Friday, April 20, 2012

Chris Hill owes the nation an apology

chris hill

If you haven't already seen the above photo, it's disgusting.  That's Chris Hill when he was US Ambassador to Iraq.  He's with some woman who works for the State Dept. and also, at that time, was stationed in Iraq.  

If you can't read the caption, it states, "And we can show that as the US Ambassador to Iraq dressing as JFK's unsuccessful Secret Service bodyguard for a Halloween party as Baghdad burned around you apparently isn't poor judgment.  Even after photos are posted on a popular sharing spot.  Point noted."

C.I. didn't write the caption, Peter Van Buren did.  He's the author of  the book We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,  and he's being targeted in Barack's never-ending war on whistle blowers.  Van Buren has posted the photo of Hill  here and here on his blog. 

C.I. covered the topic in yesterday's snapshot,  last night  and this morning.

She's said everything that needs to be said, as usual.  But one thing I want to do is weigh in.  Even though I'm in agreement.

Let me explain to you, JFK did not die on the TV.

If you didn't live through it, you may know it as trivia or old footage or whatever.

But if you lived through it, it was a nightmare.  It did not matter whether you were a Democrat or a Republican.  It didn't matter at all.

It also didn't matter that JFK was no saint.

To know that the US President, sitting president, was going through a city (Dallas) in a motorcade, waving to people, when shots rang out (I don't buy Arlen Specter's magic bullet theory) and a governor was injured and his wife and Jackie O were in the car.

You realized that it was scary as well as tragic.

The country lost its leader, its elected leader.

It was a national tragedy.  People cried in public.  (I wasn't an adult and that was probably the scariest part.  Seeing grown men and women crying in public.  Adults didn't do that then.  Stiff upper lip was the norm.)

Jackie Kennedy was there when Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President after JFK was declared dead.  It was, you can be sure, something she didn't want to do.  But she did it.  Just like she did everything in the immediate aftermath, with grace and strength.

She could have collapsed and probably would have loved to.  But she knew the whole country was watching her and she knew they would take their cues from her.

So she showed tremendous leadership, this woman who had so recently suffered a miscarriage.  She held it together and made it look possible.

So when this tragic event is turned into a cheap joke, it's tacky.

If someone I knew dressed as Hill and that woman in the photo did, I'd pull them aside and say, "I really don't think this is funny."  That would be it though.  Provided they weren't government workers and officials.

Chris Hill was the US Ambassador to Iraq when that photo was taken.  He was heading the Baghdad mission and chose to take part in that cheap and tacky 'joke.'

It was mocking a US tragedy, it was mocking all that Jackie Kennedy did to help the nation heal, it was mocking the loss of a sitting president.

This was not funny and it is unacceptable in a government official.

Chris Hill should issue a public apology and the State Dept. should answer as to how normal and acceptable his behavior in that photo is.

"Iraq snapshot"  (The Common Ills):
Friday, April 19, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri bombs with Turkey but Barzani's a hit, US journalists are targeted, the political crisis continues, Rob Andrews justifies war for any reason, Panetta tries to dance around Congress, and more.
Starting in the US where journalists Tom Vaden Brook and Ray Locker have been targeted.  Gregory Korte (USA Today) reports that when Vanden Brook and his editor Locker began working on an article about fraud and waste in Pentagon contracting, the push-back was for fake websites and accounts to be created in their name to spread false rumors about them with the apparent hope that the two would be discredited and discouraged.  Vanden Brook is quoted stating he is still on the story, "If they thought it would determ from writing about this, they're wrong."  Locker echoes that sentiment stating, "This is a clear attempt at intimidation that has failed." Why would anyone want to intimidate the two?  Because this is about a lot of money.   Vanden Brook and Locker reported at the end of February:
As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call "information operations," the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.
From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won't make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as "miscellaneous foreign contractors."
Again, that's a great deal of money.  Ali Gharib (Think Progress) adds:
The Pentagon said it was "unaware" of such activity and deemed it "unacceptable." A source told Korte that the Pentagon had asked the related contractors if there had been any such activity, and all had denied it, but the inquiries were "informal and did not amount to an official investigation." After USA Today made inquiries to the Pentagon about the websites, they were taken down.
Meanwhile there is the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the PKK -- the PKK is a group that fights for Kurdish sovereignty and a Kurdish homeland.  The Turkish government sees the PKK as a terrorist organization.  Today's Zayman reports 1 female member of the PKK was killed by Turkey forces when the Turkish forces moved and notes, "The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.  The group is labled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, which has supplied Predator drones to assist Turkey."  The PKK operates out of southern Turkey and nothern Iraq chiefly.  AFP reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met today in Ankara and discussed many issues including the PKK.   The Sunday Zaman notes, "Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the Turkish military would 'completely' halt military operations against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) if the organization were to lay down its arms."  And they note, "The terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) should lay down its weapons for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani said on Friday during an official visit to Turkey." Hurriyet Daily News sums up, "Speaking separately but in unison, Turkish PM Erdogan and Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani implore the outlawed PKK to cease its armed fight."
On the topic of Iraq and its northern neighbor Turkey, let's drop back to April 7th:

How bad are relations between Iraq and its neighbors? AFP reports Falih al-Fayaad went toTurky this week to meet with Turkish officials on Nour's behalf. As 2011 was winding down, what was Nouri doing? Oh, that's right, he was trashing the president and the prime minister of Turkey and doing so publicly and repeatedly. And when not issuing insults about them, he was accusing them of trying to control Iraq.
That was April 7th.  Today, thirteen days later?  Today's Zaman reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Turkey is becoming an enemy state in the region in a sign of growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq. Maliki's harshest remarks so far came at a time when Turkey was hosting two senior Iraqi politicians who are at odds with his government." AFP quotes from a statement by Nouri posted to his website:
The latest statements of [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan are another return to the process of interfering in Iraqi internal affairs and it confirms that Mr. Erdogan is still living the illusion of regional hegemon.  It is regrettable that his statements have a sectarian dimension which he used to deny before but which have become clear, and are rejected by all Iraqis.  Insisting on continuing these internal and regional policies will damage Turkey's interests and makes it a hostile state for all.
Yesterday Today's Zaman reported that the government of Turkey had refused the Baghdad request to hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  (Turkey's taken the same position Qatar and Saudi Arabia did when Nouri made the request of them earlier this month.) It must be very humiliating for Nouri and his lackeys.  When al-Hashemi traveled from the KRG to Qatar at the start of this month, they made pompous statements to the press which only revealed how truly ignorant they were.  The government of ___ [fill in the blank] would hand al-Hashemi over and, on the off chance that the government didn't, they were going to have INTERPOL travel to ___ [fill in the blank] and INTERPOL would arrest al-Hashemi and bring him to Baghdad.  It didn't matter to the stupid and ignorant that INTERPOL's charter specifically states it is not to be invovled in political actions so that it may remain impartial.  al-Hashemi is targeted for political reasons.  That always meant INTERPOL should not be involved and that, if they reviewed the request, they would turn it down.  But there was Nouri and his various flunkies flaunting just what kind of stupid gets to run and ruin things in Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's two-day talks in İstanbul and Ankara appear to have focused on tensions brewing between Iraq's Shiite-led government and minority Sunnis and Kurds, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described as "ominous."
Barzani had closed-door talks with Erdoğan in İstanbul on Thursday and met with President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara on Friday. Speaking to reporters about his meeting with Barzani, Erdoğan said both Barzani and the cross-sectarian Iraqiya group are "seriously bothered" by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's policies.

Maybe if Nouri had stopped his verbal attacks on the Turkish government, M. Alihan Hasanoglu (Today's Zaman) would be reporting Baghdad had many projects in development with Turkey including a $36 million one.  Instead, that reports on the projects Turkey's developing with the KRG.  Equally true, Nouri was making catty comments about Barzani earlier this week.  It would appear Barzani's getting along with everyone on his trips to other countries.  The same can't be said of Nouri. 
Staying with the political crisis, if the Western media has made one mistake repeatedly in the last few months, it has been the failure to understand the political crisis.  Or maybe they understand it and just don't care to convey it properly?    The political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections).  From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
This month has seen Nouri even the score on the results of the 2010 elections by going after the Independent High Electoral Commission which, in 2010, refused to falsify the results in Nouri's favor. So last week, Nouri had the commission chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. But, don't worry, Jalal assures us Nouri's not becoming a dictator. In fairness, maybe what Jalal meant was that Nouri was already a dicatator, not headed towards becoming one?

Al Mada reports that Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) notes that the options of ending the political crisis include a true partnership in government, implementing the Erbil Agreement, moving towards early elections or Nouri can step down as prime minister.

As the crisis continues, criticism mounts. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) observes that participants appear to have lost site of the priorities, that there is a lack of vision and all it's about now is the political process and not about Iraqis or the country. What usually happens around now is that the Kurds and Iraqiya heed the call to be 'reasonable' and 'mature.' They put aside differences and Nouri continues acting exactly the same. If anything's going ot change, this time Nouri's the one who's going to have to give.
An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports that the death toll from yesterday's attacks has risen to 39 with over 190 injured.
Syria is a neighbor of Iraq.  Iraq remains neutral on the issue of war on Syria or no war on Syria.  They remain neutral for a number of reasons including fear of huge influx of refugees and also the fear that taking sides would further harden divisions inside Iraq, existing divisions.  Yesterday the US Congress discussed Syria.  Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee were Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs General Martin Dempsey. 
US House Rep Walter Jones:  Mr. Secretary, if the situation changes and you believe the use of force in Syria becomes necessary, will this administration seek authorization from Congress before taking action?
Secretary Leon Panetta:  We will, uh -- We will clearly work with Congress if it, uh -- if it,  comes to the issue of force.  I think this administration wants to work within the War Powers Provision to make sure that we work together, not separately.
US House Rep Walter Jones: Mr. Secretary, as a former member of Congress -- I have the biggest concern and this is not pointed at this administration, it could be at any administration -- they seem to want to take the authority to decide whether or not they need to go into a country that's not been a threat.  They may have evil dictators, they might have problems in those countries.  But I have been very concerned.  I actually went to the federal courts for [US House Rep] Dennis Kucinich and two other Republicans and two other Democrats.  We went to the courts because of the decision and how it was made -- I realize you were not there at the time [Panetta was heading the CIA, Robert Gates was the Secretary of Defense] -- about Libya.  I continue to believe -- and the American people seem to agree -- that we in Congress have not exercted our Constitutional responsibilities when it comes to war.  And I hate that if there is a decision -- including Iran and Syria -- if a decision is made to commit American forces that the president would feel an obligation to the American people -- not to Congress necessarily, but the American people -- to explain and justify why we would take that kind of action.  And, again, I'm talking about a situation where we're not being attacked, we just see things happening in other countries that we don't approve of.  And I would hope -- and I think you did give me this answer, but if you would reaffirm --  that if we have to use military force and we're going to initiate that force, it's going to be our initation that causes that force, that the president, any president, would come to Congress and the American people and justify the need to attack.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Congressman, as-as you understand uh-uh-uh this president -- as other presidents will -- will operate pursuant to the Constitution.  The Constitution makes clear that the Commander in Chief should, uh, act when the vital interests of this country are in jeopardy.  Uh-and-uh I believe this president believes that if that in fact is the case he would do that in partnership with the Congress in terms of taking any action. 
US House Rep Walter Jones: Well I'll make another statement and then I'll work towards a close, Mr. Chairman [Buck McKeon].  I remember my good friend [US House Rep] Randy Forbes from Viriginia asked Secretary Gates when we went in [Libyan War], it seemed like the administration, if they called the leadership of the House and Senate, it must have been one call each house, each Senate.  And Mr. Forbes asked Mr. Gates, if the Libyans fired a missile in New York City would that be an act of war? And I have to say, because my friend from Virginia is very articulate and very intelligent gentleman, that he never got a straight answer.  So I hope that you will prevail upon the administration not to take those kinds of actions as they did in Libya -- whether it was justified or not, I won't get into that debate.  But, in my opinion, that was really a kind of snub of Congress and the responsibility of Congress -- based on the Constitution.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Congressman, what I can assure you of is that, as long as I am Secretary, we won't take any action without proper legal authority. 
One of the most disgusting things about the hearing was realizing how the coin had flipped.  Meaning that if Bully Bush were still in the White House, US House Rep Rob Andrews (Democrat from New Jersey) would have followed up Walter Jones' questions by attempting to hit on the main points.  Instead, with the Oval Office occupied by a Democrat, Andrews felt the need was to take wiggle room, shake it out repeatedly and turn wiggle room into a summer getaway home.  Our 'national interests' Andrews wanted it known, were reasons to go to war and, of course, Panetta agreed.  That's a different standard then 'you are attacked.'  In fact, that's even worse, this must be the Obama Doctrine, than Bully Boy Bush claiming he had the right to declare war on someone he thought might harm the US in the future -- near or distant.  Barack's policy -- as discussed by Andrews and Panetta -- allows war for no threat.  Just the idea that you might do something, as a country, that isn't in the US' national interests.  Andrews defined national interest with "the weaker Hezbollah is, the better the United States is" and Panetta agreed and went on to add that "anything to weaken a terrorist organization is in our best interest."  And these are the grounds for war?  How sickening two little War Hawks all but mounting one another in public.
Republican J. Randy Forbes tried to get the conversation back to reality. 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  When we talk about vital national interests, probably there's no greater vital interest that we have than the rule of law.  So sometimes we have to just ferret that out and see what that is.  As I understand what you have indicated to this Committee, Mr. Secretary -- and correct me if I'm wrong, you believe that before we would take military action against Syria that it would be a  requirement to have a consensus of permission with the international community before that would happen?  Is that a fair statement?  And if not, would you tell me what the proper --
Secretary Leon Panetta: I think that's a -- I think that's a fair statement.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  If that's fair, than I'd like to come back to the question Mr. Jones asked, just so we know.  I know you would never do anything that you didn't think was legally proper and you said the administration would have proper, legal authority before they would take military action.  So my question is what is proper, legal authority?  And I come back to -- as Mr. Jones pointed out  -- in the War Powers Act, it's unlikely we would have a declaration of war.  But that would be one of  the things.  Certainly we know if there's a national attack that would be one of them.  And the second thing in the War Powers Act would be specific statutory authorization.  Do you feel that it would be a requirement  to have proper legal authority? That if you did not have a declaration of war or an attack on the United States, that you would have to have specific statutory authority --  in other words, the permission of Congress, before you'd take military action?
Secretary Leon Panetta: We would not take action without proper legal authority.     That's --
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  And I understand.  And in all due respect, I don't want to put you in an interrogation.  But we're trying to find out what exactly proper legal authoirty is because that's what we have  to act under.  And we don't have the president here to chat with him or have a cup of coffee with him and ask him.  You're the closest we get.  And so we're asking for your understanding and as Secretary of Defense what is proper legal authority?  Would that require specific statutory authorization from the United States Congress if we had not had a declaration of war or an attack upon the United States?
Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well, again, let me put it on this basis.  Uh, this administration intends to operate pursuant to the War Power Act.  And whatever the War Powers Act would require in order for us to engage, we would abide by.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  And, again, Mr. Secretary, thank you for putting up with me as I just try to stumble through this and understand it.  But as I read the War Powers Act, it has those three requirements.  Are there any other requirements in there that you're familiar with that I'm leaving out or not reading?
Secretary Leon Panetta:   No.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:If that's the case, then again I just come back to, if there's no declaration of war, no attack upon the United States  and if we're going to comply with the War Powers Act would that require specific statutory authority by Congress before we took military actions?
Secretary Leon Panetta:   Again, under the Constitution, as I indicated, the commander in chief has the authority to take action that involves the vital interests of this country.  But then pursuant to the War Powers Act, we would have to take steps to get Congressional approval.  And that's -- that's the process that we would follow.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  Uhm, you'd have to take steps to get that approval but would the approval be required before you would take military action against Syria?
Secretary Leon Panetta:   As I understand the Constitution and the power of the president, the president could in fact deploy forces if he to under -- if-if-if our vital interests were at stake.  But then, under the War Powers Act, we would have to come here for  your support and permission.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  So you get the support of Congress after you begin military operations.
Secretary Leon Panetta:  In that -- In that particular situation, yes.
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:Then just one last thing and make sure I'm stating this correctly,  it's your position that the administration's position would be that we'd have to get a consensus of permission from the international community before we would act but we wouldn't have to get specific statutory authority from Congress before we would act.
Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well I think in that situation, if international action is taken pursuant to a [UN]  security council resolution or under our treaty obligations with regards to NATO that obviously we would participate with the international community.  But then ultimately the Congress of the United States, pursuant to its powers of the purse, would be able to  determine whether or not that action is appropriate or not.
Panetta's song and dance wasn't amusing.  And the War Powers Act did not matter to the White Houe when it came to the Libyan War.  (Panetta's exchange with Andrews suggested it wouldn't matter with regards to Libya.)  For those who've forgotten the illegality of the Libyan War, we're dropping back to an episode of Law and Disorder Radio -- which began airing on WBAI  July 11th and around the country throughout that week.  Attorneys and hosts Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) discussed a number of issues including impeachment.  Excerpt.
Michael Smith:  Michael, the actions that the Obama administration took against Libya is really a perversion of the law.  Explain what they did in order to justify not going to Congress.

Michael Ratner: Well the use of military force by the president has to be authorized by Congress under the United States Constitution.  That's very clear.  And it's not just war, it's use of -- it's hostilities, it's really any military action anywhere in the world other than in self-defense.  So we start from the premise that military actions, whether in Libya, killing people in Somolia or Yemen, etc., has to be authorized by Congress. In some cases the president claimed that the authorization to use military force passed in 2001 -- after 9/11 -- gave him authority.  But in other cases, he's just asserting raw, naked power.  He's claiming that because these don't amount to large wars that the Constitution doesn't apply and he doesn't have to go to Congress.  Now then what happened because this is a common claim of presidents whether it's in Libya or Somolia, Congress after Vietnam built in a safety trigger.  They said, "Lookit, you still need our consent to go to war, or to go into hostilities or bomb people, etc. But we're going to put in a safety trigger.  If you do that, if you engage in hostilities and you don't come to us first like you're required to do under the Constitution, then you have sixty days to come back to us and get authority or within sixty days all troops have to be automatically withdrawn." So it's a safety figure because they knew the president would do exactly what Obama is doing, violate the Constitution. They put in a safety trigger that said you have sixty days to get authority, if you don't have authority then you then have 30 more days to get all the troops out, a total of 90 days. So in the case of Libya, of course, the 90 days have passed and the War Powers Resolution had required that all those troops be brought out.  So we had a sort of double system.  Is that clear, Michael?
Michael Smith: Well as a practical matter, the political will in this country is lacking to do anything.  Technically what he did is a crime and he can be impeached for it and tried and gotten out of office but I don't think that's going to happen.
Michael Ratner: It's a high crime or misdemeanor.  It's true violation of the Constitution, it's a violation of Congressional statute, you could impeach him. But good luck.  We've never -- we've never successfully impeached anybody.  I mean, we had, you know, Andrew Johnson after the Civil War was at least tried and acquitted eventually but I think that was the case.  Nixon, rather than be impeached, resigned. Clinton made it through.  Bush made it through. So what do you say, Michael?  It looks like it's not a really good lever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012



Uma Thurman joined the cast two episodes ago.  The one that aired Monday (you can stream it and other Smash episodes at the link) was about Rebecca Duval (her character).

She couldn't sing.

Or so we thought.

She was hoping to convince them to change the musical to more of a drama.

When that didn't happen, she asked for the songs to be brought down to lower keys and started working with a vocal coach and more than redeemed herself.

Uma was pretty good in the role too.

Ellis was up to his usual.  Including whining.  to Eileen that Rebecca's assistants thought he worked for them. She told him he could use proximity and work that.  She also read up on the bartender.  (Last week, Ellis did snooping and tried to present her with it.  She didn't want it.  But then she did and didn't want him to know.)

Eileen (Anjelica Huston) looked the best this episode she has all season.  They had her dressed right and her hair fixed perfect.

She and her bartender came to an understanding.  Good because she needs a relationship that's rewarding after having to put up with those crazies all day (Ellis, Ivy, etc).

Derek's still seeing Marilyn Monroe when he looks at Karen.

Karen and Dev are pretty much over.  They're still living together.  But she asks him to go to the movies with her and he blew her off and went out drinking with that NYT reporter who is always flirting with him.

Julia (Debra Messing) had to deal with Leo's problems which meant dealing with her husband.  There's no point in recapping the session with the school counselor but Debra had some nice moments there as she refused to hide or conceal.


Oh, he is annoying.

He's with Sam now.  Sam gave him a lecture about how waiting was good.  How they should do things his way.

We were supposed to find this charming; however, I doubt most women did.  As a general rule, when a man tells us we should do things his way, he's a controlling nightmare.

Ivy?  She got to come back in some unspecified role.  She's trying to destroy Karen and they had a fight.  (When Ivy thought it would be funny to suggest Dev was cheating.)

Last thing, when Rebecca wanted more drama before songs, Eileen told them the scenes would be re-written. Derek looked to Tom and Julia and Tom pointed at Julia.  I thought Julia was writing all the scenes.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, April 18, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, US officials visit the region, a US official may have engaged in sex in a public place in Iraq, that US official may have been someone Barack Obama's currently nominating for a major appointment, the political crisis continues, suicides and 'suicides' plague Iraq, and more.
Three US officials are visiting troops stationed in/near war zones this week.  Steve Klamkin (WPRO) reports on an overseas trip Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and South Dakota Govenor Dennis Daugaard. 
Steve Klamkin:  Governor Chafee met with Rhode Island troops on a trip to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Governor Lincoln Chafee:  They're doing well.  The Rhode Islanders are doing well.  And, for the families, hang in there, they'll be home soon.
Steve Klamkin:  With the governors of Michigan and South Dakota, Chafee visited a forward operating base in Iraq   There's been a series of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan even before the group arrived.
Governor Lincoln Chafee:  That's really the frustration they voiced with us.  Just who is setting the IEDs?  Where are the Tablian?  How do they mix in the local population which are right outside the walls, they're right their surrounding where all these Rhode Islanders are?
Steve Klamkin:  Chafee, who opposed the war in Iraq, thinks the Afghans will be able to control their own destiny when US troops pull out next year.  Steve Klamkin, WPRO News.
Major Matthew Davis (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System) reports on their visit in Kuwait yesterday where they met with "National Guard and Reserve service members"  "from Michigan and other states who supported U.S. operations during the drawdown of forces from Iraq, and ongoing logistic operations in connection with Operating Enduring Freedom in Kuwait.
On the topic of US officials in Iraq, Huffington Post, Daily Mail and others are noting Peter Van Buren -- author of We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and State Dept Foreign Service Officer -- has posted about alleged sexual misconduct in Iraq.  At his website, Van Buren asks:

What if a video existed that showed a prominent State Department VIP on the roof of the Republican Palace in Baghdad receiving, um, pleasure of an oral nature from another State Department officer not his wife, or even his journalist mistress of the time? What if that video has been passed around among Marine Security Guards at the Embassy to the point where it is considered "viral" with many copies made? What if the Deputy Chief of Mission, hand in hand with the Diplomatic Security chief (RSO) at the time, decided that the whole thing needed to be swept under the rug and made to go away, at least until some blogger got a hold of it.
Would that count as poor judgement? What if it was published during his oft-delayed Congressional hearings? Funny that State aggressively punishes some extramarital fooling around while ignoring other, er, well-documented cases.
Or would the State Department once again excuse the act itself and instead punish the person who made the act public, claiming THAT was the example of poor judgement, the crime of not hiding State's dirty laundry at a sensitive time?
Of the rumor Van Buren's floating, Michael Hastings (BuzzFeed) observes, "His description, however, contains clues: The location in the Republican Palace, and the delayed confirmation hearings in particular. That could only refer to a small handful of officials, and among those who fit that description is the high-profile nominee to be the next ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk."   Author and journalist Michael Hastings has reported from Afghanistan and from Iraq and if he's seeing clues to Brett McGurk being the  star of the rumor, he's got the background to suss out the rumor.
McGurk is US President Barack Obama's controversial nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq.  No, after Chris Hill, it didn't seem likely we'd be again be referring to a controversial or questionable nominee for this post; however, here we are.  McGurk has won some praise and backing since the nomination was announced.  For example, Peter Feaver (Foreign Policy) feels his friend McGurk is qualified.  Jake Cusak (Forbes) also endorsed McGurk who he hailed as "an old acquaintance."
However, outside of roll dogs, Brett McGurk hasn't had a lot of people singing his praises.  As we've noted before, he's got no background in administrative supervision but Barack wants to put him over the State Dept's largest project -- most employees, biggest budget.  He's held no supervisory post, he's held no financial post either.  On the latter, he'd be responsible for the yearly $6 billion budget the State Dept gets for Iraq  And that's before you get into the tensions and violence that continue in Iraq. 
McGurk has headed NO mission in a foreign country before.  But he's supposed to start -- and get on-the-job training? -- with Iraq?   He doesn't speak Arabic.  What traits does he have that makes him worthy of this important post?
Americans need to be asking that because over $6 billion US tax dollars will be wasted each year on Iraq for the foreseeable future unless something changes.  Wasted?  The State Dept sent someone a notch above intern to testify at a hearing they wanted to avoid.  The young woman noted that the primary purpose of the mission -- besides a lot of airty talk -- was to train the Iraqi police.  Dropping back to the October 4, 2006 snapshot:
CNN reports that it's time for retraining. As though deciding to let 'death squads' pass your security check point is akin to not knowing how to use the office copier.  AFP reports they're on a US military base being retrained.  BBC reports: "A programme has been under way for more than a month for comprehensive assessment and re-training of all national police unites -- a process called by the Americans 'transofrmational training.'"  James Hider (Times of London) reports that since 2004, "US forces have been re-training the Iraqi police, but the programme has had little impact" and that a "survivor of Monday's mass kidnapping . . . described how half a dozen vehicles, with official security forces markings on them, pulled up and men in military fatigues rounded up all the Sunnis in the shops."
And dropping back to the February 8, 2012 snapshot:
We covered the November 30th House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the MiddleEast and South Asia in the December 1st snapshot and noted that Ranking Member Gary Ackerman had several questions. He declared, "Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the [police training] program?  Interviews with senior Iaqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter didain for the program.  When the Iraqis sugest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States. I think that might be a clue."  The State Dept's Brooke Darby faced that Subcommittee. Ranking Member Gary Ackerman noted that the US had already spent 8 years training the Iraq police force and wanted Darby to answer as to whether it would take another 8 years before that training was complete?  Her reply was, "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it."  She could and did talk up Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior Adnan al-Asadi as a great friend to the US government.  But Ackerman and Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot had already noted Adnan al-Asadi, but not by name.  That's the Iraqi official, for example, Ackerman was referring to who made the suggestion "that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States."  He made that remark to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
Brooke Darby noted that he didn't deny that comment or retract it; however, she had spoken with him and he felt US trainers and training from the US was needed.  The big question was never asked in the hearing: If the US government wants to know about this $500 million it is about to spend covering the 2012 training of the Ministry of the Interior's police, why are they talking to the Deputy Minister?
The US State Dept is not ready to put a time limit on it, by their own words.  How long does the 'training' continue?  How many years and how many billions?  If it's really not clear to you, let's drop back to the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing of December 1st for this exchange.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye."  Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
The State Dept already can't answer basic questions regarding Iraq.  And the White House wants to put the questionable McGurk in charge?  Liz Sly (Washington Post) noted objection to the nomination in Iraq:
Sunni concerns have crystallized in recent weeks around Obama's nomination of Brett McGurk, 38, a lawyer who has frequently advised the U.S. Embassy but is not a diplomat to be the new ambassador to Iraq.  As the chief adviser to Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and former ambassador Christopher R. Hill, McGurk is closely associated with the United States' controversial 2010 decision to support Maliki's candidacy as the better hope for future stability over that of Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the most seats in parliament.
Should the Van Buren rumor be true and should it be about Brett McGurk, would that manage to sink the nomination?
Iraq's already struggling, it's really not the place where the US should send someone on a glorified travel-study. 
In Iraq, though there's hope for recent (small) success with strawberries, the reality is that even the date palm industry in Iraq hasn't proved profitable yet ("yet" meaning post-invasion, Iraq's date industry is historically signficant and profitable).  So despite years and years of calls by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to diversify the economy, Iraq remains dependent on their sole money maker: Oil.  Reuters reports, "Exxon Mobil has told Baghdad it will not break ground on its oil blocs in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north until the centeral government approves the contracts, Iraq's top energy official said on Wednesday."  The official is Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani.  That alone makes the claim questionable -- remember, April 3rd, he was in the news for insisting the Kurds were secretly selling oil to Iran.  He's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest.
But the reality is that it doesn't matter if he's telling the truth this time or not.  Yet again, the world watches, the markets watch as Iraq's rulers can't get their act together.  It does not put confidence in either the government or in the ability to do business with Iraq.  Contracts were signed by ExxonMobil back in October with the KRG.  Either those contracts will be honored or they won't.
But you're an energy company -- oil and gas -- and you can spend a year developing a relationship with another country rich in oil or you can spend that time on Iraq -- and know that a signed contract may mean nothing.  Are you really going to make Iraq your focus after you know their history with ExxonMobil? 
What Nouri and the idiots he's appointed don't grasp is that their petty fights and bickering make them look unreliable and unprofessional.  And that goes beyond the oil industry.  You're on an Australian committee exploring opening a Quay Hotel in the Middle East.  In the discussions, someone tosses out Iraq.  You point out that besides the continued daily violence, there's also all the problems ExxonMobil's faced in getting a signed contract honored. You'll be much more likely to recommend that Quay consider Kuwait or Jordan where a signed contract appears to actually mean something other than months and months of officials bickering in the press.
On a very limited scale, strawberries are doing well in Iraq (as a result of a lot of help -- money and technology -- from USAID).   2012 is an important year for that industry.  At the end of it, figures will indicate whether or not this is a stand-alone industry that can successfully supports itself or whether the limited success resulted from USAID.  Right now, the only money making story is oil and with no real leader to lead, the bickering and the non-stop 'updates' on the ExxonMobil deal ensure that Iraq looks like it's not ready for the world stage.  In Nouri were any kind of a leader, he would have ended this nonsense a long time ago -- even if that meant going along with the KRG contracts that he didn't want to go through.    Instead, it looks like a circus and this as James Herron (Dow Jones) announces, "Iraq has revised its medium-term oil field redevelopment plan, meaning that production will peak slightly lower than the previous 12 million barrel a day target, but, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, Wednesday."  And Dow Jones reports, "Iraq wants to follow the current expansion of its oil production capacity with an expansion of its domestic refining industry, but won't be able to do so without the cooperation of international companies, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani Wednesday."
In bad news for Nouri, Al Mada reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama Najafi states that the National Alliance has confirmed that they support the full implementation of the Erbil Agreement. April 5th, KRG President Massoud Barzani noted the Erbil Agreement while speaking at an event sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

KRG President Massoud Barzani: We have been waiting for the last six years for promises that were not delivered, for agreements that were not honored. We have waited and everytime they give us an excuse. Once they say that there are elections in Baghdad, another time, elections in the region. Once there is election in the United States. Then there is the Arab Summit, etc., etc. We have found out that we have passed six years waiting for these promises to be delivered. We cannot anymore wait for unfulfilled promises and undelivered promises. There has to be a specific and determined timeline for this to be delivered. We got tired of this and we are fed up with that. Therefore, what we will do is that we will work on the preferred option to work with the other Iraqi groups to find a solution. If not, then we go back to our people and to put all of these realities inf ront of our people for the people to be free to make their own decision. As far as the issue of the oil is concerned, in 2007, when we were working and we reached an agreement on a draft oil hydrocarbons law, we both agreed that if that law did not pass in the Parliament until May that same year that both sides -- the KRG and the federal government -- are free to continuing signing contracts with international oil companies. Therefore, whatever we have done in the region, we have not violated the Constitution. We have acted legally and Constitutionally within the framework of the Constitution.

Political Stalemate I is the eight month period which followed the March 2010 elections. Nouri refused to step aside despite the fact that his State of Law had come in second in the elections to Iraqiya. He wanted to remain prime minister. And the US government and the Iranian government were backing him -- backing him over the Iraqi people and the will they expressed at the ballot box. In November 2010, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all major political blocs. Nouri got to be prime minister for a second term and, in exchange, he made certain concessions. Among them, he would agree to an independent national security commission to be headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) and he would finally abide by the Constitution (Article 140) and allow the census and referendum on Kirkuk. Nouri got his second term and promptly refused to follow the Erbil Agreement throwing Iraq into Political Stalemate II which has now lasted 16 months (December 2010 to the present). Since the summer, the Kurds have been calling on Nouri to return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya has joined the call as has Moqtada al-Sadr. Moqtada is part of the National Alliance as is State of Law. Amir al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is also part of the National Alliance (ISCI, State of Law and Moqtada's bloc are the three largest components of the National Alliance).

Al Sabaah reports that the National Alliance is meeting today and the meeting has been labeled as "important." Among the items to be discussed are the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG. Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) reports on the tensions including:

Speaking to Rudaw, Shwan Muhammad, a Kurdish member of Iraqi Parliament, said, "In Iraq, no component has a major role. Nouri Maliki alone has monopolized all the powers in the ranks of the army and internal security forces."
Muhammad believes that although a Kurd, Babakr Zebari, Iraq's military chief of staff, must still answer to the prime minister.
"All the powers are concentrated in the hands of the commander in chief (Maliki)," says Muhammad.
Muhammad admits that a Kurd is in charge of the air force, but Maliki has created a special unit called "military aviation" that is run by people very close to him. This unit is said to have full control of 500 helicopters.
"The air force whose commander is a Kurd does not even have an aircraft," said Muhammad, who is also a member of the defense and security committee in Iraq's parliament.
Barzani and some of Iraq's Sunni leaders believe PM Maliki has brought most of Iraq's major institutions, such as the Ministry of Defense, national intelligence and the central bank, under his direct control, which they argue is unconstitutional.

As part of his continued power grab, last Thursday Nouri had the Independent High Electoral Commission's chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. Al Mada notes that as a result of these arrests, the United Nation's Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler states that it is unlikely the Parliament will now vote on the new commissioners for the Independent High Electoral Commission. As explained yesterday, State of Law is throwing up roadblocks to prevent the vote in Parliament.

Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr called his followers to unify ranks if they desire to form their own government."  In addition to targeting the Independent High Electoral Commission, Nouri's also insisted that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for 'terrorism.' 
al-Hashemi is currently in Turkey.  The Turkish Weekly notes:
Replying to questions of AA correspondent, Hashemi claimed that the lawsuit filed against him was a political one and he would not stand trial in Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Hashemi said he believed that a fair trial would not be held in the capital.
Witnesses' statements against him have been obtained by means of torture, he said and adding that one of his bodyguards was tortured and killed.
Hashemi said that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad, because the courts have been controlled by Maliki, he said.
He said he has offered to stand trial in Kirkuk, but the government refused it.
"The case filed against me was a political one since the beginning. Thus its solution had to be political. President, prime minister and parliament speaker should come together and find a political solution to it," he said.
And for any who are new to this argument, it's similar to what the President of Iraq told Al Jazeera at the start of the week.    Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera -- link is video and text) interviewed.  Excerpt.

JA: One of the problems has been that one of your deputies, Tariq al-Hashemi, who was given refuge here in the Kurdish region and allowed to leave in spite of an arrest warrant. Will you allow him to come back to Kurdistan?'
Talabani: I would like to explain to you - Mr Hashemi is the first vice-president - I appointed him first. He came to a meeting with another vice-president, Dr Kuzai. When he came here, the court asked him to go to court. He didn't prefer to go to court - he said: "I am afraid in Baghdad to go to court." We asked them to change [the venue] and they refused. I don't know if he will come back here, or stay outside. This issue - my opinion was [to] solve it through dialogue with the leaders of Iraq. Because if he goes to court, he will be sentenced - we don't want him to be sentenced. We also need a kind of consensus about his problem. Maybe some of his bodyguards committed some crimes, but Tariq Hashemi is still vice-president. He was not sentenced, and any man until he is sentenced is considered to be innocent. He's not convicted.
Trend News Agency reports KRG President Massoud Barzani will visit Turkey Turkey and "meet with Turkish Preisdent Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu" and "Sources say that during his visit to Turkey Barzani will also meet with al-Hashemi, for whom the Shiite-led central government issued an arrest warrant in late 2011."  Press TV maintains of Tareq al-Hashemi, "He has recently met with Erdogan to discuss the developments in Iraq and asked for Ankara's political support. Hashemi has also asked for Ankara's protection since he has received death threats and is said to be guarded by more than a dozen security forces.  The Turkish government has settled Hashemi, his family, and those accompanying him in two houses in Basak, Istanbul, while Jordan has not responded to the Iraqi official's asylum appeal."
Iraq and its neighbors.  The Arab League Summit met in Baghdad March 29th.  Less than half of the heads of state bothered to show.  A number of Arab countries chose to send a message by not attending.  The one thing Nouri was able to flaunt was his new closeness with Kuwait.  But it's a kind-of-push, kind-of-pull relationship.  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers points out:
The first Kuwaiti flight to Iraq in more than twenty years landed in Najaf Airport today.
But why in the southern, holy city of Najaf and not in Baghdad? Officials said that trips to Baghdad will be the next step, withought mentioning details.
After the significant role Kuwait played in the occupation of Iraq in 2003, one would have thought that its relations with the new Iraqi leaders would have been "chummy" - At least that's what many Iraqis thought. But the truth of the matter is that relations between Iraq and Kuwait are still "strained".
Yesterday, a man apparently hanged himself in Basra. Al Rafidayn reports the man was 38-years-old, had a wife and four children. He is thought to be the seventh man in the area who has taken their own life due to poverty in the last six months. Although Basra is well known for its fishing industry, lack of government support and conflict with Iran and Kuwait fishing industries have left Basra's industry reeling. Basra is in southern Iraq.

Another province in southern Iraq is Dhi Qar Province which is also experiencing suicides. Al Sabaah reports there's a suicide or 'suicide' epidemic taking place. Those allegedly taking their own lives? Young girls under the age of 18. There are accusations that the police are in partnership with families to cover up the fact that these girls are not suicides but have been killed -- possibly so-called 'honor' killings. There are also allegations that the girls are taking their own lives but doing so because they are being denied their basic freedoms and pushed into forced marriages by their families. Local citizen Ahmed Saidi maintains that most are not suicides and "90 percent are murders." The province saw 13 suicides in 2011 of young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 while, already this month, there have been 2 young females who have died and are said to have taken their own lives. Feminist Shada Qaisi states that the society lacks the communication skills to deal openly with these deaths and she also states that the police are more than willing to see a killing as suicide and not open an investigation into the death of a young girl. The police department refused to comment to the paper.
In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Chairman Murray Introduces Legislation to Better Protect Veterans, Servicemembers from Unemployment and Foreclosure
Legislation would strengthen U.S. Department of Justice's ability to enforce current laws
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, with high unemployment and foreclosure rates continuing to affect our nation's veterans and servicemembers, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012.  Currently, many of the protections put in place to help shield our nation's heroes -- specifically the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) -- have been violated in a disturbing number of cases within the past several years.  Co-sponsoring Chairman Murray's legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act, which includes a significant number of proposals provided to the Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), would strengthen DoJ's ability to enforce these laws on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.
"Our men and women in uniform serve with tremendous dignity on the battlefield," said Chairman Murray.  "Our nation owes it to them to guarantee protection under the law wh when they return home.  The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Act will help force the hand of those who have failed to follow the law when it comes to providing our nation's heroes with the basic safeguards they deserve."
'"Our nation's growing reliance on the National Guard and Reserves for operational duties here and overseas means that our warrior-citizens must have airtight reemployment rights and financial protections when they are called to the colors, "said VADM Norb Ryan, President, Military Officers Assocication of America (MOAA).  "The Military Officers Association of America strongly supports the 'Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012' and urges quick passage of the bill to strengthen enforcement of the rights of those who defend the rest of America."
"Millions of service members depend on USERRA and SCRA protections when called to serve their country," said Commander Fang Won, American Legion.  "USERRA and SCRA were created to prohibit discrimination and eliminate disadvantages faced by deployed service members.  This legislation will strengthen the enforcement on USERRA and SCRA.  This bill confirms a tremendous need for transparency and effective consequences for non-compliance of USERRA and SCRA regulations and ensure that veterans are not disadvantaged or unable to return to their previous jobs due to their honorable service to our Nation."
"IAVA strongly supports Senator Murray's efforts to bolster the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA)," said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  "Servicemembers who currentlys eek relief under these acts often face significant roadblocks.  Even if a violation exists, it can be difficult and expensive for vets to challenge employers armed with greater legal and financial resources.  This bill will empower the Attorney General to investigate and compel employers to respond to USERRA complaints.  More importantly, it will allow the Attoreny General to better represent service members who have a case.  Both steps are absolutely critical to open doors for new veterans and ensure they come home to the job security they deserve after serving our country."
USERRA secures servicemembers' employment rights during periods of military service and prohibits employer discrimination based upon military service or obligation.
To ensure that those protections are fully enforced this bill:
* Enables the Attorney General to investigate and file suit against a patter or practice of USERRA violatiosn by a state or private employer.
* Allows the United States to serve as named plaintiff in USERRA suits and to issue civil investigative demands for relevant documentary material; and
* Provides the Special Counsel with authority to subpoena relevant testimony and documents from Federal employees and agencies to carry out investigations.
Over the past year, it has come to light that several banks improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the SCRA.  Failure to comply with SCRA protections is unacceptable.
This bill strengthens the statutory protections of SCRA as well as the mechanisms used to enforce them by:
* Strengthening the protections that prevent judgments againt a servicemember when they cannot appear in court because of military service.
* Broadening the authority of the Attorney General to investigate allegations of SCRA violations; and
* Clarifying the right of servicemembers to bring a private law suit to assert their SCRA rights.
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bad news


Rebecca loves  Revenge and she's been going crazy with it off all these weeks.  Tomorrow night it returns to ABC with new episodes, six new episodes in a row.  So she'll be watching.  Will you?

Will I?

I still haven't watched Smash.  I'll write about it tomorrow.

A very dear friend called and left me a message at work (I was in a session) just asking if I could pop over on the way home.

Which I did.

She was putting a brave face but ay-yi-yi.

20 years of marriage -- anniversary in June -- and her husband tells her today (a) he wants a divorce, (b) he's not sure he ever loved her, (c) he feels he has wasted too many years and (d) (the standard) it's not you, it's me.

You know the "it's not you, it's me" is overplayed.  But if you're going to use it, I really think it only works for dating.  Once you're living together or engaged or married, I think it's too late for that phrase.

So she just wanted to see a friendly face and gave me a hug and told me to call later in the week.  I grabbed the phone and told Mike I'd be late getting home.  I wasn't going to leave her on that note. So we talked and talked and I hope she's okay.  She'll be okay.  The anger will kick in and she'll be fine.  But before that happens, I am worried.  (Not that she'll self-harm.  She won't.  But I'm worried about how much this is hurting her.)

(If you're thinking, "Gosh, Elaine, you really aren't much of a friend going into all of this!" I would agree.  I don't air my personal life and I wouldn't air a friend's; however, she asked me to.  She said, "Somewhere there's a woman who will read it and think, 'Thank God it's not me!' only to learn a month or two later that it is her."  She made me promise her three times before she believed me that I would include this.)

I think it is good that when couples no longer feel it is worth it that they can split.  The alternative is scary and we don't want that.  However, the reality is most break ups tend to be one person deciding and one person learning of the break up.

I don't know what I'm thinking.  Probably about my own relationship.  That's what we tend to do when a friend goes through a break up: Could it be me next?

If so, it'll be me learning that it's over, not the one announcing it is.

Anyway, you can probably tell I'm just not in a good place.  I really didn't see this coming and honestly thought he was a better person than he ended up being (my friend's husband).

She really didn't deserve this.

returns with new episodes tomorrow night on ABC. I told her we'd note it here as well. Now to Iraq.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri gets a press 'award' of sorts, we look at his long history of attacking the press since he became prime minister in 2006, the White House realizes (at least somewhat) that keeping Nouri happy won't hold Iraq together, corpses and bombings and shooting make it appear 2006 is stating a comeback, and more.
In Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq, everyone's targeted and that includes journalists. Nouri has long been anti-press. As we noted yesterday, Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera -- link has video and text) has asked Iraqi President Jalal Talabani about charges that Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-"Maliki is on the road to becoming a dictator" and Talabani denied the charge and stated, "There are some shortages -- it is not only him responsible. I am also responsible. I am responsible for looking after everything to guard the constitution. I must also speak, so we are all responsible for the shortages in the government." Yesterday's snapshot didn't have a working link to Jane Arraf's interview, my apologies. If Talabani agrees Iraq is his responsibility as well, he's going to have to learn to support and advocate on behalf of the press -- something he's never done, even before the Iraq War.
But let's focus on Nouri and his loathing of the press. At the start of the year, Canada's Centre For Law And Democracy released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "Freedoms in Iraq: An Increasingly Repressive Legal Net."
In recent years, the government has introduced a barrage of legislation relating to the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly. In some cases, this legislation appears to be well intentioned, while in other cases positive interntions are less apparent. Regardless, all of these new laws, most of which have not yet been adopted, are problematical from the perspective of constitutional and international human rights guarantees.
This Report reviews five pieces of legislation affecting the freedoms of assembly and expression that have been introduced in recent years in Iraq. Of these, only one, the Journalistic Rights Law (Journalist Law), has actually been passed into law, in August 2011. The other four -- the draft Commission of Media and Communication Law (draft CMC Law), the draft Informatics Crimes Law (draft Internet Law), the draft Political Parties Law (draft Parties Law) and the draft Law of Expression, Assembly, and Peaceful Protest (draft Assembly Law) -- have not yet been formally adopted as laws.
[. . .]
One of the most problematical features of the five laws is that, taken together, they impose wide-ranging restrictions on the content of what may be published or broadcast through the media, during demonstrations, over the Internet and by political parties. These are in addition to the many content restrictions which are still found int he old 1969 Penal Code. A few issues receive particular attention in the new laws, such as public morals and more issues, incitement, in particular to religious hatred or criticism, and perhaps not surprisingly, public order and terrorism. Many of these fail to meet the standards of international law regarding restrictions on freedom of expression.
If a country really needed strong laws to provide a free press, it would be Iraq. Since becoming prime minister in 2006, Nouri's done nothing but attack the press. His disregard and hatred for it is well known and has influenced many incidents, most infamously a New York Times reporter had a gun aimed at them 'for fun' in the latter half of 2006, a gun aimed a pretend shot taken by one of Nouri's security forces who found the whole incident hilarious.
Therefore the proposals aren't really that surprising. Frightening, but not surprising. Of the proposed CMC Law, the Centre For Law And Democracy notes it is obsessed with "public morals" while the proposed Internet Law dictates that "moral, family or social values" must not be offended and similar dictates apply with the proposed Assembly Law. The Centre For Law And Democracy notes that speech that offends due to ideas can't be legitimately banned, the speech needs to do "harm to society" -- even so, the paper should be very clear -- and isn't -- because Nouri calls many things harmful to society including Iraqi politicians who criticize him.
Furthermore, the prohibited acts in these laws go well beyond public order and terrorism as normally understood. They also include undermining the constitution, jeopardising national interests, sending threatening or insulting messages or fabricated news, promoting terrorist ideologies (as opposed to terrorism per se) and publishing information about the manufacture of tools or materials usedd in terrorists acts.
These broad prohibitions simply cannot be justified. It is perfectly legitimate to 'undermine' (or criticise or seek to change) the constitution, as long as this is done through peaceful means. Otherwise, it would be a crime to seek to achiever any amendments to the constitution. The concept of 'national interests' is impossibly flexible. In many countries, it is a crime to make threats, but sending insulting messages is often perfectly legitimate or at worst may warrant a civil defamation suit. Similarly, promoting terrorism ideologies, whatever they may be, is not the same thing as inciting terrorism, and the narrower offence should be preferred.
Page 27 of the report notes the Journalists Rights bill. (PDF format warning, click here for that proposed law.) It was proposed in 2009 and modified in 2011. The modified version defines a journalist as "Every individual practicing a full time journalism job." This would leave out stringers, part-timers, freelancers and many other media workers. That's not an accident. The report doesn't point it out but Nouri's always attacked the press, always wanted them monitored as well. Let's drop back to the October 3, 2006 snapshot:
Operation Happy Talkers are on the move and telling you that Nouri al-Maliki offers a 'four-point' peace plan. You may have trouble reading of the 'four-point' plan because the third point isn't about "peace" or "democracy" so reports tend to ignore it. The first step has already been (rightly) dismissed by Andrew North (BBC) of the "local security committees": "In fact, most neighourhoods of Baghdad set up their own local security bodies some time ago to protect themselves -- because they do not trust the authorities to look after them." AP reports that the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of the 'peace' plan (reality title: "continued carnage plan"). Step three? Let's drop back to the September 7th snapshot:
["]Switching to the issue of broadcasting, were they showing episodes of Barney Miller or NYPD Blue? Who knows but police pulled the plug on the satellite network al-Arabiya in Baghdad. CNN was told by a company official (Najib Ben Cherif) that the offices "is being shut for a month." AP is iffy on who gave the order but notes that Nouri al-Malike started making warnings/threats to television stations back in July. CNN reports: "A news alert on Iraqi State TV said the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the office closed for a month."["]
Ah, yes, the puppet's war with the press. The so-called peace plan is more of the same. The third 'plank' is about the media. Which is why the "brave" US media repeatedly cites the first two and stays silent while a free media (something a democracy is dependent upon) walks the plank.
It's disgusting and shameful, the third 'plank.' The whole 'plan' is a joke. Reuters is one of the few to go beyond the first two 'steps' but even it does a really poor job and those over coverage of Iraq in the mainstream (producers to suits) are very concerned about this. (So why don't they report it?) The "plan" isn't a plan for peace, it's a plan for the puppet to attempt to save his own ass for a few more months. Lee Keath (AP) is only one of many ignoring the third step (possibly AP thinks readers are unable to count to four?) but does note that al-Maliki took office last May with a 24-point plan that, to this day, "has done little to stem the daily killings." Nor will this so-called 'peace plan.' The US military and the American "ambassador" have announced that Nouri al-Maliki better show some results ('after all we've paid' going unspoken).
So al-Maliki pulls a page from Paul Bremer's book and decides to go after the media. For those who've forgotten, on March 28, 2004, al-Hawza was closed down as a result of running a cartoon of Bremer leading to the violence in Falluja in April 2004.
Nouri's attacks on the press are as lengthy as his time in office as prime minister. It includes bring a lawsuit against the Guardian -- among others. January 12, 2011, Josh Halliday (Guardian) reported:
The Guardian has won its appeal against an Iraqi court ruling which judged that the paper had defamed the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) brought the libel action after the Guardian reported criticism of al-Maliki and the INIS in an article published in April 2009. The Al-Karakh primary court judged in November 2009 that the report was defamatory and ordered the Guardian to pay a fine of 100m dinar (£52,000).
However, the Iraqi appeal court ruled on 28 December that the article did not cause any defamation or harm to al-Maliki or the INIS, overturning the earlier court ruling.
With the above and so much more, these measures, largely drafted by Nouri and his inner circle, are anti-press isn't surprising. The Centre For Law And Democracy notes "we see in the collective approach of the five laws a dramatic lack of respect for the fundamental human rights to freedom of assembly and expression. In most cases, these rules seek to impose unwarranted restrictions on the exercise of these rights. Taken together with the broad content restrictions, as well as the undue degree of government control over the exercise of these rights, the five laws would impose very severe constraints indeed on basic human rights."
The findings are disturbing. What's even more disturbing is that the findings really aren't new. They've very similar to what the United Nations Assistance Mission For Iraq (UNAMI) found in the second half of 2009 [PDF format warning] Human Rights Report. For example:
Some of the law's provisions, however, give rise to concern. For example, the law gives broad discretionary power to govenrment, which could be used to restrict the right to freedom of expression. Several porvisions of the law clearly inhibit the realization of the rights of media workers; the prohibition of publishing materials which "compromise the security and stability of the country" is open to broad interpretation and may be abused by authorities. The draft law does not provide a guarantee for the protection of sources: rather, provisions state that the law requires the source to be revealed.
The draft law's narrow definition of a journalist as "one who works for press . . . and who is affiliated with the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate" raises concerns about the ability of other media workers, such as editors, commentators, blogger, and freelancers to exercise their right to express their views publicly and in effect imposes a de facto obligation to register journalists. According to the law, media organizations operating in Iraq must issue contracts to journalists that have been prepared and authorized by the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate. Not only contradicting article 39 of the Constitution which stipulates that no one shall be compelled to join any party.
It's nearly three years later and the proposed laws still have the same exact problems. There's been no improvement. In fact, it has worsened. In January of this year, the Society for Defending Press Freedom's Oday Hattem told Al Jazeera, "There is no freedom to workin journalism here -- if we compare the jounalism in Iraq with the West. [. . .] The political and freedom of speech situations are both descending. Maliki launched an attack on freedom of speech in February 2010, when he arrested tens of journalists and human rights activsts after the beginning of demonstrations in Baghdad."
I believe he's referring to February 2011. February 25, 2011 saw major protests in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. It also saw Nouri crackdown on the press and activists. From February 26, 2011:
Yesterday Iraqis made their voices heard in multiple demonstrations. Wael Grace and Adam Youssef (Al Mada) report the disturbing news that after the demonstrations, four journalists who had been reporting on the protests were eating lunch when Iraqi security forces rushed into the restaurant and arrested them with eye witnesses noting that they brutal attacked the journalists inside the restaurant, cursing the journalists as they beat them with their rifle handles. One of the journalists was Hossam Serail who says that they left Tahrir Square with colleagues including journalists, writers intellectuals, filmmakers. They went into the restaurant where the Iraqi military barged in, beat and kicked them, hit them in the face and head with the handles of their rifles, cursed the press and journalists, put him the trunk of a Hummer. This is Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq -- the Iraq the US forces prop up at the command of the Barack Obama. Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) adds:
{}Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq." {}
Among those arrested and tortured were journalist and activist Hadi al-Mahdi. NPR's Kelly McEvers interviewed Hadi for Morning Edition after he had been released and she noted he had been "beaten in the leg, eyes, and head." He explained that he was accused of attempting to "topple" Nouri al-Maliki's government -- accused by the soldiers under Nouri al-Maliki, the soldiers who beat him. Excerpt:
Hadi al-Mahdi: I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed and the street in your area is unpaved and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Hadi al-Mahdi: I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, "Where's my brother?" And a third one was saying, "For the sake of God, help me."
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released. Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Sadam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust dictators.
Hadi al-Mahdi: They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst -- they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers and corrupt people, stealers.
September 8, 2011, Hadi al-Mahdi was assassinated in his home. Madhi had filed a complaint with the courts against the Iraqi security forces for their actions. Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media."
Democracy and liberation haven't taken hold in Iraq but targeting the press certainly did. And today Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq can boast of one 'accomplishment' under his six years of leadership: Number one on the Committee to Protect Journalists' Impunity Index. Rachel McAthy (CPJ) explains:

Iraq remains at the top of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Impunity Index for the fifth year in a row, with the press freedom group reporting that the cases of 93 journalists killed in the past 10 years remain unsolved.
The latest index, published annually by the group, lists the 12 countries that have seen at least five reporters killed with no resulting convictions from 2002 to 2011.
The CPJ reports that Iraq's rating for impunity "dwarfs that of every other nation" with a rating of 2.906 unsolved cases per million inhabitants.

Nouri was first named prime minister-designate April 22, 2006. It's been six years of stalling ever since. And it took a lot of stalling to ensure that 93 murders would go unsolved. That's the sort of 'leadership' Nouri's provided. What a proud day for him. What a sad day for Iraq and the press.
Staying with the topic of violence, Xinhua counts 13 dead in yesterday's violence and nine injured. Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured two people. And they note 1 police officer was shot dead outisde Mosul and a small child was left injured, 1 corpse was discovered in Dohak Province, 1 suspect was shot dead outside of Tikrit and 1 man apparently hanged himself in Basra. Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports Iraqiya MP Falah al-Naqeeb reports he escaped an assassination attempt last night in Taji. Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi and is the political slate that came in first in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second. Since December, Nouri's been demanding Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for 'terrorism.' Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya and Sunni. al-Hashmi tells Ipek Yezdani (Hurriyet Daily News), "We are facing a highly sensitive political crisis for the first time in nine years. If we cannot solve this crisis through the constitution and by sitting around a table, the future of my country will be gloomy and really worrying, and all options will be on the table. I hope none of them splits Iraq.' Sevil Kucukkosum (Hurriyet) adds, "Meanwhile, al-Hashemi has said he will stay in Istanbul for 'however long is necessary' and that Iraq needs Turkey's help in solving its political crisis. Al-Hashemi is currently residing with his family and guards at an apartment in Istanbul's Başakşehir district. In his temporary residence, al-Hashemi told Turkish daily Milliyet that his country needed him and that he would not allow his opponents to push him aside."
Nouri stomped his feet over the 2010 election results and demanded a recount and then wasn't happy with the recount. Ben Van Heuvelen (Washington Post) reminds today, "As the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), Haidari clashed with Maliki after the contested elections of March 2010, in which the prime minister's coalition placed a close second to the rival Iraqiya bloc, led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. In one of the most significant disputes, Haidari rejected Maliki's petition to throw out thousands of votes for Iraqiya." Thursday he had the Independent High Electoral Commission's chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested (they were released Sunday). Aswat al-Iraq reports:

A political analyst described the arrest of head of Election Commission Faraj al-Haidari as "a price for objecting the desires of Premier Nouri al-Maliki to control it".
Sarmad al-Ta'I told Aswat al-Iraq that "the arrest is a matter of vendetta and accounts settlements".
He added that "the case is grave with greater sensitivity due to the nearness of provincial elections that Maliki hopes to get a majority".
Ta'I added that Haidari was one of three who objected Maliki's policies.
The other two were the Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq Sinan al-Shibibi and ex-Chairman of Integrity Commission Raheem Ikaili.

Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports plans to vote for the Electoral Commission to continue their work. But there appears to be some confusion over whether or not Faraj al-Haidari and Karim al-Tamimi could continue serving according to MP Mahmoud Hassan. Parliament needs to look at the files agains them to determine that issue and Hassan is calling for the formation of a parliamentary committee to examine the files and reach a conclusion so that the matter can be resolved quickly. If that seems helpful, remember it's a State of Law MP that brought the charges against the two men and remember that Hassan is State of Law.

Alsumaria reports the Kurdish Alliance is calling out Nouri's attempts to split them and rebuking his claim that they are dissatisfied with KRG President Massoud Barzani. (See yesterday's "Continued violence and chaos and Nouri gets catty.") As Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) observed yesterday of the ongoing political crisis, "The disagreements between the Al Iraqiya List and the State of Law Coalition has taken a back seat lately. The escalating differences between the central government and Arbil signal a breakdown of the biggest strategic alliance that was built outside Iraq prior to 2003, and one that worked on toppling Saddam Hussain's regime and has led the political process in the country ever since. The tension surrounding the Iraqi political process indicates it could be pushed towards the point of no return." KRG President Massoud Barzani visited DC two weeks ago and met with US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He made it very clear that the KRG needs friends and that the KRG isn't interested in one-way streets. He noted the history between the KRG and the US and how that history had built a relationship of trust which had been put into jeopardy with requests from the US repeatedly to back off this or compromise on this -- requests that come with promises from the US about what Nouri will do in exchange but the promises never emerge. He pointed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement which ended the eight month Political Stalemate I which followed the 2010 elections. The US wanted Nouri to have a second term as prime minister. The Kurds ended up backing that but they were supposed to get -- and this is written into the agreement -- certain things in exchange. Nouri gladly grabbed a second term as prime minister and then refused to honor the Erbil Agreement.
Not only that but the KRG considers Kirkuk to be their province. The 2005 Constitution explains how the issue will be resolved: Census and referendum And, per the Constitution, Article 140, this is supposed to be taken care of by the end of 2007. Nouri's ignored it since 2006. And the Kurds were asked to make nice. April 5th, in DC, KRG President Massoud Barzani gave a speech and took questions. In reply to a question, he declared:
We have been waiting for the last six years for promises that were not delivered, for agreements that were not honored. We have waited and everytime they give us an excuse. Once they say that there are elections in Baghdad, another time, elections in the region. Once there is election in the United States. Then there is the Arab Summit, etc., etc. We have found out that we have passed six years waiting for these promises to be delivered. We cannot anymore wait for unfulfilled promises and undelivered promises. There has to be a specific and determined timeline for this to be delivered. We got tired of this and we are fed up with that. Therefore, what we will do is that we will work on the preferred option to work with the other Iraqi groups to find a solution. If not, then we go back to our people and to put all of these realities inf ront of our people for the people to be free to make their own decision. As far as the issue of the oil is concerned, in 2007, when we were working and we reached an agreement on a draft oil hydrocarbons law, we both agreed that if that law did not pass in the Parliament until May that same year that both sides -- the KRG and the federal government -- are free to continuing signing contracts with international oil companies. Therefore, whatever we have done in the region, we have not violated the Constitution. We have acted legally and Constitutionally within the framework of the Constitution.
As we noted then, "This speech was a declaration of independence on the part of the Kurds. The basic premise Massoud Barzani has outlined is: We will not be bound by empty words no matter who speaks them." In what is probably today's most important report, Alister Bull (Reuters) explains:
President Barack Obama, facing a damaging election-year problem if Iraq's political crisis worsens, has launched an urgent behind-the-scenes push to ease tensions between the Baghdad central government and the Kurds.
[. . .]
Reuters has learned that to demonstrate U.S. support, the White House and Congress agreed to lift a designation that treats Kurdistan's two main political parties as if they were terrorist groups, complicating members' travel to the United States. In addition, the U.S. consulate in Arbil will begin issuing U.S. visas before the end of 2012.

Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports that the Ministry of the Interior (which still has no legal minister to run it so Nouri runs it -- and wants to, that's why he's refused to nominate a head for it all this time) is stating the cause of continued violence ("terrorism") in Iraq is due to the duplication of security -- there are too many security forces!

Yes, that is illogical. But carry it out, as Nouri no doubt will, and you've got Nouri eliminating or restricting all forces he doesn't control throughout Iraq. Throughout -- even in the three provinces that make up the KRG.