Saturday, June 23, 2012

The smart ones

Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a stupid article that was published yesterday.

  • Of course, C.I. also took it on in yesterday's "Iraq snapshot."  I enjoyed reading all of them but agree with C.I. that Betty had the best title: "For Crackers Who've Considered Whining When Everything Wasn't Enough."  Betty can always make me laugh like no one else.  I love how her mind works.  

    It's funny how people such as E.J. Graffe tried to walk their lavish praise back the next day.  

    But the women above and Mike called it when it mattered.  

    Anne-Marie Slaughter is a War Hawk and it's really telling to see who rushed to praise to begin with.  She has blood on her hands and then some. 

    Her awful piece of writing was everything the women above called it.

    Outside the community, I think Lindsay Beyerstein has an article worth reading at In These Times on Slaughter's nonsense.

    But, as always, I think C.I. did everything perfectly.  Here's a section:

    Feminism lied and betrayed Slaughter because you can't have it all!!!!
    Okay, even the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution don't promise that you can have it all.  I'm confused as to which 'feminist' Slaughter heard say, "You can have it all!"  I've never said that and I've never heard any other feminist say that.  I remember a bad commercial from the 70s for Enjoli perfume with a song that promised that while a woman shook her ass for the camera.  Is Slaughter so stupid she thought Enjoli was the voice of feminism?  It was a corporate product voiced by Madison Avenue.  Grow the hell up.
    Second-wave feminism was about the politics of homework, it was about very real issues.  I'm not remembering the Ms. magazine cover story proclaiming, "Gals, it's all been solved! Now we get to have it all!"  Because that cover doesn't exist.  Gloria Steinem, Flo Kennedy, Maxine Hong Kingston, Robin Morgan, Madonna Thunder HawkBernice Johnson Reagon, Gloria AnzalduaJo Freeman, Dolores Huerta, May ChenMartha P. Cotera, Lorelei DeCora,  Toni Cade Bambara, and assorted other second-wavers never said, "You can have it all!" They didn't make that promise in word and they didn't make that promise in action.  Feminism wouldn't be an ongoing struggle for equality if we could have it all currently.  And I believe it was Marlo Thomas who rightly pointed out in those early second-wave days that she needed a wife.  The point she was making at that time was that with all she had to do, she could sure use someone to do all the things that married women were expected to do for their husbands at that time.  Marlo's entire point refutes Anne-Marie's lie that feminism promised her she could have it all.  I've never read a more stupid article.
    And I'm going to go there.  Having outed your son as troubled child two years ago, I hope to hell that's not still true because I had to groan when I read this sentence, "I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career woman; I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book."  Again, Anne-Marie, I hope to hell that your child is still not troubled because clearly your plate is full.
    Feminists, please note, don't go around writing things like "full-time career woman."  I've never once -- and I've known her for years -- heard Gloria Steinem identify herself as "a career woman."  That's the sort of phrase that's used in bad backlash TV programs (read Susan Faludi's still wonderful and still pertinent Backlash: The Undeclared War On American Women as well her equally brilliant but less well received by 'critics'  The Terror Dream.  The same is true of "high potential women" -- an  phrase that's meant to imply "professionals" (professional murderers?) like Anne-Marie but's really just another elitist phrase by a Queen Bee who wants to be bitchy and pretend she's so much better than the average woman.  (Of course she wants to pretend that, a Queen Bee doesn't value womanhood, that's why she wants to be told she 'thinks like a man' and other exception-to-the-rule phrases.)
    Anne-Marie Slaughter wanted to have a 'buzz' article to gear up for a bad book and the best way to do that is to blame feminism.  The media loves to distort feminism and they love the writers that do that work for them.

    From the perfume to the inclusion, it's perfect. She'll go in to work Laura Nyro into it.  I love it.

    But my favorite part is this:

    Feminism didn't mislead Anne-Marie.
    Anne-Marie lied to herself.  Her problem has nothing to do with feminism.  It doesn't even have to do with work, actually.  She's one of those people that's going to try to ride life like a wild stallion, break it in and it's going to do just what she says.
    That's not life, that's a control freak's wet dream.  Life is messy, life is hard, life is fun, life is glorious.  It changes like the weather.  It is chaos, it is calm. You learn to take life for what it offers as opposed to trying to push it up a hill and you can be a lot happier.  Anne-Marie's biggest problem is her plan in her head didn't match what she now sees before her eyes.  That is life, get used to it.  She's such a patriarch, thinking she's going to dominate the wild nature of life, dominate nature itself.  What a sad, sad, wanna-be-man of a woman.


    "Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

    Friday, June 22, 2012. Chaos and violence continue as Iraq is slammed with bombings,  Moqtada's bloc doubts Nouri al-Maliki has a long range plan for Iraq, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta makes some important remarks, the VA's fiduciary system gets some attention, and more.
    March 21st, Iraq War veteran Captain Ian Morrison called the military suicide hotline and
    waited for over one hour to speak to someone before killing himself. Steve Vogel (Washington Post) reports his widow Rebecca Morrison joined with other surviving spouses to share their stories of loss at a VA and Defense Dept cofnerence in DC following the record number of military suicides so far this year (in 2012's first 155 days, 154 active-duty service members have taken their own lives. His wife Rebecca Morrison shares his story with Steve Vogel (Washington Post) who also quotes Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki wondering, "Are we asking the right questions about sucides?" He notes that, in 2009, 'experts' were saying "mental illness was the leading cause of homelessness, and we have since learned that it is, more specifically, substance abuse."   Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke on the issue (link is video).  His remarks on the concluding day of the conference included:
    First of all, this is always critical when it comes to an operation like the Defense Department and to our military forces…leadership responsibility.  We are directing military leaders to take this issue head on.  Like almost every issue in our military, progress on suicide prevention depends on leadership. 
    I have made that clear, that this issue is first and foremost a leadership responsibility. 
    All those in command and leadership positions – particularly junior officers and NCOs who have day-to-day responsibility for troops – need to be sensitive, need to be aware, need to be open, to signs of stress in the ranks, and they need to be aggressive, aggressive, in encouraging those who serve under them to seek help if needed.  They also must set an example by seeking help themselves if necessary.
    As part of their leadership responsibilities, junior officers and NCOs must foster the kind of cohesion and togetherness that is a fundamental part of our military culture and can do so much to improve mental health.  My wife was a nurse, worked on mental health care issues, and she said to me time and time again, this is a human issue, a human problem.  You've got to look in people's eyes, you've got to be sensitive to their emotions, you've got to be sensitive to the challenges that they're facing, you've got to be aware, you've got to have your eyes open, and the more we can see those problems, the more we can do to try to help people in need.  To that end, we have to make clear that we will not tolerate, we will not tolerate actions that belittle, that haze, that ostracize any individual, particularly those who have made the decision to seek professional help. 
    Leaders throughout the Department must make it understood that seeking help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and courage.  We've got to do all we can to remove the stigma that still too often surrounds mental health care issues.  Outreach efforts such as the Real Warriors Campaign, which work to increase awareness and the use of resources such as the Military and Veterans Crisis Lines, are also a very important part of these efforts. 
    Secondly, we've got to do everything we can to improve the quality and access to health care.  This is the second pillar of the suicide prevention strategy – improving the quality of behavioral health care, expanding access to that care.
    We now have more than 9,000 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, counselors working in military hospitals and in military clinics.  That number has increased more than 35 percent over the last three years.  Behavioral health experts are now being embedded into line units, and the Department has worked to place mental health providers in primary care clinics in order to facilitate access. 
    Guardsmen and Reservists often do not have ready access to the same support network as the active duty force.  We've got to do what we can to increase initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program that's working to address this kind of problem. 
    And going forward, I want to make sure that all service members and their family members have the quality mental and behavioral health care that they need, the kind of care that must be delivered by the best health care professionals in the world.  Thanks to the efforts of so many of you in this audience, we are improving our ability to identify and treat mental health care conditions, and we are working to better equip our system to deal with the unique challenges that these conditions can present.  For example, I have been very concerned about reports of problems with the screening process for post-traumatic stress in the military disability evaluation system.  For that reason, I have directed a review of this process across all of the uniformed services.  This review will help ensure that we are delivering on our commitment to provide the best care for our service members.  We've got to do everything we can to make sure that the system itself is working to help soldiers, not to hide this issue, not to make the wrong judgments about this issue, but to face facts and deal with the problems upfront, and make sure that we provide the right diagnosis and that we follow up on that kind of diagnosis.    
    Thirdly, we've got to elevate the whole issue of mental fitness.  A third pillar of suicide prevention is better equipping service members with training and coping skills that they need to avoid or bounce back from stress.  
    To that end, all of the Services, all of the Services – under the leadership of General Dempsey and his Senior Enlisted Advisor, Sergeant Major Bryan Battaglia – are working to elevate mental fitness to the same level of importance, we've got to elevate mental fitness to the same level of importance that DoD has always placed on physical fitness. 
    Separately, a whole of government effort that has been led by the President and Mrs. Obama to combat veterans' unemployment and boost hiring of military spouses is aimed at helping to reduce the financial stress faced by military families and veterans.  
    Finally, fourthly, we've got to increase research in suicide prevention.  In partnership across government and with the private sector, the fourth pillar of our approach is to improve our understanding of suicide, to improve our understanding of related mental health care issues through better and more improved scientific research.  I'd like to note the leadership of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius on this issue and thank her for coming to address this conference earlier.
    I think it's an important speech and hopes the press will pay attention to it.  (Click here to read it in full.)  I know Leon and I like Leon so he doesn't get a fair shake here.  This morning we called him out with regards to statements he made and I don't have a problem with that but he made some historic and important remarks (click here for video) last week and we were too busy to note it.   Anyone else would have gotten their deserved attention for those remarks but I always want to be sure that I'm fair with regards to him because I do like him and I've known him for years. And factor in all of that because what he said in the speech today needed to be said.  But no one in leadership has wanted to say it.  If words are followed up by the brass immediately below Panetta, this should be a historic shift regarding suicide and mental health issues in the military.  As with his remarks earlier this year on sexual assault within the military (click here for January 19th snapshot if you missed it), he said was needed and should have been said long before.  But he's the first Secretary of Defense to say these things.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.
    P.T.S.D. is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event. Given that troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq see fallen comrades, experience combat, or survive horrific events, the likelihood of a veteran being diagnosed with P.T.S.D. is high. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, someone with P.T.S.D. is at least twice as likely to commit or attempt suicide, or experience substance abuse. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse, depression or mood disorders, according to a 2010 report by the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
    The Center for a New American Security discusses the stigma in the service associated with mental health treatment. In a study on the rising suicide rate in the military, the organization found that troops were two to four times more interested in receiving care than reported but were afraid of repercussions from their superiors. That same fear initially kept me from getting treatment. But I finally sought help. My superiors met me with neither resistance nor support. It felt like I lost their respect, that they forgot who I was and what I had done for the Marine Corps during my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    P.T.S.D. is something that some in the military do not accept or understand. Unlike physical wounds, it is invisible, intangible. I once heard a senior Marine say P.T.S.D. was "fake." In a way this makes sense for a military institution that prides itself on toughness and resilience in the face of adversity. But the time has come to realize that all battlefield wounds must be healed.
    And Senator Patty Murray, who is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee,  has been calling for answers as to how some service members and veterans were diagnosed with PTSD but then were given new diagnoses and suddenly they didn't have PTSD -- except most of them still did.  So who ordered the change and was someone trying to cut out needed treatment to save a few bucks?  As she gets more answer on what recently happened, she's now insisting that the scope be expanded to see who else was effected.  Wednesday her office issued the following:
    (Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to request details on how the Department of Defense will conduct a major review of mental health diagnoses made since 2001. The review, which Secretary Panetta announced last week at a hearing with Senator Murray, comes after Murray has repeatedly pointed to inconsistencies in the Pentagon's mental health evaluation system. In Washington state, those inconsistencies have led to hundreds of service members having their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being accused of lying about their symptoms.
    "The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions," Murray wrote. "As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions."
    In the letter Murray outlines four key issues the Pentagon must consider in proceeding with the review, including one about the timeline for this massive review. Murray also calls on Secretary Panetta to "clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans."
    The full text of Senator Murray's letter follows:
    June 20, 2012
    The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
    Secretary of Defense
    1000 Defense Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20301
    Dear Secretary Panetta:
    As I stated during the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Defense FY 2013 Budget Request, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions. The recent events at Madigan Army Medical Center, where hundreds of soldiers have had their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being told they were exaggerating their symptoms, lying, and being labeled malingers, demonstrate the weaknesses within the Department of Defense in properly evaluating and diagnosing behavioral health conditions.
    As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. I was pleased to see you share my belief that a review of behavioral health evaluations and diagnoses in support of the disability evaluation system needs to be a Department led effort. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions. I applaud your commitment to undertake this comprehensive review, however, I have questions about how the Department will proceed.
    · Has the Department developed or provided guidance to the services in order to accomplish this review? If so, I would request copies of any guidance that has been developed or issued.
    · What is the timeline for execution of this review? When do you expect the other services to begin this review and when do you expect findings and recommendations from each of the services?
    · Which senior leaders at the Department and each service will be responsible for conducting this review and the development and implementation of recommendations?
    · How will the Army's current review be incorporated into this broader effort?
    As the review begins, the Department of Defense must clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans. Appropriate steps must also be taken to ensure the performance of this review does not adversely impact the timeliness of cases currently processing through the disability evaluation system.
    Ensuring greater consistency in the evaluation and diagnosis of behavioral health conditions is not the only challenge currently confronting the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). As highlighted by a recent Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing I held on IDES, the number of men and women enrolled in this system continues to climb, the number of servicemembers cases meeting both of the Departments' timeliness goals is unacceptably low, and the amount of time it takes to provide benefits to a servicemember transitioning through the system has risen each year since inception. Both Departments must take immediate action to reverse these trends.
    Following a recent discussion with Deputy Secretary Carter on these issues, I outlined a series of recommendations to improve the disability evaluation system. The letter to Deputy Secretary Carter dated June 6, 2012 outlining these recommendations is enclosed, and I urge you to act quickly to implement these solutions. I appreciate the opportunity, which you offered at the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, to discuss these issues with Secretary Shinseki and you in the near future, and I look forward to hearing your recommendations about how we can improve this system.
    I appreciate your attention to this request and I remain committed to working with you to address these very serious issues.
    Patty Murray
    cc: The Honorable Carl Levin
    The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
    Matt McAlvanah
    Communications Director
    U.S. Senator Patty Murray
    202-224-2834 - press office
    202--224-0228 - direct
    That was released on Wednesday and we're staying on Wednesday for a moment.
    Chair Bill Johnson: H.R. 3730, the Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act, was introduced by our Subcommittee's Ranking Member, Congressman Donnelly of Indianana. His bill would require the VA to notify Congress and directly affected individuals, within 10 business days or less, of a data breach that compromises sensitive personal information. This imporved transparency and responsiveness would be a boost to the VA's efforts at improving its information security image. As the system currently works today, the lapse of time between the VA knowing of a data breach and a veteran knowing his or her information has been compromised and may be floating around is entirely too long. In discussions with staff, Assistant Secretary Baker acknowledged that the current duration between the VA learning of a data breach and a veteran being notified that his or her personally identifiable information, or "PII," may have been compromised could be shortened, and this legislation is a good measure toward that end. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill. I urge my colleagues to consider adding their support and look forward to Ranking Member Donnelly's further remarks on it.
    Wednesday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on proposed legislation. (Yesterday the House Veterans Affairsl Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and a section of it was covered in yesterday's snapshot.)  That was one of four important bills that were addressed.  Another important one was H.R.5948.  This is the fiduciary bill.  On February 9th, this same Subcommittee held a hearing on VA's fiduciary system.  We coverd aspects of that in that day's snapshot and I had no idea it was as big an issue as it was.  That snapshot resulted in a ton of e-mail then and since and we still get e-mails asking, "Has anyone mentioned fiduciary again?" I'm hardly the smartest person in the room so I'm not surprised that I had no clue on this one's importance.  But I think it's also true that this isn't necessarily an issue that you're going to have veterans showing up at hearings to talk about because if they have someone overseeing their benefits, there's usually a reason for that.  So this is a veteran's issue but it's one that's more likely to catch attention from veterans' families.  Chair Johnson did raise the issue while questioning the VA's Director of Pension and Fiduciary Service Dave McLenachen and we'll include some of that exchange.   
    Chair Bill Johnson: I find it interesting that you used the term working constructively together on the fiduciary program because at our hearing on the VA's fidcuiary program in February, you said you intended to look at the statutes governing the fiduciary program and make recommendations that might improve it. Outside of the testimony that you've given today, four months later we haven't heard anything from you or your Dept. Currently, our bill addresses a number of issues we brought to your attention and yet you're against these. After the issues raised at the February hearing and the recent media coverage of fiduciary issues, I would think that you would have some ideas on how to improve the program. Can you provide for us improvements in the fiduciary program that you've made since our February hearing?
    Dave McLenachen: Well sir, in addition to the -- the policy and procedures that we've issued even since the February hearing, as I mentioned, we've completed our proposed fiduciary recommendations. Now as we were working on those recommendations, we determined that there was different authority that we needed from Congress, we would certainly develop a legislative proposal for that purpose. But I have to say, having worked on those regulations and looking at the authority that we have, we believe we have the authority we need to correct the program. And all of the things that we do support in the bill are things that we have implemented ourselves, like I said, over the last seven months. I believe we are making real progress.
    Chair Bill Johnson: You mentioned that you've completed the regs and that you have the authority to implement the program, but you didn't really answer my question. Can you describe some specific improvements that you've made in the fiduciary program since February?
    Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. One of the concerns of the Committee was the independence of the fiduciary. We had a policy in place that required a fiduciary to check with VA, as you mentioned the form. Well it wasn't just the form, we had a policy in place that required a fiduciary to check with VA for any expenditure over $1,000. I rescinded that policy. That was since the hearing. In addition to that, there's concern about transparency in the program. We have never provided veterans with copies of audited accounting by VA. I changed that policy. Every -- every fiduciary is instructed to provide a copy an audited true accounting by VA to the beneficiary. Criminal background checks. We have contracts in place to do a criminal background check on every fidicuiary we appoint. There's a number of other developments, sir, that I could go through with you but we are making progress in this program.
    Chair Bill Johnson: That would have been great. We would have liked to have gotten that information before today. But that's good. Based on recent articles about nationwide problems in the fiduciary program, it seems that there's been little improvement other than the things that you mentioned today. Do you have any further response to the media reports of the numerous and horrific stories in those stories?
    Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. I disagree with the view that the fidcuariy program is plagued with fraud. I am aware of those articles and it is our position that any misuse of VA benefits is unacceptable. That's our position. And we work hard to prevent that type of misuse. That's the reason why we do over 30,000 accounting audits every single year. That's the reason why we do 70,000 or more field examinations every year. So we work hard to prevent misuse and we've been very successful. I testified in February that our misuse rate during Fiscal Year 2011 was less than one-half of one-percent. Looking at the articles, sir, I think, in reality, the articles are about a broader problem and that is general abuse of veterans. We looked at the cases that were mentioned. In the state of Texas, 6.5% of our beneficiary population in our program live in Texas. Yet the misuse rate in Texas is only 4.4% compared to all of the cases. So while the articles may have been reporting the broader problem of misuse, I don't think that we've been able to confirm that it points out a specific problem about the fiduciary program. And, that said, that doesn't mean we're going to ease up on misuse of benefits.
    Chair Bill Johnson: The VA opposes the provision that would authorize the VA to limit the appointment of a fiduciary to management of VA funds. The VA contends that the purpose of this provision is unclear and probably unnecessary because the VA appoints fiduciaries only for the limited purpose of receiving VA benefits on behalf of a beneficiary. However, I have VA e-mails that direct a VA representative to take control of non-VA funds. Why the difference between your actions and your comments on the legislation?
    Dave McLenachen: Mr. Chairman, I'd be interested to see -- to see the information that you have about that. Congress has authorized us to appoint fiduciaries for the purpose of VA benefit funds under management. That's what we have authority to do. Now there may be some disconnect about the accounting process. When we do an accounting, we need to see all income and expenses in accounts and sometimes in those accounts there is other income such as, for example, Social Security benefits.
    Chair Bill Johnson: So you would find it inappropriate for a VA representative to take control of non-VA funds?
    Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. Without knowing more about the facts of the case, I would say, yes, I would.
    Chair Bill Johnson: We will provide you with that information.
    Dave McLenachen: Thank you.
    Chair Bill Johnson: You discuss the provision concerning appeals and the removal of fiduciaries as limiting a beneficiary's ability to have his or her competency restored. Can you describe how a veteran currently has his or her competency restored and subsequently can get out of the fiduciary program?
    Dave McLenachen: Yes, thanks for that question because this is an area that I've really been interested in addressing and we are doing that in our regulations, just to let you know, that's one thing that we are addressing. Currently, if an individual has been rated as being unable to manage their VA benefits. They can be taken out of the program by having a medical evidence such as a doctor's opinion that they can in fact, based on their disability or regardless of their disability, manage their own VA funds. In addition to that, there might -- if there was a legal process -- uh -- where a court held that a person was incompetent to manage their own affairs and a court concludes otherwise, that would be evidence considered.

    Iraq has again been slammed with bombings today.  AP reports there were 2 roadside bombings, one after the other.   Kareem Raheem (Reusters) quotes police officer Mudhaffar Khalaf stating, 'Fruit and vegetables have been scattered everywhere.  Some children were wounded.  We have started to eacuate the injured people."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quotes shoe store owner Mohammed Hussein al-Jizani stating he heard one blast, "Three minutes later there was a second explosion as people and policemen were rushing to the site of the first bomb.  The evil insurgents chose the best time to attack, because the market is usually busy on Fridays with young people gathering to sell and buy birds."  The Voice of Russia counts 14 dead and over one-hundred injured.  But that's just Baghdad.  If you visit the Iraqi press, you'll find Alsumaria is reporting a roadside bombing near Samarra Hospital which left three people injured, a Samarra suicide car bombing targeting a bus of pilgrims claimed the life of 1 of them and left nine more injured as well as one Iraqi soldier and two police officers, and the Sunni Endwoment in Samarra was also targeted with a bombing resulting in serious structural damage and injured civilians (plural -- so at least two, no actual number is given for the wounded) who were passing by.

    Violence has been on the rise in Iraq for some time and this month has been particularly violent.
    Haider Najm (Niqash) explained yesterday:

    The past week has been a deadly one for Iraqis. A wave of coordinated attacks around the country targeted Shiite Muslim pilgrims and others observing a week of holy days. The results, according to Iraqi Body Count, an organization that analyses reports of deadly incidents in Iraq from around the world and from Iraq, saw 92 killed on the deadliest day, Wednesday June 16, and a further 121 killed over the following week. Many hundreds more were wounded with around 300 injured on Wednesday.
    This was one of the deadliest weeks in Iraq following the withdrawal of US troops late last year and Iraqi Body Count estimates that 315 civilians had been killed up in Iraq up until June 19.

    Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "Also, in a separate incident, gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint near an outdoor market in a southwest Baghdad neighborhood leaving three police officers dead, police said."  Margaret Griffis ( counts 23 dead in today's violence and 170 injured and among the dead: a girl, 4 years-old, who had been kidnapped but was found beheaded in Ishaqi.  Kidnappings appear to be on the rise in Iraq although it just may be that the reporting on them has increased.  As noted on Tuesday: " Into the continued violence of Iraq  where  Alsumaria reports that the son of a local council member was kidnapped in Ramadi today and that security forces quickly secured the area and began searching for clues.  While kidnappings have not been uncommon throughout the Iraq War, today's may end up getting attention due to the fact that is it one of two kidnappings. Al Rafidayn reports two young girls were kidnapped yesterday in Tikrit and that one is the daughter of a a member of Tikrit's security council."
    In Iraq, the political crisis continues and Nouri al-Maliki and his sycophants insist he's incredibly popular.  Alusmaria reports Moqtada al-Sadr's response:  Saddam Hussein used to claim 100% of Iraqis stood behind him.  Meanwhile Al Sabaah reports the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, is stating that he's putting together a meeting between Nouri and Moqtada.  Not stated is that all this work doesn't endear him to the elders of ISCI who, like Ammar's late father, do not care for Nouri al-Maliki.  Ammar might want to consider that when you only got your position because your father died, when you never earned it yourself, you might want to be careful about cozying up to your father's enemies because if the elders feel you're not honoring your father, they will work to remove you. 

    Iraqiya's Hadi al-Dalemi is dismissive of al-Hakim's efforts,  Raman Brusk (AK News) reports,  noting that his alleged 'ideas' were proposed by Iraqiya earlier but were blown off.  He states further that "the time for this step [dialog] is over and the political blocs are now trying to take the step of interrogating [the PM] . . . which is more serious and through which the differences can be settled."   As Lara Jakes (AP) reported yesterday, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi declared Nouri would be summoned before the Parliament shortly to answer questions and they are prepared to move towards a vote as to whether confidence remains in Nouri's ability to lead.  This is how Moqtada's explained it, Alsumaria notes.

    Raman Brusk (AK News) reports that Nouri is attempting to derail the effort:

    Yesterday Maliki called for the urgent session to discuss the violation and authorities of the executive and legislative bodies and the areas of overlap between the authorities of the two bodies.
    The demand to convene an urgent session is only an effort "to gain more time and affect the efforts for withdrawing confidence from government" said Muayyad Tayyeb who leads the Kurdistan Blocs Coalition.
    Dia al-Asadi is the parlimentary head of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc and he tells UPI that, "Our main concern is that Maliki doesn't have a plan to administer the country.  And if he ahs, then we want to know about it.  If he hasn't, then there's a big problem because we are living in a country that needs comprehensive, fast and integrated development."

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012


    This is from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

    CCR Condemns Raids and Threats to Arrest LGBTI Community in Uganda

    Print Friendly and PDF
    June 20, 2012, New York – Today, in response to a raid this week by Ugandan police of a workshop on the rights of sexual minorities, and yesterday’s threats by Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity to arrest the attendees, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:  
    Both the illegal raid and the threats of arrest violate fundamental rights to speech, assembly and association, as well as the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention. As part of a pattern of harassment and rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, these actions also constitute persecution, which is a crime against humanity in international law.
    Monday’s raid follows a similar raid in February of an LGBTI conference. That raid was personally led by Minister of Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo, who was also behind this week’s raid. On Tuesday, Lokodo told a Ugandan news station that the authorities were still following the activists and were doing all they could do to arrest them so that “everybody else will know that at least in Uganda we have no room here for homosexuals and lesbians.”
    CCR represents Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition of Ugandan LGBTI organizations, in their case against U.S.-based anti-gay extremist Scott Lively for his role in the persecution of the LGBTI community in Uganda. As part of his broad-based anti-gay agenda, Lively has worked extensively in Uganda and elsewhere to criminalize advocacy on LGBTI issues. Lokodo’s actions are right in line with Lively’s goal and his advice to silence the LGBTI community in Uganda by criminalizing their exercise of fundamental rights 
    CCR also looks forward to the outcome of a case brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda against Lokodo in Uganda for the February raid. That case is set for a hearing in the High Court on Monday, June 25, 2012.
    The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

    I just want to emphasize what's taking place there.  I mentioned it to C.I. and she steered to me to yesterday's State Dept. press briefing where Victoria Nuland was asked about the issue:

    QUESTION: Uganda?

    MS. NULAND: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The anti-homosexuality bill is under consideration again by the parliament. What’s – we’ve talked about this before. What steps is the Administration taking to try to dissuade them from this?

    MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve obviously had this on our agenda with Uganda ever since this issue first came up, not only with the government but obviously with members of the legislature. And we will continue to raise our deep concerns about this.
    As you know, the Ugandan Government has taken some recent steps to make clear that they are not supportive of some of these moves that are going forward. So in particular, their own human rights commission in 2010, in their annual report, they determined that the anti-homosexuality bill violated Uganda’s own constitution and international law. Other members of the Ugandan civil society have also been speaking out, and we’ve obviously been supportive of those efforts.
    So we are very concerned about this. We are resolutely opposed to the bill. We think it’s inconsistent with Uganda’s international human rights obligations, and this just sets a bad, bad precedent in the neighborhood. So we’ll continue to make those points clear, and we’ll make them clear to the individuals who are having to take this vote in the parliament.

    This is LGBT Pride Month and I wanted to include something on this topic.  If I had it together, I'd blog about LGBT issues in every post this month.  Clearly, I don't have it together.

    But, oh!, did you read the snapshot today? C.I., the Congressional reporter.  That's really something.  When we were on the phone, I did ask, "Did you really delay that to get information on record retention or were you just letting a day go by so that when you reported on it today everyone would wonder why the heck the paid press didn't report on it already?"  She really did want background info.  She also wasn't in the mood for the snapshot yesterday.   Anyway, read it.

    "Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
    Wednesday, June 20, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri wants Barack to kill an ExxonMobil deal, Nouri wants TOTAL to stay away from the KRG, Moqtada al-Sadr states the US is still controlling Iraq, US House Rep Bob Filner calls out the VA on its lack of progress, an American family tries to get the body of their loved one back from Iraq, and more.
    House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner: Now, by the way, Mr. [US House Rep Timothy] Walz -- now, Mr. Walz, she [VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey] doesn't need your defense here for her past accomplishments. And I don't need a lecture from you of her past.  We're talking about what she's going to do for the VA now. I'll stipulate any accomplishments that she's had. I respect her service.  But if she can't do this job, I don't care what she has done in the past.  Okay? So don't lecture me about how I don't have respect for someone's past.  She's talking about the future -- the present and the future.  And she didn't give one answer or one recognition that there was any problem -- in all her testimony, in every answer.  This Chairman [Marlin Stutzman] asked her a number of things. She talked for three-and-a-half minutes and didn't give the answer and still doesn't know the answer.  So let's talk about what she's doing right here and right now.  And I said if one of your veterans -- And she didn't answer your question, your very good questions, Mr. Walz, about the time period of what's going on in Minneapolis?  She just said, 'Oh, from time to time we have surges.'  You asked are we heading toward a lowest common denominator and she never answered that.  So don't -- I mean be a little more critical of the kind of answers we're getting.  We don't have a plan. This whole hearing was about a plan.  If I were her, I would have given out the plan.  But we still don't have one.  Again, Ms. Hickey, if I were you, leadership comes from the top. The top is saying, "There is no problem."  You ask any veteran in my district, in Mr. Walz' district, in Mr. [Mike] Michaud's district, in Mr. Stutzman's district: Is there a problem?  Every one will say, "Yes."  Now you can say, 'They don't understand fully.  Their perception is wrong, we've had a surge of this.  We did this.  We had the Vietnam era.'  I don't care what -- you have not either acknowledged the problem or say how we're going to get out of it.  You gave us an assurance of a date.  And Mr. Walz asked --  I know it's not a very bright question -- 'Are you committed? Is it going to happen?'  What is she going to say?  "No"?  We've had these questions, we've had these committments for years and years and years and years.  And Mr. Walz asked you another softball question: 'Has anything been tried as this big before?  We have tried every single thing that you have as your initiatives -- has been tried.   Every one of them at some point.  In fact, we've had far more comprehensive plans than your forty initiatives lumped together.  Nothing has worked.  It's gotten worse.  And you refuse to admit it.  You refuse to acknowledge it.  And you don't give us a plan to fix it.  What am I to think? 'Well, she was an Air Force General that did great things.'  If it doesn't happen by 2015, are you going to say I resign or what's going to happen if you're at the top?  And it's always two or three years out.  It's never, "I'm going to do this tomorrow."  You've been working on this.  Your predecessor's been working on this.  I don't have any assurance.  You can't even correct a date on the computer for a year-and-a-half and you call it a "glitch."  What confidence do I have that you can do anything if it took a year-and-a-half to fix a "glitch?"  The simplest thing.  Put a date in.  You could have done it by hand in a few months.  It took you a year-and-a-half.  You still haven't done it.  I'm sure we'll get a memo from you -- I just bet, you want to make a bet right now -- that you'll ask for another extension.  I just bet.  When's that going to be done?  Why should we have any confidence in 2015 that a system of a million backlog is going to be fixed when we can't even get a "glitch" fixed in a year-and-a-half?  What gives me the confidence?  That you were an Air Force General?  Sorry, it doesn't work. Give me some confidence.  What has worked so far?  Everything has been a problem.
    Yesterday US House Rep Gus Bilirakis and other Republicans chaired a VBA hearing.  Chair Jeff Miller wasn't present for the hearing.  "Well here we are again," observed Ranking Member Bob Filner, "I think one of the first meetings I went to twenty years ago as a member of the Veterans Committee was on the backlog. We've hired what?  In the last few years, maybe 10,000, 15,000 employees."
     I spent last night on the phone to friends in federal, state and municipal government because Bilirakis brought up an issue that I didn't feel comfortable speaking to without some research.  Bilirakis noted the claims progress, or rather the lack of progess.
    Acting Chair Gus Bilirakis: VBMS I know that I and my fellow Committee members and our Ranking Member have many questions to ask as to when this system will be ready for national roll out rolled out and how issues relating to the scanning of paper documents will be handled in the future.  As a matter of fact, VA's contract with the US National Archives and Records Administration, the agency currently handling VA's scanning needs, expires on June 26th, just one week from today.   I'll ask what goes after, what's going to happen on June 27th?
    Backlog needs to be farmed out.  I'm not surprised or troubled by that.  I'm bothered by backlog being created as I type this sentence.  Paper taken in today should not become part of a backlog.  The first person touching that paper in the VA should be immediately scanning it into the system.  (Then it would be put in a box for archiving, as was explained last night, according to whatever retention program they're operating under.)  The paper needs to be addressed immediately.  And how do you address it?
    You don't hire one or two people in the office to scan documents and carry the documents to them.  That's how you begin creating the backlog.  The first person to handle the paper, is the one who scans it.  Every one that comes after is referring to the digital copy in the system after that.  And everyone responsible for accepting paperwork or opening mail has a light scanner (inexpensive) attached to their computer and they immediately scan what they receive.
    That's the only way you're going to end the paper backlog. There is no excuse for creating new backlog.   Again, I'm not disputing the farming out of the existing backlog.  There's no way VA employees can catch up with that and also do their current job tasks.  But new backlog should not be created.  You touch a claims application, you scan it in and then it goes to a pile to be boxed up for archives.  The original is not sent somewhere else in the office to be scanned or placed with stacks of others to be farmed out for scanning.
    How much of a problem is the claims request?  Do they get lost?  I was told by three people with the VA that "missing" happens more than "lost" with "lost" meaning -- in their usuage -- it's not showing back up and "missing" meaning a week or two of fumbling around for the paper.  (How often are original paper documents "missing?"  "From time to time" and "it happens" were the responses, no one with the VA wanted to give a percentage or an estimate.) 
    Many governments are already moving towards that.  In your local areas, getting an application to put up a fence means turning it and paying for the permit and more and more local governments are scanning that document in right there when payment is being taken.  They're doing that to prevent the loss that can take place when the original document is routed to one or more different people before it's entered into the system.  This is not a "C.I. brainstorm."  This is what is happening in government offices around the country and what the VA should immediately begin doing.  There is no need to create new backlog and even without a numbered estimate of how many claims application are lost each year, one is too many.    The longterm goal is for VA to move away from paper altogether.  They're not their yet and they're really not prepared for that at present which is the point US House Rep Phil Roe made -- he is also medical Dr. Phil Roe -- when he discusses his own practice's transition to paperless.  Disabled American Veterans Jeffrey Hall also raised the issue of the paper backlog, the future paperless goal and more.  Hall, VFW's Gerald Manar, The American Legion's Richard Dumancas and Paralyzed Veterans of America's Sherman Gillums made up the first panel.  The National Archives Records Administration's William Bosanko was the second panel.  The third panel was the IG.  Fourth panel was the VA's Allison Hickey, Alan Bozeman and Roger Baker.
    Jeffrey Hall: Mr. Chairman, even before VBMS was first conceived, it was clear that in order to have a paperless claims process there must be a comprehensive system in place to digitze paper documents.  Yet VBA has failed to finalize a long-term scanning solution, in part because it has not yet definitively answered fundamental questions about when and which legacy documents will be scanned into VBMS.  Although VBA has committed to moving forward with a paparelss system for new claims, it has dragged its feet for more than two years in determining under what conditions existing paper claims files would be converted to digital files.  Because a majority of claims processed each year are for reopened or appealed claims and because files can remain active for decades, until all legacy claims are converted to digital data files, VBA could be forced to continue paper processing for decades.  We have been told that VBA's current plans are to convert claims files that have new rating-related actions, but not those with minor actions such as dependency or address changes.  However, the uncertainty over the past couple of years about how much scanning would be required, and at what cost, is at least partly responsible for VBA's reliance on NARA and its current rush to find a new scanning vendor.  While there are very difficult technical questions to be answered, and significant financial considerations involved in transitioning to all-digital processing, particular involving legacy paper files, we believe VBA would be best served by taking the most aggressive approach feasible in order to shorten the length of time this transition takes.  While the conversion from paper processing to VBMS will require substanital upfront investment, it will pay dividends for VBA and veterans in the future.  We would urge VBA to provide -- and Congress to review -- a clear plan for eliminating legacy paper files, one that includes realistic timeliness and resource requirements.
    As noted before, there were several acting chairs for the hearing.  It was a disturbing hearing as we heard the same things that we've heard over and over.  But there were some new revelations as well.  However, that might have been even more disturbing.  Excerpt.
    Acting Chair Marlin Stutzman: I'd like to do a second round because I'd like to talk about the scanning issue.  Why did it take this Committee calling a hearing for the VA to meet with NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] to discuss next week's scanning contract expiration?  I mean this is, I think, the frustration that's felt around here.  It's these sorts of things that we find out about and why isn't there some sort of pro-active movement before this?  Can you -- can you give us an explanation of why the contract is set to expire next week?  There isn't a contract.  Is there some other plan that the VBA is planning on implementing? Is it going to be done in-house? I mean, I know for us, Congressional offices, we have folks that we could use to scan things in.  I'm sure that you're system is a little bit more complicated.  We're spending ten million dollars a year, if I remember the number correctly.  It seems like we could do it cheaper and it seems like we could get it done.  Is there a plan to address that?
    Allison Hickey:  Congressman -- I mean Chairman Stutzman, yes, there is.  I will defer the first part of it to my Assistant Secretary for Information Technology, Roger Baker. 
    Roger Baker:  Thank you. I just want to talk to the NARA piece.  NARA's been our partner on this for two years so let me start with will we have an agreement with them by the end of this week to continue them for the next year? I believe the answer to that is "yes."  I know that's in process.  I checked with my staff while we were listening to this going on.  Got absolute assurances that there is really nothing in the way of that completing by the end of this week.  So it's a little bit different than a normal government contractor relationship.  Because it's a government-to-government relationship, it's much easier to do.  We've used NARA primarily from a development standpoint. 
    That's more than enough from him.  I'm really tired of witnesses who eat time to avoid answering questions.  Stutzman would go on to ask about the cost.  "I really don't know," Baker told him.  The cost is a per-page scanned fee.  Well then you should know it.  And it's probably not a good idea to tell Congress and taxpayers that the deal will be closed by the end of the week but you don't know how much the VA will be paying for the scanning.  See, most people would assume that you find out the cost before you start closing on a contract.  Rushing to complete a deal when you don't know the cost doesn't look like you're being scrupulous with the taxpayer money. 
    And it's not good to call something a plan when, as Acting Chair Stutzman noted, it's a presentation (slide show) of variables, not a plan.  Excerpt.
    Ranking Member Bob Filner:  When you were asked: "Do you have a plan?," you said, "Yes, we supplied it to the Committee."  This is not a plan.  This is not a strategic plan.  I will ask you again, do you have a strategic plan?  And why don't you just have it with you and give it to us?  That's the title of this hearing [Reclaiming the Process: Examing the VBA Claims Transformation Plan as a Means to Effectively Serve our Veterans].  Do you have a plan to give to us this minute?
    Allison Hickey: I do have a plan, Congressman Filner.
    Ranking Member Bob Filner: You what?
    Allison Hickey: I do have a plan.  I do not have it in this book, in these materials.  I'm happy to provide it for the Committee.
    Ranking Member Bob Filner: Why are you providing it with us, a plan of execution?  You're going to provide it to us?  Why don't you have it here?  You have 18 people here working  for you.  Give us the plan.  That's all we're asking for.  You said you did it.  [Shaking head] We have some slides.  We don't have a strategic plan of how you're going to execute this so-called transformation which sounds more like a fossil-formation.  So where is the plan?
    Allison Hickey:  Congressman Filner, I have the plan.  It's in Word document.
    Ranking Member Bob Filner:  A secret one or what?
    Allison Hickey: No, it is not a secret document.  In fact, I have shared it with Veterans Service Organizations, with our labor partners, with --
    Ranking Member Bob Filner: I just said none of us have seen it.  Why don't you have it with you?
    Allison Hickey: I will be happy to bring it to you, sir.
    The paper backlog  and the some-day-transition-to-paperless are issues and are problems.  There are other problems. The worst backlog problems is veterans waiting and waiting for their claims to go through the process.  And, as Ranking Member Bob Filner noted, this isn't weeks or months, this is years.  He estimated that there were 100,000 Agent Orange claims -- from Vietnam era veterans -- waiting, over thirty years, he noted.
    He noted that the IRS used to have a huge backlog and you waited and waited forever and ever for a refund check if you had one coming.  What changed that?  Why can you now file and get money within three weeks if you have a refund coming?  Because it's "subject to audit."
    Ranking Memer Bob Filner argued that's what should be taking place with the VA today, "Grant the claim, subject to audit. Send out a check."
    Ranking Member Bob Filner:  What have we done in the last few years? Doubled the backlogs. Raised the rate of inaccuracy, according to the recent report, up to 25%.  This is disgraceful.  This is an insult to our veterans. And you guys just recycle old programs, put new names on them, and here we are again.  Do you know what the definition -- one definition of insanity is?  Try the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  I mean somebody has to take responsibility for this.  We just keep announcing new names, new pilot programs, on and on.  We're up to 1.2 million by one count on backlog. If it wasn't tragic, it would be ridiculous.
    Acting Chair Bilirakis raised another issue that needs further attention.  So we'll ignore it here.  Seriously, it'll be carried over to Third on Sunday because it's one of the issues -- the first one -- that we discussed with Dona in "Congress and Veterans."  It has to do with education and I see Bilirakis' concerns (which are solid concerns) as related to Senator Richard Burr's concerns that we discussed with Dona for the piece last Sunday so it makes more sense to pick it up this coming Sunday at Third.  There's something we're carrying over for tomorrow already as it is.  I'll be one day behind on hearings all week, I bet but I didn't know a damn thing about storage of records or moving towards digitized or anything and I needed all the wonderful people who walked me through the process last night (thank you to all) so I could understand the hearing I'd sat through.  There's a press release on the hearing that we'll include in a morning entry tomorrow there's not room for it today.
    Violence continues in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports a Falluja roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left three people -- including a 3-year-old child -- injured.  It's been a bad week for children with the bombing today and the targeting of children in kidnappings this week.   Al Rafidayn reports a Kirkuk car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left nine injured.  BBC News reports Judge Aziz Abdul Qadir was the target of the bombing and that he and two of his bodyguards are among the injured.  AFP counts 141 people killed in Iraq so far this month.  In addition, the Herald of Scotland notes that a clash yesterday between the PKK and Turkish military left sixteen soldiers injured.  The Oman Tribune reports that 20 PKK were killed in the altercation.  Jennifer Parker (Foreign Policy) notes, "Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul have both condemned the violence and denounced the PKK militants as terrorists. Selahattin Demirtas, the head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, has also criticized the hostilities, adding, 'The PKK should stop all kinds of armed activity. The government should also halt (military) operations. Let them give a political solution a chance'."   Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."  BBC reports the Turkish military has announced it struck PKK targets today.  AP notes KRG President Massoud Barzani called for peace today, stating, "The time for war and weapons has passed."  On the subject of violence, RBC Radio notes:
    A UN investigator has called on the Obama administration to justify its policy of assassinating rather than capturing Al-Qaeda or Taleban suspects, increasingly with the use of unmanned drone aircraft that also take civilian lives. Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged Washington to clarify the basis under international law of the policy, in a report issued overnight to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 47-member Geneva forum is to hold a debate later on Tuesday.
    The US military has conducted drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, in addition to conventional raids and air strikes, according to Heyns, a South African jurist serving in the independent post. "Disclosure of these killings is critical to ensure accountability, justice and reparation for victims or their families," he said in a 28-page report. "The (US) government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations."
    On today's bombings, Reuters notes that Diyala Province electrical towers and lines were bombed by unknown assailants. This comes a day after Nouri finally decided to spend a little of the billions Iraq brings in on oil each year to provide some electricity.  Nayla Razzouk and Khalid al-Ansary (Bloomberg News) report that Iraq has agreed to pay Weatherford International $843 million to put in six new power plants "at the Zubair oil fields in the south of the country."

    Alsumaria reports on their exclusive interview with Moqtada al-Sadr.  Moqtada states the US still occupies Iraq and that the so-called withdrawal was purely symbolic.  He states that Iraqis seek an Iraq free of US interference and one free of the US Embassy.  He declares that the US Embassy is merely a cover to keep foreign foces (contractors, Marines and some soldiers) in Iraq under the guise of protecting the Embassy staff.
    Along with those guarding the embassy, consulate and staff, there are all the US service members who were moved to Kuwait.
    Maqsood Hussain (News Tribe) reports, "The United States has now nearly 15,000 troops in three bases across Kuwait -- triple the average number of American forces in the Middle Easter country before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 [. . .],"  Jennifer Rizzo (CNN) opens with, "The United States has approximately 15,000 troops in Kuwait, according to a Senate report released Tuesday,, the first time the number has been disclosed,"  RT goes with, "Despite the troop withdrawal from Iraq, the American military presence in the area is set to expand," Evann Gastaldo (Newswer) launches a Platonic dialogue, "The US has no combat force in Iraq and a wary eye on Iran: What's a nervous country to do? Maintain a force in neighboring Kuwait, apparently."  They're referring to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released [PDF format warning] "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership With The Gulf Co-Operation Council" which you can find more on in yesterday's snapshot. 15,000.  And the report recommends that a little over 13,000 stay in Kuwait for several years to come.  Aren't you glad Barack brought ALL the troops home?  (No, he didn't.)
    Iraq and Kuwait were in the news today for other reasons as well.  The UN News Centre reports:
    The Security Council today urged the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait to step up their engagement with the United Nations envoy helping the two countries resolve issues pending from Iraq's 1990 invasion, including finding Kuwaiti or third-country nationals.
    "The members of the Security Council welcomed the continued cooperation of the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait, and their high-level commitments to full implementation of all Iraqi obligations to Kuwait under the relevant resolutions," the Council said in a statement issued to the press following a closed-door meeting.
    The Council was briefed by Ambassador Gennady Tarasov, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's High-Level Coordinator for the issue of missing Kuwait and third-country nationals and property, on Mr. Ban's latest report on the issue.
    Wednesday, the big story in the Iraqi press was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's letter to US President Barack Obama asking/requesting/demanding (depends upon the account) that Barack kill ExxonMobil's deal with the KRG.  Kitabat uses "warned" of the October 18th contracts between the parties and quotes a spokesperson for Nouri, Ali al-Moussawi, stating that these contracts could start wars and could rip the country apart.


    If that's the case, maybe Nouri should show some leadership and back the hell off his non-stop complaining about the contract?  Don't hold your breath for that to happen.  Dar Addustour reports Nouri is prepared to go to the extreme -- they're citing al-Moussawi on that and what the "extreme scores" would be is not specified.

    But what the statements make clear is that it's not the ExxonMobil contract that's causing problems.  It's Nouri's reactions to the contracts.

    Al Rafidayn reports that, thus far, there's no response from Barack but National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor acknowledged that the letter from Nouri was received.  Reuters reports today, "Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan expects more oil majors to follow Exxon Mobil Corporation in the next few months in striking deals in the region, where oil shipments will resume, its natural resources minister said, despite a dispute with Baghdad." April Yee (The National) observes, "A hydrocarbon law remains a mirage in Baghdad and the reality is dawning that Iraq's plans to become one of the world's top-five oil producers are jeopardised by the legal deadlock."  Reuters also notes that Nouri's government had a message for France's TOTAL today, "Iraq gave a veiled warning to France's Total on Wednesday not to make deals with the autonomous Kurdish region without the approval of central government in Baghdad."  His tantrums come as oil has dropped over 20% per barrel in the last two months with the current pdb being $82.

     An Iraq War veteran returned to Iraq as a DynaCorp week and was dead a week later.  Now his family fights to have his body returned to the US.  Steve Shaw of Oklahoma's News 9 (link is text and video) reports:

    Angela Copeland: They came in and they told me that they had found Michael deceased in his living quarters.

     Steve Shaw:  Michael Copeland's widow Angela is distraught -- not only because of Michael's sudden death but because our State Dept told Copeland's family Iraqi leaders say Copeland died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -- or SARS -- an extemely rare disease, and our State Dept bought it.  Iraq says it can't release the body.  Michael Copeland's fathe says he talked to his son by phone just 12 hours before his death,  nobody's died from SARS since 2003, and he says that his son showed no signs of the disease.

    Mike Copeland:  Everyone that I've spoke with is always sorry for our loss but they say there's nothing they can do. I find that very difficult to believe.  That my government?  There's nothing they can do to bring my son home fom Iraq?

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's SARS page notes:

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world. The content in this Web site was developed for the 2003 SARS epidemic. But, some guidelines are still being used. Any new SARS updates will be posted on this Web site.

    No new updates have been posted to the CDC's page.

    "Not only are we having to deal with the loss," Angela Copeland tells NewsOn6, "but we're having to deal with the battle to get him back home."  Michael Copeland died June 9th.  She tells Victoria Maranan (KXII -- link is video),  "There is absolutely no excuse in this world that you could give me that could convince me why he should not be home."  Jerry Wofford (Tulsa World) reports on the case and quotes Oklahoma State Rep. Dustin Roberts stating, "Michael David Copeland was a man who served our nation as a Marine and our state as a National Guardsman, and his family deserves better than this."  Zach Maxwell (Durant Democrat) reports this evening, "The family of Michael Copeland is still waiting for answers more than 10 days after the former Marine and National Guardsman passed away in Iraq."
    In the US, Fred Kaplan of Slate magazine is an idiot.  (No link for obvious reasons and Rebecca's correct that I would love to use this as the excuse to end this site on the Fourth, next month).   We last dealt with Baby Dumb F**k when he attacked Brian De Palma.   He's so supremely stupid that people wonder about Brooke but I always say that like the fat-man-skinny-wife couples on TV in the late 90s and during the '00s, Fred and Brooke are the-stupid-fool-brilliant-wife combo.
    Kappy writes a column about Brett McGurk's nomination while never once considering the Iraqi people.  Iraqiya is mentioned (in a bad paragraph).  Iraqiya is popular, they are not the Iraqi people.  The Iraqi people are approximately 30 million and Foolish Fred wants you to know how wonderful his man crush Brett would have been in the job.  No, he wouldn't have been good in the job.  The clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (al-Sistani is the only true calming influence in the country, if he requests that the temperature of rhetoric be lowered, it gets lowered), could not be comfortable with McGurk.  He came to Iraq a married man.  He had an affair in Iraq.  On top of that, he left his wife.  He divorced her.  Gina Chon would have been his "_____" if she'd accompanied him to Iraq.  What's the big debate in Iraq today?  Raheem Salman (Reuters) reports, "An Iraqi government decree banning soldiers and police from wearing beards on duty has revived a debate over religious practices in a country where sectarian divisions between Shi'ite and Sunni still fester close to the surface."  What McGurk and Chon did -- both married when they began their affair in Iraq -- goes against fundamentalist teachings and also insults the host country since he violated his vows while he was in Iraq.  Iraqi women would not have been able to access the Embassy because of fear of what would be said about them (and the fear that words could lead to 'honor' killings -- where women have supposedly disgraced and brought dishonor to their relatives so the women must be put to death by their relatives).  We've got over half the population right there.
    And Idiot Fred doesn't stop to think about Iraqi women or even include in his bad article. 
    Look, we get it.  Fred, you stood next to Brett at the stalls and you were impressed.  Fine.  Keep it to yourself, use it for your fantasies but the rest of us aren't interested.
    Fred insists Brett McGurk was right for the job because he knows people.  The American face in Iraq does not need to be someone who is the object of ridicule.  I'm sorry that Fred's so unintelligent that he never learned Arabic.  It should be required for him when you think of how badly he wanted the Iraq War.  But if he could read Arabic and he wasn't so lazy, he would have seen what we noted many times here, this was a big story in the Iraqi press -- the affair.  They didn't care about the other stuff, they cared about the affair.  It was considered shocking -- even among Iraqi publications which regularly report on Madonna.  Because they did not consider that to be appropriate behavior for what would be the highest ranking US official who would be living in their country.  The host country should not be an after thought.
    McGurk had no qualifications to speak of, was too young, without managerial experience and lied (or else is stupid) to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  It's cute that Fred -- like so many of his lazy ass peers -- didn't show for that hearing, didn't report on it, but thinks he can now play 'expert' and insist McGurk was qualified.  Only an idiot claims that Nouri is providing Sahwa with jobs.  We covered it.  We were there.  Fred should have been on it but that would have been work and lazy asses don't do work even when they're paid for it.
    Fred's 'knowledge' of Iraqiya is based upon what one person told him -- and they got it wrong.  But, hey, Fred's real point is to smear people.  If you support Allawi and you're American, you're doing that because you must be "still involved in political or business ventures that would be served by a degree of Kurdish autonomy that is favored more by Allawi than by Maliki."  Poor Fred, as stupid as he is ugly.    He goes on to declare that Nouri was "the country's elected prime minister."  Not in 2006, not in 2010.  In 2006, the US stopped Parliament's first choice.  And Parliament, not the country, elects the Prime Minister, Fred.  The Bush White House wanted him in that position.  That's why he got it.  In 2010, the Barack White House wanted him in the position.
    As Fred goes on and on, you keep waiting for that moment where he notes the real reporting of Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) or the worker of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in exposing the hidden jails and ongoing torture Nouri's responsible for.  But Fred never does because liars can't tell the truth.  Fred's a nutty conspiracy theorist.  Probably the nuttiest one around as his latest column demonstrates.  Next time he writes a column like this, he might need to do some self-disclosures -- at least if he's still pretending to be a journalist.  Brett McGurk demonstrated over and over that he didn't know what he was talking about (most infamously when his testimony contradicted that of earlier testimony by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the public remarks of National Intelligence Director James Clapper). Brett McGurk was supremely uninformed which makes him the perfect match for Fred Kaplan.