Saturday, June 9, 2012

5 men, 3 women

Yesterday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Kim Zetter, Jill Helms, Alan Alda, Ben Ames, Roeland van der Marel, Paul Hertz,  Sean Carroll and Clara Moskowitz.

The most interesting segment was with Roeland van der Marel and about the estimated galaxy collisions in four million years.  Excerpt.

FLATOW: Is this going to be a violent collision?

MAREL: Yeah, as these things go, it probably will be. Our Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are roughly equally big. Both have lots of stars in them. Each galaxy has, you know, over, you know, 100 billion stars in them. These galaxies are going to run into each other, and this is going to totally reshape them.
So in that sense it's going to be very violent. It's not going to be violent in the sense that individual stars will run into each other because these galaxies have a lot of empty space in them, and most of the individual stars will actually pass by each other.
So our sun will survive, but our galaxy as a whole will be totally reshaped.

FLATOW: So we actually have a picture on our website, at sciencefriday.com, of what it might look like. It's a NASA drawing. Now, aren't there black holes at the centers of galaxies? I mean, don't we know one's at the Milky Way's? Is there one in Andromeda also?

MAREL: Yeah, we actually know fairly certain that both of these galaxies have a black hole in their center. That's not particularly unusual. We think many or maybe all galaxies have such a super-massive black hole in their center. The one in the center of our Milky Way is about a million times as massive as our sun. The one in the center of Andromeda is about 10 million times as massive as our sun.
When these galaxies run into each other, ultimately the black holes will slowly spiral in towards each other, and they will merge, and this will be a particularly interesting event. It'll lead to the formation of one bigger black hole, and it'll also produce what is known as gravitational radiation, gravitational waves, which astronomers have yet to detect, and physicists, but we are fairly certain exists based on Einstein's Theory of Relativity.


Do you ever wonder about that?  We'll be gone.  Maybe not you, the one reading who thinks he or she will live for 8 million years, but the rest of us, we'll be gone.  Presumably, the earth will still have people on it (although if we don't address global warming, that's in doubt).  It reminds me of Battlestar Galatica -- the original one.  From the 70s, I think.  With Lorne Green, Anne Lockhart, Richard Hatch, etc.  And the attack on their world that takes place when they're lured away.

(That was another planet attacking.  But I'm thinking of how they make it back and discover their friends, their families all gone, everything wiped out.)


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


Friday, June 8, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Brett McGurk's e-mails finally makes the mainstream news, Brett McGurk's idiotic remarks to the Senate Committee still don't (today we explores his lies to the Committee on Sahwa), Nouri al-Maliki ensures that the political crisis continues in Iraq, the US military finds an increase in the number of suicides, and more.
The big news today?  E-mails Brett McGurk sent to Gina Chon.  If it seems familiar, in the US those covering it before 5:00 pm EST yesterday were Gawker, (John Cook),  Adam Kredo (Washington Free Beacon), DiploPundit kept the issue alive early on as did Peter Van Buren with "McGurk Senate Confirmation Hearing: Do the Emails Matter?," Cryptome published them, and we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot".  We covered them here the day before his confirmation hearing.  And though the State Dept admitted to a senator on the Committee that the e-mails were genuine (that is how I found out and why we included it in Tuesday's snapshot) no one wanted to ask questions about it in the hearing.  The e-mails are from 2008 when McGurk, two years into his first marriage, began pursuing an affair with Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal reporter).  McGurk discusses blue balls and masturbation and stresses that then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker should not know about the affair.  As Peter Van Buren has explained, the State Dept does discipline employees for extra-marital affairs.  Van Buren would leave his wife for Chon.  The two have since married.
Gina Chon's not the story here.  She may be at other sites and that's their business.  CJR should certainly be exploring the issue of sleeping with your source.  Here our focus is on McGurk except to point out that any woman who has an affair with a married man who then leaves his wife should be very wary of him being back in the same situation when he first cheated with her.  In other words, history tends to repeat.
Once you said you were in love with me
And maybe you still are
But the passion you once showed me
Now is lost among the stars
And you fancy some new fancy girl
Who'll come and change your life around
But she just turned the corner in her car
-- "Take Me As I Am," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her Come Upstairs
What changed?  Why the sudden interest from the press in covering the e-mails?  Because reporters on the State Dept beat pressed State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland about the e-mails. 
QUESTION: On another subject, this nomination of Brett McGurk, is it in trouble? And can you confirm that the State Department is investigating allegations of these emails between him and Ms. Chon of The Wall Street Journal?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, on the subject of the emails, they're out there for everybody to see. I'm not going to get into emails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife. With regard to Mr. McGurk's nomination, I think you know that he spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration. He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination.
QUESTION: So obviously you're sticking with him. But can you confirm that -- because there are reports -- that the State Department actually has looked into these alleged emails, or the allegations that these might have compromised security or sensitive information?
MS. NULAND: I don't have anything to say on the emails.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Because, I mean, there are rules for Foreign Service officers to not get into situations where you're blackmailed. There's sort of a sense that you have to act morally. There are these regulations in your guidebooks. And some people have lost security clearances over having extramarital affairs. So I wonder why it is that this doesn't seem to be -- factor at all into your decision in keeping this -- keeping his nomination out there.
MS. NULAND: Again, we consider him uniquely qualified. All of the necessary things were done before his nomination, and we urge the Senate to confirm him.  Jill.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that those emails actually came from the State Department system, in -- within the State Department system?
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to speak about the emails. They're out there for you to look at. They're obviously very much available for anybody to read.
QUESTION: Aren't you investigating how they were leaked? They're from your own system.
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to get into our internal issues here.
QUESTION: Well, why not? You talk about WikiLeaks all the time. Those were essentially emails.
MS. NULAND: Goes to your usual point, Matt, that we speak about --
QUESTION: What, the lack of consistency?
MS. NULAND: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, okay, great. When -- you said you did -- all the necessary things were done before his nomination. What are those necessary things? Was that like a security clearance and vetting and --
MS. NULAND: All that stuff.
QUESTION: Well, I mean -- no, I -- what are they? I don't know. What has to be done, not just in his case but in any nominee's case?
MS. NULAND: His nomination was managed in the exact -- with the exact same processes that we use for everyone.
QUESTION: Well, okay. What does that mean? I mean, does that mean that there's an FBI check or --
MS. NULAND: I'm going to refer you to the White House for how they do this.
QUESTION: All right. And then --
QUESTION: Just one more on that.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: If you do -- if you did do that, are you sharing this with members of Congress who have severe problems with his nomination?
MS. NULAND: We always work with Congress on our nominees, and we're continuing to do that in this case.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that there has been at least one meeting with -- on the specific issues, not on the specific issues that were about the emails, with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: I'm not going to comment on the specifics of our conversation with Congress, but in all these nomination procedures, we work with the Hill on any --
QUESTION: Right.
MS. NULAND: -- issues that they have as our --
QUESTION: But are you --
MS. NULAND: -- nominees are being reviewed.
QUESTION: But are you aware that this -- that people from the State Department have gone to the Hill and/or have spoken to members of the committee who have raised concerns about these specific issues. And by these specific issues, I don't mean the more specific substantive issues that senator -- people like Senator McCain have raised. I'm talking specifically about the emails. Do you know if they have been -- if this issue has been discussed with people on the Hill?
MS. NULAND: Beyond saying that we continue to work with appropriate members and staff on his nomination in support of it, as we do with all nominees, I'm not going to get into details.
"Matt" above is Matthew Lee with the Associated Press.  He reports on it here and avoids mentioning Gina Chon by name.  While I have stated that she is not the issue, I am not going to render her invisible.  I have no desire to include the name of the wife cheated on but while I'm not going to examine Gina Chon's motives or explore ethical issues on her end or quote her in the e-mails, I'm not going to vanish her.  When you enter into a sexual relationship with a high ranking government employee, especially a married one, you're risking exposure.  As a member of the press, that's something Gina Chon understood before she ever went to Iraq.  I mention Lee vanishing her because that's another reason the story's not being covered.
During the Iran-Contra hearings -- a detail Robert Parry and others always ignore -- a journalist was outed (TV journalist) for knowing about what took place and covering it up.  It was in the news cycle for about 2 to 3 hours.  Then the press did what it does best: Protect its own.  I've mentioned the journalists' name before and will again.  But we'll not go there today because I'll hear, "Do you always have to beat up on ___?" from friends at ____'s network.
But a big reason that the e-mails weren't covered was due to the fact that Gina Chon is a member of the press.  As a result, I will be rethinking my policy here for next week.  We're already in a gray area because I'm not big on sex scandals.  (And my family has had their own aired out in the press.) But we didn't cover this as "Cheating husband!"  I wasn't even aware Brett McGurk was married when I learned what the Senate Committee was hearing.  We covered this as: You want to be a surpervisor but you used government time and government equipment to go in search of a bootie call, you then concealed the affair from your supervisor because it was a serious conflict and now you're going to supervise?
I'm glad that McGurk doesn't have a sexaul harassment lawsuit against him, but reading those e-mails -- which are only four years old -- I'm not real sure he's someone who understands work boundaries.
And with no supervisory experience, I do worry that the tone he will set will not be encouraging for women or for their safety.  "Oh come on, boss," you can hear a male staffer telling McGurk, "I just sent her an e-mail about my blue balls.  You know what that's like, e-mailing a woman about your blue balls.  I wrote her about masturbating too because I saw your e-mails and realized that's how someone 'so f**king smooth' does it."  Peter Van Buren notes today, "Readers of my book, We Meant Well, will remember an incident where an innocent romantic email from a male State Department contractor to a female soldier kicked off a major incident that ended up with the contractor being swiftly fired for misuse of the official email system for personal use. If McGurk is allowed to end up as ambassador, that would be only the latest in a long series of double standards of conduct at the State Department. "
This is not a minor issue and how sad, telling and pathetic that neither female senator on the Committee bothered to show for the hearing.
It's not a minor issue.  The State Dept was very lucky with the Iraq War.  How so?  All the Pentagon scandals more than kept the public occupied and the sexual harassment taking place in the State Dept was largely ignored by the public -- and damn well was by Colin Powell and Condi Rice.  This isn't a minor issue.  You don't win a lawsuit in arbitration and find yourself awarded $3 million on a minor issue.
And into this already complicated environment, the White House wants to put a man who can't keep it in his pants?  Married less than 2 years and he can't keep it in his pants?  In a war zone and he can't keep it in his pants?
It's not a minor issue.  Can an Iraqi woman meet with McGurk?  And if she does -- remember social taboos are on the rise in Iraq since the US declared war and put thugs in charge -- will this result in it being assumed she too 'got down' with the 'playa'?   You can not put a man with that reputation in Iraq without asking, "How will this effect Iraqi women?"  The most obvious way is they won't be able to interact with him for fear of how any interaction would be interpreted.  So no Iraqi woman can meet with him one-on-one to share concerns.  That doesn't bother the State Dept?
Well why the hell not.  Iraqi women were sold out under Bully Boy Bush and for all of his pretense otherwise, Barack Obama clearly doesn't give a damn about Iraqi women. 
I would think how this effects over half of the Iraqi population would be of grave concern; however, we've yet to see a White House concerned about Iraqi women since the start of the illegal war.
Huffington Post does a lousy job of covering the story.  We're focusing on issues here.  Can he be successful in management when he has no experience and a record of lying to his superiors and breaking rules and regulations?  We're not being Arianna Huffington in the 90s sniffing through Bill Clinton's briefs.  Maybe that's the only way Arianna and her website know to cover a story?  Sink into the filth?  Or maybe it's just more of her: 'Write a bad blog post so we can say we covered it and we aren't really in the tank for Barack.'  Chris McGreal (Guardian) covers the story seriously and raises real issues.  I don't believe that McGurk passed on classified information but -- as Mike noted last night -- that is a serious concern around Congress currently for other reasons.  My issue is that he's not qualified.  That was the opinion before the e-mails.  He doesn't have the exeprience needed, he doesn't speak Arabic, Iraqiya objects to him, Iraqi women will be left out of the discussions but now someone who just four years ago was breaking the State Dept guidelines is going to be put in charge of the largest US embassy project in the world? 
Chris McGreal explains, "A Republican senator, James Inhofe, cancelled a meeting with McGurk in a sign that unease about the emails could raise problems. Any senator is able to put a hold on the nomination."  Helene Cooper (New York Times) adds, "Mr. Inhofe has not yet put a hold on Mr. McGurk's nomination, an aide said" and quotes the aide, Jared Young, stating, "I don't think we'd say we've reached the decision point yet."  Jared Young tells  Aamer Madhani (USA Today), "Until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk."  In addition to the hiding of an affair, Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) notes that McGurk "may have been videotaped while engaged in a sex act on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace with a different woman."  It's oral sex with him on the receiving end.  And since March when Peter Van Buren published a blind item, everyone has whispered that the blind item about the blow job on top of the Republican Palace was one of Brett McGurk's many sexual adventures in the Green Zone.  Paul Richter has a good report for the Los Angeles Times. Need a video report?  As usual, you can count on Jake Tapper who is able to confirm -- unlike all the other outlets today -- that the e-mails are genuine.  Click here for his video report.   Near the end, Jake Tapper explains, "And, George, even McGurk's allies say now that with these e-mails out there, he will have to answer more questions about this on Capitol Hill."
(If you covered this before 5:00 pm EST on Thursday and  I didn't mention you, it was not intentional.  E-mail common_ills@yahoo.com and in Monday's snapshot we'll note you covered it before the American mainstream media covered it.  And that's true always for left sites and center sites, but that applies to any right-winger as well.  Drop an e-mail with a link so we can include you so you get your credit.  And if you want some gossip, as I work in this link,  Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,  Let me note that some at the State Dept are stating that Peter is behind the leak.  No, he wasn't.  But there are many other stories that will be leaked out if the State Dept and the White House continue to target Peter.  Their little witch hunt and demonization of Peter has offended several career employees.)
[Personal note.  Since leaks are such a big deal, let me note I wasn't told by anyone about the e-mails.  I was present in the outer office when it was being discussed in hushed tones.  Anyone who knows me knows don't whisper around me.  If people talk at a normal volume, I'm busy, I'm returning calls on my cell phones and I'm going through my planner.  But you start whispering and I hear it.  You cannot get far enough away if you're whispering.  When you start whispering, you're right in my ear.]
In the snapshots, we've been covering the interesting parts of Brett McGurk's Wednesday testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee such as when he elected to school everyone on al Qaeda in Iraq -- and directly contradicted Congressional testimony provided by Leon Panetta (Secretary of Defense) and contradicted the public remarks of James Clapper (Director of National Intelligence).  The Committee just ignored all the conflicts in his claims.  Today we focus on Sahwa.  Here's what the nominee had to say.
Brett McGurk: The Sons of Iraq is also something that we need to watch very closely.  So far, about 70,000 have been incorporated into government positions.  About 30,000 Sons of Iraq are still manning checkpoints.  They are getting paid out of the current budget -- I've been told out of the current budget.  They get paid about $300 a month which is slightly below the per capita GDP.
Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus, then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining Sahwa.
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".
Now this was the week that Petreaus and Crocker went from House Committee to Senate Committee to House Committee . . .  Offering their testimony.
And in one of the last smart things she may have done, Senator Barbara Boxer raised the issue of why is the US taxpayer footing the bill for Sahwa?  She asked why Nouri wasn't paying the cost?  This forced the administration to insist that they would explore that.  Had Boxer not raised the issue, it never would have been raised.  By the end of the week, it was stated that the US was going to ask that Nouri pick up the tab.  This was at the height of Sahwa.  Their number did not increase.  In fact their numbers decreased because they've been repeatedly targeted with violence.  In the year Petreaus testified, for example, 528 Sahwa died from attacks and another 828 were injured in attacks.  Attacks haven't been their only problems.  In January of this year, Dan Morse (Washington Post) reported:
The United States transferred full management of the force to the Iraqi government in 2009, with the understanding that 20 percent of the fighters would be given jobs in Iraq's police or military units and that the government would try to find the others civil service or private-sector jobs.
But the process has moved slowly. Sons of Iraq members say they are denied jobs because they are Sunni, even as the Iraqi government welcomes onetime Shiite insurgents into jobs. The government says that it is committed to hiring Sons of Iraq members but that education levels prevent some of them from getting security jobs.
After its inception in 2005 they received salaries of around 250 dollars monthly for manning checkpoints and patrolling their own areas. But those low revenues have vanished today with the withdrawal of the Americans.
"The original plan was to gradually integrate our men into the Iraqi security forces but now we're all starting to realise that those were just fake promises," Abdullatif Majid Latif, commander of the militia in Samarra, explains at the militia headquarters in the city.
"I have 2,000 men who have families to take care of in a desperate situation. All of them still remain loyal to Sheikh Khalid Fleieh but I wonder how long will this last," adds the military official.
Abdullatif's men belong to the approximately 100,000 today lining up in the Sahwa militia. The first stage of an initially ambitious plan was to incorporate a quarter of them into the security forces. Today, things are not working as expected. Everyone wonders what will happen to thousands of broken armed men.
Samarra Sahwa militiaman Abdulljabar Abdulrahim is categorical: "If I'm not paid in April I'll quit and look for something else, either in the construction or the cleaning sectors," he says, armed with an AK-47 rifle and dressed in sweatpants and slippers.
How do the above reports fit with the claims Brett McGurk made?  They don't.  As usual he spun pretty for his friend Nouri.  He didn't, however, tell the truth to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  On the Clapper and Panetta issue, you could just write him off as dumb.  But the problems of Sahwa finding employment and getting paid have been documented by the major newspapers since 2009.  As of March of this year, nothing changed.  But Brett McGurk wants to insist otherwise.
70,000 have not been given government jobs.  That's a bold face lie.  The best year on hiring was 2009. And about a tenth of that was hired in 2009.  In 2010 and 2011 you see the drop-off in hiring.  2009 was the best year.  McGurk's figures don't add up.
Maybe if the Senators hadn't been so quick to rush through the hearing -- those that bothered to show up -- we'd know for sure whether Brett McGurk was an idiot or a liar.  But you don't give the testimony he did -- as we've now documented in three snapshots -- unless you're uninformed or lying.
When his lack of experience in administration and supervision is brought up, the White House insists to Senators that McGurk makes up for that with his vast knowledge of Iraq.  He didn't display vast knowledge, he displayed highly limited knowledge.
He is not qualified and, if he was smart, he'd withdraw his nomination. 
If the administration were smart, they'd learn to give a damn about Iraqi women.  This is Barack third nomination for US Ambassador to Iraq.  All three have been men.  If we're supposedly modeling behavior for Iraq, we're not doing Iraqi women a bit of good.  Stop kidding that these all male appointments (and all male under Bush as well) help Iraqi women. 
The continued violence in Iraq helps no one but leaders who benefit from a terrorized population.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweeted today:
Attacks in Baghdad, Diyala and Kirkuk killed four people today: http://bit.ly/NmCWqz @AFP #Iraq
AFP reports a Baghdad attack on Col Mohammed Yunis' car left him dead and his wife and their two children injured, Assad Mohammed was shot dead ("official in the office of deputy parliament speaker Qusay al-Sohail), 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Kirkuk and a Baladruz roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left two people injured.  Alsumaria reports that the owner of a power generator center (electrical plant?) in Diwaniyah was approached last night by angry citizens with one throwing an unknown sharp object which killed him.  The citizens were upset by the continued lack of electricity.
In Iraq, the political crisis continues.  If you're having trouble keeping track of who's who, Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) offers a look at the various political blocs.

Al Rafidayn reports that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq gave a speech yesterday at the Cultural Forum insisting that while he has defended the government he has also criticized it.   In his speech yesterday, Ammar declared that ISCI was not part of the problem but that they wanted to be part of the solution and to support everyone. That would be a change because all Ammar's supported so far this year was Nouri.

Nouri is facing a no-confidence vote in Iraq.  His refusal to honor a signed contract between him and the political blocs has ticked off many.  The Al Rafidayn article notes that Daw's Abdul Halim Zuhairi (Dawa is a political party -- Nouri's political party; State of Law is Nouri's political slate) is insisting that Moqtada al-Sadr is harming the nation and splitting the Shi'ite ranks.

Right there is your problem.

Moqtada al-Sadr is splitting Shi'ite ranks?

That's a sectarian way of looking at -- apparently the only way Dawa knows how.

You'd think the statements would be condemned.  They won't be.  But Alsumaria reports Nouri did make a speech today insisting that tolerance was needed.  He's not punished anyone with Ministry of Interior for targeting and demonizing Iraqi youth suspected of being Emo (the Ministry of Interoir went into the schools trashing those children -- and the Interior has no minister because Nouri won't nominate anyone -- he can only control it when there is no minister).

Regardless of whether or not there's a no-confidence vote, what has happened is that Iraqi leaders have demonstrated they can go beyond sects and work together -- Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi and others.  They've presented a united front arguing that the Erbil Agreement needs to be followed as agreed to.
The Pentagon doesn't like to use the term "crisis," especially when discussing the suicide rate of service members.  But the situation reached crisis level long ago.  The latest news is even worse than before. Mark Thompson (Time magazine) explains:

New Pentagon data show U.S. troops are killing themselves at the rate of nearly one a day so far in 2012, 18% above 2011′s corresponding toll. "The continual rise in the suicide rate has frustrated all in the military," says Elspeth "Cam" Ritchie, a retired Army colonel and chief psychiatric adviser to the Army surgeon general. "The rise in the suicide rate continues despite numerous recommendations from the Army and DoD task forces."
Stephanie Pappas (Live Science) explains, "Even as the civilian suicide rate remains steady at about 11 deaths per 100,000 people, military suicide rates have been climbing over most of the past decade. In 2001, for example, the suicide rate per 100,000 people in the Army was nine; that number rose all the way to 19.3 by 2008. Over the same time span in the Marine Corps, the suicide rate per 100,000 rose from 16.7 to 19.9, according to a 2011 report by the research institute the Rand Corp."  Tonight on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is text, video and audio), Kwame Holman explained:
Suicides among U.S. forces are on the rise this year. According to the Pentagon, military suicides now are averaging nearly one per day; 154 active-duty service members took their lives in the first 155 days of the year. That's an 18 percent increase over the same period last year.
Suicide deaths also now are outpacing the number of U.S. combat troops killed in Afghanistan. Some research has pointed to multiple tours of duty and post-traumatic stress as contributing to the rise in suicides.


Yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, David Martin filed a report (link is text and video):


David Martin: Spc Carl McCoy survived two tours in Iraq only to take his own life and shatter the life of his wife Maggie.


Maggie McCoy:  He shot himself.  In the bathroom.


David Martin: Here in this house?


Maggie McCoy: Yes.


David Martin: That was 2008, when the Army did not have enough mental health counselors.  McCoy had scheduled an appointment with a counselor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  But that morning --


Maggie McCoy: They called and cancelled. 


David Martin: And they cancelled because?


Maggie McCoy: They didn't have anybody to see see him.  That was the day before he killed himself. 

Martin goes on to float the Pentagon's 'possible' reason for the increase:  The economy.
Mollie (GetReligion.org) weighs in with, "Suicides don't just mean that chaplains must arrange and perform funeral services but also that they must deal with units that are devastated. He said that one of the things they work on is doing respectful funerals without glorifying the suicide victim since studies (and his personal experience) indicate that it can lead to copycat suicides or other problems. He mentioned another recent situation of overseeing a funeral for an atheist who had left explicit instructions about what could and could not be said at his service. Since what he wanted said and not said wasn't exactly something that many — or any, in this case — chaplains could get on board with, the chaplains at the base came up with a creative workaround that honored the dead soldier's wishes without compromising anyone else's religious views."  AP has a video report which includes Major General Dana Pittard writing on a blog: "Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us."  No, that's not helpful or needed and it's actually damaging and keeps people from seeking the help that they neeed.

 Robert Burns (AP) notes,  "The numbers reflect a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehaviour."  David Martin was oblivious to that apparently.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

4 men, 2 women

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Michael Kazin, Jay Moon, Sara Ziff, Andy Beyer, David Treuer and Mary Annette Pember,.

Now for something scary.

Sorry if you're reading me before calling it a night -- this may prompt nightmares.

Don Lee (Los Angeles Times) reports:

By some accounts, the U.S. economy could see an unprecedented fiscal hit of as much as $720 billion if the slated changes take effect.

They would include an end to the temporary tax cuts enacted during the George W. BushObama administration payroll tax reductions. Spending cuts in defense and on federal programs were negotiated as part of last summer's pact to raise the debt ceiling.

If all the changes take place, the shock will probably cause the economy to contract and possibly lead to a recession, Bernanke said.
administration and to temporary

No, the economy has not recovered.  Barack is a joke. That news is scary.  Damn scary. 


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


 Thursday, June 7, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Nouri's attempts to become the Little Saddam catch attention, the moves towards a no-confidence vote continues, we explore further Brett McGurk Iraq testimony to the Senate -- testimony that contradicts Leon Panetta and James Clapper --  and more.
 
 
"At the very top of my mind is the safety of all Americans serving in Iraq.  I track this extremely closely.  Over the course of this year, we have had on average zero to three attacks a week on the overall US presence. Almost entirely 170 mm rockets from the Naqshbandia group which is the rememnants of the Ba'athists Party. Fortunately, we've had no casualties from those attacks," declared Brett McGurk testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  Did the press rush to report that the US was still under attack in Iraq?  Nope.  Senator Robest Casey was the Acting Committee Chair at the hearing (filling in for Senator John Kerry).  We covered some of this yesterday.  We'll cover some today and try to wrap it up tomorrow.
 
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, about his work for the State Dept in Iraq.  For that book, the State Dept has attempted to destroy his career.  At his website, he shares his impressions of the hearing and concludes:
 
What once had been labeled America's most important foreign policy issue, what still is the world's largest embassy, what was a crusade that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands Iraqis, a failed policy that is still sending waves through the volatile Middle East, is now so unimportant that it is lopped together with the Maldives as another bit of perfunctory business for the Senate to rap out before summer recess.
Nobody cares anymore.
 
It really did seem that way in the hearing.
 
McGurk, responding to questions by Senator Tom Udall, began discussing groups in Iraq he saw as a problem.  He started with al Qaeda in Iraq and this was interesting.  al Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia) was created by the Iraq War.  Prior to 2003, there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq.  It is largely homegrown.
 
 
Like too many people, McGurk used "al Qaeda in Iraq" as a catch all for any attack taking place in Iraq.  This did not speak to an awareness.  That wasn't his biggest problem when discussing al Qaeda in Iraq.
 
 
McGurk declared that they were striking at a similar rate in Iraq this year as they had last year.  That is remains a significant threat.
 
 
That's really interesting.  Dropping back to the June 9, 2011 snapshot, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
 
 
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Senator, I have to tell you, there are a thousand al Qaeda that are still in Iraq. We saw the attack that was made just the other day.  It too continues to be a fragile situation.  And I believe that uh we-we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we've made there.
 
 
It was treated as big news in real time.  Missy Ryan (Reuters) live Tweeted the hearing and to her this was significant (more so than anything else) resulting in many Tweets including the following:
 
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
 
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
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missy_ryan Missy Ryan
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missy_ryan Missy Ryan
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So by the summer of 2011, per the current Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress, there were less than 1,000 al Qaeda in Iraq . . . in Iraq.   That alone is troublesome considering McGurk's testimony.
 
 
Now what about the fact that most observers have declared that the bulk of the (small) al Qaeda in Iraq had gone on to Syria due to the turmoil there?  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported in February of this year:
 
The departure of al Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say:
[. . .]
Iraqi officials declined to provide precise figures for the drop-off or to estimate how many al Qaida-affiliated fighters have left the country for Syria. But the impact of the departure, they said, has been especially apparent in Ninewah province, which borders Syria and has long been the scene of some of al Qaida in Iraq's most violent bombings and assassinations.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/20/2651671/iraq-officials-violence-drops.html#storylink=cpy
  
 
So Panetta says it's less than 1,000 in July 2011 and by February 2012 a significant number of that less than 1,000 are in Syria -- a claim that the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also asserted last February.
 
 
No one noticed.  No one questioned.  It just sailed right past.  In complete conflict with Panetta and Clapper but no one objected.
 
 
McGurk declared that Naqshbania predominately focuses their attacks on the US and that there were three militant Shi'ite groups:  "Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and The Promise Day Brigades.  The  Jaish al-Mahdi which you might remember is Sadr's army, has pretty much -- is now part of the political process."  Asaib Ahl al-Haq has been welcomed into the political process by Nouri al-Maliki.  They are more popularly known as the League of the Righteous or the League of Righteous.  They are the group responsible for, among other violence, killing 5 US soldiers: "Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama."  Is McGurk aware that Nouri welcomed the League of Righteous into the process last fall?  Nothing he said in the hearing indicated he was.
 
 
He also asserted, "In terms of internal security and the Iraqis being able to secure their country, they're not doing a bad job.  Uh, they secure the capital to host the Arab League Summit, they secured the capital to host the P5+1 talks.  That would have been unheard of three to five years ago.  So they're doing very good internal security."
 
That's such a bold faced lie. Baghdad's never had a big problem with bombings or shootings if they went into crackdown mode.  Shortly after Nouri first became prime minister, fighters almost breached the Green Zone.  What followed was Nouri's first crackdown.
 
So doing the same for the summit and +1 was nothing.  It's equally true that it's a lie that Iraq did that.  Take the Arab League Summit.  When US President Barack Obama goes somewhere he goes with his own security detail.  Do you really think that doesn't happen with other countries' leaders as well?  It does happen.  And just as the Secret Service preceeds a US president to any city days ahead of time to secure the visit, the same thing happened there.  Iraq got a ton of help from Arab countries for the Summit and from the west and Iran for the P5+1. 
 
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, violence within Baghdad was very minimal.  And during the summit, there were mortar attacks on the Green Zone.
 
Is McGurk unaware of that?  Is he unaware that any foreign leader has a security detail?  He gave no indication that he was.  And the elected officials had no interest in asking.
 
They had no interest in the 2008 Baghdad e-mails (we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot") which document McGurk -- who was married -- in a sexual relationship with Wall St. Journal reporter Gina Chon -- a relationship he attempts to conceal from the then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.  Gina Chon is now the second wife so will she be accompanying him to Iraq?  I'll give her the same advice I gave Elizabeth Edwards in 2002, "Put him on a leash, a very short one."  Just as Mr. Grabby Hands was notorious for coming on to women and sleeping around, Chon should realize the man who cheated on wife number one while he was in Iraq will likely repeat the act.  I have no interest in Chon's e-mail side of the conversation.  But I will offer that warning.
 
 
 
The Committee also tended to avoid the issue that has gripped Iraq for over a year now: the political crisis.  Senator Lugar tip-toed up to it as his first round of questioning was coming to a close.
 
 
Ranking Member Richard Lugar:  Let me ask, how are you going to advise Prime Minister Maliki under the current circumstances in which where he's not getting along well with the opposition to say the least and the Kurds are drifting off by themselves?  What are the challenges for our diplomacy here?
 
Brett McGurk: Thank you, Senator.  It's a really critically, critically important point.  I have worked with Prime Minister Maliki for a number of years and all the Iraqi leaders and I've worked with him in his capacity as the prime minister.  As I said in my written statement, I would try to focus now on dealing with the Iraqis in an institutional way.  So dealing with Malliki as the prime minister now, if there was a new prime minister tomorrow, I would have the same close working relationship with him.   I've worked with four Speakers of the Parliament, for example.  You need to focus on the institution.  When you're in Iraq and dealing with all sides, there are different narratives to the political proces.  The government that was put in place in 2010, as you know, took eight months to put in place.  When it finally came together, it represents 98% of the Council of Representatives.
 
Let's stop him for a moment.  What is "it"?  He's referring to the Cabinet.  The Council of Representatives is the Parliament and he clearly doesn't see them as the government.  He sees the Cabinet as the government and is saying the Cabinet represents 98% of the Parliament.  He's referring to the various blocs in the Parliament. 
 
Brett McGurk:  They're represented in the Cabinet.  That naturally leads to a lot of inefficienies, a lot of rivalries, a lot of intrigue and that is certainly going on now.  Uhm, Maliki will say that his opposition figures who are in his  Cabinet won't share responsibility for governing.  The opposition figures say Maliki is consolidating power.   They're all right.  And we need to work with all of them to live up to their prior agreements and to work within the Constitutional system to change the process.  You mentioned the Kurds and this is critically important and I would plan to visit the Kurdistan Region as much as possible.  I'd like to be up there, if I'm confirmed, at least once a week because it's the personal interaction between the ambassador and the Iraqi leaders that's so important for keeping everything stable and for bridging areas of disagreement.   The Kurds are having some difficulties with the Baghdad government right now, the Baghdad government's having difficulties with the Kurds.  The real rivalry is [KRG President] Massoud Barzani and Prime Minister Maliki.  Uh, we have to play an important role in mediating that effort.  Uh, I would just leave it at there's a Constitutional system in place now.  This is the third Iraqi government, the second Parliament, The Iraqis are going to fight through their politics under the Constitutional rules they themselves have devised.  We cannot direct outcomes through that process.  When we try to do that, the unintended consequences are quite enormous.  But we can help bridge differences. We can mediate back and forth and be constantly, actively engaged and that's what I intend to do if I'm confirmed.
 
Well if Iraq consisted solely of the Nouri and his supporters on the one hand and the Kurds on the other hand, that answer might be a good one.  Lugar didn't notice and didn't care.  He just gaped at McGurk in slack-jawed wonder, making cow eyes at him. 
 
Ammer Madhani (USA Today via Stars and Stripes) reminds, "The Washington office of the Iraqi National Accord, the most prominent opposition block in Iraq's parliament, wrote Congress shortly after McGurk's nomination in March to oppose him and say he was too close to Shiite politicians."  Today, UPI reports:
 
Ahmad al-Mesaree, a lawmaker with the Sunni-backed Iraqiya slate, told Radio Free Iraq that McGurk's close ties with Maliki were cause for concern.
"His statements and political positions have not been neutral toward the political factions," he said.
Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi lost to Maliki in the latest round of elections.
The Iraqi Embassy in Washington told the news service, however, that Baghdad had "no objection or reservation" to McGurk's nomination.


 
Oh, yeah, Iraqiya.  The political slate that won the most votes in the 2010 elections.  The political slate that lodged an objection with DC when McGurk was first nominated -- arguing that he was a tool/toy of Nouri's and that he would not be fair to all factions in Iraq.  His testimony certainly placed a great deal of emphasis on Nouri but he did mention the Kurds by name.  The same was not true of others.  Iraqiya's concerns appear well founded.
 
Iraqiya has become the Cassandra of Iraq, in fact.
 
For eight months following the 2010 elections, Nouri caused Political Stalemate I.  He wanted a second term as prime minister; however, his State of Law had come in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.  The Constitution outlined what was supposed to happen and it most likely would have been followed if Nouri didn't have the support of both Tehran and the White House.  The US government would pretend to be an honest broker and arrange the Erbil Agreement.  This contract would give Nouri his second term and he would have to make various concessions to Iraq's other political blocs. 
 
Nouri was named prime-minister designate the next day and immediately refused to implement the creation of an independent security council (among other things).  In protest, Ayad Allawi walked out with many other members of Iraqiya.  He was told, by the US, that he wasn't giving Nouri time and that of course the Erbil Agreement -- a signed contract! -- would be honored.  So he returned to the Parliament. 
 
Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get a second term and then refused to follow it.  Iraqiya should have listened to their own instincts and grasped that the US government didn't give a s**t about anyone in Iraq except for Nouri al-Maliki.
 
It's a lesson that the Kurds learned. As December 2010 drew to a close, Nouri failed to name a full cabinet.  The security ministries, for example, were vacant.  He refused to name a Minister of Interior, a Minister of Defense or a Minister of National Security.  With heavy spin from the US State Dept, the press ran stories telling people that it would be a matter of weeks before Nouri made those nominations.  (Per the Constitution, he should have been stripped of the title prime minister-designate and it should have been awarded to someone else and they would have had 30 days to form a cabinet.)  While the US government lies were being circulated, Iraqiya declared that Nouri had no intention of naming anyone to those posts.  Nouri would keep them vacant because controlling the security ministries would help him become Little Saddam all the quicker.
 
The Erbil Agreement has still not been implemented.  Nouri is threatened with a no-confidence vote over that and knows all he has to do is implement it to stop the vote.  He refuses to implement the contract he signed.  Iraqiya was right.  The press said, in December 2010, that it would be only a matter of weeks before Nouri named ministers to head the security ministries.  Wrong.  Still vacant.  He will not send anyone to Parliament as a nominee because once Parliament votes them into the post, Nouri can't remove them without Parliament's approval.  So instead, he finds stooges and calls them "acting ministers" -- despite the fact that there is no recognition of such a post in the Constitution. 
 
Again, Iraqiya was right. 
 
 
 
During a presentation at the National Defense University in May, British scholar Toby Dodge described Maliki as "muscular" and as "a grey functionary," a man who has long known he has many enemies and now has moved to consolidate power both brutally and efficiently. The prime minister, Dodge said, is "consolidating an authoritarian regime, the ramifications of which are rather stark" and he urged the United States to "adopt a policy to combat this rising dictator." He has gone from the last man standing to a direct and profound threat to any remnants of Iraqi democracy."
Maliki began by targeting the military, the courts, and the ministries. As the U.S. military, in particular the U.S. Special Forces, transferred responsibility to their Iraqi counterparts, Maliki created several special brigades within the army as counter-terrorism brigades and moved them out of the defense ministry to report directly to him. The office of commander-in-chief was moved to the prime minister's office and staffed with friends loyal to him. He then consolidated the police and army into one office under one general in order to control all security functions. His special operations forces, which Iraqis refer to as Fedayeen al-Maliki, a term reminiscent of Saddam's infamous fedayeen Saddam, number approximately 4,200 and are under his direct control.
Dodge and others note that by retaining the title and role of defense and interior minister, moving special security units out of the defense ministry, streamlining the military hierarchy, and controlling high-ranking appointments, Maliki has circumvented the military chain of command and, in effect, coup proofed the military. He has also moved to tighten control over the intelligence and security services. As in Saddam's time, Iraq now has six separate intelligence services overseeing each other and everyone else. According to Dodge's figures, 933,000 people are employed in the Iraqi Security Forces, an estimated 8 percent of the Iraqi workforce and twelve percent of the male population. Other sources describe Maliki as targeting midlevel intelligence-officers to drive them out if they are seen as threats to him. The effect has been to undermine the coherence of the chain of command and fracture the ability to produce and utilize actionable intelligence. Shiite security forces masquerading as militias maintained secret prisons, conducted kidnappings and targeted killings with apparent impunity. Dodge estimates that given Maliki's control over special security, intelligence, police, and prisons, no one in Iraq's growing security apparat would dare challenge him. Dodge is almost certainly correct.
 
 
 
Nouri doesn't appear troubled by the crisis and one reason for that calm may be that he has some sort of promise from the US government?  Alsumaria notes that Kurdistan Alliance head Mahmoud Othman is declaring the US government does not want Nouri removed from his post and think the crisis can be dealt with by a simple slap on the wrist (censure).    Dar Addustour reports State of Law is still stating the the US will save Nouri al-Maliki, that they have Barack Obama's backing and that the White House will stop the proposed no-confidence vote (in the Iraqi Parliament) against Nouri.  Supposedly, the White House is preparing a message that will convince enough -- if not all -- members of Parliament that Nouri should stay in his position.

If the White House does do that, it's not surprising.  But possibly they could answer at what point they intend to allow democracy to take place?  It wasn't when the Iraqi people voted.  They made clear Nouri was not their first choice.  But the White House didn't give a damn about who the Iraqis wanted as their leader.  Iraqis risked a great deal to vote.  And voting wasn't just going to their precent.  Voting, in Baghdad, meant traveling to a second or a third or a fourth polling place.  And this while checkpoints and bans are in place.  It was very difficult for them to vote.  But they voted.  And the US refused to honor that vote.  The US insisted that Nouri must remain prime minister.
 
 

Patrick Markey and Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) observe:

Ask Iraq's Sunni, Kurdish and even some Shiite leaders these days what they think of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and the rhetoric is likely to be shrill: Many call him a dictator, autocrat or even a new "Saddam" who needs to be voted from office.
For the second time since American troops left last December, Maliki is wading through a crisis with the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs in his government at each others throats in a feud that risks spilling from politics into sectarian violence.

Al Mada reports that the Sadr bloc says they are still supporting the no-confidence vote and standing with Iraqiya and the Kurdistan Alliance.  They call for reforms and say -- noting Nouri's history -- that they don't rule out last minute surprises popping up. I'm having computer issues on this end, sorry for the long delay.  We'll cover Othman and no-confidence vote in the snapshot and just get this up before I have to reboot again.
 
 
Turning to violence.  Alsumaria reports a Mosul mortar attack injured one person, the KRG states that Iranian soldiers entered a village in the KRG province of Sulaymaniyah and shot dead one person while injuring three more,  in Baghdad 2 Sahwa were shot dead and an armed attack south of Baghdad killed 2 more SahwaAFP reports that a prisoner transfer went horribly wrong today in Baghdad as the prisoner (accused of being al Qaeda in Mesopotamia) allegedly grabbed a guard's gun and shot two dead two guards, wounded a third and then took his own life.  In addition, AFP reports a Mashaada roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while leaving three more injured and an Baghdad roadside bombing also claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while also leaving three more wounded.  AP adds that 1 "Interior Ministry official" was shot dead in Baghdad.

In other news of violence, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice announces to Alsumaria that Abed Hamid Hmoud was hanged today.  Hmoud was the former secretary of Saddam Hussein.    AP adds, "As Saddam's presidential secretary, Hmoud controlled access to the Iraqi president and was one of the few people he is said to have trusted completely, U.S. officials said in 2003."  No one will speak of the crimes or the trial on the record.  But though it appears he was not accused of killing anyone himself, he was put to death for "persecution" of others.
 
This wasn't justice, this was the settling of old scores.
 
 
 
In tomorrow's snapshot, I hope to work in suicides and Sahwa among other topics.  For now we'll wind down with this from Senator Patty Murray's office.  Senator Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Thursday, June 7, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
 (202) 224-2834
 
 
VETERANS: Murray Commends VA for Focus on Reproductive Injuries 
Murray: VA must continue to work to enhance fertility treatment services for severely wounded veterans 
 
(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to commend the Department's addition of coverage for reproductive and urinary tract injuries to the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection Program. The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to blast injuries that affect these systems. Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 more than 600 servicemembers from OEF/OIF/OND suffered these life-changing battle injuries. 
"It is vital our veterans and their families receive benefits and services that allow them to fulfill their life goals, such as attending college or having a child," said Senator Murray. "I look forward to working with VA to make sure veterans get the support they need." 
 
The full text of the letter follows: 
 
June 6, 2012 
Honorable Eric K. Shinseki 
Secretary of Veterans Affairs 
810 Vermont Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20420 
Dear Secretary Shinseki: 
 
I write to commend the Department's recent focus on reproductive and urinary tract injuries in the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection Program. The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to blast injuries that cause this type of trauma. This is an area that has been of increasing concern to me as these injured servicemembers attempt to move forward with their lives. 
Recent Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 more than 600 servicemembers from the current conflicts suffered reproductive and urinary tract battle injuries. As these servicemembers readjust to civilian life and eventually get ready to start their own family, they find VA's fertility services do not meet their complex needs. While VA's fertility services provide limited assistance to the veteran with reproductive and urinary tract trauma, there is no coverage for their spouse. 
I know that you share my belief that it is critical that veterans and their families receive benefits and services that allow them to fulfill as many of their goals as practicable, whether they include attending college or having a child. 
I look forward to our continued work is this area to support our Nation's veterans and their families.
 
 
Kathryn Robertson
Press Assistant
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
202-224-2834
 
 

 
 

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