Thursday, December 27, 2012

Telemarketer in Chief

Telemarketer in Chief

From August 9, 2009, that's "Telemarketer in Chief."  Barry O working the phones for ObamaCare.  I really can't believe that ObamaCare passed.  Even now.  I was one of the ones watching CNN (because I think they're more fair than MSNBC or Fox) for the verdict and heard the original rushed report when the verdict came down saying ObamaCare had been overturned.

I was so happy.

And then they corrected it.

I don't see how we go from ObamaCare to universal, single-payer healthcare.  In fact, I see ObamaCare as a bigger obstacle to that than almost anything else. 

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, more weapons for Nouri, more deaths for Iraqis, protests continue, a major one is planned for tomorrow, we look at the issues facing the selection of a US Secretary of Defense, and more.
"I should have seen the s**t coming down the hall," sings Greg Dulli on the Afghan Whig's "When We Two Parted" (New Year's Eve, the Whigs will be rocking it at Bogart's in Cincinnati). When it comes to Thomas E. Ricks, most of us did.  It was only a matter of time before he turned on Emma Sky and, today, at Foreign Policy he does.  We're aganostic on Emma but we can enjoy the implosion as Ricks argues Sky is wrong (and the subtext is Tommy Loves David Petraeus best so he turns on Emma and her US military patron Gen Ray Odierno).  While chuckling over the dynamics and drama Thomas E. Ricks churns out, we're also left with this 'stellar' advice:
If anything could be recommended at this point, it would be for the Obama Administration to abandon the unwanted meddling in Iraqi police affairs and ineffective training, and to openly and effectively engage that broad Iraqi public through positive political focus on the "plain vanilla" operations of civil government systems and technical advice, which the United States has an abundance of and the Iraqi public seriously needs.
Iraq is a failed-state.  You realize too late that Thomas E. Ricks is not only a War Hawk but also completely ignorant.  You realize what you always feared: Thomas dabbles.  The police program has been greatly scaled back and that happened long ago -- and rather publicly even in the US press.  Iraq does not move forward under Nouri.
At some point, the US government is going to have to grasp what various NGOs already have.  But there's Thomas Ricks, who should know better, talking about actions that transfer technology to a despot.  In doing so, they alarm the Kurds and the Sunnis and make Iraq even less stable.
Poor Thomas E. Ricks.  When he died as a reporter, he was reborn as the chief sales person for the munitions industry.
As he calls for 'technology' to be shared, it's worth noting Monday's Defense Security Cooperation Agency's press release:
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2012 -- The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress Dec. 21 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Iraq for Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $125 million.
The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services, equipment installation services, upgrade VSAT managed and leased bandwith, video teleconferencing equipment, 75 VSAT Equipment Suites (consisting of 1.8m VSAT terminals, block up covnerters (BUCs), low-noise down converters (LNBs), required cables and components, iDirect e8350 modem, network operation and dynamic bandwidth equipment, and iMonitor softward), spares and repair parts, tools, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, U.S. Government and contractor representative technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $125 million.
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.  This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
This proposed sale will continue U.S. support to the development of Iraqi Defense Network (IDN) VSAT terminals.  Iraq intends to use these defense articles and services to provide command and control for its armed forces.  The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense. 
The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The principal contractors will be 3Di Technologies and L-3 Communications Company in Hanover, Maryland. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require U.S. Government or contractor representatives to travel to Iraq for delivery of operations and maintenance services, installation of new sites for each year of required operations and maintenance services, and field services to install and move VSAT sites and training for a period of one year.
There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.
This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.
Let's look at the two claims in the press release:
1) The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense.  The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
2) This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
With regards to one, how is Iraq's military foundational capabilities increased without    "alter[ing] the basic military balance in the region"?  And since Nouri al-Maliki's own State of Law can't go a month without proclaiming that some segment of Iraqi military is plotting to overthrow al-Maliki, how is it in the interests of the region to arm Iraq?
Even more importantly, who are these weapons to be used on?  Not only is there a valid concern that Nouri will use weapons on the Iraqi people, there is Nouri's notorious paranoia.  Do you put a loaded gun into the hand of the crazy person ranting on the street about how people are out to get him? 
With regards to the second assertion -- there's no way this helps the US and it's even more difficult to see how this $125 million purchase  helps the Iraqi people.
David Romano (Rudaw) observes that $6 billion was the annual budget for Iraq from 1997 to 2003 and the people were provided with food, with electricity, with basic public services.  Now?
Today's Iraq enjoy an unimaginably higher budget.  Oil revenues bring in some one hundred billion dollars a year.  One would think that with such vast sums of wealth, the country would enjoy spectacular increases in standards of living. Instead, garbage lies uncollected on street corner after street corner, with little children playing in disease-ridden alleyways.  Security remains elsuive as kidnappings, mafia shakedowns and political assassinations cast a shadow across entire communities.  Baghdad and other cities still lack electricity, with noisy portable generators rumbling through the night and spewing their pollution across entire neighborhoods.  Some twenty-five billion dollars "spent" on restoring the country's electrical grid seems to have produced little tangible results, possibly because the business interests who rent generators don't want the electric grid restored. 
Explain to me again how the Iraqi people are helped by this $125 million weapons contract?  Today, Alsumaria reports 4 deaths -- including two sisters, one 12 and one 18.  From Wednesday's snapshot:

Alsumaria notes yesterday's rains have caused 3 deaths and two people to be injured in Baghdad -- two deaths from a house collapsing due to the rain and one from electrical death (with two more injured in that as well) and that main streets in the capital are sinking.  All Iraq News notes Baghdad has been placed on high alert because of the torrential rains.
You could mistake Baghdad for Venice in
this All Iraq News photo essay which notes that students are forced to walk through the high standing water to get to schools.   They also note of Tuesday's rainfall:  Baghdad had the most yesterday (67 mm) followed by Hilla, Azizia and Karbala (rainfall was also recorded in Samawa, Rifai and Basra -- of those three, Basra was the highest and Baghdad's rainfall was three times Basra's).   It's not just Baghdad.  Alsumaria notes that after ten house[s] collapse[d] in Wasit Province village, the Iraqi Red Crescent began evacuating the entire village.
Al Mada notes today that Iraqis who might plan to travel Italy no longer need visit Venice to see streets of water, they just need to step outside their homes and they can take in the beauty of water surrounding houses, riding  a car through the Sadr section of Baghdad can be like a gondala ride in Venice. 
As Iraq crumbles, Nouri's spending $125 million on a weapons program (which will allow him to track Iraqis via satellite)?  This helps the Iraqi people how?
There is no ethical justification for the US government to allow this sale.  Greed isn't ethical but they could be honest and admit that greed is why they'll gladly grab $125 million that should instead be spent improving the lives of the Iraqi people.  "Greed" would be a honest reason for the deal.  Again, not an ethical reason, but an honest one.
Reuters reports that protests continued today in Iraq with the highway to Jordan and Syria being blocked "for a fifth day" and that along with the protest in Ramadi, there was also a protest in Mosul.  Earlier today, Alsumaria reported that a protest has been called for Friday (Moqtada al-Sadr has added his endorsement) and the focus of the protest will be women prisoners.  This has been building for some time with the treatment of women in Iraqi prisons and detention centers been a focal point for weeks now with allegations of rape and torture.  Kitabat notes that calls for the women prisoners to be released were frequent at most of this week's rallies.  Alsumaria notes that Moqtada al-Sadr told the network through his spokesperson (Salah al-Obeidi) that he regrets statements at demonstrations that go to sectarianism and against the Iraqi national identity and he stated he stands with the calls the protesters are making.
And the reports of allegations and torture and what Committees in Parliament have discovered, led to Nouri's freak out where he threatened to arrest members of Parliament who talked about the torture and rape.  Yesterday, he was insisting he had the power to do so.  Al Mada notes today that Nouri's remarks are in conflict with the Iraqi Constitution. 
Article 63:
First: A law shall regulate the rights and privileges of the speaker of the Council of Representatives, his two deputies, and the members of the Council of Representatives.
Second: A.  A member of the Council of Representatives shall enjoy immunity for statements made while the Council is in session, and the member may not be prosecuted before the courts for such.
              B.  A Council of Representatives member may not be placed under arrest during the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and the Council of Representatives members consent by an absoulte majority to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
             C. A Council of Representatives member may not be arrested after the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and with the consent of the speaker of the Council of Representatives to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
No, that is not in keeping with the claims Nouri's made this week that he will just strip MPs of their immunity and have them arrested.  The above section of the Constitution is very clear.  But Nouri's never really abided by or honored the Iraq Constitution.  And when he went after Vice Presdient Tareq al-Hashemi, he didn't follow the rules.  To do so would have required Parliament to vote against al-Hashemi and Nouri was (repeatedly) rebuffed in his efforts against al-Hashemi as well as against Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.  December 2011, Nouri targeted Tareq and Saleh who were both Sunnis and also both members of Iraqiya, the political slate that beat Nouri al -Maliki's State of Law.  This month, he targeted Rafia al-Issawi who is the Minister of Finance and also happens to be Sunni and a member of Iraqiya. 
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi warned against a "civil war that would divide Iraq." He described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a "liar, despotic and bloody," and predicted "a spontaneous popular uprising" that would topple Maliki. According to him, Iran "is leading the war machine against the Syrian people." He called on President Barack Obama to "correct the mistakes of his predecessor."

Turning to today's violence,   All Iraq News notes 1 Iraqi soldier was killed in an armed attack in Mousl and a Mosul home invasion left 1 person dead,  and 1 police officer, who was on a vacation in Mousl, was shot dead in an attack. and a Mosul roadside bombing left two police officers injured.    Alsumaria adds a roadside bombing outside of Tikrit left two Iraqi military personnel injured. and a Baquba bombing left one person injured.  Reminder, through yesterday, Iraq Body Count tabulated 223 deaths from violence in the month of December so far.
Jay Newton-Small (Time magazine) reports on the flow of refugees from Syria into Iraq:
Almost all of the Syrian refugees Iraq has accepted are Kurds into Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous state in the north that exercises many of its own policies. Authorities elsewhere in Iraq have refused all but 9,000 Arab refugees for fear that the highly sectarian violence across the border in Syria may whip up similar flames in Iraq. The Kurds, though, are eager to help out their brethren, even if their resources are already stressed. So far, the Kurdish government has spent $11 million for the camp, but much more is needed. "We plan an international appeal," Bakir says.
Aside from the tent shortage, there is also a shortage of food, especially for single men who have their own area on the far side of the camp. Families also have a shortage of water. The newer arrivals have to share one water drum per three or four families, which doesn't translate to enough drinking or cooking water, let alone water to bathe with. The lucky ones get one shower a week. Electricity hasn't been a problem – there's enough for everyone to run lights and cookers. But there's not enough for heaters and the chills of winter are setting in.
The main reason for the shortages is because UNHCR didn't expect the sudden surge of refugees, says Jerome Seregni, a UNHCR spokesman. "Since December 2011, Iraq has continued to receive Syrians with an average rate of 1,000 persons monthly from April through June to suddenly 1,000 persons weekly during  August to October," Seregni says. "And although in November/December the number of arrivals was slightly decreasing, nevertheless 200 to 500 daily Syrians were registering in the camp."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does work around the world assisting those in need.  If you are interested in donating to the UNHCR, you can visit this web page (where you can donate securely online or obtain information on sending a donation in via regular postal mail).
Turning to the US, once upon a time we noted Joe Conason.  We've ignored him for several years now to be kind because I know for a fact 2008 was not a pretty year for Joe as he tried to be ethical and a journalist.  The two were not rewarded on the left.  So when someone tells me about Joe's latest column -- for the last years -- I just roll my eyes and know he suffered (and suffered unfairly) in 2008.  But there is no lifetime hall pass. 
Joe has an intensely idiotic column that would be embarrassing from a 'journalist' like Air Berman but is shameful from Joe.  Joe's all Chuck E. In Love on Hagel.  And rewriting history in the process.  Because US President Barack Obama might nominate Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, a lot of whoring's taking place and Joe is just an embarrassment.  Here is Chuck Hagel as seen by the Democratic left in 2004:
5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines. 6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee. 7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.
That's BuzzFlash in December of 2004.  Long-connected to the Bush family?  And Democrats now want let that tired old man be Secretary of Defense?
Let's deal with Joe's nonsense.  Vote Vets is a joke and will always be a joke.  It's 'membership' is a joke because people join after having been misled and then find out that it's nothing but a Democratic Party organ.  And after they leave, it turns out that they're still counted as a member.  Vote Vets does nothing to help veterans, it does a lot to provide cover for Democrats.   If Ari Berman was citing them as reputable, you wouldn't be surprised but Joe? 
On top of that, Joe wants you to know that Hagel is qualified because Hagel was in the military.  If that's qualified, then Joe is not qualified to speak because he wasn't in the military and he's of the age that he could have volunteered to go to Vietnam.  So by his logic, maybe he should just be quiet.
Joe lists a lot of 'reasons' like that.  None of it has to do with today.  Nor does Michael Hirsh's nonsense at National Journal.
Today?  Gregg Zoroya (USA Today via WTLV) reports approximately 50% of US service woman deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan self-disclose that they were sexually harassed while deployed and approximatly a quarter of the women also self-disclose having been sexually assaulted while deployed.  Melissa Jeltsen (Huffington Post) explains, "Researchers contacted 1,100 women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and asked them questions about sexual assaults and harassment while deployed."  You'll note that Joe Conason and Michael Hirsh avoid this issue -- even though the assault has been an issue for some time, even though addressing it and changing the tone is one of the major roles of the Secretary of Defense.  Joe and Michael are too busy scratching their crotches to actually think what the Secretary of Defense does.
We do get that right?  We also get that the Secretary of Defense is not deciding wars.  That's the President's job.  Hirsh and Conason want you to believe that Republican Chuck Hagel is an oracle and seer.  How about we deal with reality?
Chuck Hagel is too old for the job and he brings nothing to the job that's different than what Robert Gates did.  I know Leon Panetta and I fear, honestly, for Leon's health.  He's had to knock himself out in this position.  I blame Gates for that because Gates didn't do half of what was needed.  Didn't even try.  That doesn't mean Panetta should be graded on a curve.  But it is why I say that the position, right now, needs to be going to someone younger than might be expected.  It needs youth and energy and it needs someone not afraid to shake things up to force change.  How does Hagel provide any of that?  (He doesn't.)
Hirsh and Conason seem unaware of the actual duties of the Secretary of Defense.  Maybe that's why they fail to note DoD's release, last week, of [PDF format warning] the "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies."  The report notes that there was a 23% increase in rapes reported when compared to the last annual report (and the report notes that many rapes go unreported).  51% of women and 10% of men surveyed reported being the victim of sexual harassment.   There are a number of disturbing details in the report -- hopefully the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing next month on the report because there are a number of issues that US House Reps Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, Chellie Pingree and Niki Tsongas have asked about before (and usually been denied answers on -- such as how many restricted rape reports become unrestricted). But I'm especially bothered by what DoD says happened with 27 people who were found by the Command to be guilty of rape or assault.  I'm bothered by the 'punishment' they received which doesn't seem sufficent to me and I believe that this needs to be explained in a full hearing. For example, I'm sure a lot of rapists would love it if being found guilty of rape just meant that they were kicked out of their profession. 
So what's in Hagel's background that tells us he's going to address this issue?  That he has the desire to?  That he has the energy to?
Hagel is from the same square box thinking as Robert Gates.  Barack Obama needs to go bold with this decision because 'safe' choices -- standardized DC 'leadership' think -- has not resulted in changes for those issues, nor for the suicide crisis, nor for homeless veterans of today's wars.  The overall rate for homeless veterans has fallen.  But the rate for veterans of today's wars has increased.  UPI reports today that the number of Afghanistan War veterans alone -- just that one war -- who are homeless had doubled in since 2010.  You can say, "Veterans, that's a VA issue!" No, it also has to do with what information and resources service members are made aware of before they become veterans.  These are all serious issues and they're not addressed or even noted in passing in the superficial writing of Conason and Hirsh.
If you're not weighing those issues, you're not talking about the post at hand.  You may be drooling over Chuck Hagel.  Certainly Joe Conason appears to when he writes, "Already he has felt obliged to apologize for a nasty remark he once made in reaction to President Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador."  As Greg Sargent (Washington Post -- I'm surprised too but glad to be surprised by Sargent), Hagel's remarks were:  "Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyles, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be --  openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel -- to do a better job.""
That's not a nasty remark, it's a bigoted remark.  As Sargent also noted, Hormel has never received an apology from Hagel.  Hagel only made his public 'apology' when this became an issue in the news cycle.  In addition, he was against ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  It would appear for Chuck Hagel to be comfortable as Secretary of Defense, we would need to build a time machine for him, first, so it could be 1952 all over again.   And Joe's working overtime to paint Hagel as the victim of a neocon plot but, reality, Steve Clemons (The Atlantic) reports that neocon Zalmay Khalilzad is endorsing Hagel.
He is not qualified.  Two Democrats who are would be: Susan Rice and Patrick Murphy.  For all the reasons Rice was wrong for the State Dept, she's right for the Defense Dept.  Someone young and not afraid to shake things up or ruffle feathers is needed at this point because there needs to be a change in the culture of the Pentagon itself.  Rice's record indicates she would be effective, she would go after logical goals in a variety of ways -- including inspired and inventive means.  Patrick Murphy is a former member of the US House of Representatives and also an Iraq War veteran.  He too would shake things up.  We've seen that in his ability to bond with other veterans to fight real issues -- health care, benefits, discrimination.  His has not been the typical path of a veteran who goes to Congress.  After Rice and Murphy, the most obvious choice would be a medical doctor with training and experience in sucicdes and/or assaults.  These issues have got to be taken care of because the US military is not healthy until they are.  Allowing the military to remain unhealthy is not only abuse, it puts them and the general society at risk.
When Hirsh and Conason want to leave the kiddie pool and talk about real issues in the grown up world, we'll gladly welcome them over.  In the meantime, they're lovely cheerleadrs for Hagel but they're not offering anything of depth or value.  And speaking of superficial, Joe Conason should dwell in writer's hell for including Vote Vets' ridiculous statement that Hagel would "put troops first."  I'm not able to think of any Secretary of Defense who doesn't make that claim -- even Donald Rumsfeld makes that claim.  What a stupid remark, what an insult to the veterans that this passes for 'leadership' from Vote Vets.  That's the job of the Secretary of Defense.  Again, Joe should dwell in writer's hell for that one.
Moving over to England,  Gordon Rayner and John-Paul Ford Rojas (Telegraph of London) report yet another delay for the Iraq Inquiry, this one, as usual, is related to Tony Blair and secrecy.  The Iraq Inquiry long ago finished taking public testimony.  They explain themselves:

The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced on 15 June 2009 that an Inquiry would be conducted to identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict. The Iraq Inquiry was officially launched on 30 July 2009. At the launch the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, set out the Inquiry's Terms of Reference:
"Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country." 
The Inquiry committee members are Sir John Chilcot (Chairman), Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.
The Inquiry took evidence over a number of months, with as many hearings as possible held in public. The first round of hearings began in autumn 2009 and continued into early 2010. After a break for the general election, the Inquiry resumed its public hearings in June for a period of five weeks. The Inquiry held its final round of public hearings between 18th January - 2nd February 2011. The Inquiry intends to deliver its report as soon as possible (see the homepage). The Inquiry committee intends to include in the report all but the most sensitive information essential to our national security. The report will then be debated in Parliament.
For more information, see the following sections:

Rayner and Ford Rojas report that David Cameron's government is refusing to release certain documents that are likely to detail how then-Prime Minister Tony Blair made a deal with Bully Boy Bush to go to war on Iraq before he ever consulted Parliament.  Military Families Against the War's Reg Keys is quoted stating, "The report was supposed to be published in 2011, when it was still a very hot potato, but by the time we eventually see it people might think it was all a long time ago and it doesn't really matter any more."  Surprisingly, the normal chatty, can't stop talking about himself Tony Blair has no statement posted at his online office.

Read on ...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Full On Federline

Full On Federline

That is "Full On Federline" and it's from August 2nd, 2009.

There are comics I've done that I don't care for, ones I truly hate and some I like.

I love this one.  I don't even remember what was in the news to inspire it.  

But just the visual and Barack's Federline attitude (that's Britney's trashy ex-husband -- Britney Spears), he's got a food stain on his tank, he's smoking his cigarette and got a hand down the front of his saggy jeans.  :D

Okay, this is what inspired it.  I've got a link in the original post but it no longer works, so I had to do some research.  Barack's polls indicated he was losing support.  So the honeymoon was officially over and he could be himself. 

I actually think that's one of the most sympathetic comics I've done about Barack.  (No, I'm not joking.  Think about it, the Cult expected him to walk on water and finally they were forced to see reality and he didn't have to put a front -- which is what that comic's really about.)

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is moved to Germany, a spiritual leader is leaving Iraq, Iraqi children remain at risk, a new report on targeting journalists ignores Iraq, the House and Senate hold Benghazi hearings, and more.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Ambassador Burns, when you talk about resources -- only 1% of the budget -- so what is 1$ of the budget?  So what is our budget?
Thomas Nides:  Our budget if $50 billion.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Fifty-billion dollars.
Thomas Nides:  That's right.  Approximately 8% of the defence budget.
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  So when people hear "1%" it doesn't sound like a lot of money but fifty billion is certainly a lot of money.  When we talk about resources -- and I'm trying to understand because I've listened to a couple of different briefings, I've heard  Mr. Pickering and Adm Mullen, I've heard you gentlemen today and  think maybe you're not the folks that should be here because, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, you weren't really part of the decision making process.  But what I'm trying to understand, what I can't get my mind wrapped around is everybody says this was a very unstable and highly volatile area.  Then why, for God's sake, would we take out the best trained people we have?  Why? Why did we move the SST team?  Was it because of money
Thomas Nides: Well as you're aware, as we spoke about earlier --
US House Rep Mike Kelly: It's just a yes or a no.  Was it because of money?
Thomas Nides:  No, it --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  No, it wasn't because of money. Because we know the SST team really came out of the Department of Defense budget, right?  So it didn't have anything to do with your budget --
Thomas Nides:  The SST, as you are aware were in Tripoli and --
US House Rep Mike Kelly: No, I'm aware where they were.  And I'm also aware that Lt Col Woods had begged to stay there.  Mr.  Nordstrom, the regional officer, had begged to stay there. Ms. Lambe said it wasn't because of money that they couldn't stay, somebody made a really bad decision.  Now I don't have any idea of the voting registration of Ambassador [Chris] Stevens, of Sean Smith,  Mr. [Tyrone] Woods, Mr. [Glen] Doherty.  I have no idea how any of these folk registered.   It's not a matter of it being a partisan issue.  We have four dead Americans.  I'm trying for the life of me to understand how, when we say, [. . .]   You know what everybody says about the area?  It's a wild west show, nobody's in charge.    We're in a host country that can't supply us with the assets that we need?  What in the world were we thinking?  Why would we pull out people and make our ambassador more vulnerable?  And who made the decision?  And if neither one of you made the decision, say 'I didn't have anything to do with it.'  Because, what I'm finding out in this administration is that nobody had anything to do with it.   If you had anything to do with it, just say I had something to do with it and I made the decision.
Thomas Nides: No, we didn't.  We did not have anything to do with it.  That said we do need to make sure of --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Okay.  Are you aware of a GAO request from 2009 to do a review because they thought it was woefully -- a strategic review of our embassies were not taken and it was a strategic problem, a security problem, anyone of you aware of that?  We had a hearing on October the 10th, the GAO said that to this day the Department has not responded or done the review.  I find it interesting now we're going to do the review.  It's a little bit late.  So that hasn't taken place.  Now, I want to ask you, in addition to the four dead Americans, how many people were wounded that night?
William Burns: I think there were three Americans who were wounded that night and one of the wounded is still in Walter Reed Hospital and --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:   Just one of them?
William Burns:  I'm not certain.  I --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Any idea of how bad they were injured?
William Burns:  Yes, sir, the gentleman, our colleague, who's at Walter Reed was injured very badly --
US House Rep Mike Kelly:  Very badly.  Okay.
That's from this afternoon's House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing.  Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas R. Nides appeared before the Committee to address the findings from the investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Retired General Mike Mullen (former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) into the events of September 11, 2012 when the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked and Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Chris Stevens were killed.  There are two versions of the report -- the classified one and the unclassified.  The unclassified version has been [PDF format warning] posted online at the State Dept's website.
Senator John Kerry: I also want to emphasize that every member of this committee felt the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team in a very personal way.  We knew Chris Stevens well before he came before us for confirmation.  He had been a Pearson Fellow for Senator Lugar and the Committee.  We knew the depth of his character, of his intelligence and his dedication.  His death was a horrible blow in personal terms to the Committee as well as to the country and his family.  It evoked an outpouring of emotion on our Committee from the condolence book in our office in the Capitol to the private gestures of members of this Committee who shared their grief in private ways at Senate 116 signing the condolence books, touching the picture, saying a prayer.  Equally tragic was the loss of three courageous men whom I personally never met but whose families I had the chance to greet and hug when the military brought their loved ones' remains back, one last time, to Andrews Air Force Base.  That heartbreaking and solemn ceremony brought home the impact of our nation's loss.  Glen Doherty was a former Navy SEAL.  He was also from my home state and I talked a couple of times with his family.  Tyrone Woods was a former SEAL, Sean Smith an Air Force veteran, all people for whom service to country was their life.  So today we again say "thank you" to all of them, to the fallen and the families.  They all gave to our nation and we are grateful beyond words for their service and their sacrifice.
That was also today.  No, the Senator didn't show up at the House hearing.  John Kerry is also the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Burns and Nides appeared before his Committee this morning.  The two were appearing in place of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had planned to attend but then passed out over the weekend, injured herself in her fall and is on doctor's orders to work out of her home.  (Actually, she was ordered to be on rest.  She got her doctor to agree to allow her to work out of her home.)  Chair John Kerry noted that the plan was for her to now appear before the Committee in January (she can't appear this month, this was the last hearing for the Committee this year).  US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (Outgoing because the Republicans impose term limits, she'll remain in Congress, she was re-elected in November.)  Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that Hillary  is also scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in January.
A few observations about the hearings.  Burns was a good witness.  Nides was testy and combative in the afternoon (House hearing).  That may make 'sense' to some.  And if you want to be simplistic (and stupid) you can assume that a Democrat being in the White House, the witnesses had an easier time in the morning when a Democrat controls the Committee (Kerry) than in the afternoon when a Republican controls the Committee (Ros-Lehtinen).  But that wasn't the case.  (And both Chairs conducted their hearings professionally.)  Nides was most testy when being questioned by US House Rep Russ Carnahan.  Carnahan is a Democrat and an easy going person in a hearing.  It was never clear why Nides decided to get rude but it was uncomfortable and Ros-Lehtinen tried to smooth it over after by thanking Carnahan for a photo of his grandfather (former US House Rep A.S.J. Carnahan) serving on the House Foreign Relations Committee decades ago.  (Russ Carnahan is the son of former Senator Jean Carnahan who was appointed to the Senate to fill her husband's seat after Senator Mel Carnahan passed away while in office.)  Repeating, there was no visible reason for Nides to have been rude to US House Rep Russ Carnahan.
It was not a good day for Democrats period.   If I'm a member of Congress who got damn lucky that the FBI waited until after the election to round up a member of my staff who was a sex offender (waited until after the election on the orders of Homeland Security), I really don't think I'd be on a high horse about how much I value accountability.  Especially since I didn't take accountability for providing a sex offender with the prestige to brag that he was working for a US Senator.  So, if I were that member of the Senate,  I think I'd try to keep a low profile.  Fortunately, that's the only embarrassing moment for the Senate Dems in today's hearing.   In the House?  Four embarrassing moments.  We'll note Priss-Priss.  If US House Rep Gerry Connolly wants to waste everyone's time with crap, well let's hope his constituents hold him accountable.  But in the halls of Congress, you're not a little girl or a boy going through puberty.  No one needs to hear your voice breaking as you go higher and higher.  Your mincing as you attempt to be rude hurts the ears and it doesn't come off stately or professional.  And your mocking of other members of the Congress was extremely unprofessional and something you should be ashamed of.
US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry would later declare, "I don't care to be lectured to about the need to be bi-partisan particularly in such an intolerant and uncivil tone. Now this is an important hearing.  There are serious questions here and to suggest that our motives are a ruse for political motivation to me is disrespectful and discourteous and I think unworthy of the levity of this important matter."  Though he spoke much later (he was the last to speak), he was referring to Connolly.  Fortenberry is correct that it was intolerant and uncivil.  
One of the embarrassing moments in the House will be covered by Ava tonight  at Trina's site, Wally's going to note money tonight at Rebecca's site and Ruth's covering the House hearing at her site tonight.
The Senate was more civil and more focused on getting answers to questions.  There was no speechifying or pretending you were actually a spokesperson for the White House (that happened in the House hearing).  Senator Barbara Boxer, if she's at the top of her game in a hearing, usually hits a note that others will pick up on in the weeks and months to come.  It was Boxer who, in April 2008 (April 8, 2008), wanted to know why the Iraqi government wasn't paying for the Sahwa?  She is the one who asked why these fighters who were paid to stop fighting the installed Iraqi government and the US forces were being paid by US tax payers -- $182 million a year.  Had Boxer not raised the issue, it might never have been raised and the US taxpayers might still be footing that bill. 
Near the end of her questioning, she slipped in the following.
Senator Barbara Boxer:  May I ask one last quick question? Thank you.  Was it appropriate to rely so heavily on Libyan militias to guard American personnel?  How was that decision made and how do we avoid these types of failures?  Are there standard policies and procedures for the hiring of contract guards?  Was Libya an anomaly or are there other embassies around the world where we're relying on the same type of forces?
Thomas Nides:  Well, as you know, Senator Boxer, we rely upon the Vienna Convention which we have for over 200 years.  The reali -- the fact for us on the ground is to rely on the local governments to protect us.  We can -- We have to do that because we do not have the ability to have enough troops on the ground and most of the countries would not allow us to so we are -- One of the tasks that Secretary Clinton asked us to do when we send out the assessment teams is to ask two very clear questions: A country's intent to protect us and their ability to protect us.  Sometimes those two are different.  And as we see what we refer to as the new normal, we have to constantly ask ourselves those questions.
Senator Barbara Boxer: Would you write to us and let us know if there are any other facilities that are relying on militia.  Thank you.  I thank you.
Again, when Boxer's at the top of her game, there's usually one key exchange that demonstrates where things are headed, how the issue will be seen by the Congress.  It's very likely that is the big takeaway from the attack: Why are militias being used, should we be using them?  (This will be addressed more in tomorrow's snapshot as we continue the coverage of the hearings.)
Thomas Nides was the disappointment from the State Dept.  The report Mullen and Pickering came up with had a list of recommendations, twenty-nine of them in fact, as Nides would declare to the Committee.  Yet he came before the Committee to talk about this report and its recommendations and he can't tell you how many items State has broken the recommendations down into?
This isn't a minor issue.  Nides, "The Task Force has already met to translate the recommendations into about 60 specific action items.  We have assigned every single one to a responsible bureau for immediate implementation and several will be completed by the end of the calendar year."
"About 60"?  If the recommendations have been broken down into action items and these action items have been assigned throughout the department, he should know how many there are.
And if you disagree with me on that he should know the exact number and not "about 60" since he's testifying to Congress, then maybe this will change your mind.  He also told the Committee, "Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly and completely -- and to pursue steps above and beyond the board's report."
If he's in charge of that, he should know the exact number.  Supposedly, these have been assigned.  Then he should know the exact number.  Not only because he was appearing before Congress but also because he's the person Hillary has tasked to be responsible for ensuring the implementations are made.
Senator Boxer had another important issue that might take over the one above so we'll also note it.
Senator Barbara Boxer:  Secondly, the troubling thing here is that there were repeated requests to implement security upgrades in Tripoli and Benghazi and, as we look at this report, we know what happened.  And I would like to know, do you intend to put it to process -- Sorry, to put into place a process that would allow for a second review of these requests by another body in the State Dept?  Because it seems like what happened was the requests came and went to one particular individual or desk and then it never saw the light of day.
Thomas Nides:  Senator, the answer to that is yes. 
That's going to be it for today due to space issues.  To move from the Congress to Iraq, let's note US House Rep Mike Ross.  Roby Brock (City Wire) notes that the Democrat is ending his 12 years in Congress (he lost the election in November) and an interview he gave to Talk Business.  Among the topics he discusses in the interview is Iraq, "I regret my vote on going to war in Iraq. I sat in the White House with the President [Bush] and I'll never forget what he said. He said Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and if military force is required, it will be 'swift' was the word he gave us… Look, there's evil dictators all over the world. There's no doubt Sadaam was an evil guy, but he didn't have nuclear weapons, he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and you know America has paid the price through the loss of lives, through soldiers that are injured in ways that will forever change their lives, and through the enormous amount of money we spent which helped contribute to this debt that we have today. Fighting in that war, and like I said, there's evil dictators all over the world, but we can't police the world. I think had we not done what we did in Iraq, I think we could have perhaps been more focused on what we were doing in Afghanistan, which I certainly supported."
This week, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has dominated Iraq's news cycle.   Marco Werman (PRI's The World) spoke yesterday with Al Jazeera, PRI and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf about Talabani, who he is, the place he occupies in Iraq.  Excerpt.

Marco Werman: So, Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq.  Where did he come from politically speaking?

Jane Arraf:  Well it's interesting that you use the term Kurdish warlord because he did actually come from a background as a fighter as all of the current Kurdish leaders of that generation did.  He was a Peshmerga, fighter in the mountains and then beame a political dissident.  And became one of the two leading figures in Kurdistan.  He is, in many ways, an integral part of the history of that unique entity known as Iraqi Kurdistan which many Kurds would like to see known as its own country.  In recent years, he's played a unique role in Iraqi politics as well.  So he came from the background of a fighter but honed his political skills and is considered really one of the best politicians in the region.

Marco Werman:  I mean, president in Iraq is really a mostly ceremonial role.  How does he actually exert that kind of power?

Jane Arraf:  Well Iraq lurches from crisis to crisis.  And Jalal Talabani has, in many cases, been the man who has stepped in to try to play a mediating role and he's able to do that because in an atmosphere where relations are essentially toxic and posionous between the prime minister and other leading figures including Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Region.  He manages to retain ties that are cordial enough to be able to bring people together which is a pretty tough thing in a place like Iraq.  So he's brokered several recent agreements.  The most recent one -- actually just a few days ago -- which is to bring Kurdish forces and Iraqi forces -- who had been coming to head in disputed territories in the north -- to the bargaining table.  And he brokered an agreement to have them actually pull back.  He's done that repeatedly over the years.

Marco Werman:  Mmm.  So what does his illness mean for Iraq's stability?  I mean, if he's out of the picture for ahile, in a hospital for awhile, what happens?

Jane Arraf:  You know, people have been expecting this for quite awhile.  He's been in ill health.  He has been hospitalized quite a few times -- including treatment in the United States. So, in a sense, the party and Kurdish politics have moved around him and perhaps moved a little beyond him.  There will be a power struggle after he's gone.  His son has moved back to the Kurdish region from the United States.  There are other major players Barahm Saleh, the former Kurdistan prime minister.  None of them have the weight, the power -- "weight" literally and figuratively -- the power and the stature really to take his place.  And what a lot of people believe is that Kurdish politics and his own party  will in essence be transformed and might not even exist for that much longer after he's gone.
Dar Addustour reports that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and his family issued a statement noting that they had been in contact with the office of and family of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to check on his condition and to convey their sincere concern for Talabani's health and their hope that he have a speedy recovery.  Talabani is a Kurd and the first Kurdish president of Iraq.  Rudaw notes that Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani posted the following on his Facebook page, "I am saddened by my dear brother and president Talabani's ill health and I wish him a speedy recovery.  In following President Talabani's condition I am touch with the doctors in Baghdad."   Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) quotes Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, stating today, "He is starting to regain his senses. He is able to feel pain, and this is a sign of progress."

Talabani went to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital Monday evening.  His office has used vague terms like "health condition."  Others, including the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have stated Talabani had a stroke.  He was being treated yesterday by a team of Iraq, British and German doctors. Deutsche Welle points out, "Questions remain about just how ill the 79-year-old is, although doctors say he has shown signs of improvement." Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) observes, "His departure adds however an element of uncertainty to the division that Iraq has been facing since the departure of the US army. In addition people are more worried because some officials have been suggesting that his condition might be more serious on a private note."  People wonder because there's a pattern of disguising Talabani's health.  As Ashley Fantz, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Hamdi Alkhshali (CNN) point out, "In February 2007, he fell ill and was flown to Jordan for treatment, and there were conflicting reports about what prompted his hospitalization. A hospital source told CNN at the time that doctors performed a catheterization procedure on his heart, but his family and aides denied that."
As Jane Arraf noted on PRI's The World, there is a strong chance of a power struggle should it become necessary to replace Talabani as president.  Patrick Markey and Raheem Salman (Reuters) go over this potential terrian:

Under the constitution, parliament elects a new president and a vice president takes over in the interim. The power-sharing deal calls for the presidency to go to a Kurd while two vice president posts are shared by a Sunni and a Shi'ite.
But even that temporary step is complicated. Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive outside of the country after he fled to escape charges he ran death squads.
The other vice president is Khudair al-Khuzaie, who is seen by some as a hardline Shi'ite from Maliki's alliance.
Among Kurds, analysts said former Kurdistan Prime Minister Barham Salih is favoured as a leader with ties across Iraq's sectarian divide. But there could also be a struggle within Iraqi Kurdistan, where Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party shares power with the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Behind the scenes, some senior Sunni political leaders have suggested they may present their own candidate for the presidency in a challenge to the Kurds, who some Arab leaders see as more loyal to Kurdish interests than Baghdad.
Sunni political sources said those names include Sunni Vice Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq and Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi.

BBC News summarizes their correspondent Jim Muir's take, "Because the PUK is so centred around him, there is nobody approaching his stature who would be acceptable both to Baghdad and to his Kurdish constituency as a replacement."  All Iraq News notes that there are discussions among officials and a few are saying it shouldn't be a Kurd.  The article credits the quota system (Sunni as Speaker of Parliament, Shi'ite as Prime Minister and President as a Kurd) to Paul Bremer. If that's correct, it's surprising.  The first real election is at the end of 2005.  That's Parliament.  (Despite a false report by one outlet today, the President of Iraq is not directly elected  -- that post and the prime minister are supposed to be voted on by Parliament.)  Bremer was not beloved in Iraq when he was the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority and he leaves that post at the end of June 2004.  So why would they follow some system -- not written into law -- that he set up?  More importantly, he wasn't popular when he was in Iraq.  He's even more unpopular in Iraq today as they live with the effects from his decisions and actions.  So if he was responsible or even if he's wrongly seen as coming up with the quota system (he may have, I don't know), that system could be trashed in replacing Talbani.  In fact, if he did create it or if he's thought to have, the quota system is more likely to be trashed.
Iraq is losing one leader for sure.  All Iraq News notes that Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad's Chaldean Church has announced his intention to step down from his post.  The 85-year-old Cardinal has headed the church since 2003.  Kitabat notes that the January Chaldean Synod will be presided over by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.  Catholic World News adds, "The Pope has named Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean patriarchate until a new leader is chosen."
All Iraq News reports that children (plural, no number given) were injured in a Babylon bombing -- it was a landmine.
Staying with Iraqi children, Arab News notes today:
American ammunition may be the reason behind the mounting number of babies born with birth defects in Iraq, a study revealed.
Accounts of children being born with cancer and birth defects have been highlighted in German newspaper Der Spiegel, where Iraqis who were interviewed were not sure of the explanation behind so many dead and deformed newborn babies in Basra, according to Al Arabia.
"Some had only one eye in the forehead. Or two heads," Askar Bin Said, an Iraqi graveyard owner, told the newspaper, describing some of the dead newborn babies that are buried in his cemetery. "One had a tail like a skinned lamb. Another one looked like a perfectly normal child, but with a monkey's face. Legs of one girl had grown together, half fish, half human," he added.
The report cites a study published in September in the Germany-based Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology saying there was a "sevenfold increase in the number of birth defects in Basra between 1994 and 2003. Of 1,000 live births, 23 had birth defects."
For more on the study by the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, see the October 15th snapshotTom McNamara (CounterPunch) noted the 2004 assaults on Falluja and the weapons the US used including white phosphorous, "A medical study conducted on Fallujah after the battles (Busby et al 2010) confirmed anecdotal reports of an increase in infant mortality, birth defects and childhood cancer rates.  It found that Fallujah had almost 11 times as many major birth defects in newborns than world averages.  A prime suspect in all of this is what the report calls 'the use of novel weapons,' possibly those containing 'depleted uranium.'  The increase in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in Fallujah are greater than those reported in the survivors of the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945."
Reporters Without Borders just released an embarrassing report entitled [PDF format warning] "2012 Roundup In Numbers."  The report claims to looks at the deaths of journalists around the world.  Yet, as Aswat al-Iraq notes, the report fails to note Iraq.  That omission is disgusting especially when you consider that Reporters Without Borders counts 4 journalists killed in Iraq this year -- click on "Iraq" on the list to see the names:
  • 17 November 2012 - Samir Sheikh Ali - "Al-Jamahir Al-Baghdadiya" editor in chief
  • 14 November 2012 - Ziyad Tarek - Diyala TV
  • 30 July 2012 - Ghazwan Anas - Sama Al-Mossoul TV presenter
  • 2 April 2012 - Kamiran Salaheddin - Salahaddin TV
Turning to the US and veterans, Michael Coleman (ABQJ) reports that the Burn Pit Registry bill passed in the Senate today.  We'll go into that tomorrow.   Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, December 20th, 2012 (202) 224-2834
Murray Bill to Ensure Dignified Burial for Every Veteran Passes Senate
Bill also includes provisions to improve veterans' benefits, including transportation assistance and the creation of a burn pit registry
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman
of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded Senate passage of the Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of
2012. This House and Senate-negotiated package contains proposals from Democrats and Republicans in both Chambers.
The legislation includes provisions from Chairman Murray's original
bill to authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to
furnish a casket or urn to a deceased veteran when VA is unable to identify the veteran's next-of-kin and determines that sufficient resources are not otherwise available to furnish a casket or urn for burial in a national cemetery. Under current law, VA is not
authorized to purchase a casket or urn for veterans who do not
have a next-of-kin to provide one, or the resources to be buried
in an appropriate manner. Earlier this year Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr, joined by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL)
and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced this legislation after a veteran,
with no known next-of-kin, was buried in a cardboard container at
a VA National Cemetery in Florida. The exposed remains were discovered during a project to raise and realign headstones at the cemetery.
The Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 would also
establish a registry for those veterans exposed to open burn pits while serving in
 Iraq and Afghanistan and commissions an independent scientific report on the
health effects of such exposures. The legislation would expand and protect
access to VA services by furnishing eligible veterans with transportation to and
from VA facilities and provide transition assistance to eligible veterans and their
spouses outside of military installations.
"When America's heroes make a commitment to serve their
country, we make a promise to care for them," said Chairman
Murray, following passage of the bill. "That includes helping them access VA facilities and providing them with a burial befitting their service."
The House and Senate-negotiated package also includes authority for restoration of the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines and renames several VA facilities across the country, including the Spokane VA Medical Center, in honor of veterans and individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to veterans, to their communities, and to their country. The bill will now move on to the House of Representatives.
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510

Read on ...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Barack The Magnificent

Barack The Magnificent

From July 26, 2009, that's "Barack The Magnificent."  It's a play on Johnny Carson's character on The Tonight Show.  The comic's unique also because it features an actual journalist: Lynne Sweet of the Chicago Tribune.  Why did I pick Detroit Lions?  Because they didn't have a prayer and that was part of the joke. 

Sometimes I like a comic for one little touch.  For me, the comic above is good because of Lynne Sweet's cameo.  I'm not joking.  She pops out of the panel for me.  I wish I'd worked her in as a regular.  I'll probably be stuck doing Snarly Rice this weekend althought I'm thinking of really going controversial with the comic by hitting hard on the Drone War.  Is so, don't expect humor for two or three new comics.  And that's fine, sometimes editorial cartoons aren't humorous.

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, State of Law walks out of Parliament, State of Law suspends a member, among those threatened, tortured and/or intimidated in Iraqi prisons is an 11-year-old-girl a Parliamentary Committee discovers, an Iraqi journalist has gone missing, Jalal Talabani announces a deal, US Senator Patty Murray has a victory in the Senate, the US intelligence community sees 'entitlements' as a threat to America's future, Victoria Nuland's thirst for Iraqi oil mirrors the US goverment's, and more.
Tuesday at that day's State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Victoria Nuland pretended to care about Syria when discussing Iraq but it's really about oil for the neocon Kagan family (Nuland is the wife of Robert Kagan) and that's why she works as the face of the State Dept today.
QUESTION: Yes. Turkey is negotiating, or already finished an oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Are you encouraging Turkey not to go along with this, since it will be a provocation to the central government in Baghdad?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say as a general matter, once again, Samir, that the United States supports a constitutional solution to the dispute over the management of Iraq's hydrocarbon resources. This is our longstanding position. We are continuing to urge the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach an agreement over legislation so that they can enhance investment so that everybody knows what the fair legal basis is for this.
We don't support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi Government, and we're calling on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to continue to try to work through their differences. We also call on neighboring states to similarly avoid any action or comment that can contribute in any way to increasing tensions.

Officially, the US State Dept is a 'good faith' organization.  They claim their mission statement is: "Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system."  You see oil in there?  Me neither.
Victoria Nuland has never spoken out in defense of Iraqi women -- not when the 'independent' electoral commission had new commissioners and refused to make 1/3 women despite that being the mandate, not during the current prison torture scandal where women have been, at the very least, threatened with rape -- including an 11-year-old girl according to a Committee in Iraq's Parliament.  Victoria Nuland had no concerns about Iraqi women.
When bombs go off and their mass deaths and many injured?  She doesn't note it.  She gives a press conference hours later and doesn't even mention it.  I'm no fan of Condi Rice, but a spokesperson that pulled that under Condi would have been sent packing.  Under Condi, every mass attack in Iraq was condemned that day.  But Victoria Nuland, by her focus and what she chooses to stress and or ignore, clearly doesn't care about the safety of the Iraqi people.
In 2009, when Iraq's LGBTs were being terrorized by Nouri's forces and by militias in Iraq, the State Dept went out of their way to say nothing.  When the BBC was able to get someone on the record (for a mealy-mouthed statement), it wasn't Nuland.  And this year, when Nouri's Ministry of the Interior (that he never nominated anyone to be minister of so he is in charge of it) went to schools to spread fear and rage at Iraqi youths who were Emo or LGBT (or just appeared to be either or both), Victoria Nuland wasn't interested.
Over and over, when the Iraqi people are in trouble, the US State Dept plays dumb.  And no one plays dumb better than Victoria Nuland who has has so many years to perfect her craft of stupidity.
She had nothing to say about human rights crises in Iraq.  But she finds the time to speak on oil?
That might be puzzling if you didn't grasp how the US government defines oil.  In 2001, Dick Cheney, then President of Vice in the United States, serving under Bully Boy Bush, met with oil companies in what was called the "Cheney Energy Task Force."  This was about developing an energy policy, supposedly.  What it was really about was looking at the world's oil map and figuring out where to start a war and how to control the oil.
If Dick Cheney had has his way, we wouldn't know that.  But Judicial Watch sued for the records he refused to release. Click here for the maps and charts Cheney's 'energy task force' drew up on Iraq in March 2001.  And try to pretend that the illegal war that would start two years later wasn't connected.  Cheney's US 'energy task force' needed to label Iraq's "supergiant oilfield" (don't you picture Dick jizzing in his shorts over that one) as well as "other oilfield"s and "earmarked for production sharing" and all these other little tags, little price tags, in fact, that's what they were.  It was a tag sale on the belongings of the Iraqi people. 
Victoria Nuland's very familiar with these reports.  As we noted in 2004 when NPR's idiotic ombudsperson was pretending that there was nothing wrong with Robert Kagan critiquing the John Kerry campagin, Icky Vicky was working for Dick Cheney, she was his deputy national security advisor.  As his deputy national security advisor, Vicky Nuland was up to her armpits in these discussions of how to carve up Iraq.
And now she's a front person for the US State Dept.  The reason being, the theft of Iraqi oil isn't really dismaying to Democrats in power.  Those who objected in real time (or, more often, after the war was a clear loser) did so out of partisanship. Even now, no one's standing on the floor of Congress expressing outrage over this war for oil.  If you're not grasping how disgusting the current administration is, remind yourself that Dick Cheney's deputy national security advisor -- Dick Cheney's -- is now the spokesperson for the State Dept.
Let's go back over what Little Vicky The Small Blunder said:
Well, first of all, let me say as a general matter, once again, Samir, that the United States supports a constitutional solution to the dispute over the management of Iraq's hydrocarbon resources. This is our longstanding position. We are continuing to urge the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reach an agreement over legislation so that they can enhance investment so that everybody knows what the fair legal basis is for this.
We don't support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi Government, and we're calling on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to continue to try to work through their differences. We also call on neighboring states to similarly avoid any action or comment that can contribute in any way to increasing tensions.
That's not a position of neutrality.  That's a position (yet again) backing neocon Princess Nouri al-Maliki, the man Bully Boy Bush installed as prime minister in 2006 and that Barack Obama insisted in 2010 -- despite the Iraqi people's vote and the Constitution -- must have a second term as prime minister. 

The roots of the crisis date back to the year 2007 when the Iraqi government refused to recognise contracts concluded independently by the independently with foreign oil companies, declaring them illegal.
Hamza al-Jawahiri, an oil expert, said that the KRG and the central government in Baghdad interpret the constitution differently.
"While KRG believes that it is its right to develop its oil industry, conclude oil contracts and control oil production, the Oil Ministry in Baghdad considers that crude oil belongs to all Iraqis, not to citizens of any area be it in the center, the south or the north," he reveals.
So when Nuland says the following, she's not being neutral, she's picking a side:
We don't support oil exports from any part of Iraq without the appropriate approval of the Iraqi Government, and we're calling on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to continue to try to work through their differences. We also call on neighboring states to similarly avoid any action or comment that can contribute in any way to increasing tensions.
Note that Nuland doesn't say the Constitution.  Because many observers feel the KRG is correct in their interpretation of the Constitution (legally, they also have custom on their side now as a result of the practice in place in the last years).  This was not neutrality.  This was taking a position which is that the US State Dept doesn't want the KRG to be able to sell its oil.
While it was largely ignored in the US press, it was clear to the world's press what was going on.  Murat Yetkin (Hurriyet Daily News) grasped it.  Or as the headline to another article made clear, "U.S. warns Turkey over Iraqi oil."  Nuland is picking a side and someone should have asked her, "What is the KRG supposed to do?"  Iraq was supposed to pass a hydrocarbons law long ago.  Princess Nouri gave his word to Bully Boy Bush that he would see to it in 2007.  It didn't happen then.  It didn't happen in 2008.  It still hasn't happened.  So no oil sold until one is passed?  Is that what Nuland's advocating?  No, of course not.  She's advocating on behalf of Princess Nouri al-Maliki.
Courtney Howard (Avionics Intelligence) reports Lockheed Martin has delivered 2 C-130J aircrafts to Baghdad.  Three more are supposed to be delivered next year.  That's taking sides.  If you don't get that, Lockheed Martin has issued a helpful press release explaining that the planes will be used for "humanitarian relief operations in various locations" and "for intra-theater support for its troops."  That means Nouri will use them to support his forces in Iraq.  Even if those forces are going up against, for example, the Peshmerga.  Sides were long ago chosen while Nuland and the US government pretend that they are being neutral.
On the issue of Turkey and the lack of neutrality on the part of the US government, Press TV reports US intelligence is predicting that Turkey will be subdivided into multiple parts by 2030.  What are they talking about?  The US National Intelligence Council started "in 1979, the NIC has served as a bridge between the intelligence and policy communities, a source of deep substantive expertise on intelligence issues, and a facilitator of Intelligence Community collaboration and outreach."  Monday the National Intelligence Council's Matthew Burrows and Christopher Kojm gave a briefing on their organization's new report "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds."  PDF format warning, click here.  The report bills itself as "the fifth installment in the National Intelligence Council's series aimed at providing a framework for thinking about the future." They're attempting to play soothsayer and forecast the future. 
It isn't sacred text, it isn't holy.  It's the sort of crap Faith Popcorn briefly made a name for herself with or that Jeane Dixon did for years in the tabloids. It's a political and biased
 document and to pretend otherwise is to be ignorant of the text.  It accepts that "entitlements" are destructive to the United States (though a "sever pandemic" could fix that!) and spends a great deal of time trashing the programs many depend on like Social Security.  It is interesting to realize that the official position of the US intelligence community is that Social Security is a threat to the nation.  These are policy positions, this not neutral analysis.  They're also pro-fracking in one ridiculous segment.  This is garbage and wasted taxpayer money.
Iran's Press TV was so busy gleefully bleeting the predictions about Turkey that it seems to miss the dire predictions for Iran.  It also predicts that it's likely China will collapse.  Let's focus on Iraq which is barely mentioned in the report. 
It's noted that Iraq is forecast to decline in precipitation by 2050 by 13.3%. It is argued that the US being painted as the "great enemy" is something that is becoming less popular an likely: "The impending withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and decreases in US forces in Afghanistan help to reduce the extent to which terrorists can draw on the United States as a lightening rod for anger."  There are concerns about Iraq not being able to remain the country it currently is, "Fragmentation along ethnic and religious lines in Iraq and Syria could lead to an unraveling of current borders" and that Iraq's "government is already showing signs of reverting to factionalism."  It further notes that it's one of the states (Libya, Yemen and Syria being the others named) "where sectarian tensions were often simmering below the surface as autocratic regimes co-opted minority groups and imposed harsh measures to keep ehtnic rivalries in check.  In even of a more fragmented Iraq or Syria, a Kurdistan would not be inconceivable."
For the cost of a round of beers, you probably could have gotten the same 'data analysis' on Iraq from any group of people in this country paying attention to the situation.  Again, a grave waste of taxpayer money.
Susan Saad.  Alsumaria reports the female MP with the National Alliance delivered a denuciation of calls for investiations into the prison abuse scandal and calls for accountability.  Saad sputtered in public with great indignation over the fact that these charges of abuse were not coming from the Ministry of Justice but from women who had been imprisoned!

Imagine that.

Let's break it down so we all get how stupid Susan Saad was today.  Prisoner abuse is only real if the complaint comes from the officials who would be doing the abusing (I believe that would be known as "confessions") and it is not believable when it comes from former female prisoners -- wome who can document the scars from torture.
The government of Iraq wastes money as well.   Alsumaria reports Susan Saad, MP with the National Alliance, delivered a denunciation of calls for investiations into the prison abuse scandal and calls for accountability.  Saad sputtered in public with great indignation over the fact that these charges of abuse were not coming from the Ministry of Justice but from women who had been imprisoned.
While she did damage control for Nouri al-Maliki, All Iraq News reports Iraqiya MP Faiza al-Obeidi is calling for the Minister of Justice to face questions about the violations in the prisons.  She noted that despite repeated assertions of violations, the Minister does not appear to have taken any steps to address the issue.  The article also notes that women's rights groups are calling for a full investigation into the allegations.  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports that Parliament's Security and Defense Committee's preliminary investiation has found no cases of rape but they have found cases where women were threatened with rape.  The report covers fourteen female inmates, the youngest of which was eleven-years-old.  Alsumaria adds that Hassan Shammari, Minister of Justice, is stating that this is not a topic for speculation.  Or for investigation judging by the Ministry's refusal to address the allegations that have been made publicly for some time now.  Meanwhile, Nouri's State of Law staged a huff and a walk-out of Parliament today.  They also turned on one of their own.  In December of last year, Nouri wanted Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stripped of his post (with the intention being to sue him as soon as he was -- he told CNN Nouri had become a dictator) and he wanted Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested for terrorism.  (Both men are Sunni and members of Iraqiya -- the political slate that defeated Nouri's State of Law in the 2010 elections.)
As the world watched Nouri uncork the crazy, Stae of Law MP Hussein al-Asadi ran all over the place vouching for Nouri and defending him.  So it's fitting that Alsumaria is reporting State of Law announced today that they had frozen the membership of Hussein al-Asadi.  All Iraq News reports the suspension but also doesn't note whether or not it is permament.  This is the second high profile snubbing of one of Nouri's supporters.  As the $4.2 billion Russian deal collarpsed (Iraqi officials in Russia this week insist that the deal is still going), Nouri turned on his spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh who ended up fleeing the country and decrying the attempt to try him in the media.  Today, AFP reports, Tareq al-Hasehmi has been sentenced to death again -- this is his "fifth death sentence."
In other disturbing news Iraq's Journalistic Freedom Observatory notes, a team of Alsumaria workers were prepaing a report when they were attacked (physically -- punches were thrown at them) by Iraq's security forces in Baghdad on Monday. The attack took place in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.  The Journalistic Freedom Observatory also notes that Saifi Qaisi, editori-in-chief of Safir newspaper, disappeared Sunday when he left a management and editorial meeting to return home by cab but never made it home.  The fifty-year-old has a wife and three children and has been a journalist since the 1980s. 
Today's violence? All Iraq News notes, includes a Harhiya sticky bombing which injured a taxi driver. And they note that an attack on a Baghdad police checkpoint left 2 police officers dead with four more injured, 1 city worker was shot dead in Mosul, and a Mosul armed attack left Col Khaled Zuhdi dead. Alsumaria adds that a Baghdad car bombing has left an unknown number of people dead and wounded.

In news that will have Victoria Nuland panting, Alsumaria reports that OPEC is going to keep a ceiling on production; however, Iraq is saying it won't cut production.  OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, met yesterday in Vienna, Austria.  Abdul-Kareem Luaibi Bahedh is the Minister of Oil in Iraq and he was president of the conference.  Addressing the assembled, he noted:

I should like to extend a special welcome to His Excellency Dr Abdel Bari Ali Al-Arousi, the Minister of Oil and Gas of Libya, who is attending the Conference for the first time as Head of his Country's Delegation. Let me also thank his predecessor, His Excellency Eng Abdurahman Benyezza, for his contributions to the Conference during his time in office.

As we approach the end of the year, we are faced with a period of continuing uncertainty about the oil market outlook. To a great extent, this reflects the lack of a clear vision on the economic front. The global economy has experienced a persistent deceleration since the beginning of the year. The combination of an austerity-driven Euro-zone, the weakening recovery in Japan and clear signs of a slowdown in major emerging economies has provided the main factors behind this development. In the light of this, world oil demand growth forecasts for this year have been revised down frequently. At the same time, non-OPEC supply and OPEC natural gas liquid output have continued to perform well, outpacing demand growth. This trend is not expected to change in the coming year, with the market continuing to see high volumes of crude supply and increasing production capacity.

Turning to oil prices, while these have strengthened in the six months since the Conference last met, there have been continuing fluctuations. In June, at around the time of the Conference, prices were at their lowest daily levels for the year, with the Reference Basket price below US $100 a barrel throughout the month. It even fell below $90/b for three days. However, the Basket price then rallied strongly past $110/b in the middle of August. But after that, for most of the time since mid-September, it has been several dollars a barrel beneath this mark. This drop has reflected mounting concern about the global economic slowdown, the pessimistic future demand outlook and significant stockbuilds of crude in the United States of America. Such downward pressures have outweighed supply concern arising from geopolitical factors.

For its part, OPEC continues to do what it can to achieve and maintain a stable oil market. A key aspect of this is to ensure that the market remains well supplied with crude at all times, with fair and reasonable prices. For this to happen, there must be clear planning for the future, with sound investment strategies ensuring the necessary levels of production capacity in the years ahead. But the drawing-up of such strategies is impeded by uncertainties on both the demand and the supply fronts, as well as by high levels of price volatility. Clearly there are many doubts about the market outlook today. Without market stability - that is, sustainable market stability - all parties will suffer, producers and consumers alike.

At today's meeting, therefore, we shall be examining the market outlook for next year and further into the future. Our focus will be on enhancing market stability in the interests of all parties, as well as in support of steady world economic growth. However, this is not the responsibility of OPEC alone. If we all wish to benefit from a more orderly oil market, then we should all be prepared to contribute to it. This includes consumers, non-OPEC producers, oil companies and investors, in the true spirit of dialogue and cooperation.

Summer Said, Benot Faucon and Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) note that they did not choose a new secretary-general and instead extended the term of Abdalla Salem el-Badri for another year.
The Iranian government, as Trend News Agency reported,  made clear earlier this week that they were opposed to Iraq or Saudi Arabia getting the post of secretary-general.  Of the meeting, Amena Bakr and Emma Farge Vienna  (IOL) report:

At yesterday's meeting of Opec the opening salvos were fired in the struggle over who takes responsibility for cutting output if oil prices, now at a comfortable $108 (R937) a barrel, start falling.
After 20 years of war, sanctions and civil strife that left its oil industry in disarray, Iraq is in no mood to consider curtailing output just as it starts to take off.
"Iraq will never cut output," Iraq's Opec governor, Falah Alamri, said. "Countries that have increased their production in the last two years – they should do so. This is a sovereign issue, not an Opec issue."
That was a clear reference to Saudi Arabia, which earlier this year lifted output to a 30-year high above 10 million barrels a day to prevent oil prices ballooning after Western sanctions on Iran halved its production.

In other news, AP can't stop lying.  I wasn't even going to mention that.  There's a nomination that went down in flames today.  I'm happy.  I don't need to mention it here.  By the same token, AP wasn't going to be called out but then they had to pick up last week's lie yet again.
You don't look right today.  You whored.  You whored and you did so in the public square.  Briefly, Nouri al-Maliki -- with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at his side -- held a press conference last week (Thursday) and declared, in response to a question, that Baghdad and Erbil continued weighing ways to end the stalemate.  He stated two proposals had emerged -- joint-patrols by the Kurds and Nouri's forces or allowing local regions to do their own patrols.  All the Iraqi outlets got this right.  AP issued 'breaking news' and stated Nouri announced a proposal (two became one!) had been agreed on and that the standoff was over.
AP, stop whoring.  Clearly you were wrong.  If an agreement is reached today, clearly you were wrong.  If AP had just acted like it didn't happen last week (their lie), I wouldn't even be noting it now.  We are short on space and this is being edited as I dictate.  But AP had to bring up their lie and pimp it as truth.  They lied.  AP versus Al Mada, All Iraq News, Kitabat, Dar Addustour, Al Rafidayn and Aslumaria?  Everyone was wrong in reporting on that press conference except AP?  Please.  AP didn't even acknowledge Ban Ki-moon.
You got caught whoring, that's bad enough.  To continue to pretend is just embarrassing.  Grow the hell up.  No link to their trash.
We'll instead note Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) who reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is stating that local police are going to grab security responsibilities and, when that happens, both Nouri's Tigris Operation Command and the Peshmerga will withdraw.  There's strong analysis in the piece as well.  One point not noted that I hope does get noted?  Nouri started this crisis by sending the Tigris Operation Command in.  If the crisis is now resolved and resolved in the way that Talabani says (I wouldn't put it past Nouri to back out on the deal once it was in play), what we're left with is Nouri started a crisis and won nothing.  What Talabani's describing?  That was the state of things before Nouri sent in the Tigris Operation Command which led to the Peshmerga being sent in.  Again, al-Salhy has a strong report with great analysis.  And that's all we would have noted on this topic if AP -- revealed as a liar today -- hadn't tried to bring in last week's lie and act like they were correct in their 'report.'  If you're looking for a strong report in Arabic, check out this one by All Iraq News.
Okay, my apologies, we're having to pull Lynn Woolsey's comments.  They will be in tomorrow's snapshot.  I'm editing in my head over the phone and it's just easiest to grab a chunk of space by dropping her until tomorrow.  US House Rep who was a strong and needed voice against the Iraq War. We'll also note this from Human Rights Watch tomorrow.  We're going to wind down with military and veterans. First up, veterans.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Today her Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012 passed the "Senate by unanimous consent," her office notes.  This is what she stated on the floor of the Senate today:
I come to the floor today to request unanimous consent for S. 3313, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, which is unanimously supported by the Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
M. President, this legislation not only builds upon previous laws to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families --
But it also brings a new focus to the need for VA to do more to help women veterans and the spouses of male veterans access assistance for one of the most impactful and serious wounds of these wars - reproductive and urinary tract trauma.
As many of you know, the nature of the current conflict and the use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries.
In fact, Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 nearly 2,000 servicemembers have suffered these battle injuries.

Like so many of our veterans, these men and women come home looking to return to their lives, to find employment, and so often to start a family.
Yet what they find when they go to the VA is that the fertility services available don't meet their complex needs.
In fact, veterans suffering from these injuries find that the VA is specifically barred from providing more advanced assisted reproduction techniques such as In Vitro Fertilization – or IVF
They are told that despite the fact they have made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we cannot provide them with the medical services they need to start a family.
Veterans like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil – and his wife Tracy, who is here with us today.
Staff Sergeant Keil was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24th 2007, just 6 weeks after he married the love of his life – Tracy.
The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit a major artery, went through his spinal cord, and exited through his left shoulder blade.
Staff Sergeant Keil instantly became a quadriplegic.
Doctors informed Tracy her husband would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, and would never move his arms or legs.
Staff Sergeant Keil eventually defied the odds and found himself off the ventilator and beginning a long journey of physical rehabilitation.
Around that same time, Tracy and her husband started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together.
Having children was all they could talk about, once they adjusted to their new normal.
With Staff Sergeant Keil's injuries preventing him from having children naturally, Tracy turned to the VA for assistance and began to explore her options for fertility treatments.
Feeling defeated after being told the VA had no such programs in place for her situation, Tracy and Staff Sergeant Keil decided to pursue IVF through the private sector.
While they were anxious to begin this chapter of their lives, they were confronted with the reality that Tricare did not cover any of the costs related to Tracy's treatments -- because she did not have fertility issues beyond her husband's injury.
Left with no further options, the Keil's decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment.
Thankfully, on November 9, 2010, just after their first round of IVF, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world.
Tracy told me,
"The day we had our children something changed in both of us. This is exactly what we had always wanted, our dreams had arrived.
"The VA, Congress and the American People have said countless times that they want to do everything they can to support my husband or make him feel whole again and this is your chance.
"Having a family is exactly what we needed to feel whole again. Please help us make these changes so that other families can share in this experience."
I have heard from these severely injured veterans and while the details of these stories vary, the common thread that runs through them all is that these veterans were unable to obtain the type of assistance they need.
Some have spent tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector – like Tracy and her husband -- to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family.
Others have watched their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, drove their relationship to a breaking point.
Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more.
The bill I am here asking to pass today will give VA broad authority to offer advanced fertility treatments to the most severely wounded veterans, their spouses, or surrogates.
It also gives VA the authority to determine how best to offer these benefits.
It reverses this troubling barrier to care and will bring the VA in line with the military which provides these services to this same groups of servicemembers.
This is common sense legislation that we should pass without delay.
In fact, the NY Times recently ran an editorial on this bill and said,
"In more than a decade of combat overseas, the military and V.A. have continually had to adjust to the challenges of new traumas with new treatments, as with the epidemic of brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Adapting the V.A. health system to better meet reproductive-health needs should be part of that response. It is one compassionate way to fulfill the country's duty to wounded veterans."
They also noted that even this Congress should be capable of a bipartisan agreement to pass it.
M. President, I couldn't agree more.
And I can't think of any reason why all Republicans and Democrats wouldn't join us today.
This is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family.
It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars.
It says to all those brave men and women that didn't ask questions when they were put in harm's way, that we won't let politics get in the way of our commitment to you.
M. President, we can't let this bill get bogged down in the obstruction that has become typical of this body.
This is too important to delay with procedural tactics.
The VA has an obligation to care for the combat wounded
That should include access to the care they need.
And our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military and veteran families deserve this.
Thank you M. President.
I'd now like to offer a unanimous consent request for passage of S. 3313, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.
It's an important issue and I'd like to return to it if we could tomorrow.  Now we move to the military.  Leon Panetta is the Secretary of Defense.  I know and like Leon Panetta.  We're including the topic because it's an issue that's not going to go away and that is getting heated.  (When I had an argument on it today, I realized it had to make it into the snapshot or I would be accused of letting Leon off because I like him.)   Dan Lamothe (Marine Corps Times) has an article you can reference.  Here are the basics on the issue: Sgt Rafael Peralta died while serving in Iraq on November 15, 2004.  He was a 25-year-old Marine who was born in Mexico and who joined the US Marines after the age of 20 when he received his green card (2000).  For years, members of Congress have argued that Peralta should be awarded the Medal of Honor.  The new Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, began advocating for that in 2004 when he served in Congress.  US House Rep Duncan Hunter has picked up the cause.  Leon Panetta has denied the request. 
For The Medal of Honor to mean what it's supposed to, it does have to be given out for those whose actions warrant it.  I think most people would agree with that.  And a Navy Cross, the decoration that Peralta was awarded (in 2008) is certainly a worthy honor.  But where I fault Panetta is in doling out information.  Yesterday there were stories based on what people were saying.
US House Rep Hunter has released Panetta's letter to him denying the Medal of Honor to Peralta.  Dunan Hunter's office released the following today:
Washington, D.C. -- This morning, Representative Duncan Hunter commented that he was "beyond disappointed" after receiving an official response from Secretary Panetta regarding the decision not to award the Medal of Honor to Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta.
"Sergeant Peralta is a hero," said Representative Hunter.  "He died in service to his country and he died protecting his fellow Marines.  He and his family are an inspiration to me and many others, for their courage, their dedication and their sacrifice.
"While I vehemently disagree with Secretary Panetta's decision, I do appreciate the fact that he took the time to personally examine the Peralta case and consider the new evidence that was submitted.  What is still unsettling to me and many others who have followed this case is the process that led to Sergeant Peralta's downgrade to the Navy Cross -- a high honor, but not the Medal of Honor.
"For the first and only time on record, Secretary Gates formed a scientific panel consisting of several forensic experts to refute the findings and recommendation of both the Marine Corps and the Navy.  Until then, there was absolutely no disagreement that Sergeant Peralta's actions were in the spirit and tradition of the Medal of Honor.  Secretary Gates manufactured the doubt -- the same doubt that led Secretary Panetta not to award the Medal of Honor.  I also have questions about the legal authority to conduct such a review in accordance to regulations -- something I intend to examine more closely.  
"In his letter, Secretary Panetta makes several points that, in all due respect, are the same arguments of convenience made by Secretary Gates.   
"He specifically raises concerns with the eyewitness accounts -- the eyewitness accounts of U.S. Marines who were engaged in combat and saw their brother do the unthinkable.  These Marines know what they saw. They stand by their statements.   There were in fact 5 eyewitness accounts that led to the original decision.  Four of the statements are independent of each other and all four are consistent.   And for the Medal of Honor, the standard has always been two eyewitness accounts.  Not three, not four, not five, but two eyewitnesses. 
"Meanwhile, the new evidence that was reviewed, including the video, as confirmed through multiple sources, was not previously considered.  The video, in particular, invalidates Secretary Gates' conclusion that the grenade detonated one to three feet from Sergeant Peralta's left leg. Also, the pathology report that was submitted identifies multiple distinct irregularities with Secretary Gates' findings, such as a piece of the grenade fuse lodged in Sergeant Peralta's flak jacket, center-mass.  Above all, this evidence was intended to invalidate Secretary Gates' judgment, as it clearly does.  It also reaffirms the original eyewitness accounts.
"The fact that Sergeant Peralta still has not been awarded the Medal of Honor he deserves is a severe injustice, not just for Sergeant Peralta, but his family, his fellow Marines and anyone who has been willing to fight and die for their country.   The only way to correct this error in judgment is to honor Sergeant Peralta with the award he deserves."
Hunter is a veteran of both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War.  Panetta's is expected to be leaving shortly as Secretary of Defense. This isn't a time for confusion.  If he wants to deny the Medal of Honor in this instance, he needs to be clear and publicly clear as to why that is.  He may have made the right decision. Let's say he did to move onto how, if he did, he's now turned it into a bad decision.
He destroyed a possibly correct decision by the way he handled it.  People should not have to read a letter to Duncan Hunter to know that Panetta shot down the request.  (I didn't find the letter at all illuminating, others may.)  When he leaves, if he hasn't fixed this issue, this should be a mark against him in grading his tenure as Secretary of Defense.  Fixing the issue does not mean he should award Peralta the Medal of Honor.  If Panetta doesn't feel it's deserved, then that's the decision.  But he needs to be public about that decision.  He needs to own that decision.  Thus far, he hasn't.  (And when people refuse to own their decisions, I tend to feel that their decisions must not have been the correct ones.  I doubt I'm alone in drawing that conclusion.)
Read on ...
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