Saturday, July 28, 2012

We just got here

So our vacation is ending.  I really don't have much to say today.

I get a little sad sometimes.  This would be one of those times.


We'll move soon enough to Hawaii.

That doesn't depress me.  It's nice here.

But a big chapter will close shortly.

I'll go offline -- which I'm fine with -- and so will the others and it'll be really different.

I don't really know how to explain it.

If you don't know, my parents died when I was young.  My older brother raised me.

So passages don't feel natural to me always.

Sometimes they are scary.

This would be one of those scary times.

I don't know what's coming.

I am clearly nervous over my love life.  You know who he is. You know he's  a great guy.  You know we've managed to stay together this long.  You also know he's a younger than me.

So that gives me a few jitters.

Then there's the fact that Rebecca, C.I. and I have been best friends since college.  We talk all the time, always have.  But there's no denying that doing the online experience together deepened our friendship.  If I'm really honest, that's a minor, the whole we may be in less contact.  Where's it's a major is that I fear losing Rebecca or C.I.  Not 'oh we're not friends!'  That won't happen.  I'm talking about dying.  Those two have been so important in my life.  There's my brother and there's those two.  They are my family. 

Closing down online feels like a death.  Maybe just a mini-one.  That has me afraid of a larger death, of Rebecca or C.I. passing away.

(Me passing away?  I don't see it anytime soon.)

So as the vacation ends and Mike, our daughter get ready to go back home, I'm reminded that C.I. only extended for another six months (she did that July 4th) and that she wants to pull the plug online (and I share that feeling), that she's tired and I don't blame her.  But it's just a little sad.

Just a little 'end of summer' kind of vibe.

I'm reminded of Carly Simon's song "We Just Got Here."

There are a few more freckles on your shoulders
The hammock swings lower and touches the ground
The apples are ripe and the corn is past
Everyone says summer goes by so fast
And we just got here

It does feel like "we just got here."

I love the song but, as it says later in another verse, it's "bittersweet."

So that's what I'm thinking about right now.  I'm sure there are weightier topics.  That's where I'm at.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, July 27, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the US has wasted over 20 billion tax payer dollars on training Iraq security forces, as they refuse to address that the press and pundits push and push for more war, Hilton Worldwide's building a hotel in Iraq, and more. 
At the start of the week, an international hotel chain announced they were coming to Iraq. The press release opened:
Hilton Worldwide today announced expansion plans in Iraqi Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, with the signing of a management agreement with the Mihtab Group to develop the first Hilton Hotels & Resorts property in the rapidly growing city of Erbil, Iraq.
The 300-room Hilton Erbil Hotel & Spa, which is expected to open in 2016, will be the second Hilton Worldwide property in Erbil following the 2011 announcement to develop a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in the city.
Hilton Erbil Hotel & Spa will be set in extensive, landscaped grounds in an upscale residential and commercial district just North of Erbil, an area famous for its picturesque, mountainous landscape as well as its close proximity to the city's main access road. These key location benefits are attracting many new businesses to the area, including a number of foreign embassies planned within the next two years.
The KRG is not hurting for hotels. Already it has a ton including the Erbil Tower Hotel, Divan Erbil, Van Royal Hotel, Erbil Rotana (where this year's Miss Kurdistan competition was held), Yadi Hotel, Abu-Sana Hotel, etc. The KRG has 22 operating, internationally recognized hotels with more being built. Baghdad? Five operating and internationally recognized hotels -- including the Palestine International Hotel (where reporters stayed and where the US military infamously fired upon). No big construction going on. No big foreign investment rushing into the capitol. But the KRG? Hilton Worldwide becomes the latest to want to do business.
As we've noted repeatedly, Nouri's crazy scares them off. Nouri's tirades against Turkey, all the accusations and smears add in to the view of him as unhinged. His attacks on ExxonMobil and Chevron and so many others and his inability, as prime minister, to bring cohesion to Iraq, to provide real leadership to the region, hurts the country and harms the way others view the section of Iraq he has jurisdiction over. (The KRG -- Kurdistan Regional Government -- three northern provinces -- is semi-autonomous.)
After all this time, an argument could be made that Baghdad 'security' -- such as it is -- is as good as it's going to get and that the business community has taken note of that. Making that argument requires acknowleging how very little Nouri al-Maliki has accomplished in his six years as prime minister. Acknowledging that requires confronting how little Nouri has achieved as prime minister and how much the people continue to suffer.
Ahmed Hussein (Al Mada) reports that along with the continued lack of electritiy, you can add to that the scarcity of potable water in Baghdad -- specifically east Baghdad and South Baghdad. The situation has gotten so bad that Parliament will be questioning the governor of the province and the secretary of the city of Baghdad. The newspaper notes that, July 7th, officials pleaded "technical problems." That was 20 days ago.
The delivery of basic goods and services is a political issue and the potable water appears to have entered the same crisis level the political stalemate has. Al Mada reports on Ayad Allawi's statements yesterday. Allawi is the head of Iraqiya (the political slate that came in first in the elections, Nouri's State of Law came in second). Allawi notes that there is no need for a Reform Committee or for people to think up or adopt new reforms. The answer is to return to the Erbil Agreement which was already agreed upon.

Following the March 2010 elections, Political Stalemate I lasted for a little over eight months and this was the period where Nouri refused to allow things to move forward because he wanted a second term as prime minister; however, State of Law's showing didn't allow him -- per the law -- to be made prime minister-designate and given 30 days to assmble a Cabinet. So he pouted and threw his tantrum and the White House nursed him and refused to pull him off Barack's nipple. With the White House backing, Nouri was able to bring things in Iraq to a complete standstill. The White House then brokered the Erbil Agreement which was the way around the Constitution (it was extra-Constitutional, not unconstitutional) for Nouri to get his way.

That's not how the US government presented it. The political blocs were told to figure out what they wanted and this items were written into the agreement with the understanding that, in exchange for those, Nouri would get a second term. The agreement is a binding contract and was signed off on by all parties. Plus the US government assured the political blocs that the US was backing this agreement. That was November 2010. The next day, Parliament finally held a real session and Nouri was named prime minister-designate. When he became prime minister, he trashed the agreement and, since summer 2011, Moqtada al-Sadr, the Kurds and Iraqiya have been calling for him to return to the Erbil Agreement.

He has refused.

That's what the current political stalemate is about. He is not only doing a power-grab, he is refusing to honor the contract he signed onto and used to get a second term as prime minister. He has further alarmed rival politicians by going back on his 'pledge' not to seek a third term.

So Allawi is calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. He sees Nouri's silly Reform Commission as a waste of time -- which it is. Why do they need weeks of meetings to figure out what to do?

Have we forgotten the months of meetings for the national conference that then fell apart as Nouri wanted it to? Before that fell apart in April, there had been months of meetings about this issue. So the Reform Commission shouldn't need a ton of meetings to figure out what to do.

But the reality is it exists solely to buy more time for Nouri. This is what he always does, stall, stall and stall. And hope people either get tired of waiting or just forget.

Due to backing from the Bush White House and then the Barack White House, this strategy has been highly effective for Nouri personally.

It's helped tear the country of Iraq further apart but, for Nouri, it's all about what Nouri al-Maliki wants. Further proof is in reporting today by Rod Nordland (New York Times) about 15 Baquba officials quitting their jobs because they state the government has failed to protect them from al Qaeda. Threat have made them fear for the safety of their families. This lack of security despite all the US tax dollars wasted in training Iraq's security forces.

"Status of Fixcal Years 2011-2012 Iraq Security Forces Fund (SIGIR 12-018)" [PDF format warning, click here] was released today by the Office of the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction and is a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillar Clinton which notes the money given (wasted) by US taxpayers for Iraq's security forces to be trained: "To date, Congress has appropriated $20.54 billion in ISFF. This includes $1.50 billion Congress appropriated in April 2011 for use in fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012."
Over $20.54 billion US tax dollars sent out of the US to pay for the training of Iraq's security forces. You learn about how freely the government spent the taxpayer money. So freely, that they gave more than even they thought could be spent which is why: "Congress specified the period of time each ISFF appropriation could be used. In each case, Congress made the funds available for periods between 12 and 19 months, during which time funds would have to be obligated. Any funds not obligated with their designated period of availability would be considered expired and, therefore, not available for new obligations."

Nancy Pelosi kept using the "blank check" metaphor even after many of us thought the then-Speaker sounded ancient and ourselves were referring to it as the administration using Congress as its own personal ATM. But Pelosi ends up right and we (including me) end up wrong because it was indeed a blank check. And it was blank check under Bush and a blank check under Barack.

While Americans domestically struggled with historic levels of unemployment, with losing their houses and so much more, the Congress and the White House were so eager to give Iraq billions for 'security forces' that they realized they might be giving more than was needed so they tacked on that if the funds were not "obligated" within X number of months, the US would get them back.

And some may wrongly think that means, "Well, Iraq didn't spend X so we're getting that back. Yea!" Wrong. "Spent" is not "obligated."

"Obligated" means they say it will be spent on, for example, "forensic training."

Will be. Not has been spent.

This is made clear in the letter: "However, un-obligated funds can be used for up to five years after they expire to pay for authorized increases to existing obligations made from the same appropriation. Any un-obligated funds remaining after the five-year period must be returned to the U.S. Treasury."

So the White House and the Congress (then Democratically controlled, both houses) made the decision not only to give Iraq more money than was needed, they also said, "Hey, screw the American taxpayers and their needs, if you can't spend this money in the Fiscal Year, just say you will someday spend it on something and we'll let you have it for up to five years, interest free."

$20.54 billion US tax dollars wasted.


What do you see in Iraq in terms of security that justifies spending 20 billion dollars -- $20,000,000,000?

The CIA estimates the Iraqi population to be 31.1 million. (Iraq hasn't had a census since the 90s.) When the US government refers to Iraq's "security forces," they are only speaking of the number employed by the central government out of Baghdad. So all of this money has just spent on the national forces. In a country with an estimate population of 30 million, how many security forces are there?

By September 2007, according to Brookings, they had 359,700. In the same month, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post noted that then-top US commander in Iraq Gen David Petraeus was using a higher figure of 445,000 at that same time and that this "suggest[s] he was including every person employed by the ministries in an effort to promote the size and capability of security forces that many experts say are plagued by absenteeism, attrition and sectarianism." Last December 7th, Luis Martinez (ABC News) reported US Lt Gen Frank Helmick had stated in the US military's "last briefing from Iraq" that Iraq's security forces number 700,000.
30 million population, nearly a million police officers. Iraq is not Malaysia. It's an oil rich country generating billions each year. How very fortunate for the US-installed puppet Nouri that these forces he's put under his own command -- not really how the Iraqi Constitution set it out -- were trained on the US tax payer dollar.

Please grasp that this figure doesn't include the $850 million that the US State Dept requested (and received) for Fiscal Year 2012 to, yes, train Iraq's security forces. And the 'good' news on that money? The letter explains that, after allocation, "the funds will be deposited into an Iraq FMF account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York where the GOI [Government Of Iraq] will decide how to use the funds."

And when you look over how that money's being allocated, you'll see that the US tax payer foots the bill for everything from night vision goggles to "training ammunition." Again, Iraq is not a struggling economy. It's not Ethiopia. It's an oil rich country that make billions every month in oil revenue.

But Nouri can't provide security and can't even pick up the bill for the security forces he has placed under his control. Who's safe in Iraq besides Nouri? Who's benefitted from all those billions spent on security?

On efforts to end -- or pretend to end -- the crisis Nouri started, Al Mada reports that the National Alliance is warning that the Reform Committee lacks "a magic wand." No one expected them to have a magic wand. People are more upset that they (a) have no teeth, (b) have no power and (c) are a for-show group. This evening, Alsumaria reported that State of Law was stating Deputy Prime Minister and Iraqiya member Saleh al-Mutlaq was supporting the Reform Commission. If true, this could be the most serious fracture Iraqiya has faced. They've written off the loss of members since the elections. This would be a high ranking member betraying them. Saleh al-Mutlaq, it should be remembered was tarred and feathered by Nouri's Justic and Accountability Commission in 2010 as a "Ba'athist." As such, he wasn't allowed to run in the elections. Iraqiya stood by him throughout that. In the second-half of December of last year, Nouri was attempting to strip al-Mutlaq of his position as a result of an interview al-Mutlaq gave CNN where he comapred Nouri to a dictator. Iraqiya stood behind him collectively and that was among the reasons he retained his office. So a defection like this -- even if he remained in Iraqiya -- would be a major turn -- and a major betrayal.
International leaders and the press betrayed Iraq and the citizens of the world by building a false case for the illegal war. Some of those international leaders never really leave the daily buzz. Take George W. Bush. PTI reports that the Dalai Lama has declared he and George W. Bush ad BFFs and, "Personally I love Bush but I have reservation on his policy towards Iraq." Personally, I was neutral on the Dalai Lama until a few years ago when he decided to let his homophobia run wild. After that, very little about the 'peaceful' Dalai Lama can surprise me -- not even his desire to be best friends with a War Criminal.
From Bush, who occupied the White House from January 2001 through January 2009. In England, the chief War Criminal was then-prime minister Tony Blair. Former British diplomat Craig Murray observes at his site, "Blair's latest attempt at rehabilitation is a discussion tomorrow at Westminister Central Hall with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the place of religion in society. A vexed question, but give that Blair believes God OK'd the invasion of Iraq and the resulting millions deaths, not one that can usefully be discussed by this charlatan." Meanwhile in England, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports, efforts continue to hide evidence from the public about how Blair and Bush planned or 'planned' the illegal war:
The Foreign Office (FCO) is appealing against a judge's ruling that extracts of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed.
It argues that revealing Blair's comments to Bush on the telephone on 12 March 2003 would present a "significant danger" to UK-US relations. It would lead to the US withholding information from Britain in the future, damaging Britain's security and diplomatic interests, the FCO says.
Those two War Criminals may not be able to lead nations into illegal war today but there are so many other of the original helpers still hungry with War Lust. The Atlantic was a big War Cheerleader back then. Today you can find John Hudson pondering, "Did Syria Receive Its Chemical Weapons from Saddam?" What a stupid War Whore. As Kirs Alenxander (Wired) notes, "No, Syria Doesn't Have Saddam's Chemical Weapons." Excerpt:
I’ve already debunked one of the rumors about Iraq’s WMD. I’m not buying this one. Here’s why.
First: Think about it for a second. Strategically and militarily, it made no sense for Saddam to transfer his weapons of mass destruction to Syria. Saddam worked on acquiring WMD for a reason: to stave off an invasion and hold on to power.
Just listen to a defeated Saddam for a second. In a post-invasion interview, Saddam admitted that he had been bluffing about his WMD. This is actually case-closed for the conspiracy theories about his weapons transfers.
But for a moment, let’s suppose that Saddam circumvented the most intrusive sanction regime the world has ever known and rebuilt his WMD programs after inspectors (and Israeli jets) destroyed them. His reasoning would have been deterrence — as Thomas Schelling put it, Saddam would have given his enemies a “threat that leaves something to chance.” That’s why the Assad regime threatens on and off to use WMD: It keeps the foreign hordes at bay. So why, with U.S. massing forces on his border, would Saddam give up the one thing he had to raise the cost of invading to the Americans?
At, John Glaser takes on the idiot and evil Seth Jones (evil? he taught counter-insurgency at the university level) and Jones' ridiculous attempts to build support for a Syrian War. Excerpt.
Well then genius, it might have been good not to have initiated regime change, no? US support for the rebel militias has emboldened the opposition, deepened the conflict, and allowed extremist insurgents to destabilize the Assad regime. Jones admits that one thing explaining al-Qaeda’s rise in Syria is “the draw of a new jihad—smack in the middle of the Arab world.” Like in Iraq, the US has helped create an al-Qaeda presence in Syria, which is now justifying even more military intervention.
Jones’s position is pitifully confused. Which policy is the US supposed to pursue in Syria – supporting the rebels in a proxy war against Assad, or fighting the rebels and eliminating the main threat to Assad’s regime? This isn’t quantum mechanics; we can’t exist in two different realities at once. Or are we just supposed to take any excuse to intervene at face value?
Jones is also contradictory: He admits al-Qaeda fighters are swarming to Syria because of the draw of jihad. Yet, he wants to “launch a covert campaign to ramp up intelligence-collection efforts against al Qaeda, capture or kill its senior leaders, and undermine its legitimacy.” Right, because nothing snuffs out al-Qaeda like an unprovoked US war in the Middle East.
Counter-insurgency is war on a native population through intimidation and deceit -- the US generally mixes in violence as well. So the question to ask is someone trained in deception should really be allowed to write opinion columns? Do we really need domestic psyops on the op-ed pages of our daily newspapers in this country?

Syria’s citizens are now another nation reduced to tragic turmoil resultant from being targeted in the post 11 September 2001 Pentagon plan to “take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran”, as described by General Wesley Clark.
US planned carnage in sovereign Syria was a bit behind schedule, but now back on track -- if out of predicted sequence — with another wannabe Crusader in the White House, this one with a Nobel Peace Prize. Fact mirrors fiction’s wildest darknesses, and from the “Nile to the Euphrates” the regions’ residents increasingly have only the most uncertain and tenuous places to hide.
Syria, with population of under 23 million, is also host to nearly half a million Palestinian refugees and the largest influx of Iraqi refugees in the world, a minimum of 1.2 million, who fled the US-UK’s liberating bombs, bullets, kidnappings, rapes, murders, ethnic cleansing, looting and mayhem.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that “Syria has been a generous host to Iraqi refugees.”
The horrors they fled after the invasion are again stalking those who thought they were now safe.
As the War Hawks get their jollies, life is forever destroyed for the people on the ground -- the ones that an alleged humanitarian impulse is screaming must be saved. From IRIN:
Thousands of Iraqi refugees returning from Syria will face huge challenges reintegrating into a country with high rates of unemployment, dismal basic services and ongoing sectarian strife.
“I think we will face a humanitarian crisis regarding this issue,” said Yaseen Ahmed Abbas, the president of the Iraq Red Crescent (IRC). “You should expect pressure on everything in Iraq by having such a large number of people in a short time. It’s not easy.”
More than 15,000 Iraqis have returned to Iraq in the past nine days, after unprecedented fighting in the Syrian capital Damascus, according to Deputy Minister of Displacement and Migration Salam Dawod Al Khafagy. The government evacuated 4,000 by air, he said; the rest crossed by land. Tens of thousands of others have returned since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011.
Elham was one of them. After seven years in Syria, she and her son returned on 3 July to Iraq, where she says she has nothing: “I am like a stranger here.”
After a few nights in a hotel, her money has run out and she is now staying with friends, she told IRIN. Her family home, abandoned years ago, then occupied, and now empty, is “not fit for living”, she says, and she has no capital to rebuild it. Her parents have since died and transferring the home into her name is another hurdle, she said.

Rami Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video) reports, "The Iraqi authorities crammed them together in local schools and government buildings and imposed strict restrictions on their movement. A Syrian refugee tells BBC, "Our main demand is to leave this prison and go to our relatives. If they don't let us out, we will return to our houses in Syria, whether they like it or not." Of the Syrian refugees, UNICEF notes:
Some people have taken displaced families into their own homes. One woman I know, Manal, who has two children of her own, has been hosting her extended family from Homs in her house for the past three months. Recently they all had to relocate, and took refuge in a school. Such generosity is becoming harder to sustain. Many shops are closed, so it is difficult for local residents to buy enough food and other basics to meet their own needs, let alone those of their guests.
Conditions in the schools are not easy, either. In one school in Masaken Barzeh, around 600 people are using just seven small toilets. The new residents do their best to keep the school clean. But they need cleaning supplies and awareness-raising about the importance of good hygiene. UNICEF is helping by supplying hygiene kits that contain detergents, shampoos, sanitary napkins, soap, towels and other personal hygiene items.
Sometimes the children themselves step up to help. I came across 14-year-old Maya who, along with seven other family members, had been relocated twice. She calls herself a “hygiene expert.” Volunteers were so impressed with her knowledge that it was agreed that Naya would be the school’s focal point for hygiene awareness. Naya promised to spend her free time going around telling other children about proper hygiene. “Younger kids listen to me, but I’m not sure about the grown-ups,” Naya laughed.
Another problem is keeping the children occupied. It is too hot to run around in the yard, and there is nothing to play with. UNICEF is providing the schools with recreational kits and sports kits through its local partners.
Violence continues in Iraq. With only a few days remaining in the month, Iraq Body Count notes that at least 376 people have been killed from violence in Iraq through yesterday. The United Nations counted 401 deaths last month. Iraq is on track to meet that figure or even surpass it. (The official Iraqi government numbers -- which the press ran with -- were much lower.) Today Alsumaria reports a Baghdad sticky bombing has claimed 1 life. It has been a very violent month in Iraq.  Margaret Griffis ( adds, "Twelve more militants were killed in clashes in Hadid. Yesterday, gunmen had managed to kill 12 security members, including one person on a helicopter that was forced to make a hard landing. "  Rudaw notes, "On Friday the ministry of Peshmerga said that the Iraqi government had sent troops to the border strip between Syria and the Kurdistan Region and that 3,000 Peshmerga fighters stationed in the area had stopped their advance.
There was serious concern about armed clashes between both sides."
On the violence, Deutsche Welle observes:

Intelligence sources say the Islamic State of Iraq terror network is in dire financial straits and that attacks are increasingly become contract killings. "Terror in Iraq is politically motivated," says Yonadam Kanna, one of the few Christian members of the Iraqi parliament. The government has been in a perpetual state of crisis since the US withdrew its troops at the end of 2011. In vain, the opposition has for months tried to enforce a vote of no-confidence against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They accuse him of assuming too much power while trying to keep Sunni Muslims at bay. Maliki's State of Law party is the second-strongest party in parliament; the bloc headed by his opponent Iyad Allawi has one seat more but failed to form a governing majority.
Two years ago, Maliki signed a coalition treaty for a "government of national unity" with various Shiite parties and Kurds. The agreement promised key ministries to Allawi, who was also to head a new security and surveillance agency. But none of the above ever materialized. Maliki is acting head of the interior and defense ministries and talk of a new security agency has ceased. Like Maliki, Allawi is a Shiite, but he enjoys the support of most Sunni parties. Tensions between the two politicians have for months paralyzed development in Iraq - everything but the oil sector has ground to a halt. The country has reached an economic and political standstill spelling disaster for the population.
Notice how the topic circles back to the stalemate. It has to because Nouri's inability to honor his agreements has left many in Iraq feeling disenfranchised and not willing to trust him anymore. That goes a long way towards explaining the present violence.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A fourth term for Bush?

"Defeat George W. Bush!" (Peter Breschard, Dissident Voice):
How can any reasonable person vote for George W. Bush again?
Why would any sane American cast a ballot for Bush to serve a fourth term?
It’s horrific enough that we still have troops in Afghanistan but in this present term, George W. has stepped out of line so many times, it boggles the mind.
Remember the sweetheart deal he cut with the giant pharmaceutical companies three years ago? He effectively tied the hands of the entire U.S. government and allowed the druggies to steal as much as they want. America has to pay whatever price the drug companies say? No negotiations? Unbelievable.
Remember how George W. finally got Bob Dole’s health care hustle passed? George signed a bill which forced millions of Americans to fork over trillions of dollars to private insurance companies. How’s that for a Republican wet dream? He didn’t allow universal health care to come up for discussion. Remember when he promised he’d never sign a bill which didn’t at least contain a public option? And what a boondoggle. This government has never before forced a citizens, just because they happen to be breathing, to purchase a product from a private company. What a precedent. Who knows what you’ll be forced to buy next? Buy Kleenex, it will save the government oodles of money. You think that’s funny? There’s precedent for it.
And how about that Wall Street bailout? Sure, maybe it had to be done, but shouldn’t he at least put one or two of the crooks from the Street in jail for a couple of months? Must be that prosecuting other Ivy League guys simply isn’t done.

If you didn't get it, Breschard's referring to Barack.  It's a clever tactic.  Some readers will start reading, check the date, see it is from this year and realize it's about Barack.

Bully Boy Bush has now had three terms.  He doesn't deserve a fourth.

People are imprisoned falsely, on fake evidence in many cases, the Constitution is shredded and he's got one war after another.

That's not what people who voted for him in 2008 thought they were getting.

Maybe Breschard's strategy will wake them up?

I hope so.  Something needs to.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, July 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence, UNAMI's mandate is extended another year, Tareq al-Hashemi discusses the case against him, Iraqi forces continue to attack protesters but Iraqis continue to protest,  the US Congress hosts a hodgepodge of a hearing with one member possibly getting trippy, and more.

This morning, US House Rep Jeff Miller noted that "in 1961 John F. Kennedy said we'd put a man on the moon, eight years later, we were there.  We're talking about an integrated electronic health records by 2017.  Why could we put a man on the moon in eight years and we're not starting from ground zero on the electronic health record -- why is it taking so long?" He was asking that of the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki who were appearing before a joint-hearing of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs Committee.  

Of course no real answer was given.  A grinning -- apparently amused -- Shinseki began his non-answer by declaring that "I can't account for the previous ten years."  Though he didn't say it, he also apparently couldn't account for the three years that he's been Secretary of the VA.  Three years and seven months.  You'd think Shinseki would be able to speak to the issue.  He couldn't.  He could offer that he met with Panetta four times this year with plans for a fifth meeting.  This was the same amount he met with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates but, apparently, in a few months less time.   I have no idea what that or his ridiculous grin was about. 

But I do think Shinseki may have inadvertantly provided an answer for the delay when he went on to declare,  "It's taken us seventeen months to get to an agreement that both Secretary Panetta and I signed that describes the way forward."  There's the problem right there. 

Back in March 2011 what was Shinseki bragging about?  As Bob Brewin ( reported, "Veteran Affairs Sectretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed on March 17 that their departments would develop a common electronic health record system."  So that was agreed to in March 2011.  But it took Shinseki and and Gates 17 months to figure out how?  There's your time waster right there.  And it was not needed.  Shinseki and Panette did not need to 'invent' a damn thing.  This is not a new issue.  VA has long ago addressed what they need with regards to records and DoD has identified the same.  And after this had been done (and redone), Robert Dole and Donna Shalala served on the Dole -Shalala Commission coming up with many of the same things.  The Dole -Shalala Commission was established in 2007 and formally known as the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.   Appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee February 7, 2008, VA's Dr. James Peake testified that this electronic record was "a critical recommendation in the Dole-Shalala Commission report."

The hearing meant nothing for progress on that issue.  It was an embarrassment.  Leon Panetta can take comfort in the fact that he's only now about to hit the one-year mark but Shinseki was sworn in back in January.   Shinseki will get easy press at the end of his term and no one will complain about the foot dragging, the refusal to utilize the work that was already done -- that tax payers footed the bill for over and over -- and instead to take a laid back and non-rush attitude towards something identified as "critical" by a presidential commission back in 2007. 

US House Rep Susan Davis would ask about the lack of coordination between VA and DoD and also about "the kind of counselors that are needed for this" -- the influx of veterans expected as the Afghanistan War draws down -- and will be aware of the service member issues and resources and veterans issues and resources?  Training was the reply from Panetta to a question that probably required something more than a stock reply.

Other issues were brought up.  For example, Sequestration was discussed.  This is an automatic measure that will kick in if the buget is not balanced.  Established in the hearing is the Veterans Affairs will not be effected but the Defense Dept will be. 

Chair Buck McKeon:   As I've already said, we know there's high unemployment among our veterans -- our young veterans.  And we know with the 487 billion cut in defense, we will have a hundred thousand leaving the military.  We will have another hundred thousand  if the sequestration takes effect.  What plans do you have to ensure that these service members will not go from the front lines to the unemployment lines?  And how do you see potential reduction in the Defense workforce resulting from the sequestration and what effect will that have on -- what will you be able to do to try to move them into some kind of meaningful employment?  Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well I sure as hell hope sequestration doesn't happen. 

Chair Buck McKeon:  I'm with you.

Secretary Leon Panetta:  It would be -- as I said -- time and time again, a disaster for the Department as far as our budget is concerned and as far as our ability to respond to the threats that are out there.  And it would have a huge impact.  It takes -- It doubles the cuts in the military.  It would obviously add another hundred thousand that would have to be reduced and the impact of that on top of the reductions that are currently going to take place would place a huge burden on the systems to be able to respond to that.  I think that it would be near impossible to do the work that we're trying to do and make it work effectively.  I think that we can handle what we've proposed in our budget and the drawdown numbers that are coming now.  We've tried to do this pursuant to a rational strategy over these next five years.  And I think the systems that we are working on and what we are trying to put together in place, I'm confidant in that. But if sequestration should happen and be put on top of it, I think it could really strain the system. 

Chair Buck McKeon:   Mr. Secretary, could you please give us that input for the record.

US House Rep Buck McKeon is Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, House Rep Adam Smith is Ranking Member.  On the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the leadership is Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Bob Filner.  There are many things that will be takeaways from today's hearing.  But the real take away should be Shinseki's ridiculous statement about the 'progress' on the eletronic medical record front,  "The fact that we've agreed upon a concept is, I think, groundbreaking."

Listening to that, it was hard not to recall Ranking Member Filner's opening remarks, specifically this: "The issues that we have, we've been talking as a Congress and with the Executive Branch for many, many years.   Decades in fact.  We've got to break down the bureaucratic stuff that keeps us from having a common health record system.  I mean it just -- People die because that system is not integrated enough.  It seems this is not beyond our capacity to get those systems integrated."  He said those words before either witness had spoken.  20 years in Congress did not make Bob Filner psychic but it has made him one of the most informed members of Congress on veterans issues.

Ranking Member Bob Filner:  In a democracy where you need  obviously the support and vote of people to go to war, the cost of war is a pretty important item to understand.  And treating our veterans is obviously part of the cost of war and should be considered that.  I have tried on several occasions to add an amendment to any war appropriations, 15 to 20% surcharge because that's the difference in your budgets for veterans.  And of course since we've been borrowing money for war, nobody wants to borrow the money for veterans.  So it's not looked on kindly.  But part of the cost of war, you know, we have the statistics show about 6,000 killed in action -- I'm sorry, 5,000 killed in action since 9-11.  And almost 50,000 wounded.  And yet those who have showed up at the VA for help -- and I know there are different definitions and different circumstances -- I think it close to or could be over a million. Why is there such a disparity between -- and it's important for the public to understand what is the cost of war?  How do you account for a million veterans seeking help for problems in war and only 50,000 considered casualties?  Mr. Panetta, I'll go to you first since you know how to manipulate the two minutes, you're looking to him, I know, so you don't have to answer?

Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well, no, I mean it's -- it clearly is the-the impact of war over the last 10 years and how it's effected those who have served and they do return.  When they come back, the reality is that, uh, not -- not all of them -- not all of them are getting the kind of care and benefits they should get. And it's our responsbility to try to respond to those kind of needs as they return.  This -- look, this system's going to be overwhelmed.  I mean, you know, let's-let's not kid anybody, we're looking at a system that's already overwhelmed.  The likelihood is that we drawdown further troops and, uh, as we -- over these next five years, assuming sequester doesn't happen, we are still going to -- we are going to be adding another hundred thousand per year.  And the ability to be able to respond to that in a way that effectively deals with the health care issues, with the benefits issues, with all the other challenges.  That is not going to be an easy challenge.  And, uh, the cost, you talk about the cost of-of war, this is always part of the cost of war.  It's not just dealing with fighting, it's also dealing with the veterans who return and that is going to be a big ticket item, if we're going to do this right.

Ranking Member Bob Filner:  I just hope you'll look at that boot camp idea as a way to really get at that issue.

What idea?  Ava's covering it tonight at Trina's site. 

US House Rep Silvestre Reyes noted his hope that they could do more joint-hearings like this and, earlier, Ranking Member Bob Filner had noted they had tried repeatedly to do a joint-hearing like this with the two Secretaries but had been unsuccessful.  If they do have another hearing, they might want to have a basic topic.  I have never sat through such a disorganized hearing or heard someone muse at length -- and mistakenly, he would be corrected after -- as US House Rep Hank Johnson did in the middle of the hearing.  What was the point of any of those remarks -- none of which were questions?  You had two minutes to ask either or both Panetta and Shinseki questions and instead you offered some sort of enjambment poem? 

Even in a scattershot hearing, that stood out.  Why did he even show up?  I asked Betty's father on the phone if veterans issues aren't a concern in the area?  (Betty's father, who is a veteran, is also a constituent of Hank Johnson's.)  And he couldn't understand why his representative wasted the time instead of utilizing it.  I sat through it and I still don't know what that nonsense was?

"Back from the Battlefield" is probably too broad of a topic for a hearing, let alone a joint-hearing.  But many people did raise important issues in their time.  Take US House Rep Loretta Sanchez who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: In preparing for this hearing, I asked my staff back in Orange County to go through the casework we have with respect to veterans in transtion.  And although we have a great relationship with our VA in Longbeach and we have two clinics -- one in Santa Ana and one in Anaheim -- in our district, the reality is that the most troublesome area with respect to these cases involved the quality and the lack of health care for our service members who are transitioning from active or having been called up and now out into the veteran world if you will.  And, in fact, I have a lot of veterans who come to my office and they express real concern about not receiving treatment or having a longtime to wait for a speciality doctor, for example.  In Longbeach, it would be oncology where we must be short-staffed or something of the sort.  And the other really big concern for them is being prepped up for surgery and then somebody on the surgery team then doesn't show up -- out of whatever -- and then the surgery is postponed..  And it isn't until these people come to my office  and we call in directly that we're able to get that rescheduled.  So my question is how are you addressing these types of concerns with respect to health care and why, if a surgery's scheduled, why aren't people showing up to be on that surgery team?  And, more importantly, why does it take a Congressional office to call to ask that it be rescheduled?

Of course Shinseki had to take it for the record (meaning his office will respond to her questions after they've looked into the matter, respond outside the hearing).  But you better believe veterans in her district are about to find rescheduling postponed surgeries a lot easier.  She used her time wisely and served her constituents -- probably better than anyone else present (and that was just her first question). 

Contrast that with Johnson's "spread my love for you  publicly" and "true gentleman" and "the underdog is now on top" rambles.  Offering up bios "become the Secretary of the Army -- Chairman of the Army?  Or whatever.  Uhhhhmmm.  Hmmm."  At the end of his pause -- word -- pause -- stumble what is one to say?

"Far out!"?  "Groovy!"? 

Maybe: "Who's holding?" 

He stops his ramble to note he's hearing thing and then attempts to reproduce the sound.  When told his time has expired, he responds, "Already?" 

Again, what do you say after all that?

No one was served by that crap.  No one.  And if you're going to tell a witness their own biography, have your facts straight.  But better yet, don't waste everyone's time with that garbage to begin with.  It's a real shame Johnson doesn't seem to believe that he has veterans in his district and that they have needs that should have been addressed.  That was embarrassing and there's no excuse for it.  Maybe Jay Leno was right and we should be drug testing members of Congress?

I have no idea but enduring that nonsense was like one of those Congressional townhalls where you are all waiting hours to way in on an issue but everyone has to first endure the idiot who brought a guitar and can't sing and can't write a song but wants to force all gathered to endure his little ditty as he stands at the mike.

It was a distraction and a diversion.  Fortunately, others had serious issues to explore.  Such as suicide.

US House Rep Mike Michaud:  Quick question, and I want to read from a Veterans Service Organization letter that they actually sent to Senator [Jim] Webb just last week.  And just part of it says, "The only branch of the military to show a marked improvement decreasing the number of persons taking their own life is the United States Marines.  They should also be praised for their active leadership from the very top in addressing the problem and implementing the solutions.  The remaining services have yet to be motivated to  take any substanative action. "  Secretary Panetta, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and I've looked the generals in the eye and I've asked them what are they doing personally to help the stigmatized TBI, PTSD?  And the second question is: Do they need any help?  I get the same answer over there as I do over here in DC: 'Everything's okay.  We've got all the resources we need.  We don't need any help.'  But the interesting thing is someone much lesser ranked came up to me, after I asked the general that question, outside and said, "We need a lot more help."  And he suggested  that I talk to the clergy to find out what they are seeing happening.  And I did that trip and every trip since then.  And I'm finding that our service members are not getting the help that they need.  And my question, particularly after looking at this letter that was sent to Senator Webb, it appears the Marines are doing a good job so why is it so different between the Marines, the Army and other branches?  And can you address that?

Secretary Leon Panetta: You know -- Obviously, there's no silver bullet here.  I wish there were to try to deal with suicide prevention.  We-we have a new suicide prevention office that's trying to look at programs  to try to address this terrible epedemic. I  mean, we are looking.  If you look at just the numbers, recent total are you've got about 104  confirmed and 102 pending investigation in 2012.  The total of this is high,, almost 206.  That's nearly one a day.  That is an epedemic.  Something is wrong.  Part of this is people are inhibited because they don't want to get the care that they probably need. So that's part of the problem, trying to get the help that's necessary.  Two, to give them access to the kind of care that they need.  But three -- and, again, I stress this because I see this in a number of other areas, dealing with good discipline and good order and, uh, trying to make sure that our troops are responding to the challenges -- it is the leadership in the field.  It's the platoon commander.  It's the platoon sergeant.  It's the company commander. It's the company sergeant.  The ability to look at their people, to see these problems.  To get ahead of it and to be able to ensure that when you spot the problems, you're moving that individual to the kind of-of assistance that they need in order to prevent it.  The Marines stay in close touch with their people.  That's probably one of the reasons that the Marines are doing a good job.  But what we're stressing in the other services is to try to develop that-that training of the command.  So that they two are able to respond to these kinds of challenges. 

US House Rep Mac Thornberry also raised the issue of suicides, noting Time magazine's recent cover story (July 23rd issue), Mark Thompson &; Nancy Gibbs' "One A Day: Every day, one U.S. soldier commits suicide.  Why the military can't defeat its most insidious enemy."  He raised the issue of "33% of all military suicides have never deployed overseas at all and 43% had deployed once."  Panetta confirmed that statistic from the article was accurate.  Panetta argued that suicide is on the rise "in the larger society" and that this is reflected within the military.  Chair McKeon wanted to know if the age group committing suicide in the military was reflective of the age group doing the same in the civilian sphere?  Shinseki stated that in the age group of 15-34, suicide is the third leading cause of death and, in the age group of  25 to 34,  it is the second leading cause of death.

There are three more members of Congress we may note from the hearing tomorrow.

Today the United Nations extended UNAMI's mandate.  The UN News Centre notes:

The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year, while also reiterating its encouragement of further progress in the country's security, humanitarian, human rights and political fronts.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15- member body encouraged the Government of Iraq "to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, improving security and public order and combating terrorism and sectarian violence across the country, and reiterating its support to the people and the Government of Iraq in their efforts to build a secure, stable, federal, united and democratic nation, based on the rule of law and respect for human rights."
The Council welcomed improvements in the Middle Eastern country's security situation, while stressing that challenges remain and "that improvements need to be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national unity."

In Qatar today, Al Jazeera landed an exclusive interview  with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  al-Hashemi is being tried in absentia in Iraq.  Nouri has declared him a terrorist.  Nouri's court has consistently ruled against him (this week they won't let him call President Jalal Talabani as a character witness) and the same court held a press conference in February announcing he was guilty before the trial had even begun -- that he was guilty and that he was trying to kill them.  The insanity never ends when Nouri's left in charge of Iraq.  From the interview.

Stephen Cole: Now the Iraq government accused you of running the death squads against Shia pilgrims, officials and security.  What's your official reaction to that?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Thank you very much for this interview.  In fact, I could absolutely say there is no crime case.  There is a political case and all of these confessions, in fact, have been accepted under severe torturing.  And one of my guards being killed.  More missing. And unfortunately in fact, I didn't receive any sort of fair trial as is written in the Constitution.  Therefore, I've been obliged to go and address the United Nations and NGOs to look after my case, in fact.

Stephen Cole: And you say this is a political case against you.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: That's right.

Stephen Cole:  What do you mean by that? Are you saying a vendetta or what --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemmi: Well the problem in fact is the judicial system has already lost its neutrality and lost its independence and is becoming just an instrument in the hand of the prime minister -- Mr. Maliki, in fact -- who has a committee very close to the circles surrounding him. This committee is in fact fabricating files against the active politicians in Iraq like myself -- all the time being seen and known as one of the most active advocate of national security, to the human rights to the stability to known interference of neighboring countries and I all the time in fact be seen as an opposition to Maliki and this is why he's fabricating this case and presented --

Stephen Cole: So you're saying that the case is made up against you basically?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: It's totally been fabricated.

Stephen Cole: Is this a Sunni-Shia conflict or --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it yes.

Stephen Cole: -- is there any Kurdish involvement as well?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it is, partially is.

Stephen Cole: Partially?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Partially. Because I belong to Iraqiya. Iraqiya is a non-sectarian political entity. And, as your fully aware, even the chairman, the leader of Iraqiya is a Shia -- Ayad Allawi. He's not a Sunni, for instance. But regardless of that fact, part of my political targeting is because my position in my community. If you were to check innocent people behind bars, it's more than 90% of them belong to the Sunni community. So the Sunni are in a real tragedy as far as Iraq is concerned.

Stephen Cole: So once again, you're returning to the fact that you're being persecuted, in your words, for your political views, your religious views?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: I said partially. I did not say that exclusively. So I am one of the political advocates advocating and opposing to al-Maliki and Maliki policy but, at the same time in fact, that political motivation is partly because I belong to the Sunni community you see.

Stephen Cole:  Alright. Every month there have been coordinated attacks in Iraq. Using car bombs, mortars, gun fire. Do you think it's linked to this political crisis? It's linked to Iraq Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite tensions.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Whether we like it or not, the ongoing violence is just a reflection of the fragile political situation of Iraq.

 AFP 'reports' "After the initial charges were filed, he fled to Iraq's autonmous Kurdish region." Oh, they think they're clever in being pejorative.  Reality:

The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around.  The press rarely gets that fact correct.  When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a  boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry .  Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point.  Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya.  December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .

 Nouri caused the political crisis.  Most pin the start of the current stalemate to the above events in December.  But it even goes back beyond that.  Following the March 2010 elections, there was an eight month stalemate as second place Nouri refused to budge or let anything go forward until the Constitution, democracy and the vote was set aside and he was given a second term as prime minister.  He got away with that crap because the White House backed him on it.  The brokered the Erbil Agreement which all the heads of the political blocs signed off on -- including Nouri.  In exchange for this, you get that.  And what Nouri got was a second term as prime minister.  But he took that and then shredded the Erbil Agreement after he got what he wanted.  He refused to honor the contract.  That's what the stalemate's about.  It's not complicated.  Since the summer of last year, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  In April when the move towards a no-confidence vote in Nouri began, Moqtada repeatedly stated that Nouri could stop the effort cold just by returning to the Erbil Agreement.  This isn't complicated, this doesn't require a forensic investigation.

 All Iraq News notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi hosted a meeting of his political slate last night but that details on the meeting weren't know.  They add that Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq yesterday (al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya).

In related news, AKnews states, "An Iraqi legal expert said he is counting on the results of the efforts of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the oil disputes between Baghdad and Erbil after visiting and meeting with officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan Region, adding that the crisis will be resolved during the next two days."  That may be but this All Iraq News report where ExxonMobil's accused of violating Iraq's sovereignty and more by an MP close to Nouri doesn't make it appear to be a sure thing.  In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG entered into an oil agreement which has enraged Nouri.  Now Chevron's followed ExxonMobil's lead and signed an oil deal with the KRG. Yesterday, Reuters noted, "Iraq hit out at Chevron Corp over its just-signed oil contract with Kurdistan, barring it from any oil agreements with the centeral government in a move meant to deter other companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous northern region."

 Meanwhile, as Kitabat explains, Nouri al-Maliki has yielded to international pressure (actually, to international shaming) and is backing off his previous stance and now allowing Syrian refugees (not just Iraqis returning from Syria) into Iraq.  AFP notes that the plan now is for "camps at two of its three border crossings with Syria."  Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) reports that one border crossing is open in Al Anbar Province, "But as for Syrian refugees, the UN is saying there's still no sign of them in huge numbers.  But the Iraqi government has decided to allow in those refugees and it's discussing with the UN refugee agency putting them in a camp near the border in western Al Anrbar at the lead border crossing.  That camp now holds Palestinian refugees who've been there for several years as well as other nationalities but it will be expanded, the UN tells us, to accomodate other refugees."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated last month that the US equivalent of $193 million was needed to assist refugees from Syria.  That figure may be revised shortly because there's a larger number than expected seeking shelter in surrounding countries of Jordna, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.  Last week, UNHCR's Adrian Edwards noted, "The number of Syrian refugees registered or assisted by UNHCR in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey has almost tripled since April 2012 and now stands at 112,000.  Three quarters are women and children.  This actual number of Syrian refugees is thought to be significantly higher, as many people seek to be registered only when they run out of resources."

Last week, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council that he'd visited the Syrian refugee camp in the KRG (semi-autonomous region of Iraq, controlled by the Kurds) and that the number of refugees in the camp was 7,000.  Kitabat notes that Syrian Kurds are especially choosing to flee Syria for the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.  While many are fleeing Syria, the number of Iraqis fleeing is about 10% (possibly less -- it's around 10% of the official number of Iraqi refugees in Syria).  Yesterday UNHCR's Melissa Fleming declared, "The violence in Syria has prompted over ten thousand Iraqi refugees to return home since Wednesday last week.  Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria."  Ammar Karim (AFP) reports that the returning "find themselves returning to a homeland where basic services remain poor and unemployment and housing costs are still high."  Widow Faatin Mohammed Hussein is quoted stating, "Life is much easier in Syria than in Iraq.  There you can live in a house for $200 a month, and finding a job is easy.  Here, finding work is difficult, and housing is very expensive.  Where can I work to provide food for my son and daughter?"

 Xinhau reports that the Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement online claiming that Monday's attacks which left over 115 dead was the first step in their "Breaking The Walls" plan which they announced Sunday.  They quote from the statement:  "The coordinated jihadist operations have stunned the enemy and made him lost his mind, and showed the failure of intelligence and security plans which filled the world with noise and bluster."  Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes from the new announcement: "As part of the new military campaign aimed at recovering territory given up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan.  The operations by the jihadists have stunned the enemy and made him lose his head.  It has demonstrated the failings of the security and intelligence services."  Along with the 115 dead, The Voice of Russia notes over three hundred people were injured in Monday's violence.  KUNA reports, "Arab League General Secretariat on Wednesday strongly condemned the series of bombings that hit some Iraqi cities on Monday, which targeted security and civilian buildings, causing numerous deaths."

Iraq Body Counts notes at least 355 people have been killed by violence in Iraq so far this month.

Alsumaria notes today saw a Diyala Province roadside bombing which left five people injured, a Diayal Prvoince attack which left 2 police officers dead, a Diayala Province roadside bombing which left one police officer injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left 4 people dead, 1 government employee shot dead in Baghdad, an Abu Ghraib bombing that wounded two security officers, 1 police officer shot dead in Nineveh Province, a second armed attack in Nineveh left 2 police officers dead, a Nineveh roadside bombing wounded two soldiers, 1 retired Peshmerga was shot dead in Kirkuk, a Wasit sitcky bombing which left a police officer and his wife injured and 2 corpses were discovered in Dohuk Province.   Alsumaria also reports that the FPS director was in his convoy to the south of Mosul when a bombing targeting him went off. Police state he survived and do not mention any dead or note any wounds to (him or anyone else).  Others weren't so lucky.  AFP reports a Salahuddin Province car bombing has claimed the lives of a police officer's wife and their four children.   Alsumaria reports a member of Parliament's Security and Defence Committee is calling for the security strategies to be changed and for all of Iraq to be protected which is most likely a criticism of the the strategy that places a premium on securing the Green Zone while other areas of Iraq suffer.  (Additional security and anti-aircraft devices have been put around mosques and shrines over the weekend.  Why?  I don't know apparently Nouri's expecting some sort of invasion of Iraqi skies.)   All Iraq News picks up on the story noting MP Riad Saadi declared that security was deteriorating and that attacks indicate additional security needs to be sent to other cities.  As long as they're examing causes, they might want to read the report Dar Addustour posted last night about a Thursday assault in Diwaniya.  Who was doing the assaulting, I'd argue the police who showed up and started arresting "dozens" of protesters last Thursday at which point activists and bystanders responded by throwing rocks at the police who opened fire on the protesters. 

 Despite the recent history of assaulting protesters, Iraqis continue to protest.  Alsumaria reports that tonight, in Basra, they turned out by the dozens to protest the declining electrical service, that they set fire to tires and that the military and the police were sent in.  Nasser Awad tells Aljazeera that the protest wasn't well planned because it was spontaneous.  He also states that this is just the start and more protests will take place over the coming nights.

A recent report in the UK Guardian by Charlie Skelton explains that Western news outlets remain willing victims (or accomplices) in a propaganda campaign for US -NATO led Syrian intervention being carried out by skilled and well-financed public relations practitioners. According to Skelton, "the spokespeople, the 'experts on Syria', the 'democracy activists' … The people who 'urge' and 'warn' and 'call for action'" against the Assad regime are themselves part of a sophisticated and well-heeled public relations effort to allow NATO forces to give Syria the same medicine administered to Libya in 2011. "They're selling the idea of military intervention and regime change," Skelton reports,
"and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the "activists" and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn't necessarily pure news – it's a sales pitch, a PR campaign."[1]
If one thinks that a revelation of this magnitude would be cause for other major Western news media to reassess their reportage of the Syrian situation they would be greatly mistaken. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now is a case in point. Since the beginning of the "Arab Spring" color revolutions the foremost broadcast venue of "independent" progressive-Left journalism in the United States has used its reportage to obfuscate and thereby advance the campaign for regime change in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. The tactics of disinformation and death squads employed in Libya and Syria should be easily recognizable since they were refined against popular Central American moves toward popular enfranchisement by the Reagan administration during the 1980s.
As Finian Cunningham recently observed [2] Democracy Now's adherents look to Goodman on a regular basis because of her perceived credibility; she is the self-avowed " exception to the rulers"—a tireless crusader against the restrictive corporate media where there remains a "deafening silence … around the issues -- and people -- that matter most."[3] Today Goodman's vaunted program is contributing to the very violence being committed by Western-backed mercenaries against the Syrian people.
Goodman and similar Left media are engaging and convincing precisely because of their posturing against corporate media control, economic exploitation and war mongering. Occupying the outer contours of National Public Radio's milquetoast programming, Democracy Now's self-described "independent" reportage takes on a certain aura of authenticity among its supporters --mainly progressives with concerns for social justice and human rights.
Such characteristics make Goodman and Democracy Now among the most effective sowers of disinformation. Further, their role in assuaging an educated and otherwise outspoken audience serves only to aid and abet the wanton military aggression Goodman and her cohorts claim to decry. In light of the program's broader coverage of the "Arab Spring," such reporting must be recognized and condemned as sheer public relations for NATO and the Obama administration's campaign of perpetual terrorism and war on humanitarian grounds.[4]

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's spirit in this land

I'm not joking with the headline.  I hope you read Cedric and Wally this morning:

Their humor post today focused on the protests that greeted Barack in Oakland yesterday. 

I read it and laughed as I usually do at their humor posts.  But I thought, "It's a real shame that only Oakland's left enough to have any kind of real turnout for a protest like that."

I was wrong.  This photo essay of his Portland, Oregon visit today demonstrates that leftists turned out to protest the Drone War, to protest the attacks on activists while the crooks of Wall St. run free, and much more.

So there is a living left in the nation.  Not just the die hards who do great work via World Can't Wait.  Applause for Debra Sweet and all the rest.  They are tireless and highly effective.  But that two left cities -- Oakland and now Portland -- would find a people on the left willing to make demands?

It's almost like we've got a functioning left back.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, a number of people share their hypothesis on yesterday's violence (the worst of the year thus far), Amnesty International issues a call for Iraq to halt all executions, we examine Barack Obama's claim "I will stand with our troops every single time," finish up on the MST Congressional hearing, and more.
Yesterday, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech to the VFW. Michael A. Memoli and Kathleen Hennessey reported on the speech for the Los Angeles Times and David Sider reported on it for McClatchy Newspapers. Don Gonyea (Morning Edition, NPR -- link is audio and transcript) noted it this morning in a report that quoted Barack stating, "I will stand with our troops every single time."
But you didn't, Barack, but you didn't. Not in 2009.
Dropping back to the June 9, 2009 snapshot:
This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
The US military believed that they had in custody those who had orchestrated the killing of 5 US soldiers. Barack Obama may claim this week, "I will stand with our troops every single time," but he didn't in June 2009.
He chose to stand with the British. He chose to release people believed to be responsible for the deaths of 5 US soldiers.
He did that and refused to answer questions about it -- and the timid press refused to ever ask him about it when they had him for a sit down. We know what the father of Jonathan B. Chism thought, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
Somebody needs to. And when Barack boasted, "I will stand with our troops every single time," he should have been booed. 5 US service members believed to be killed by the League of Righteous -- brutally killed, kidnapped and killed -- and Barack orders the release of the leaders and does so because he wants to score points with the British? No, he did not choose to stand with US troops.
And what came of the deal he made with the League of the Righteous? It didn't end there. It didn't end with the December 30, 2009 release of British citizen Peter Moore who was alive or with the three corpses Alec Maclachlan (body handed over in September), Jason Crewswell (body handed over in June) and Jason Swindelhurst (body handed over in June). That left Alan McMenemy. And we called Barack out for this deal, we've continued to call him out. But, too bad for Barack, terrorists talk. They tattle.
Alan McMenemy, sadly, was already dead. Had been dead for a long time. But his return was delayed. Dropping back to July 9, 2011:
Though Barry's 'big' deal was supposed to free all five, the League, years later, is now insisting they want a new deal (and figure Barry's just the pushover to give it to them?).
Al Mada reports they have issued a statement where they savage the US government for not honoring -- and quickly honoring -- the agreement made with them. As a result, they say Alan McMenemy will not be released.
Peter Moore, the only one released alive, was a computer tech working in Iraq. Four British bodyguards were protecting him. The bodyguards were McMenemy, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec MacLachlan and Jason Cresswell. The families of the four have continued to publicly request that Alan McMenemy be released.
They condemn the "procrastionation" of the US government after the deal was made and state that a promise was also broken when "US forces did not stop attacks" -- apparently Barack made very grand promises -- so now Alan McMenemy will not be released. The statement is credited to Akram al-Ka'bi.
What the statement really does is demonstrate what many condemned in 2009: The US government, the administration, entered into an agreement that did not benefit the US or Iraq. They freed known killers from prison. Killers of Iraqis, killers of American citizens. There was nothing to be gained by that act for Iraq or the US. At some point, history will ask how Barack Obama thought he was fulfilling his duties of commander in chief by making such an ignorant move?
Poor Barack. He made a deal with terrorists and the terrorists weren't kind enough to stay quiet about it. January 5th of this year they said they'd release the body of Alan McMenemy and did. It really was the British government's responsibility, their five citizens. The US government's responsibility should have been putting the League on trial. Certainly if you claim "I will stand with our troops every single time" that should be what you do.
But it gets worse. They were the leaders of the group behind it. There was also a name that's received a great deal more attention from the press: Ali Mousa Daqduq. He was the Lebanese that the US military kept in custody in Iraq. Possibly because he wasn't an Iraqi, the League didn't care about getting his release.
December 17, 2011, Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported on what was termed "a move likely to unleash a political backlash inside the United States." What was he reporting on? The White House's decision to release Ali Musa Daqduq to the Iraqi government, the man "accused of helping to orchestrate a January 2007 raid by Shiite militants who wore U.S.-style uniforms and carried forged identity cards. They killed five U.S. soldiers -- one immediately and four others who were kidnapped and later shot and dumped beside a road." Reporting on it the same day, Matt Apuzzo (AP) noted the reactions of two US senators.
Senator Mark Kirk (in a letter before the release): "Daqduq's Iranian paymasters would like nothing more than to see him transferred to Iraqi custody, where they could effectively pressure for his escape or release. We truly hope you will not let that happen."
Senator Saxby Chambliss (after news broke of the release): "Rather than ensure justice for five American soldiers killed by Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, the administration turned him over to Iraq, once again completely abdicating its responsibility to hold on to deadly terrorists. Given Iraq's history of releasing detainees, I expect it is only a matter of time before this terrorist will be back on the battlefield."
Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported that US National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor insisted that the White House "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes." Some assurances. May 7th, Daqduq was cleared of all charges. Senator Kelly Ayotte released a statement that day noting that she and 19 other US Senators lodged their objection to transferring Daqduq July 21, 2011 in a formal letter which "expressed the Senators' concerns that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody might result in his release and a return to terrorist activities." Those concerns were dismissed. When the May 7th verdict came down the White House demanded a "do-over" in Iraqi courts. No surprise (except maybe to the White House) the same Iraqi courts cleared Daqduq of the charges which led the July 12th fuming from the White House that appeared to be just for show:

Lara Jakes and Qassim abdul-Zahra (AP) report that Antony Blinken -- Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser -- states that the US wants Daqduq to be hld and that they not only want to see him extradited to the US, they've already made that request. They also note, "Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council said the appeals court ruling is final and there are no charges pending against Daqduq. Ali al-Moussawi, media adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said he was unaware of any U.S. request to extradite Daqduq."
The White House said they had made a request. Iraq said, no, they hadn't. And there's been no mention of it since -- the press really rolls over for this administration -- despite the fact that Blinken was just in Iraq last week and was holding Nouri's hand and cooing in his ear so much that Nouri was bragging to the press that the White House was siding with him and not ExxonMobil with regards to the oil deal Nouri wants cancelled (between ExxonMobil and the KRG).
Again, yesterday Barack Obama claimed, "I will stand with our troops every single time." That's the claim, the record suggests something else completely.
Why this isn't addressed is a question you should be asking of not just the media but also of politicians. Not only did Barack's action break the public claim of "We don't negotiate with terrorists" (the US government did and does), American lives, the American fallen, were judged not to matter. At a time of war, the American fallen were judged not to matter by the White House. This isn't a minor issue. If we're speaking to a group of veterans or group of family members of veterans they bring this up. They don't always know the names of all the fallen but they know Barack cut a deal and released the leaders of the League of Righteous and that he refused to prosecute Daqduq. It's only the press and the politicians that play dumb on this topic.
Did Ronald Reagan make a deal with Iran to get them not to release the hostages so Jimmy Carter would be defeated in November 1980? I'm a liberal so I've always believed it to be true. (One of the reasons I thought it was true was Robert Parry's reporting. Robert Parry's 'reporting' in the last four years has been so awful that I can no longer say, "It's true!" But, even now, I believe it.) Is there any conclusive proof? Nope. But the mainstream press -- including PBS, including Frontline -- have been more than happy to explore that possibility repeatedly over the years. Yet when they encounter a real deal, they rush to look the other way. It must really be something to know you can betray the fallen during war time and the press is never going to hold your feet to the fire. I asked a friend at CBS News about that today. If Mitt Romney picked up on it, the press would probably cover it, I was told. But when it went down, I was told, no one made a big deal out of it. I didn't know veterans' families were "no one."
Blood flowed through the streets of Iraq yesterday as bombings and shootings resulted in the most deaths in a single day of the year so far. This morning, AP notes that the death toll from Monday's attacks "has risen to 115." Reuters notes the increase and credits it in part to a Baghdad bombing and a Baquba bombing "late on Monday" which claimed 9 lives and thirty-one injured.
Commentators debate whether this was the first step in the Islamic State of Iraq's self-proclaimed "Breaking The Walls" plan. Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers:

Viewed in isolation, the attacks are serious enough: the destabilising effect on a country that shows few signs of overcoming deep distrust among its Shias, Sunnis and Kurds is worrying. So too the fact that the postwar hope -- the unifying influence of the state -- has once again been unable to stop a multi-city slaughter.
However, when seen through the prism of the rest of the region's woes, the latest events take on an even more serious perspective. Neighbouring Syria is fast sliding towards full-blown war, with a real risk of a sectarian spillover into a region that has seen hardening sectarian positions in all corners for the last 18 months.
Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) offers an overview and examination of various issues.
Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) speaks to two analysts to get their take. From the left, Phyllis Bennis states, "This would have happened if the U.S. pulled out earlier or in another 10 years. What we left behind in Iraq was raw sectarian identity that is playing out in absolutely brutal ways." From the right, Max Boot declares, "It's not out of control yet, but it's certainly moving in a dangerous direction. The U.S. is basically AWOL." Phyllis hasn't published a piece on Iraq today. Boot did, continuing the conversation at Commentary, and arguing:
So much for the claims of American and Iraqi officials that violence is on the wane. In fact, as noted by the New York Times, "The attacks were likely to continue the trend of the first six months since the departure of American troops, when violence has steadily increased, according to United Nations statistics." If the trend continues this will mark a remarkable defeat -- and a self-inflicted one -- for American policy in the Middle East.
If only the U.S. had been able to keep troops in Iraq past 2011, the odds are that Iraqi forces would have had greater success in continuing to crack down on AQI. The U.S. presence was particularly important for providing intelligence support to the Iraqis as well as pressuring Prime Minister Maliki to share power with Sunnis so as to avoid fueling a sectarian conflagration. With the U.S. out of the picture, Maliki is busy accumulating dictatorial power and the Iraqi security forces appear to be fighting half-blind, thus allowing AQI to rise from the grave like a zombie.
CNN shares the thought of the Center for American Progress' Brian Katulis. Or 'thoughts.' He argues, as the headline notes, "It's up to Iraq's government to prevent a civil war." Interesting. It wasn't up to Iraq to decide whether or not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in March 2003. It wasn't up to Iraq when US troops left (if it had been, US troops would have left in 2003). And in terms of Brian himself, he didn't seem to think, last December, that Iraq's take on Syria was up to Iraq. No, he thought the US government should pressure Iraq to get them on board. But now? Now, it's all on Iraq. Even if the the White House insisting in 2010 that second place Nouri get a second term as prime minister is partly to blame for today's violence, there's nothing the US can do and it's all on Iraq.
Unlike Brian Katulis, I spent every year calling for all US troops and contractors out of Iraq immediately. I stand by that call. That doesn't mean there's nothing the US can do. What a stupid thought and how very telling. His mind-set is why there's war, war, war, all the time war. There are a million things that the US can do to influence the outcome. Nouri's government, for example, wants out of the UN's Chapter VII. The US can refuse to support that if certain steps aren't met. The US can refuse to deliver the F-16s Nouri lusts over, that's a bargaining chip right there. War is not the answer to everything but how telling that Brian Katulis believes it's troops on the ground or there's nothing the US can do.
On the violence and the political situation, the editorial board of Gulf News observes: "What started as a fragile coalition run by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has become a much more authoritarian regime, which is now seen by many non-Shiites as favouring the Shiite community. This has started a serious review by many Sunni politicians of the original desire to see a strong and centralised state. They foresee many years of Shiite-dominated government and therefore have shifted to promote more devolution of power to provincial governments, along the lines of what the Kurds have already done in their provinces."
Violence continues today in Iraq. Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing in which 1 child was killed and two women were injured early this morning and an attack on a police patrol in Diyala Province left 1 police officer dead and three more injured. AP adds a Tuz Khormato motorcycle bombing claimed the live osf 6 "Kurdish intelligence officials," and a Baquba mini-bus bombing claimed 3 lives and left twenty-nine people injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 336 killed in Iraq this month from violence.
Iraq is on track to hold the title for most executions in 2012. Amnesty International issued the following this afternoon:
Contact: Suzanne Trimel,, 212-633-4150, @strimel
(New York) – Amnesty International today urged Iraqi authorities to commute all pending death sentences and impose a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty after the chief of police in the Iraqi governorate of Anbar announced on Monday a Court of Cassation decision to uphold 196 death sentences in the region.
It is unclear if the sentences have been ratified by the Iraqi presidency yet.
The announcement gave no timeline for carrying out the executions but expressed a hope that it would be soon.
"After this alarming announcement, Iraqi authorities must move quickly to commute all death sentences and declare a moratorium on executions across the country," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"If the Iraqi authorities carry out these death sentences, they would nearly quadruple Iraq's already shocking execution record so far this year."
In the first half of 2012 alone, Iraq executed at least 70 people, which is already more than the figure for all of last year.
According to Amnesty International's information, in 2011 a total of at least 68 people were executed in Iraq. Around the country, hundreds of others are believed to remain on death row.
The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty – the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
Last week, the United Nations Security Council had a special briefing on Iraq from the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Martin Kobler. On the issue of the death penalty, he stated:
Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes. I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition. I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007.
Turning to the United States . . .
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: As I began to prepare testimony for this hearing, I had occassion to speak with a colleague who devoted over 20 years of service to the military. He continues to serve as a civilian with the Department of Defense. I happened to mention to him that I was invited to testify before this committee on this important topic. After stating that he was about to share something with me that he had never shared with anyone, not even his wife, he told me the following story. He enlisted in the military at the age of 17. It was the late 1970s. Within the first year of his service, he was sexually assaulted by two men with whom he served, as part of an initiation process. He was humiliated and devastated. He told no one. He said, "There was no one to tell -- reporting would have made my life much worse. The stigma would have further damaged me and my career. I felt overwhelming guilt and shame." This veteran suffered the consequences of the attack, psychologically and phsically, for years. At one point he contemplated suicide and went so far as to put all his affairs in order and make arrangements for the care of his two-year-old daughter and young wife. His marriage fell apart and he and his wife separated. Fortunately, this veteran found help, reparied his marriage, and healed psychologically -- though he continues to have significant physical problems that stem from the attack that shattered his life 30 years ago. He shared his story with me now because he wants the members of this committee to understand that service members who are sexually assaulted are unlikely to report the assault to their command, to their peers, to anyone. And you can't often tell by looking at them that they've been effected -- not for years. We in the mental health profession know that it is absolutely critical for victims of sexual trauma to seek and receive assistance, support, and treatment as soon as possible.
She was speaking at last Wednesday's House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affiars om Military Sexual Trauma. The Chair of the Subcommittee is Jon Runyan and the Ranking Member is Jerry McNerney. We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot and today we're emphasizing US House Rep Chellie Pingree who does not sit on the House Veterans Committee but did participate in the hearing. The hearing was divided into four panels. The first panel was Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bhagwati, Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, the American Legion's Lori Perkio. The second panel was Give An Hour's Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Connecticut Veterans Legal Center's Margaret Middleton. The third panel was Ruth Moore (joined by her husband Butch Moore). The fourth panel was DoD's Col Alan Metzler (joined by DoD's Dr. Nate Galbreath) and VA's Thomas Murphy (joined by VA's Edna MacDonald). From the second panel.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I'll ask this question of both of you. We see many denials where the VA says that the veteran couldn't be service connected because they were sexually assaulted prior to their military service. VA examiners tell them that their condition is related to the earlier assault not the one that occurred in the military. I think that for these veterans a service assault would at least aggravate a pre-existing condition but it seems like an inappropriate way to look at it. Do you see these types of denials in your work and do you have comments about them.
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: Yes. Unfortunately, one of the things that happens with victims of sexual assault is they -- If that sexual assault is untreated, they are more likely to be victims again. And so to say that because a man or a woman was sexually assaulted before they entered the military, somehow then the psychological damage that we're seeing is not related to the additional assault makes no sense psychologically -- makes no sense. It's like -- It's almost the -- In fact, it is the opposite logic that we use for combat stress. Combat stress -- we understand, we know this -- the more deployments, the more exposure to trauma, the more significant the psychological damage. We've kind of gotten that right finally. But here, we're saying the opposite. It makes no sense psychologically in any way. And, in fact, we know that victims are more likely if they are untreated to become victims in the future.
Margaret Middleton: I would say I've almost never spoken to a veteran who reported to me a case of Military Sexual Trauma who didn't also experience some sort of trauma prior to entering the military. It's very, very common in my experience. And it's just one more reason why we shouldn't hold the veterans to this unnecessary evidentiary standard because we don't need to muddy the water for the VA for our own folks who already applied the rule pretty haphazardly.
If the rule was applied to you or someone you know and you were denied, you should consider reapplying. Last Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots covered the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations hearing that took place last Wednesday. US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Chair of the Subcommittee. MST was raised in the morning and I thought the remarks might be carried over in the afternoon -- by VA witnesses or by members of Congress -- but that didn't happen.
US House Rep Jackie Speier: And then my third question is on MST. As you know, military sexual assault is absolutely out of control in the military, 19,000 cases a year. As I understand it, your reviews have found differences in denial rates between sexual assault PTSD and other PTSD cases. I'd like to know what you have found and what you are doing about it? And for those that have been previously denied, what can be done for them in terms of refiling and being reconsidered? Thank you.
Allison Hickey: Thank you, Congresswoman Speier. [. . .] I am so glad you brought up Military Sexual Trauma. It is the very first issue I grabbed the reigns on and ran with when I got on station here aside from, obviously, the backlog. And I will tell you, I'm the one that asked for us to go show -- show me what our grant denial rate is between MSTPTSD and what it is between PTSD for the other three -- combat, fear, terrorism? I asked for us to do that. I got it back and I said, "This is unacceptable." We had a 20% difference in our grant denial rate. I said, "We're going to change this process." We did. And by the way, the process is now in a segmented lane which is one of our new transformation initiatives. We have trained from the VBA person who handles it coming in the door through the exam doctor in the health administration who does the health exam. And we now have everybody trained. I just got the data last Friday that shows I have closed that gap as a result of that effort. We have increased our grants a full 35% in our MST as of last Friday because of the directions we did, the actions we took to make those right and to do those right [. . .]*
US House Rep Jackie Speier: Mr. Chairman, could I ask a follow up question? I know my time has expired.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Feel free.
US House Rep Jackie Speier: Thank you. What are we doing about those that had their claims denied? Are we going back now and saying refile?
Allison Hickey: I am glad you asked that question as well, Congressman --
Congresswoman Speier. We are sending letters to everyone we've ever denied and saying, 'This is what we do. We've got a new process. If you feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will re-accomplish it.'
Allison Hickey is the VA's Undersecretary for Benefits.
At the hearing on MST, Col Metzler testified that the Defense Dept received 3100 reports of sexual assault in 2011 and "our anonymous survey data suggests that in 2010 as many as 19,000 service members were victims of some form of sexual assault." He stressed DoD's Safe Helpine website, which includes the telephone helpline 877-995-5247, where survivors can "click, call or text."
We'll wrap up our coverage of the hearing with this excerpt from the first panel.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I think generally the VA is doing a good job providing counseling and treatment to victims of MST but when it comes to awarding benefits, as we've heard so much already today, MST survivors face tremendous road blocks and bureaucratic red tape. Since most attacks, as we've heard, go unreported, it's very hard for victims to provide the documentation for their claims and therein lies the source of some of our problems here. The current policy states that they will be very liberal in deciding MST cases and should accept secondary markers as proof that the assualt occurred: things like counseling reports for PTSD-MST, letters from family members citing behavioral changes, drug and alcohol abuse. But it has been our experience in my office that this policy is not being followed. The VBA remains vastly inconsistent in deciding on MST cases and what one office will accept, as we heard earlier, another might deny and still not be violating VBA policy. I think we have to be sure that VBA gives MST survivors the benefit of the doubt -- especially when so many of these survivors have lost faith in the system they swore to uphold. That's why I introduced the bill that you were asking about earlier and I appreciate the Chairman signing onto that bill. Basically, it would provide service connection for MST survivors if they provide a diagnosis of PTSD and a medical link stating the PTSD is caused by the assault -- similar to the policy in place now for combat PTSD claims. I want to be clear about this, the bad guy in these stories are the perpetrators. They're the villians and the ones who should be held accountable. But by creating this policy that denies justice to the victims and forces them to spend years and even decades fighting for the benefits that they deserve, we're deepening the wounds for those veterans and making it much harder for them to get on with their lives. Ms. Bhagwati, thank you very much for your wonderful work and for being here today and thank you to everyone on the panel. A couple of questions, you've already talked a little bit about this very issue of the VBA and how it's working. Do you think it's enough to ease the PTSD evidentiary burden for MST claimants or do you think we also need to ease the burden for other common conditions associated with MST like depressive disorders and anxiety disorders?
Anu Bhagwati: As I said in my testimony, according to the Veterans Affairs Department, PTSD is the most common health condition associated with MST but depressive disorder and other anxiety disorders can be just as life threatening and we certainly know that from the rest of the veterans community. I mean, many combat veterans are also suffering from depression rather than Post-Traumatic Stress. So, no, it's not enough just to focus on PTSD. We have veterans committing suicide every day from major depressive disorders and other very, very serious conditions and very common conditions.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: Either of the rest of you like to answer that or talk about that?
Joy Ilem: I would agree. I mean those are certainly other factors, mental health conditions that we see associated with-with MST-related incidents.
Lori Perkio: In addition, all of the characteristics of anxiety, depression, those are all part of PTSD criteria so they should all be looked at because you never know when that claim may be eventually looked at as a PTSD claim.