From May 7, 2006, that's "Life Inside the Oval Palace." I really don't know what I was thinking. Or didn't, when I looked at this comic. I didn't even remember it. Then I saw Karl's robe and, honestly, my niece loves Disney and we had watched Sleeping Beauty together because she was staying over here while her parents were out of town at a wedding.
So that's really why that comic came to be. Yeah, it's more Snow White with the whole looking glass. I just remember being impressed with the velvet and purple shades in Sleeping Beauty.
Thursday, January 28, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, a former US Staff Sgt admits to money laundering (for plastic surgery and other 'needed' items) while serving in Iraq, the US Senate continues to ignore a bill proposed to assist veterans exposed to toxic hazards, Iraq cracks down on the media again, and more.
Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to vote on a nomination and proposed legislation. Starting with the nomination, November 9th, US President Barack Obama nominated Raul Perea-Henze to be the Assistant Secretary of Policy and Planning, Department of Veterans Affairs. Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee took a vote. Excepting Ranking Member Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham and Johnny Isakson, all voted in favor of Perea-Henze (Graham was not present during the vote, Burr asked that the record reflect Graham and his own votes opposing the nomination). ("All voted in favor? I would assume the entire committee. Most of whom did not show -- eight of the fifteen committee members were present during the vote -- for the hearing but if Graham's vote in opposition is recorded despite him not being present, I would assume those not present could also vote in favor of the nomination.)
Markup hearing? If you're thinking they addressed S. 1779, you are wrong. That bill addressed the need for a federal registry, similar to the one for Agent Orange exposure, for veterans exposed to contaminates while serving. It was introduced by Senator Evan Bayh, has been held up by the Committee since October 21st. Bayh's bill is co-sponsored by Byron Dorgan (who has been also been a leader on this issue), Robert Byrd, Jeff Merkley, John Rockefeller, Ron Wyden and Richard Lugar. That bill's still buried.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for this mark up, following up on the powerful and emotional hearing of October 8th last year with military personnel and family members exposed to toxic materials in their combat service, and even from their military housing. At that hearing, my remarks and questions focused on Russell Powell, a medic with the West Virginia Guard. He and hundreds of other members of the Guard were exposed to toxic chemicals while on duty guarding the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility in Basra, Iraq. For years, they were kept in the dark -- not told about their exposure. And today, they are still struggling to get the health care they need. That is simply not acceptable. It must be fixed. And I believe today's mark represents the first important step forward. I greatly appreciate that Chairman Akaka has incorporated a vital provision from Senator Bayh's legislation -- which I have cosponsored -- to guarantee these guardsmen the quality VA health care coverage they have earned. That guarantee is an important element of the Homeless Veterans and Health Care Act and I strongly support it. But at last fall's hearing, we also were moved by the heartbreaking testimony from military family members. In particular: families describing serious water problems at Camp Lejeune and dangerous toxins in the air at Atsugi Naval Air base in Japan. There is no doubt, we all agreed: Military personnel and family members dealing with the painful consequences of toxic exposure deserve the best health care possible. Chairman Akaka's new legislation provides the right kind of care to families from Camp Lejeune and Atsugi Naval Air base. But his bill goes beyond those two locations and their toxic exposure incidents. It creates a process between the VA and DoD to deal with thousands of potential exposures through a joint board. And, so future families don't have to wait for decades, the bill establishes a clear time frame for the board's decisions. I firmly believe we must be absolutely clear about our shared responsibility. The VA's responsibility is our veterans and their care. DoD has a longstanding policy of caring for their military dependents. DoD bears significant responsibility and has to take responsibility, today. The Pentagon has to acknowledge what happened and bear the financial costs. This matters. The Akaka bill strikes the proper balance -- allowing the VA to provide coverage for veterans while DoD covers their families. The Chairman's legislation gets it right and I strongly support his efforts. This is our chance to do the right thing, honor our veterans' service and recognize their families' sacrifice, by ensuring they get the care they seek, they need, and they deserve.
It needed saying. Sadly, it went unsaid. There was no time for the needed bill.
What did they discuss? We'll note Richard Burr's remarks.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: As you know one of my top priorities in the Congress has been to end homelessness among our country's veterans. And the Committee Print S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, furthers that goal and I applaud all the members for their commitment to homelessness. I'm concerned however that the Committee's marking up legislation without having the official views of the Dept of Veterans Affairs on S. 1547, one of the key measures in the Committee Print before us today. We've heard the President talk about el-eliminating duplicate programs. We have had a legislative hearing on 1547 in October at which time where officials views from the administration were promised but, three months later, we still don't have those views. Without those views, the Committee doesn't have a full scope of key questions such as how the creation of a new program or the expansion of an existing ones will be coordinated with other homeless programs administered by the VA and other federal agencies? Or how this legislation fits with the [VA] Secretary's overall plan to end homelessness in five years? As well: What is the cost of the legislation and how long will it take the VA to be able to be appropriately staffed to carry out the bill's mandates? Now I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that any administration's testimony should dictate how this Committee proceeds but it would be helpful to have information to make an informed judgment on what's best for veterans and addressing their specific needs. As for the second bill on the agenda, quite frankly I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed at the approach used to provide health care for veterans and family members exposed to contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune. Not only might this bill be subject to Rule 25 Point Of Order because of subject matter, it's arguably in another Committee's jurisdiction, it also fails to appreciate the deep distrust that family members and veterans have for the Dept of Defense and, specifically, it's handling of these matters once these wells were found to be contaminated and, in the years since, on the scientific inquiries that have been ongoing. Frankly, to those effected by the contamination at Camp Lejeune, requiring DoD to be a key decision maker and provider of health care is absurd. Now. I'm disappointed personally that the majority has decided to take the tack that they have to put a different bill in. Uh-uh. I don't think it's been the practice of the Committee in the past. And, uhm, I hope this is not an indication of how we proceed forward in this Committee. I understand the Chairman has the votes, I know what the outcome is. It won't change my passion for this debate. It will not change the degree of description of what I share with the members . It is the reason that and I other members have turned to this legislation and it is certainly indicative of why Democrats and Republicans in the House next week will introduce practically the same bill with VA responsibilities to provide health care to individuals and family members that have disease that could likely be tied to exposure to contaminants on a military installation. Now I would only ask the members of this Committee -- likely included that group are some of your constituents -- and though you haven't had to fight the Dept of Defense day in and day out on behalf of this group, I have and members before me have -- without any conclusion, without any finality, without any help. Today as we sit here getting ready for this markup, even though under US Code 42, statutorily the Secretary of the Navy is obligated to pay for the studies required to understand the health and mortality effects of this exposure, the Secretary of the Navy refuses to fund the CDC's arm at ASTDR that is obligated entity to go out and share with the country their scientific conclusion. Let me say that again: The Secretary of the Navy has refused to fund -- even though the law says he has to. So for me in good conscience to turn this over to the Dept of Defense to determine the scope of coverage for these individuals is insane. If the outcome of this vote is pre-determined, then so be it. I would hate for members to leave the markup today and believe that they will not revisit this issue. It will be revisited time and time and time again until the Congress recognizes that maybe the Dept of Defense, maybe the Secretary of the Navy can hide but the Congress can't hide from these people. These are people we represent. These are people that have asked us to come here and represent their interests, their health concerns, their future and I can't hide from them.
To be clear, his objection to the second bill is that DoD is being put in charge when DoD is seen as the person who put people at risk to begin with and is seen as refusing to admit to the contamination after the public discovered it. He is advocating for, among other things, the VA being over the issue the way that the House proposal will advocate (US House Rep Chet Edwards is introducing that measure). Burr proposed an amendment, 9 (Democrats plus Bernie Sanders -- Sanders was not present) voted to table the amendment, all five Republicans voted against tabling it. (Again, only 8 of the 15 Committee members were present.)
On the first bill, his objection is one that is being whispered by Democrats and will probably come out in public in the next months: The administration promises to get back to Congress but never does. Publicly, Ike Skelton and Carl Levin (chairs of the House and Armed Services Committee) have made statements in hearings regarding this issue but look for more serious statements to be made. (Congress -- those two committees in fact -- have still not been provided with the so-called 'withdrawal' plan from Iraq by the administration despite repeated promises.)
Burr is stating that he is unsure of whether the bill is workable or what is needed because the VA has not provided the feedback that was promised. He is stating that hearing from the VA wouldn't mean a yes or a no vote for him but it would mean that he and the Committee would have a stronger framework to judge the bill and the needs. That is what he is saying. But what Democrats are saying (Burr is a Republican) is that they're getting very tired of the administration promising testimonies and witnesses and reports that never arrive. A Republican brought it up for the first time in a hearing this year but if the White House doesn't start living up to their promises to Congress, Democrats who are complaining privately are going to go public and they will not do it as nicely as US House Rep Skelton and US Senator Levin did last year.
For Jon Tester and you can read Kat tonight -- she'll cover his testy nature. Wally filling in for Rebecca tonight intends to note one aspect of Burr's remarks.
Today the US Justice Dept announced that Theresa Russell (not the actress, this is a one-time US Army Staff Sgt) entered a guilty plea to money laundering while 'serving' in Iraq and that her ill gotten gain went on to fund her purchase of "a car, cosmetic surgery, and" more. From the Justice Dept news release:
WASHINGTON -- A former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army pleaded guilty today to a one-count criminal information charging her with money laundering arising from a scheme involving the fraudulent awarding and administration of U.S. government contracts in Iraq, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division. Theresa Russell, 40, of Pleasanton, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Antonio. According to court documents, from January 2004 through October 2004, Russell was deployed to Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, a U.S. military installation near Balad, Iraq. As part of the plea, Russell admitted that from April 2004 to February 2005, she received more than $30,000 in cash from John Rivard, a former major in the U.S. Army Reserves. Russell admitted that she knew the money she received from Rivard was the proceeds of bribery. In July 2007, Rivard pleaded guilty to bribery, among other offenses, in connection with his service as an Army contracting officer at LSA Anaconda. According to court documents, from April 2004 to August 2005, Rivard conspired with a government contractor to steer federally-funded contracts to the contractor's company in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit bribe payments. According to court documents, Rivard instructed Russell to divide the payments she received from him into several smaller monetary bank deposits, which she admitted she did, in an effort to avoid the detection of law enforcement authorities. Russell admitted that she subsequently used the criminal proceeds to purchase, among other things, a car, cosmetic surgery, and household furnishings and goods. The maximum penalty for the money laundering charge is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release following the prison term. Sentencing is scheduled for May 21, 2010. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Daniel A. Petalas and Justin V. Shur of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, as well as Trial Attorney Ann C. Brickley. This case is being investigated by Army Criminal Investigation Command; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the FBI; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While we're on the legal system, we'll drop back to last week. Danny Fitzsimons is a British citizen who stands accused of killing two 1 British citizen (Paul McGuigan) and 1 Australian citizen (Darren Hoare) while wounding one Iraqi (Arkhan Madhi) in an August 9th Baghdad shooting.
"They gave me a gun" he said "They gave me a mission For the power and the glory -- Propaganda -- piss on 'em There's a war zone inside me -- I can feel things exploding -- I can't even hear the f**king music playing For the beat of -- the beat of black wings." [. . .] "They want you -- they need you -- They train you to kill -- To be a pin on some map -- Some vicarious thrill -- The old hate the young That's the whole heartless thing The old pick the wars We die in 'em To the beat of -- the beat of black wings" -- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.
Iraq War veteran Danny Fitzimons joined the British military at the age of 16 and was deployed on his first mission at the age of 18. Before he was 28-years-old, he'd been diagnosed with PTSD. Out of the military, he began working for the contractor AmrourGroup Inc in August 2009. The shootings took place August 9th. By August 10th, Martin Chulov and Steven Morris (Guardian) were reporting that British embassy staff was not allowed to speak with Danny and that the Iraqi government or 'government' was announcing Danny had been in court (the day after the incident) and given a full confession. To be clear, the reporters were not vouching for the confession. Only an idiot -- or an American reporter -- would do that. Iraq has a long history (even just post-invasion) of forcing 'confessions'. August 11th, Amnesty International issued the following:
Responding to reports that a British employee of a security company working in Iraq may face a death sentence, Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said: 'It's right that private military and security company employees like Danny Fitzsimons are not placed above the law when they're working in places like Iraq and it's right that the Iraqi authorities are set to investigate this very serious incident. 'However, as with all capital cases, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty if applied to Mr Fitzsimons in this case.'Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone. 'The important thing now is that if Danny Fitzsimons is put on trial he is allowed a fair trial process without resort to the cruelty of a death sentence.' Last year 34 criminals were hanged in Iraq. Private security guard Fitzsimons, employed by UK firm ArmorGroup, would be the first Westerner on trial since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Yesterday's snapshot noted: "Vying for the title of Idiot of the Week, Hill has competition!, is Ali al-Lami who insists to Asharq Al-Awsat that he is not controlled by Iran. The fresh from prison al-Lami heads the extra-legal Accountability and Justice Commission. And certainly, if you were released from prison mere months ago, you too would be heading a government commission because that's what cronyism is all about, right, Ali? Don't call him Ahmed Chalabi's lover because they insist they are just friends. With no benefits. Or none they admit to. But Ali explains that he's cracked down on the media and they've figured out their place and 'calmed down' because he's threatened them with 'lawsuits'. He's a little bully." Lawsuits are just one path to censorship in Iraq -- a path Nouri al-Maliki's sashayed down repeatedly. Aseel Kami, Missy Ryan and Andrew Roche (Reuters) report today that Iraq's government or "government" is attempting to convince Syria, Lebanon and Egype to shut down various satellite channels originating from their countries. This will be presented as 'fair' but anyone in the world paying attention will say, "Hey, Iran's a neighbor. Iran's got stations 'inflaming' tensions as much as anyone else." But notice that Iran isn't a source of concern. Notice that and then start looking at the media reports and noticing how many fail to raise that issue.
Let's turn to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured seven police officers and a Kirkuk mortar attack left four people injured.
Reuters reports 1 Sunni Imam shot dead outside a Baghdad mosque and that 1 police officer was wounded in a Baghdad shooting.
Monday, Baghdad was slammed with bombings and the death toll is at least 41 with over seventy wounded. Yesterday Ann noted Martin Chulov of the Guardian appearing on KPFA's The Morning Show and explaining:
After that there was a lot of shooting very near our location. Some colleagues of my staff wanted to run to their families who lived inside the Hamra compound. We had to restrain them. We were very near and it became clear that a car was trying to get through -- to get inside the hotel. So we ran and the car did get inside and it detonated. During the explosion, most of my colleagues emerged unscathed. There were some walking wounded at the Washington Post who had a house inside the area and also in the hotel itself. And sadly, one of our collegues from the Times of London a longtime local employee was killed.
Yasser, the Times's driver killed on Monday in a bomb attack, was among the very best. He delivered daily accounts of the vicious sectarian street battles that erupted in Baghdad between 2005 and 2007. He knew better than anyone how the contest between Sunni gunmen and Shia militias was being played out because he and his family lived in one of the disputed areas. Driving through the city he would point out which roads were safe and which were dangerous. His intelligence assessment was far more valuable than anything I ever heard at security briefings in the American or British embassies.
IN THE run-up to a general election due on March 7th, Iraq's authorities seem to be taking a page out of Iran's illiberal electoral rule book by barring candidates they dislike. One of the competing parties, the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi, a longtime Shia exile who helped persuade George Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, has persuaded the election's overseers to ban some 500 candidates deemed too close in the past to Saddam Hussein's Baath party. After the invasion the Americans put Mr Chalabi, then their closest Iraqi ally, in charge of "deBaathification", but he later fell out with them, so he turned for succour to Iran. Now, with a view to winning more votes for himself, he is using his long-dormant post to accuse his foes of having supported the deposed dictator. Though the list contains many Shias, Iraq's minority Sunnis, who ruled the roost under Mr Hussein, are outraged, seeing a plot to discriminate against them. The episode could badly tarnish the poll. Many other Shia politicians have joined what looks like a witch hunt. Muhammad al-Haidari, a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a powerful Shia group, says that Baathists are worse than Nazis; all past members should, he says, be banned from public life. In the holy city of Najaf, ISCI's heartland, a new rule decrees that former Baathists must be purged from government and chased out of town. Never mind that Iraq's post-invasion constitution bars only senior Baathists from public office and that millions of ordinary Iraqis joined the party only out of necessity, not conviction. Ostracising them threatens once again to split Iraq down the middle and disfranchise many Sunnis, who used to dominate the Baath party.
Maliki has not only failed to condemn the commission's decision to bar 511 candidates, he has embraced it, piously invoking the law -- and surely reckoning that standing up for the Baath party in the name of reconciliation is political suicide, especially in an election year. Yet not many months ago, Maliki was negotiating with the Sunni leader Saleh al Mutlaq, one of the current campaign's main targets, to form a joint coalition. The crisis of today represents the consequences of yesterday's bad policies: both the Americans and the ruling parties have encouraged the selective use of de-Baathification -- whether to protect people with suspect records who were prepared to serve the new order, or those who proved useful in the campaign against insurgents. The US appears motivated primarily by the need to keep things relatively stable and solidly on track for a smooth troop withdrawal, regardless of what may come afterward. The Maliki government has used the threat of de-Baathification to bring people to its side and under its control, while getting rid of those who were unwilling to co-operate or whom it felt it could never trust. The Baath party, which is today a thoroughly discredited shadow of its former self, would seem to pose little threat even to Iraq's fragile political stability. But a small group of self-interested figures have seized the opportunity to use de-Baathification to advance their own electoral prospects, precipitating a far greater crisis in the process: the de-Baathification genie has escaped and gone on a rampage.
Turning to England where it's surely not Waiting For Lefty so maybe it's Waiting for Godot?
Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, BroadSanctuary, Westminster, London SW1P 3EEOn Friday 29 January, Tony Blair will try to explain to the Iraq Inquiry the lies he used to take Britain into an illegal war. Writers, musicians, relatives of the dead, Iraqi refugees, poets, human rights lawyers, comedians, actors, MPs and ordinary citizens will join a day of protest outside the Inquiry to demand that this should be Tony Blair's judgement day. There will be naming the dead ceremonies for the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Blair's war. Military families who lost loved ones in Iraq will read the names of the 179 British soldiers killed.Join us from 8.0am onwards. And protests are already ongoing. Sian Ruddick (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reports:
Three days of activity against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began with a 200-strong public meeting in central London tonight, Wednesday. The meeting took place in on the eve of a meeting of Nato leaders to discuss sending more troops to kill and be killed in Afghanistan. This will be followed by Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq inquiry on Friday. Anti-war activists will protest at both of these events. Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), described the Afghan conference as an "admission of failure" of the war and occupation of the country. Andrew said that protesters will defy any police ban and demonstrate outside both the conference and the Iraq inquiry. Kate Hudson, chair of CND, spoke from the platform. She said, "Whatever these goverments agree, they will be at odds with the populations of their countries. Some 82 percent of French people oppose their government's involvement in the war. Meanwhile 71 percent of British and German people want the troops home." The meeting heard messages of solidarity from across Europe. Tony Benn, president of the StWC, told the meeting, "The war in Afghanistan has cost billions. The latest plan is to bribe the Taliban to comply with the occupation -- which will make the situation ever more bitter." Anger at the lies world leaders have told us ran through the meeting. Lindsey German, convenor of the StWC, said, "We need a complete holding to account to all those in charge when we went to war. If we don't have this, how can we be sure it won't happen again?" Guardian journalist Seamus Milne also spoke from the platform. "These two events show history catching up with those who unleashed this pain and suffering. "Gordon Brown tries to tell us this is a war for democracy and freedom. Well tell that to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans killed in air strikes." Respect MP George Galloway said, "The life and blood of soldiers and Afghans is too precious for this war to continue." People left the meeting determined to build the protests tomorrow and Friday. Protest at the Afghanistan Conference Blockade the conference, 8.30am, Thursday 28 January, Lancaster House, Stable Yard, Saint James's Palace, London SW1A 1BH Blair's judgement day at the Iraq inquiry Protest from 8am Friday 29 January, Queen Elizabeth Conference centre, SW1P 3EE. Nearest tube Westminster. Go to » www.stopwar.org.uk for more information
Will the War Criminal offer revelations to the Inquiry? Will the press covering the team brought in Tuesday to provide constant coaching since Tuesday? Will he wear sun glasses and a hat with veil for dramatic impact? Ann Talbot (WSWS) observes, "But whether or not he faces awkward questions, he can do so without fear that he may be indicted for the war crimes of which he is so clearly guilty. The Chilcot inquiry was specifically set up in order to avoid the possibility of a war crimes trial. It has no remit to determine whether the war was legal or not. Its members have no legal training or experience and they sit without legal advice. Sir John Chilcot made it clear when the inquiry began that he did not see his task as one of determining guilt. Witnesses are not under oath and none of them are cross examined as they would be in a court of law. They have been allowed to give long, self-serving statements that have gone entirely unchallenged." Chris Ames' Iraq Inquiry Digest notes multiple developments today.
Lastly on Iraq, we'll note this from Dahr Jamail's "When Scholars Join the Slaughter" (MidEast Dispatches):The two highest ethical principles of anthropology are protection of the interests of studied populations and their safety. All anthropological studies consequently are premised on the consent of the subject society. Clearly, the HTS anthropologists have thrown these ethical guidelines out the window. They are to anthropology what state stenographers like Judith Miller and John Burns are to journalism.Truthout consulted David Price, author of "Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War" and a contributor to the "Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual," a work of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, of which he is a member. According to Price, "HTS presents real ethical problems for anthropologists, because the demands of the military in situations of occupation put anthropologists in positions undermining their fundamental ethical loyalties to those they study. Moreover, it presents political problems that link anthropology to a disciplinary past where anthropologists were complicit in assisting in colonial conquests. Those selling HTS to the military have misrepresented what culture is and have downplayed the difficulties of using culture to bring about change, much less conquest. There is a certain dishonesty in pretending that anthropologists possess some sort of magic beans of culture, and that if only occupiers had better cultural knowledge, or made the right pay-offs, then occupied people would fall in line and stop resisting foreign invaders. Culture is being presented as if it were a variable in a linear equation, and if only HTS teams could collect the right data variables and present troops with the right information conquest could be entered in the equation. Life and culture doesn't work that way; occupied people know they are occupied, and while cultural knowledge can ease an occupation, historically it has almost never led to conquest - but even if it could, anthropology would irreparably damage itself if it became nothing more than a tool of occupations and conquest."
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, in addition to leaving lives andinstitutions in ruin, also exacerbated a much more common and lethalemergency in Haiti: Dying during childbirth. Challenges intransportation, education, and quality health care contribute to Haitihaving the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, anational crisis even before the earthquake struck. While great strides are being made with global health issues likeHIV/AIDS, maternal mortality figures worldwide have seen virtually noimprovement in 20 years. Worldwide, over 500,000 women die each yearduring pregnancy. On Friday, January 29 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), a NOW team thathad been working in Haiti during the earthquake reports on this deadlybut correctable trend. They meet members of the Haitian HealthFoundation (HHF), which operates a network of health agents in more than100 villages, engaging in pre-natal visits, education, and emergencyambulance runs for pregnant women.
Donald Rumsfeld really was something. I don't know the man so I have no idea whether he was heartless or just dense but under his watch a lot of evil and criminal things took place. And when someone would point out, for example, that these 'stress positions' were torture, he would assert that he doesn't even use a chair, he stands at his desk, for hours, and if he can hold that position . . .
The man is either a sociopath or he is incredibly stupid.
Since ignorance of the law is no excuse, he's a criminal either way.
I was fine with Condi cartoons and honestly enjoyed doing them. She was probably my favorite to run with. But Donald? I only did a few with him and it's because he so freaked me out. Dick Cheney? He's just evil. I can get that. I can draw it. I could never figure out if Rumsfeld was pure evil or pure stupid. Even now he creeps me out.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:" Thursday, January 21, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces a death, the VA does another song and dance before Congress (as approximately 1,000 veterans still wait for their FALL 2009 checks), the Senate explores the Fort Hood shootings (in which 13 people died and over forty were wounded), the Iraq election 'process' remains in crisis, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A U.S. Soldier assigned to United States Forces - Iraq died of non-combat related injuries as a result of a vehicle accident, Jan. 20. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] 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 to 4374 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
RTE News is the only one filing on violence today and they note a Kirkuk bombing targeting the Health Dept director general (who survived) today and, dropping back to yesterday, they note that 1 Iraqi colonel was shot dead in Mosul, while 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul and a third was killed in a Mosul bombing.
In DC today, US Senator Carl Levin declared, "Today's open hearing is on the panel's unrestricted report. A restricted annex to their report entitled 'Oversight of the Alleged Perpetrator' focuses on information which, in the judgment of the Department of Defense could prejudice a criminal prosecution if it was discussed in public. So our committee will have a closed session after this open hearing is concluded." Levin is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which was hearing from former Secretary of the Army Togo West and retired Adm Vernon Clark, both of whom were tasked by US Secretary of the Defense Robert Gates to examine procedures and policies leading up to the November 5th Fort Hood shootings. John McCain is the Ranking Member on the committee and he noted, in his opening remarks, that "your report is devoted to personnel policies and emergency shooting response procedures. The report concentrates on actions and effects rather than the motivations but it was motives that led to the Fort Hood killings and that should have been examined." McCain called it an "omission" to not identify specific threats of potential violence to servicemembers.
In reading his opening remarks, Clark broke away to insist that "behaviors" were addressed in the report ("that's what we're talking about") and "self-radicalization" was in there. He also broke away to say there was "no single" answer to ensuring the protection of servicemembers from these threats but the threats really weren't identified in the public report. I'm less interested in West and Clark's opening remarks today because we covered them in yesterday's snapshot when they appeared before the House and the basics remained the same. One difference was Clark's delivery which was brusque at best and defensive in regards to issues McCain raised. His irritation was also noted by his repeated praise for "Mr. Chairman" and his pointed refusal to praise the "Ranking Member" or "Senator McCain." He offered praise for Levin not once but mulitple times and there were several times when he offered an "I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman" for something that Levin had noted in his opening remarks . . . but it had also been noted by McCain who, again, was pointedly not mentioned. (At one point he did thank "Mr. Chairman and all the members".)
Chair Carl Levin: The panel found that: "Department of Defense policy regarding religious accomodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization." And I think what you're saying is that obviously this country believes in religious tolerance, tolerance of others' religions, but it can never be tolerant of violent, radical views that are dressed up in religious garb. I think that's that point reworded. I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes the views that are clearly inherently violent, promote violence are dressed up in religious clothing and that automatically means that people who are sensitive to others' religious views then are kind of put on the defensive right away or reluctant right away to point out what is underneath the claim of religion. So the line has got to be there obviously. We want to continue our tolerance but we've got to be much harder and much more intolerant of views that are radical, promote violence, or encourage violence. And so my first question to you is that the policy of the Department which is limited to and addresses only active participation in groups that pose threats to good order and discipline is far too narrow a policy because of the self-radicalization point. You don't have to participate in a group that poses that kind of a threat to be a threat yourself. And so I guess my first quesiton is: How would you -- and I know you're not here to provide remedies and that wasn't your job -- but I assume that you agree that it's not just that that policy should be examined but that in your judgment, at least, it's simply too limited a policy. And I'm wondering whether or not for instance, you would agree that communication with a radical cleric who promotes violence is the kind of conduct that should raise real questions? Would you agree with that? Even though it's not active participation at that point it's just simply communication -- asking someone for their recommendations and views. Would you agree that that ought to be raising great suspicion without getting into this particular case?
Sec Togo West: Yeah. Mr. Chairman, I would certainly agree -- I think we both would. And I think your larger point that this is an example of, we would agree with as well. And that is: Yes, in the past perhaps, membership alone in a group may have been less looked upon than the actual act of doing things but, in this environment, we have to look at the group, we have to understand its purposes. And it is already considered by some that there is a tool that enables a commander to declare certain kinds of action including that a threat to his immediate area'ss order and discpline. But we think the Department of Defense can just simply strengthen the ability of commanders to look at and examine exactly what kind of activity they are permitting and whether or not we can better define it. Group membership in a group of that sort that has a record of active advocation of violence and as well as your point communication --especially repeated communication -- again, not referring to any particular case -- with those who advocate violence? Those are all signals that we need to be able to indicate in our publications and in our regulations commanders are authorized to look and be react to.
Chair Carl Levin: And even if there weren't active communication, excuse me, active participation or communication, with radical persons who are promoting violence, even if there's simply the expression of views which promote violence without any information about participation in a group or communication with radical extremists -- if somebody gets up and says, 'I believe that the Constitution comes in second and that my religious views come in first,' would that not be that kind of a signal which ought to indicate some real genuine concern? Would you agree with that?
Adm Vernon Clark: I certainly do agree with it and it goes without saying that where we draw our redlines is a very, very important point. But if you look at our history, we as a people, as Americans have always been very careful working about where we draw those lines. I so appreciate, your introduction to this question by your [. . .]
And we're done. Salem Witch trials are only one historical example in the US of religious intolerance. That is a flavor of the hearing a number of service members are concerned with what is going on in these hearings and wanting to be sure that care is being taken. Levin covered that at the top. Whether you think it is or is not will be your call but the issue was raised and those are some of the responses. Due to space limitations and too much else to cover, that's it on that.
Yesterday the US House Armed Services Committee heard from West and Clark. Last night Kat weighed in on US House Rep Loretta Sanchez' exchange. Sanchez noted a colonel who called into a radio program that she happened to catch and how he stated that there were warning signs and he just wanted to retire before the guy 'blew'. West told Sanchez he believed they spoke to the (left unnamed) colonel but they never heard the radio broadcast or of it. Kat: "How does that inspire confidence? You've got a public conversation out there that you can now apply to the testimony a colonel is giving you. Shouldn't you have made the comparison? Shouldn't you have been aware of the radio broadcast?" Filling in for Rebecca last night, Wally noted US House Rep Todd Akin was the one to ask a question about the issue of the suspect being Muslim and he also noted that although over sixty representatives serve on the committee, he counted 14 at one point and one of those wasn't on the committee, US House Rep Michael Burgess who was allowed to sit in.
And we're back to service members. Today the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll start by noting some of the chair's opening remarks (as delivered, slightly different from the prepared text).
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Some of those in attendance may recall that our first hearing of 2009 was on the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. This was followed up by supplemental hearings that sought to ensure VA's progress on the short and long-term information techonology solutions. I hope that it is clear to our panelists before us today that by making this our first hearing of 2010, we demonstrate the continued importance of the subject at hand. I'm sure my colleagues will agree that the current delays in processing education claims are simply unacceptable. A number of my colleagues not on this committee have spoken to me directly or have written to me documenting experiences of student veterans that they represent who have suffered some of the consequences of the delays in processing these claims. While the administration, I know, shares my concerns regarding these shortcomings,more has to be done. However, the blame doesn't rest solely with the VA. The processing of a single claim requires multiple steps involving multiple parties and computer systems, all of which must work in-sync with one another in order for a veteran to receive his or her benefits in a timely manner. These computer difficulties demonstrate the need for a fully-functional long-term solution.
The Chair then noted that the Subcommittee staff had visited Muskogee, Oklahoma's VA Regional Processing Center and Education Call Center wher ethey discovered the Education Call Center was being shut down on Thursdays and Fridays. Veterans calling were not able to speak to anyone and the staff was working on claims. It was noted by Herseth Sandlin that the Call Center can and should be open five days via better time management. Ranking Member John Boozman noted the visit as well and how the staff were the ones who told them time could be better managed and that, "As a result of that discussion, local VA management forwarded a request to the VA's Office of Field Operations to make the changes suggested and therein lies my concer: Why does it take a suggestion from Congressional staff to raise such a common sense issue and why do those responsible at the local level need to get permission from central office?" He furher noted that seven a.m. to five p.m. on the call center (from Monday through Friday) limits the opportunities for those "living outside the continental US" to speak to someone.
The VA sent Capt Mark Krause (Program Manager) and Roger W. Baker (Asst Sec for Information and Technology) to testify. I'm really not interested in their excuses or self-strokes. Nor are the service members complaining that they still haven't received their fall 2009 checks. So I'm not interested in Rober Baker's bulls**t for example where he refers (past tense) to 2009 enrollees that did not receive their checks and "I believe it is important to convey, on behalf of Secretary Shinseki and every member of the VA team, our apologies for those delays and our understanding that the impacts of those delays on Veterans are unaccpetable."
It's nonsense. And the committe heard "accountability" from Shinseki and others who followed him in October. Someone needs to explain to the VA that merely tossing around the word "accountability" (while the cameras are rolling) is not demonstrating "accountability." And the VA has yet to demonstrate that it has taken any accountability for its poor job. A congo lline of VA employees have repeatedly appeared before the committee all claiming that the delays were "unacceptable" but the VA has shown no improvements. Following a lengthy slideshow, this exchange took place.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Let me start with a statement, Mr. Wilson, that you made. On slide four, the long-term release II scheduled for June 30, 2010 that sort of allows for the automated data feeds for the schools, DoD, that this is a game changer from the user point of view. You know, for Mr. Baker, Mr. Wilson, I assume that the goal for the long-term release II is to have that operatational for processing fall 2010 semester claims. Is that correct?
Keith Wilson: Yes, that's correct.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That being the case, Mr. Baker, according to your testimony, release I has been modified to reduce its functionality because of this software requirement that you recently --
Roger Baker: Yes. The increased complexity, yes.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So why did it take until just recently to identify the need for the new software requirement?
Roger Baker: Actually . . . uhm . .. what-what occured is as the subject matter experts and the software people were sitting down together to walk through what does an amended reward really mean? What are the intracricies, the decision trees required for an amended reward . . . uhm . . . They kept uncovering , if you will, more and more depth of what was required on software of amended awards and it went beyond the estimates they had originally had for what it was going to take to do amended awards. Uh, so as we determined that the amount of work to make that March 31st date exceeded the amount possible to accomplish, we had to determine what would come out of that release?
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And how confident are you then that the June 30th deadline can be met --
Roger Baker: We're --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: In light of how important that deadline is to the fall semester?
Roger Baker: We're -- we're pretty confident in that. We-we, as you can imagine, we've had some significant focus on that as well. And we've talked about what is it possible to do in the June 30th timeframe. We know that we can get everything in that was originally scheduled for release I and release I was intended to be the replacement for the current system so -- functional replacement. If we had delayed release I until about mid-May , we'd have had a fully functional release. There's about that much additional work that was added. Uh, so we know that will come in. And we will be releasing that functionality in incremental pieces along the way to mid-May and if VBA determines it's appropriate allowing the users to work with the increased functionality in that time frame. And then adding those automated feeds that are critical as we ramp up to June 30th. So we-we have a reasonably good confidence in the June 30th -- and if you don't mind, I'll elaborate on that just a little bit further. The-the thing that I have to tell you that I'm pleased with in the slip -- and I know this is going to sound a little strange -- is that in December, this project team was able to tell us that they had a problem with meeting the March 31st date. That's not a usual thing inside of VA projects. Usually, you hear about it March 30th. Uh, you know, that's going to happen on March 31st. That gave us time to make rational decisions about: Do we want to allow the slip or do we want to force the delivery date so that we see the software and what is the impact of that on subsequent releases? And so that's why we have a reasonable degree of confidence that we're going to have what we need on June 30th for a more automated system going into the fall semester. That's exactly been our focus with that June 30th release.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I would just request that as that team -- you know, you've got a lot of internal milestones you're trying to meet and you've been very helpful to our committee and our committee staff in sharing information at every step of this process but in light of the problems that we've had with the interum solution, in light of the importance of this long-term solution, we-we need to stay on top of this, day-by-day, week-by-week. And if there is any other problem that is revealed to your project team, uh, we just need to be made aware of some of that ongoing work because of the importance of these deadlines in meeting the benefits for these students and-and understanding what more you might need from us because it's a high priority not only among this committee but the colleagues we hear from who have student veterans who are experiencing problems. You know, we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions immediately.
Herseth Sandlin wanted to know how long it will take to train the veterans claims examiners in each of the releases?
"We haven't done this before," said Krause. "I don't know that we have a feel for it," he added after some stumbling and hand gesturing. Wilson stated the training would be different blah blah blah. Which means, we don't know. But Wilson couldn't tell the truth and instead went into "that will be a more efficient process." The chair noted that after release one, the committee needed to be informed of what the time figure for training was.
Wilson stated approximately 1,000 veterans are still waiting for their fall 2009 checks ("no payments have gone out on those"). Wilson also insisted that the VA is in contact with all veterans who are waiting. No, they aren't. And as the chair pointed out, service verification from DoD is not the student's responsibility. That's the government's issue and that's their delay.
If it seemed to repeat from past hearings, that's because it did. Boozman repeated that the committee needed to know when there was a problem and that they needed to know if additional resources were need: "We have to understand what's going on." And the Ranking Member and the Chair both care about this issue but this is getting to be a joke where the committee gets informed of a problem in the midst of hearing or right before a scheduled hearing. The VA did not, DID NOT, inform Congress, that over a thousand veterans were still waiting for fall checks. That broke right before Christmas -- AP's Kimberly Hefling broke that story. Now grasp that this might have been tuition and/or housing checks. Tuition? You may say, "Well the college can wait." Many veterans -- talk to them, not the VA -- will tell you they had to take short-term loans. With interest rates. In order to cover the VA's delayed tuition payment, they had to take out short-term loans. I think the issue of money that would have gone to housing is self-explantory but I do know there is a perception (a mistaken one) that if the veteran's just waiting for a tuition check, it's no big deal. It is a big deal. And it's really past time that the committees in Congress started hearing from veterans in a public form so that all the citizens can know what they've had to go through as they've waited and waited for this promised benefit. They've waited and waited. And then, when problems emerged, they were treated rude. "It was," to quote one attending today's hearing, "as if the attitude was, 'Well we're giving it to you so you should just be grateful and stop complaining about it being late. We'll get to you when we have time.'" It has been offensive and it's been awkward. And especially so for those veterans with children. Whether they are the primary caregiver or not, many had to juggle money that was not there -- because the VA couldn't get the checks out -- to try to pull off a Christmas for their children. There's no excuse for that. There is no excuse for months and months of delays and it is very upsetting to veterans to continue to see Congress ask, "What do you need? Now you're going to tell us -- this time -- when a problem comes up, right?" Veterans at the hearing today felt like if they made that kind of mistake it would be all on them but when the VA makes it, the VA gets patted on the back and told, "Just try next time." It needs to stop and there needs to be accountabilty, There is none now and that goes to a lack of real leadership at the VA currently.
Let's move to Iraq quickly. Nizar Latif (The National) notes Iraq is now "locked in a deep constiutional crisis" as a result of the continued targeting of Iraqi politicians who might prove popular with voters. The banning is being done through a post-legal (or pre-legal) body. Jason Ditz (Antiwar) adds, "The bannings effectively destroy the third largest political alliance in Iraq just months ahead of the election, and are seen by many as an attempt by the Maliki government to cement its hold on power." Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) explains of the body:The Justice and Accountability Commission is heir to the old, circa-2003 de-Baathification Commission, a McCarthyite blacklisting body set up by the neocon-domination occupation authorities after the US invasion of Iraq and headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the wheeler-dealer who was the chief proponent of the war in the 1990s and beyond and who was an intimate confidante of leading neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and various American Enterprise Institute apparatchiks such as Michael Rubin, Danielle Pletka, et al. Today, Chalabi -- who spends a lot of his time in Iran, and who US military authorities believe is essentially an agent of Tehran -- is still the titular leader of the Justice and Accountability Commission, which is run day-to-day by Ali Faysal al-Lami. Lami is a sectarian Shiite politician who is running on the same Shiite religious alliance in the March 7 election that was put together by Chalabi, with the support of Iran and the backing of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Iran's chief Iraqi ally. The commission is no more. Iraq is supposed to have implemented de-de-Ba'athification measures and, in addition, the Parliament refused to appoint people to the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission. The presidency council didn't sign off on the committee. It has no power, it has no authority. So why is it being listened to?On the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera -- excerpt in Tuesday's snapshot), a supporter explained that it exists in bits and pieces stitched together. That's what his meandering response stated and, for those paying attention, this is the same lie/excuse supporters use to justify Parliament being cut out of the process for awarding oil contracts. Nouri's people pick and choose which laws to listen to and which laws not to, ignore this aspect or that, ignore the Constitution and do Nouri's bidding. The two situations really are identical. In both cases the Constituion is being ignored as are other laws. In both cases, a cobble together pre- or post-legal argument is being made -- one with no actual legal foundation -- to justify doing what Nouri wants done. Al Arabiya reports on a document Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, has passed to Jalal Talabani, current president of Iraq which goes to the lack of authority for the commission, noting it's not been "approved by the presidency, cabinet, and paliamentary councils." Waleed Ibrahim, Khalid Al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Michael Christie and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) report the presidency council is asking for a court ruling on whether or not the committee making these decisions is even legitimate and quotes Talabani stating, "We have asked our brother Medhat al-Mahmoud (head of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council) whether the commission called justice and accountability really exists. As we know, parliament has not voted it into existence yet." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports US Vice President Joe Biden is being dispatched to Iraq and quotes Talabani stating, "We are an independent country and will not receive orders from anyone, whether it is a brotherly Arab country, a neibhoring country or a friend. Mr. Biden made proposals, but we are committed to safeguard and uphold this constitution."
In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues and today's witness was Jack Straw (link goes to video and transcript options) who was the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2001 to 2006. In the lead up to his testimony, correspondence and family drew press attention. Starting with the latter, the Daily Mirror quotes his son Will Straw stating, "My father's eventual support for Tony Blair over the war was the biggest mistake of his political life." David Cohen profiles Will Straw for London's Evening Standard: and quotes him stating, "Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have been a huge disappointment and let down the Laobur Party. I am especially deeply angry with Blair for being duplicitous about his reasons for taking us to war with Iraq, hiding behind WMDs when he was content to prosecute a war for regime change. And also for the unbelievably shoddy way he betrayed my father, demoting him from Foreign Secretary to Leader of the House, especially after my dad had been so loyal." Now to the correspondence issue, Sunday Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian of London) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ." Let's note this excerpt from today's hearing:
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Let's just go through the very interesting issues you have raised there. Let's go through a couple of them. First, the missiles, and this had always been the strongest part of the intelligence picture, and the missiles were found. The point Mr Blix made was that it was destroying -- that is, here was something that could be found and there was a way of dealing with them through the provisions of UNMOVIC. You didn't need to do anything else thereafter. He had found them. He had made the point. He dealt with them. The other question on the intelligence was that the issue that you were saying about going to war, not going to war, depended very much on a political understanding in the Security Council, indeed in this country, so that, though you may well have been right about what the resolution required and what was needed, nonetheless you were dealing with a political perception, within the Security Council, that something more was required and this was a difficulty all the way through, that the people were expecting to see more.
Jack Straw: Sir Lawrence, everybody was expecting to see more. Leave President Putin out of it, but the level of the international consensus that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was very broad, and as I record in my memorandum, Dr Blix himself says after the war that he thought they continued to have stocks -- his assumption all the way through had been that. But there was a -- there was no war party on the Security Council -- I mean, we can say maybe on the part of the United States administration, but I certainly, in the UK government -- I certainly didn't want war and I say, if Dr Blix had said -- and Dr El-Baradei, but if Dr Blix -- because this was where the focus was -- "This regime is complying with and it fulfils, as it were, the test in OP4", that would be the end of it from our point of view. I don't know what the United States would have done, but there would have been no case whatever for us taking part in any military action, and the strategy of 1441, which was to resolve this by peaceful means would have succeeded.
That's reflective of all the jumble of distortions that came out of Straw's mouth. Let's deal with the above. 1441 is the first UN resolution. There was no second resolution. There was no UN resolution giving the go-ahead for the invasion of Iraq. 1441 was about weapons inspectors going into Iraq and searching for weapons. Does Straw think the whole world is stupid? He wants to say that if the weapons inspectors had said Iraq was in compliance that there would have been no war. At least not for England, he quickly added.
2003 was some time ago, it was not, however, before the advent of recorded history. Click here for AP's real time story where the inspectors have to flee Iraq -- before finishing their mission -- because Bully Boy Bush is declaring war. Everything Straw stated was questionable. Including that he went to Tony Blair and stated the UN had to mediate or be given the chance to because otherwise the war would be illegal -- if England and the US just invaded, it would be illegal. But that's exactly what happened. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) attempts to travel through the maze of Straw's making. Louise Nousratpour (Morning Star) notes the vanity in Straw's statements as he declared if he'd told Blair he wouldn't support the war, it wouldn't have taken place. Well there you go. Now we know who to blame. As soon as he climbs off the cross, we can all proceed to the Hague.
Straw also attempted to insist that the 45-minute claim used to sell the illegal war in England (Iraq has WMD! and Iraq can attack England with them in 45 minutes!) was a mistake -- not because it was a lie (it was a lie) but, golly, that wasn't WMD, that was missiles. Missiles, Straw insisted, was what Tony Blair meant with the 45-minute claim. Not that WMD would hit England in 45 minutes, but missiles. Straw really thinks the world is stupid. The man appears unhinged when speaking, whether he was that nervous or suffering from some mental or physical issue, I have no idea. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger best captured one of the strangest moments, "Odd too when Straw appeared to suggest that the panel take evidence from the late Robin Cook to confirm how he -- Straw -- had always insisted the war only proceed after parliamentary debate." At the Guardian, Chris Ames has a detailed analysis of Straw's testimony and we'll note the opening:
Thanks to Gordon Brown, the Iraq inquiry has become largely an exercise in reading between the lines against a government strategy of the selective release of information and selective quotation. From that perspective, we learnt this afternoon, in spite of Jack Straw's best efforts, that in a letter to George Bush in July 2002, Tony Blair gave a pretty unconditional undertaking that Britain would join in the US-led invasion of Iraq. The government has blocked publication of that letter. Jack Straw, who also blocked publication of the pre-war cabinet minutes, agrees with that suppression. The reason you have to read between the lines is that – as I first wrote in November – by virtue of the Cabinet Office protocol on information, the government can control both what the inquiry can publish and what it can directly quote in public sessions. The inquiry is increasingly kicking against this restriction and today said out loud that it is being restricted. But, as I have also observed, government witnesses have also learnt to play the game of putting their own spin on the evidence we have not been allowed to see. In pursuit of this strategy, Straw today submitted a lengthy memorandum justifying his approach to a war that he says he never wanted. The inquiry dutifully published it on its website.
"Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary. Commenting on Jack Straw's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry, Edward Davey said: "Jack Straw's insistence that he used his 'judgement' rather than solid proof of the existence of WMD is a weak defence of his role in this disastrous war. "Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible. "It is clear that he is desperate to distance himself from Tony Blair's unrepentant belief that he would have got rid of Saddam whatever it took. "Jack Straw's testimony today also shows that there is no problem with serving Cabinet ministers appearing before the Iraq Inquiry. There is no obstacle to Gordon Brown appearing before the General Election to talk about his role as Chancellor in the run up to and during the Iraq War."
Finally, BBC News is reporting that Gordon Brown will testify to the Iraq Inquiry before elections are held.
Thursday, January 14, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Najaf is rocked by bombings, Nouri targets more political opponents, more Iraqi executions announced, exploring the opposition to Avatar, Pig gets arrested (again!) for being a sexual predator (again!), and more.
Starting in Iraq where Hannah Allam and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported that any hopes last week's announcement of parties and politicians banned from Iraq's elections (expected to be held in March) would be overturned appear to be over as it now appears that an additional 100 candidates may be announced banned shortly. Faraj al Haidari (Independent High Electoral Commission) attempts to spin frantically insisting that the efforts to disenfranchise are not aimed only as Sunnis. In 2005, a large number of Sunnis boycotted the national elections and hopes of higher participation this go round appear in doubt. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports a banning has been announced and quotes IHEC's Hamdia Husseini stating, "We have decided this afternoon to exclude around 500 names and political entities from the list of candidates." Michael Jansen (Middle East Views) sees no attempts at equality or protecting the public, only efforts to target Sunnis and eliminate them from the process: Whether this proposal is accepted or not by the election commission, it is clear that the US-installed Shiite-Kurdish rulers of Iraq do not intend to share power with anyone else. The de-Baathification committee -- renamed the Justice and Accountability Board - made this recommendation although its chief target, Saleh Mutlaq, was cleared to stand in Iraq's 2005 election and his National Dialogue Front won 11 seats in the 275-member assembly. Ali Lami, head of the panel, claims new information reveals that Mutlaq "is a Baathist and nominated himself as a Baathist." Mutlaq dismissed the allegation as "rubbish". He left the Baath party in 1977 before Saddam seized power, established a large farming business in the south, and made a great deal of money. His supporters point out that Lami has close relations with pro-Iranian factions and only retained his post because there was no agreement on a replacement. It may be significant that the new charge against Mutlaq surfaced after Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki paid a visit to Baghdad. Afif Sarhan (IslamOnline.net) notes, "Experts believe the ban would also stir a political storm for the Nuri Al-Maliki government" and quotes Ibrahim Suwa'id stating, "A ban like this, a couple of months before parliamentary elections, can bring a chaotic situation that the government will feel hard to succeed." Zainab Naji and Ali Kareem (Global Arab Network -- backed by US funds, FYI) note an emerging opinion that Nouri's worried that Ayad Allawi (who was prime minister before Nouri) could replace him and they quote Iraqi Organization for Media Development's Wathiq al-Hashemi stating, "Allawi's alliance poses a threat to other political powers, so any ban on one of his leaders [al-Mutlaq] is in the best interests of those powers [in power currently]. If Allawi withdraws from the elections, the political process will be in serious danger." Rebecca Santana (AP) interviewed Allawi today and he calls out the targeting of Sunnis: "This is a process of severe intimidation and threats. It's clear that they want to get rid of their opponents."
Yesterday, Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) were observing, "Another major attack would have been particularly damaging to members of Maliki's coalition running in parliamentary elections. The coalition's candidates are campaigning on a security platform." Nouri's grandstanding for elections, as he tries desperately to regain his (false) image as the person who gave Iraq security, coincides with the announcement of executions. Al Jazeera reports that 11 men have been sentenced to death for the August 19th Baghdad bombings ("Black Wednesday") and quotes the judicial body's spokesperson Abdul Sattar al-Birqdar stating, "Today an Iraqi criminal court imposed a death sentence against 11 criminals who have been convicted of implementing, planning and funding the bomb events that targeted the finance and foreign ministries." Nada Bakri (New York Times) states al-Beeraqdar declared that an investigation into the August bombings were conducted for over three weeks -- turning up 'evidence' on the men -- and then the 11 men faced a trial. A two-week trial. A two-week trial. And all are convicted to death by execution? How very fortunate for Nouri's efforts to hang on as prime minister (the prime minister is selected by Parliament, FYI). The 11 sentenced to die join a long, long list of other guilty or 'guilty' persons in Iraq facing execution. Last month, Amnesty International issued the following:
Iraq is preparing to execute hundreds of prisoners, including 17 women, warned Amnesty International today, as it issued an 'urgent action' appeal to try to prevent the deaths. The 900-plus prisoners have exhausted all their appeals and their death sentences are said to have been ratified by the Presidential Council, meaning that they could be executed at any time. Amnesty supporters are contacting Iraqi embassies around the world, including that in London, in a bid to stop the executions. The condemned prisoners have been convicted of offences such as murder and kidnapping, but many are likely to have been sentenced after unfair trials. The 17 women are thought to include a group known to have been held on death row at the 5th section (al-Shu'ba al-Khamissa) of Baghdad's al-Kadhimiya Prison. Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said: 'This is a staggering number of people facing execution and the fact that the government may be playing politics over these cases is truly frightening. 'Wholesale use of the death penalty was one of the worst aspects of Saddam Hussein's regime and the present government should stop aping his behaviour. 'Instead of sending nearly a thousand people to a grisly death by hanging, the Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and impose an immediate death penalty moratorium.'Iraqi media reports suggest that the Iraqi government is currently trying to present itself as 'tough' on crime ahead of national elections scheduled for January. Iraqi opposition politicians have expressed concern that executions may be carried out to give the ruling party a political advantage ahead of the elections, and there have been calls for the government to temporarily suspend all executions. Amnesty is warning that Iraq's use of capital punishment is already spiralling. At least 120 people are known to have been executed in Iraq this year, greatly up on the 34 executions recorded during 2008. Iraq is now one of the world's heaviest users of the death penalty. After the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority suspended the death penalty following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, Iraq's subsequent reintroduction of capital punishment led to a rapid acceleration in death sentences and executions. Despite this, and contrary to some claims made by the Iraqi authorities, use of the death penalty has not seen a drop in crime levels in the country, with rises and falls in insurgency violence having no discernible relation to execution rates.
Reuters notes 1 man was shot dead in Mosul and a drive-by shooting claimed the lives of 1 man and 1 woman in Mosul. Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) reports high schooler Sameer Aziz was shot dead in Khalis ("Aziz's Sunni family was displaced for two years from their home during the sectarian strife in the past years and his family has just returned home as the city witnessed a relative calm in recent few months, the source said.") and, dropping back to Wednesday night, Sahwa leader Khalid Hardan was shot dead in Edhaim (his uncle was also wounded).
All last month, we had to endure a bunch of liars or idiots insisting the US was so 'noble' or uninterested in Iraq oil (hard to tell which assertion produces more laughs) and that was demonstrated by the US not being involved in recent biddings. You had to be really stupid not to notice the board of directors of those companies (identified as 'foreign' by the US press, they sure had a lot of Americans on their boards). Apparently all the laughs that could be have been wrung out of that so today Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports, "A wave of American companies have been arriving in Iraq in recent months to pursue what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar bonanza of projects to revive the country's stagnant petroleum industry, as Iraq seeks to establish itself as a rival to Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer."
Meanwhile in the US former journalist Thomas E. Ricks has taken to huffing publicly about James Cameron's box office smash Avatar. (Disclosure, I know Cameron and consider him a friend.) What could make a pudgy former journalist so angry? The answer is staring everyone in the face. Last week, Ruth notedWBAI's The Arts Magazine (airs each Tuesday from two in the afternoon until three in the afternoon) when Louis Proyect was the guest for the first half-hour.
Louis Proyect: And even though it's set some time in the distant future and on a distant planet, it's very obvious that it's about what's happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan. It just amazes me that anybody you know could think otherwise about this movie.
Prairie Miller: Yeah and then there's this attitude of rejecting this film outright because there's money behind it, there's Rupert Murdoch and whatever happened to the notion, the Marxist notion, of seizing the means of production? In this case of cultural production, you know, for other means. I mean this is amazing. He, Cameron has said about his film that there's a sense of e -- "There's a sense of entitlement. 'We're here, we're big, we've got the guns and, therefore, are entitled to every damn thing on the planet'." And incidentally, Cameron, who's a Canadian, he admirably dropped his application for American citizenship after Bush was elected in 2004 so there's much more than meets the eye concerning the attacks on this film.
Louis Proyect: Yeah. I'm glad we're in 100% agreement on this one because I thought we would be, Prairie.
Prarie Miller: Now you came up with some study about anthropological imperialist invasions. What was that about?
Louis Proyect: Yeah, right now, you have people working in Afghanistan -- and I think they were in Iraq as well -- who were anthropology professors who agreed to work with the military to win the hearts and minds of 'the natives.' And there's a huge controversy about this. They just had a convention of the American Anthropological Association where they-they went on record as being opposed to that. The idea is that what they want to use are what you might call professional techniques to figure out how to control a population combining measures that might improve their life somewhat but at the same time soften them up to accept a military occupation. And quite frankly, the-the anthropologists who are involved in this business are, you know, I don't think they have the right to teach. I mean, what they're doing, I think it's a kind of war crime. And Avatar deals with this because Sigorney Weaver, who's one of the major characters, is an anthropologist trying to pacify the local population. Well, I think your listeners would want to see the movie. I don't want to give too much away, too much of the plot. But it just has to do with how the professions in the United States, including psychologists by the way, who worked in Guantanamo, to-to get -- to make sure that torture was being carried out in such a way that people wouldn't be completely broken and capable of giving information. I mean, this is just horrible.
Two years ago, the AAA condemned the HTS program, but this month's 72-page report goes into much greater detail about the potential for the military to misuse information that social scientists gather; some anthropologists involved in the report say it's already happening. David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martins University in Washington and one of the co-authors of the AAA report, says the army appears to be using the anthropological information to better target the enemy, which, if true, would be a gross violation of the anthropological code. One Human Terrain anthropologist told the Dallas Morning News that she wasn't worried if the information she provided was used to kill or capture an insurgent. "The reality is there are people out there who are looking for bad guys to kill," she said. "I'd rather they did not operate in a vacuum." Price and other critics see this as proof that the anthropologists don't have full control over the information they gather and that commanders can use it to kill. "The real fault with Human Terrain is that it doesn't even try to protect the people being studied," says Price. "I don't think it's accidental that [the Pentagon] didn't come up with ethical guidelines."
Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story's romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers. It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT "social scientists" using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed "social scientists" who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations. For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association (of which I was a member and report co-author) concluded that the Human Terrain program crossed all sorts of ethical, political and methodological lines, finding that: "when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment -- all characteristic factors of the HTT concept and its application -- it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology." The American Anthropological Association's executive board found Human Terrain to be a "mistaken form of anthropology". But even with these harsh findings, the Obama administration's call for increased counterinsurgency will increase demands for such non-anthropological uses of ethnography for pacification.
Thomas E. Ricks hates Avatar (and huffs and blogs to be sure we all know). Here's what those paying attention know: Ricks is this century's Walter Lippmann and that's not a compliment. He left journalism to whore for counter-insurgency. He has no ethical training and he thinks that general studies major (journalism degree) qualifies him for something. It doesn't qualify him for humanity and he's unable to address ethics. (Don't forget his stamping of feet at the AP last year.) He's a joke. He's a War Criminal now and he's joke. Kelley B. Vlahos (Antiwar) addressed Ricks most recently earlier this week:In high school, there are always the Cool Kids. In the Washington military establishment, there are always the Cool Kids. Walking conflict ofinterest Tom Ricks loves to write breathlessly about Washington's prevailing Gang with the Name -- the COINdinistas -- most of whom now roost in the Pentagon or at the Center for a New American Security, which hired Ricks away from a full-time job at the Washington Post to do just what he's doing now: shamelessly promoting the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).But even the cool kids will eventually fall out of style. Like haughty Heidi Klum says, "In fashion, one day you're in, the next day you're out!" Perhaps that's why Ricks' latest Foreign Policy panegyric to his friends seems even more cringe-worthy and awkward than usual, mainly because this gushing yearbook entry -- dated December 2009 -- could have been written a year ago. Today, it tastes like slightly overdone steak. Stick a fork in it… you get the picture. Under the subheading, "Who knows everything there is to know and more about counterinsurgency and its current role in U.S. military strategy? These guys," Ricks effuses: "Pushed and prodded by a wonky group of Ph.D.s, the U.S. military has in the last year decisively embraced a Big Idea: counterinsurgency. Not everyone in uniform is a fan, but David Petraeus and the other generals in charge of America's wars are solidly behind it. Here are the brains behind counterinsurgency's rise from forgotten doctrine to the centerpiece of the world's most powerful military…"No. 1 on the list: Petraeus, or "King David," "who rules the roost," according to Ricks. He's followed by John Nagl, the former Army officer and Rumsfeld aide who now "beats the COIN drum" and might find himself in a "top Pentagon slot in a year or two"; Australian COIN-whisperer David Kilcullen, currently one of McChrystal's key eggheads, whom Ricks calls "the Crocodile Dundee of counterinsurgency"; Janine Davidson, a Pentagon policy-pusher who Ricks says is "now sitting at the adult table"; Dave Dilegge, editor of Small Wars Journal, which is "avidly read by everyone from four-star generals to captains on the ground in Iraq"; and Andrew Exum, another CNAS wonk, Iraq vet, and blogger, who "in his spare time has been known to play paintball against Hezbollah – no joke."
Little lesson today in: You are who you get in bed with. You are everything they were exposed to. So when someone's already has two arrests -- pay attention, Amy Goodman -- for attempting to have sex with a minor, you avoid them. You don't promote them as 'good' people. We've gone over that repeatedly but have to hit on it again today because Pig got busted and charged again. Laura Rozen (Politico) notes it here. If we had a working left, a functioing one, Pig would have been shunned long ago. But see, when the victims would be female, so much of the left doesn't give a damn. That includes women, we've named Amy Goodman. There's Laura Flanders as well. Rachel Maddow. All these 'strong' women who couldn't say no to Pig and kept booking him on their shows. We've called it out repeatedly here while so many women have WHORED themselves and others. That's not to let the men off. But it's especially disgusting when women -- hey, Lila Garrett -- we're talking about your WHORING ASS too -- give space for sexual predators. From the February 5, 2008 snapshot:
What the election cycle has demonstrated on the Democratic side is how much women are still devalued and hated. Don't kid that it's not so. Like Laura Flanders has no problem bringing the Pig (twice busted for attempting to set up sex with an underage female online) onto her radio program, Common Dreams has no problem posting him. They've got him up today. But they didn't post Steinem and they didn't post Morgan. With Pig, we're supposed to overlook the busts. It's more important that his 'voice' be heard than that he's a predator and, thing is, women know that argument because we've heard it over and over, decade after decade. Gender is the greatest barrier. All women are told to wait -- over and over. Ask Flanders why she was so offended about Gary Glitter but thought nothing of repeatedly booking Pig on her program? Ask her to explain that. Ask Amy Goodman to. Ask Katrina vanden Heuvel why she, the mother of a teenage daughter, thinks his rambles are worth carrying at The Nation? Big media had the sense to wash their hands of him when the arrests came out. Not little media. Because you've got a lot of queen bees who won't use their voices, they don't want to look 'bitchy' or 'assertive' or 'demanding.' How's that working out for you?
For those who don't know, Laura wouldn't join us in protesting Pig. She kept bringing Pig on air. But in the dying days of her bad radio show, she wanted to insist that a sports team stop using a Gary Glitter song because . . . Gary was a sexual predator. It offends her . . . at sporting events. Apparently. Lila Garrett, Laura Flanders, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Amy Goodman and a host of others better be willing to note Pig's latest arrest -- this would be his third sexual predator arrest for those paying attention -- and maybe explain why they continued to publish him or bring him on as a guest? They also never called him out when he attacked Cindy Sheehan. From the May 29, 2007 snapshot:
Now here's how polite society worked once upon a time, when someone was reported to have been twice busted for pedophilia, that was really it for them. They didn't get write ups, they didn't pen op-eds. They weren't invited on programs to chat. But for some reason, Pig Ritter is seen as a voice the 'left' needs to adopt. Scott Ritter was allowed to repeatedly attack Cindy Sheehan on his joint-tour in 2006 (The Sky is Falling Tour -- DVD set retails for $19.99 unless you're going for the NC-17 version) and everyone looked the other way and most of the press (big and small) just chuckled. That's why he felt brave enough to issue the nonsense in an interview proper (and one that didn't require him to be handcuffed -- how novel that must have been for him).The peace movement needs to be inclusive, no question, but that doesn't translate as: "Because we have the Peace Mom, we need to have the Pedophile Man." That's not inclusion, that's stupidity on ever level (including legal liabilities should anything happen to an underage female). We washed our hands of him a long time ago in this community. He is "pig" when noted here for any reason. His name is being mentioned here (for the first time since he went public in attacking Sheehan) only because there are some who seem unable to believe it could be true. Well it is. And it's equally true that you need to ask your outlets why they have repeatedly featured a man who will not explain his criminal busts and allows to stand the mainstream media's reporting that they were for attempting to hook up with young (underage) girls online. It is amazing that the same independent media that wants to scream 'crackpot' and 'crazy' to make sure they are not associated with certain groups is perfectly happy to break bread with a pedophile. Repeatedly.
The Sky Is Falling Tour? He did that with Sy Hersh. And I'd love for Hersh to claim he had no idea about Pig's history. He knew all about Pig's history and I'm laughing, Sy, because a lot of us warned you Pig would get arrested again. It's on you, Seymour, it's on your reputation now. We've noted this topic too many times to count and there's good chance we'll return to it tonight for "I Hate The War."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm joined 1400 hotel workers and their supporters last week, as they rallied and marched to the San Francisco Hilton demanding a fair contract. Over 100 protesters, including Trumka and Wilhelm, were then arrested for sitting in and blocking the doors. The action culminated in the launch of a boycott of the hotel, one of the city's most luxurious.The Hilton march and arrests are a preview of a spring of growing conflict between workers and the giant chains that now own and operate the city's Class A hotels. Although San Francisco has seen more of that conflict over the last six months than other cities, it is now spreading around the country. By the summer, it may involve a confrontation between the hotels and over 40,000 workers in at least nine cities.
The contract with San Francisco's hotel union, UNITE HERE Local 2, expired on August 14. Since then, Local 2 has been trying to bargain a new agreement in the middle of an economic depression. Last fall Local 2 members struck, and then began boycotts, at three other Class A hotels - the Grand Hyatt, the Palace and the St. Francis. San Francisco's largest hotels are demanding cuts in health and retirement benefits, and increased workloads, saying that the economic crisis has reduced tourism in the city. The luxury chains want workers to begin paying for their healthcare premiums -- $35/month this year, $115/month next year, and $200/month the year after. A typical San Francisco hotel worker earns $30,000 per year, and many can't work a full 40-hour week.
Lastly, the Detroit Green Partyissued the following:For Immediate Release: January 10, 2010For More Information Contact:----------------------------Name: Derek GrigsbyCell Phone: 313-706-2985E-mail: email@example.comDetroit Green Party calls for outlawing of utility shutoffs===========================================================Stop the killing of our innocent sisters and brothers!Outlaw utility shut-offs now!Detroit, MI January 10, 2010 – In the week that ushered in the New Year, at least eight people died in four Detroit fires.Why does this happen every winter in Detroit, over and over again?"Detroit is a city with poor people often unable to pay their utilities. If they get behind in their payments; it's pretty difficult to get caught up. So when water or gas or electricity is turned off, they have a choice of doing without or rigging something up. This kind of access to power leads to fires every winter," stated Detroit Green Party spokesperson Derek Grigsby. "DTE should be prevented from shutting-off electricity in the middle of winter. We should put the needs of ordinary people before the profits of a wealthy few."'In the latest case, the three people who died were using walkers. They weren't nimble enough to exit the house. By the time firefighters pulled two of the three out of the house and rushed them to nearby hospitals, they were pronounced dead.While the immediate cause of the fire remains under investigation, the underlying cause is that in the midst of a deep economic crisis, where effectively half the city's adult residents are unemployed, utilities are shut off for non-payment. Instead of a business-as-usual approach to people's needs, we need to adopt a strategy of saving people's lives by having a moratorium on the shut off of utilities and foreclosures.In the latest case, Marvin Allen, 62, and his brother Tyrone Allen, 61, both handicapped, along with Tyrone's girlfriend, Lyn Grier, 59, died without any insurance. The family asked that donations be made for funeral services to the Allen Memorial Fund at any Comerica Bank Branch. The Detroit Greens has made a contribution, and encourages others, including DTE, to do so.Detroit Green Party, a local of the Green Party of Michigan