Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Grouch of Wrath

The Gripes of Wrath

From September 20, 2009, that's "The Grouch of Wrath" and how cool is it that the night 30 Rock airs their series finale (thank God!), the comic is a Tina Fey one.

Tina Fey had so much promise on SNL and then 30 Rock, it's a show you gave a ton of chances.  By years four and five, it had not just jumped the shark, it had demonstrated that it was a really bad show.

So thank goodness it finally ended.

 Tina was supposed to be a sure thing to win Best Actress when the Emmys rolled around in September 2009.  It was the first time she'd been nominated since she started doing Sarah Palin on SNL.  So everyone thought she'd grab a second acting Emmy.  Instead, it was made clear that everyone was tired of her and Toni Collette won instead.

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

 Thursday, January 31, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq confirms they are holding a Le Monde journalist, flooding throughout Iraq, a dam breaks, people are evacuated, former US Senator Chuck Hagel (Barack's nominee to be US Secretary of Defense) appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and more.

In the moment that probably best captured 'support' for Chuck Hagel and his 'team skills' in today's Senate Armed Services Committee, 85-year-old John Warner was pulled out of mouthballs to drone on about Hagel ("of how he will serve the president") this afternoon.  Warner left the Senate four years ago.  And, if you know Warner (I do), you know if he's talking his time in the Senate, he can't shut up about his attendance record.  Some might point out with that voting record, attendance is better focused on.  But that's what Hagel had to offer for his defense, a retired US Senator, someone who only got into the Senate to begin with because of Elizabeth Taylor, someone who thought small and played the country mouse in the big bad Senate.  That was what Hagel was reduced to: A geriatric with no notable achievements singing his praises.  The hair deserves remarking on as well. Hagel probably thought he was wearing a longer Caesar cut but with it bushing out on the sides it looked more like a modified Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls era but with a tad more length in the back, it could have been a Maude.  But it seemed more Golden Girl, especially as he stumbled throughout the hearing, often taking long pauses to complete his thought in the midst of a sentence.  Is Hagel mentally up to the challenge of being Secretary of Defense? 

We've noted before the position needs someone with passion and energy and, for that reason, stated that former US House Rep and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy should be considered and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice should be considered for the post.  Those aren't the only two.  But watching today as Hagel looked like Bea Arthur and testified like Deputy Dawg, the issue of energy level needs to be raised.

In the questioning, Committee Chair Carl Levin was most concerned with the issue of the relationships between the governments of Iran and the US and whether Hagel could reconcile his various positions over the years on sanctions.  Hagel stated he was for sanctions -- when they were multi-lateral.  But he admitted he had opposed unilateral sanctions in the past.

Senator Chuck Hagel:  As to my records on votes in the Senate regarding unilateral sanctions, I have differed on some of those.  I have voted for some as well.  Uh, it was always on a case-by-case basis when I, uh, voted against some of those unilateral sanctions on Iran.  It was a different time.  For example, I believe one was in, uh, 2001, 2002.  We were in a different place with Iran during that time.  Matter of fact, uh, I recall the Bush administration did not want a renewal -- a five-year renewal of ILSA [the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996] during that time because, uh, they weren't sure of the effectiveness on sanctions.  That, uh, wasn't the only reason I voted against it.  It was because I thought that there might be other ways to, uh, employ-employ our, uh, vast ability to harness power and allies.  It was never a question of did I disagree with the objective.  The objective is, I think, very clear uh-uh to both of us.  Uhm, I recall for example in, uh, 2008, Secretary of State [Condi] Rice sending a letter to the Finance Committee, Senator [Max] Baucus requesting that, uh, a sanction resolution, unilateral, in the Finance Committee, not come out of the, uh, Finance Committee because the Bush administration at the time was working with the, uh, Russians specifically but with the Security-Council of the United Nations to try to get international sanctions which, I think, that effort in 2008 led to the, uh, 2010 international sanctions

Committee Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us your view on the size of the US force which might be necessary, or would be necessary, after 2014?  The so-called 'residual force,' if you have an opinion on the size.  You indicated in your opening statements, two missions for that residual force.  Can you also give us your opinion of the size of the Afghan National Security force after 2014 and whether you agree with me and Senator Lindsay Graham on this Committee and others that we ought to reconsider the position that the Afghan National Security Force should be reduced by a third starting in 2014 -- to about 230,000 from what it's current goal is which is about 350,000.

Chuck Hagel:   Uh, as you all, uh, know now, General Allen has presented his options to the president for the president's consideration.  As far as I know, as of this morning, the president had not made a decision, uhm, uh, on what a residual force -- numbers-wise -- would look like?  I have not been included inn those discussions, so I-I don't know other than knowing that he's got a range of options as you do.  But I would say that from what the president has told me, what Secretary Panetta has told me,  that that decision will be made to assure resourcing the mission and the capability of that mission.  As to, uh, what kind of a force structure should, uh, eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you, uh, a good answer other than that I think that has to be uh-uh a decision that is, uh, made certainly with the president of Afghanistan, uh, what we can do to continue to support and train and, uh, protect our interests within the scope of our  ability to do that.  Obviously, the immunity for our troops is an issue which was an issue in Iraq.  All of those consider -- considerations will be -- will be important and will be made if I'm confirmed and in the position to give the President advice on that.  I will, with consultations of our commanders on the ground and our chiefs, give him, the best, uh, options that we can provide.

Hagel was willing to say anything.  Fortunately for him, the senators were, with few exceptions, willing to play along and nod.  Far too much time was spent on Israel -- that includes some very annoying testimony from Senators Jack Reed and Kay Hagen who seemed to be in a competition over who would win Most Loyal To Israel (Hagan won by a hair, if only because she could boast of the most recent visit).  Senators -- and those were just two of them -- felt the need to discuss Israel and what Hagel had told them privately and how they were so glad to know that it would be an act of war for Palestine to declare the area their own, that Hagel favored a two-state solution and all the other sop that's always tossed out.

I find Hagel's remark referring to the "Jewish lobby" objectionable.  I've stated that before.  Hagel addressed that (more than once) in his testimony.  He said, on the record, that he mispoke and that it was one time.  For me, that one time on the record (answering on the record) was more than enough.  I found him to be believable on that issue because he spoke in what I took to be an honest manner. Also true, he proved himself to be a very poor speaker throughout his testimony.  When Senator Bill Nelson (I know Bill and like Bill) wasted everyone's time giving Hagel a make up test (after he failed to answer Senator John McCain's basic question), Hagel insisted his opposition to the 'surge' in Iraq, "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge."  The 'surge' was an escalation, an increase, in the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq following the 2006 elections.  The 'surge' was a failure.  We'll talk about that in a moment but "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge"?  We lost those dead Americans?  And we're not searching for them still?  "We lost almost 1200 Americans in the surge" is how you word what he was attempting to say.

Let's go back to the surge.  It allowed Iraq to be noted for a few seconds by a body that did nothing to stop the Iraq War.  Hagel did nothing to stop it and that's on him. 

Senator John McCain:  Senator Hagel, members of this Committee will raise questions reflecting concerns with your policy positions.  They're not reasonable people disagreeing, they're fundamental disagreements.  Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security including security in the Middle East.  With that in mind, let me begin with your opposition to the surge in Iraq.  2006, we lost -- Republicans lost -- the election and we began the surge and you wrote a piece in the Washington Post called "Leaving Iraq Honorably."  In 2007, you said it's not in the national interest to deepen its involvement.  In January, 2007, in a rather bizarre exchange with Secretary Rice, in the Foreign Relations Committee, after some nonsense about Syria and crossing the border into Iran and Syria because of the surge and a reference to Cambodia in 1970, you said, "When you set in motion the kind of policy the president's talking about here, it's very, very dangerous.  Matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, I think the speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.  If it's carried out, I will resist it." And then, of course, you continued on and on for months afterwards talking about what a disaster the surge would be, even to the point where it was clear the surge was succeeding.  In March 2008, you said, "Here the term quagmire could apply.  Some reject that term, but if that's not a quagmire, then what is?"  Even as late as August 29, 2011, in an interview -- 2011 -- in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with the president -- Obama --  his decision to surge in Iraq, because I disagreed with President Bush on the surge in Iraq."  Do you -- do you stand by that -- those -- those comments, Senator Hagel?

Senator Chuck Hagel:  Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them and --

Senator John McCain: -- stand by --  Were you right? 

Chuck Hagel:  Well --

Senator John McCain:  Were you correct in your assessment?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.  But I'll --

Senator John McCain: I think -- this  Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.

Chuck Hagel: I'll explain why I made those comments and I believe I had but --

Senator John McCain: I want to know if you were right or wrong?  That's a direct question, I expect a direct answer.

Chuck Hagel:  The surge assisted in the objective.  But-but if we review the record a little bit --

Senator John McCain: Will you please answer the question?  Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam?  Were you correct or incorrect?

Chuck Hagel:  My --

Senator John McCain: Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel:  My reference to the surge being  --

Senator John McCain: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel?  The question is: Were you right or wrong?  That's a pretty straighforward question.

Chuck Hagel: Well --

Senator John McCain: I would  -- I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.

Chuck Hagel:  Well I'm not going to give you a "yes" or "no" answer on a lot of things today.

Senator John McCain:   Well let the the record show that you refused to answer that question.  Now please go ahead.

Chuck Hagel:  Well, if you would like me to explain why --

Senator John McCain: No, I actually would like an answer.  Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel: Well I'm not going to give you a yes or no. I think it's --

Senator John McCain: Okay.

Chuck Hagel:  -- far more complicated than that.  As I've already said, my answer is I'll defer that judgment to history.  As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam?  Was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq.  That particular decision that was made on the surge -- but more to the point, our war in Iraq -- I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.  Aside, uh, from the costs that occurred in this country, uh, in blood and treasure, aside from what that did to, uh, take our focus off of Afghanistan -- which in fact, uh,  was-was the original and real focus of a national threat to this country -- uh, Iraq wa-wa-was not -- I always, uh,  tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.  Now just as you said, Senator, we can have differences of opinion, uh,  --

Senator John McCain: But --

Chuck Hagel: -- that's essentially why I took the position I did.

Senator John McCain: It's a fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel.  And Senator Graham and I and Senator [Joe] Lieberman -- when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate --  spent our time trying to prevent that 60th.  Thank God for Senator Lieberman.  I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it.  And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not.  I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.

Chuck Hagel: Well, Senator, there was --there was more to it than just flooding a zone.

Senator John McCain: I'm asking about the surge, Senator Hagel.

Chuck Hagel: I know you are and I'm trying to explain my position.  The beginning of the surge also factored in what General Allen had put into place in Anbar Province -- the Sunni Awakening.  We put over, as you know, a hundred thousand young --

Senator John McCain: Senator Hagel, I'm very aware of the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening and I also am aware that any casual observer will know that the surge was the fundamental factor, led by two great leaders, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
Chuck Hagel:  Well I don't know if-if that would have been required and cost us over a thousand American lives and thousands of  wounded.

Senator John McCain: So you don't know if the surge would have been required?  Okay, Senator Hagel, let me go back -- to to Syria now.  More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria.  Do you believe --

The surge was a failure.  That Hagel can't answer the question -- regardless of where he stands -- is disturbing.  If you can't answer that basic of a question, what questions will you be able to answer before the Congress?  We are aware that if Hagel's confirmed, he'll be appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide testimony many times in the future, right? 

I say the surge was a failure.  The US military did what was asked of them.  And the military was supposed to provide stability and security.  They did that.  Ethnic cleansing -- popularly called "a civil war" -- had taken place (2006 through 2007) and violence went down.  Some will argue that it went down because the ethnic cleansing was over.  No.  As we've seen since, it has not been over.  The ethnic cleansing that takes place also creates a 'surge' in refugees -- Iraq becomes the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East during this period.  Over 4 million external refugees, many displaced internally within the country as well.  Others try to tie in the Sahwa ("Awakening") and point that the purchasing of loyalty (resistance fighters paid to stop attacking US equipment and US troops) and that can be a factor as well.  But the US military was given a task and they performed it and they achieved their goal.

So why is the surge a failure?  Bully Boy Bush did not just send more troops over to Iraq.  He also gave 12 benchmarks to measure 'success' and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to those benchmarks.  The surge had two parts, the military would provide security and stability and, during this calmer period, US diplomatic staff would work with Iraqi politicians so that the needed political actions could take place.  What was needed?  That was defined in the benchmarks.  (No surprise, the US government was most interested in an oil and gas law.)

The US military did what was asked of them and they were successful in that task.  But the space they successfully created was not utilized.  Bully Boy Bush was not speaking publicly about the ethnic cleansing.  He was concerned -- by his own remarks -- with creating the space that he just knew would allow Iraq to move forward.  That did not happen.

Is that what Hagel believes?  We don't know because he wouldn't answer.  He wouldn't answer what McCain rightly pointed out was a very basic question.  That's really bothersome.  If you can't defend your statements, how are you going to defend a department?  If you can't answer a basic question the Congress asks, how are you going to answer tough questions from the Congress if confirmed?  If you care so little about being upfront with the American people (and members of Congress are the representatives of the American people) during your nomination period, are we supposed to believe that you'll suddenly be more interested in being upfront after a confirmation vote?

Hagel's confirmation hearing put to rest (for me) the issue of the "Jewish lobby."  It also provided a number of senators with the time to compete for the title of Israel's BFF.  But it also provided Hagel and Hagel -- his low energy level, his inability to answer basic questions -- actually raised more issues and questions than a confirmation hearing is expected to.

Senator Claire McCaskill moved quickly through her questioning and was probably one of the three strongest in the hearing of any senator.  (The weakest?  Senator Joe Manchin who couldn't stop whining or whimpering about wishing he could have served in the Senate with Hagel -- at one point his voice quivered on this topic and you had to wonder if Manchin has Daddy issues.)  We'll jump in near the end of McCaskill's exchange for a question that will determine his tenure if he's confirmed and for an important issue that will be a huge issue in the next four years.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  . . . and some people on the Committee are going, "Oh, here she goes on contracting," but auditability of the Defense Dept.  I know that you've stated in some of the advanced policy questions that you want to hold people accountable on auditability.  I don't think most Americans realize that as we face shrinking budgets and as we want to secure  the pre-eminance of our military and not hollow out the spending  at the Defense Dept, that auditability is a crucial ingredient to us being able to figure out whether all the money being spent there is being spent like Americans would want it to be spent.  Can you reassure me that auditability -- as prescribed by law, coming through this Committee -- that it needs to happen no later than 2017 -- can you make a commitment to me today on the record, that that will be a priority of yours, making sure that, as Secretary Panetta did and Secretary Gates before him, that auditability will be an essential priority in your time at defense?

Chuck Hagel:  As I told you, Senator, I will.  Uh, I make that commitment to this Committee.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  And then turning to contracting, I have yet to have, uhm, provided to me other than raw numbers that we spent any data that would indicate that major infrastructure rebuilding as part of a counter-insurgency strategy works.  There are many things that work in a counter-insurgency strategy and one of them, as it was originally posed to me, back some six years ago on this Committee by General Petraeus was that the CERP Funds -- the Commander Emergency Response Program -- that walking around money to fix plate glass windows and neighborhoods, that that was an essential part of the COIN strategy.  That morphed into our military building major infrastructure projects without really any data ever to indicate that the billions of dollars that we were spending was in fact advancing our mission -- our military mission.  In addition to that, it is clear if you want to look at Iraq and the failures that Iraq represents in some ways, one of the failures is the crumbling investments that this country made in Iraq -- the health centers that never opened, the water parks that sit crumbling, the power facilities that were blown up before they even had an opportunity to operate.  I can go down billions of dollars of waste because we didn't do the analysis on sustainability after we have left.  I am convinced that we have made the same mistakes in Afghanistan and I would like your response to this issue of major infrastructure building while we are in a conflict being conducted by our military -- not by AID, not by our State Dept -- and whether or not you would make a commitment to come back to this Committee with a report analyzing whether or not there is data to support that aspect of the COIN strategy?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I will make that commitment and, uh, it is part of the larger, uh, series of questions and, uh, factors always involved, uh, when, uh, a nation gets uh-uh clearly committed as we were -- still are -- in Afghanistan and were in Iraq for years.  When you are at war, the highest first priority is to take care of your people and uh, and, uh-uh, as a result of that, uh, all the rest of the-the normal latitude and guidance, uhm, theory and policy, uh, is secondary.  And so I think in both of those wars, uhm, because we got ourselves in so deep with so many people and, uh, the welfare of our men and women was, uh, paramount, we tried a lot of things.  We had never been this way before.  We had never seen anything like these two situations.  And, uh, as a result, and you know, our Special Inspector Generals have come up with billions and billions of dollars that are unaccounted for, uhm, corruption, fraud, waste, abuse.  Uh, it really is quite astounding. 

And we'll stop him there.  He's committed to a report of some form -- if confirmed -- about the infrastructure building's impact on the invaded land and the issue of open accountability with regards to spending.  If he is confirmed, those are two of the metrics by which he should be measured while he holds the post of Secretary of Defense.

While Joe Manchin (dubbed "Joe Manchild" by one friend in the press who covered today's hearing) whimpered about the lost or stolen time he could have spent with Hagel, he ignored the most pressing issues.  Hagel should have been asked over and over -- the way he was about Israel -- about something that actually has to do with the job: the crises in DoD.  That's the suicide crisis and that's the rape and assault crisis. 

The only one to spend any time on either of these issues was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand but even she had to waste  everyone's time.  Israel, Afghanistan and personnel issues, she ranked as the three topics -- in that order -- she wanted to ask about.  But she quickly launched into Iran.  Iran and Israel were covered at length in the long hearing before Gillibrand ever spoke.  But maybe she just had to insist she had "been one of the strongest advocates" for Israel?  You know what the military needs, they need a strong advocate for the victims of assault and rape.

And though Gillibrand is getting applause for her glancing comments on the issue of assault and rape, she was not their strong advocate in the hearing today unless you just do the "by comparison" verdict.  From Iran and Israel, she went to Egypt, and "okay, for my last minute, with regard to Afghanistan, we've heard . . ." 

Easy, cheesy applause greeted Gillibrand's nonsense.  Bridgette P. LaVictoire (Lez Get Real) can't quote Gillibrand so I'll assume she's working from the same press release we were sent.  But unlike LaVictoire, I attended the hearing and I know what Gillibrand said.  The Service Women's Network rushed to applaud Gillibrand who really only succeeded in reminding most of us that Carolyn Maloney would have made a better US Senator.   Here's what they're applauding:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: My last question that I'll submit for the record but you and I have talked about it obviously the personnel in our military is our most important asset.  And when we hear reports that there are upwards of 19,000 sexual assaults in the military against women, it's unacceptable.  Uhm, we also have finally repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell but it's difficult for a military spouse to even go to a commissary and be on base or be notified if a spouse is killed in action. I would need a strong commitment from you that you will treat our military families and look after them in the way that you would look after your own.  I want you to be concerned about every man and woman in the military, that their well being is being looked after and seeing real advocacy and leadership, not status quo, not implementing whatever we put forward but actually fighting for them every single day. 

Chuck Hagel:  Well you have my complete commitment on that.

For eight minutes, she went on about everything else before getting to her so-called "last question."  19 words.  She got applauded for 19 words. She spent more than that vouching for sleep overs and pillow fights with Israel.  Come on, let's get serious.  19 words deserves a press release?  She wasted her time and everyone else's.

If assaults matter -- and I believe they do -- you spend something more than 19 words on them in a hearing.  Again, Iran and Israel were covered at length over and over.

Maybe I'm supposed to dance for joy because Gillibrand did mention it?  If she'd given it serious time, maybe so.  But she really made a mockery out of the whole thing, if you ask me.

If every website in the world is covering what Hagel thinks of Israel (and today I'm sure many were), then the last thing that's needed is one more doing the same.  Equally true, if senator after senator is asking the same questions, you need to spend your time asking something different.  Gillibrand deserves no praise for her performance in the hearing.  You will not read reports about her 'question' or her 'statements' due to some press conspiracy to cover up rape and assault.  The reason you won't read about it or hear about it is because she didn't take it seriously.  19 words?  That's embarrassing.

They should have applauded Senator Richard Blumenthal who took more time on this topic.  Blumenthal is Ruth's Senator and she'll be covering it at her site tonight.

Turning to Iraq, this morning Alsumaria reported  that Reporters Without Borders and Iraq's JFO (Journalistic Freedoms Observatory) are demanding the release of French journalist Nadir Dendoune.  From Monday's snapshot:

As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.

Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and Reporters Without Borders issued a joint-statement noting Nadir Dendoune holds Algerian, Australian and French nationalities and that while they do not know the date of his arrest, they know he made a January 28th phone call from custody to a friend to pass on that he'd been arrested.   They call for his release and urge that the government be forthcoming about the details of his arrest and imprisonment. Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists finally issued a statement on the matter:

"The arbitrary jailing of a journalist is a vestige of the Saddam Hussein regime that is completely out of place in Iraq's democracy today," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Nadir Dendoune should be released immediately."
The Iraqi Syndicate for Journalists condemned Dendoune's detention, calling it a violation of Iraqi law and the constitution and saying that it distorted the country's image in front of the international community.

  • For more data and analysis on Iraq, visit CPJ's Iraq page here.

This morning, AP reported that Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Saad Maan Ibrahim confirms that they are holding Nadir Dendoune.  Reporters Without Borders issued the following:

Reporters Without Borders and the newly-formed Nadir Dendoune Support Committee call for the immediate release of Nadir Dendoune, a visiting reporter with French, Algerian and Australian triple nationality who has been held in a Baghdad prison for the past eight days.

Dendoune arrived in Iraq on 16 January to do a series of reports for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Le Courrier de l’Atlas. According to the French foreign ministry, he was arrested on 23 January while photographing a water installation in the southwest Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora.

He has been held ever since without being charged. Officially, he is alleged to have been taking photos of sensitive locations without permission. He has not yet been allowed to receive a visit from French consular officials based in Baghdad although a request has been made by the French embassy. He managed to call a friend in France yesterday to report that he had been jailed.

Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization in Iraq, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, wrote yesterday to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki requesting more information about the circumstances of Dendoune’s arrest and the charges against him.

The letter was handed in directly to the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad. The two organizations asked the prime minister to do everything in his power to ensure that Dendoune is released as soon as possible.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has released "Iraq: A Broken Justice System" today and become the first in English to seriously address the treatment of women and girls in Iraqi prisons and detention centers has been the motivating factor for outrage in Iraq for months now and one of the main underpinnings of the protests:

Most recently, in November, federal police invaded 11 homes in the town of al-Tajji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes. Sources close to the detainees, who requested anonymity, said police took 12 women and girls ages 11 to 60 to 6th Brigade headquarters and held them there for four days without charge. The sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate.
Despite widespread outcry over abuse and rape of women in pre-trial detention, the government has not investigated or held the abusers accountable. In response to mass protests over the treatment of female detainees, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a pardon for 11 detainees. However, hundreds more women remain in detention, many of whom allege they have been tortured and have not had access to a proper defense.

They also note:

Iraq’s leadership used draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators, and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013.
The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq increased in 2012, for the first time since 2009. Thousands of civilians and police were killed in spates of violence, including targeted assassinations, amid a political crisis that has dragged on since December 2011. Alongside the uptick in violence, Iraqi security forces arbitrarily conducted mass arrests and tortured detainees to extract confessions with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.
“As insurgent groups targeted innocent Iraqis in a multitude of coordinated attacks throughout the year, Iraq’s security forces targeted innocent civilians in mass campaigns of arbitrary arrests and abusive interrogations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After decades of dictatorship, occupation, and terrorism, the Iraqi people today face a government that is slipping further into authoritarianism and doing little to make them safer.”

Al Mada reports preparations are beginning already for tomorrow's protests and that organizers are speaking of solidarity with the Falluja martyrs. (Last Friday saw the Falluja Massacre -- seven people dead and sixty injured when the military opened fire on the protesters.)  All Iraq News reports that the Falluja Criminal Court has announced arrest warrants for military personnel involved in the shootings.

From yesterday's snapshot:

Meanwhile in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is stripping political rivals of their protection according to charges made to Alsumaria.  Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader in the Sahwa forces, told the network that he had lost his bodyguards and when he asked why he was told it was on the orders of Nouri al-Maliki.  What seems to be happening is this:  government forces providing protection to various politicians throughout Iraq are being ordered by Nouri to return to Baghdad out of some fear -- real or imagined -- on the part of Nouri that he's about to be overthrown.

The Iraq Times sees the removal of the bodyguards as Nouri attempting to punish Abu Risha for his backing of the protests.  Abu Rhisa tells Kitabat that the protests will continue until the legitimate demands are met.  In violence this morning, Alsumaria reports a Mosul bombing has left two federal police officers injured and a Diyala explosion killed 1 shepherd.

Lastly, the rains continue in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports that rain's expected in Baghdad today and for the next three.  This is not a minor issue.  Not only have Baghdad streets been flooded, there have been dangers of electrical shocks, street lights have been out, outside of Baghdad there have been homes collapsing and much worse.  All Iraq News notes that 1500 families in Baiji (Salahuddin Province) have been evacuated from their homes due to flooding and they are currently in tents and receiving food and aid from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.  All Iraq News notes a dam collapsed in Salahuddin Province (a village near Tikrit) and the provincial government is evacuating residents in Samarra.  If you click here, you can watch an Alsumuria video of the flooding in Baghdad.  In most places, the water comes up to the knees. 

Read on ...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

He's Going To Scare You To Death

He's Going To Scare You To Death

From September 13, 2009, that's "He's Going To Scare You To Death."   This is Barack trying to sell ObamaCare.  I think this was the first time Rahm showed up as a chicken.  That was carried through for a few comics.  I think Valerie Jarrett has probably been the best supporting character to appear with Barack in my comics.  She's a lot more interesting than most in the administration and there's just something about drawing her that lifts the comic and makes it better.  My opinion. 

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

Thursday, January 24, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, 2 demonstrators are assaulted by Nouri's police in Mosul, calls for listening to the protesters intensify, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announces an important change and many offer their reactions, we go back over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's very bad appearance before a Senate Committee yesterday, and more.

Starting in the United States, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary's performance in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday should have resulted in her being condemned -- both for how she presented herself and for what she said.  We called her out in yesterday's snapshot.   In addition,  Wally covered it in "Facts matter, Hillary (Wally),"   Ava covered it in "20 are still at risk says Hillary in an aside (Ava)," Ruth covered it in "Like watching Richard Nixon come back to life" and Kat covered it in "Can she not answer even one damn question?"  Kat admits that she was so surprised and disgusted by Hillary's performance that she didn't attend the afternoon hearing with us because she couldn't take seeing Hillary like that again.  Ava points out that Hillary acted out in every negative stereotypical was possible.  Ruth compares her to Nixon when it comes to answering questions.  They went into the hearing expecting Hillary to sail through it in a professional and adult manner.  I did have doubts and by the time Hillary was screaming and waving her hands -- above the shoulders -- like a lunatic, I'm sorry.  I supported her in 2008.  I don't see supporting a presidential run again. 

I have never seen lunatic behavior like that in a hearing and I was present a few years back when a Ranking Member stormed out in the middle of a witness' remarks, loudly and intentionally slamming a door behind him.  Everyone stopped -- the witness stopped testifying -- and we all appeared to wonder, "What the hell is wrong with Steve Buyer?"  I disagreed with Buyer on many things (he was very right, however, on the burial grounds for military members who were buried in this country and overseas -- he was a champion on that issue and deserves praise for it) but I had never seen anything so rude.  I sat through Condi Rice testifying as a hostile witness or at least to a hostile Congress, I sat through Condi testifying as a woman with red paint (representing blood) on her hands invaded Condi's space.  Condi didn't scream and yell.  In fact, I said to Kat, "I'm sort of impressed with how calm Condi remained and with the fact that she didn't try to sick security guards on the woman" (Diane Wilson).  (I think John Kerry responded very well to an outburst in the midst of his opening remarks at today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.)

Some 'press' -- like the Drama Queen at the Washington Post -- are distorting the hearing, especially a key exchange (the one Wally covered accurately last night).  They're rushing to praise Hillary and calling Senator Ron Johnson a "tea partier."  I have no idea what he is (other than Republican), yesterday was the first time I ever laid eyes on him.  But I don't need to know his backstory to know what happened in the hearing. 

Senator Ron Johnson:  Mr. Chairman and Madam Secretary, I'd like to join my colleagues in thanking your for service sincerely and also I appreciate the fact that you're here testifying and glad that you're looking in good health.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Thank you.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Did you, were you fully aware of -- again, I realize how big your job is, you know everything's erupting in the Middle East this time.  Were you fully aware of these 20 incidents reported in the ARP in real time?  I mean --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  I-I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention.  They were part of, uh, our ongoing discussion about the um-um deteriorating threat environment in uh eastern Libya uh, we certainly were, uh, very conscience of them was assured by our security professionals that, uh, repairs were underway additional security upgrades in place.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay.  Thank you.  Did you see personally the cable on -- I believe it was August 12th -- specifically asking for basically reinforcements for the-the security detail that was going to be evacuating -- or leaving -- in August?  Did you see that personally?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:   No, sir.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay.  Uhm, when you read the ARB, it strikes me, uh, how certain the people were that the attacks started 9:40 pm Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoke to, or have you ever spoken to, the returnees, the evacuees?  Did you personally speak to those folks?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  I've spoken to, uh, one of them but I waited until after the ARP had done its investigation because I did not want there to be [laughing] any issue that I had spoken to anyone before the ARP conducted its investigation.

Senator Ron Johnson:  How many people were evacuated from Libya?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Uhm.  Well, you, uh, the numbers are a little bit hard to pin down because of our other friends --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Approximately?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Approximately 25 to 30.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Uh, did anybody in the State Dept talk to those folks shortly afterwards?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Uh, there was discussion going on uh-uh afterwards.  But once the investigation started, the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them and so other than our people in Tripoli which -- I think you're talking about Washington, right?

Senator Ron Johnson:  Yeah.  Yeah.  The point I'm making is a very simple phone call to these individuals I think would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this.  I mean this attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time.  It was an assault and I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault.  But I mean, I'm going back to then, Ambassador Rice five days later going to the Sunday shows and what I would say purposefully misleading the American public.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Well, Senator --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Why-why-why wasn't that known?  And, again, I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing but why weren't we transparent at that point and time?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries because, as I said, I still have a DSA agent still at Walter Reed seriously injured, getting them into Frankfurt-Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to talk to them, we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews.  And we did not -- I think this is accurate, sir -- I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.  And, you know, I just want to say that, uhm, you know, people have, uh,  accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of, uh, misleading the Americans, I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth.  Was information developing?  Was the situation fluid?  Would we reach conclusions later that weren't reached initially and I appreciate --

Senator Ron Johnson:  But, Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained what happened immediately that there was no protest?  I mean that was -- that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained. 

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But Senator, again --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- within hours, if not days.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Senator, I, you know, when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going --

Senator Ron Johnson:  I understand, I realize ---

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Number two --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- that's a good excuse.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  No, it's a fact.  Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised.  Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing --

Senator Ron Johnson:  No, no, no.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  -- is still -- is still --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson: -- ascertained that that was not the fact.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans!  [This is where Hillary's crazy hands, like the volume of her voice, begin going all over the map.]

Senator Ron Johnson:  I understand.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans!  What difference at this point does it make!
It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from every happening again, Senator!  Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this but the fact is people were trying in real time to get to the best information.  The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out but, you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it then to find them and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay, thank you Madam Secretary.

If you applaud that performance by Hillary I don't know who you are or what you believe in.  You don't believe in the Constitution -- not enough to support it -- nor do you believe in an informed society.  You do believe in all the b.s. Bully Boy Bush put the United States through after 9-11.

As Wally points out in his piece, there are things called "facts" that actually are facts but facts are not Hillary Clinton's personal opinions no matter how loud  she gets in hearing. 

Second, the issue of Susan Rice came up repeatedly.  During other questioning on the topic, Hillary testified she wasn't present so she can't speak to that process or what happened or anything. But with Johnson, she wants to assure him what happened -- what happened when she wasn't present.  She knows those aren't facts, she knows they're at best "hearsay."

Third, she's being asked a basic question.  I'd be a real hypocrite if I disagreed with Johnson because the issue of talking to someone who was present during the attack before going on TV to pontificate?  I raised that in the November 15th snapshot.  And Johnson was right yesterday.  You do have an obligation to speak to someone.

I've never been more disappointed in Hillary or more ashamed.  We're not going to debate the Susan Rice nonsense, it's been covered.  We're going to address Hillary's nonsense and we have to because the press doesn't want to do their damn job -- as usual.

Hillary said she took accountability.  If you burn my house down and show up the next day as I'm going through the charred remains and you say, "I take accountability," I may believe you . . . up until you start yelling and screaming.  If you take accountability, then you damn well learned something from the experience.  Hillary learned nothing.  It's a cheap line ("I take accountability") intended to silence people.  You either take accountability or you don't.

She's taken no accountability.  She's done nothing to indicate she has.  She's done nothing to improve her knowledge of the attack.  She's done nothing to secure the diplomatic staff around the world.  On the last one, as Ava so aptly pointed out in her report, as an aside, Hillary tosses out in the hearing that at least 20 US diplomatic outposts are currently at risk.  I'm missing the moment where Hillary or one of her staffers rushed before Congress in the last months to demand funding for these 20 at risk posts.

Don't lie to the country and claim you took accountability when you so obviously didn't.

Gore Vidal used to praise Hillary for her manners and grace.  Neither was visible yesterday.  If you didn't get it from the exchange, she was being flattered by Johnson, she was being praised.  She flew off the handle and started screaming and acting like a crazy person while she was being treated with kid gloves.  I was offended by her behavior.  She is not just a former First Lady, she's also a former US Senator and she fully  knows how to conduct herself in the Senate.  There was no excuse for her behavior.  Senator John McCain was probably the most severe critic she faced yesterday.  John McCain did not yell at her, he did not fly off the handle.  Let's move over to what she said while she was acting so crazy.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson: -- ascertained that that was not the fact.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans!  [This is where Hillary's crazy hands, like the volume of her voice, begin going all over the map.]

There were four dead Americans and they died because of failures within the administration.  You can claim to take accountability all you damn well want.  But Ranking Member Bob Corker put one question to Hillary over and over (three times) and she ignored it.  'You claim you didn't see any of the various requests for more security.'  Corker wanted to know how that wouldn't happen to you again or the next person in your position?  Hillary couldn't answer him.  That's a failure.  She refused to answer him.  There are four dead Americans, Secretary Clinton, and you've done nothing to ensure that when people in the field ask for additional security, these requests and their outcomes are made known to the Secretary of State. 

Let's drop back to earlier:

[. . .]   once we got our people rescued out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries because, as I said, I still have a DSA agent still at Walter Reed seriously injured, getting them into Frankfurt-Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to talk to them, we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. 

No, Hillary's not a scrub nurse or an ER technician or Chief of Staff.  Her first concern was not getting treatment for US citizens who had been medically transported to a US military base.  This was not Terms of Endearment and she is not Shirley MacLaine screaming, "Give my daughter the shot!"  There's a thing -- and we've gone over this repeatedly in the snapshots since the Benghazi attack -- known as standard operating procedure.  It wasn't followed repeatedly.  And if Hillary had to scream and throw a fit to get American doctors and nurses on a US military base to treat wounded Americans, then the whole process is screwed up.  Instead of lying to Congress, Hillary should have been thanking those doctors and nurses who were the first medical team to treat the injured Americans.  Instead like a cut-throat politician, she wanted to throw them to the wolves to protect herself.  Shame, shame, shame.

Though she never seemed to get that Johnson's point was Susan Rice -- or anyone being dispatched by the administration -- should have spoken to at least one person present during the assault before presenting a case to the American people, Hillary wanted you to know that she didn't speak to anyone.  She joked and laughed about that.  (She was mocking the days of Travel Gate, when she was First Lady and accused of tampering with files.  I've never seen her act so stupid in my life.  She was full of hubris.)

She also damned herself yet again.  Bill knows when to keep his mouth shut.  Hillary apparently never learned. 

This was the logic -- go to the excerpt for the quotes:  'I didn't speak to any of the 25 to 30 US citizens present during the assault because an investigation was going on.  I'm accountable.  I'm the one responsible.  Now that the investigation is over -- and I'm about to leave office -- I've spoken to 1 person.'

Did she not get how that damned her?

I don't buy the lie that she couldn't speak to people because of an investigation.  You are the Secretary of State, one of the outposts you oversee was attacked, you have every right to speak to the people present and you have an obligation to as well because you need to ensure that whatever happened does not happen at another diplomatic outpost.

But forget the lie.  'I'm accountable' didn't manage, now that the investigation is over, to speak to all the people.  That's the first thing she should have done.  That is her role.  We damn well expected Donald Rumsfeld to visit the wounded at Walter Reed when he was Secretary of Defense but Hillary thinks she gets a pass, that she doesn't have to check in with her staff?

Now let's go back to her emotional outburst, where she was screaming, ranting and waving her hands like a crazed bag lady on Southeast 1st Street and not a public servant testifying before the Senate.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans!  What difference at this point does it make!
It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from every happening again, Senator!  Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this but the fact is people were trying in real time to get to the best information.  The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out but, you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it then to find them and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

What difference does it make at this point?  None to you?  You haven't even spoken to all serving under you who were present at the attack, all these months later you haven't.  You didn't visit the wounded in Walter Reed.  You didn't do a damn thing.  But if your "job" is to make sure it doesn't happen again, then it damn well matters what happened and why.

And Hillary knows that.  The why always matters if you have a legal degree.  The motive, the intent.  That is drilled into the head. 

And her not caring about the why is so typical of Bully Boy Bush and the rabid mind-set after 9-11 where we were never to question why the attacks happened, our only focus was supposed to be on lashing out.  If you want to prevent other attacks, you damn well better figure out why the first ones happened.  It was an ahistorical attack on learning and academia.  She should be ashamed of herself.

In kinder words, I made many of these points yesterday and hoped that it came through and planned for us to move on to another topic.  But what happened was appalling and instead of addressing that we have a press that wants to applaud her.  She's is not a celebrity.  She is a public servant and she is answerable to the people. I would still like to address Senator Bob Casey at a later date -- I felt he had an important point -- but that's more than enough Hillary and I'll consider us done with the topic here unless something forces us to relive it again.  (Such as an attack on one of the 20 facilities she testified were not sufficiently protected at present.)  I didn't seek out this topic, I didn't want to write it but we didn't whore, we talked about what went down and that is what went down.

Let's go to a better and more important topic.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following:

Thursday, January 24, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Sen. Murray's First Bill in the New Congress Helps Catastrophically Wounded Veterans Start a Family

Murray calls for quick action on bill to end the VA's ban on In Vitro Fertilization which has prevented thousands of veterans with serious wounds to reproductive organs from accessing fertility care

Last Congress Murray's bill passed the Senate unanimously only to be stalled in the House of Representatives

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray reintroduced legislation that ends the ban on in vitro fertilization (IVA) services at VA in order to help severely wounded veterans start families.  Murray's bill, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act of 2013 also builds upon previous law to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families.  Late last year, Senator Murray was able to pass the bill through the U.S. Senate after delivering an impassioned speech on the Senate floor that described the challenges veterans and their families face in accessing IVF.  Unfortunately, the bill failed to move in the House of Representatives in time to make its way to the President's desk after Republican leaders there expressed opposition.

"There is absolutely no reason that this bill should not move quickly to the President's desk," said Senator Murray.  "It was passed unanimously in the Senate and the House has a responsibility to our most seriously wounded veterans and their spouses to act.  These are veterans who have sustained serious and deeply impactful wounds and who are simply asking for help to begin a family.  We owe them nothing less."

Department of Defense (DOD) data show that between 2003 and 2012 nearly 2000 servicemembers have suffered reproductive and urinary tract trauma.  The reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the prevalence of improvised explosive devices has left servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries.  In fact, these data show a clear increase in injuries of this nature in recent years.

Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive.  However, under current law, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses.  This is a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and urinary tract injuries and as a result they have to seek care outside of the VA.  DOD currently provides access to IVF services under the Tricare program and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded servicemembers.  Senator Murray's bill would provide veterans with the same access.

Murray's bill also will give VA permanent authority to offer child care programs at hospitals and Vet Centers for veterans seeking care, and improve outreach to women veterans.

Senator Murray's bill is paid for by allowing the VA Secretary to charge a small fee to large corporations contracting with VA, and using those funds only for providing the treatment authorized by the bill.


Megan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

The above is highly important and hopefully the House will quickly address the bill.  Senator Murray was present at hearings when the first wave of female veterans of today's wars began offering their testimonies to Congress.  Back then, she wasn't the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  And she could take the attitude of, "I've got a lot on my plate and am just going to focus on what's right before me."  There's certainly enough to do that she could get away with that.  But in 2005 and 2006, as one woman veteran with a child went before the House and Senate over and over to offer testimony about their VA experience, the issue of how you get an appointment and then the next series of juggling comes up.  Taking a weekend appointment, if one's available, for example, may mean you don't miss work if you work outside the home, but it still means, if you're a parent, you're going to have to juggle child care issues.  Women who work within the home and who have children also spoke of the struggles to get an appointment and then to make the appointment.   Providing onsite child care is smart because it allows women and men with children to keep needed health care appointments.  It's also smart in another way.  Among the horror stories the first wave of women veterans from today's wars told Congress was that they were treated like meat by some other male veterans, that they were catcalled and harassed.  Never should have happened.  It's outrageous that they're trying to get their medical needs met and they've got deal with that.  Becoming child-friendly could also help send the message that VA hospitals are medical facilities, they are not strip clubs, they are not gentlemen's social clubs.

Today at the US Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, held a press conference to formally announce that women's role in the US military had been expanded as the Pentagon began down the road of ending the exclusion rule which refused to allow women to (officially) serve in direct combat roles. 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: One of my priorities as Secretary of Defense has been to remove as many barriers as possible for talented and qualified people to be able to serve this country in uniform.  Our nation was built on the premise of the citizen soldier.  In our democracy, I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation and every citizen who can meet the qualifications of service should have that opportunity.  To that end, I've been working closely with General Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  We've been working for well over a year to examine how can we expand the opportunities for women in the armed services?  It's clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military's mission of defending the nation.  Women represent 15 percent of the force, over 200,000.  They're serving in a growing number of critical roles -- on and off the battlefield.  The fact is that they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission.  Over more than a decade of war, they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism. 153 women in uniform died serving this nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans.

Iraq War veteran Jessica Lynch released the following statement:

The announcement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to allow women to enter combat roles is good news for our military. For years, women have been integral to our successes in the fight for freedom throughout the world. We as Americans must continue to not only support our men and women in the military but also become their advocates,  pushing our leaders to ensure those individuals have proper training and equipment.  The total support of our military - those in combat and those here at home -protects every American.

I want to make it very clear I am sick to hell of people bashing Jessica Lynch.  We have covered this repeatedly.  Jessica Lynch didn't lie to anyone.  She said she wasn't a hero, she poked holes in the Bush administration's story.  She did so at a time when he was riding high in the polls and she was attacked for it.  I find it disgusting that today I've already seen two women attack Jessica in columns.  She did not lie.  She has repeatedly stated that her friend Lori Piestewa was the hero and she has done every thing she can to honor her friend.  I believe Jessica's wrong, she is a hero.  Maybe not in Iraq, but when she came back to the US, she could have lied.  It would have been so easy.  Just go along with the White House's official story.  Instead she stood up to a popular White House and said, "This story is not true."  That took real bravery and character.  It's a real shame that anyone would feel the need to attack her.  And let me add to one of the attackers that maybe these sort of ill-advised attacks, for example, are why you lost your radio show.  And why no one listeners mounted an effort to save your show.

Kristen Moulton (Salt Lake Tribune) spoke to women veterans in Utah such as Iraq War veteran Tara Eal who states, "We went through the front lines and I was in combat.  I didn't have to knock down any doors and, thankfully, I didn't have to shoot anybody.  But I was shot at and my truck was shot at."  Dennis Hoey and Kevin Miller (Press Herald) speak with Iraq War veteran Angela Baker who states, "There are no front lines anymore.  When I was over there, every single one of us, man or woman, got shot at multiple times.  We saw combat because we were in a combat zone."  Bill Briggs (NBC News) speaks with a number of veterans including Afghanistan and Iraq War veteran Julie Weckerlein who states, "There is definitely a sense of 'it's about time.'  This decision means the military is finally removing that useless 'attached, but not assigned' verbiage that meant absolutely nothing on the field, with the boots on the ground."  Jake Tapper and Jessica Metzger (CNN) report on Afghanistan War veteran Candace Fisher and her reaction, "It's a formalization of what we've been experimenting with the last ten to twelve years in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think that those two conflicts have probably given the Army a pretty good idea of whether or not an actual policy change was warranted."  US House Rep and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard spoke with News Nation (MSNBC -- link is video) today.

US House Rep Tulsi Gabbard:  . . . it is a moment of great significance.  It's very personal for me, obviously, not just for myself, but for all of my sisters who I've had the honor of serving with, for all the women who've ever worn the uniform, this change, this policy change from the DoD really gives an official recognition to jobs, sacrifices and service that women in uniform have been making for generations.  [Responding to comments that women aren't suited for the job] I have to smile a little bit when I hear you say those things that the critics are talking about.  I've heard people cite studies talking about how women are not well-equipped to serve in these different capacities and what goes through my mind as you're saying that are the incredible women that I've had the honor of serving with and those who I've heard great stories about.  Women like Sgt Leigh Ann Hester who was the first woman since WWII to earn a Silver Star.  She was a Military Police Sgt serving in Iraq in 2005 and she led her squad of MPs against a very, very hot insurgent attack, flanked the enemy, assaulted two trench lines and, at the end, saved American lives.  And it's stories like Sgt Leigh Ann Hester's and countless women who throw out every argument that the critics have said because it's real, these are patriots who are putting their lives on the line for our country selflessly and, guess what, they happen to be women.

Staff Sgt Kimberly Fahnestock Voelz died while serving in Iraq, killed December 14, 2003 in a bombing just outside Falluja.  Matt Miller (Pennsylvania's Patriot News) speaks with her mother Carol Fahnestock who states, "If they're up to it and they can do the work, why not?  I know that at the time few women were doing what Kimmy was doing.  She excelled at it.  She loved it." 

The Feminist Majority Foundation issued a statement today:

For Immediate Release:
January 24, 2013
Miranda Petersen

Statement of Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation On the Decision to Remove Combat Restrictions on Women Serving in the Armed Services

The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the long awaited decision to remove the combat restriction on women in the military. This is a historic milestone in the fight for women's equality. The combat restriction has been a sham. Women have been and are currently serving in combat positions, but have received neither the recognition nor the chance for promotion that men have enjoyed. We urge in its implementation that all barriers based simply on the gender of members of the armed services be removed, and that they be judged simply upon their capabilities.
For years women in the military have been discriminated against because of a cultural war that has finally ended on the position of women in the military. The reality on the ground has finally become the reality of public policy.
In 1980, when I was the President of the National Organization for Women, I released the following statement: "Discrimination against women...produces in the armed services exactly what it produces in the society as a whole-wasted skills, talents and potential..." At that time, we also addressed the false position that women do not serve in combat roles, saying "The first myth to be dispelled is that women have not been in combat...Women have served and will continue to serve in combat environments under the same conditions, suffering the same risks and injuries as men." Finally, our nation is recognizing this basic fact and correcting this outrageous injustice that has denied women just benefits and recognition for far too long.
In the fight for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment it was frequently argued by opponents that women cannot have equal rights without sharing equal responsibility. We have had more than our share of responsibility. Now, because of the courageous service of women in the armed services, women in the military are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Cindy Sheehan takes another side.  She rejects the inclusion arguing that it's going the wrong way.  Instead of opening roles to women, they should be restricting men out of combat as well (thereby ending military adventures and wars).  She writes:

As a woman and mother, I dismay on a daily basis that I didn’t better protect my son from the gore-soaked claws of the US Army; and more importantly, as a woman and mother (and now grandmother), I could NEVER, EVER in a million years kill another woman or her child (or, innocent man, for that matter--and all of the oppressed/occupied peoples are innocent).

The US military has long been a malevolent force in the world and war jackals like Leon Panetta sit safely ensconced in their ivory towers ordering the poor and disadvantaged children of others to go and do their filthy work. In my experienced opinion, adding more combat-able demographics is nothing to celebrate in a sane world.
In Bizarro-USA (the opposite of the USA we have currently), access to education; fulfilling employment with a decent wage; healthcare; a clean environment and sustainable energy (with foods free of GMO’s and other toxins) should be our basic human rights—not the one where the establishment confers the dishonorable right to murder, or be murdered for the Evil Empire.

To be really clear, Cindy's position is a feminist position.  It's "a" not "the."  My own position is just one position as well.  For myself, I've done dozens of things that probably many women wouldn't want to do (and that's just in bed! drum roll please) and other women do things I have no interest in.  I would never serve in combat, it's not something that interests me.  I do feel if it's something that interests another woman, she should have every shot at achieving that.  That doesn't make Cindy wrong and it certainly doesn't make me right.  Cindy raises serious issues and I'm glad she does that. I'm also glad that she's willing and able to present another feminist take.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 302 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets AFP's count:

218 dead, 650 wounded from violence so far this month in Iraq - tally:

Remember AFP has done a really great thing under Rao, they've put their count online.  The link goes to their count and you can check that out and pull it up.  They're being more open than anyone would expect so good for AFP and for Prashant Rao.

Today's violence includes the discovery of a woman's corpse in Dhi Qar.  News Network Nasiriyah report that she was 34-years-old and stabbed to death -- she is the third corpse discovered in three days to have been stabbed to death (a 20-something woman was discovered earlier this week and a 30-year-old woman). All Iraq News notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and injured three people, and a southwest Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured. Xinhua reports a Balad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five people injured, an Ishaqi bombing claimed 1 life (a man) and left "his mother wounded," 1 male corpse was discovered in Edheim (Diyalal Province) and two Diyala Province bombings left six people injured.  Alsumaria reports an armed Baghdad attack has left 3 police officers dead and that the assailants then set fire to the police car.

Today's violence also saw Nouri al-Maliki's thugs -- a thug's thugs -- fire on the peaceful demonstrators in Mosul -- fired yet again.  January 7th, Nouri's forces assaulted four protesters in Mosul.  Today All Iraq News reports that they sent two protesters to the hospital.  Alsumaria notes that journalist Sama Mosul Waddah Badrani was injured as he covered the protest and he, like the two protesters has been taken to the hospital. 

This will only fuel tomorrow's protests and it also makes Nouri look even more like a thug.  The provincial council, even governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, have made clear that the protesters have their support.  Nouri needs to bring his forces back to Baghdad.  They're not helping him or the crisis.

Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani went to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Conference.  Alsumaria reports that Barzani spoke with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about Iraq's political crisis and how it is only getting worse.  Meanwhile Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and former prime minister and National Alliance leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari have also met to discuss the current crisis.  Alsumaria reports the two are in agreement that the laws passed need to serve the Iraqi people and there is talk of having the protesters elect repreentatives to convey their demands to provincial councils.  As Wael Grace (Al Mada) notes Iraqiya is currently boycotting Cabinet meetings.  Iraqiya is the political slate headed by Ayad Allawi which came in first in the 2010 parliamentary elections (Nouri's State of Law came in second).  Iraqiya is boycotting the meetings to protest Nouri's government ignoring the demands of the protesters.

Dar Addustour columnist As Sheikh notes that the protests have been taking place for about a month and that they are especially welcomed in the south of Iraq where service is especially poor and corruption rampant.   Sheikh observes that the failure to deal with the serious demands of the protesters has aided support and that support has been growing with each successive protest.
Nasiriyah reports the farmers in Dhi Qar are talking about organizing and joining the peaceful protests to demand their legitimate rights.

Nouri's been prime minister since May 2006 (he was named prime-minister designate in April 2006).  What does Iraq have to show for it?  Nouri's a very rich man today.  He's amassed a great deal of wealth -- as his children's spending demonstrates.  He employs one son who is best described as "dense" and one son-in-law who it is said couldn't get work if Nouri wasn't his father-in-law.  The Maliki family's done very well.  It's a shame the same can't be said for the Iraqi people Nouri is supposed to be serving.

Moqtada al-Sadr is a cleric and movement leader in Iraq.  He's a Shi'ite who's been surprisingly vocal about an Iraqi identity encompassing all.  Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite and he heads a slate that's rejected sects to call for a national identity.  With provincial elections scheduled for April, Nouri appears to be utilizing sectarian divisions as an election tactic yet again.  That's done a great deal of damage to Iraqi society but that's apparently of little concern to him.

Kitabat reports that the Sadr bloc withdrew from the Committee of Seven Ministers yesterday in protest of the government's refusal to listen to the demands of the protesters.  This Committee was formed by Nouri's Cabinet and Nouri had Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani head it.  While the western press has lavished al-Shahristani with sloppy wet kisses for over seven days, the Iraqi press has noted the many complaints against his actions -- that he's not listening to the protesters, for example.  The departure of the Sadr bloc is a huge blow to the Committee and to al-Shahristani.  In recent days, the Sadr bloc has loudly called out the conditions in prison, noted that al-Shahristani's (for-show) releases of prisoners confirm that many innocents are languishing in Iraqi prisons and detention centers and  much more.  A member of Moqtada's bloc tells All Iraq News that al-Sharistani's committee can't fix the problems because they are the problem.

The Iraq Times notes that 2011 saw $100 billion in oil dollars and an estimated 94 billion last year (these figures are in US dollars, not Iraqi dinar).  The paper notes that while Nouri's government boasts of all these riches (without shame), the Iraqi people do without basic services and the security situation deteriorates daily.  Some day, Iraqis asking "where did all the money go?" won't be denied an answer.  First place people need to look is Nouri's pockets.

At the Council of Foreign Relations, Emma Sky and Harith al-Qarawee explore the topic of Iraq and offer:

Since 2008, when Maliki led a harsh crackdown on the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, the prime minister has tried to present himself as a nationalist leader seeking to unify his country and evenly enforce the rule of law. The rise of Maliki and the popularity he gained with Shia, however, reveal the flaws of Iraq's new political system, which made state institutions fiefdoms of patronage for sectarian political parties rather than channels for delivering public services. Maliki tried to earn legitimacy beyond just the Shia community, in particular seeking the support of Sunni voters. His confrontation with Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan region, over security issues along the disputed border was primarily a move to win the support of the Sunni population there, which is resentful of Kurdish encroachment.
But Maliki has squandered his ability to appeal to the country's other sects and communities because of his paranoia and ideological bias as a leader of Dawa, the Shia Islamist party. He blames external interference for the current tensions, exploiting images of divisive symbols such as flags of the Saddam era, the Free Syrian Army, and Kurdistan, as well as photos of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Maliki's record -- his targeting of Sunni politicians, his selective use of law, his influence over the judiciary to ensure rulings in his favor, and his close ties with Iran -- confirms that he is prepared to use all means necessary to consolidate power.

All Iraq News reports another last-ditch effort to save the $4 billion arms deal with Russia.  Maybe that will work out for Nouri?  It won't help Iraq but if he could ever close the deal he made months ago, he might be able to convince others that his name on a contract means something (months and months of struggle and doubt -- apparently).  All Iraq News also notes that there are now six outbreaks of avian flu (bird flu).  Sadly, the blame for this outbreak is being put on foreign workers in Iraq.  That's sad but not surprising when the country has huge unemployment and the government keeps providing jobs to non-Iraqis.

prashant rao

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