Friday, October 1, 2010

Party Girl

We were looking for something to watch tonight and ended up on Netflix, streaming a film I really like -- in fact, a friend dubbed me off a video copy back in the day -- even going so far as to include the anti-piracy message at the start of the videotape.

Party Girl is a 1995 comedy film starring Parker Posey and directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer. Mary is a party girl living in NYC who is throwing an illegal party at the start of the film and is arrested and thrown in jail. She calls her godmother who bails her out, offers a harsh lecture and Mary ends up working for her at the library.

"Even a trained monkey . . ." her godmother is fond of shouting at Mary. The Dewey Decimal System is how the books are shelves and, Mary is informed, that a trained monkey learned the system in a few hours.

Mary's broken up with Nigel (Liev Schreiber) due to his repeated pattern of peeing in her shower. Guillermo Diaz plays Leo who ends up living with Mary. He wants to be a dee jay at Renee's club. Mary introduces them. There's a cute scene where the two of them take a shower together (but are not involved).

At work, she buys food from a vendor named Mustafa (Omar Townsend). She's in love with him and eventually they get together but she blows it.

It all comes together at a surprise party for Mary.

This is where Anthony Jones shows up as a cop to arrest her.

But, he's told, he hasn't even read Mary her rights.

"A love slave," he informs, "has no rights."

Yep, he's a stripper and what a fine ass he has on him. He strips down to a jock strap and Mary's focused on other things (convincing her godmother that she's serious about becoming a librarian) so Mary handcuffs him to a pole.

It's a funny movie, it's a sweet movie. I love Parker Posey in everything (she and Joey Lauren Adams make Sleep With Me).

It's also a depressing movie.

Why?

After it went off, I went looking for other movies to see. Parker, of course, has made many movies. And Diaz has a big career. But Anthony Jones has pretty much faded away and Omar Townsend never made another film (or even appeared on TV). That's really not fair.

But at least they all came together to make an amazing film in Party Girl.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


Friday, October 1, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues even though Nouri gets picked, stories of treatment and benefit battles are heard by Congress, the FBI raids of last week continue to get coverage, Iraq's LGBT community remains targeted, and more.
Starting with the political stalemate in Iraq where there is news. First up, Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports that today Iraq became the country that went "the longest between holding parliamentary elections and forming a govnerment, experts say. The Netherlands had held the unfortunate honor after a series of failed attempts left the country without an elecected government for 207 days in 1977, according to Christopher J. Anderson, director, of the Institute for European Studies at Cornell University." 208 days.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-four days with no government formed.
Roula Khalaf and Andrew England (Financial Times of London) report that the US and Iran joining together in their support for the continued reign of Nouri as prime minister has made -- or kept -- him a contender he otherwise might not be due to his being hugely unpopular with the people of Iraq. They quote an unnamed "senior western diplomat" stating, "Some people think Maliki is the only Shia tough guy around, and it starts from the premise that Iraq needs a strong man to ensure security. [. . .] the impact of the American push for Maliki is that it has actually been a solidifying factor for his opponents." A tough guy? Try thug. And many Americans received the latest on the stalemate while listening to the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show today as guest host Katty Kay discussed Iraq with Nadia Bilbassy (MBC TV), Courtney Rube (NBC News) and David Sanger (New York Times).
Katty Kay: A very busy week and a very busy morning. We have a lot of breaking news stories coming in. Nadia Bilbassy, we may have an end to the political stalemate in Iraq finally. How many months has it been since those elections?

Nadia Bilbassy: It's been almost seven months. And I always remember every time I come on this show, the question was when do you think the Iraqis are going to form their government and actually they entered a record in terms of a country without a government after election. So the fact that we have seen so many political moves in the last few days with Ayad Allawi -- the head or Iraqiya Party -- going to Damascus, trying to see what he can do. It seems finally it's the Shi'ite bloc that called the shot. And Moqtada al-Sadr who has been very well known here, obviously been anti-American in his stand, it seems he is the one who gives the final okay for this government for Nouri al-Maliki was, in the beginning, they objected to him as you will remember, Katty, in the old days, he led a campaign against the Shi'ites in the south. And specifically against Moqtada al-Sadr. So it looks like now that he is going to be the prime minister and all the Shi'ites' coalition will be behind him.
Katty Kay: Courtney Kube, one of the concerns as American troops start to withdraw from Iraq at the end of August was, of course, the fact that there was real political uncertainty in the country, to what extent does the news this morning that Nouri al-Maliki is not going to be just a caretaker prime minister but actually looks like he is going to be the prime minister as a political solution, to what extent does that mean the security situation
Well US militaries in Iraq is going to improve?
Courtney Kube: Well US military officials in Iraq and back here in the United States have been increasingly concerned about a growing power vacuum that exists in Baghdad ever since the elections. We've seen an increase in violence despite the fact that US combat operations officially ended a month ago today actually. So I think that people can breate a -- a somewhat of a sigh of relief here but there's still more steps that need to be taken before we know that there's going to be a solid government established in Iraq. The next step will be: Will the Kurdish leaders throw their support behind al-Maliki? There hasn't been any indication yet but this is still all breaking this morning. So hopefully this will indicate the end of this power vacuum, security can begin to stabilize again, civilian leaders can start to build up the institutions, the infrastructure in Iraq and they continue to draw down the troops next year.
Sam Dagher and Munaf Ammar (Wall St. Journal) report, "After a private meeting on Friday between officials from Mr. Maliki's and Mr. Sadr's party, the Sadrists, who had been vociferously opposed to a new term for Mr. Maliki, declared an about-face and said they would support him as their candidate to head a new government." So what comes next? If it holds, Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explains, "Maliki will now need a simple majority in the 325-member parliament to back his chosen cabinet. The Kurdish alliance that has largely been watching from the sidelines will now come into play. If the group, with about 57 seats, backs Maliki, he will have the majority in Iraq's parliament needed to approve his government. The group has made a series of demands that they want their potential partners to agree to." The news is not the end of statlemate or the formation of the government. That may or may not be coming next and it may or may not move quickly. Many previously announced 'done-deals' have quickly fallen apart allowing the stalemate to continue. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) hails it as "a decisive step" but he does not rush to call it "a done deal." Myers rightly uses qualifiers such as "if" to describe what may or may not happen next. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) offers, "Attention will now turn to Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, the grouping which won the most seats in the election. He has said he will not serve under Mr Maliki. Forcing Iraqiya into opposition would risk worsening the sectarian splits in the country." AFP quotes Iraqi voter Haidar Ibrahim stating, "I sometimes regret voting. From the very beginning (after the elections), there were always disputes among the political blocs -- the calls for recounts, the delays to the results. How could I have hope after all these things happened?" What a proud moment for the US government. They've meddled and interfered and done everything to keep puppet Nouri in place -- every undemocratic thing you can think of including fighting the efforts to have the United Nations appoint a caretaker government months ago since Nouri's term long ago expired -- and it has had an effect: It's convincing Iraqis that voting just isn't worth it.
Stephen Farrell has a must read article and, like too many New York Times articles on Iraq, it won't appear in the paper but it is up at the paper's blog At War. Choosing a section of it is difficult and doing it a diservice. If there are awards for newspapers' blog reporting, Farrell's earned such an award with "In Iraq, New Leadership but Same Reality:"
The American surge is long gone; many Sunni insurgents co-opted into the Awakening movement feel marginalized by the Shiite-led government. Furthermore, Sunni Arab voters are unhappy that the moderate cross-sectarian coalition for which many of them voted won more parliamentary seats than any other in the March elections, yet the Shiite incumbent Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki refused to cede real power, and looks increasingly likely to cling to office.
Shiites are just as nervous. Around Sadr City there are mutterings that militia bogeymen, real or imagined, have returned. Other Shiite militia leaders are being released from prison, amid political deal-making. A Shiite friend grumbled to me that, Corleone-style, he had to visit the home of one newly-freed Sadrist leader, to pay his respects.
My friend is leaving Iraq, fearing for his chances of survival in a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood if there is more sectarian blood-letting.
It is not an isolated decision. Many of The Times's Iraqi staff members in the Baghdad bureau have already left for the United States on an asylum program, or have applied to go. One journalist friend who chose to stay is now reconsidering the decision. Another got out of journalism because her life was threatened.
Again, amazing report and if the excerpt above doesn't make you want to read it, put it down to I must have selected the wrong portion to excerpt. It's an important and strongly written report. He notes a number of Iraqi journalists are leaving the country. Reporters Without Borders noted this week:

Reporters Without Borders deplores a targeted attack on Alaa Mohsen, the host of the programme "Liqa Sakhen" on state-run Al-Iraqiya television, who was badly injured by a bomb placed underneath his car as he was about to leave his home in the Baghdad suburb of Saydiya on the morning of 27 September to go to work. Rushed to the Yarmouk district hospital, he was reported to be in a critical condition yesterday.

It was the third targeted attack on a TV presenter since the United States announced the withdrawal of its last combat troops on 31 August (http://en.rsf.org/irak-second-targeted-killing-of-a-tv-08-09-2010,38320.html). Safaa Al-Dine Abdul Hameed of Al-Mosuliyah was shot dead in Mosul, in the northern province of Ninawa, on 8 September while Riad Al-Saray, another Al-Iraqiya presenter, was gunned down in Baghdad on 7 September.

The current climate of terror and impunity has also seen an increase in violence against journalists by members of the Iraqi security forces.


Today on Morning Edition (NPR -- link has audio and text), Kelly McEvers reports that journalists in Iraq are facing increasing problems -- violence has long targeted journalists in Iraq and now they also have the Communication and Media Commission.
MCEVERS: Haidar says not only are reporters being thrown out onto the streets, but it's getting harder and harder for them - well, us - to do our jobs. The government office that oversees the press here is the Communication and Media Commission. It was set up by the U.S., just after the 2003 invasion. The commission recently announced that all news organizations, both Iraqi and foreign, should register, pay hefty licensing fees and sign a pledge that we won't ignite sectarian tensions or encourage terrorism. Human rights groups say this opens the door for people in power to punish their enemies. We put that claim to Ahmed al Abyad, who advises the commission. You signed this thing that says we will not ignite sectarian tensions. But it's like, well, who is to judge that?
Mr. AHMED AL ABYAD: (Through translator) It's true what you are saying, and like, who puts these regulations? And again, who is responsible for applying those regulations? That's the biggest question.
MCEVERS: For now, that who is the nine-member commission, which is appointed directly by the prime minister and not answerable to parliament. The idea is that in exchange for our money and our pledges to abide by the rules, the commission will provide two things that are very important to journalists in Iraq: access and protection. But so far, the commission hasn't held up its end of the deal. In fact, officials use protection as a way to deny access. These days, when a terrorist attack is reported or a military offensive is underway, journalists are kept far from the scene. Here's Ziad al Ajili, who heads a press freedom group here.
Mr. ZIAD AL AJILI (Leader of Press Freedom Group): (Through translator) When we go to those military commanders, they say, no. We don't want to give you access, because we fear for your safety. And, I mean, I want to do the report, even if I die, even if I pay my life for it. It's my life, and I'm free to do anything with it.
Among the many human rights tragedies of Iraq is the blind eye that Nouri, et al and the US government have turned to the assault on Iraq's LGBT community. Michael T. Luongo (Gay City News) is in Iraq and reporting on the LGBT community:

An organization that mostly serves women, many widowed, who have suffered horrifically since the US invasion, OWFI has an open door policy to anyone needing assistance. With my limited knowledge of Arabic, I noticed that the staff used the polite term "mithlee" for homosexual, rather than more offensive labels common among Iraqis.

I met with men on the Sadr City death lists, the postings placed throughout this part of Baghdad by Muqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Mohammed was on the list for many reasons, not just his sexuality; the calculus that determines death sentences in Baghdad is jumbled and terrifyingly far-reaching.

My interviews at the women's center were difficult not only because many men were reluctant to fully explain why they faced persecution, but also because of the OWFI's office layout. There was no privacy as people watched interviews; little children sometimes played in the room, climbing into my lap as I tried to make sense of a cacophony of languages -- English, Arabic, and Kurdish.

A loud air-cooler made hearing difficult, but the power repeatedly blacked out, easing the burden until the Badhdad heat became overwhelming. Still, the welcoming staff made the OWFI one of my favorite places in Baghdad.

Mohammed told me he loves Americans, showing me a cell phone picture of himself with American soldiers. It's part of what sparked having his name put on the death list. As I tried to dig deeper, he paused, sighed, and told me, "because I drank and stayed out late" and because of his tight Western clothes that showed off the body he built up at a gym eventually shut by the militias as un-Islamic.

Members of the Mahdi Army "phoned me and threatened me," he said, his words translated by others in the room. Though he never told me why, the militia killed his brother, and his panicked family sent him into hiding. Mohammed told me the name of his brother's killer, someone the women's group is familiar with. On another visit, I watched a video of the killer.

I came to learn that in Baghdad people know the murderers in their midst, but can do nothing to stop them. Because of the numerous grounds on which murder victims are singled out, it is quite possible that the number of gay killings has been undercounted, with families saying other motivations were at play.

That's from part two. Part one is here and part three is there. This is planned as an at least four part series.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Bombings?
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing attacking Sahwa which claimed the life of 1 and left nine people emerge (two of which were Sahwa), a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier, and, dropping back to Thursday for all that follows, a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded one of Brig Gen Mohammed's body guards, a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded one person, four bombings in Baghdad apparently to distract from a bank robbery -- unsuccessfully leading to a shoot-out in which 2 police officers were killed and three indiviuals were wounded, a Babil mortar attack which left one man and two women wounded. .
Shootings?
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad shoot up in which 1 person was shot dead and two more were wounded and a Mosul attack in which 1 police officer was killed. Reuters notes a Baghdad drive-by in which Lt Col Ahmed Abdul-Wahid Alwan was wounded.
Today Chuck Raasch (Gannett News Services) notes, "Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said he expects suicide and other post-combat problems to intensify as soldiers return to home and family. And as part of the push to cut federal deficits, the Pentagon almost certainly will face this new front with smaller budgets." Raasch quotes Mullen's stating he's "hoping to avoid any massive cuts." Is he worried about the service members health? (National security comments right after may cast some doubt on that.) Yesterday the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled "The True Costs of the War." Committee Chair Bob Filner noted the efforts to attack veterans benefits. From Filner's opening remarks:
Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea. Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liability of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost. It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically. If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget? Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess." That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.

Chair Filner and US House Rep Walter Jones both spoke of the need to create a Veterans Trust Fund to ensure that veterans benefits are not under attack under the current system where they are funded according to how much money is in the budget (as opposed to wars which are funded by passing the bill on to future generations). Among those testifying before the committee was economist Joseph E. Stigliz who stated, "And the reality then is that under the pay-go current framework that supporting these obligations that we've undertaken to our veterans has to compete with every other expenditure. And -- and there will be pressure. And the reference to the Debt Commission, the reference to former Congressman Simpson's testimony is evidence of that kind of pressure that will be put on veterans expenditures."
We covered the first panel in yesterday's snapshot and we'll note panel two and panel three today. Panel two was composed of retired officers, Maj Gen John Batiste, Maj Gen William Nash and Col James McDonough. Panel three was composed of Paul Sullivan (Veterans for Common Sense), Lorrie Knight-Major (mother of Iraq War veterans Sgt Ryan Christian Major who was critically injured by a Ramadi bombing), Iraq War veteran Corey Gibson and Ret Lt Col Donna R. Van Derveer, Iraq War veteran..
From the second panel, we'll note this exchange. Maj Gen John Batiste had spoken of a huge gulf "between resources and the needs of veterans" and "a void between the VA Central Office, the range of VA medical centers and regional state offices and local veteran service organization. Federal and state governments are not aligned to serve veterans and their families."
Chair Bob Filner: I was hoping -- You said some kind words about our great [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki, I thought that he would, from experience be able to impose some stuff on the bureaucracy. It looks like it's working the other way.from my observations. Because, in the army, when he says something, it gets carried out. In a bureaucracy [shrugs] who knows? And besides the people that have to tell you that it's being carried out? [Shrugs.] I don't -- I'll just give you one example of how I had asked General Shinseki in his first meeting, his first appearance here in front of this committee, I asked him about suicide coordinators because we had, you know, that were supposed to be -- 'I've been told that there's a suicide coordinator at every hospital.' And I said, 'You know, I'm only a private and you're a general but let me tell you that you have to look beneath what you just heard or what you've been told. The janitor who has a 10% suicide coordinator thing now by his name is probably in some hospital or a half-time person here or someone untrained there. And you got to go beyond, you know?' If that was an army, his army staff telling him, he could rely on it. But I don't think he could rely on it with -- with the bureucracy here. So how do you get through that to get to some of the stuff you're talking about?
Maj Gen William Nash: Well I know that General Batiste will have some comments on this as well but I would just start out the response is that two years is a very short time when you're trying to overcome years and years of less than brilliant management. And the key to it in my view is not unlike the approach the services have taken and the emphasis on professional development of your workforce in parallel with your day to day working. You know we send off army officers to school all the time. Okay? We take them out of the operating force -- more and more difficult when you're fighting the wars that we've been fighting for the last nine years, there's been a modifcation of that -- but for years, even in WWII, we took people out of the force for purposes of education and, during times of peace, we did it even more so. So if you don't set up a system to develop your work force, you're never going to get better, you're going to keep fighting the same battles day in and day out. And, as administrations change, all too many people turn over. And so the professional force has got to be developed in such a manner that it provides the continuity. So when the Secretary of Veterans Affairs gives an order, there's a reasonable expectation it will be carried out uniformly throughout the force.
Moving to the third panel, Paul Sullivan noted his organization's support for a Veterans Benefits Trust Fund. He also noted that, via Freedom Of Information requests, Veterans For Common Sense had come up with a number of figures such as aprproximately 2.2 million US service members have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars thus far and that VA has "treated approximately 565,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients at VA medical facilities. The one thing that is surprising is that the numbers keep rising at the same rate even though there are comments that the wars are de-escalating and troops are coming back." The number of disability claims filed by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans is 515,000 so far. He also stated, "There are 100 new first-time veteran patients treated at VA for each battlefield death reported by the military. A second bullet point, there is one new VA patient every five minutes from these two wars."
Lorrie Knight-Major spoke of her son's wounds and his medical treatment. Stop-loss is referred to as "the backdoor draft." And how it has been carried out is that a service member is informed that he or she is being stop-lossed and, as a result, his/her discharge date has changed and been pushed back. Knight-Major's son Ryan was critically wounded in the Ramadi bombing and that bombing took place "five days after his original discharge date". Stop-loss wounds, stop-loss kills. It's not just a benign policy that Donald Rumsfeld thought up and Robert Gates has continued to implement. Knight-Major spoke of the hardships on the wounded and on the families of the wounded. There were few VA resources that were available to the families. Non-profits were the ones that allowed her son to, for example, have an IBOT (a specialized wheelchair furnished by the Independence Fund) and a dog Theodore (via Paws 4 Liberty), "Theodore is a three-year-old Belgian Shepherd and has truly made the biggest impact on Ryan's independence. Theodore helps Ryan with retrieving dropped items, helps him navigate crowded areas and helps him relieve and mitigate his PTSD symptoms." These resources and others that that would help are resources that families and veterans have to find on their own, Knight-Major explained, noting how she was to learn of Rebuilding Together via "word of mouth." (Rebuilding Together was able to renovate the home, adding an elevator, accessible bathroom,etc.)
Lorrie Knight-Major: If the nonprofit organizations had not provided assistance, would it have been acceptable to the government for my son to have been placed in a nursing home? Would it have been acceptable to the government for my son to have lived isolated in a basement because he didn't have a means to be transported to the main areas of the house? Would it have been acceptable for my son to require sleep medications or someone in his room nightly forhim to sleep? Is this what the government considers to be the true costs of the war?
Iraq War veteran Corey Glass detailed the problems with receiving care including, "Mental health services are paramout for our returning combatants. My interview upon returning from Iraq to decipher whether I needed mental health services or not was to be marched into a gym, separated from my family by a piece of glass, and asked if I wanted to see my family or do I feel I need to talk to someone about my feelings at this time."
Scott Horton: You were one of the peacenik victims of this FBI persecution last week. Is that right?
Jess Sundin: Yes, I was. My home was raided by seven or more federal agents on Friday morning at 7:00 a.m.
Scott Horton: Wow. And was that because you're involved with al Qaeda or Hezbollah?
Jess Sundin: Neither one. Absolutley not. I'm a peace activist and I believe the government doesn't like my ideas and is trying to keep us from speaking out and saying what we believe in. They're not going to find any evidence in any of the things they seized from my house or any of the others that anyone ever gave anything to any terrorist organization. It's not something that anyone in the peace movement does. Nothing that I've ever done.
Jess Sundin is a member of Minnesota's Anti-War Committee. Last Friday the raids took place in at least seven homes -- the FBI admits to raiding seven homes -- and the FBI raided the offices of Anti-War Committee. Jess also noted that many individuals across the country received subpoenas to appear before the grand jury on the same day. As noted last week: Karmically, the news breaks on the same day that the National Lawyers Guild issues a new report, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." .One connection Jess knew of between those whose homes were raided was that they participated in some form at protests at the 2008 GOP Convention in Minnesota.
Heidi writes at length about those protests including:
More than 15,000 journalists, bloggers and members of the independent media attended the RNC. According to the Report of the Republican National Convention Public Safey Planning and Implementation Review Commission (After Report), ". .. the lack of clarity as to how law enforcement would treat journalists at the RNC, and the lack of a clear policy toward the media, resulted in disparate expectations and treatment, confusion and some resentment by journalists twoard the SPPD."
The RNC Welcoming Committee and independent media became specific targets of local and federal law enforcement during the 2008 RNC.
On the Wednesday before the RNC, August 27, New York journalists Vladimir Teichberg and Olivia Katz from the Glass Bead Collective were arrested at around 1:30am by Minneapolis police. They had just picked up another collective member and were walking home when they were stopped. The officers detained them for at least 30 minutes and held their possessions, including a laptop computer, cell phones and video cameras, for 14 hours. The property was released and a decision was made to not file formal charges only after the internvention of [National Lawyers] Guild attorneys and public press conferences condemning the police actions.
Bruce Nestor noted that: "The detaining of journalists ties into a pattern and a history here of the Minneapolis police harassing people who are documenting police misconduct. They were seizing video cameras, taking cell phone videos, destroying memory chips, and otherwise interfering with the right of citizens to document police misconduct."
On Saturday, August 30, police executed a search warrant at 951 and 949 Iglehart Avenune in Saint Paul where members of the independent media group I-Witness Video were staying. Police detained the St. Paul homeowner, Michael Whalen, and others present for two hours while they obtained a warrant to search for weapons, computers, hazardous materials, cell phones and firearms. No arrests were made and no items were seized. The search warrant was based on the claim of an undercover informant that 27 boxes of "weapons" had been delivered to the home. The boxes turned out to contain literature promoting veganism, for distribution during the RNC.
Heidi co-hosts WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio (10:00 a.m. EST Mondays -- also plays on other stations around the country throughout the week) with fellow attorneys Michael Ratner and Michael Smith. Ron Jacobs (at Dissident Voice) offers his take on the raids:
The PATRIOT Act was passed on October 26, 2001. Since that passage, the level of law enforcement intimidation and outright repression increased quite dramatically. From little things like protesters being forced to protest in so-called free speech zones or face arrest to the recent approval of the assassination of US citizens by federal death squads, there has been a clear progression away from any concern for protecting civil liberties. Indeed, the concern for civil liberties is usually dismissed by politicians, judges, and other people in power almost as if they were some worthless costume jewelry from your grandmother's jewelry box. As mentioned earlier, this harassment and repression is not new to US history. In addition to multiple murders of Black liberation activists, illegal surveillance, false imprisonment and other forms of harassment, the use of grand juries was essential to the repression of the antiwar and antiracist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. As the NLG document points out, "from 1970-1973, over 100 grand juries in 84 cities subpoenaed over 1,000 activists." However, nowadays there seems to be less resistance to it. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of press coverage, which is quite possible intentional. Much of the lack of concern, however, can be attributed to the state of fear so many US residents live in. This is a testimony to the power of the mainstream media and its willingness to serve as the government's propaganda wing.
To those who argue that the media doesn't always support the government and then cite Fox News' distaste for Obama or a liberal newspaper's distaste for certain policies enacted under George Bush, let me point something out. Like the two mainstream political parties (and the occasional right wing third party movement like the Tea Party), even when different media outlets seem to be opposing each other, the reality is that neither opposes the underlying assumptions demanded by the State. In fact, the only argument seems to be how better to effect the underlying plan of the American empire. The plan itself (or the rightness of the plan) is never seriously questioned.
TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Gloria Borger (CNN), Susan Davis (National Journal), Christi Parsons (Chicago Tribune) and Jeff Zeleny (New York Times) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "Telling Our Stories." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Melinda Henneberger, Tara Setmayer and Kristen Soltis on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is on whether or not female politicians should call out sexism used to attack them. Need To Know is PBS' new program covering current events. This week's hour long broadcast airs Fridays on most PBS stationsthe Penatgon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg is a guest on the broadcast) and Joe Pantoliano discussesmental illness. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Unfinished Business
Lesley Stahl goes to Iraq to report on the many possible sources of conflict that could erupt there once the U.S. military completely withdraws from the country by the end of next year. | Watch Video


The Go-To Guy
He was in charge of the 9/11 victim's compensation fund, and adjudicated claims of Virginia Tech Massacre victims and those of Agent Orange. Now Kenneth Feinberg is tasked with sorting out the thousands of claims stemming from the BP oil spill. Morley Safer reports. | Watch Video


Giving Away A Fortune
Scott Pelley catches up with the world's most generous philanthropists, Bill and Melinda Gates, and travels to some of the world's trouble spots their billions are helping. | Watch Video


60 Minutes, Sunday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

We'll close with this from David Swanson's "The Book the Pentagon Burned" (War Is A Crime -- and that link works, the link I did this morning did not work, my apologies):


The Pentagon spent $50,000 of our money to buy up the first edition of "Operation Dark Heart" by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and destroy every copy. The second printing has lots of words blacked out. Wikileaks claims to have a first edition, but hasn't shared it. However, reading the bleeped-through version reveals plenty.
Shaffer and others in the military-spying complex knew about U.S. al Qaeda cells and leaders before 9-11 and were prevented from pursuing the matter. Shaffer believes they could have prevented 9-11. He so informed the 9-11 Commission, which ignored him. The Defense Intelligence Agency retaliated against Shaffer for having spoken up. We knew this, but the book adds context and details, and names names.
The bulk of the book is an account of Shaffer's time in Afghanistan in 2003, and the title comes from the name of another aborted mission that Shaffer believes could have and should have captured or killed al Qaeda leaders at that time in Pakistan. Shaffer blames the CIA for screwing up any number of missions, for working with Pakistan which worked with the Taliban and al Qaeda, for counter-productive drone attacks, and for torturing prisoners. He also describes the insanity of General Stanley McChrystal's scheme of sending armed soldiers door-to-door to win hearts and minds and flush out "bad guys."
Shaffer doesn't say whether people he helped capture were tortured, but proudly recounts helping murder people and interrogating people without using torture. He does, however, detail the interrogation he did of a man whom he repeatedly threatened with shipment to Guantanamo. Bleeped out throughout the interrogation are repeated references to what is almost certainly the man's identity as an American.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Terry's month of men

Today on NPR's Fresh Air, it was another male guest. Yesterday? Two men.

Today ended up September.

Want to guess how many female guests Terry Gross' show booked all month?

Want to guess?

Two.

One was Dolly Parton. The other was a female writer. Are you beginning to see the problems with Terry's show?


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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