Saturday, March 02, 2013

Smash, call it Ellis' revenge

Smash airs Tuesday nights on NBC.

Debra Messing's storyline with the script doctor continues to be starts and stops and the main reason to watch.  Julia and Peter have chemistry. 

So every other scene is her realizing he can help the book of Bombshell become better.  Every other? They alternate with scenes of her resenting him.

Nick came back, spent the night with Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and despite her begging him not to?  He turned himself in and took the fall for the questionable moneys that backed the show.  Eileen refused to do as her ex-husband Jerry advised and let Nick take the fall.

She told the court the truth and, as a result, it was decided she cannot produce Bombshell.

She tells Julia, Tom and Derrick at the end of the episode.  Only Julia speaks afterwards like a human being.

People writing for the show might want to grasp that.

Jennifer Hudson's character finally became a character.  Ronnie (Veronica) finally got a storyline and characterization.  I'm not blaming Hudson.  She was appealing in all of her appearances.

But the writers don't seem to know how to write, do they?

Finally, they give Veronica a backstory and a mother (Sheryl Lee Ralph doing an outstanding job) and, boom, Jennifer Hudson's doing something more than providing good musical interludes.

Derek was staging a concert Veronica was producing.  It was a one-off and to show a more mature Ronnie.  Tom was musical director.  Ivy and Karen were among those pitching in as dancers and background singers.

Jimmy and Kyle try to come up with a song for her.  Derek, after losing battles with Ronnie's mother, caves on any art and also refuses to listen to Jimmy's song.  Tom watches but does nothing.

Jimmy goes off and gets stoned while Kyle and Karen look for him.

Karen finds him in the alley and he's stoned.  He kisses her.  He tells her that was something and not because he's rolling.  She says they'll have to try it sometime when he's not stoned.  She also tells him that going back into the theater will demonstrate that he can take criticism -- yes, even showing up stoned -- and he'll earn respect for that.

Meanwhile Tom gripes Derek out and tells him Jimmy does have talent.

Megan Hilty had her best scenes ever with Ronnie.  They were talking about art and about Derek.  She's part of the reason Veronica found the courage to grow up on stage and stop playing little girls.  (Previously, she walked out of the lead of a new production of The Wiz.)

She also sings Jimmy and Kyle's song. It's a huge hit and shows new range for the singer.

That's the basics.

The reality is the show needs Ellis.

Remember the first season?  Ellis was Tom's helper who became Eileen's assistant.  The backstabber who went so far as to poison Uma Thurman, remember?

Some idiot thought changing show runners would help the show and the new show runner thought they needed to ditch Ellis.

The results?

Every episode of season two is lower in the ratings and they're all lower than season one.

The show came to life briefly at the end when Jerry, Eileen's ex-husband who has been trying to destroy her, is on the phone and writing a check to the person who helped him set up Eileen.

Did you guess Ellis?

You are correct.

Even not on camera, even without any lines (we didn't hear or see him), Ellis dominated the episode.

I found Ellis irritating early on but I also pointed out that without him the show was boring.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, March 1, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests take place throughout Iraq, the Finance Minister resigns,  Bradley Manning gets some attention, and more.

We're starting with Iraq War veteran Bradley Manning who confessed yesterday that he passed on documents to WikiLeaks.  Alexa O'Briean has transcribed his statement in full.  We're going to note a section at the top:

The CIDNE system contains a database that is used by thousands of Department of Defense--DoD personel including soldiers, civilians, and contractors support. It was the United States Central Command or CENTCOM reporting tool for operational reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two separate but similar databases were maintained for each theater-- CIDNE-I for Iraq and CIDNE-A for Afghanistan. Each database encompasses over a hundred types of reports and other historical information for access. They contain millions of vetted and finalized directories including operational intelligence reporting.
CIDNE was created to collect and analyze battle-space data to provide daily operational and Intelligence Community (IC) reporting relevant to a commander's daily decision making process. The CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A databases contain reporting and analysis fields for multiple disciplines including Human Intelligence or HUMINT reports, Psychological Operations or PSYOP reports, Engagement reports, Counter Improvised Explosive Device or CIED reports, SigAct reports, Targeting reports, Social and Cultural reports, Civil Affairs reports, and Human Terrain reporting.
[. . .]

I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.
In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

I don't get -- or I didn't -- why people still aren't covering counter-insurgency.  Bradley Manning's been behind bars for over 1000 days because he hoped to spark a national dialogue.  24 hours after he states that, there's still nothing in the media. 
For those late to the party, Monday April 5, 2010WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."

At Rolling Stone, Janet Reitman asks, "Did the Mainstream Media Fail Bradley Manning?" And suddenly it falls together.  Not because of what Reitman finds -- she finds nothing.  Not because of Kevin Gosztola's hypothesis that the Washington Post and the New York Times might have been too scared to publish it.

Check the archives, but we covered the WikiLeaks releases in real time.  Today, a lot of people like to pretend they did but they didn't.  In Little Media, they wrote for magazine websites and for magazines and they had their own programs but they never used them to explore what was released.  They didn't have time for it.  They didn't give a damn until they got their postage of Julian Assange.

They still don't give a damn about Bradley.  But Julian they could get behind. 

Janet Reitman wants to know if the press failed Bradley?  It wasn't about Bradley.  It was about Iraq.

And, yes, the US press failed Iraq.  Failed before the start of the war, failed it after.

Did you pay attention to the recap earlier.  People pretend like there was great interest in the WikiLeaks 2007 video.  No, there wasn't.  There should have been but there wasn't.  And there was even less interest when they began publishing various documents.

The question to ask is "Did the press fail Iraq?"  Yes, it did.  By the time WikiLeaks released the Iraq information, there had been a withdrawal from Iraq -- a press withdrawal.  ABC closed down their operation and lied that they'd grab BBC if there were any developments.  (Use the BBC for their evening news.) They didn't really.  NBC was out.  The networks pulled out.  McClatchy Newspapers was pulling out.  No one gave a damn in the US press about Iraq. 

And if you complained -- and I did to many producers and editors -- you were told that the viewers were tired of Iraq.  I didn't then and don't now see how that's possible.

Among the trash that passes for 'independent' media in the US, Demcoracy Now! couldn't be bothered with the topic, nor could The Nation magazine, nor could The Progressive.

In the spring of 2009, Steven D. Green went on trial.  We covered it every day here.  May 7th Steven D. Green was convicted for his crimes in March 12, 2006 gang-rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and the murder of her five-year-old sister while Green was serving in Iraq. Green was found to have killed all four, to have participated in the gang-rape of Abeer and to have been the ringleader of the conspiracy to commit the crimes and the conspiracy to cover them up. May 21st, the federal jury deadlocked on the death penalty and instead he was sentenced to life in prison. 

This was a War Crime.  It should have been covered widely.  Instead it was Kentucky media.  It was the Associated Press' Brett Barrouquere and Time magazine's Jim Frederick.  That was it for the national mainstream press.  Arianna Huffington deserves credit for sending a reporter down there (Gail Mellor) and even more for realizing the best reporting was coming from high schooler Evan Bright and carrying his coverage at The Huffington Post.  We interviewed Evan for a May 3, 2009 piece at Third.  Evan was covering every day of the trial.  Evan wasn't shy.  Why wasn't he on Democracy Now! during the trial?  Why did Pacifica Radio waste all that money on the garbage that was Mitch Jeserich's Letters from Washington but fail to send even one reporter to Kentucky for a War Crimes trial?  Why wasn't Matthew Rothschild or Katrina vanden Heuvel at all concerned with the gang-rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by US soldiers? 

It's in that climate that Bradley Manning tries to interest the media in what he has.  It wasn't about Brad, it was about the complete lack of interest on the part of the press with anything to do with Iraq by 2010.  If you need a 'reputable source' making that observation, here's PEW on Iraq War coverage in 2010:

The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were on the periphery of both the American public’s and news media’s radar in 2010. Just 1% of the total news coverage last year was devoted to events related to and policy debates about the Iraq war. In no single week did Iraq consume more than 10% of the newshole. With the exception of a week in September, during a large troop withdrawal, most of the public reported they were not following events in Iraq very closely when surveyed throughout the year.

Get it?  The media didn't fail Bradley.  Long before Bradley tries to interest the media, it had already failed Iraq.

And the Amy Goodmans and Greg Mitchells can pretend they did something but they didn't.  They didn't treat the WikiLeaks releases seriously in real time.  After Julian Assange became a folk hero to some, once they had their poster on the wall, the Goodys and Mitchells suddenly could give a damn . . . about Julian Assange.  Not about Iraq, not about Iraqis, never about Iraq, never about Iraqis.

And what we're seeing yet again, right now, is an attempt to posterize.  We're not talking about the War Crimes, we're not writing about the War Crimes, we're rehashing this and that and blah blah blah.  I'm not going into counter-insurgency today.  Unlike Amy Goodman, we've covered it here (and called it out) regularly.   I don't have the time or space for/in this snapshot today to go over counter-insurgency again.

But we've covered it (including yesterday -- and we first covered it in 2006 when the ridiculous Montgomery McFate got her first press via The New Yorker.  These are the issues of substance.  A whole rag-tag assembly wants to pretend that they support Bradley.  Yet they still won't take the time to write and talk about counter-insurgency.  Even now, 24 hours after Bradley outlined his hope/intent to spark a debate on the policy.

You can't argue whether Bradley was in the right or in the wrong to release the documents if you can't address the importance of the documents.  Support him?  Then kick-start the national dialogue on counter-insurgency.  Yeah, it might take a little work and, goodness knows, a little work's too much for our Panhandle Media.  But if we want the mainstream to cover it and if we want people to know the importance of Bradley's actions, then we're going to need to do a little work. 

Let's stay in the US and turn to a loser named James Fallows sets the low mark -- the all time low mark -- for 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq rambles.  The cowardly scribbler for The Atlantic cowers as only the spineless truly can.  The invasion, Fallows whimpers "was the biggest strategic error by the United States since at least the end of World War II and perhaps a much longer period."

What nonsense.  It's not an "error," it's a crime. And if you can't say that, why the hell are you scribbling today to begin with? 

And could you maybe learn to write Jimmy Fallows?  Stop resting on work you did before many readers were born and learn to write today? "The biggest strategic error by the United States since at least the end of World War II and perhaps a much longer period" -- what is that?  Cover your ass in case senility's set in and you're not remembering some major event?  And what is that wording?  Are you aware you're suggesting -- via your construction -- that the worst strategic errors were invading Iraq and ending World War II?  Do you need someone to remind you to take your meds?

If my claim to fame was being a speechwriter for then-President Jimmy Carter -- one of the most bland and boring speakers of all time, I think I'd be trying real hard for another credit to put by name.   And in Fishbowl Idiot, Fallows may have finally found another credit.

This is just completely a puzzle to Fallows, this Iraq War.  "Vietnam," he writes, "was costlier and more damaging, but also more understandable.  As many people have chronicled, the decision to fight in Vietnam, was a years-long accretion of step-by-step choices, each of which could be rationalized at the time."  Anything can be rationalized at any time.  Second, Vietnam, for the US government, was not just criminal, it was more stupid than Iraq because the US followed France's failure in Vietnam but kidded itself that it was so much better at War Crimes that it would be victorious over the Vietnamese.  The US government was wrong.

By contrast, the Iraq War is completely understandable.  September 11, 2001 was an attack on the United States.  We could have dealt with it as we had other attacks.  We could have followed the law.  We could have been grown ups and had honest discussions.  We didn't follow the law and we demonized those who wanted to speak honestly (such as Susan Sontag).  By refusing to address what happened, the events that follow are completely understandable.

We put aside thinking, logic, processing and everything else and were left with nothing but injury and hurt and we looked for someone in a weaker position to last out at to feel better.  Strip the tired colloquialisms from Thomas Friedman's bad writing and TV appearances and what your left with is a tiny, impotent and angry man raging with violence.

Where in the world did you think that rage would go?  Because it had to go somewhere.

Bully Boy Bush stoked the rage, encouraged the rage and he and his administration attacked anyone and everyone who questioned in any way or tried to use actual thought.  The rage had to go somewhere.  And they knew what they were doing having decided early on to use 9-11 to push for war with Iraq.  (September 11, 2001 -- though repeatedly linked to Iraq by Bully Boy and his administration -- had nothing to do with Iraq.  While Saddam Hussein was President of Iraq, al Qaeda didn't even have a base in Iraq because secular Hussein and fundamentalist al Qaeda were at complete odds with one another.)

Bully Boy Bush repeatedly picked away at 9-11 because it had to be an unhealed wound, it had to be gaping, for him to misuse the horror of it to push for the Iraq War.

I'm sorry that James Fallow is confused.  I truly am sorry that he's such an imbecile because, after 10 years, if we still can't recognize and name what happened and how, there's not much hope for any of us.  All these years later and we still can't be honest?  The refusal to honestly address what happened allowed emotions to be manipulated and played to.  If we can't be honest about that, we're never going to learn from it so forget about any talk of preventing  it from happening again.

Let's go to someone far wiser than James Fallows: Joan Didion.  In 2003, The New York Review of Books published her Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11.  From that slender book overflowing with wisdom.  Excerpt.

And yet, all through the summer of 2002, the inevitability of going to war with Iraq was accepted as if predestined.  The "when" had already been settled.  "Time is getting short," The New York Times had warned us in July, "for decisions that have to be made if the goal is to take action early next year, before the presidential election cycle intrudes."  That last cause bore study.
"Before the presidential election cycle intrudes."  In case the priorities were still unclear.
The "why" had also been settled.  The President had identified Saddam Hussein as one of the evildoers.  Yes, there were questions about whether the evildoer in question had the weapons we feared he had, and yes, there were questions about whether he would use them if he did have them, and yes, there were questions about whether attacking Iraq might not in fact ensure that he would use them.  But to ask those questions was sissy, not muscular, because the President had said we were going to do it and the President, if he were to back down, risked losing the points he got on the muscular "moral clarity" front.
"I made up my mind," he had said in April, "that Saddam needs to go."  This was one of many curious almost petulant statements offered in lieu of actually presenting a case.  I've made up my mind, I've said in speech after speech, I've made myself clear.  The repeated statements became their own reason: "Given all we have said as a leading world power about the necessity for regime change in Iraq, "James R. Schlesinger, who is now a member of Richard Pearl's Defense Policy Board, told The Washington Post in July, "our credibility would be badly damaged if that regime change did not take place."

Why can we not be honest?  What purpose does James Fallows' nonsense serve?  He wants to brag about 2002 nonsense.  It won a National Magazine Award.  2002 and 2003 are the worst years for American journalism.  So you can imagine the kind of nonsense he wrote to win.  Of that garbage, he says today, "I feel I was right in arguing, six months before the war in 'The Fifty-First State,' that invading Iraq would bring on a slew of complications and ramifications that would take at least a decade to unwind."  Oh, the bravery.  (That was sarcasm.)  He wrote an article in October 2002 proclaiming points of interest if the Iraq War happened.  You know Jim Hoagland was doing the same thing in a Washington Post column in June of 2002?  In fact, the topic was all over the place long before Fallows used it to offer his centrist tour of potential things to look for after the war starts.  A real journalists should have been working on questioning the claims.  But James Fallows isn't a real journalist.  There was no money to be made off telling the truth.  During Vietnam, he couldn't be counted on to do anything either, except lie to avoid serving there.  Couldn't rally, couldn't organize the war but didn't want to go there.  How sad that as the days wind down, Fallows is as timid and ineffectual as he was in his college years.

The kind of garbage he provides, we don't need.  If you're writing about Iraq on the 10th anniversary of the start of the illegal war, you should be doing to explain how things are today or to explain how the illegal war was sold.

How things are today? 

Protests across Iraq.  The Iraqi Spring Media Center proclaims:

Here the People of Iraq Revolt against Tyranny and Oppression
It is not important which sect you belong to or race
What is important is that you seek to regain your Iraqi Identity
What is important is you regain your Honour, and live in your
                                 country with dignity!!!

Of all the protests across Iraq, Ramadi received the most attention due to a high profile speaker.  Alsumaria notes  Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi attended and, in his speech, resigned his office.  Hamdi Alkhshali (CNN) adds, "The finance minister resigned because the government has not met the demands of the demonstrators to end the marginalization, spokesman Aysar Ali told CNN."

Zaid Sabah (Bloomberg News) quotes al-Issawi telling the protesters, "I am with you, I am your son.  I will not return to this government."  Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quote al-Issawi telling the crowd, "I am presenting my resignation in front of you. I do not care about a government that does not respect the Iraqi blood and its people." Sabah notes the protesters chanted back, "We are with you! We are with you!"
al-Issawi tells Reuters, "More than 70 days of demonstrations and this government hasn't fulfilled our people's demands.  It doesn't honor me to be part of a sectarian government.  I decided to stay with my people."  Alsumaria notes that Nouri al-Maliki has declared he will not accept the resignation until a legal and financial investigation is completed.  Ayad Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi states that there are secret arrest warrants Nouri is holding on Iraqiya politicians.  Allawi states the members are innocent and this is part of an effort to silence Nouri's political rivals.  Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 provincial elections, besting Nouri's State of Law in the process.

In Mosul, Nouri's forces refused to allow journalists access to the protestNouri's forces also raided a mosque in Mosul to prevent morning prayers. Journalists trying to report on the morning prayers in Baghdad's Adhamiya section were arrested by Nouri's forces.   Nouri's State of Law sees other reasons for the protests.  MP Abdul al-Abbas, for example, insists to All Iraq News that the protests are a plot to run the economy of Iraq.  Iraqi Sping MC notes that protests took place today in Baquba,  in Jalawla, in Samarra and in DuluiyaAl Mada reports that participation in the protests increased today in Falluja and Ramadi and that Samarra protesters are calling for a general strike in the cities throughout the province.

The Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweets:

  1. "Iraqis are still to some extent prisoners of a self-image the US fashioned and left behind..." 10 years on:
  2. To understand Iraq 10 years on - and the real tragedy of the US legacy - read nothing but this. Brilliant and true

Muhammad Yassine (translated by Nicolas Dagher for World Meets US) offers a look at Iraq's crises:

Prime Minister Maliki, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and primarily responsible for the security situation in the country, refuses to descend from the fragile throne he ascended to years ago through an open agreement between America and Iran. Nouri al-Maliki was put there as a cover for their mistakes. Citing the Constitution, which he says gives him all rights and authority, Maliki has refused to give up even a small measure of influence or administrative authority to his political partners. With his poor judgment, he has lost many of his partners and allies, particularly among the Kurds.
Maliki's gambit to remain in power by relying on the Americans and Iranians was misplaced. When he ignored the demands of anti-government demonstrators on February 25th, 2011, he laid the groundwork for a worsening of the crisis between the corrupt political class and the disenfranchised public. No one can deny the success Maliki has had cutting down to size his political partners, who obeyed his deranged demands to resign in return for personal favors and privileges. With privileges granted by marginalizing and excluding huge segments of the Iraqi people, these partners conspired against the voters and their constituents, hiding under the cloak of Maliki's dictatorial powers.

The violence never ends in Iraq. Probably because Nouri al-Maliki has been as much a failure at Iraqi security as he has been at Iraqi unity.   Today Alsumaria speaks with Diwaniya Poice Chief Brigadier Abdul Jalil al-Asadi who explains 2 car bombs went off in a livestock market (cattle and sheep) resulting in 5 deaths and forty people being left injured.  Imad al-Khuzaie, Suadad al-Salhy, Isabel Coles and Patrick Graham (Reuters) quote butcher Jassim Khalid stating, "I came to buy some calves and was checking them when the explosion happened, I threw myself on the ground, then the second explosion happened."  AFP reminds, "The blasts came a day after at least 26 people were killed and more than 60 wounded in a series of bomb attacks in the Baghdad area and shootings in northern Iraq."  Alsumaria notes a home invasion just to the south of Baquba (8 kilometers to the south) in which Ghalib Abdul Ali was shot dead by machine guns and his son was left wounded and a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiersAll Iraq News adds that Kaen Saleem, Commander of Salah-il-Din Emergency Regiment, was targeted with three Dijail bombings leaving him and one civilian injured and a Babel car bombing targeted a kindergarten (but there are no reported injuries).

AFP's WG Dunlop Tweets on violence:

  1. Day-by-day breakdown of Feb. attacks in , based on reports from security and medical sources

Finally, David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "MERCADO WORKERS PROTEST SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND FIRINGS" (Truth-Out):

Valentine's Day sometimes brings chocolates and sometimes flowers. But Valentine's Day in Oakland, California, brought angry women out to the Mi Pueblo supermarket in the heart of the barrio. There they tried to speak to the chain's owner, Juvenal Chavez, not about love, but about the sexual harassment of women who work there.
As they gathered next to the parking lot holding pink placards, Latino families in pickup trucks and beat up cars honked and waved. Laura Robledo then stepped up to an impromptu podium and told her story. As she spoke, her teenage daughter held her protectively around the waist, and stared angrily at the doorway where managers stood waiting for trouble.
Robledo used to work at the Mi Pueblo market in San Jose. She lost her job when she complained to the company that she'd been sexually harassed by a coworker. "I had two witnesses who heard everything he said," she recalled angrily. "The words were so low and degrading it was horrible just to hear them. He even tried by force to kiss and embrace me."
So she complained to the company. That was unusual, because workers at the markets complain about intimidation by managers, and that those who complain lose their jobs.
Fear at Mi Pueblo has been high since last August, when the company announced it was using the E-Verify database to check employees' immigration status. Then in October company lawyer Julie Pace said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was auditing Mi Pueblo's personnel records. Almost all the chain's workers are immigrants.
In each store employees were herded into meetings, where they were shown a video in which Juvenal Chavez told them that if their immigration status was questioned they would be fired. "The possibility of losing one of our employees will hurt my heart," he assured them. "And it will feel like losing a family member."
When Robledo went to the company to report the harassment, however, she says it didn't feel at all like a family. "They said they'd investigate it," she recounted. "But they did nothing. After two weeks they gave me a letter saying they'd finished their investigation and that nothing had happened and that workers were always treated with respect. For me this was terrible. I felt very humiliated because I could see they didn't respect my rights as a woman."
Robledo was a new employee, having only started working at the store that October. The harassment began almost immediately, she says. Despite getting the letter claiming she had no basis for her charges, she continued working. Robledo is a single mother of three children, and couldn't afford to quit.
The company then made that decision for her. "I worked a couple of weeks after getting the letter," she recalls. "Then they accused me of getting into an argument with another worker, which wasn't true. It was just a pretext. They fired me because I kept complaining about sexual harassment. They knew that because I know my rights and I'm willing to defend myself that eventually I'd expose the truth."

zaid sabah

qassim abdul-zahra

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Van Cliburn -- dead and insulted by the State Dept.

Van Cliburn has passed away.

Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) reports:

Van Cliburn was a pianist, of course. He will be remembered for that big technique, big physique and big Texan heart, all of which contributed to making him such a sensation when he played. But Cliburn, who died Wednesday at 78, may be remembered most for being a phenomenon.
He was the right young Texan with the right big technique at the right time to make music and cultural history.
To the Russians, whom he wowed in 1958 in his famous win in the first Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, Cliburn was exotic. He was not an American Cold War warrior but a gracious, gangling 23-year-old who showed that Russian culture had penetrated deep into the American backwoods of Kilgore, Texas. He was straightforward, a pianist who took music at its outgoing face value.

Joshua Kosman (San Franciso Chronicle) adds:

Mr. Cliburn's Moscow success, which came a mere six months after the anxiety-inducing launch of the Sputnik satellite, was seen as a cultural triumph for the West in a sphere that had been dominated by the Soviets. Mr. Cliburn's final performances in the competition were of concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
The 23-year-old pianist came home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City and adulatory press coverage, including an appearance on the cover of Time magazine hailing him as "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
Recording contracts and touring engagements soon followed, including a million-selling recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto for RCA Victor.

We just wrote about Van Cliburn on Sunday at Third in " Oh, the bitchery . . . ."  The bitchery? Not from Van Cliburn.  From the US State Dept.  Here's that article in full (I got Jim's permission, FYI).

 van cliburn

In March 2011, US President Barack Obama presented pianist Van Cliburn with the National Medal of Arts.  It's a great honor to be presented with a National Medal of Arts.

The National Endowment of the Arts noted of Van Cliburn:

Van Cliburn has been hailed as one of the greatest pianists in the history of music as well as one of the most persuasive ambassadors of American culture. Cliburn entered the Juilliard School at age 17.  At age 20, he won the Leventritt Award and made his Carnegie Hall debut. In 1958, Cliburn’s victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War propelled him to international fame.
Cliburn has received Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He received the Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin in 2004, and in 2003 President George W. Bush bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So it was a little strange last week to hear the State Department decide to weigh in on the pianist.

Assistant Secretary Frederick Barton:  It reminds me of a Van Cliburn concert.  The guy looks great.  He's got the tails.  He can play the whole keyboard.  But at the end, you haven't necessarily settled on what needed to be done the most.  And the US can't afford to be Van Cliburn in these cases.  We have to be much more focused, much more targeted.

Though Barton chuckled at his own bitchery, no one else present was laughing.

Those were tacky remarks to make and had us wondering if bitchery was going to replace diplomacy at the State Department?

Jim was all for it being reposted.  He said C.I. really needed credit because she's the one who caught the insults and wrote about it at her site last Thursday.  Here's some of that:

 This is how the talk was billed, "Ambassador Frederick Barton, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. Department of State, discusses the future of the American civilian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."  Afghanistan was mentioned briefly.  Iraq?  Unless Burma's in Iraq, no.  Unless Mozambique is a few miles north of Baghdad, no.  We heard about Tanzania and Kenya.  Now he can argue that he answered questions after 'setting' the topic.  His time setting the topic didn't include mentioning Iraq.  And the questions -- especially when it was 'we have time for one more' -- should have involved the moderator saying, "Does anyone have a question on Iraq?"  That was the scheduled topic.  He had plenty of time to discuss State Dept internal business and policies and training.  He even had time -- made time -- to trash the pianist Van Cliburn.  I have no idea why.  The man just learned he has advanced bone cancer, does he really need a State Dept official trashing the way he plays piano and saying they don't want to do the State Dept like Van Cliburn plays the piano?

Silly me, I thought diplomacy was the State Dept's mission and that tact was a part of diplomacy.  But then, silly me, I would think a talk billed as being about Iraq and Afghanistan would actually be about Iraq and Afghanistan.  I'm sorry I wasn't there now because I would have said something regarding Barton's insulting attack on Van Cliburn.  Maybe asked if Cliburn is so awful, why did US President Barack Obama present him with a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts?

I did not know that Van Cliburn had bone cancer until I read C.I.'s snapshot last week.  How sad that the State Dept. felt they could ridicule him to begin with but how really sad that they did it right before he died.
They really should be ashamed of themselves.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills): 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Bradley Manning was the leak to WikiLeaks (he tells the court in a filing), Nouri supposedly has arrest warrants ready to go on various politicians (political rivals), Fright Night was last night in Baghdad as Nouri and others freaked out over a sit-in outside the Green Zone, Senator Patty Murray earns a well deserved honor, and more.

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) reports on a US military court filing in the case of Bradley Manning, specifically that Bradley stated in the defense filing that he passed material to WikiLeaks with the intent to "spark a domestic debate on the role of our military and foreign policy in general."  What are we talking about?

Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."

So Bradley has admitted in court filings that he passed on papers; however, he has not entered a plea on the major charges. Murphy explains:

Private Manning's guilty pleas, however, are not to the crimes he's been charged with and will not effect the prosecutions ongoing case. They're to lesser offenses, and will have no impact on whether he's convicted on the more serious charges sought by Army prosecutors. So why do it? Manning, who has only been allowed to speak during the pretrial process once before and who has been kept largely isolated from the press, friends, and supporters during his over 1,000 days in detention since his arrest in Iraq on May 28, 2010, wants to expand on the political motives that moved him to commit his acts.

Medina Roshan (Reuters) adds that Bradley "is expected to take the witness stand on Thursday, when he will read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself in the espionage case."  The Canton Daily Ledger reports on the statement as well:

The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him. Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks – making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday. She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document – following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.
- See more at:
The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him.  Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks -- making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday.  She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document -- following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.

The statement was written by Manning in person and hand-typed by him. Discussion in court indicated that in it he makes a declaration of the motives that led him to want to pass information to WikiLeaks – making the account a possibly seminal document.
Lind said that she would decide overnight whether to allow Manning to read out the document in court on Thursday. She insisted that the statement had to have the soldier's signature erased so that it would not be a sworn document – following prosecution protests that they would not be able to cross-examine him on the content of his speech.
- See more at:

Lind is Col Denise Lind who will be presiding over the court-martial.   Ben Nuckols (AP) notes that a small number of (84) of court documents were released today.  Ed Pilkington (Guardian) adds, "The 84 documents released by the army include court rulings on defence and government motions, and orders that set the scheduling of the trial that is currently earmarked to begin on 3 June. But the batch constitutes only a tiny portion of the huge mountain of paperwork that has already been generated in the proceedings, including some 500 documents stretching to 30,000 pages."   Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News) reports that "a prosecutor asked the court to close the public from about a third of the upcoming" court-martial.  Klasfeld reports Maj Ashden Fein told Lind that "very little" would be kept from the public, elaborating it would be "no more than 30%" to which Lind replied, "The government considered 30% very little?"

So right now, where do things stand for Bradley?  Julie Tate (Washington Post) offers this take, "Manning would face 20 years in prison if he pleads guilty, as anticipated, to unauthorized possession of classified records, videos and documents and willful communication of those to an unauthorized person. After that, Manning would still face 12 other charges in the case, including aiding the enemy and violation of the espionage act."

The National Iraqi News Agency reports that the National Alliance (Shi'ite slate of various political slates and parties) announced today, via MP Haitham al-Jubouri, that "The issue of replacing Maliki is unlikely ever within the Iraqi National Alliance and what is being addressed today about scenarios to extend the demonstrations in all the cities of Iraq to join the demonstrators in Baghdad to pressure on the government to get the prime minister out is impossible."  That doesn't help the protesters feel heard.

Since December, Iraq has seen ongoing protests.  They want a government that's responsive.  In many ways, the protests are an echo of the ones from 2011 -- the ones Nouri derailed by attacking (physically) the protesters and also be swearing that if the people just gave him 100 days, he'd respond to the protesters demands.  He took the 100 days and refused to respond.  The disappeared were always a concern to the protesters. In 2011 and currently, it's been one of the ethical grounds from which the protesters argue for change.  A difference between then and now, however, is that now the Iraqi people have learned that women and girls are being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.  This is among the reasons that they feel that if change cannot come to Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki needs to go.  And yet today the National Alliance declares that will not happen?  It's statements  like that which fuel the protesters belief that they are not being listened by the government.

No dobut, Nouri's listening, probably with an electronic tap on your cell phone.  This morning,  National Iraq News Agency was reporting:

The MP, of the state law coalition, Sadiq al-Labban revealed that "the government would issue arrest warrants against those who instigated and participated in fueling sectarian strife through exploiting the demonstrations to split the Iraqi National Front, noting that among these names, the Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi. 

This is apparently  another case of Nouri's State of Law political slate being unable to control themselves in public.  In this case, al-Labban has revealed something in existence that Nouri wasn't wanting known just yet.

Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections (beating Nouri's State of Law).  He is also Sunni.  Nouri's reputation is one for fighting dirty against political opponents.  If the warrants are real, expect things in Iraq to get a lot worse a lot quicker than many anticipated.  If the talk of warrants if false, al-Labban just made some very uninformed remarks that will have huge repercussions.

NINA quotes Iraqiya MP Wissal Saleem stating:

The statements of the State of Law coalition's MPs about arrest warrants against the leader of the Iraqiya, Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi is dangerous [and]  if they have court orders issued by their courts, this is another subject.  We do not know the basis that the state of law coalition's MP is authorized to talk about an arrest warrant while the judiciary did not say anything about it, indicating that the goal is to create new crises after failing of the Government.   These remarks will lead to a backlash, especially at this critical juncture, through which the Iraqi state is passing.

Distrust, anger and hostility are just some of the feelings State of Law has created with the comments about arrest warrants.  Look for this Friday's protests to be larger than last week's which saw over 3 million people participate -- 10% of the Iraqi population.

Nouri's not responding to the needs of the protesters.  So others are having to step in to try to calm the crisis.   Martin Kobler is the Special Envoy to Iraq of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that Kobler met today with the Governor of Kirkuk Najimalddin Omar Karim and he went on to meet with representatives of the Kirkuk demonstrators, including those who've been holding a sit-in.

Also making the rounds to discuss the political situation has been US Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft.  Ahlul Bayt News Agency reports he met yesterday with Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, and that the two discussed the ongoing political crisis.  All Iraq News quotes from a statement issued by al-Hakim's office which includes, "For his part, the US Ambassador praised Hakim's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Iraq, appreciating his calls for all the politicians to follow dialogue and calmness in coping with the crises."  In addition, Al Mada reports that the US and Iraqi governments -- specifically the US Treasury Dept's Deputy Secretary David Cohen who is meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad -- are discussing ways to disrupt the flow of terrorist financing in Iraq.

Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc has accused Nouri al-Maliki of not applying justice fairly with regards to the Justice and Accountability law.  Making their statement in a Parliament press conference today, they pointed to Nouri's ally Medhat al-Mahmoud who was Chief Justice of the federal judiciary.  When he was removed from his position because the Accountability and Justice Commission found him to have ties to Ba'athists, Nouri did not abide by the decision and insisted that al-Mahmoud remained a judge and remained off-limits from prosecution.  Falah Shanshal was the head of the Justice and Accountability Commission at that time and Nouri fired him a week after the decision on al-Mahmoud. Moqtada's bloc agrees with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, who reinstated Shanshal on the Justice and Accountability Commission -- that commission, they argue, is overseen by Parliament and Nouri has no control over it.  Despite having no control over it, he has stepped into their dealings the minute he didn't like a decision.  This is why the Sadr bloc accuses him of not applying the law fairly.

Alsumaria reports in the press conference today they also addressed the issue of the budget.  This is the 2013 budget which, yes, should have been passed before 2013 started.  Alsumaria reported yesterday that supporters of cleric and movement leader  Moqtada al-Sadr launched a sit-in outside the Green Zone to get the budget passed.  This followed Monday's announcement that the vote on the 2013 budget was again postponedMohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported of the sit-in, "Demonstrators are demanding movement on the $115 billion budget that was approved by Iraq's Cabinet in October. Parliament still needs to pass the draft legislation, and leaders of key political parties are struggling to reach an agreement."  AFP noted, "It was not immediately clear if the additional security measures, which the ministry official said have caused heavy traffic jams across the city, were aimed at preventing people from joining the protests, or guarding them against attack."  NINA observes, "It is noteworthy that the vote on the budget in the House of Representatives has seen a series of delays because of disagreements among the blocs and lack of approval." Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports the sit-in resulted in increased measures including keeping journalists out of the Parliament building which meant missed out on the 'big' press conference staged by Nouri's State of Law.  A police officer told a reporter who had intended to cover the press conference that he was under orders to shoot anyone -- including a journalist -- who attempted to enter the building.  Kitabat reports that the sit-in lasted through the night and frightened authorities who attempted to pressure Moqtada to ask his followers to end the sit-in.  Citing an unnamed government source, Kitabat states the Green Zone administrators and the Office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (Nouri) were scared on "fright night" (their term) and forces in the Green Zone were put on maximum alert. The Iraq Times notes that today Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement decrying the government's (over)reaction to peaceful protesters protesting the fact that Parliament still had not passed the 2013 budget.

And it is ridiculous the way the government reacted.  But Nouri's reactions are always ridiculous.  At the heart of everything he does is the knowledge that he is an illegitimate ruler.  He was not the choice of the Iraqi Parliament.  The Bush White House vetoed the Parliament's choice and that's how Nouri became prime minister in 2006.  In 2010, voters showed their support for Iraqiya.  Nouri only got a second term because the Barack White House backed him and came up with the idea of using a contract -- the US-brokered Erbil Agreement -- to 'grant' Nouri a second term as prime minister since the Constitution did not allow for him to have a second term as a result of the votes.  When you are an illegitimate leader, you always fear the public. 

In Kirkuk today, All Iraq News reports, a Turkman was kidnapped and taken from his home.   Kidnappings have long been a staple of the landscape of violence in post-invasion Iraq.  Now, as the month of February, winds down, the number of people killed during a month is yet again in the triple digits.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 313 violent deaths in Iraq this month.  That leaves two more days for them to count (today and tomorrow).  And violence is already being reported today. All Iraq News reports that the Mosul Municipality Department's head of Human Resources, Nadhim Khalaf, was shot dead in front of his home and a Baghdad grocery bombing left two people injured.  In addition, they note that a missile has targeted a police station in south Kirkuk.  National Iraq News Agency notes that the beheaded corpse of a 15-year-old male was discovered in Falluja, and, late last night, a stun grenade was tossed at the Basra home of attorney Tariq Jaber.  Also late last night, Alsumaria reports that a person sitting in Baghdad's Cafe Hurriya was shot dead by unknown assailantsAlsumaria also says the corpse discovered in Falluja was that of a 17-year-old male.

 All Iraq News reports that an announcement by the Ministry of Trade declared there would be a referendum on whether or not to continue to provide flour via ration cards or to instead supply the citizens with money they could spend on flour (or whatever).  The rations program began in 1995 and has been repeatedly slashed since the start of the Iraq War at the repeated request of the US government which frowns upon aid to the poor and struggling. Attempts to outright kill the program have been repeatedly met with a strong pushback from Iraqis so the US pushed for incremental cuts until there is little left.By 2010, the packages only offered sugar, rice, flour, cooking oil and milk. Milk for some, of course. Milk for all was cut sometime ago. Gone are the days of tomato paste, tea, chicken, soap, beans, detergent, cheese, etc. In a population of approximately 30 million (US government estimates vary between 26 million and 28 million -- of course, Nouri 'forgot' to conduct the census he was supposed to do in 2007), over eight million Iraqis are dependent upon the program to meet basic dietary needs as a result of the extreme poverty in Iraq.  Dropping back to the November 12th snapshot:

Something only slightly less than confusion surrounds the food-ration card system. Last Tuesday, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh announced the cancellation of the program. There was a huge pushback that grew and grew -- from politicians, from clerics, from the people until Friday when it really couldn't be ignored. The program has been in place since 1991 meaning that it is all over half of Iraqis know (Iraq has a very young population, the median age has now risen to 21). It allowed Iraqis to get basic staples such as flour sugar, rice, etc. As the clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, noted, this move would hurt the people who are already struggling economically. It was also an idiotic political move to make. In April, provinicial elections will be held. Nouri's already in campaign mode and this very unpopular move did not help him there. The smartest thing politically would have been to go into a full retreat on the proposal and announce that you had heard the people, to flatter them and make it appear you listened.

Saturday, there was a moment when it looked like Nouri might grasp that. All Iraq News reported the Cabinet of Ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the issue. Nouri's political slate is State of Law, his political party is Dawa. How unpopular is the move to cancel the food-ration program? Alsumaria reported Dawa announced that they had nothing to do with the decision and they're also tried to insist at the same time that it wasn't Nouri's decision. Kurdistan Alliance MP Sharif Soliman told All Iraq News that those responsible for the decision are trying to make up excuses and push the blame elsewhere. The Kurdistan Alliance's Mohsen Saadoun told Alsumaria that Nouri is responsible for this decision.

Today Alsumaria reports that the food program is not getting the axe. Instead, the people will be able to decide if they would like to remain on the existing system or receive cash. When you tell people they can remain on the ration card system or they can get cash, when you tell that to people in a bad economy with many bills, they will be tempted to go for the cash. The ration card is the better system. But there are bills owed that have to be paid and there is the hope in people that things have to get better. So they will tell themselves that they can make it right now with the cash and that, in a few months or a year, fate will provide and things will be better. In the meantime, they've been moved off the progam and the prices -- as Sistani, politicans and the people have noted -- will sky rocket. So the money will be of little use to them then.
But they won't be able to go back on the ration card system. The point is to dismantle the system. That was what the US government tried to do immediately after the invasion. It's what Nouri and others have done with the constant reduction of what rations the cards provided. All Iraq News notes the Parliament has voted to cancel the decision to replace the cards with cash but it's not clear whether the Cabinet's emergency meeting and new decision overrides that move by the Parliament.  Khalid al-Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) covers it in a brief English language story.

And now they're getting ready to vote.  But this was a dumb move, always.  It was dumb politically and it was dumb when it comes to the health of the Iraqi people.  Now Nouri's inviting people to spend a year on this program . . . before parliamentary elections.  That's a year to grow hostile should you drop flour to receive money. 

Suadad al-Salhy and Isabel Coles (Reuters) report that Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri declared today that Turkey and Qatar supporting the "Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq." From November 26, 2011:

And Nouri is so divisive that the Badr Organization (headed by Hadi al-Amiri) is breaking with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (headed by Ammar al-Hakim). Al Rafidyan reports that move is yet another sign of the crisis facing the National Alliance -- a loose grouping of Shi'ites including State of Law, the Sadr bloc and others -- which backed Nouri for prime minister. By backing Nouri, Hadi al-Amiri was given the portfolio for the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Communication.

The Badr Organization was previously the Badr Brigade which came to be in 1982 in Iran and was the armed wing and they spread into Iraq in April 2003. Hadi al-Amiri has gone public with his issues with the Islamic Supreme Council including that Ammar al-Hakim was selected to fill the post created when Ammar's father passed away. al-Amiri has called that moment when the seeds of division began to take root and decried the leaders who voted Ammar al-Hakim in for, in his opinion, choosing a successor not based on wisdom but to keep the control within the al-Hakim family.

Hadi appears to be working with Nouri again.  Nouri made similar points in an AP interview with Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra: "Nouri al-Maliki stopped short of voicing outright support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime. But his comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press marked one of his strongest warnings yet about the turmoil that the collapse of the Syrian government could create."

"Together there's no challenge we can't meet on behalf of our veterans," declared Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller declared yesterday at a hearing where members of Congress heard from Disabled Veterans of America.  Chair Bernie Sanders offered, "It is unacceptable that veterans wait months and months and years and years to get those claims adjudicated.  That is an issue we've got to work on and that we've got to solve."

Two Chairs?  Yes, not a typo.  Yesterday the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a joint-hearing.  House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Jeff Miller, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Bernie Sanders.

Chair Sanders is the new Chair of the Committee.   Everybody finds their own way as Chair and Ranking Member.  I love Daniel Akaka, he's a great senator.  But I criticized him when he was in the post.  Chair Miller got raked over the coals by me for months.  And then, when he was doing a strong job, the raking was gone and I thought we were all aware that was due to the stronger job but a friend asked me if I hadn't noticed how Miller had adjusted so it obviously wasn't clear so there's a snapshot where I make a point to note that he didn't just improve, he grew into his role and was doing a strong job.  Senator Patty Murray? 

She's the exception.  Over a year before she became Chair, we were advocating for her to be the Chair here.  That was because she had the energy, she had the skills and she had the determination.  She's the rare person who takes over as Chair and hits the ground running.  I don't believe we ever had a need to criticize her negatively as Chair.  By the same token, I am sure she did not get the praise others would have gotten for the same work.  In the coverage of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings, we advocated for her to be the Chair and when she became the Chair, she really did the amazing job that most knew she was capable of.  And because we expected her to do such a great job, we were able to focus on what she was doing and she probably got short changed in terms of praise here as a result.  So my apologies for that.  She was a great Chair and I wish she was still Chair.  (She now Chairs the Senate Budget Committee and she remains on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.)

I say all of that to note that things just aren't fair.  Miller's performance got critiques that Murray's never did.  I paid attention to Miller's performance because I found it lacking.  I didn't even note Murray's performance because it was so professional -- from day one as Chair -- that we were able to instead focus on what happened in the hearings.  And let's put in an honor that's been bestowed upon Senator Murray.  Her office issued the following today:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Senator Murray Honored by Military Order of the Purple Heart
Recognized for leadership and distinguished service to our nation's veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was presented the Inspirational Leadership Award by the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) during a private ceremony in her Capitol Hill offices. MOPH National Commander Bruce McKenty presented this year’s award to Senator Murray which read:
“Since being elected to the Senate in 1992, Senator Patty Murray has consistently served as an advocate for veterans, military members and their families.
“Having been raised in the family of a disabled World War II veteran, she came to the Senate fully understanding the sacrifices, as well as the physical and emotional scars the veterans bring home with them.
“Senator Murray was the first female Senator to serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and serves as its Chair in the 112th Congress. She has consistently been a tireless advocate for all veterans.
“She led the battle for increased funding for veterans’ healthcare and increased benefits, and profoundly recognized the importance of specialized programs for veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD.
“Senator Murray continues to support education and employment opportunities, better health care for women veterans and a myriad of other programs that she believes America owes its veterans.
“Senator Murray’s service reflects great credit upon herself, the United States Senate and the United States of America.”
The organization now known as the "Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.," was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
Click here to download high resolution photo.

Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
Get Updates from Senator Murray
RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

So congratulations to Senator Murray on a well deserved honor.

As I stated earlier, Chair Jeff Miller grew stronger and stronger and is a very good Chair today.  Bernie Sanders may grow stronger and stronger.  But this was his first hearing as Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

In these hearings, the joint-hearings where they hear from one service group, you're really just trying to get your message out -- regardless of whether you're providing testimony on behalf of your organization to the Committee or whether you're a member of the Committee addressing the veterans gathered and outlining what you hope to do or assuring what you plan to do.  One of Chair Sanders' big points -- probably his biggest -- was what follows.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Last point.  How many people in this room know what a chained CPI is? See, everybody up here knows what a Chained CPI is.  We know.  But most people in America don't know.  So on TV tonight, you're going to hear people talking about the need for entitlement reform for a Chained CPI.  What a Chained CPI is a different way of configuring COLAS for Social Security and for disabled veterans.  A Chained CPI would make significant cuts for some 3,000,000 disabled veterans as well as everybody on Social Security.  Now I feel very strongly that (a) the deficit situation is a serious problem, it has to be dealt with but you don't deal with it on the backs of disabled veterans and widows who lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyone see any problems?

First up, don't insult you audience.  Did he mean to?  No.   'We all know up here but you don't' doesn't necessarily sound welcoming and was griped about by three veterans I spoke with after the hearing.  Two more veterans were confused by "COLAs."  They knew he didn't mean sodas.  But what did he mean?  COLA is a Cost Of Living Adjustment.  I doubt anyone is now confused reading "Cost Of Living Adjustment."  The three offended were all over fifty.  Not surprising, COLA questions came from two veterans under the age of thirty.  You're going to have a wide audience of veterans and you need, if you're the Chair, to communicate with them.  Anytime they're stopping to ask "Hey, what's COLA?" or "Did he just insult me?" -- that's time they stop listening because your words have distracted them. The point was important to Sanders -- he's one of the strongest advocates for Social Security in the Senate.  But he lost five I spoke to.  This was the first hearing as Chair of the Committee.  I do feel it was a mistake.  It wasn't a mistake that's going to haunt him or even be remembered in a month.  But it did take place and it was remarked on (strongly) by three veterans.  I did share with them a point that's worth noting here.  That section that we quoted, it wasn't being read.  Chair Sanders was speaking off the cuff and trying to get away from the reading aspect of his statements.  I'm not trying to rescue him.  If I were trying to rescue him, I'd be saying, "And he looked nervous, everybody, it was his first time chairing!"  He didn't look nervous.  He looked comfortable in his environment.  It was a mistake -- in that the wording distracted from an important point he wanted to make -- but it wasn't a major one or the end of the world.

I spoke with twelve veterans after the hearing -- two were unimpressed with the entire hearing -- it was the first one they'd attended that was one service organization.  Those really aren't typical hearings.  There's no real questioning and not a panel of witnesses because usually one person speaks for all.  That left ten veterans.  We've already noted five, the other five?  Two were impressed with Miller (though one confused him with Senator John Boozman, he was praising the remarks Miller had made).  Two felt all the members who spoke did a good job.  And one felt House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael Michaud did a great job.  I thought he did as well and he's been slighted the last two times I've covered full House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings because I've wanted to quote him but there were other aspects of the hearing and other representatives we had to grab. 

Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  As you know, the administration has delayed the release of its Fiscal Year 2014 proposal.  While VA programs are spared from the effects of sequestration, it does not mean that veterans will be left unaffected.  Veterans will lose extended unemployment insurance as well as face cuts in the critical TAP program -- just to name a few.  In addition, all of our citizens will face the effects of sequestration at the state and local levels as well.  The VA is at a crossroads.  Many important decisions will need to be made as we look towards the future.  Working with you and the VA, we'll make sure that the choices are both fiscally responsible and in the best interests of our veterans.  I look forward to your testimony today.  Again, thank you and your organization for the years of service that you have given to make sure that veterans issues and their families issues are heard here on the Hill so thank you very much, Commander.

Commander is Larry Polzin and he is the National Commander of Disabled Veterans of America.  There are many ways a veteran can end up being disabled.  They can be harmed while serving, for example.  When we think of that, we may think of the loss of a limb or of emotional or mental wounds.  Hearing issues actually remain a constant even in the most recent wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.  As Manuel Gallegus (CBS News HealthWatch -- link is text and video) reported last May,  "60% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have damaged hearing" -- with tinnitus being the most common, followed by hearing loss.  We note that regularly because veterans write to the public e-mail account to note the hearing issues and how they often feel that newer and 'hotter' disabilities get attention while hearing issues don't.  One thing that hasn't gotten attention in the last weeks from me is the victims of burn pits.  I'm an idiot.  My apologies for being an idiot.  My plan was to note regularly the upcoming symposium -- it's next week -- and I believe we only noted it twice, the last time near the start of the month.  Disabilities from burn pits are life threatening.  The Congress passed a burn pit registry bill at the very end of the last session and that is great news but there is so much to be done. 

Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York is gearing up to host a symposium on the issue.  This will be their second one, their 2nd Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan.  The symposium will take place March 4th which isn't that far away.  If you'd like to register to attend, you can click here for the registration info if you're doing it by mail or by fax as well as a registration link if you'd like to register online.  A resource for burn pit issues  is Burn Pits 360

Two key points here.  Friday, March 1st is the last day to register to attend the symposium.  So keep that in mind.  Second, one of the things the Veterans Affairs Committees in both houses have long addressed is rural veterans.  Senator Jon Tester, for example, often notes the rural veterans in his state and how certain computer interaction would benefit them.  If you're a rural veteran or you're no where near Stony Brook, New York, they are offering -- for $50 for veterans or veteran family members -- a live stream of the symposium.  So that may be something that you'll be interested in. 

The Congressional hearing we noted earlier was a joint-hearing of the House and Senate's veterans committees.  Chair Bernie Sanders solos in his first Senate hearing as Chair next month:


There will be a meeting of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs in SR-418, Russell Senate Office Building, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. to conduct a hearing titled "VA Claims Process -- Review of VA's Transformation Efforts."


Jeff Johnson
Deputy Clerk/ Systems Administrator
412 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510 | 202.224.6478