Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Best in Film (Ann and Stan)

Ann and Stan here to take a look at the best in film this year that you could stream or rent.  Though two summer films were huge hits, both "Avengers" and "Dark Knight Rises (and Falls)" were as hollow and weak as anything coming out of 4Kids Entertainment.  The future that awaits the fans of these films is the same one that awaited the big box office hit "Titanic" -- we're not talking about James Cameron's masterpiece, we mean the 1952 film that was a big hit with audiences at its time and an embarrassment within ten years of release.

The year's big trend appeared to be hopping on a moral soapbox for an easy stand.  World Can't Wait, Glenn Greenwald and countless others you've never heard of (for good reason) came out against "Zero Dark Thirty."   Why?  Because it's directed by a woman.  They're 'offended' by this film.  We're African-American and we're offended by Stephen Spielberg's "Lincoln."  Winning easy praise -- in part because of its Socialist screenwriter -- the film supposedly tells us about the country.  And, indeed, if telegraph operators sound more important to you than slaves or freed-Blacks who have to live in a world where people who look just like them are enslaved, then Spielberg's made just the film for you.  If, to you, a 'great' film on slavery is one that reduces the accomplishments of Black people, then embrace "Lincoln."  But it's a deeply racist and offensive film.  We also notice that although Spike Lee's called out "Django Unchained" (Quentin Tarantion's latest film), World Can't Wait is organizing no protests against it and 'film critic' and part-time American Glenn Greenwald has yet to write several vicious columns attacking the film.  (We haven't seen the film, so unlike Glenn and World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet, we won't condemn it.  We will applaud Spike Lee for calling out turning slavery into a video game.)  Here's a thought for Spielberg and Tarantino, as White men who so love to take bows for 'helping' the African-American race, do you think next time you do a film 'about' Black people, you might actually get an African-American writer involved, someone at the table who can explain to you how offensive your portrayals are. But don't worry, Steve and Quentin, you're men.  So no one will protest you.  Glenn Greenwald will organize no attacks on you.  You can continue putting racism on the screen and know that the only ones who'll call you out are African-Americans and, as the Guardian (home of Glenn Greenwald and others) and World Can't Wait demonstrate, African-Americans don't really matter.  Attacking women, that matters to them.  Thanks for the clarification in 2012, Glenn and Debra.

Once upon a time, a film year would provide a wealth of choices.  Not just the popcorn movies of summer (which have been boiled down to super hero costumes today), but films that explored relationships, explored ethics, explored family.  Today, we get the popcorn movies year round and we also get bloated and lifeless films like "Lincoln" which are supposed to be seen as the successors to "Reds," "Shampoo," "Klute," "On Golden Pond," "The Conversation,"  and other film explorations which actually had weight and life to them.  This year wasn't without promise . . .



take this waltz

1) "Take This Waltz."  In a large part ("The Sweet Hereafter") or a small role ("eXistenZ"), Sarah Polley is always worth watching watching but her follow up to her directorial debut (2006's Away From Her) is so great that we're almost ready to say, "Sure, stop acting.  Just give us more films like this."  "Take This Waltz" is a drama and a comedy and a romance and there's nothing 'high concept' about it.  It's the most moving film of the year.  The film stars Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby as two people who fall in love despite her husband (Seth Rogen).  Sarah Silverman provides the kind of comic support as the best friend that has not been seen since Rosie O'Donnell's performance in "Sleepless In Seattle."  This film hits no wrong notes.

take this waltz 2




2) "21 Jump Street."  We are not fans of TV shows turned into films -- we already suffering night terrors just picturing "Kojak: The Movie" -- but this film was hilarious and the funniest comedy of the year.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have the kind of comedy chemistry not seen since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  Channing's a dick in high school and Jonah's a nerd but, needing each other to pass the police academy, they finally bond.  Their skills leave something to be desired and they're transferred to the undercover unit at, yes, 21 Jump Street.  The place where Tom, Judy and Doug (Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete and Peter DeLouise -- all do a cameo turn in the film) used to get their assignments as they went undercover at various high schools.  Like the ones who came before, Channing and Jonah get an assignment, unlike their predecessors, they screw everything up.

 21 jump street 1

 They even take drugs -- necessitating the finger-bang they give each other in the men's room as they attempt to puke up the drugs.  Their inability to do so leads to a very funny scene where they trip in front of the school's coach.  Brie Larson, Ice Cube and Dave Franco give great supporting turns.  And Jake Johnson and Nick Offerman are wonderful in their brief scenes. If you're not laughing non-stop during this movie, you're just not someone who likes comedies.



peace

3) "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding." Director Bruce Beresford may have been one of the few directors interested in exploring the family in 2012.  Catherine Keener is an attorney who thinks things are okay when her husband leaves her.  She takes her two children (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) go to Woodstock to visit her mother Jane Fonda.  Along the way Keener finds out she's not so right and also that she's not so wrong and, collectively, acceptance is the key to family.  A strong script, tight direction and excellent performances (the scenes with Keener and Fonda crackle with energy), the kind of films that Hollywood no longer makes unless the characters are in spandex and tights and soar through the skies.



ted 2

4) "Ted." What the hell is a stuffed teddy bear doing spanking Mark Wahlberg?  Proving that Seth MacFarlane can transfer to the big screens.  The guy responsible for "The Family Guy" and "American Dad" hasn't had much luck with live action TV shows but "Ted" demonstrates real strength.  MacFarlane directs, co-writes the screenplay (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesly Wild) and voices Ted the teddy bear.  The film's biggest weakness is the voice over.  And MacFarlane might have been smarter to have gone with a woman (say Joanne Woodward doing something similar to what she did for Scorsce's "Age Of Innocence").  Instead of offering excitement and promise, something magical, Patrick Stewart's voice over just sort of lays there.  If he made a mistake there (and he did), MacFarlane wisely used 'the voice of Meg' for the second lead.  Mila Kunis can act (see "Black Swan") but, in many of her roles, what stands out most is the actress is a good sport.  (Think of Jackie on "That 70s Show.")  That quality is sorely needed in this film.  If the actress playing Mark Walhberg's girlfriend gets too angry (and a woman would have every reason to) over Mark's relationship with his talking and walking (and pot smoking) teddy bear, the film falls apart.  And Walhberg?  He continues to be the most important film actor in America under the age of 60.



magic mike


5)  "Magic Mike."  A male stripper film worth watching?  Yes, when it's directed by Steven Soderbergh (who swears he's almost done with directing).  Soderbergh's crafted a seventies film in many ways, the layers of Lumet, the tensions of Pakula.  "Magic Mike" is not just a good film, it's his best film since "Sex, Lies and Videotape."  In a supporting cast that includes great turns by Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello and Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey gives an Academy Award worthy supporting performance.  Holding the film together onscreen is Channing Tatum who makes it look so effortless he's probably not getting the credit he deserves for this performance.


perfect sense

6)  "Perfect Sense." When the world is no longer just falling apart, when it may be ending, is love still worth it?  David Mackenzie explores that question from Kim Fupz Aakenson's script with the help of Eva Green and Ewan McGregor.


a cat in paris 2

7) "A Cat In Paris."Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli direct this animated film about Zoe and her cat, her mother Jeanne the police superintendent, Nico the burglar, mobster Victor Costa among others.  Rare for an animated film, "A Cat In Paris" doesn't attempt to be cute or to play down to children while playing up to their parents.  This is a straight-forward film that happens to be animated, an animated film worthy of the term "film."





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8) "Bernie"  Like Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey placed two films on our top ten list.  This one is a dark comedy starring Jack Black as the mortician who makes nice with various family members in mourning and then sets his site on a non-mourning Shirley MacLaine who's not only the town's wealthiest citizen but also its most caustic, to put it mildly.  The town is amazed that Bernie can put up with the woman whose own family avoids her.  And then comes foul play.  McConaughey may be the only person in town who wants Black to pay for what he did.  This is director Richard Linklater's best film since "Dazed and Confused," and Black, MacLaine and McConaughy all hit acting high notes on this sleeper gem.  Our link for the film, by the way, goes to Netflix where you can stream it currently.




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9) "Moonrise Kingdom."  In the Wes Anderson canon, this film is way behind "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" but somewhat ahead of "Rushmore."  Bruce Willis is a poor fit for the Anderson canvas and it seems truly monochrome without Anjelica Huston.  As a film about children that doesn't talk down to them, the film succeeds and the visuals make up for some of the gaps in energy.  It's a flawed Anderson film but one worth noting in spite of those flaws.



brody

10) "Detachment." Adrien Brody's steady performance steers Tony Kaye's ensemble film Detachment but James Caan, Lucy Liu and especially Marcia Gay Harden deliver in supporting roles.



And here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

 
Friday, December 28, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the US Embassy in Baghdad issues a warning, Iraqis take to the street in protest, Nouri tries to prevent press coverage,  Nouri makes strange noises, the PUK 'corrects' Nouri's interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's doctors issue an update, AFP provides a valuable public service, and more.
December 28, 2012
Threat information indicates that terrorist elements may target U.S. interests in Baghdad, including the United States Embassy, as well as churches in Baghdad and Kirkuk, on or around December 31, 2012.  The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad urges U.S. citizens in Iraq to exercise caution and to refer to the current travel warning on our website.
We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Iraq enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.Travel.State.Gov.  STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency.  If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. 
Regularly monitor the State Department's website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution.  Read the Country Specific Information for Iraq.  For additional information, refer to "A Safe Trip Abroad" on the State Department's website.
Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions.  You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.
It's a sign of how much turmoil there is in Iraq currently that it was little noted in the western coverage of Iraq today.  This was the day dubbed "Friday of Honor" with plans for large protests in Iraq.  Question: If you're the government and you don't want people to know about the protests, what might you do?  Hmmm. . . .
Been waiting 3+ hours at Anbar checkpoint with other media to cover Friday anti-govt demo. Go-ahead mysteriously not coming - I wonder why.
Just a second, Prashant!  You are Nouri al-Maliki and you don't want the protests to get attention, what could you do?  How could you prevent attention to the protests?  Maybe --
4.5 hours at checkpoint with other media - Anbar protests at Friday prayers have begun, reports of massive crowds. Army keeping us here.
Prashant Rao of AFP, we are trying to think right now.  Okay, so protests are taking place and Iraq's a failed state and you just made a new corruption list and, as Al Mada reports, Baghdad's just been named the worst place to live in the world by the Mercer Consulting Group.  The rains are coming down hard and, as Dar Addustour notes, Baghdad's sunk by rainwater.  You're Nouri al-Maliki and you don't want the word getting out about these protests so --
5+ hours at Anbar checkpoint + army take IDs + told "authorisation" coming only after mid-day prayer = unable to cover Friday demo in #Iraq
Oh my goodness, Prashant Rao, you are 100% correct.  If the government doesn't want word of the protests out, the easiest way is to refuse to allow journalists close enough to the protests to cover them.  BBC News observes:
Some journalists attempting to reach the city were held at an army checkpoint some 50km east of Ramadi for six hours, and were unable to cover the demonstration, says the BBC's Rami Ruhayem who was at the scene.
The government has succeeded in keeping the protests out of the public eye to an extent, says our correspondent, but in the process has revealed how nervous it is over this latest challenge to its authority.
Army units did, however, bar Baghdad-based journalists from entering Anbar province, holding teams from AFP and other media at a checkpoint between Baghdad and Ramadi for more than five hours.
They also confiscated their press badges, promising to return them only if they turned back to Baghdad.
A senior security official said that there were "strong preventative measures to protect the demonstrators", but journalists witnessed dozens of cars pass through the checkpoint where they were held with no questioning whatsoever.
As the Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweeted:
Democracy in Iraq MT @prashantrao: 4.5 hours at checkpoint w media-Anbar protests have begun, reports of big crowds. Army keeping us here.
'Democracy in Iraq' indeed. 
Morning Star notes, "Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers for the sixth day of protests calling for Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down and for the release of Sunni prisoners."  Al Arabiya notes that the protesters had support from Shi'ite cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr, "In a letter by Sadr sent to the tribal sheikhs, the Islamist leader said that he supports their protests against Maliki and their effort to hold unity and thwart sectarianism.Deutsche Welle quotes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki whining today, "It is not acceptable to express something by blocking roads, inciting sedition and sectarianism, killing, or blowing the trumpet of war and dividing Iraq."  Sign of a true despot, civil disobdience is likened to "killing."  Because it is a 'killing,' it's a killing of his crafted image, it's an exposure of his failure as a leader.   Ken Hanly (Digital Journal) observes of the slogan at many of the protests across Iraq "The people want to bring down the regime," "This is the slogan protesters used in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere during the Arab Spring."

Kitabat reports that "millions" came out to protest in Anbar Province today.  Their photo of Falluja shows the large crowd with banners, flags and a huge photo of Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi (last week, Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of 150 staff and bodyguards working for al-Issawi -- 10 have been charged with 'terrorism' and 50 have been released, this was seen as politically motivated).  The Falluja protesters demanded that innocent people be released from detention and end to the 'terror' arrests, an end to politicizing the Iraqi military, that Nouri turn over the soldier who raped the girl in Mosul and more.  They chanted for unity and for an end to sectarianism and Nouri's abusive government. Kamal Naama and Raheem Salman (Reuters) add, "Around 60,000 people blocked the main road through Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital, setting fire to the flag of Shi'ite Iran and shouting 'out, out Iran! Baghdad stays free' and 'Maliki you coward, don't take your advice from Iran'."  AP goes with the more conservative crowd estimate of "tens of thousands" of people protesting.  For a good photo from AP of the Falluja crowd, click here (photographer is Karim Kadim).  Omar al-Saleh reported for today's Inside Story (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video):
Omar al-Saleh:  A show of support in Ramadi and Falluja for Iraqi Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi.  During it's biggest rally in days in Anbar Province, local leaders have called for civil disobedience and thousands have blocked the highway linking Iraq to Jordan and Syria.  They are demanding the release of 9 bodyguards of the finance minister who were arrested on Thursday [of last week].  But Rafia al-Issawi addressed the crowd saying the issue now was bigger than his bodyguards.
Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi:  This crowd is not political or sectarian.  But it represents all Iraqis who came to denounce the injustice and marginalization.  When we say the injustice has happened against Sunni Arabs, that doesn't mean that we want to take the country to a civil war.
Omar al-Saleh: The protesters urged the Shi'ite-led government to stop its sectarian approach and marginalization of Sunnis and their leaders but the government continues to deny the accusation.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the issue of the bodyguards is judicial and the role of the state is to pursue wanted terrorists and not to support them.  Many feel the crisis may escalate.
Political Analyst Watheq Alshashimi:  The situation in Iraq may take a dangerous direction as elections approach.  What politicians are doing is polarizing their supporters ethnically and based on sectarian  affiliatons.  What's happening in Anbar  can escalate and may lead to more pressure on the prime minister.
Omar al-Saleh: But other Sunni leaders accuse the president of trying to consolidate his grip on power and target his political rivals.  Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's fugitive Vice President, has been sentence to death in absentia for terrorism charges.  He says the prime minister is adopting sectarian policies.  Adding to Iraq's political turmoil is the looming confrontation between the Iraqi army and forces from the semi-autonomous Kurdish north. 
We are only noting the report from that broadcasting.  We are not noting -- on the advice of a former Al Jazeera producer -- the 'discussion.'  I called him to ask what the hell was going on when this discussion was planned?  State of Law is invited on and goes on to trash Iraqiya -- Iraqiya has no one on to represent them.  No one to challenge the lies of State of Law?  We're not interested in that nonsense but we do get why Al Jazeera had to kill Inside Iraq -- they killed that program -- because the presenter wouldn't slant it towards Nouri al-Maliki.  Even when they pulled him off air as a threat, he refused to slant the program.  He played it fair, inviting all segments of Iraq onto his show.  And Al Jazeera had a problem with that.  Which is why his program is no longer on.  We're noting the report, we're not noting a fixed discussion that was fixed before a 'dialogue' even began. 
As noted earlier, Prashant Rao and other journalists were prevented from entering to observe the Falluja protests; however, they were not the only ones blocked from entering the province.  Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Police sources said here today that the army forces prevented Iraqi delegations from other provinces from entering to participate in Fallujah sit-in on the international highway."   Al Jazeera (link has video) also goes with "thousands:"


Massive demonstrations took place along a major highway near the city of Fallujah on Friday, a day after thousands of protesters continued an almost week-long blockade on a key highway in the western Anbar province. 
Protests erupted last week after Iraqi authorities detained 10 bodyguards of the finance minister, who is from Anbar and is one of the government's most senior Sunni officials.
Many Sunnis accuse Maliki of marginalising the country's religious minority group by refusing to share power and depriving them of equal rights.

Alsumaria notes "hundreds" protested in Mosul at noon and their demands were similar with the addition of they called for the execution of the soldier who raped the young girl.  All Iraq News adds that the protesters called for all charges against al-Issawi's bodyguards to be dropped.  Alsumaria notes that Samarra saw thousands turn out and their calls were similar but they also want the long promised amnesty law implemented and they want the Justice and Accountability Commission dissolved (the Commission was used most infamously in the 2010 elections to disqualify various Sunnis from running for office -- that includes the current Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq).  AP adds that protests took place today in Tikrit as well.  BBC News notes a Ramadi protest and that held "a mock funeral for the Iraqi judiciary."


Bill Van Auken (WSWS) observes:

The protests began last week after troops detained bodyguards and aides of Finance Minister Rafie al-Essawi, while searching his home and offices on December 20. The government has claimed that it arrested only ten of the minister's bodyguards on charges of "terrorism." But Essawi, a member of the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, charged that over 100 people connected to his staff were rounded up by what he said was a "militia force" controlled by Maliki's supporters.
It appears that the discrepancy arises from the fact that only the bodyguards were subjected to formal arrest, while the others were essentially subjected to extra-legal detention and interrogation.
Addressing Maliki in a statement to the Iraqi media, Essawi stated, "You are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people."
The finance minister told Associated Press that Maliki was deliberately seeking to stoke sectarian conflicts between the Sunni and Shia populations. "These practices are aimed at drawing the country into a sectarian conflict again by creating crisis and targeting prominent national figures," he said.
The incident was essentially a replay of a similar crackdown carried out a year ago, on December 19, 2011, the day after the last US troops ended the more than eight-year American occupation of Iraq. Then the target was Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also a Sunni member of the Iraqiya bloc.
While the protests took place, Nouri attempted to distract by giving a speech.  Alsumaria notes he was forced to admit that the budget for 2013 (that should be Fiscal Year 2013 unless something's changed) did not and would not improve the problems facing Iraqi citizens.  For those who may have stepped out of the main room for a moment, that is no longer just the lack of basic services like electricity, potable water, trash pick up, etc.  No, add flooding to the list as Iraq -- especially Baghdad -- finds itself flooded as a result of Nouri's refusal for the last six years to spend money on the infrastructure.  Home are collapsing, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society evacuated one village this month (the village is in Wasit Province -- see Wednesday's snapshot). But Nouri says these problems will not be addressed in the budget.   Karafillis Giannoulis (New Europe) notes of Nouri's speech broadcast on Iraqi TV, "At a conference in Baghdad, al-Maliki stressed that current tension can cause a return to the 'dark days when people were killed because of their names or identities.' For that reason Prime Minister of Iraq asked by the demonstrators to stop protesting and promote dialogue instead."  Why does that sound like a threat?  These protests can cause "dark days" to come back "when people were killed because of their names or identities"?  Maybe because those dark days occurred most recently in Iraq during Nouri's first term as prime minister and the Sunnis were the ones targeted by Nouri's Ministry of the Interior forces?  Maybe because that period of ethnic cleansing was overseen by Nouri?  As the editorial board of Gulf News points out, "The sectarian drift of the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, needs to be reversed. Al Maliki is a leading Shiite politician, but in his position as the head of a government, he needs to serve the entire Iraqi population and his government must work to be inclusive of all Iraqis — be they Shiite or Sunni; Kurdish or Turk; Christian or Muslim. "
AFP, apparently with a straight face, reported that Nouri was calling for dialogue and stating that nations have to "rely on civil means of expression."  Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and President Jalal Talbani have been calling for a national conference since December 21st and Nouri's blocked it and prevented it.
And December 21st?  Of 2011.  For over a year, Nouri has blocked a dialogue.  Why?  Because he got a second term due to the Erbil Agreement.  The voters didn't give him a second term, the 2010 election results didn't give him a second term, the Constitution clearly didn't give him a second term.  But US President Barack Obama had a fondness for Bully Boy Bush's puppet and Barack insisted Nouri get a second term despite Nouri's State of Law coming in second in the 2010 elections.  Since there was no legal existing way for Nouri to get that term, Nouri resulted to tantrums (bringing the country to a stand still for over eight months) and the US resorted to a legal contract that they brokered with Iraq's various political leaders: The Erbil Agreement.  To end the ongoing stalemate -- the longest period up to that time following an election where a government still had not been seated, the leaders of Iraq's political blocs agreed to allow Nouri a second term as prime minister in exchange for his agreeing to various terms.  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get his second term and then broke the contract, refusing to implement, for example, Article 140 of the Constitution, refusing to create an independent national security council, and much more.  And the US let him get away with it.  And covered for him.  For months, the political blocs practiced the 'patience' the US government advised them on.  By summer 2011, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya had reached the end of their waiting.  They demanded that the contract be returned to.  This creates Political Stalemate II and is why  al-Nujaifi and Talabani have called for over a year for a national conference to address these issues via dialogue. 
Nouri wants to talk about the need for dialogue today and no one's going to call him on that?
Equally true, the US government's backing Nouri is being noticed.  It's being noticed how unfairly others are treated as the US tries to repeatedly force other groups to make concessions so Nouri can 'win.'  David Romano (Rudaw) observed very accurately:
Average Iraqis increasingly lose faith with their gvoernment as the shell game continues.  As Nuri al-Maliki increasingly rides rough shod over the Constitution and the law of the land, the American State Department seems to forgive him all his transgressions.  Instead of demanding a better showing from Maliki, they pressure the Kurds, the Sunnis and non-Dawaa Party Shiites to make nice with Maliki.
It is on the record, it is there for the history books.  As Little Saddam turns more and more into a despot, Barack Obama's non-stop defense of him will be noted in the history books as well as the fact that the US didn't hold Nouri in check but instead put pressure on other groups -- who were already being victimized by Nouri -- to ignore the abuse. 
Kurdish writer Aziz Ahmad (Middle East Online) offers his take on the state of Iraq which includes:
Over six years in office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proven to be incapable of providing basic security and services to the people. By openly advocating a conflict between Kurds and Arabs, he is threatening the territorial integrity of Iraq and the success of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Nouri al-Maliki is deliberately undermining the prospects of a prosperous Iraq by threatening oil and gas supermajors against operating in Kurdistan, withholding their revenues at ransom and barring them from auctions; his foreign policy is a disaster, providing blatant support for Bashar al-Assad's regime and his bloodshed while weakening ties with Iraq's largest trading partner – Turkey; in the armed forces he openly incites and promotes sectarianism and segregation in the mindset of a fragile people.
The recent unconstitutional creation of an overarching Tigris (Dijla) Operations Command Centre to oversee the internal security affairs of the Northern provinces is a stark reminder of the previous regime for our people; al-Maliki also accuses our leadership of harassing local Arabs and other ethnic minorities by piling our security and intelligence officers into the largely Kurdish areas outside of our region - inaccurately referred to as disputed territories. By way of a twisting media campaign al-Maliki and his associates are masking failures by shifting attention towards the largely peaceful Kurdistan Region.
The editorial board of Lebanon's Daily Star weighs in on how the government is not promoting unity:
Rather than fulfill that role, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instead become an instrument of division.
It has fostered conflict with the country's Kurdish and Sunni communities, as well as other minorities, and has divided the oil revenue between north and south, creating further splits.
The government has proved that it is an Iranian-inspired, supported and cultivated government, rather than one focused on the interests of the Iraqis.
It has become riddled with corruption that leaks billions of dollars. The extent of this is visible in the suffering of the Iraqi people from a variety of social ills, despite living in one of the most oil-rich countries in the region.

In other news, All Iraq News reports that there's an update from the medical tem in Germany for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.  They are stating that he is showing positive improvement and that he is "responsive."  After what?  They don't say.  The President's office and family have not identified the health condition that left Talabani hospitalized; however, Nouri al-Maliki's office immediately declared it was a stroke.  Al Mada notes that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal's political party, is calling for the media to be accurate when covering Talabani's (unspecified) health condition.  Meanwhile Rebwar Karim Wali (Rudaw) states, "Statements and interviews by Talabani's close associates demonstrate that they have started to come to terms with the reality that the veteran 79-year-old leader may not be able to resume his duties, and each has began to vie for the leadership post."  Of Talabani contributions and importance, Raghid al-Solh (Al-Khallej via Al-Monitor) notes:
In the past few days, the health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has captured public attention, both on the Arab and international levels. This concern was not due to the status of the Iraqi presidency, but to the status of the Iraqi president himself. Talabani is a prominent international figure. He has acquired this status as a result of his qualities of moderation, wisdom and flexibility -- which have almost made him an Iraqi national symbol -- as well as a result of his role as a Kurdish leader.
If Talabani is forced to step down from the Iraqi presidency, the voice of moderation in Iraqi politics will be weakened.


All Iraq News reports today that the deputy of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party has sent Nouri a warning.  About what?  From yesterday's snapshot:
And the reports of allegations and torture and what Committees in Parliament have discovered, led to Nouri's freak out where he threatened to arrest members of Parliament who talked about the torture and rape.  Yesterday, he was insisting he had the power to do so.  Al Mada notes today that Nouri's remarks are in conflict with the Iraqi Constitution. 
Article 63:
First: A law shall regulate the rights and privileges of the speaker of the Council of Representatives, his two deputies, and the members of the Council of Representatives.
Second: A.  A member of the Council of Representatives shall enjoy immunity for statements made while the Council is in session, and the member may not be prosecuted before the courts for such.
              B.  A Council of Representatives member may not be placed under arrest during the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and the Council of Representatives members consent by an absoulte majority to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
             C. A Council of Representatives member may not be arrested after the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and with the consent of the speaker of the Council of Representatives to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
No, that is not in keeping with the claims Nouri's made this week that he will just strip MPs of their immunity and have them arrested.  The above section of the Constitution is very clear.  But Nouri's never really abided by or honored the Iraq Constitution. 
All Iraq News reports today that Adel Abdullah has stated that Nouri's statements regarding stripping immunity are not constitutional, are not part of the framework of democracy and that the PUK demands that Nouri back off from this unconstitutional stance and stop attempting to muzzle free speech.
Alsumaria notes that the home of a city administrator in Baiji was bombed today -- no one was at the house at the time.  The month of December (and the year 2012) is winding down.  December has been a violent month in Iraq with Iraq Body Count recording 223 deaths from violence this month through Wednesday.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
At least 115 people killed, 252 wounded in #Iraq so far this month - @AFP tally: http://www.bit.ly/AFPIraqToll 
And you can click here for AFP's recorded deaths, Rao has made it available in spread sheet form.  Not just today, it's been available for most of the month and he plans to keep it available for the near future.  He and AFP deserve a big thank you for that.  This is not the ministries count, this is the count AFP tabulates each day.  (And let me start the thank you train: Thank you, AFP, for keeping your own count -- something all outlets did during Vietnam but something that only AP and AFP have done during the Iraq War -- AP and AFP have kept their own count throughout, others did not keep it one in 2003 or any of the years followed.  Thank you now for sharing the count in a way that makes it even more open and accessible.  Whether your numbers or higher or lower than I might believe the month called for, I do appreciate that your figures are publicly out there and hope it will lead other outlets covering Iraq to include your count as a reference point when noting the monthly figures released by the Iraqi government ministries.  Again, thank you very much.)


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kat's BFF and is Somerby trying to rip off C.I.?

I'm going to note Kat's BFF tonight, Kevin Zeese:

The fiscal cliff is a self-created bi-partisan drama that demonstrates the failure of traditional politics and the need for mobilized resistance and a new independent political movement. The mass media and operatives from the Democratic and Republican parties have raised all sorts of imagined fears to provide cover to unnecessary cuts to health, retirement and social programs, while marginally increasing taxes on the wealthiest. But watch out!  This is really only the set-up for the payback to big business interests that bankrolled the 2012 elections.

President Obama is on track to be the first Democratic president to cut Social Security benefits at a time when pensions are disappearing and it is the primary source of income for elderly Americans. Social Security does not add to the deficit as it has a $2.7 trillion surplus, expected to rise to $3.7 trillion according to the Social Security Trustees. Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are also on the table; no doubt other safety net programs will also be cut.

While Democrats like to blame Speaker Boehner, and he and the Republicans deserve their share of bi-partisan blame, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is cheering on the retirement cuts saying they would “strengthen” the program. Pelosi, who keeps her leadership by raising millions from the wealthy, has raised $328 million since becoming leader including $85 million in the 2012, seems out of touch with how retired Americans teeter on the verge of poverty. In fact, while Social Security keeps 21 million out of poverty, the Census Bureau reports that in the last decade there has been a 78% increase in Americans over 60 facing the threat of hunger and one in six seniors live in poverty. The Social Security Administration reports projected poverty rates are quite sensitive to the assumption that benefits are not further reduced. The proposal made by Obama and endorsed by Pelosi (and other leading ‘progressive’ Democrats) as strengthening would noticeably reduce benefits of retirees – a person who retired at 65 in 2000, if they live to 92 will have one month cut annually as a result.

And I'm going to note that Bob Somerby has no ideas of his own and appears ready to openly steal from C.I. now.  That's the warning shot.  If that bastard isn't toying but is about to start seriously copying C.I. and he thinks he can get away with it without being called out, he's got another damn thing coming.

It's end of the year time.  As you wait for our usual end of the year pieces, might I suggest you enjoy C.I.'s year-in-review pieces for the last years?

  • 2011: The Year of the Slow Reveal

  • 2010: The Year of Enough

  • 2009: The Year of Living Sickly

  • 2008: The Year of Living Hormonally

  • 2007: The Year of Living Useless

  • 2006: The Year of Living Dumbly


  • May I further point out that if Bob Somerby thinks he's going to show up doing a 'year of . . .' at this late date and pretend like he's just thought of it?

    After all the dirty smutty e-mails his drunken friend Tim sends C.I.?


    Yeah, Bob Somerby, pretend like you're doing something you just thought of as you rip off yet another woman, you piece of trash.

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


    Thursday, December 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, more weapons for Nouri, more deaths for Iraqis, protests continue, a major one is planned for tomorrow, we look at the issues facing the selection of a US Secretary of Defense, and more.
     
    "I should have seen the s**t coming down the hall," sings Greg Dulli on the Afghan Whig's "When We Two Parted" (New Year's Eve, the Whigs will be rocking it at Bogart's in Cincinnati). When it comes to Thomas E. Ricks, most of us did.  It was only a matter of time before he turned on Emma Sky and, today, at Foreign Policy he does.  We're aganostic on Emma but we can enjoy the implosion as Ricks argues Sky is wrong (and the subtext is Tommy Loves David Petraeus best so he turns on Emma and her US military patron Gen Ray Odierno).  While chuckling over the dynamics and drama Thomas E. Ricks churns out, we're also left with this 'stellar' advice:
     
    If anything could be recommended at this point, it would be for the Obama Administration to abandon the unwanted meddling in Iraqi police affairs and ineffective training, and to openly and effectively engage that broad Iraqi public through positive political focus on the "plain vanilla" operations of civil government systems and technical advice, which the United States has an abundance of and the Iraqi public seriously needs.
     
    Iraq is a failed-state.  You realize too late that Thomas E. Ricks is not only a War Hawk but also completely ignorant.  You realize what you always feared: Thomas dabbles.  The police program has been greatly scaled back and that happened long ago -- and rather publicly even in the US press.  Iraq does not move forward under Nouri.
     
    At some point, the US government is going to have to grasp what various NGOs already have.  But there's Thomas Ricks, who should know better, talking about actions that transfer technology to a despot.  In doing so, they alarm the Kurds and the Sunnis and make Iraq even less stable.
     
    Poor Thomas E. Ricks.  When he died as a reporter, he was reborn as the chief sales person for the munitions industry.
     
    As he calls for 'technology' to be shared, it's worth noting Monday's Defense Security Cooperation Agency's press release:
     
    WASHINGTON, December 24, 2012 -- The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress Dec. 21 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Iraq for Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $125 million.
    The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services, equipment installation services, upgrade VSAT managed and leased bandwith, video teleconferencing equipment, 75 VSAT Equipment Suites (consisting of 1.8m VSAT terminals, block up covnerters (BUCs), low-noise down converters (LNBs), required cables and components, iDirect e8350 modem, network operation and dynamic bandwidth equipment, and iMonitor softward), spares and repair parts, tools, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, U.S. Government and contractor representative technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $125 million.
    This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.  This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
    This proposed sale will continue U.S. support to the development of Iraqi Defense Network (IDN) VSAT terminals.  Iraq intends to use these defense articles and services to provide command and control for its armed forces.  The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense. 
    The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
    The principal contractors will be 3Di Technologies and L-3 Communications Company in Hanover, Maryland. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
    Implementation of this proposed sale will require U.S. Government or contractor representatives to travel to Iraq for delivery of operations and maintenance services, installation of new sites for each year of required operations and maintenance services, and field services to install and move VSAT sites and training for a period of one year.
    There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.
    This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.
     
     
    Let's look at the two claims in the press release:
     
     
    1) The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense.  The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
     
    2) This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
     
    With regards to one, how is Iraq's military foundational capabilities increased without    "alter[ing] the basic military balance in the region"?  And since Nouri al-Maliki's own State of Law can't go a month without proclaiming that some segment of Iraqi military is plotting to overthrow al-Maliki, how is it in the interests of the region to arm Iraq?
     
    Even more importantly, who are these weapons to be used on?  Not only is there a valid concern that Nouri will use weapons on the Iraqi people, there is Nouri's notorious paranoia.  Do you put a loaded gun into the hand of the crazy person ranting on the street about how people are out to get him? 
     
    With regards to the second assertion -- there's no way this helps the US and it's even more difficult to see how this $125 million purchase  helps the Iraqi people.
     
    David Romano (Rudaw) observes that $6 billion was the annual budget for Iraq from 1997 to 2003 and the people were provided with food, with electricity, with basic public services.  Now?
     
    Today's Iraq enjoy an unimaginably higher budget.  Oil revenues bring in some one hundred billion dollars a year.  One would think that with such vast sums of wealth, the country would enjoy spectacular increases in standards of living. Instead, garbage lies uncollected on street corner after street corner, with little children playing in disease-ridden alleyways.  Security remains elsuive as kidnappings, mafia shakedowns and political assassinations cast a shadow across entire communities.  Baghdad and other cities still lack electricity, with noisy portable generators rumbling through the night and spewing their pollution across entire neighborhoods.  Some twenty-five billion dollars "spent" on restoring the country's electrical grid seems to have produced little tangible results, possibly because the business interests who rent generators don't want the electric grid restored. 
     
     
    Explain to me again how the Iraqi people are helped by this $125 million weapons contract?  Today, Alsumaria reports 4 deaths -- including two sisters, one 12 and one 18.  From Wednesday's snapshot:
     

    Alsumaria notes yesterday's rains have caused 3 deaths and two people to be injured in Baghdad -- two deaths from a house collapsing due to the rain and one from electrical death (with two more injured in that as well) and that main streets in the capital are sinking.  All Iraq News notes Baghdad has been placed on high alert because of the torrential rains.
    You could mistake Baghdad for Venice in
    this All Iraq News photo essay which notes that students are forced to walk through the high standing water to get to schools.   They also note of Tuesday's rainfall:  Baghdad had the most yesterday (67 mm) followed by Hilla, Azizia and Karbala (rainfall was also recorded in Samawa, Rifai and Basra -- of those three, Basra was the highest and Baghdad's rainfall was three times Basra's).   It's not just Baghdad.  Alsumaria notes that after ten house[s] collapse[d] in Wasit Province village, the Iraqi Red Crescent began evacuating the entire village.
     
     
    Al Mada notes today that Iraqis who might plan to travel Italy no longer need visit Venice to see streets of water, they just need to step outside their homes and they can take in the beauty of water surrounding houses, riding  a car through the Sadr section of Baghdad can be like a gondala ride in Venice. 
     
    As Iraq crumbles, Nouri's spending $125 million on a weapons program (which will allow him to track Iraqis via satellite)?  This helps the Iraqi people how?
     
    There is no ethical justification for the US government to allow this sale.  Greed isn't ethical but they could be honest and admit that greed is why they'll gladly grab $125 million that should instead be spent improving the lives of the Iraqi people.  "Greed" would be a honest reason for the deal.  Again, not an ethical reason, but an honest one.
     
    Reuters reports that protests continued today in Iraq with the highway to Jordan and Syria being blocked "for a fifth day" and that along with the protest in Ramadi, there was also a protest in Mosul.  Earlier today, Alsumaria reported that a protest has been called for Friday (Moqtada al-Sadr has added his endorsement) and the focus of the protest will be women prisoners.  This has been building for some time with the treatment of women in Iraqi prisons and detention centers been a focal point for weeks now with allegations of rape and torture.  Kitabat notes that calls for the women prisoners to be released were frequent at most of this week's rallies.  Alsumaria notes that Moqtada al-Sadr told the network through his spokesperson (Salah al-Obeidi) that he regrets statements at demonstrations that go to sectarianism and against the Iraqi national identity and he stated he stands with the calls the protesters are making.
     
    And the reports of allegations and torture and what Committees in Parliament have discovered, led to Nouri's freak out where he threatened to arrest members of Parliament who talked about the torture and rape.  Yesterday, he was insisting he had the power to do so.  Al Mada notes today that Nouri's remarks are in conflict with the Iraqi Constitution. 
     
    Article 63:
     
    First: A law shall regulate the rights and privileges of the speaker of the Council of Representatives, his two deputies, and the members of the Council of Representatives.
     
    Second: A.  A member of the Council of Representatives shall enjoy immunity for statements made while the Council is in session, and the member may not be prosecuted before the courts for such.
     
                  B.  A Council of Representatives member may not be placed under arrest during the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and the Council of Representatives members consent by an absoulte majority to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
     
                 C. A Council of Representatives member may not be arrested after the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and with the consent of the speaker of the Council of Representatives to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
     
     
    No, that is not in keeping with the claims Nouri's made this week that he will just strip MPs of their immunity and have them arrested.  The above section of the Constitution is very clear.  But Nouri's never really abided by or honored the Iraq Constitution.  And when he went after Vice Presdient Tareq al-Hashemi, he didn't follow the rules.  To do so would have required Parliament to vote against al-Hashemi and Nouri was (repeatedly) rebuffed in his efforts against al-Hashemi as well as against Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.  December 2011, Nouri targeted Tareq and Saleh who were both Sunnis and also both members of Iraqiya, the political slate that beat Nouri al -Maliki's State of Law.  This month, he targeted Rafia al-Issawi who is the Minister of Finance and also happens to be Sunni and a member of Iraqiya. 
     
     
     
    Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi warned against a "civil war that would divide Iraq." He described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a "liar, despotic and bloody," and predicted "a spontaneous popular uprising" that would topple Maliki. According to him, Iran "is leading the war machine against the Syrian people." He called on President Barack Obama to "correct the mistakes of his predecessor."

     
     
     
    Turning to today's violence,   All Iraq News notes 1 Iraqi soldier was killed in an armed attack in Mousl and a Mosul home invasion left 1 person dead,  and 1 police officer, who was on a vacation in Mousl, was shot dead in an attack. and a Mosul roadside bombing left two police officers injured.    Alsumaria adds a roadside bombing outside of Tikrit left two Iraqi military personnel injured. and a Baquba bombing left one person injured.  Reminder, through yesterday, Iraq Body Count tabulated 223 deaths from violence in the month of December so far.
     
     
     
     
    Jay Newton-Small (Time magazine) reports on the flow of refugees from Syria into Iraq:
     
    Almost all of the Syrian refugees Iraq has accepted are Kurds into Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous state in the north that exercises many of its own policies. Authorities elsewhere in Iraq have refused all but 9,000 Arab refugees for fear that the highly sectarian violence across the border in Syria may whip up similar flames in Iraq. The Kurds, though, are eager to help out their brethren, even if their resources are already stressed. So far, the Kurdish government has spent $11 million for the camp, but much more is needed. "We plan an international appeal," Bakir says.
    Aside from the tent shortage, there is also a shortage of food, especially for single men who have their own area on the far side of the camp. Families also have a shortage of water. The newer arrivals have to share one water drum per three or four families, which doesn't translate to enough drinking or cooking water, let alone water to bathe with. The lucky ones get one shower a week. Electricity hasn't been a problem – there's enough for everyone to run lights and cookers. But there's not enough for heaters and the chills of winter are setting in.
    The main reason for the shortages is because UNHCR didn't expect the sudden surge of refugees, says Jerome Seregni, a UNHCR spokesman. "Since December 2011, Iraq has continued to receive Syrians with an average rate of 1,000 persons monthly from April through June to suddenly 1,000 persons weekly during  August to October," Seregni says. "And although in November/December the number of arrivals was slightly decreasing, nevertheless 200 to 500 daily Syrians were registering in the camp."
     
    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does work around the world assisting those in need.  If you are interested in donating to the UNHCR, you can visit this web page (where you can donate securely online or obtain information on sending a donation in via regular postal mail).
     
     
    Turning to the US, once upon a time we noted Joe Conason.  We've ignored him for several years now to be kind because I know for a fact 2008 was not a pretty year for Joe as he tried to be ethical and a journalist.  The two were not rewarded on the left.  So when someone tells me about Joe's latest column -- for the last years -- I just roll my eyes and know he suffered (and suffered unfairly) in 2008.  But there is no lifetime hall pass. 
     
    Joe has an intensely idiotic column that would be embarrassing from a 'journalist' like Air Berman but is shameful from Joe.  Joe's all Chuck E. In Love on Hagel.  And rewriting history in the process.  Because US President Barack Obama might nominate Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, a lot of whoring's taking place and Joe is just an embarrassment.  Here is Chuck Hagel as seen by the Democratic left in 2004:
     
     
    5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines.
    6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.
    7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.
     
     
    That's BuzzFlash in December of 2004.  Long-connected to the Bush family?  And Democrats now want let that tired old man be Secretary of Defense?
     
    Let's deal with Joe's nonsense.  Vote Vets is a joke and will always be a joke.  It's 'membership' is a joke because people join after having been misled and then find out that it's nothing but a Democratic Party organ.  And after they leave, it turns out that they're still counted as a member.  Vote Vets does nothing to help veterans, it does a lot to provide cover for Democrats.   If Ari Berman was citing them as reputable, you wouldn't be surprised but Joe? 
     
    On top of that, Joe wants you to know that Hagel is qualified because Hagel was in the military.  If that's qualified, then Joe is not qualified to speak because he wasn't in the military and he's of the age that he could have volunteered to go to Vietnam.  So by his logic, maybe he should just be quiet.
     
    Joe lists a lot of 'reasons' like that.  None of it has to do with today.  Nor does Michael Hirsh's nonsense at National Journal.
     
    Today?  Gregg Zoroya (USA Today via WTLV) reports approximately 50% of US service woman deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan self-disclose that they were sexually harassed while deployed and approximatly a quarter of the women also self-disclose having been sexually assaulted while deployed.  Melissa Jeltsen (Huffington Post) explains, "Researchers contacted 1,100 women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and asked them questions about sexual assaults and harassment while deployed."  You'll note that Joe Conason and Michael Hirsh avoid this issue -- even though the assault has been an issue for some time, even though addressing it and changing the tone is one of the major roles of the Secretary of Defense.  Joe and Michael are too busy scratching their crotches to actually think what the Secretary of Defense does.
     
    We do get that right?  We also get that the Secretary of Defense is not deciding wars.  That's the President's job.  Hirsh and Conason want you to believe that Republican Chuck Hagel is an oracle and seer.  How about we deal with reality?
     
    Chuck Hagel is too old for the job and he brings nothing to the job that's different than what Robert Gates did.  I know Leon Panetta and I fear, honestly, for Leon's health.  He's had to knock himself out in this position.  I blame Gates for that because Gates didn't do half of what was needed.  Didn't even try.  That doesn't mean Panetta should be graded on a curve.  But it is why I say that the position, right now, needs to be going to someone younger than might be expected.  It needs youth and energy and it needs someone not afraid to shake things up to force change.  How does Hagel provide any of that?  (He doesn't.)
     
    Hirsh and Conason seem unaware of the actual duties of the Secretary of Defense.  Maybe that's why they fail to note DoD's release, last week, of [PDF format warning] the "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies."  The report notes that there was a 23% increase in rapes reported when compared to the last annual report (and the report notes that many rapes go unreported).  51% of women and 10% of men surveyed reported being the victim of sexual harassment.   There are a number of disturbing details in the report -- hopefully the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing next month on the report because there are a number of issues that US House Reps Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, Chellie Pingree and Niki Tsongas have asked about before (and usually been denied answers on -- such as how many restricted rape reports become unrestricted). But I'm especially bothered by what DoD says happened with 27 people who were found by the Command to be guilty of rape or assault.  I'm bothered by the 'punishment' they received which doesn't seem sufficent to me and I believe that this needs to be explained in a full hearing. For example, I'm sure a lot of rapists would love it if being found guilty of rape just meant that they were kicked out of their profession. 
     
    So what's in Hagel's background that tells us he's going to address this issue?  That he has the desire to?  That he has the energy to?
     
    Hagel is from the same square box thinking as Robert Gates.  Barack Obama needs to go bold with this decision because 'safe' choices -- standardized DC 'leadership' think -- has not resulted in changes for those issues, nor for the suicide crisis, nor for homeless veterans of today's wars.  The overall rate for homeless veterans has fallen.  But the rate for veterans of today's wars has increased.  UPI reports today that the number of Afghanistan War veterans alone -- just that one war -- who are homeless had doubled in since 2010.  You can say, "Veterans, that's a VA issue!" No, it also has to do with what information and resources service members are made aware of before they become veterans.  These are all serious issues and they're not addressed or even noted in passing in the superficial writing of Conason and Hirsh.
     
    If you're not weighing those issues, you're not talking about the post at hand.  You may be drooling over Chuck Hagel.  Certainly Joe Conason appears to when he writes, "Already he has felt obliged to apologize for a nasty remark he once made in reaction to President Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador."  As Greg Sargent (Washington Post -- I'm surprised too but glad to be surprised by Sargent), Hagel's remarks were:  "Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyles, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be --  openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel -- to do a better job.""
    That's not a nasty remark, it's a bigoted remark.  As Sargent also noted, Hormel has never received an apology from Hagel.  Hagel only made his public 'apology' when this became an issue in the news cycle.  In addition, he was against ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  It would appear for Chuck Hagel to be comfortable as Secretary of Defense, we would need to build a time machine for him, first, so it could be 1952 all over again.   And Joe's working overtime to paint Hagel as the victim of a neocon plot but, reality, Steve Clemons (The Atlantic) reports that neocon Zalmay Khalilzad is endorsing Hagel.
     
    He is not qualified.  Two Democrats who are would be: Susan Rice and Patrick Murphy.  For all the reasons Rice was wrong for the State Dept, she's right for the Defense Dept.  Someone young and not afraid to shake things up or ruffle feathers is needed at this point because there needs to be a change in the culture of the Pentagon itself.  Rice's record indicates she would be effective, she would go after logical goals in a variety of ways -- including inspired and inventive means.  Patrick Murphy is a former member of the US House of Representatives and also an Iraq War veteran.  He too would shake things up.  We've seen that in his ability to bond with other veterans to fight real issues -- health care, benefits, discrimination.  His has not been the typical path of a veteran who goes to Congress.  After Rice and Murphy, the most obvious choice would be a medical doctor with training and experience in sucicdes and/or assaults.  These issues have got to be taken care of because the US military is not healthy until they are.  Allowing the military to remain unhealthy is not only abuse, it puts them and the general society at risk.
     
    When Hirsh and Conason want to leave the kiddie pool and talk about real issues in the grown up world, we'll gladly welcome them over.  In the meantime, they're lovely cheerleadrs for Hagel but they're not offering anything of depth or value.  And speaking of superficial, Joe Conason should dwell in writer's hell for including Vote Vets' ridiculous statement that Hagel would "put troops first."  I'm not able to think of any Secretary of Defense who doesn't make that claim -- even Donald Rumsfeld makes that claim.  What a stupid remark, what an insult to the veterans that this passes for 'leadership' from Vote Vets.  That's the job of the Secretary of Defense.  Again, Joe should dwell in writer's hell for that one.
     
     
    Moving over to England,  Gordon Rayner and John-Paul Ford Rojas (Telegraph of London) report yet another delay for the Iraq Inquiry, this one, as usual, is related to Tony Blair and secrecy.  The Iraq Inquiry long ago finished taking public testimony.  They explain themselves:

    The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced on 15 June 2009 that an Inquiry would be conducted to identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict. The Iraq Inquiry was officially launched on 30 July 2009. At the launch the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, set out the Inquiry's Terms of Reference:
    "Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country." 
    The Inquiry committee members are Sir John Chilcot (Chairman), Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.
    The Inquiry took evidence over a number of months, with as many hearings as possible held in public. The first round of hearings began in autumn 2009 and continued into early 2010. After a break for the general election, the Inquiry resumed its public hearings in June for a period of five weeks. The Inquiry held its final round of public hearings between 18th January - 2nd February 2011. The Inquiry intends to deliver its report as soon as possible (see the homepage). The Inquiry committee intends to include in the report all but the most sensitive information essential to our national security. The report will then be debated in Parliament.
    For more information, see the following sections:

    Rayner and Ford Rojas report that David Cameron's government is refusing to release certain documents that are likely to detail how then-Prime Minister Tony Blair made a deal with Bully Boy Bush to go to war on Iraq before he ever consulted Parliament.  Military Families Against the War's Reg Keys is quoted stating, "The report was supposed to be published in 2011, when it was still a very hot potato, but by the time we eventually see it people might think it was all a long time ago and it doesn't really matter any more."  Surprisingly, the normal chatty, can't stop talking about himself Tony Blair has no statement posted at his online office.
     
     
     

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