Saturday, December 15, 2012

Do you trust wait staff you piss off?

A few thoughts on drinking.  A few of us went out for drinks at one point tonight.  A woman at the table next to us (with some guy) did not like her margarita.  It was on the rocks and she said she couldn't taste any liquor in it.  She sent it back and they brought her a flavored one.  I'll say peach but I don't know.

She didn't like that.

She sent it back.

They brought her a frozen one.  She drank that and liked it.

My point?

Would you do that?

I wouldn't.

Not out of fear of being rude.

But I would not want to put my mouth on anything that was brought to the table after I'd twice refused something.

I would be afraid what had been done to it.

That's especially true when you're being a bit of bitch and that woman was.  Not to the customers, not to anyone at my table.  But to the wait staff.  She treated them like dirt -- like dirt that was stupid.

No way I would ever drink what was brought out after I'd told the waiter he was stupid and sent back two drinks with complaints already.

Is that just me?

I honestly thought it was common sense.

Science Recorder has a very interesting article about a test done to determine whether we are in the matrix (the matrix of the film The Matrix with Keanu Reeves).  From the article:

The concept that current humanity could possibly be living in a computer simulation was first seriously proposed in a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly by Nick Bostrom, a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford. In the paper, he argued that at least one of three possibilities is true:
  • The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
  • Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.
  • We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
Savage said, however, signatures of resource constraints in present-day simulations are likely to exist as well in simulations in the distant future. These constraints include the imprint of an underlying lattice if one is used to model the space-time continuum.

So check out the article. 

Yes, there was a shooting today.  There's no one in the community that has that as their 'beat.'  So you'll find different posts this evening as we let others tackle that and assume that the saturation coverage has you in search of something else.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, December 14, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, protests against Nouri continue for day four in Iraq, Nouri's lashing out that means he feels comfy, US House Rep Lynn Woolsey winds down her Congressional service, a needed bill that Senator Patty Murray fought for in the Senate may die because the House doesn't think it's the 'right time' to vote on it, the Pentagon releases the latest suicide data for the Army, and more.
US House Rep Lynn Woolsey was one of the creators of the Out of Iraq Caucus in the House of Representatives.  Alongside other brave voices in the House like Maxine Waters, Woolsey stood firmly against the Iraq War.  She did not seek re-election this year and this week spoke on the House floor about war and peace (video here).
US House Rep Lynn Woolsey:  Mr. Speaker, throughout my career in public life and even before, nothing has motivated me more than a desire to end wars and violent conflict.  When I was a small girl saying bedtime prayers or making a birthday wish blowing out the candles, I always asked for world peace.  So no surprise that, over a decade ago, I opposed the Iraq War before it even started.  It was appalling that we would invade a nation that hadn't provoked us, that had nothing to do with 9-11 and did not have weapons of mass destruction.  It was a lonely fight at that time.  But I didn't do it to be loved. It was a matter of principle.  Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and I formed the triad, Woolsey, Waters and Lee, to organize our opposition.  We held forums, we developed an Out Of Iraq Caucus, we traveled around the country.  And in January 2005, I offered the first amendment here on the House floor calling for our troops to be brought home.  Some of my own party thought that it was a mistake, that we wouldn't get any votes or enough votes and that we would be embarrassed.  Well I told them that even if I were the only one voting to bring our troops home, I would not be embarrassed.  Well as it happened, we got 128 bi-partisan votes that very first time.  So you see, Mr. Speaker, when you lead, people follow.  Because a handful of progressive leaders and progressives in our country that were vocal and fearless, eventually public opinion turned. It turned against the Iraq War.  It turned towards peace.  If we and other outspoken political advocates hadn't ignored conventional wisdom and hadn't pressed for peace, the war in Iraq could still be going on today.  In April, Mr. Speaker, of 2004, I began speaking on this very spot of the House floor about my very strong anti-Iraq War convictions.  Eventually, these speeches focused on Afghanistan where we've now been waging war for more than 11 years despite more than 2,000 Americans dead and nearly $600 billion wasted.  Even though, we are undermining our own interests and failing to bring security and stability to Afghanistan.   Over the last eight-plus-years, I've spoken here nearly every day that I could  to drive home what a moral disaster and strategic failure these wars have been.  When constituents and others call or come up to me and thank me, I say, "But we're still there."  I don't deserve thanks until all of our troops are home.  You know, Mr. Speaker, because you've been here for many of them, my speeches haven't been just about bringing our troops home.  They've offered a new vision for global engagement. From here, I've outlined my Smart Security Platform which calls for development in diplomacy instead of invasions and occupations, civilian surges instead of military surges.  Smart Security means helping other nations educate their children, care for their sick and strengthen their democratic institutions. Smart Security says we can make America safe by building international goodwill, by empowering people with humanitarian assistance instead of sending troops or launching drone attacks.  It's the right thing to do.  It's the smart thing to do.  And it costs pennies on the dollar compared to military force. So, Mr. Speaker, today I'm delivering that message for the 444th time and my final time on the House floor to speak on five minute special order.  This is the last of my special order speeches on war and peace and Smart Security.  I'm retiring from Congress at the end of this year and I believe part of my legacy will be that I worked diligently for peace and a safer world.  So in closing, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to acknowledge that sometimes I've been accused of wanting a perfect world but I consider that a compliment.  Our founders strove for a more perfect union.  Why shouldn't we aim for a perfect world?   You see, I'm perfectly and absolutely certain that if we don't work towards a perfect world we won't ever come close to providing a safe, healthy and secure world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.  So I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank my wonderful staff who have helped me over the last twenty years to work for a perfect world which means peace, health and security for all.  I yield back.  Thank you all.
Lynn Woolsey is a Democrat who was first elected in the Novembe 1992 elections (a "Year of the Woman" in real time and the first time the genderquake was undeniable in the elections).  She has served California's sixth district.  Lynn Woolsey succeeded Barbara Boxer in the seat, Boxer, in the "Year of the Woman" 1992, was elected to the US Senate.  Greg Cahill (Pacific Sun) interviewed Lynn on her time in the US Congress.  Excerpt:
Now the wars are winding down, and the economy is in recovery. Why leave the job now?
[Lynn Woolsey:]  I'm a person whose timing has worked for her. Actually, I thought I'd be in Congress for 10 years. And then all of a sudden, zip, it's 20. I'm 75 years old. And I've gotten on an airplane every week that we're in session on a Monday or Tuesday morning and fly back on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. Week after week after week. And I'm tired of doing that. It doesn't work for my body and it doesn't work for my soul. During the last Congress, the 111th Congress, I toyed with the notion that that should be my last term. But Jared Huffman hadn't termed out in the state Legislature yet. And I wasn't 100 percent sure about that decision. So I ran and got re-elected knowing that would be my last term. [House minority leader Rep.] Nancy Pelosi asked me, "When did you know?" And I said I knew when I walked backed into Congress and said to myself, "I really wish I hadn't done it this time." I felt like, I don't know why I'm here--I don't want to be here. I didn't stop working--we worked our hearts out these last two years. But I just knew it was time. I was sick and tired of money and politics. I mean, it's going to ruin our democracy if we don't do something [about campaign finance reform]. And I gave lots of notice.
You're retiring from politics but it sounds as though you plan to stay quite active.
[Lynn Woolsey:] Oh, I am going to retire. If Lynn Woolsey doesn't learn to sit down and be calm in what I consider to be the last quarter of her life, she'll be in trouble. I want to enjoy my life without all the spin. I mean, I've raised four kids and was a working mom and active in my community. I get to sit down.
As a member of Congress, Lynn didn't just mouth words.  Nor did she cave when she made a stand.  Her word counted for something and she took it very seriously.  She will be missed.
And sad to say that as one of the strong left leaders leaves Congree, I find myself wondering if maybe on the left we just need to throw in the towel?  I wondered that not because of the loss of Lynn Woolsey in the Congress but because of the garbage by Gareth Porter at Truthout.  I'd seen him in his too long Real News Network interview and thought, "Maybe he just doesn't speak well on the subject."  But now his promised 'big piece' on counter-insurgency is out and the natural response to it is to string together numerous curse words.  Let's get two of his paragraphs in here.
The COIN manual ducked some central issues in the US wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan - most notably whether US troops should have been carrying out violent "cordon and search" operations, especially when they had little or no real intelligence to go on. Intent on staying within the political consensus of the military establishment, Petraeus opted not to criticize the tactic of violently invading private homes and seizing military-age males in the middle of the night in front of their families, which had become routine in Iraq.
But in one area, the manual staked out a bold new position. It called for the commander in a counterinsurgency war to influence the coverage of the war by the news media. "The media directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency," the section on "information operations" said. "This situation creates a war of perceptions between insurgents and counterinsurgents conducted continuously using the news media."
Did it duck "some central issues"?  Well Gareth did too.  Gareth's apparently opposed to searches that cart away males but that's about all he can really call out.  The very notion of counter-insurgency -- long called out on the left in past wars -- is just accepted by Porter.  As for "a bold new position," your ignorance exceeds your ethical decay.  I don't care what your damn manual told you.  I don't give a damn.  Counter-insurgency has always included the media and 'messaging.'  That you're too stupid to know that is appalling.
Here's the way this will go.  I'll get e-mails about how "Gareth is really trying hard and, gosh, it's not easy and if you want someone to call out David Petraeus . . ."  Gareth has a job to do.  Does he do his job or not?  No, he's not doing his job -- or he's doing it very poorly.  As for calling out Petraeus, it may be a media fad at present but here we've always called out Petraeus. 
If you're going to write about counter-insurgency, you need to know about it.  It's war on a native people.  The occupier tries to make a group of natives undesirable so that the rest of the population will turn on the undesirables.  To make people undesirable, you demonize them, you make it difficult for people to befriend or help them.  You do other things as well.  To do these other things, you tell yourself lies.  For example, labeling the native (non-South) Vietnamese media "propaganda" allowed counter-insurgency to target the media and to justify the lying.   Counter-insurgency includes outright murder.  People are targeted for murder to frighten the population at large.  You saw that in Iraq and you've seen it throughout the US usage of counter-insurgency.  Take the Phoenix Program during Vietnam.  As the RAND Corporation noted, while its supporters cheer the program, its "detractors condemn it as a merciless assassination campaign."  Let's go to the CIA for some whining:
The Phoenix program is arguably the most misunderstood and controversial program undertaken by the governments of the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was, quite simply, a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Lao Dong Party (hereafter referred to as the Viet Cong infrastructure or VCI) in South Vietnam. 1
Phoenix was misunderstood because it was classified, and the information obtained by the press and others was often anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or false. The program was controversial because the antiwar movement and critical scholars in the United States and elsewhere portrayed it as an unlawful and immoral assassination program targeting civilians.
We called it out because it was unethical and it was illegal and, yes, we called it out.  Today Gareth Porter can't even do that.  A ho-hum piece where this may be objectionable  . . . The ignorance and the cowardice is appalling.  At this late date, if we on the left can't call out counter-insurgency, that's on us, we're just pathetic and ineffective.   Via Z-Net, here's an excerpt of a January 10, 2005 broadcast, Katie Couric (then host of NBC's Today) discussing with retired Gen Wayne Downing  the article Newsweek published on the Salvador option possibly being brought to Iraq (Michael Hirsh and John Barry were the authors of the Newsweek article). 
"Gen. DOWNING: Well, Katie, I -- I think this term is very unfortunate because this El Salvador thing brings up the connotation of death squads, of illegal activity that took place in -- in -- by some of the El Salvadorian military 20 years ago. But I think what they're considering is to use a special -- or more special Iraqi units trained and equipped and perhaps even led by US Special Forces to conduct strike operations against this -- this insurgency, against the leaders of it, which of course is a very valid strategy, a very valid tactic. And it's actually something we've been doing since we started the war back in March of 2003.
"COURIC: But is this going to be used more, or in greater numbers? According to Newsweek, they're going to -- the -- the US Special Forces will train specially chosen Kurdish forces and Shiite militiamen.
"Gen. DOWNING: Right.
"COURIC: So does this signal a -- a -- I guess an escalation of this technique at least?
"Gen. DOWNING: I wouldn't say an escalation, Katie. I -- I think what we're looking at is -- there are already some special units formed. We have special police commandos now of the Iraqi forces which conduct these kind of strike operations. I think what we're looking at is another type of unit. In other words, they -- they've got 10 tools right now in their tool box, this is probably adding a -- an 11th or perhaps even a 12th tool. But -- but, Katie, I -- I really want to emphasize what they are going after here. These -- these insurgents leaders, these are terrorists. These are people who have been decapitating hostages. These are the people who have been planning and -- and perpetrating these suicide bombers...that has killed thousands of -- of friendly Iraqis. These are very, very legitimate targets, and actually part of the overall strategy for countering this insurgency...
"COURIC: But in El Salvador many innocent civilians were killed when these kind of tactics were employed. Are you concerned about that, or the possibility this will increase anti-American sentiment in the general Iraqi population?
"Gen. DOWNING: Katie, this has nothing to do with El Salvador. Those operations that were conducted down there were conducted by -- by renegade military leaders. This is under the control of the US forces, of the current interim Iraqi government. There -- there's no need to think that we're going to have any kind of a -- a killing campaign that's going to maim innocent civilians.
The government pretends that counter-insurgency has been proved to be effective.  That actually hasn't happened and I don't understand why a Gareth Porter or anyone else would accept the premise that counter-insurgency is 'good' but has a few aspects that may be troubling?  I don't get that at all.   Tom Hayden called out counter-insurgency during Vietnam.  He's one of the few voices who've called it out during the Iraq War.  In a column on Petraeus a few weeks ago, he included this paragraph:
As this test of wills unfolded, Petraeus, with the help of an inbred, fawning mass media, had become knwon as "the greatest soldier of his generation," the counterinsurgency strategist who staved off a dishonorable American retreat in Iraq, the guiding hand behind The U.S. Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the man who would revive the South Vietnam "Phoenix Program" from the ashes of disgrace. The Petraeus field manual rallied a cult of true believers who have been convinced for thirty years that America's war in Vietnam would have been won if only the politicians back in the States had not pulled the plug on Phoenix because of claims of torture plus photos of emaciated Vietcong prisoners held in tiny cages. (This is all true, not a screenplay. Please see the Field Manual for more on the pacification program, pp. 73-75; see also, "Countering Global Insurgency," by Petraeus top counterinsurgency advisor, David Kllkullen, in the Small Wars Journal, November 30, 2004)
In that paragraph, Tom Hayden makes it clear how disgusting counter-insurgency is.  In one paragraph.  In his very long article, Gareth Porter never manages to do the same.  Click here for audio of Douglas Valentine on Between The Lines discussing the various assassination programs in the early days of the Iraq War.
Nicola Anderson (Independent) reports that Kallada Abdul has just become a citizen of Ireland.  Six years ago, she left Iraq due to the violence and went to Ireland where her son Dr. Mudafar Altawash had already moved to several decades ago.  At 83, it is thought that Kallada might be the oldest "to ever become a new citizen."  She is among millions of refugees who have left Iraq since the start of the Iraq War in 2003.  She is also among a small number of lucky refugees who have been granted asylum and/or citizenship in a host country.  Deborah Amos's excellent 2010 book  Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East charts the lives of some who fled Iraq due to the violence.  Among those who have fled Iraq or moved to the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government -- semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq) due to safety concerns are Iraqi Christians.  As  Sean McLachlan (Gadling) observed earlier this month: 
The Christian Community in Iraq is a lot smaller than it was in 2003 when the Coalition invaded. During the occupation, radical Muslims claimed the Christians were helping the invaders and used this as an excuse to attack them. Churches and shops were bombed and individual Christians were murdered or told to leave on pain of death.
In an
interview with the BBC, the priest at St Joseph's Chaldean Church in Baghdad said that in the past nine years his parish has shrunk from 1,200 families to 300. The New York Times reports that before the war the Christian population was estimated to be as high as 1.4 million, and has now dropped to less than 500,000.
The violence and the targeting has led surviving Iraqi Christians to consider leaving.  Among the violence, the October 31st, 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.  Today, Nouri attended the latest reported opening of the Church (this one's supposed to finally be the real one) and Alsumaria reports he used the opportunity to accuse the European Union of being responsible for Iraqi Christians leaving Iraq.  He gave a speech at the Church where he declared the EU had needed to stop encouraging Christians to leave and that all can live in Iraq in harmony. All Iraq News notes the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim attended the ceremony.  Nouri's blaming the European Union for his own failure to protect Iraqi Chrisitans.  He hasn't felt able to lash out like this since November of 2010 when he publicly attacked France for providing medical treatment for survivors of the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church.
When Nouri's cocky, it's usually a sign that he's about to screw someone over.  The breathing space some believe was created yesterday when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced Nouri and the KRG had reached an agreement with regards to the military stand-off that was taking place in disputed areas may have just gotten a lot smaller.  With Nouri, the pattern is he makes deals that he then refuses to honor.  That's not just my opinion, Al Mada notes Nouri's refusal to honor agreements in his second term as prime minister and they zoom in on the Erbil Agreement (publishing it in full).  As they note, the longest political stalemate in Iraq followed the 2010 elections.  In those parliamentary elections that Nouri's State of Law was supposed to overwhelmingly win, the voters went another way.  Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya came in first place.  Nouri's State of Law came in second place. 
Per the Constitution, Jalal Talabani should have named someone from Iraqiya prime minister-designate.  Per the Constitution, that person would then have 30 days to create a Cabinet (select people, nominate them to be Ministers and have Parliament vote to approve them).  Success at that would mean the person was no longer prime minister-designate but was now prime minister.  Failure to create a Cabinet in 30 days would result in Jalal naming someone else to be prime minister-designate, per the Constitution.
Nouri wanted a second term.  And US President Barack Obama didn't give a damn about democracy, will of the people, the Iraqi Constitution or the Iraqi people who turned out to vote. Let's again note this from John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq's first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."
Bully Boy Bush installed Nouri as prime minister in 2006 (the Iraqi Parliament wanted Ibrahim al-Jafaari to be prime minister).  In 2010, Barack loved Nouri.  How do you make someone prime minister when they didn't meet the criteria outlined in the Constitution?
You set aside the Constitution.  Barack had the US government spend forever negotiating a contract, popularly known as the Erbil Agreement because it was signed in November of 2010 at a political meet-up held in the KRG capital of Erbil.  The US government went around asking the leaders of the political blocs what they really wanted.  A wish list was prepared.  These things were then offered in the contract in exchange for their agreeing (in the contract) to allow Nouri al-Maliki to have a second term.  He'd already held up the process by 8 months.  Eight months after the election, Iraq still didn't have a prime minister.  Nouri brought things to a stand still and was able to do that because he had Barack's support.
So what do you do if you're an Iraqi politician?  You can hold out forever for the Constitution and I honestly believe that's what they should have done. (I don't live in Iraq, however.  Fakhri Karim does and he's being targeted by Nouri -- Nouri's office issued a statement this week attacking the editor -- because Karim believes Iraq can be and should be everything outlined in the country's Constitution.  For that, for faith in Iraq's future, Karim is being publicly attacked by Nouri al-Maliki.)  But to move things forward, they signed off on the contract.  It gave Nouri a second term.
And what of the rewards the political leaders were supposed to receive (such as the implementation of Article 140 in the Constitution, the creation of an independent national security body, etc.)?  It just wasn't time, Nouri insisted.  Within weeks, Iraqiya was stating Nouri was breaking the contract.  The US government swore it wasn't so.  The same US government that swore it was a valid contract and that the President of the United States gave his word to fully back.  But Nouri tossed it aside -- Iraqiya was right -- and the White House revealed themselves to be a snake pit of liars and users who say anything to get what they want. (Yes, that is Barack's reputation in Iraq.  No, it's not pretty but it was earned by his actions.)
Since the summer of 2011 the current stalemate (Political Stalemate II) has been going on as Iraqiya, the Kurds and Moqtada al-Sadr have called for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented.  The US government has remained silent on the issue -- the White House is always silent when it's time to call Nouri al-Maliki out.
They've rewarded the tyrant -- in Republican and Democratic administrations -- who has repeatedly been caught running torture cells in prisons and detention centers.  Nouri won nothing in the recent battle which is another reason to watch him closely.  But, more importantly, no one else did.  The deal Iraqi President Jalal Talabani outlined basically just turns the clock back to a time right before Nouri sent the Tigris Operation Command forces into the disputed areas.  There is no concession won that Nouri will now suddenly follow the Constitution and implement Article 140 as he's required to do -- as he was supposed to some time ago.  Fakhri Karim (chair and editor of Al Mada) observes in a column today that Jalal has wasted too much time appeasing and has refused to use his powers as president to hold Nouri in check.  He notes Nouri's blatant violation of the Constituion and how, despite this increasing, Jalal just ignores it and works on repairing dialogue when he should be using his role as president to protect the Constitution.
He's correct.  And a growing number of people find Nouri's actions and statements outrageous and embarrassing.   Kitabat reports hundreds turned out in Nasiriyah yesterday to protest the verbal attack Nouri launched Monday on Moqtada al-Sadr and that some of the signs carried call for an Iraqi Spring -- similar to 2011's Arab Spring.  As Kitabat has previously reported, there are already plans by Iraqi youth to take to the streets in January  Protesters in Nasiriyah said Nouri was guilty of covering up corruptions and protecting thieves of the public money.  They burned photos of Nouri al-Maliki and chanted that this was the final warning.  This was only the latest protest this week following Nouri al-Maliki publicly attacking cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr in a speech on Monday.  Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

In Basra and Baghdad today, protests took place against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Al Mada reports photos of Nouri were burned and he was denounced loudly.  As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Nouri used a Monday speech allegedly about human rights to attack Moqtada al-Sadr -- cleric and movement leader.  Dar Addustour adds "thousands" poured into the streets in Baghdad at two o'clock in the afternoon.  As they marched to a central location, Muzaffar Square, they chanted slogans.  Nouri can take comfort in that his wasn't the only photo burned -- there were also a few photos of former leader Saddam Hussein that were set on fire.   All Iraq News notes that as the protests took place, Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement noting that the Iraqi army must be armed but not via corrupt deals (like the Russian deal Nouri signed and then called off) and that all arms must be to defend Iraq and not used to attack Iraqis.  Please note that all three previous links have a photo of the turnout in Baghdad, it was huge.  Just how large it was may be best captured in the photo Kitabat runs.  At the Basra protest, Sheikh Khalid al-Issawi tells Al Mada that the protest is to convey the outrage over Nouri's verbal attack on Moqtada while, in Baghdad, Sheikh Taha Altablawbawi explains that the people of Sadr City, elders, intellectuals, children, all, are serving notice that attacks on Moqtada al-Sadr will not go unnoticed and will result in a response. Protester Sam Abdul-Mahdi tells Alsumaria that this is the start of protests in Basra and that Nouri should retract his attack on Moqtada.  The Iraq Times reports that Nouri ordered helicopters to fly overhead during the Baghdad protest and that some Sadrists saw that as an attempt at intimidation.
Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is warning that if changes do not take place in Iraq quickly, popular uprisings will take to the streets.  Protests were taking place around Iraq in January.  Demonstrators were calling out the disappearance of their loved ones into the 'justice system,' they were calling out the lack of jobs and the lack of basic services.  This swelled into the massive protests that took place across Iraq February 25th.  Iraqis took to the streets and, in Baghdad, Nouri sent his forces to attack.  Iraqi reporters were kidnapped by the police after covering the protests, they were then tortured and forced to sign statements saying they had not been tortured.  Haidi al-Mahdi was one of those reporters.  It was after the protests, he and some other reporters were ordering lunch and seated a table when Nouri's forces barged over, used the butt of their guns to strike people and rounded up Haidi and the other reporters.
Al Mada notes that protesters also showed their support for Moqtada on Wednesday in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra and Maysan and that they called out Nouri and burned photos of Nouri.  Al Mada reports that the protests continued in Baghdad and Najaf today for the fourth consecutive day.  If you're not aware of those protests, it's because the non-Iraqi media hasn't been reporting them.
Late Thursday, a Baghdad bombing took place.  Details on the numbers weren't in when we did the snapshot.  All Iraq News reports that it was 2 bombs and that 1 person died and five more were injured. And violence today?  All Iraq News reports 1 corpse was discovered in Babylon (shot to death), and a Falluja car bombing claimed 3 lives. Alsumaria notes a Samarra car bombing has claimed the life of 1 woman with sixteen injured.  The Iraq Times notes that journalist Saifi Qaisi remains missing.  Yesterday's snapshot noted, "The Journalistic Freedom Observatory also notes that Saifi Qaisi, editori-in-chief of Safir newspaper, disappeared Sunday when he left a management and editorial meeting to return home by cab but never made it home.  The fifty-year-old has a wife and three children and has been a journalist since the 1980s."  The paper notes that all the hospitals in Baghdad were contacted and that police were given information on Sunday and that he was targeted for assassination in July 2008 but survived the bombing with injuries to his head and back.  The paper also notes the murder of journalist Samir Sheikh a few weeks ago.  He was shot dead November 17th while driving his car in Baghdad.
Turning to the US,  Rick Wills (Tribune-Review) reports a memorial service was held today for Iraq War veteran and Afghanistan War veteran Major Benjamin Follansbee who "apparently hanged himself on Monday in his Fayetteville, N.C., residence".  At this point, the death is not ruled a suicide.  Yesterday, the Pentagon released their data on Army suicides for November.  In October, there were 20 possible suicides according to last month's data.  The Pentagon notes that 1 of the 20 has been ruled  to not be a suicide.  9 of the remaining 19 were confirmed suicides and "10 remain under investigation."  That's an update on October.  For November?  They believe there are 15 potential suicides and 2 have been confirmed as that while 13 remain under inviestigation.  The Pentagon statement notes: "For 2012, there have been 177 potential active-duty suicides: 113 have been confirmed as suicides and 64 remain under investigation.  Active-duty suicide number for 2011: 165 confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation."
From service members to veterans,  June 27th, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- which Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of -- held a hearing  (we covered that hearing in the June 27th and June 28th snapshots).  Tracy Keil was one of the witnesses and her testimony included:
My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about in vitro fertilization and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready to start a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the most amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were starting to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prevents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.

That's the story of one family.  The Defense Dept estimates that there are nearly 2,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars who have suffered injuries that could impact reproduction.  If you are a service member, you can get coverage via Tricare.  But if you are a veteran, you currently have no coverage.  Yesterday, Tracy Keil and her husband Iraq War veteran Matt Keil and their twins Faith and Matthew were in the Senate.  They were present to hear Senator Patty Murray explain from the floor why her bill, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, was needed.   Murray explained, "This is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family.  It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars.  It says to all those brave men and women that didn't ask questions when they were put in harm's way, that we won't let politics get in the way of our commitment to you."  Lawrence Downes (New York Times) observes, "Disabled veterans won a big, unexpected victory today: the Senate passed Senator Patty Murray's bill to expand fertility services, including in-vitro fertilization, at the Veterans Affairs Department. Ms. Murray, the Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, sponsored the bill, S.3313, to help service members whose war wounds have left them unable to have children."   Rick Maze (Marine Corps Times) states the just passed bill is already dead.  Why?  US House Rep Jeff Miller, Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, supposedly doesn't want it to be brought to a vote.  As Miller's presented in a quote in that article by Maze, Miller favors it for the 113th session of Congress that will begin in January.  If that's a correct reading of Miller (and Maze is one of the country's strongest reporters so it most likely is a correct reading), Miller's fiscal responsibility that he always touches on and how important it is to be a strong steward of public monies (tax payer money) is not being followed.  There's no reason in the world that it can't be voted on in the House.  They're not even on vacation yet.  And why would you want to waste tax payer money starting the process up all over again in the 113th Congress?  The bill needs to be put to a vote.  It's not fair to veterans not to and it's not fair to tax payers.  If every bill that passed in December was put on hold until the 113th Congress (when I say 'put on hold,' I mean it's stopped in its tracks.  It will have to be revoted on in the 113th Congress, the entire process will have to start over), when are they going to accomplish anything.  Tax payers paid for the printing of the bill, for the time spent researching the bill, for the time spent writing the bill and for the time spent presenting the bill.  Tax payers have footed the bill on this.  To not vote on it in the House is to waste the tax payer dollar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Return of a 90s group

"Washington discovers terrorists in Syria" (Bill Van Auken, WSWS):

Earlier, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement: “Al-Nusra has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes.”
When it comes to hijacking, Washington is the past master. Since the outbreak of protests in Syria two years ago, it has worked to hijack popular discontent and stoke up a sectarian civil war in a bid to bring about regime-change and install a puppet government. This is part of a wider strategy of asserting US hegemony over the geo-strategically vital and oil-rich regions of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Syria is a lynch-pin in this imperialist campaign, in large measure because of its close ties to Iran, which Washington has identified as the main obstacle to establishing neocolonial control.
The formal significance of designating al-Nusra as a terrorist organization is that any US citizen providing it with assistance would be liable for criminal prosecution. It is highly unlikely that any charges will ever be brought, however, as the only Americans engaged in such activities are covert operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The terrorist designation should bother us all.  But it's from Barack so everyone pretends it's okay and that it makes sense.

The Afghan Whigs are one of my favorite groups.  They broke up in the 90s.  They are together again and on the road and click here for them performing "Fairfax and Fountain."

Like everyone else, my favorite album is Gentleman.  I love all the tracks.  "What Jail Is Like."

I love, "I should have seen the s**t coming down the hall, every night I spent in that bed with you facing the wall, if I could have only once heard you scream, to know you were alive instead of watch you abandoning yourself."

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, December 12, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nancy Pelosi makes ridiculous and revisionary statements on the Iraq War, Amnesty calls out Iraq's forced 'confessions,' UNICEF explains the realities for Iraqi children, a bomb goes off in an Iraqi prison, and more.
We'll start in the US.   We've got good Congress/bad Congress.  In one corner, a member who stays focused on the work and actually accomplishes a great deal.  In the other corner, a drama queen who thinks everything in the world happens only to her. 
Let's reward good work by noting Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee whose office issued the following today:
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Tomorrow: Murray to Attempt to Pass Bill Allowing Catastrophically Wounded Veterans to Start Families
Murray bill will end ban on in vitro fertilization at VA; provide needed assistance to veterans with major reproductive injuries who are now paying out-of-pocket for expensive fertility procedures
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Thursday, December 13th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee, will head to the Senate floor to call for unanimous consent on her Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, which builds upon previous law to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families and ends the ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF) services at VA to help severely wounded veterans start families.  Senator Murray will share the story of Tracy Keil, the spouse of a severely wounded OIF veteran, and her family's experience with VA's fertility services. 
Pentagon data shows that since 2003 nearly 2,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered pelvic fractures and genitourinary injuries that could affect their abilities to reproduce.  In particular, the reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the use of improvised explosive devices has left service members far more susceptible to these injuries.  Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive.  However, under regulations, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses.  This is a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and urinary tract injuries and as a result they have to seek care outside of the VA.  The Department of Defense currently provides access to IVF services and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded servicemembers.  Senator Murray's bill would provide veterans with the same access.  Read more about Senator Murray's bill HERE.
WHO:             U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT:           Senator Murray will give a speech in support of the Women Veterans and     
                        Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, will seek unanimous consent
                        on the bill
WHEN:           TOMORROW:  Thursday, December 13th 2012
                         Approximately 10:15 AM ET/ 7:15 AM PT (this may change depending on floor
WHERE:         Senate Floor
WATCH:         Speech will air live on C-SPAN2
That was the good.  Now for the bad, my own House Rep, Nancy Pelosi.   Today's nonsense involved Iraq so we can just ignore her.  Sabrina Siddiqui (Huffington Post) reports on Nancy's latest bottle of sour whine.  Pelosi uncorked the crazy to try and give Speaker of the House John Boehner advice.  From the article:
"The emotion in the [2006] election was about ending the war in Iraq … and people thought that when the people had spoken, that something would happen to that effect," Pelosi said. She went on to explain how Congress passed a bill that continued to fund military operations in Iraq but included a timetable for withdrawal, a measure that was vetoed by President George W. Bush.
"I as speaker had to make a decision as a Democratic speaker in a new Democratic majority -- [that was] very enthusiastic about ending the war in Iraq -- to bring a bill to the floor that funded the troops," Pelosi recalled. She added that a bifurcated strategy was enacted to split the legislation into two pieces -- domestic spending and war appropriations. An overwhelming majority of 348 members voted for the domestic piece of the bill, while the $100 billion in funding for wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan passed 280 to 142, with 140 Democrats -- including Pelosi herself -- voting against it.
People thought the war would end because people were promised it would by . . . Nancy Pelosi. She wants you to know today that the problem was they passed a bill but Bully Boy Bush vetoed it. 
Really because I do recall her little presentation to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board and staff.  I do recall who Nance blamed them.  It wasn't Bush.  It was Harry Reid.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  As we noted in the May 29, 2008 Iraq snapshot:
"The House has always voted to have the redeployment of the troops out. . . . From the House we have always fought but the senate [let's voice trail off into silence]" I'm not really sure the best way for the Speaker of the House to conduct themselves is to declare war on the Senate semi-privately. Maybe a war between the two houses of Congress is what it will take to end the illegal war? If so, Pelosi needs to take her comments to a very public forum which, apparently, this meeting was not since it was not reported on. She further [insisted]  of the Democratically controlled Senate, "they are guarding the president's desk."
In 2008, she was blaming the Senate -- Democratically controlled.
She's always got someone else to blame.  
Anyone could have ended the war spending at any point by standing up and filibustering.  But Nancy made clear there would be hell to pay.  And that petty and vindictive streak is why she refused to restore Cynthia McKinney's senority.  It's why she threatened all sorts of punishments against John Conyers (including losing his position as Chair of the Judiciary Committee) if he went forward with attempts at impeachment. 
Nancy Pelosi was a lousy Speaker of the House.  In every way.  We noted at one point that she couldn't even handle a press conference on Iraq (Rahm had to save her ass and the conference -- see the April 3, 2008 snapshot if you need to refresh or catch up).  She made up excuses, she blamed the Senate, she blamed this, she blamed that.
At the end of the day, she is the one who told America that if the Democrats got one house -- just control of one house of Congress -- the war would come to an end.  That's the promise she made.  Voters gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress in the November 2006 mid-term elections.  She can lie all she wants but she didn't keep her promise.  She bullied members of Congress  who actually tried to end the war.  And the vote Huffington Post is referring to?  Nancy pissed off two Democrats (against the war) with her strong arm tactics.  She made sure it would pass.  And she made sure she'd be able to vote against it without tanking it.  She's a con artist.  That's all she is.  She said, "Give me this and I will give you that."  She didn't keep her promise.  That's on her.  That's not on Harry Reid, that's not on John Conyers, that's not on Cynthia McKinney or Maxine Waters or Lynn Woolsey.  That's on Nancy Pelosi.  Part of leadership is taking accountability for your failures. 
She still can't do that and is quoted saying, "I had to do it as speaker -- do you know what it was like for me to bring a bill to the floor to fund the war in Iraq, a war predicated on a misrepresentation to the American people? So it's tough, but you have to do it. Is the point that you don't want to put your members on the spot? Figure it out -- we did. Figure it out."
She's bragging about the 'tough' thing she had to do.  She's bragging about breaking her promise and continuing an illegal war.  She's bragging about continuing to fund an illegal war.  That last brag?  That could actually bring you up on charges in a War Crimes court. 
It was so hard, Nancy I-Me-I,-as-Speaker- Pelosi wants us all to know, so hard for her.   I think it was harder, for example, for Lt Ehren Watada to stand up to the US government and refuse to fight in an illegal war.  Poor Nancy's always mistaken a chipped nail for personal tragedy.  Spare us the drama.
Nancy's not the only one serving up Congressional Crazy.  We've noted how, since 2009, Senator Jack Reed's been rather inconsisten on Iraq in Senate hearings (repeatedly).  Kori Schake (Foreign Policy) covers his latest: Insisting that an Afghanistan drawdown won't be at all like the Iraqi drawdown because that was Bully Boy Bush.  Schake offers this fact check:
  • An arbitrary end to "combat" operations in Iraq in August 2010, confining U.S. forces to a support role nowhere required in U.S.-Iraqi agreements made in the Bush Administration and curtailing the effectiveness of our contribution.
  • Not confronting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he used the courts and security forces against domestic political rivals.
  • Having expressed no interest in the importance of Parliament for the 18-month stalemate after the shamefully manipulated outcome of Iraq's elections, insisting that any agreement on future presence of U.S. military forces must be approved by that Parliament, leading to the breakdown of negotiations on any long-term stationing.
  • A ridiculously extravagant and unexecutable plan for civilian presence after our military withdrawal that conveyed the lack of seriousness in our involvement.
  • Not investing any political capital in coalescing neighboring states into support of a government emerging from international isolation.
  • And, having achieved "an end to the war in Iraq," President Obama seems not to care whether that war continues, only that we not be participants in it.
On the last one, Kori Schaker is like most of America, missing the news of an agreement signed Thursday, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department of Defense of the United States of America. (If you missed the Memo, see Monday's "Iraq snapshot" and Tuesday's "Iraq snapshot.")
Today UNICEF released the results of a survey.  The UN News Centre hails it as "the most comprehensive survey on the situation of women and children in Iraq" and it's findings include:
* 32% of Iraqis under the age of 18 lack basic services
* only 10% of Iraqi children had "access to all basic services" and rights while 32% did not -- that's 1.7 million had it, 5.3 million didn't
* 1/4 of all Iraqi "children have stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition"
* 9 out of 10 Iraqi children are enrolled in primary school, only 4 out of 10 will complete primary school
* "1 in 3 children -- 3.3. million -- are subjected to severe violent discipline methods."
Along with the work with Iraqi children in Iraq, UNICEF is also working with Syrian children who've come to Iraq as refugees (UNICEF is working throughout the region, we're focusing on Iraq).  In Iraq, the Syrian refugees have been welcomed into the Kurdistan Regional Government (Nouri sat up a problematic camp in Anbar Province -- we've covered its problems before).  While the KRG has been much more open armed to the refugees, the KRG is also, because it's in northern Iraq, colder.  UNICEF has a Keep Them Warm Campaign right now for the 1.2 million Syrian children who have been displaced in Syria and the 650,000 who have sought sanctuary in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  Click here for more on that.  It is the holidays and many people look for something charitable to donate to.  If you would like to donate to UNICEF, click here (you can donate online or you can print up the form and send it in via regular e-mail).  UNICEF is an organization I believe in and contribute to.  That doesn't mean you have to give.  You may not have money to give.  You may not want to give.  You may feel something else is a more worthy cause.  I'm not trying to guilt anyone but, due to the season, we are noting worthy causes.  The economy remains horrible.  No one should feel badly if they're unable to give to any organization or charity.  It's your business and it's your money.  I'm just tossing it out here for any who are interested.
UNICEF's not the only visitor in the region.  US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Kuwait.  He visited the US troops present.  Remember them?    Dropping back to the June 19th snapshot:
Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released [PDF format warning] "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership With The Gulf Co-Operation Council." On page v., Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, notes, "Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Persian Gulf is critical to the global economy."  Chair John Kerry has stated of the report, "The Gulf Region is strategically important to the United States economically, politically, and for security reasons.  This is a period of historic, but turbulent change in the Middle East. We need to be clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them.  This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."
[. . .]
Further into the report, we get the point AP' was emphasizing this morning. AP: "The United States is planning a significant military presence of 13,500 troops in Kuwait to give it the flexibility to respond to sudden conflicts in the region as Iraq adjusts to the withdrawal of American combat forces and the world nervously eyes Iran, according to a congressional report." Page nine of the report:
A residual American military presence in the Gulf and increased burden-sharing with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states are fundamental components of such a framework. However, the United States must also carefully shape its military footprint to protect the free-flow of critical natural resources and promote regional stability while not creating a popular backlash.
Page 12:
Kuwait is especially keen to maintain a significant U.S. military presence. In fact, the Kuwaiti public perception of the United States is more positive than any other Gulf country, dating back to the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Kuwait paid over $16 billion to compensate coalition efforts for costs incurred during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and $350 million for Operation Southern Watch. In 2004, the Bush Administration designated Kuwait a major non-NATO ally.
* U.S. Military Presence: A U.S.-Kuwaiti defense agreement signed in 1991 and extended in 2001 provides a framework that guards the legal rights of American troops and promotes military cooperation. When U.S. troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, Kuwait welcomed a more enduring American footprint. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait, but the number is likely to decrease to 13,500. Kuwaiti bases such as Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Field, and Camp Buehring offer the United States major staging hubs, training rages, and logistical support for regional operations. U.S. forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense.
Today Panetta told the US troops he met in Kuwait, "Our presence in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf helps enhanced the capabilities of partner nations, deters aggression and helps ensure that we're better able to respond to crises in the region."  Was that a confirmation of reports that 3,000 US troops went into Iraq last week from Kuwait?  The Pentagon has a photo essay of Panetta with Kuwaiti officials including Defense Ministers Ahmad al-Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah. (If you're loved one is a US service member stationed in Kuwait and you're hoping he or she might be in the photos, forget it.  The photos are all of Panetta with the US press or Panetta with Kuwait officials.)  Pentagon spokesperson George Little issued this statement:
Today in Kuwait City, Secretary Panetta met with Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait.  The secretary expressed strong confidence in the long standing U.S.-Kuwaiti defense relationship, and in the ability of both countries to work together to address common security challenges in the Gulf region and beyond.  The secretary underscored the importance the U.S. defense strategy places on the Middle East, and he commended the Amir for Kuwait's leadership role in fostering peace and security in the region.  The secretary and the Amir also discussed the crisis in Syria, the problem of cyber threats, and Kuwait's recently completed parliamentary elections and on-going commitment to the rule of law.
The Pentagon notes he also met with Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and "underscored the importance the U.S. defense strategy places on the Middle East, and commended the emir for Kuwait's leadership role in fostering peace and security in the region."
On the visit to Kuwait,  AP's Robert Burns Tweeted:
Panetta gives challenge coins to US troops on air base in Kuwait today.
The Iraq Times reports 1 prisoner has died today in a Taji prison from torture. Amnesty International issued the following today:
URGENT ACTION DEATH SENTENCES AFTER COERCED 'CONFESSIONS' Four Iraqi men were sentenced to death on 3 December following the broadcast of their coerced "confessions", taken while they were held incommunicado in pre-trial detention. Nabhan 'Adel Hamdi, Mu'ad Muhammad 'Abed, 'Amer Ahmad Kassar and a fourth man, now known to be Shakir Mahmoud 'Anad, were sentenced to death on 3 December on connection with terrorism-related charges after an unfair trial before the Anbar Criminal Court, in Anbar Province, western Iraq. Their case will now be reviewed by Iraq's highest tribunal, the Court of Cassation. If the sentences are upheld by this court and ratified by the presidency, the four men will be at imminent risk of execution.
The four men, aged in their late 20s to early 30s, were detained between the end of March and early April 2012. They were reported to have been tortured while held incommunicado for several weeks at the Directorate of Counter-Crime in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Their "confessions" were then broadcast on a local television channel, al-Anbar, on 24 and 25 of April. When brought to trial, they told the Anbar Criminal Court that they had been forced under torture to "confess" to assisting murder. Witness testimony from fellow detainees and photographs of some of the men's injuries seen by Amnesty International support their torture allegations. The medical examination of Mu'ad Muhammad 'Abed also revealed burns and other injuries consistent with torture. No investigation into their torture allegations is known to have been held.
Nabhan 'Adel Hamdi's father and his father's two brothers were arrested on 5 December and are currently held at the Directorate of Counter-Crime, where they are also at risk of torture (see UA 351/12, Index: MDE 14/016/2012,
Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language: ν Calling on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that the death sentences against Nabhan 'Adel Hamdi, Mu'ad Muhammad 'Abed, 'Amer Ahmad Kassar and Shakir Mahmoud 'Anad are not carried out; ν Expressing concerns that the men did not receive a fair trial and calling for international standards for fair trial to be respected in any further legal proceedings in their case; ν Calling for their allegations of torture to be investigated promptly and thoroughly by an independent body and for anyone found responsible for abuses to be brought to justice; ν Urging the authorities to declare an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and to commute without delay all death sentences.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 23 JANUARY 2013 TO: Prime Minister His Excellency Nuri Kamil al-Maliki Office of the Prime Minister Convention Centre (Qasr al-Ma'aridh) Baghdad, Iraq Email: (keep trying) Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Justice Hassan al-Shammari Ministry of Justice Baghdad, Iraq Contactable in Arabic via web site:  Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Human Rights His Excellency Mohammad Shayaa al- Sudani Ministry of Human Rights Baghdad, Iraq Email: Salutation: Your Excellency
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.
In addition, Alsumaria reports that the National Alliance's Jaafar al-Moussawi has demanded the arrest of Minister of Justice Hassan Shammari and is calling for reform of the women's prisons.
All Iraq News reports 1 National Intelligence Service (Muntasir Abdul Razzaq) officer was shot dead in Baghdad. an Abu Ghraib bombing claimed the lives of 2 soldiers and left a third injured, and 1 person was shot dead in Mosul.  But the news 'big enough' to interest news outlets outside of Iraq?  Alsumaria reports a bombing in cell number nine of Baghdad's Tasfirat Rusafa prison which has claimed the lives of 1 guard and 1 prisoner and left four guards and two prisoners injured.  Citing an unnamed security source, All Iraq News reports that the bomb was an explosive belt that had been brought into the prison in parts by a prisoner who later assembled the belt.  AP covers it here.   Alsumaria reports that the National Alliance's Jaafar al-Moussawi has demanded the arrest of Minister of Justice Hassan Shammari and is calling for reform of the women's prisons.  AAP reports that 4 police officers were shot dead outside of Falluja and a Tikrit sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 "department head [Sabah Bahaa al-Din] in the College of Agriculture on the Tikrit University campus."  Xinhua adds, "Separately, gunmen stopped a bus carrying passengers in western Mosul and shot dead a young man aboard, but a police force arrived and exchanged fire with the attackers who killed one of the policemen before they fled the scene, the source said."  And on bombs, the Iraq Times reports that contractors for the British embassy were caught entering the country with bombs hidden in Korans (even if you don't read Arabic, check out the photo of the bomb in the Koran).

In other dangers to the lives of the Iraqi people, All Iraq News explains that Babylon's Department of Health has shut down work on the water plant due to the fact that that toxins from too much cholrine are making the people sick.  I'm not doing links but we'll note it.  Whispers abound that 'terrorists' ('Ba'athists') met up in Anakara to plot assassinations in Baghdad and they met with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  It's the sort of thing you expect from the whisper mill especially when there's a move towards a retrial of Tareq (which he is entitled to by law -- of course, if they're going to follow the law, the verdict against him should be tossed aside for several reasons including he can't be tried while he's in office).  Again, it's the sort of whispers State of Law excells in and I'm not in the mood to treat it as news.  They're trying to distract from a potential move for a retrial.

Let's turn to the political crises.  We'll deal with the most recent first.  For six years, Nouri's refused to abide by the Constitution and implement Article 140 to resolve disputed areas (Article 140 calls for a census and referendum).  Having refused to follow the Constitution he took an oath to, a few months ago, he decided to send his newly created Tigris Operation Command (in violation of the Constitution, Parliament did not approve of the commander of these forces) into disputed areas.  The Kurds see this as an effort on Nouri's part to illegally grab the disputed lands -- and, yes, it would be illegal.  Anything other than following Article 140 would be illegal.  Nouri's actions have led to a military stand-off -- one that continues despite the lies of AP last week hailing it as over.  Al Mada reports today that the Peshmerga spokesperson Jabbar Yawar states the Peshmera (Kurdish elite forces) remain in position and are not withdrawing until an agreement can be worked out between Erbil (capital of the KRG) and Baghdad.  The Kurdistan Regional Government is a semi-autonomous region.  Part of the problem currently is that Nouri al-Maliki has illegal seized control of the various military forces in Iraq.  The only forces he doesn't control are the Kurdish military.  The crown jewel of Iraq's forces is the Peshmerga. At one point, Nouri was 'offering' that the problem could be solved by his taking control of the Peshmerga.

Yesterday, KRG President Massoud Barzani visited the Peshmerga stationed around Kirkuk.  Rudaw reports on the visit:

"War is not a nice thing. Throughout history the Kurdish nation has never liked war, but they were always ready to protect their land and dignity. They would rather die than live under oppression," Barzani said, accompanied by the Peshmarga minister. 
"I say again that I hope for this issue to be resolved through dialogue," Barzani said, visiting oil-rich Kirkuk, which is part of the disputed areas, for the first time since the tensions began. "However, if we have to face war you have a just cause, because it is not you who went to occupy others and kill them,"  Barzani added, speaking to the troops as it rained.

Nouri's State of Law's getting desperate.  Your first clue is the bluster boys are falling silent and they're sending out women to speak for them.  All Iraq News notes State of Law MP Fatima Hamid is thundering that Barzani's visit yesterday creates the conditions for "sedition."
Alsumaria reports that a splinter bloc from Iraqiya is proposing that the crisis be resolved in the federal courts.  This would be a mistake because it would set another precedent where the Constitution states what has to be done and the Constitution is again ignored.  If the Constitution is going to mean anything, it has to be followed.  Article 140 could give Kirkuk, for example, to the KRG or it could give it to Baghdad.  If people are unhappy about Article 140, the time to object was when the Constitution was written.  One of the people who sat in on the writing was, in fact, Nouri al-Maliki.  If the Constitution means anything, it is followed.  If it's a worthless piece of paper, by all means, ignore it and push for a new way to address the problem.

At a time when Nouri's Iraq is falling apart, more bad news for him comes via Alsumaria which reports Sahwa (also known as "Awakening" and "Sons Of Iraq" and "Daughters Of Iraq") has announced Nouri has one month to address the salary issue or they're hitting the streets.  Payment for Sahwa was never a problem in the first years -- that's because the US taxpayer footed the bill.  When Senator Barbara Boxer rightly pointed out that oil rich Iraq should mean that Nouri was paying Sahwa, Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus agreed to 'take a look at it.'  Nouri's never paid on time when he has paid them.  If he thinks things are bad now, let the last of the Sahwa walk and watch it get worse.

QUESTION: Yes. Turkey is negotiating, or already finished an oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Are you encouraging Turkey not to go along with this, since it will be a provocation to the central government in Baghdad?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say as a general matter, once again, Samir, that the United States supports a constitutional solution to the dispute over the management of Iraq's hydrocarbon resources. This is our longstanding position. We are continuing to urge the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach an agreement over legislation so that they can enhance investment so that everybody knows what the fair legal basis is for this.
We don't support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi Government, and we're calling on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to continue to try to work through their differences. We also call on neighboring states to similarly avoid any action or comment that can contribute in any way to increasing tensions.
Oh, that's cute.  A constitutional solution.  The same White House that circumvented the Constitution to keep Nouri al-Maliki in power?  That White House?  From  John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq's first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."
Now suddenly the White House cares about Iraq's Constitution?
It's also cute to watch Nuland mangle the Iraqi Constiution while pretending to know it.  Murat Yetkin (Hurriyet Daily News) also finds Nuland's remarks interesting:
Is Turkey the only party in this conflict, a conflict that has the potential to set the whole region ablaze? No, it isn't. It is only a belated party in the game because of its chronic Kurdish problem. Is there any reference in Nuland's statement regarding the stance of the big U.S. energy companies there, which are the main players? No, there isn't. When anyone asks, they always get the cliche saying: "the U.S. government doesn't intervene in company affairs." This might be true, but it falls short in giving a satisfactory explanation for the situation. Is this statement only lip service to sooth down al-Maliki? Even that is doubtful.
US Senator Joe Lieberman gave a speech this afternoon and CNN treated it like this was England and Queen Elizabeth was announcing she was stepping down.  Lieberman thanked his wife, his family and his constituents and I'm not bothered by his speech just bothered by the hushed awe and reverence with which CNN -- especially reporter Dana Bash -- treated it.  Will they do the same for Dennis Kucinich?  His term also ends next month.  Eight times he was elected to Congress, twice he ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  Will he get the same treatment from the media?  No.  And it's not fair and I say that as someone who is not a Kucinich fan.  It's a shame Dennis couldn't back up his words.  It's a real shame he took an airplane ride with Barack and then caved on his promise to oppose ObamaCare.  That didn't pay off, it didn't help him.  It was stupid to change his vote.  But if he disappointed in votes and actions, he was always better with words and he continues that in his last weeks in Congress.  Today his office notes a resolution a Committee will be considering tomorrow morning:

Washington D.C. (December 12, 2012) -- The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote tomorrow on H. Res. 819, a Resolution of Inquiry, introduced by Congressman Kucinich (D-OH), to finally compel the Administration to release its legal justification for drones strikes which targets American citizens and others abroad.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM tomorrow to consider the resolution.  This vote will determine whether the United States Congress will stick up for the Constitution, Congressional oversight, and for the rights of all Americans.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this Administration recently conducted its 300th drone strike. Drone strikes are estimated to have killed more than 1,000 innocent civilians. Recently it has been reported that the Administration conducts secondary strikes. The so-called process of "double tapping" includes attacks on the first-responders to the initial attack. The White House claims that strikes against United States citizens abroad are legal and points to a classified memo from the Office of Legal Counsel.  The Administration would be compelled to release that memo and supporting documents under H. Res 819.
"Our strikes are creating a dangerous legal precedent that the world will emulate. From Iran to China, other nations are very close to developing comparable technology. Congress must act to ensure proper oversight and legal authority for the use of this technology.
 "Targeted strikes are legal only under a very narrow set of circumstances. Strikes against United States citizens are in direct violation of the Constitution, which guarantees due process rights and the right to a fair trial.  The volume of the strikes and the process of 'double-tapping' challenge the legality of these strikes. The Congress and the American people have a right to know what laws the Administration is relying on to conduct its drone program, and how they are being interpreted, especially against U.S. citizens," said Kucinich.