Friday, July 20, 2012

5 men, 3 women


Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Philippa Oldham, Chris Cooper, Jesus Dapena, Ken Billar, Bob Bindshadler, Diana Wall, John Priscu and Sylvia Earle. 

C.I. passed on a great piece about rape 'jokes' by Kate Clinton.  I'm only including a link because it's brief so you should go to The Progressive to read it.

I also want to highlight something from the snapshot:




I'd also hoped to cover Jill Stein's campaign this week and, at the very least, run a press release from it.  Not doing it. Not interested in the pretense of Bain and how it just can't be understood!  That's b.s. and Bob Somerby's rightly called it out (Somerby most recently called out the nonsense today).  If Jill and her campaign think repeating those rumors qualifies as running for office, they're kidding themselves.  And if they think spending three paragraphs on this rumor and then tossing in one paragraph on Barack is going to make people think they'll hold both accountable, consider it again.  We already saw 2008 when Rosa Clemente -- Cynthia McKinney's running mate -- was trashing Hillary Clinton with lies long after she was out of the race but Rosa never could find the courage or strength to call out Barack.  We're not in the mood for it.  If the Green Party thinks inflating their criticism of Barack a tiny bit after three and half years of non-stop failures by Barack qualifies as 'strong,' they're crazier than they think the voters are.  Run a real campaign or get out of the damn race. 
 
Mitt Romney as president is a question mark.  Barack Obama is not.  If Dr. Jill can't call out -- on a daily basis -- the treatement of Bradley Manning, assissinating American citizens, killing due process and Barack's war on whistle blowers and the Constitution, she's not fit for office or, for that matter, for the campaign trail.  Green Party needs to beef up their game and Jill's campaign?  It's been 7 days since she gave the speech in Baltimore.  Her campaign is still unable to post video or a transcript of that speech to her website?  Someone's not looking like a real candidate.

I agree 100% with C.I.  If the Green Party thinks they're going to run a campaign about how Mitt Romney's worse than Barack and fool all of us again, they have another thing coming.

They either call out the Lethal Barack Obama and call him out loudly and clearly the way they do Mitt Romney or they're about to feel this Green Party member's outrage and I will blog on it and do my best to take down the Jill Stein campaign.

It's been a week and Jill and her running mate haven't done a damn thing.  They can't even post their speeches from last Saturday's Green Party convention -- their acceptance speeches -- at their website.  Are they trying to get votes?

Or do they just exist to bring votes for Barack?

The Green Party's done that before.  If it's doing it this time, I'm out of the party.  I'm not putting up with that crap.  They either run a real campaign or I walk from the party and I won't be the only one to do so.  And I'll shine a light on how they are content to be little kid sister to the Democratic Party as opposed to building a real party.

I'm not in the mood.  I already suffered through Cynthia McKinney's run that included the stuttering, stammering idiot Rosa Clemente.  Talk about making clear that you're not serious to run.

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

Friday, July 20, 2012 (and, yes, today is the 20th, not yesterday).  Chaos and violence continue, a document -- a secret document -- Nouri wrote in 2009 just emerged, Ramadan starts Saturday Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declares, Iraqis struggle with obtaining basic food stuffs, we continue covering the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Martin Kobler's report on Iraq, we wonder when he'll stop being so squirmy when it comes to LGBT issues, US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's running a questionable and ineffective campiagn, and much more.
 
 
This morning there were many interesting articles about Martin Kobler's presentation on Iraq to the United Nation's Security Council yesterday.  Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq.  And the few articles this morning about the presentation were nothing like what Kobler delivered yesterday.  (This afternoon, UPI produced a report that demonstrated their correspondent saw the actual presentation.)  But the reports this morning were a lot like the press conference Kobler held after -- about an hour after -- the Security Council presentation.  You have to wonder how editorial boards ever pretend to have an ethical stature to call others out from when their reporters lie?  A press briefing is not the report Kobler presented to the UN Security Council. 
 
Kobler's report was interesting for what it said.  It was even more interesting for what it didn't say but you probably needed to hear the report to know that and you probably needed to have heard the April report to be able to offer context in July. 
 
April 10th was when he made his previous presentation and we covered that in the April 10th snapshot and the April 11th snapshot.  His Thursday report we covered yesterday and we'll continue that coverage now.  When we left off yesterday, he was talking about 12 acts of violence a day and over 1,300
 
 
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Each victim is one victim too many.  The Iraqi authorities must continue to make every effort to identify the perpetrators of these acts of violence and bring them to justice.  These attacks are intended to ignite further violence.  Despite the sufferings, Iraqis from all walks of life and religious backgrounds must turn their backs on past divisions and unite for a peaceful future.  Mr. President, human rights are a cornerstone of Iraq's democratic future and are at the core of United Nations mandate  in Iraq. To this end, UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] continues to support activities of the Ministry of Human Rights in ensuring that Iraq meets its international humanitarian rights obligations.  As I informed the Council members last April, the Council of Representatives endorsed the appointment of the Commissioners of Iraq's first Independent High Commission for Human Rights.  And I am pleased to further report the commissioners have now met and started their work.  UNAMI and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]  are supporting the Commission in this process.  The findings of the 2011 United Nations report on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq published in May underlined the fragility of human rights situation in Iraq.  The report's conclusions largely coincided with the  Ministry of Human Rights own findings.  While it is recognized that the government of Iraq has made progress in implementing measures to protect and promote human rights, the impact on the overall human rights situation remains limited.  The UN is assisting the Iraqi authorities in strengthening the rule of law and boosting protections for human rights in Iraq to bring an end to abuses like arbitrary arrests and detentions.  The economic, culture and social rights of Iraqis are also a matter of real concern.  Poverty, high unemployment, economic stagnation, environmental degradation and a lack of basic services continue to effect large sections of the population.  It is vital that Iraqis -- in particular, vulnerable groups -- be provided with better access to basic services, social welfare and community development programs and opportunities for education.  Nothing less is required in order to provide for the success of future generations.  The rights of all Iraqis -- including minorities -- must be protected as stipulated in the Iraqi Contrib -- Iraqi Constitution.  Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes.  I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition.  I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007. 
 
 
That's not the end of his report.  We'll continue noting from there in order but we're breaking parts up.  It was interesting how in both the written report (July 11th) and the oral report Kobler gave yesterday, the Russian bikers were ignored.  5 men threatened with the death penalty, 5 men arrested and beaten.  An international incident and not a word on it.  But Kobler wasn't very interested in words.  There was time to whine about his budget taking a 20% cut next year but not time to note, as the written report did:
 
Journalists and media professionals in Iraq continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention and to suffer from intimidation and attacks as a result of their profession.  During the reporting period, UNESCO and UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] trained 240 media professionals in Basra, Erbil and Baghdad on security, self-protection, risk management and trauma first aid to enable them to cope with existing professional threats and risks.
 
 
The issue so bothered Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he raised it twice in the written report (the first time is quoted above).  When Kobler states he's repeating the Secretary-General's point about stopping death penalty, he's referring to the written report (it's the 72nd paragraph in the written report). 
 
Iraq being discussed before the UN.  That means what topic gets touched on that the US media usually ignores?  Chapter VII.  Iraq was placed in that status by the UN as a result of Iraq's war on Kuwait. 
 
Speical Envoy Martin Kobler:  Let me now turn to some of the regional and international developments pertaining to Iraq.  As you know, Prime Minister Maliki's visit to Kuwait in March was followed by the historic visit of the Emir of Kuwait [Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah] to Baghdad to attend the Arab League Summit.  These two visits have markedly improved bi-later relations between Kuwait and Iraq and facilitated the resumption of the meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Iraq has also taken decisive steps to finalize the Iraqi-Kuwait border maintenance project in accordance with Resolution 833.  At the request of both parties, the United Nations is preparing now for maintenance work to start by 31st of October provided that key prerequisites -- like the removal of obstacles on the borders -- are met bringing all Chapter VII obligations pertaining to Kuwait to a satisfactory close will boost prospects for bilateral trade, investment, promote regional cooperation and lead to the restoration of Iraq's rightful standing within the international community.  In this regard, I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome the adoption of on 28th of June by the Council of Representatives of a law ratifying the additional protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and encourage the government of Iraq to take the remaining steps to ensure its entry into force as soon as possible.   Mr. President, the intensity and frequency of sand and dust storms mainly generated from inside Iraq has increased in recent years.  They have significant impact on public health in Iraq and in the wider region --  especially for the most vulnerable --  and they effect transport and trade. During my visit to Kuwait in June and following an offer by the Emir of Kuwait to invest a portion of Iraq's outstanding war compensation funds back into Iraq, I proposed an environmental fund to combat sand and dust storms.  If Iraq and Kuwait agree, the fund could be used to undertake activities to reduce this health hazard which is impeding daily life in the region.  Such activities might include improving water resource management, anti desertification, re-forestification and agricultural projects.  Mr. President, needless to say that the ongoing violence in Syria is a source of deep concern given the potential for the spread of instability and violence, humanitarian fall out and political repercussions.  The UN system in Iraq is putting in place contingency plans for possible humanitarian emergency.  In this connection, I recently visited a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region for those displaced by the conflict in Syria.  So far, with 7,000 refugees, their number are manageable.  On 10th of July, the United Nations and League of Arab States Joint-Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Kofi Anan, visited Iraq and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The government of Iraq was very clear on the policy of a political transition that is Syrian-led and Syrian-owned and ensures that the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people are fully realized.
 
 
So there's a refugee camp in the KRG.  And the KRG has a moratorium on the death penalty.  Wonder how much bleaker the state of Iraq would be reported to the Security Council as being if the Special Envoy didn't keep including the semi-autonomous KRG region?
 
As he continues, he'll note some basic numbers.
 
Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Mr. President, the United Nations in Iraq also continues to support the development of effective, accountable and transparent state institutions.  My new deputy and resident humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Ms. Jacqueline Babcock, took up her duties on 13th of May.  She has already shown her determination and leadership in coordinating the UN country team to deliver as one.  I have asked her to ensure that the country team  strengthens its presence and activities across the country.  This is taking shape in Basra. There, the UN funds and programs can assist in bringing the quality of life in this oil rich province to those levels found in other oil rich countries in the region.  Mr. President, let me briefly highlight two of the priority areas with important political, security and development implications where the UN system in Iraq is working together.  Iraq is one of the most youthful countries  in the world with 50% of the population under the age of 18.  At the same time, the unemployment rate for youth is more than double the domestic average with 23%.  The UN system is supporting programs aimed at increasing youth participation in social, political and economic spheres.  Building on the International Year of Youth 2011, the UN is supporting civil-society groups to strengthen their role in ensuring democratic spaces and freedom.  The third UNDP National Development Report focuses on youth and will be published later this year.  As with youth, women are important actors in Iraq's development. Yet the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women is more than double that of Iraqi men.  In my meetings with the Iraqi governmental interloculators, as well as women's civil-society organizations, I advocate for the adoption and implementation of the proposed National Strategy on the Advancement of Women.  The UN family is working to support women take up their role also in political and economic life.  The UN is also continuing to implement Security Council Resolution 1322 and to encourage the government to fulfill its committment in this regard. 
 
 
Now we're getting to Camp Ashraf.  Camp Ashraf were approximately 3,500 residents who were Iranian dissidents.  They came to Iraq in the 80s and had protection up to the Iraq War.  When the US-launched war toppled the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the US government -- largely via US military officers -- began a dialogue with the residents which resulted in their surrendering their arms and becoming protected persons under the Geneva Agreement and international law.  Though never legally revoked, that protection would be ignored once Barack Obama was sworn in as US president.  Nouri would twice attack the camp resulting in multiple deaths and a large number of wounded.  Humanitarian organizations -- Amnesty, for example -- would decry the attacks but the US government would remain silent.  When you read over Kobler's remarks in a second, focus on what's really harming Camp Ashraf right now.
 
 
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Finally, Mr. President, I still remain very concerned by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of Camp Ashraf. 2,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have relocated to Camp Hurriyah [Liberty] in the last months.  Approximately 1,200 remain in Camp Ashraf.  The several deadlines set by the government of Iraq have been extended. I thank the government of Iraq for their flexibility in this regard and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities to continue the process to resolve the relocation peacefully. Our committment is strictly humanitarian, to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriyah as the first step of resettlement to countries outside of Iraq; however, the success of a facilitator depends at least on good will. Their can be no facilitation without constructive and practical dialogue.  We are faced with three main challenges.  First, recent weeks have witnessed difficulties in maintaining dialogue between UNAMI and the residents and between the residents and the government of Iraq reinforcing a perception that the residents lack genuine will to participate in the process faciliated by UNAMI.  Second, responsiblity also falls on the many international supporters.  It is of great importance that they contribute to positively influence the residents' position.  And third, to  date almost no memeber-state has stepped forward to offer resettlement to eligible, former Ashraf residents.  There must be a way out of Hurriyah in the foreseeable future.  Without prospect for resettlement, the ongoing process runs the risk of collapsing.  The tempoary transit location at Camp Hurriyah has the capacity to accomodate the remaining 1,200 residents and meets acceptable humanitarian standards.  Both UNAMI and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have devoted substantial energy and resources to resolving this issue.  More than 100 staff are dedicated to the project in the meantime.  I appeal to the government of Iraq to be generous -- particularly in terms of humanitarian needs like water and electricity and to avoid violence under any circumstances.  I also appeal to camp residents to abide by Iraqi laws and avoid provocation and violence.  Time is running out to find a sustainable solution.  The government's patience is wearing thin. I would therefore like to echo the Secretary-General and urge Camp Ashraf residents to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and to relocate from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriyah.  It is also imperative that third countries step forward to accept eligible residents for resettlement as soon as possible without which there can be no durable solution. 
 
The residents have stopped moving to Camp Liberty.  They want to take items such as generators.  Why? 
 
Nouri doesn't want them to take items such as generators.  Why?
 
Because both sides don't believe that the Camp Ashraf residents will soon leave Camp Liberty.  Why don't they believe it?
 
Because no one's left so far and that's because other countries aren't willing to take them in.  In Nouri al-Maliki's view, Camp Liberty is just a place to store Camp Ashraf residents for another lengthy period.  In his view, he's being conned and then in a year or two, he'll be told they'll be moved somewhere else in Iraq.  It's a view Camp Ashraf residents can share.  Because both they and Nouri have seen 1200 moved and not resettled anywhere.  They're just remaining in Camp Liberty, the same way they remained in Camp Ashraf.   If Nouri (or the government in Tehran) is to believe that the residents are being resettled, they're going to have to see some resettled.  It's not that complicated.
 
Why are so many nations so reluctant to take them?  Because the US government refuses to do their job.  Camp Ashraf residents are part of the MEK.  The MEK is considered a terrorist group by the US government -- the Clinton administration put them on that list in the late 90s in an effort to make an overture to the government of Iran.  Though ordered by a federal court to resolve the MEK status quickly, the State Dept refused and now has until October to do so or the court will impose a punishment.  (Whether Barack Obama is re-elected president or not, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already stated she will not serve a second term in her post.  An October deadline from the court is a joke because the administration will treat it as such -- either because they will quickly become a lameduck one or because they will be looking for a new Secretary of State.)   Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and those under them have repeatedly and falsely equated MEK and Camp Ashraf residents as one grouping.
 
The US government does not recognize the MEK as protected persons.  The US government does recognize Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons.  This issue should have been resolved a long time ago, the US government made promises and needs to keep them.  The easiest way is to create an excpetion for the Camp Ashraf residents.  That's 3,200 people currently.  They are all in Iraq.  Those in Iraq transferring out would not be considered "terrorists."  This is due to where they were located, due to the stationary aspect of their location and due to the fact that the US government already gave them protected persons status.  That status expires only when they are out of Iraq so it is in the US government's best interests to get them out of Iraq quickly.  The State Dept could easily create a subgrouping of those residents in Iraq to allow other countries to take them in.
 
The refusal to do so means the Barack Obama administration will likely have blood on their hands because one side will likely explode in a very short time.  This has been going on too long and neither Nouri nor the residents are seeing any progress.  If the US government can not seriously assist the Camp Ashraf residents by creating a subgrouping/classification for them and violence takes place, those deaths -- Iraqis or Ashraf residents -- will be the responsibility of the US White House.
 
There was a lot mentioned in the report.  A lot overlooked as well.  As he winds down, Kobler makes the decision that UNAMI itself -- and its budget -- is more important than any Iraqi topic that he could include in the final moments.
 
 
Special Envoy Martin Kolber:  Mr. President, in my introduction, I posed the question of whether the people of Iraq still need UNAMI?  I am convinced that UNAMI is needed more than ever to help Iraq complete its transition to a stable and prosperous democracy.  UNAMI has the legitimacy and the standing to represent the international community in Iraq.  Iraqis from all communities look to UNAMI to protect their aspirations and to ensure their needs are met.  With Security Council support, UNAMI will continue its efforts to address the many outstanding issues crucial to securing Iraq's future.  The substantial cut of 20% of UNAMI's budget in 2013  requires that we do more with less.  In this context, the mission may need to reconsider some areas of operation.  Mr. President, I should like to sincerely thank the members of the council for their continued support, the government of Iraq and the wider membership of the United Nations as well as the staff of UNAMI for their unrelenting commitment and dedication to implement our mandate.  Thank you very much.
 
 
And that was it.  Last April, in his presentation to the UN Security-Council, he refused to note the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community.  In the written report (written in March), there was a passing reference ("perception of their sexual orientation") with the promise that the UN was in the process of corroborating the reported deaths and would address it when they had.  It's months later, presumably the UN has been able to corroborate those reports in some fashion by now.  So why can't Martin Kobler talk about it?  It's not even in the written report (which was published July 11th).  There is no mention made of it.  If Martin Kobler wishes to represent Iraqis, he needs to represent all Iraqis.  He needs to find it in his comfort zone to use the terms "gay" and "lesbian."  If that's too much work for him, if it's too much of a stretch, he needs to find a new position.  The United Nations was silent as young Iraqis were targeted -- males and females -- because they were believed to be gay or to be Emo or both.  Rolling Stone and NME covered it.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  The US State Dept covered it in their own human rights report.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  That's unacceptable.
 
It's especially unacceptable considering the United Nations' supposed position on this issue.  As we noted when Kobler gave his last report to the Security Council:
 
Last month, Igor Volsky (Think Progress) noted (March 7, 2012), "Earlier today, the UN Human Rights Council held the first hearing 'to discuss discrimination and violence against LGBT people."  UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon issued a special message to the council, decrying violence against the LGBT community as a 'monumental tragedy' that is a 'stain on our collective conscience' and a 'violation of international law' [. . .]" and he quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stating, "To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say -- you are not along. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle.  Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to uphold."
Is Kobler not part of the UN?  Has he sworn to do the same.
We got a little talk about women in this presenation.  That is new.  Previous presentations to the Security Council by the Special Envoy to Iraq frequently left women out.  But apparently, something more "gross" and "disgusting" than women has been found by the office of Special Envoy: Iraq's LGBTs.
It was really disgusting to hear Kobler prattle on about violence and minorities and never once note the attacks on Iraq's LGBT community.  It was disgusting.
 
You may remember that Kobler silence on LGBT was an issue that continued past the two snapshots on the April report.  You may remember my noting UN friends swore he'd include it when the figures were verified.  The figures were verified -- I've 'verified' that with UN friends this morning.  And still Kobler said nothing.  There was time for budget and shout-outs, but no time for Martin Kobler to find his comfort level with gays and lesbians.
 
Martin Kobler better start representing all of Iraq or become the leading face of homophobia in the United Nations.  On that last possibility, he's already well on his way.
 
As the Washington Post notes, the holy day of Ramadan is arriving. Alsumaria reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has declared Saturday to be the first day of Ramadan.   Al Mada carries a Ramadan greeting congratulating all Iraqis and asking for their blessing in the coming year with God Almighty strengthening their path to justice, freedom and security.   Kitabat notes that there are calls for the government to grant leave for employees on days when the temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).  While the sun is up, those observing the Muslim holiday are supposed to fast.  Before sunrise and after sunset, those observing the holiday can eat.  However, food prices are rising in Iraq.  Alsumaria is the latest this week to report on the sharp increase in prices for basic items such as lentils.  The Ministry of Commerce is insisting that they got materials to the stores in time so any increase in prices is not their fault.  The article also notes that the high prices might make Ramadan slowly disappear as a part of Iraqi life -- as other habits have been forgotten in Iraq.  It seems unlikely that Ramadan could disappear from Iraq but then come reports about how hard it is for some to observe it.  
Al Mada notes that unemployment is also a huge issue during the holy month and only more so when the food prices increase.  They speak with Hani Rseg who is a construction worker and tells the paper that he didn't get any wages for four months because contractors rarely get paid on time and when money did come in, there was electricity, gasoline, water and other things to pay for and only now is he able to shop for Ramadan.  Police officer Ahmed Radhi al-Hleaj states that he's paying a car loan and wouldn't be able to afford Ramadan except that he's taken on a second job working as a taxi driver.

Rahim Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video) reports on Iraq's ration systems.
 
Rahim Ruhayem:  In distribution centers, few complain about waste or abundance.  Dawood is a construction worker in central Baghdad and he's come to collect his monthly share.  He told me the distribution system is gradually fading away. 
 
Dawood: It's getting less and less, year by year, month by month.  And there is no variety.  We get cooking oil.  Sometimes rice, flour.  No tea, no washing powder, no salt.  Many things have been scrapped.  And they will probably cancel the rest too.  The whole thing will be finished soon.  We better get used to it. 
 
Rahim Ruhayem:  The government insists it has no plans to end the system, it only talks of reform over the coming years. At a cost of about five billion dollars a year, the Iraqi state hands out food to its people. But some of these people need it a lot more than others.  23% of Iraqis live below the poverty line.  If the government wants to reform the system, it has a delicate balance to strike between encouraging productivity and less reliance on the state on one hand while making sure on the other not to jeopardize the food security of those most in need.  Rahim Ruhayem, BBC News, Baghdad.
 
 
Census numbers might change the ration-card numbers but, as Al Mada points out, Iraq has not had a census since 1997 and both the 2007 and 2009 censuses were postponed (by Nouri).  Today, Al Mada reports, a member of Parliament's Finance Committee told the paper that the government does not know the actual population in Iraq and depends upon a random and inaccurate figure based on indicators and that their is a wide difference between the Ministry of FInance's figure and the ration card number and between the Ministry of Plannin's figure and the ration car number. 
 
 
Earlier this week, as continued unemployment was met with soaring food prices,  Al Mada reported that there are accusations in Hilla that food merchants are intentionally introducing small amounts of food to the markets in order to artifically pump up the prices by creating scarcity.  This comes as Babylon Province sees less and less items for sale that can be purchased with ration cards.  True or false, the federal government should be addressing this item though they will most likely ignore it.  If it isn't true, the rumors will still take root because food prices are increasing, ration items are becoming scarce and hunger isn't something people can overlook the way they might endure electricity outages.  So as the hunger and anger builds, even if the rumors are false,  a need to hold someone accountable can build and, if it does, it could leave food merchants targeted.  If the rumors are true, the federal government needs to deal with it (a) to show that it can deal with something, (b) the economy cannot take higher prices (unless Nouri intends to expand the ration card system) and (c) the federal government still has the power to set controls on various aspects of retail within the country. In addition, Nasiriyah reported that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a day for the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.
 

Alsumaria notes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is calling on Iraqi Muslims to watch the crescent moon this evening to determine whether Ramadan is starting.
 
Yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki attempted to seize control of the news cycle but, as is so often the case with Nouri, lost instead.  He insisted that the White House had conveyed, in a letter, their support for his attempts to cancel the October contract the Kurdistan Regional Government signed with ExxonMobil.  No such thing happened.  But some outlets live to be sucker-punched.  Let's note one of the few who realized that journalism involves skepticism of official statements.  Here's Kristin Deasy (Global Post) on those claims:


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed late Thursday to have received a message from US President Barack Obama indicating that the US sided with Baghdad in its deepening row with Kurdistan over the management of the northern region's oil resources, reported Reuters.
The message from Baghdad -- which did not quote the alleged Obama letter directly or provide any copy of it -- welcomed the "positive" US position on the matter, which it said was "in the same manner as the Iraqi government is seeking," said Reuters.


To repeat, in the United States, there is no state control over oil companies.  In Iraq, Nouri's lies can fly somewhat because that country has a history of nationalized oil companies.  As a result, a casual news consumer would hear of Nouri's claim and think nothing of it.  But in the US, where it's far more likely that a multi-national oil company will control the government than the goverment ever control an oil company, that claims is laughable on its face.

In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG signed their contract.  Nouri's Baghdad-based government played angry, spurned lover sending one letter after another to ExxonMobil, each basically screeching, "How could you!  After all we've been through!"

As Iraq's Minister of Oil confirmed in early 2012, ExxonMobil elected to ignore those letters and not respond.  And Nouri had nothing else to offer.  So last month he began making noise that the US government -- specifically the White House (Nouri has always been hugely unpopular in the US Congress) -- should break ExxonMobil's contract.

Which again demonstrates how stupid and not ready to be prime minister Nouri actually is.  The White House has no control over ExxonMobil.  And this was conveyed to Nouri -- as the Iraqi press noted.  But with US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser Antony Blinken in Iraq, Nouri decided to spin the visit.  It would have been laughable on any day but it was especially laughable yesterday when another major multi-national oil corporation elected to bypass Baghdad and sign with the KRG.  David R. Baker (Fuel Fix) notes:


Chevron Corp. will hunt for oil in northern Iraq's Kurdish region — the company's first major effort in the volatile country since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The deal, made public Thursday, lands Chevron squarely in the midst of post-war Iraq's bitter oil politics, with rival regions and ethnic groups fighting over how to develop the country's vast petroleum reserves. Chevron faces significant risk, and the potential of great reward.
 
In Iraq where safety has never been secured, Alsumaria reports a Yezidi girl was burned alive in her Mosul home -- some are saying it is suicide, no finding has been established yet.  Alsumaria notes that 2011 saw 6 confirmed cases of murder and ten case of confirmed suicides by burning -- in addition there were 85 who were injured by burning.  Yesterday NINA reported 1 Peshmerga died in a Kirkuk sticky bombing and two more were injured.
 
No emergence of security, no end to the political stalemate.   Al Mada reports the National Alliance (again) discussed their Reform Committee paper.  They've discussed it so much that they must know it by heart.  NINA reports that Iraqiya's Hani Ashur has declared "the reforms paper prepared by the National Alliance on its way to failure, where there is no agreement upon [it] even within the National Alliance and it became a mean to buy time and not for the reforms, it will not see the light or [be] put on the table of dialogue.  The reform paper is not more than an attempt to melt the crisis and the government is not serious in dealing with it, and the crisis may [be] back to the first square."
 
In what may end up being the most explosive political news out of Iraq this week, Al Mada reports the existence of a document signed by Nouri from October 2009 in which he secretly asked then-House Speaker Ayad al-Samarri not to question Hussain al-Shahristani.  al-Shahristani is currently Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy.  Starting in the spring of 2006 (with Nouri's becoming prime minister), al-Shahristani became the Minister of Oil.  Despite enjoying a great deal of soft press -- from The National Newspaper, Iraq Oil Report and pretty much everyone else -- al-Shahristani has no major successes to point to and Nouri conveyed in the letter that asking al-Sharistani about corruption or violence would be harmful to the government's interests.  (al-Sharistani is a member of Nouri's State of Law political slate.)
 
 
Let's do an update to last Friday's snapshot:

Kim Kelly (The Atlantic) focuses more on the present [art scene] and the emergence of what is thought to be a musical first in Iraq:
 
She says her name is Anahita, the 28-years-old voice and vitriol behind Janaza, which is believed to be Iraq's very first female-fronted, black-metal band. Allow that notion --Iraq's very first female-fronted, black-metal band -- to sink in for a moment. Her first recording, Burn the Pages of Quran, boasts five distorted, primitive tracks that altogether run just shy of an unlucky 13 minutes. She, along with a handful of other acts hailing from the Middle East, are repurposing black metal's historically anti-Christian ferocity to rail against Islam. In doing so, these bands are serving up another example of how art and dissent can intersect in a region where dissent can sometimes have deadly consequences.


Saturday  Anna Breslaw (Jezebel) reports that The Atlantic article might be a hoax and that the photos accompanying it have been used in publications previously for other metal bands.  I meant to include that Monday (we noted it Saturday) but kept running out of space.
 
 
I'd also hoped to cover Jill Stein's campaign this week and, at the very least, run a press release from it.  Not doing it. Not interested in the pretense of Bain and how it just can't be understood!  That's b.s. and Bob Somerby's rightly called it out (Somerby most recently called out the nonsense today).  If Jill and her campaign think repeating those rumors qualifies as running for office, they're kidding themselves.  And if they think spending three paragraphs on this rumor and then tossing in one paragraph on Barack is going to make people think they'll hold both accountable, consider it again.  We already saw 2008 when Rosa Clemente -- Cynthia McKinney's running mate -- was trashing Hillary Clinton with lies long after she was out of the race but Rosa never could find the courage or strength to call out Barack.  We're not in the mood for it.  If the Green Party thinks inflating their criticism of Barack a tiny bit after three and half years of non-stop failures by Barack qualifies as 'strong,' they're crazier than they think the voters are.  Run a real campaign or get out of the damn race. 
 
Mitt Romney as president is a question mark.  Barack Obama is not.  If Dr. Jill can't call out -- on a daily basis -- the treatement of Bradley Manning, assissinating American citizens, killing due process and Barack's war on whistle blowers and the Constitution, she's not fit for office or, for that matter, for the campaign trail.  Green Party needs to beef up their game and Jill's campaign?  It's been 7 days since she gave the speech in Baltimore.  Her campaign is still unable to post video or a transcript of that speech to her website?  Someone's not looking like a real candidate.
 
 
 
 
 iraq
 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

15 men, 5 women

Tuesday on Talk of the Nation (NPR), the guests were Marilyn Geewax, H.D. Palmer, Scott Feldt, Sally Koslow, Jon Lee Anderson and Alex Williams.  Wednesday on the show, the guests were Ken Rudin, Dan Schnur, Andrea Seabrook, Karen Weigert, Brian Stone, Vicki Bennett and David Brancaccio.  Today the guests were Frank Morris, Mark Svoboda, Keith Woods, Steve Lubet, David Peeples, Thomas Fitzpatrick and David Lightman.

How does Talk of the Nation not notice that today's show's 7 guests didn't include one damn woman?

The worst guest without question?  Keith Woods.

NPR needs to cut that crap out. 

Keith is their diversity v.p. or some such title.  If he'd come on to discuss NPR policies, I wouldn't have had a problem with it.  But he went to the dry cleaners and this woman said something and . . .

You know what, that's a personal conversation.  That's not a national conversation.  There are important topics to discuss. 

Keith's relationship with his dry cleaner is not one of them and it makes NPR look so stupid and silly.

And, look at the painting Betty's kids did of me, I'm African-American.

I heard the story and didn't hear the n-word.  Was it said?

Nope?

Doesn't seem like it.

An old White woman who is always nice to Keith (who's African-American) told him how she was doing when asked: Her eye sight was going.  She could only see straight ahead and not to good there.  She said she lived in a Black neighborhood and that she was afraid she'd hit somebody because her vision was so bad that she couldn't see them unless they smiled.

Clearly that was supposed to be a joke.

Keith lives in the prissy NPR world of Jew-Jew-Jew-Black-Jew-Jew-Jew-Bi-racial-Jew-Jew -- you get the idea?

She lives in a neighborhood with Black people.  Chances are one of them said it to her as a joke -- the smile line.  And she and he/her laughed. 

We do say things like that.  I have no idea why.  I don't.  But I do know people who do -- I have an uncle who says a lot worse -- and we laugh and suddenly it's okay!

But it's not.

To be offended, you'd have to believe that she was trying to offend Keith.  But that goes against the story she told.

If it bothered him, the answer was to say something at the counter.  But he was too chicken for that.  So instead he wrote a blog post about it and then went on Talk of the Nation to jawbone about it.  How the west wasn't won.

Were it me, I wouldn't have been offended.  I wouldn't have laughed.  I might have said, "I'm sorry, I don't get that."  Make the woman have to explain it.  Or might have just told her to have a good day and left.  Clearly I don't have a problem with her dry cleaning -- which is the only reason I'm talking to her -- so why am I turning it into an earth shattering event?

She wasn't trying to be rude.  Or insulting.

Some times people don't know what they're saying. 

To me it wasn't worth a blog post and certainly not worth going on NPR to yammer about and wonder how you felt and what you should have done and should you have done something and -- Really does Keith ever shut up? 

Instead of yammering away, maybe he could have addressed why NPR refuses to book women as guests in equal number to men?  Or would that be 'too real' for Baby Keith?


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

Thursday, July 20, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqiya is on the short track to head a security ministry or two, Iraqiya is not on the short track to head a security ministry or two, Cheveron follows ExxonMobil's lead, Nouri blusters in his embarrassed state, the UN Security-General's Special Envoy to Iraq tells the UN Security Council about increased violence in Iraq, Kobler also feels the political stalemate is harming the country, Syrian 'rebels' control the border between Syria and Iraq, Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr have questions about the VA's Benefits Accreditation Program, we offer another look at the House Oversight Subcommittee's VA hearing yesterday, and more.
 
 
Starting off with Syria as it relates to Iraq.  Neocon Michael Rubin (Commentary) is alarmed that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offered condolences to Syrian President Bashar Assad's sister  Bushra Assad on the death of Assef Shawkat.  It's outrageous, Rubin feels.  The man killed Wednesday is Bushra Assad's husband.  Is Rubin aware of that?  Is he also aware that Syria is one of three countries that borders northern Iraq?  Syria, Turkey and Iran.  Talabani is a Kurd from the Kurdistan Region -- that's northern Iraq.  Of course, he would know the Assads.  He's traveled to Syria numerous times to meet with President Bashar Assad -- both before the start of the Iraq War and today.  That the two leaders from neighboring countries know one another is not surprising.  That they get along has been known since before 2003.  Not sure why Rubin sees something sinister in the whole thing but it reads like more of his I-hate-Kurdish-people kick that he's been on of late.  Rubin rushes to trash Assad and build up the resistance or 'resistance.'  He would though, he'll never admit that he and his kind created al Qaeda in Iraq and that's a key part of the Syrian resistance or 'resistance.'  We'll follow Mike's lead in noting Larry Johnson (No Quarter) on this issue:
 
 
The war drums are really blasting in Washington and wishful thinking has replaced reason and logic. The Obama Administration, with the full-throated cheerleading of neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer, are celebrating the terrorist attack on the Government of Bashir Assad and hoping that Assad folds his tents. Some breathless analysts on Fox News are even predicting that Assad will be gone in 36 hours. Delusional horses**t.
The Defense Minister who was murdered in this attack was a Christian. The group claiming credit for the attack has direct links to the same folks that fill the ranks of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So who are we backing? Why, the al Qaeda guys, of course.
 
 
The Washington Post's Liz Sly spoke with Renee Montagne (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) earlier today.  AP reports Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim al-Dulaimi says the resistance or 'resistance' killed 20 Syrian border guards today "and their commander." Adrian Blomfield, Alex Spillius and Ruth Sherlock (Telegraph of London) note, "Syria's rebels claimed to have seized a series of key border checkpoints with Turkey and an entire swathe of the country's frontier with Iraq."  al-Dulaimi tells AP that the 'rebels' have taken control over the crossing into Iraq's Qaim.  John Glaser (Antiwar.com) states, "Syrian rebels have taken control of all the border crossings and military outposts between Iraq and Syria, according to senior Iraqi officials."   In addition, the Committee to Protect Journalists notes:
 
New York, July 18, 2012--Two Iraqi journalists living in Syria and covering the conflict in that country were killed on Saturday although news reports differed on crucial details. The Committee to Protect Journalists continues to investigate the circumstances of the deaths, which come amid reports of increasing violence toward Iraqis living in Syria.
Falah Taha, a freelance journalist who contributed to several Iraqi news outlets, was killed while covering ongoing clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army in the capital, Damascus, numerous news reports said. An unidentified group of armed men killed Ali Juburi al-Kaabi, editor-in-chief of the Baghdad-based weekly Al-Zawraa, in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, according to news reports. Al-Zawraa is a weekly issued by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, news reports said.
News accounts carried few details about the deaths. While most reports said both journalists were shot to death, some accounts citing Iraqi army officials said they had also been stabbed. Most reports describe the deaths as having occurred separately in different locations although some accounts said the journalists both died in Jaramana.
 
 
 
On the topic of oil, Reuters reports that for the third straight month, Iraq's exports have fallen "below 2.4 million barrels per day".  Trade Arabia notes, "Chevron Corp is buying into blocks in Iraq's Kurdistan, according to two oil executives involved in the region, as the second-largest U.S. oil company follows Exxon Mobil Corp into an area where oil rights are a subject of fierce dispute. Chevron is purchasing 80 per cent of the Sarta and Rovi blocks from India's Reliance Industries, according to the two executives, who requested anonymity." If that rumor is true, that would be a big blow to Nouri.  Remember Antony Blinken's meeting with Nouri yesterday?  (Blinken is US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser.)  Supposedly Blinken made time to press Nouri on ExxonMobil -- Nouri wants the deal cancelled -- but didn't press him on Ali Mussa Daqduq.  If true, that's really embarrassing.  Remember that first a US official insisted they were already pressing Iraq to extradite Daqduq to the US and then Nouri's spokesperson made clear that no such request had been made.  And then a US official said they were 'about to' make the request.
 
A little over three hours later, Nouri al-Maliki was issuing a statement claiming he had the US backing on ExxonMobil.  He's such a damn liar and you really have to wonder about the reporters that print his crap without challenge.  It wasn't two weeks ago, that these same outlets were running with Nouri met with the UN and UN says Camp Ashraf must  -- no, the United Nations didn't say it but did we ever get a retraction from the press?  Of course note.  So Aseel Kami and Braden Reddall (Reuters) take stenography today and want you to know that Nouri has the US backing on ending that deal the KRG and ExxonMobile signed back in October. 
 
Now high likely is it that the US government, via Blinken, conveyed anything of meaning regarding ExxonMobil?  Not at all likely.  In the United States, there is no state control of the oil companies.  (Some would argue there is control of the government by the oil companies and certainly the Iraqi press have had stories where the White House has conveyed to Nouri that he needs to work things out with ExxonMobil.)  So it's a non-story but watch how it gets parroted over and over by news outlets that make Hedda Hopper look like Bob Woodward. 
 
On this morning's Chevron rumors, AP reports that they are true and Chevron and the KRG signed a deal today.  Reuters notes Chevron has purchased "80 percent of two blocks in Kurdistan."  Tina Davis (Bloomberg News) clarifies, "Chevron Corp. (CVX) agreed to buy Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL)'s 80 percent stake in two blocks covering about 490 square miles (1,124 square kilometers) in Iraq's Kurdistan region." Mark Lawson (Wall St. Cheat Sheet) adds, "These blocks are north of Erbil and contain a combined area of around 490 square miles. The subsidiaries in question will partner with OMV Rovi GmbH and OMV Sarta GmbH, which hold 20 percent interest in the Rovi and Sarta PSCs, respectively."  Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) explains, "Under the agreement with Kurdistan, Chevron must drill two wells by November 2013, company spokesman Gareth Johnstone said."  In addition, Oil & Gas Journal notes, "A group led by Hunt Oil Middle East has tested a combined flow rate of 13,584 b/d of oil from three zones at the deepened Simrit-2 well in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with nine more zones to be drillstem tested. Afren PLC, which has a 20% interest in the Ain Sifni PSC, said the well has been drilled to 3,800 m and encountered 460 m of net oil pay."
 
 
Meanwhile the latest Sports Illustrated it out and the Jul 23, 2012 issue is the Olympic Preview issue.  When it was slid over to me by a friend at Time-Warner-CNN-Pony Express, it was stressed that the issue had a big "Arab Spring" spread.   Big?  It's ten pages.  Why we'd be interested in it -- no Iraq athletes are included in the article -- is beyond me.  If Tunisia's your thing, pick up the issue. (They also don't pick any Iraqis to place in the top three of any event.  Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai is the only one they pick from Aghanistan and they predict he'll take the Silver in 68 kg Taekwondo.  It's a shame they spent 12 pages on predictions when they could have profiled more athletes in that space instead of wasting it on I-think-this-will-happen.)   The Summer Olympics kick off in London in less than 8 days (7 days, 20 hours the counter currently reads).   Iraq has 8 athletes competing.  The three women are: Dana Abdul Razak, event: 100m; Noor Amer Al Ameri, event: Women's 10m Air Pistol; and Rand al-Mashhadani, event: Archery, Women's individual.   The five men are: Mohanad Ahmed Dheyaa al-Azzawi, event: Swimming, Men's 100m Butterfly; Safaa al-Jumaili, event: Weightlifting, men's 85kg; Ali Nadhim Salman Salman; Wrestling, Men's 120kg Greco-Roman;  Adnan Taess Akkar, event: Athletics Men's 800m; and Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed, event: Boxing, Men's Welter (69kg).  For more on Iraq and the Olympics, you can click here for the folder BBC News has created for this topic.  Kay Johnson (AP) did a lengthy (and solid) report on Safaa al-Jumail:
 
But al-Jamaili has already overcome greater challenges just to keep competing. He was forced to stop lifting weights for more than a year after his family fled their home province of Diyala, 90 kilometres (55 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as waves of insurgent attacks and retaliatory violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias flooded over the area.
One reason they fled: His older brother was kidnapped and held for three days.
Al-Jamaili, then 17, was with his brother on that day in 2007. He remembers walking together toward their aunt's house, feeling lighthearted because he had just returned from winning a gold medal in a regional youth championship in Jordan. Then, several armed men accosted the brothers. Al-Jamaili managed to run away, but his brother was captured.
The family spent three tense days selling their furniture and borrowing money to pay a ransom before his brother was finally returned. Then, they all fled to the northern city of Kirkuk, where al-Jamaili worked full-time on a construction crew to help the family earn cash. Weightlifting was out of the question.
 
.
  
 
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that the turmoil in Syria has negatively effected Iraq, Al Mada reports, and that the political crisis has prevented Baghdad and Erbil from addressing Iraq's internal problems.  The political crisis, Ban Ki-moon stated, has prevented efforts to resolve outstanding issues and, without these issue being resolved, the future of Iraq is threatened.
 
 
"As I sit before the Council today," the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler declared this afternoon,  "Iraq is in the midst of a seven month long stalemate between the political blocs. a situation which continues to hamper progress in areas essential to Iraq's development including a sustainable solution to the disputed internal boundaries, the unfinished Constitutional agenda and the adoption of essential outstanding legislation and the preparation for next year's provincial council elections."
 
Kobler was in New York, speaking to the United Nations Security Council as he briefed them on Iraq.  We'll note some of his testimony in today's snapshot and some in tomorrow's snapshot.
 
 
Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  The question today is whether crucial obstacles can be overcome in order for the Iraqi state to realize its true potential.  In my assessment, the role of UNAMI will be more important than ever in supporting Iraq on its journey towards stability and development.  Mr. President since my last briefing to the Council, I've intensified my engagement with political leaders from all sides in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region, met with representatives of many of Iraq's communities and listened to the advice of Iraq's spiritual leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.  I've also sought  -- sough the views of the government of Iran, Kuwait and Turkey on the region.  The Core of UNAMI's mandate is to support and assist  the people of Iraq for it is the people of Iraq who want the political stalemate to end and it is they who want to have a life in  security and prosperity.  It is they who want to have a better future for their children. And it's they who long for the day when benefits from the natural wealth of the country will translate into the reliable delivery of electricity and other public services and economic development. Almost seven years ago, the Iraqi people laid the foundations for democracy in their country by adopting their Constitution.  Today, however, key institutions have yet to be established and fundamental legislation remains outstanding -- including the establishment of the Federation Council, the strengthening of the Judicial System, the legislation on revenue sharing and hydro-carbons, the protec -- the protection of minorities.  Just to say a few.   My colleagues and I have made the promotion of progress in these areas a priority.  In particular, the legal and policy framework for revenue sharing need to be put in place and this would constitute a signficant strengthening of the federal system, improve the environment for investment,  and provide for the agreed distribution of national wealth.  Revenue sharing is vital to help improve Arab-Kurdish co-existence, vital to ensure that Iraq remains a single federal state and, above all, vital for advancing a solution in the disputed internal boundaries.  Making progress in unblocking Iraq's unfinished legislative agenda, however requires an agreement between Iraq's political leaders that will end the political stalement.  Such an agreement must be reached through transparent and inclusive dialogue in respect of the Constitution and in a spirt of compromise.  Mr. President, there is no democracy without elections and there are no credible elections without a strong and truly independent election commission.  As we speak, my political deputy, Mr. Georgi Boston, is engaged in facilitation efforts to bring about the formation of a new, Independent High Election Commission which is representative of the main components of Iraq -- including women and children and minorities.  The urgent selection of the commissioners is essential for ensuring that the provincial council elections due to take place in March 2013 can be conducted on time. I'm concerned that the ongoing political stalemate is hindering the process however.  In recent days, I have discussed with political leaders -- including Prime Minister al-Maliki -- the need for a swfit conclusion of this political process and the need for an adequate representation of women and minorities in the commission. Today, I would like to re-iterate my appeal to all political blocs to expedite the selection of professional commissioners.  UNAMI stands here ready to actively assist.  Mr. President, the number of civilian casualties caused by terrorist attacks is increasing across Iraq.  Since the beginning of this year an average of 12 violent attacks a day have claimed a total of more than 1,300 lives -- many of them innocent children and women who were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
 
 
 
 
Uh-oh, what's a news outlet to do?  The UN's going with increased violence and the White House is insisting that's not the case?  What will the stenographers do?  Less than two weeks before the end of the month when they'll have to note violence.  What will the stenographers do?
 


The political crisis has already seen two stalemates.  The first one lasted over eight months and followed the March 7, 2010 elections.  Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second to Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi) but Nouri didn't want to follow the Constitution and demanded a second term as prime minister.  The White House backed Nouri and not the Iraqi people, their votes, democracy or the Constitution.  So the US government brokered a contract between the political blocs, the Erbil Agreement, which gave Nouri a second term if he agreed to various concessions (implementing the Constitution's Article 140, creating an independent security commission, etc.).  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement (November 2010) to get his second term and then refused to follow the Erbil Agreement.  Once this became obvious, the second political stalemate had started.  By summer 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr were calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  This is the current and ongoing political stalemate.
This morning Al Mada reported that Iraqiya is hopeful that one of their own might be nominated to head one of the security ministries and the names Jawad al-Bolani, Mustafa al-Hiti and Salah al-Jubouri are among those being tossed out (by Iraqiya).  An unnamed State of Law official seems skeptical about that happening.  al-Jubouri currently serves on the notorious Justice and Accountability Commission. al-Hiti is a member of Parliament and has unofficially served as an Iraqiya parliamentary spokesperson since 2010.  He is a member of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq's National Dialogue Front.  In 2009, Jawad al-Bolani wrote a column for the Washington Post which you can read here.  Jawad al-Bolani served as Minister of the Interior in Nouri's first Cabinet.  It was during that time that the Ministry of the Interior became synomous with terrorism and power struggles.  You can refer to the Los Angeles Times archives for many reports on that and you should probably start with this July 2007 report by Ned Parker:

This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior -- the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.
The very language that Americans use to describe government -- ministries, departments, agencies -- belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.
That killing has been reduced, but Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a "federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.
On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.
The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.
The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.
The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.
The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.


For any who are confused, per the Constitution, yes, Nouri was supposed to have named heads to the security ministries back in November 2010.  His failure to do so was supposed to mean that he did not advance from prime minister-designate to prime minister and that, instead, a new person was named prime minister-designate and given 30 days to come up with a Cabinet.  The US-backed Erbil Agreement 'trumped' the Iraqi Constitution.
 
And this afternoon, All Iraq News reports, Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji stated that there were no nominations from Iraqiya for the post of Minister of Defense and that they were not asked to provide any names for that post.

All Iraq News reports Iraqiya's Salem Dali notes that the move to question Nouri before Parliament continues and that this is necessary because public funds are being wasted and due to large numbers of Constitutional violations.  He doesn't need to list reasons, the Constitution gives the Parliament the right to question Nouri.  It's good that there are reasons but Nouri's continued refusal to appear before Parliament is just another example of how he refuses to follow the Constitution.  Nasiriyah reports that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for calm and dialgoue.  Anybody remember how Nouri's Reform Commission was supposed to meet and finalize things this week?  Yeah, what happened to that?  Has his diversion already been dropped?  There's not been any coverage of it all week. However, All Iraq News reports that Allawi is supposed to meet with Moqtada al-Sadr shortly.


One thing the Parliament is putting time into is funding their own personal purchase of firearms.  Al Mada reports the plan to spend five billion dinars is going through and that the Parliament has even turned down the Ministry of Interior's offer to provide them with firearms. To be clear, these guns will only be for the Parliament and they're not passing any laws to provide Iraqi citizens with guns.  Despite the fact that the bulk of them live outside of Iraq and that they frequently can't show up for sessions or actually earn their big salaries, they feel that they need guns and that the Iraqi people should foot the bill.

While the Baghdad-based government is happy to arm the Parliament -- which, for the record, has no security area to patrol -- they appear to balk at funding security forces.  Specifically, Al Mada reports that the Minister of the Peshmerga in the KRG is stating that it appears Baghdad will not fund the arming of the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) and that the KRG will have to foot that bill.  It's seen as part of the ongoing distance between Baghdad and Erbil.  

In other spending news, the Minister of Justice, Hassan al-Shammari, announced yesterday that Iraq's 27,000 detainees are costing his ministry $20 million per month (it says "dollars," not "dinars" so I won't bother to do a conversion).  Despite this large figure, Iraqi prisoners are not receiving health care, the minister notes.  Where's the money going?  The only big item listed is electricity.  Due to international standards, Iraq provides (or attempts to provide) electricity to prisons 24 hours, 7 days a week. Kitabat quotes Minister Hassan al-Shammari declaring that the expenses are food and maintaining/meeting international standards.   Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that the Ministry of Interior released a statement stating that Nouri must launch an investigation into the death of prisoner Saddam Mukhlif while in a Baghdad prison.  The cry for an investigation comes as Alsumaria also reports the Ministry of Justice is insisting they've stopped a plan by 16 death row prisoners to escape.

On the topic of electricity,  Nasiriyah reports that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a month for the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.
 
 
Dropping back to the House Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Wednesday hearing about VA's continued inability to resolve claims in a timely fashion.  Yesterday, we mainly noted that while the US is gripped by an economic crisis and facing record debt, the VA has given out   $2.8 million to 245 employees.   Today we'll cover two other topics.  US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair and appearing before the Subcommittee were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
 
"SNL"s are Simplified Notification Letters which the VBA sends out to veterans to let them know that their claim has been denied or approved -- if the latter, a disabilty rating will also be in the letter.  Hopefully, the letter will make sense.  Veterans advocates don't feel that has been the case -- as evidenced by the written statements Manar and Violante handed in to the Subcommittee.  Chair Chaffetz raised the issue.
 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  If you get a 100% disability, you're probably going to agree with it.  If you get a five or ten-percent, your probably going to have some questions.  We're trying to find the proper balance between handing somebody so many documents and simplifying the process.  But these two gentlemen here certainly don't seem to be, based on those statements, fans of this.  How do we find that proper balance?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, thank you for that question.  I will address it by saying that I, today, provide access to our VSOs to every one of those files for them to do whatever research they want to do.  They will have even greater access to knowing exactly the data and the information we know when they are joining us this month on VBMS as we go into the new Veterans Benefit Management System.  In addition, I have whole heartedly encouraged -- as we go through change,  there's adjustments and adaptations, there's a learning process -- I have wholly encouraged them at the local unit level when they have a service officer, the final one that just doesn't have enough for them to go directly to that supervisor and say, 'Need a little help here, there's not enough here.'
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  But don't you think --
 
Allison Hickey:  We will handle that on the spot. We will train to that as we learn more and more about that.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Don't you think that that's contributing to the backlog because --
 
Allison Hickey:  I do not.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  -- back in line again and say --
 
Allison Hickey:  It has not.  In fact, it's handled on the spot. 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  You really think --
 
Allison Hickey:  And it's reduced our backlog by 30,000.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz: You really think that the veterans are convinced that it's just "handled on the spot"? I mean, our office, we get these all the time.  This is not --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz: For you to say that they're just handled on the spot?  Mr. Manar, how would you -- Is that true, are they handled "on the spot"?
 
Gerald Manar:  Depending on the regional office and the individuals that our service officers deal with, they are sometimes handled on the spot.  In other instances -- and it's rare -- our service officers are told, 'If you don't like it, you can appeal it.'  And then there's a wide range of interactions in between. Our concern isn't -- We're concerned about the SNL letters because it's not just our service officers trying to figure out why VA made a decision.  We train our people to do that, to go behind and look at the data and basically re-evaluate it and see if they would have arrived at the same conclusion.  But-but perhaps 50% of veterans are not represented.  So they have to accept whatever VA gives them on blind faith or decide whether they're going to appeal on their own.  The point here -- and I'd like to say this -- General Hickey has worked with us signficantly to try to improve these letters.  She put out some directives last February  to the field that -- if those directives were followed -- the letters, barely adequate in our view, but at least they'd be adequate.  The problem is that when we've come along in April and May and looked at letters and decisions that were made in many different offices, we're finding a significant number -- 50 to 60% -- that are not getting the job done.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  That's a pretty high number.  Mr. Violante, I know it's past my time, but I want to give you an opportunity to respond though.  Then we'll go to the gentleman from Illinois.
 
Joseph Violante:  Like Mr. Manar, we have similar experiences with regard to whether or not we can get something corrected "on the spot" depending on the regional office and the employees. With regards to the SNLs, we're not opposed to the concept.  We have seen some good ones come out and we have brought the bad ones to General Hickey's attention.  But if they can work on that, there is a balance that needs to be done so that veterans can understand in a simplified way what the VA's decision is.
 
 
Now we're going to focus on another exchange but we're just zooming in on the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) aspect.  It's an issue that doesn't get enough attention and when it is noted in a hearing, we make a point to include it in our coverage.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  And then my third question is on MST.  As you know, military sexual assault is absolutely out of control in the military, 19,000 cases a year.  As I understand it, your reviews have found differences in denial rates between sexual assault PTSD and other PTSD cases.  I'd like to know what you have found and what you are doing about it?  And for those that have been previously denied, what can be done for them in terms of refiling and being reconsidered?  Thank you.
 
Allison Hickey: Thank you, Congresswoman Speier.  [. . .]  I am so glad you brought up Military Sexual Trauma. It is the very first issue I grabbed the reigns on and ran with when I got on station here aside from, obviously, the backlog.  And I will tell you, I'm the one that asked for us to go show -- show me what our grant denial rate is between MSTPTSD and what it is between PTSD for the other three -- combat, fear, terrorism?  I asked for us to do that.  I got it back and I said, "This is unacceptable."  We had a 20% difference in our grant denial rate.  I said, "We're going to change this process."  We did.  And by the way, the process is now in a segmented lane which is one of our new transformation initiatives.  We have trained from the VBA person who handles it coming in the door through the exam doctor in the health administration who does the health exam.  And we now have everybody trained.  I just got the data last Friday that shows I have closed that gap as a result of that effort.  We have increased our grants a full 35% in our MST as of last Friday because of the directions we did, the actions we took to make those right and to do those right [. . .]*
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  Mr. Chairman, could I ask a follow up question?  I know my time has expired.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Feel free.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  Thank you.  What are we doing about those that had their claims denied?  Are we going back now and saying refile?
 
Allison Hickey:  I am glad you asked that question as well, Congressman -- Congresswoman Speier.  We are sending letters to everyone we've ever denied and saying, 'This is what we do. We've got a new process.  If you feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will re-accomplish it.'
 
 
  
*After "and to do those right" Allison Hickey may say "for women."  She hadn't take a breath and her last words were not clear. 
 
 
From the House to the Senate, there's important news today from the Senate Veterans Committee and its leadership.  Senator Patty Murray is the Committee Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  Chair Murray's office issued the following:
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 19, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
 
 
VETERANS: Murray, Burr Call on GAO to Review VA's Benefits Accreditation Program
 
Recent findings raise serious questions about effectiveness of accreditation process in ensuring proper conduct by individuals assisting veterans with benefit claims

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, joined with the Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), in sending a letter to the Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting assistance from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in examining the Department of Veterans Affairs' accreditation program. The request stems from issues identified during GAO's recently completed investigation into VA's pension program, which revealed that individuals and companies are using VA accreditation as a way to take advantage of elderly veterans and their families.
 
"The Government Accountability Office's recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program," the Senators wrote in the letter to GAO. "GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services."
 
The full text of the letters follows:
 
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20548-0001
 
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Office of the General Counsel provides accreditation to attorneys, claims agents, and representatives of veterans service organizations so they can assist VA benefits claimants with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims. To become accredited, an individual must demonstrate a level of proficiency in VA's policies and procedures to be able to provide assistance with VA claims.  Also, restrictions exist regarding fees that can be charged by accredited individuals for services associated with VA benefit claims.
 The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program.  GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services.
In light of these concerns, we request the assistance of the GAO in examining the following questions:  (1) What are VA's policies and procedures for accrediting and providing oversight, including data collection and analysis, of those individuals?  (2) Are there potential vulnerabilities in VA's existing policies and procedures which may allow abuses of the accreditation system?  (3) What is the process for suspending or revoking accreditation if abuses are found to have occurred?
We appreciate your attention to this request. 
###
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
202-224-2834
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Blog Archive