Saturday, May 7, 2011

4 men, 2 women

The Diane Rehm Show? Friday's first hour is Naftali Bendavid, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and John Dickerson. Second hour: James Kitfield, Jill Dougherty and Abderrahim Foukara. That's six guests, four men, two women.

In other bad news, Andre Damon (WSWS) reports:

The Labor Department said Friday that the US unemployment rate rose in April, but that the economy added more jobs than had previously been expected. Behind the increase in jobs, however, is a dismal and in many ways worsening employment situation, combined with a systematic attack on wages and social programs.

The unemployment rate grew to 9 percent, up from 8.8 percent in March. The number of employees reported by businesses increased to 244,000, higher than the 185,000 that economists expected. This is still barely enough to keep up with the growth in the labor market.

The Labor Department bases its estimate of the unemployment rate on a survey of households, while the payroll figure comes from a survey of businesses. Because of this, the two do not always move together.





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

Friday, May 6, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the protests continue in Iraq, Nouri makes some nominations, and more.
Protest continue in Iraq. They've been taking place every Friday in Iraq since February. Today is Situation Friday. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Tahrir [Square], Baghdad reflects an amazing community -- one watches and listens to a young man, a member of the Free Youth Movement, who speaks tirelessly about the political ills and the reasons for them that exist -- everyone -- literallly everyone listens to him and is supportive of him and his ideas. The scene then zooms to a mother crying heartbreakingly searching and at the same time mourning her son who had left his home with his cousin and never returned; then to another woman crying 'we are not terrorists - we are not terrorists - you, Maliki, are the terrorist!' People shout and sing 'thieves' 'thieves' 'thieves' . . . and 'liars'. They also chant everything is illegitimate and false. These people have been coming here every Friday since the beginning of February - they represent all walks of life - artists, workers, civil servants, young university students; Facebook users; mothers, fathers; lawyers; retired civil servants as well as children. The songs, the chants and the fervour . . . where is the foreign press, I wonder????"
It's a cry that's been repeatedly made: Where is the media? Why won't they cover the protests? Tim Arango (New York Times) thinks they have. Go to last week's snapshots, I don't want to rehash that because I don't want to pick on him. His view is the paper's view which makes them a great fit but of little interest to those trying to follow the Iraqi people. (The New York Times became the paper of record -- before Tim Arango was even born -- due to its reliance upon officials. That's why it's unable to report on actual movements. They are so rarely led by elected officials.) We've tried to cover the press silence here and also we've covered it at Third (for Third coverage, see "Editorial: The press covers up Iraqi protests" and "Editorial: We Heart Iraqi Protesters" and "Editorial: The Children of Iraq" among other pieces.) Today Joel Wing makes like Christopher Columbus and 'discovers' the issue and he sees things differently which can be fine -- we're all entitled to our own viewpoints -- and it can be wrong. I'll applaud him for finally noting what is one of the most pressing issues even if he completely misses the underlying causes for the lack of coverage. I won't applaud him getting things wrong.
If you're going to include -- in your survey piece -- NPR's coverage of Moqtada al-Sadr's protest, you cannot write "and McClatchy Newspapers never reported on the Iraqi unrest" and be accurate. Laith Hammoudi reported on Moqtada's protest with Jane Arraf. Which is the other thing. McClatchy has no one to head their Baghdad desk and doesn't trust their stringers are reporters. I don't mean that as an insult to Laith, Mohammed, Sahar or anyone else there. I think they're reporters and I think they've demonstrated that repeatedly. The Laith link goes to a piece written with Jane Arraf and anyone can benefit from writing with Jane. But Jane's out of Iraq and is McClatchy going to do nothing? Hannah Allam can't head Baghdad, they've assigned her elsewhere. The smart thing to do would be to realize that McClatchy has strong reporters in Iraq -- the local population -- and set them up with an editor in the US who would go over their copy (the way editors -- in the pre-web days -- were supposed to). But Joel Wing is wrong about what McClatchy did or didn't do and he might want to check some pieces that will have end note credits to McClatchy. I heard about his blog post from a friend at CNN who was irritated that CNN got no credit for their work. CNN had more than the 9 he gave it credit for. Equally strange is the fact that he doesn't include AP. Reuters, AFP, etc aren't US outlets. But AP is and readers of American newspapers in print are more likely to have read about the protests via AP than anything else because AP is a wire service carried by so many outlets. AP has done some strong coverage of the protests. Kelly McEvers has done some for NPR (NPR gets noted by Wing) but the strongest protest coverage was done by the Washington Post and specifically by Stephanie McCrummen. She did the best US coverage of the attacks on protesters and journalists who covered the protests -- attacks after the protest had ended. In addition to filing stories (plural) on that (the New York Times did a strong editorial on the subject but the reporting section of the paper never covered the detention and beating of journalists by Iraqi forces), she also contributed the first and so far only -- THE ONLY -- feature article on the protest leadership that ran in the US. (Le Monde had a nice article but that was only in French, it didn't run in their English language version.)
Joel Wing writes, "Finally, the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers never reported on the Iraqi unrest." Really? What is the basis for that claim? We've dealt with McClatchy already, let's move over to the Los Angeles Times. "New Iraq protests smaller, less viollent amid tight security." That March 5th article was written by Aliice Fordham and Raheem Salman for the Los Angels Times. I don't know how Joel Wing does his research but I do know the reaction.
I don't read Wing. I heard about his post via a phone call from a CNN producer who first noted how CNN's coverage was slighted. CNN did much more coverage than Wing gave it credit for. And since he was wrong about that, the reaction is to dismiss all the parts of his essay or post. It's a bit like the people who wrote pieces after the March protest against the illegal war on the 8th anniversary of it. A lot of people showed up making false claims in their 'analysis.' Such as, "NPR never even mentioned the protests!" Actually, not only did it get some coverage after, Mara Liasson noted the protests a day before they took place, noted them on air on NPR. Now we can disagree with one another on the quality of Mara's coverage and that's fine. But we can't ignore that NPdid mention it on air. Not if we're claiming to be honest.
There's no point in including the Los Angeles Times at all. The paper had to step it down because they published stories that made Nouri al-Malik uncomfortable. That's not a criticism of the Los Angeles Times and certainly not one of Ned Parker. Joel Wing will no doubt have the facts down for the future but the people playing catch up now are missing a huge part of the story.
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 while 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 out the use of secret prisons while Nouri continued to deny them. And of course, Nouri was wrong. But, honest, seriously, swear, it was the last time. (That's sarcasm.)
Ned Parker's article kicks off the 2011 round of protests. Outside of Baghdad, the most pressing issue in January and early February for protesters was the issue of their family members being wrongfully detained and a lost in a hidden maze. This continues to be a key component of all the people-protests in Iraq (as opposed to the Moqtada-ordered protests or Ahmed Chalabi silly reigonal protest). And it was the impetus for this year's protests.
Having written and published that strong article -- one that truly proved the power of the press -- the Los Angeles Times followed with a lower profile which is and has been their pattern. I don't question that. Everyone knows Nouri is hostile to journalism and that he and his cronies are litigious (see many, many lawsuits but especially Nouri's defamation suit against England's the Guardian in 2009 which, thankfully, the newspaper won on appeal in January of this year.). A step back, a lower profile, for a bit is in keeping with the pattern the paper long ago set in their coverage of Iraq. April 12th, Amnesty International issued the report [PDF format warning] "DAYS OF RAGE: PROTESTS AND REPRESSION IN IRAQ" and it provides an overview of the protests.
I'm confused by Wing's claim that "Iraq held its first protest on January 30, 2011." That's wrong. It's incorrect. That was not the first protest in 2011 by any means. I have no idea why Joel Wing can't get the facts correct but the easiest way to prove him wrong is to quote this passage from January 20, 2011:
Protests against Iraq's troubled electricity network have spread to the north. In Tamim province there was a street demonstration against the lack of power. The governor also announced that electricity produced locally would be used for the governorate's own use, rather than be sent to Baghdad. Tamim joins seven other provinces that have complained about the troubled power network in the last several months.

Clearly a January 20th protests is prior to January 30th so Joel Wing is wrong. And for those who might say, "C.I., maybe Joel Wing doesn't consider the source of that passage trust worthy?" He may not. There are people who do not trust themselves. Maybe Joel Wing is one of them. But he wrote that passage, it's from his January 20th entry "Electricity Protests Spread To Northern Iraq." Since he wrote it, he must agree with it, right? So I have no idea why he'd write that in January and then ignore it in May. January 16th (still before January 30th), Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) reported "More Kurdish Protests against the budget.
But that's just one example. The protests -- as we define them -- have featured calls for improvements in basic services from the start. They've also called for an end to the foreign occupation of Iraq. So let's drop further back to January 14th when Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observed, "Protests against Vice President Joe Biden's visit and the ongoing US military presence in general were reported in a number of cities in Iraq, with supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr getting the credit for organizing many of them." Maybe that should be the date we count the 2011 Iraqi protests as starting from? January 4th there were protests. Namo Abdulla (New York Times) reported, "More than a thousand protesters took to the main street in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, to condemn a new law requiring all public demonstrations to have government permits." Should we consider that the start?
On this end, I've called Wing out because (a) he's wrong and undercounted a number of outlets (including CNN) and also because doing this draws attention to media criticism which interests the press (if it weren't for self-love, sometimes the press would have no love at all) and may help draw more attention to the ongoing Iraqi protests in the long run.
One serious slam I will hit Wing with is, "How do you write about the media silence on the protests on a day when protests are taking place and not note that fact?"
Protests also took place in Ramadi. Revolution of Iraq reports on that protest noting "the arrival of the delgation of the families of Jalawla to Tahrir Square," and a "large delegation from Mosul," The Great Iraqi Revolution notes that the Ramadi crowd was "estimated to be 7,000" (and link has video). Among those protesting was a young Iraqi male in a wheelchair as a result of the ongoing occupation. Today, the 8th day of ongoing protests in Ramadi, the Great Iraqi Revolution notes, poet Abdul Wahid Al Badrani arrived to join the Ramadi sit-in. And the Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "A Free Iraqi Woman addressing all men who ware the Iqa'al to join the Squares of Freedom - Tahrir - and if they don't then they should give their Iqa'al to their wives, daughters and sisters so that they come over to the Tahrir in their stead! "
Alsumaria TV notes today, "Mounting violence in Iraq during the last 24 hours has left behind 95 people among killed and wounded mostly members of security forces." Aswat al-Iraq reports that a bodyguard for Khaled al-Lahiebi, chief of the Diyala Sahwa councils, died from a stabbing at a checkpoint today while last night a Kirkuk sticky bombing resulted in two people being injured. Aswat al-Iraq notes that a roadside bombing outside of Baghdad left 5 people, while inside Baghdad a camera man working for the Ministry of the Interior was shot dead, a corpse without a head was discovered in Falluja.

Violence was rising during the long period known as the "stalemate." Elections were held in March 2010. For over nine months, no progress was made. Nouri questioned vote totals, objected to this, objected to that, refused to allow Ayad Allawi have first crack at forming a government, etc. Finally in November a deal was reached that allowed the opportunity for progress.

But Nouri wasted that opportunity. He was named prime minister-designate and given more than 30 days to form a Cabinet. He never could come up with a complete Cabinet. And among the seven positions left empty were the Ministers of Interior, Defense and National Security.

Despite becoming prime minister in December, Nouri still hasn't filled those slots. He does have some nominees. Al Mada notes that he's sent to Parliament a list of nominees for to head the three ministries. Alsumaria notes the nominees -- Minister of Defense: Saadun Al Dulaimi; Minister of Interior: Tawfiq Al Yasiri; and Minister of National Security: Ryad Gharib. They also note that both Iraqiya and the National Alliance are stating proper consultation on the Italicnominees did not take place.


Meanwhile, earlier this week the Parliament heard from the Electoral Commission. What happened? Even New Sabah can't sort it out. They note rumors that somehow the military got involved, rumors that the head of the Commission was told she would have to step down, rumors that none of that took place and it was a standard issue q&a.

Wednesday, Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament, met with trade union representatives. Al Sabaah reports that, following the meeting, al-Nujaifi issued a statement declaring that it is the workers whose fingerprints are key to the rebuilding of Iraq, they are the basis for any and all economic development and a part of the restoration of every day life. He declared that the Parliament "supports all unions and organizations."

Aswat al-Iraq notes that al-Nujaifi is asserting that only Parliament can extend the SOFA (the agreement between the US and Iraq which allows for US troops to be on Iraqi soil) I'm not interested in going into the SOFA today but it needs to be noted that Marc Lynch provides a strong overview of the issue at Foreign Policy..
Aswat al-Iraq reports:

The Legislature of the so-called 'White al-Iraqiya Bloc,' Aliya Nuseif, on Thursday demanded the U.S.
forces to present a clear report on the number of their bases in Iraq, warning against the existence what it described as "underground" bases after the American withdrawal from Iraq.
"The number of American bases in Iraq to this day remains unclear.
U.S. forces are demanded to present a report about the bases they have established, at a time when Iraq had no government, before the finalization of any subject related to the Security Agreement signed between both countries," Nuseif told Aswat al-Iraq news agency
We'll close with this from David Swanson's "Osama Bin Lynched" (War Is A Crime):

I'm going to give this speech tonight to a crowd of drunk young people. If I'm not back by morning, ask around if there have been any "Islamic burials."
About 10 years ago a bunch of psychotic killers crashed planes into buildings. A tall skinny guy who took credit said he was protesting the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and US support for Israel's war on Palestinians. That wasn't exactly going to hold up in a court of law as a justification for mass-murder. But the U.S. government had already, before 9-11, turned down offers from the Taliban to put bin Laden on trial in a third country, and it turned those offers down again.
Instead, the U.S. president said he had no interest in bin Laden, but proceeded to encourage Americans to be afraid of their own shadows. He used that fear to help launch a war without end. We've now had nine-and-a-half years of pointless horrific murderous war in Afghanistan and eight years of the same in Iraq, plus a drone war in Pakistan, a new war in Libya, and smaller wars and special military operations in dozens of other countries.
We watched foreign looking people on television dancing in the streets and celebrating the crimes of 9-11 and we thought how evil and barbaric they must be. Knowing nothing about the decades our government had spent exploiting and occupying their countries, toppling their democratic leaders, and kicking in their doors, we assumed that these subhuman monsters were celebrating the killing of Americans because they just happened to dislike us or because their stupid religion told them to.
Of course, we used to have lynch mobs in this country. Ask the freedom riders who left for the deep south 50 years ago today. But we had outgrown that. We were not driven by blind vengeance. We were civilized. The reason we locked up far more people in prison than any other country and killed some of them was a purely rational calculation dealing with prevention, deterrence, and restitution. We weren't monsters. We didn't torture or cut people's heads off.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three men, 1 woman

mouser and glory hog


I love s Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Mouser and Glory Hog"

Diane Rehm?


Not so crazy about her.

The first hour was consumer protection and Diane actually squeezed in one woman for a change: Travis Plunkett, Maya Jackson Randall and Mark Calabria.

Second hour? Dr. Randy Christensen.

Four guests -- three were men. Diane doesn't really like women, does she?


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


Thursday, May 5, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Hilla is slammed with a suicide bombing, Baghdad's cultural scene gets some good news, Iraqi activists gear up for tomorrow, news emerges of more money wasted by Nouri al-Maliki's government, fingers are pointed at US official Paul Bremer over missing money in Iraq, US Senator Patty Murray leads on providing veterans with a Cost-of-Living Adjustment, and more.
Protest continue in Iraq. Among the speakers in Ramadi's Tahrir Square yesterday was a young boy (link has video). And they are gearing up for tomorrow's day of resistance. Leave Iraq notes that Sunday saw protesters turn out across the country with hundreds in Baghdad alone demanding improvements in their wages and work environment and among those protesting were scientists and academics. Sunday was May Day, International Labor Day, and Aswat al-Iraq reported the Communist Party held a demonstration in Baghdad's Liberation Square which was attended by "hundreds of workers" and that they "carried placards, demanding their legitimate rights, the abolishment of the expression 'employees' for workers and the issuance of laws that organize their work and vocational life." US Labor Against The War issued the following [PDF format warning] statement:
To: Our Sisters and Brothers in the Iraqi Labor Movement
Re: May Day -- Labor's Day for International Working Class Solidarity

Dear Sisters, Brothers, Comrades in struggle:
We join with you today in our common battle for worker rights and basic disgnity for working people everywhere.
We salute the bravery and resolute action of the Iraqi working class as it seeks a democratic Iraq, free from all foreign intervention and control, free from repression and with full rights for workers as guaranteed by international labor standards.
We in US Labor Against the War, whose 190 affiliates represent over five million U.S. workers, stand with you and pledge our continuing support fo ryour work and a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq by all foreign troops and governments and restoration of full national sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
We are moved by the fact that all who visit the memorial to the 1886 labor martyrs at Haymarket Square in Chicago, whose massaacre led to the declaration of May 1 as the international day of worker solidarity, see a meesae of greeting and solidarity from the Iraqi labor movement inscribed there in 2007 during an historic visit tot he united States by representatives of the Iraqi labor movement.
And we commemorate with you that day of intense class struggle, we stand in solidarity with you in the continuing class conflict that threatens the lives and livelihoods of working people in our two countries.
Long live the Iraqi labor movement.
Long live solidarity between our peoples.
U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)
Co-convenors: Kathy Black, Gene Bruskin, Bob Muehlenkamp, Brooks Sunkett, Nancy Wohlforth and Michael Zweig
National Coordinator: Michael Eisenscher
National Organizer: Tom Gogan
Administrative Coordinator: Adrienne Nicosia
Coalition Thorpchaabat notes tomorrow's protests with an invitation for Friday stability to continue the Iraqi youth uprising and Iraqi revolution, to continue the spirit of change and to support the ongoing protests in Ramadi's Tahrir Square and in Mosul. Mosul is where Iraqi forces under the command of Mahdi Sabih al-Gharawi have attacked peaceful demonstrators and where the govenor of the province, Athil al-Nujaifi has joined the protesters. al-Nujaifi is the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament. Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) offered his take on the events last month:
The subtext of the drama is as follows. The local councils complains that the newly appointed police chief is "not from the governorate." (He comes from Shiite-majority Wasit.) Moreover, if one looks back at Gharawi's past career at the interior ministry, it becomes clear that he was frequently accused of acts of torture and association with Shiite death squads during the dark days of sectarian violence in 2006. Against that backdrop, his appointment to Nineveh in the current climate comes across as particularly provocative.
Additionally, the legal procedures seem to have been subverted in this appointment too. It is unclear how Gharawi even became a candidate, since the provincial powers law of 2008 specifies a procedure in which the governor is to come up with 5 candidates, the governorate council limits the field to three and then the ministry in Bagdhad selects one. Today, the head of the security committee in Nineveh indicates that they have not been involved in selecting three suitable candidates so far.
Of course, the ministry of interior -- which appears to have orchestrated these developments so far -- is currently under the control of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who technically remains the deputy minister of interior.
While they represent the people of Iraq and are the people of Iraq, there have also been protests or 'protests' organized and ordered by the Iranian-based Moqtada al-Sadr. Alsumaria TV notes that he's called a rally for May 23rd. The Economist notes of Moqtada:
For their part, the Americans are still nervous about Mr Sadr's increasing cosiness with Iran. His Mahdi Army used to flaunt nationalist credentials in an effort not to be viewed as being in Iran's pocket. But during Mr Sadr's time in Iran, where he has been studying in the holy city of Qom, he renewed his friendship with the mullahs. The deal he struck last year to keep Mr Maliki in power may have been brokered by them. And Mr Sadr, like the Iranian authorities, has vociferously backed Bahrain's Shia opposition. On the other hand, Sadrists in Baghdad said that they backed the Green Movement in Iran, which rebelled against the regime there in 2009.
Mr Sadr was once derided as "Ayatollah Atari", a nickname denoting his love of computer games. He was also widely regarded as a thug, albeit one who performed astutely in the violent game of Iraqi politics. But he has still not revealed his latest goals and allegiances. After two years in exile, Mr Sadr has made only two high-profile appearances in Iraq to address his followers. A spokesman said he was testing to see whether Mr Maliki or the Americans would arrest him. But Mr Sadr has recently spent more time in Iraq, mainly in the Shia's holy city of Najaf. As the Americans draw down their numbers, his supporters may see a lot more of him.
Today in Iraq, a police compound is attacked. CNN reports that a Hilla police headquarters was targeted by a suicide car bomber who took his own life and that of "at least 21 officers" with sixty more people left injured. Australia's Herald Sun quotes security official Haidar al Zazour stating, "The suicide bomber took advantage of the police station's guards changing shifts to attack. He managed to drive through the main gate and blew up his vehicle four meters [12 feet] inside the station's perimeter." AGI News notes, "A list of the victims has been posted inside the city's largest hospital." AP explains, "A witness at the scene said the blast knocked down the concrete ceiling covering a parking lot where many police cars were located." Along with damaging the police headquarters and leaving a six foot crater, AFP notes, "Several nearby houses and shops were also seriously damaged, an AFP journalist said." BBC News observes, "Hilla is a mainly Shia city and has in the past come under attack by Sunni militants." Mo Hong'e (Xinhua) updates with, ""Our latest reports put the toll from the suicide car bombing in the city of Hillah at 25 and 75 wounded," the source from Hillah police told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) quotes Kathum Majed Toma ("head of Babil's provincial council") stating, "The central government is responsible for this explosion. We requested many times for them to provide us with sonar devices to detect explosives and for them to hire more security forces so we can secure our province but they did not reply." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Other council members also blamed the national government and made clear the province had been on alert since the announcement of Bin Laden's death." Habib al-Zubaidi (Reuters) notes a Hilla hospital source for the death toll of 25 and the wounded count of 83.

In addition, Reuters notes a Mussayab roadside bombing, a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left four injured and, dropping back to last night, a Mosul doll bombing which injured three people. Aswat al-Iraq notes that Lt Brig Moayed Khalil Abdul-Aziz of the Ministry of Defense was assassinated today in Baghdad. And as the violence continues, Aswat al-Iraq reports, the Surpeme Iraqi Islamic Council's Ammar al-Hakim expresses his disapproval of the continued inability to fill the security positions, "The delay of the said issue has become unjustified with the presence of efficient candidates for those posts, who had been nominated by some political blocs." And while al-Hakim is dismayed by Nouri's continued inability to name those positions, equally true is that the clock is ticking for Nouri on his own self-appointed deadline. Alsumaria TV notes there are only 33 days left in Nouri's "100 days" to change. In the face of continued protests and unable to stop them via curfews, demonizations or assault, Nouri proposed that he would have corruption licked in 100 days. It would be a new government, one without corruption. Alsumaria offers three positions known to be taken. The National Alliance is backing a vote of no confidence for Nouri while Iraqiya wants "wider reform" and th Kudistan Alliance sees it all as talk to motivate Cabinet ministers to get focused on the issue.

Still on the security issue, Al Mada notes Iraqi Maj Gen Hamid al-Maliki -- Army Air Staff, stating that Iraq can't protect its air space or defend itself from an external threat and this leads quickly to speculation that the US has deliberately delayed providing military aircraft to Iraq in order to extend its stay. (If that is the plan, it was the plan before the SOFA was written. Go back to DoD reports as early as 2007 and you will see that the problem with Iraq's air force was noted as was the long time lag it would take to provide aircraft and training.) In other security news, Dar Addustour reports that allegedly Solomon Yousef, chief security advisor in Salahuddin Province, has been arrested in a raid on his home by forces Nouri sent in from Baghdad.
Turning to the topic of Camp Ashraf, the news in the US started earlier today with Bradley Klapper (AP) reporting on an unnamed "American diplomat" who was stating the US government was attempting to put together a plan that the Iraqi government would agree to which would allow the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization) or People's Mujahedeen to be relocated. More details emerged later in the day. Jill Cougherty (CNN) reports -- citing an unnamed "senior State Department official" -- that the US would temporarily relocate the estimated 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf to another part of Iraq away from the Iranian border. Away from Iran?
The residents of Camp Ashraf hail from Iran. They were in Iraq before the start of the Iraq War and, following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- these 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. April 4th, Iran's Fars News Agency reported 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 April 8th saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Thursday April 14th, the United Nations confirmed that 34 people were killed in the April 8th assault on Camp Ashraf. Barbara Grady (San Jose Mercury News) reported that the dead included journalist Asieh Rakhshani who has family in California. The assault hasn't really registered in the US. By comparison, several British MPs have expressed their outrage.
Of the proposed plan being reported on today, Andrew Quinn and Doina Chiacu (Reuters) explain, "A senior State Department official said on Thursday the plan was aimed at preventing more violence at Camp Ashraf". Iran's Press TV states the plan is being proposed in spit of the Iraqi government's "decision to close Camp Ashraf" noting that, in April, Nouri's "spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad is determined to shut down Camp Ashraf".
Despite the ongoing violence, AFP reports that Iraq concluded a well attended two week book fair in Baghdad today with over 200 publishers providing approximately 37,000 titles leading Safira Naji of the Baghdad International Book Fair to assert, "Baghdad has regained its place on the world's cultural map." In the region, Iraq is historically known as a nation of readers. Not all surprising when you realize it is considere the cradle of civilization due to being the first at so many modern efforts -- whether it's laws or the number zero or, in fact, writing (cuneiform). (Iraq has many more historical accomplishments, those are just three that spring to mind.) It's not at all surprising that the region that developed writing would also spawn avid readers.
Back in 2009, Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on the difficulties people like graduate student Maysoon Kadhim had in obtaining books in Iraq in the midst of the war and noted "an adage on books well known in the Arab world: Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Iraq reads." Reilly was reporting on that year's Baghdad book fair which was so popular "that its organizers extended the event from nine days to 15."
Let's stay with the arts for a bit more. Iraq had a thriving filming industry beginning in the forties on through the eighties. One of its most powerful films in the last ten or so years was released in 2000 and directed by Khairiya Al Mansour, The Last Painting. The film is an homage to the artist Laila Al Attar who died June 27, 1993 when the US bombed her home. The bombing was allegedly due to a threat against George H.W. Bush. No, she wasn't accused of plotting. But it killed her all the same. It also killed her husband while it left their daughter with vision in only one eye. (February 20, 1998, Democracy Now! did a segment on Laila Al Attar -- link is audio only.) In 2005, Sabrina Tavernis (New York Times) reported on Baghdad's film festival since the Iraq War began:
Some of the 58 short films being shown are whimsical animations. Others tell tales of suffering since the American invasion. But perhaps most important, the films, which are competing for prizes worth several thousand dollars, were made exclusively by Iraqis, mostly since the fall of the Hussein government.
"When you see beautiful young people starting these brave things, you feel happy," said Mufeed Jazaery, who was culture minister during Iraq's interim government last year. "Under the surface there is a lot of life and movement that you cannot see from above."
The film industry in Iraq dates back to the 1940's, and Iraqis still have fond memories of going to the cinema with their families in the 1970's and 80's. But with the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the years of privation that followed the imposition of economic sanctions, theaters went into decline, and Iraqis fell out of the habit.
The fighting in 2003 also took its toll. The cinema at the Baghdad University film school burned down in a bombing. Looters later took much of what remained of the equipment. Of Baghdad's 11 film theaters, only a couple are in operation, said Hamoudi Jassim, a professor at the College of Fine Arts who helped organize the festival.
Anwar Faruqi (AFP) notes some of the films "at this month's Documentary Film Festival in Baghdad, organised by the capital's struggling, non-governmental Independent Film and Television College to showcase student films made between 2004 and this year."
Art tells truth that sometimes even journalism -- or especially journalism -- can't get at. And journalism has enough problems in Iraq where the prime minister is hostile to it and where journalists are regularly targeted for death. In addition, Iraqi Revolution notes that Nouri al-Maliki's proposing a tax on all media -- local and foreign -- in Iraq in an effort to restrict who can and cannot report. One story Nouri no doubt wishes he could censor is that financial costs of the failed Arab Summit. It was supposed to take place in March but got postponed to this month. It's been unofficially postponed pretty much ever since. It is now officially postponed. Aswat al-Iraq reports it's been pushed back until March 2012. AFP's Prashant Rao put it this way:
prashantrao Prashant Rao
And the award for today's least surprising news ever goes to...#Iraq #Arab summit postponed until March 2012: http://is.gd/7JYqy2 #AFP
Wait. That's not the end of the story.
Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reports that the government "spent $450 million planting palm trees along highways, re-paving roads and restoring a palace of former dictator Saddam Hussein to host a regional summit that has now been delayed to next year." While Iraqis do without the basics, the government spends $450 million on a summit that doesn't even take place.
The other big corruption news in Iraq today? That an American stands accused of embezzling billions of dollar from Iraq. Al Mada reports that the whispers from the Finance Committee are that $8 billion disappeared due to being stolen by the US imposed Bhwana Paul Bremer. Supposedly details will emerge in the near future via a press conference. In other corruption news, Al Rafidayn reports on a study into the importation of expired/spoiled food into Iraq. The importation is being referred to as "practiced genocide." Meat and frozen foods are seen as among the worst of the spoiled food imported but other items include: tea, beans and oil. The Integriy Committee is reviewing dozens of cases that citizens have raised as a result of the risks the tainted food put the public at. They note the infamous case of the importation of 55 thousand tons of cooking oil -- which was spoiled. Some of the food and food supplies spoiled as a result of storage. Salman Kazim is an Iraqi who has enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine) and suspects it results from imported meat which was spoiled.

Amna Abdel-Aziz (Al Sabaah) reports that in the worst areas of Baghdad, mud houses are being built from mud and scraps and waste, discarded trash, which further risks exposure to disease in an area plagued by insects, rodents, stray cats and dogs. Hussein Abdul-Jabbar states he was living with his brother but the brother's home was too small for both families so he built his mud home from scraps. (We're not as stupid as NPR which, on Monday, reported 'polling' done at the barrel of a gun as honest answers. Meaning, this is what the man told the press. Did he really move his family into a mud home due to lack of space? Who knows. But that is the story he told the press. It might be true, it might be a face saving move.) Khamis Abdallah Venus states that many suffering Iraqis live in mud homes and try to maintain their dignity. He says officials are not listening to voices or coming up with solutions. Muhammad al-Shammari, the Deputy Governor of the Province, states that they are aware of the homeless issue and are constructing public housing which will provide for 5,000 families.

When that would happen isn't stated but the story is making the rounds of the Arabic media and may be in response to recent news of homes being provided for government officials. From Tuesday's snapshot:

Different topic, Alsumaria TV reports the good news: "Iraq Ministry of Housing said on Monday that the Iraqi government approved its plan to build housing units with low prices in the provinces for the employees of the ministry and the public servants." Well . . . good news if you work for the Cabinet. In a country where the people feel the government is not representing them, it is really smart to be promoting projects that benefit the government? And is this really that different from the earlier scandal where land was being given to government workers? Something that outraged many Iraqis? From the April 27th snapshot, "Al Sabaah reports that the Cabinet has put an end to employees of 'the three presidencies' (Iraq's president and two vice presidents) grabbing up residential land plots. Dar Addustour calls it a 'private ownership scheme'."


In other news, Haider al-Rubaie Filaih (Al Sabaah) reports that, at Baghad markets, there is an increase in the price of electric fans and generators as a result of the increased temperature (which will only get higher as the summer arrives and will include many over-100 degree days).
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel and, last night at Rebecca's site, Wally shared his observations of that hearing. On veterans issues, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and has just worked very hard to successfully 'encourage' (force) the VA to comply with the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 -- which needed compliance since Congress passed it thereby making it the law of the land. Today her office released the following on other legislation:
(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee introduced legislation to increase veterans' compensation through a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). The COLA increase would affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. It is projected that over 3.5 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2012.
"It's been two years since our veterans saw an increase in their benefits through a COLA, and those have been two difficult years," said Chairman Murray. "In a still challenging economy so many of our veterans depend upon the benefits they receive in order to meet their most basic needs, as well as those of their spouses and children. We have an obligation to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and who now deserve nothing less than the full support of a grateful nation. A COLA increase will help brings us one step closer to fulfilling our nation's promise to care for our brave veterans and their families."
The Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with a rise in the cost-of-living, should an adjustment be prompted by an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The bill specifies that the increase would affect veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and certain related benefits.
The COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients. The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time. The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.
A bipartisan group of Senators signed on to co-sponsor the bill including the Committee's Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as well as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Senator John Boozman (R-AR).

Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

matt_mcalvanah@murray.senate.gov

News Releases | Economic Resource Center | E-Mail Updates

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

4 guests, 3 were men

The first hour of The Diane Rehm Show today? It was about terror. Serious topic. So the three guests?

All men. Michael Scheuer, Michael Hirsh and Col. Douglas Macgregor.



An author. A woman. Linda Grant. Remember gals can't do heavy thinking in Diane Rehm's world.


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


Wednesday, May 4, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq continues to have no heads for the security ministries, the US Congress' Caregivers Act finally gets a real start up, a Senate subcommittee meets to talk about how to slash and gut active duty and military retiree health care, and more.
We're starting with the US Congress because a hearing took place and it does matter. It especially matters because it's part of a move to gut health care for active duty military and retirees. It especially matters because I looked around and couldn't believe the lack of press interest (based on attendance of the hearing).
Today the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel met to figure out how to slash health coverage. That is what they were doing. If veterans had any real pull in Congres, they'd demand Senator Jim Webb be pulled from committee assignments -- especially after his temper tantrum over the VA's efforts to provide benefits for the victims of Agent Orange.
The subcommittee heard from DoD witnesses Clifford Stnaley, Robert Hale, Dennis McCarthy and Jonathan Woodson. Unlike the House, it heard from no representatives for active duty, retirees or veterans. That wasn't an error, Webb didn't forget to include them. They were intentionally shut out.
Webb chairs the Subcommittee. Senator Lindsey Graham is Ranking Member -- as disclosed many times before, I know Lindsey, I like Lindsey and I have no problem calling him out. We're going to ignore Webb's remarks because after his attack on Vietnam veterans (the Agent Orange issue), he didn't just ensure that he couldn't run for re-election (he can't and has already announced he won't), he gave up the right to be considered even remotely trust worthy. Ranking Member Graham joined the hearing late, noting he'd "just met with Gen [David] Petraeus wife [Holly Petraeus] who now is in charge of protecting our men and women in uniform from predatory lending practices." When he did join it, he delivered these opening remarks:
Ranking Member Lindsey Graham: On the health care front, this is really a difficult situation. You're talking about 16 and 1/2% of the DoD's budget by 2028 being health care cost -- and that's doubling in less than 20 years. I know -- [to Webb] Are you retired?
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: I am a retired Marine, yes.
Ranking Member Lindsey Graham: Okay, he's a retired Marine. I one day hope to be retired Air Force officer. And I guess what I'm going to say is that I understand what the administration is trying to do. We have to move this debate forward on sustainability. We haven't had a premium increase since 1989. Some of the fees to be increased proposed by the administration, I think, is something we should all consider. I respect the House. But eventually you're going to have to make some very draconian choices between health care and operational needs. And that's not where we want to find ourselves. So, Mr. Hill -- Secretary Hill, your idea of trying to get a better bang for our buck, looking at programs to make them more efficient, improving the quality of care while lowering costs is absolutely essential.
These are serious issues, these are real issues. Instead of functioning journalism in the US, we have a bunch of a partisan hacks. Chief among them David Weigel. Weigel -- who was let go by the Washington Post (forced out) -- landed at Slate. He didn't learn to be a better journalist there either. Instead of covering something of value or use like what Graham is attempting with the health care issue, Weigel only nows how to score partisan points -- he learned so very well from Journo-List. Today he's red faced over a mistake he made. Mistake?

And Now, the Search for the Obama Death Photo

Slate Magazine (blog) - David Weigel - ‎3 hours ago‎
Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who had been conflicted about the quick sea burial of bin Laden because it wouldn't satisfy doubters, put out a statement today criticizing the photo decision. I respectfully disagree with President Obama's decision not to release ...
Slate's now changed the headline to "And Now, the Search for the bin Laden Death Photo" -- Weigel meant "Osama" -- but what he should really be embarrassed about is this bulls**t approach to 'reporting' wherein he looks for gotcha moments of insignificance instead of doing something of substance. He is paid to do a job he's never done.
Hardly anyone from the press showed for today's hearing and this is not a new issue. I believe we last covered it when the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee held their two hearing on the issue in March (see the March 15th and March 16th snapshots). You want to call out Lindsey Graham? By all means do, but how about for something important and not phrase and words? How about for efforts to gut the health care of active duty personnel. What's being proposed is outrageous. And in the House, members were more than willing to note their distress. One example.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I just want to say again, I understand how well you are all doing your job and the importance of all of you looking for cost efficiencies in what you do as we face a difficult time with the budget deficit and, uh, also where there's a lot of examination of the military budget and looking for places where we can cut. And maybe my first comment is more to my fellow Committee members then to all of you but I might see more places to cut the fat in the military budget than others of my colleagues but I am deeply concerned that we're going after medical care for both our active duty personnel and our retirees when I think there are other places to make more effective cuts. So I know you have to do your job and look for those cuts but almost everything that's before us today, either myself or one of my colleagues has mentioned a concern about, whether it's the changes to TRICARE, how we're going to deal with some of our Sole Community Hospitals I have two in my district, there are four in our state of only 1.2 million people, in a state where we have almost a fifth of our citizens are either active duty or retired military. So there's a very big dependance on this system in our state and I'm worried about that particular program. So for me, many of the efficiencies that you're talking about are going to reduce the level of medical care to people who have served us to whom we have made a huge promise. And there is going to be a -- I think -- a reduction in the services that they receive so I just -- I know you have to do your job but I don't like it and I don't think it's all necessarily good.
But Lindsey Graham and the outgoing Jim Webb have bi-partisan agreement to slash and burn active duty and retirees health care (Hale declared active duty was safe -- no, it's not as evidenced by the testimony of all the witnesses, their prepared statements and Stanley's admission -- in his prepared remarks, not delivered -- that they have proposals that they are not yet ready to make public but they had help with from the same crew Barack's appointed for the Cat Food Commission). And the sparesly attended hearing (by Subcomittee members) did not include anyone who was outraged by the efforts to slash health care. That's all the more reason that the press needs to be paying attention. And 50 years from now, what Lindsey Graham said about Osama bin Laden one day and what he said two or thee days later won't mean a damn thing. But if they gut the health care, it will still be effecting active duty and retirees. So how you about you grow the hell up, sit at the adult table and start doing some of the heavy lifting?
As we saw during the House hearings, DoD's Clifford Stanely's the (mis)leader on this issue. After the hearing, I grabbed a copy of his prepared statement thinking, before I picked it up, that I would read it through quickly. That notion fell apart the minute I picked it up. Stanley presented the Subcommittee with a prepared statement that is over 70 pages long.
For those unfamiliar with the workings of Congress, the prepared statements generally run five to six pages. For important issues -- such as when then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and then-top US commander in Iraq Gen David Petraeus repeately testified to Congress in April 2008 about Iraq -- they may run as long as 12 to 21 pages. But over 70 pages? Many witnesses who appear before Congress merely read their prepared remarks aloud. There's no reason to do so. By it being prepared and presented to Congress (long before the hearing), it becomes part of the Congressional record. So Stanely made part of the Congressional record today something that most people will never see or know about in this news cycle.
On page 19 of his prepared remarks, he begins noting the need to 'review' an alternative (in past testimony, "alternative" translates as "cut" when used by Stanley) "to the current Imminent Danger/Hostile Fire Pay structure." Equally disturbing is that while Hale spoke of the need to consider what the future role of the National Guard and Reserve should be (with regards to overseas deployments), Stanley, on page 26, informs, "Future planning envisions an era of persistent conflict where some type of RC [Reserve Component] activation authority will be required to augment the AC [Active Component] to maximize effectiveness efficiency of the Total Force." According to Stanley's written statement quoted -- and what follows in his prepared remarks -- that decision's been made and the US government "envisions an era of persistent conflict" requiring the US military to be deployed repeatedly. Might that not be something the American people should be consulted on? On page 38, he finally begins addressing the health care issues. We'll go into some of that tomorrow or Friday. We don't have space or time today.
So let's leave his prepared statement and note his reaction to Webb's asking who is in charge of contractors.
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: So who hires, fires and pays?
Clifford Stanley: It would be the commanders --
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: How many -- how many contractors are we paying
Clifford Stanley: [Snickering] I only laugh because we are much pilloried for lack of full accounting of contractors. We're getting better.
Oh, yeah, that's funny. (That was sarcasm.) He wants to slash the health care for active duty and retirees but he thinks it's funny that his department still can't provide an accounting of contractors. "We're getting better" doesn't cut it. He did allow that there were 300,000 contractors ["contractors funded by Operation and Maintenance account"] they're doing a pretty good job of accounting for; however, "there are others working on other accounts but we haven't got a full count yet." Apparently, there's no real rush. Stanley noted that this full count was "something Congress directed us to do years ago and we're working on it." Maybe a full count would allow for cost overruns to be caught? And maybe if that happened you wouldn't need to gut the health care of active duty forces. And maybe DoD needs to sit down their future witnesses and tell them snickering about your inability to do your job in public doesn't instill trust in your department.
Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: We hear widely varying numbers of how many contractors are being paid each year by DoD, by whom and how much. Do you know how much of the DoD budget goes into independent contractors?
Clifford Stanely: You know, Mr. Chairman, if you want to look at [. . .] about 40% of our money pays for all of our employees -- that's military and civilian. The rest goes to contractors in some way. That would include all the weapon costs. But most of that is contracted out eventually to private companies. But many people when they think of contractors are thinking more of what you alluded to -- KBR contractors in Afghanistan that are performing those services. That would be more for those funded by Operations and Maintenance, that 300,000. [Laughing] Am I helping? Apparently not.
He was so tickled by it all. 60%, using his figures of DoD money goes out to contractors -- in one form or another -- but the 'cost saving' Stanley wants to focus on will mean attacking the 40% of the budget that goes to active duty. DoD's Woodson wanted the Subcommittee to know that a benefit of hiring contractors was that you didn't have to pay them health benefits in "perpetuity."
Transitioning from Congress to Iraq . . . US House Rep Ron Paul has formed an exploratory committee to consider a 2012 run for the GOP presidential nomination. Yesterday on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane asked him why and he stated he was encouraged to "By thousands and thousands of people who are just really writing to me and talking to me, the many websites, the contiuation of what happened in the last go-around [his 2008 run]. I was rather shocked to find out what kind of reception I got, especially on the universities. And I've continued to speak at the university. The crowds get bigger, more enthusiastic. They don't like the war. They don't like the Patriot Act. They like personal liberties. They like to be left alone. They don't wan the government to be taking care of them from cradle to grave. And they're enthusiastic." Jordan Fabian (The Hill) reports, "Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), a possible Republican candidate for president, said Tuesday that the U.S. should brings its troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden has been killed." Others in his political party do not necessarily feel the same. Take the Speaker. Yesterday's snapshot noted:

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives doesn't appear to wonder. AP reports that Speaker John Boehner has declared that the US should keep a small (undefined number) of US troops on the ground in Iraq past 2011. Reuters quotes him stating, "I think a small, residual force should remain."

Carl Hulse (New York Times) reports, "Mr. Boehner said he had no recommendation on the size of the contingent that might remain or how long the troops should stay, but the military has been exploring the idea of a force of about 10,000, people briefed on the plan said. At the end of April, there were 47,000 American troops in Iraq."
US troops remain and so does violence. Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured one person, a Baghdad trash can bombing injured two people, 2 Kerbala roadside bombings has claimed 3 lives and left four people injured, a Baghdad police officer was shot dead by unknown assailants "in a speeding car, using silenced weapons," which is the same scenario for the Baghdad shooting death of an employee of the Minister of Finance, 2 Mosul truck drivers were shot dead and a Mosul sticky bombing claimed 1 life.
At a time when violence is on the rise, Iraq continues to do without heads of the security ministries: Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of National Security. Today Dar Addustour reports that the National Allaince is stating that the "final stages" for naming the security ministers has been reached. That stage was suppoed to have been reached in November when prime minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki was putting togehter his Cabinet. In fact, he was not supposed to move from prime miniser-designate to prime minister without naming a full Cabinet. And the Constitution gives the prime minister-designate exactly 30 days by which to name a Cabinet. SO the Constitution says that these posts will be named in 30 days. Instead, it's six months later and the positions are still vacant.

The lack of concern about filling these ministries -- when, allegedly, all US forces will be leaving Iraq in less than seven months -- is being been seen as a sign by some in the State Dept that Nouri al-Maliki plans to ask for an extension of the SOFA.

Many Iraqis are opposed to that. Demonstrations in Iraq have called for the end of the occupation -- whether the demonstrators were Iraq's youth or they were from Sadr City. New Sabah notes that Moqtada al-Sadr's followers insist that they must resist until the end of the US occupation of Iraq. They are planning a protest May 23rd and you can be sure the US press will go ga-ga over it as usual. Reporting on the same issue, Dar Addustour notes that the followers insist they will follow rule of law . . . after the occupation ends. That should be deeply troubling. Those who say they'll follow rule of law some day are generally revealed to be those who never follow rule of law because all their conditions for respecting the law never come to be. More importantly, the Sadr bloc is not outside of the government, they make up 40 seats in Parliament and are grossly over-represented as Cabinet heads. Revolutionaries or opponents to occupation can and often do take the position the Sadr bloc is attempting to take today. When they take that position, they are generally believable but part of the reason for that is that they offer a true resistance. You can not be part of the government and also part of the resistance. You cannot be the inside outsider.

Along with no heads of the security ministries, Iraq really has no vice presidents. Jalal Talabani, the previous president of Iraq, was re-elected president and he asked Iraq's two vice presidents to stay on until the spots could be filled but one who has stayed on has been criticized for presenting as a vice president. Today New Sabah reports that Nouri's State Of Law is stating they don't need a vice presidency. State Of Law's Khaled al-Asadi states that they see it as unnecessary and that they are pleased with the number of ministries they have been put in charge of. Also reporting on the curious story is Al Rafidayn which states that the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council is ready to give up the post. Shi'ite Adel Abdul-Mahdi was one of the two vice presidents prior to the March 2010 elections. He is a member of the Supreme Islamic Council. They joined with other groups -- including State of Law -- to form the National Alliance. At one point, Adel Abdul-Mahdi wanted to be prime minister (he wanted that in 2005 as well and was supported by foreign oil factions).

Iraq Tweet of the day is from Prashant Rao (AFP).
prashantrao Prashant Rao
New Arab colleague from #Lebanon just asked if there are any sushi bars in Baghdad. I had to let him down lightly. Poor guy.

And now we go back to the Congress . . .
Yesterday's snapshot noted the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. The Committee released released the following statement on the hearing:

VA Admits Problems at Medical Facilities are a Failure of Leadership

For more information, contact: Amy K. Mitchell, (202) 225-3527
WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing entitled, "Sacred Obligation: Restoring Veteran Trust and Patient Safety," regarding the failure to act and haphazard notification processes on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concerning medical sanitization processes at major VA facilities including those in Miami, Florida, St. Louis, Missouri, and Dayton, Ohio.
"This is unconscionable. Imagine having survived the battlefield to return home, visit a VA hospital, only to receive a letter in the mail years later stating you may be at risk of having contracted an infectious disease because of the improper sterilization of medical equipment. These incidents shatter the very trust we all assume on behalf of our veterans," stated Representative Jeff Miller (FL-01), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
The Committee was disconcerted by the apparent lack of leadership VA has demonstrated in handling these issues to date.
Since the issues in Dayton, stemming from actions by a dentist employed by VA from 1982-2010, came to the public's attention, VA has not fully enacted accountability in its systems nationwide with regard to medical practitioners in order to avert such incidents in the future.
"Without the leadership of Chairman Miller and this Committee, veterans in our district would not have known about these egregious violations of basic medical standards. The VA owes us a clear explanation of the events that have occurred and have yet to release to our community, documents which show that they taken every step necessary to notify veterans that may have been infected by the dentist in question," said Representative Mike Turner (OH-03), who represents the Dayton area and joined the Committee for the hearing.
"The time for talk is over. VA must confront these issues head on, deepen the obligation to care for the veterans affected by these incidents, and make the necessary changes within the VA healthcare system to prevent any future incidents that put our veteran patients at risk," said Miller.

Kat covered the hearing at her site and noted Turner, Ranking Member Bob Filner and US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle. Ava covered the hearing last night at Trina's site and emphasized the exchange between US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Robert Petzel. On that hearing, I noted US House Rep Phil Roe. He is a doctor, a medical doctor. An e-mail came in about his name. I can be wrong, I can think I know something I don't know, I can also make a mistake when I'm dictating the snapshot and juggling cell phones, so if you see a name you think is wrong, e-mail. I won't be offended. But his name is Phil Roe. A visitor e-mailed to say I must mean David P. Roe. No, I meant Ted Roe. The visitor is not "wrong." The visitor thought it was "David P. Roe" because that's how the House Veterans Affairs Committee website wrongly credits him on their members page. If you click on the link for "David P. Roe" you will be taken to Phil Roe's Congressional website. Republicans control the House, the Democrats are the minority party. Bob Filner is the Ranking Member on the House VA Committee and today the Democrats on the Committee issued the following:
Washington, D.C. -- Bob Filner (D-CA), Ranking Democratic Member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, today at a hearing on patient safety at Department of Veterans Affairs' facilities called on the VA to fix the "culture of secrecy and cover-ups that is far too prevalent" within the VA.
"How many times do we have to go down this road? Let's get beyond the bureaucracy and secrecy and restore veterans' confidence in VA," stated Filner.
Recent patient safety events at the Dayton, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; and Miami, Florida VA medical centers have raised serious questions in Congress regarding the ability of the VA to properly respond to these occurrences and address concerns regarding safety, communications, and accountability.
"The findings beg the questions of proper accountability, effective oversight and enforement of clear policies and procedures. Policies and procedures that are sometimes not followed -- or worse -- get completely ignored. The best industry-leading policies and procedures are worthless when no one seems to be responsible to ensure that they are conscientiously followed day in and day out. I would like to know, where is the strong leadership and effective communication that is critical when you are entrusted with the care and well being of our Nation's veterans?"
Staying with veterans issues, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (May 5, 2010) was supposed to go into effect January 30, 2011. However, that did not happen as was established in the March 2nd Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. That day, she questioned Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, about the fact that the law written was not what was being implemented. We'll note this part of the exchange.
Chair Patty Murray: But I wanted to ask you today of the 180 million that the budget submission specifies for caregivers and veterans pact, how much is going to be actually allocated for the implementation of the family caregiver program?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, in the 2012 budget it's 66 million.
Chair Patty Murray: 66 million for the implementation. Okay. The legislation authorized an average of 308.4 million for this program each year. Can you tell us why the VA uses about 21% of that?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Madame Chairman, I'd just say that that again is where we established the start point. We expect this program will go -- grow.
Chair Patty Murray: Pardon me?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: We expect that this program will grow. The 66 million was based on our estimate of uh going through the veterans who are in various categories of serious injuries, severe injuries and, uh, the numbers on which, uh, 66 million are based was that initial eligibility start point.Roughly about a thousand.
Chair Patty Murray: Very narrowly defined, though. Not designed as the law was defined.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: That is correct.
Chair Patty Murray: And it was the intent of Congress that that law not be narrowly defined.
There's an update on the Caregivers Act. Yesterday Deborah Amdur, the VA's Chief Consultant for Care Managedment and Social Work Service, posted at the VA's Vantage Point blog and her post included:
VA has long known that having a Family Caregiver in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of Veterans under VA care. Therefore, we are pleased to add this new program to the wide range of services VA already offers to support Veterans and their Family Caregivers at home. The regulation is available on our Caregiver website and the application process for the new program for post-9/11 Veterans injured in the line of duty is also described in a fact sheet. We're excited to begin accepting applications on May 9th. Look for the application at www.caregiver.va.gov the morning of the 9th or call our Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274. We're waiting to assist.
We know that this wait has been long for those dedicating so much to provide for nearly every aspect of their beloved Veteran's well-being. With these resources in place, we mark the beginning of a new era in the delivery of enhanced services for Family Caregivers. Family Caregivers are our partners in providing quality care to our Nations heroes; Caregivers are the heroes on the home front.
Additionally, VA has many other programs and services already in place that support Veterans and their Family Caregivers at home. At www.caregiver.va.gov you will find a description of more than two dozen programs we offer all Caregivers, training tips and advice on care giving, including the importance of taking time to take care of yourself. All Caregivers are also encouraged to utilize the National Caregiver Support Line, 1-855-260-3274, for counseling and information about resources and services. The trained professionals who staff our Support Line will also connect you to your local VA medical center's Caregiver Support Coordinator who stands ready to offer support and assistance as you navigate this journey of being a Family Caregiver.
George Prentice (Boise Weekly) rightly terms the move "an about-face." Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee released the following statement after the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that they would ease restrictions that had been added to a bill passed by Congress that would provide financial and health care support to family members caring for severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The change will allow more caregivers of more veterans to be eligible for the long-overdue benefit.
"This is an important turnaround for family members of severely wounded veterans who have dropped everything to care for their loved ones. The Administration realized their mistake in limiting and delaying this benefit and is taking steps to fix it, and to fix it quickly. In particular, the President has shown real leadership on this issue by listening to our concerns and ensuring the VA made this right.
"Going forward, I will monitor how the VA implements this program, paying particular attention to how caregivers of veterans with the invisible wounds of war are considered for this benefit. But the bottom line is that because we held them accountable, the VA will make a larger investment, will support more caregivers, and will ensure that health care providers, not bureaucrats make decisions about who is eligible.
"This law was passed to help support the thousands of family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover from wounds they suffered defending our country. It's a cost of war that for too long has gone unaccounted for and one we can no longer ignore."
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Murray has led congressional efforts to restore the criteria to the intent of Congress when the bill was passed last year. In fact, since the criteria limiting eligibility for certain caregivers was announced by the VA in early February of this year Senator Murray has taken numerous steps to fight the decision including:
* Personally discussing the issue with President Obama in the Oval Office,
* Questioning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on the program changes and delays in front of her Committee,
* Sending a bi-partisan letter, cosigned by 17 additional Senators, calling on the Administration to end delays in moving forward with the law, and
* Joining with leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees to call on President Obama to stop the VA from severely limiting the benefit.

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