Saturday, March 12, 2011

Roberta Flack should record Donovan

It was probably Kat's post on Roberta Flack current project, recording an album of Beatles song. But last night I had a dream where she was recording a duet with Donovan. Their voices sounded amazingly good together (in my dream).

And I woke up wondering why she was covering the Beatles?

I love the Beatles. I will gladly buy the disc when it comes out. (Roberta, we want more music from you!!!! You're too much of a treasure to record so little!!!!)

But Roberta really is the Quiet Storm. That's a genre for radio. Roberta and a few other artists led that with these wonderful slow jams. Smokey Robinson was part of it. Anita Baker would become part of it. Sade can be considered part of it as well.

But as the heart of the Quiet Storm, why isn't she doing a cover album of Donovan songs?

His mysticism would seem a natural for the sensual type of music Roberta does so very well.

Could you imagine what she could do with "Catch The Wind," for example? Or "Wear Your Love Like Heaven"? And how about "There Is A Mountain"?

I would really love to hear an album of Robert doing those songs. Maybe after the Beatles album?


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

Friday, March 11, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protests take place across Iraq, Nouri wasn't able to nominate people for his empty Cabinet posts again, serving on the Integrity Commission means getting beat up by Nouri's thugs, a US House Subcommittee explored the VA's inability to enact the law Congress passed, and more.
"Mr. [Ranking Member Mike] Michaud has a distinguished history of support for our veterans and I look forward to working closely with him to ensure that those who have honorably served our nation receive the highest quality care that they so, so deserve," Chair Ann Marie Buerkle as she brought the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing to a start this morning, setting a strong bi-partisan tone. She also recognized Sarah Wade and Patty Horan who are full time caregivers for their husbands who were wounded while serving in Iraq. Chair Buerkle asked the two women to stand and then led a round of applause for them. But she and Michaud had serious concerns that echo those raised in the March 2nd Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
The Senate hearing was covered in that day's snapshot and Kat covered it in "Burr promises VA 'one hell of a fight'" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The VA still can't get it together." In the Senate hearing, the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Under Secretary Robert Petzel were the witnesses.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Secretary, I have a great deal of respect for the work that you've done on homeless and women's issues and I know you're working diligently in a number of ways. But I wanted to bring up an issue that I'm very concerned about. I've already discussed the caregiver issue with you, I've talked about it with Jack Woo, I've talked with senior staff at the White House and I have spoken directly with the president of the United States. VA's plan on the caregivers issue was overdue and once submitted it hardly resembled the bill that unanimously cleared this Congress. Three weeks ago, my Committee staff requested information on how that plan was developed and to date no information has been provided. Rather than following the law, the administration set forth some overly stringent rules bureaucratic hurdles that would essentially deny help to caregivers. Sarah and Ted Wade who were staunch advocates and worked hard with us to get this passed were invited by the president to attend the bill signing at the White House, they won't be eligible for the program under the plan that the department submitted. We're also hearing a lot from veterans and caregivers from across the country who fall outside of this new line in the sand the VA has drawn, who have been left in limbo and now don't know if this benefit that they advocated and worked so hard for will support them. Mr. Secretary, it appears your that department is not complying with the law as we have written. Can you please tell this Committee why?
And he couldn't. As Kat reported, Ranking Member Richard Burr informed Shinseki that either the law was implemented as written or Shinseki better be prepared for "one hell of a fight." As they should. DAV notes, "The veteran population aged 65 and older is expected to increase from 37.4 percent to 44.8 percent by the year 2020. VA is also treating a new era of younger, severely injured servicemembers. Many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will need lifetime care."
The Subcommittee heard from two panels. The first panel was Disabled American Veterans' Adrian Atizado, Wounded Warrior Project's Ralph Ibson, Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino and National Military Family Association's Barbara Cohoon. The second panel was the VA's Robert Petzel (Under Secretary for Health) who lawyered up with Walter Hall and Deborah Amdur. We'll note this exchange from the first panel.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: This question is for each of the members on this panel, based on your expertise and all of the investigation and work you've put into this law and looking at its implementation, could each one of you identify for me what it is that you see as the single most serious deficit in the implementation of this law and what your solution would be for that deficit? And if you could just limit your remarks so that everyone could have a chance to respond, I would really appreciate it. We'll start with Mr. [Atizado] --
Adrian Atizado: Chairman Buerkle, I appreciate that question but, again, I have to caution the Committee that eligibility is only one of a number of gateway provisions in this law. Certainly if a service member and their caregiver -- veteran and their caregiver are deemed eligible and meet other gateway provisions that don't allow them the appropriate services then being eligible becomes a moot point in the end. As the other panelists have mentioned, it appears that VA's eligibility criteria does raise the bar that a caregiver and veteran must meet to be entitled or at least considered eligible and my testimony has a specific example of that. But I think in all -- In all fairness, I believe, VA has -- VA clinicians know what they need to do. And I think we know what -- we know what we want them to do. And I think there's -- There may have been a little bit of a misinterpretation on both sides. My point is -- is that we all have to step back a little bit from this very emotionally charged situation, reassess ourselves and come together on equal grounds because I fear that no matter what we say today, if we continue down this path, we will not come to a very amicable solution.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you. Mr. Ibson?
Ralph Ibson: I share -- I share my colleagues -- thank you [to Tom Tarantino, who helped him with his microphone] -- I share my colleagues view that it's difficult to isolate a single factor because there really are a great many flaws but -- but honoring your question, I do think that the imposition of very, very restrictive eligibility criteria that are inconsistent with the law and have the effect of disqualifying three of every four caregivers who probably should be covered under this law is the most profound of the many problems we have discussed this morning.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you. Mr. Tarantion.
Tom Tarantino: I associate myself with the comments of Adrian and Ralph. I think they're absolutely correct. There are multiple issues with the regulation of this law but if we needed to start somewhere, we have to start at eligibility because that's the first gateway. Uhm, and-and if you want to look at how to do it, I would suggest that they read the law because it's very explicit. It is in fact probably the most explicit piece of legislation that I've read since I started working in this field three years ago. But I-I actually do and I share Adrian's concern: We need to caution ourselves that we don't just stop there, that we have to actually look at how this program -- how this program is implemented holisticly and that once, if the elegibility criteria is fixed, that we don't just stop and say "Great!" put a win on the board and then move on. This is a very complicated program and we have to keep looking at it until it is -- We get it right.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you.
Barbara Cohoon: Our association would feel that it has to do with when you're actually going to be starting the benefits. It's not until there's all these other requirements that are met. And so therefore it pushes elegibility to all these benefits until further down the road and while it may be several months or years into veterans status. And we would like to see that start earlier because our caregivers need these benefits much earlier in the process than when they'll possibly be getting them. The VA's also rolling out all the benefits at the same time. So we feel that they should be able to start some of the benefits earlier in the process interjecting them at the time when the caregiver actually needs them so that they have the resources that they need, have the right skills to provide the care that they need and therefore the veteran gets the care -- or the service member's getting the care -- that they need. So our concern is the fact that they're waiting until all the wickets are met before they start any of the benefits and one of the major wickets has to be that the veteran has to be receiving care 100% in home and many of our service members are still going through the recovery phases where they might be having wound revisions or maybe they're having burns taken care of. So waiting until it's 100% in home as far as care, that could also delay either them leaving the military or starting this particular benefit. So that would be our concern. Elegibility also, but that's the biggest for us.
Elsewhere during the first panel, Tom Tarantino brought up what is considered "the signature wound" of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). If you're new to the topic of TBI, Barbara Mannino (Fox Business News) has a report on the topic, just published today. While the first panel was forthcoming, the second panel was a sad joke. It was the same performance from last week for Robert Petzel who still can't convincingly mouth words allegedly of regret.
Due to a vote about to take place, time was limited on the second panel and the Chair turned the questions over to US House Rep Phil Roe who is also Dr. Roe (medical doctor). We'll note a bit of the exchange.
US House Rep Phil Roe: Quickly, I've watched this now for the third year. It seems like all the programs we see are slow and glacial to get going. And I know it's a very complicated program but as you clearly pointed out, it's not nearly as complicated as having no arms or legs and getting around in your home or with a Traumatic Brain Injury where you can't balance the check book and someone has to be there to help you do that. That's a lot harder, as you just pointed out. I could not agree more. So why is it taking so long? And this program doesn't seem as complicated to me as many of the programs that the VA has.
Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congressman Roe. I will turn to Debbie Amdur to elaborate on this but I think the biggest aspect of this is that it is a completely new concept for us. We have never been in the business of providing a stipend to somebody who is providing caregiving services. And developing the regulations for this, getting all of the correct input before the regulations are actually in place, takes a long time. I-I-I think -- I apologize as I have before for the fact that we are so late in doing this but I think the fact that this was new and it required relatively complex regulations is part, at least of the explanation.
US House Rep Phil Roe: This reason? I mean we have regulations now for home health care people that go in. It looks to me like it would have been fairly simple to look at those and say "There's some criteria there." We've been pretty easy. I think we micro-manage this down to "what if? what if? what if? what if?" until it got to be almost -- and also the intent of Congress was to provide this to as many families. And I think right now, just like in the HUD-VASH voucher program we found out we've got 11,000 vouchers out there with no veterans, homeless veterans. So I think what you're going to find out with this is there's going to be a lot more need than we thought but we don't even know what that is now because it's so hard for people to get in and, as Mr. Tarantino pointed out, the gateway as eligibility, but that's just the first step. So we really don't know right now how many people -- And do you know how many people have applied or how many have to date?
Robert Petzel: Well, of course, there hasn't been application period yet, Congressman, But have an estimate of somewhere between 750 and a thousand people would probably be applying or would be eligible under the way the criteria are presently deliannated.
US House Rep Phil Roe: Well I guess that seems like an awfully small number to me in a country with millions of veterans. It seems to me like I'll be it will be ten or twenty or thirty times that many.
On TBI, Deborah Amdur declared, "And [I] was very concerned to hear the interpretation that we would not be covering veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. When we put together the eligiblity crtieria we brought forward subject matter experts from across VA including leadership of our Federal Recovery Coordination from our programs our poly trauma programs, Traumatic Brain injury programs and so forth. And there was significant recognition of the challenges that are faced by family members caring for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury." Dr. Roe wanted Adur to promise that by July, caregivers will be receiving money. And she did. She tried to go with "It is our intention" but she ended up promising. But that doesn't mean the VA will keep the promise, they never do. But we'll go ahead and note that the promise was made and we'll note it if it's kept or if it's broken.
Protests took place across Iraq today. AFP estimates that 500 Iraqis gathered in Baghdad's Liberation Square (Tahrir Square before the protests began last month) and they speak to Layla Saleh Yaseen who explains why she is protesting, "I demand the rights of Iraqis -- more rations and an improvement in services like electricity. I have four children and have to care for a disabled brother by selling simple goods in the streets." And that's the type of person the Iraqi military was advancing on, that's the type of person that scares Nouri so that he orders military helicopters to patrol the air space above Liberation Square. Jonathan Blakley (NPR's The Two-Way blog) reports, "Security forces lined the streets of central Baghdad with riot gear. Authorities didn't bother issuing a curfew or banning traffic in the normally congested city, but entrances into Baghdad province were blocked to motor vehicles. At times, traffic passed through Baghdad's Tahrir Square as the protesters, numbering between 500 and 1,000 shouted into megaphones and waved anti-government banners." Dar Addustour notes that the protesters are calling on Nouri al-Maliki to listen to them. Aswat al-Iraq quotes activist Emad Karim stating, "Dozens of citizens went to streets on Friday billed as 'Friday of Truth', calling for better services and fighting corruption." Yahya Barzanji, Bushra Juhi and Lara Jakes (AP) report protesters decried the way they had been treated by Iraqi forces in previous protests. Sami Majid pointed to the February 25th and explained, "They beat and kicked me, then forced me to sign a commitment that I would not participate in demonstrations or raise riots." Khalid Walid (Iraqhurr.org) reports that riot police descended on the protesters late in the afternoon, using batons to intimidate and disperse them and that Ali Kamal declared that Nouri al-Maliki has stated reforms will come in 100 days and that they will continue demonstrating and that they have little to no confidence in the government.
Dar Addustour reports that protesters in Najaf carried flowers as they called for an end to corruption, improved basic services and ration card items. Aswat al-Iraq notes protesters in Nassiriya are criticizing the way security forces have treated protesters. In Falluja, Dar Addustour reports, protesters called for an end to random arrests. Aswat al-Iraq notes that Falluja saw a crackdown ahead of the protest with "a vehicle and bike ban around the protest region." Yahya Barzanji, Bushra Juhi and Lara Jakes (AP) report approximately 4,000 people turned out to protest in Sulaimaniyah. Saman Mahmoud Mawloud (Reuters) reports one Sulaimaniyah protester attempted to burn himself but was stopped by other activists, notes the protesters chanted for KRG President Massoud Barzani to step down and quotes Nasik Qadir stating, "There has been no response from the government. We are here to change the despotic system, end the corruption in Kurdistan. People feel the corruption and want jobs, justice and services."
Al Mada reports that Hilla saw two protests and the demands included that the govenor of Babel Province (Babylon Province is another term used for it and the term Al Mada uses) be elected directly and not via quotas. They also called for an end to unemployment, all ration card items being available and reductions in the costs of water and electricity. Those were some of the demands of the first group. The second group had overlapping demands and some of their own demands as well. They agree that a new governor is needed and they want qualifications for the office -- including that he or she must hold a bachelor's degree.
In an opinion piece, Al Mada argues that the protests taking place in Baghdad's Tahrir Square have dug a grave for and buried sectarian politics and forced sectarian politics to fall away by pulling sectarian politicians and their constituents apart, and that the biggest victors are young Iraqis who, among other things, trained themselves in something that was not possible in Iraq's previous five decades, protesting the rulers. This training creates a bond between today's Iraqi youths and those of the 1940s and 1950s who also engaged in cross-sectarian demonstrations. Al Mada sees the protests as strengthening the notion of "Iraqi" and of "citizen."
Yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki spoke to Parliament . . . and again heaped scorn on the protesters. Why, oh, why, hasn't anyone apologized for the Iraqi security forces and police who were hurt in protests? When young boys are killed in protests by security forces, that asshole has a lot of nerve trying to grand stand. Nouri's little forces have behaved like the thug they work for. That's reality. Dar Addustour reports one of Nouri's 'finest,' the man in charge of the Rapid Response Brigade got caught by the Integrity Commission in the process of accepting a $50,000 bribe. And? He ordered the forces to attack the Integrity Commission, he ordered the forces to attack them and beat them -- beat nine of them, leaving them all wounded and three of the nine requiring hospitalization. That's Nouri al-Maliki's thugs..
A group of anti-government protesters missing since they were arrested this week in Baghdad are feared to be at risk of torture, after other recently released protestors told Amnesty International they were tortured in detention.

At least 10 people were detained on Monday while returning home from a Baghdad protest against unemployment, government corruption and poor social services.

The arrests came as other protesters who were detained last month told Amnesty International that they were tortured in detention.

"We fear there is a real risk of torture for those arrested on Monday, especially as their whereabouts in detention is yet to be disclosed. This seems to be following a pattern of protesters being detained and tortured as the Iraqi government tries to crackdown on demonstrations," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The authorities must immediately reveal where these latest detainees are held and release them if they have been detained solely for exercising their legitimate right to protest."

Those detained on Monday include Ala' Sayhoud, Ma'an Thamer, 'Ali Abdel Zahra' and Muhammad Kadhim Finjan. They were arrested by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad's al-Batawin area after they participated in a demonstration in the city's Tahrir Square on Monday.

Two recently released activists have told Amnesty International that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention after they were arrested in connection with recent protests.

Abdel-Jabbar Shaloub Hammadi, who was detained without charge for 12 days following his arrest on 24 February, the day before a planned 'Day of Rage' protest in Baghdad, was beaten and tortured throughout his first five days in detention.

"They beat me a lot and kept me suspended every day for nearly 15 hours. In one method they tied my hands and legs together behind by back and left me hanging by a rope; in the other they suspended me from the wrists and left me standing on the tips of my toes on a chair - both were very painful," Hammadi told Amnesty International.

Journalist Hadi al-Mehdi, who was arrested on 25 February, told Amnesty International he received electric shocks to his feet and was threatened with rape during his interrogation by police.

"The Iraqi authorities claim that they are stamping out torture but as these testimonies show it continues to be used against detainees and the perpetrators appear to believe they can act with impunity," said Malcolm Smart.

"The authorities must order an immediate independent investigation into all allegations of torture and those responsible for torture must be exposed and brought to justice."

As calls for reform persist in the country, Amnesty International has also called on the Iraqi authorities respect the right of assembly and freedom of expression.

Read More

Today, four of at least ten protesters were released. Amnesty International notes:
Amnesty International has welcomed yesterday's release of four anti-government protesters reported missing since their arrest in Baghdad on Monday and called on the authorities to free others still in detention.

The four were among at least 10 people detained while returning home from a protest against unemployment, government corruption and poor social services.

"While the release of these four detainees is a welcome step, the authorities must reveal where the remaining detainees are held and release them if they have been detained solely for exercising their legitimate right to protest," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The Iraqi authorities must also ensure that those still in detention are not tortured or ill-treated and order an immediate independent investigation into all previous allegations of torture, bringing those responsible to justice."

Those detained on Monday include Ala' Sayhoud, Ma'an Thamer, 'Ali Abdel Zahra' and Muhammad Kadhim Finjan.

They were arrested by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad's al-Batawin area after they participated in a demonstration in the city's Tahrir Square.

As calls for reform persist in the country, Amnesty International has also called on the Iraqi authorities to respect the right of assembly and freedom of expression.
Nouri has disappeared protesters and he had the never to stand up in front of the Parliament yesterday and trash the protesters. Dar Addustour reports that the al-Sadr bloc heard the speech (the same one Shuster's praising) and have demand that Nouri apologize to Iraqis. They were offended by his labeling groups supporters of Saddam or Ba'athists. They note he had little to offer other than demonization. Other Arabic articles note the snide tone of the speech and generally emphasize Nouri's insistence that the government in Iraq will not be changed except by elections. It was a thuggish speech by a pompous ass who history needs to take down.

Al Mada notes that MP Sabah al-Saadi was not impressed by Nouri's song and dance yesterday and asserts that the measures Nouri has proposed do not get to the root of the problems, that instead of offering "frank talk," Nouri's plan proposes cover ups of the corruption.


Do we remember the other reason why Nouri was meeting with Parliament? Right that Cabinet he's never been able to fill. DPA reports, "Top appointments at Iraqi's key defence, interior and national security ministries have been pushed back a week due to disagreements among the country's political blocs, an Iraqi lawmaker said Friday."

Moving over to some of the violence reported in today's news cycle, Al Rafidayn reports late yesterday there was an attempt to rob a Baghdad jewelry store and 6 people ended up being killed -- four police officers and two bystanders. Aswat al-Iraq reports a man killed his father today in Mosul .Also, Aswat al-Iraq reports a Kirkuk car bombing left eleven people injured.
Turning to the US . . .
Get on your pony and ride
Get on your pony and ride
No one to catch up to you
If you try
No one to catch up to you
If you try
'Cause I tried
'Cause when the mind that once was open shuts
And you knock on the door, nobody answers anymore
When the love and trust has turned to dust
When the mind that once was open shuts
When you knock on the door, nobody answers anymore
When the love and trust has turned to dust
- "Too Late," written by John Phillips, first appears on The Mamas and the Papas' The Papas & The Mamas.
A few got on their pony's this week. Shocked! Simply shocked! By the lack of coverage of the wars. In one case, they were noting service members -- for the hour! -- and expressed their shock and outrage that the people don't follow the wars. The people don't or the talk shows hosts don't? Ava and I waited all week to see what would happen for one woman when Friday rolled around. Having hopped on her pony earlier in the week, would she suddenly remember Iraq today? Uh, no. And we'll be assisting two who rode their high horses early in the week off of them -- with a hard push -- at Third on Sunday. Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing (on threats to the US) and Ava covered the hearing at Trina's site last night in "Senate Armed Services Committee." The hearing also tossed out a brief nod to WikiLeaks. March 29th, Frontline (PBS) airs a report on Bradley Manning. Last night, The NewsHour (PBS) offered excerpts focusing on Brian Manning, Bradley's father. Who is Bradley?

Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning has been at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key, for months. Earlier this month, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. David E. Coombs is Bradley's attorney and he provided a walk through on Article 104. Like many, Sophie Elmhirst (New Statesman) emphasized the possibility of the death penalty.
Brian Manning believes his son is innocent. Bradley may well be. The only 'evidence' offered to the public thus far comes from a convicted felon (whose record actually goes back to pre-18 y.o. though the press hasn't been interested in that) who became a government snitch to protect his own ass. That's a reliable witness?
Bradley may be innocent. In the US, you are innocent unless you are proven guilty. Those writing pieces on Bradley to help him? Kevin Zeese, you and your friends need to stop convicting Bradley in your badly written columns. You're doing the government's job for them and you're showing no respect for Bradley or for the presumption of innocence. Bradley is not a political football. He is a very, very young man facing very serious charges. He should not be treated like Laura Dern's character in Citizen Ruth. There's far too much at stake for Bradley. Whereas, we've seen this movie before. We saw a number of the same participants pretend to care about Ehren Watada but write pieces that helped no one but their own pet causes. We saw a 'reporter' whine about herself and how Ehren -- who was actually facing charges -- wasn't clearing her name.
If you're supporting Bradley, you need to support him. That means he's innocent unless he says otherwise or is convicted. That means you stop doing the government's work for it by writing these ridiculous pieces where you explain -- YOU EXPLAIN -- why he did it. YOu don't know that he did a thing. Stop writing those bad, bad pieces. And stop linking to Julian Assange because that's what the US government is trying to do. You're not helping Bradley and you're not helping Assange.
BBC News' Philippa Thomas (currently on sabbatical) reports at her website that yesterday at MIT, US State Dept spokesperson Philip J. Crowley was asked and commented that the actions the Defense Dept has taken against Bradley are "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." Yet he wasn't calling for Bradley to be released because he quickly added, "Nonetheless, Bradley Manning is in the right place." And that sort of thinking goes along way towards explaining how the US government can continue supporting a despot like Nouri al-Maliki -- rationalize that away, rationalize the brutality aimed at Bradley who has not been convicted of a damn thing. But he's where he belongs, according to Crowley.
Are US troops where they belong too? Because seems like this never ending illegal war was supposed to have ended sometime ago. Adrian Hairapetian (Clark Chronicle) observes, "The war in Iraq. Merriam-Webster defines war as a 'struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.' This impels me to ask: what end? It's been almost seven years, and we still haven't seen this end." The ongoing Iraq War has an anniversary coming up and there will be protests in the US. A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in this action:

March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.

The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.

While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.

Actions of civil resistance are spreading.

On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.

Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

WHM

Women's History Month and International Women's Day celebrate the strides toward dignity and equality that women have made around the world. They are also a chance to reflect on the work we still have to do, and the particular challenges faced by women at the margins, including those in the criminal justice system.

Years ago, women prisoners were second-class citizens occupying small units within men's prisons. Reformers' calls for facilities specializing in women's needs helped spur the development of women's prisons — which then needed to be filled with ever-increasing numbers of women prisoners.

Today, women are among the fastest-growing segments of the prison population. The so-called War on Drugs spurred the criminalization of women by widening the net of criminal liability to minor players, family members, and mere bystanders to drug activity. Sentencing laws have made things worse by failing to consider the many reasons women sometimes remain silent about a family member's involvement in the drug trade.

That's from Mie Lewis' "Women Prisoners, Women's History" (ACLU Blog of Rights). It's women's history month. Once upon a time, The Common Ills noted that and Black History Month. What happened? Iraq became the sole focus and we have community newsletters. So now it gets covered there. But Women's History Month was something that I really liked about The Common Ills.

Why?

It was a political website. And very few of them note women's history. Very few. It was one of those ways that we could tell this was a site where women weren't excluded.


So maybe I should be doing my part and noting women's history? Pay it forward, that sort of thing?

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



Thursday, March 10, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri appears before Parliament, Nouri sees one MP of his coalition resign, protests continue in Iraq, the US Director of National Intelligence excuses the brutality the Iraqi forces have heaped on protesters, where are Barack's benchmarks, and more.
"First, I'd like to welcome our witnesses for today's hearing on current and longer-term threats and challenges around the world. We are delighted to have James Clapper here for the first time as the Director of National Intelligence, along with the DIA Director General Ron Burgess," declared Chair Carl Levin this morning at the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. In his opening remarks, the Director of National Intelligence did nod to Iraq.
James Clapper: In Iraq, I think actually what has happened in Iraq has been a very interesting and encouraging evolution as they have gone -- they're going through a very difficult transition into a democracy. Uhm, they have too had demonstrations that have taken place widely throughout many cities in Iraq and personally was heartened by the uh excellent performance of the Iraqi security forces who reacted temperately to the professionally for the most part to these demonstrators.
However, it is equally true that Levin noted in his opening remarks, "We will want to learn from our witnesses their estimate of the prospects for democracy and for security for religious minorities in Iraq." Those topics were never touched on. In fact, Carl Levin was the only senator to ask of Iraq. Iraq exchange in full:
Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us an assessment of the vulnerability of the government of Iraq to the kinds of protest which have -- we've seen in other parts of that region? And has the government of Iraq cracked down on peaceful demonstration and could that lead to greater demonstrations?
James Clapper: Well, sir, I think the people in Iraq have the same aspirations as we're seeing throughout the MidEast, uh, the same four factors I indicated. And, uh, I think, uh, the word "crackdown" I guess -- that's somewhat of a loaded word. I guess they have curtailed -- controlled these demonstrations and, uh, I think the real test is the, uh, how responsive the, uh, Iraqi government can be for things like provisions of water and electricity to-to the people. And I think it's, uh, sort of basic fundamental, uh, needs, uh, and the government of Iraq, I think, understands that. The -- Prime Minister Maliki certainly does and that, uh, he's got to deliver. And that's going to be the test. And to the extent that, uh, they're not able to do that, then I think that, uh, frustration will fester more among the Iraqi people.
Chair Carl Levin: And just to tie that up, what's the Iranian influence in the Iraqi government, what's the extent of it?
James Clapper: Well sir it's, uh -- I think sometimes there is a tendancy to overstate that. I think, uh, clearly they're interested, uhm, they're going to try to influence, uh, things in Iraq in a manner that's, uh, supportive of their interests. Uh, I think, though, Prime Minister Maliki is, uh, his eyes are wide open here. He's got some background with the Iranians and, uh, I think they are very much aware of that. And certainly that's a great concern to others in the region.
Chair Carl Levin: So a limited effect? The Iranian influence?
James Clapper: Well I wouldn't -- I don't know what the right characterization is. It is a concern it's a factor and uh certainly the Iranians will try to exploit any openings they can whether in Iran -- Iraq or anywhere else in the region. And some measures -- some-some ways, uh, they would like to exploit the situation. But uh, I think that's going to be very problematic for them.
No one else bothered to ask. Ranking Member John McCain asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week (see Tuesday's snapshot, it's noted in full -- and that was the only time Iraq came up in that hearing). Let's see we heard about Mexico being the new Columbia and we heard about the Balkans and we heard about -- Goodness, it was so bad maybe we should be grafeful no one felt the need to note the 'great' Grenada invasion of 1983.
While we were at the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was testifying in front of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Simmi Aujla (Politico) reports, "Clinton told House Republicans that cutting the agency's 2012 budget would also threaten U.S. progress in [typo error at Poliltico edited out here] Iraq and Afghanistan." I'm sorry, Hillary, we need to do that why? Those of us attending the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning heard the US "world wide threat assessment" and Iraq wasn't one. Russia was number one and China was number two. We know that because after Clapper made that surprising announcement in response to Senator Joe Manchin's questions, Chair Carl Levin quickly brought him back to that issue to make sure everyone had heard correctly. (Levin: "I was frankly quite surprised by your answer.") They had. Levin gave him a third attempt to self-correct noting how it will look -- especially in Russia -- when the headlines emerge (I doubt they will outside of Russia, there were not a lot of front page press types at the hearing) of "Russia Greatest Threat To The US." Clapper said he was sticking with his answers because, for greatest threats, only Russia and China would have the capability.
In fact "cyber threats" -- specifically "malicious software" -- were the focus of more grave words from Clapper than was Iraq. The US and England led the world into the Iraq War (Australia tagged along with John Howard as everyone's pudgy kid sister). But the United Kingdom's not fretting Iraq these days. From the March 1st snapshot, when Hillary was appearing befor the full House Committee on Foreign Affairs:
While Hillary was repeatedly saying that the billions to go into Iraq -- a third surge, was how she billed it -- were necessary for national security, a curious thing was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Alex Stevenson (Politics) reports, "Britain has shaken up its international development budget by placing renewed emphasis on poor countries which directly affect the UK's national security. The move means 16 countries including Angola, Niger, Cameroon and Lesotho will no longer receive any funding from Britain. Neither will Russia, Iraq, Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia and Burudni." That's very interesting. The Iraq War was started and led by the US and the UK. They spent the most money on the illegal war and sent the most bodies to fight it (and had the most foreign people die in Iraq). To sell the Iraq War in the US, Bully Boy Bush resorted to many lies including that Iraq had sought yellow cake uranium from Africa. Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, had the ability to use chemical and/or biological weapons on England within 45 minutes. That's much quicker than an attack on the US and that's because England is physically closer to Iraq than is the US. So why is it that the UK argues today that they don't need to give Iraq anymore aid because it's not a threat to their own national security but the US -- White House and Hillary Clinton -- is arguing differently?
So can Hillary and the White House get honest about what's really going on? Clearly England is as tied to Iraq as the US and they're not calling it a threat to their national security and, turns out, based on Clapper's testimony, the US isn't either. Maybe we're back to what Ted Koppel, on NPR's Talk of the Nation Tuesday, speaking with Neal Conan declared?
Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
That was noted in the March 8th snapshot. So was this:
It would be "very unwise" to leave, he insisted and those who think the US is trying to help Iraq are looking at it wrong because "the prism that we're there for Iraq's interests? We're not. We're there because of US interests."
That quote is incorrect and should have included "[. . .]" and the first "we're" should have been "United States" -- my error, my apologies. What Koppel stated was, "the prism that we have been learned to - that we have been taught to accept over the last few years, and that is that the United States is in Iraq for Iraq's interests. We're not. We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United States." My apologies for my error.
Is oil what Hillary's calling national security? If so, the White House needs to get honest about it. If not, they need to do a lot of explaining due to the fact that Iraq's not a national security issue for the US. It never was. It was never a threat to the US' safety. When Barack, Joe, Hillary, et al start insisting "national security" for the US staying in Iraq, they are LYING the exact same way Bush did when he claimed Iraq was a threat to the United States. If that's the standard they want to meet, then let all three of them be judged accordingly.
When Barack declared his candidacy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, February 2007, Tom Eley (WSWS) broke down the realites of 'antiwar' Barry:
In the coded language of official American politics, a ''responsible end'' can mean only one thing: the total subjugation of Iraq, in one way or another, and the expropriation of its enormous oil wealth, delicately referred to by Obama as ''our interests in the region."
"Our interest in the region"? What are they? Barack's a War Hawk. And he's as dishonest as Bully Boy Bush. Back to Eley:
Obama endorses and recycles as his own all of Bush's "thirteen benchmarks" for "progress" in Iraq. Among them, Obama singles out the demand for "eliminating restrictions on US forces." In other words, the Pentagon should be given an even freer hand to drown the Iraqi resistance in blood. Obama also demands the Iraqi government reduce "the size and influence of the Militias" -- that is, fully confront the powerful Al Mahdi militia.
Benchmarks. As Eley notes, Barack was thrilled to grab onto Bush's benchmarks. In fact, he, Joe and Hillary -- all US senators at the time -- were calling for benchmarks. Where are his benchmarks?
Let's review a few of the targeted groups in Iraq.
* Christians and other religious minorities
* the LGBT community
* women
* orphans
* special needs persons
There are many more targeted populations. Barack is in the White House and desperately wants to be in it in 2013. Shouldn't he have something to add? The US tax payer is being asked to fork over billions of more dollars and for what? So Nouri and his thugs can torture gay men and suspected gay men? So they can seal these men's anuses with glue and cause them to die a very painful death?
We have seen zilch from this White House when it comes to Nouri's violations of basic human rights. Doubt it? Let's go over an exchange today one more time.
Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us an assessment of the vulnerability of the government of Iraq to the kinds of protest which have -- we've seen in other parts of that region? And has the government of Iraq cracked down on peaceful demonstration and could that lead to greater demonstrations?
James Clapper: Well, sir, I think the people in Iraq have the same aspirations as we're seeing throughout the MidEast, uh, the same four factors I indicated. And, uh, I think, uh, the word "crackdown" I guess -- that's somewhat of a loaded word. I guess they have curtailed -- controlled these demonstrations and, uh, I think the real test is the, uh, how responsive the, uh, Iraqi government can be for things like provisions of water and electricity to-to the people. And I think it's, uh, sort of basic fundamental, uh, needs, uh, and the government of Iraq, I think, understands that. The -- Prime Minister Maliki certainly does and that, uh, he's got to deliver. And that's going to be the test. And to the extent that, uh, they're not able to do that, then I think that, uh, frustration will fester more among the Iraqi people.
Clapper thinks the security forces showed moderation. Really? When they beat five journalists in Basra last Friday? When did they show restraint? When they injured protesters? When they killed them? When did they show restraint? When they beat up Baghdad journalists? When? And how the hell does this behavior earn the support of the US government?
It's an illegal war and the US has installed a thug. But if that doesn't matter to the current White House -- and it obviously doesn't since it was the current White House that ensured Nouri continued as prime minister -- how about this: The man considered an idiot (George W. Bush) laid down (under duress, true) benchmarks that Iraq was supposed to meet in order to continue to receive US tax payer money; however, someone supposedly smarter than George W. Bush doesn't even see the need for benchmarks today. Doesn't see the need while despite the targeting of religious minorities, of Iraq's LGBT community, of Iraqi women and on and on. That's very telling and what it's telling on the current White House isn't at all pretty.
Turning to Iraq, Emad Kamel (Al Mada) reports on the threats to Iraq's food security and agriculture as a result of water concerns and notes that experts are predicting future wars will revolve around water resources. Related, Al Mada reports that Iraq's Minister of Agriculture is requesting that the Iranian government clarify their plans on building dams effecting the bodies of water the two countries share.
Reuters quotes Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq stating, "If [Nouri al-] Maliki cannot administer his government in these three months in a way to meet the ambitions of people, I believe he himself should resign. These protests are not against this current government. They are against the accumulation of financial and administrative corruption and against building the country in an inappropriate way for the last eight years." This as the editorial board of the National Newspaper observes, "As The National reported yesterday, Nouri al Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, continues to dither on promised power-sharing deals, and points fingers instead. He's given his cabinet 100 days to reform or face unspecified 'changes'. He has also accused al Qa'eda and Baathists of encouraging street demonstrations. Both moves are ill-conceived attempts to divert blame from his own leadership. Mr al Maliki must recognise that it is not only his future on the line, but Iraq's. Both will lose out if he fails to address the grievances of its people." Al Rafidayn notes al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya and states he is trying to limit any anti-government fallout from Nouri's inaction attaching to him (al-Mutlaq). Alsumaria TV points out Nouri appeared before the Parliament today.
In April 2006, Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister-designate. In May of 2006, he became prime minister. By misusing the powers of his office, he ensured he would remain prime minister despite the results of the March 7, 2010 elections and the will of the people. So Nouri is now serving his fifth year as prime minister. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports that when Nouri appeared before Parliament today he attempted to spread the blame ("The current situation is not the responsibility of one group, rather it is a joint responsibility. The executive and legislative authorities share responsibility in both successes and setbacks.") but that some rejected that attempt and MP Maha al-Douri (Sadr bloc) is quoted as stating, "He tried to throw the ball into the parliament's court for the failures that took place in the country. What we need is immediate solutions for the problems, not long speeches." But the most telling evaluation of Nouri's performance may be via Aswat al-Iraq which reports MP Saifya al-Suhail (Nouri's State Of Law slate) issued a statement stating that, due to "the non-democratic ways," she was leaving State Of Law: "I have suffered blackballing, ignoring and marginalizing when it comes to contributing to key political decision-making for the bloc. There was meager coordination and consultation as well as autocracy practiced by a limited number of persons."
Tuesday's snapshot included the following, " Aswat al-Iraq reports that US Special Forces did 'an air drop operation on a village in al-Huweija district and raided some houses, killed a physician and arrested his brother' -- and if you're wondering, US Special Forces roam free in Iraq. Osama al-Nujefi, Speaker of Parliament, wants an investigation into US actions." Today Parliament's health committeee held a press conference. Aswat al-Iraq quotes the statement issued: "The Committee, denouncing the killing of an Iraqi physician during a raid by U.S. soldiers and Salah al-Din security forces on his house, calls on the prime minister to launch immediate investigations into the incident and bringing the persons involved to justice."
Al Mada reports that Moqtada al-Sadr has concluded his meetings with various officials and office holders in his party. In related news, KRG President Massoud Barzani is in Baghdad. Dar Addustour reports he is present in an attempt to resolve the issue of the National Council. And no doubt, he's present in an attempt to hold together the fragile power-sharing agreement -- especially after calls from the White House.
Dar Addustour notes that Nouri is set to make a series of proposals, allegedly in response to the demands of protesters, and also to make his nominations for the Cabinet positions he still has not filled all this time later. Al Mada notes that the Commission on Parliamentary Srvices has declared that it will be very difficult for the demands to be met.
Meanwhile New Sabah reports that Kut saw protests yesterday in response to an attempt to move the commander of their rapid response regiment to Baghdad and that there was a walk out, that it was peaceful and that the demands are to keep the commander in Kut. So there's now a split in Kut. There are those who are outraged by the treatment of the protesters last month -- with at least one killed and close to fifty injured -- and there are those who want the man seen as responsible for the violence to remain in Kut. Dar Addustour reports a Baghdad protest by workers with the State Company of Heavy Equipment for the oil industry, numbering around 500, protested in Firdaus Square against corruption and unfair wages. They are threatening a hunge strike. In Dhi Qar, Iraqis with special needs marched outside the province's council offices calling for funding that would increase the quality of their lives and noting that they suffer because they are not able to work. Protests are scheduled for tomorrow.
In economic news, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports the bombing of an oil "pipeline in Ninevah province [which] pumps about 500,000 barrels of crude oil every day to the Turkish port of Cevhan". Citing Ministry of Oil spokesperson Asim Jihad, AP states that it is expected the pipeline will be shut down for a minimum of three days; however, Jihad tells Reuters, "We (the oil ministry) have put a 5-day timeframe to fix it, starting from yesterday. We are trying to shorten this time." Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) explains, "Iraq usually pumps between 450,000 and 490,000 barrels a day via that pipeline. The crude oil is exported to Europe and Turkey." Brendan Conway (MarketWatch) adds that "U.S. stocks were sharply lower Thursday, dragging the Dow Jones Industrial Average below the psychologically important 12000 mark for a time [. . .] The stock sldie comes at a point when investors have been battered for weeks by fears of continued political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The continued fighting in Libya between rebel forces and those loyal to Moammar Gadhafi is still the focal point, but investors are also watching reports of new protests scheduled for Friday in other countries including Saudi Arabia and Iraq." And clarifying priorities, Aswat al-Iraq notes, a pipeline to the northwest of Mosul was attacked today and a security source explains, "Pumping oil to Syrian did not stop, but pumping water to a village dropped due to the explosion."
Billie Jean Grinder and Marcus R. Alford Sr. died serving in Iraq February 21, 2010. Hugh G. Willett (Knoxville News Sentinel) reports their loved ones have filed a suit as a result of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Grinder and Alford, "At the time of the crash, the Department of Defense said Grinder and Alford were trying to land their helicopter near Qayyarah Airfield West, about 30 miles south of Mosul, were not under fire and no enemy forces were nearby. Named as defendants in the suit, filed Feb. 18, are Bell Helicopter Textron, Rolls-Royce North America, Goodrich Pump and Engine Control Systems, Unison Industries and Honeywell International. According to the suit, the Kiowa's FADEC system failed on a Feb. 21, 2010, mission in Iraq, resulting in the crash that killed Alford and Grinder."
Moving over to today's violence . . .
Bombings?
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer (three more injured), another Baghdad roadside bombing which left one civilian injured, a third Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people (one was a police officer), a fourth Baghdad roadside bombing which injured one person, a fifth one which left three police officers injured, a sixth one which left four police officers injured, a fifth one which left five people injured and, dropping back to Wednesday, a Baghdad sticky bombing which left two people wounded. Aswat al-Iraq notes a Falluja sticky bombing claimed 1 life.
Shootings?
Reuters notes a Baghdad "shootout" in which 2 civilians and 4 police officers were killed but the assailants escaped apparently unharmed. Aswat al-Iraq notes 1 person shot dead in Falluja.
Corpses?

Aswat al-Iraq reports one corpses was discovered in Missan.
Ed Tibbetts (Globe Gazette) reports that US House Rep Bruce Braley "has reintroduced legislation that would require an accounting of the 'long-term human and financial cost' of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2020." Iowa's The State quotes Braley stating, "In the last 10 years, Congress has appropriated over a trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what we don't account for in that figure is the more than 5,800 U.S. Service members who've been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or the more than 40,000 who've been wounded and who will spend the rest of their lives treating injuries like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, severe burns and amputated limbs. These are not just costs that our troops and their families bear -- these are also significant costs for the Veterans Affairs department and all American taxpayers. As a nation, we have a right to know what these conflicts will actually cost us." US House Rep Bruce Braley's office released the following yesterday:

Braley Fights to Expose True Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars
Introduces bi-partisan bill to require reporting on true cost of wars

Washington, DC -- Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced a bill that would require a full accounting of the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Rep. Braley returned from a Congressional fact-finding mission in Afghanistan where he met with General David Petraeus and discussed the cost of the Afghanistan war with him. Rep. Braley also met with several top commanders on the ground and numerous Iowa National Guard troops -- 3,500 of which are currently stationed in Afghanistan.

"These wars are incredibly personal for me and the people of my district," said Rep. Braley. "I've met with dozens of my constituents -- young men and women and their families -- who have sacrificed a great deal in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when I meet injured soldiers and I see the hardships -- physical and financial -- that they and their families will endure for the rest of their lives it becomes crystal clear that the true cost of the war is not being accurately reported. With this bill, we can change that."

The bipartisan True Cost of War Act, co-sponsored by Republican Congressman Walter Jones (NC-03), requires the President to work with the Secretaries of Defense, State and Veterans Affairs to submit a written report to Congress on the long-term human and financial costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2020.

"In the last 10 years, Congress has appropriated over a trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Rep. Braley. "But what we don't account for in that figure is the more than 5,800 U.S. Service members who've been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or the more than 40,000 who've been wounded and who will spend the rest of their lives treating injuries like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, severe burns and amputated limbs. These are not just costs that our troops and their families bear -- these are also significant costs for the Veterans Affairs department and all American taxpayers. As a nation, we have a right to know what these conflicts will actually cost us."

Rep. Braley has been fighting for a true accounting of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since he came to Congress. He has introduced and passed similar language in several amendments to past House bills.

Click here for text of the legislation.

In related news, Morris Workman (Mesquite Local News) explains he was wrong to support Barack Obama in 2008 for president: "For example, he promised he would get us out of Iraq. Today, there are still Americans in military uniforms carrying weapons around Baghdad, but they don't count because Obama removed their official designation as 'combat troops'. He hasn't done much to get us out of Afghanistan either, keeping our troops in harm's way without a real plan, without an exit strategy, and without even bothering to come up with a real reason beyond the Elmer Fudd-sounding excuse of 'Eh-h-h-h, there's got to be some Tawiban awound here somewhere'." And while some in the press blame Americans for not knowing what is not reported, Gary Daily (Terre Haute Tribune Star) uses his column to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to note what the media spends so much time on instead:

It's the same old, same old when I read the newspaper. Republicans believe (or pretend to believe) that the 7 percent of union members in America's workforce caused the Bush Depression. Charlie Sheen again demonstrates which part of "Two and Half Men" he is. And college sports scandals continue to blossom and smell stronger than the sweat in a crowded locker room or the money in a big booster's off-shore bank account.
Not getting as much attention is the same old news on America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess the expiration date on interest in these costly wars (trillions and counting) and deadly (thousands and counting) has run out.
U.S. newspapers and television programs also ignore the wars. Some broadcasters do acknowledge the wars thousands of miles away, but they also say these wars are rarely the lead story, on grounds that people are not that interested.
But the truth is the Obama Administration is happy to keep the popular pressure off as the fighting goes on.
Obama is following his predecessor, George W. Bush, regarding war policies and censorship. The Bush Administration barred coverage by reporters and cameramen of the American soldier coffins. But the truth is the Obama Administration is happy to keep any anti-war popular pressure off against the wars as the fighting continues.
Those pictures might upset the country and leave us asking, "Why are we still fighting and dying in those wars?" We have yet to get a straightforward answer from Obama, as to why he chooses to continue the Bush-instigated wars.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh, Alicia Shepard, you're so stupid

Alicia Shepard is NPR's ombudsperson which must be NPR for "does nothing." She decided to weigh in on something today, the latest NPR scandal:

It's hard to decide which of Schiller's remarks was worse for someone representing NPR.

– That the Republican Party is "anti-intellectual?"

– That Tea Party people aren't "just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic.I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-American gun-toting, I mean it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

– Or that NPR "would be better off in the long-run without federal funding" - a position that directly conflicts with NPR and public media's stance against Congress slashing $400 million in federal funding.

– Or that Schiller seemed to be saying that conservatives, by and large, are uneducated.

"To me, this is representative of the thing that I guess I'm most disturbed by and disappointed by in this country which is that the educated, so-called elite in this country, is too small a percentage of the population," said Schiller in the video. "So you have this very large uneducated part of the population that carries these ideas. It's much more about anti-intellectual than it is political." [Because the video is edited, it is not clear what "this" refers to or what "these ideas" that a large part of the population carries.]

Uh, no, Ruth's "NPR 'forgets' the anti-semitic remarks in their 'report'" noted the most offensive comment.

-- "It's there in those who own newspapers."

That's in the section where everyone goes crazy attacking the Jews. How strange that Alicia Shepard missed that. Yeah, strange.


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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, the US House and Senate VA Committee leaders call on President Barack Obama to stop the VA from short changing veterans and their caregivers, Nouri plans to announce nominees for his leader-less ministries tomorrow, and more.
For most of us in the United States, imaging a loved one injured in the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars (or any future wars) is a mental exercise detached from reality. How fortunate for us if we (that includes me) do not have to picture someone in their immediate family who could be wounded, return home and require that we become the primary caregiver. Again, for most of us, we're very lucky -- most, but not all. And addressing the realities of what a caregiver caring for a wounded veteran and what the veteran has to face is something that the Congress has spent several years working on. The House and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee have held hearings, taken testimony, worked up proposals
And after all of those many hearings and many meetings with the effected populations, both houses of Congress agreed upon the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (May 5, 2010) which was to go into effect January 30, 2011. This bill had support from both political parties -- and support from independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. In the Senate it passed by 98 votes (all present voted for it). In the House, it passed by 419 votes with all present voting in favor of it. President Barack Obama signed it into law May 5, 2010. It shouldn't have caused any problems because of the huge Congressional support it had -- universal support -- and because the Congress took so much care in investigating the issues, in taking testimonies from stakeholders, in evaluating and re-evaluating before they wrote the bill. But as the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee made clear March 2nd, there were huge differences between what the Congress passed and what the VA was planning to do with the law. This afternoon the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released the following statement:
Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees call on President Obama to stop the VA from severely limiting a benefit for those who are forced to leave careers, health care behind to care for their loved ones

(Washington, D.C.) – Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a bi-partisan, bi-cameral letter to President Barack Obama yesterday calling on him to ensure that eligibility for a law Congress passed to support veterans caregivers is not limited and that the law is implemented in a timely manner. In the letter, the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Congressional Committees that oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expressed their frustration over VA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delays in moving forward with caregivers support, and with additional criteria that will severely limit the ability for some family caregivers to access the benefit. Specifically, the Congressional leaders asked the President to direct OMB to "ensure that the regulations or other elements of the program's implementation comply with the specific eligibility criteria that are set out in the law."
"It's simply unacceptable that the VA would limit a program Congress designed to support family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover at home," said Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray. "We are calling on the President to make sure that the will of Congress and the needs of these veterans are not being ignored. Caring for our veterans is part of the cost of war. This program is part of the cost of war."
"When he signed the Caregiver Law, President Obama stood with wounded veterans and caregivers in promising that they'd be getting the help they needed," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller. "We're now calling on him to fulfill that pledge and direct his administration to hear the will of Congress, veterans, and caregivers to get this program right."
"This legislation was originally designed to provide a path forward for caregivers who are already sacrificing their own aspirations in order to make the lives of severely wounded veterans easier to bear," said Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "I urge the President to work with VA to get this bill right so that caregivers in dire need of assistance can receive the benefits promised to them,"
"VA's continued delay in the implementation of such a vital program is inexcusable. Many of these caregivers have wiped out their savings, have had to forego their own health care coverage and have given up their careers in order to care for their loved one," said Rep. Bob Filner Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Last year, Congress saw fit to extend critical benefits to the Caregivers of our nation's veterans and we will not stand idly by as VA prolongs the process. Too much time has passed already."

We'll note the letter in full at the end of the snapshot. But I'm having to juggle things to make this the opening -- and it's important enough that it should be the opening. Today
Christopher Caskey (Auburn Citizen) reports on a send-off ceremony in Auburn (upstate New York) yesterday for 15 members of the Auburn National Guard Armory who are part of 115 soldiers with the 105th Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard deploying to Iraq. Before deploying to Iraq, the soldiers will receive additional training at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The Iraq War hasn't ended. And, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, on Tuesday's Talk of the Nation (NPR), Ted Koppel explained why the Iraq War continues (and continues and continues and . . .):


Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
Jane Arraf: This is what's left of the Rasheed family's alcohol store, one of the few that was still open in Baghdad. It was bombed, along with seven others recently just after Aid Rasheed closed up for the day. Aid is a Yazidi -- an ancient religion here. Yazidis and Christians have always owned liquor stores in Iraq. But as the government embraces a stricter interpretation of Islam, Aid says there's no room for them anymore
Aid Rasheed: Especially the Christians and the Yazidis, we don't know how we will live. In the north if we open a restaurant, no one will come to it. In the south, we have these shops they attack us and steal from us and kill us.
Jane Arraf: It's not just drinking that's under threat. The cultural heart of Baghdad, al-Mutanabbi Street, has been rebuilt since it was bombed in 2007. But many of the cities writers, artists and intellectuals have left the country Baghdad has always been known for its diversity, for its cultural tolerance. It's a part of the national identity but many people fear it's being crushed. Hadi al-Mahdi is an out spoken radio host but his criticism of the government has cost him dearly. He was one of dozens of media people arrested and beaten after a recent protest. Iraq is at a crossroads he said between freedom and dictatorship. Zena Hatab is a television presenter. She felt free enough to enter and win a local beauty pagent. That could be harder if a new warning seen in the al-Kadhimiya district is heeded. The display warns women of the dangers that await them if their bodies aren't covered head-to-toe.
Abass Ali Hussein: This shows this life and behind it is the after life. Being tortured by fire for those who are unveiled or wear too much make up. The Koran says we have to cover the chest and the arms. Only the face and the hands should show.
Jane Arraf: Many Iraqi Muslims dispute that reading of the Koran but it's a sign of changing time that few in this neighborhood will openly say so. Jane Arraf, Al Jazeera, Baghdad.
Religious minorities have been among the targeted groups in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. "Among" -- there is a long, long list of targeted groups in Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq reports that the country's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory released a statement today: "A total of 160 attacks took place against journalists throughout the country, including 60 in Kurdistan region. Security authorities waged a big campaign on media institutions in Baghdad and other provinces, and arrested journalists and ceased al-Diyar satellite channel." Sunday, Nouri al-Maliki sent police and military forces to throw the Communist Party out of their headquarters. The Party also produced their newspaper at the headquarters and were most likely targeted because they've been strong supporters and organizers of the protests. Al Mada reports that Hamid Majid Moussa held a press conference today in Baghdad, not far from where the Party's Newspaper By The People was produced, and declared that the government cannot justify the eviction of the Communist Party because the Party is not terrorists but they are instead being punished for their politics in violation of their Constitutional guarantees so the government must immediately return the Party's property. Patrick Martin (WSWS via Global Research) provides an overview of some of the recent attacks on the press, "Journalists covering an anti-government protest March 4 in Basra, in southern Iraq, were seized and beaten by police. Gunman in military uniforms raided an independent radio station in the Kurdish town of Kalar. The station's director, Azad Othman, told the Associated Press the volunteer station had been reporting extensively on demonstrations in Sulaimaniyah against the two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. These attacks follow nationwide raids the previous Sunday, in which Iraqi police detained 300 people, mainly journalists, artists, lawyers and other intellectuals [. . .]"
The National Newspaper's editorial board observes, "Iraq's democratic exuberance is in tatters. A year ago this week, the US president Barack Obama praised elections as an 'important milestone in Iraqi history'. Today, diplomats cross their fingers that the country's mounting protests don't spiral out of control. More than anything, though, Iraq's popular uprisings underscore that an unhappy public is no longer content idly watching a kleptocracy emerge. Iraq's leader should take heed." Al Mada reports that the US government expects protests to continue but that the US government -- citing Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq -- does not feel the protests will call for the overthrow of the (puppet) government in Iraq. Alsumaria TV quotes Corbin declaring, "People are protesting not for regime change, but for services, against corruption, for better government response to their needs."
Along with the press, protesters have also faced the crackdown and Aswat al-Iraq reports that the protesters in Ninewah who have been demonstrating demanding the release of 'detainees' saw 12 protesters released from police custody. Al Jazeera reports that today in Baghdad, "hundreds of Iraqi workers rallied in central Baghdad, calling for improved salaries and better economic conditions. The demonstration came after thousands of Iraqis had taken to the streets in recent days to protest against corruption, unemployment and the lack of public services." Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq reports that Barham Saleh, Prime Minister in the KRG, has declared if the Kurdistan Parliament asks him to resign, he will do so and quotes him stating, "Acts of violence that accompanied the protests should not be repeated again."
Protests have been taking place in the Kurdistan Region as well; however, Kirkuk is not (or not yet) part of the KRG. Sean Kane's "Iraqi protests and the need for a political strategy on Kirkuk" (Foreign Policy):

Somewhat lost in the wave of protests sweeping through the Middle East, which are now washing up on Iraq's shores, has been the recent deployment of two brigades of Kurdish peshmerga troops in the disputed province of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. There has been a peshmerga presence in Kirkuk since 2003, but stationed north of the provincial capital of Kirkuk city. However, following Iraq's own "Day of Rage" on Feb. 25, peshmerga forces moved to take up positions along a line south of the city. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials have stated that the deployment is needed to protect Kurdish populations in the disputed areas from the threat posed by what they claim are terrorist-infiltrated demonstrations. The Iraqi government's response to the move has so far been muted, but local Arab leaders in Kirkuk and some of their Turkoman counterparts are expressing alarm that the move will fuel intercommunal tension and requesting intervention by the national government. Underscoring the potential seriousness of the situation, on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and U.S. Forces Commanding General Lloyd Austin met with KRG President Massoud Barzani to discuss security arrangements in Kirkuk.

The status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories in northern Iraq is perhaps the major unresolved potential political driver of conflict in Iraq as American troops prepare to withdraw later this year, and at various points since 2008 the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish peshmerga have come close to an armed confrontation. The current situation in Kirkuk is likely to be defused without further escalation, but it raises important questions about the consolidation of U.S.-backed conflict-prevention mechanisms aimed at forestalling the use of military units to resolve territorial disputes as well as the lack of a viable Iraqi political process to begin to resolve the core elements underlying the territorial conflict. Without any political road map or vision existing for addressing the fate of the disputed territories, there is the risk that parties are tempted to take matters into their own hands and that moments of social unrest, such as the current demonstrations around poor services and unemployment, quickly degenerate into ethnic tension.
Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq reports that Talabani spoke Monday in Sulaimaniya and declared Kurkuk to be "Kurdistan's sanctity." The problem with interpreting that comment is that (a) Talabani was before a crowd and (b) he always goes back on his statments -- especially when it comes to Kirkuk. That hasn't prevented many from attempting to decipher where Talabani is leading. The Brookings Institution's Michael E. O'Hanlon has a new column where he (as usual) advocates for the US to stay in Iraq and notes:


But the most vivid way to understand the continued desirability of a calming U.S. military presence is to focus on the contested city of Kirkuk and its environs in the north of the country, just below the autonomous region of Kurdistan proper. This is the oil-rich and history-laden city where Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs come into contact - and compete for claims to the land and its resources. According to the Iraqi constitution, written with American help and passed in 2005, there is supposed to be a referendum on Kirkuk's future. In fact, it was supposed to have happened by 2007, but disputes over who should be allowed to vote and what options should be presented to voters have continued to delay the resolution of the matter.

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Aswat al-Iraq reports a Baghdad bombing claimed 1 life -- Brig Taha Mohammed who was "director of the Iraqi air force training department director," another Baghdad bombing injured one person, another Baghdad roadside bombing targeted a US convoy (no reports of any wounded), a Mosul bombing injured police Col Abad Etweiba and a bodyguard was wounded as well, a Falluja assault on a home left 1 man dead and his wife wounded, and 3 Baghdad IEDs left three Iraqi soldiers injured, one police officer and one civilian wounded and a police officer. Reuters notes a Taji truck bombing claimed the life of the driver and, dropping back to Tuesday for the rest, 1 man was killed in Baghdad's Ghadir district and 1 man was killed in Baghdad's Mashtal district (silencers on guns in both incidents) and a Kirkuk rocket attack resulted in 1 pesh merga being injured.
Hisham Rikabi (Al Mada) reports that Nouri al-Maliki will, according to whispers, offer up some names to fill empty Cabinet posts when he joins Parliament tomorrow. There are rumors on top of the rumors including that the names he proposes have no consensus behind them and that Nouri will be pushing his job off onto the Parliament (which will allow him an out, now won't it?). Among the names being whispered as nominees are Ahmed Chalabi, Lt Gen Abboud Qanbar and Turaihi Aqeel who, supposedly, will be competing for the post of Minister of the Interior. Citing Kurdish press reports, Rikabi notes rumors that Nouri intends to toss out ten names for the posts of Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and Minister of National Security (and Intelligence). Dar Addustour adds that an unnamed person with the State Of Law political slate (Nouri's slate) has stated ISCI, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters will not be voting on the names due to the lack of political consenus. If that's true, who will be voting? That's a huge chunk of the MPs. Iraqiya won the most seats. The other two hold a significant number of seats and came together to back Nouri as prime minister-designate last year. If the rumor is true about withholding votes being planned for Thursday, that would explain why Moqtada al-Sadr was all over Iraq yesterday -- Sadr City in Baghdad as well as Kadhimiyah). Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report State Of Law's Ali Shlah has gone on record and told them that Nouri "will present his candidates for the defense, interior and national security ministries to parliament" on Thursday.

In other news of Parliament, the National Alliance held a press conference today. Al Mada reports that they are threatening to walk -- all 80 of them -- if Parliament doesn't stop 'reading speeches and statements and failing to legislate.' The report also notes that although Parliament was to go into recess April 14th, they've extended the session to run through May 14th. Yesterday's snapshot included this: "Aswat al-Iraq reports that a member of the Iraqiya slate is stating over '200 draft laws are defunct inside the Iraqi parliment'." This is the inaction that the National Alliance is objecting to.
Aswat al-Iraq notes that the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, made congratulatory statements yesterday towards Iraqi women in observance of International Women's Day. Sally Jawdat (Al Mada) reports from Irbil on the day and notes that Massoud Barzani, President of the KRG, congratulated women (all women) and then moved on to note women in the Kurdistan region and spoke of the role that they have played in the liberation of Kurdistan. He declared that the KRG is always a defender of women's rights. Meanwhile, Al Rafidayn reports that there has been an increase in the number of suicides among Karbala women who are the victims of assault. Dr. Amer Haidar is quoted stating that al-Hussein Hospital is receiving at least two women a week who have attempted suicide and that the women display fractures, burns and other signs of abuse. Dr. Sana Abdul speculates that some women may see suicide as the only way to be free of physically abusive husbands. Suha Alsaikli (Al Mada) reports on Iraqi women who gathered in Baghdad yesterday to mark International Women's Day including women with the Iraqi Communist Party, the Association of Iraqi Women and Peace and Solidarity Organization. Passing out sweets, the women drew attention to the status of women in Iraq, particularly widows and divorcees. Umm Ammar, with the Communist Party, decried Nouri's orders to seize the Party's headquarters on Sunday and noted that other parties were not targeted.
Larisa Epatko (PBS' NewsHour) writes this introduction to a photo essay at the website, "Women came together on March 8 to express a message of soldiarity on International Women's Day by dancing in Iraq, protesting in Ivory Coast and dressing as men in Lebanon. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the designated day, bringing with it a theme of 'decent work for women.' Events are planned throughout the month." One of the women of Iraq is Haifa Zangana who was born in Baghdad, raised there, attended Baghdad University, received her diploma in 1974 and continued her political activism as a member of the Communist Party. Escaping imprisonment and execution, she left Iraq. Since the start of the Iraq War, she's returned to Iraq twice. She's also an author of many books and, March 19th, she speaks at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. She shares her memories with Tahira Yaqoob (The National Newspaper):

At that time, everything was indicating that the Baath regime was a fascist party so I joined a faction of young people, who represented socialism with democracy, everything we thought we were missing. My mother did not say much but whatever I did, she would be in tears and one time, she begged me to give up. She said it was going to lead us into trouble and worried about the whole family being affected but I was a stubborn woman. [. . .] The Seventies were great. It was a time when we had the liberation movement, a time of hope and aspirations. You felt if you took part in this movement you were taking part in changing things. We were full of hopes. I was not unique. Most people were involved politically, it was part of daily life. You could not lie back and rest. [. . .] Dreaming of Baghdad is part of our collective memory. It was very important to document that part for the group of people involved and was very painful to write. When I had the time in the 1980s to look back at what happened in the early 1970s, even then it was really painful. I spent more than a decade trying to bury it. I wanted to come to terms and seek to forget. [. . .] I thought, this is an important part, not just of my life, but of the group of people I was involved with. It was an important experience as a woman. For a few years I was the only one. Some people suggested while I was writing the chapters that it was going to help me on a personal level as a kind of therapy.

Studies on the ground of the war's impact on women and girls come to vastly different conclusions. In October 2002, Saddam Hussein released criminals from Iraqi prisons. This and the soon-to-follow 2003 US-led assault on Baghdad, created conditions for bloodletting, for a sharp increase in organized crime trafficking in drugs, stolen cars, and women and girls; and for the ascendancy of armed Islamist conservatism. Saddam's tightly controlled violence and reign of terror were replaced by unpredictable, widespread violence against Iraqi women. The immediate consequences for women: hejabs worn by Muslim and Christian women alike (and abayas in some regions) to avoid being harassed and beaten in public; an epidemic of women killed in the city of Basra by fundamentalist men, who leave them in the street as a lesson to other women; increased rape, including of women in detention; abduction into prostitution; and a dramatic rise in "honor" killings, or the murder of women and girls by male family members to restore family honor. Muta'a - Sharia law-permitted exploitation of women by men in so-called temporary marriages, which serve as fronts for prostitution - rose after the war began, with men targeting desperate, penniless widows and the Shia militia targeting single girls. The real ruler in Iraq today, according to Iraqi Professor Maha Sabria, "is the rule of old traditions and tribal, backward law" with a US-brokered Constitution based in Islamic law, one which does not assure women basic rights or protections.

The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which investigated women's deaths in Basra by visiting city morgues, found that most of the women killed by fundamentalist "vice squads" in Basra were largely professionals, activists and PhDs. The lesson to other women: end any participation in the public, political and social spheres and stay home under male surveillance. By early 2008, only 20 percent of primary and secondary students countrywide were female; the rest were prisoners in their homes. Houzan Mahmoud, who has risked her life to organize a petition against the introduction of Islamic law in Kurdistan, summed up the impact of the war: "If before there were one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women."

Mary Jane Lavigne (Twin Cities Daily Planet) reports on attorney Suaad Allami whom the US State dept recognized in 2009 as an International Women of Courage and quotes her stating:

I was living under the three wars, 1980, 1991 and 2003. I know what it means for the people. The worst impact of all the wars is on poor people. Since 2003, we had the Sectarian Violence -- how that has displaced people! They leave their homes, structures fall, corruption, violence, many diseases. Cancers are increasing because of the prohibited weapons they used during the war.
I live in east Baghdad. Sadr City has 40 percent of the population, close to 2 million, mostly poor. Fifteen or twenty people, living in a small area, these are small houses, many members of an extended family living in one house.
Fran Kelly: Manal Omar is an activist and scholar working at the US Institute of Peace in America. She lived in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 and wrote a book about her experiences called Barefoot in Baghdad. Manal Omar is in Australia this week. Manal, welcome to ABC Radio National Breakfast.
Manal Omar: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Fran Kelly: And happy International Women's Day.
Manal Omar: Thank you. Likewise.
Fran Kelly: Talking about women in Iraq, Manal, has democracy in Iraq delivered better outcomes for women there?
Manal Omar: Well the jury's still out on what the improvement for women will look like. Iraq has a very strong legacy of women's rights. If you look at the 40s and the 50s, it's something that Iraqi women are very proud of. In 2003, Iraqi women were talking about how they were going to leap forward and ways that they were going to reclaim that legacy of women's rights but unfortunately it has panned out quite like that. They're still struggling and unfortunately they're in a situation of just trying to maintain the status quo. And I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll be able to reclaim that legacy But it's been a very difficult path.
Fran Kelly: And what about improvement in terms of -- clear improvement that you can measure -- women's representation in the Parliament or in the top echelons of that Parliament in Iraq?
Manal Omar: That's a great question. You do have a quota so 25% of the Parliament are women and they are emerging over the last few government formations as being very strong, powerful women that are articulating not only the issues for women but for youth and other important issues that are important to the country as a whole.
Fran Kelly: Well is it true to say that though, in the recent Ministry there were no women ministers?
Manal Omar: That's right and --
Fran Kelly: That's a change isn't it?
Manal Omar: It is a change. In the last Iraq government formation there were no women that were no women that were appointed. And you know, I think it had more to do with the fact that when you're negotiating and looking at the political process it's often that leaders of the political parties who are almost always men that come out an take the seats. And so it wasn't necessarily targeting women but it's a very typical situation where women and in my book, I call it the negotiating chip where they're negotiated away and become assets during these times.
Fran Kelly: Tell me a little more about that. What do you mean the negotiating chip?
Manal Omar: I mean most often a lot of the political parties might not just be against women's rights or anti-women, but they're thinking about their own political interests. And when you're negotiating whether it's with tribal leaders or with the heads of politcal parties and in the case of Iraq religious leaders, what tends to fall through the cracks are women because no one wants to have their position filled by a woman they're going to have the head of the tribe or the head of the political party come and take the seat. And unfortunately and consistently the people who pay the price are the women representatives.
March 2nd, the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to address the differences between the law the Congress passed to aid veterans and their caregivers and the meager and miserly way the VA intended to 'follow' it. The hearing was covered in that day's snapshot and Kat covered it in "Burr promises VA 'one hell of a fight'" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The VA still can't get it together." Leadership of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee have written US President Barack Obama to ask him to prevent the VA from distorting the law Congress passed which would prevent many veterans and their caregivers from receiving the help Congress said they deserved. This is the letter the leadership of the Veterans Affairs Committee -- both houses -- sent Barack:

March 8, 2011
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President:
We are writing regarding the family caregivers assistance program established in Public Law 111-163, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which you signed into law on May 5, 2010. To date, implementation of this program is significantly behind the schedule mandated in law. The statutory deadline for the full implementation of this program was January 30, 2011. Our concerns were raised with you about this previously, and after conversations with members of your senior staff, we understand that you are directing your Administration to get this program back on track such that services should commence early this summer.

We ask that you direct the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget to implement the necessary interim-final regulations for this program within 60 days of the date of this letter. We also ask that you direct OMB to ensure that the regulations and other elements of the program's implementation comply with the specific eligibility criteria that are set out in the law. VA's reluctance to work with Congress and veterans advocates has led to a situation where caregivers remain unclear if they will receive the support Congress intended for them.

Further delay of this program hurts veterans and caregivers in need of these critical benefits and services. Further, limiting eligibility to arbitrary and stringent criteria, contrary to the intent of the law, creates undue hardship for veterans and family caregivers meant to be helped by the new program. Instruction and training in the provision of care, respite, technical assistance, counseling, and a living stipend for those who are forced to leave their jobs or work fewer hours to provide care to their loved ones are all being withheld as some in VA attempt to stymie this program. VA and OMB need your leadership to implement this program.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,


Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL 1st), Chairman, House Veterans' Affairs Committee
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA 51st), Ranking Member, House Veterans' Affairs Committee


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