Thursday, March 29, 2012

Me, Joe Biden

Me, Joe Biden

From October 26, 2008, that's "Me, Joe Biden." I had completely forgotten this comic. Looking at it, I remember how exciting Sarah Palin was.

If you were doing comics, she was exciting.

For some people, it was because they wanted to make fun of her.

For others, like me, it was because she did shake up the race, was new to the national scene and you could let her comment like a character on TV talking to the camera.

I have never tried to make her the butt of a joke and that puts me in a small percentage, I know. I did not vote for her ticket and I don't think I ever would pull the lever for her; but I did appreciate what she brought to the race and I did think that some of the stuff from my side was nonsense. The sexism, obviously. But I'm talking about other crap.

The left never looked Whiter than in the fall of 2008.

They were mocking her because, to get her degree, she'd gone to several colleges.

To them, that was hilarious and proof that she was worthless.

But to those of us who are Black, Sarah Palin didn't look stupid for her college record. She looked like someone who wanted a degree and deserved applause for applying herself.

I guess the White experience on the left is you go to school and your parents pay for it and everything's wonderful.

That's not the Black experience. We are used to having to drop out a semester or two because we don't have the money. My aunt got her degree at 38 years old. She had to stop and start and stop. Due to money issues, due to pregnancies, due to raising children.

And we were (and are) very proud of her. We were all at her graduation and we knew how much it meant.

I never felt more removed from the White left than I did in 2008 when they made really clear what they thought of the poor and the people who had to work their way through college and others. I never saw the White left act as elitist as they did in 2008.

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the Arab League Summit is held in Baghdad, Nouri is a flop, many are no-shows, the Iraqi people ponder the excessive costs (apparently over a half-billion dollars), Senator Patty Murray calls for a cost-of-living increase for veterans, and more.
The Arab League Summit was held today in Baghdad. It didn't change a thing because Nouri never learned how to charm. So instead of starting with it, let's start with the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki created Political Stalemate I after the March 2010 elections when, for over eight months, he refused to allow the government to move forward because he refused to honor the votes or the Constitution (and with White House backing, he was able to get away with that). His State of Law political slate came in second to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi) in the elections. In November of 2010, to end the political stalemate, the various political actors agreed to the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. Nouri agreed because it would allow him to continue as prime minister. But the things in the agreement that got Iraqiya, the Kurds and others to sign off on? Nouri trashed all of that. Immediately, what was supposed to take place was that the Parliament would name Jalal Talabani president (for a second term) and Talabani would name Nouri prime minister-designate while Nouri get his people to drop the false charges and smears against Iraqiya members and Nouri would name Ayad Allawi as head of a new national security committee (an independent committee). Nouri got what he wanted and then had excuses for everything else in the agreement, it would take time, now wasn't good, blah, blah, blah. His apologists (in Iraq as well as in the US) would later begin to insist that the Erbil Agreement was unconstitutional. If that were true (it's not -- it may be extra-constitutional -- and if you don't know the difference between the terms, don't gas bag on the topic), that would mean the entire agreement was illegal and that would mean Nouri was an illegitimate prime minister because Nouri remains prime minister for a second term not by the outlined process in the Constitution and not by the voting results of 2010. He gets his second term solely because of the Erbil Agreement.
Nouri is best seen as the pouty child who refuses to get off the floor of the grocery store until he's told he can't get a piece of candy. He is more than willing to wait and wait forever. This is imporant to understanding both him and how Iraq has 'worked' and will continue to. Nouri has got to be challenged. And if you're going to blink, there's no point in taking a stand. He is a willful child who needs clear boundaries and knows that there will be consequences. If you take a stand and back down, you're encouraging him.
Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) notes attacks on Barzani from various members of Nouri's circle. The article also includes advice beyond stupid but I'm biting my tongue because Ava and I already told Jim we'd cover the same stupidity (but from American politician) at Third this weekend. Alsumaria TV notes that the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq is calling for a dialogue and blah blah. Now they're concerned. Massoud Barzani wasn't covering new terrain. He was responding to what's been going on for months and it is a false narrative to act as if Barzani's now 'started' something. This is the political crisis. It's cute the way so many are eager to be Nouri's lackeys and play dumb when anyone Nouri's tried to oppress or eliminate bothers to respond publicly.
The piece Ava and I were going to write was "The Great Compromiser Olympia Snowe (Ava and C.I.)" and the similar point? In US politics, the "center" is not the center. The "center" is based not on the people but on the politicians and, since 1970, the right wing in the US has stayed firm in their beliefs. Good for them. The left has repeatedly compromised and the result is that the "center" has moved ever rightward. And Iraq? From the Rudaw article:

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi's Iraqiya bloc threatened to walk out of parliament in opposition to PM Maliki's dominance. But Sultan believes these threats only prove the Iraqiya bloc's failure in its politics.

"I think that Iraqiya bloc lacks unity in the political discourse in dealing with crisis," he said. "It withdrew its ministers from the government after the issue of al-Hashimi, and later sent them back. Now it wants to withdraw them again. What will they get from all this?"

Grasp that, over the summer, the Kurds began calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya joined them in that call. When Iraqiya walked, it was over the Erbil Agreement -- no warrant had been sworn out for Tareq al-Hashemi, that's not the political crisis. The crisis is the failure to follow the Erbil Agreement. But Iraqiya walks out. They were wrong to end their boycott. They were wrong because with a bully child like Nouri, you have to set boundaries and make clear that there are consquences or the spoiled baby will continue to refuse to share his toys and play nice.
But why did Iraqiya end the boycott? Due to pressure. Internally, which was minimal, and externally, which was international. And they were told by the White House, among others, that they would look mature and, come on, do the right thing for the good of Iraq.
That little pep talk is exactly why the US is so screwed up politically. Democrats fell for it over and over (some wanted to fall). Republicans stuck to their beliefs. But Dems were seduced -- and still are -- by the thought that they'd look mature and grown up. That's still used today in the efforts to gut Social Security. Dems are told they'll look so mature and it's not, "Hey, Republican law maker, you're acting crazy and we're not funding your project." (I'm not calling all Republicans crazy. I'm also not trying to insult them. I'm a Democrat and I'm more than happy to call out my own party for its failures.)
By the same token all Allawi and company got was a brief moment of "Oh, they were mature and ended their boycott." They're threatening a new one. They don't need to go on it if they're not going to stick it out. And if they go on it, they better know the US government will be pressuring them, that they will hear appeals of, "Come on, Ayad, you and me, we know you're more mature, you're a real leader, do the right thing and end your boycott." The answer has to be: NO. If it's not "no," don't start a boycott. You either are willng to see it through or you're not. If you go on a boycott and then cave before demands are met, Nouri's not going to take you seriously. He's going to know you'll cave every time.
Baby, you could never look me in the eye
Yeah you buckle with the weight of the words
Stop draggin' my . . .
Stop draggin' my . . .
Stop draggin' my heart around.
-- "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, performed by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, first appears on Stevie's Bella Donna
Each time you cave, each time you buckle with Nouri, you give him more power and more control. Nouri al-Maliki has refused to follow the Erbil Agreement.
Is he criticized by the international press for it?
Very rarely. That's what starts the political crisis and Nouri's apologists show up and treat a crisis like it just started weeks ago. Like the false "center" in American politics, there's a fale "starting point" for the current political crisis in Iraq. It didn't start in December or January. It goes back to the signed document that allowed him to be prime minister for a second term. He took the concessions that other political parties made. He just refused to follow through on the concessions he agreed to. That is what started the political crisis and it goes back to 2010.
There are various actions that have made the political crisis flare (and the press briefly take notice). When he demanded Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be charged with terrorism (al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya), that caused the world to pay some attention to the political crisis. Al Mada reports today that Ayad Allawi has called for Iraq to fight the "emerging dictatorship" in Iraq today. Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji read the statement which called out a return to a culture of suppression and denounced the raid on the Communist Party. The Iraqi Communist Party should have been in the news yesterday and should be in the news today. It's not. From yesterday's snapshot:

We'll close by noting the disturbing news of the day and news that wasn't picked up and front paged but should have been. Nouri al-Maliki is now going after Iraq's Communist Party. Al Mada reports that Nouri's security forces stormed the political party's headquarters and arrested 12 people who were arrested and questioned about protests. Ali Hussein (Al Mada) notes the Communist Party has a long history of fighting for Iraq, not against it. Hussein reports that Nouri's tanks have been sent to surround the homes of Communist Party members in Baghdad. Those who paid attention in December will remember that Nouri ordered tanks to circle the homes of Iraqiya members right before he demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his posts and ordered the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of terrorism. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya as well as Sunnis. Ali Hussein notes that Nouri also ordered tanks to circle the homes of Communist Party members last year.

The Iraq Communist Party Tweeted yesterday, "Iraqi Communist Party condemns raid of its newspaper headquarters by security forces." They state that the raid took place late in the evening Monday and that their headquarters were ransacked by federal police who entered claiming that they were doing a sweep of the area for the Arab League Summit. An old weapon ("piece of junk") was on the roof and they used this as a pretext to arrest 12 of the people who were held overnight and only released after they signed documents -- documents they were forced to sign while blindfolded. While they were held, the federal police returned to the now empty headquarters and ransacked the place. The Community Party condemns the attack and notes that the 78th anniversary of the Iraq Communist Party is approaching.
The only English language outlet to report on the attack is People's World which notes of Iraq's Communist Party:
The party, which has a long history of fighting for a secular Iraq, in which the rights of all groups would be respected, has expressed its outrage and has openly condemned the raid.
The party asks that those responsibile for the attack be brought to justice, and said, in a statement, that "the police will not stop Tareeq Al-Shaab from defending the rights of the Iraqi people and workers, nor will it stop those people from fighting for a free, democratic Iraq."
This is not the first time the Iraqi Communist Party has been targeted by the U.S.-backed government that replaced the old dictatorship. In 2007, Najim Abed Jassem, the party workers' trade union leader and member of the executive committee of the Mechanics Union, was abducted and tortured by militias in Baghdad, and subsequently murdered.
That the raid took place ahead of the Arab League Summit is disturbing, that it took place in Baghdad with the international press ignoring it is very telling.
Also telling was the turnout for today's Arab League Summit. Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report, "Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring." It was not all that, to put it mildly. A friend who covered the summit deemed it, "Not so much a who's who as a who's that?" Who attended? Among others, the Oman Observer reports Talabani "received the credentials of Shaikh Mussalam bin Bakheet bin Zaidan al Bar'ami, Sultanate's Ambassador to Jordan, as the Sultanate's non-resident ambassador to Iraq" yesterday. Today Al Sabaah reports Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, prime minister of Jordan arrived, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.
The Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweeted that Emir got a special personal greeting:
LizSly Iraqi PM Maliki kisses Emir of Kuwait on cheek as he steps off plane in Baghdad. Reconciliation at last. #ALIraq
One of the biggest names of all the attendees was present representing the United Nations. Kitabat noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived this morning. The Kuwait Times quotes the Secretary-General stating, "The relationship between Iraq and Kuwait has always been very sensitive, and there are many pending issues that have not yet been resolved. I urge Iraq to fulfil its longstanding obligations to Kuwait…especially in regards with the missing people, Kuwaiti property, compensation." Alsumaria TV adds that Ban Ki-moon stressed that Iraq paying off its debts to Kuwait will allow it to exist Chapter VII. Al Sabaah notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Ban Ki-Moon today. In addition, Al Mada reports that the President met with Ikililou Dhoinine who is the President of Comoros (and was the first leader to arrive in Baghdad for the summit).
Who were the notable no-shows? Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran." The Belfast Telegraph notes, "The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah."
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq Tweeted about the problems with phone service:
Mohammed Tawfeeq
mtawfeeqCNN 4 the second day, most #Baghdad neighbourhoods left with no cell phone coverage part of security measures 4 #ALIraq summit.2day is last day.

Some outlets got confused and started calling yesterday the summit. No. The Arab League holds the summit. Yesterday there was a meeting among foreign ministers from various countries. Nouri addressed that group. Al Rafidayn covers the speech which included Nouri noting terrorism in Iraq (sadly, he wasn't confessing to his own terrorism) and declaring that all Arab nations will face it -- especially those in which the security is fragile -- so he was calling for an Arab cooperative to fight terrorism in the region. His speech is said to have bored (said by a friend covering the event and a friend at a wire service). That's not surprising. On your first day of a conference, you really aren't looking to be bummed out. You're looking to be uplifted.

Nouri's heavy-handed and rules through fear. He thought he could apply the same scare tactics in dealing with foreign ministers of other countries -- none of those present face the level of violence Iraq does. So not only was the topic a 'downer' but they really didn't see the need to be lectured to on the topic of violence from the person over the most violent country in the region. Nouri's so out of touch that he honestly believes other leaders in the region would be impressed with him. His calling for cooperation on positive projects and issues would have surprised them and would have impressed them. Instead, he's the crazy troll under the bridge and he's got no one to blame but himself (and his advisors who thought his speech would go over well).
Today, Dr. Nabil El Araby, the Arab League Secretary-General, opened the summit with an address where he thanked Iraq and the Iraqi people for their warm welcome and congratulated Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for hosting and presiding over the 23rd Arab League Summit and congratulated the government on their preparation work for the summit. He also thanked the officials from Libya for their hard work on the 22nd summit. He discussed how he assumed his office last July and how his vision for the Arab League was one of reform and development. It was a positive speech, emphasizing the accomplishments within the Arab world and fostering a sense of common purpose, a sense of higher purpose. It was the perfect speech to kick off a summit. (PDF format warning -- Click here for the speech in full.) And it is exactly the sort of speech Nouri al-Maliki should hav given on Wednesday but couldn't because he knows only one note: ominous in B flat.
Others gave speeches as well. Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) Tweeted on one:
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam Saudi envoy, 2-min speech, said the most pressing issue was need for economic reform. #ALIraq
And Hannah Allam noted some people didn't speak:
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam @samdagher Yes, saw her, too. And one other. But don't think we've heard a single woman's voice this whole mtg, no? Obviously wldnt today.
Hannah Allam
HannahAllam Very, very, very few women in that huge hall of Arab leaders. #ALIraq
What did those who spoke discuss? A number of issues. First they passed a Declaration of Baghdad defining Arab attitudes on regional issues including Syria and the Palestinians (they were noted -- not at length, but for those who thought they'd be completely skipped over, the Palestinians were noted -- and I'm referring to those residing in the occupied territories, not to the Palestinian refugess in Iraq). They touched on the need for non-proliferation (no nukes) and endorsed the concept of political, economic and social reform so that all Arab citizens are awarded the dignity they deserve.
The summit began and ended today. Hannah Allam and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) offer, "Arab leaders who gathered Thursday in Baghdad broke no new ground on Syria or other regional crises, but their summit was still hailed as a success -- for returning Iraq to the Arab fold after years of isolating war and occupation." Nothing was accomplished but that a summit was held is a success? Earlier this week, Hannah Allam argued, "Pulling off the summit with a decent turnout and no violence would represent a breakthrough for a country that, for years after Saddam Hussein's fall, still had no real clout in the Arab League and was practically begging its reulctant neighbords to send envoys to wartime Baghdad." When you start from that low benchmark, it's not difficult to hail something as a success. But, as Gulf News pointed out, "In addition, the idea that fortified areas such as the Green Zone can exist is also not the solution. As a matter of fact, the very existence of such isolated and protected enclaves proves that there is much to be done to ensure stability and peace."
And when all of that has to be done for a basic summit, it's not a testament to power or to safety. It really just serves to underscore exactly how bad things remain in Iraq.
AFP's W.G. Dunlop notes the morning began with an explosion:
wgdunlop Blast near #Iran embassy in cent #Baghdad as #Arab summit opens #ALIraq; police official says it was mortar round #Iraq
CNN's Arwa Damon Tweeted on the reactions of Baghdad dwellers to the summit:
arwaCNN "We wasted lot of $$, it was inconvenient...but i guess its good 4 politics, maybe something will come of it" #baghdad resident on #ALiraq
arwaCNN "Shame on #iraq government, they have been preparing plan 2 secure arab leaders leaving iraqis w/no protection" #baghdad resident on #ALiraq
arwaCNN "Is this the time for this? spending all this money? when people R living in misery & poverty & with no power?" #iraq resident on #ALiraq
Those attitudes are fairly common ones in Iraq. "Had this money gone to the people in need for housing or other needs, it would have at least raised the living standard of people from the lower class to at least the middle class," declared Iraqi Abul Assal in Kelly McEvers report for All Things Considered (NPR).
Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Liz Sly ponders the future:
Liz Sly
LizSly Momentous events followed past Arab summits in Baghdad. Iranian revolution after 1978, Gulf war in 90. What will happen in aprox June-Aug?
So that was the summit. It was suppose to be held in Baghdad in March of 2011. They had to postpone it to May of 2011. They had to postpone it. Please note, money was spent sprucing up Baghdad on both of those attempts. So when outlets report that a half billion dollars got spent on this summit, grasp that the cost was even higher due to the cost of the two previous attempts.
On Iraq, I'm ignoring something I was asked to highlight except to note two things. If you're someone supposedly against the Iraq War and you're noting civilian deaths, the Lancet study established over a million Iraqis were killed by 2006. Any number less than that is unacceptable if you're supposedly against the war. Secondly, don't write about Iraqi refugees if you don't know what you're talking about. Meaning? A total of external refugees numbering less than two million isn't accurate. The Iraq War created many external refugees. First came the "brain drain" whose numbers weren't really counted because they left prior to the start of the refugee crisis. (The "brain drain" was the term for Iraq's professional class such as medical personnel.) When Iraq becomes the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948, we're dealing with millions. Because these people are no longer in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc -- as many aren't -- doesn't mean you erase them. They were refugees who happened to be among the lucky ones that the United Nations was able to place with a country. The Myth of the Great Return was a myth. The millions of refugeeds during the refugee crisis did not return to Iraq. (Even now with the violence in Syria, the number that have returned is a small percentage when compared to all the Iraqi refugees that sought asylum in Syria.) I hope each and every Iraqi that wants to resettle is able to but even if they are, they were still forced out of their homes, that's how they became refugees. A tiny number -- a shameful number -- will be allowed to become American citizens. I hope they're happy in their adopted country and that they flourish, that doesn't change the fact that violence turned them into refugees. Those people still need to be included in the numbers.
A friend's mad that I won't highlight a piece that undercounts the Iraqi dead and undercounts the refugees -- the article has many other problems as well. (My friend didn't write it.) No offense to anyone, but I'm tired of 'online living' and would gladly close shop tomorrow. But as long as I'm investing my time covering Iraq here, I'm not including your lies or you minimizing. There's no point in it. I'm not using my time, putting my life on hold, to raise 'semi-awareness.' So I don't need your 'semi-truths' which are better known as "lies." I've made a million and one mistakes here. I've owned them (I'm also sure I've made mistakes that I didn't catch and that weren't pointed out.) There are some that are so stupid, I laugh my ass off at how stupid I was -- and how stupid I was in public. This site has a great community behind it. Other than that, the only thing it has is my integrity and I'm not willing to sell that out to make someone happy by including a bad article that 'meant well.' For the million and one mistakes I've made, they've never been intentional errors, I've never made one knowingly. And I'm not about to start now. I take Iraq and what was done to the country (in our name -- if you're a citizen of the US or another country that went to war with Iraq -- I'm a US citizen) very seriously. I'm saddened that so many don't. I believe in science, I know about samples, I took research & methodolgy in graduate school and had to do many poli sci models. I understand how they work and the model in the Lancet study is the same model that the UN uses. The Lancet study was sound science.
Moving over to the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes
VETERANS: Murray Pushes for Cost-of-Living Adjustment Increase for Veterans
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in sponsoring his legislation to increase veterans' compensation through a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). The COLA increase would affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. It is projected that over 3.6 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2013.
"Last year's passage of the COLA bill I sponsored provided a much needed cost-of-living increase for the first time since 2009," said Chairman Murray. "Particularly in this difficult economy, our veterans deserve a boost in their benefits to help make ends meet. We have an obligation to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and who now deserve nothing less than the full support of a grateful nation. A COLA increase will help bring us one step closer to fulfilling our nation's promise to care for our brave veterans and their families."
Tester's Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with a rise in the cost-of-living, should an adjustment be prompted by an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The bill specifies that the increase would affect veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and certain related benefits.
The COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients. The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time. The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.
A bipartisan group of Senators signed on to co-sponsor the bill including the Committee's Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as well as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Senator John Boozman (R-AR).
We're short on rooom so I'm not going to try to squeeze something in but tomorrow we will be noting some remarks on sexual assault. I'm noting that here right now to make sure that I make room for it tomorrow. I had planned for it to be in this snapshot but we're out of time and out of space.
Read on ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Barack's Wipings


From October 19, 2008, that's "Barack's Wipings." That was my second Sarah Palin comic. I believe there were four or five. And I think that one stands up. It perfectly captures Barack.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad denies that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's bodyguard was tortured to death, Baghdad states he was sent to a hospital, as the day progresses, they change that to "hospitals" (pretend not to notice, the press did), Iraqiya's prepared to bring up the ongoing political crisis at the Arab League Summit (scheduled for the end of this month in Baghad), the US Congress hears that DoD can't be successfully audited because everything is in such disarray, and more.
"The purpose of today's hearing is to review the accuracy of pay to active service members in the US Army," explained US House Rep Todd Platts in his written statement this moment as he co-chaired a joint-hearing. "The hearing will examine the findings of an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office of the Army military payroll accounts for Fiscal Year 2010. In 2010, there were nearly 680,000 active duty Army service members whose pay was handled by the Defense Finance Accounting System, or DFAS, centered in Indianapolis. GAO conducted its audit of DFAS in order to verify the accuracy and validity of Army payroll transactions."
Because of various issues with documentation, there's no way for the Government Accountability Office to truly do an audit. Chair Platts noted in his written statement, "The Army payroll is also a significant portion of total Department of Defense. As a result, the Department of Defense cannot pass an audit unless the payroll systems are auditable." It you can't audit, there's no accountability and no real oversight.
That hearing started a little late and there was concern about votes being called shortly so to speed things along, Platts, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management and Senator Thomas Carper, Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee, waived their opening remarks and entered the written remarks into the record. Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
US House Rep Darrell Issa is the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and he made a surprise appearance as well.
Chair Darrell Issa: I came here for two reasons. First of all, when the House of the People [House of Representatives] and the other house [Senate] get together, it means that we have what it takes to move positive legislation all in one room so it's always preferrable to have us hear the same thing and come away from a hearing knowing we have to act and how we have to act. So the second reason is that, Colonel, like you, I was an enlisted man, paper leave and earning statements, 1970, it was real paper, as it was for Senator Carper. If one piece of paper got ripped out of there, it was gone forever. My enlisted time was fairly uneventful although I had a lot of TDY [Temporary Duty] and a lot of different supplemental dollars as an EOD enlisted man. But when I was commissioned, I saw the other side of it. I was responsible for up to 200 men and women who were constantly having to get compassionate pay, they were having to get 25 or 50 dollars because when the PCSd [Permanent Change of Station] in the paper work got lost. We would keep them sometimes for a couple of months not getting their real pay because there was a problem -- particularly if they were coming from overseas. That was approaching half a century ago. We've come a long way, we've come from paper to electronic. But we haven't come far enough to have the kind of proactive effort to where you should never have to say, "Well how do we pay this person? What do we do? Do we send them to the USO or do we in fact find some other way?" And, more importantly, do we no longer have people who receive pay and then somehow say, "Oh, that was a SNAFU and for the next six months, we're going to be deducting." I represent [Marine Corps Base] Camp Pendleton and, as a result, I see that happening. Naval assets and private assets have to find ways to take care of families because there's been an overpayment and then it has to be repaid. Last but not least, I had the pleasure of leaving the Army and the only time I've ever been audited -- personally audited -- was the year I left the Army and there's nothing worse than trying to explain all these various per diems in pays that are tax free if X,Y and Z to a man who's never served in the military but whose job it is to get a little money out of you. So I believe that when we get to where we do the job right, it will for our men and women in uniform, especially those who have families who are also earning and they've got to bring these together in a predictable way to make payments. So I'm glad to see that my good friend Chairman [Edolphus] Towns is also here. That gives us an awful lot of legacy of this Committee to hear it and to respond. So, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you all for being here today and I yield back.
Edolphus Towns is the Ranking Member (and former Chair) also chose to submit his opening statements for the record. The lack of accountability, the inability to do an audit, should be disturbing from a taxpayer stand point. We're going to focus on LTC Kirk Zecchini who has served 28 years (for any wondering, he's served in both of the current wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan) and his testimony to provide one person's struggle to get the pay they deserve and have earned. The excerpt that follows will be in order but we'll do jump cuts (indicated by: "[. . .]") to work through several examples.
Chair Todd Platts: In your time, have you ever had an instance where you -- because pay was not properly provided to you -- that it ended up a hardship, financial hardship, because of incorrect balance in a checking account or are you aware of any soldiers you've served with who have?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well, from my personal experience, the only real hardship that I encountered was when I was in Afghanistan and my pay just stopped for about a month-and-a-half and I still had a mortgage and I still had bills to pay back home. Fortunately, I had a little bit of savings while I was still deployed but, yeah, that was a really tense period, not knowing when the pay was going to get turned back on again.
Chair Todd Platts: In that example, where it was delayed, was there any compensation -- meaning any interest for the two months that were not properly paid when it finally was?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: No, sir.
[. . .]
Chair Thomas Carper: I guess you're not the only person you served with who had some problems with pay. We did in my unit, I presume you had problems in your unit. Were the problems similar in nature to those you experienced, or were they different? Were there any commonalities? Or was it just across the board, wide variety of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I can't say that I've ever experienced the same problem twice.
Chair Thomas Carper: How about when you think of your colleagues with whom you served? Did they have similar problems or were they different kinds of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I would have to say different. Again, my experiences were different from the typical Guardsman, where I had a lot of active duty time, a lot of TDYs. I did a lot more than outside of the one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-in-the-summer.
Chair Thomas Carper: Sure sounds like you did.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: So I'd have to say that mine were a little bit different and broader than most of my peers.
Chair Thomas Carper: You allued to this, but I think you said there was a period of a month or two when you didn't get paid at all. And when I think of overseas, I was married and had no wife or children and the Navy pretty much took care of our immediate needs, they fed us and gave us a place to sleep and there was medical care and that kind of thing and so we were able to save -- guys like me, we were able to save like every other pay check. We didn't make much money but we didn't spend much either. I had no wife or children to support. I tried to help my sister a little bit to go to college but that was the big obligation I had. But that's not the case with a lot of folks. Especially today when we have a lot of Reservists deployed to activated deployed, we have a lot of Guardsman and women activated deployed and they do have families. And when they have problems with their pay, it's a whole lot more difficult and a lot more complex. Okay, put yourself in the position of just providing good advice through us, but for us, to the folks who are charged with fixing these problems. I realize we'll never get to perfection. That should be our goal. And if you were just to provide some advice, good advice, with the folks charged with fixing this, and our job is to have oversight and try to make sure that it's addressed, what would be the advice? It can be fairly general, it doesn't have to be specific. One of the best, I'll give you an example, we had a guy before us testifying on the Finance Committee a couple of months ago on deficit reduction and I asked him what do we need to do on deficit reduction -- he's Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, professor of economics at Princeton -- and asked what do we do on deficit reduction? His big deal on deficit reduction is health care cost -- if we don't reign in corporate health care costs we're doomed. He said I'm not a health economist but I asked him what you'd do about reigning in the deficit, he said, "I'm not a health care economist but here's what I'd do: I'd find out what works, I'd do more of that." That's exactly what he said. "I'd find out what works, do more of that." I said, "You mean find out what doesn't work and do less of that?" And he said yes. So that's actually pretty good advice in everything we do, not just reigning in health care costs. But what should we do here? What should the folks in the Dept of Defense do to address this problem?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well obviously, I have seen a lot of changes in 28 years from paper statements to electronic statements now. And those have all been, you know, good things. Most recently Defense Travel System came online, where you can enter your travel claims online and that was huge. That really took the paper work piece and it streamlined the process for travel vouchers. You get paid now in three or four days where it used to take you a month to get your travel pay.
Chair Thomas Carper: So that's a great improvement?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes. DTS was, in my mind, great. But not everyone has access to DTS. I had access because I was full time federal technician where most traditional Guardsman and Reservists don't -- don't have that system yet.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How many times did you [. . .] have the pay problem during your years of service?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: After I started talking to Mr. Tyler last week, I started thinking back to my career. I gave him some good examples but -- the ones I just testified to -- but I can think of several other ones that weren't such a big deal and they were pretty easy to fix at the unit level. But --
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: It was so many times you can't remember? Is that what you're saying?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. How widespread is the problem among others?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I mean, you hear people talking about pay issues, you hear, you know, just dining chow how talk, people always -- somebody always seems to have a pay issue that they're dealing with.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How long did it take, the longest period, for you to correct your pay?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: The example I mentioned about my one-and-a-half-months without pay in Afghanistan that was the longest that I ever went without a pay check. But the longest that I ever had to deal with a problem in getting resolution to the problem was the one where I didn't get my various allowances from my missions in Southeast Asia. That took about a year-and-a-half.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. Could you just walk us through one process of how you went about it to get paid? Just briefly.

LTC Kirk Zecchini: About what?
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Walk us through a process you had to take in order to get paid. In other words, you didn't get your check and what you had to do in order to get it?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well the example I mentioned about the pay in allowances from Southeast Asia, I was working in Bangladesh and the Philippines and all through Southeast Asia. Each of these different countries has a different rate for hostile pay fire in the Philippines or hardship duty pay in Bangladesh and I wasn't even aware that these allowances were there when I was performing the duty. It was just through talking with my active duty counter-parts who were there with me that I was informed that we were entitled to these allowances. So when I got back to Ohio, I went back to my unit and inquired about getting these allowances. I actually had to look through the regulations. There's a chart they have in the rig that tells you that if you're in this location during this time of year, you're entitled to this much money. It was a pretty complex set of numbers and my unit clerk, my unit administrator, certainly didn't know how to process that, so that's when it got pushed up the chain of command. It went to Military Pay. Military Pay didn't seem to know anything about it. And, you know, time went on, I put together a spread-sheet. I actually did a lot of the legwork for them to make it easier to understand what I was supposed to get as opposed to what I did get. And, uh, it languished. And eventually I wrote a letter to the Ohio Inspector General requesting assistance. And that's when I finally got some action.
[. . .]
Chair Todd Platts: At what point in that year-and-a-half long process [on the Southeast Asia pay issues], how long had you tried working through the channels before you went that route to get it taken care of?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I went to my unit initially in August of 2004, I would say the very next month, in September, it got pushed up the chain to the Ohio State Headquarters.
Chair Todd Platts: Alright.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And I worked the issue with them probably until August of '05 when I was getting ready to go to Iraq, I knew I was going to be deployed again, so at that point I really just had to do something.
Chair Todd Platts: Right. So-so, for about a year, you kind of worked through the regular channels without success and this is something, once you were aware of, seems pretty straight forward. You were in this country, you qualified, yet a year later, you still weren't being compensated accordingly.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And it was a significant dollar amount too. It wasn't --
Chair Todd Platts: Roughly, round number?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: As I recall, it was a couple thousand dollars allowances.
Again, main point regarding waste and oversight: It can't be determined because the DoD can't be truly audited with so many problems with regards to their records. Main point with regards to those who are serving, it is a battle just to get paid and to be paid what you've earned.
From the Congress, to the north, Michael Bell is a former Canadian diplomat of many years and now is Professor Bell at the University of Windsor where he focuses on the Middle East. From time to time, he also writes a column for the Globe & Mail. Today he weighs in on Iraq:

The Americans had sufficient control and influence to prevent a rout in Iraq, but as that control dissipated and their efforts at democratization became increasingly problematic, they changed horses. Since their departure, they have devoted their best efforts to helping Mr. Maliki consolidate Iraq as a viable state player because of its geostrategic importance, despite his increasingly well-documented abuses. Barack Obama's administration is proceeding, reluctantly, with the sale to Iraq of more than $10-billion in military equipment, much of which is serviceable for control and intimidation.
Mr. Maliki has increasingly used the power of the state to consolidate his own autocracy, accused by human-rights groups of intimidation, corruption, deceit, torture and cronyism. Witness the arrest warrant issued for his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Witness his son and deputy chief of staff Ahmed, reputed to be the most powerful person in his entourage. Anyone deemed a threat is at risk for their lives in Mr. Maliki's Iraq.

And that's Iraq today. Don't expect to hear about those realities from the White House. Tareq al-Hashemi is Sunni and is a member of Iraqiya -- the political slate who won the March 2010 elections but Nouri having the White House's backing meant that elections in Iraq didn't matter, that what the people wanted didn't matter, that 'democracy' was as much a pretense under Barack Obama as it was under Bully Boy Bush. Tareq al-Hashemi was in the semi-autonomous Kuridsh region of Iraq when Nouri al-Maliki issued a warrant for his arrest. He has remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Baghdad has repeatedly demanded that he be handed over. It's cute to watch Nouri not get his way for once. (At least so far.) al-Hashemi has noted that Nouri controls the Baghdad judiciary and that he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad (which is correct as evidenced by nine Baghdad judges pronouncing al-Hahsemi guilty last month despite the fact that no trial had taken place -- the Iraqi Constitution makes it the law that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, that's not a slogan, that's not a bumper sticker, it's written into the Iraqi Constitution, it is the law -- the very same law the judges are supposed to be upholding but clearly either ignore or are ignorant of). al-Hashemi has asked that the trial be held in Kirkuk.
Since December, those working for Tareq al-Hashemi have been rounded up by Nouri's forces. At the end of January, Amnesty International was calling for the Baghdad government "to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president. Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges." Yesterday, al-Hashemi noted that his bodyguard had died and stated that it appeared he had died as a result of torture.
Alsumaria notes Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling for the international community to call out the death of his bodyguard, Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi, who died after being imprisoned for three months. al-Hashemi has stated the man was tortured to death. The photo Alsumaria runs of the man's legs (only the man's legs) appear to indicate he was tortured, welts and bruises and scars. They also report that the Baghdad Operations Command issued a statement today insisting that they had not tortured al-Batawi and that he died of chronic renal. They also insist that he was taken to the hospital for medical treamtent on March 7th and died March 15th. Renal failure would be kidney failure. And that's supposed to prove it wasn't torture?
If you work for an outlet that just spits out what you are told and didn't actually learn a profession, yes. Anyone with half a brain, however, apparently that's half more than the average journalist possess today knows to go to science. The Oxford Journal is scientific. This is from the Abstract for GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" from 1994:
Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.
Out of that group? 29 did live. Five died. I don't think the Baghdad Command Operations created any space between them and the charge with their announcement of renal failure as the cause of death. But, hey, I went to college and studied real topics -- like the law and political science and sociology and philosophy -- and got real degrees not glorified versions of a general studies degree with the word "journalism" slapped on it. So what do I know?
A bit more than Salam Faraj (AFP) who not only gets the cause of death wrong -- BCO issued a press release, kidney failure is layman's term, the press release uses renal failure, don't interpret, report, don't improve, be factual. I thought there were some guidelines for reporters but apparently reporting's nothing more than a creative writing class and a whim. He refused treatment, Faraj wants to introduce into the record. When? Because Faraj can't even give you the damn dates from the BCO press release -- such as March 7th al-Batawi was taken to the hospital. These are things that should be in the report. Their absences means AFP is more into gossip than reporting and also makes AFP look really stupid to anyone who can read Arabic and wonder why AFP missed all the details of this story -- details contained in a public press release? It's cute to that March 15th isn't there in the report either. But AFP does want you to know that on March 18th, the body was handed over to the family -- the family that AFP didn't talk to. It's something, but heaven help us all of that passes for solid reporting. Someone denies torture and says, oh, cause of death was . . . It's incumbent upon you to look into that given cause and its relationship to torture if it has any. If you didn't do that, you didn't do any reporting. You did stenography. Nothing more.
AP offers a much briefer account and does a far better job. They also note that Iraqiya MP Salman al-Jumaili has called today for an investigation and is stating that human rights organizations should also be examining the death. Reuters also does a better job than AFP but you have to wonder if all the 'additional details' (embellishments and filigree?) that the government keeps adding aren't being tracked and noted. Example, originally, it was stated he was taken to one hospital. That was by the Baghdad Command Operations in their official press release. Later in the day, the Supreme Judicial Council spokesperson Abdul-Sattar al-Briqdar stated "he was sent to several hospitals." Why did the number change? Why is the spokesperson weighing in? Has the Supreme Judicial Council conducted an investigation? If so, did they complete it rather fast? Wasn't the body turned over to the family too soon for an autopsy? Wouldn't an autopsy be needed for a spokesperson for the courts to pontificate at such length and with such certainty?
Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is said to be planning to present a memorandum to the Arab Summit (due to be held in Baghdad at the end of this month) which will detail a number of unresolved and internal issues including Iranian threats to Iraqi forces, human rights violations and the refusal to implement the Erbil Agreement. In addition, they plan to address the lack of national partnership. Alsumaria notes this plan as well and quotes a spokesperson for Iraqiya stating that the Arab League Summit is supposed to be a discussion of Arab peoples and therefore the issue is pertinent and valid. Dar Addustour notes that there is supposed to be (another) prep committee meeting on the national conference to address the political crisis this coming Sunday.
Yesterday Lale Kemal (Today's Zaman) reported, "An advisor to a senior Turkish state official quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan as telling US President Barack Obama following the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq in late December of last year that 'you [US] left Iraq in the hands of Iran once you withdrew'." Alsumaria TV notes that Turkish warplanes bombed Arbil Province. Dar Addustour reports a woman and her four children were slaughtered in Saffron and that security checks are being carried out -- apparently door-to-door searches -- in the neighborhood (all five were killed by a knife or knives). Iraqi youths continue to be targeted for being Emo and/or gay or for being thought to be one or both. Al Jazeera has a very strong overview of the issue (link is photos, text and videos) and we'll grab that topic tomorrow (and I'm saying that here to make sure that happens, we'll also grab a Jane Arraf weekend report that I've had to keep pushing back and pushing back).
Wenesday at the Left Forum, World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet moderated a discussion on the Iraq War with Larry Everest (author of many books but we'll note Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda), Michal Otterman (author most recently of Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage) and activist and author David Swanson who runs the
War Is A Crime website (videos at World Can't Wait). We'll note this part of the discussion and the speaker is Larry Everest.
Oh and those other Iraqis -- a throw away line -- who sacrificed their lives. In other words, you know, American lives are all that count here, you know, American chauvinism and support for the American military that's carrying out illegal, unjust and immoral wars and committing War Crimes. So, anyway, with that, I am glad to be talking about Iraq. You know, we can't erase the memory of Iraq, of what happened there and the lessons we should be learning. And I agree -- I like David's point: "No, repeat the lies that were told. Let the people know.' But you know, I thought about it, it's just -- my book actually deals with the history of US and British intervention in Iraq since the 1920s. It goes through the Iran-Iraq War, the sanctions. It's interesting because now there's a big thing about the IAEA and Iran, right? Well you if you read my book, you'll find out the IAEA was involved in planning coup de'etats and assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course, that's not mentioned. But anyway, so I-I-I think it's very important to ponder the real lessons of Iraq. And that's what I want to do today. And not feel, "Oh, well." You know, this is reflected in our attendence here. "Oh, that's over with. Let's move on." Or let's move no where. We really -- The Iraq War is incredibly revealing of the nature of this system, the illegitimacy of the entire system and the need for fundamental change and revolution if you stop and think about this. And that's what I want to reflect on a little bit here today. So,first of all, what I want to start out with is a quote which I think -- I want to deconstruct this. This is from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian who is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party that I support, I write for its newspaper Revolution. He writes, "The essence of what exists in the US is not democracy but capitalism, imperalism and political structures to enforce that capitalism and imperalism." What the US spreads around the world is not democracy, the imperalism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." So just think about that. Not democracy, but capitalism, imperialism, political structures to support it. We didn't vote for the Iraq War, if you remember. And when the Iraq War began, 15 million people around the world and I mean hundreds of thousands in this country went out to the biggest protest since sometime in the sixties. 'Oh, that's a focus group.' Never mind. In other words, the political structures were not in anyway reflective of what people needed or want, they reflected the needs of capitalism and imperalism. That's what they were doing. Did the war reflect the consent of the governed? "Oh, here's what we're going to do in Iraq. Would you like us to do that?" No, it's -- as David pointed out -- one lie after another. And I liked your ten lies because it is hard to get how contorted and inflated and all this: 'No, Saddam Hussein's a Sunni and he's a secular ruler but, no, he's in bed with al Qaeda, the Islamic fundamentalists who, by the way, hate him.' And never mind, so we heard it on Fox News. You know, what about the so-called free press? That's supposed to be a pillar of democracy. It wasn't just that they repeated lies, they suppressed anyone who spoke the truth. Phil Donahue? Gone. [. . .] And then what does that say about the nature of that system? In other words, this quote I read, what the essence of what exists points to the fact that the economic base of society, the capitalistic system, is what sets the terms, not public opinion, not the interests of people, not how you vote, none of that. The system is determined and the terms are set by the needs of this capitalist, imperialist system and the political structures serve them. And what are the needs of that system? This is a system that demands global exploitation of labor -- go see the Mike Daisey Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs, Apple and all their parts made in China and so on and so forth. And it demands control of resources. It demands control of markets. And all of this is enforced how? By military bases. 732 military based in what -- 120 or 130 countries and one war or intervention after another -- by violence. And this is how the system actually functions, this is how it works. And this is actually what was behind the Iraq War because a lot of people realize that lies were told in the Iraq War but they don't realize why the war was fought. You know, this is the biggest lie of all. And the New York Times sometimes will say, 'Well it's true that Judith Miller made a mistake in her reporting. You know, we'll leave aside the fact that all of this was deliberate, it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't bad intelligence." But what they never tell is you is: "Oh, by the way, this was a war of imperialism. Because since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we the US ruling class have realized that we have an opportunity to create an unchallenged empire across the globe because we don't face any other super powers. And if we don't seize this opportunity, our window of the unipolar moment" as they called it "would vanish and we'd be in big trouble because we have a lot of problems and contradictions in our own system and we're facing China and Russia, they could re-emerge. In fact, let's not let any regional powers rise to challenge us." And this was the driving logic behind the whole war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. A lot of people thought, "Oh, the invasion of Iraq was a 'diversion' from the 'real war on terror'." No, it wasn't. It was the perfect embodiment of the "real war on terror" which was never about catching a few dozen or a few hundred or however many there were al Qaeda or Saudi or whatever groups did the 9-11 attacks. It was about restructuring the entire Middle East and Central Asia and locking it more firmly under US domination. And, yes, defeating Islamic fundamentalism because it was creating problems for the US. This is a big reason they don't like Iran. And then using that region really as a hammer against the rest of the world. Why is the Middle East so important to the functioning of the system? And here, I do think people, I do think the capitalist class overall benefits from this. That's what keeps the wheels humming and turning. Yes, there are contractors that made some money. Sure, but that's not the essence of it because one US president after another, Democrat or Republican -- it doesn't matter, has considered the control of the Middle East central to US global power, right? This is why Israel looms so large for the US, because it's their military outpost. The Middle East, 60% of the world's energy sources. Energy is a strategic commodity that allows you -- It's not about SUVs and do consumers have good gas prices? It's about global dominance. Because if you control oil, you can shape the global economy and you can control powers that depend on oil.
Time and space permitting, I would love to highlight more of that conversation tomorrow. If that's not possible, we may grab it next week.
Read on ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012


From October 12, 2008, that's "Private Dancer Bambi." And he's still having donor issues, isn't he?

I think what Barack will be remembered for historically is refusing to take public financing, being the candidate who ended that post-Watergate effort at taking big money out of the equation.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the government refuses to follow the rules for disclosure in their case against Bradley Manning, the State Dept goes after one of their own, the illegal wars compete for time and attention with the administration's war against the Constitution and the public's right to know, Iraqi youths continue to be targeted, and more.
Chanel Curry: I started off as as a veteran during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio and I joined the military in 2008. As I served overseas and came back to the United States, I suffered many difficulties finding employment. So I recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia because I had a job opportunity available to me almost immediately. So I relocated and during my process of living in Atlanta, Georgia, a lot of different circumstances forced me to have to move back to Cleveland, Ohio where I was originally stationed. Coming back to Cleveland, Ohio, it was very hard to find a job. So basically, I bounced around from different relatives homes, different friends and it just became definitely a burden because a lot of people I knew suffered their own hardships and no one could afford to accomodate another adult. So that forced me to have to contact the VA and I contacted the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and I spoke to a veteran by the name of William and he directed me over to a female by the name of Toni Johnson. Toni Johnson is a representative of the women's homeless outreach program. And she, herself, actually opened up a lot of possibilities for me to get back on my feet. She told me about the Grant Per Diem program and I lived in a homeless shelter, a women's homeless shelter, known as the Westside Catholic Center and there there were other things available for me such as the Employment Connection and I met with a representative by the name of Angela Cash and she basically helped me to get a job at the Cleveland Clinic. So she offered me classes, computer training, basically everything that I needed to be readily available for work. And also she had her own non-profit organization known as the Forever Girls At Heart which is a group of beautiful women who helped me get all of the things I needed for my apartment. Now with that being said, I will be moving into my place as of Friday if everything goes as planned. And I do have everything I need. So the VA definitely went above and beyond to make sure that I was not -- that I did not remain a homeless veteran.
Curry's testimony goes to what Senator Scott Brown rightly termed "a lack of consistency." While the VA was able to assist her, Sandra Strickland's testimony to the Committee made clear that the VA practices a scatter-shot, non-consistent response.
Chanel Curry is an Iraq War veteran and among a growing number of veterans of the current war who have or are becoming homeless. She testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as part of the hearing on homeless veterans. The first panel was made up of veteran Sandra Strickland, National Women Veterans Committee's Marsha Four, Deputy Assistant IG for VA Linda Halliday and Reverend Scott Rogers. The first panel was covered in yesterday's snapshot, by Ava in "Scott Brown (Ava)" and by Kat with "Glad someone's back, not impressed with hearing."
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee. In her opening remarks, she noted:
VA must focus on a new and unfortunately growing segment of the homeless veteran population -- female veterans. Like their male counterparts, women veterans face many of the same challenges that contribute to their risks of becoming homeless. They are serving on the front lines and being exposed to some of the same harshest realities of war. They are screening positive for PTSD, experiencing military sexual traum, suffering from anxiety disorder, and having trouble finding a job that provides the stability to ease their transition home. Yet when our female veterans find themselves homeless, they have needs that are unique from those of male veterans. And, as the VA's Inspector General found in a report released on Monday, some of those unique needs are not being addressed. The IG found that there were serious safety and security concerns for homeless women veterans, especially those who have experiences Military Sexual Trauma. They found bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and mixed gender living facilities without access restrictions. They also found that the VA should do a better job at targeting places and populations that need help the most. And in addition to this IG report, GAO released a report at the end of last year that cited VA for the lack of gender-specific privacy, safety and security standards. Following that report, I sent a letter to VA and HUD with Senators [Jon] Tester and [Olympia] Snowe seeking answers to a number of questions it raised. I have heard from HUD that they are reviewing their data collection process in order to capture more information on homeless women veterans. I have also heard from VA tha they are working to develop and provide training for staff and providers to better treat veterans who have experienced traumatic events and modifying their guidance on privacy, safety and security for providers who serve homeless women veterans. As more women begin to transition home and step back into lives as mothers, wives and citizens, we must be prepared to serve the unique challenges they face. As we continue to learn about the alarming number of homeless women veterans, we must be sure that VA is there to meet their needs.
The second panel was Chanel Curry and the VA's Executive Director of the Homeless Veterans Initiative Pete Dougherty. (Lisa Pape, of the VA, accompanied Dougherty.) VA's Dougherty noted a variety of figures including that 29,074 Veterans and family members are housed, as of last month, through the HUD-VASH program, 37,549 Housing Choice vochers have been handed out, Veterans Justice Outreach (legal services) have served 15,706 veterans, 366 is the number of homeless veterans (or formerly homeless) that the VA has hired in the Homeless Veterans Supported Employment Program (hires are since September of last year), "in FY 2011, VA helped 83 percent of veterans in default retain their homes or avoid foreclsoure, an increase from 76 percent in FY 2010" and "VA paid pension benefits exceeding $4.2 billion to over 500,000 veterans and survivors in FY 2011. Because pension benefits are paid to veterans and survivors whose income fall below Congressionally established minimum standards, it inherently assists in income issues related to homelessness."
We'll note this exchange from the second panel.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Dougherty, we heard from Ms. Strickland on the first panel. She reached out to the VA and was told there was no help -- literally [they] hung up [and left her] with nothing. We just heard Ms. Curry obviously a totally different story. With a "no wrong door" policy, it's unacceptable that more help wasn't given to Ms. Strickland and others like her. Ms. Curry, I wanted to ask you, what was the turning point that led you to the VA?
Chanel Curry: Actually, it was a very long time before the resources were actually known to me. I had to do some research. I actually contacted Military One Source which is a very helpful resource who helps you basically get to a lot of different resources. But what led me to the VA was the fact that I was just tired of being homeless. I was tired of not having a stable job and having to ask people for things. And I'm the type of person where I like to get everything on my own so it was definitely a challenge for me. So I had to make an adult decision and go to a shelter where the HUV Ash program would be availabe for me.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Dougherty, both the GAO and IG found that the VA has to improve the way it serves homeless veterans -- homeless women veterans -- especially those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. I am deeply concerned about women veterans -- or any veteran -- but women veterans being placed in a place with no privacy, no locks on doors, no locks on bedrooms. It just is implicit that that should be available. I understand that the department is developing this new, gender-specific, privacy, safety and security standard for the facilities and I want that done quickly -- obviously. But I wanted to ask you: Is that enough to make sure we have protection for women -- to make sure there's no registered sex offenders? Are we following that? And especially for women who are victims of Military Sexual Trauma, are we really making sure we're focused on those issues?
Pete Dougherty: [microphone not on or working . . .] and her staff are working very closely on making those corrections. I would also say that one of the things that we have and are asking the Committee to do is to change the Contract Care Authority Requirement. Currently under law, you have to have a serious mental illnesee diagnosis in order to get contract residential care. And I think as the IG [Linda Halliday] just said a few minutes ago, that one of the issues is that in some small communities, we may not have enough need to develop a whole program that's big enough to support a community program and in those places what we need is more flexibility in contracted residential care in order to make that work.
Chair Patty Murray: Well, okay, let me be very clear given the strong oversight work that this Committee has done leading up to just this hearing, I think it's very clear we're going to be following this very carefully. We want to make sure this is implemented. It's absolutely a top item for all of us.
We'll jump to another exchange.
Senator Scott Brown: Mr. Dougherty, how is VA working to improve the data collected so that the VA and Congress have information to effectively allocate the resources to ensure homeless veterans receive the needed services? And that's based on the GAO report saying that the information's lacking. [Doughtery speaking with Pape.] Either one.
Lisa Pape: We have been collecting information on homeless veterans for over 20 years now. What we've done to really enhance in the last several years is roll over into an electronic system, enhancing the kind of data we're really asking for so that there's more questions related to people's experience, their medical issues, their housing issues prior and-and-and leaving the program. But what really is where we're shooting for is connecting with the community and aligning our data collection system with the homeless management collection system that the continuum of care do so that we have a coordinated and integrated collection system to look at what veterans are entering the VA and the community and bed capacity and things like that.
From the panel on homeless veterans to an Iraq War veteran imprisoned for over a year, Bradley Manning. In January, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.
The Associated Press reports the latest in government ridiculous, the military insisted to the court today that the release Bradley is accused of aided al Qaeda. They tossed in the word "indirectly." You know what directly aids al Qaeda, endless war. So throw some charges at Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the crooked gang making up the administration. Know what else aids al Qaeda? Keeping Guantanamo open. So throw some more charges at Barack. The latest development only underscores that Barack Obama is no different from George W. Bush, that idiots like Naomi Wolf who swore he was a Constitutional lawyer (Memo to Naomi: Constional lawyers take cases involving Constitutional issues -- they don't generally represent slum lords) were wrong (and have refused to own their errors) when they insisted Barack would protect the Constitution. He's done nothing of the sort and now he's attempting to 'ohn Walker Lindh' Bradley Manning.
Jessica Gresko (Huffington Post) reports, "An attorney for an Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information asked a military judge Thursday to dismiss the charges, arguing the government bungled the handover of documents to the defense." At issue are documents that the government refuses to hand over. Since this is a criminal prosecution, discovery attached at the beginning of the case. Therefore, the documents should have been turned over long ago. Discovery is the process by which the defense learns the evidence the prosecution has. This is standard procedure and the claim by US Capt Ashden Fein that the defense is attempting to launch a fishing expedition is outrageous and puts a stain on the already questionable concept of 'military justice.' Fein whined to the court that they had to produce "as much as possible" for the defense. Someone needs to explain the law to Fein, "as much as possible" is not how discovery works. You're compelled to turn over everything. "As much as possible" claims should get you up on charges before a legal board.
Speaking to RT on Thursday about that afternoon's hearing, Zack Presavento of the Bradley Manning Support Network said that the prosecutors in the case continue to defend their right to withhold material from the defense, something he says is just "one more absurd allegation in a long train of absurdities."
Coombs says he has repeatedly asked the government to supply him with documents that pertain to the case, but the military is defaulting to the claim that the material in question is classified and therefore must be shielded from civilian eyes. For two years, Coombs says, he has asked for documents that the government has still refused to deliver and, at this point, he believes the US should forfeit their case.
Equally disturbing, Chantal Valery (AFP) reports:
Coombs asked the government to provide an assessment of the damage Manning caused to US national security by sending WikiLeaks military field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, a quarter million State Department cables and war videos.
But military prosecutor Ashden Fein said the State Department "has not completed its damage assessment."
Any 'asssessment' should have been completed prior to charges being brought. That's basic. Yet again, the Obama administration, in their haste to punish whistle blowers, sets the law aside and goes off like a vigilante posse bound and determined to take the law into their own hands. America has never been more at risk from their own government then with these crooks and clowns in the administration. They make Bully Boy Bush look like a Constitutional defender by contrast.
Law and Disorder Radio is a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights). The Center of Constitutional Rights is among those representing WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. In that capacity, among others, Michael Ratner is closely following Bradley's trial. Today he Tweeted on it including:
There are many other Tweets Ratner's done but this may really sum up just how much lying the prosecution thinks it can get away with:

Manning. Govt saysno video of manning solitary. Manning says otherwise. Same with gitmo clients. Think govt lying? #freebradley #Manning

We were the ones, at Third, who pointed out the lie from the government that they had to keep Bradley naked to 'protect him.' We were able to point out that flaw because a very good friend of mine runs an adolescent recovery center so I know about the procedures and about scrubs and the rest. I also know when someone's basically on lockdown, Cameras are recording. Bradely was kept on watch, videos were made. The government's lie is just the latest effort by the Barack Obama administration to lie and lie and lie again. When confronted with the regulations -- and military regulations (I've just been told on another phone) include recording people like Bradley both for his protection and for the militaries -- the government will most likely trot out a new lie: The tapes were erased! Or taped over. The military is supposed to preserve those tapes. They knew a legal case was likely. If they next try to lie that the tapes no longer exist, then they should be able to provide a list of names that the defense can use as witnesses (names of people doing monitoring while the taping was going on) and a list of names of people fired for failure to follow procedure (which includes preseving the tapes).
Bradley is only one alleged whistle blower the administration is going after. , Lisa Rein (Washington Post) reports on career diplomat Peter Van Buren:

Now the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to disclosing classified information.

In 24 years as a diplomat, Van Buren was posted around the world and speaks four languages. He called the termination notice he received Friday the coup de grace in a series of blows he received since his book, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" was published last fall.

Van Buren's supervisors admittedly singled him out, and are monitoring all of his online activities taken on his personal time using his personal computer. They have insisted that he "preclear" all of his blog posts, tweets, and other social media activities as well as live radio and TV appearance - all First Amendment-protected activities Van Buren conducts on his personal time. How is anyone supposed to pre-clear a live radio interview?
The proposed removal alleges that Van Buren mishandled sensitive information by linking - NOT leaking - to a publicly-available Wikileaks document on his blog, which contains a disclaimer that Van Buren is writing in his personal capacity and that the State Department does not endorse his views.
The State Department's lame canned quote defending against the retaliation claims offers no explanation as to why the Agency has singled Van Buren out to monitor his social media activities and selectively enforce the policies against Van Buren.

"There are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers," spokesman Mark C. Toner said. "The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law."

How does it protect freedom of expression to propose firing an employee for exercising his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern in his private capacity?
Adding to the trumped-up nature of the charges, the State Department accuses Van Buren of "bad judgment" because he mocked Michele Bachmann and criticized Hillary Clinton's laughing at Libyan leader Qaddafi's death. Does the State Department really need to be told that the First Amendment covers political speech?
The US State Dept goes to war on Peter, but they refuse to publicly rebuke the killing of Iraqi youths. The Department won't make a statement on the record nor will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Iraqis thought to be gay and/or Emo are beign threatened, bullied and killed. And the State Dept is silent. And wishing Americans would shut up already because then the State Dept could function without accountability and below the radar. Today, State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland opened her press briefing by drawing attention to a sheet on US humanitarian assistance to Syria.
Hey, those Syrians getting humanitarian assistance? Al Qaeda. So when are we prosecuting the State Dept and the administration?
If you're not getting how unaccountable and ineffectual the State Dept is, Al Mada reports this morning that the Ministry of the Interior will be removing the February statement attacking the Emo kids. That statement, reported on by Reuters, CNN and other outlets, has been up the entire time.

Why did they finally take it down?

Because the press kept pointing to it.

Not because the State Dept lodged a complaint. Not because the State Dept did a damn thing. They've done nothing. The US Embassy in Baghdad gave an interview to Iraqi TV station Al Sumaria and they had a private e-mail exchange with a San Francisco LGBT group -- a private exchange that went public. Today they posted the following:
We strongly condemn the recent violence and killings in Iraq by groups who appear to be targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal expression. These acts of intolerance have no place in democratic societies.
We are monitoring this situation closely on the ground and in Washington, and have expressed our concern to the Government of Iraq.
Additionally, in recent days, some of Iraq's religious leaders and members of Parliament have denounced these attacks and taken steps to address this issue. A representative for Grand Ayatollah Sistani has condemned this violence and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee within Iraq's Parliament has condemned these actions as well.
As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, "Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human… It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave."
At the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Don't applaud Hillary. That quote is not on the Iraqi youth, it's pulled from her December 6th speech on Human Rights Day. In addition, the Embassy was forced to put that up and forced to make it appear it had been up. But the Baghdad embassy is only one and State Dept friends called to inform me if I visited ___ embassy and ___ embassy, I would find embassies
that did not backdate the statement. I did find those and I've got screen snaps if it becomes an issue we need to document. For not, we'll note that Hillary and the State Dept are feeling the pressure over their silence -- enough so to basically forge a press release. They should continue to feel the heat. Shawkat al Bayati (Niqash) reports:
Since February Iraqi extremists have been threatening, even murdering, Iraq's "emo" teenagers. They believe them to be Satanists, vampires or homosexuals. While religious authorities say the anti-emo campaign is wrong, activists now suspect police involvement in the threats.
Ahmad is only 16 – but for the time being, he sits, virtually imprisoned, in a small room on the roof of a building on the outskirts of Baghdad. His crime? Dressing like a teenager.
Ahmad is what is being referred to in Iraq as an "emo". In the West, the description emo has become shorthand for a certain style of dressing and music. The teenage devotees of emo tend to prefer their rock music with punk overtones and emotional lyrics and they like to dress all in black, have black hair and accessorise with slightly Gothic imagery, such as skulls or bleeding hearts.
Emo in Europe and North America was the latest evolution of music that started off as "emotional hard core" and the look and music resonated with a certain sort of melancholy outsider.
And whereas in the West, an emo teenager might expect to be harassed by those who didn't understand their funereal obsession or their dressing up – a lot of critical bystanders thought the costumed nature of the emo look meant the wearer must be homosexual – in Iraq, emo kids are at far more risk.
Emo kids first started to appear in Iraq in 2008; most of them are aged between 12 and 18, the vast majority are male and one imagines the same elements of rebellion that attract Western teens, also attract the Iraqi youth.

In other news, Al Rafidayn reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani has made clear that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is safe in the KRG and they will not hand him over to Baghdad. Nouri is targeting Iraqiya and that includes al-Hashemi. Nouri accuses the vice president of terrorism.

That ongoing crisis hasn't been resolved either (Barzani wants the three presidencies to resolve it -- that's Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Nouri). The State Dept's done nothing to help their either.

Since October of last year, the State Dept was supposed to be running the US mission in Iraq. Thus far, they're an abject failure.

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