Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Softer Side of Narcissicm

The Softer Side of Narcissism

From August 27, 2008, that's "The Softer Side of Narcissicm." Inspired by Michelle Obama's entitled interview (see the PBS interview right here) at the link). That was really disgusting to watch. And little that's happened since has shocked me because with her it is always "I" and "me" and she's so self-obsessed.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, a wave of attacks hit Iraq, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani again sees one of his clerics targeted, Iraqiya calls for the government to provide protection or resign, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc lashes out at the United Nations over Camp Ashraft, and more.

Today a series of spectacular attacks struck Iraq. Martin Kobler, the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, declared, "The continuing violent attacks on Iraqis are totally unacceptable and have to stop. I call on the Iraqi authorities to fully investigate these outrageous acts of violence and bring the criminals to justice. Today's despicable attacks are an assault on human life and death. They are meant to hinder the achievement of national unity and stability." At the US State Dept, spokesperson Mark C. Toner (link is text and video) stated, "Obviously, these were horrible, even heinous, acts that took place today. We strongly condemn these acts of violence and obviously offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims. Frankly, we view these as desperate attempts by terrorist groups to sow fear and undermine Iraqi democracy at what everyone recognizes is really a critical juncture in their -- in the Iraqi political process." Obviously, the US goes to the 'terrorist' well at the drop of the hat. Having installed a puppet government of exiles and ignored Iraqi will (in the 2010 elections, Iraqis voted Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya ahead of Nouri's State of Law but the White House demanded that Nouri remain prime minister -- in spite of the will of the Iraqi people, in spite of the Iraqi Constitution), the US government has left Iraqis not thrilled with an ineffective government composed of exiles few avenues to pursue to effect change. (Had they honored the will of the Iraqi people expressed in the 2010 elections, there might be more faith in elections within Iraq. The US government is 100% to blame for the attitude in Iraq that elections change nothing.)

The Washington Post's Asaad Alazawi and Ernesto Londono observe, "Iraqi officials did not provide an official death toll, and few appeared on television to speak about, or condemn, the attacks. Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraq parliament's Speaker, said the attacks represented an attempt to 'flare up strife' among Iraqis."

The wave of attacks were spread across ten locations. RT notes, "The violence started with a drive-by shooting in Baghdad and was followed by blasts inside and outside the capital." Salam Faraj and Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) count 16 car bombings and 8 roadside bombings and note Baghdad, Babil, Diyala, Slaheddin, Kirkuk and Nineveh were all hit. Rick Dewsbury (Daily Mail) notes, "The coordinated bombings and shootings unfolded over four hours in the capital Baghdad -- where most deaths were -- and 11 other cities. They struck government offices, restaurants and one in the town of Musayyib hit close to a primary school." Vatican Radio (link is audio) reported on the atta

Charles Collins: It was one of the bloodiest days in Iraq since US troops pulled out in mid-December. In Baghdad, at least 10 explosions tore through mainly Shia neighborhoods during rush hour and other attacks targeted police patrols, commuters and crowds gathered in shopping areas. One bomb went off near a school injuring several children. There were also attacks in Baquba, Mosul and Kirkuk and the province of Salaheddin. Tensions have grown since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against senior members of a predominantly Sunni political bloc, accusing them of ties to death squads. The blasts hit just weeks before Baghdad plans to host an Arab League Summit which was cancelled last year due to fears of violence in the county.

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph of London) observes of Baghdad, "Witnesses spoke of seeing wrecked cars and blood stains on the floors and chains of an ice cream shop. One attack claimed six lives in Kadhimiya district, where bombs exploded along a restaurant lined street filled with people having breakfast and morning coffees." 50 dead and "hundreds injured" throughout the country. Asaad Alazawi and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) count 52 dead and add, "The majority of attacks, which were carried out with car bombs and small arms, appeared to target security forces in the capital and other cities, authorities said." The death toll continued to rise throughout the day. Kareem Raheem (Reuters) noted the death toll has risen to 60. By the end of the day, the Wall St. Journal was reporting the deaths had risen to 70.

BBC News offers a series of photos of the aftermath here. Globe and Mail offers four photos here. The Telegraph of London offers video here. Jack Healy (New York Times) notes mourners in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood where 16-year-old Sajad Montasire died waiting "for a minibus to take him to school" and quotes his brother Mustafa explaining, "He just had his breakfast, took his books and left walking. I heard the explosion, I ran into the street, and I found his shoe." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains Sunnis were targeted (not just Shi'ites) and quotes Iraq Body Count's Hamit Dardagan stating, "The situation is worsening [January's count of over 400 dead] shows a constant level of violence that doesn't seem to let up." Al Arabiya notes the death toll from today's attacks has risen to 70. Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) notes that the Interior Ministry rushed to blame al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but MP Hassan Jihad -- who serves on the Parliament's Security and Defense Committee -- notes that "the attacks show that the Iraqi armed forces and the country's security apparatus were not where they need to be." It should be noted that the Deputy Minister at the Interior Ministry feels Iraq's security forces have had enough training. (He advised the US government to spend the money for training Iraqi security forces on something in the United States instead.) It should also be noted that he unofficially runs the Ministry of the Interior. That's because, in his second term as prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki has refused to appoint a Minister of the Interior. In addition, Nouri's refused to appoint a Minster of Defense or a Minister of National Security. (Technically, he's refused to nominate. Parliament votes up or down on the nominee. But Nouri's refused to offer nominees to head those three security ministries.) Nouri's named prime minister-designate in November 2010. Per the Constitution, he is to form a (full) Cabinet -- that includes each nominee being approved by Parliament. At the end of December 2010, he was unconstitutionally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister despite having failed at the Cabinet (which should have meant President Jalal Talabani named a new prime-minister designate who would then have 30 days to try to form a Cabinet). During this period with no heads of the three security ministries, violence has been on the rise. Over a year later, Nouri has still not named people to head the security ministries and a National Alliance member recently revealed that the National Alliance (Nouri's State of Law, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq are the three biggest blocs in the National Alliance) doesn't want anyone named to the posts. They'd prefer that, for the duration of Nouri's term, the ministries remain headless.

Press TV emphasizes that today's "deadly violence comes weeks before an Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Iraq at the end of March." Al Mada notes that 13 Arab leaders are expected to participate in the summit and that the US has had "a big role" in persuading Arab leaders to attend. Ali A. Nabhan, Sam Dagher and Jabbar Yaseen (Wall St. Journal) explain:

The latest violence also casts a shadow over Iraq's quest to host the Arab League's summit of leaders on March 29. It would be the first such meeting since uprisings swept through the Arab world, toppling four leaders and besieging the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last year's summit was postponed because of the events. Iraq has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into preparations for the summit and a team from the Arab League met with Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Monday to discuss security and other arrangements.

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Baghdad reaction to today's attacks:

"What are the security officials doing?" shouted Hadi Abdulwahab, a father of four whose shop in Karrada isn't far from the site of one of the car bombings. "This is proof that they are not in control. The armed groups are in control."
Only luck, he said, kept him alive. The insurgents "hit when and where they want," he said. "There is no security plan. There is no security. We are alive only because we weren't hit -- this time. We leave our homes in the morning not knowing whether we will return or not."

Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quotes shop owner Ali Sabah Qadim stating, "These explosions increase our concern that security in Baghdad is still not good. What is the guilt of those innocent children who were going to their schools? Today we have a new number to be added to the orphans, widows and handicapped in Iraq."
Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted:

#Iraq #Sadr bloc, Iraqiya fault Iraqi government and intel services for not stopping wave of attacks, interior ministry blames al-Qaeda.

Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The official spokesperson of al-Iraqiya Bloc, Mayson al-Damlouji, demanded the government to bear responsibility and stop bloodshed or to present its resignation." The editorial board of the National Newspaper has a very strong editorial which includes:

The increase in attacks on Shia communities also corresponded with Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, the leader of the Shia State of Law coalition, consolidating power at the expense of the opposition Iraqiya party and accusing leading Sunni politicians of planning the violence. Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, a Sunni who fled to the Kurdish Autonomous Region, again maintained his innocence this week after Iraq's top judicial court formally accused him of sectarian violence.
Whether Mr Al Hashimi is guilty or not (and it is difficult to judge in this poisoned political atmosphere), the political feuding and sectarian murders are closely related. As long as Mr Al Maliki's government continues to marginalise non-Shiites, there will be no lasting security solution in Iraq.

No one's tying in the violence to the ongoing crackdowns in Iraq. That ongoing crackdown would include the 92 people Al Sabaah reports Nouri had arrested yesterday. In addition, Yasser Talal (Dar Addustour) reports that more warrants are coming and that Nouri's claiming there's a plot to assassinate him. Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq and chief drama queen.

Nouri lashed out at many members of Iraqiya in the last months, none more so than Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi whom he accused of terrorism. Last week, 9 judges from Nouri's kangaroo court in Baghdad declared al-Hashemi guilty (despite not having had a trial and despite what Article 19 of the Iraqi Constitution dictates: All are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law). Al Sabaah cites unnamed gossips in Parliament who are insisting that, in three more sessions, Parliament will be declaring a death sentence for al-Hashemi. This despite the fact that Parliament's not holding a hearing and most likely doesn't have the votes to put that forward?

In other violence, Al Rafidayn reports that a cleric of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was targeted for assassination yesterday with a hand grenade as he finished morning prayers and was leaving a mosque in Najaf. He wasn't harmed in the attack. This attack comes after a series of attacks over the weekend on al-Sistanti clerics. Friday Kitabat reported that Supreme Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani accused party officials of widespread corruption -- financial and administrative. Saturday Kitabat reported that six homes in Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah Provinces belonging to representatives of al-Sistani were attacked with hand grenades and bullets. No one was harmed in the attacks which would appear to indicate the attacks were not to harm but to send a message. A warning could be sent for any number of reasons but it is curious that he decries corruption among politicians and the next day homes of his representatives are attacked. Aswat al-Iraq noted 2 of the homes attacked in Diwaniyah Province and that a mosque in the area was also attacked.

Al Rafidayn reports United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq's spokesperson Claire Bergoa issued a statement in which she declared there are 5.1 million internally displaced Iraqis (internal refugees) and that 3.1 million became displaced in 2006 or after. The statement on internal refugees comes as the Sadr bloc lashes out at Iranian refugees in Iraq. Ahlul Bayt News Agency quotes Rassem al-Marvani, Cultural Advisor of the Sadr bloc, stating that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "is actually implementing other's policies which are against Iraq's freedom and independence since there is no law that allows Ban Ki-moon to comment on the presence of the MKO in Iraq or their leaving the country." He's referring to Camp Ashraf residents. He accuses Ban Ki-moon of being in league with the US and Europe.

Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,000 people -- 400 were moved to Camp Liberty last week). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observesthat "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."

Yesterday afternoon, international law attorney Allan Gerson (Huffington Post) addressed the planned relocation of all Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty:

In 1932, the eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote "Moral Man and Immoral Society" warning of the tendency of institutions to lose their sense of humanity. How better to explain today's actions of the US State Department in toying with the lives and hopes of over 3000 Iranian dissidents being "voluntarily" relocated from Camp Ashraf , a small city 40 miles north of Baghdad, where they have lived for the last 25 years? From there they are being moved to a small isolated section of Camp Liberty, an abandoned American base, looted by the Iraqis, with no basic amenities and under the watchful eyes of Iraqi police who have viciously attacked them before.

In the State Department's view, they are doing these dissidents, members of the MEK (The Mujahedeen-e Khalq), a favor and are not dishonoring a solemn commitment made to them by the US Army in July 2004 when it promised that they would be treated as Protected Persons under the Geneva Conventions in return for the MEK's surrendering their means of self-protection. But, sad to say, the State Department's benevolent view is seriously flawed.
In reality, it has, as Niebuhr warned, lost its sense of humanity and has shown instead that US assurances of protection cannot be taken seriously in the face of institutional interests.

The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom issued the following today:

Press release
A letter signed by 110 cross-Party MPs and Peers was on Thursday delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Lancaster House urging him to ensure United Nations protection for 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
A delegation led by David Amess MP (Con) delivered the letter which was supported by senior Parliamentarians including Former Home Secretary Lord Waddington QC, former Labour Party chairman Lord Clarke of Hampstead, former House of Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd, LibDem deputy leader Lord Dholakia, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC (former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation), former Lord Advocate for Scotland Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC, Sir Roger Gale MP, Stephen McCabe MP, Brian Binley MP, and Sir Bob Russell MP. The Parliamentarians expressed "deep concern regarding the relocation of the first group of 400 residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty", a former US base near Baghdad airport now a de facto prison used by Iraq to house the dissidents.
The MPs and Peers' letter said: "A group of 400 residents showed utmost flexibility and prepared themselves to move to Camp Liberty on 17 February. This was at a time when many basic necessities at the new camp were clearly lacking. This gesture of goodwill by these residents was responded to by the Iraqi government ordering its police at the new camp to be offensive and hostile."
"Iraqi forces in the presence of UN monitors prevented the residents from transferring medication and medical supplies, a generator, office equipment including chairs, tables and photocopiers, a water heater and hygiene products. "
Camp Liberty, contrary to UNAMI's 31 January statement, does not conform to international standards from the point of view of infrastructure. Upon arrival residents found that there was no electricity or water and its hygienic services were filthy and unusable. "
With Mrs Rajavi having convinced the residents to accept this risky transfer, the current conditions at the camp are totally unacceptable. We expect the United Nations, with the support of the US government and the European Union to make a clear stand against the limitations that the Iraqi government is imposing on the residents. The UN, US and EU must ensure the human rights of the residents are met. UNAMI cannot justify a stance which is clearly not neutral as a result of Iraqi pressure.
"We urge you firstly to ensure that the Iraqi police station and its forces leave the camp and are stationed outside the perimeter of it. Furthermore, you must guarantee the safety and well being of the residents by ensuring they have direct and free access to medical services and that their freedom of movement is secured. UNAMI must keep the gates of Camp Liberty open to reporters, lawyers and the families of the residents. "
In such circumstances there can be no further transfer of residents to Camp Liberty until such time as the current 400 residents at Camp Liberty have been safely transferred to third party states", the letter said. The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom 23 February 2012

In other news, Al Mada reports an Iraqi exile -- one who left Iraq in the eighties -- recently returned from Paris for a visit, hoping to see the home he knew in Baghdad. Instead, what he found shocked him and he declared he was troubled to see Baghdad, the city of art and science, now become a city of sorrow and ignorance and the concept of flirtation has returned to the Dark Ages (in his time, he states, young women spoke throughout Baghdad, fanning themselves with fans in the doorways of restaurants and clubs). He is returning to Paris and states of Baghdad, 'This is not my city."

We'll close with this from John Glaser's "Extrajudicial Execution at President's Whim" (

The Obama administration's top Pentagon lawyer on Wednesday said that courts
have no business questioning executive branch decisions about whom to target for extra-judicial execution in the war on terror, even if that target is an American citizen.
"Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives," said Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, in a speech at Yale Law School.
Read on ...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Change You Can Believe In


From August 24, 2008, that's "Change You Can Believe In." I always liked that one. There's another with Palin coming up that was another favorite of mine. That one right there would be one of my five favorite for 2008, in fact.

It's lousy of Biden (the drawing) but I love Barack's "Toushy needs wiping!" :D

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the political crisis continues, another prep meeting for a national conference is scheduled for this weekend, Tareq al-Hashemi turns out to have been right about the Baghdad judiciary, US Senator Patty Murry gives an important speech about veterans, veterans groups wonder where the budget money goes, and more.
Big news out of Iraq today and apparently it's so big that the press can't handle it. Doubt it? Here's Sinan Salaheddin and Lara Jakes (AP) reporting, "An Iraqi judicial panel said Thursday the country's Sunni vice president and his employees ran death squads that killed security officials and Shiite pilgrims. The findings offer the first independent assessment of accusations that have thrown the nation into political chaos and threaten to re-ignite sectarian tensions." Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) misses it too. Here's al-Salhy's opening, "A panel of Iraqi judges detailed Thursday 150 attacks they said were carried out by death squadsunder the command of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, in accusations likely to reignite political conflict."
What follows is how the announcement could have been covered:
After many claims that he could not receive a fair trial, Tareq al-Hashemi's
assertions were backed up today by the Iraqi judiciary.
BAGHDAD -- Today a nine-member Iraqi judiciary panel released results of an investigation they conducted which found the Sunni Vice President of Iraq was guilty of terrorism. Monday, December 19th, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who had arrived in the KRG the previous day. Mr. al-Hashemi refused to return to Baghdad insisting he would not receive a fair trial. Instead, he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
During the weeks since the arrest warrant was issued, Mr. al-Hashemi has repeatedly attempted to get the trial moved to another venue stating that Prime Minister al-Maliki controlled the Baghdad judiciary. Mr. al-Maliki insisted that the vice president return and that he would get a fair trial.
Today's events demonstrate that Mr. al-Hashemi was correct and there is no chance of a fair trial in Iraq. This was made clear by the judiciary's announcement today.
A judiciary hears charges in a trial and determines guilt; however, what the Baghdad judiciary did today was to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilt of the charges and to do so before a trial was held.
Not only do the events offer a frightening glimpse at the realities of the Iraqi legal system, they also back up the claims Mr. al-Hashemi has long made.
Get it? You can't be the judiciary and declare -- before a trial -- that someone is guilty. Tareq al-Hashemi is absolutely correct. He has been proven to be correct. Whether he was or was not guilty isn't an issue because there's been no trial yet. But what is known is that the judiciary has already issued a finding of guilt before a trial took place. There is no reputable legal organization in the world that would support Nouri's argument that al-Hashemi can have a fair trial in Baghdad. The court's own actions have demonstrated that will not be the case.
The Iraqi Constitution is very clear on this point -- and it's really past time that Iraqi officials started following their Constitution. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The judiciary chose to skip the trial and just declare him guilty. They violated their own Constitution. They didn't hem and haw and treat it like an indictment where they found cause to hold a hearing. No, they declared him guilty. That is in violation of the Iraq Constitution. If they had a functioning Parliament, Iraq should be moving to impeach everyone of those nine judgesand remove them from the bench. Clearly, they do not understand the Constitution that they are supposed to be interpreting.
Article 19th's fifth clause is very clear: "The accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial. The accused may not be tried on the same crimefora second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced." The judiciary issued a finding today publicly declaring Tareq al-Hashemi guilty. In doing so, they violated his right to a fair legal trial and if they'll violate his legal rights -- a vice president of Iraq -- they'll violate any Iraqis legal rights. Today the judiciary of Iraq has given the Iraq legal system a black eye.
We're being very remedial and highly redundant in an attempt to make clear that what just took place demonstrates that Tareq al-Hashemi cannot have a fair trial in Baghdad. There are other points that can be made -- Mike made some this afternoon including that the judiciary releases their finding and provides no evidence -- but in terms of the news value of these events, the news value is that Tareq al-Hashemi's repeated assertions that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad have been proven to be correct as evidenced by the fact that, without a trial -- without even a defense, nine members of the Baghdad judiciary have declared him guilty.
So what's going on Iraq? How did a vice president (now in his second term) end up charged with terrorism? Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) offers a few clues. From the opening summary:
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocratic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i tragets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
To conservatives in the United States, particularly the architects of the war and of the ensuing state-building exercise, the crisis into which Iraq plunged after the U.S. withdrawal was final proof of the ineptitude of the Obama administration in failing to secure an agreement with Maliki that would have allowed a residual U.S. force to stay. But the lesson is more sobering: Iraq demonstrates the resilience of domestic political forces in the face of even an eight-year occupation, thus the futility of nation-building and political engineering efforts conducted from the outside. The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces. And while cultures and power relations are not immutable, they do not change on demand to accomodate the goals of outsiders.
For the second timethe 2003 U.S. intervention brought down Saddam Hussein and his regime, Iraq is facing a real threat of political disintegration. In 2007, the United States held the country together forcibly, but the infusion of new troops could not secure a lasting agreement among Iraqis. This time, the outcome depends on whether the political factions that dominate Iraq and tear it apart find it in their interest to forge a real compromise or conclude that they would benefit more from going in separate directions.
Whether you accept their conclusions or not, the observations should make you wonder if the US is effectively using money in Iraq with the 'diplomatic' brigade or if more US taxpayer money is being wasted?
Al Mada reports State of Law MP Salman al-Musahwi states that the issue of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq will be discussed but outside of the national conference in a side meeting between State of Law and Iraqiya. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Iraqiya bloc MP Itab al-Douri stressed today that both cases of vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi and deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlaq will be within the discussions of next Sunday national conference preparatory meeting." Al Sabbah reports that the next prep meeting is supposed to take place Sunday and that one of the goals is to resolve the written plans various blocs have put forward. Kitabat notes that there's a climate of fear taking hold in Iraq as it appears that Nouri is building a dictatorship.

In other political news, Parliament is supposed to review the case of Sabir al-Issawi, Mayor of Baghdad, today. Al Sabaah reports they are supposed to consider whether or not to withdraw confidence in him. Kitabat explains State of Law's Shiran Waeli has brought forward charges of financial and administrative corruption. Parliamentary sources tell Kitabat that Parliament is expected to vote in favor of keeping al-Issawi on as mayor. On the potential targeting of politicians, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Legal expert Tariq Harb said today that lifting immunity against the MP should be done with the majority of votes, pointing out the formation of a committee to lift the immunity is illegal and intervention in the judicial system." Lastly, CNN is reporting, "A leader of an exiled Iranian opposition group said Thursday that members living in a long-standing camp in Iraq are ready to begin moving to a new temporary site, under a plan agreed to with the United Nations."
Small protests took place in January and early February of last year in Iraq. February 25th, however, marked the national protests around the country with an emphasis on Baghdad's Tahrir Square and Friday protests have followed since. The anniversary is coming up. As plans are underway to observe that anniversary, Al Mada reports that Zuhair Muhsin -- member of Parliament's Human Rights Commission -- is calling for peaceful events and for no one to distrupt the work of the government. Muhsin states the hope that all Iraqis are aware of their right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner. Iraq Detainees notes that there will be a protest Friday, February 24th at 2:00 pm in front of the Iraqi consulate in Frankfurt, Germany to note the firt year anniversary of the February 25th protests. This will be a protest against corruption and wrongful arrests, against stealing food from the people, against the international intervention in Iraqi affairs, against the puppet government, a protest to support human rights and the rights of all Iraqis.
Violence continued today. Reuters notes a Baghdad attack in which two police officers were left injured, a Baquba raodside bombing which claimed the life of a shop owner (shop sold mobile phones) and, dropping back to last night, 2 Ramadi roadside bombings left six people injured.
In yesterday's snapshot, we covered the first panel of the Wednesday House Veteran s Affairs Committee hearing. Last night, Kat offered her thoughts on the first panel in "Like Corrine Brown's grandmother's sweet potato pie." The hearing was about the 2013 budget and two panels appeared before the Committee. The first panel was Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (with the VA's Robert Petzel, Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, Roger Baker and Todd Grams). Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, VFW's Ramond Kelley, Disabled American Veterans' Jeff Hall, AMVETS Diane Zumatto and the American Legion's Timothy Tetz. US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the Committee, US House Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member. We'll emphasize some remarks regarding budget concerns.
Carl Blake: [. . .] What is more troubling to me is the discussion that I believe you raised, Mr. Chairman, this excess of resources that apparently they have identified to the tune of approximately $3 billion in 2012, about $2 billion I think they say in 2013. It sort of begs the question: How has the administration determined that they have $3 billion too much for 2012 when we have seven months of this fiscal year still to finish? If they came back after the fact and said we have all this extra money, that would be one thing. But in midstream, it is certainly a concern for us. Doesn't mean that it wouldn't necessarily be realized but it's certainly a concern. They identify health care services, in particular, which is a big chunk of it, they identify long-term care. I wonder, where are those savings for long-term care? Does that mean that there are fewer veterans taking advantage of VA's long-term health care programs? This given the fact that the veterans population is actually aging? So we have some concerns about that. And the fact that they don't even meet what they're mandated to meet as far as their capacity requirement for long-term care. We also have concerns about this roller coaster ride of medical care collection estimates. I would note that two yars ago, the Fiscal Year 2012 collections estimate was $3.7 billion. Last year, when they submitted the 2012 budget, it was revised to 3.1 billion. And I would note that this year's budget's estimate now shows that there are 2.7 billion so that's a one billion dollar change over the course of the last two years and I understand there are factors that play into those changes but the fact is that that difference in resources which they factor into their ability to provide services has to have some sort of an impact on the delivery of services in a timely fashion and quality services to veterans. So I think those things need to be teased out. I go back to the excess resources they have as important as I would consider that issue, I think that there would be more than a couple of bulleted points in a four-volume document explaining that. That might be the most important fact that they outline in their entire budget cause that certainly has an impact on everything going forward. So we certainly hope that the Committee will pursue that and the VA will come forward with more information about it. Lastly, I would direct my comments towards the 2014 advance appropriation. While the -- while the independent budget does not offer specific budget recommendations for that for any number of reasons, a couple of things that jump out at me about the 2014 recommendation, given our concerns about whether 2013 is actually a sufficient budget put forward, it could arguably be a fairly small increase for 2014. Additionally, they predict a very huge jump in medical support and compliance over previous years' funding. I would point out that I believe that's a part of the administrative arm of the medical side of the VA so that would certainly give us pause. At the same time, there's an even larger decrease projected for medical facilities. While I know they project some transfer in resources and staffing in facilities to medical services, I'd also note the budget shows a substantial decrease in non-recurring maintenance in 2014, a very substantial decrease.
This thread is picked up at the very end of the hearing.
US House Rep Timothy Walz: The president's budget and the VA budget is a suggestion. Constitutionally, we hold the purse strings. We hold the final decision. So this is where democracy works its best and works its will. And it's very important that we have this so I want to thank you for that. Again, I would be the first to say members of Congress are experts at gross generalization so I want to be very careful on what I do on this. But I do concur and I think some of you brought up some things I'm hearing personally and I go out and talk to people in the field, I talk to those directors and I talk to the nurses and I talk to the people that are cleaning the rooms to hear what's going on and one of the things that I am hearing and this came from one of my areas, we have a -- out in Minnesota, to just give one of them -- we have dental equipment and the space needed ready to stand up three new dental facilities -- our ability to deliver that care -- however, we haven't hired anybody to do it, so it's boxed up and sitting there and that's what's going. Does that surprise any of you? Maybe I'm just looking at where you are at? If that's the case again where our intent was to fund and put it out there. How are we making sure it happens? And I'm wondering -- and I think Carl brought up a good point along with the Chairman -- of how do we account? Is not standing those dental clinics accounting for some of the money that's not spent, that's going back to go elsewhere because I wanted the dental clinics, that's what I voted for and that's what I wanted to see. So I'm just curious to get with you on this. And I say that being very careful of a gross generalization and being very careful of the dreaded disease around here "Somebody Told Me And We Did It." It needs to be more accurate than that. I'm hearing it from you somewhat echoed. If somebody can give me just your feeling on that, is that kind of what's happening here? Are we not given the ability to follow through on some of the things that we're doing or intended to do?
Timothy Tetz: Mr. Walz, the System Saving Task Force that the American Legion stands up and sends around to facilities nationwide has made their visits this year and they continue to do so. And it's not uncommon for us to come across empty facilities like this or empty rooms or 'Hey, when we have the right people we can have this tele-health center.' The problem with tele-health -- and it's a great program and I agree with Dr. Petzel on the future that it has tele-health requires somebody to be there to open up the office on the one end, the rural end, and somebody to be there, professional, on the other end to take it. If you don't have those people, all the infrastructure in the world doesn't do anything for veterans.
US House Rep Timothy Walz: Yeah and I think it's, for me it's about following through and I think, best laid plans and good intentions, I'm pretty certain if those three dental services were up, they would be full. We could keep them full if we had the dentists, the dental hygenists, everything else that goes with it. So I'm concerned and that brings me to my next question. Again, don't want to over-generalize but this comes from a claims processor out there. They're being asked to do 20 hours of overtime each month, pressures incredibly high, they lost three mid-range folks, they just simply didn't want to do it anymore. And that happens in every business -- again, I don't want to over-generalize. But I heard you mention it. I'm hearing it and it's kind of if: "If there's smoke, there's fire." Is this a problem you're seeing? I think, Mr. Hall, you mentioned this in yours and I know this directly from the person who came to me and, again, said it but with the disclaimer on that, if you're hearing it too?
Jeff Hall: We are hearing it, we're hearing it as an organization. I think other members of the IB [Independent Budget -- the VFW, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America], maybe. I personally have heard it because I have friends who work for the VA in various places and it was just basically said as mandatory overtime. There is no choice. It's not --
US House Rep Timothy Walz: That's the way it's being described to me.
Jeff Hall: So the mandatory, however they get the 20 hours -- two and a half Saturdays, an hour extra a day, whatever it may be. The biggest concern to those individuals and shared by us is not necessarily the mandatory overtime, it's, to quote them, "Where are we getting the money for this if we're cutting training? How are they requiring this for me to come in on a Saturday to do this but we're cutting the training? We're already disenchanted by the training that we 'don't receive'." So --
US House Rep Timothy Walz: I want to give them the flexibility if they need to do overtime but I just don't think it's a good model to rely on. It always makes me question
Jeff Hall: I think it's certainly sending the wrong message.
US House Rep Timothy Walz: It's unsustainable too.
There was a budget hearing today -- veterans -- and I'd like to cover that in tomorrow's snapshot. We have something else to include today. And to try to squeeze that and the hearing in would mean giving very little attention to the hearing. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. There are a number of veterans issues that aren't being addressed in the national press -- either by reporters or by columnists (including veterans writing columns). (Regional and local press have been very good about covering these issues.) So when Senator Murray speaks in public about those issues, it's news and it's needs to be noted. One of the issues is employment and when she's speaking to potential employers, what she says is especially important and news worthy. We're noting the speech in full and closing out with it.
Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, February 16, 2012
(202) 224-2834

Murray Delivers Keynote Address on Private-Public Partnerships to Help Hire Veterans

Murray tells business leaders and veterans "we stand at a cross roads" moment in hiring and transition efforts

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the following speech on efforts to improve veterans employment through public-private partnerships. Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered the remarks in front of a gathering of national business leaders and veterans seeking employment.
The event, which was sponsored by GE and included members of the National Chamber of Commerce, included a workshop for veterans seeking employment.

Senator Murray is the author and sponsor of the
VOW to Hire Heroes Act which was signed into law last November and provides a comprehensive approach to improving veterans hiring.

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

"Thank you Jean for that kind introduction. I also want to thank GE for putting this wonderful, and critically important, event together. And for the tremendous commitment that they have reaffirmed today to hire our nation's returning veterans.

"You know, this gathering today of business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, veterans in need of work, and Congressional leaders could not come at a more pivotal moment for our nation's veterans. As Secretary Shinseki no doubt discussed, we are facing a tremendous influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with new and unique needs, and I want to commend him for putting out a budget on Monday that reflects that reality.

"But while the needs are often new with more women veterans, more complex medical devices and technology, and more understanding of the invisible wounds of war. The moment is not.

"Today, we stand at a cross roads our nation has stood at before.

"We are at the end of a conflict that was bruising, but one that also reaffirmed the courage and strength of our service members. We are at a point where we as a nation have to come together to really examine what every single one of us can, and has, been doing to aid those who were asked to make the sacrifices.

"It's a moment that in the past we as a nation have responded to well -- such as in the era that built the greatest generation. And one where we as a nation have stumbled -- as in the aftermath of Vietnam when far too many veterans slipped through the cracks.

"But it's those moments that must our guide our work today.

"I can certainly say that they guide my own work as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. And that's because those pivotal moments played such an important role in my own life.

"As many of you may know, my father was a World War II veteran who was one of the first to storm the beaches of Okinawa. I can remember as a little kid the reverence those in my little town of Bothell, Washington had for his service.

"The way he was treated -- not just by neighbors and community members -- but also by the federal government -- that provided him with a GI bill. And that was there with worker training programs for my mom many years later when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could no longer work. And that helped him and his fellow veterans prosper.

"But my experience with those returning from war was much different decades later when as a college senior I volunteered at the psychiatric ward of the Seattle VA at a time when veterans were coming home with the invisible wounds of war which they didn't yet call PTSD.

"I can remember the faces of the veterans, many of whom were even younger than me, who were being told they were shell shocked. I can also remember -- like many of you -- the lack of answers during that period. The feeling that we were not a nation firmly at the back of those who had served. The feeling that as a nation we were quickly turning the page on that war -- and those who fought it.

"Those moments have taught us.

"And one of the most important things they have taught us is how critically important it is for us to partner with the common purpose of supporting our veterans between the private and public sector. And nowhere is that more true than in the effort to find our veterans good, stable employment.

"Now I know that finding work today is a problem our veterans face along with nearly 13 million other Americans....but for our veterans many of the barriers to employment are unique. That's because for those who have worn our nation's uniform -- and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away:

"The road home isn't always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy.

"Too often our veterans are being left behind by their peers who didn't make the same sacrifices -- who spent their early careers in internships or apprenticeships. Too often our veterans don't
realize that their time in the military provided them with similar skills both tangible and
intangible that give them tremendous value in the workplace. And too often they are discouraged by a job market that is unfamiliar to them after their service.

"But as all those here today who know the character and experiences of our veterans understand, this shouldn't be the case. Our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century.

"But despite that being the case -- the statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is over 20%. That is one in five of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family, don't have an income that provides stability, and don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.

"And so the question becomes: How could this be?

"How could these young men and women who have performed so admirably, who know how to lead and know how to get a job done be struggling so mightily?

"Well over the last few years, that's the question that I set out to answer in preparing my bill to overhaul veterans employment efforts on the federal level. And it's a question that I knew I had to get answered first-hand from those veterans struggling to find work like the veterans with us today.

"So I spent a longtime crisscrossing my home state, which as many of you know has a tremendous number of young veterans -- and I visited worker retraining programs, VA facilities, and more than a few veterans' halls. And in discussion after discussion -- I heard from veterans about the roadblocks they face.

"What I heard was heartbreaking and frustrating.

"I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I heard from medics who returned home from treating battlefield wounds and couldn't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. I spoke with veterans who said that many employers had trouble understanding the vernacular they used to describe their experiences in an interview or on a resume. I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to translate those skills into the workplace.

"The problems were sometimes complicated and sometimes simple. Most importantly though, they were preventable.

"But strangely, when I relayed the concerns of my home state's unemployed veterans to some back here in the other Washington for solutions, none came.

"What did become clear is that for too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with skills to protect our nation -- only to ignore them once they leave the military. For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.

"So in May of last year, I introduced a bipartisan veterans employment bill that takes the challenges I heard and translates them into solutions to ease the transition from the battlefield to the working world.

"For the very first time, my bill required broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military's Transition Assistance Program. It allowed service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in government. And it required the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector in order to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications they need.

"All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.

"And late this year they were combined with a tax credit for employers that hire veterans and help to train older veterans for in-demand jobs in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. And I'm so pleased to note that late last year I joined with Secretary Shinseki -- right next to President Obama when he signed my bill into law.

"But while that bill is a critical first step -- it should only be that: a first step. The next step is why I'm here today -- to help continue or work of building partnerships with you -- the business leaders who know our military community better than anyone.

"Now, I do have to mention, you are already ahead of the curve. The Chamber of Commerce, working with companies like GE on the Hiring our Heroes initiative, has lead the way on veterans hiring. But we all know that more can be done by businesses large and small across the country.

"We can better utilize our workforce training system to get veterans the skills they need to fill the jobs that are open in their areas. We can build upon the relationships we have across the country with community colleges and universities.

"But in the here and now, we also need to spread the word on what all businesses can do to help. So, as I do whenever I'm given the opportunity to stand in front of so many big wigs that make the hiring decisions, I need to make my pitch.

"And I don't want to just encourage you to hire veterans -- because I know many of you are already doing that -- I also want to pass along the things that are working to sustain veterans hiring so that you can pass it along.

"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the importance of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and in resumes fail to get through to interviewers.

"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning service members. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills developed during military service and on the job training.

"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations and at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs;

"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,

"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.

"If we can spread the message on just a few of these steps, I'm confident that we will be able to continue to build on the success you all have had in hiring veterans.

"But there's one other -- even more important thing you can help get the word out on. And that's the often difficult issue of the invisible wounds of war some potential employees face.

"As I mentioned earlier, I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not put their military service on resumes because they fear it stigmatizes them. They fear that those who have not served see them all as damaged, or unstable.

"We must understand what mental health challenges are, and what they are not.

"As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and coworkers to understand that issues like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. We need them to understand that these illnesses do not afflict every veteran.

"And most importantly, we need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.

"I know GE is doing good work in this area. But we need to let businesses know that if they have a veteran who is facing some challenges, please, do the right thing and encourage him or her get help and get back to their lives.

"They need to know it is okay to reach out. Help them take advantage of the excellent mental health care that I know Secretary Shinseki and VA are capable of providing.

"The veteran will be better, and they will be an even stronger member of your team.

"You know, our veterans don't ask for a lot. Often times they come home and don't even acknowledge their own sacrifices.

"My own father never talked about his time fighting.

"In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, or knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it, or a diary that detailed his time in combat until after he had died and my family gathered to sort through his belongings.

"But our veterans shouldn't have to ask. We should know to provide for them.

"When my father's generation came home from the war -- they came home to opportunity. My father came home to a community that supported him. He came home to college, then to a job. A job that gave him pride. A job that helped him start a family. And one that ultimately led to me starting my own.

"That's the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for today's veterans. And it's one that we can only deliver on if we work together.

"You know, it's no secret that here in Washington D.C. we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now.

"But this is one issue we are rarely divided on. It unites even the most unlikely partners, even Speaker [of the House John] Boehner and I, because we realize that:

"We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve. And we all need to keep it because so much is on the line. Because we are once again at that defining moment in how we treat our veterans. And the truth is that we stand perilously close to repeating some of the same mistakes of the past.

"But we don't have to. There is a sea of good will in this country. Non-profits, community leaders, and companies like GE who don't just talk about helping -- who actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

"Let's continue to take advantage of that support. Let's work together to ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Let's make sure that at this crossroads for our nation's veterans we come together as a nation to help them down the path of opportunity.

"Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I look forward to continuing this work together will all of you."


Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

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