Friday, April 15, 2011

Four to two, same old pattern

Katty Kay filled in as host on The Diane Rehm Show. The first hour was Chris Cillizza, Julie Hirshfeld Davis and Greg Ip. The second hour was Karen DeYoung, Tom Gjelten and Jonathan Landay. That's four male guests and two women.

There was no point in listening. Iraq wasn't discussed. The whole thing was garbage. Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) tackles the Libyan War:

The Libyan war was presented, and is being defended by its authors, as a "humanitarian" intervention. A "massacre" was supposedly in progress, and we had to act immediately – there was no time to step back and ponder the possible consequences. Dennis Ross, the Obama administration’s Middle Eastern plenipotentiary, was certain that 100,000 opponents of the Gadhafi regime would be killed if government forces took Benghazi. There was no time to think: we had to intervene in the name of humanity. A mere few weeks after NATO extended its umbrella over the city, however, and the rebels are already contemptuously rejecting humanitarian aid from at least one NATO member, as The Economist reports:

"Last week, gun-toting youths on Benghazi’s docks chased away a ship carrying ambulances and humanitarian aid from Turkey, on the grounds that its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, was using the country’s NATO membership to limit the military alliance’s bombardment of the regime’s forces."

So much for the "humanitarian disaster" that was supposed to be taking place in Libya. I guess it wasn’t as much of an "emergency" as the more credulous among us were led to believe.

Please make a point to read Elaine's "I'm Over All That" which is about Shirley MacLaine's I'm Over All That And Other Confessions. I'm about half-way through the book and loving it.



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


Friday, April 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protesters turn out in Baghdad and call for Nouri to step down, the UN human rights chief calls for an investigation into the assault on Camp Ashraf, and more.
Baghdad has seen protests every Friday since February 25th. Today in Baghdad, AGI reports, "hundreds" are protesting and calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign. They are doing so in "Liberation Square" (Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad) and have rejected the notion that they will be penned inside a stadium. Alsumaria TV adds:


"Demonstrators chanted "Leave Maliki, Leave" and "wind of change has arrived" in the middle of an intensive presence of the Iraqi security forces," the reporter added.
Baghdad Operations had declared on Wednesday that Al Shaab and Al Kashafa Stadiums in Al Rassafa and Al Zawra' Stadium in Karakh were appointed as substitute regions to hold licensed demonstrations instead of Al Tahrir and Al Ferdaws squares.
This demonstration is the first of its kind, since the beginning of demonstrations in February 25, as to calling for Prime Minister Al Maliki to step down. Demonstrations slogans have called to halt corruption and to implement reforms and change. These demonstrations were organized by university students and independent educated people thru social networking websites. It is to be noted that security forces had applied tight security measures and curfew to prevent demonstrators from reaching the gatherings. To that, Iraq police opened fire and many people were killed and injured.

As noted in Wednesday's snapshot, "AFP reports that Baghdad security forces have announced that protests in the capital from now on will only be allowed in one of three football stadiums. The excuse being offered is complaints from shop keepers about traffic issues but the reality is this is yet another effort to hide the protests away." Kitabat featured an essay Thursday rejecting the demand that protesters gather in stadiums, noting that they would instead keep the voices of the protest close to the ears of the Iraqi officials in the Green Zone and would refuse efforts to isolate the voice of the Iraqi people. Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf observed:
Demonstrators gathering in #Baghdad's Tahrir square despite government ban - burning national registration cards in protest about 16 hours ago via web
Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes protester Mohammed Abdul Amir speaking to the crowd, "Why should we go to Al-Shaab stadium? Are we going to play a football match with the police? No! We will demonstrate here!" Human rights activist Sarah Abdallah tweets:
The demands of the Iraqi people are clear: free all political prisoners, down with #Maliki and end the criminal 8-year US #occupation. #Iraq about 1 hour ago via web
Tens of thousands marched through #Baghdad today for the "Friday of the Free," in defiance of the #Maliki regime's ban on protests. #Iraq about 1 hour ago via web
At Al Jazeera's live blog of MidEast protests today, Jane Arraf reported that some activists "burned their Iraqi identiy cards in protest against the government. Military and police units deployed at the square did not prevent the gathering".
On the subject of protests we're again left with the crazed rantngs of Raed Jarrar (see Sunday's "And the war drags on . . ." for a dissection of his previous crazy). How fitting that his latest revisionary history shows up at Iran's state controlled Press TV -- what would propaganda be without a propaganda mill? Making like Moqtada al-Sadr's girlfriend -- the Eva to Moqtada's Adolph, Raed's again writing about Saturday's protests. If you're wondering, no, he's not written of any of the other over 30 big protests which have taken place across Iraq in the last three months. But his Mookie Moqtada didn't have a hand in those and Raed's all about spreading the love for Mookie: "the prominent nationalist Shia cleric" -- does anyone else see the hilarity in referring to chicken Moqtada hiding in another country (Iran) as a "nationalist"? But, hey, the hilarity is right there the minute you apply "nationalist" to Moqtada. He's attempting to make Iraq a satellite of Iran, don't mistake that for nationalism unless you're grossly uneducated.
All of the protests that came before are reduced by Raed to a one and a half sentences: "Iraqis had already been demonstrating in the streets of Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities for a week as of this writing. So far most of the protests have focused on better services". He. Just. Can't. Stop. Lying. Protests have been going on in Iraq since February, not for a week. There's been a sit-in that's gone on non-stop for weeks, day after day. Better services? No. What an insulting thing to say, insulting and uninformed.
Iraqi protests this year kicked off in February and kicked off outside of Baghdad. It's amazing because people died in these protests but they're being stripped from the record by Moqtada's Fan Club. As January wound down, Ned Parker. reported on the secret prisons for the Los Angeles Times and Human Rights Watch issued their report on it. Parker's January report on the secret prisons and how they were run by Nouri's security forces, the Baghdad Brigade followed up on his earlier report on how the Brigade was behind the prison that he and the paper exposed in April 2010. All the whilte Nouri insisted that there were no secret prisons in Iraq. Such as February 6th when Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "The Iraqi government on Sunday denied a human rights organization's allegation that it has a secret detention center in Baghdad, run by Prime Minister Nur al-Maliki's security forces." The report then quoted Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi stating, "We don't know how such a respectable organization like Human Rights Watch is able to report such lies." Camp Honor is a prison that's under Nouri's control, staffed by people working for him. Amnesty International would also call the use of secret prisons out while Nouri continued to deny them.
But while many in the press would play dumb, the Iraqi people knew better. They knew their loved ones were gone, disappeared into Iraq's legal system. That is what began the protests in Iraq: the prisons. It's what fueled them throughout. And that's not "going on for a week as of this writing." From the Feb. 10th snapshot:
Alsumaria TV reports protests took place in Babel Province today with one protest calling for the release of prisoners and another calling out the continued lack of public services. Dar Addustour reports the the Council of the Bar Association issued a call for a Baghdad demonstration calling for corruption to be prosecuted, for the Constitution to be followed and sufficient electricity in all the schools. Nafia Abdul-Jabbar (AFP) reports that approximately 500 people (mainly attorneys "but also including some tribal sheikhs") marched and that they also decried the secret prisons. They carried banners which read "Lawyers call for the government to abide by the law and provide jobs for the people" and "The government must provide jobs and fight the corrupt." Bushra Juhi (AP) counts 3,000 demonstrating and calls it "one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Iraq" this year. Juhi also notes that attorneys staged smaller protests in Mosul and Basra today. Al Rafidayn reports that five provinces saw protests yesterday as the people demanded reliable public services and an end to government corruption. Noting the Babylon Province protest, the paper quotes Amer Jabk (Federation of Industrialists in Babylon president) stating that the provincial government has not provided any of the services the province needs, that basic services have deteriorated and that heavy rains have not only seen streets closed but entire neighborhoods sinking. Hayder Najm (niqash) observes protests have taken place across Iraq, "The protesters' grievances have been many and varied: the quality and level of basic services, government restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of expression, violations against civil servants, and the rampant financial and administrative corruption within state institutions. [. . .] Eight years after the US invasion of Iraq, the electricity supply in most areas of the country still does not exceed two hours a day, and the country still suffers from poor infrastructure, a weak transport network, and an acute crisis of drinking water and sanitation."

"This is in solidarity with the Iraqi people," said Kadhim Zubaidi, spokesman for Iraq's lawyers' union in Baghdad. "We want the government to sack the corrupt judges."

Noting recent reports by human rights groups revealing secret prisons in Iraq, Zubaidi added: "We also demand that the interior and defence ministries allow us to enter the secret prisons … We want to get information about these prisons."

And that's not when the protests started. We can go further back than that. But Raed Jarrar -- as usual -- does not know what he's writing about or is intentionally attempting to deceive. You cannot distort events to suit your own political aims and be considered credible. It just makes you a liar. Raed wants to get to the SOFA possibly being extended and does as he wraps up. To his credit, he shows a stronger understanding of the SOFA at the end of his column than he has prior. He doesn't want the SOFA extended. I don't either. But I'm not going to lie to make my point. Raed states that if the SOFA is extended "without approval by Iraq's legislators" [which appears to mean he's acknowledging at last that Nouri has twice extending the occupation without the permission of the Parliament -- he did so in 2006 and in 2007] "it would be the last straw that would destroy the Iraqi government's legitmacy and end the credibility of the country's political and electoral systems. It would push many Iraqis who have joined the government to boycott the political process and resort again to violence."
What would is Raed living in? The last elections concluded March 7, 2010 (early voting started the Thursday before Sunday the 7th). Sunnis turned out in larger numbers and did so because they'd skipped the 2005 national elections in large numbers and felt short changed (to put it mildly) in the years that followed. Were it not for the increased Sunni turnout, the commnetary would have been on how low the turnout was. That's because Shi'ites stayed home in large numbers. You're seeing disenchantment in the turnout already. If the puppet government survived Nouri extending the SOFA in 2006 (to cover the year 2007) and in 2007 (to cover the year 2008), you're going to have to offer some sort of support for your claim that his doing so again will destroy Iraq. In 2008, he did take the matter (then the SOFA, not the UN mandate) to the Parliament. And, try to remember, he promised that the people would get to weigh in. They'd get a referendum on the SOFA. And they could reject it!!!! They could say no!!! They could end the war!!! (They actually couldn't. Had they said "no" in July 2009, per the SOFA, the Iraq War would have continued until the end of 2010 -- read the SOFA.) But that July referendum? Never held. And did the puppet government fall apart?
No, it didn't. Repeatedly the occupation's been extended, repeatedly Iraqis have been lied to. There is outrage. There has always been outrage. The puppet government has not fallen. Which isn't to say it wouldn't. It is to say that if Raed wants to assert a claim that it likely will, he's going to have to offer some supporting evidence for his conclusion because, at present, the facts argue otherwise. What has kept the puppet government in control has been the US military on the ground. My guess has always been that it's very likely the puppet government falls when the US finally leaves. If there's a case to be made for it falling while US forces are on the ground in Iraq, Raed needs to make it. But his wet dreams about Moqtada aren't doing it. Nouri attacked Moqtada's forces in Basra and Baghdad. And Moqtada's forces melted away. Many of them ran at the start of the attacks. Though it drove up Moqtada's popularity, it didn't drive up his authority. Again, if you're going to offer predictions, try to provide supporting evidence for them as opposed to distorting events and reality to fit your own personal desires.
Reality doesn't need 'improving.' You can't offer an honest take if you distort. And the claim that people might lose faith in the government begs the question of who still has faith in Nouri? The Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq note:
These days, Iraqi authorities feel free to carry out arbitrary arrests, physical assault and torture of Iraqi citizens who participate in peaceful demonstrations. In fact, they have begun to recruit and utilize of the expertise of the masterminds who were part of the horrific Baathist regime of Saddam. In doing so, they announce the end of any commitment to human rights stipulated in the Constitution they have offered to the Iraqi people as a social contract.
Yesterday, on April 13th at 1:45 pm, armed military\secret-intelligence forces arrived in three vehicles, stormed the offices of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and also the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), for the second time in one month. They arrested OWFI affiliate youth activist Firas Ali, one of the leaders of February 25 Group on Facebook and in Baghdad's Tahrir square. Those who raided the building intimidated all the youth present, calling them terrorists, though they were the organizing team of a group of demonstrators within Baghdad's weekly protests who have clearly shown their peaceful intentions, week after week. The armed forces immediately blindfolded Firas Ali, handcuffed him, and took him away, where demonstrators are detained and tortured with the same feared methods used under Saddam's reign. The armed forces had no court order for the arrest of Firas Ali, or for breaking into the offices.
Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of February 25 Group, was arrested in much the same manner on April 8th, and he remains in custody. It is thought that he is jailed in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, along with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.
The Maliki government thinks it can silence the youth, determined to end what have become the signature characteristics of its rule - oppression and corruption. All the Saddam-style violations, group arrests, and torture will not deter the youth from demanding an end to corruption and to start to an era of equality and freedom, expected in any civilized society.
The OWFI demands the immediate release of Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil. OWFI reserves the right to take to court all those who have given orders for arbitrary arrest, and those who physically assaulted the youth activists. The OWFI also warns those who consider the further torture of freedom lovers such as Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil… They will be pursued, brought to trial for their crimes against humanity, and thrown in the same prisons they now misuse.
We warn the Maliki government to stop denying the human rights of the demonstrators, and we demand an immediate official response, stating any legitimate charges against our activists, their place of detention, and physical condition. We also hold them directly responsible for any and all physical abuse or torture which our activists have been subjected to.
Down with the Baathist oppression
Down with the oppressive and corrupt despots
No more torture of youth activists… Enough is enough!
Yanar Mohammed
OWFI president
Firas Ali, an Iraqi political activist, was detained at the office of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, Baghdad, at about 2pm on 13 April. A protester, Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, is believed to have been detained on 1 April on Tahrir Square, Baghdad. Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and remains in custody. It is feared that they and other detained activists are at high risk of torture.

Political activist Firas 'Ali, 30 years old, is reported to have been detained by members of the armed forces early in the afternoon of 13 April, at the Baghdad office of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq. An eyewitness told Amnesty International: "Two men in plain clothes and three soldiers asked about Firas 'Ali. They did not show an arrest warrant. Later I could see Firas 'Ali blindfolded and handcuffed being forced by soldiers into a vehicle and taken away." Friends of Firas Ali have not been able to contact him via his mobile phone since his detention and his whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears that Firas 'Ali is at high risk of torture.

Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, a 24 year old casual worker, attended protests at Tahrir Square on 1 April for the first time. He was with two friends who briefly left him at about 11.30, but when they returned about 10 minutes later he was no longer there. There were no witnesses to his detention. However, Iraqi activists have told Amnesty International that on previous occasions protesters have been "discretely" led away from the protests and detained. A member of his family who is a political activist told Amnesty International he fears that Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif was taken instead of him. His family has searched at hospitals and made inquiries with the authorities but has still no information of his whereabouts.

Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and he remains in custody. It is believed he is being kept j in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, together with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English or Arabic. We provide a Model Letter below to be sent to the following email addresses:

info@pmo.iq This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and admin@cabinet.iq This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

shakawa@humanrights.gov.iq This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and info@humanrights.gov.iq This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Add also the address of your nearest Iraqi embassy that can be found at the following link:
http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/Iraq (Please send appeals before 26 May 2011 to the Iraqi embassy in your country)

Please send copies also to: akram_nadir_1999@yahoo.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and editor@marxist.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it so that we can keep those campaigning for their release informed.


For more on the protests and the risks protesters face in Iraq, see Amnesty International issued the report [PDF format warning] "DAYS OF RAGE: PROTESTS AND REPRESSION IN IRAQ." See Tuesday's snapshot for more on the report and Mona Dohle covers the report today at Bikya Masr.

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing injured four people, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one Iraqi military officer, a Mosul grenade attack injured a police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing injured an Iraqi military officer, and, dropping back to Thursday, a Kirkuk sticky bombing left two people injured.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, UN observers confirmed that 34 residents of Camp Ashraf were killed in last Friday's assault. Louis Charbonneau and Todd Eastham (Reuters) report that United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has noted that "most were shot and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles" and is now calling for an independent investigation into the assault. Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) adds:
The Iraqi military, which rings the perimeter of the 19-sq.-mi. (49 sq km) camp, denies using firearms and says only three residents were killed -- when they threw themselves in front of military vehicles. Major General Ali Ghaidan, commander of Iraqi ground forces, told a group of reporters briskly bused to the vicinity of (but not into) Camp Ashraf that violence broke out after security forces sought to give parts of the camp back to farmers who allegedly owned it before Iraq's then dictator Saddam Hussein gave the land to the MEK in the 1980s. He insisted that only batons and water cannons were used. Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh sought to explain the shooting deaths by telling Agence France-Presse that "the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape."
"The Iraqi military were well aware of the risks attached to launching an operation like this in Ashraf," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement. "There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties. There must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted."



The news that Nouri's government did kill 34 residents of Camp Ashraf and lied -- and LIED -- about it is news. Unless you're the New York Times which only has room for three brief sentences by Michael S. Schmidt on the issue. Al Kamen (Washington Post) notes that US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher will be leading a visit to Camp Ashraf in June. Considering the abusive rulers who've fallen in the last fifty or so years, you'd think the paper would want to have their documentation ready in real time for the inevitable. Human Rights Watch issued the following today:


(New York) - Iraq should ensure that a promised investigation into deadly clashes between the Iraqi army and Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq dissidents at Camp Ashraf be thorough, independent, and transparent, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 14, 2011, the United Nations said that 34 camp residents were killed and dozens wounded during clashes six days earlier, on April 8. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the army used excessive force against the unarmed Iranian dissidents.
Iraq's military initially said three Ashraf residents were killed and the Iraqi Defense Ministry said on April 12 that it would investigate the incident. Authorities have still not made public the results of an investigation into a July 2009 raid by Iraqi security forces on Camp Ashraf that killed at least seven Mojahedin-e Khalq members. No one is known to have been held to account for those deaths.
"The residents of Camp Ashraf don't need more lip service about yet another investigation," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi authorities need to reveal the results of the 2009 investigation and appoint credible independent experts to look into this latest incident."
UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said on April 14 that the UN team had seen 28 bodies at Camp Ashraf, and that most had been shot, including several women. Six bodies were missing, Colville said.
Details of the incident remain murky, with camp residents and security forces blaming each other for the deaths and violence in widely different accounts of what happened. The Iranian exiles said that Iraqi security forces invaded their camp, killing 34 unarmed civilians and wounding more than 300, in an unprovoked attack that involved security forces opening fire and crushing people under Humvees.
On April 14, Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister's office, told Agence France-Presse that "our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape ... They had already committed similar acts in the past." Iraq's military had initially said three dissidents were killed when security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers.
The deaths are the latest in a series of violent incidents at Camp Ashraf, where members of an Iranian dissident group, Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, have lived for over two decades. The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein allowed the Mojahedin-e Khalq to base itself in Iraq in 1986. In 2011 more than 3,000 persons remained in Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad; they surrendered their weapons to US forces following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many Iraqis have alleged that the group's members actively participated in campaigns against opponents of Saddam Hussein's government, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has indicated its intention to shut down the camp.
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty." The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials "shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force" and may use force "only if other means remain ineffective." When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must "exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence."

Amnesty International has warned Iraqi authorities against taking any unnecessary military action that would put civilian lives in danger, amid reports of a military build-up inside a camp for Iranian exiles north of Baghdad.
Amnesty International has received reports that new troop movements and military construction are taking place inside the camp, only days after an assault on the camp by Iraqi security forces on 8 April left over 30 camp residents dead and many others wounded.
"Camp Ashraf's residents are looking on in fear and trepidation as Iraqi troops appear to be preparing for a new assault on them and their homes," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"The Iraqi government must not allow a repeat of last week's deadly attacks and ensure that Iraqi forces refrain from taking any military action that would further endanger civilian lives."
"Iraqi forces are supposed to be stationed at the Camp to protect the residents, not to assault or intimidate them and restrict their movement."
Camp Ashraf, located in Diyala province around 60 km north of Baghdad, is home to some 3,400 Iranian exiles and refugees, many of them members and supporters of the the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition group outlawed in Iran.
According to PMOI spokespeople, on 14 April, several Iraqi engineering battalions completed a 6-kilometre-long embankment on the northern edge of Camp Ashraf's main road.
The embankment cuts across the camp from east to west and is reportedly wide enough for military vehicles to patrol along its length. Control towers have also been set up along the embankment.
"Given the nature and scope of these new military installations, we're very concerned what Iraqi security forces may be planning," said Malcolm Smart.
"Excessive force must not be used against Camp Ashraf's residents, who are unarmed and include many women and children."
On 8 April, 34 camp residents were killed when Iraqi security forces attempted to take greater control of the camp. Many of the dead, six women and 28 men, died of gunshot wounds inflicted by Iraqi security forces using live ammunition. Others appear to have been deliberately run over by military vehicles.
Iraqi officials maintain that their forces took action to put down a "riot" in the camp and deny that their troops opened fire despite the strong evidence to the contrary.
On 14 April, the Iraqi authorities released six men who they had detained during the 8 April military operation. Shortly after their release, the men told Amnesty International that they had been beaten and threatened with deportation to Iran during the course of their detention. Talking to Amnesty International from the camp on 14 April, one of the men said that Iraqi soldiers were then in the process of surrounding the camp.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Iraqi authorities not to forcibly evict or repatriate Camp Ashraf's residents, some of whom are refugees who would be at grave risk of torture and other serious human rights violations, including execution, if they were to be forcibly returned to Iran.
Meanwhile a former UN employee has been convicted in the US and could face up to 30 years in prison if he received the maximum sentence for each count he was found guilty of (no one expects that to happen). Scott Ritter was a voice of . . . something. Not the peace movement because he sneered at the peace movement and the notion of peace. (He also got bitchy in an interview where he mocked and attacked Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan.) Ritter had little to offer the peace movement but was embraced by elements of it and especially elements of the antiwar movement (the two are not the same thing). At this site, we noted him from time to time but were not 'followers' or 'groupies' and then we stopped noting him when a friend with CNN called me to ask what I was thinking? I was unaware that Scott Ritter had twice been arrested for attempting to have sexual relations with an underage girl and that he'd copped a plea in at least one of those arrests. When this was noted, we drew a strong line between Pig Ritter and ourselves and we mentioned only when it was required that he be called out such as in the May 29, 2007 snapshot:

"You have Cindy Sheehan running around, a symbol of the peace movement. A symbol of what? Who is she? Who nominated her to be the spokesperson? She did one brave thing. I'm all for what Cindy Sheehan did last August. But people say, 'She sacrificed so much.' She didn't sacrifice anything." That lovely statement was made (or snorted) by the pig Scott Ritter when speaking to Colorado Springs Indy (an alternative weekly) in 2006. From his stye, he snorted that and he snorted a lot more. For some reason, Ritter is built up as a hero by some 'left' types.
Apparently heroic is having the mainstream media report that you, over 40 years old, were twice arrested for trying to arrange meet ups with underage girls? That is the reality of the Scott Ritter (and when CNN offered him the opportunity to explain the first arrest, he refused to do so). Here's another reality of Scott Ritter: Katrina vanden Heuvel keeps publishing him. In the magazine and via Nation Books, she publishes Ritter who does not move books. Now you may, as some wrongly do, assume Ritter is a lefty. Until 2004, Ritter admits he voted Republican every time -- which he will no doubt return to doing in 2008 but how 'nice' of The Nation to give a twice busted Republican an outlet.
Now here's how polite society worked once upon a time, when someone was reported to have been twice busted for pedophilia, that was really it for them. They didn't get write ups, they didn't pen op-eds. They weren't invited on programs to chat. But for some reason, Pig Ritter is seen as a voice the 'left' needs to adopt. Scott Ritter was allowed to repeatedly attack Cindy Sheehan on his joint-tour in 2006 (The Sky is Falling Tour -- DVD set retails for $19.99 unless you're going for the NC-17 version) and everyone looked the other way and most of the press (big and small) just chuckled. That's why he felt brave enough to issue the nonsense in an interview proper (and one that didn't require him to be handcuffed -- how novel that must have been for him).
The peace movement needs to be inclusive, no question, but that doesn't translate as: "Because we have the Peace Mom, we need to have the Pedophile Man." That's not inclusion, that's stupidity on ever level (including legal liabilities should anything happen to an underage female). We washed our hands of him a long time ago in this community. He is "pig" when noted here for any reason. His name is being mentioned here (for the first time since he went public in attacking Sheehan) only because there are some who seem unable to believe it could be true. Well it is. And it's equally true that you need to ask your outlets why they have repeatedly featured a man who will not explain his criminal busts and allows to stand the mainstream media's reporting that they were for attempting to hook up with young (underage) girls online. It is amazing that the same independent media that wants to scream 'crackpot' and 'crazy' to make sure they are not associated with certain groups is perfectly happy to break bread with a pedophile. Repeatedly.

While we publicly called him out, many others looked the other way -- including Katrina vanden Heuvel, Amy Goodman and Laura Flanders. Flanders would take offense to Gary Glitter's song being used by some sports team in 2008 because of Glitter's similar convictions yet she never called out her frequent guest Scott Ritter. As we pointed out many times, if a young girl is molested, assaulted or raped by Ritter, those who presented him as a person of trust would share in culpability. Mere months ago, Glenn Greenwald was presenting Scott Ritter as a trusted voice and a victim wrongly picked upon because, Glenn insisted, the two arrests happened when Bush was in the White House and they were trumped up charges resulting from the fact that Ritter was speaking out. Greenwald was apparently unaware that the arrests took place before Ritter spoke out. He was also unaware that in the fall of 2009, months after Barack was in the White House, Ritter was again arrested for the same thing.

AFP reports, "A former UN weapons inspector nabbed in an online sex sting was convicted on Thursday on six counts, including unlawful contact with a minor, for exchanging explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl in a chat room and then performing a sex act on himself." Subrina Dhammi (WNYT -- link has video and text) has him on camera as he repeatedly insisted of his multiple felony convictions "an extraordinary disappointing decision and it will be appealed" and, unlike in the footage the jury was shown of Ritter jerking off -- he kept his clothes on for Dhammi, despite a camera being present. As Betty noted last night, Ritter endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Where there was sexism and attacks on women -- whether it was Hillary Clinton or Lara Logan or any other woman -- you could find Ritter's work endorsed. We've already noted Glenn Greenwald's embrace of Ritter. in addition there's crazy ass Ray McGovern who joined Glenn and others in attacking two women who may have been raped by Julian Assange. Crazy Ass McGovern was treating Ritter as a "trusted source" only months ago and slamming Hillary for refusing to meet with the twice arrrested sexual offender. Those guys stick together, make no mistake. When you exist to hate and degrade and attack women, you tend to ban together. Which is why Ritter's work could be found at so many faux left outlets including Consortium News. Strangely, despite his many, many appearances on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman 'forgot' to include Pig Ritter's conviction in today's headlines. Ritter will be sentenced next month and, hopefully, head off to prison. His after prison-life will include being a registered sex offender which will limit some of his media appearances since many interns are under the age of 18 and he won't be able to be around them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

6 guests, 5 were men

Diane's show got back to the usual patterns. THe first hour was Dan Mitchell, John Irons, Phil Gingrey, Mara Liasson and Chris Van Hollen. 5 guests, 4 of them men. The second hour? Down-low boi Deval Patrick. 6 guests, five of them men.


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


Thursday, April 14, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, State Of Law walks out of Parliament, Iraq still has no vice presidents, the UN confirms 34 people were killed in last Friday's assault on Camp Ashraf, a Congressional Veterans Affairs Subcommittee finds out the VA is wasting tax dollars by not using a program that they needed and purchased for millions of dollars, and more.
At the top of the Facebook page for the Great Iraqi Revolution, this report appears, "Inspite of the fact that I am really feeling ill and awful I really felt that I have to come in for a mom and update you with some wonderful news despite the fact that there is so much black - the sit-ins in Mosul and the vigils have been added to - The brave and outspoken Shaikh Salim Al Thabbab from Nassiriya, Shaikh of Rabee'a and ...Shayban came to Mosul and joined the sit in with a large party - who were also joined by a large contingent of women fro Nassiriya to keep the women of Mosul company and they were all joined by Shyoukh from Basra, Diyala, Salah Eldeen and Kut and there are more to come - also joined by a large group of poets from Baghdad - Power to the People - I believe the tidal wave has really started gathering force - Thank you Uday Al Zaidi who also gave a wonderful slap to the Islamic Politicians who visited him telling him that he had no right to want the Occupation out! That what are they to do about Iran! The people of Mosul told them that they had no place at this gathering and they had to leave. Power to the Iraqi People. Watch this page and space. I promise, as soon as I get better I will keep you updated with everything that has been happening since Saturday - but before I stop, it was a carnival scene - flags flying, poetry reading, chanting and dancing - I will post videos - I have been recording everything - Uday, a few days ago told me that they would have to kill him and his group before they stop the sitins - now I thin k it will be impossible to stop anything - Fallujah also had a very large demo today anti occupation and ruling gang. Pray for Iraq and for us everybody - support us." Today Tim Arango (New York Times) provides a look at Iraq's young protesters:
A common sentiment from nearly three dozen interviews with young Iraqis around the country recently is a persistent disenchantment with both their political leaders and the way democracy has played out here. "The youth is the excluded class in the Iraqi community," said Swash Ahmed, a 19-year-old law student in Kirkuk. "So they've started to unify through Facebook or the Internet or through demonstrations and evenings in cafes, symposiums and in universities. But they don't have power."
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, "AFP reports that Baghdad security forces have announced that protests in the capital from now on will only be allowed in one of three football stadiums. The excuse being offered is complaints from shop keepers about traffic issues but the reality is this is yet another effort to hide the protests away." The latest assault on democracy from Nouri al-Maliki is getting some attention (here and here, for example). Another US-installed despot is conducting a power-grab and herding people into stadium's in the nation's capital. Does it end like the National Stadium in Santiago back in 1973? Or are we all still pretending that Nouri's not a despot?
Last week, Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, ordered attacks on Camp Ashraf. The United Nations now has observers in the camp. Louis Charbonneau and Bill Trott (Reuters) report the UN has confirmed that 34 people were killed and the reporters note, "The fatality count was the same number of deaths Ashraf residents had reported." They note that the death toll had been reduced to three in claims made by Nouri's officials. Yesterday Lara Jakes (AP) reported that at least 17 injured residents of Camp Ashraf were "forcibly removed from their hospital beds" by Iraqi forces and left/dumped at Camp Ashraf. Jakes explained, "Three women were among the patients, many of whom were bandaged, according to the doctor and an ambulance driver who spoke on condition of anonymity because that were not authorized to speak to the media." Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Iran's Fars News Agency reported last week that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday." Friday saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied -- this is the attack that the UN has now confirmed resulted in 34 deaths. AFP reports, "European parliamentarians on Thursday urged the United States and the United Nations to help protect residents of a camp housing Iranian dissidents in Iraq, which witnessed a deadly assault by government forces. A statement signed by more than 100 members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe also called on the European Union to demand 'the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Camp Ashraf'."

The assault has been a big issue outside of the US media. You've had two members of England's upper house of Parliament (House of Lords) accuse the US of giving the okay for the Friday assault. Earlier this week, David Waddington (England's House of Lords) wrote at the Independent:

Last week Iraqi forces entered a camp in Iraq housing members of the Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI). Thirty three residents were killed and over 300 wounded. Were the US authorities, as it has been suggested, told of the intended attack by the Iraqi Government? If they were, then surely members of the US government were complicit in a crime against humanity. And of course it shows that the US administration is continuing to appease the regime in Tehran whose influence over the Iraq government grows and grows.

The raid which took place at 5am on Friday 8 April, involved 2,500 severely armed Iraqi forces entering the Camp in armoured vehicles and Humvees, with video footage filmed by the residents clearly showing Iraqi forces running over unarmed residents and firing indiscriminately at them. Under any parameter of international law such a massacre of unarmed civilians is a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Another David, David Alton who is also a member of England's House of Lords, issued his thoughts in the form of a column for The Hill calling on the US to protect Camp Ashraf and noting a similarity between Friday's attack and the July 28, 2009 attack: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq when both took place. Alton writes, "In fact the attacks both happened only hours after a meeting between Nuri al-Maliki and Secretary Gates. Although Secretary Gates may not have had any knowledge of what was in the making by al-Maliki, this can hardly be a coincidence. There are not so many options: either Nuri al-Maliki has received some kind of green light from the Secretary Gates or he wanted to demonstrate that he carries some sort of pre-arrangement with the US; or he is contemptuous of U.S. opinion." AFP notes that the residents are "protected under the Geneva Convetions" and explains, "A left-wing Islamic movement, the PMOI was founded in 1965 in opposition to the Shah of Iran and has subsequently fought to oust the clerical regime that took power in Tehran after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution."
Kate Allen (Guardian) sees the treatment of the Camp Ashraf residents as a way of measuring the level of human rights progress in Iraq:

Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities are barely paying lip-service to their obligation to properly investigate these deeply troubling events. Nouri al-Maliki's government has said it will investigate last week's violence, but it said that in 2009 as well. In common with scores of other "investigations" in the country, nothing more has been heard of it.
And neither is Iraq coming under much international pressure over Camp Ashraf. The UK's foreign office minister Alistair Burt said he was "disturbed" by the loss of life and supported a UN monitoring mission to the camp, but generally there's been relatively little reaction. A letter in the Guardian bemoaned the "blanket of silence" surrounding it.
Drowned out by Libya, Syria and Ivory Coast, violence at Camp Ashraf is at risk of being all but ignored. Amnesty is calling for an independent investigation into Friday's blood-letting as well as assurances that no one at Ashraf is going to be forced out of Iraq if their lives are put in danger.
Camp Ashraf doesn't come close to fitting into the "Arab Spring" narrative (though meanwhile Iraq's own protests have in fact been well-attended, ruthlessly put down and almost totally unreported). But the world should start paying attention to this forgotten story. How Iraq treats the residents of Camp Ashraf will provide an important window into how far Iraq has come in respecting human rights.


In other violence, Reuters notes 2 Mahmudiya roadside bombings claimed 2 lives and left thirteen people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured, a Taji roadside bombing left three people injured and, dropping back to yesterday, a Mosul sticky bombing ("bomb attached to the front door of a house") killed a husband and wife.
Today in the Parliament, Aswat al-Iraq reports 89 MPs with Dawlat al-Qanoon walked out in protest over a vote on the vice presidents. Dawlat al-Qanoon is also known as "State Of Law" -- Nouri's political slate. Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq's Parliament session held today in the presence of 240 lawmakers was supposed to vote on Iraq's three Vice Presidents namely Adel Abdul Mehdi, Tareq Al Hashemi and Khudair Al Khizali and carry out the first read out of the draft laws to cancel Resolution no. 456, 1985, and Resolution no 1194 of the Defunct Revolution Command Council, 1983. The session was expected to read out as well the draft laws of anti-smoking, foreigners' residence and the cancellation of defunct interim coalition authority order no 64, 3004. [. . .] Today's Parliament session failure was due to an incomplete secret deal between Iraqiya Party and the National Alliance that stipulates allocating the Sunni Endowment to the Dialogue Party led by Saleh Al Motlak in return for Iraqiya's support to the National Alliance candidate Khudair Al Khizaii for the position of Vice President, Al Wasat Alliance said." If you're scratching your head and thinking, "Wait, Adel Abdul Mehdi -- ??? didn't he pull his name from consideration and state he didn't want to be v.p. anymore?" You are correct. From the March 28th snapshot:
Al Rafidayn notes a development with regards to Iraq's still unnamed vice presidents, Iraq's current Shi'ite vice president Abdul-Mahdi has allegedly withdrawn his name from consideration. Alsumaria TV adds that he notified Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, of his decision yesterday and "Abdul Mehdi did not want to be nominated in the first place, however, he respected the will of PresidentTalabani, the adviser added." NINA explains, "The vice presidents have not yet assumed their posts because the post of a third Vice President has not been solved yet, after having the other two vice pesidents nominated, Adel Abdul and Tariq al-Hashimi; while the third has not yet been determined because of the debate over the rejection of nominating Khdayer al-Khuza'e, where other blocs prefer the third vice president be of a Turkman nationally."
But that changed, according to Alsumaria, when "President [Jalal] Talabani [. . .] persuaded Adel Abdul Mehdi not to refuse his candidature to the position of Vice President". Reidar Visser (Gulf Analysis) offers:
It should be stressed that as far as the legal aspect is concerned, State of Law seems to be right in insisting on a vote on the deputies in a single batch. The law on the deputies of the president simply refers to a nomination (tarshih) in the singular, which would require a minimum of consensus beforehand. A complicating factor has been added because of an alleged legal challenge by Fakhri Karim, an adviser to President Jalal Talabani, against Tareq al-Hashemi because of his use of the title of vice-president in the period after the end of the presidency council in November 2010. Whereas it is possible to appreciate the legal aspects of that challenge, it seems strange that it should come from someone so close to Talabani: According to another of the vice-presidential candidates, Adel Abd al-Mahdi, Talabani had personally ordered his deputies from the presidency council to continue as interim deputies for him in his new position as ordinary president of Iraq! (Some reports actually say the legal challenge by Karim is directed against two of the deputies, in which case one would assume that the other one is Adel Abd al-Mahdi, who has done the same thing as Hashemi in terms of continuing to use his vice-presidential title.)
Wednesday the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personell held a hearing. Yesterday's snapshot noted the first panel (Senator Bill Nelson was the first panel). There were two other panels. The second panel was Sgt Maj Raymond Chandler (Army), Master Chief Petty Officer Rick West (Navy), Sgt Maj Carlton Kent (Marines) and Chief Master Sgt James Roy (Air Force). This panel moved quickly and nothing new was offered with the exception of the Marine's Kent stating the Marines would like a one-stop shop where they could go to learn about and access their benefits. The third panel was composed of the Fleet Reserve Association's Joseph Barnes, the National Military Family Association's Kathleen Moakler, Miliary Officers Association of America's Steven Strobridge, the Association of the US Navy's Ike Puzon and Blue Star Families' Kathy Roth-Douquet. As the third panel speakers were taking their seats, the second panel flew out of the room as did the bulk of the press with them.
Col Steven Strobridge: Our primary concern is protection of military beneficiaries against dramatic budget-driven fluctuations in this vital element of service member's career compensation package. One example is the Defecit Commission's proposal to reduce the value of TRICARE for Life by $3,000 per year for a retiree; $6,000 for a couple; for older and disabled beneficiaries through deductable and co-payment increases. That would be a major about-face from what Congress saw as "earned coverage" when TRICARE for Life was enacted ten years ago. We hope this subcommittee would oppose inclusion of any such change in the budget resolution. We also urge this subcommittee to continue its ovesight of wounded warrior and caregiver issues. Although we believe that both DoD and VA are pursuing seemless transition initiatives in good face, we urge joint-hearings by the Armed Services and the Veterans Affairs Committees to track progress and any stumbling blocks on a wide variety of ongoing issues. The coaltion continues to be concerned about the adequacy of provider participation in TRICARE especially for TRICARE standard beneficiaries. We're grateful to the Subcommittee for establishing statutory surveys of participation adquacy. But that requirement expires this year. We hope you'll renew the requirement and establish more specific actions to ensure compliance with participation standards. On the issue of TRICARE fees, the coalition has a diversity of views but believes strongly that the DoD proposed indexing methodology is inappropriate. Speaking for MOA and the 13 other associations that endorsed our statement, we haven't take the position that TRICARE fees should never rise but that Congress should establish principals in that regard to explicitly recognize that the bulk of what military people pay for their health care isn't paid in cash but is paid upfront through decades of service and sacrifice. We're encouraged that the new DoD proposal does a far better job of acknowledging that than did those of several years ago. Our principal objection is to DoD's plan to index future TRICARE Prime increases to some undetermined health care index they project to rise at 6.2% per year. In our view, the main problem is that current law leaves much of the fee setting process to the secretary's discretion. DoD went years proposing no changes, making beneficiaries believe there wouldn't be any. And then a new secretary with a new budget situation proposed tripling fees which upset beneficiaries and implied they hadn't earned their health care. We have statutory guidelines for setting and adjusting basic pay, retirement pay, survivor benefits and most other military compensation elements. We believe strongly that the law should specify several principals on military health care. First it should acknowledge, if only as a sense of Congress, military retirement and health care packages is the primary offset for the extraordinary demands and sacrifices inherent in a multi-decades military career.Second, it should acknowledge that those decades of service and sacrfice constitute a very large pre-paid premium for their health care and retirement over and above what they pay in cash. And finally it should explicitly acknowledge that extraordinary upfront premium in the adjustment process by limiting the percentage growth in TRICARE fees in any year to the percentage growth in military retired pay. In the meantime, MOA and the military coalition pledge our support to work with DoD and the Subcommittee to find other ways to hold down military health care cost growth. We believe much more can be done to encourage voluntary use of the mail-order pharmacy system, reduce costs of chronic conditions, reduce systemic duplications, and cut contract and procurement costs, to name a few.
That was an opening statement (verbal, written differed and the four witnesses had a joint-written statement). And the questions? None. Jim Webb feels the best way to chair a hearing is by boring everyone with tales of his father and tales of his own schooling. "I think we're doing everything we can for the people who serve," he insisted. The senator whose one term will be most distinguished by his attacks on the the victims of Agent Orange. The reason we're noting the above remarks is because they go back to the March 15th Armed Services Subcomittee hearing when Chair Joe Wilson explained:
The proposed TRICARE Prime fee increase for Fiscal Year 2012, while appearing to be modest, is a 13% increase over the current rate. The Dept of Defense proposes increasing the fee in the out years based on an inflation index. You suggest 6.2% but it is unclear exactly which index you are using? You plan to reduce the rate that TRICARE pays Sole Community Hospitals for inpatient care provided to our active duty, family members and retirees. Several of these hospitals are located very close to military bases -- in fact, some are right outside the front gates -- especially important for 24-hour emergency care. What analysis have you done to determine whether reducing these rates will affect access to care for our beneficiaries and in particular the readiness of our armed forces? I would also like our witnesses to discuss the range of efficiency options that were considered but not included in the President's budget.
At that hearing, Democrats and Republicans expressed their dismay and displeasure over what was being proposed. At this hearing, it was Jim Webb. And nothing else. And so the military and their families were out of luck.
Unless they'd showed up for the hearing in hopes of hearing the red headed wonder bore them. "I personally have been stuggling with this notion of increases, modest increases for the time being -- increases, the TRICARE like program [. . .]," Jim Webb yammered away, unable to find his point and after asking for view points, speaking and speaking and speaking and still speaking while claiming he wanted everyone's opinion on the issue.
That was yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing. Chair Bill Johnson explained in opening remarks that the hearing was entitled "Inspect What You Expect: Construction Contracting Practices at VA." Chair Johnson observed, "VA has acknowledged it could improve the quality of its contracting process through use of the Electronic Contract Management System, or 'eCMS.' In June of 2007, an Information Letter was issued by VA's Executive Director of the Office of Acquisition and Logistics mandating the use of eCMS. This database would record and track procurement actions of over $25,000, and the data could then be easily and comprehensively reviewed to determine the effectiveness of VA's contracting processes and make changes where necessary. Cost overruns could be identified and addressed early on, and perhaps even prevented in the first place. This sensible approach to overseeing the contracting process could prevent wasted funding, potential fraud, and reduce overall contract mismanagement. For some reason, despite its mandated usage, many supervisors and managers across VA chose to ignore eCMS, instead allowing the contracting system and runaway associated costs to continue as before. VA's Office of Inspector General found clear cases of missing and incomplete information, and in one test discovered that 83 percent of the transactions that should have gone into eCMS were left out."
The Subcomittee heard from two panels. The first was composed of Belinda Finn and Cherie Palmer of the Office of Inspector General, US Department of Veterans Affairs. The second panel was composed of VA's Glenn Haggstrom. Excerpt from the first panel.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: One of your statements is that you have trained 14,000 VA employees annually and that's a pretty -- is that a factual -- I mean, that's a pretty big number of people to train effectively in a year.
Belinda Finn: Yes, sir. That's in fraud awareness. We provide regular briefings to people in VHA as well as the Benefits Administration on issues that they should be aware of, as, you know, managers and people on the front line who might see fraud situations.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: How much effort is devoted to training people in the eCMS system?
Belinda Finn: From the OIG office, we don't provide that training, the department provides that training.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: So you're not aware of how much training is involved in that?
Belinda Finn: No, sir, I'm not.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: If we were to hold a hearing a month from now and ask you to provide names of managers that are fail-falling -- At the VA' they're -- so -- in terms of their employees complying with eCMS, could you do that?
Belinda Finn: A month might be a very short time in order to give you comprehensive information.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: What would be an appropriate time frame?
Belinda Finn: Uhm, several months at least. I would think. I don't know because I don't know the scope of what we might need to look at it. If were trying to make a determination across the entire department that would take quite a quite a long time.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: And in your determination, would that be something that would be effective in terms of enforcing compliance with eCMS?
Belinda Finn: It would certainly get their attention.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: I think it would, yes.
Chair Johnson did not buy some of the excuses offered by VA for their inability to adapt to the computer program. He noted his own experience in IT and in government systems (Johnson served in the Air Force for over a quarter of a century).
Committee Chair Bill Johnson: Outside of the technical aspects of the system, and it's subjective whether that's cumbersome or not, depending on the user, every one of the other reasons for inconsistent use are management decisions, right? I mean that's -- that's what management is supposed to do. Is to provide training. Training is an integral part of the aquisition of a -- of a system like eCMS. Everybody has work loads to deal with and certainly time constraints. It seems to me, eCMS, that kind of system that does contract writing is designed to break down time constraints. So would -- would -- and I'd appreciate a response from both of you -- would you agree that the inconsistent use reasons given are primarily focused around management issues.
Belinda Finn: Yes, sir, I would agree that those are management issues. We obviously had a recommendation related to training from this report and VA did provide a great deal more training and address some of the other management issues such as having conflicted guidance as to what people were expected to do. As VA worked to obligate money from the recovery act, it mandated that every contract, no matter what size, funded with recovery act money, be completed in eCMS and as we looked at those contracts we-we didn't find any lapse with the contract for sure being there, but we did still find problems with some of the documentation being there. But, yes, these are management issues that will take continued attention in order to address.
Committee Chair Bill Johnson: Mrs. Palrmer, any comments on that?
Cherie Palmer: No, sir. I don't have anything to add.
And an excerpt from the second panel, the VA's Glenn Haggstrom.
Committee Chair Bill Johnson: What is the purpose of using eCMS?
Glenn Haggstrom: The purpose of eCMS is an electronic contract writing system. As the requirements of our contracting officers have increased over the years for reporting certain measures -- data -- up to the federal procurement data system, the federal complexities of the contracting business at large, the majority of our executive agencies have brought on these contract writing systems to have a central repository for our contracting officers to develop those contracts and do any modifications or keep track of what is happening with that specific contract. This information, if you will, then flows to what's called the procurement data system which is the system of record, if you will, for the federal government, the federal procurement data system. And it also tracks much of the same information that is resident in eCMS. eCMS, if you will, performs that backshop capability of the details that surround the contract.
Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson: Do you consider this eCMS an effective tool?
Glenn Haggstrom: There's always improvements that can be made to integrated systems. I believe it is. Uh, in my past, uh, workplace I was part of bringing online a very tool similar to this -- the integrated acquisition system. All of the federal agencies that I'm aware of, the large procuring offices have done this as part of the government's eprocurement initiative. And while each of the agencies uses different types of software and protocols, in general at electronic contract management systems across government, they're very similar in terms of the performance and capabilities that they have.
Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson: Do you -- do you consider eCMS as being properly used by the VA at this point?
Glenn Haggstrom: Mr. Chairman, we agree with what Ms. Finn was saying. eCMS is not used to the full capacity and we recognize that. And I believe there are two components to that. First is the technology component, if you will. And then I believe it's our responsibility as the headquarters and the providers of this system to ensure that what we have in terms of the system meets the performance requirements of our people. And that includes the training and the functionality and the response time. And all of these things were noted in Ms. Finn's testimony, that they looked at several years ago. The second piece of that is exactly what was discussed with the previous panel and that is the management and that is the accountability of our mid-level managers and our senior managers who are out in these contracting offices throughout the VA to ensure enforcement of this policy and work with their people to ensure that they're using the system as it has been mandated to be used.
Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson:When did the -- when did that management accountability process begin? I mean, you heard the testimony of the previous panel: 20 of 29 contracts written by the Office of Acquisitions, Logistics and Construction, totalling over $10 million were not correctly developed and entered into eCMS. You've heard figures of 87%. I've been a leader, I've been a commander, I've been a senior executive in business, how long does it take to address these managment issues?
Glenn Haggstrom: Unfortunately, in this particular case, it's taken much too long.
To put it mildly. And excuses about FY 2006 don't cut it though Jan Frye (also of the VA) tried to pretend it did and wanted to insist that, by July 2007, the VA was fully operational capable. It's 2011. As Subcommittee Chair Bill Johnson observed, "Four years later, 20 million dollars of American tax payer dollars and we've got a system that's not being used -- for the most part, when you consider previous testimony, 83% of the data not being in the system. That's a long time and a lot of money being spent with very low return on investment by the American tax payers. Something's wrong here."
For Immediate Release

Contact: Ruth Benn, NWTRCC Coordinator
Brooklyn, New York
800-269-7464 (718-768-3420) or
nwtrcc@nwtrcc.org

Tax Day - Antiwar Protests
Public Demonstrations and Individual Refusal to Pay for War


On April 18 thousands of people across the United States will be refusing to pay some or all of their federal income tax to protest U.S. wars and escalating military spending. These tax refusers, who see themselves as responsible citizens, want their money used for peaceful purposes and often give taxes to social programs instead.

Monday, April 18, is the final day to file tax returns, and "war tax resisters" will be among those participating in events around the country to protest what they see as the skewed priorities of the U.S. government. Many hand out the pie chart produced by the War Resisters League, which calculates nearly 50% of federal income taxes pay for current or past wars.

Erica Weiland in Seattle, Washington, decided to refuse to pay for war in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Our money and time are much better spent addressing the issues in the U.S. and around the world that cause wars in the first place," she says. Groups in Seattle are organizing leafleting with federal budget information at area post offices.

John K. Stoner, a retired Mennonite minister in Akron, Pennsylvania, says, "I keep wondering why people who say they oppose war continue to pay for it without a whimper of protest." He and others in his community have launched a campaign of symbolic protest called 1040 for Peace, to encourage U.S. taxpayers to express their opposition to U.S. military spending by refusing $10.40 of any taxes due, telling the government why, and giving that money to projects that promote peace or fund human needs.

War tax resistance has a long history in the U.S. and worldwide. The most famous case was Henry David Thoreau's refusal of $1 for the Mexican-American War. He spent a night in jail for this act of resistance. Today's resisters refuse to pay anything from $1 to thousands of dollars of federal income taxes, while risking collection from the Internal Revenue Service for their stand.

Patricia Tompkins, a farmer in Bakersville, North Carolina, speaks for many as she accepts the risks of confronting the IRS to stand up for her beliefs. "I made the decision to become a war tax resister in protest to our government's policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan. For me, the essence of life is connection to the land and to each other, because without the first we cannot live and without the second we cannot be fully human.

In St. Louis activists are taking their message to cut the military budget and fund human needs to Senator Roy Blunt's office and announcing grants to humanitarian groups. In Milwaukee, the protest will be in front of the Federal Courthouse. Lincoln Rice, a Milwaukee organizer, says, "My war tax resistance is grounded in my Catholic Christian spirituality. I cannot in good conscience pay my federal income taxes and contribute to the harming my Muslim brothers and sisters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere."

The list of events and contacts around the country can be found online at
http://www.nwtrcc.org/taxday2011.php.

The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), founded in 1982, is a coalition of local, regional and national groups providing information and support to people who are conscientious objectors to paying taxes for war. NWTRCC initiated the War Tax Boycott, which includes a list of public war tax refusers at
wartaxboycott.org.

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Individual resisters are available for interviews. Please contact NWTRCC if you need contacts in your area.

Please see the list of actions at
http://www.nwtrcc.org/taxday2011.php.


Ruth Benn, Coordinator
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC)
PO Box 150553
Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 768-3420 * (800) 269-7464
Fax: (718) 768-4388
http://www.nwtrcc.org
http://www.wartaxboycott.org

"Death and Taxes" – watch our 30-minute film about motivations, methods, risks, and rewards of war tax resistance

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