Thursday, October 29, 2009

Alito does his business

I completely forgot about this one. I remember drawing Feingold, Kennedy and Feinstein but have no idea who else is under the urine.

This was called "Alito does his business on the Senate Dems." And back then, January 15, 2006, I really thought, "One day Dems will own the Congress and look out then!"

Yeah, I was a real idiot.

It happens.

They've got control of both houses and have had it since 2007 but they've done nothing.

Maybe they live to be pissed on?

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, the Iraqi refugee crisis continues, problems with the public inquiry into the Iraq War the UK government plans to hold, no election law passed by the Iraqi Parliament, and more.
Today the US military announced: "JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – A Soldier who was currently assigned to the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) died Wednesday of a non-combat related injury at Camp Adder, Iraq. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in Iraq to 4353.
Meanwhile Sunday's Baghdad bombings have pretty much erased the August Baghdad bombings ("Bloody Wednesday," "Black Wednesday," "Gory Wednesday," "Iraq's 9-11," etc.). Press TV reports, "Iraq has arrested some 60 security forces over the weekend twin bombings which targeted government buildings in Baghdad, killing up to 153 people." The Sentinel states the 60 were compoes of "11 army officers and 50 security officials". Xinhua adds, "The arrested were in charge of providing security for a downtown Baghdad district which was hit by the deadly suicide attacks that targeted government buildings, Major General Qassim Atta said." BBC News notes, "The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says it is not clear whether those arrested are accused of negligence or collusion. However, he added, it seems to confirm what many people have suspected - that the security forces are susceptible to infiltration by insurgents or are just not up to the job." Reuters reports Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesperson for Baghdad security, "said that officers, foot soldiers and police in areas where attacks happen would be arrested in the future and placed under investigation." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, Baghdad Governor "Abdul Razzaq said security forces made mistakes and were negligent in their work, and he demanded a court-martial for those who allowed explosive-laden vehicles to get through checkpoints." Karadsheh also notes the number arrested is 61. Timothy Williams and Mohammed Hussein (New York Times) explain, "The statement Thursday that announced the arrest order came from Baghad Operations Command, which is responsible for security in the capital and reports directly to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The statement did not offer any further details, so it remained unclear whether the 61 security force members were suspected of having adied those who carried out the attacks."
The death toll for the Sunday bombings is at least 155 and does include children. Mohammed Jamjoom (CNN) reports:

The force of the blast threw Rawnaq against the wall of her office at the Ministry of Justice. She instantly thought of her two children in the day care center just two floors below.
"I rushed downstairs and found all the children under the rubble," says Rawnaq, "My daughter Tabarak was standing near the stairs. My son Hamoodi outside. Me and a colleague took them out, running. A police car drove us to the hospital."
Both children were injured, 3-year-old Tabarak much more so than her 2-year-old brother. Severe head and back injuries have left the little girl needing extensive surgery and unable to sleep due to unceasing pain. She is also deeply afraid.
Back in August, the day before Bloody Wednesday, Iraqi Thug and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in Syria where he was demanding that nearly 200 Iraqis be handed over to Iraq. It was all like a bad acid flashback since Nouri spent years in Syria and the Syrians refused to turn him over at the whims of Saddam Hussein. Nouri was grateful back then, now he's just a raging drama queen. Bloody Wednesday came the next day and Nouri immediately blamed the bombings on Syria. He and his spokespeople and cabinet would sometimes say that it was former Ba'athists in Syria. Sometimes. Mainly they would rail against Syria. That hasn't ceased all this time later. Phil Sands (Le Monde) offers today that "Syria is perhaps the only country in the Arab middle east that can truly claim to be independent from the US, and Damascus remains a thorn in the side of American regional ambitions. [. . .] In the post-Saddam Hussein world, the Iraqi government is jealous of its sovereignty, an independence that goes only as deep as the presence of more than 100,000 American soldiers on Iraqi soil allows. There is little sign a planned pull-out will be complete." Syria has a huge number of Iraqi refugees and we'll turn now to the topic of Iraqi refugees. Joseph A. Kechichian (Gulf News) explains:
According to the International Organisation on Migration, there are still 1.6 million internally displaced Iraqis who cannot "return home". Many are trying to survive "without work, their own home, schooling for children, access to water, electricity and health care". These refugees are Iraqi citizens who are not represented in government but whose fates will probably determine whether the pool from which opposition forces can recruit bombers will shrink. As it is widely recognised, remnants of the Baath party or any number of the security services created by the old regime are still active, even if Baghdad and its allies continue to hearken to Al Qaida.
The United Nations' World Food Program has launched "a pilot project in Damascus" in which food vouchers are distributed "in the form of mobile phone text messages to Iraqi refugees. [. . .] Around one thousand families are involved in the four-month pilot phase, which will be extended if it is successful. The project has been developed in cooperation with the Syrian government, enabling the refugees to redeem their vouches in state-run stores in the Jaramana and Sayeda Zeinab neighourhoods of Damascus. The mobile phone service provider MTN has donated SIM cards for the project." Cassandra Vinograd (Wall St. Journal) reported Tuesday, "In the WFP program, each family will receive one $22 voucher per person every two months. After each transaction, families will receive an updated balance, also sent by SMS to their mobile numbers -- free of charge. There are more than 1.2 million displaced Iraqis in Syria, according to government figures. To date, about 130,000 regularly receive food assistance from WFP with complimentary food and non-food assistance from the U.N.'s refugee agency." Though some have criticized the WFP for targeting people with cell phones (under the mistaken belief that refugees wouldn't have them), Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports, "The discovery that most of the 130,000 people to whom the organisation provided food vouchers had mobile phones gave officials the idea for the pilot scheme, to be targeted at 1,000 families in the first instance." Laura MacInnis (Reuters) quotes Emilia Casella, WFP spokesperson, stating, "They will be able to exchange their electronic vouchers for rice, wheat, flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil and canned fish, as well as cheese and eggs -- items that cannot usually be included in conventional aid baskets." Saeed Ahmed (CNN) quotes Casella stating, "It infuses some contribution to the communities, because we're not giving food away. They have to go to the local shops to buy it." Staying with Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expects more Iraqi refugees to flee to Syria as a result of Sunday's bombings. EU News Network states UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic "told a delegation in Geneva earlier this month that the United Nations recommended the resettlement of more than 80,000 Iraqi refugees to other countries." Meanwhile UNHCR is building homes in Taza, Iraq following bombings there this sumemr which ledft many people homeless, "Immediately after the blast, UNHCR field staff visited Taza to assess the damage and to distribute emergency aid to the survivors. The team found that about 160 houses, mostly made from mud bricks, had been totally destroyed and some 400 damaged. As a result, around 3,500 people were left without shelter. The refugee agency immediately swung into action, funding the reconstruction of 150 collapsed homes and the renovation of 73 shops and two other buildings in Shorja Market. The work was carried out by an Iraqi implementing partner as part of UNHCR's emergency shelter programme which has helped rehabilitate some 10,000 conflict-damaged buildings for refugees and internally displaced Iraqis and aims to double this figure in 2010." But in Syria, IRIN reports, a significant number of Iraqis are attempting to win asylum "across the Middle East to Europe and North America" and they note, "A year after its launch, strikingly few Iraqis have taken up the UN's Voluntary Repatriation Programme. Less than 300 families from Syria have returned to Iraq under the programme, though the number claiming resettlement has grown rapidly."
The Chicago Tribune did a multi-article series at the start of the week on Iraqi refugees in the US. The paper noted of one group: "Back home, they worked for the Americans, as translators, project specialists and office managers. For that, they received death threats from militants opposed to the U.S., and they ask to remain anonymous, fearing retribution against relatives in Iraq." Then there's Layla Mousa whose husband is in Jordan while she and their three children are in Chicago where she struggles to make ends meet, find work (she's a hair dresser) and rebuffs offers of payment for sex and states, "Now I want to go back to Iraq, not even Jordan. America is just a lie." Layla Mousa is among the Iraqi refugees who Ahlam Mahmoud attempts to asist even though she herself is a refugee: "She didn't have it easy herself. When she and her two children arrived in Chicago in 2008, she had only the clothes she was wearing when she left Syria, where, she says, she was imprisoned for refusing to spy on foreigners. The apartment they got in Chicago had three beds, one plate, a fork, a spoon and two knives." In Syria, Ahlam Mahmoud was also someone refugees turned to. Using her own resourceful nature, she quickly began developing a network of assistance and advice. Due to her connections, the Syrian government attempted to force her to spy on other Iraqi refugees. She refused and was thrown into prison. When the outcry and attention became too much, the Syrian govenment ordered her released from prison and she was quickly transported to the US. Also attempting to assist other refugees is Fatima Hindi who became an Iraqi government official, was then kidnapped and sought Egypt and then the US for safety along with her three-year-old daughter Takwa. She states, "They kidnapped me because of America. America couldn't protect me. When I first got here, I cried on the street."
Today Nancy Eshelman (Patriot-News) reports on Iraqi refugee Zina Alkubaisy who ended up in the United States with her husband and their children following her husband's kidnapping: "Alkubaisy began working the phones. She contacted people who knew people and eventually learned what militant group had snatched her husband. Her connections arranged to have him released the next day. But a chilling phone call warned the couple they would not be so lucky the next time. It would be in their best interest to leave the country."
UNHCR is concerned about the fact that some European states have begun forcibly returning Iraqi originating from the region of Central Iraq over the last few months. In our guidelines issued last April, we noted that in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates, asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection. UNHCR therefore advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from Central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country.
This reminder comes after the UK attempted to forcibly return 44 Iraqi men to Baghdad earlier this month. They were reportedly unsuccessful asylum claimants held in immigration removal centres in the UK. Iraq only accepted 10 who were allowed to leave the chartered aircraft in Baghdad, and the remaining 34 were returned to the UK and placed in immigration centres.
Other European states have signed readmission agreements with Iraq for voluntary and forced return. Denmark has forcibly returned 38 people originating mainly from Central and Southern Iraq since signing its agreement in May 2009. Sweden has undertaken some 250 forced returns with an unspecified number of returnees originating from the five central governorates of Iraq since signing an agreement in February 2008. UNHCR has also concerns about the safety and dignity of these returns.
Concerning asylum-seekers from the three northern governorates, as well as those from the southern governorates and Al Anbar, UNHCR recommends that their protection needs are assessed on an individual basis.
Colin Yeo (Guardian) evaluates the UK Home Office's attempt to forcibly deport Iraqi refugees this month:
The second problem is a profound lack of understanding or respect for the rule of law at all levels of UKBA. Six Iraqis were taken off the removals flight because they had managed to get in touch with good lawyers. A high court judge was persuaded that the flight might be unlawful because the route and destination were unknown and Iraq is a highly unstable country, as the appalling recent bomb attacks and interviews with those who did return to Iraq vividly demonstrate. The flight was no less unlawful for the other Iraqis yet UKBA went on regardless, simply because the other Iraqis did not manage to get a lawyer. Some may disagree with the refugee convention and human rights law, but they are the law of the land and while they remain so they must be respected.
But like an unruly toddler, the Home Office believes that what matters is whether they are caught, not what the rules are. Time and time again the Home Office is found to be acting unlawfully: on prolonged unlawful detention, secret policies, misleading the courts and failure to respect court judgments in the last fortnight alone. Substantial compensation is paid to some of the victims as a result. What UKBA fails to appreciate is that there are many, many more victims whose rights are violated but who never manage to secure the protection of the rule of law.
Friday's snapshot noted that Christians in northern Iraq were under attack again and weighing whether or not to leave Kirkuk. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) noted "Baghdad's dwindling Christian population. Even in the darkest days of Saddam Hussein's rule, it was a thriving community. Now it is half gone,d riven out by the casual lawlessness of the streets." Iraqi Christians make up a significant number of external refugees. (It should also be noted that Baghdad's Jewish community has been decimated since the start of the illegal war.) While much attention was given to the government buildings damaged and destroyed in Sunday's bombings, Adirenne S. Gaines (Charisma Magazine) reports that St. George's Church in Baghdad was also badly damaged. Though the issue wasn't important enough for the New York Times to put it in print, they did post a blog by Rod Nordland: "Built in 1936 by the British military during their occupation of Iraq, the church loast some of its famous stained-glass windows when the United States military bombed a nearby building in 1992, and more were destroyed during the invasion in 2003, leaving only three examples remaining. They were mementos of British regiments stationed there. Sunday the last three stained glass windows were blown out by suicide bomb blasts that destroyed three Iraqi government buildings nearby, according to the church's lay pastor, Faiz Georges." Episcopal Life notes the church has approximately 2,000 members.
On the issue of Iraq's religous minorities, Senator Carl Levin's office released the following statement Monday:

WASHINGTON -- Calling the plight of religious minorities in Iraq "a tragic consequence" of the war there, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., today introduced a Senate resolution calling on the U.S. government, Iraqi government and United Nations Mission in Iraq to take steps to alleviate the dangers facing these minority groups. Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., joined Levin in sponsoring the sense of the Senate resolution.
"While violence has declined in Iraq overall, religious minorities continue to be the targets of violence and intimidation," Levin said. "Members of many minority groups who have fled other parts of the country have settled in the north, only to find themselves living in some of the most unstable and violent regions of Iraq. We strongly urge the Iraqi government, the United Nations and the U.S. government to address this crisis without delay."
Of approximately 1.4 million Christians of various denominations living in Iraq in 2003, only 500,000 to 700,000 remain. Another minority group, the Sabean Mandeans, has seen its population decline by more than 90 percent. Iraq's Jewish community, once one of the largest in the Arab world, has almost ceased to exist.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, members of religious minorities "have experienced targeted intimidation and violence, including killings, beatings, abductions, and rapes, forced conversions, forced marriages, forced displacement from their homes and businesses, and violent attacks on their houses of worship and religious leaders." The U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees reported that in 2008, there were an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced persons living in Iraq. Of that 2.8 million, nearly two out of three reported fleeing their home because of a direct threat to their lives, and, of that number, almost nine out of ten said they were targeted because of their ethnic or religious identity.
The resolution introduced by the senators addresses the tragedy in several ways. It states the sense of the Senate that the fate of Iraqi religious minorities is a matter of grave concern and calls on the U.S. government and the United Nations to urge Iraq's government to increase security at places of worship, particularly where members of religious minorities are known to face risks. The resolution calls for the integration of regional and religious minorities into the Iraqi security forces, and for those minority members to be stationed within their own communities. The resolution calls on the Iraqi government to ensure that minority citizens can participate in upcoming elections, and to enforce its constitution, which guarantees "the administrative, political, cultural, and educational rights" of minorities. Finally, it urges a series of steps to ensure that development aid and other forms of support flow to minority communities in Iraq.
Iraq is the source of more external refugees than any other country currently; however, Iraq does have refugees in its own country including the Palestinians who are trapped on borders and largely ignored by the global community as they live lives as prisoners, unable to leave Iraq and unable to leave the tented, border communities they've been exiled to since the start of the illegal war. In addition to the Palestinians, there are the Iranian refugees of the MEK. Welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein decades ago, they've called Iraq home for some time. The Iranian government doesn't care for them so you know Nouri's going to jump when that government snaps. Until 2009, the US was protecting the MEK who reside in Camp Ashraf. Nouri gave the US government repeated assurances that he would respect the refugees. Then, on July 28th, he launched an assault on Camp Ashraf.
Saturday Jamshid Karegarfar's account of what happened was published in the Washington Times:
The situation came to a head July 28, when some 2,000 Iraqi forces stormed Ashraf, and to add insult to injury, used American Humvees and weapons to do so, while the Americans stood by and watched. The attack left 11 dead and 500 injured - and the Iraqis took 36 Ashraf residents as hostages. I was one of them.
At first, we were held outside Ashraf. During the first days of captivity we were severely beaten, and went through physical and psychological torture. Some of us who were run over by Humvees and hit by bullets were in excruciating pain.
Then, we were transferred to the local prison in the city of Khalis. From there, they took us to an Iraqi military intelligence detention center and finally to the prison at al-Muthana airfield.The goal was to break us down. But we refused to give in.
In protestof the raid and being taken hostage, we went to a hunger strike and refused food for weeks, and we prayed for deliverance. We had no idea what was happening or why we were being held. And we had no idea of the support we were getting around the world.
The government or 'government' out of Baghdad can't help the refugees or their own people. They can't even pass an election law apparently. "If it doesn't make a deal before this weekend, Iraq will run out of time to organize an election before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's term expires," Renee Montagne observed on today's Morning Edition (NPR).

Renee Montagne: What, Quil, is at stake with the delay of this election law?

Quil Lawrence: Well, as you say, the Iraqi prime minister and his government's term run out on January 31st so the election commission here has said they need 90 days to organize a legitimate poll and Parliament is deadlocked on over a dozen or so complicated issues regarding the election. They may vote on it today. If the elections are delayed or if they are rushed, there's a risk that Iraq's government could be deemed illegitimate and then a whole Pandora's Box of problems can open up -- issues of legitimacy of the government, maybe even a crisis like we've seen in Afghanistan. One big question is whether the US has done enough to push it through, especially since their plan to pull out 70,000 troops by August can't really start until the elections are done.

Renee Montagne: Well six years on the ground in Baghdad, hasn't the American embassy there worked up a fair amount of what you might call institutional knowledge regarding Iraqi politics?

Quil Lawrence: Well the problem is it took the Obama administration four months to get an ambassador confirmed and out here and that's taken that ambassador another couple of months to assemble a new political team. So he's got a good number of people with expertise in the region -- a good number of Arabic speakers -- but they've never been to Iraq before, many of them. So before they can have much influence, they need to learn who the players are and build these personal relationships with them and that could take months and years.

Renee Montagne: Although haven't American diplomats been, in a sense, pressing the flesh at the Parliament.

Quil Lawrence: There's been as many as six of them at a time over at the Parliament but it's sometimes curious who they're meeting with or not meeting with on the Iraqi side. And like I said, they're just getting up to speed so it's possible they could walk right past a very important Iraqi politician in the halls of Parliament and not even know him by face.

Okay, on the above. On pulling out troops (which is the draw-down, not the "withdrawal" as so many outlets keep insisting -- confusing the two in a way that even the White House doesn't) and how it can't start until after the election?

Yesterday, the KRG swore in their prime minister's cabinet. Yesterday. Elections were held in July. In December 2005, Iraq last held the national elections. Nouri comes along in April as the US-installed prime minister (after the US rejected the Iraqis first choice). In May, he announces his cabinet. Point? The counting of the votes, the verifying and assorted other issues mean the elections are not 'over' in January even if held then. As for a vote happening as early as today, CNN reports that as well but notes, "The Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi parliament intends to boycott the vote on a proposed election law if the oil-rich province of Kirkuk is banned from voting in next year's national elections, two Kurdish lawmakers say." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that "the Iraqi parliamentary legal committee again failed to reach a compromise over Kirkuk issue, and decided to delay Thursday's parliament session to Sunday, an official in the parliament told Xinhua." This, Xuequan reports, despite efforts today by US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill and the top US commander in Iraq Gen Ray Odierno to "urge" Iraqi politicians to pass a law.
No law was passed but violence continued . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured five people and a Mosul suicide bomber took his own life.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed attack on a Mosul police checkpoint which left 3 police officers dead and an armed clash in Mosul in which one person was injured.
Today is the 2413 day of the Iraq War. Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes that and other facts -- and he notes Iraq facts each week, by the way, in his "The Count."
In England, Peter Walker (Guardian) reports that the inquiry into the Iraq War will hear evidence starting November 24th and that former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be offering public testimony. Chris Ames (at The Index on Censorship) reports:
As the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war announces its first public hearings, serious concerns about censorship and secrecy are beginning to arise. Some of those who are thinking about giving evidence are wondering how free they will be to do so and whether the evidence they present will ever see the light of day.
Tony Blair's upcoming appearance at the Inquiry has taken centre stage, with his actions on Iraq threatening his bid to become the first EU president. While Blair won't face prosecution in this Inquiry for launching the war, witnesses fear they might be prosecuted for talking about it.
Other political factors also play a role in the timing of the hearings, which will open on 24 November. Sir John Chilcot said that the Inquiry intends to stop these hearings during the general election campaign, expected in the spring. It appears that the move is intended to limit the possibility for highly charged appearances or new disclosures to influence voters. This should not be a consideration for the Inquiry, which is supposedly independent of government.
Chilcot has also suggested that the Inquiry's report, which is not expected until at least the end of next year, might not be published in full but might include a secret annexe dealing with intelligence matters.
Meanwhile in Malaysia tomorrow and Saturday, Meena L. Ramadas (Sun Daily) reports, a tribunal, the War Criminal Conference and Exhibition, will be held which will hear from "a Sudanese reporter and a Briton who were detained without trial in Guantanamo Bay" "in an effort to bring Iraq war perpetrators to justice." Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad (Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 to 2003) will be the keynote speaker and he states, "International institutions and the courts established by the United Nations charter have done nothing in dealing with war crimes. Even the powerful nations like the United States and the United Kingdom have done nothing."
War is big business. Tom Fowler (Houston Chronicle) reports that with KBR getting less work in Iraq, it "reported a 14 percent drop in third-quarter profit". KBR insists it did professional work. Few not currently working for KBR who've seen their work in Iraq make the same assertions. KBR's shoddy work may be responsible for multiple deaths of US citizens -- death by shower. On the topic of death by shower, Jeremy Scahill's "Pentagon Investigation Iraq Electrocution Death" (The Nation) reports:

The Department of Defense has confirmed that the US Army Criminal Investigation Command has launched a formal investigation into the electrocution death of 25-year-old Adam Hermanson, a US Air Force veteran-turned private security contractor who died in a shower at the compound of his employer, Triple Canopy, at Camp Olympia inside Baghdad's Green Zone on September 1, 2009. The State Department's Regional Security Office is also investigating.
The DoD appears to be placing responsibility for the deadly incident squarely on Triple Canopy. "As part of the terms and conditions of the JCC-I/A contract, Triple Canopy is solely responsible for providing billeting, showers, latrines and other life support activities to its employees at Camp Olympia," according to Under Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter. Hermanson is the nineteenth US soldier or contractor to die from electrocution in Iraq since 2003.
KBR denies having anything to do with the wiring which, if true, would mean they weren't responsible for the above shock . . . just approximately 230 other ones.
The heartbeat went out of our house
The rhythm went out of our romance
But in life that happens and you just have to remember to breathe . . .

That's from Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" as redone on her latest album, Never Been Gone. Today she was on NPR's Talk Of The Nation and discussed a variety of topics including singing with Lucy Simon in the Simon Sisters and recently on the phone. In terms of revisiting ten of her classic songs for the new album, Carly observes, "Yes, it was a very interesting kind of synergy between the old and the new." To hear her segment with host Neal Conan click here and note NPR online has paired it up with her 2008 concert which you can also stream. Click here to watch Carly on Monday's Good Morning America (ABC). Carly Simon appeared on NBC's Today Show yesterday and performed "You Belong To Me."

Read on ...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alito's confirmation

That is from January 10, 2006. And thanks to those who e-mailed to tell me I forgot to put in a link on the previous entry. I have fixed that.

Sameul Alito was going for the Senate confirmation process so I created that comic.

I didn't do a comic on Sotomayor this year. I did comics on Alito and Roberts. I just wasn't that interested in Sotomayor. I didn't feel she was a huge threat and I also didn't see proof that she'd be a big help. I was sort of blah on her.

If I feel nothing, I've got nothing to draw.

Which is why I can't do requests.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US government serves up a partially nude moment, the UN releases a new report on Iraqi refugees, the US cross-border raid assault into Syria back in 2008 receives some attention, and more.

The United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "
Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." From the introduction:

This report summarizes patterns and trends in the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during the first six months of 2009. The data in this report is based on information available as of 28 September 2009 unless otherwise indicated. It covers the 38 European and six non-European States that currently provides monthly asylum statistics to UNHCR.
The numbers in this report reflect asylum claims made at the first instance of asylum procedures: applications on appeal or review are not included. Also, this report does not include information on the outcome of asylum procedures, or on the adminission of refugees through resettlement programmes, as this information is available in other UNHCR reports.

The report uses the terms "the 44 industrialized countries" referring to: "27 Member States of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America." The study found that all the countries are seeing increased claims for asylum and the US "continued to be the largest single recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2009." The top five countries for most asylum claims are (in descending order) the US, France, Canada, UK and Germany.

Number one country of origin for aslyum seekers? From the report:

Iraq again became the main country of orgin of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries in 2006, having previously been the main source country in 2000 and 2002. Iraq also continued to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants during the first six months of 2009 with 13,200 asylum claims lodged by its citizens. The latest figures, however, show a decreasing trend, with roughly one third fewer Iraqis requesting international protection compared to the previous two semesters. The decrease in Iraqi claims was particularly signficant during the second quarter of 2009 when 5,400 applied for asylum in the 44 industrialized countreis, the lowest quarterly level since the second quarter of 2006.
During the first six months of 2009, Iraqis lodged asylum applications in 38 out of the 44 industrialized countries covered by this report, but the distribution of claims is not equally spread across countries. More than half of all Iraqi claims were submitted in just four countries: Germany (3,000), Turkey (2,600), Sweden (1,000) and the Netherlands (950). The decrease in Iraqi asylums was observed among all major receiving countries, and in particular in Sweden, where figures plummeted, from an average of roughtly 9,300 claims per semester during 2007, to 1,000 during the reporting period. Although the levels and trends in asylum flows are often difficult to explain, they can sometimes be related to concrete policy changes. In the case of Sweden, the change in Swedish decision making on Iraqi asylum claims, following the Migration Court's determination that the situation in Iraq is not one of "armed conflict", may have led to a shift in flows to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.

This was the fourth year in a row that the number one country of origin was Iraq. UNHCR also released [PDF format warning] "
Developing a Livelihoods Assessment and Strategy: Case Stduy from UNCHR Jordan." The report estimates there are currently 685 Iraqis seeking asylum in Jordan and 500,413 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

The Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has come from various educational and societal backgrounds. Many had become very frustrated and suffer psychological distress due to the isolation and idleness that they face. Many were asking for an opportunity to be involved in delivering services to the refugee community (which also can be used as a method to enhance the community based approach), and many asked for opportunities to expand their existing skills and capacities.

And how many Iraqi refugees did the US accept? In the
August 19th snapshot the Eric Schwartz (Asst Sect of Population, Refugees and Migration) State Dept press conference was covered. He asserted in that press conference, regarding Iraqi refugees being accepted by the US, "The numbers -- let me -- I think I may answer your next question. The numbers for fiscal year 2008, I think are on the order of about 13,000. I'm looking to my team here. And the numbers for fiscal year 2009 will get us -- will probably be up to about 20,000." Click here for transcript and video of the press conference. Following the November 2008 election, Sheri Fink (ProPublica) reported on the issue and noted, "A State Department official contacted by ProPublica said, 'We really do recognize a special responsibility.' The official said that resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009 was a minimum target. 'We hope to bring in many more.' The U.S. will also be accepting Iraqis who worked for the US through special immigrant visas, a program [7] that resulted from legislation introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (discussed [8] recently by Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues)." So how many Iraqi refugees resettle in Fiscal Year 2009? According to the US State Dept this month, the number is 18,838. Bare minimum was reached and a tiny bit passed. So what is that? The partially nude minimum? What a proud moment for the US government.

Staying with the US government, at the State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about Iraq and the 'intended' elections for January 2010 and he responded:

The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and -- I guess -- Iraqi law or the-the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What's happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text. The whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security which is composed of the head of the main parties and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President and (two) Vice Presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And, of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a -- this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a -- this is the kind of a process that you don't see very often in Baghdad. So, in some ways, it's encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.

McClatchy's Jospeh Galloway notes the 'intended' elections in a piece where he weighs in on the 'change' (non)delivered by US President Barack Obama, "The president-to-be promised a swift withdrawal from the Iraqi quicksand, but that hasn't come to pass, either. Instead, we witness a slow-mo pullout that will sort of end things on the Bush administration's timetable of late 2011 for the last American combat troops to be gone, and God only knows when for the rest to leave. That's if the Iraqi parliament can pass a new election law in time for elections to be held on schedule in January." Yesterday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy told the US House Armed Services Committee that the delay was not currently a problem. She stated that Parliament had two weeks to act and that they could "simply have a vote on an election date" and leave all other issues by the wayside as they utilized the law from the 2005 elections. This would not only mean that the elections would be on a closed-list, it would also mean the issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed. (The long post-poned issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed.) On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday (a new one begins airing tomorrow night), Jasim Azawi explained "an open list is where a group, they list every single candidate running for office, for parliament. While a closed list-- just like happened in 2005 -- you really don't know who you are voting for." Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was on the show and he is among those calling for an open list -- as is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- and Allawi offered this, "In fact, this is another failure by the Iraqi Parliament to produce a strategic law that would -- hopefully would be cementing democracy. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Likewise, the Parliament has failed in producing a law for the parties -- to say where the funding for these parties are coming from, what they are, who they are, are they national, are they sectarian, are they secular. So there are no laws -- no laws of election. Indeed, the Iraqi people are disenchanted with the so-called closed list because usually it's either voting for the sect or voting for the -- for the leader of the list." Along with using the former election law being seen as a failure by Iraqs, there's also the what Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Michele Flournoy did not reference that decision to the committee yesterday. Which doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Other problems include
Faleh Hassan (Middle East Online) reports that the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is currently "facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections" Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the "supreme Shiite religious tuhorities," the Marajiya, have concerns about the elections including the issue of the lists, "Another Iraqi who's close to the Marjaiya said their foremost goal was to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that replacing the system of party lists of candidates with direct votes for representatives would serve this aim."

US State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly was also asked today about the US Embassy in Baghdad and "shoddy work" and he sidestepped the issue with, "Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you." What was he avoiding?
Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the costly ($736 million) US Embassy is the subject of a new study by the State Dept's Inspector General which finds, "contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., failed to properly design, construct and commission the largest U.S. Embassy overseas. It also cites failures by the former leadership of the State Department bureau that's responsible for constructing overseas diplomatic posts. Officials there said that those failures had been rectified, and they took issue with some aspects of the inspector general's report." And they note McClatchy's previous coverage of the US Embassy construction issues including the following:

New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ready — six months late
At new U.S. Embassy in Iraq, even kitchens are fire hazards
Mammoth new U.S. Embassy marks new stage for Iraq

The State Dept uses contractors to provide 'protection' in Iraq -- contactors such as Blackwater (which prefers to be called "Xe" these days).
Earlier this month, Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) reported US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has shut the press and the public out of the pre-trial hearings and the judge asserts he is doing so to guarantee a fair trial. The trial? September 16, 2007, Blackwater shot up Baghdad. The death toll was at least 14. Finally the issue moves to a US court and the press and public are left in the dark. Del Quentin Wilber reported that Washington Post attorney James McLaughling lodging a request for the judge to reconsider the decision to hold the pre-trial hearing behind closed doors. Today the Los Angeles Times editorialized on the matter observing:

Urbina's action is an extreme and unjustifiable response to fears about pretrial publicity. It is also difficult to square with long-standing Supreme Court decisions requiring that courtrooms be open unless there are extraordinary circumstances justifying closure.
[. . .]
It's appropriate for a judge to worry about the effect of prejudicial publicity. But the Supreme Court repeatedly has insisted that there are ways to minimize the effect of publicity without closing the courtroom or forbidding the media to report on what transpires there. For example, when it comes time to select the jury, candidates can be subjected to what the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger called "searching questioning ... to screen out those with fixed opinions as to guilt or innocence."
[. . .]
As for the revelation of secret grand jury material, to the extent that's a problem, the judge could close sessions in which such testimony was likely to play a part and release redacted transcripts later. But blanket secrecy is no more justified by a fear of disclosing grand jury testimony than it is by a concern about pretrial publicity.

Josh Gerstein (Politico) reports that attorneys representing the five Blackwater contractors in the case "are demanding that the U.S. government arrange armed security for the defense team as it heads into the dangerous streets of Baghdad to gather evidence and interview witnesses." Among the arguments the defense is making is that the prosecution will be relying on the efforst of the FBI which has visited Baghdad to meet with witnesses and compile evidence. Gerstein notes that, last month, "Judge Ricardo Urbina asked Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson to consider the plea for help." As the FBI noted last December, a sixth Blackwater contractor entered a guilty please December 5th "to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the Sept. 16, 2007 shooting at Nisur Square." At a press conference December 8th, US Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan declared, "While there were dangers in Baghdad in September 2007, there were also ordinary people going about their lives, performing mundane daily tasks, like making their way through a crowded traffic circle." In the press conference it was noted that "at least 14 persons" were killed and at least twenty were injured while and the five contractors were also alleged to be responsible for "assaulting but not injuring at least 18."

Nouri al-Maliki hid out in Syria for many years and Syria rejected efforts on the parts of the then-government in Iraq to extradite Nouri and many others. These days he's angry that Syria won't turn over Iraqis to the current government or 'government' in Baghdad. He thinks if he stomps his feet, Syria should immediately turn over approximately 200 Iraqis. When Black Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday, Gory Wednesday took place back in August, Nouri immediately attempted to utilize the Baghdad bombings to claim that Syria was enabling terrorism and that they must turn Iraqis over. This wasn't the first time the Nouri led government or 'government' in Baghdad had taken part in confrontations with Syria. Dropping back to the
October 27, 2008 snapshot:

Reuters reported that US and Iraqi officials were summed by the Syrian Foriegn Ministry following an attack which the Telegraph of London described as follows: "In an echo of the Israeli air strikes which last year targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, US military helicopters were reported to have crossed into Syria to drop troops who then executed the mission.The state news agency Sana reported that eight civilians had been killed in the raid. 'Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (1345 GMT) on Sunday,' it said. 'American soldiers' who had emerged from helicopters 'attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths. The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory,' Sana said." Tony Perry (Babylon and Beyond, Los Angeles Times) wondered, "Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike?" Today Ellen Knickmeyer and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) explained, "U.S. attacks inside Syria are extremely rare, though the U.S. military has stepped up security along Iraq's border with Syria in recent months to stem the traffic of fighters and weapons into Iraq. U.S. officials say many insurgents, particularly suicide bombers, arrive in Iraq via the Syrian border." Reuters reports: "A deadly raid on the Syrian side of Iraq's border, blamed by Syria on the United States, targeted an area used by insurgents for attacks on Iraq, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Monday." CNN cites Sgt Brooke Murphy as one military spokesperson stonewalling: "Unfortunately, we cannot confirm anything at the moment." Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) explain, "In Washington, several military representatives who were asked about the operation did not deny that a raid had taken place. Although they would not confirm the attack, they used language typically employed after raids conducted by secretive special operations forces."

Reese Erlich and Peter Coyote (Vanity Fair) examine the attack. This is from their opening where they detail how bystander Akram Hamid ended up shot by US forces:

They display no markings of the Syrian Air Force, and they are the wrong color, painted black. He sees a B and a four. And they are flying low. When the door-gunners open fire, Hamid throws himself against the angled bank of the river. The men are shooting everywhere, firing from the air, spraying the ground.
Suddenly, the formation splits apart. Two helicopters hover just above the cinder-block walls that enclose a small farm, 300 feet away. One disappears inside the farm, and the last one lands about halfway between him and the wall. Eight men in uniform leap out and run quickly, crouching low, carrying weapons. They are not Syrians. They take cover farther up along the same bank, several hundred yards away.
Shells from the air are tearing out chunks of concrete, punching holes through the cinder blocks as if it were paper. The noise of the guns and motors is deafening. Hamid pulls himself along the rutted ground, peers fearfully over the edge of the bank, and slithers away, taking advantage of a lone tree for cover. He does not understand what is happening.
Some of the eight soldiers on the ground move forward and take up positions outside the high walls, but they don't seem to notice him. The hovering helicopters continue firing, tearing up the ground between him and the farm. "I thought it was safe because they didn't shoot at me," Hamid says later. After watching for about 15 minutes, he jumps on his bike to escape but, he says, "that's when they shot me." A bullet rips through his right arm, breaking it, mangling the muscles and nerves badly, and knocking him to the ground. Struggling to his feet, he sees the soldiers watching him as they climb into the helicopters and leave. "I was the last one they shot," he recalls. "No one was shooting at the soldiers," Hamid continues with certainty. "No one was shooting back."

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

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 person and left another injured, a second Baghdad sticky bombing wounded four people, 1 Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, 1 Mosul roadside bombing left three people injured and a Diyala Province sticky bombing was an attack on Sahwa leader Sheikh Hussam Aziz and injured him and his driver.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Wedensday night 1 person was shot dead in Kirkuk and 3 people were shot dead in Mosul while today in Mosul 1 woman and her 6 children were shot dead by her husband (the children's father) who then took his own life and a Mosul armed clash resulted in 2 deaths (one police officer, one assailant). Reuters notes 1 person shot dead in Mosul today.

In the US,
Courage to Resist notes that Iraq War resister Tony Anderson has been "released from the Ft. Sill stockade after serving a full year in prison for refusing to fight in Iraq" and quote Tony stating, "I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don't regret following my conscience. I know there must be consequences for my actions and I must accept this fact." And they note, "Please help Courage to Resist support the troops that refuse to fight with your urgently needed tax-deductible donation today. We also host a number of individual defense funds if you wish to contribute to a specific resister. Read more ." And Ms. magazine notes:

What does it mean that for the first time in U.S. history women are about to become the majority of U.S. paid workers?
Ms. is pre-releasing its
Fall feature article "Paycheck Feminism," that suggests some of the governmental policies that can and must change to meet the needs of women today.
Join Ms. NOW to get the rest of this exciting Fall issue delivered straight to your mailbox.
What will this historic milestone mean for government policies, our workplace, and our lives?
Tell us what you think.
Here is what you have told us so far: "Ratify CEDAW and make it illegal for men to be paid more than women for the same quality of work." - Julia from California
"Mandate that business provide 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave" - Bridgette from Washington, DC
"We need to revive the 1980's discussion of comparable work and start a legislative imitative addressing this…" - Margo from Illinois
"Help lesbian women in the military by repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' … legalizing gay marriage… start[ing] a national ad campaign promoting equal distribution of household labor… lower[ing] the work week from 40 hours a week to 36 hours a week…" - Azzurra
"Single payer health care not attached to a job!" - Nora
"Finally, pass the ERA" - Jean from Washington, DC
Our Fall issue also includes Gloria Steinem's 75th - birthday wishes (true to Gloria, they are wishes for feminism's future!) and an original poem about Gloria by Alice Walker.
Make sure that you get this exciting and iconic issue of Ms.
For a Feminist Future,

joe galloway
roy gutman
sahar issa
al jazeera
inside iraq
jasim al-azzawi
the new york timesrod nordland
warren p. strobel
reutersthe los angeles times
del quentin wilberthe washington post
ellen knickmeyerernesto londonoborzou daragahijulian e. barnes

Read on ...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bully Boy Bush the destroyer

"That is from January 1, 2006 and for a long time, that was the most popular of all my early comics. I did it because C.I. was doing a year in review and I wanted her to have something she could use for a visual.

Providing a visual was the whole reason I started drawing online, it was my contribution to the community.

This is based on a number of things but primarily a Cass Elliot photograph where she, a peace mama, is in a field of daises looking wonderful. Bully Boy Bush was not a peace papa, so he would be surrounded by the destruction he caused.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the VA appears before Congress about their billing problems, the governments of Turkey and Iraq enter into a series of agreements, charges against Syria continue to be floated by Iraqi government officials, Blackwater does a pre-trial in private, and more.
Today's hearing will focus on the inappropriate billing practices of the VA where veterans receive a bill for the wrong amount or get a bill that they should not have received in the first place," explained US House Rep Glen Nye bringing the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Subcommittee On Health hearing to order. "Unfortunately inappropriate billing effects both service-connected veterans and non-service connected veterans. For example, a veteran with a service-related spinal cord injury may be billed for the treatment of a urinary tract infection. Now the urinary tract infection may clearly be linked to and the result of the service-connected injury; however, veterans are still receiving bills for the treatment of such secondary conditions. As a result, these veterans may be forced to seek a time consuming and burdensome re-adjudication of their claim indicating the original service-connected ratings. It is my understanding that one of the reasons for inappropriate billing of secondary conditions is that the VA cannot store more than six service-connected conditions in their IT system. It is also my understanding that the VA is taking steps to correct the deficiency but the problem has not been fully resolved and our veterans continue to receive inaccurate bills. Non-service-connected veterans also encounter over-billing and inappropriate charges for co-payments. One issue that I've been made aware of repeatedly is that some non-service connected veterans receive multiple bills for a single medical treatment or health care visit."
Nye was bringing the hearing to order in place of Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud. The hearing was divided into three panels. The first panel was composed of Adrian Atizado (Disabled American Veterans), Fred Cowell (Paralyzed Veterans of America) and Denise A. Williams (American Legion). The second panel was the GAO's Kay L. Daly. Panel three was composed of the VA's Dr. Gary M. Baker with the VA's Stephanie Mardon and Kristin Cunningham.
US House Rep Henry E. Brown is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee. We'll note this from his opening remarks:
It is the solemn mission -- mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government to care for the men and women in uniform who sustain injuries and illnesses as a result of their service to our nation; therefore, I find it deeply troubling to hear about veterans being inappropriately billed for co-payments for medical care and the medication to treat service-connected conditions. A similar issue arose earlier this year when the Obama administration was considering a plan to bill veterans private insurance for service-connected care. Fortunately, this ill-conceived proposal never saw the light of day given the fierce opposition of members from both sides of the aisle and the veterans' service organizations. As I said then, "This flies in the face of our moral obligation as a grateful nation to care for those wounded heroes."
On the first panel, Cowell noted the maze veterans go through when attempting to use the phone to address a billing issue. He noted the differing problems facing service-connected veterans and non-service connected veterans with billing errors, "Service-connected veterans are faced with a scenario where they, or their insurance company, may be billed for treatment of a service-connected condition. Meanwhile non-service connected disabled veterans are usually billed multiple times for the same treatment episode or have difficulty getting their insurance companies to pay for treatment provided by the VA." Paralyzed Veterans of America surveyed 4,000 of their members and 449 responded. Of that 449, 30% told of being "either billed directly by the VA for care that they receive or have tehir insurance companies billed for their care." From there, 22% reported their insurance companies were wrongly billed for the care or "treatment of a service-connected condtion," 17% stated they themselves were "billed directly for treatment of a service-connected condition" and 9% stated they were billed multiple times "for the same treatment episode."
Along with citing PVA's survey, Cowell shared that he himself faces these problems, "But almost every billing statement I receive has several charges that are incorrect. For several years, I simply paid these charges because I did not realize they were eroneus. For at least the past three years, I now work with my visiting nurse to review my bills for incorrect charges. She then corrects the social worker on my team and they work with the DC business office to remove incorrect charges. This is a monthly process because somehow the problem cannot be fixed on a local level and these errors continue to happen. This means that important, front-line health care workers are spending their valuable time on correcting billing issues rather than caring for veterans."

Like PVA, DVA conducted their own survey. Atizado explained that 402 members responded. 62% of respondents stated their insurance companies were "billed for their care at the VA," 43% stated they "receive bills for their care from the VA, 55% stated "that their insurance companies are being billed for treatment from VA of a service-connected condtion," and 43% stated that they were "billed for treatment at the VA for a service-connected condtion." He observed, "What is most troubling is the perception these veterans carry about the VA being indiscriminating in their billing and collections and VA being unresponsive when veterans bring their concerns to the local facility for corrective action."
Denise Williams noted the American Legion's long committment to veterans:
Denise Williams: A very notable instance where this was evident was in March 2009 when past national commander David Rehbein met with President Obama and learned that the administration planned to move forward on a proposal to charge veterans with private insurance for the treatment of service-connected injuries and illnesses at VA facilities. Under the proposed change, VA would bill the veterans' private insurance company for treatment of their service-connected disabilities. After fierce opposition from the American Legion and other veterans' service organizations, the administration dropped their plan to bill private insurance companies for treatment of service-connected medical conditions.
US House Rep Glen Nye observed, "First of all I'd just like to I want to say I appreciate Mr. Brown, the Rankig Member's comments, when he mentioned something that a number of our panelists also mentioned about the notion that the administration was kicking around earlier in the year about potentially charging veterans' private-insurance for service-connected injuries. And I want to say I was also proud to be part of that bi-partisan effort to raise the issue quickly -- along with our VSOs -- to the White House and fortunately we were able to resolve that and get that taken off the table early."
In her written opening remarks (but not in the opening remarks she delivered), Williams also noted the American Legion haa recently documented ten cases "where VA erroneaously billed service-connected veterans' private insurances for their service-connected medical care. In one case, a veteran passed away in the Tampa VA Medical Center, November 27, 2009. He was 100% service-conected for several conditions, and was also a military retiree enrolled in TRICARE for Life."
Nye asked the panel the typical amount of time their members state it takes to resolve the billing issues.
Fred Cowell: In my personal experience, I generally receive a VA billing statement three or four months from the actual date of treatment. At that point, I have to go through the bill match it -- I have learned over time to match it to a home calendar that I keep so I can track actual visit dates from my home calendars. If I notice more than one billing in that particular month, generally I get a single visit in a month from my home care nurse. Sometimes I'm bill as often as three or four times in that month for that single service. I then have to wait for the following visit which is the following month to talk with her about the issue. She checks her calendar, verifies that there is erroneous billing going on and then she goes back to the DC hospital and contacts the social worker on that team who then reviews the chart and they go up to the business office. So sometimes it can take six to eight months to get a correction for a billing error. And most months, there's more than one billing error on my -- on my statement. And we're hearing the same thing from veterans across the country, PVA members, that it takes six to eight months if they even know that there's a billing error to get it corrected.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Did you say that most months there's a billing error on your statements?
Fred Cowell: That's correct.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Alright, thank you. Mr. Atizado?
Adrian Atizado: Thank you for that question. The veterans that I ended up calling from our survey who said -- who said it was -- that it was okay for us to contact them, the reasons -- or the time runs the gamut from having it corrected within a few weeks to not being corrected at all -- to being corrected for one bill and having a recurring bill, I should say recurring inappropriate bill happen the following treatment episode or the following month. So I can certainly tell you that there's no consistency in the corrective actions. There just isn't. Some veterans have given up, some veterans will pay and some veterans will hold themselves in debt and end up having an offset put on either their compensation or their pension despite the fact that that's an inappropriate bill.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Okay, thank you. Ms. Williams?
Denise Williams: Mr. Chairman, I believe it varies based on the case. But those ten cases that we compiled in April, one of our assistant directors did follow up with the veterans and I believe there were some cases that were not resolved. And this was last week. I must say that our executive director did meet with our VA liason last week and I believe that they are working on resolving those cases so it does vary. We don't have an exact time for when they're resolved but there's still some cases out there that has not been rectified.
Kay L. Daly read her lengthy prepared remarks about . . . a 2008 GAO study. I have no idea why the members were polite and sat through that. That study's been gone over before and, check the calendar, it's 2009 -- almost 2010 (and it is fiscal year 2010). When asked questions, she repeatedly stated something was beyond her scope or she did not know but would get back to the committee. Apparently dusting off a year-old GAO report already discussed at length with Congress was all the time she had for homework and preparation. Not surprisingly, the committee didn't keep her around for long and moved on to the third panel.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: I appreciate what VA is trying to do to solve this problem; however, as you heard from the first panel, there seems to be a disconnect when you're looking at billing for service-connected disability. That's a big concern I have because, at the beginning of the year, we heard through the grapevine that this adminstration was going to go after third party collections for service-connected disability. So I'm wondering whether or not there is someone in the VA who believes that is still a good policy? And, even though they're not supposed to, that they're doing it? Unfortunately what I think happens sometimes is the veterans who -- there will be veterans who fight it, then there will be veterans who will not fight it and will actually pay and that's the big concern that I have. And I know that the GAO made seven recommendations on how the VA could correct this. Has the VA adopted all seven of those seven recommendations?
Gary Baker: Yes, Mr. Chairman, VA has provided information to GAO. As we mentioned, a meeting was held earlier last week. But we had provided written response some time ago indicating our actions on all seven activities. And we have incorporated their recommendations into our policies and practices, issued new handbooks, new policy guidelines and training and follow-up. If I might address the service-connected issue, it has never been VA's authority to bill for service-connected conditions. While I understand that there was earlier this year some discussion of changing that practice, that was never communicated to our field facilities and providers as a change in policy. And our information systems, as I indicated earlier, automatically exempt service-connected veterans who are [. . .] service-connected from co-pay billing for inpatient and outpatient care and other exemptions as they relate to eligibility. And our providers received no change of instructions in exempting veterans for treatment of their service-connected conditions. In terms of the concerns that were addressed by the first panel, in terms of billing for service-connected conditions, I wouldn't sit here and say that VA is perfect in its billing practices. Certainly there are times when we make errors. And we stand ready and willing to correct those errors. And if there are instances where we're not being timely in terms of follow-up on that, we certainly want to hear about that so that we can improve not only on individual situations but if we have a systemic problem we're more than happy to address that.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Do you view improper billing as a problem or do you feel it's just an isolated case from what you heard from the first panel?
Gary Baker: In terms of improper billing? I think VA billed almost 16 million -- or 13 million co-pay bills last year total. I think there's a possibility that VA makes errors in making co-pay bills or in the millions of third-party bills that we make. I don't believe that we have a large-scale, systemic problem in terms of identification of service-connected conditions. But it is related to the frontline provider who delivers service identifying that the care is related or not related to the veterans service-connected condition. We recognize that there can occassionally be errors made in that situation and that there are interpretation issues that can arise [. . .]
"A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short timelines," declared VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to the US House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as to why the VA had screwed up the payments for veterans attempting to pursue higher education. "I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take."
Shinseki admits, for the first damn time, that he knew the Post-9/11 GI Bill would not be ready and had even hired an outside consultant to weigh in. But he never got around to telling Congress until after -- AFTER -- veterans were suffering. And Congress never got around to be offended on behalf of veterans or on behalf of themselves.
US House Rep Corinne Brown was called out in yesterday's snapshot and deserved to be called out a lot worse. Last night, a veteran and veterans' advocate at yesterday hearing shared how disgusted he was with her remarks and asked that I add that Brown spoke as if the GI Bill was "for ex-cons. She spoke about us like we were uneducated felons who'd committed capital murder and should be saying, 'Thank you, VA, for taking pity on our criminal asses'." And he's exactly right. Brown's statements were appalling clueless and shamefully offensive. If you looked around while she was speaking, you could see the veterans and veterans families present just recoil as Brown spoke. She was also of the opinion that Shinseki was doing something wonderful and good and noble.
What world does she live in? Is she not a member of Congress? Senator Jim Webb championed the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as did others but he was a leader. Congress passed it, it became a law. The Secretary of any department following the law is not a gift and it's a damn shame Corrine Brown thought it was. A congressional aide pointed that out today, to give credit where it's due.
After Shinseki volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, the Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew. That never happened. The entire hearing was treated like a joke with jokes at the start of it. (See Kat's "House Committee on Veterans Affairs" from last night.)
Today Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chaired a Subcommitte hearing on the GI Bill. She and others did a strong job and we'll go over that hearing tomorrow but listening to her and and US House Rep John Adler have to remind the VA that they are supposed to keep Congress informed of any problems -- real or potential -- that may arise or do arise and watching VA's witnesses nod along as if they'd done that was just unbelievable. We'll cover the hearing tomorrow. In part because I'm not in the mood to go into it right now and in part because a friend who was at the hearing wants to share a few thoughts before I write it up.
Today Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, arrived in Baghdad. The Pakistan Times notes that he met with Nouri al-Maliki whose spokesperson, Ali al-Dabbagh, declared that "about 50 agreements" between Turkey and Iraq "will be signed" during the visit. Pinar Aydinli, Thomas Grove, Ibon Villelabeitia and William Hardy (Reuters) note that chief among the expected agreements is one that would allow for the transporation of "Iraqi natural gas to Europe via Turkey". Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The two nations will also discuss cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party of PKK, Prime Minister Erdogan said. He urged European countries to do more to combat drug smuggling by the PKK." Today's Zaman hails the meeting as "a giant step forward to boost ties" and notes agreements also cover "sharing water" before adding, "Erdogan's visit to Iraq came just days after Turkey and another southern neighbor, Syria, signed deals to create a similar mechanism of cooperation and formally abolish visa requirements on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was one of the nine ministers accompanying Erdogan on his Baghdad visit, walked across the border with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, in a symbolic move underling the growing cooperation between their countries after signing the agreement to end the visa requirements and create a Turkey-Syria High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council." This comes as Alsumaira reports that Hosheyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, announced today that talks between Iraq and Syria "to solve the security crisis have been halted" and found Zebari again declaring that the United Nations is launching an envoy mission/investigation into the bombings of Black Wednesday/ Bloody Wednesday/ Gory Wednesday. AFP quotes Zebari claiming, "What we agreed in New York, with the UN Secretary General, is the nomination of a UN employee who will make an assessment on foreign intervention in Iraq, and will also investigate the causes and consequences of the crimes of August 19." AFP notes the UN has thus far refused to confirm or deny Zebari's assertion. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes Zebari declaring the meetings between Syria and Iraq ended: "After four meetings the government realized that these meetings are pointless and they have not produced any . . . tangible results or any movement." She adds any "investigation into foreign interference in Iraq would also include Iran and other neighbors but the Iraqi government has focused on the suicide truck bombs which Iraq has blamed on Baath Party extremists living in Syria." Strangely for someone claiming that an investigation would take place, Zebari also declared that if there is no special envoy, then his country would take the matter to the UN Security Council. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) notes that Zebari was originally advocating for an international court and the United Nations did not sign off that.
Meanwhile AFP reports that Iraq's Parliament announced yesterday the draft election law was being "delayed until next week" with claims that it will be addressed on Monday. UPI and Official Wire report the law will be addressed Saturday. However, Alsumaria reports it will be Monday and reports on the draft law amdendments:

According to the amendments, the number of lawmakers would become 311. Elections would be carried out following the province considered as one electoral district. Seats would be proportionate to the number of inhabitants according to ratio cards' statistics.
The pending issue of the open list brought up several views.
The first view: Candidacy would follow the open list system. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.
The second view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.
The third view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to at least three candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.

NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reports, "Parliament is now expecting to vote on the election law this Sunday, but that may again be delayed. If Iraq does not carry out elections by January, it will raise serious questions about the government's legitimacy."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 person and left three more wounded, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured four police officers, a Mosul bicycle bombing injured three people and, dropping back to last night, a Toz Khurmatu sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 "Kurdish security member" and left his wife and their two children wounded. Reuters notes 2 Mosul roadside bombing which resulted in the death of 1 police officer (four people left injured) and the other injured one person. Lin Zhi (Xinhua) notes a Saadiyah roadside bombing which left an Iraqi officer and an Iraqi soldier injured, a Baladruz roadside bombing that left three Iraqi soldiers injured "when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle" and a Baquba bombing near a home which injured two people.
Reuters notes 1 journalist was injured in a Ramadi attack yesterday.
Turning to the US, September 16, 2007, Blackwater shot up Baghdad. The death toll was at least 14. The press reaction was to undercount and to make jokes. No, Gwen Ifill, it is not and never will be forgotten. Pretrial hearings are taking place in DC; however, the press has been blocked from attending. Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) reports US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has shut the press and the public out of the pre-trial hearings and the judge asserts he is doing so to guarantee a fair trial:

In a letter Tuesday, The Post asked Urbina to reconsider. Post attorney James McLaughlin said the court should have put the proceedings on the open docket and given the public an earlier chance to challenge the basis for the closure of the hearing. He said concerns about the impact of pretrial publicity were "highly speculative" unless supported by factual findings in open court.
Urbina denied The Post's request. He said the rights of the five guards to a fair trial outweighed the public's interest in attending the proceedings. He said he was concerned about how news accounts of the statements might affect witnesses, some as far away as Baghdad.
Meanwhile Eric Watkins (Oil & Gas Journal) reports that the Parliament did manage to push through the legislation necessary to get 100 British soldiers back in Iraq to "protect its vital southern oil export terminals." They did that yesterday and Watkins doesn't find the offense in it. Foreign troops in Iraq are supposedly there for 'safety' but Watkins has just revealed British troops are being brought back in to protect the oil. Nouri sure is lucky he doesn't have to foot that bill too, isn't he? British soldiers? Less lucky. Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) covers the Iraq inquiry in England. So British troops can be used to protect Iraqi oil -- their lives are judged that unimportant by the UK and corporations. In the US? Adam Lichtenheld and Ron Moore's "No Contractor Left Behind Part IV: Congress's Powerless Probe" (DC Bureau):
After a flurry of Pentagon contracting scandals involving KBR went unaddressed by Republican lawmakers under the Bush administration, Democrats ran on promises of "real and serious" oversight in their successful 2006 campaign to win back Congress.
But American soldiers poisoned by KBR in Iraq six years ago have found weak refuge on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders have left the Qarmat Ali probe to a lone senator, Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and a largely powerless Congressional panel, the
Democratic Policy Committee (DPC). Having traditionally operated as a partisan support forum, the DPC lacks the capabilities to ensure accountability for the sick veterans of Qarmat Ali -- who have struggled to afford costly medical treatments while the company that endangered them continues to reap millions of dollars in windfall profits.
It was Sen. Dorgan, the DPC's chairman, who first uncovered the Qarmat Ali incident and brought it to Congress last year. Since then, the Senate committee charged with direct oversight of the U.S. military -- the powerful and highly influential
Armed Services Committee -- has largely stayed silent. When DCBureau called Armed Services chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), spokesman Bryan Thomas declined comment.
"I've tried to do as much as I can with the limited capacity I have," Dorgan said. "It just begs for investigation."
The Democratic Policy Committee issued the following:

(WASHINGTON , D.C. ) --- The U.S. Army is ramping up its response to the exposure of U.S. troops in Iraq to the deadly chemical sodium dichromate, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday. He said it has also doubled the Army estimate of the number of U.S. troops who may have been exposed to the cancer-causing chemical from 347 to more than 1,164.
Department of Veterans Affairs is also stepping up its effort to respond to the exposures to better monitor and treat exposed soldiers.
"These are significant breakthroughs," Dorgan said Friday. "Lives will be saved because of these actions."
As Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), Dorgan chaired hearings on the exposure, and the Army's response in June 2008 and August 2009. Multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, were revealed at the 2008 hearing. The hearing in August focused on the Army's response to the exposure and its failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face. Dorgan has been pushing the Army, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a more vigorous effort to reach, warn, monitor and treat soldiers who may have been exposed to the chemical at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in 2003.
Dorgan released a letter Friday from Army Secretary Pete Geren who said the Army is now working to track down and notify all 1,164 exposed soldiers to alert them to the health risk they now face. Geren told Dorgan the Army is now working more closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that VA health professionals know to be looking for sodium dichromate exposure symptoms and how to treat them.
Dorgan also released a letter from Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki informing him that the VA is stepping up its response to the exposure. Shinseki wrote that the VA is now offering veterans who were at the site free medical monitoring and treatment. Previously, soldiers exhibiting symptoms consistent with sodium dichromate had to prove their conditions were service connected. That burden of proof, which the VA has lifted,often delayed or prevented treatment for illnesses for which prompt and urgent treatment often means the difference between life and death.
National Guard troops from West Virginia , Oregon , South Carolina , Indiana and members of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were among those at the Qarmat Ali site who were exposed to the deadly chemical.

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