Saturday, May 26, 2012


E! reports NBC's Smash has fired four actors.  Sadly, the awful Christian Borle wasn't one of them.

They're getting rid of Julia's husband, Karen's boyfriend Dev, the actor playing Michael (the one who slept with Julia) and Ellis.  I can't believe they're getting rid of Ellis.

If it weren't for Ellis, whole episodes would have gone nowhere.

I don't care whether you liked Jaime Cepero's performance or not (I grew very fond of it), the fact is that without Ellis, the season would have been really boring.

I can't believe they're keeping the awful Borle as Tom.  Tom is so disgusting with his non-stop whining and his being a walking-breathing homophobic stereotype of gay men.

I'd also ask why the hell is a straight man playing a gay man?

Maybe Tom wouldn't be so much of a damn stereotype if a gay man were playing him?

I seem to recall hearing that if you come out in Hollywood, you limit yourself in terms of roles.  That's the excuse given for not coming out.  Okay, so there's a gay role (Tom) on a TV show and they're casting a straight actor when there are plenty of gay actors available?

What the hell is that?

It might not be such an issue if Christian Borle's performance wasn't such an insulting stereotype.

I will miss Dev.  In the last episodes he became a bit boring but for much of the show, he was the one (a) who got Marilyn (remember him educating Karen on the role) and (b) who encouraged Karen when no one else did.

As for Michael?  I don't know about the actor playing Michael but the character of Michael was no wonderful singer or dancer.  He offered so little.  I have to wonder if this means that Michael isn't the father of Julia's child?

If Michael were the only one out, I'd think that.  But they're also getting rid of Julia's husband.  So maybe he leaves because Michael is the father?

I don't know.

But I know Debra Messing deserves a Best Actress Emmy nod for her work.  Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee and Uma Thurman also did strong work.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, May 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Russian bikers tortured by Nouri's forces are released, Nouri's brown shirts take to downtown Baghdad as they've done so many Fridays before to stage a faux protest, the US prepares to arm Nouri, Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and more.
Starting in Russia. Yesterday it was learned that four Russian bikers were grabbed in central Iraq by Nouri's security forces, imprisoned and beaten.  The four are: Oleg Kapkayev of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Vardanyants  and Maxim Ignatyev of Vladimir and Oleg Maximov of Tula.  Russian Legal Information Agency reports that the wife Oleg Maximo spoke to her husband and he told her they were being moved to another location. 
 Dmitry Rogozin is the Deputy Premier of Russian Government tasked with the defense and space industry.

Задержанные в Ираке байкеры уже находятся в Посольстве РФ. Мотоциклы пока не отдали. Спасибо всем, кто помогал

That Tweet reads: 'The Russian bikers detained in Iraq are at the Embassy of the Russian Federation [in Baghdad].  Motorcylces have not been returned yet.  Thanks to everyone  who helped.'  The Moscow Times notes, "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been forging good relations with the biker community in the past two years, riding motorcycles and attending biker events."   RIA Novosti adds, "The four men will leave for Russia on Saturday morning, the bikers' lawyer Alexander Orlov, also a member of the Moscow-based motorcycle club Rolling Anarchy MCC (RAMCC), told RIA Novosti."
As many are noticing, the US press has ignored the story completely.  That may be due to the fact that there's a detail that's inconsistent -- not on-message -- with Barack Obama's current campaign for a second term as US President.   Ekaterina Saviba (Gazeta) reports  it today:

They came to Iraq on May 17 and were detained by the Iraqi military on May 20. "Our attempt to go towards Baghdad failed because of Yanks in Hummers – they didn't let us in. Our guys decided to go round the American checkpoints and pass north of them," report motorcyclists' friends on the Russian motorcycling forum "They managed to ride several dozen kilometers a day, while having long heartfelt conversations with local authorities, all while the outside temperature was 42 Celsius."

Again, that was also in yesterday's reports.  The Russian bikers, en route to Baghdad, were unable to enter the city and had to go around due to Americans blocking them in Hummers, due to American checkpoints.  The 20th was Sunday and the US may have activated some branch still in Iraq (there are many) to put up checkpoints in advance of the meet-up in Baghdad.  They may have pulled the units stationed outside of Iraq -- in Kuwait for example -- back in to set up those checkpoints.
Along with the usual Russian contingent which staffs the country's Baghdad embassy, other Russian officials were in the country this week as Nouri's Iraq hosted talks with Iran about the nuclear program.  Ali Arouzi (NECN News -- link is text and video) reports, "International nuclear talks being held in Baghdad this week with Iran ended inconclusively with both sides at a stalemate."  A stalemate grows in Nouri's Baghdad?  What a complete lack of surprise?
The ongoing political stalemate in Iraq could see Nouri al-Maliki face a no-confidence vote that, if successful, would remove him as prime minister.  Alsumaria reports that the 'Badr brigade' says this would be the worst thing that could happen.  The Badr brigade only split or 'split' from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq when it had to (or risk ISCI being outlawed).  They still take their orders from Ammar al-Hakim and the US has been very successful in buying al-Hakim's support for Nouri.  al-Hakim has already made statements like those made similar statements out of his own mouth.  Now he uses the Badr brigade as a megaphone in the hopes that this will give the (false) appearance of a wave of support for Nouri surfacing. 
How did things get to this point? 
Iraq's currently in Political Stalemate II.  Political Stalemate I followed the March 7, 2010 elections in which Iraiqya -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- came in first and Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second.  Despite herculean efforts on Nouri's part -- some legal but most questionable or outright illegal -- to walk away with the election, he was runner up. But Nouri wanted to be Miss Iraq, he wanted the crown and felt he did very well in the swimsuit competition.  He had the backing of the White House and the Iranian government. for his desired second term as prime minister.  The Iraqi Constitution, the election results and the will of the Iraqi people were all against Nouri; however, Barack Obama doesn't care about rule of law or democracy.  He wants what he wants when he wants it.  And like Bully Boy Bush before him, Barack packed a chubby for Nouri. 
So for over eight months things were at a standstill.  Then in November 2010, the US brokered an agreement among the political blocs.  This is known as the Erbil Agreement (because it was signed off in Erbil).   In exchange for giving Nouri a second term, the US insisted, the blocs would receive concessions that they wanted.  This is the agreement that was agreed to.
The Erbil Agreement wasn't about all the political blocs saying, "We don't want anything.  Give Nouri a second term!"  To get the blocs on board it was  necessary for them to be offered arrangements that would benefit them.  And with everyone agreeing to the deal -- including Nouri -- and with the US government brokering it and insisting it was sound, the political blocs fel tthey deal was solid.
Nouri used it to become prime minister-designate and then, in December 2010, beging his second term as prime minister.  But that's all that happened.  He refused to implement the agreement.  He offered one excuse after another as is his way.  He distracts and stalls and hopes the other side gives up.  He's done that over and over.
By last summer, the Kurds had enough of the stalling.  They publicly demanded that the Erbil Agreement be implemented.  Their call was quickly joined by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.  And it wasn't implemented.  And it's still not implemented.  April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those participating were Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Allawi and Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.  In their meeting they agreed that Nouri needed to implement the agreement or face a no-confidence vote.  They also agreed that Moqtada al-Sadr's 18-point plan needed to be implemented.  Moqtada delivered the message, implement the Erbil Agreement or face a vote of no-confidence.  As the end of the month gets closer, the number of MPs reportedly  willing to vote out Nouri grows.  This week alone, it's grown from over 163 to 200.
A list of potential replacements has been named.  All on the list come from the National Alliance (a Shi'ite group which ISCI, State of Law, Moqtada's bloc and others belong to).  Kitabat reminds that the National Alliance is supposed to be naming a single choice of who should be Nouri's replacement.  But through it all, Moqtada has repeatedly noted publicly that Nouri can stop this at any point prior to the vote.  All he has to do is implement the Erbil Agreement. 
Not only does he refuse to, the White House refuses to call that out.  They brokered the agreement, they gave the political blocs their word that the agreement was legal and would hold.  The White House brokered the agreement and swore it would be upheld.  They have betrayed the Iraqi people.  These are the betrayals that lead people to stop trusting the US.  These are the type of betrayals the people of Iran spent decades living with.  It's not smart to betray people, it's not smart to make a promise and not keep it.
And all those promises
That you made me from the start
Were filled with emptiness
From the desert of your heart
Every sweet caress
Was just your second best
Broken promises
-- "All Those Promises," written by Janis Ian, first appears on her Folk Is The New Black
And now the White House thinks they can act like they're not involved?  Now they want to pretend like they have to stand on the sidelines? 
And they're not on the sidelines, they're repeatedly pimping for Nouri.  For example, the US State Dept issued this readout of the meeting between William Rurns, Deupty Secretary of State, and "Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense" Saadoun al-Dulaymi:
Today, Deputy Secretary Burns met with Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaymi, at the Department of State to discuss issues of mutual interest and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.  Minister Dulaymi is in Washington as lead of the Iraqi delegation for inaugural meetings of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee between the United States and the Government of Iraq. Deputy Secretary Burns noted the importance of these meetings as an excellent mechanism to build our mutual commitment to an enduring security partnership under a civilian-led process.
The meeting also covered bilateral issues on the security and political fronts and the Deputy Secretary offered our continued support as Iraq strengthens its democratic institutions and enhances the capacity of its security forces to bring greater stability and prosperity to its people.  On Iraqi political issues, the two discussed the importance of resolving differences through dialogue and compromise and in a democratic fashion in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.
The Deputy Secretary expressed appreciation to Minister Dulaymi for Iraq's willingness to host the E3+3 meetings in Baghdad and noted that, following the successful hosting of the Arab Summit in March, it is another sign of Iraq taking a constructive role in the region and with the international community to reach shared goals of greater regional stability.  Deputy Secretary Burns assured Minister Dulaymi that the United States would continue to support Iraq in its effort to strengthen ties with its regional neighbors.
 And the Defense Dept issued this American Forces Press Service story about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta meeting with al-Dulaymi.  There's no "acting defense minister."  Not per the Iraqi Constitution.  The prime minister nominates someone to be Minister of Defense and Parliament says yes or no via a vote.  That's how it's supposed to work per the Constitution.  But Nouri's never put a name to the Parliament.  The minute he does, he doesn't control the Defense Ministry, the Minister does.  Why are US public servants wasting time and tax payer money meeting with these non-ministers?  If they hadn't lied so much -- the White House -- $500 million wouldn't have already been wasted on the police training program this year.  Most Americans don't realize that the Iraqi police are under the Ministry of the Interior and even more aren't aware that Nouri has never named a nominee for that position either.
How do you waste $500 million US tax payer dollars on a training program for a ministry that has no minister?  That's your first clue that the money's going to be wasted.  Nouri was supposed to have named a full Cabinet before he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  It's a power-grab and the US government enables and endorses it. 
Doubt that?
The Defense Dept issued the following late yesterday:
May 24, 2012

Joint Statement of the U.S. - Iraq Defense and Security Cooperation Joint Coordinating Committee

            The Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq reaffirmed their commitment to a strong and long-term security partnership between the two countries at the inaugural meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), from May 22-24, 2012. 
            The meetings, held at the U.S. Department of Defense following a meeting with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Acting Iraqi Minister of Defense Saadoun Al-Dlimi, were co-chaired by the Iraqi acting minister of defense and by the U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, and Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.  Defense and security is one of the eight areas of cooperation agreed upon by Iraq and the United States under the 2008 SFA to strengthen cooperation in areas of critical interest to both countries.  The establishment of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee signifies both countries' commitment to strengthen the U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership and continue coordination and cooperation on these vital issues. 
            During three days of meetings, discussions were held on a number of items of mutual interest, including future sales of military equipment, joint military exercises, and Iraq's strategy to ensure its future stability and security.  In support of an enduring partnership, the United States and the Government of Iraq expanded dialogue on ways of increasing strategic cooperation that would promote stability within Iraq as well as throughout the region.  The United States also reaffirmed its commitment to advancing Iraq's stability through the training, equipping, and enhancing the capacity of Iraq's armed forces for defense against external threats and for counterterrorism. 
            Both sides discussed ongoing and future security assistance.  In addition to an initial purchase of 18 F-16 aircraft in September 2011, during the meetings the Government of Iraq reconfirmed its interest in purchasing a second set of 18 F-16s and the United States reconfirmed its commitment to the sale.  The F-16s and other military equipment will help protect Iraq's sovereignty, meet legitimate defense needs and symbolize the long-term security partnership envisioned by both countries.
            The United States commends the Iraqi security forces for their demonstrated capability to protect the Iraqi people and recognizes the continued sacrifice being made to ensure Iraq's security.  The Iraqi security forces have made great strides in stabilizing the security situation in Iraq and in facilitating Iraq's emergence as a strategic partner that promotes and contributes to regional security. 
            The United States and the Government of Iraq agreed that the next meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee will be hosted by Iraq in Baghdad this fall.  The purpose of the second meeting will be to build upon the foundation laid out this week, and continue discussions on strengthening defense and security cooperation as part of the multifaceted relationship developed between the United States and the Government of Iraq.
I seem to remeber, a few years back, a US Senator talking about the danger that we would arm Nouri with the weapons he could use on his own people.  Maybe that observation doesn't matter because the man is no longer a US Senator -- now he's Vice President of the United States.  Joe Biden knew this was a problem in 2008.  I'm failing to see how anything's changed to make Nouri less at risk of attacking the Iraqi people.
Yesterday the US State Dept released 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and here's how the section on Iraq opens:

During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
That doesn't qualify as a ringing endorsement of Nouri al-Maliki.
Today the US puppet sent his little cult into the streets of downtown Baghad.  Alsumaria reports that the thug's thugs were out in full force, carrying signs supproting Nouri and insisting that anyone not supproting Thug Nouri was influenced by foreign countries.  They also threatened violence if Nouri was subjected to a no-confidence vote.  Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, noticed what took place this morning.  Alsumaria reports that he charges Nouri with attempting to take the political crisis into the Iraqi street and to scare people into silence.  Allawi says that if there is any bloodshed, Nouri will be responsible.
"We were preparing a party for her birthday, which was May 11, a party she was not able to enjoy.  She was going to be 26 years old when she died."  That's Ramon Rubalcava speaking about the 2004 death of his daughter Isela Rubalcava.  Spain's wire service EFE notes Isela Rubalcava was born in El Paso to Maria Isela and Ramon Rubalcava and she was killed in a Mosul mortar attack on May 8, 2004 becoming "the third woman of Mexican descent to die on the Iraq war front and the first woman from El Paso to die in combat."  She is one of at least 4488 US service members to die in the Iraq War.  Monday is Memorial Day.  At Huffington Post, Jim Downs offers the origins and history of Memorial DayDora Robles Hernandez (Detroit Free Press) notes that Saturday through Monday will see the Detroit area host 20 different Memorial Day parades.  Though not all metro areas will see that many events -- for example, the states of New Hampshire and Maine will have about that many events this weekend combined -- there will be observations throughout the US.  And because it's Memorial Day, the Sunday chat and chews finally find veterans issues and the Chair of a veterans committee.  Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe) will be among the guests which also include Iraq War veteran Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion's Tim Tetz and Peter Chiarelli who is now a retired general and who has carved out a role for himself advocating on behalf of those with Post-Traumatic Stress and coming up with proposals to allow the stigma attached to PTS to be removed.  It should be a very interesting broadcast.  (I was asked to note this by a friend who endorses Chiarelli's PTS work.)
To address veterans issues in a meaningful way that actually helps, bi-partisanship is needed in the Congress -- a point Senator Mike Johanns made Wednesday in a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System." Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  There Committee heard from one panel of witnesses: DoD's Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, GAO's Daniel Bertoni and the VA's John Gingrich.  We covered Chair Murray's questions and some of the report entitled Interim Committee Staff Report: Investigation of Joint Disability Evaluation System in Wednesday's snapshot,   Ava covered Senator Jon Tester's questioning in "How to keep the witness focused (Ava)," Kat reported on Ranking Member Richard Burr's participation with "Senator Burr: I've had too many of these hearings" and Wally  focused on how the VA claiming next year they'll fix things or the next year or the next never does anything but waste the Committee's time and the taxpayers' money with "It's your money (Wally)."  Ava, Kat and Wally covered important aspects of the hearing so please read their reports.  From Kat's, we'll note this:
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So we're all in agreement that we're just south of 400 days in the cycle of an applicant being processed?  395, I think, 394.  In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES [Integrated Disability Evaluation System] so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days.  Now I-I -- I've had too many of these hearings.  We have them every year.  And we hear the same thing: "Oh, gosh, look at what we're doing."  Now I've heard the most glowing progress report from both of you and then I get the realities of the days haven't changed.  You have met some improvements in certain areas.  I commend you on that.  The timeliness goals in areas have been better.  But the reality is that we've got a broken system and we're five years into it and I hear testimony where 'we're starting to begin to review our business processes.'  Well, you know, why did it take five years to get to this?  What -- What can you convey to me today that's concrete, that tells me a year from now, we're not going to be at 393 days.  When you [Dr. Jo Ann Rooney] said earlier, "We're instituting IT changes this summer that will improve our times by thirty or forty," I thought you were going to say "percent."  And you said "days."   So now my expectations are that if we implement what you just said, we're going to be down to 360 days which exceeds the DES [Disability Evaluating System] and Secretary of the VA by the 110 days over what their goal was for today.
At its most basic, the VA and the Defense Dept are attempting to make the transition from service member (DoD's role) to veterans (VA's role) seamless and timely.  That's not happening currently.  with respect to Integrated Disability Evaluation System, this is supposed to determine whether or not a service member is able to continue serving.  If the answer is no, the service member then becomes a veteran and VA needs to have a disability claim.  The disability rating will determine the benefits. So it matters.  And the Interim Committee Staff Report noted examples including, "A servicemember with a lung condition who was being treated with steroids and immunosuppressive drugs was incorrectly rated at 0% rather than 100%." 
 Not only are there problems with the disability ratings, there's the problem with the length of time they take.  This isn't minor if you're the veteran and you're waiting for a disability check that you've more than earned to come but it's not in the mail.  Committee Chair Patty Murray noted 27,000 have waited over 100 days to go through the system.
As he questioned the witnesses, Senator Mike Johanns observed, "I don't hear anything that makes me feel 'Gosh, we're going to turn the corner here.'  In fact, I must admit, quite the opposite, I'm going to walk away from this hearing very, very worried that the system is imploding."  Even the issue of supervision was a question mark.  Senator John Boozman wanted to know who was in charge of overseeing the joint-DoD and VA effort?  The best answer he received was that John Gingrich was the point-person for the DoD side; however, he stated he does not oversee the VA effort.
Who is responsible for overseeing the full project and not components or pieces?
No answer was ever provided.
Senator Boozman declared, "I guess I would like to see somebody accountable for the whole system. And you may be that person but it's not fair to you if you don't really have authority to see it through. So I personally think that the two Secretaries need to designate somebody that's got the authority."  Possibly if there was one person responsible for overseeing it, the process would be moving along more smoothly and much quicker.  That was the argument Boozman made and it sounds reasonable.  But did anybody listen?  Will a single person be named to be responsible for overseeing the entire project?
Senator Johanns wanted to know much longer it is going to take -- "1 year, 2 years, 5 years?" -- for the goals to be met?  No one could provide an answer. "I can't give you a specific time frame," Daniel Bertoni told him.  But he did note that enrollments continue to rise -- 19,000 just last year -- and that this adds to to the delays. 
We'll close with this from Senate Veterans Committee Chair Patty Murray's office:
Thursday, May 24, 2012 

Murray (202) 224-2834
Collins (202) 224-2523
Michaud (202) 225-6306
VETERANS: Murray, Collins, Michaud Applaud Veterans Homes Fix in Military Construction Spending Bill

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), members of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, along with U.S. Representative Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, applauded the inclusion of an amendment in the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill which would modify the way State Veterans' Homes are reimbursed for nursing home care provided to veterans. The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 30-0. The amendment, authored by Senator Murray, would result in more flexibility in determining reimbursement rates by requiring VA and the State Veterans' Homes to collaborate in setting rates that accurately reflect the level of care provided. Washington and Maine are home to State Veterans' Homes which require a high level of skilled nursing due to requirements by Medicare and Medicaid. However, currently the VA payments do not cover this level of care.

"This amendment is a critical step to ensuring Washington State Veterans' Homes will not lose out on millions of dollars they need to keep operating," said Senator Murray. "Thankfully we were finally able to move forward to provide this flexibility -- preventing staff layoffs which would have dramatically reduced the number of Washington veterans they serve. I am grateful to Senator Collins and Representative Michaud for their leadership on this issue."
"By granting the Department of Veterans Affairs increased flexibility in reimbursement rates, our goal is to recognize the high-quality of care State Veterans' Homes provide disabled veterans and ensure they never have to turn away any of our veterans because of inadequate reimbursement from the VA," said Senator Collins. "The men and women cared for by State Veterans' Homes defended our freedom, many of them in combat. We must defend their right to the care they deserve."
"Our severely disabled and elderly veterans deserve access to the best possible care and Congress cannot wait any longer to address the shortfalls our State Veterans' Homes are facing," said Representative Michaud. "I am grateful for Sen. Patty Murray's collaboration and leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure that this issue is resolved before the end of the year."

Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What if it were Jill?

"Get Ready For The First Robot President" (Linton Weeks, NPR):

But no matter which man wins the next election — Obama or presumed challenger Mitt Romney — he may well go down in history as the First Robot President.
This is not because people have found each guy to be robot-like on occasion — though they have.
As far back as 2009, Fox Nation posted a video featuring Obama's never-changing smile and asking, "Is Obama a Robot?"

First off, long before that, Ava and C.I. were noting the robotic Barack (and comparing him to Mr. Spock).  Second of all, "no matter which man wins the next election"?

I thought NPR was supposed to report and not predict.

Jill Stein will hopefully get the Green Party presidential nomination.  If she gets the nomination, she could win the election.

No one knows at this point who the winner will be.

So it's really annoying to read these pieces that don't even acknowledge the realities.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, Mary 23, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, corruption in Iraq puts the people at risk, the political crisis continues, pilgrims and police are among those targeted in the country today, Senator Patty Murray continues to pursue how US service members and veterans with PTSD ended up with their diagnoses changed, Senator Ron Wyden asks questions about who's checking KBR's spending claims, and more.
Chair Patty Murray:  Almost a year ago today, this Committee held a hearing on VA and DoD efforts to improve transition.  We explored a number of issues including the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. At the hearing, we had an opportunity to hear from both departments about the state of the joint program.  The Departments' testimony that day spoke to how the Departments had created a more transparent and consistent  and expeditious disability evaluation process.  There testimony also states that IDES is a fair, faster process. Well now that the joint system has been implemented nationwide, I have to say that I am far from convinced the Departments have implemented a disability evaluation process that is truly transparent, consistent or expeditious.  There are now over 27,000 service members involved in the disability evaluation system.  As more and more men and women return from Afghanistan and as the military downsizes, we're going to continue to see an even larger group of service members transition from the military through the disability evaluation process.  This process impacts every aspect of a service member's life while they transition out of the military.  But it doesn't stop there.  If the system doesn't work right, it can also negatively affect a service member and their family well after they have left active duty.
This morning the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled "Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System." Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  There was one panel of witnesses: DoD's Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, GAO's Daniel Bertoni and the VA's John Gingrich.  The hearing was prompted by, among other things, the Interim Committee Staff Report: Investigation of Joint Disability Evaluation System
Research for the report resulted in many discoveries including basic errors not being caught such as, "A servicemember with a lung condition who was being treated with steroids and immunosuppressive drugs was incorrectly rated at 0% rather than 100%."  The report found many problems regarding the VA recognizing TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury):
Some VA medical examinations involving TBI failed to address findings on detailed neuropsychological testing conducted during service.  TBI facets such as memory are reported as "normal" based on "general conversation" without repeating or referencing prior tests, which identified the type and severity of the servicemember's TBI deficits.   In a number of cases, TBI and PTSD conditions were rated together when the evidence suggested that some of the TBI conditions should have been considered separately.  For example:   
• Testing that would help to differentiate between TBI and mental health conditions was not  conducted despite indications of deficits, such as visual-spatial orientation and memory loss due to organic injuries (such as trauma to a specific part of the brain associated with certain deficits). 
• VA claims for TBI residuals were denied or received a lower rating based on the absence of objective testing.  If testing had been conducted, objective evidence of TBI for symptoms complained of by the servicemember, might have changed the result.
• Conclusions by VA examiners were inconsistent with the medical evidence, such as an examination for TBI which found no TBI to support a diagnosis of post-traumatic headaches, but indicated that the same veteran's dizziness following an IED blast injury was due to his TBI.
• A servicemember diagnosed with anxiety disorder prior to separation was erroneously denied service-connection for PTSD when the disability had been diagnosed as anxiety disorder due to combat.
Chair Murray noted the case of Sgt 1st Class Stephen Davis who is a veteran of both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War and was receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress for about a year before he was accused of "making up his ailments" and he was part of a group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord: "All of these men and women had been diagnosed with, and in many cases were receiving treatment for, PTSD during service.  But then, during the disability evaluation process they were told that they were exaggerating their symptoms, they were labeled as malingerers and their behavioral health diagnoses were changed. "  She noted that a re-evaluation process  of examining 196 service members who were diagnosed with PTSD and then told they did not have it.  The re-evaluation process has already found that, yes, 108 of those service members do have PTSD (as originally diagnosed). 
Chair Patty Murray: Dr. Rooney, let me start with you.  We have had in the past regarding this joint disability rating system and the number of challenges service members faced while they were going through this process.  Recently, it has come to my attention that some of our service members involved with the disability evaluation process are facing retribution and unsupportive behavior from their chains of command while on limited duty and waiting for a disability decision.  I've heard from service members who were forced to participate in activities in direct violation of doctors' orders, who've been disciplined while struggling with behavioral health conditions and who have struggled to get access to care because their leadership would not cooperate with their treatment requirements.  I think you agree with me, that is completely unacceptable.  Whether in a warrior transition unit or not, leaders have to understand these medical issues and the difficult process that these service members are going through and they have to provide the leadership and support that these men and women need. So I'm going to begin with you by asking you, Dr. Rooney, what needs to be done to provide supportive and compassionate leadership for these injured service members that are forced to wait for a disability decision.
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Clearly the information you just shared is troubling on many levels and I would be very interested in speaking with you or your staff so that we can actually determine where those issues are occurring and make sure that, in fact, the leadership does know -- which is the department's decision and the leadership that I'm familiar with -- that that cannot be tolerated, that we must understand what is necessary for the care, that there are no stigmas with being able to address behavioral health or mental health issues and that really is the department's position.  So in those cases, if there are those substantive issues that you mentioned, not only do we need to find out where those are so we can work directly with that leadership and correct that situation, but we will continue with our ongoing work at all levels of command -- not just at the senior level of the department.  But we understand that it needs to go right through the command level of every installation to ensure, in fact, that the situations you described are not occurring.
Chair Patty Murray: Well we need to make sure that's happening because, as we all know, these are very challenging situations for these soldiers and any kind of retribution shouldn't be tolerated whether it's one case or many.  But I will share those with you but I want to make sure that system wide, that leaders throughout the chain of command all the way to the bottom are clearly understanding what these soldiers are going through and are not having any kind of repercussions on those individuals.
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Absolutely.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Gingrich, from the perspective of someone who has served in many leadership positions within the military, what can we do to educate our military leaders on not only this process but really on the  medical issues facing so many of these young men and women?
John Gingrich: Madam Chairman, I see a lot of things that the Army's doing and I know that because I've been in their VCTs.  They started, as we're told by GAO, they're now bringing in in layers all the way up to the Vice Chief of Staff so they've involved current level discussion groups -- Brigadier General, Major General, all the way up and they included VA in every one of those discussion groups.  So I think getting the information is the biggest key that we've got and the biggest challenge that we have.  The Secretary right now, yesterday, spoke to the Sergeant Major Academy in the Army and the Sergeant Majors are now understanding that this is a problem that we have to take on as two departments and not just one. And I think that education is happening.
Chair Patty Murray: Well we still have a lot of work to do --
John Gingrich: Yes, sir -- Yes, ma'am, we do.
Chair Patty Murray:  Okay.  Dr. Rooney, there is no doubt that the events at Madigan have shaken the trust and confidence of service members who are in the Disability Evaluation System. I believe that transparency and sharing information about the ongoing re-evaluations that are happening today and actions the Army and DoD are taking to remedy this situation will go along ways towards restoring some trust in this system. I wanted to ask you today what we have learned from the investigations that the army is conducting into the forensic science unit at Madigan?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Well as you pointed out earlier, there have been 196 re-evaluations completed to date.  Of which, 108 of those have been diagnosed as having PTSD where before they had not.  We also --
Chair Patty Murray: Let me just say that they had been diagnosed with PTSD.  When they went through the evaluation system they were told they did not.  Now going back and re-evaluating them once they've gone out, we're saying, "Yes, you did --
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Yes.
Chair Patty Murray:  --  indeed have PTSD."
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Correct.  108 of those 196.
Chair Patty Murray: More than half.
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Correct. There are 419 that have been determined to be eligible for re-evaluation.  287 from the original  group that was looked at and as you know the Army actually opened the aperture up to see anybody else who would have gone through the process while forensic psychiatrists were being used.  So that was 419 totally eligible for re-evaluation. And at this point, there are three in progress and twelve being scheduled.  So what we have learned from that is clearly that the process that was put into place at that time did not function as originally designed.  Evidence did not show that there was a mean spirited attempt but really to create similar diagnoses.  Obviously, that was not something that occurred.  So the Army has taken the lessons from here and it's actually going back to 2001 to re-evaluate all of the cases where we might have a similar situation.  What we're doing from that point is not only learning from what Army is doing and looking at these re-evaluations where we're using the new standards in many ways advances in the medical and behavioral health areas to better diagnose PTSD but also then we'll be taking those lessons learned across the other services as well. So since Army has the greatest majority of people going through -- currently about 68% of the people in the Disability Evaluation Process are from Army -- we will take the lessons learned from there and apply those across to all the services.
Chair Patty Murray: Well I really appreciate the Army's announcement that they are now going to do a comprehensive review of PTSD and behavioral health systemwide throughout the Army.  I believe that is a first and important major step for the Army to be doing.  But I did want to ask you, Dr. Rooney, I have been told by Secretary [of the Army] McHugh about the issues we were seeing at Madigan were not systemwide.  And then the Secretary announced a comprehensive review across all systems.  So if we didn't believe this was a system wide problem, what led the Army to look into a system wide review?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  Secretary McHugh and I have had numerous conversations and I believe the use of the forensic psychiatrists was primarily isolated to Madigan and that's where I believe that comment of it wasn't system wide because that type of additional process --
Chair Patty Murray:  So the forensic system wasn't system wide.  But system wide, we have issues with people who are not being diagnosed correctly?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney:  What we want to do is look across the system and ensure that if we do have issues we identify those and we're able to get those individuals back into the system.  So I believe at this point, it was very much a forward leaning approach to say  we need to look across the system, not that we're convinced similar problems existed, but that it's the right thing to do for the individuals since, as you pointed out, we saw a number of these re-evaluations ended up with diagnoses changed.  So it's the right thing to do for people to look across.
Chair Patty Murray:  Okay and I think it's extremely important that we find anybody who was misdiagnosed and get them care.  So we'll be continuing to focus on this.
Later during Senator Jon Tester's questioning, Dr. Jo Ann Rooney would insist to him that most of the changed diagnoses "were before 2008"  and Chair Murray would have to step and offer, "Let me just clarify a large number of the ones who were misdiagnosed or had their diagnoses changed inaccurately were after the 2008 -- after the forensic psychology system was put in place."
Ava will cover Tester at Trina's site tonight, as always Kat will grab Ranking Member Richard Burr as the topic for her site and Wally will offer some thoughts on the financial at Rebecca's site.
Still on the subject of the US Senate, we'll note this from Senator Ron Wyden's office:
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Washington, D.C. – In a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called on the DoD to investigate the excessive expenses racked up by the legal team of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) – a defense contractor that operated in Iraq with the contractual ability to pass all of their legal costs to American taxpayers. A lawsuit against KBR brought by a group of Oregon National Guard members assigned to provide security for KBR personnel claims that KBR management knew that the soldiers were being exposed to toxic chemicals while working at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant.
A newly declassified indemnification provision in the KBR contract with the U.S. military releases the contractors from all financial liability for misconduct and allows KBR to pass the on all of their legal costs to the U.S. government. Recent investigations into the conduct of KBR's legal team have uncovered excessive legal costs including senior attorneys billing at $750 per hour, taking numerous international and domestic first class flights and paying one expert more than $500,000 for testimony and consultation who has admitted to billing KBR for time spent sleeping.
"Essentially, KBR was handed a blank check with the Pentagon's signature, and it seems clear to me that they intend to run up the bill as much as possible before cashing that check," Wyden wrote in the letter. "What has DoD done to ensure that KBR is not taking advantage of taxpayers?  Has DoD done a detailed audit of KBR's legal expenses so far?  Has anyone at DoD checked to see if the legal expenses are excessive?  Has any kind of cost-benefit been done to determine if it would be cheaper to direct KBR to settle the lawsuit?"
Kellogg, Brown and Root were contracted in 2003 to perform clean-up work at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in Iraq. Members of the Oregon National Guard were assigned to provide security for the KBR contractors and were exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals including sodium dichromate, a carcinogen that contains hexavalent chromium – one of the most dangerous chemicals on Earth.  A group of exposed soldiers have brought a lawsuit against KBR based on evidence indicating that KBR managers "were aware of the presence of dangerous chemicals, but failed to warn the soldiers working in and around the plant," Wyden wrote in the letter.
Under KBR's contract, the government has the ability to direct KBR's legal defense and require the company to settle with Oregon Guard Members. 
Yesterday dust storms forced the closure of an airport in Iraq.  Today Al Mada reports that most of Iraq should experience only "light dust" except for southern Iraq where dust storms will continue.  (Even if you can't read Arabic, you can enjoy the large photo with this Alsumaria report which shows the dust storm turning Baghdad into a hazy, golden glow.) The weather is of great interest to the US government today as Bagdhad hosts a meet-up on Iran and nuclear power.  AFP explains, "The talks, set for May 23, will see Germany join the veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- look to head off a dangerously escalating standoff over Iran's nuclear programme."  Baghdad International Airport was open today.  Alsumaria reports that delegations from the European Union, China, France and the US arrived today and were met by Iraq President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-Maliki.  (Iran arrived yesterday.  The group then proceeded to Nouri's home in the Green Zone for their meeting. Al Sabaah notes that Iran's hoping to see economic sanctions lifted while Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the US want concessions from Tehran on the unrainium enrichment program. 
RTE reports, "Around 15,000 Iraqi police and troops will protect the venue inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone."  In addition, James Reynolds (BBC News) explains, "Outside the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone), Iraqi soldiers wearing balaclavas stand up on the turrets of armoured jeeps." AFP offers, "Thousands of additional Iraqi security personnel have been deployed in areas north, west and south of Baghdad to try to prevent the firing of mortars and rockets into the capital, a security official said. The official also said without providing figures that additional forces have been deployed at checkpoints in the Iraqi capital, and that searches have been increased. "   Fars News Agency adds, "Iran's top negotiator Saeed Jalili, who is in Baghdad to hold talks with the representatives of the six world powers, held separate meetings with several high-ranking Iraqi officials."    Press TV notes that Jalili met yesterday with Talabani who declared the talks were "an important step twoards finding an appropriate solution to Iran's nuclear issue."

Ali Akbar Dareini and Lara Jakes (Associated Press) note that Iran expects to leave the conference with a more relaxed stance from the other countries towards their nuclear plans; however "no breakthrough accords are expected in the talks in Iraq's capital, suggesting that all sides are still shaping their strategies and the negotiation process is likely to be long."  ITV speaks (link is video) with the UK's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander who declares,  "I think this is a time for clear minds and calm words. We want to see a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to this issue.  And I hope the British governmnet -- with the other governments represented at this critical meeting in Baghdad today -- are concentrating their efforts on finding a successful, peaceful and diplomatic resolution to these issues.  Well there are very real concerns about whether Iran is determined to develop a nuclear weapon and the impact of that on the wider Middle East.  But that's why I think  all of our efforts should be directed torwards sustaining the peaceful pressure on Iran and in good faith taking forward the negotiations that are going to be the basis of talks in Baghdad today."  Alexander is a Labour Party member and part of Labour Party Leader Ed Miliban's shadow cabinet.  Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi tells Alsumaria that the meet-up is, in part, Iran's attempt to bolster Nouri's shaky image within Iraq.  James Reynolds (BBC News) speaks with hotel owner Khaled who states, "We don't care about Iran. We care about our country.  We want our country to be safe and everything." Heart on hand, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim swears to Fars News Agency, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has always acted upon international rules and mechanisms since its establishment."

In the lead-up to the meeting, various things have taken place.  Yesterday,  AP noted today that the two countries have exchanged the remains of "98 Iranians and 13 Iraqis" from the 8 year war between the two countries that kicked off in 1980.  Al Mada uses a larger figure of 222 and states that 124 are the remains of Iraqis.
AFP reports 3 Baquba roadside bombings resulted in 3 deaths and fourteen injured while a Baghdad roadside bombing left four people injured.  AP adds that a bus enroute to Baquba was attacked resulting in 2 deaths and seven people being injured.  Reuters informs that a Ramadi roadside bombing left 3 Lebanese pilgrims dead and another seven injured.  And AFP notes that attacks in Kirkuk claimed the lives of 2 police officers and left five more injured.
From violence to risking children's health, Alsumaria reports that children in the province of Dhi Qar have been given expired polio vaccinations.  This shouldn't be an issue of the children being harmed by that shot because when this happened a few years back in Pakistan health authorities rushed to assure there was no physical danger.  The danger potential exists in terms of not knowing who got the expired vaccine.  If Dhi Qar's records aren't accurate, a child whose parents believe to be vaccinated is in fact not and at risk of polio. Iraq has been polio free since 1999. As a result of the 1999 outbreak, Iraq administered the vaccine.  In the weeks ahead of the start of the Iraq War, UNICEF offered children's immunizations and UNICEF has continued to offer them since then.  While 1999 seems a lifetime ago -- especially in a country like Iraq where the median age is 20.9 years  -- the outbreak of 16 cases in 1999 caught people by surprise.   Equally true, the infrastructure is much worse than it was in 1999 and exposed sewage increases health risks across the board.
The risk of a parent falsely believing their child to be immunized is not a minor one and its a sign of how deep the corruption is in Iraq that this took place.  When Iraqis took to the streets in 2011 and protested one of the items at the top of their list was corruption.  Nouri lied to them and told them to give him 100 days and it would be taken care of.  As usual with Nouri, it was just an attempt to shut people up, distract them and then do nothing.  And nothing exactly what happened.  He never addressed the corruption and made a mockery out of the concerns of the Iraqi people.
Still not getting how bad the corruption is?  Iraqis can't count on electricity.  Four to six hours a day, for many, is having electrical power.  They have to utilize generators and many, lacking potable water, have to boil it before drinking it or risk getting cholera or other diseases.  And none of this is new.  And each year beginning with 2006, Nouri has promised basic services would get better.  They haven't.  And that was another demand when Iraqis took to the streets in 2011.  While the people have long suffered from the lack of basic services, Al Sabaah reports a new potential victim is emerging: The National Museum in Baghdad.  Lack of electricity is putting at risk the manuscripts, artificats and relics the museum houses.   Currently, a generator's being used in an attempt to maintain a level temperature. 
When Iraqis took to the street in 2011, among their demands were that the innocents be released from the blackhole known as "justice."  With untold thousands of Iraqis disappeared near daily and lost in the legal maze, families were left not even knowing if their loved ones were still alive.  Amnesty International is calling for the release of Ramze Shihab Amhed from Iraqi detention:

Ramze Shihab Amhed has already had eight trials and says he was tortured while in secret detention
Amnesty International is calling for the release of a British man who has been detained in Iraq for nearly two-and-a-half years, denouncing new attempts to put him on trial as "politically-motivated".
Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 69-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national who has lived in the UK since 2002, is detained in Baghdad with the Iraqi authorities saying they are investigating his alleged involvement in terrorist offences.
However, Mr Ahmed has already been through eight trials and acquitted in each one. Most recently, on 10 May, he was found not guilty over alleged terrorist offences, but immediately told that he must remain in detention while further allegations are investigated. Amnesty believes that he has been in custody long enough for investigations into further charges to have been completed.
The Iraqi government has recently ordered the arrest of a number of Arab Sunnis in the country, including officials, and conducted trials against ex-army officers. The circumstances surrounding the continuous detention of Mr Ahmed, an ex-army officer from the Arab Sunni community, suggests his prosecution and detention may be politically-motivated.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
"This is looking more and more like a politically-motivated effort to persecute Ramze, a Sunni and a former military man.
"The Iraqi authorities have already put Ramze through a staggering eight trials across two and half years, and have had more than enough time to investigate any alleged wrongdoing.
"Unless the prosecution can demonstrate a legitimate reason to detain Ramze, they should put an end to his ordeal and release him.
"The Iraqi authorities should allow him to return to his wife in Britain and
investigate the allegation that he was tortured while held in a secret jail."
Ramze Shihab Ahmed was originally arrested by security officials in a relative's house in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 7 December 2009. The previous month he had travelled from the UK to Iraq in an effort to secure the release of his detained son 'Omar. However, after himself being arrested, he was held for nearly four months in a secret prison near Baghdad, during which time his whereabouts were completely unknown to his family. During this period Mr Ahmed alleges he was tortured - including with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags - into making a false "confession" to terrorist offences.
Amnesty has campaigned for Mr Ahmed's allegations of torture to be independently investigated and has urged the UK government to make representations to the Iraqi authorities on his behalf concerning this.
Mr Ahmed "reappeared" in late March 2010 when he was able to make a phone call to his wife Rabiha in London, imploring her to seek help from the UK authorities. However, partly on the basis of his coerced "confession", he was subsequently put on trial, including on various terrorism charges. 
Ramze Shihab Ahmed's wife Rabiha al-Qassab, a 64-year-old former teaching assistant who lives in north-west London, said:
"I'm appalled at what they're doing to Ramze. He's an innocent man who's already been through so much.
"Though I've lost a lot of faith in the Iraqi justice system, I still hope the Iraqi authorities can see that they're holding an innocent man who has had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. Surely after eight trials they can now see that?
"UK officials have been very helpful to my husband and have offered their support, but I think the time has come for the UK government to absolutely insist on Ramze's release."Note to editors:
Over 6,000 Amnesty supporters have lobbied the Foreign Secretary William Hague over the case. UK consular officials have visited Ahmed in jail in Baghdad and the Foreign Secretary has raised his case with the Iraqi Foreign Minister.
Amnesty supporters are currently lobbying the Iraqi embassy in the UK, calling for Ramze's release if the prosecution authorities fail to show good reason to hold him longer and for an investigation into his allegations of torture (see:
In Iraq, the political crisis continues . . . for over a year now.  Al Mada continues to be one of the leading press outlets in the Middle East today with their latest scoop.  They publish a letter signed last Saturday by various leaders (KRG President Massoud Barzani, Moqtada al-Sadr, Ayad Allawi and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Najaifi).  The letter, agreed to and signed at Moqtada al-Sadr's home on Saturday, calls on the National Alliance to propose an alternative to Nouri al-Maliki.  The letter references a written reply from National Alliance leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari (presumably the message Moqtada was waiting on at the end of last week) and how it did not make clear the response to demands for the implementation of the Erbil Agreement.  Kitabat reports that al-Najaifi released a statement yesterday referencing the letter and stating that it gave the National Alliance one week to find an alternative to Nouri.  Citing unnamed sources, Al Sabaah states that the National Alliance has rejected the call to find an alternative.

Al Mada reports that representatives of the National Alliance will meet with the reps from the Kurdistan Alliance in Baghdad today.   Yesterday, Nouri's supporters attempted to change the narrative by insisting (after it was learned that there were over 163 votes to oust Nouri) that they had 163 votes to oust Osama al-Najaifi as Speaker of Parliament.  Alsumaria notes the whisper campaign against the speaker includes the allegation that he's in service to a foreign country.  Al Mada adds that Nouri's State of Law insists this vote is taking place!  Just as soon as Parliament's back in session.  (That would be weeks and weeks from now.)  Alsumaria explains Iraqiya is calling State of Law's claims false and stating they do not have the votes they claim to; however, that Nouri does have time to act to stop a no-confidence vote.  (The deadline Moqtada gave him expires Sunday.)  Rumors continue to fly that Iraqiya's Saleh al-Mutlaq made a deal to save his own ass (Nouri had been trying to oust him as Deputy Prime Minister) which now will find him betraying Iraqiya and siding with Nouri.  When these rumors started last week, we noted al-Mutlaq's denial.  Currently, he's issued no denail to the rumors.

In related news, Alsumaria reports Iraqi President Jalal Talabani states that a date for a national conference will be set soon.  Of course, Talabani earlier set the date at April 5th but, less than 24 hours before that meet-up was to take place, it got cancelled.   State of Law will have to cancel their whisper campaign that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is on their side.  Al Mada notes that al-Sistani's aids have rejected the rumors that the Grand Ayatollah has admonished Moqtada al-Sadr not to split ranks with the Shi'ite politicians.  The Grand Ayatollah has issued no such statement and is not involved in the political process except to say that the crisis needs to be resolved.

This position is in keeping with al-Sistani's position for over a year now.  The rebuke to those spreading the rumors may also result from the fact that the attacks earlier this year on the Grand Ayatollah's supporters and clerics were thought to have been carried out by Nouri's associates.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Third Man


That's  Revenge which wraps up its first season tomorrow night on ABC.  For more on the show, you can refer to  Ann and Rebecca  and Dona and Ty roundtabling in "Revenge thoughts in the lead up to the finale."

Kevin Kearney of WSWS writes about two movies, one of which is The Third Man

American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) finds himself in Austria after the war at the behest of a friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who has promised him a job. Upon his arrival, Holly finds that Lime has died. After the funeral, Martins is swept up into the life of his deceased friend through interactions with Lime’s girlfriend (Alida Valli), a British military policeman (Trevor Howard) and Lime’s shady collection of friends.
To Martins, the official story of his fiend’s death simply doesn’t add up. His obsessive desire to get to the bottom of things brings him into conflict with nearly every other character in the film, revealing at every turn the confused and sinister character of the period. Martins eventually learns that Lime, up to no good, faked his own death and the writer ends up helping the authorities attempt to track Lime down.
Famously, after being confronted with his crimes by Martins, Lime (Welles) tells his former friend: “After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Lime also notes, “Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs—it’s the same thing.”
The film is graced by innovative, Expressionist-influenced cinematography and a magnificent score by Anton Karas, until then an obscure wine-bar musician discovered by the director, who plays the zither throughout the film.

My guess, The Third Man got a boost when it was a plot point of Heavenly Creatures.  It's a classic but it's one that doesn't get shown on TV constantly.  That's too bad because it's probably one of the most perfect and fully realized films.  There's that moment in the train station at the end that you're not really sure what's going to happen, for example.  The way it gets resolved is so perfect that it's not even worth contemplating alternative endings or outcomes.

It's also a gorgeous film.  It's in black & white and the film just comes alive with that look.  I also think it's the only film Orson Welles is really sexy in.  (Although I'm willing to debate that point with regards to The Stranger.)

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Tuesday, May 22, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, rumors abound that relatives of Nouri al-Maliki savagely attacked the nephew of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Senate Subcommittee says no more money for training Iraqi police, there are said to be over 160 MPs willing to vote no-confidence in Nouri, in response Nouri targets Iraqiya, and more.
We'll start with US Senate and then move to violence in Iraq.  In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe.  Her office notes:
TOMORROW: Chairman Murray to Examine 400 Day Wait Times Plaguing VA and DoD's New Joint Disability Ratings System
Initial findings on wait times and inconsistencies in diagnoses from GAO audit and Veterans' Affairs Committee staff report to be unveiled at hearing, Murray to question  top DoD and VA officials on continued problems
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Wednesday, May 23rd, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will hold a hearing to examine the continued rise in wait times for our servicemembers to receive their medical disability rating and compensation decisions.  The hearing will examine challenges facing the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) established by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was developed to improve the disability evaluation process for wounded, ill or injured servicemembers.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that, far from meeting established goals for wait times, servicemembers and their families are having to wait well over a year for answers.  Many servicemembers have described the waiting period as extremely stressful and the hearing will touch on that period's uncertainty, which can contribute to self-medication, drug abuse, and even suicide.  The hearing will also allow Murray to question the Department of Defense on the Army's upcoming system-wide look at discrepancies in mental health diagnoses that arose from an investigation Senator Murray spurred at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
WHO:   U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
            Jon Ann Rooney, Acting Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness,   
            Department of Defense
            John Gingrich, Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs
            Daniel Bertoni, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues,
            Government Accountability Office
WHAT: Hearing to Discuss Medical Benefit Wait Times and Inconsistencies in Mental
            Health Diagnoses
WHEN: TOMORROW: Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
            10:00 AM ET
WHERE: Dirksen Senate Office Building
              Room 562
              Washington, D.C.
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
That's tomorrow.  Today?
Senator Patrick Leahy:  The bill before you totals 52.1 billion dollars.  That's 2.6 billion below the President's budget request.  That's 1.2 billion dollars below the Fiscal Year 2012 level.  Let me repeat that, you're not going to hear this often in committees these days.  The bill is 2.6 billion below the President's budget request, 1.2 billion below the Fiscal Year 2012 level.  Not only that, Senator [Lindsey] Graham and I have not used 881 million dollars that the full Committee recommended and allocated for this Subcommittee.  So that's another 881 million dollars we're saving the taxpayers.
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chair Leahy was speaking at a markup session this afternoon.  Chair Leahy noted that the bill was bi-partisan and that both he and Graham compromised to reach a budget all could agree on. 
Ranking Member Lindsey Graham:  I just want to repeat what you said about the funding.  That's 881 million below the initial Committee recommendation.  2.6 billion -- or 5% -- below the president's request. 2% below FY2012 enacted levels.  And I would argue the world hasn't gotten that much safer. But we are in debt so everything's got to be on the table.  So in a very volatile, changing world we've been able to spend less than we did last year and decreased the budget.  But having said that, I think the money is pretty wisely spent.
How did they reduce it?  A number of ways. 
Ranking Member Lindsey Graham:  [. . .]  and 77% below what we had last year for Iraq.  Why?  Well the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated, we don't have any military force there to speak of and the Chairman and I both believe very strongly that it's hard to train police when you can't get outside and do the work without being attacked so we have dramatically reduced the amount of funds available in Iraq because it's just throwing good money out for bad.
After the markup hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy's office released this statement from the Senator:
This bill totals $52.1 billion, which is $2.6 billion below the President's budget request, and $1.2 billion below the Fiscal Year 2012 level.  Because the Iraqi police training program has not progressed as hoped, and our relations with Pakistan have been stalled for months, Senator Graham and I have not used $881 million that the full Committee initially recommended for the Subcomittee.  That is money we are saving the taxpayers.
At the same time, we address many national security threats that are ongoing, from countering extremism in the Sahel region of Africa to building democratic institutions in Central America.  We include a new Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund requested by the President, to respond to rapidly changing events in that volatile region.  We continue support for critical humanitarian relief and global health programs, including for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
This is a bipartisan bill that address the priorities of Senators of both parties.  To get there, Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and I have each made compromises.  There are some things in the bill that he does not like, and the same goes for me.  But they are the exception.  Senator Graham is a well informed and passionate advocate for U.S. global leadership, and I greatly appreciate his input and support, as I know Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton does.
If the bill stands -- and it's going to be a battle on some issues when its time to reconcile with the House (but not on the Iraq issue) -- the Iraqi police program is over.  As it should be.  Tim Arango (New York Times) reported last week that, since last October, the Iraqi police training program had already cost US taxpayers $500 million.  Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.  Earlier this month at Huffington Post, Van Buren noted "the U.S. government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003."   Let's go 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?
Why? Because Nouri never nominated anyone to be the Minister of the Interior -- all this time later.  The US was funneling millions into training a group of employees in a ministry that for two years has been without any leadership.  That's bad.  Really bad.  And the fact that this Deputy Minister had publicly stated he didn't want the US training the Iraqi police, had stated that last year, had repeated it when asked by Brooke Darby, why was more money wasted?  Hopefully, this is the end of the US taxpayer footing the bill for the training of Iraqi police.  (It should be noted that the US pushed itself into this position.  Iraqis were training at other places, including Jordan, but the US insisted -- during Bush's second term -- that the Iraqi forces shouldn't be going to other countries for training.)  While that program currently appears dead, the Subcommittee did not propose cutting all monies to Iraq.  Donna Cassata (AP) points out, "The bill would provide $1.1 billion for Iraq, including $582 million in foreign assistance but no money for the police development program."
In Iraq, a disturbing video -- disturbing for content, disturbing for the story and details that supposedly surround it -- has emerged in Iraq.  This gruesome YouTube video shows a young man bruisded and battered on his knees, his legs, his back, his shoulders, his buttocks, his arms his lips, his stomach . . . The young man is said to be Ammar Hassan Acikr who is the nephew of Ibrahim al-Jaafari who was prime minister of Iraq and now leads the National Alliance.  Also making the video news worthy is the claim that his attackers were either relatives of or employees of current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister.  Al Mada reports the attack took place in Karbala and states the attackers were relatives of Nouri.  When bystanders attempted to intervene to help Ammar who was being attacked by several men, the men fired guns into the air warning no one to interfere.
Still on violence, AFP reports that two Baquba bombings have claimed 6 lives (four were children) today as the home of a Sahwa was bombed first and then the home of a displaced Shi'ite family.  Alsumaria reports that 1 teacher was shot dead in the classroom, allegedly by a student whom sources state had been expelled from the classroom for cheating.  The alleged shooter supposedly used a machine gun.  Begging the question of how he walked up to and into the school with a machine gun without raising any alarms.  In other violence today, Alsumaria notes that a Falluja roadside bombing has left two people injured after it exploded near a food market, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured on personan attack on a Kirkuk checkpoint resulted in the death of 1 Iraqi soldier with two more left injured, a Mosul sticky bombing injured two people and 1 security guard for a Mosul judge was killed.   Among the violence noted in yesterday's snapshot was the bombing outside Mosul that claimed the life of Sheikh Rashid Zeidan (reported by AFP).  Alsumaria notes he was a leader with the National Dialogue Front and that he rushed to a Mosul hospital but died while receiving treatment.  The National Dialogue Front is part of Iraqiya -- the political slate that came in first in the 2010 elections.  Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is the head of the NDF.  Sunnis, Kurds, Yezidis, Shabaks and Assyrians are all part of the NDF.  Iraq Body Counts reports there were at least 11 killed in violence yesterday and notes at least 147 violent deaths for the month of May thus far.
Nouri thought he had a winning idea: Every home would be allowed one firearm (a pistol or rifle).  But the reaction wasn't what Nouri had hoped.  People saw it as the government urging the citizens to arm themselves for self-protection, as if the government were admitting that they could not provide protection.  Al Mada reports the proposal's still being pitched but has been amended.  Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh insists the policy will now only apply to those living in "hot spots" -- areas of violence.  So, in other words, the policy was about the government confessing they can't -- or have no interest in -- protecting the Iraqi people.  If that weren't the point, the policy wouldn't have now changed to just be the "hot spots."   This is even more clear in Dar Addustour's coverage where they note that households will still -- as with the earlier proposal -- have to register with the local police department but, most importantly, when (if) violence tapers off in their areas, they will no longer be allowed to keep a firearm in the house.
No doubt Nouri hopes his other brainstorm will work better.  That would be the news broke late today.  Alsumaria reports that elements of the National Alliance are pinning the blame for the political crisis on Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and have stage-whispered to the press that they will move towards a no-confidence vote on al-Nujaifi.
This move is unlikely to succeed.  So what's the point?  There are three points actually.  First, this is meant to throw Iraqiya off balance.  Second, there is the propaganda element.
The western press has ignored what's been taking place in Iraq.  This morning there was big political news.  As evening turned to night, not even AP bothered to cover it.  But chances are they'll cover this. 
"The leader in Parliament is accused of creating a political crisis and there is a move to remove him" is most likely how it will play.  If the move against Nouri is noted, it most likely will be treated as a minor thread and possibly even passed off as a response to the move against al-Nujaifi.  More than likely the White House was 'helpful' on this move.  They've been so very helpful to Nouri.  They've suggested what Reuters called last week Nouri's "charm offensive."  This involves inviting three western intellectuals into Iraq for a brief visit so that they can see for themselves that Nouri has no horns.  Alister Bull (Reuters) reported Friday, "The rare invitation was extended to Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institution and Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, Reuters has learned."
Today's move is more deceit from the White House and people might want to start asking what is it that makes a James Jeffrey (US Ambassador to Iraq) or Ryan Crocker (US Ambassador to Afghanistan) decide to bail on their assignments?  Both have long histories of service.  Neither backs away from a challenge.  But they also have a personal sense of integrity.  Crocker's announcement today that he's stepping down should cause some to reflect on what's taking place.
Most likely we'll so no indication of reflectin or thought amongst the press.  Instead get ready for another piece of the White House propaganda -- which, if ever called before Congress, they will argue was not meant to decieve the American people so therefor legal.  It was just that they were trying to deceive Iraqis and with the porous borders that information now travels across, the propaganda spilled over into the American press.  But they've created a phony poll to make Nouri look better.  It'll come out of the  National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and it went there after White House efforts to enlist the International Republican Institute into the effort failed.  (The White House felt it would look better coming from the IRI.  A US Senator -- a Republican -- blocked that from happening.)  Nouri's popularity isn't rising.  How could it be?
Iraqis still don't have basic services.  He's just been revealed to still be running a secret prison where torture takes place.  Though most Americans have little knowledge thanks to a superficial media system, Iraqis damn well know their own lives.  No, there was no reason for an increase in popularity on Nouri's part.  But it's not a real poll.  It's propaganda. 
All the lies in the world can't hide what was the big news out of Iraq this morning, Al Mada reports the political blocs are stating that they have the needed quorum to call for a no-confidence vote in Nouri al-Maliki.   Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that the political blocs are stating that they already have 163 votes against Nouri. 

Regardless of political party, Nouri's always been the pet of the US government.

In 2006, the choice for prime minister was Ibrahim al-Jaafari.  The White House refused.  No puppets were going to have free will on Bully Boy Bush's watch.  So Bush's choice of Nouri al-Maliki was installed.  Nouri did an awful job.  al-Jaafari and Ayad Allawi had both held the post of prime minister since the 2003 US-invasion.  Nouri's incompetence and criminality ensured that any criticism against them would become muted.

Nouri's first term was notable for its attacks on the press, its attacks on humanr rights, it's inability to get get anything done, etc.  As the refugee crisis reached its height and millions fled Iraq while millions within the country moved out of previously mixed neighborhoods into segregated ones and as the US government implemented the 'surge' while also paying off tribal sheiks to create the Sahwa (Sons of Iraq, Awakenings, etc.), the security situation got 'stable' enough to allow what always happens after ground zero, people are no longer satisified with safety claims (also true, in Iraq, the violence became -- and continues to be -- the norm, leading to further adaptation of the human spirit) and they began to press governments on freedoms and rights.  This is a historical pattern.  In the 2009 provincial elections, you see this take hold.  It took the 2010 elections to demonstrate this wasn't an anomoly but a pattern.

Iraqis were rejecting the sectarianism that the US had imposed and encouraged.  They were moving towards a national identiy.  A national identity would not cure all of Iraq's problems nor would it solve historic grievances but it would go a long way towards allowing officials to work together.  Iraq had a national identity (as well as a tribal one) prior to the start of the Iraq War.

In March 2010, the Iraqi people did something truly historic.  While Nouri was attempting to scare the population with talk of how only he could steer Iraq through the violence and while he smeared Sunnis as Ba'athists and prevented many from running for election, the Iraqi people saw this and refused to give him the huge sweeping victory he was predicting (and some in the press were treating as 'factual polling').  Instead, they voted for the newly created Iraqiya -- a part of Shi'ites, Sunnis and others.  A mixture not unlike Iraq.  It was the Iraqi people asking for a national identity again.

"But, if there's one law of the west, it's that bastards have brothers." (Joan Wilder in Romancing The Stone, screenplay written by Diane Thomas. )

And Bush had one in Barack.  Which is how a supposed change in the Oval Office found hopey-changey Barack Obama supporting Nouri al-Maliki.

The Iraqi people risked violence and hassles to vote (many showed up and were informed they need to be, for example, on the other side of Baghdad -- not an easy task when road blocs and checkpoints are set up).  And they didn't vote Nouri the winner.  His State of Law came in second to Iraqiya.

So he shouldn't have had a second term as prime minister.

But he wanted it and the US backed him (as did Tehran).  So he dug his heels in and refused to allow the process to move forward creating eight months of gridlock -- Political Stalemate I.  It only ended whent he US-brokered the Erbil Agreement.  If Nouri would concede this to the Kurds, that to other Shi'ite blocs, something to Iraqiya . . . Then they would allow him to be prime minister for a second term.  All political blocs signed off on that agreement and Nouri used it to become prime minsiter.  However, Nouri tossed it aside once he got what he wanted.

He has refused to honor it and offered one excuse after another as to why a November 2010 agreement has still not been implemented.  Over the summer of 2011 -- in the midst of Political Stalemate II -- the Kurds began publicly demanding the Erbil Agreement be implemented.  Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr took up that call as well.  Nouri's refused to do so.

December 21st, President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi began calling for a national conference to address the ongoing crisis.  Nouri stalled and stalled.  Finally, Talabani announced it would be held April 5th.  Nouri quickly began echoning that public while working to kill the conference.  The conference died less than 24 hours before it was to be held.

April 28th, another Erbil meet-up was held.  Nouri wasn't invited.  KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi, Moqtada al-Sadr and others met and agreed that the Erbil Agreement had to be implemented and that Moqtada's 18-point plan had to as well.

Nouri was given a time limit (it's bascially this coming Sunday) to implement the agreements.  If not, he could face a no-confidence vote.  Nouri's made a lot of speeches about wanting to talk and, gosh, that Erbil Agreement is good, but he's just wasting time the way he always does.  He's always been able to wait out his opponents -- due to being the puppet of the White House -- and maybe he will this time as well.
But that Saturday meet-up at Moqtada al-Sadr's Najaf home?  The National Alliance was given one week to get behind one person to replace Nouri al-Maliki.
In other news, Iraq's economy is raising concerns.  Longterm observers may remember that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has long spoken of the need for Iraq to diversify its economy so that it would not be at the mercy of the world's market with regards to oil income.  Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that the Central Bank of Iraq's head, Sinan al-Shabibi, is stating that the government must diversify the labor sector; however, al-Shabibi argues that the government has responded by creating more government jobs and this is not developing the market.  Rao notes that the unofficial unemployment rate in Iraq is around 30%.   Echoing this call is the World Bank.  Dar Addustour reports a delegation from the World Bank has advised Iraq that they need to generate non-oil revenues and is encouraging development in the fiels of agricultury, tourism, manufacturing and more.  However, Hussein al-Shahristani, Minister of Energy is insisting that Iraq is planning for the future and, in fact, intends to spend a huge amount of money developing the petrochemical and fertilizer industry -- the two are entertwined and don't move Iraq away from an oil dependent economy.
Basra is an oil rich province of Iraq.  Al Mada reports that today the provincial government voted to continue to forbid not only casinos, but also concerts.  In addition, Basra's becoming infamous for doctors living in fear of their lives due to threats and Al Mada reports that the doctors in Basra are now demanding the enactment of laws that will protect them.  Saturday some residents of Basra felt the need to take part in a futile protest that was never going to accomplish their aim of getting Iraq to break off all business with Turkey because Turkey has no interest in handing Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi over to Baghdad.  They really just made themselves look ridiculous and uninformed as they chanted, marched and burned Turkey's national flag.  Among other things, Turkey can't turn over anyone to a country if they're facing charges of execution.  al-Hashemi, if found guilty, could be executed and, of course, State of Law MPs have spent the last weeks gloating that this is what would happen.  So the futile protest was not going to effect Turkey's decision and it also wasn't going to result in Baghdad severing business ties.  They protested for Nouri, that was what it was, a pro-Nouri protest.  And to show stupid it was and to show how foolish they now look,  The Turkish Press reports that Iraq's Foreign Ministry, issued a statement decrying the action: "We back freedom of expression under law and order, however we condemn the move of some demonstrators to set Turkish flag on fire."  And the Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "Iraq and Turkey agreed to resume the exchange process in oil sector, which was interrupted five years ago, within the First International Energy Conference held in Erbil yesterday, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz said on Monday, the Zaman newspaper reported."  As we noted Saturday, hopefully the participants burned off a few calories so that the Basra action wasn't a complete waste.   The protest was never going to accomplish its aim of getting the Baghdad government to 'punish' Turkey. 
Baghdad can't afford to.  Turkey and the KRG are closer and closer and their historic differences are part of what allowed Nouri to take Turkey for granted all these years.  It was his mistake.  Now he tries to have his way while and control relations between the KRG and Turkey (lots of luck there) while trying not to alienate Turkey further. 
Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) reports on the KRG and Turkey's plan that would find the KRG "export[ing] oil and gas directly to Turkey"  and that a KRG pipeling ("expected to be completed by the end of next year") would pump "one million barrel per day" to Turkey.  Arraf explains, "Kurdish officials maintain that as long as revenue goes to the central bank and the Kurdish region receives its agreed share of revenue, it can sell the oil directly." Sinan Salaheddin (AP) notes that the Baghdad-based government is insisting the KRG must first get approval from Baghdad before such a plan could go forward. Tamsin Carlisle (Platts) explains, "Turkey currently imports gas by pipeline from Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, for which it pays prices up to five times higher than those prevailing in Europe, gas experts on a panel at the conference told delegates. The eastern Mediterranean country also imports LNG from Algeria and Nigeria at international prices. The situation has led Ankara to search for ways to reduce the country's bill for about 30 billion cubic meters of annual gas imports by negotiating contracts with new suppliers. "  And Reuters reminds, "The Kurdistan region, which has its own government and armed forces, has already clashed with Iraq's central government and halted its oil exports in April after accusing Baghdad of not remitting payments due.Alsumaria reports that Baghdad has decided to stop supplying the KRG with processed gasoline.
Today Alsumaria reports dust storms swept parts of Iraq.  AFP notes that at least one dust storm has resulted in the closing of Iraq's airport and that this might impact "the nuclear talks" Iraq and Iran are supposed to hold with England, China, Russia, France, Germany and the US tomorrow.  Alsumaria notes that an Iranian delegation has already arrived in Baghdad for tomorrow's meetings.  Iran is already geared up for the talks as Carol J. Williams (Los Angeles Times) noted: "The head of the U.N. nuclear agency said Monday after meeting with Iran's chief negotiator on nuclear issues that the atmosphere among Iranian officials was 'positive' ahead of Wednesday's scheduled meeting in Baghdad with six world powers."  AP notes today that the two countries have exchanged the remains of "98 Iranians and 13 Iraqis" from the 8 year war between the two countries that kicked off in 1980.
Turning to the US where Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe. Her office notes:
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
VETERANS: Murray Calls on VA to Expedite Implementation of Patient Scheduling Systems, Asks for Quarterly Reports on Mental Health Provider Hiring Progress
Murray: Scheduling remains a barrier to timely and quality mental health care at VA
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee sent two letters regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs mental health care wait times. The first letter, also signed by Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), was sent to the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology at VA, Roger Baker, regarding implementation of a new patient scheduling system. In a recent report, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) characterized the Department's twenty-five year old patient scheduling system as a major limitation on VA's ability to reduce wait times and as not user friendly. Senator Murray urged VA to take steps to ensure its current system is no longer a barrier to veterans seeking timely access to mental health care and to expedite the planned replacement of this system.
In a second letter, sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Senator Murray requested quarterly reports on VA's progress as they implement staffing increases for mental health services. As VA begins work to hire 1,600 new mental health staff, in addition to another 1,500 existing vacancies, these quarterly reports will provide the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee with insight into the Department's progress as it fills these critical positions.
"A new patient scheduling system must be a top priority for VA. With the current system, VA schedulers have trouble telling a provider's availabilty and they can't track demand for services. This is why I hear time and again from veterans trying to get appointments for mental health care only to be told they'll have to wait a month or more. That isn't right and we've got to do better," said Senator Murray. "VA has also promised to hire 1,600 new mental health providers, yet there are already 1,500 existing vacancies. If we're going to provide high quality and timely mental health care, we must see real results from VA and not allow this promise of more providers to become 3,100 empty offices. As we continue to address other problems with mental health care for our veterans, I will be watching closely to make sure VA is doing everything in its power to bring these providers on board."
These letters come on the heels of a report Senator Murray had requested from the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General on the time it takes VA to complete mental health care appointments for our nation's veterans. The report concludes, as Senator Murray has repeatedly warned, that the wait times for mental health care faced by veterans, many of whom are in crisis and need urgent care, far exceed acceptable wait times and are significantly greater than VA has previously reported.
The full text of both letters follow:
May 22, 2012
The Honorable Roger W. Baker
Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Baker:
For the past two years, the Committee has conducted oversight of veterans' access to mental health care at VA and the quality of that care. We have heard repeatedly from veterans in crisis who looked to VA for help only to find their appointments postponed and care delayed. During the Committee's most recent hearing on mental health care, we examined the serious issues affecting the Department's ability to schedule appointments in a timely way and to accurately calculate veterans' wait times.
The hearing highlighted what we have long known -- scheduling and the Deparmtnet's twenty-five year old scheduling system remain at the heart of VA's inability to provide timely access to medical care. In its report, Veterans Health Administration: Review of Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care, and at the hearing, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) characterized the Department's twenty-five year old patient scheduling system as a major limitation on VA's ability to reduce wait times and as not user friendly.
We know that this outdated system prevents the Department from accurately tracking the key performance metrics that are necessary to correctly evaluate wait times and access. VA cannot readily track demand or capacity, and assessing provider availability through the system is challenging. Inconsistent practices by schedulers to capture appointment information have also affected VA's ability to provide timely access to care. Indeed, the Department has known about these issues as early as 2005. That year, and again in 2007, the OIG released reports identifying these issues, yet nearly seven years later, scheduling remains a barrier to timely and quality mental health care at VA.
It is clear to us that much more must be done by VA to reduce wait times and improve access to mental health care. Replacing the patient scheduling system must be a top priority for the Department. While we know that VA is working on a replacement scheduling system, we understand it will not be implemented until 2014 at the earliest. As our servicemembers continue to return home from Afghanistan and the need for a reliable scheduling system grows, this timeline may simply be too little too late. If the Department cannot expedite implementation of its scheduling replacement system, what steps will VA take in the meantime to ensure its current system is no longer a barrier to veterans seeking timely access to mental health care?
In order to expedite implementation, funding of a the new system must also be a priority. Yet we understand that the Fiscal Year 2013 funding for this project through your office's prioritized operating plan is not yet confirmed. This is a critical project. Full funding must be a priority.
While these are complicated issues, and indentifying a viable commercial scheduling system capable of successfully integrating with VA legacy systems requires careful and thoughtful planning, those who depend on VA for timely and quality mental health care look to us for answers and solutions. We look forward to hearing from you about your plan to expedite implementation of VA's new scheduling system and the steps you will take in the interim to ensure the current scheduling system is part of the solution and not part of the problem. Thank you for all of your work on behalf of our nation's veterans.
May 22, 2012
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
Thank you for your plan to increase the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) mental health services by adding 1,900 new staffing positions. The announcement of additional positions is a well-intended step toward meeting the increased demand in mental health services at VA.
I write to request quarterly updates, beginning at the end of the third quarter of this fiscal year, on the Department's progress as VA implements the staffing increase for mental health services. As VA begins hiring nearly 3,400 mental health staff, these quarterly updates will provide the Committee with insight into the Department's progress in filling critical vacancies.
I also request that the Department provide information on the use of additional pay authorities to recruit mental health professionals over the last four years, as well as any advertising or recruitment efforts to address the staffing shortage. I expect the first report to the Committee no later than three months since the announcement of new mental health positions.
As you know, VA's mental health services have the unique ability to firmly place veterans on the successful path toward achieving their full potential, which not only saves lives but also enrich the lives of our veterans, their families, and their communities. I thank you for your commitment to our nation's veterans and look forward to continuing to work with you on this important mission.
Still on veterans issues, at the start of last month, Home Depot was in trouble with the Justice Dept for failure to comply with US Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Acts of 1994 by firing Brian Bailey for his deploying with the National Guard.  Late yesterday, the Justice Dept released the following:

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Monday, May 21, 2012
Justice Department Settles with Home Depot to Enforce the Employment Rights of an Army National Guard Soldier
The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement with Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., to resolve allegations that the company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when it terminated the employment of Army National Guard soldier Brian Bailey.
The department's complaint alleged that Home Depot willfully violated USERRA by terminating Mr. Bailey's employment because of his military service obligations.   Mr. Bailey, an Iraq War veteran, worked at a Home Depot store in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a department supervisor while at the same time serving in the California Army National Guard.   Throughout his employment with Home Depot, Mr. Bailey took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations with the National Guard.   According to the Justice Department's complaint, Mr. Bailey was removed from his position as a department supervisor after Home Depot management officials at the Flagstaff store openly expressed their displeasure with his periodic absences from work due to his military obligations and further indicated their desire to remove him from his position because of those absences.  
Under the terms of the settlement, embodied in a consent decree that has been submitted for approval to the federal district court, Home Depot will provide Mr. Bailey with $45,000 in monetary relief and make changes to its Military Leaves of Absence policy.   The settlement further mandates that Home Depot review its Military Leaves of Absence policy with managers from the district where Mr. Bailey worked.
"This settlement demonstrates our vigilant protection of the employment opportunities of our service members, and our commitment to vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect them," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  " The department is pleased that we were able to work cooperatively with Home Depot to resolve this matter without the need for contested litigation."
"This settlement not only compensates Mr. Bailey for employment opportunities he lost because of his military service, but it will also protect other members of our nation's armed services employed by Home Depot through the required changes to the company's Military Leaves of Absence policy and review of that policy with managers from the district where Mr. Bailey worked," said Ann Birmingham Scheel, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.
This case was handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona. 
Civil rights enforcement is a priority of the Department of Justice.   The rights of our service members are protected under USERRA, which prohibits civilian employers from discriminating against members of the military, including National Guard soldiers, with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current, or future uniformed service obligations.  Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department's websites, and , as well as the Labor Department's website at .