Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sucking Up

That's my comic for October 9, 2005. Andrea Mitchell had released her book Talking Back and I offered it should be entitled Sucking Up.

Sometimes I have an idea ahead of time, sometimes I'm searching madly for one.

The above is an example of needing to do a comic and having no ideas. (To be clear, C.I. is always telling me to take time off and saying we'll all be just fine with it but I do know a lot of members count on the Sunday comic so I try as much as I can do one. In addition to the comics I'm doing for the newsletters.)

So when that happens, I generally flip channels, flip through the morning paper and go through magazines looking for any idea.

And I always tell myself that I'll go for a walk in a second and that'll clear my head. I almost always forget the walk and if I'd just get into motion an idea would come to me.

So that's a little insight. Probably too much.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, July 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, the inquiry into the Iraq War begins in England, a US military colonel in Iraq advises that the US needs to remove all forces by August 2010, a Senate committee hears testimony stating the federal circuit should be removed from the VA appeals process, and more.

Yesterday's snapshot included quoting Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) report, "The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defense after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday. . . . Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, 'Right now, no'." And then noting, "If you don't realize what a shock Bumiller's article is and how much it needs to be buried for some, note how heavily an AP story about Gates declaring maybe some US troops may leave earlier. Some. May. Some. News gets in the cycle, better dump a bunch of fluff. " Bumiller was one of the few to cover that but the fluff made it everywhere. Surprising when you consider, as Katie Couric noted on yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, that there are 130,000 US forces in Iraq, "10,000 are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of this year. According to Gates, 5,000 more could be home for the holidays." Of the 'news,' Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) notes, "Obama has broken a campaign promise to take a brigade a month (I think he was right to do this, but that's neither here nor there.) Right now, we have about as many troops in Iraq as on average over the last six years." Instead of actually writing about the assault on Camp Ashraf, Ricks strings together a small number of words with a link to Juan Cole.

Juan Cole's post that went up early, early Thursday morning -- this morning -- demonstrates both all that's wrong with the Iraq 'coverage' and all that's wrong with I'm-for-the-war-I'm-against-it-I'm-for-it-again Juan (and don't bother disputing that, I'm not Steve Rendall, I can nail it to the wall because I actually do the work). At his laughably named "Informed Comment," he had to do an update to a post written this morning, an update that says "The Iraqi government is now acknowledging that 7 MEK members were killed in the assault on Camp Ashraf." Prior to that Juan can't tell you anything about deaths. Not even a "one side claims . . . and the other claims . . ." But Juan's just discoved, late today, that the Iraqi government said 7 were killed. Juan just discovered that. Late today. Informed Comment? From yesterday's snapshot, "Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating '200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded' and that Nouri ordered the assault. [. . .] Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members." So 'professor' Juan, at "Informed" Comment, decides to weigh in this morning and doesn't even know the basics -- and a death total would be among the basics. Informed, my ass.

"What happens when the US abandons some good friends?" Katie Couric asked that at the start of yesterday's
CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The footage of the assault was shown. Footage. What other network newscast made time for this story? And while you're checking that, step on over to PBS and find out if The NewsHour made time for the story. (Answer: No.) Footage of the assault. Footage and violence supposedly drive TV news so what's the excuse for the silence from others on Camp Ashraf? From the segment on Camp Ashraf (link has text and video):

Katie Couric: When the US began turning over security to the Iraqis, it stopped protecting some valuable allies, thousands of Iranian exiles. And their camp outside Baghdad is now under attack. For two days, Iraqi police have been beating the residents. No food or doctors have been allowed in. All with the approval of Iran's government. Here's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Lara Logan: It started peacefully but quickly turned violent. Iraqi police using wooden sticks against these unarmed civilians. These people are Iranians living inside Iraq, members of an Iranian opposition group known as the MEK. It was the MEK that provided the US with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

Ali Safavi (Nationcal Council of Resistance of Iran): Were it not for the MEK, the world would not be in a position to find out about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the mullahs may have had the bomb.

Lara Logan: The MEK have lived in this camp, known as Camp Ashraf, for decades. The Iranian government wants them expelled and accuses them of being involved in the recent unrest in Iran. Since the US invasion, the camp's roughly 3,000 residents have been living under US protection. That ended in January when the Iraqis took control under the security agreement. Now the US appears to have washed their hands of the people of Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (speaking at the State Dept): It is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve. Lara Logan: Images captured by the inside Ashraf showed the dead and wounded. Residents told CBS News at least 11 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thirty arrested. The number's impossible to verify because the Iraqi government has sealed off the camp. The attack was seen as the latest sign American influence in Iraq is waning as Iranian influence rises. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government increasingly pro-Iranian.
Kenneth Katzman: The Iranians would have to cross the border to get at them directly because Camp Ashraf is clearly over the border. But they have an obviously willing ally in Prime Minister Malik, willing to do their bidding.

Lara Logan: The Iranian government praised the Iraqi governement action against MEK saying they're cleaning the country of terrorists.

This morning,
AFP reported that while Iraq says everything is under 'control' and a police station is set up, Iraq's refused to allow reporters to enter the camp. Not noted in the report, they're also rebuffing requests from human rights organizations and charities. But today in a US State Dept briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly asserted the US military now had access.

Ian Kelly: Embassy officials met yesterday with representatives of the government of Iraq. We wanted to stress the importance to the government of Iraq, the importance of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the US government to treat the camp residents humanely. And we also proposed permitting an assessment of injuries and possible deaths, an assessment by US forces. The government of Iraq did agree to allow US forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured in Camp Ashraf. And there is, right now, a US medical team there performing this assistance. We're providing medical care and treatment, medical supplies and assessing any kind of follow-on treatment or support that these residents might require. And regarding other issues regarding Camp Ashraf, we'd refer you, of course, to the government of Iraq.

UPI notes, "Statements by members of the PMOI blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the assault on the Ashraf residents. The PMOI claims several hundred residents were severely wounded, with at least 12 people dead." An Iraqi security official (unnamed) tells AFP that 11 MEK have died -- seven on Tuesday and two on each day since. Sebastien Malo (The Daily Star) reports that tensions remain high and that the assault continues -- the most recent "clashes occurred on Thursday morning according to [MEK spokesperson Shariar] Kia." Kia refuted rumors that the MEK has weapons noting that Camp Ashraf has been inspected repeatedly and he noted that residents had begun a hunger strike. The weapons charge is ridiculous and it needs to be noted that the Iraqi government is trying to circulate false rumors that MEK have shot one another to garner sympathy from the world. Yes, Nouri is just that stupid and sick. This is the thug the US installed. Oliver August (Times of London) observes the Iraqi government's "brazen actions show that the balance of power in Baghdad has shifted in ways unthinkable when President Bush was in office, or even a few weeks ago." Robin Corbett (Guardian) points out:

The violent attack on the residents of Ashraf City was a clear indication of the Iranian regime's growing influence in Iraq and the coalition's failure to uphold international law.
In scenes reminiscent of those seen on the streets of Iran: unarmed civilians were attacked with batons, chains, hot-water cannons, rocks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns. In video footage released by the residents, civilians inside the camp are brutally beaten, while bodies of the dead victims show gunshot wounds as the cause of numerous deaths.
The underlying message of the attack, which is still continuing, is the incredible influence that the Iranian regime now holds. However far it has infiltrated Iraq and caused violence there since the 2003 invasion, it seems that the regime now has a willing partner in Nouri al-Maliki to do its bidding in eliminating the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which is based in Ashraf.
PMOI members there are "protected persons" under the
Fourth Geneva Convention, but the attitude of the US administration and UK government has been far from forceful. To look on as civilians are killed and wounded is nothing but shameful.

Sonic grenades are said to be used by the Iraqis, ones made by Defense Techonology in Casper, Wyoming. I believe this is exactly what now Vice President Joe Bidenwarned about in an April 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back when he was a senator and chair of that committee. We'll come back to that. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following statement today:NCRI - The Iranian Resistance's Leader, Mr. Massoud Rajavi, released a statement broadcast yesterday by the Simaye Azadi (Iran National Television), with regards to the brutal assault of Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. Mr. Rajavi said: Through his agents in Iraq, the regime's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took revenge for the Iranian people's uprising from Ashraf, which is the strategic nucleus of the struggle for freedom. He wishfully thinks that by targeting Ashraf the uprising would cease; But, the water that has already gone over the dam can't be forced back into the regime's channel and save the disintegrating religious regime. Mr. Rajavi urged all Iranians across the world to rush to support the hunger strike and demands of Ashraf residents, which are: 1. The leaving of Iraqi forces from Ashraf; 2. Protection of Ashraf to be assumed by US forces, who have disarmed and signed agreements with every single one of Ashraf residents about protecting them until the determination of their final status; 3. Presence of lawyers and international human rights organizations in Ashraf, which has been banned for the past 7 months; 4. Presence of a representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General in Ashraf for talks about the determination of the final status of Ashraf residents; 5. Compliance of the Iraqi government with the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of Ashraf residents; 6. Prosecution and punishment of parties who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.

At Thomas Rick's post linked to earlier, the New York Times'
Bill Keller leaves a link promoting an article at the outlet he's executive-editor of. Are times really that tough? Will Keller next be forced to stand in the center of Times Square crying, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"? If so, it would probably be preferable to Bill's attempts to flaunt his 'education.' Translation, his Diogense reference may impress the same people who thought Diane Chambers (Cheers character) was educated. Those of us who studied philosophy in grad school? We're aware that he doesn't grasp the name he dropped (even if we're generous and apply to it either Digoenes -- Laertius or Sinope). We're also aware it was pretty stupid not to have indicated which one he was speaking of but that it was pretty pretentious to drop to begin with.

So what had Bill Keller flaunting his poor education?
Michael R. Gordon's report on a memo written by Col Timothy R. Reese ("adviser to the Iraqi military's Baghdad command") which states:

As the old saying goes, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. [. . . ] The massive partnering efforts of U.S. combat forces with I.S.F. [Iraqi Security Forces] isn't yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. We should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.

Because the US military is now becoming sitting ducks. Barack "stupidly" made the decision to continue the illegal war. And each day, thug Nouri takes a piss on the US military. Pressed and aware his puppet masters are watching, he'll say, "Oh, we shouldn't have prevented the US miltiary from responding to an attack on them." But it happens again. (It has happened more than once already.) They're sitting ducks and, we'll repeat, when a Somolia event happens, Barack's going to finally learn the meaning of outrage. It won't be pretty. The illegal war is unjust and needs to end for that reason alone. But it's equally true that Barack's actions (actually, his inaction, Bully Boy Bush was better at playing bully and keeping Nouri in line, Barack fawns over Nouri) are endangering the US miltiary. They need to be out of Iraq immediately. Col Reese is not a crackpot, nor is he alone in his assessment within the US military. Many in the brass are making comments that they may start taking public. The US military, at present, are sitting ducks. And the military brass blames the ineffective actions of Barack for that. (Some also think that Barack fell into the trap the previous administration set for him. Either way, it's due to his own ignorance.)

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded eighteen people, a Qaem city suicide car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left twenty injured. Reuters notes the Qaim bombing death toll has risen to 4 and a bombing of the Reform and Development Movement's offices in Baquba which resulted in the deaths of 6 men and 1 woman who were attending a meeting at the time.


Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 traffic police officers shot dead in Mosul.

In England, an inquiry is being conducted into the Iraq War and commenced this morning. No report is expected to be released prior to their national elections. Even so, as Rebecca's pointed out, Gordon Brown's taking a hit on this (deserved).
Carole Walker reports on the inquiry for BBC (link has video and text) and we'll note her opening for recap:The official end of the British military mission in April of this year, cleared the way for this inquiry. Its aim is to learn the lessons of the conflict which claimed the lives of 179 British service men and women. When Gordon Brown announced the inquiry last month, he said evidence would be heard in private to protect national security. But after numerous protests, the man appointed to head the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, said he believed that as much as possible should be held in public. Now some want the scope of his inquiry to be extended.Francis Elliott and Sam Coates (Times of London) explain, "Tony Blair was today confirmed as one of the witnesses who will appear before Britain's long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war as it was launched with a promise to level criticism where necessary. The former prime minister is likely to be joined by Gordon Brown among those called to give evidence." Deborah Summers, Andrew Sparrow and Haroon Siddique (Guardian) quote Chilcott, "The inquiry is not a court of law, and nobody is on trial. But I want to make something absolutely clear -- the committee will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly."

Yesterday's snapshot offered some coverage of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. Kat offered more last night at her site, focusing on US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick's questioning of the second panel. The snapshot was long (too long) and had to be edited which meant losing some details of that hearing and all details of another hearing which we'll cover today, the US Senate's Committe on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled the Review of Veterans Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. I had copies of Senator Daniel Akaka's opening statement and Richard Burr's -- Akaka's the Chair, Burr's the Ranking Member but I was only present for the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans) testified (via a friend, Congressional staffer, we'll briefly note one section from the first panel).

In his prepared opening statement, Chair Akaka noted, "My goal is to ensure that claims are adjudicated accurately and in a timely fashion. Everyone involved realizes that there is no quick fix to solving all the problems with disability claims, but the Committee, teaming with the Administration and those who work with veterans, intends to do all it can to improve this situation. To bring optimal change to a process as complicated and important as this, we must be deliverative, focused, and open to input from all who are involved in this process. It is in that spirit that we have held previous hearings, and it is the backdrop for this hearing as well." Ranking Member Burr's prepared remarks included, "It takes more than five months on average for VA to make an initial decision on a claim for veterans' benefits and, if the veteran decides to appeal, the delays can go on for years. In fact, Professor Allen noted in a recent article that the average time from when a veteran files a claim with VA until getting a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is between five and seven years! I think a process that takes that long is indefensible. Our veterans and their families deserve better."

On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. Tester wanted to know at what point a claim gets a red flag and the VA works on addressing it? At 365 days, Dunne said, the claim is referred to a team known as the VA Tiger Team. This is not when appeals make the claim reach 365 days. This is before any appeal is made. Point being, there are claims being filed by veterans that the VA is not getting and veterans are waiting over a year. How many, Tester wanted to know? About 11,000 was the number Dunne provided.

And as outrageous as that number is, grasp that all the numbers are climbing each month, the number of claims pending. Tester asked about more employees being added but Dunne didn't want to go for that and claimed more employees would mean more administrative duties -- Dunne, in effect, said the VA doesn't need more employees. In one year, these numbers will be higher. "We haven't hit break even yet, we're still going the wrong direction," Tester stated. In one year's time, no one better play surprised when the number have risen yet again.

Senator Patty Murray introduced the second panel and took over the chair duties. Michael Allen, in his prepared statement, provided an overview of the process, "A veteran wishing to receive a benefit to which she believes she is entitled begins the process by submitting an application with one of the VA's regional offices (RO). If the veteran is satisfied with the benefits awarded, the process is at an end. However, there are a number of reasons why the veteran may be dissatisfied with the RO's decision. When the veteran is dissatisfied with the RO's decision, she has the option to pursue an appeal within the Department by filing a 'Notice of Disagreement' (NOD) with the RO. The NOD triggers the RO's obliagation to prepare a 'Statement of the Case' (SOC) setting for the bases of the decision being challenged. If the veteran wishes to pursue her appeal after receiving the SOC, she must file VA-Form 9 with the RO indicating her desire that the appeal be considered by the Board of Veterans' Appeals ('Board')." That provides a strong overview of the process (which continues into the courts). Having submitted his prepared remarks, Allen wisely used his opening remarks to speak to the committee, not read from his written remarks. His verbal remarks can be boiled down to his advocacy for "a working group to study the system. What changes can be made in the process from beginning to end including judicial review?"

Tester reviewed the number on the first panel for claims filed, not appeals (Dunne told Tester he didn't have numbers on the appeals but would get back to him with them). The GAO's Daniel Bertoni stated on the second panel that the VA is taking 96 days more to resolve appeals than it did in 2003 and he stated this had to do with workload. (Remember, Dunne rejected the idea that the VA needs more employees to handle caseloads.) Bertoni presented those figures while reading aloud from his prepared remarks. He ran out of time and never got to this section, "We have reported that an infusion of a large number of staff has the potential to improve VA's capacity. However, quickly absorbing these staff will likely pose human capital challenges for VA, such as how to train and deploy them. The additional staff has helped VA process more claims and appeals overall, but as VA has acknowledged, it has also reduced individual staff productivity. . . . According to VA, this decline in productivity is attributable primarily to new staff who have not yet become fully proficient at processing claims and to the loss of experienced staff due to retirements. VA expects its productivity to decline further before it improves, in part because of the challenges of training and integrating new staff."
We'll note this exchange where one witness (and only one) advocated for cuttng the federal court out of the review process.

Senator Patty Murray: Mr. Bertoni, let me begin with you. You testified that the VA has not collected date to evaluate the impact of using the resource centers to redistribute work load. We've heard that mentioned by several of our colleagues this morning concerning that. Can you tell us what measurement you would recommend the VA use to evaluate the effectiveness of these center?

Daniel Bertoni: I think critical to any process -- any of these processes-- timeliness, accuracy and consistency. I-I think it behoves any manager as opposed to going out talking to the troops trying to discuss issues on sight -- that's all important and good but I-I think there's no substitute to the data -- to help management make good date driven decisions. So if you have a resource center and there is indications -- and you do the analysis -- and indications of problems in certain areas, you can take, make remedial interventions. To date, I don't believe that is occuring. I think even most very recently, I don't believe there were any quality assurance reviews being conducted. That would be first and foremost very critical. What type of quality assurance reviews are being done? What is the MI data showing? And what do you do with that data going forward to make the interventions that need to be done?

Senator Patty Murray: Okay, thank you very much for that. Mr. Allen, you talked about the current structure for judicial review of veterans benefits and it has two appellate levels of the veterans court and federal circuit that you indicate increased delays and can be duplicative. You raised the option of removing the federal circuit from the structure of the veterans benefits determination process one way of perahps delaying or reducing some of the delays in this system. Didn't sound like you were 100% committed to that. Can you tell us why you sort of lean towards the federal circuit?

Michael Allen: Sure, Senator, let me start out by saying that it seemed to me that when Congress created the Veterans Corps, one of the things it was trying to do was to create an independent body to review these issues outside of the VA and that that body would be the expert in that area of the law. But since this was a new process, it provided for this second layer of review at the federal circuit. Now I should say that the level of review at the federal circuit is not plenary, is not total. The federal it doesn't have jurisdiction to review any matter of fact or quite oddly any application of law to fact. It, in theory, should only review pure questions of law. Now it made perfect sense to structure the system, at least in my view, at the time like that. Today I think that on balance it's not worth having the federal circuit involved anymore. I don't say that lightly because that is a major change And what it goes to is that what are the competing values that one wants? Because if the value that was absolutely top on the list was making sure that the maximum number of judges' eyes looked at a case, figuring that would reduce over all inaccuracy in decision, well then it might make sense to have this two level court. To use a silly analogy if you're absolute 100% number one value in a day in making sure that your pants don't fall down wearing belt and suspenders makes perfect sense. It is not irrational because that is your value. But I think that for the federal circuit employment here it is not having the maximum number of eyes looking at a case because over time having that second layer review has increased delay and I am not sure -- I'm sure myself, that it has not increased the quality of veterans law sufficiently to justify its continued place in the system.

Senator Patty Murray: Okay Colonel Wilson have you given any thought to a proposal to remove the federal circuit from the veterans benefits determination process and what that would mean?

John Wilson: No ma'am, I have not but would be glad to respond later.

Senator Patty Murray: If you could respond to the committee, I'd appreciate it. Mr. Bertoni, do you have any input on that?

Daniel Bertoni: I would say we have not looked into that or given any considerations there but I would say the would be a range of stakeholders that you would have to bring in to get --

Senator Patty Murray: That's why you suggested the commission, right?

Daniel Bertoni: Yes.

Michael Allen: Yes, that's right senator.

Senator Patty Murray: Alirght. Senator Burr?

Senator Richard Burr: Mr. Allen, you're right. It is a major shift. But I think we're all challegned to look at it in a different context and I was serious months ago when I suggested to the service organizations, let's start with the blank sheet of paper and come in and tell you how you would design it in the 21st century. To the credit of DAV they took on the task and I'm appreciative of that. You're right when you mention the word commission. What little bit of hair I have on the back of my neck did stand up. So let me ask, what additional information do you believe a commission would find that we don't have readily available to us today?

Michael Allen: I thought of two ways to respond to that. The first and most direct is I don't know what additional information the commission would have that you don't and I don't mean to refer back to [former] Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld but there are things that we know we don't know out there. But more importantly, Senator, I think --

Senator Richard Burr: And that was sort of the basis of why you had the creation of the VA appellate process and the federal court. We didn't know what we were going to run into.

Michael Allen: Absolutely and second, though Senator, I think that the key, because I think that this has been the key over time as various veterans benefits issues have been discussed, is it reaches a tipping point when enough of the relevant constitutincies come together on an idea. And I don't know whether something can truly be successful if it's in fact deemed to be imposed.

Senator Richard Burr: How long do you think a commission would need to do -- need to take to accomplish the work that you perceive a commission should -- should attempt to

Michael Allen: Part of it would be how broadly the commission should be structured. In-in-in my perfect world, I would say that it should actually be a commission that looks at the claims processing from cradle to grave because the situation we have now, some have described it as a spider web, and that's not quite right, I think, because it is an older spider web -- the administrative process -- on which a new spider web has been grafted and anything you do to one part is going to effect another. And I think now that we have a system that we have seen if it starts at the beginning and looks at the end because things that are done at claims processing on the administrative level are going to make a difference in the judicial review arena as well and vice versa so if the process were from beginning to end, I think, this could probably be done -- with commitment -- in-in six months.

Lastly, for those wondering about the KRG elections. Some outlets are reporting things. These are a prelimnary count, not an official one and the KRG has made no announcement regarding the elections yet -- not even the most basic assumption that the current president, Masoud Barzani, was re-elected as president. We'll wait for the official results or until the KRG issues their statement, which ever comes first. The
KRG does note the following from the US Embassy in Iraq on the elections:

The US Embassy in Baghdad congratulates the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for coming out to vote in large numbers for the regional presidential and parliamentary elections, thus demonstrating their commitment to the democratic process. Representatives from the US Mission in Iraq closely followed the elections at polling stations throughout the Kurdistan Region. The Embassy commends the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and its staff for efficiently organizing and conducting the elections. We call upon all citizens to remain patient as election results are tabulated and certified, and as IHEC reviews complaints that have been filed.

And they note
this statement from UK MP Dave Anderson (Labour Party):

I am glad to hear that initial reports from the elections in the Kurdistan Region indicate a large turnout, especially among women voters, and which the UN says took place in an orderly environment, notably free of violence. We congratulate the Iraqi Kurds on this and look forward to working with the President, Government and all parties in Parliament to cement links between Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK. As our recent fact finding delegation reported there are great opportunities for increased trade investment and a host of cultural sporting social and other exchanges.

At present, that's all that's known about Saturday's elections.

the cbs evening news with katie courickatie couric
lara logan
bbc newscarole walkerfrancis elliottsam coatesthe times of londondeborah summersandrew sparrowharoon siddique
thomas e. ricks
the new york timesmichael r. gordon

Read on ...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Bendy Harry Reid

Micah e-mailed me to tell me I missed one of my comics. Only one? I'm trying to archive in order and I sometimes did a mid-week comic or a bonus comic. So I will miss some.

The above is "The Bendy Harry Reid" which first ran on May 24, 2005.

Harry Reid has no spine. Didn't then, doesn't now. Yet he's Senate Majority Leader. (For now. If Dems retain control in the 2010 elections, I expect Harry to be replaced by someone else and would bet it would be John Kerry.)

I'm sure I will miss others and may have done so already. If you find one I missed, let me know like Micah did and I'll be sure to include it. I honestly don't know half these comics unless I see them. I've done over 200 of them, maybe over 300. And unless I'm looking at them, it's easy to forget. Thanks to Micah for catching my mistake.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, July 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Ambassador in Iraq doesn't appear to stay at his post very much ("Is he here? I look in the pool hall . . ."), Nouri admits US troops may stay in Iraq past 2011, the House Veterans Committee holds a hearing on the needs of disabled veterans and their families (though some witnesses seem unclear on that topic), and more.

This morning the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled Examining the Ancillary Benefits and Veterans Quality of Life Issues.

"This Subcommittee has actively tackled many complex and complicated issues that have been encumbering the Veterans Benefits Administration and and it's ability to properly compensate veterans who file disability claims," explained US House Rep John Hall who is the Chair of the Subcommittee. "These issues have majorly centered on VA business processes and operations. Today's hearing will focus on the actual appropriateness of available benefits in meeting the needs of disabled veterans and their families."

US House Rep Doug Lamborn is the Ranking Member and, due to other demands, made his opening remarks before Hall did and then Lamborn had to leave the hearing. The hearing was grouped around three panels. The first was composed of
Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, National Veterans Legal Service Program's Ronald Abrams and Blinded Veterans Association's Thomas Zampieri. The second panel was composed of National Academies' Lonnie Bristow, Economic Systems Inc.'s George Kettner, Quality of Life Foundation's Kimberly Munoz and National Organization on Disability's Carol Glazer. The third panel was the VA's Bradley Mayes and Thomas Pamperin.

Chair John Hall: Mr. Zampieri, as you noted in your testimony, eye and ear injuries have been associated with TBI, with explosions of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan among other battlefields and theaters of combat. Do you feel that VA has done a sufficient job evaluating all the face and head trauma completely and accurately to compensate veterans and provide them with all necessary ancillary-ancillary benefits?

Thomas Zampieri: Thank you for the question. I think it's actually a concern of ours and probably safe to say many of the other VSOs that individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries that have sensory associated symptoms have a very difficult time in getting their ratings because so many of those are subjective kind of complaints. You know we frequently hear a a lot about the problems with tinnitus, for example. Frequently TBI patients complain of photophobia which is extreme sensitivity to light. And those are very difficult to rate. But those things can have quite an impact on the individual's ability to function and also their relationship socially, employment wise. And so we're concerned about the way TBI assessments are done in regards to sensory losses. I know that the VA has put a lot of effort towards looking at new assessment methods and congratulate them for-for recognizing this is a serious problem.

Chair Hall then asked him whether there were any devices currently are in the works that hoped to address sight issues and he pointed to the Brainport Vision Device which was a topic of the May 13th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. From
that day's snapshot:

Robert Beckman [Brainport Technologies] spoke of a portable device, the Brainport Vision Device, where a small camera ("with zoom capability") is hooked to other neurochannels ("such as the tongue"). Beckman stated, "One blind user with two glass eyes was able to successfully shoot a basketball and another used the Brainport Vision Device at an indoor rock climbing gym to see the next rock holds and at home with his daughter to play Tic-Tac-Toe."

"The Brainport Vision Device will not replace the cane or the sight dog," he continued. "But it will become an important, additional tool to improve the safety, mobility and quality of life for blind users. Some examples. Finding the open seat on a crowded bus or train. Identifying the direction to the target building in a confusing parking lot. Finding the handle in order to remove a hot pot from the stove. Wicab recently sponsored clinical testing of the Brainport Vision Device at the Atlanta VA. Dr. Michael Williams, the PI concluded, 'Bottom line, the device performs remarkably well for the tasks that we looked at in phase one'. To optimize the device we need feedback from a much larger pool of users who are blind. We would welcome the opportunity to further test the Brainport Vision Device at VA sites. Perhaps those willing soldiers who are blind as a result of a blast injury should be first in line to test this new technology?"

Zampieri noted the device was still in the early stages of research and stated those who have tested it would declare "it holds some hope, but it's not going to replace natural vision." Under questioning from Hall, Abrams explained that he had a relative in residential care "and it cost over $90,000 to $100,000 to put somebody in a home and homecare, if you need twenty-four hour care, is hugely expensive."

"First observation," declared Glazer on the second panel noting an ongoing program -- Army Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration Project -- the National Organization on Disability is conducting with the army, "a fundamental mismatch many of the supports for veterans are constrained to an active service model placing the burden on veterans and their families to find and approach agencies But we find that the most seriously injured soldiers, especially with cognitive injuries are not really able to effectively access these services. [. . .] Second observation, the need to deal with both a veteran and the family member. As others have stated, the process of recovering from injury and coming home and coming to terms with disability is a very complex process that impacts the entire family. Ancillary benefits in our belief must be available to veterans and family members."

Glazer would go on to note issues such as criminal charges for veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI, training in the management of personal finances. Glazer, and her organization, are a little too Republican for me (Tom Ridge chairs the organization) and it's a little too "smile and pull up those bootstraps." But Glazer was one of the few who knew how to speak. Globbidy-gook? No one gives a damn. Don't reference a model, for example, in another country, without explaining it. If that's the root of your response to Hall's question, you're wasting everyone's time including your own. I don't usually note "I like this organization, I don't like that one" but on this panel, Glazer's being noted because she knows how to speak and because two others will be ignored, I want to be really clear that no one reads this as I'm endorsing Glazer's organization. And let's also note that when all you do is toss out a bunch of numbers, no one's really impressed. In fact, it's assumed you actually don't know what you're talking about -- including your numbers -- or you'd be offering testimony that people could actually follow. I've never seen as many blank stares in a hearing before (true of the first panel to a lessor degree). Those not doing blank stares? A man to the right of us repeatedly put his hand over his face during the second panel, at a loss as to what was being said. At the end of the hearing, he stated he felt as if it had been conducted in a foreign language. Glazer knew how to speak and so did Kimberly Munoz.

Munoz was asked to estimate the amount spent by veterans and their families for assistance and stated she didn't know that answer but that it varies due to the fact "that some families have the assistance they need to get the benefits they need from VA and they have to use less out of pocket to get the services their veteran needs. Other families who may have not had the guidance from perhaps a VSO or who don't have the education in our country -- maybe they've moved here from another country -- and they don't speak our language, it's hard for them to run through all the rules and regulations and applications
and so they have a difficult time accessing the benefits that they need. There was a study that was released by the Center for Naval Analysis that estimated 19 months of lost income of around $2,000 some odd dollars for a total of $36,000 average loss per family of a catastrophically injured service member. That's their income loss which isn't necessarily answering your question of how much do they spend out of pocket to get the services but it is -- it is a figure that's been widely reported."

Chair John Hall: Thank you and what additional factors do you think VA should specifically consider when it adjudicates aid and attendance or housebound rates?

Kimberly Munoz: I think they need to consider the -- one of the key questions is: Can the veteran keep themselves safe from the hazards of daily living? There's many other questions related to a body part function or a loss of a body part but buried deep in there is can the veteran keep himself safe from the hazards of daily living? For those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and stand-alone TBI I believe that that is a key to determining whether or not that veteran needs aid and attendance. The aid and attendance can also vary in terms of do you need physical aid and attendance or do you need oversight? So one package of aid and attendance does not meet the needs of every single veteran.

Chair John Hall: That seems to me that that judgment about the safety of the veteran living independently is similar to a judgment that one would have to make about an Alzheimer-Alzheimer's patient, for instance. In many families they go through that difficult time when they realize that a stove or an electric socket is no longer a safe thing for this adult family member to be handling alone.

Kimberly Munoz: Some of the family members have suggested specially adapted equipment be included in the grants available for home modifications -- like stoves that automatically turn off after a certain amount of time. Or other appliances that consider short term memory loss for some of the Traumatic Brain Injury patients.

Chair John Hall: And what else do you think Ms. -- Ms. Munoz what else could the VA do to improve the quality of life of disabled veterans and their families.

Kimberly Munoz: It sounds simple but I know it's very difficult and that is: Make it easier for families to get what they need. Anytime you look at the Title 38 and try to determine, "Well what am I -- what is this veteran eligible -- or how do I go about it?" It's so hard to know who is eligible for what. One family care giver told me the story of, you know, "We thought we were eligible for respite care and then when we called my son's rating wasn't, wasn't high enough." Or the SMC [Special Monthly Compensation] code wasn't the right code. So they work very hard then to find out, "Well how to I get that code?" And that's a backwards way to work a system. You need to find out what does that veteran need, much like you [George Kettner] suggested, what is the need of that veteran and what is the need of that family so that they can live safely and live independently -- not how do we get you pigeon holed into the right code so that you get the services that that code offers.

Can you follow that? Yes, you can. And an organization that sends a speaker like that. or Glazer, into a hearing is way ahead of others. You need to know the topic of the hearing -- a problem for one person on the first panel who repeatedly answered questions with a variation of "I don't know" -- and you need to be able to speak clearly on the topic. Glazer advocated for less benefits -- I'm not joking -- and whether anyone agreed with her or not, everyone could follow what she was saying. (She was saying that benefits can prevent work. And that's as much as I'm doing to circulate her nonsense argument.)

Yesterday's snapshot noted the House Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Kat covered it last night at her site (and plans to cover today's hearing at her site tonight). Despite the fact that the New York Times and one of their reporters were repeatedly trashed in that hearing, the paper of some record ignored the hearing, as did most of the press. Walter F. Roche Jr. (Pittsurgh Tribune-Review) covers the VA's Kent Wallner's testimony. I didn't find him believable, Roche obviously did and use the link to read about that aspect of yesterday's hearing. Rachel Baye and Naomi Jagoda (The Daily Pennsylvanian) cover the hearing and zoom in on Dr. Gay Kao and his attempt to play victim.

Also in yesterday's snapshot was Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, and US President Barack Obama's performace at the Rose Garden. Apparently journalists also wanted to play a role -- something other than reporter -- judging from the articles filed on the nonsense. For perspective, we drop back to Whit Stillman's Barcelona. Specifically, a party where American Fred (Chris Eigeman) is discussing his home country.

Female Party Goer: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people?
Fred: No.

Female Party Goer: All those people killed in shootings in America?

Fred: Oh. Shootings, yes. But that doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.

America's not more violent, insists Fred, they're just better shots. Apparently some similar defense was on the minds of
Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Jeff Zeleny (New York Times) and Mark Silva (Los Angeles Times and other Tribune properties). None of the three challenges Barack's laughable assertion that "Violence continues to be down". No, it doesn't. As we explained yesterday, the trend in lower violence ended with the month of January. Starting with February, you see an uptick in violence. That trend has held each passing month. We also cited Al Jazeera which was explaining, "An estimated 437 Iraqis were killed in June, the highest death toll in 11 months, and the near daily attacks have continued in July." June, the most recent month with data, saw "the highest death toll in 11 months," but Barack wants to claim violence is down? Apparently Iraq isn't more violent currently, it's just seen better shots and better bomb builders? DeYoung has the strongest article, then Zeleny and then Silva. One compliment to all three is they covered it. Strongly or badly, they covered it. Nouri al-Maliki met with Barack Obama yesterday. The Iraq War is six years old and counting. Where was the coverage? Amy Goodman's pathetic two sentences in headlines? That's something to be proud of? How pathetic. What do you get instead? You get the crap Bob Somerby's calling out today (the mind readers who 'just know' something but don't know a thing -- which didn't stop Amy Goodman from doing yet another segment on it today). You really need to ask how the media -- Big and Small -- is serving you because in this round of Liar's Poker, seems to be a lot of Liz Smiths sitting down at the table wanting to be dealt in.

Back to this morning's articles: Where are Americans? The leader of a country the US remains at war with visits and where are the voices of Americans? We do grasp that the Iraq War continues, right? Check
yesterday's snapshot and then read the articles again. A poll was released yesterday. It addressed Iraq. Where's any citation of the results? From yesterday's snapshot:A new AP-GfK Roper poll finds a decrease in the number of respondents who believe Barack will remove troops from Iraq -- 15% lower than the last poll. [PDF format warning, click here for the data breakdown.] 62% of respondents ranked "The Situation in Iraq" as either "Extremely important" or "Very important." The poll found an increase of five percent on the number of respondents who disapprove of Barack's handling of the Iraq War. Is this increase a result of angry right-wingers upset over Barack's so-called plan? Maybe. But the respondents were asked if they believed Barack would "remove most troops from Iraq?" In January, 83% of respondents said it was likely and 15% said it was unlikely. The 83% who thought it was coming has fallen to 68%. The number who believe it is not happening has risen to 26%.
Nouri and Barack meet up at the White House yesterday as a poll is released which finds the number of people who believe Barack will "remove most troops from Iraq" has fallen from 83% in January to 68% presently -- a 15% drop. Where's that in any of the articles?The articles repeatedly (and falsely) claim the US will be out of Iraq in 2011. That's not what's happening. It's not even claimed to be happening. Does no one listen to Adm Mike Mullen, Gen Ray Odierno or even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? Reading the articles today, it doesn't appear that anyone does. Uh-oh. Reality slaps them in the face.
Aljazeera reports, "The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011." Yeah, he did it today and it's only a surprise if you've never grasped what the Status Of Forces Agrement does and does not do. The Washington Post, for example, has one person on staff who understands the SOFA completely. That's one more than the New York Times has. Drop back to real time coverage (Thanksgiving 2008) and you'll see the Washington Post could explain what it did and didn't do and get it right. No other US outlet can make that claim. (The Los Angeles Times hedged their bets but did appear to grasp it in an article co-written by Tina Susman.) McClatchy Newspapers? Oh goodness, Leila Fadel made an idiot of herself over the SOFA. Even more so than the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller -- in December and January -- offered some realities but they were lost on the other reporters at the paper). The Times just got it wrong. Fadel got it wrong and sang praises of it. It wasn't reporting, it was column writing passed off as such. Today, Nouri declared, "Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at the time, based on the needs of Iraq." Sound familiar? It should. This month you should have heard Adm Mike Mullen make the same statement, you should have heard General Ray Odierno make it over and over beginning in May and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it many times -- generally he's asked when he's visiting a foreign country because US reporters don't really seem to care. One exception would certainly be Dahr Jamail who was on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday and explained, "We still have over 130,000 troops in Iraq. Troops are not being withdrawn from Iraq. They are being relocated to different bases, some of the bases still within cities, but they are not being withdrawn thus far." Dahr's latest book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan has just been released this month. IPA provides this context from Global Policy Forum's James Paul: "For all the talk of 'U.S. withdrawal' from Iraq, the reality on the ground is starkly different. U.S. troops still patrol the cities, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, while Washington remains hugely influential in the politics of the country. The gigantic U.S. embassy looms large in Baghdad, U.S. forces still hold thousands of Iraqi prisoners in the vast U.S. prison camp in the southern desert, dozens of U.S. military bases remain in place including the sprawling 'Camp Victory' complex in Baghdad and Washington continues to press towards its ultimate goal -- the de facto privatization of Iraq's vast oil resources."

Time magazine online, Bobby Ghosh offers a look at yesterday's press conference and what it means:

You wouldn't know all that from al-Maliki's performance at a Rose Garden press conference on July 22. Standing alongside Obama, the Iraqi Prime Minister was the picture of self-confidence. He talked about broadening Iraq's relationship with the U.S. and cooperation in the area of economics, culture and education as well as a conference in October for potential investors in Iraq. "All of this comes as a natural consequence of [Iraq's] stability," he said.
(See pictures of the U.S. troops' six years in Iraq.)
But in private, Iraqi officials concede that the stability is, well, unstable. Before any meaningful economic and cultural cooperation takes place, they say, the U.S. must shepherd Iraq through to the elections, scheduled for January 2010. They worry that the Obama Administration, eager to move on to more pressing problems at home and abroad, may not realize just how fragile Iraq is. The Obama Administration "must not lose its focus" in Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told journalists on July 21.

Spencer Ackerman (Washington Independent) examined the speech by Nouri today and contrasted it with remarks by Afghanistan's Ambassador to the US (Said Jawad) where Jawad noted, at length, US military fatalities. Ackerman observes, "By contrast, in his speech today to the U.S. Institute of Peace, here's the closest Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to recognizing the fact that over 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq: "He extended his thanks to 'the international community and all the countries that have cooperated and helped Iraq,' saying Iraq would enjoy a 'solid relationship with a great and strong country like the United States'."

Chris Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq. He's in the US (we'll get to it) and today he was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC's
Andrea Mitchell Reports (link offers video options -- Hill is "Iraq, what next?"):

Andrea Mitchell: You're here obviously because Prime Minister Maliki's here and met with the president. There are still tensions over the terms of disengagement if you will. What do we know now as a result of the meetings? About the way Iraq is stepping up to the plate and taking on its own governance?

Chris Hill: Well, first of all, this is pretty complex withdrawal. We have 130,000 troops in country, we just brought them out of the remaining cities. This is a, you know, major undertaking. And for the Iraqis, it was a major development, a major political development for them. So they're very pleased at how it went. Now it's a complex business. You have the world's greatest fighting force, the United States military, turning it over to the IRaqis who aspire to being better than they are but, you know, this is going to be a work in progress. Certainly the world's greatest fighting force has also become the world's greatest training force. That is, we have done a lot of work for the Iraqis. We've really tried to prepare them for this but, you know, they'll be some glitches through this but we will work through them. And I think, so far, so good.

Andrea Mitchell: The Pentagon has said that things are working with the fact that there are new rules of the road, the US is not in the cities. Yet commanders in the field are still complaining that there are time lags and intelligence lags, that you have to get permission from the Iraqis before you can engage. That doesn't work in a fighting field.

Chris Hill: Well, first of all, I think overall, it's going very well. You know there's a joint-operation center where the Iraqis and the US military sit together. They get the information at the same time, they make the decisions about what to do. So overall, it's going well but are there incidents where it hasn't gone well, are there incidents where the Iraqi say we want to do X and the American military guys say we want to do Y? Of course there are, and there will probably continue to be. But I think what is important is to stand back and look at where we are --

And that's as much of Hill as I can take.
Back in March, Ava and I were asked by a MSNBC friend to note Andrea Mitchell Reports:

"But I'm in there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." A male friend at MSNBC asked us Friday night why we never mentioned Andrea Mitchell Reports? We honestly weren't aware of it. He pointed out that Mitchell, a reporter, is actually anchoring a daily hour long show (airs Monday through Friday, one p.m. to two p.m. EST). He pointed out that Women's Media Center and other "women-centric" (his term) outlets had tongue-bathed non-journalist Rachel Maddow for her on air musings and abusings but no one's giving Andrea Mitchell credit for holding down a solid hour of news. That may be due to the fact that MSNBC hasn't created a site for her. We looked and couldn't find it. We could find other MSNBC programs (even Al Roker Reporting: Marijuana Inc.), but no page for Andrea Mitchell's show. But, yes, it is disturbing that the "women-centric" outlets can repeatedly note the factually-challenged Rachel Maddow, the non-journalist on a news channel, but they can't give even a mild shout-out to Andrea. "But I'm in there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." Though we frequently disagree with Andrea, we wouldn't ever claim that she's not out "there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." And when we might lose faith in all, it's good to find someone who is. Her fights aren't usually our fights, but she keeps fighting. And for those who doubt the power of doing that, Katie Couric.

The same friend advised about the Hill interview today and that MSNBC (finally) has a webpage for
Andrea Mitchell Reports. Ava and I will note that on Sunday but this is the first I've heard that they finally gave her program a webpage. So we'll note it and underscore it and make sure everyone grasps that. (I'm not being sarcastic about community readers or even drive-bys. I am underscoring the fact that MSNBC had a one hour program driven by an actual journalist -- not a sports commentator or drive-time hijinks radio reject or any of the others -- and they refused to promote the show or even give it a webpage.) In terms of Hill.

Why is he in the US? Andrea says on air that it's because of al-Maliki being in the US. Hill's not supposed to hold Nouri's hand when Nouri travels. More importantly, early voting has started in the KRG. What is Hill doing back? This is his second trip to the US since going to Iraq and, for those who've forgotten, despite telling John Kerry he would leave immediately upon confirmation for Iraq, when his nomination was confirmed, he waited days before leaving. And that was at the end of April. It's July and Chris Hill, so eager to be confirmed, is now out of Iraq for his second trip to the US. And he's out at a time when you would think the ambassador would want to be present, to monitor reports on the elections. As for his comments to Andrea Mitchell about what's going on in Iraq, we'll drop back to
Liz Sly and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) interview Hill:

The Times asked whether the embassy will have enough information to judge what is happening in Iraqi cities now that U.S. forces will be restricted in their movements and based outside of cities.
Hill: We have embassies operating in scores of countries, and developing good information about what is going on is always a challenge anywhere in the world. I think our contacts in Iraq are better than in most countries. Our ability to reach senior ministers, our ability to talk to people, get their views and get information from them is pretty good in Iraq compared to many countries we operate in. I personally don't feel we have a problem there. If you are comparing it to a time when we ran all the security ourselves, that is obviously a different era. It was a different era that was not sustainable for the rest of history. Clearly there is a point where you return security to the host country security forces.

What's going on Iraq? Chris Hill depends on stringers to tell him, not unlike many a US outlet. The KRG holds provincial and presidential elections Saturday, early voting has begun.
Heath Druzin (Stars and Stripes) explains that despite "a canopy of colorful campaign banners and a stream of breathless programs on party-run television channels, there's an eerie quiet on the streets of this regional capital just days before elections in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region." He quotes "Change" candidate Dara Saeed stating that people are "afraid of the police and security forces, of being fired from their jobs" and don't want to say who they'll vote for. Change is one party competing with the KRG's two long dominat political parties: Jalal Talabani (president of Iraq) represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani (president of the KRG) represents the Kurdish Democratic Party. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports "Change" is former PUK members who are "fed up with the party's leadership" and "who are attracting voters who are frustrated with what they say has been corruption, curbs on democracy and the neglect of basic services in recent years." NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition) follows that theme for his report and notes the so-called Change Party. Lawrence offers his opinions and those of others. It's an overview and one that is cheapened by the snarky intro Linda Wertheimer offers. Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) offers the opinion (he's doing a column, not a report) that "the status quo is likely to continue for a while" and, on the power-sharing/horse-trading of the past, "The PUK and KDP, as a coalition government, have a number of agreements to divide key governmental positions equally between them. The Kurdistan region presidency, for example, is held by the KDP in return for its support for a Talabani presidency in Baghdad. Most important of all is the KRG premiership which carries a host of decision-making powers. A KDP official, Nechirvan Barzani, also holds this position. He should have relinquished the role to the PUK in 2008 but, with Talabani's consent and against the will of PUK politburo members, is to carry on until after the elections; the understanding was that he would then make way for leading PUK candidate Barham Salih." AFP explains early voting has begun for the Kurdish military, the "police, prisoners and the sick."

Violence continued today in Iraq with multiple bombings.

Reuters reports a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left three injured, a Ghazaliya bombing that injured three members of one family, a Yusufiya roadside bombing (targeting the US military) which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi bystander and left two more injured, a Kirkuk grenade attack which left three US soldiers and one Iraqi interpreter and one Iraqi bystander injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baquba roadside bombing which wounded 1 Iraqi soldier and notes of the three family members wounded in the bombing that they were "a returning displaced family."

We'll close with Cindy Sheehan. First, her radio program
Cindy's Soapbox airs each Sunday and this Sunday the scheduled guest is Gore Vidal. And we'll note this from her latest column, "George W. Bush, Part III" (Cindy's Soapbox).Okay, so the United States of America has had a new puppet regime for six months now. I was never so much into giving Obama a "chance" and I think it's way past time to call Obama and his supporters out, like we called Bush and his supporters out. Our Presidents are merely puppets for the Robber Class and Obama is no exception. I am observing very little "change" in actual policy, or even rhetoric from an Obama regime. Granted, his style and delivery are more polished than the last puppet, but especially in foreign policy, little has changed. Evidently we elect Presidents based on empty rhetoric and if we can find someone who can say as little as possible with using as many words as he can, that's better. I knew a year ago when Obama and his ilk were blathering on about "change" that they didn't mean positive "change" for us, but it's a shame Obama's voters didn't ask him to be a little more specific or demand some good "change." Besides foreign policy where he is a complete disaster, it appears Obama's jobs program is little more than adding tens of thousands of troops to an already bloated military, instead of bringing troops home from anywhere. Billions will go to the money trap of the Pentagon to invest in recruiting our innocent, young, jobless and hopeless youth, when the budgets of peace groups who do counter recruitment are tanking. This is the 3rd week in July and already it's the deadliest month for US and coalition troops deaths in Af/Pak. Who would ever have thought when violence is surged that deaths would surge, also? I think I've seen this movie before.

Oops. we'll note this from
ETAN last:

Groups Oppose U.S. Training of Indonesia's Notorious Kopassus Special Forces Contact: John M. Miller, ETAN, +1-718-596-7668 July 23 - More than 50 U.S. organizations today urged the U.S. government to "strictly prohibit any U.S. cooperation with or assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus)' in a letter sent today to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of Congress. The letter was coordinated by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). "Restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia are needed to support democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Supporting Kopassus, which has <>a long history of terrorizing civilians, would send the worst possible signal to those fighting for justice and accountability in Indonesia and East Timor," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. The letter, signed by human rights, religious, peace and other groups, states, "The history of Kopassus human rights violations, its criminality and its unaccountability before Indonesian courts extends back decades and includes human rights and other crimes in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere." A recent <>Human Rights Watch report documents how Kopassus soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks." In 2008, the Bush administration proposed to restart U.S. training of Kopassus. the State Department legal counsel reportedly ruled that the ban on training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations, known as the Leahy law, applies to Kopassus as a whole. "The previous administration was forced to conclude that training Kopassus was both illegal and bad policy. The Obama administration should maintain this restriction," said Miller. The text of the letter is below. The letter with a complete list of signatures can be found at ---Text of Letter We the undersigned organizations call upon the U.S. government to strictly prohibit any U.S. cooperation with or assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). This force, more than any other in the Indonesian military, stands accused by the Indonesian people of some of the most egregious human rights violations. The annual human rights report of the U.S. Department of State, the East Timor's (Timor-Leste) truth commission (CAVR), United Nations human rights monitors, and the full range of Indonesian and international human rights have reported in detail the many crimes of Kopassus. Those responsible for these violations continue to enjoy broad impunity for their actions, even in a democratizing Indonesia. The history of Kopassus human rights violations, its criminality and its unaccountability before Indonesian courts extends back decades and includes human rights and other crimes in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere. In 1998, a program -- organized and led by then Kopassus commander (and recent vice- presidential candidate) General Prabowo Subianto -- kidnapped, tortured and killed pro-democracy activists. Prabowo told reporters he is unrepentant over these crimes saying, "we could say it was preventative detention." Other well-documented Kopassus crimes include organizing anti-Chinese rioting in Jakarta in 1998 and the 1984 massacre at Tanjung Priok in Java. Throughout 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Kopassus personnel, tortured and killed civilians in an attempt to intimidate and terrorize the population. Kopassus personnel played a key role, including organizing militia proxies, in the violence and destruction during 1999, the occupation's final year. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. A recently published Human Rights Watch report details ongoing Kopassus human right violations in West Papua. The report documents how Kopassus soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks." Those who favor engagement argue that U.S. training could lead to reform of Kopassus. This argument is clearly refuted by history. For decades, the U.S. trained and gave other assistance to Kopassus personnel, including General Prabowo and other leading officers. This relationship had no ameliorative affect, rather, it provided the equipment and skills used for repression. U.S. law prohibits the training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations. This provision has been long been interpreted as narrowly as possible. However, in 2008, the State Department ruled that the ban, known as the Leahy law, applies to Kopassus as a whole. We believe that this ruling should apply and the U.S. must continue to refuse to train Kopassus.

iraqdahr jamailflashpointskpfakaren deyoungthe washington postthe new york timesjeff zelenythe los angeles timesmark silvacindy sheehancindy sheehans soapboxgore vidalaljazeeraipajames paul
liz sly
the los angeles timesned parker
stars and stripesheath druzingina chonthe wall street journal
nprmorning edition
quil lawrenceranj alaaldin

Read on ...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Celibacy in the City

Celibacy in the City first posted October 4th. A Tuesday. I didn't plan to post it. I made a joke about it, Harriet Miers' nomination, Harriet Miers period. And then I thought about the joke and all the Bush women. By the time I thought I was going to bed, it was running through my head. I got back up and drew it.

It was always funny to me. I still love this one because the hardest thing was slowly down since it was all clear before I grabbed a pen.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, July 16, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the tensions over Kirkuk continue and garner a little attention, US House Rep John Hall notes the disparity in the treatment of veterans based upon gender and declares "Congress cannot allow that to happen to this nation's daughters who have served her" and more.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," declared US House Rep John Hall today, "the Veterans Affairs Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee and the Subcommittee On Health joint-hearing on Eliminating the Gaps: Examining Women Veterans' Issues will now come to order." Hall is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance Memorial Affairs and he chaired the joint-committee hearing this morning. This hearing follows Tuesday's Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on women veterans' issues (here for
Tuesday snapshot, here for Kat Tuesday, here for Wednesday's snapshot, here for Kat Wednesday). The hearing was divided into three panels with a length break (over an hour) between the second and the third panel. The first panel was composed of women veterans: Grace After Fire's Kayla Williams, Disabled American Veterans' Joy J. Ilem, Service Women's Action Network's Anuradha Bhagwati, Wounded Warrior Project's Dawn Halfaker and National Association of State Women Veterans Coordinators, Inc and the Texas Veterans Commission's Delilah Washburn. The second panel was composed of GAO's Randall Williamson, Society's for Women's Health Research and Georgetown University Medical Center's Janice L. Krupnick. Panel three was made up of VA's Bradley Mayes, Patrica Hayes, Lawrence Deyton and Irene Trowell-Harris. We'll focus on the first panel.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Hall addressed some of the recent Congressional hearings:

I am particularly eager to recognize the women veterans in this room today and to be enlightened by their experiences with the Dept of Veterans Affairs. VA owes them the proper benefits and care -- just like their male counterparts. However, they are a unique population, since they comprise only 1.8 million of the 23.4 million veterans nationwide and deserve special attention. So VA's mission to care for them must not only be achieved but monitored and supported as well. Sadly, that is not always the case. In response to reports of disparities, during the 110th Congress the Disability Assitance and Memorial Affairs and Health Subcommittees held a joint hearing on women and minority veterans. This Congress too has been very active in its oversight activities to assist women veterans and a record number of them have testified at various hearings. Additionally, on May 20th, Chairman [Bob] Filner of the full [House] VA Committee hosted a special roundtable discussion with women veterans from all eras who were able to paint a picture of military life as a female in uniform and then as a disabled veteran entering the VA system. In many cases, they have served alongside their male counterparts but have not had the same recognition or treatment. Chairman Filner also hosted a viewing and discussion session with Team Lioness members who were on search operations and engaged in firefights but, since there is no citation or medal for this combat service, their claims are not always recognized by VA as valid, so they are denied compensation.

Hall would also note, after the first panel's opening statements, that
HR 3155, the Caregiver Assistance and Resource Enhancement Act, had been voted out of committee and referred to the House. Michael Michaud is the Chair of the Subcommittee On Health and we'll note this from his opening remarks:

Another example of this Committee's commitment to women veterans is our work on HR 1211, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which was introduced by Ms. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. My Subcommittee favorably reported this bill to the full Committee in early June and this important legislation passed the House recently on June 23, 2009. Specifically, HR 1211 requires key studies assessing the VA health care services provided to women veterans -- including an assessment of barriers. The bill also provides seven days of medical care for newborn children of women veterans receiving maternity care, authorizes a child care pilot program, requires mental health professionals to receive training on caring for veterans to serve on the VA's Advisory Committee On Wommen Veterans and the Advisory Committee On Minority Veterans. While we have made some progress on the issues facing women veterans, it is clear that more needs to be done. Just earlier this week, there was an article in MSNBC about the VA inadequately serving women veterans. This article described the key findings of a GAO report which reveald that no VA hospital or outpatient clinic is complying fully with federal privacy requirements. In other words, many VA facilities had gynecological tables that faced the door, including one door that opened to a waiting room. Beyond these privacy concers, VA facilities were built to serve male veterans and, therefore, do not accomodate the presence of children. This means that some women veterans have had to resort to changing babies' diapers on the floors of VA hospitals due to the absence of changing tables in the women's bathrooms. In light of these challenges which continue to face women veterans, it is important that we do more to address these issues.

US House Rep Harry Teague noted briefly, "I think that everybody has had enough of us talking about this issue and we need to hear from the experts and let them tell us what the problems are and what we need to do to ensure that all female veterans get a chance to get the help that they deserve and the benefits that they have earned." Which is a good lead in to the following exchanges.

Chair John Hall: I would start with Ms. Ilem and ask when the VA trains it's service officers does it provide special sensitivity training on issues pertinent to female veterans, for instance MST [Military Sexual Trauma}?

Joy Ilem: Yes, as far as I'm aware within our service program -- I mean, there's definitely discussion of MST claims. We have a number of women NSOs but it's provided to all our NSOs -- information about VA's, you know, manuals and regulations, looking for different evidence to help them support their claims and different ways that they can help.

Chair John Hall: How many of your service officers are female? Can they assist in developing claims even if a veteran is from another state?
Joy Ilem: Yes, our NSOs can provide services to anyone. I think in our NSO corps of about 260, I would have to look at the exact number, but I think there's a range of about 30 now. There's been a number of recent new hires of women veterans especially from OEF-OIF populations.

Chair John Hall: And the time that DAV has been working with these issues relating to women veterans, what is your observation on how well VA has responded to the concerns you've raised and how successfuly are they addressing those issues?

Joy Ilem: I think I mentioned in my testimony, one of the concerns I've had, I've been reaching out to the VA for some time and we would appreciate the subcommittee's assistance just to verify especially on the SAPRO, the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office -- looking at their confidentiality policy issues, it appears that there's some problem they may have in being able to release those records even with the -- for restricted reports of military sexual assault -- even with the consent of the veteran and so trying to work with VA staff just to try and see if they're collaborating with them to work through some of these barriers and to make sure that their claim developers are aware of the SAPRO policies and where in each of the military services these records are kept and for how long? And can VA, with the consent of the veteran, get access to those reports which can include a physical examination as well as mental health and counseling treatment. So we think those records are critical and we would ask that the Subcommittee try to work to see if VA does in fact collaborate with SAPRO on those policies.

Chair John Hall: Thank you. And Ms. Bhagwati, is the lack of legal representation more determental to women when their claims are the result of a crime?

Anuradha Bhagwati: I'm sorry, sir, the lack of legal work?

Chair John Hall: Legal represenation.

Anuradha Bhagwati: Absolutely, sir. I'm finding that, without the assistance of an attorney, many of those legal claims would be left behind. It takes a lot of courage, stamina, finacial assistance for a veteran -- either male or female -- to pursue an appeal or reconsideration of a claim. A lot of pride and a lot of issues wrapped around a veteran's identity go into the claim process and when a claim is rejected by the VA -- even when the claim is deemed to be sort of sufficient to get an awarding of compensation -- when that denial happens, it can be life shattering. And many veterans, both male and female, just fall off the map.

Chair John Hall: I understand more all the time as we have these hearings about the issues surrounding reproting problems with MST, but what about domestic violence that takes place while the wife is on active duty? How are those instances of PTSD or other disabilities resulting from those injuries adjucated by the VA?

Anuradha Bhagwati: Sir, that remains to be seen. I think a lot of data as both the congressman and Ms. Halfaker pointed out has not been collected on domestic violence in particular. Right now, I can tell you anecdotally, we're working on a case in the marine corps with a -- an NCO who's going through through a commissioning program whose partner spent five days in jail for attempting to kill her and that partner who spent five days in jail is now at Officer Candidate School. So that shock factor -- it's almost unbelieveable that that can happen but there are ways around the system. And DoD needs to explore that.

Chair John Hall: Unfortunately, there are ways around the system not just for men who assault women but also for men who assault men. I know one case particulary that I'm familiar with in my district but it's more egregious and harder to rectify when it's an attack on a female soldier. Ms. Halfaker, for the more seriously injured female veteran is there an outreach effort made directly too them? Are there OEF-OIF coordinators trained to specifically interact with them regarding their needs?

Dawn Halfaker: Sir, I think there is much needed outreach programs. I don't think there is anything specifically targeted for women veterans and I think that's where you get a lot of women initially slipping through the cracks -- especially with the Guard Reserve component. I-I also believe that, you know, peer support is probably a good way to start advocating. It's been Wounded Warriors Project's experience that women -- and particularly this generation of veterans -- are much more responsive and receptive to kind of learning about programs and things like that through their peer network. So I think that the VA needs to explore ways to promote outreach using peer neatworks and things like that. As far as the OEF - OIF coordinators at the hospitals? I mean, it was my experience that there's a lot of inconsisitency and variablity. The VA facility that I go to, the model just to have any kind of coordinatior was stood up incredibly late and its my sense that the coordinators could use a lot more education on the specific programs and -and clinical care that women need and how women can best access thtat care.

Chair John Hall: Thank you. And Ms. Washburn, your suggestion to track MST data has been made by the Center for Women Veterans and its advisory committee but has not yet been implemetned by the VBA. How effective do you think the Center and the committee are in promoting these issue and acting as change agents on behalf of the women they represent?

Delilah Washburn: I believe those things that are imposed by Congress get done, I believe those recommendations sometimes do not.

Chair John Hall: Can you provide us with any more information on the training protocol that the state women veterans coordinator receive in order to assist veterans in filing claims? And secondly what outreach activites to your women's veterans coordinators or do your women's veterans coordinators already perform?

Delilah Washburn: Most of our women's veterans coordinators are also state service officers and are also acredited with other service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Order of the Purple Heart. So we hold more than just one military organization credential. So whenever we have the opportunity to counsel with our veterans, whether it's male or female, we have to maintain the accreditation that the Dept of Veterans Affairs mandates for service officers. So we have annual training, we have testing and we are proficient at doing those jobs as service officers. And in most cases with the new training force that we see in the regional offices with all the new employees that have bene hired, most of our service organizations and veteran coordinators are more knowledgable than the new VA employees. So we are doing the very best job that we can do to help train some of the new VA employees by pointing out things that they have missed in the letter of the law that says that they can grant benefits. So we're doing our very best job as service officers to continue to not only help them through the maze -- the bureacratic maze -- of getting their claims processed.

Chair John Hall: Thank you. And Ms. Williams, I'm going to ask you this question and then ask each of the other panelists so quickly, because my time is long expired here, quickly give me an answer if VA and the DoD could do one thing to better assist women veterans what would that be?

Kayla Williams: I believe that electronic medical records are absolutely imperative to prevent problems with lost paperwork and missing files and missing records. And that that would really help smooth the transition from the DoD to the VA.

Chair John Hall: Ms. Washburn?

Delilah Washburn: Yes, sir.

Chair John Hall: Ms. Halfaker? I'm just asking for an answer to that same question, just quick if you could.

Delilah Washburn: The one thing that I think that they could do immediately that will make a difference, and not just for gender specific issues, we're talking about we no longer have to worry about providing the stressor for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you're in combat its conceeded. And let's press on with getting a diagnosis and write those claims and get them off the table because the near million claims that are pending is just something that we cannot continue to live with. It's a barrier to veterans getting their benefits.

Chair John Hall: Thank you for the wonderful endorsement of my bill
HR 952.

Dawn Halfaker: Outreach.

Chair John Hall: Outreach. Ms. Bhagwati? Microphone please.

Anaradha Bhagwati: Sorry, sir. One thing on the DoD side would be enforcement of VO policy and sexual assault policy. On the VA side, it would be education and training of claims officers about what it's like to be a woman in uniform.

Joy Ilem: I think just true collaboration on all levels within VA, VHA and VVA would be really extremely important. There's just so many areas where they can benefit working together to really solve the problem. It just can't be done piece meal. It helps to work on the preventative side with DoD and during that transition period for women coming to VA.

Chair John Hall: Thank you. And if our members from the Disability Assistance Committe would not object, I would go to our only member of the Health Committee who's here, Ms. Brown.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Thank you, Mr. Chairmen. And thank you for holding this hearing. I'm going to be real brief. You know, in the early 90s, I called for the first women veterans hearings and then we had a roundtable discsuon a couple of months ago and it seems as if things have not improved. And part of it is the culture. What, if you were making recommendations to the VA or to the Congress, what would you recommend that we do to change the culture and that's for all the panelists? We can start with Ms. Williams?

Kayla Williams: That's a great question and I think one that both the Dept of Defense and the VA are struggling with every day.I truly believe that this conflict is going to change the way that women are treated within the military and the VA because young leaders, young soldiers and service members, they serve alongside women in combat. As they grow in their leadership positions through time, they're used to serving alongside women they're beginning to recognize that women are service members too -- that they aren't just females that happened to show up sometimes. And that change in attitude will slowly trickle through the rest of the system but that's going to take a very long time. I do think that cultural change can also come from systemic changes. When I first got out of the military I went to the VA facility in Washington, DC, which I must admit was an atrocious experience for me. The facility was not clean, I was not given coordinated care and I had a truly unpleaseant experience that scared me away from the VA for many years. Just last month, I went to the VA facility in Martinsburg, West Virgingia and had a profoundly different experience at their OEF - OIF integrated care clinic. I saw several providers, I was led from one appointment to the other to make sure that I knew where I was going. I was sensitively asked about MST, about my combat experiences. And this model is one that I think is worthy of emulation though it may not be perfect in every facility. They also have a women's care clinic. So I know that by putting these facilites in place, staffing them with the right people, that proper care can be given.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: When you first went to the facilities that was in when? When you first?

Kayla Williams: I went to the DC VA in 2006 and then I went to the Martinsburg VA just last month.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Yes, ma'am?

Delilah Washburn: That's an excellent question. There are several points that I would like to share with you. In today's culture, I could see just from the veterans that talk with us that some of the problems that they face is that now we have appointments that come in the mail to us and we're notified of five or six different appointments. They're not on the same day and these are people that are trying to hold a job down. And they just cannot go to all of these appointments. So -- and then we have child care on top of that. So we have we can't take off from work, so the hours that they're being seen is an issue. We have children that we have to provide care for and -- because we can't take them to the VA, we already know that -- and those are concerns. And why can't we do a better job at scheduling? Why can't we provide it during hours that they're available? If its once a month on a Saturday, why can't we do a women's clinic once a month on a Saturday? If we're doing women's health on Wednesday, why can't we do that from noon to six p.m. to give them an opprotunity to go after work? And where that there would be someone else to help with children? So those are some things that we need to look at that I think culturally we have to change. When we're talking about Military Sexual Trauma, there are so many of the cases that are identified by DoD and where DoD is taking action under the Uniform Military Code of Justice and we already see that these women are having medial problems -- physical as well as mental health issues -- and why don't we get them through the medical evaluation process because that is a disability. And it would help us if DoD would step up and if they have an opportunity to be awarded a military evaluation board or a PEB board, lets get it done because we are finding all too often, after we do finally get them through the VA syste, we're going back to do correction on military record. So DoD could do a better job. If it's an opportunity where they can meet the requirements of medical evaluation, lets get it done.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Those are some very good suggestions and I don't know why we can't do that Saturday or Sunday afternoon and have someone there to take care of the kids. I mean, I don't see why we can't. Because you were talking about the waiting list and what did you say was the waiting list for women?

Delilah Washburn: We do have appointments that come out through the VA computer system that will often times not consolildate to get you there on one day and often times we have folks that are coming in from a rural area, that's traveling 100 or 200 miles to the large VA medical center. So that's a hardship, transportation is a hardship.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Right, transportation is a hardship. Question do we have any, and I've been thinking about it, do we give any kind of a gas voucher or anything like that?

Delilah Washburn: There are some organizations, whether it's Disabled American Veterans where they have a transportation program, there are some organizations, Veterans of Foreign Wars they give vouchers, and often times the VA medical centers have monies for that as well but it's not the norm and not everyone knows that they can get help. We're just not advertising it.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Okay. Thank you. Next. I don't have much time. Next? Yes, ma'am?

Dawn Halfaker: Yeah, I think that, you know, perception and culture can change through action and I think, you know, some of the recommendations that Wounded Warriors Project is prepared to make are actions such as outreach, peer support, consistency in the way VA delivers care and services to women veterans. And it's interesting, I've had the exact same experiences as Ms. Williams. First went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the VA facility in Washington, DC. and just had horrible experience after experience there. And again, they are -- they've made some strides in trying to coordinate a OEF - OIF care model where they have, you know, the case managers and things lik that but again it's not -- I don't think that the women veterans who are continuing to recevie care have actually felt any of the changes and certainly there's been no change in culture at that particulra VA.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: And this is the one in DC?

Dawn Halfaker: Yes, ma'am.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Is it just bad for women or is it bad for everybody?

Dawn Halfaker: I think that would be a good question. I mean, I think that it was initially bad for me just because, you know, when you do just walk through the doors to the VA, it's very -- it's not a pleasant environment. And it's not a safe environment. You know, often times you may encounter somebody yelling, cat calling at you, making a crude remark and it's just, I think, a true culture shock going from the military where that would never be tolerated to a VA facility where you're trying to get care and, you know, you're uncomfortable.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: You know this is the second or third time I've heard about the cat calls and I just don't know how you deal with it because they're not in the military any longer, they're civilains. And you know we face this probelm if we're walking down the street and we see a work crew or something.

Dawn Halfaker: Yes, ma'am, I think that-that it's a leadership issue and, you know, if I was the director of that hospital, I would do whatever I had to do to ensure that that environment couldn't happen so I think it's a leaderhsip issue.

Kayla Williams: And, if I may, ma'am, I do believe that that facility inadequately serves both male and female veterans. My husband's care at that VA was so bad. He was sent back and forth between multiple clinics, told he was in the wrong place, his paper work was lost, he felt that the doctors didn't care about him. His experience there was so bad that he has since refused to go back to the VA at all and relies exclusively on civilian providers even though they are less familiar with blast injuries and post-traumatic stress that results form combat.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Just quickly.

Anuradha Bhagwati: Ma'am, my personal exprinces with the VA hospital in New York City have been personally devestating and I pay out of pocket for as much care as I need. I use the VA right now for emergency care. You know, I've experienced MST and I had a very bad expereince with a claim. It doesn't take much to disappoint me right now with VA care. I-I every time I walk in there I go with open arms, a generous spirit, I hope to be received well. And there are some fantastic health care providers there, but there are, by and large, both male and female staff members and medical staff do not understand what its like to be a woman in uniform.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: You know and I've had, when I've said part of the problem is the VA and the number and when I've suggested that perhaps we may need to do vouchers so people can go outside, I got real push back from the women. So I mean, if the service is not there, what can we do to change the system? And when I talk to women veterans well they want to go to the VA but the service isn't what they want.

Anuradha Bhagwati: Well ma'am, I think we need to push the VA to provide equal services for women. That needs to be done comprehenslivly. We can't give up on the VA but I need to stress that, especially for women who have been traumatized, now that can be through sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress from combat, whatever the case may be, if they're expereinceing negative epsidoses at the Va hosptials they may just turn away and never come back and so fee-based care needs to be an option. If you talk to women who've been working around MST for awhile, they will -- I would say by and large they agree that fee-based care needs to be accesible for surivors of MST whether that's --

US House Rep Corrine Brown: It should be an option?

Anuradha Bhagwati: Aboslutely.

US House Rep Corrine Brown: Okay, that's what I'm thinking. Yes, ma'am?

Ideally, we'll come back to the hearing tomorrow. There's more on the first panel. In a perfect world, there'd be time tomorrow to go over some other things from it and from the second panel. Remember that
Kat will cover the hearing tonight at her site as well. Hopefully, this hearing will get plenty of coverage from the press and if that happens, tomorrow we can just provide some links to that coverge.

Turning to Iraq where
Farah Stockman (Boston Globe) reports that "UMass Boston professor Padraig O'Malley laid a wreath today at the site of a bombing in Iraq that killed at least 72 people last month which appeared to be aimed at foment ethnic tensions in the volatile Kirkuk region. Kirkuk is one of five 'divided' cities participating in a peace forum established in Boston by O'Malley this past April. Elected representatives from Kirkuk visited Massachusetts this past April to learn about how Boston had overcome violence and division during the busing crisis of the 1970s." Parliamentary and presidential elections take place in the Kurdistan region July 25th. Mohammed A. Saliah (Asia Times) observes that the US efforts in Iraq are said to include the postponement of the vote the KRG intended to hold on their new constitution: "The Kurdish draft constitution had heightened tensions between Kurds and other ethnicities in the country such as Arabs and Turkomans, as well as the Iraqi government." The referendrum on the proposed KRG constitution is not the only one currently on hold. Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution calls for an election to be held to resolve the issue of oil-rich Kirkuk. The disputed territory is claimed by both the central government out of Baghdad and the KRG. Jonathan Steele (Guardian) writes, "Although the referendum has been delayed, the pause may only last a few months. Obama's team will have to work hard to resolve a crisis that has simmered since Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003. At that time the Kurds took the opportunity to rush out of their autonomous enclave and establish their forces in the disputed territories, creating a new de factor internal boundary in Iraq that diplomats now describe as 'the trigger line'." AFP quotes an unnamed "senior Western diplomat" stating, "I think we are in a situation that neither side wants a war but, where there are serious tensions and people are extremely well armed, then something could easily happen." AFP also notes "a growing numver of incidents between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga". The Kurdish Globe reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani is calling for the constitution to be followed on the disputed issue of Kirkuk and "Barzani rejected the proposal that Kirkuk should be divided on 4 sectors, 32% for each of the Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman communities and 4% for the Christians, as a solution. 'Why should the elections be held then' Barzani said criticizing the solution." In the spring of 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council's Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (known as the Transitional Administrative Law) went into effect. It specifically notes Kirkuk: "The Iraqi Transitional Government, and especially the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other relevant bodies, shall act expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality. [. . .] The previous regime also maniputlated and changed administration boundaries for political ends. [. . .] The permanent resolution of disputed territories, including Kirkuk, shall be deferred until after these measures are completed, a fair and transparent census has been conducted and the permanent constitution has been ratified. This resolution shall be consistent with the principle of justice, taking into account the will of the people of those territories." Iraq's Constitution was adopted by referendum October 15, 2005. [PDF format warning, click here for the Constitution.] Article 140 is the section which applies to Kirkuk:

First: The executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law.
Second: The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of the Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this Constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.

That's what the Constitution states, the one
Chibli Mallat (The Daily Star) notes Iraqi leaders quote from. December 2007 came and went. It has still not been followed. It's not difficult to comprehend what Article 140 is stating, it's straight forward; however, there's an effort of late to take a situation and render the Kurdish side invisible -- see Sam Dagher's article last Friday (click here for critique). A letter on A20 (national edition) of Tuesday's New York Times addressed the one-side nature of the article:
To the Editor: Re "
Defiant Kurds Claim Oil, Gas and Territory" (front page, July 10):The Iraqi Constitution, specifically Article 140, requires a vote by referendum to resolve Iraq's disputed territories. To cast this as a "threat" is unfair. The Iraqi Kurds are simply trying to carry out the constitutionally mandated referendum.Furthermore, the Iraqi Kurds are not defying Baghdad in formulating a regional constitution; they are embracing their right to create such a document, which is allowed in the Iraqi Constitution. The Kurds, who represent the most stable and progressive element of Iraq, have made it clear that they desire to be a part of a united Iraqi nation. To allow for a responsible and phased withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, which is the stated policy of the Obama administration, several issues must first be resolved, the most important of which is that of the disputed territories. Only then will a stable and united Iraq be able to thrive. Jay Garner Erbil, Iraq, July 10, 2009 The writer, a retired lieutenant general in the Army, was director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq in 2003.

While that's predicted to be a shaky line that violence could break out along, violence today and last night was largely aimed at pilgrims.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured eight pilgrims. Reuters notes that six pilgirms were wounded in a Baghdad roadside bombing last night and that today a Mosul car bombing injured three police officers.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead by "Iraqi Emergency Force" and notes a suspected bomber was shot dead by Iraqi security forces in Falluja.

On the pilgrimage,
Sam Dagher (New York Times) explains, "On Saturday, Iraq's majority Shiite population will commemorate the death of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, a revered religious figure buried in Kadhimiya in northern Baghdad. Pilgrims have already started trekking to his shrine from all over the country. The event usually attracts hundreds of thousands of people despite the potential danger."

On the ongoing illegal war,
Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal (Kashmir Watch) shares his thoughts which include:

US troops' withdrawal from Iraq's cities and towns to their military bases has been loudly acknowledged by the Iraqi regime and its agents, but they underplay the role of the remaining troops. As pro-West Iraqis celebrated the US withdrawal, a car bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least 27 people. The Americans, loud and overbearing after their speedy victory six years ago, fell quiet and thoughtful that day because of fear of retaliation by the suppressed and terrorized people. USA stressed that there would still be a lot of US combat capabilities in Iraq for months to come" and "still have a very robust number of US troops in Iraq and, in fact, those troops will not begin to withdraw from Iraq until probably several months from now. Signs were draped on some of Baghdad's concrete blast walls reading " Iraq : my nation, my glory, my honor" made to order by the ruling regime. That in simple language only means western terror war in Iraq has not ended! Though there are many ifs and buts yet many believe that it is beginning of the end of war in that unfortunate country.. Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq until at least September, including 12 combat brigades encircling cities if not saturating them, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election in January. Pentagon says roughly 150 American bases have been dismantled or handed over to the Iraqis across the country, but in some cases, especially in Baghdad, city limits have been redrawn to allow American bases to remain to control Iraq effectivley through the neo-Iraqi regime. Nor will the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq decline overall. USA determines the entire course of Iraqi life hereafter as well.

Turning to the US, as always Cedric's "
Worst Drama Queen in the World" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! WORST DRAMA QUEEN IN THE WORLD!" was a must read. They're calling out a tele-bully who's having a hissy fit over a conscientious objector, Major Stefan Frederick Cook. We're not going to attack Cook. If he speaks publicly somewhere, we will note him the way we note other war resisters. There have been some whose reasoning I've agreed with 100%, some a little less. Doesn't matter. We are not and will not be a place where we join a dog pile on a CO. That others need to says a great deal about them -- some do it for respectability (which I could care less about as anyone who knows me . . .) and some do it to serve their modern day Christ-child. Neither option interests us. I haven't read any legal opinion and I know nothing about his attorney so we're not quoting anything here. He's not spoken publicly. If and when he does, we'll make a point to include him. Evan Knappenberger is someone who's seen a pile on from time to time for speaking out -- and sometimes those participating in it were especially shocking (the inside-enemy is always the most disappointing). He made it through the attacks on him and continues to speak out. At CounterPunch he writes about a CO, his friend Amy:

In 2007 while in Iraq, Amy started reading feminist literature. As a woman steeped in a male-dominated world of violence and oppression, feminism must have struck a chord. As Amy read, she started noticing the way she was changing emotionally and intellectually.
Amy decided to apply for Conscientious Objector status. She spent a week in between shifts, mortar attacks and guard duties trying to put into words exactly how, why, and when she had become opposed to violence. Never having loaded, much less having fired her M-4 rifle, it never occurred to her to turn the weapon in to her commander along with the CO packet when she was finished. In fact, a soldier without a weapon in Iraq is trouble waiting to happen: you can't even get in to the mess-hall without one.
Because of this oversight, her commander turned down Amy's request for CO status. Amy couldn't really be opposed to violence if she carried a rifle slung on her back, could she? The army was not willing to give up a good linguist for some conscientious abstraction when they needed bodies so badly. So Amy was punished and berated by her comrades. She was mocked and ridiculed by the men in her unit. Her moral standing had come full-circle; the freedom she had joined to protect was now being denied to her. The day her unit returned from Baghdad to Fort Hood, Texas, she left. She deserted. She went AWOL.
"They told me that my unit was scheduled to go back before my time was up," she explained. "It was either re-up for a different station, or spend another 15 months in Iraq."

He goes on to advocate for santury cities in a strong column worth reading. We mentioned Cedric a second ago and his wife Ann is filling in for
Mike and has been since last Friday. This is the first time I've noted it here. "Katyln Tracy," "Sonali Kolhatkar forgot the forgotten war," "Legal abuses by Bush and Barack" and "Ron Jacobs, Margaret Kimberley" are her entries so far. In one of them, the first, she's again speaking openly about her rape and abortion and all are worth reading. My apologies to Ann for not making the time until now to note here that she's filling in for Mike.

We opened with women in the US and we'll close with the focus on Iraqi women, this is from Dawn Calabi's "
Iraq: Don't Forget Displaced Women" (Refugees International):As a humanitarian talking with displaced Iraqis be prepared for a lot of anger. "You destroyed my country," said one woman. "Those ruling have no place for us. What will you do?" Millions of people have been displaced inside and outside the country. Small numbers have returned home. For others, insecurity, plus the absence of the rule of law, infrastructure, employment prospects, or basic services like water, sanitation, education or health care prevent them from returning home. Individuals or members of groups targeted for religion, ethnicity or politics are unlikely to return. These families, often headed by women, live in extremely poor, overcrowded conditions, subject to extreme heat and cold. Many are skeptical Iraq will invest the political and financial resources needed for safe sustainable returns. In Erbil, a displaced woman living in a tent wanted the world to understand. "We need security in Iraq…tell the politicians to make an agreement. Poor people are the victims of the struggle. Kurd, Arab, Sunni, Shia, Christian, we are all one people, Iraqis, and we need a secure country! Ask our government, the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to pay attention to our needs, to see how we are living and suffering." Unlike last year, Iraq has not contributed to the UN or neighboring countries aiding its citizens. The KRG complained of receiving insufficient funds to pay grants to people registered as internally displaced and insufficient medicines for those with chronic illnesses. But displaced people inside Northern Iraq are grateful to the KRG.

the boston globefarah stockman
mohammed a. salihrefugees internationaldawn calabimcclatchy newspapersthe new york timessam dagher

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