Thursday, May 30, 2013

What Harry Worry?

What Harry Worry?

From January 10, 2010, that's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in "What Harry Worry?"  A take off on Mad magazine's Alfred E. Newman (hence the tooth gap).  If you forgot that scandal, Harry was caught (in a book that was coming out) saying that Barack was likeable because he was "light skinned" and didn't speak with a "negro dialect."  In other words, bi-racial Barack could pass.  So Harry liked him.

In the cartoon, he's saying,  "I take full responsibility for my remarks. And point out I made them in my youth. Nearly two years ago. And they weren't supposed to be public! And I'm just a lowly Senate Majority Leader."

Barack rushed to assure the world the comments weren't insulting.

Of course not for Barack.  A White man was praising half-White Barack for 'passing.'

The insult was to those of us who are Black and can't pass.  We understood what Harry was saying.

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, 872 violent deaths so far this month, Moqtada al-Sadr calls for Iraq to get a new president, rumors about President Jalal Talabani's health move from Arab social media to the Arab press, the United Nations warns of "systemic violence" and "mayhem" in Iraq, Iraq's oil production drops for the month of May, CNN closes shop in Baghdad, US Senator Patty Murray gears up for a press event to raise awareness of rape and assault in the military, the IRS scandal continues to bubble with 76% of Americans wanting a special prosecutor to be appointed, and more.

Thursday, May 30th, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
 (202) 224-2834

TOMORROW: MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: SEATTLE: Murray to Meet with Survivors of Military Sexual Assault, Discuss Her Bill to Protect Victims

Of the estimated 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012, only 3,374 were reported
Murray bill would provide greater victim resources while improving current prevention programs

(Washington, D.C.) – Tomorrow, Friday, May 31st, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will meet with survivors of military sexual assault and advocates in Seattle.  Last month, Senator Murray introduced the Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013, which would reduce sexual assaults within the military and address a number of gaps within current law and policy. One provision in Senator Murray’s bill would provide victims with a dedicated counsel to guide them through the difficult process of reporting sexual assault. According to DoD estimates, there were about 19,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2010 alone. Of these, 3,192 were reported, leaving thousands of victims to face the aftermath alone as their assailants escape justice. That number rose to 26,000 cases in 2012 with less than 3,400 of those cases being reported. Murray will use the stories she hears Friday to continue fighting for victims of military sexual assault in Washington, D.C.  More about Senator Murray’s bill HERE.


WHO:          U.S. Senator Patty Murray

         Survivors of military sexual assault

         Charles Swift, former Navy JAG, MSA advocate

         Dr. Joyce Wipf, Professor of Medicine and Director of VA Puget Sound’s Women's Program

         Bridget Cantrell, PTSD & MSA expert

         Jackie McLean, Director, King County Department of Community & Human Services

WHAT:        Senator Murray will meet with survivors of military sexual assault, discuss ways her legislation will protect victims

WHEN:        TOMORROW: Friday, May 31st, 2013

          10:00 AM PT

WHERE:    UW Medicine at South Lake Union

         850 Republican Street, Conference Room C359

                     Seattle, WA 98109



Kathryn Robertson
Deputy Press Secretary 

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

154 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington D.C. 20510

RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

Last night, filling in for Ann, I noted 30-year-old Anthony K. Mastrogiovanni had "pleaded guilty today to the sexual exploitation of minors to produce child pornography" as a Justice Dept press release noted and it also noted:

According to filed court documents and proceedings, between 2006 and 2012, Mastrogiovanni was a U.S. Navy reservist who sexually exploited more than 30 male juveniles, ranging from 9 to 16 years of age, in Maryland and Louisiana to produce child pornography.  During that time period, Mastrogiovanni met and befriended his victims through his involvement in civic organizations or his military affiliation.  Mastrogiovanni captured sexually explicit video of the victims on cameras hidden in his residences in Louisiana and Maryland.

These crimes are not about sex, they're about power, they're about harm and they're not being addressed.  That's why Senators Murray and Kelly Ayotte have proposed their bill,  "Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013."  This is only one bill trying to address the issue.  Karisa King and Gary Martin (San Antonio Express-News) reported yesterday on five other bills:

* Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand have a bill (Military Justice Improvement Act) to prevent military commanders from overturning verdicts (to allow those convicted or rape and/or assault to be stuck with those convictions the way they would in the civilian world)

* US House Rep Jackie Speier has a bill (reintroduced) to create an independent oversight office to handle investigations and prosecutions of assault and rape.

* Senator Amy Klobuchar has a bill to keep convicted sex offenders from entering the military

* Senator Klobuchar and Senator Claire McCaskill have a bill to establish standards for those over the assault prevention programs.

* US House Rep Niki Tsongas and US House Rep Mike Turner have a bill where if you're convicted of rape or assault you end up kicked out of the service.

These bills are needed because despite all the talk from the Defense Dept over the last ten years, they've failed to create policies that addressed the issues the bills cover.  I'm really hoping the Murray event gets coverage because the range and scope of her bill and the five above go just how much work needs to be done to combat assault and rape within the military.

Today the United Nations News Centre notes that Martin Kobler declared, "Systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment if all Iraqi leaders do not engage immediately to pull the country out of this mayhem."  Kobler is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq and heads the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 839 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month -- two days left in the month, today and tomorrow.  Today National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left six people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left three people injured, 2 Iraqi border guards in Anbar Province were killed by men "wearing police uniforms," a Mosul suicide car bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left eight more injured, a Baghdad car bombing (Karrada district) claimed 1 life and left nine people injured2 Baghdad car bombings (Binooq neighborhood and one "near the Mission Complex") left 6 people dead and nineteen injured, and a Ramadi bombing assassination attempt on Anbar Province Governor Qassim Mohammed al-Fahdawi left the governor unscathed but injured four of his bodyguards. Al Rafidayn notes that motorcycles and vehicles have been banned in Baghdad today and tomorrow.  Adam Schreck, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) count 33 dead in today's violence.  Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jason Hanna (CNN) note that "since Monday alone, at least 120 people have been killed."  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Iraq Body Count, 161 people were killed in violence.  If you add AP's 33 death toll for today to that you 194 violent deaths since Monday morning.

UNAMI issued the following on Wednesday:

Baghdad, 30 May 2013 – On 29 May, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Martin Kobler, briefed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (AFET) on the current developments in Iraq.

In his exchange of views with the parliamentarians, Mr. Kobler expressed serious concerns over the heightened level of violence in Iraq and the danger that the country falls back into sectarian strife, if decisive action is not taken by its political leaders. “The country stands at a crossroads,” the UN Envoy said, calling for a stronger EU role in dealing with the developments unfolding in the country, and for increased interaction with the Iraqi Council of Representatives. 
Mr. Kobler also briefed AFET on UNAMI’s efforts to resettle the former residents of Camp Ashraf to third countries. He deplored the lack of cooperation of the residents and of their leadership with the UNHCR and UN monitors, and urged them to accept concrete resettlement offers. Stressing that “resettlement to safe countries is the only durable option”, he called again on European Union member states to accept former Camp Ashraf residents into their countries.

 On violence in Iraq, let's move to the US.  First, of all the times to leave -- from a journalistic stand point, now is when you leave Iraq?

To be the last to leave, the last to be gone,
stolen from the ones who hung on to it.

To be the last in line, the ones that live on,
silhouette of a dream, treasured by the ones 
. . . who hung on to it.
-- "Fireflies," written by Stevie Nicks, first appears on Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac Live.

Erik Hayden (Hollywood Reporter) reports today that the last US TV network with a news bureau in Baghdad, CNN, has announced they are closing it.  They quote a spokesperson for CNN (nameless because this is so embarrassing would you want your name attached?) stating, "While CNN is departing its current brick-and-mortar location in Baghdad, the network continues to maintain an editorial presence in Iraq through a dedicated team of CNN stringers and correspondent assignments as news warrants."   This is when CNN pulls out?  And no one thought how this would hurt their news image just when they're rebuilding and gaining viewers by supposedly focusing on news?  Hayden explains,  "Fox News confirmed to THR that, after the recent closure of their own bureau this year, they rely on stringers and correspondents based in Iraq for their coverage. ABC News and NBC News have one full-time producer based in the capital city."

The violence is at a five year high as CNN closes its bureau?  It might be interesting here to note Noam Chomsky's remarks about what happened to the world press when the violence increased in East Timor.   CNBC's Pozner and Donahue had Chomsky as a guest for the full hour on the April 20, 1993 and April 22, 1993 episodes.  Excerpt.

Noam Chomsky:  It's as if history set up a controlled experiment.  There were two major atrocities at the same time, same part of the world, roughly comparable in scale.  One of them was an Indonesian invasion and annexation, East Timor.  The other was Pol Pot atrocities internal to Cambodia.  The coverage -- The coverage was dramatically different.  The coverage of East Timor declined sharply as the atrocities continued.  The coverage of East Timor was pretty high before the Indonesian invasion.  It then declined and hit zero in both the United States and Canada -- and most of the western world -- in 1978 when the atrocities really reached genocidal proportions.  In Cambodia, on the other hand, there was huge publicity. Within a few weeks of the Khmer Rouge takeover, the New York Times was already denouncing genocide and probably a few hundred or thousand people had been killed.  Well what was the difference?   The difference was in one case the United States was directly behind it.  It was providing 90% of the arms.  It was providing crucial diplomatic support.

Phil Donahue:  East Timor.  The Indonesian invasion of  East Timor.

Noam Chomsky:  The US provided critical diplomatic support.  Daniel Moynihan took pride in the fact that he prevented the United Nations from doing any action -- he writes about it with great pride.  The US gave them new offers of arms.  As the attack peaked, Carter sent more arms.  And Cambodia was an enemy.  You can be very moral about the atrocities committed by an enemy.

And it's safer, career wise, to 'cover' Syria (call for war on Syria) than it is to cover Iraq.  The US is arming Nouri, they've sent more US troops back in.  No one wants to tell the truth.  Dropping back to the April 30th snapshot:

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions.  At the request of the Iraqi government, according to [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

No other media outlet amplified Tim Arango's NYT report.  No media outlet covered the Memorandum of Understanding.  The White House backs Nouri al-Maliki and so you get no honesty and now you get even less coverage.  But war on Syria is wanted so Deborah Amos and others with NPR end up in that country.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen as an 'enemy' by the US government so McClatchy has someone covering it and the New York Times has a whole squadron -- in fact their star reporter would probably be alive today if he'd stuck to covering Iraq but Syria was 'fresh meat' for the cannons of war and off he rushed.  Turn on the evening news on commercial US broadcast networks (CBS, ABC and NBC) and you'll find reports from Syria.  You won't find Iraq.

The US State Dept today issued "Country Reports on Terrorism 2012."  The annual report focuses on terrorism or 'terrorism' around the world.  The Iraq section includes these claims:

Iraqi security forces made progress combating al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and other Sunni insurgent organizations in 2012. While there has been clear and measurable success against AQI over the years, the group still remains a dangerous threat to the Iraqi people. In 2012, there were no significant attacks on U.S. interests or U.S. fatalities. The Iraqi government succeeded in securing multiple large public religious gatherings and government events – most notably the Arab League Summit in late March and P5+1 talks in May in Baghdad – but terrorist bombings and other attacks continued to occur.
The Government of Iraq concentrated its counterterrorism efforts against AQI and other Sunni-affiliated terrorist organizations. AQI remained capable of large-scale coordinated attacks and conducted numerous high-profile suicide and car bombings on government and civilian targets, aiming to increase tensions among Iraqi sectarian groups and ethnic minorities, and undercut public perceptions of the government’s capacity to provide security. Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandiyah (JRTN), a Sunni nationalist insurgent group with links to the former Baath Party, also continued attacks during the year. JRTN largely targeted Iraqi and U.S. interests in northern Iraq. Shia militant groups Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl Haqq, and the Sadrist Promised Day Brigades adhered to the cease-fire they declared in the latter half of 2011 and early 2012. Some former Shia militant leaders began engaging in the political process and competing for political influence.
Terrorist tactics and weapons remained largely unchanged from 2011, as AQI and other terrorists relied predominantly on suicide bombings and car and roadside bombs and to a lesser extent on gunmen using assault rifles or silenced weapons to assassinate government and security officials.
Iraq-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation remained strong, particularly in training, advisory, and intelligence-sharing programs.
The Iraqi Security Forces proved capable of working together to find, arrest, and charge terrorism suspects. In November, the Iraqi Police, Federal Police, and Iraqi Army – at times working together – arrested over 350 people on terrorism charges and seized several weapon and rocket caches, as part of a major counterterrorism operation. Iraq’s Counterterrorism Services (CTS) also conducted approximately 1,600 terrorism related arrests in 2012.

 We're not going to spend a lot of time on the above because, first of all, it's almost June 2013.  Iraq's far too fluid for a look at 2012 violence to offer a great deal of insight.  Second of all, it's a dishonest report.  When you're praising the ability to 'secure' the Arab League Summit and you're not noting that Baghdad shut down the week before the Summit? You're not being honest.  If you can shut down Baghdad for the week before and the week of a Summit, it's not a surprise that there's no violence in Baghdad.  Was it worth it to the Iraqi people?  Was it worth it to them for all that money for security (and painting and prettying Baghdad) and for the inconvenience of the city shutting down for two weeks?  Probably not.  But that's not even considered in the report which fails to note any of the details of the Arab League Summit -- which was a huge failure and avoided by the leaders of all the major countries in the region.  So we'll note the ridiculous claims but we're not going to focus on them.  And the 'international' meet-ups in Baghdad continue to be a laugh.

May 7th, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Ministry of Higher Education will hold tomorrow its International Conference on Sustainable Development in Iraq with the participation of Arab and foreign universities."  Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research issued a statement trying to play it as a big success.  Then they issued this statement which buries reality in the final paragraph:

While inaugurating the International Conference to achieve sustainable development in Iraq which was organized by the Ministry, His Excellency Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Mr. Ali Al-Adeeb, called on researchers and faculty members in the educational institutions to follow  new methods to liberate man from the extremist ideology which became one of obstacles to the development in Iraq.

Mr. Al-Adeeb said that the sustainable development in Iraq needs basic steps represented by the liberation of man from extremist behaviors and providing security, justice and equality, adding that the universities can prepare studies that contribute to the integration of Iraq with the countries of the developed world.

Al-Adeeb added that the Iraqi universities should take their vital and prominent role in establishing a knowledge base that contributes in building a contemporary educational system, able to adapt the revolution of knowledge witnessed by the world, indicating that human freedom is an important issue, allows everyone to think away from the exploitation, launching the energies and capabilities to create life and guiding community to its correct identity.

Mr. Al-Adeeb pointed out that we cannot benefit from the science in an environment that lacks security and stability, and the variety in the community represents an important factor that leads to the integration in achieving development, adding that the universities and the educational institutions are the first and the effective factors in speeding up the development of society in all fields.

It is worthy mentioning that the conference was attended by researchers from Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

The 'international conference' was supposed to have participation from Arab universities.  See any major players there?  Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen and Libya?  Nope.  Bahrain's government is hated by two-thirds of the Iraqi population (and protested regularly in Basra and Baghdad by Moqtada al-Sadr's Shi'ite supporters).  And that's the most prominent of the four.  The best excuse is that violence scared the major players from attending.

In this current climate of violence in Iraq, fears are swirling.  Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) reports:

[T]he death squads were the most ambiguous aspect of the war. They carried out kidnappings and killings by wearing Iraqi police uniforms, and traveling in official and military vehicles in 2006-2007 — while an evening curfew was in place (from midnight to 6 a.m.) — to hunt for their victims.
This term goes back to before the civil war, when The Washington Post used it on Dec. 4, 2005, while criticizing the way the Iraqi police forces were formed and infiltrated by militias. 
Remarkably, the term has re-emerged after eight years. As news reports in Baghdad talked about the return of militants and killings carried out by armed militias in broad daylight, the Sunni Mutahidoun bloc held the Iraqi authorities responsible for this matter and accused them of bringing back the civil war.

These Shi'ite militias have alarmed many including cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  AFP notes, " Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr criticized the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accusing the Premier of waging a sectarian war and urging him to end the oppression of minorities. [. . .]  The government must hold accountable and sack those who are manipulating the intelligence and security services, Sadr said in a statement. He also urged the authorities to work hard in order to defuse sectarian tension ravaging Iraq."

Dillon Clancy (New Europe) observes, "Tension has erupted over the perception that prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is actively working to marginalise Sunnis and concentrate power in his own hands. Over the past year the Maliki government has arrested or exiled a number of high level Sunni officials, most notably vice president Tareq al-Hashemi and finance minister Rafi al-Issawi, provoking widespread protests CNN has reported."    The violence has been increasing for some time.  A smart move would have been to have filled the security ministries with people to head them.  That was supposed to happen in 2010.  All these years later, it still hasn't.   All Iraq News notes MP Yousif al-Taai, with Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, "stressed the necessity of nominating the security ministers rather than running the security ministries by acting ministers."  Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."

As the turmoil swirls, where is Iraq's president?  Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.  At the start of the month, there were new rumors swirling about his health and, this past week,  Nouri al-Maliki attempted to have Jalal stripped of his post this month.  (Parliament rejected the notion.) Following that,  Al Mada ran a photo of Jalal Talabani seated outdoors with his medical team and noted the team states the Iraqi President's health has continued to improve and he will return to Iraq shortly. 

Arabic social media has been referring to the photos and the video as having a Weekend At Bernie's type feel to it.  (In Weekend At Bernie's, two young men prop up the corpse of dead Bernie to trick people into believing he's alive.)  The fact that Jalal's only seen in the photos from his right side have people speculating about what the left side shows -- the after-effects of a stroke? Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) notes:

Rumours have been abundant about Talabani’s health condition as his convalescence coincides with one of Iraq’s most serious political crises and its deadliest period of ethno-sectarian strife since the United States pullout in 2011.
Some reports have suggested that Talabani is clinically dead in the Berlin hospital where he is treated, others said the enfeebled president has handed his will to one of the leaders of his party.
Regardless of the furious speculations among Iraqis about Talabani’s health conditions, his prolonged absence has sparked a debate about whether he will be physically able to resume official duties.
According to various medical studies, persons who had strokes mostly develop serious physical and emotional problems occurring after recovery and they will need prolonged treatment.

Abdel Hamid Zerbari (Al-Monitor) adds:

Some political observers are skeptical of the photographs, in which Talabani appears seated in only one position. They stress that the photos were released after the prosecutor general of the Iraqi Council of Representatives issued a statement, on May 13, calling on the head of the council to take legal action pursuant to the provisions of Article 72.II.c of the Iraqi constitution in the event of a vacancy in the office of the president. The request is also based on provisions of Article 1 of amended Public Prosecution Law no. 159 of 1979.
Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr supported this request and said in a statement, "It is necessary to take the necessary steps to appoint a new president of the republic to replace President Jalal Talabani." Sadr also thanked the public prosecutor and asked him to "be independent."
But the Legal Committee in parliament responded via Kurdish MP Khaled Shawani, deeming this request illegal and saying "Article 72 of the constitution talks about the vacancy in the post of president of the republic, not an absence. Vice President [Khodair al-Khozaei] has assumed the responsibilities of the presidency." He continued, "Parliament is not obliged to implement this request."
A popular rumor in Arabic social media for the last two weeks has been that Nouri al-Maliki has asked Hero Ibrahim Ahmed to become Iraq's new president.  She is the wife of Jalal Talabani.

Omar al-Shaher (Al-Monitor) reports:

Concerns about the possibility of Iraq sliding toward the abyss of sectarian war once again have strongly affected commercial activities in Baghdad. Wholesalers in many provinces shifted to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, which enjoys security and stability, to obtain goods. Also, real-estate prices in the capital dropped significantly due to a considerable rise in supply.
Traders of food products and construction materials in the predominantly Sunni city of Ramadi, in the west of Iraq, told Al-Monitor that they decided to shift to the wholesale markets in the city of Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, out of fear of going to the Iraqi capital following news that Shiite militias set up checkpoints in the western entrances to Baghdad in search of Sunni men arriving at the capital.
Although the Iraqi security institution denied the news, the transit station for those traveling to Baghdad in Ramadi and Tikrit, in the predominantly Sunni Salahuddin province, has been almost empty in the past few days.

So regionally, violence is effecting Iraq's commerce at a time when everyone -- from NGOs to the IMF -- have warned Nouri al-Maliki's government that Iraq needs to diversify its economy.  But it struggles to do that because of Nouri.  His failure to keep agreements -- even signed contracts like The Erbil Agreement -- that he makes within Iraq with political blocs helps prevent the international business community from actively working with Iraq.  They don't trust him.  He lies and he lies publicly.  Whether it's promising to power share, promising to meet the demands of Iraqi protesters (in 2011, not the ongoing protests right now), promising not to seek a third term, over and over there are lies.  That's on him, he's harming business.  For example, October 9th, with much fanfare, and wall-to-wall press coverage, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia.  He strutted and preened and was so proud of himself.  He made a spectacle of himself which might have been okay if the deal had gone forward.  Instead, it immediately fell apart.  Every other week there's news that the deal is back on . . . then it's not.  It doesn't matter if tomorrow, over seven months later, the deal is implemented.  The fact of the matter is Nouri drew attention to himself over a huge deal that made him look like a minor player on the world's stage and then the deal immediately fell apart.

The lesson for businesses?  Nouri's word is dirt, he can't get along with other Iraqis and even a signed contract doesn't matter.  The new "Iraq Defence & Security Report Q3 2013" from Business Monitor International finds, "Internally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has worsened sectarian tensions by failing to deliver on a promise to implement a power-sharing agreement designed to safeguard the rights of the country's different ethnic and religious groups."

There's also ExxonMobil?  Dropping back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:

In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field.  Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region."  Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.

The shortest version of this ongoing soap opera is that in the two-years-plus since that day, Nouri and his flunkies have threatened ExxonMobil, have stated the White House was going to stop the deal (a State Dept press briefing cleared that up), have said they would ban ExxonMobil, they would punish it, they would . . .  ExxonMobil and the KRG are doing nothing illegal.  There's no national oil and gas law.  That's on Nouri.  In 2007, the White House wrote "benchmarks" for success in Iraq.  These were to keep Congress from defunding the illegal war.  Iraq would meet these benchmarks and that was how it would be demonstrated that there was progress.  On his end, Nouri signed off on the benchmarks.  These goals were really supposed to be for a year, but when Iraq couldn't meet them, the Bully Boy Bush White House re-set the clock and started saying that progress on these benchmarks (just talking about them counted as progress, in the new 'understanding') was progress.  One of the benchmarks was to pass an oil and gas law.  That never happened.  Six years after Nouri signed off on those benchmarks to keep US dollars flowing into Iraq, it still hasn't happened.  If there was a law, there's a chance the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government could be violating it.  But there's no law and that's Nouri's fault.  Just last year (June 2012),  April Yee (The National) was pointing out, "A hydrocarbon law remains a mirage in Baghdad and the reality is dawning that Iraq's plans to become one of the world's top-five oil producers are jeopardised by the legal deadlock." But that didn't wake Nouri up and nothing ever does.

In March, Reuters reported that although ExxonMobil has been willing to sell off "its stake in the southern Iraq West Qurna-1 oil field" and just focus on the Kurdistan Regional Government's opportunities, "now Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is working to keep the U.S. oil giant on side, industry sources say, offering much sweeter terms at West Qurna-1 – a $50-billion (U.S.) investment project and a greater potential prize than the Kurdish blocks if Baghdad structures the contract closer to the more lucrative Kurdish model." 

UPI reports that Genel Energy (United Kingdom and Turkey) has "confirmed the presence of a commercial oil discovery" in the KRG.  The KRG has oil and is has a history that predates the 2003 invasion.  That history includes keeping its word with businesses.  That's among the reasons businesses flock to the KRG.  Yes, it's also safer but the Green Zone in Baghdad remains one of the safest places in Iraq and business hasn't boomed there.

While Nouri stomps his feet and obsesses over the KRG and its deals, he can't even manage Iraq's only moneymaker at present: Oil.  There have been very few attacks on oil factories or pipelines this month.  Instead, the violence focused on people.  Upstream (The International Oil and Gas Newspaper) reports:

Opec crude output has fallen in May due to lower exports from Iraq and disruptions in some African producers, as improving compliance with an Opec output ceiling is expected to be maintained at a meeting this week, a report said. 
[. . .]
 Iraq has shipped about 200,000 bpd less from its southern and northern ports, according to shipping data. Exports of Kirkuk crude remain restrained by a dispute between the central government and the Kurdistan region over payments.

Amena Bakr and Reem Shamseddine (Reuters) report that in Vienna today, ahead of OPEC's planned meet-up tomorrow,  Iraq's Minister of Oil Abdel-Kareem Luaibi told the press, "We are looking to increase our exports and we aim to make our crude more competitive in the market."  These fumbled steps, by the way, are coming as Iraq's trying to win the post of Secretary-General of OPEC and these fumbles don't help with that.  April Yee (The National) explains, "Other decisions, such as selecting a new secretary general - a position held by Libya's Abdalla El Badri - that Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi candidates are vying for are so contentious they are likely to be left alone."  Just ahead of Friday's meet-up, All Iraq News reports that Minster of Oil Abudl Karim Luaibi also declared today, "Baghdad decreased rates of the production planned at the basic oil fields in the south of Iraq in line with more realistic target level which is nine million barrel per day instead of 12 million barrel daily that was planned to be achieved by 2017."

Turning to The Drone War, from yesterday's Free Speech Radio News:

Shannon Young: A drone strike in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan killed at least four people today. The number two leader of Pakistan's Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman, is reportedly among the dead, although the group's official spokesperson has not confirmed the death. The drone strike comes less than a week after President Barack Obama pledged in a major counterrorism speech to limit the use of weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles. The CIA drone program is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. A politician who has criticized the use of drones there will take office as prime minister next Wednesday.

Last Thursday, at Fort McNair, US President Barack Obama attempted to defend his ongoing Drone War with remarks such as, "From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation -- and world -- that we leave to our children."  And The Drone War is something people should be proud of and want to pass on?   The Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes Barack has ordered 317 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, resulting in the deaths of at least 197 children.   In a speech of nearly 6,500 words (I count 6,494),  he never noted what Alice K. Ross (Bureau of Investigative Journalism) reported earlier this month, that a Pakistan Peshawar High Court had ruled that these Drone Strikes were "criminal offences," a "war crime," a "blatant violation of basic human rights" and that the judge called for the United Nations Security Council to step in.   John Knefel (Rolling Stone) points out:
One week after President Obama's much-touted speech on national security, many experts are more confused than ever about what rules govern the U.S. government's overseas killing program and where those rules apply. While the speech left many viewers with the impression that Obama planned to reform or even end this program, his administration's practices tell a different story. On Wednesday, anonymous Pakistan security officials said that a CIA drone strike had killed the Pakistani Taliban's deputy leader, Wali ur-Rehman, in North Waziristan. A pair of additional reported strikes in Yemen – both officially unconfirmed by the U.S. – raise even more questions about how and why the American government kills people in other countries.

Of yesterday's strike in Pakistan, Jason Ditz ( observes:

 White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that the promise of transparency had been fulfilled by delivering the speech in which the promise was made itself, and then went on insist that they would not comment on specific anti-terrorism operations.
The only comment that even hinted at a pretext for the attack was Carney reiterating President Obama’s comment that the US was obliged to continue operations in and around Afghanistan during the NATO occupation.

Where does The Drone War lead?  To Killer Robots apparently.  Australia's ABC explains:

The technology is being developed in the United States, Britain and Israel, although none have actually used it yet.
During a debate at the UN Human Rights Council, special rapporteur Professor Christof Heyns said machines lacking morality should not have life-and-death powers over humans.

Ed Pilkington (Guardian) adds:

"Killer robots" that could attack targets autonomously without a human pulling the trigger pose a threat to international stability and should be banned before they come into existence, the United Nations will be told by its human rights investigator this week.
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will address the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday and call for a worldwide moratorium on what he calls "lethal autonomous robotics" – weapons systems that, once activated, can lock on and kill targets without further involvement of human handlers.

The Guardian uses an illustration that is what everyone will immediately think of: a machine from the Terminator film series.  Nick Miller (Sydney Morning Herald) notes:

During the debate Pakistan's council delegate Mariam Aftab – speaking on behalf of 56 Islamic states – said the international community should consider a complete ban, not just national moratoria. 
Lethal autonomous robots would fundamentally change the nature of war, she said.
Pakistan has been the focus for anti-terrorism drone strikes. "The experience with drones shows that once such weapons are in use, it is impossible to stop them," said Ms Aftab.
Most of the delegates said they found the report interesting and worthy of further debate, though several said it would be better negotiated outside of a human rights forum.

Finally, the issue of the IRS.  The US agency responsible for collecting federal taxes within the United States was caught targeting political groups.  The activity was known to the IRS and known to be wrong as early as May 2010.  One official, Lois Lerner, got a friend to ask her a question (planted a question with a friend) earlier this month so she could (finally) bring up the scandal.  She only did so to get ahead of the news that the Treasury Dept's Inspector General over the IRS had a damaging report about to be released.  Conservative groups were largely targeted.  They were not the only ones.  Yes, "Tea Party" and "Patriot" were 'flag words' as the IRS illegally entered into political speech, but left groups critical of the administration were also targeted.  This fact has come out in the hearings but has largely been ignored by the press.  Today Elizabeth Flock (US News and World Reports) notes that a third of the groups were not conservative groups.

If you're late to the story, community coverage has included this "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Sir, I gave you the wrong information (Ava)," Wally's "Time for a special prosecutor (Wally)," Kat's "It was like Steel Magnolias at one point during the hearing," Dona's "Report on Congress" and Cedric's "Future employment opportunities for Lois Lerner" and  Wally's "THIS JUST IN! A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR LOIS LERNER!,"; and this "Iraq snapshot," "IRS: 'Not corrupt, just incompetent'," Ava's "Guacamole and the IRS (Ava)," Wally's "Big lie revealed at House Ways and Means hearing," Kat's "The other Steve Miller appears before Congress, Marcia's "No accountability for the IRS scandal," and Dona's "Report on Congress."
We've noted that churches and right-to-life groups were also among the targeted -- that the IRS even inquired about prayers.  Today David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Newspapers) report:

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

Read more here:

Jill Jackson and Stephanie Haven (CBS News) report that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee plan to question Cincinnati workers "in the next two weeks."  Were they responsible?  The Committees haven't gotten clear answers from IRS officials such as Lois Lerner, Acting Commissioner Steve Miller (he is now out of that job, he was in it when appearing before Congress in the last weeks), former Commissioner Douglas Shulman.  Local media in Cincinnati has been reporting for several weeks now that workers at that office were following orders and were not rogue employees.  Reuters notes, "The names of low-level officials who carried out the practice have been closely guarded by IRS higher-ups and agency's inspector general. No criminal charges have been filed."  They then offer a cautionary note that the low-levels may not be responsible.  Agreed.  That's why we haven't taken that position here.  The people blaming them?  That's been Lerner (who took the Fifth while sitting before Congress last week and refused to testify), Shulman and Miller.  And Miller revealed that one of the two 'local' people punished (the one who got an oral warning) might not have even been involved.  That's the kind of detail you determine before you hand out an oral warning.

As Cedric's "Bring on the Special Prosecutor" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! TIME FOR A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR!" pointed out this morning:

the associated press


Read on ...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Colgate Ready

Colgate Ready

From January 3, 2010, that's "Colgate Ready" where Barack says, "I understand that some of you are beginning to doubt I was ready for the job. You're noticed that I'm either on vacation or out of the country every other month. But don't worry. While America was nearly attacked, I wasn't just golfing. I was also working on a new smile I'll debut shortly. Not ready? I'm Colgate ready."  And Janet Napolitano runs around crying, "The system worked, the system worked!"

Janet quickly got moved behind the scenes -- for obvious reasons.  The White House realized America really didn't want to see her and that when she was on camera she tended to embarrass.  Which is how she's really kind of a ghost in the administration.  Think about how little we ever see her.  She's the Secretary of Homeland Security and yet they didn't trot her out on the talk shows after the Benghazi attack.

That's interesting, she's been in this position all this time and, yet, as a country, we have pretty much forgotten her. 

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

 Thursday, May 23, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Sahwa and snakes threaten the Iraqi people, US President Barack Obama wishes he could close Guantanamo (he says), Medea Benjamin heckles him, he offers a major speech about how The Drone War and the so-called war on terrorism will continue, IRS official Lois Lerner gets placed on administrative leave, the War on the First Amendment continues, and more.

With US President Barack Obama making statements about the press today, we're again starting with The War on the First Amendment.  Last week, The War on the First Amendment's big revelations were that the Justice Dept had secretly seized the phone records of a 167-year-old news institution, the Associated Press. This week's revelation is that the Justice Dept targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen.   Today at Fort McNair, Barack declared:

The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.  Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

He is commander in chief of the US military only.  It is put under civilian control (him) and his actions in that role are subject to civilian oversight.  With regards to the press, the First Amendment is and should be any president's primary concern.  Barack has tried to use ignorance yet again to his favor.  That awful, hideous Geena Davis show (thankfully axed) pimped the notion weekly.  ABC has a real problem with pimping the presidency as commander in chief but I'll bite my tongue before I (again) make someone cry.  (You would have thought decades in journalism would toughen someone up but as a mutual songbird friend noted to me just last week, _____ is still crying over what I wrote about ____ last go round.)

"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs."  This in the same week that it's revealed the Justice Dept presented Fox News reporter James Rosen as a "co-conspirator" in legal filings to a court of law?

Fox News has compiled a list of some of the public supportive comments that Rosen has received since the revelations.  To no surprise, people like Jake Tapper (CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper) have weighed in and stood up for the rights of the press.  Tapper is someone who works very hard to be fair.  Keith Olbermann, whom I can't stand, is not such a person.  But we'll give even him earned praise for weighing in and showing more awareness and class than I would have expected.  Good for Olbermann for taking a stand on principle.  Michael Isikoff (NBC News) reported yesterday:

 Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

Isikoff also reports that to justify Google turning over Rosen's e-mails, the Justice Dept "'The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim's vanity and ego.  Much like an intelligence officer would run a clandestine intelligence source, the Reporter instructed Mr. Kim on a covert communications plan that involved' emails from his gmail account."  When the issue of what Rosen wrote in his e-mails (specifically one sentence) comes up in talks we give, I'm not surprised.  Most people will not have personal contact with the press in their lifetime.   I usually cite one notorious hit piece written on me in the 90s and explain I didn't participate because, despite all the flattering e-mails and letters from the pig, I know journalists do that.  That is how they get their stories.  I'm not faulting them for it (whether they're personal friends of mine or otherwise) but never, ever believe someone attempting to get you on the record is being 100% honest with you in their remarks.  They have a job to do and that's to get the story.  They also need to make you feel comfortable to talk and to feel good about talking. That the Justice Dept -- or, for that matter, Google -- might not grasp that is rather sad.

On the AP attack, the North Jefferson News editorial board observes, "You may be tempted to dismiss as gratuitous wailing the news media’s concern over this serious breach of the constitutional wall between government and the press. But the chilling consequences of  the Justice Department’s overzealous intrusiveness could well impact your ability to know what your government is doing or not doing on your behalf."  Columnist S.E. Cupp (New York Daily News) explains what's at stake:

If you believe we’re better off as a nation knowing the truth about our military operations in Vietnam, as outlined by the Pentagon Papers, or about Watergate and Nixon administration’s break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, or about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the Bush administration’s stated reasons for invading Iraq, then you should have serious concerns about the DOJ’s efforts to disrupt the critical relationship between reporters and their sources.

Jordy Yager (The Hill) reports, "A bipartisan group of House lawmakers unveiled a bill on Wednesday that would force the Department of Justice (DOJ) to get a federal court’s approval before seizing records from journalists." The group was US House Reps Ted Poe, John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee and Trey Radel.

Today, US President Barack Obama blathered on in that self-justifying way that War Criminals all seem to naturally shift into.  Like many a president on the ropes, he elected to give his speech at a military base, Fort McNair, where he hoped (wrongly) he would be better able to manage the crowd.  The  main topic was The Drone War.

Yesterday, as part of the roll out for today's speech, the Justice Dept's admission of 4 Americans killed by drones in The Drone War suddenly made the news.  As The Progressive's Matthew Rothschild observes in a radio commentary ("Tony Sopranco in the Oval Office") observes today, "And it claims with very little credibility that it didn't mean to kill three of the four which I'm sure provides great comfort and solace to their families."

Admitting to four known murders was seen by some, such as the weak  CCR, as good news  -- as though Barack was the friend you were launching an intervention on and not the man who has, as The Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes, ordered 316 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, resulting in the deaths of at least 197 children.   In a speech of nearly 6,500 words (I count 6,494),  he never noted what Alice K. Ross (Bureau of Investigative Journalism) reported earlier this month, that a Pakistan Peshawar High Court had ruled that these Drone Strikes were "criminal offences," a "war crime," a "blatant violation of basic human rights" and that the judge called for the United Nations Security Council to step in.

Though he spent a great deal of time making glib remarks about other countries, he never noted that the US had popularized The Drone War and made it an 'acceptable choice' for other countries, or that the US was providing drones with kill capacity to other countries.  He never acknowledged, for example, Nathalie Guibert (Le Monde) report, from earlier this week, that France will be purchasing  drones from the US --  two Reaper drones which will have to be 'European-ized' due to the fact that the drones are illegal as is in Europe. Germany has already spent $400 million to purchase several drones from Northrop Grunman Corporation.

Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) offers this take of today's speech, "But if the speech is remembered for anything years hence it will be as the moment when the president declared 'The war on terrorism is dead! long live the open-ended game of whack-a-mole against diffuse networks!'  Yes, that's right. Obama has rhetorically put to bed the frankly silly GWOT terminology -- while obliquely calling for years of low-grade conflict."

Barack's nearly 6500 words included:

From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation --  and world -- that we leave to our children.  So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

"We" did not make a decision on The Drone War, no vote from the American people was sought, no judicial review of The Drone War took place and, until last month's Senate hearing, there has been no little Congressional acknowledgment, let alone review.  And on that US Senate hearing last month?  Alice K. Ross (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) observed that "the government [White House] refused to send a representative to yesterday's hearing."

At the heart of the objection to what Barack has done is the US legal concept that a democracy does not allow any one person to be judge, jury and executioner.  But that's what Barack has done and been as he has overseen The Drone War. 

 He had the audacity to invoke the phrase "rule of law" twice in his speech early on -- once to take a swipe at his predecessor, once to praise himself.  Rule of law does not allow one person to be judge, jury and executioner.  Rule of law has not been followed in The Drone War.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments Due Process Clauses have been ignored and broken.

He has ignored rule of law and the notion of democratic consent.  He has completely confused his role and the powers granted the office by the US Constitution as evidenced by his ridiculous assertions such as,  "For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives."  You are commander in chief of the US military.  You are not allowed to start a war, only Congress is.

Yes, Barack's administration made very clear in statements to the press that that had no respect for The War Powers Act but what Barack's actions with regards to The Drone War have made clear is that he has no understanding of what the Constitution allows a president to do or what it does not allow a president to do.  Either he has no understanding or just doesn't respect the Constitution.  He is not the commander in chief of the United States.  That title applies to his position over the military only.  As a person who lectured on the Constitution to college students, he should be aware of that fact.

In addition to not being commander in chief of the American people, his role as commander in chief is not supreme.  The US is not a military junta.  We have civilian control of the military which includes oversight of all actions built into the Constitution -- and that includes oversight of anyone in the Oval Office invoking the title commander in chief.

Terming it a "rebranding of the Bush era policies with some legalize," Jeremy Scahill shared his impression of the speech with Jake Tapper (The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN) noting, "But effectively Obama has declared the war a battlefield and reserves the right to drone-bomb countries in pursuit of people against whom we may not even have direct evidence or that we're not seeking any indictments against."

In addition, as Julie Pace and Lara Jakes (AP) point out, the CIA controls the Yemen 'front' in The Drone War.  The Central Intelligence Agency -- like the Justice Dept -- is not part of the military.  Invoking 'commander in chief' with regards to his interaction and orders to the CIA is clearly violating "the chain of command" and militarizing a civilian agency, as well as disregarding the Constitution.  Before an e-mail comes in -- and some foolish people will -- the CIA is not needed by the military.  The military has intelligence units.  If you're unaware of them, for starters, you're unaware of how they were used to spy on American protesters during Vietnam.  But, for example, the US Army alone has MI, the Military Intelligence Corps, its own branch of the Army.

As Peter Finn and Julie Tate (Washington Post) emphasize in their report, Barack's remarks also included Guantanamo.  BBC News headlines their report "Obama offers a promise on Guantanamo but no direction."

Whack-a-mole used by Dan Muphy earlier?  I assume we all know the term, Senator John McCain popularized it in his criticism of the Iraq War as late as 2008.  But that was five years ago.  It refers to a game where there are all these holes, you have a hammer and mole pops its head out of one hole, you try to hit (and usually miss) and then it's popping out of another hole.  Guantanamo is not explained at all anymore.  I'm surprised by that.  A friend at NPR asked for a link to Dina Temple-Raston's report on the Guantanamo Bay prison that Temple-Raston did this week for All Things Considered.  There's the link but there's no explanation what Guantanamo is (American's concentration camp).

That was begun in January 2002.  Eleven-years-ago, there are people who have become adults during that time.  A basic synopsis is needed.  Bully Boy Bush began detaining -- widely detaining -- prisoners who had never been before court (still haven't) at a prison on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base -- which is in Cuba (on a piece of land leased or 'leased' by the US government).  Under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Hatian and Cuban refugees were housed there.  Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Bully Boy Bush ordered the round up of many Muslims and others in this country.  They were targeted, many were disappeared.  Some were sent to home countries, some were lost in the 'legal system.'  Some were sent to the Guantanamo prison.  In addition, the US has added to that prison population 'enemy combatants.'  The people in Guantanamo, some of whom have been there since 2002, are prisoners.  The Bully Boy Bush administration termed them -- and the press went alone -- "detainees."  As if they're doing a brief trip through Customs before hailing a taxi?

They're prisoners.  The US Supreme Court has noted the prison is under US control and jurisdiction which means rule of law -- Due Process -- applies.  This has not led to trials -- not even military tribunals.  By 2006, calls for closing the prison were being made by Amnesty International, the United Nations, the European Union and many others.  A year later, they were joined by then-Senator Barack Obama who was campaigning for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  Barack proclaimed August 10, 2007, "As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions."

That wasn't a surprise.  In a June 3, 2007 debate of contenders for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Barack declared, in a response to a question about military action to stop a genocide, "Second point, our legitimacy is reduced when we've got a Guantanamo that is open, when we suspend habeas corpus. Those kinds of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles, and that's one of the reasons why those kinds of issues are so important." He received the party's nomination.  Therefore, as Matthew Boyle (Daily Caller) has pointed out, the Democrat Party Platform for 2008 included, "We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, the location of so many of the worst constitutional abuses in recent years."

And yet, in four years, as president, he never closed it.  He had a lot of excuses.  But he never closed it.  Had he not been re-elected to a second term, he wouldn't have a chance now as a 'do-over.'

100 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike in Guantanamo.  Amy Davidson (The New Yorker) explained earlier this month that many are being forced fed by US personnel who are "pulling them into rooms where they are strapped to chairs and have rubber tubes stuck into their noses and snaked down to their stomachs, then pumping in a can’s worth of a liquid nutritional supplement."  Davidson noted that 100 was the military number and that the number striking may be even larger.  Last Friday, Al Jazeera reported (link is text and video) the hunger strike had reached its 100th day (and that 102 prisoners were taking part).  They quoted the Secretary-General of the World Medical Association, Dr. Otmar Kloiber, stating force-feeding the prisoners was "degrading and inhuman." May 2nd, Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg addressed the hunger strike with Renee Montagne on Morning Edition (NPR).   Rosenberg, who's long covered the story, explained the hunger strike:

As best as I can tell, relations started deteriorating around the first of the year, when a new guard force arrived at the communal camps. We had a first-ever episode of rubber bullets being shot into the showcase camp. We had a shakedown of the cells that the prisoner's lawyers said had been more invasive than in years. And then the prisoners covered up their cameras and blinded the guards. So April 13th, the troops stormed the communal camp and locked everybody into an individual cell. Once that happened, the hunger strike took off, and we now have 100 men refusing to eat.

She did more than that, she noted that despite the claims that Congress had tied his hands, Barack did have the power to release the Guantanamo prisoners, "Congress has imposed hurdles on transfers and releases of detainees. But they have left a little wiggle room if the secretary of defense will certify that someone is approved for transfer. If the president uses his executive authority to instruct the secretary of defense to undertake certification, we could see some detainees leaving again.As Amy Davidson has noted, of the 166 prisoners, 86 have been cleared for release and could be released by the process Rosenberg is outlining.  That would get over half the prisoners out of Guantanamo.  Tat could have been done yesterday, could have been done last week, could have been done last year, could have been . . .

Instead of recognizing that fact, Barack, in his speech today, once again pretended that Congress was preventing anyone from leaving Guantanamo.  

US President Barack Obama: I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.

Medea Benjamin:  86 are cleared already! Release them today!

US President Barack Obama:  Where appropriate we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system.  And we will insist that judicial review be available to every detainee -

Medea Benjamin:  It's --

US President Barack Obama:  Now, ma'am, let me finish.  Let me finish.  Let me finish, ma'am. This is part of free speech.  You being able to speak.  But also you listening and me being able to speak.

Flaunting their great ignorance, his howler monkeys applauded.  No, free speech does not include that Barack gets to "finish."  He wasn't interested in the woman finishing -- and doesn't that say it all?  Or, as Gilda Ratner once put it on Saturday Night Live, "You selfish porkface, now I'll never be satisfied."  But the Constitution does not have a clause allowing anyone the right to finish.  Barack is such an idiot and the encouragement of this stupidity by the Cult of St. Barack goes a long way towards explaining why the administration is currently up to the neck in scandals.

El Paso Inc notes Barack also referred to the 68-year-old Medea Benjamin as "young lady."  I guess we should be grateful he didn't call her "sweetie" or  "best looking" or suggest that "periodically when she's feeling down . . ."

It's a historic moment for Medea Benjamin and CODEPINK -- it only took them five years to confront President Barack Obama.  In 2008, as Medea's co-founder Jodie Evans was bundling billions for Barack's campaign (and forgetting to reveal it to the rank and file in CODEPINK), she and Medea ordered 'bird dogging' of Barack's chief rival in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination Hillary Clinton.  They attacked Hillary repeatedly, busting up one event after another.  They never did the same to Barack, not even after he was elected.  Some argued that CODEPINK was afraid to confront a bi-racial man.  That argument holds no water because they never worried how racist it might look for the various White women attacking African-American Condi Rice repeatedly in public.  No, they didn't attack him or hold him to any standard because they elected him, they used their organization to destroy his rivals and to put him into office.  Whether today was a sign that the group had rediscovered their ethics or just Medea personally responding to the charges that CODEPINK has one set of standards for men and another for women and the recent outcry over Medea's written characterization of rape as "sex" (see here and here for two examples of the backlash to her inane and offensive characterization), we'll have to wait and see.

Please note, NPR has a transcript of the speech and audio here.

The President of the United States didn't forget Iraq.  In addition to the citation noted above, he also declared, "And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade. I won't review the full history. What’s clear is that we quickly drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but then shifted our focus and began a new war in Iraq. This carried grave consequences for our fight against al Qaeda, our standing in the world, and -- to this day -- our interests in a vital region."  He won't review the full history here or ever -- not while he's in the White House.  He went on to say, "We ended the war in Iraq, and brought nearly 150,000 troops home."  Which I guess is an improvement on the lie that all US troops left.

But the ended war?  Then why he did send another Special Ops unit into Iraq last fall?  Ended the war?  Is the increased violence (resulting from the illegal war and Barack's insistence that Nouri al-Maliki remain prime ministers even after Iraqi voters decreed otherwise in the 2010 elections) a sign of a war ended?

Violence continued today in Iraq.  National Iraqi News Agency notes a series of armed attacks in Falluja which claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers and eighteen soldiers and Sahwas injured, a Baghdad armed attack left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and five more injured, and a Falluja attack left two bystanders (woman and man) injuredAll Iraq News notes that "the driver of the dean of Kirkuk Law College" was found dead "shot in the chest" today in Kirkuk.  Alsumaria adds a Tikrit bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and four more were left injured, an Abu Ghraib bombing injured one Sahwa, and 1 person was shot dead in a Mosul marketMu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports, "In the eastern province of Diyala, three people were killed and two wounded in a bomb explosion at a mobile phone shop in the town of Kanaan near Diyala's capital of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, a provincial police source told Xinhua."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 640 violent deaths so far this month.  But Barack insists the war has ended?

My name is Penny Evans and I've just gone twenty-one
A young widow in the war that's being fought in Vietnam
And I have two infant daughters, I thank God I have no sons
Now they say the war is over but I think it's just begun
-- Melanie's version of "The Ballad of Penny Evans" used as an intro to her composition "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)"  -- "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)" first appears on her Leftover Wine album.

The Economist notes today: 

Three years after he formed his present coalition government, Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, a Shia, still has no defence or interior minister. He has responded by replacing many of his senior security men. That is unlikely to make a big difference.
The residents of many Sunni districts in Baghdad and in cities in Anbar have been locked in by army roadblocks and prevented from moving freely. The government fears armed gangs infiltrating from Anbar and talks of reinforcing a trench around all of Baghdad. The capital is again becoming like a fortress. Many parts of Iraq are still ruled under emergency measures imposed by America after its invasion; they have stayed in force since American troops left at the end of 2011.

AFP observes today, "Resentful of their treatment by the government of the Shiite prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, Iraq's minority Sunnis have been protesting since December with demands that range from repealing laws seen as penalising their minority sect to forming their own autonomous region, akin to that run by the Kurds in the north." Amnesty International's State of the World report was released today.  We will cover it tomorrow.   Michael Jansen has long reported on Iraq.  We've noted her work most often for the Irish Times.  She has a report for Gulf Today on the violence:

 Maliki has said he is ready to consider the establishment of an autonomous Sunni region if it emerges through legal procedures. However, since he was reappointed to the top post in 2010, he has made many promises to the Sunnis, particularly on power-sharing, but has failed to deliver.
Instead, he has prosecuted Sunni Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi for allegedly operating death squads; forced Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, another Sunni, from office; and refused to pay salaries and pensions to Sunni “Awakening” fighters who helped contain Al Qaeda during the 2007 US “surge” campaign. Consequently, Maliki is not trusted by the Sunni community.
Instead of dealing with the Sunni protest movement, Maliki has accused it of both attempting to revive Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and being a tool of Al Qaeda. Tribal leaders have been targeted for kidnapping and arrest by government forces, commanded by Maliki who holds both the defence and interior portfolios as well as the premiership.

Writing on the topic for The National, Hadeel Al Sayegh observes:

Eighty-six people died on Monday; it was the bloodiest and deadliest day of the year.
Monday's bombings have triggered feelings of resentment and hate on both sides. The words "sectarian war" are now frequently being used to describe the violence.
Sunni Iraqis are fighting for their rights, which are completely legitimate. But a select few have carried flags of Saddam Hussain's regime during the demonstrations, losing them legitimacy in the eyes of Shias, who are worried about a returning Baathist tide to return under the cloak of Al Qaeda.
Making matters worse, the truth is unclear. Every Iraqi channel - owned by their various political parties - portrays a different perspective on the story, casting blame in different directions.
"Baghdad is burning," my mother said as she wept and watched the developments unfold from Abu Dhabi. My mother - and all the Iraqis in the neighbourhood - have become addicted to watching the toxic and deadly events in Iraq.

 If the bombs and bullets don't kill you, the snakes just might.  Al Arabiya reports (link is text and video):

A sudden spate of snake attacks has citizens in Sayid Dkheel, a city in southern Iraq in a “dangerous” situation.
Large numbers of deadly snakes have and continue to invade the city as a rise in weather temperature sees them looking for a cooler spot to live.

Equally dangerous are armed thugs who threaten the Iraqi people.    National Iraqi News Agency reports that the Motahedoon Coalition has issued a statement stating that the government is supporting armed militias.  (Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi heads this coalition.) This follows NINA reporting, "Sheikh Mohammad al-Hayes, member of Anbar Salvation Council, announced two days grace for Anbar sitters before handing over the killers of five military."  He is a member of Sahwa -- the ones who gave up their beliefs when the US tossed $300 a month at each one of them.  They are now threatening the Iraqi people.  If someone has been killed, that's a matter for the police to investigate and armed thugs like Sahwa should be arrested for publicly threatening Iraqi citizens -- especially ones engaged in the exercise of their Constitutional rights.  If Iraq had a real leader, Sahwa would have been disbanded and kicked to the curb today.

The US government also has a lack of leadership.   Yesterday the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the IRS scandal.  We covered it in yesterday's snapshot, Kat covered it in "It was like Steel Magnolias at one point during the hearing," Wally covered it in "Time for a special prosecutor (Wally)" and Ava covered it in "Sir, I gave you the wrong information (Ava)."  The Washington Post editorial board asks this evening:

 WHY DIDN’T Congress know earlier that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny? In days of hearings, lawmakers have tried to get a satisfactory answer from witnesses under oath. They haven’t succeeded.
According to a Treasury Department inspector general’s report, Lois Lerner, a mid-level IRS manager, learned in 2011 that her division had flagged applications for tax-exempt status that had come from organizations with “tea party” and similar terms in their titles. She told her employees to stop, which they did, but then they resumed some months later. When members of Congress later asked questions about the scrutiny some conservative groups were getting, why didn’t she reveal this history?

IRS official Lerner, whose salary is paid by the US taxpayer, appeared yesterday before the House Committee, the Congress, the people's representatives and announced she was pleading the Fifth Amendment (to avoid self-incrimination) about what she had done in her government job.  In their comedic joint-post this morning ("Future employment opportunities for Lois Lerner" and "THIS JUST IN! A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR LOIS LERNER!"), Cedric and Wally noted future employment opportunities for Lerner could include:





Lerner may need to begin exploring those opportunities.  Joseph Tanfani (Los Angeles Times) reports, "Lerner, who has been with the IRS for 12 years, was head of the IRS office of exempt organizations, the unit that is tasked with policing charities and other nonprofits that get tax-exempt status. She has been placed on administrative leave, according to a congressional source who asked not to be identified."  Stephanie Condon and Walt Cronkite (CBS News) add, "Thursday afternoon, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Government Affairs investigations subcommittee, called on Daniel Werfel, the new acting IRS commissioner, 'to suspend immediately Lois Lerner from her office as Director of the Office of Exempt Organizations'."  Senator Levin's office issued the following:

Senators Levin and McCain Call for Removal of IRS Official from Office

Thursday, May 23, 2013
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, today sent the following letter to Daniel Werfel, Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) urging him “to suspend immediately Lois Lerner from her office as Director of the Office of Exempt Organizations at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)”:
May 23, 2013

Mr. Daniel Werfel
Acting Commissioner
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20224

Dear Acting Commissioner Werfel:
We are writing to urge you to suspend immediately Lois Lerner from her office as Director of the Office of Exempt Organizations at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We believe that Ms. Lerner failed to disclose crucial information concerning the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of some conservative 501(c)(4) organizations during the course of a Subcommittee investigation into how the IRS enforces the 501(c)(4) law, leading to an incomplete account of the full operations of her unit.
Since March of last year, the Subcommittee has been examining whether the IRS adequately and appropriately enforces tax code provisions and implementing regulations regarding the extent to which tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups may engage in political campaign activity. The Subcommittee asked the IRS why it was not enforcing the 501(c)(4) statute which states that social welfare organizations should be used “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and instead enforcing the more lenient IRS regulation which states that a social welfare organization may be used “primarily” for social welfare. It also asked the IRS about how they reviewed applications filed by certain Democratic and Republican leaning 501(c)(4)s. Our investigation has included a year’s worth of correspondence between the Subcommittee and the IRS, as well as document productions and repeated consultations with IRS staff.
On April 30, 2013, Ms. Lerner and seven IRS colleagues spent six-hours being interviewed, on a bipartisan basis, by Subcommittee staff. That interview covered, among other topics, how the IRS determines which groups to review, what actions are taken in connection with the IRS reviews, and how the laws and regulations are used to examine those groups. Ms. Lerner failed to disclose the internal controversy over the search terms used by the Cincinnati office to identify 501(c)(4) groups for further review, the actions taken by that office in reviewing the identified groups, the investigation and imminent findings by the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA); and TIGTA’s conclusion that the IRS had used inappropriate criteria to target Tea Party and other conservative groups. Ms. Lerner also failed to disclose that she was fully aware of these issues as early as June 2011, and, according to TIGTA, had been personally involved in reviewing questionable actions taken by the Cincinnati office.
Given the serious failure by Ms. Lerner to disclose to this Subcommittee key information on topics that the Subcommittee was investigating, we have lost confidence in her ability to fulfill her duties as Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS. Ms. Lerner’s continued tenure in the office she holds, where she is responsible for overseeing 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations, would erode public trust and confidence in the IRS and its professional integrity. We believe that the immediate removal of Ms. Lerner from office would be a vital step in helping to restore public trust in the agency.

John McCain
Carl Levin

 matthew rothschild

 the christian science monitor



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