Friday, April 20, 2012

6 men, 1 woman

Today on Talk of the Nation (NPR), the guests were Steve Sullivan, Tony Derose, Craig Barron,  James Cameron, Marwan Nader, Sylvia Earle and John McCosker.


Kelly Ward was mentioned but not heard from.  Who?  From this segment:




FLATOW: We'll have a backend. We have our Video Pick of the Week today, sort of an oldie goldie, right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. But it's related. So we thought we would bring it up. It's a hairy quest scientific question. I'm just going to fill it with bad jokes. It's about the physics of Rapunzel's hair, is the topic of this week's video pick. And we talked with Kelly Ward, who's a senior software designer for Disney, and she had studied hair modeling in school. And I didn't even know this was a field you could study, but it just sort of gets to what we were talking about - become really good at something. And then she found out that Disney was making this movie about Rapunzel, and it was like the dream fairytale ending for a student of hair modeling.

FLATOW: So it was the film "Tangled" and she - and in your video pick, she talks to you about how she had to mathematically model the hair and different...

LICHTMAN: It's a - yeah, it's a really complicated question, it turns out. So we have over 100,000 strands of hair on our real heads. In this movie, they look at - they sort of boil it down to over 100, but even that is a really complicated question. I think Tony DeRose could probably talk about this better than I could. But, you know, it's the problem that they bump into each other and the static. I mean, how do you think about this problem of hair movement?

DR. TONY DEROSE: As you said, there are about 100,000 hairs on a human head. There are many more on an otter.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Is that why we don't see many otter movies?

DEROSE: That's why we don't see many otter movies - yeah. But if you can capture the essential motion of about 100 hairs or so or 200, then you can kind of do in-betweening for the hair and get the basic motion at dramatically lower simulation cost.

LICHTMAN: And, you know, I mean, that's the one thing that Kelly mentioned, that it takes a long time to render this kind of stuff, right? Can you give us a sense of how long it takes to actually output a shake of the head?


Tangled is a great movie.  On my "2011 best in film (Ann and Stan)" and Stan's "2011 in films (Ann and Stan)"], we picked Tangled as one of the year's best:



8) "Tangled." We're not big fans of animated films and after the sad sack "Toy Story 3," nostalgia really doesn't belong as a primary emotion in children's films, were willing to write off the genre. But this musical comedy really surprised us. You may resist, as we did, and tell yourself, "Five minutes and then I'll watch something else." If so, you'll find yourself extending the five minute period repeatedly, all through the end of the film. Rapunzel is the template for the film and Mandy Moore gives voice to her while Zachary Levi brings Flynn Rider to life. This is probably the finest Disney animated film since "Beauty & The Beast." And it's got thrills (you have to love the chameleon), chills and spills, songs and dances, good and evil. Two screen caps don't do it justice but maybe they'll give you a sense of the scope.




movie tangled2


We really loved that film.  See it and you will too.  Even if you're not an animated fan, the story will quickly hook you.


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

Friday, April 19, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri bombs with Turkey but Barzani's a hit, US journalists are targeted, the political crisis continues, Rob Andrews justifies war for any reason, Panetta tries to dance around Congress, and more.
 
Starting in the US where journalists Tom Vaden Brook and Ray Locker have been targeted.  Gregory Korte (USA Today) reports that when Vanden Brook and his editor Locker began working on an article about fraud and waste in Pentagon contracting, the push-back was for fake websites and accounts to be created in their name to spread false rumors about them with the apparent hope that the two would be discredited and discouraged.  Vanden Brook is quoted stating he is still on the story, "If they thought it would determ from writing about this, they're wrong."  Locker echoes that sentiment stating, "This is a clear attempt at intimidation that has failed." Why would anyone want to intimidate the two?  Because this is about a lot of money.   Vanden Brook and Locker reported at the end of February:
 
As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call "information operations," the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.
From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq War wrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won't make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as "miscellaneous foreign contractors."
 
 
Again, that's a great deal of money.  Ali Gharib (Think Progress) adds:
 
 
The Pentagon said it was "unaware" of such activity and deemed it "unacceptable." A source told Korte that the Pentagon had asked the related contractors if there had been any such activity, and all had denied it, but the inquiries were "informal and did not amount to an official investigation." After USA Today made inquiries to the Pentagon about the websites, they were taken down.
 
 
Meanwhile there is the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the PKK -- the PKK is a group that fights for Kurdish sovereignty and a Kurdish homeland.  The Turkish government sees the PKK as a terrorist organization.  Today's Zayman reports 1 female member of the PKK was killed by Turkey forces when the Turkish forces moved and notes, "The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.  The group is labled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, which has supplied Predator drones to assist Turkey."  The PKK operates out of southern Turkey and nothern Iraq chiefly.  AFP reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met today in Ankara and discussed many issues including the PKK.   The Sunday Zaman notes, "Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the Turkish military would 'completely' halt military operations against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) if the organization were to lay down its arms."  And they note, "The terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) should lay down its weapons for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani said on Friday during an official visit to Turkey." Hurriyet Daily News sums up, "Speaking separately but in unison, Turkish PM Erdogan and Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani implore the outlawed PKK to cease its armed fight."
 
On the topic of Iraq and its northern neighbor Turkey, let's drop back to April 7th:
 

How bad are relations between Iraq and its neighbors? AFP reports Falih al-Fayaad went toTurky this week to meet with Turkish officials on Nour's behalf. As 2011 was winding down, what was Nouri doing? Oh, that's right, he was trashing the president and the prime minister of Turkey and doing so publicly and repeatedly. And when not issuing insults about them, he was accusing them of trying to control Iraq.
 
 
That was April 7th.  Today, thirteen days later?  Today's Zaman reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Turkey is becoming an enemy state in the region in a sign of growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq. Maliki's harshest remarks so far came at a time when Turkey was hosting two senior Iraqi politicians who are at odds with his government." AFP quotes from a statement by Nouri posted to his website:
 
 
The latest statements of [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan are another return to the process of interfering in Iraqi internal affairs and it confirms that Mr. Erdogan is still living the illusion of regional hegemon.  It is regrettable that his statements have a sectarian dimension which he used to deny before but which have become clear, and are rejected by all Iraqis.  Insisting on continuing these internal and regional policies will damage Turkey's interests and makes it a hostile state for all.
 
Yesterday Today's Zaman reported that the government of Turkey had refused the Baghdad request to hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  (Turkey's taken the same position Qatar and Saudi Arabia did when Nouri made the request of them earlier this month.) It must be very humiliating for Nouri and his lackeys.  When al-Hashemi traveled from the KRG to Qatar at the start of this month, they made pompous statements to the press which only revealed how truly ignorant they were.  The government of ___ [fill in the blank] would hand al-Hashemi over and, on the off chance that the government didn't, they were going to have INTERPOL travel to ___ [fill in the blank] and INTERPOL would arrest al-Hashemi and bring him to Baghdad.  It didn't matter to the stupid and ignorant that INTERPOL's charter specifically states it is not to be invovled in political actions so that it may remain impartial.  al-Hashemi is targeted for political reasons.  That always meant INTERPOL should not be involved and that, if they reviewed the request, they would turn it down.  But there was Nouri and his various flunkies flaunting just what kind of stupid gets to run and ruin things in Iraq.
 
 
Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's two-day talks in İstanbul and Ankara appear to have focused on tensions brewing between Iraq's Shiite-led government and minority Sunnis and Kurds, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described as "ominous."
Barzani had closed-door talks with Erdoğan in İstanbul on Thursday and met with President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara on Friday. Speaking to reporters about his meeting with Barzani, Erdoğan said both Barzani and the cross-sectarian Iraqiya group are "seriously bothered" by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's policies.

 
Maybe if Nouri had stopped his verbal attacks on the Turkish government, M. Alihan Hasanoglu (Today's Zaman) would be reporting Baghdad had many projects in development with Turkey including a $36 million one.  Instead, that reports on the projects Turkey's developing with the KRG.  Equally true, Nouri was making catty comments about Barzani earlier this week.  It would appear Barzani's getting along with everyone on his trips to other countries.  The same can't be said of Nouri. 
 
Staying with the political crisis, if the Western media has made one mistake repeatedly in the last few months, it has been the failure to understand the political crisis.  Or maybe they understand it and just don't care to convey it properly?    The political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections).  From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):
 
 
Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
 
This month has seen Nouri even the score on the results of the 2010 elections by going after the Independent High Electoral Commission which, in 2010, refused to falsify the results in Nouri's favor. So last week, Nouri had the commission chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. But, don't worry, Jalal assures us Nouri's not becoming a dictator. In fairness, maybe what Jalal meant was that Nouri was already a dicatator, not headed towards becoming one?

Al Mada reports that Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) notes that the options of ending the political crisis include a true partnership in government, implementing the Erbil Agreement, moving towards early elections or Nouri can step down as prime minister.


As the crisis continues, criticism mounts. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) observes that participants appear to have lost site of the priorities, that there is a lack of vision and all it's about now is the political process and not about Iraqis or the country. What usually happens around now is that the Kurds and Iraqiya heed the call to be 'reasonable' and 'mature.' They put aside differences and Nouri continues acting exactly the same. If anything's going ot change, this time Nouri's the one who's going to have to give.
An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports that the death toll from yesterday's attacks has risen to 39 with over 190 injured.
 
Syria is a neighbor of Iraq.  Iraq remains neutral on the issue of war on Syria or no war on Syria.  They remain neutral for a number of reasons including fear of huge influx of refugees and also the fear that taking sides would further harden divisions inside Iraq, existing divisions.  Yesterday the US Congress discussed Syria.  Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee were Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs General Martin Dempsey. 
 
US House Rep Walter Jones:  Mr. Secretary, if the situation changes and you believe the use of force in Syria becomes necessary, will this administration seek authorization from Congress before taking action?
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:  We will, uh -- We will clearly work with Congress if it, uh -- if it,  comes to the issue of force.  I think this administration wants to work within the War Powers Provision to make sure that we work together, not separately.
 
US House Rep Walter Jones: Mr. Secretary, as a former member of Congress -- I have the biggest concern and this is not pointed at this administration, it could be at any administration -- they seem to want to take the authority to decide whether or not they need to go into a country that's not been a threat.  They may have evil dictators, they might have problems in those countries.  But I have been very concerned.  I actually went to the federal courts for [US House Rep] Dennis Kucinich and two other Republicans and two other Democrats.  We went to the courts because of the decision and how it was made -- I realize you were not there at the time [Panetta was heading the CIA, Robert Gates was the Secretary of Defense] -- about Libya.  I continue to believe -- and the American people seem to agree -- that we in Congress have not exercted our Constitutional responsibilities when it comes to war.  And I hate that if there is a decision -- including Iran and Syria -- if a decision is made to commit American forces that the president would feel an obligation to the American people -- not to Congress necessarily, but the American people -- to explain and justify why we would take that kind of action.  And, again, I'm talking about a situation where we're not being attacked, we just see things happening in other countries that we don't approve of.  And I would hope -- and I think you did give me this answer, but if you would reaffirm --  that if we have to use military force and we're going to initiate that force, it's going to be our initation that causes that force, that the president, any president, would come to Congress and the American people and justify the need to attack.
 
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Congressman, as-as you understand uh-uh-uh this president -- as other presidents will -- will operate pursuant to the Constitution.  The Constitution makes clear that the Commander in Chief should, uh, act when the vital interests of this country are in jeopardy.  Uh-and-uh I believe this president believes that if that in fact is the case he would do that in partnership with the Congress in terms of taking any action. 
 
US House Rep Walter Jones: Well I'll make another statement and then I'll work towards a close, Mr. Chairman [Buck McKeon].  I remember my good friend [US House Rep] Randy Forbes from Viriginia asked Secretary Gates when we went in [Libyan War], it seemed like the administration, if they called the leadership of the House and Senate, it must have been one call each house, each Senate.  And Mr. Forbes asked Mr. Gates, if the Libyans fired a missile in New York City would that be an act of war? And I have to say, because my friend from Virginia is very articulate and very intelligent gentleman, that he never got a straight answer.  So I hope that you will prevail upon the administration not to take those kinds of actions as they did in Libya -- whether it was justified or not, I won't get into that debate.  But, in my opinion, that was really a kind of snub of Congress and the responsibility of Congress -- based on the Constitution.
 
Secretary Leon Panetta: Congressman, what I can assure you of is that, as long as I am Secretary, we won't take any action without proper legal authority. 
 
 
One of the most disgusting things about the hearing was realizing how the coin had flipped.  Meaning that if Bully Bush were still in the White House, US House Rep Rob Andrews (Democrat from New Jersey) would have followed up Walter Jones' questions by attempting to hit on the main points.  Instead, with the Oval Office occupied by a Democrat, Andrews felt the need was to take wiggle room, shake it out repeatedly and turn wiggle room into a summer getaway home.  Our 'national interests' Andrews wanted it known, were reasons to go to war and, of course, Panetta agreed.  That's a different standard then 'you are attacked.'  In fact, that's even worse, this must be the Obama Doctrine, than Bully Boy Bush claiming he had the right to declare war on someone he thought might harm the US in the future -- near or distant.  Barack's policy -- as discussed by Andrews and Panetta -- allows war for no threat.  Just the idea that you might do something, as a country, that isn't in the US' national interests.  Andrews defined national interest with "the weaker Hezbollah is, the better the United States is" and Panetta agreed and went on to add that "anything to weaken a terrorist organization is in our best interest."  And these are the grounds for war?  How sickening two little War Hawks all but mounting one another in public.
 
 
Republican J. Randy Forbes tried to get the conversation back to reality. 
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  When we talk about vital national interests, probably there's no greater vital interest that we have than the rule of law.  So sometimes we have to just ferret that out and see what that is.  As I understand what you have indicated to this Committee, Mr. Secretary -- and correct me if I'm wrong, you believe that before we would take military action against Syria that it would be a  requirement to have a consensus of permission with the international community before that would happen?  Is that a fair statement?  And if not, would you tell me what the proper --
 
Secretary Leon Panetta: I think that's a -- I think that's a fair statement.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  If that's fair, than I'd like to come back to the question Mr. Jones asked, just so we know.  I know you would never do anything that you didn't think was legally proper and you said the administration would have proper, legal authority before they would take military action.  So my question is what is proper, legal authority?  And I come back to -- as Mr. Jones pointed out  -- in the War Powers Act, it's unlikely we would have a declaration of war.  But that would be one of  the things.  Certainly we know if there's a national attack that would be one of them.  And the second thing in the War Powers Act would be specific statutory authorization.  Do you feel that it would be a requirement  to have proper legal authority? That if you did not have a declaration of war or an attack on the United States, that you would have to have specific statutory authority --  in other words, the permission of Congress, before you'd take military action?
 
 
Secretary Leon Panetta: We would not take action without proper legal authority.     That's --
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  And I understand.  And in all due respect, I don't want to put you in an interrogation.  But we're trying to find out what exactly proper legal authoirty is because that's what we have  to act under.  And we don't have the president here to chat with him or have a cup of coffee with him and ask him.  You're the closest we get.  And so we're asking for your understanding and as Secretary of Defense what is proper legal authority?  Would that require specific statutory authorization from the United States Congress if we had not had a declaration of war or an attack upon the United States?
 
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well, again, let me put it on this basis.  Uh, this administration intends to operate pursuant to the War Power Act.  And whatever the War Powers Act would require in order for us to engage, we would abide by.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  And, again, Mr. Secretary, thank you for putting up with me as I just try to stumble through this and understand it.  But as I read the War Powers Act, it has those three requirements.  Are there any other requirements in there that you're familiar with that I'm leaving out or not reading?
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:   No.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:If that's the case, then again I just come back to, if there's no declaration of war, no attack upon the United States  and if we're going to comply with the War Powers Act would that require specific statutory authority by Congress before we took military actions?
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:   Again, under the Constitution, as I indicated, the commander in chief has the authority to take action that involves the vital interests of this country.  But then pursuant to the War Powers Act, we would have to take steps to get Congressional approval.  And that's -- that's the process that we would follow.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  Uhm, you'd have to take steps to get that approval but would the approval be required before you would take military action against Syria?
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:   As I understand the Constitution and the power of the president, the president could in fact deploy forces if he to under -- if-if-if our vital interests were at stake.  But then, under the War Powers Act, we would have to come here for  your support and permission.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:  So you get the support of Congress after you begin military operations.
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:  In that -- In that particular situation, yes.
 
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes:Then just one last thing and make sure I'm stating this correctly,  it's your position that the administration's position would be that we'd have to get a consensus of permission from the international community before we would act but we wouldn't have to get specific statutory authority from Congress before we would act.
 
Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well I think in that situation, if international action is taken pursuant to a [UN]  security council resolution or under our treaty obligations with regards to NATO that obviously we would participate with the international community.  But then ultimately the Congress of the United States, pursuant to its powers of the purse, would be able to  determine whether or not that action is appropriate or not.
 
 
Panetta's song and dance wasn't amusing.  And the War Powers Act did not matter to the White Houe when it came to the Libyan War.  (Panetta's exchange with Andrews suggested it wouldn't matter with regards to Libya.)  For those who've forgotten the illegality of the Libyan War, we're dropping back to an episode of Law and Disorder Radio -- which began airing on WBAI  July 11th and around the country throughout that week.  Attorneys and hosts Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) discussed a number of issues including impeachment.  Excerpt.
 
 
Michael Smith:  Michael, the actions that the Obama administration took against Libya is really a perversion of the law.  Explain what they did in order to justify not going to Congress.

 
Michael Ratner: Well the use of military force by the president has to be authorized by Congress under the United States Constitution.  That's very clear.  And it's not just war, it's use of -- it's hostilities, it's really any military action anywhere in the world other than in self-defense.  So we start from the premise that military actions, whether in Libya, killing people in Somolia or Yemen, etc., has to be authorized by Congress. In some cases the president claimed that the authorization to use military force passed in 2001 -- after 9/11 -- gave him authority.  But in other cases, he's just asserting raw, naked power.  He's claiming that because these don't amount to large wars that the Constitution doesn't apply and he doesn't have to go to Congress.  Now then what happened because this is a common claim of presidents whether it's in Libya or Somolia, Congress after Vietnam built in a safety trigger.  They said, "Lookit, you still need our consent to go to war, or to go into hostilities or bomb people, etc. But we're going to put in a safety trigger.  If you do that, if you engage in hostilities and you don't come to us first like you're required to do under the Constitution, then you have sixty days to come back to us and get authority or within sixty days all troops have to be automatically withdrawn." So it's a safety figure because they knew the president would do exactly what Obama is doing, violate the Constitution. They put in a safety trigger that said you have sixty days to get authority, if you don't have authority then you then have 30 more days to get all the troops out, a total of 90 days. So in the case of Libya, of course, the 90 days have passed and the War Powers Resolution had required that all those troops be brought out.  So we had a sort of double system.  Is that clear, Michael?
 
 
Michael Smith: Well as a practical matter, the political will in this country is lacking to do anything.  Technically what he did is a crime and he can be impeached for it and tried and gotten out of office but I don't think that's going to happen.
 
 
Michael Ratner: It's a high crime or misdemeanor.  It's true violation of the Constitution, it's a violation of Congressional statute, you could impeach him. But good luck.  We've never -- we've never successfully impeached anybody.  I mean, we had, you know, Andrew Johnson after the Civil War was at least tried and acquitted eventually but I think that was the case.  Nixon, rather than be impeached, resigned. Clinton made it through.  Bush made it through. So what do you say, Michael?  It looks like it's not a really good lever.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

6 men, 0 women

Today on Talk of the Nation (NPR), the guests were Lenny Sanchez, Rey Koslowski, Luis Alberto Urrea, Crawford Kilian, Bill Clegg and Guy Davis.

There was an e-mail about Whitney (NBC TV show).  Remember the two-parter where Whitney and Alex tossed around the idea of getting married?  That was the last of the season.

I didn't know that until a week or two after.

It aired 22 episodes.  It pulled in an audience on Thursdays -- better than all the other shows except Parks and Recreation.  Then it was moved to Wednesdays were it was supposed to die.  Instead, it became the Wednesday night show that gave NBC it's biggest audience of the night.

It got solid ratings that are great when you look at NBC's other ratings.  And yet the liars who pretend to be critics are piling on the show.  They should be making the point that the show proved itself on two different nights.  It got better ratings than "30 Rock," "Community," "The Office," "Up All Night," etc.  But find a water cooler critic who'll tell that truth.  You won't.  They're liars.


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


Thursday, April 19, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq is slammed with violence, former US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill mocked the assassination of JFK (while being paid by US taxpayers), Tareq al-Hashemi talks to the BBC about future steps in Iraq, Nouri continues his war with ExxonMobil, and more.
 
 
As dust storms swept many areas today, AGI notes "a wave of attacks" slammed Iraq. 
Al Arabiya reports, "More than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 36 and wounding more than 100, police and hospital sources said, raising fears of sectarian strife in a country keen to show it can now maintain security." Adnkronos International quotes Baghdad security chief Diya al-Wakil saying of the attacks, "It's an attempt to cause our efforts to return security to the country to collapse.  It's a way to make the Iraqi people have a bad opinion about our work."

Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) explains "The blasts were a series of co-ordinated attacks in Baghdad and northern cities but mostly within Shia neighbourhoods." Prensa Latina notes, "An Interior Ministry's spokesman said the first explosion occurred at rush hour this morning, when a car bomb exploded in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad, killing three and injuring 11."  The Belfast Telegraph adds, "Extremists launched 12 attacks in the Iraqi capital and in the cities of Kirkuk, Samarra, Baqouba, Dibis and Taji. Mortars were fired into the northern cities of Beiji and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, but no injuries were reported there." UPI counts 35 dead and over seventy-three injured while the Voice of Russia counts 36 dead and over one hundred dead. ITV also goes with 36 killed.  Salam Faraj (AFP) counts it out this way, "Twenty-two civilians, eight police, three members of an anti-Qaeda militia and two soldiers were killed in dozens of attacks, including 14 separate car bombings."  Alsumaria puts the number injured at over 146.  As the day ended, AFP noted the death toll -- per security officials -- had risen to 38 with over one-hundred and sixty people wounded.
 
 
The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, condemned in the strongest terms the series of bomb attacks that took place today across Iraq and that have reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.
SRSG Kobler expressed concern at the continuation of violence in the country and the targeting of security officials and personnel as well as the indiscriminate attacks on civilians. "These horrendous crimes being committed against the Iraqi people need to stop for Iraq to achieve the prosperous and secure future its people duly deserve," SRSG Kobler said.
SRSG Kobler reiterated the need for all Iraqis to work together to end the hideous crimes being committed against the Iraqi people to hamper its success as a democratic, stable and prosperous nation.
SRSG Kobler extends his condolences to the families of those who were killed and his wishes for the speedy recovery of those who were injured, and called on the Iraqi people to remain steadfast in the face of the attempts to derail Iraq's quest for a better future.
 
 
This would be a good place to note the lousy performance of the US State Dept, but we'll pick that up after the day's violence.
 
The Los Angeles Times explains, "The attacks drew sharp criticism of the country's security apparatus, with Maysoon Damalooji, spokeswoman for the Iraqiya political bloc, saying they reflected planning weakness. Parliament Speaker Usama Nujaifi demanded that leaders of the security forces bear responsibility."  Peter Cave (Radio Australia News)quotes Maysoon al-Damaluji stating, "The continuation of bloody explosions, although it has been already announced that tight security measures have been taken, reflects the weak security plans and the necessity to reconsider them.  The commander of the armed forces [Nouri al-Maliki] is responsible for providing security and complete safety for citizens."  Alsumaria reports that the Kirkuk Provincial Council is calling for all security plans to be reviewed stating that the plans clearly are not preventing attacks or providing security.  John Glaser (Antiwar.com) offers, "Many criticize Maliki with being preoccupied with his own authority instead of ensuring security in the country."  Al Bawaba also stresses that perception, "These attacks occur amid a highly tense political climate. Several political parties have accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is in office since 2006, of seeking to impose a new dictatorship in Iraq."
 
Last month, Iraq Body Count reported at least 295 people died from violence in Iraq. And that March total came about only after Baghdad was under lockdown for a full week in the days leading up to the Arab League Summit. Already this week, Xinhua has reported 13 dead in Monday's violence alone (nine injured).


BBC News (link is text and video) breaks down today's violence as follows:

In Baghdad, a series of at least five blasts struck in various Shia neighbourhoods
Police say two car bombs went off in Kirkuk, 180 miles (290km) north of Baghdad
A suicide bomber killed a police officer in Baquba, an army officer said
Two car bombs targeted security forces in Samarra
A parked car exploded killing passers-by in Dibis
A roadside device exploded in Taji

Rami Ruhayem declares, "The targets have been varied. Some of them are civilian targets such as shops, Iranian pilgrims in Baghdad and also army and police forces." Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) observes, "Five members of the Sahwa, or Awakening Council, a Sunni militia formed by the American forces before they left the country to combat Al-Qaeda in their own areas, were killed in a bomb attack on a checkpoint in Samarra."  Deutsche Welle adds, "The blasts unfolded closely, over an hour and a quarter." Xinhua notes there were car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombs and shootings. Press TV states, "Police officials in the provincial capital city of Mosul in Nineveh said three people sustained injuries in a bomb attack carried out in a restaurant."

ITN quotes a wounded police officer in Kirkuk stating, "I was trying to stop traffic to let a police patrol pass. When it passed, a car bomb exploded and I fell on the ground and police took me to the hospital."
 
In addition to the above, Alsumaria notes a Baiji refinery came under a mortar attack causing minor damage to the refinery and fence but leaving one worker injured.
 
 
While the UN spoke clearly, the US State Dept continued its role as eternal disappointment. Spokesperson Mark C. Toner handled the breifing today and wouldn't have even raised the issue of Iraq if, in the last five, the issue of Iraq and a meeting with Iran May 23rd to discuss nuclear issues, hadn't been raised. Once the issue was raised, the spokesperson suddenly remembered Iraq.
 
 
Mark C. Toner: Oh, absolutely. We are -- first of all, I want to strongly condemn today's attacks. Targeting of innocent civilians is unacceptable; it's cowardly. And we obviously offer our condolences to the victims. But we are -- they just hosted a very successful Arab League Summit and we have every confidence that they can host this meeting.
 
 
The State Dept spends more on Iraq than any other country. They claim they need 6 billion dollars yearly and aren't prepared to say when that 'need' might end but admit to Congress that it will be "years." Yet as violence sweeps Iraq today, they can't even think to weigh in on the subject? They have to be asked to remember? And that's in the last three minutes of a lengthy press conference?
 
 
Someone needs to explain it to the State Dept. First, if you ask the American people if the State Dept needs $6 billion annually just for Iraq, the answer back is going to be NO. Not by a plurality but by a strong majority. Second, if you're spending taxpayer money, taxpayers have a right to expect updates. Under Barack Obama (US President) and Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), the State Department has become as secretive as the Department of Justice under Bully Boy Bush -- and that's nothing to be proud of. The secrecy is evident in the continued attacks on Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren. At his blog today, Van Buren's notes the violence in this post and the US Embassy in Baghdad's silence as well as including a photo that was also up in a post yesterday while everyone was focused on the US official who received a blow job on a Baghdad roof. The photo is of former US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. It's Halloween and some woman has dressed as then-Jackie Kennedy which is in poor taste since she and Chris Hill are a 'couple' (at least for Halloween). Hill's dressed as? A Secret Service bodyguard of JFK's.
That's not funny. I hate Bill Maher, but if he did it, I wouldn't care. I wouldn't care about any private citizen. But Hill was the US Ambassador to Baghdad and he thought it was hilarious to mock the day JFK was assassinated? What kind of leadership did this asshole provide?
 
 
All the manic depressive kook did was rip apart the diplomtic ground work Ryan Crocker had established. Hill was afraid of Nouri al-Maliki. Gen Ray Odierno had to repeatedly calm the fretful Chris Hill down. So not only was he not up to the job (as we said in real time after he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), he was a total creep. What he did was disgusting and that he did it an Embassy Halloween function? Chris Hill needs to be loudly condemned. I knew he was an ass and I knew he was an idiot but I was passed his personnel file before he was confirmed. Based on that record alone, he shouldn't have been confirmed.
 
 
But to now find out that the ass thought it was appropriate to mock one of the worst days in American history? To dress up as a Secret Service agent who wasn't able to protect Kennedy and some State Dept Woman (referred to as SDW from this point on) who thought she could dress up as Jackie Kennedy from the same day?  Cause what's funnier than seeing your husband shot dead before your eyes?  What's funnier than have bullets flying all around you? 
 
Did Jacqueline Kenney Onassis really deserve that 'joke'?  She conducted herself on the day and the immediate days after in a manner that still sets a standard for First Ladies.  And some employee of the State Dept thinks they can go to a department party mocking her?  Mocking her on what was one of the scariest and saddest days of her life?
 
 
(FYI, SDW is an idiot for many reasons including her pink ensemble isn't what Jackie was wearing that day -- Jackie had on a pink skirt, a black top, a pink jacket and a pink hat, the idiot doesn't even the outfit right.)
 
And Chris Hill didn't just give it a thumbs up which would have been bad enough, he actively participated in the sick 'joke' by dressing as a Secret Service agent.  (In fairness to the Secret Service which is under fire right now, it should be noted that the 'joke' was in poor taste to their efforts that November day as well.)
 
That is disgusting. That is offensive and grasp, please grasp, that Hill was supposed to be a diplomat. He's an idiot and he owes the American people an apology. That little stunt wasn't funny and it wasn't cute. Apparently, if he'd remained in government service, he'd be dressed as a 9-11 victim this year and his date as the Twin Towers. This was beyond tasteless. Chris Hill needs to answer for this.  And I think Hillary does as well.  What did the White House think when they learned Chris Hill, at a party in Baghdad, thought it would be funny to lampoon the assassination of JFK? 
 
That is beyond tacky, it's beyond offensive, there's no excuse for it. Chris Hill is trash, 100% trash.
 
 
Tacky?  Offensive?  Nouri al-Maliki.
 
As he's pushed his power-grab, he's targeted nearly every classification in Iraq.  In December, he was targeting Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (demanding he be stripped of his post) and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (demanding he be arrested for 'terrorism.'  Until recently, al-Hashemi was in the KRG which provided him with asylum.  He is currently on a diplomatic mission and has visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey. 
 
From Turkey, he spoke with the BBC (link is text and audio) today and explained, "The difference is now between me and Maliki.   It's the difference between somebody who is interested in democratic model in the Middle East and somebody else who's still very much interested in divert the political process into some sort of autocractic regime.  This is the basic difference, in fact."  He also stated that he intends to return to the KRG and that, whent he political crisis is over, he intends to return to Baghdad.
 
 
Al Sabaah notes the National Alliance's call for a return to the Erbil Agreement. The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I, eight months of gridlock following the March 2010 elections. The US-brokered agreement managed that feat by getting all sides to make concessions. The White House wanted Nouri al-Maliki to have a second term as prime minister so that was the biggest concessions after Nouri's State of Law came in second place in the elections. But Nouri agreed to minor concessions to hold onto the post. This was November 2010. By the end of December, after he was named prime minister for a second term, he trashed the agreement. This is Political Stalemate II and the current crisis. National Alliance MP Hassan Sinead notes they remain committed to the Erbil Agreement, they have not rejected it and the agreement is an example of solidarity for Iraq so it is the responsibility of the political blocs, the Parliament, the executive branch and the judicial branch to implement the agreement. Kitabat notes Moqtada al-Sadr's call for his followers to direct their questions about the political impasse towards Nouri. As noted yesterday, these events may indicate some motion in the impasse. Dar Addustour notes that the National Alliance has postponed a scheduled meeting; however, one component of the National Alliance, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has announced that they aren't opposed to someone from the Sadrist bloc being nominated for prime minister (that refers to Moqtada). An MP from State of Law and one from Sadr's bloc are both quoted insisting that there's no move to hold a vote to withdraw confidence in the current government.  With BBC today, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi declared of his meeting in Istanbul with KRG President Massoud Barzan:
 
 
 
I'm scheduled to meet Mr. Barzani this afternoon.  We had an agreement on various steps and this step is going to be escalated depending on the reaction of Maliki.  If Maliki responded positively we will be very much happy to sit down and negotiate in a courageous way.  If he declined to attend then definitely we have to go into other options.  And the other option could be a vote for confidence. This has already been agreed principally to.  This  could be a political opportunity to sort out our political differences.
 
 
Elsewhere,  Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) concludes of the current crisis,  "What happens next is largely al-Maliki's choice.  He could respond to the pressure for change by sharing power with others, or he could go his own way.  His record in government and rhetoric suggest that he will lean towards the second course."  Rebwar Karim Wali (Rudaw) offers this reflection on the political crisis:
 
Iraq is in deep crisis and it is nothing new. It is not that Iraq has started moving toward dictatorship and totalitarianism just now. No! And in fact the Americans and Kurds have contributed to the creation of the dictator. The constitution of the "New Iraq" does not stipulate a just power sharing among the country's various components. That is the main reason as to why the situation has ended up where it is now.
The Kurds thought they were able to devolve the powers through the Erbil agreement of 2010, but that agreement only gave legitimacy to the current system. Iraq's constitution was violated the day Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won the elections and was not allowed to form the government. Instead, it was Maliki's bloc that formed the government. Both then and now, the Kurds were part of creating a new dictator in Iraq.

Daniel Fineren (Reuters) reports that, at this point, ExxonMobil is not on Iraq's "list of 47 pre-qualified bidders for the next round of Iraq energy exploration rights." For any wondering, Total is among the 47. In the press release, the Ministry of Oil notes:

The Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate (PCLD) at the Ministry of Oil announced Thursday (20/4/2012) that Iraq's Fourth Petroleum Licensing Round will take place as scheduled on May 30-31, 2012. The Final Tender Protocol and the final model Exploration, Development and Production Service Contract (EDPSC) were sent Thursday to all prequalified companies. The final list of prequalified companies includes a total of 47 entities, split between operators and non-operators.

"We are happy to announce that the next bid round is on schedule. The Final Tender Protocol and the definitive model Contract have been issued to all prequalified companies" said Abdul Mahdy Al-Ameedi, director general of the PCLD.

Iraq is offering 12 large exploration blocks of an average size of 6,500 square kilometers for bidding. Winning companies, or consortia of companies, will carry out exploration, appraisal, development and production activities within the 12 Contract Areas.

The aim of the fourth round is primarily to expand Iraq's natural gas production capacity to satisfy the power generation sector and create gas-based industries, as well as increase the country's oil reserves.

"We are looking forward to welcoming all participating companies in Baghdad. The fourth licensing round will be conducted in a transparent and public manner and according to the same procedures as the first three rounds," Al-Ameedi said.

Since launching the first licensing round in 2008, Iraq has awarded 14 service contracts for the development of discovered oil and gas fields in three licensing rounds in addition to the Ahdeb contract. It also signed a major joint venture with a consortium of Royal Dutch Shell and Mitsubishi to capture and monetize associated natural gas produced in southern Iraq.

The press release continues with a list of the 47 companies.

AP speaks with Sabah al-Saidi ("Deputy head of the Oil Ministry's Licensing and Petroleum Contracts Department") who states, "Exxon has been removed from the list of qualified companies because it refused to abandon the deals with the Kurdish region as requested by the Ministry of Oil." Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:

Reuters reports, "Exxon Mobil has told Baghdad it will not break ground on its oil blocs in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north until the centeral government approves the contracts, Iraq's top energy official said on Wednesday." The official is Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani. That alone makes the claim questionable -- remember, April 3rd, he was in the news for insisting the Kurds were secretly selling oil to Iran. He's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest.

And apparently for good reason, he's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest. So we're pleased with ExxonMobil one day for allegedly promising it won't "break ground" with regards to that contract and the next day we're punishing it?

Iraq better figure out where they stand on ExxonMobil real quick because this isn't about ExxonMobil, this is about how Iraq looks on the world stage. Contracts were signed months ago. Are they valid or not? If they're not valid, then they don't exist. If they don't exist, then why is ExxonMobil being punished?

The punishment phase would indicate that the contracts are valid (the KRG certainly considers them valid). It's petty and indicates the Baghdad-based government has no eral power so they just lash out.

Iraq needs to diversify its economy and it needs to do so quickly. It also keeps insisting it needs international investment. If that's true, they need to stop alienating businesses and looking so ridiculous. A contract's legal or it's not. Clearly for all the bluster, Baghdad can't cancel the contract ExxonMobil signed with the KRG. So they think they'll pick a fight. ExxonMobil's not going to be hurt by any of this. They're a multi-national corporation that managed to survive the Exxon Valdez disaster.  Whether Nouri will survive is a political question.  But everything he's currently doing on the world stage -- from the power grab to the nonsense on the ExxonMobil contracts, is bad for Iraq and creates the wrong image for the country.
 
In the US, Senator Patty Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Contact:  Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
Senator Murray's Statement on VA Hiring Announcement

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, made the following statement after the VA announced that it would be moving to hire 1,600 mental health care professionals.  The announcement comes just days before the findings of a major VA Inspector General report that Senator Murray requested on long wait times for VA mental health care are expected to be announced.  VA's action is welcome news to Senator Murray who has held multiple hearings over the past year on overcoming barriers to VA mental health care.  Murray will hold a third hearing on this subject in order to hear the Inspector General's findings on Wednesday, April 25th.
 
"I am pleased that the VA has taken this desperately needed step toward providing timely access to mental health care.  Too often we have seen staff vacancies, scheduling delays, and red tape leave those veterans who have been brave enough to seek help in the first place left with nowhere to turn. With suicide rates that continue to be high and an influx of new veterans into the system these barriers to mental health care are completely unacceptable.  I look forward to fighting for the resources needed to meet this staffing request as it is clearly a cost of the decade of war that has taken such a toll on our veterans and their families."
 
### 
 
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

 
 
 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

10 men, 1 woman

Tuesday on Talk of the Nation (NPR), the guests were Ronald Kessler, Jeffrey Robinson, Sam Anderson, John Villasenor, Catherine Crump and Ted Koppel.  5 men, 1 woman.  Yesterday?  Matt Bai, Andy Stern, Andres Oppenhemier, Roger McGuinn and Vernor Vinge.  5 men, no women.

Meanwhile, the idiot and sexist Danny Schechter.

A few weeks ago (three?), he almost got a Truest.  He wrote about the campaigns and was fair.  He held Barack accountable, he held the Republican field accountable.  It reminded many of us why we used to read him and why we couldn't get enough of him.

The link goes to his latest garbage.  Nothing but attacks on the GOP.  If you're going to talk budget, you better hold Barack accountable.

Especially when Kent Conrad's again pimping the Catfood Commission.

But Danny can't be fair, can't be equal, can't do a damn thing.

And, as a Black woman, I don't need that last section of his column when he's lying about how alarming the lack of minorities in the newsroom is.

The reality is that Media Channel was an all male, largely all White institution. 

Again, play that game with someone else, Danny Schechter.  As a Black woman, you can't fool me.  I was aware of the Whiteness of your site, the Whiteness of your blog, the lack of women in it as well.

The fact remains that C.I. is the best source on Iraq.  And the best source on Congress if it has to do with war or veterans.  She's doing actual reporting but Danny's an ass who got his little titty baby feelings hurt by Marcia and Ruth and others and so he didn't just ignore her, he delinked from her.  What a piece of crap.

She was the closest thing online a friend he had.  She defended his films, she praises his films, she promoted his work.  And Whitey got his feelings hurt when others mocked him (for good reason) and took it out on C.I. 

You do know Media Channel's pretty much over, right?  It's called karma.

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


Wednesday, April 18, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, US officials visit the region, a US official may have engaged in sex in a public place in Iraq, that US official may have been someone Barack Obama's currently nominating for a major appointment, the political crisis continues, suicides and 'suicides' plague Iraq, and more.
 
 
Three US officials are visiting troops stationed in/near war zones this week.  Steve Klamkin (WPRO) reports on an overseas trip Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and South Dakota Govenor Dennis Daugaard. 
 
Steve Klamkin:  Governor Chafee met with Rhode Island troops on a trip to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Governor Lincoln Chafee:  They're doing well.  The Rhode Islanders are doing well.  And, for the families, hang in there, they'll be home soon.
 
Steve Klamkin:  With the governors of Michigan and South Dakota, Chafee visited a forward operating base in Iraq   There's been a series of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan even before the group arrived.
 
Governor Lincoln Chafee:  That's really the frustration they voiced with us.  Just who is setting the IEDs?  Where are the Tablian?  How do they mix in the local population which are right outside the walls, they're right their surrounding where all these Rhode Islanders are?
 
Steve Klamkin:  Chafee, who opposed the war in Iraq, thinks the Afghans will be able to control their own destiny when US troops pull out next year.  Steve Klamkin, WPRO News.
 
Major Matthew Davis (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System) reports on their visit in Kuwait yesterday where they met with "National Guard and Reserve service members"  "from Michigan and other states who supported U.S. operations during the drawdown of forces from Iraq, and ongoing logistic operations in connection with Operating Enduring Freedom in Kuwait.
 
On the topic of US officials in Iraq, Huffington Post, Daily Mail and others are noting Peter Van Buren -- author of We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and State Dept Foreign Service Officer -- has posted about alleged sexual misconduct in Iraq.  At his website, Van Buren asks:
 
 

What if a video existed that showed a prominent State Department VIP on the roof of the Republican Palace in Baghdad receiving, um, pleasure of an oral nature from another State Department officer not his wife, or even his journalist mistress of the time? What if that video has been passed around among Marine Security Guards at the Embassy to the point where it is considered "viral" with many copies made? What if the Deputy Chief of Mission, hand in hand with the Diplomatic Security chief (RSO) at the time, decided that the whole thing needed to be swept under the rug and made to go away, at least until some blogger got a hold of it.
Would that count as poor judgement? What if it was published during his oft-delayed Congressional hearings? Funny that State aggressively punishes some extramarital fooling around while ignoring other, er, well-documented cases.
Or would the State Department once again excuse the act itself and instead punish the person who made the act public, claiming THAT was the example of poor judgement, the crime of not hiding State's dirty laundry at a sensitive time?
 
Of the rumor Van Buren's floating, Michael Hastings (BuzzFeed) observes, "His description, however, contains clues: The location in the Republican Palace, and the delayed confirmation hearings in particular. That could only refer to a small handful of officials, and among those who fit that description is the high-profile nominee to be the next ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk."   Author and journalist Michael Hastings has reported from Afghanistan and from Iraq and if he's seeing clues to Brett McGurk being the  star of the rumor, he's got the background to suss out the rumor.
 
McGurk is US President Barack Obama's controversial nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq.  No, after Chris Hill, it didn't seem likely we'd be again be referring to a controversial or questionable nominee for this post; however, here we are.  McGurk has won some praise and backing since the nomination was announced.  For example, Peter Feaver (Foreign Policy) feels his friend McGurk is qualified.  Jake Cusak (Forbes) also endorsed McGurk who he hailed as "an old acquaintance."
 
However, outside of roll dogs, Brett McGurk hasn't had a lot of people singing his praises.  As we've noted before, he's got no background in administrative supervision but Barack wants to put him over the State Dept's largest project -- most employees, biggest budget.  He's held no supervisory post, he's held no financial post either.  On the latter, he'd be responsible for the yearly $6 billion budget the State Dept gets for Iraq  And that's before you get into the tensions and violence that continue in Iraq. 
 
McGurk has headed NO mission in a foreign country before.  But he's supposed to start -- and get on-the-job training? -- with Iraq?   He doesn't speak Arabic.  What traits does he have that makes him worthy of this important post?
Americans need to be asking that because over $6 billion US tax dollars will be wasted each year on Iraq for the foreseeable future unless something changes.  Wasted?  The State Dept sent someone a notch above intern to testify at a hearing they wanted to avoid.  The young woman noted that the primary purpose of the mission -- besides a lot of airty talk -- was to train the Iraqi police.  Dropping back to the October 4, 2006 snapshot:
 
CNN reports that it's time for retraining. As though deciding to let 'death squads' pass your security check point is akin to not knowing how to use the office copier.  AFP reports they're on a US military base being retrained.  BBC reports: "A programme has been under way for more than a month for comprehensive assessment and re-training of all national police unites -- a process called by the Americans 'transofrmational training.'"  James Hider (Times of London) reports that since 2004, "US forces have been re-training the Iraqi police, but the programme has had little impact" and that a "survivor of Monday's mass kidnapping . . . described how half a dozen vehicles, with official security forces markings on them, pulled up and men in military fatigues rounded up all the Sunnis in the shops."
 
 
 
And dropping back to the February 8, 2012 snapshot:
 
 
We covered the November 30th House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the MiddleEast and South Asia in the December 1st snapshot and noted that Ranking Member Gary Ackerman had several questions. He declared, "Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the [police training] program?  Interviews with senior Iaqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter didain for the program.  When the Iraqis sugest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States. I think that might be a clue."  The State Dept's Brooke Darby faced that Subcommittee. Ranking Member Gary Ackerman noted that the US had already spent 8 years training the Iraq police force and wanted Darby to answer as to whether it would take another 8 years before that training was complete?  Her reply was, "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it."  She could and did talk up Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior Adnan al-Asadi as a great friend to the US government.  But Ackerman and Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot had already noted Adnan al-Asadi, but not by name.  That's the Iraqi official, for example, Ackerman was referring to who made the suggestion "that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States."  He made that remark to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
Brooke Darby noted that he didn't deny that comment or retract it; however, she had spoken with him and he felt US trainers and training from the US was needed.  The big question was never asked in the hearing: If the US government wants to know about this $500 million it is about to spend covering the 2012 training of the Ministry of the Interior's police, why are they talking to the Deputy Minister?
 
 
The US State Dept is not ready to put a time limit on it, by their own words.  How long does the 'training' continue?  How many years and how many billions?  If it's really not clear to you, let's drop back to the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing of December 1st for this exchange.
 
 
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
 
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
 
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
 
[long pause]
 
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye."  Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
 
 
The State Dept already can't answer basic questions regarding Iraq.  And the White House wants to put the questionable McGurk in charge?  Liz Sly (Washington Post) noted objection to the nomination in Iraq:
 
 
Sunni concerns have crystallized in recent weeks around Obama's nomination of Brett McGurk, 38, a lawyer who has frequently advised the U.S. Embassy but is not a diplomat to be the new ambassador to Iraq.  As the chief adviser to Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and former ambassador Christopher R. Hill, McGurk is closely associated with the United States' controversial 2010 decision to support Maliki's candidacy as the better hope for future stability over that of Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the most seats in parliament.
 
Should the Van Buren rumor be true and should it be about Brett McGurk, would that manage to sink the nomination?
 
Iraq's already struggling, it's really not the place where the US should send someone on a glorified travel-study. 
 
 
In Iraq, though there's hope for recent (small) success with strawberries, the reality is that even the date palm industry in Iraq hasn't proved profitable yet ("yet" meaning post-invasion, Iraq's date industry is historically signficant and profitable).  So despite years and years of calls by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to diversify the economy, Iraq remains dependent on their sole money maker: Oil.  Reuters reports, "Exxon Mobil has told Baghdad it will not break ground on its oil blocs in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north until the centeral government approves the contracts, Iraq's top energy official said on Wednesday."  The official is Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani.  That alone makes the claim questionable -- remember, April 3rd, he was in the news for insisting the Kurds were secretly selling oil to Iran.  He's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest.
 
But the reality is that it doesn't matter if he's telling the truth this time or not.  Yet again, the world watches, the markets watch as Iraq's rulers can't get their act together.  It does not put confidence in either the government or in the ability to do business with Iraq.  Contracts were signed by ExxonMobil back in October with the KRG.  Either those contracts will be honored or they won't.
 
But you're an energy company -- oil and gas -- and you can spend a year developing a relationship with another country rich in oil or you can spend that time on Iraq -- and know that a signed contract may mean nothing.  Are you really going to make Iraq your focus after you know their history with ExxonMobil? 
 
What Nouri and the idiots he's appointed don't grasp is that their petty fights and bickering make them look unreliable and unprofessional.  And that goes beyond the oil industry.  You're on an Australian committee exploring opening a Quay Hotel in the Middle East.  In the discussions, someone tosses out Iraq.  You point out that besides the continued daily violence, there's also all the problems ExxonMobil's faced in getting a signed contract honored. You'll be much more likely to recommend that Quay consider Kuwait or Jordan where a signed contract appears to actually mean something other than months and months of officials bickering in the press.
 
On a very limited scale, strawberries are doing well in Iraq (as a result of a lot of help -- money and technology -- from USAID).   2012 is an important year for that industry.  At the end of it, figures will indicate whether or not this is a stand-alone industry that can successfully supports itself or whether the limited success resulted from USAID.  Right now, the only money making story is oil and with no real leader to lead, the bickering and the non-stop 'updates' on the ExxonMobil deal ensure that Iraq looks like it's not ready for the world stage.  In Nouri were any kind of a leader, he would have ended this nonsense a long time ago -- even if that meant going along with the KRG contracts that he didn't want to go through.    Instead, it looks like a circus and this as James Herron (Dow Jones) announces, "Iraq has revised its medium-term oil field redevelopment plan, meaning that production will peak slightly lower than the previous 12 million barrel a day target, but, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, Wednesday."  And Dow Jones reports, "Iraq wants to follow the current expansion of its oil production capacity with an expansion of its domestic refining industry, but won't be able to do so without the cooperation of international companies, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani Wednesday."
 
 
In bad news for Nouri, Al Mada reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama Najafi states that the National Alliance has confirmed that they support the full implementation of the Erbil Agreement. April 5th, KRG President Massoud Barzani noted the Erbil Agreement while speaking at an event sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

KRG President Massoud Barzani: We have been waiting for the last six years for promises that were not delivered, for agreements that were not honored. We have waited and everytime they give us an excuse. Once they say that there are elections in Baghdad, another time, elections in the region. Once there is election in the United States. Then there is the Arab Summit, etc., etc. We have found out that we have passed six years waiting for these promises to be delivered. We cannot anymore wait for unfulfilled promises and undelivered promises. There has to be a specific and determined timeline for this to be delivered. We got tired of this and we are fed up with that. Therefore, what we will do is that we will work on the preferred option to work with the other Iraqi groups to find a solution. If not, then we go back to our people and to put all of these realities inf ront of our people for the people to be free to make their own decision. As far as the issue of the oil is concerned, in 2007, when we were working and we reached an agreement on a draft oil hydrocarbons law, we both agreed that if that law did not pass in the Parliament until May that same year that both sides -- the KRG and the federal government -- are free to continuing signing contracts with international oil companies. Therefore, whatever we have done in the region, we have not violated the Constitution. We have acted legally and Constitutionally within the framework of the Constitution.


Political Stalemate I is the eight month period which followed the March 2010 elections. Nouri refused to step aside despite the fact that his State of Law had come in second in the elections to Iraqiya. He wanted to remain prime minister. And the US government and the Iranian government were backing him -- backing him over the Iraqi people and the will they expressed at the ballot box. In November 2010, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all major political blocs. Nouri got to be prime minister for a second term and, in exchange, he made certain concessions. Among them, he would agree to an independent national security commission to be headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) and he would finally abide by the Constitution (Article 140) and allow the census and referendum on Kirkuk. Nouri got his second term and promptly refused to follow the Erbil Agreement throwing Iraq into Political Stalemate II which has now lasted 16 months (December 2010 to the present). Since the summer, the Kurds have been calling on Nouri to return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya has joined the call as has Moqtada al-Sadr. Moqtada is part of the National Alliance as is State of Law. Amir al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is also part of the National Alliance (ISCI, State of Law and Moqtada's bloc are the three largest components of the National Alliance).

Al Sabaah reports that the National Alliance is meeting today and the meeting has been labeled as "important." Among the items to be discussed are the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG. Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) reports on the tensions including:

Speaking to Rudaw, Shwan Muhammad, a Kurdish member of Iraqi Parliament, said, "In Iraq, no component has a major role. Nouri Maliki alone has monopolized all the powers in the ranks of the army and internal security forces."
Muhammad believes that although a Kurd, Babakr Zebari, Iraq's military chief of staff, must still answer to the prime minister.
"All the powers are concentrated in the hands of the commander in chief (Maliki)," says Muhammad.
Muhammad admits that a Kurd is in charge of the air force, but Maliki has created a special unit called "military aviation" that is run by people very close to him. This unit is said to have full control of 500 helicopters.
"The air force whose commander is a Kurd does not even have an aircraft," said Muhammad, who is also a member of the defense and security committee in Iraq's parliament.
Barzani and some of Iraq's Sunni leaders believe PM Maliki has brought most of Iraq's major institutions, such as the Ministry of Defense, national intelligence and the central bank, under his direct control, which they argue is unconstitutional.

As part of his continued power grab, last Thursday Nouri had the Independent High Electoral Commission's chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. Al Mada notes that as a result of these arrests, the United Nation's Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler states that it is unlikely the Parliament will now vote on the new commissioners for the Independent High Electoral Commission. As explained yesterday, State of Law is throwing up roadblocks to prevent the vote in Parliament.

Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr called his followers to unify ranks if they desire to form their own government."  In addition to targeting the Independent High Electoral Commission, Nouri's also insisted that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for 'terrorism.' 
 
al-Hashemi is currently in Turkey.  The Turkish Weekly notes:
 
Replying to questions of AA correspondent, Hashemi claimed that the lawsuit filed against him was a political one and he would not stand trial in Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Hashemi said he believed that a fair trial would not be held in the capital.
Witnesses' statements against him have been obtained by means of torture, he said and adding that one of his bodyguards was tortured and killed.
Hashemi said that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad, because the courts have been controlled by Maliki, he said.
He said he has offered to stand trial in Kirkuk, but the government refused it.
"The case filed against me was a political one since the beginning. Thus its solution had to be political. President, prime minister and parliament speaker should come together and find a political solution to it," he said.
 
 
And for any who are new to this argument, it's similar to what the President of Iraq told Al Jazeera at the start of the week.    Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera -- link is video and text) interviewed.  Excerpt.


 
JA: One of the problems has been that one of your deputies, Tariq al-Hashemi, who was given refuge here in the Kurdish region and allowed to leave in spite of an arrest warrant. Will you allow him to come back to Kurdistan?'
 
 
Talabani: I would like to explain to you - Mr Hashemi is the first vice-president - I appointed him first. He came to a meeting with another vice-president, Dr Kuzai. When he came here, the court asked him to go to court. He didn't prefer to go to court - he said: "I am afraid in Baghdad to go to court." We asked them to change [the venue] and they refused. I don't know if he will come back here, or stay outside. This issue - my opinion was [to] solve it through dialogue with the leaders of Iraq. Because if he goes to court, he will be sentenced - we don't want him to be sentenced. We also need a kind of consensus about his problem. Maybe some of his bodyguards committed some crimes, but Tariq Hashemi is still vice-president. He was not sentenced, and any man until he is sentenced is considered to be innocent. He's not convicted.
 
 
Trend News Agency reports KRG President Massoud Barzani will visit Turkey Turkey and "meet with Turkish Preisdent Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu" and "Sources say that during his visit to Turkey Barzani will also meet with al-Hashemi, for whom the Shiite-led central government issued an arrest warrant in late 2011."  Press TV maintains of Tareq al-Hashemi, "He has recently met with Erdogan to discuss the developments in Iraq and asked for Ankara's political support. Hashemi has also asked for Ankara's protection since he has received death threats and is said to be guarded by more than a dozen security forces.  The Turkish government has settled Hashemi, his family, and those accompanying him in two houses in Basak, Istanbul, while Jordan has not responded to the Iraqi official's asylum appeal."
 
Iraq and its neighbors.  The Arab League Summit met in Baghdad March 29th.  Less than half of the heads of state bothered to show.  A number of Arab countries chose to send a message by not attending.  The one thing Nouri was able to flaunt was his new closeness with Kuwait.  But it's a kind-of-push, kind-of-pull relationship.  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers points out:
 
The first Kuwaiti flight to Iraq in more than twenty years landed in Najaf Airport today.
But why in the southern, holy city of Najaf and not in Baghdad? Officials said that trips to Baghdad will be the next step, withought mentioning details.
After the significant role Kuwait played in the occupation of Iraq in 2003, one would have thought that its relations with the new Iraqi leaders would have been "chummy" - At least that's what many Iraqis thought. But the truth of the matter is that relations between Iraq and Kuwait are still "strained".
 
 
Yesterday, a man apparently hanged himself in Basra. Al Rafidayn reports the man was 38-years-old, had a wife and four children. He is thought to be the seventh man in the area who has taken their own life due to poverty in the last six months. Although Basra is well known for its fishing industry, lack of government support and conflict with Iran and Kuwait fishing industries have left Basra's industry reeling. Basra is in southern Iraq.

Another province in southern Iraq is Dhi Qar Province which is also experiencing suicides. Al Sabaah reports there's a suicide or 'suicide' epidemic taking place. Those allegedly taking their own lives? Young girls under the age of 18. There are accusations that the police are in partnership with families to cover up the fact that these girls are not suicides but have been killed -- possibly so-called 'honor' killings. There are also allegations that the girls are taking their own lives but doing so because they are being denied their basic freedoms and pushed into forced marriages by their families. Local citizen Ahmed Saidi maintains that most are not suicides and "90 percent are murders." The province saw 13 suicides in 2011 of young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 while, already this month, there have been 2 young females who have died and are said to have taken their own lives. Feminist Shada Qaisi states that the society lacks the communication skills to deal openly with these deaths and she also states that the police are more than willing to see a killing as suicide and not open an investigation into the death of a young girl. The police department refused to comment to the paper.
 
 
In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
Chairman Murray Introduces Legislation to Better Protect Veterans, Servicemembers from Unemployment and Foreclosure
Legislation would strengthen U.S. Department of Justice's ability to enforce current laws
 
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, with high unemployment and foreclosure rates continuing to affect our nation's veterans and servicemembers, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012.  Currently, many of the protections put in place to help shield our nation's heroes -- specifically the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) -- have been violated in a disturbing number of cases within the past several years.  Co-sponsoring Chairman Murray's legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act, which includes a significant number of proposals provided to the Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), would strengthen DoJ's ability to enforce these laws on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.
"Our men and women in uniform serve with tremendous dignity on the battlefield," said Chairman Murray.  "Our nation owes it to them to guarantee protection under the law wh when they return home.  The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Act will help force the hand of those who have failed to follow the law when it comes to providing our nation's heroes with the basic safeguards they deserve."
'"Our nation's growing reliance on the National Guard and Reserves for operational duties here and overseas means that our warrior-citizens must have airtight reemployment rights and financial protections when they are called to the colors, "said VADM Norb Ryan, President, Military Officers Assocication of America (MOAA).  "The Military Officers Association of America strongly supports the 'Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012' and urges quick passage of the bill to strengthen enforcement of the rights of those who defend the rest of America."
"Millions of service members depend on USERRA and SCRA protections when called to serve their country," said Commander Fang Won, American Legion.  "USERRA and SCRA were created to prohibit discrimination and eliminate disadvantages faced by deployed service members.  This legislation will strengthen the enforcement on USERRA and SCRA.  This bill confirms a tremendous need for transparency and effective consequences for non-compliance of USERRA and SCRA regulations and ensure that veterans are not disadvantaged or unable to return to their previous jobs due to their honorable service to our Nation."
"IAVA strongly supports Senator Murray's efforts to bolster the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA)," said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  "Servicemembers who currentlys eek relief under these acts often face significant roadblocks.  Even if a violation exists, it can be difficult and expensive for vets to challenge employers armed with greater legal and financial resources.  This bill will empower the Attorney General to investigate and compel employers to respond to USERRA complaints.  More importantly, it will allow the Attoreny General to better represent service members who have a case.  Both steps are absolutely critical to open doors for new veterans and ensure they come home to the job security they deserve after serving our country."
 
USERRA secures servicemembers' employment rights during periods of military service and prohibits employer discrimination based upon military service or obligation.
 
To ensure that those protections are fully enforced this bill:
 
* Enables the Attorney General to investigate and file suit against a patter or practice of USERRA violatiosn by a state or private employer.
 
* Allows the United States to serve as named plaintiff in USERRA suits and to issue civil investigative demands for relevant documentary material; and
 
* Provides the Special Counsel with authority to subpoena relevant testimony and documents from Federal employees and agencies to carry out investigations.
 
Over the past year, it has come to light that several banks improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the SCRA.  Failure to comply with SCRA protections is unacceptable.
 
This bill strengthens the statutory protections of SCRA as well as the mechanisms used to enforce them by:
 
* Strengthening the protections that prevent judgments againt a servicemember when they cannot appear in court because of military service.
 
* Broadening the authority of the Attorney General to investigate allegations of SCRA violations; and
 
* Clarifying the right of servicemembers to bring a private law suit to assert their SCRA rights.
 
###
 
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834
 
 
 
 
 
 

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