Thursday, September 30, 2010

Go Flush Yourself


I like this one and I hate this one.

It's "Go Flush Yourself" from February 11, 2007. I was experimenting, had gotten a new scanner, and dabbling in onion paper and using a quill and an ink well.

That might have been good at another time.

In real time, that's what I hate about the comic. The ink doesn't have the control (and is on spots of the paper if you look).

But I do still love the comic for Ehren Watada and for what was a victory. John Head, military judge (Judge Toilet), had ignored defense objection and ruled a mistrial. Double jeopardy -- though the military and the government were denying it -- would mean Ehren couldn't be retried. So it was a victory for Ehren, for truth and for war resisters. And for those reasons, I still ove that comic.

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, talk of Iraqi civil war increases, Congress explores the true costs of war, Congress is informed that current economic problems will continue for 20-to-30 years, Iraq's political stalemate continues, and more.,
Logan Mehl-Laituri. That's the name of the Conscientious Objector whose question led US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to spin so wildly yesterday. Video of Gates' appearance at Duke University is posted online and Logan comes in at approximately 45 minutes and thirty seconds.
Logan Mehl-Laituri: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. My name is Logan Mehi-Laituri and I served in the army as an artillery forward observer from 2000 to 2006. First at Fort Bragg, just south of us, and then at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii I deployed in support of OIF 2 in January '04 and I returned with three combat decorations in February '05 after which I came to the point as a noncommissioned officer where I, for religious, moral and ethical reasons, I could no longer carry a personal firearm. In response to my application to be a noncombat conscientious objector to my unit -- for which I earned the titles of "coward" and "traitor" -- I was involuntarily but honorably discharged in 2006 and I now speak to you as a div[inity] student actually as a master of theological studies, hopefully, I'll graduate in 2012 with a masters degree. My question is, -- My question is as a Christian, I'm concerned that I'm not able to respond to my -- the denominational body that I belong to when they deem certain wars to be unjust as was the case with the Iraq War in 2003. Furthermore, as a Christian, I also must oppose this slavery of moral ambiguity that requires servicemembers for, on the one hand, telling them that -- that they forfeit their moral agency to the commanders and the officers that are appointed above them but then, on the other hand, they're required to refuse to obey these "unlawful orders" which are nowhere defined in the UCMJ leaving incredibly important juridical concept to a commander's discretion. So I'm wondering what your office might do to correct this -- this tarnishment on our national integrity but also on --
Peter Feaver: I think we have that question.
Logan Mehl-Laituri: what can be done.
Peter Feaver: This is hard enough to answer as it is
Robert Gates: I would say, first of all, this goes to the heart of my remarks tonight in an all volunteer army. One does undertake a contractural obligation when enlisting but there is certainly no obligation to reenlist and one should know, anyone who's joined the military since 2002, should know that they're going into war with all the --
Logan Mehl-Laituri: I joined in 2000.
Robert Gates: -- so I think it ultimately it has to be the choice of the individual.
Peter Feaver was a sycophant in the Bush administration who moved over to Duke and has called in favors repeatedly in an attempt to establish an academic reputation -- if one can be built around the 'get' of an hour of softball questions publicly tossed to hero and bedroom wall pinup Karl Rove. Amazingly -- or maybe not so, Feaver went to the trouble to write up a little mash note to Bobby Gates, a little Valentine at Foreign Policy, but chose to ignore the most important part of the evening (the above exchange). Peter did make time, however, to weigh in on his own hair. By contrast, at Vanity Fair, Henry Rollins offers a reality check on Gates' speech:
Since war as we know it has no end in sight if some people get their way, more fodder is needed to shove into that big defense cannon. Without more people signing up for the war without end, the Pentagon's toy will run out of batteries!
"But in reality, the demands on a good part of our military will continue for years to come. And, it begs the question: How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we -- as a military, as a government, as a society -- continue to place on them?"
Oh no! How dare you learn from history and not seek to repeat it! Were you actually reading those books? Don't tell me you're in the invasion-and-occupation-of-Iraq-was-a-catastrophic-mistake-that-killed-perhaps-millions-and-drained-America's-cash-reserves crowd. What a drag! What if the demands on a good part of the military won't continue for years to come? What if we had the guts to find peaceful ways to resolve conflict? Could you handle that? The question begged is: Are you ever going to face the world with something other than a hammer and stop calling every problem challenging America a nail? There is no way forward for Mr. Gates besides more human bodies, more hammers.
We covered Logan Mehl-Laituri's exchange in yesterday's snapshot but didn't quote from Logan or identify him because, honestly, I was half-paying attention during the question and answers until I heard "conscientious objector" (Gates' reply was covered). To the objections noted yesterday of Gates' response (which is an attack on Christianity -- as e-mails from community members and visitors overwhelmingly agree), Ann (and her parents) add, "Gates is claiming contracts trump God. That's not how it works. And that is offensive to a large number of Christians. It is offensive to my parents and it is offensive to me. A contract does not trump your religious beliefs and how dare Robert Gates claim that it does. [. . .] Let me make it really clear for Gates who apparently doesn't know a thing about Christianity: He can vote in every election, he can drive the speed limit, he can pooper scoop after his dog, he can obey every state and federal law, every municipal code and that won't get him into heaven. In the Christian world, which is what the question he was asked was about, God trumps all. If Gates can't grasp that, it's on him. He owes American Christians an apology."
Logan's remarks are deserving of -- and are now part of -- the historical record. It's a shame so many elected to look the other way.
"Let the record show that members in attendence, besides the Chair, are Mr. [Harry] Mitchell of Arizona, Mr. [Harry] Teague of New Mexico, Mr. [Ciro] Rodriguez of Texas, Mr. [Jerry] McNerney of California and I would ask unanimous consent that our collegue, the gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. [Walter] Jones be allowed to sit at the dais and participate as a member of this Committee for the purpose of this hearing," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner declared at the start of today's full committee hearing entitled "The True Cost of the War." He would go on to note that US House Rep and House VA Committee member Zachary Space ("from Ohio") was also present for the hearing and that non-Committee member Jim Moran (Rep from Virginia) was present and that he would also be sitting at the dais and participating, for today's hearing, as a Committee member. US House Rep George Miller (California) also joined the hearing during the first panel. But where were most of the members? What was going on? Congress adjourned today before the hearing. Congress wasn't in session. Those participating stayed on to participate while others in the House rushed to return to their districts and begin campaigning.
We're going to note a lengthy portion of Chair Filner's opening remarks and three things before we do. One, these are his stated remarks, not his prepared, written opening statement. Two, pay-go means that you have to have the money in the budget when you approve the spending. He'll note that the Defense Dept's budget isn't required to do that. That means that department makes a request and gets it even though the money isn't there which is what they mean by "taxing your children" (or grandchildren) because when the money's not there, the bill has to be paid by someone and it falls on the future tax payers. Third, Bob Filner has spoken out against the VA's use of "personality disorder" discharges to avoid covering veterans' needed treatment (he did so most recently in a September 15th hearing). He brought up the topic in a single-sentence today and I'm not sure it's clear in the statement if you're just reading it (the tone of his voice made it clear if you were at the hearing).
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars. And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma. The true cost of war? We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder." And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation. Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that? When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year. We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers. We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years. We don't have it. Why don't we have it? They fought for this nation. We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one. So we have to find a pay-go. But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to. So they system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way. That's much easier than to care for them when they come home. This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get enough money for our veterans. We got to fight for it every day. We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue. This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat.Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea. Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liabiilty of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost. It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically. If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget? Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess." That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.
Rep Walter Jones would note that he thought the Veterans Trust Fund was a good general first step and one he would be supporting: "I feel frustrated when I sit here, I've seen it for years, I see those kids at Walter Reed with their legs blown off, I see the moms crying, the wives crying. The kids are 19, 21-years-old and, as you said, it's 30 years from now that we've really got to be careful. [.. .] But Mr. Chairman, please know that you have my commitment to join in whatever effort we move forward on because we're not being honest, we're cheating the veterans, if we don't do what is necessary today."
The first panel was composed of professors Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stigliz (of Harvard and Columbia, economists who wrote The Three Trillion Dollar War) and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph A. Violante. There were three panels. Due to space limitations, we'll focus on the first panel today and return to this hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Mr. [David] Obey, myself, Mr. [Jack] Murtha, I think Mr. [Charlie] Rangel, perhaps Chairman Filner, we voted for an amendment that went nowhere but we did it for two or three years running -- it was Mr. Obey's idea -- to have a surcharge to pay for the war. If we were going to pursue the Iraq War, let's just figure out what the cost is and pay for it rather than making that decision to go to war but passing on the cost to our children and grandchildren to pay for it. It went down, I think there were more than 400 people voted against the concept but it doesn't mean it wasn't a legitimate issue to raise and I think it would have been the responsible thing to do. So my first question of two would be would you have been able to estimate what that surcharge would have been when we were actually making the decision? Is that consistent with the thrust of your testimony that that's how we should go about making the decision of whether or not to go to war in the future? Professor Stigliz?
Joseph E. Stigliz: I think it's an excellent idea for a number of reasons. First, I think - I think it's very important to have transparency and accountability in government. That you ought to know what you're doing and what it costs and citizens ought to know that if you want to get something you have to pay for it. Just like shopping. Anything. Secondly, we can calculate it. That's the point that we're making. You can't estimate it perfectly but you can't estimate Social Security perfectly. But you can get a fairly reliable estimate that would be the basis of a surcharge. And how -- whether you express it as a percentage of the defense appropriations or as a tax, a separate tax, you know, express it in a number of different ways. It would be very easy, actually, to do that. And the third point is the point that professor Bilmes made and the Congressman made which is: By doing that you would be setting aside money into a trust fund and that is the only way that you can insulate this money against what I see as the increasing budget stringency that our country is going to be facing and we should recongize that for the next twenty, thirty years we are going to be facing very difficult budgetary problems and they're not going to go away. And there is no easy way -- I have some views about how you could do it -- but there is no easy way out of that. And the reality then is that under the pay-go current framework that supporting these obligations that we've undertaken to our veterans has to compete with every other expenditure. And -- and there will be pressure. And the reference to the Debt Commission, the reference to former Congressman SImpson's testimony is evidence of that kind of pressure that will be put on veterans expenditures.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Well thank you, professor. You've mentioned in your testimony, and Professor Bilmes' as well, the fragmented costs of war. Just one example, in the Defense Appropriations Committee, we put 900 million dollars just for Traumatic Brain Injury and then, in this continuing resolution, I don't think there's two or three members who are aware that we added another 300 million dollars -- was a reprogramming of money for something else -- bringing up to 1.2 million dollars just for Traumatic Brain Injury, just for one year, Fiscal Year 2010. But the other question I wanted to ask -- and then I'll yield back the time and I thank the Chairman -- Senator [Jim] Webb and others in both the House and Senate strongly supported and was passed a GI Bill of Rights. The idea was to basically create a middle class again in the way that we did after WWII -- by enabling returning veterans to get higher education and to be able to lead to fuller, better employment prospects -- as you said, 30% of our veterans returning home are unemployed. But this also extends to the family, the wives and spouses. Do we have an estimate of the cost of that? And I know that [House Education and Labor Committee] Chairman [George] Miller would be very interested as well. What are we paying for that portion of higher education out of the same federal budget? Professor Bilmes?
Linda J. Bilmes: I mean, I don't have an estimate for that but I think it's a good question. And I think it is, like all of these numbers, it's a number that could be calculated. One of our overall points throughout the process of working on these issues has been that there's actually very little attention to getting robust estimates in the veterans field. And when you compare the amount of effort, for example, that goes into studying the Social Security system compared with the amount of effort that goes into studying the longterm costs of veterans -- whether it's the educational, the transition assistance program, the research funding, the benefits, etc. -- it's a tiny fraction, not in scale with the, you know, the actual absolute size of the liability. But unfortunately I don't have that particular number.
US House Rep Jim Moran: No, but it would be interesting to calculate.
Joseph E. Stigliz: Can I just make --
US House Rep Jim Moran: Yes.
Joseph E. Stigliz: -- one further comment about the importance of providing the kind of benefits, GI Benefits. As we move to the all-volunteer army, we are recruiting particular socio-economic groups into the army and other military services and these are often among the parts of our society that are less privileged. And unless we do that we will continue to have the problems of the 30% unemployment, which is a long run problem, for our society. And there's been reference made to high suicide rates, high problems of family -- Those problems are all compounded when people can't get a job and when people don't have the adequate education in a modern economy, it's very difficult to get the jobs. So I view this as part of our social obligation to those who fought for us which we are now really not fulfilling.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Absolutely and one cost -- a very substantial cost -- that we don't factor in is the burden on local, municipal human service programs because these folks -- a vast, a large number -- go back into the community but still have mental health adjustment problems, domestic abuse problems and so on related to their combat experience and its muncipalities responsibilities to care for them and we don't calculate that cost, let alone add it to the full cost of the war.
Again, we'll pick up more on the hearing tomorrow. Staying with Congress, Sam Stein (Huffington Post) reports that Senator Lindsey Graham believes that US service members in Iraq are and should be called combat troops (he also believes they should get combat pay -- which they are receiving) and he thinks the American people are dropping the ball in demanding that Congress focus on the wars (he is not, sadly, stating that more Americans need to be calling for an end to the wars). Still on Congress, Senator Daneil Akaka Chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. His office released the following:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, praised his colleagues for supporting a comprehensive veterans benefits package now headed to the White House for President Obama's consideration. If signed into law, this bill will expand insurance options for disabled veterans, upgrade compensation benefits and employment protections, authorize VA construction projects,and allow VA to keep using private physicians to quickly and accurately provide veterans with disability evaluations.
"I commend my colleagues for supporting this bill to upgrade the benefits that veterans have earned through their honorable service. I look forward to President Obama signing this important measure into law," said Akaka, a key sponsor of this legislation.
The Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 (H.R. 3219, as amended), includes the following:

  • Raises an automobile assistance benefit for disabled veterans from $11,000 to $18,900.
  • Authorizes federal grants to provide job training, counseling, placement, and childcare services to homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.
  • Substantially increases the maximum levels of supplemental insurance for totally disabled veterans, as well as Veterans' Group Life Insurance and Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance.
  • Provides retroactive Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance benefits for troops who were traumatically injured between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, regardless of where their injury occurred.
  • Clarifies that the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits wage discrimination against members of the Armed Forces.
H.R. 3219 passed the House late last night, after clearing the Senate on Tuesday, September 28. The bill now goes to President Obama for his consideration. A detailed summary of the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 is available here: LINK.
The full text of the bill, as amended by the Senate, is available here: LINK.
Kawika Riley
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
Turning to Iraq where the violence never ends in Iraq. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "At least two officers were killed and three civilians were wounded when police and gunmen traded fire in Baghdad on Thursday after an apparent bank robbery attempt, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said." In addition, Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker (New York Times) report that there have been 23 mortar/rocket attacks on the Green Zone so far this month and "the intensity of the attacks has compounded a sense of anxiety here -- and back in Washington -- as Iraq's political impasse drags on almost seven months after parliamentary elections in March."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-three days with no government formed.

Noting the rumors swirling that Nouri's got the post, Jason Ditz ( observes, "But can he form a government? That is less than clear, as much of the INA has already ruled out participating in a government giving Maliki a second term, and even a small portion of the State of Law bloc is opposing him. The Iraqiya bloc, which has the biggest plurality, has also ruled out working with Maliki." Hurriyet Daily News reports today that Joost Hilterman (International Crisis Group) has stated, "There are two ways in Iraq. Without a government, which is the very bad scenario, it can lead up to the return to civil war." The alternative, as he sees it, is for Iraq to form a government encompassing a wide range of groups. He's not the only one worrying over civil war. Noting Leila Fadel's recent report for the Washington Post about the decision to purge Sahwa ("Sons Of Iraq" and "Awakenings") from Anbar Province's police force, David Bender (Foreign Policy) notes:
The big question is how will the Sunnis respond? Should they decide they have no stake in the success of the next government, what will be their next move? Sunnis could cease their security cooperation with Baghdad, but a return to the sort of civil war we saw between 2005 and 2007 is unlikely. The Iraqi government of today, for all its problems, is significantly more stable than it was in 2005, and Iraqi security forces are dramatically more capable. Still, parallel efforts -- not cooperation but a sharing of similar goals -- by disaffected Sunnis and an AQI looking to reconstitute -- could keep Baghdad and Iraq's west violent and unstable for years to come.
For more on Sahwa, Sam Collyns (BBC News) reports here -- text and video. Spero News reports, "An independent United Nations human rights expert today urged the Iraqi Government and the international community to provide more assistance to internally displace persons (IDPs) in the country and protect their rights, stressing that ending displacement must [be] considered a key element of rebuilding Iraq." But some countries -- such as England -- refuse to take the refugee issue seriously and continue forcibly deporting refugees back to Iraq. IRIN notes, "The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern about the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe in the last two months. Special charter flights to take failed asylum-seekers home have increased in frequency, and Iraqis are being returned to parts of the country which are still unsafe, in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for the handling of Iraqi asylum applications, it says."
Meanwhile in the US a grieving mother is angry. US soldiers Gebrah Noonan and John Carrillo died in Iraq last week and are said to have been shot dead (with a third soldier wounded) by US soldier Neftaly Platero. Cindy Horswell (Houston Chronicle) reports efforts to reach the accused's wife and parents were unsuccessful "But neighbors across the street from a home on Birch Creek in Kingwood where he used to stay with family recall him as a quiet, unobtrusive person who didn't draw attention to himself. Military authorities said no charges have yet been filed and would not further discuss the pending investigation." Joe Goldeen (Stockton Record) reports John Carrillo Jr. died the day after the Thursday shooting and that he was "trying to break up a fight between two soldiers" when he was shot. His survivors include Reylene (wife) and two young children, Desiree and John Carrillo Sr. (his parents) and three young siblings. My Record Journal reports that while the Governor of Conn., Jodi Rell, the state's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and others have contacted the family of Gebrah Noonan, they have not heard from US Senator Joe Lieberman and Gebrah's mother, Ling Noonan, was disappointed in the silence. WTNH adds:

Noonan's mother, Ling Noonan, released a statement thanking the community for all the support, as well as Gov. Rell, Sec. Bysiewicz, Attorney General Blumenthal, and Sen. Dodd and other local politicians for their condolences. But Ms. Noonan says she was disappointed in Sen. Joe Lieberman's response. Gebrah was Jewish and she stated frankly, "from a fellow Jew we expected more."
We're including the above not to pick on Joe Lieberman. His office is actually usually very good at contacting the families of the fallen in his state and he's already made plans to speak with Ling Noonan. But a few weeks back, we pointed out that government representatives in the House, Senate and in governor's offices were dropping the ball on this. We made a point of noting that Governor Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) is among the few whose office always notes the fallen publicly and contacts the families. If you're speaking with any of the families of the recent fallen, you'll quickly hear from them how few elected officials are noting their loved ones' passing. Joe Lieberman, again, is already addressing the issue. Every elected official should be doing a self-check right now on whether or not they are honoring the fallen. In the last few months, this is becoming a big issue with families of the fallen.
We have room for one more thing and I've been trying to work this into a snapshot all week. Libbyliberal is addressing the upcoming elections in her writings. This is from Libbyliberal's "The Secret is Not in Trying to Win a Rigged Game, It's Walking Away From It" (Corrente):

People of conscience need to call out both the rat bastards and the rabid rat bastards. Not protect and enable the Dem rat bastards because they are not as rabid as Repubs and Teapartiers. Which makes them even worse. They have potential still to be rational, humane and sane. Or do they?

I keep trying to figure out how to get farther this time. I also keep trying to figure out why there isn't a bigger tent for the people of conscience. Why the health care single payer folks couldn't have a fire in their collective belly to end the illegal wars and support those people of conscience and vice versa. I mean, I am guessing they do, but how to channel that support formally and effectively? And the climate change folk, and the women's rights folk.

There are so many fresh and not so fresh any more hells ... and we of course can not be fighting on every front. But we need each other collectively. Because so many of us get the travesty to humanity collectively on all of these fronts. But we need to form that effective and loud critical mass.

A lot of small choirs of conscience. How do we rally those with conscience into a focused voice? There is the theory of the 100 monkeys. Once the hundredth monkey gets the message of truth and reality, the entire monkey nation gets it. With Vietnam I think the hundredth monkey was actually Walter Cronkite. When he got it (being in the media helped for sure) the Vietnam War, so late in the game with so much devastation, lost traction. Though some never got it and came back with a vengeance as insane neocons. Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. Power mad.

We have a window of opportunity here in the next six is it weeks. I hoped we could make demands. But we have the colossal ego of Obama who only seems to know the art of hypocrisy and we piss him off now. Yeah, no drama Obama seems to only have strike back power when it comes to us. Go figure. He must protect his EGO on all of this and we will not enable his EGO. And Obama's vast enablers are fighting for his "brand" and their egos, too, I suppose. Can't admit to the con. Can't see the forest of humanity and are lost among the "team trees".

Read on ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bully Boy & the Showboat Express


From Feb. 4, 2007, that's "Bully Boy & the Showboat Express."

A few things.

1) Everyone's going after McCain these days. I'm done with it. I don't do what everyone does. No interest in it.

2) I had just gotten a new scanner. There's a yellow that comes off green. I had to reset (after this scan) the colors and options on the whole scanner (went back to factory settings).

3) Due to the color mishap, I was convinced my cartooning days were over.

4) I still like the Showboat Express, the crazy train. Perfectly captures John McCain.

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, some senators (including Democrats) are bent out of shape that the Agent Orange Act results in payments for illnesses and it gets uglier than anything outside of a Jon Tester and Jim Webb nude pictorial for Playgirl magazine, more contractors are now dying in Iraq than US service members, sometimes it snows in September, and more.
"Today," declared US Senator Daniel Akaka this morning, "much of our focus will be on Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange. However, it is important to note that the same process is already in place with respect to presumptions related to the first Gulf War. And, as many know, we are just beginning to hear about the consequences of exposures to potential toxins in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposures at miitary installations -- such as Camp Lejeune and the Astugi Naval Air Facility." Much, much earlier this morning, Mother Jones published Kate Sheppard's "Does KBR Have a Secret Get-out-of-Court-Free Card?" which opens:
After a group of Oregon National Guard troops sued KBR in 2009, claiming they'd been exposed to toxic chemicals at Iraq's Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, an unusual deal between the military contractor and the Army came to light. Tucked inside its multibillion-dollar contract to rebuild the facility was a clause, the contents of which remain classified, that could shield the contractor from legal liability -- in essence, what could amount to a get-out-of-court-free card.
The deal raises questions about why the Army agreed to insulate KBR -- and how many other contractors might have similar agreements in place -- and for months, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has pressed the Pentagon for answers. On Thursday, he plans to introduce legislation that would require the Pentagon to inform Congress whenever indemnity agreements are made, which he hopes will effectively put an end to the kind of secret deal that KBR appears to have secured. "Our war contracting process does too little to ensure that contractors act with the best interests of our troops and taxpayers in mind, and we're going to change that," he says.
Today's hearing was on an important topic and it's one that never is out of the news for long. Senator Akaka is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee and his office notes of today's hearing:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on the existing VA process for presuming service-connection for veterans' disabilities. Looking beyond the recent expansion of Agent Orange-related presumptions, witnesses and committee members discussed potential improvements to the process to be used in connection with possible exposures to future generations.

"By granting 'presumptions,' VA creates a blanket assumption of service-connection for a group of veterans, bypassing the standard process for disability claims. The process Congress set in place for Agent Orange presumptions serves as a precedent for Gulf War Illness. We have a responsibility to set up an appropriate process for potential toxic exposures from Iraq, Afghanistan, and on military bases where there may be environmental hazards. It is critical that the process for establishing presumptive disabilities is sound, science-based, and transparent," said Akaka.

The Committee's witnesses included Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and former-Secretary Anthony Principi, as well as medical and scientific experts.

More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here:


Kawika Riley

Communications Director and Legislative Assistant

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

In opening remarks, Senator Patty Murray explained that she supported DoD and VA coming up with a registry to track and document the effects that various exposures cause. We're pointing that out because next month it will be one year since Senator Evan Bayh testified at a mark up hearing advocating for a registry to aid Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That proposal has not left the Comittee. It needs to, it needs to go to a floor vote although, honestly, as this late date and with money being what it is in elections, it's doubtful it could pass the full Senate.
Senatator Bernie Sanders: What we are talking about today is the ongoing costs of war. This is what war is about. And war is about more than bullets and guns and airplanes. War is about making sure that we care of the last veteran who served in that war and that we do that person justice. And if we don't want to do that, don't send them off to war. But if you make that decision that's the moral responsibility that we have.
Nice words and I don't doubt that Sanders means them. I also don't doubt that benefits are on the chopping block. Jordan Fabian (The Hill) reported at the start of the month, "Alan Simpson, the GOP co-chairman of President Obama's fiscal commission, on Tuesday questioned some disability benefits paid to veterans, saying they are 'not helping' the nation's debt crisis." That's the Catfood Commission (Ruth has credited Corrente's Lambert with coming up with that phrase). The Committee that Congress refused (rightly) to create so Barack did it without them. It plans to attack Social Security -- not at all surprising considering the make up of that Commission -- and it does aim to go after military benefits. May 19, 2010 the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing where a bit of reality started to show and Senator Scott Brown suddenly changed the topic and no one brought it back up. From that day's snapshot:
Senator Scott Brown: I'm wondering if you could just tell me what benefits might be at risk at this point and time? Any specific issues that we need to focus on that we're missing or falling through the cracks?

Thomas Pamperin: Benefits that are currently being delivered that might be taken away?

Senator Scott Brown: Right. Things that we -- that you're saying, "You know what? We got to keep our eye on this."

Thomas Pamperin: Uh - uh, we'd be glad to - to give you a more extensive response in - in the future. Uh . . . My - my concern is that the nation clearly --

Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second?
If you're thinking Brown wanted to explore the cuts Pamperin appeared to be anticipating, you're wrong. Here's what happened:
Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second? I may have kind of thrown that out there. I guess what I'm concerned with is making better use of current law, the things that we have in place that we may not be exhausting properly, we may not be getting the full benefit of.

In addition to the snapshot, Wally reported on it at Rebecca's site and you can also see Third Estate Sunday Review's "Scott Brown's so pretty."
The potential 'cost-cutting' measures were not discussed then although the witness appeared prepared and willing to do so. Today we heard US Senator Jim Webb babble on and, when he's insincere, his voice cracks. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch where the kids are set to record a song but Peter's voice begins changing and won't stop cracking. As he used opening remarks to recount his entire resume at length -- everything but working the counter one night and giving a veteran a free milk shake -- that voice cracked and cracked. Why was that such a hard thing for him. "We have a duty," Webb insisted as he added coughs to his bag of tricks. And "this is not simply a cost item." Oh, now you may be getting why Webb was freaking out.
If not, join us as we drop back to the June 15, 2010 snapshot:
WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease. Could? A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA. Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight." Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican). It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
And if you doubted that Webb was about to try to pull out the axe on Vietnam veterans benefits, you had to only give him a few more seconds as he began bemoaning that the law was written one way (yes, he is a 'framers' intent' and 'original construction' type politician) and then expanded (to "dual presumptioms both based on very broad categorizations"). What are the expansions? It's been expanded to allow payments to Vietnam Veterans suffering from Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and hairy cell leukemia. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is not someone we praise blindly here (to put it mildly) but the hearing was really about Shinseki's 'performance,' specifically with regards to expanding the categories -- based on medical and science evidence -- qualifying for payments.
There's a whole dance going on beneath the hearing that few will ever notice. If there was anything sadder than Webb's remarks it was Senator Jon Tester who felt the need to praise Webb "for asking some very tough questions." To watch some of the senators today was to be aware they appeared to think leukemia, heart disease and Parknson's is little more troubling than adult acne.
Senator Roland Burris was one of the most straightforward and it's too bad that the Democratic Party establishment loathed him because, as usual, when veterans needed an advocate on the Committee, Senator Burris could be counted on. "There's no price that we could put on what we can do with those veterans suffering from those chemicals that were sprayed throughout that country." "Budget shortfalls," Burris noted, were no excuse for not providing for veterans. Was it telling that Jon Tester walked out while Burris was making that statement? Maybe he was just needed elsewhere. Although that certainly doesn't explain the ugly glare visible on his face as he left, now does it?
In his opening remarks, Shinseki made it clear that it was "my decision" to expand the presumptions. (He varied from his written remarks -- starting with his first sentence which, as written, thanked Ranking Member Richard Burr who was not present and instead Shinseki thanked Johnny Isakson -- who wasn't present in the room at that time but did take part in the hearing.) Shinseki noted that VA was directed by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to expand presumptions when any "positive association" could be determined.
Senator Mike Johanns wanted to know "how much of it [Agent Orange] was used in Vietnam?" Shinseki stated that "19 million gallons of Agent Orange was dispersed over Vietnam" ("according to our best records") and it was done via spraying from planes. (Jim Webb does not believe that much was used. He is pretty sure at least some was used, apparently approximately one heaping tablespoon but other than that . . .) Senator Sanders noted that the Vietnamese and their exposure was intentionally ignored and his belief was that a thorough study on the impact of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese was not done by the US government because the government wanted to have the default position of "We don't know" when confronted with veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange. (For those too young to have lived through it, the 1991 act on Agent Orange is the best example of how the US government repeatedly and consistently ignored the needs of veterans. And prior to the act being passed, there were years and years of veterans being told it was all in their head or they were faking or they really weren't sick.)
"I looked at these nine studies that you referred to in your testimony," Webb stated and then pretended to be qualified as to evaluate them. I wasn't aware that Webb had an MD. Maybe he's a WebMD?
Shinseki pointed out that "Congress had an opportunity to review my decision and decide to do its part" and obviously agreed. So what was the hearing for? It was a waste of time because Webb wanted to have a hissy. Please note, we never got a hearing by the Committee in trying to determine why fall 2009 tuition payments to veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill arrived as late as March and April 2010. That effected people's lives. That effected veterans' children. And there was no oversight, there was no hearing. But Webb and Tester wanted to pitch a fit. Tester being convinced that 'bad' veterans are hidden away somewhere who "pounds a couple of packs of cigarettes a day and a like amount of alcohol" to get extra monies from the government claiming heart disease. I'm not really sure what "a like amount of alcohol" is to a "couple of packs of cigarettes" -- one is liquid. Is Tester that stupid, really? And could he next hop on a scale since we're paying his medical bills as well since he serves in the US Congress and since, when he was in profile returning to his seat, he so closely resembled William Conrad. What are you pounding, Tester? And why are we paying for it? If you want to talk risk factors on veterans and claim that its your playground to do so because of tax payer monies, let me repeat, we the tax payers pay for your health care Jon Tester -- for the rest of your life. Maybe it's time we started imposing penalities on Congressional members with "risk factors"? Especially those who know they can't win an argument against Agent Orange exposure so they try to create this little side dialogue that's both meaningless and insulting.
Turning to the weather . . . It's not yet winter but some of Donald Rumsfeld's snowflakes are falling. The NSA explains:
Washington, D.C., September 22, 2010Following instructions from President George W. Bush to develop an updated war plan for Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks in November 2001 to initiate planning for the "decapitation" of the Iraqi government and the empowerment of a "Provisional Government" to take its place.
Talking points for the Rumsfeld-Franks meeting on November 27, 2001, released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), confirm that policy makers were already looking for ways to justify invading Iraq – as indicated by Rumsfeld's first point, "Focus on WMD."
This document shows that Pentagon policy makers cited early U.S. experience in Afghanistan to justify planning for Iraq's post-invasion governance in order to achieve their strategic objectives: "Unlike in Afghanistan, important to have ideas in advance about who would rule afterwards."
Rumsfeld's notes were prepared in close consultation with senior DOD officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. Among other insights, the materials posted today by the National Security Archive shed light on the intense focus on Iraq by high-level Bush administration officials long before the attacks of 9/11, and Washington's confidence in perception management as a successful strategy for overcoming public and allied resistance to its plans.
This compilation further shows:
  • The preliminary strategy Rumsfeld imparted to Franks while directing him to develop a new war plan for Iraq
  • Secretary of State Powell's awareness, three days into a new administration, that Iraq "regime change" would be a principal focus of the Bush presidency
  • Administration determination to exploit the perceived propaganda value of intercepted aluminum tubes -- falsely identified as nuclear related -- before completion of even a preliminary determination of their end use
  • The difficulty of winning European support for attacking Iraq (except that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) without real evidence that Baghdad was implicated in 9/11
  • The State Department's analytical unit observing that a decision by Tony Blair to join a U.S. war on Iraq "could bring a radicalization of British Muslims, the great majority of whom opposed the September 11 attacks but are increasingly restive about what they see as an anti-Islamic campaign"
  • Pentagon interest in the perception of an Iraq invasion as a "just war" and State Department insights into the improbability of that outcome
Rumsfeld's instructions to Franks included the establishment and funding of a provisional government as a significant element of U.S. invasion strategy. In the end the Pentagon changed course and instead ruled post-invasion Iraq directly, first through the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and then through Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Jack Rice: The Obama administration -- and even the Pentgon to some degree as well -- has basically looked at the political side of this. They can't continue this indefinatly. They can't. And so they've looked at what the American people want. Everybody wants this war to be done in the United States. The problem is it's not done. I mean, a lot of the problems that we faced and a lot of the problems that the Iraqis themselves faced in the past, they're still there. And the schisms that you're finding within the country still exist. The problems within their legislature still exist. Violence still exists. Just because it's under the surface, doesn't men it's disappeared -- just that we desparately want it to disappear. So we relable it, shine it up and say,you know,: 'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.' Unfortunately, a lot of the things that we thought were going to be major shifts in the Obama administration simply turned out to be more of the same. Specifically I recall the argument of transparancy of this war and both wars and how we deal with the war on terror. And I was in the room, in the White House, in the Situation Room as they were talking about this. And what they talked about at the time was that there was going to be more transparency and then his people came out and said, 'Well, we've decided to continue with the Bush administration on those same policies. So the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
On the topic of the ongoing Iraq War, Maya Schenwar (Truthout) speaks with US House Rep Dennis Kucinich:
Maya Schenwar: Since the end of formal combat operations in Iraq, you've been speaking out against the continuing presence of US troops and increasing presence of American mercenaries there. How do you respond to those who say the continued presence is necessary for security reasons?
Dennis Kucinich: America's invasion of Iraq has made us less secure. Before the entire world we invaded a country that did not attack us - that had no intention or capability of attacking us - and that, famously, did not have weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent occupation has fueled an insurgency, and as long as we have troops there, the insurgency will remain quite alive. The very idea that somehow the war is in a new phase needs to be challenged. Insurgents don't differentiate between combat troops and noncombat troops; any of our troops who are out there are subject to attack. And the insurgencies will continue to build, with the continued American presence, resulting in the death of more innocent civilians. Every mythology about our presence in Iraq is being stripped away. The idea that we can afford it? We can't. That Iraq will pay for it? It shouldn't and couldn't. That somehow we'd be welcomed there? By whom? That there's some kind of security to be gained in the region? We have destabilized the region. That it would help us gain support from moderates in the Muslim world? We are undermined throughout the Muslim world. Every single assertion of this war, and every reason for this war, has been knocked down. And yet it keeps going.
MS: Then, is a complete, immediate withdrawal in order - right now?
DK: That's what we have to do. We should have done it a long time ago. Is it likely that there will be conflict when we leave? Yes. We set in motion forces that are irrevocable. You cannot simply launch a war against a country where there were already factions - Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds who were at odds with each other - and think that you can leave there without difficulties. That's going to happen no matter what. But the fact that the conflict that we helped to create is still quite alive does not justify staying there. War becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of continued war, unless you break the headlong momentum by getting out.
The Iraq War continues. Lauren King (Virginian-Pilot) reports, "About 400 soldiers have received a mobilization order for active duty in Iraq, according to a statement from the Virginia National Guard." They'll go to Fort Hood in Texas next year (February) for training before deploying to Iraq. Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) reports, "Just weeks after President Obama declared an end to combat, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry headquartered in La Grande mobilized Tuesday for Iraq. Their mission has a new name: Operation New Dawn, but an old and dangerous undertaking: guarding convoys and U.S. bases, supporting the Iraqi army and police. More than 500 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq have a clear mission, so does the governor."
The Iraq War continues and moves towards outsourcing to do off-the-books-combat with, Barack hopes, the end-result being that Americans will no longer care and instead happily embrace the myth that the war is over. Federal News Radio reports new estimates show a 40% jump "from 2008 to the second quarter of 2010" in the deaths of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan with more dying in both countries this year than US service members. The numbers can be found in the [PDF format warning] report entitled "Contractors and the Ultimate Sacrifice" written by George Washington University Law School's Steven L. Schooner and Collin D. Swan. From the start of the Iraq War through June 2010, 4,400 US service members died while serving and, during this same period, 1,487 contractors were killed in Iraq. (There are also Afghanistan figure, we're focusing on Iraq.) During that same period, the authors of the study count 12,766 US troops injured compared to 36,023 contractors wounded in Iraq. As Figure 4 on page 17 of the report charts, each year has seen an increase in the number of contractors killed except for one year. 2010 is slighly less than 2009; however, the study only documents deaths for six months (January through June) of 2010. The last three months (this is me, not the report) already saw the 2010 number pass the 2009. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the most recent identified contractor death was that of Iraq War veteran Karl Bowen, the UK soldier who returned to Iraq as a contractor and died September 14th. Rogene Fisher Jacquette (New York Times) notes:
There were 207,600 private contractors employed by the Department of Defense, 19 percent more than the 175,000 uniformed personnel members employed by the department, according to a July report by the Congressional Research Service. In Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors make up 54 percent of the Defense Department's workforce, according to the report.
And, let's repeat, the findings today come from the two at the law school. We have to be clear because some people aren't. I'm thinking of one person in particular who credits the findings to ProPublica. Related: Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported on children from forced marriages (and rape?), whose fathers were al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and forced their way into Iraqi women's lives. Lacking the official paperwork required, the children don't exist, don't even have Iraqi citizenship. Ahmed Jassim warns, "It's dangerous because in the future they might hurt the society that hurt them." She did that this week. How is it related? F-A-D-E-L. That's how you spell her name. The same NPR (yes, the outlet) reporter/blogger/producer who doesn't know who did the study today also earlier this week praised Leila's reporting, or rather, praised "Leila Fadhil of the Washington Post, one of the best people covering Iraq at the moment." That was Tuesday. Considering the thin-skinned nature of some at NPR (some of whom are friends) with regards to what goes up here, might I point out that NPR is a news outlet and this is now the second big error of the week (none of the errors have been corrected).
Maybe it's a correction stalemate? Day Press reports, "In a speech at the opening of the seventh Conference of the Interior Ministers of Iraq's neighboring Countries on Wednesday, Syrian Interior Minister Said Sammour said that Syria supports Arabism and territorial integrity of Iraq and forming a national unity government representing all spectrums of Iraqi society. Syria also reaffirms its support of the efforts exerted to achieve stability and security of Iraq." Middle East Online adds, "The interior ministers of the countries neighbouring Iraq have called on Baghdad to form a government as soon as possible and pledged increased cooperation in fighting terrorism." Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Al Boulani believes that time is not in the interest of Iraqi parties, urging political powers in Iraq to accelerate the formation of a new Iraqi government. Government formation delay is a main reason for surge of recent terrorist attacks, Al Boulani said." While Iraq's neighbors met to discuss the issue of forming a government, the stalemate continued.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and sixteen days with no government formed.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombng claimed 1 life (police officer) and left three people injured, the offices for the Dujail Scientific Research Dept were blowng up and a mortar attack on the Green Zone. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "It was the latest in a series of attacks on the Green Zone this week. Mortar rounds fell in the heavily fortified area on Sunday and Monday." Reuters notes that 1 woman was stabbed to death outside her home in Mosul, a Mosul home invasion resulted in one death, Lt Col Hazim Salith of the Council of Ministers was shot dead in Taji and his wife was left injured and, dropping back to yesterday, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured "an employee at the Industry Ministry" and claimed the life of 1 passenger.
Tunring to War Hawk Tony Blair whose still attempting to hawk his bad book. Last week, he appeared on ABC's The View and the 'ladies' made sure the world got just what little War Whores they were. Not only did they have a hodge podge of countries they wanted attacked (yes, even Whoopi and faux 'liberal' Joy), they refused to fact check Tony. They let him lie. They're useless. Ava and I called them out at Third and noted all of his lies including his claim that he showed 'respect' to all who disagreed with him. No, he called them conspiracy theorists to give just one example. Former UN humanitarian Coordinator Hans Von Sponeck (at The New Statesman) offers another example of how Tony Blair never achieved that 'actualization' he pretends he has:
You suggest that you and your supporters - the "people of good will", as you call them - are the owners of the facts. Your disparaging observations about Clare Short, a woman with courage who resigned as international development secretary in 2003, make it clear you have her on a different list. You appeal to those who do not agree to pause and reflect. I ask you to do the same. Those of us who lived in Iraq experienced the grief and misery that your policies caused. UN officials on the ground were not "taken in" by a dictator's regime. We were "taken in" by the challenge to tackle human suffering created by the gravely faulty policies of two governments - yours and that of the United States - and by the gutlessness of those in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere who could have made a difference but chose otherwise. The facts are on our side, not on yours.
the democrat and chronicle
mark hare
the virginian-pilot
lauren king
the oregonian
julie sullivan
federal news radio

Read on ...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Peace Resister


Tonight World Can't Wait is doing events for Bradley Manning who is accused of leaking the video of the US military attacking Iraqi civilians. I started to stream and it was Cindy Sheehan so I stayed with it even though it wasn't live. To be honest with you, Cindy is the only leader I trust. She's the only one who has stayed true and played it fair.

Tonight, she was observing, "We do have to realize that the traditional antiwar movement is mostly anti-Republican and they're not so antiwar when a Democrat is in power but Barack Obama owns the drone bombings, they've increased, they've more than tripled since he's been president."

So it's interesting that my comic tonight is "The Peace Resister." We were all in DC for that it was a weekend of activism. C.I. knows Katrina. (Elaine does as well.) And I had the idea for this and I told her about it. I was saying I wouldn't do it and she looked at my rough draft sketch while I was talking and told me I had to do it. She said if Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor & publisher of The Nation) needed calling out, I needed to do so. And KvH sold us out as the years went on, turned her back on the peace movement she never really supported. So I'm glad I did this one and called her the peace resister because that's what she is. People like her ensure that wars go on.

So that comic is from January 28, 2007.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, another US service member dies in Iraq, violence continues, the political stalemate continues and the VA does the same song and dance before Congress as usual.

Today the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity receive an update on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The following exchange probably best captures the hearing between Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and the VA's Mark Krause probably best captures the hearing..

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So do you have any estimates of how many of those 150,801 [veterans] might have received overpayment?

Mark Krause: I don't have that information available but I would be happy to look at it for the record --

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Or at least look at the trend of when we started this because, as we have discussed, this is a significant problem and we'd like to see an improvement as it relates to dealing with that problem. And that leads me to the question that came up from Ms. [Rosa] DeLauro and that is the issue of veterans who participated in a 35, an emergency payment last November. And then they entered a repayment plan and were automatically sent to debt management [. . .] and why is this happening and how are we going to fix this problem and when will these veterans accounts be cleared from the debt management center?

Mark Krause: They will be cleared. We are aware that there are situations where that is occurring when we're made aware of those situations we put those individuals directly in contact with the debt management center and we work it out manually on a case-by-case basis but it should not be happening as a category of cases and we are working hard on that.

If the overpayment issue seems familiar, it continues to pop up. If someone is overpaid it goes to the payee -- though the VA never claims fault -- and the student is then expected to quickly pay it back (unlike the VA which sends out a check whenever the mood strikes them). Then there is the issue of the emergency loans taken out by veterans who had to wait and wait for their checks to arrive. Though they had to wait and wait, note that they are expected to begin payments immediately. Why the hell did the VA set it up to turn this issue over to debt collection? The veterans who waited months and months did not for their overdue payments did not have the option of turning the VA over to a credit collection agency. How does the VA continue to manage to screw over the veteran? You'd think they'd work very hard about it; however, based on the testimony, incompetence is the answer.

Is the computer system up and running? Well . . . See those are basic questions and the VA can't answer basic questions. It can spend and waste a lot of money. The Subcomittee was informed that the computer system is still not integrated with some functions -- functions that 2009 and early 2010 hearings found the same witnesses (including VA's Keith Wilson) maintaining the system would interact with. Okay, well is everything functioning? Actually, the system purchased will require constant updates. And there's another update the current team is working on. Oh, and they're not under contract to work on it past this update.

Keith Wilson bored everyone with another of his bad slide shows -- sloppy and dull and overlong. If you're going to do a slide show, you should be able to do it in five minutes and when the Subcomittee Chair asks you to try to cut it down, you shouldn't expect to have ten minutes, especially after you've already wasted everyone's time reading your prepared remarks before, BEFORE, the slide show. Not only is this a time waster -- and there were a large number of breaks during this hearing -- but it also goes to the fact that the VA does no real prep before any hearing. They show up surprised that a question repeatedly asked of them in every hearing is again asked. They have to take issues involving the call centers -- still a problem -- for the record because they just don't come to the hearings prepared -- despite knowing they're supposed to testify. Does Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, think this reflects well on him? It doesn't. And it indicates that there is no real leadership at VA.

Yesterday's snapshot covered another hearing, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (full committee) hearing that Steve Buyer stormed out of. Kat covered it at her site with "Steve Buyer's nuclear meltdown" and there were a few e-mails on the topic. First "acquisition reform" is the word that should be in this statement by Buyer, "You pass aquistion form and I will hug you. I will hug you!" The snapshots are dicated and I speak very fast. Typos are a given even in the morning entries that I usually type myself. In terms of Buyer's behavior -- short version, he attacked two witnesses on a panel and then stormed out of the hearing -- a few are worried it was included here by me to pump up Democratic turnout in the mid-terms. That was not the case. (Parenthetical, Libby Liberal at Corrente is correct and for those who can't see it, with it very likely that Dems will suffer in the mid-terms, it would be smart of the left to get out ahead of it and be able to say after See, we can go elsewhere, we don't have to vote for you, we can vote third party, we can vote Republican or we can just not vote. The alternative? Centrist Dems hectoring the Dem Party that they went 'too far' and 'too left.' Libby Liberal is correct and she's correct for a number of smart reasons.)

Could yesterday's behavior by Buyer be used to promote voting for Democrats? Absolutely. I don't buy the "party of no" as a GOP description but if a Dem wanted to illustrate that, they could just show Buyer attacking an Iraq War veteran and a reporter and then storming out of the hearing. Not only does that show "no,"they could add, "Not only do they just say no, they won't even listen." It could be used any number of ways. That's not my concern. I do understand that my noting I was a Democrat fed into some people's beliefs on this; however, I noted that because Buyer was a Republican and I was attempting to make very clear that I was speaking of my imprssions and someone else might have felt differently. I also attempted to be nicer about it than I normally would have just because I found it so shocking and so out of character for Buyer.

If a member of Congress makes angry statements and storms out of a hearing, that is news. My big concern in including it yesterday was that it might be seen as discrediting Chuck Luther. Chuck Luther was very believable and he has repeatedly told the same story . But I made a point to include Chuck Luther's response -- in full -- to Buyer's tantrum. Joshua Kors has been highlighted here many times and I was less concerned about getting every word of his response for that reason. I also noted /detailed his journalistic pursuit of this story so I thought that was clear. (He may have been short changed in that I feel like I am forever defending the profession of journalism -- if not the actual practice of it -- and grow bored with addressing that topic.)

Buyer threw a tantrum. Read Kat's post and note the walk through she provides. He threw a tantrum and, were he running for re-election, this might be a big deal to partisans. We didn't cover it due to partisanship. We covered it because it is news when a member of Congress launches into a tirade and then storms out of a Committee hearing. Many things that take place in Congress are not and will never qualify as news but that sort of behavior is news.

It was not covered to advance the Democratic Party or to help them in the mid-terms. It was covered because it was news.

On Democracy Now! today, Amy Goodman interviewed (link has text, audio and video) Johan Galtun'g

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Galtung, what about Iraq, where we stand today with Iraq, where Iraq stands?
JOHAN GALTUNG: I think the basic point about Iraq is that it is an artificial construction by two civil servants of the British Foreign Service in 1916. And I think they had the assignment of constructing a country out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, consisting—but it could, within the borders of one country, accommodate the oil in Kirkuk, Mosul, in the north, and Basra, in the south. And so they did. Now, that's not a rationale for a country. Mesopotamia, between the rivers, would have made sense. Iraq, I think, is doomed to disintegration. This is one reason why they still don't have a government, in spite of elections in March. They cannot agree on the formula for it. So I would say that it will disintegrate as either a very loose federation or a confederation.
There is some Iraq that has come into existence. I am quite willing to say that. But it is weak. And I don't think the capital can be in Baghdad, which is in one of the four Sunni provinces out of the eighteen provinces. And, you see, the Sunnis have been ruling this system not having oil. And the others are not quite willing to bail out the Sunnis. So I think it's a nonstarter. It was a nonstarter from the beginning, and Obama is now following in the footsteps of George Bush. I don't think there's anything new, actually, in Obama's proposal, and it doesn't look promising.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have about 50,000 troops. You have the largest US embassy in the world there, something like eighty football fields in size.
JOHAN GALTUNG: Unbelievable, inside the Green Zone. Unbelievable. Are they going to dismantle that? Well, those bases, I guess, were inspired by the idea that there will be a war with China. That's always been the Anglo-American idea, that the biggest power, be that on the continent or be that in Eurasia, is our born enemy. It's always been the Anglo-American idea, some kind of paranoia. And totally unnecessary. So I guess the bases are essentially for that purpose, like the purpose of the Bagram base in Afghanistan, the same.
Yesterday, another US service member died in Iraq. Justin Hinkley (Battle Creek Enquirer) reports that the family of 25-year-old Senior Airman Jimmy Hansen's family was informed last night that their loved one died in Iraq yesterday "when 'something went wrong' while the airman was helping to detonate captured bombs." AP notes that, as of last night, the Pentagon still hadn't issued an announcement on the death. As of 8:00 a.m. EST this morning, they still had not issued an announcement -- USF is where the death announcement is supposed to come from (DoD is supposed to later identify the fallen in an announcement -- after the family has been notified). The death announcement is supposed to come from USF and it's yet another example of not only how they are not doing their job (repeatedly) but also how they keep getting away with it. But then when the White House doesn't want the focus to be on Iraq, USF can get away with not doing their job (repeatedly). Finally this morning, they issued a statement: "JOINT BASE BALAD -- One Airman was killed and a Soldier was injured during an on-base controlled detonation at Joint Base Balad, Iraq at approximately 9:40 a.m. Wednesday. The Airman was pronounced dead at the scene. The injured Soldier was rushed to the Air Force Theater Hospital here. The name of the deceased will be withheld until 24 hours after notification of next-of-kin. Controlled detonation is part of a regular process to dispose of unexploded ordnances. 'The hearts and minds of every servicemember at JBB go out to the families of the servicemembers involved in this incident,' said Maj. Gen. Craig Franklin, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. The cause of the incident is under investigation." The death brings to 4424 the number of Americans killed in Iraq while serving in the military.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a roadside bombing outside Kirkuk which wounded one Iraqi police officer and Samarra suicide bomber who took his/her own life, claimed the lives of 2 Sahwa members and left three more injured.. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports a roadside bombing just outside Baquba claimed 1 ilfe and left three injured, and two Kirkuk roadside bombing which left two police officer injured.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports a Abu Sayda home invasion in which 1 Sahwa and his wife were shot dead and a Mosul armed clash in which 2 suspects were killed
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Meanwhile David E. Miller (Media Line) reports that Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, that they make up over 40% of the Iraqi refugees in Syria (the United Nations counts 19% among the Iraqi refugees in Syria who have registered with the UNHCR) and that a large number of the 1.5 million Christians the United Nations estimated were living in Baghdad before the start of the Iraq War fled due to threats, targeting and violence. IRIN notes that Iraqi Mandaeans are in the thousands in Syria, that approximately 3,500 to 5,000 remain in Iraq and, in Iraq, their roles have included "prominent goldsmiths, lawyers and doctors in Iraq, Mandaeans continue to be kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam or to leave the country, according to the Mandaean Human Rights Group in Damascus." Mandaens are Gnostics and they practice baptism in their religion (John the Baptist is among the Christian figures who are prominent in the practice of the religion). A functioning government in Iraq would have long ago worked to protect the refugee populations.
It would have also worked to address education issues and women's rights. Education is especially important because Iraq's population pyramid -- as a result of the illegal war and other factors -- means that Iraq has a very young population with most Iraqis being well under the age of 30. (You can find this diagrammed at Adam's Blog.) Now a new [PDF format warning] United Nations study has found: "One in five Iraqis, aged 10 - 49, cannot read or write. There are significant disparities in literacy rates across gender, age and urban versus rural areas. Illiteracy among Iraqi women (24%) is more than double that of Iraqi men (11%). Rural populations are more adversely affected by illiteracy (25%) than urban (14%) populations, and within rural areas the literacy divide between men and women is wider." Al Arabiya adds, "In the mid-1980s, Iraq was listed as an illiteracy-free country after the government launched an expansive campaign to eliminate illiteracy. The campaign involved enrolling illiterate Iraqi living in remote villages and towns in schools where they are obliged to study for six years." A functioning government should be able to today what was done earlier for education.
Xinhua reports that Ezzat al-Shahbandar, of State of Law, told them Tuesday that "the deadlock of government formation" had been overcome. Which would mean that the government was on the verge of being formed. Don't hold your breath.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and nine days with no government formed.
The Iraqi National Alliance is a Shi'ite coalition. The two biggest components of the National Alliance are the ones headed by Moqtada al-Sadr and by Ammar al-Hakim. UPI reports that al-Hakim is currently conducting talks with Ayad Allawi. On Moqtada al-Sadr's group, Basim al-Shara (Middle East Online) reports:

The political movement of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is wielding increasing clout as the tortuous process of forming a new Iraqi government continues.
In recent days, the Sadrist party Al-Ahrar has indicated that it is backing Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi for the post of prime minister. Until now, the competition for the job has been seen as a straight fight between incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, leader of the mostly secular Iraqiya coalition which includes top Sunni leaders.
The Sadrists' endorsement of a third candidate exposes cracks within the Shia coalition that consists of Maliki's State of Law party; the Iraqi National Alliance, INA, which is led by the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI, and a handful of smaller groups.

Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Sadr Front senior official Bahaa Al Araji announced that the national alliance will hold a meeting on Thursday or Friday to complete talks on the required mechanism to choose a candidate for Premiership." Whether the increased communication between the governments of Iraq and Syria result in a new government for Iraq, it has already resulted in something else. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports that the two countries have "signed a memorandum of understanding to build two pipelines to export Iraqi crude oile through Syrian territory."
The Financial Times of London notes the 12 oil contracts Iraq signed last year and:

Iraq's oil reserves are the fourth largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran, but production today is barely 2.5m barrels a day, making Iraq at best a middle-weight on the international stage. The new contracts should bring a substantial stream of investment in the country's neglected oil infrastructure, allowing production to rise to more than 10 mb/d by 2020 (the government's own target is 12 mb/d by 2016).

Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that Hussain al-Shahristani stated yesterday at a ceremony for the 50th anniversary of OPEC that Iraq could help meet the world need for oil "with an average of 10 million barrels a day." al-Shahristani is the Minister of Oil but, of course, in a fair world he wouldn't be. He was appointed by Nouri and approved by the Parliament. In a fair world, Nouri's term having long ago expired, the UN would have helped form a caretaker government -- that's not what Nouri has and the press should stop calling it that -- if Iraq was unable to form a government. Instead, al-Shahristani not only remains as Minister of Oil, he also holds the title of Minister of Electricity following the spring resignation of the man who held that post. But al-Shahristani was never approved, as the Constitution insists must take place, by the Parliament. That's how it works in the continuation government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Constitution and the laws are ignored over and over. Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports, "Iraq's crude oil exports fell 1.7% in August to 1.788 million barrels a day from 1.820 million barrels a day in July due to technical faults and sabotage on the country's northern pipeline, an Iraqi oil official said Tuesday."
Bradley Manning. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. This month, the military charged Manning. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. From World Can't Wait, we'll note "Bradley Manning Day of Action - New York City Webcast:"

See: Collateral Murder footage, leaked from within the US military, and showing the murder of 12 Iraqi civilians in July 2007

Hear: Supporters of Bradley Manning, including Ethan MCord, who was seen in the video carrying a wounded child and who with Josh Steiber wrote an Open Letter of Reconciliation to the Afghan People, and Matthis Chiroux, military resister.

Learn: What you can do to stop the unjust prosecution of a 22-year-old soldier and genuine hero.

As part of the International Days of Support for Bradley Manning, events are happening around the world September 16-19. The Army says he's responsible for leaking the video footage which was named "Collateral Murder" and sent around the world by They will likely court martial him. Needless to say, the soldiers in the video -- not to mention the commanders who trained the troops for and ordered the massacre -- are under no arrest, no scrutiny, not even investigation. But Bradley Manning is locked up, facing many possible years in prison.

Also! Tune in to the west coast webcast at 7pm Pacific / 10pm Eastern

Bradley Manning is accused of telling the truth.

He now faces decades in prison for letting Americans see the truth about our wars on Iraq and Afghanistan by allegedly leaking the "Collateral Murder" videos of a Reuter's cameraman being shot and killed by a US helicopter to Wikileaks. He is being investigated in the leaks of the"Afghan War Diary" documents that were also released by Wikileaks--in conjunction with the New York Times, The UK Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel-- exposing the war in Afghanistan as a costly quagmire that has cost countless civilian Afghan lives, as well as the lives of over 1,000 US soldiers.

Over the last seven year's Iraq has become the deadliest theater of war for journalists since World War II. The Wikileaks website posted on April 5, 2010, a video showing a US helicopter crew killing 12 Iraqi civilians including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver Said Chmagh, 40. Wikileaks wrote that it had come from unspecified "military sources." Reuters had filed a formal request, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in 2007 to access documents that might explain the death of its media workers. FOIA requires federal government agencies to release documents to all persons requesting them unless specifically exempted by the law. Reuters received no documents. Reporters Without Borders, the international journalists association writes of Bradley Manning, "If this young soldier had not leaked the video, we would have had no evidence of what was clearly a serious abuse on the part of the US military."

Much of my military background concerns the law of warfare. Most Americans do not realize that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have violated domestic and international law, violations that have been fully exposed in the Wikileaks documents that Manning is accused of releasing. When I joined the US military I, like Bradley Manning, took an oath to protect the constitution and the American people. This led me to resign my position when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Protecting the constitution outweighs following orders and Manning should be lauded for choosing to do the right thing. Bradley Manning is a patriot of our democracy, who stayed loyal to what is right, risking his own security. His loyalty to the Constitution and the American people transcends partisan politics.

Just as Daniel Ellsberg blew the whistle on the lies of the US leaders of the Vietnam War, Manning is accused of blowing the whistle on the illegality of today's wars. What will our response to the information Manning is charged with releasing be? Can we make today's Pentagon Papers lead to an end to illegal and wasteful wars abroad and the return of our troops home?

Read on ...
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