes that the Parliament is the legitimate representatives of the people and that must be recognized.  Unlike the post of prime minister or the Cabinet of Ministers, the people vote in Parliament elections.  (It's a bit more complicated than that in practice but we don't have time this morning.  Suffice is to say, most of the MPs were not voted on as individuals.)  Alsumaria notes that the statement goes onto point out that the Parliament's successfully passed "hundreds" of bills in the legislative session and that they are doing the work of the people.  The statement notes that the Constitution must be respected.

    Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second in the 2010 elections.  That may explain the perpetual chip they have on their shoulder.  Alsumaria notes they are saying Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi made a "fatal error" by signing onto an agreement in Erbil.  They're not clear on which agreement.  It's a 2012 one and may mean the April 28th deal or something later.  It's so very hard to tell what the half-wits of State of Law mean to say.  They're also attacking Moqtada al-Sadr and stating now that his decision not to take part in questioning of Nouri (should Nouri appear before Parliament) indicates he's on their side.  No, it indicates that Moqtada's acting consistent with what's he's stated for months now: This isn't about dumping Nouri, this is about returning to the Erbil Agreement.

    Al Rafidayn reports Ibrahim al-Jaafari has declared the Nationl Alliance will create a reform body.  Talk about meaningless gesutres. A toothless body of Nouri supporters will 'oversee' Nouri?  Already Alsumaria reports Iraqiya (who came in first in the 2010 elections) is calling the measure a non-starter that will not resolve the crisis.  It's in that environment that Nouri threatened to call early elections.  Hevidar Ahmed (Rudaw) quotes Kurdish MP Arif Tayfur (Kurdistan Democratic Party) offering of the chances of Nouri keeping political promises, "He has not done it for six years and he has constantly attempted to add to this crisis."
    W.G. Dunlop (AFP) quotes Nouri's website where a statement reads, "When the other side refuses to sit at the table of dialogue and insists on the policy of provoking successive crises in a way that causes serious damage to the supreme interests of the Iraqi people, the prime minister found himself forced to call for early elections."  (Whether it was intended as an inside joke or not, Dunlop's "President Jalal Talabani's position on the issue was not immediately clear." made me laugh. And, intended joke or not, Dunlop's report is the strongest factually of any on the topic.  The weakest?  AP because, yet again, they treat an ongoing crisis as something that only started December 21st.)
    Though it's in the news cycle today, early elections have long been floated by others.  As we pointed out yesterday:
    Some might see that as a good way to go and possibly it is.  But there is a potential negative side.  Parliament gets dissolved and Nouri rules through the next elections.  The next elections would not be in  a matter of weeks.  The KRG is currently working on their laws ahead of the 2013 provincial election.  This could take months and the KRG runs smoother than any other part of Iraq.  Meaning parlimentary elections are scheduled for 2014.  The Nouri al-Maliki who let over 8 months of gridlock pass following the March 2010 elections isn't necessarily someone who feels pressure to move in a speedy manner.  He could easily stall and delay it so that there are no elections until 2014 when they ae scheduled to take place.
    Also, you might remember that the 2010 parliamentary elections were supposed to take place in 2009.  But kept getting pushed back and pushed back.  Remember all of Chris Hill's assurance on them that ended up being wrong?  Chris hopes you don't, he's still pretending an expert on Iraq. Bare minimum for early elections: all voting laws must be in compliance and be fair (the KRG is addressing a law that reads so that Christians can only vote for other Christians, that's the law they're trying to amend currently), a law for the election must be passed -- which requires agreement (one big sticking point in 2009 was the issue of how many external refugees Iraq had and whether or not they were properly represented -- remember that, we'll come back to it) and you need to print up the ballots and have the election centers in place.  The ballots is with the help of the United Nations.  As November progressed in 2009, the UN announced there would be no 2009 elections because there was no longer enough time to print the ballots.  For the March 7, 2010 election ballots, the UN began printing those on January 21, 2010 and they were pressed but managed to do it in 45 days.
    Here's the Iraqi Constitution's Article 61:
    Article 61:
    First: The Council of Representatives may dissolve itself with the consent of the absolute majority of its members, upon the request of one-third of its members or upon the request of the Prime Minister and the consent of the President of the Republic. The Council may not be dissolved during the period in which the Prime Minister is being questioned.
    Second: Upon the dissolution of the Council of Representatives, the President of the Republic shall call for general elections in the country within a period not to exceed sixty days from the date of its dissolution. The Cabinet in this case is considered resigned and continues to run everyday business.
    Remember the refugee issue and how we were talking about how it was part of the delay in 2009 on parliamentary elections?  Sunnis make up a larger number of external refugees than do Shi'ites (and refugees are allowed to vote in Iraqi elections, they do not have to be living in Iraq).  And this was among the reasons that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi wanted them to be represented properly (a quota is set aside).  When he didn't get what he wanted, he vetoed the proposed law as was his right.
    What our 'constitutional' experts who've never studied a Constitution don't understand is that a Constitution has stated powers and implied powers.  In addition, there are powers that become powers via custom.  In the US, for example, the failure to hold Barack Obama accountable for the same crimes that Bush committed?  A legal argument can now be made that those powers exist for the presidency now via custom.  You have had a Republican do it and now a Democrat do it and the Congress never bothered to outlaw it or challenge it.  So, it can be argued, it's now a power of the office via custom.
    All the Nir Rosens and his circle jerk buddies cheering on Nouri's authoritarian stance never seemed to grasp that in a country with a new Constitution, it was not only important that the Constitution be followed, it was vital that it be followed.
    But here's where Nouri's power grabs could potentially bite him in the butt.  Nouri's refused to name the security ministries.  He's refused to nominate anyone and send them to the Parliament for a vote.  He's instead created 'acting' ministers -- a term that doesn't exist in the Constitution.  But he's done that for some time now.  Jalal Talabani, as we noted last week, in what was probably a pathetic bid for sympathy, floated the notion that when he returned to Iraq after his 'delicate' surgery, he would step down as president.
    If that happens, who's president of Iraq?  Until one's electing, it can be argued that a vice president becomes 'acting.'  Article 69 makes no mention of this and outlines how the Parliament would begin to elect a president if one resigned.  But there's no mention of 'acting' ministers in the Cabinet either and the Parliament might have other things to do or might be on a break.
    Were that to happen -- and this will shock some -- the 'acting' president of Iraq would be Tareq al-Hashemi.  Some will gasp, "He's on trial!"  Check the Constitution.  He's not been removed from his office.  And to be removed the Speaker of Parliament would have to go along with it.  That's Osama al-Nujaifi.  Like al-Hashemi, al-Nujaifi is both Sunni and a member of Iraqiya. 
    During Nouri's first term as prime minister (beginning in 2006), Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi were Iraq's two vice presidents.  In early 2011, there was a move towards upping it to three vice presidents and it would have gone through at that time but, among other reasons, sexism prevented it.  The three would have been Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Tareq al-Hashemi and female Turkman. Sexism doomed that.  But the idea of three wasn't dropped and the male Khudair Khuzaie was quickly named to the spot along with Abdul-Mahdi and al-Hashemi.  This caused the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front issued the following statement February 14, 2011:
    We, as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, as a political organization defending the legal national rights of the Turkmen nation, thank the President of Iraq for his request for a fourth vice presidency and for the candidate to be a Turkmen.  However, we would have wished that the third vice presidency position be offered to the Turkmen and we would like to take the opportunity to ask the distinguished Presidenty why the third vice presidency was not offered to a Turkmen candidate. 
    The distinguished President could have requested the fourth vice presidency position and refrained from disclosing the names of the three other vice presidents and sending them to the Iraqi parliament before this position was approved.
    The names of the three vice presidents presented to the Iraqi Parliament in a single list and a request to the same parliament for a fourth vice presidency position is just a ruse thrown in front of those who obstruct the Turkmen and their legal rights.  Those segments have resisted the deputizing of a Turkmen vice president from the beginning.
    For this reason, we request that after the fourth vice presidency is approved, the names of all four vice presidents are presented to the Iraqi Parliament together.  Otherwise, we must accept that the proposal was not serious and just an incident targeting the rights and jurisprudence of the Turkmen.
    Dr. Sadettin Ergec
    Leader of Iraqi Turkmen Front
    In May of 2011, when the 100 days Nouri asked the protesters for (give him 100 days and he would address the lack of public utilities, the issue of unemployment, the issue of the missing in Iraq, etc. and all the corruption) expired and Nouri hadn't done anything, Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced government was not serving the Iraqi people and he was resigning.  That makes Tareq al-Hashemi the senior vice president.  He remains in office.  By the rules Nouri's created over the years for acting ministers -- including in 2010 when he forced the Minister of Oil off as also being the Minister of Energy when the latter minister quit -- Tareq al-Hashemi can assume the presidency if Jalal steps down.  He can be 'acting' president until the time comes that Parliament votes in a new president.
    There is nothing in the Constitution -- read it -- that says the president must be in Baghdad.  In fact, as written, al-Hashemi could be president of Iraq -- 'acting' president -- from Saudi Arabia if he wanted.  So if Jalal does make good on his threat and Nouri tries to make good on his, there is a chance that Tareq al-Hashemi could announce himself 'acting president.'  And you can be sure Osama al-Nujaifi, in his role of Speaker of Parliament, would recognize al-Hashemi as that.
    That would mean no consent for early elections and that would also mean al-Hashemi would immediately call for a withdrawal of confidence vote.
    The Constitution needs to be followed.  Nouri's lived outside it for two terms now.  In doing so, he's created powers that don't exist but have remained unchallenged.
    Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes that Iraq experiences bombings again today.  Lu Hui (Xinhua) counts two bombings which left 11 dead and twelve injured with one of the bombings targeting the home of a Sahwa and, when people arrived on the scene, another bomb went off.  Alsumaria notes that another house was also bombed killing 3 women in one family.  While some outlets are counting three bombings, AFP and  BBC count two.  In addition, Alsumaria reports a Babel sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left another person injured.
    Lastly, despite reports yesterday ("The body of an American contractor who was found dead in Baghdad was flown back to the U.S. on Tuesday after a two-week bureaucratic debate over whether the Iraqi government would perform an autopsy on his remains."),  Michael David Copeland's body was not flown to the US. The body of the Iraq War veteran who died June 9th, shortly after retutning to Iraq as a worker for DynaCorp, was in Kuwait as of Tuesday night according to his family.  His father Mike Copeland tells Jamie Oberg (News9 -- link is text and video) that, "We are very pleased to know that the long struggle as far as that goes is over, he's not home yet of course he's got a long ways to go and we still don't know what the cause of his death was."  Victoria Maranan (KXII -- link is text and video) adds, "He died 17 days ago while working for a contractor in Iraq. His family has been fighting to have his body brought home to Oklahoma ever since. Mike Copeland said they were notified yesterday by DynCorp that arrangements had been made to send Michael David's body back to the U.S. He said the Iraqi government did not perform the autopsy, but instead it will be performed by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner when Michael's body arrives in Delaware.Bryan Dean (News OK) quotes Michael David Copeland's cousing Brent Barry stating, "He will be flown to Dover, Del., arriving on Thursday."