We attended the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this morning.
I'm glad John Hall was the chair. He kept it moving. I think I would have fallen asleep with a lot of other chairs.
That's because some of the witnesses were so dull. They were too technical and they didn't explain things.
There was a man we spoke to who has a son at Walter Reed right now and he'll be coming home and using VA care in the near future. He and his wife are there each day. He heard about the hearing while getting coffee at Walter Reed. And he told his wife how it was supposed to be "a primer" (that's what he was told) on VA care, the problems with and how to access it. His wife told him he needed to go. So this morning, he dropped her off at the VA and came to the hearing.
He couldn't follow a number of witnesses.
And it wasn't just him.
If you're using letters, say them at least one time. I'm sitting next to C.I. usually so I can just give a blank look and C.I. will write in the margins (C.I. takes notes during every hearing) what the initials stand for.
Even with that, it was a confusing hearing.
For example, if you're asked about something and you answer with "the Canada model" is the one you favor. You better explain why (in plain English) and explain what you're talking about.
I had no idea.
We'd noticed the man throughout the hearing because he was obviously confused and, honestly, looked a little ticked off. C.I.'s phone rang and C.I. was speaking so I walked over. (This is after the hearing ended. The only phone that rang during the hearing was John Hall's. And he said he hates it when that happens and he especially hates it when it happens and it's his phone.) And he said a few generic things to me and I asked, "What did you think of the hearing?" He couldn't grasp any of it and he thought it was him. It wasn't him.
I explained that I didn't get most of it either. Then C.I. was off the phone and came over and broke it down for both of us. But we don't know a lot about military care or how this happens or that happens. And I'm sure there were others who didn't as well.
I have now been to two hearings where people attended the hearing hoping to learn something and instead left confused by the hearing.
I did have a question regarding the hearing. If you're not going to be present, you can have your statement entered into the record. I'm referring to members of Congress. So why did Doug Lamborn even show for the hearing? It's not like he did anything. He read his opening statement and high tailed it out of there. And John Hall was nice enough to let Lamborn read his statement first -- before Hall the chair of the subcommittee. But why didn't Lamborn just have it entered into the record and not waste everyone's time.
If you're going to share opinions, I'd think it's only fair that you be present for at least part of the hearing.
Maybe I'm too picky.
I think I'm developing a Congressional crush on John Hall, by the way. He's not my rep (Nancy Pelosi is) but he's always better organized than a ton of members of Congress and he always has good interaction with the witnesses. He also champions some important issues.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, July 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Ambassador in Iraq doesn't appear to stay at his post very much ("Is he here? I look in the pool hall . . ."), Nouri admits US troops may stay in Iraq past 2011, the House Veterans Committee holds a hearing on the needs of disabled veterans and their families (though some witnesses seem unclear on that topic), and more.
This morning the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled Examining the Ancillary Benefits and Veterans Quality of Life Issues.
"This Subcommittee has actively tackled many complex and complicated issues that have been encumbering the Veterans Benefits Administration and and it's ability to properly compensate veterans who file disability claims," explained US House Rep John Hall who is the Chair of the Subcommittee. "These issues have majorly centered on VA business processes and operations. Today's hearing will focus on the actual appropriateness of available benefits in meeting the needs of disabled veterans and their families."
US House Rep Doug Lamborn is the Ranking Member and, due to other demands, made his opening remarks before Hall did and then Lamborn had to leave the hearing. The hearing was grouped around three panels. The first was composed of Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, National Veterans Legal Service Program's Ronald Abrams and Blinded Veterans Association's Thomas Zampieri. The second panel was composed of National Academies' Lonnie Bristow, Economic Systems Inc.'s George Kettner, Quality of Life Foundation's Kimberly Munoz and National Organization on Disability's Carol Glazer. The third panel was the VA's Bradley Mayes and Thomas Pamperin.
Chair John Hall: Mr. Zampieri, as you noted in your testimony, eye and ear injuries have been associated with TBI, with explosions of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan among other battlefields and theaters of combat. Do you feel that VA has done a sufficient job evaluating all the face and head trauma completely and accurately to compensate veterans and provide them with all necessary ancillary-ancillary benefits?
Thomas Zampieri: Thank you for the question. I think it's actually a concern of ours and probably safe to say many of the other VSOs that individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries that have sensory associated symptoms have a very difficult time in getting their ratings because so many of those are subjective kind of complaints. You know we frequently hear a a lot about the problems with tinnitus, for example. Frequently TBI patients complain of photophobia which is extreme sensitivity to light. And those are very difficult to rate. But those things can have quite an impact on the individual's ability to function and also their relationship socially, employment wise. And so we're concerned about the way TBI assessments are done in regards to sensory losses. I know that the VA has put a lot of effort towards looking at new assessment methods and congratulate them for-for recognizing this is a serious problem.
Chair Hall then asked him whether there were any devices currently are in the works that hoped to address sight issues and he pointed to the Brainport Vision Device which was a topic of the May 13th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. From that day's snapshot:
Robert Beckman [Brainport Technologies] spoke of a portable device, the Brainport Vision Device, where a small camera ("with zoom capability") is hooked to other neurochannels ("such as the tongue"). Beckman stated, "One blind user with two glass eyes was able to successfully shoot a basketball and another used the Brainport Vision Device at an indoor rock climbing gym to see the next rock holds and at home with his daughter to play Tic-Tac-Toe."
"The Brainport Vision Device will not replace the cane or the sight dog," he continued. "But it will become an important, additional tool to improve the safety, mobility and quality of life for blind users. Some examples. Finding the open seat on a crowded bus or train. Identifying the direction to the target building in a confusing parking lot. Finding the handle in order to remove a hot pot from the stove. Wicab recently sponsored clinical testing of the Brainport Vision Device at the Atlanta VA. Dr. Michael Williams, the PI concluded, 'Bottom line, the device performs remarkably well for the tasks that we looked at in phase one'. To optimize the device we need feedback from a much larger pool of users who are blind. We would welcome the opportunity to further test the Brainport Vision Device at VA sites. Perhaps those willing soldiers who are blind as a result of a blast injury should be first in line to test this new technology?"
Zampieri noted the device was still in the early stages of research and stated those who have tested it would declare "it holds some hope, but it's not going to replace natural vision." Under questioning from Hall, Abrams explained that he had a relative in residential care "and it cost over $90,000 to $100,000 to put somebody in a home and homecare, if you need twenty-four hour care, is hugely expensive."
"First observation," declared Glazer on the second panel noting an ongoing program -- Army Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration Project -- the National Organization on Disability is conducting with the army, "a fundamental mismatch many of the supports for veterans are constrained to an active service model placing the burden on veterans and their families to find and approach agencies But we find that the most seriously injured soldiers, especially with cognitive injuries are not really able to effectively access these services. [. . .] Second observation, the need to deal with both a veteran and the family member. As others have stated, the process of recovering from injury and coming home and coming to terms with disability is a very complex process that impacts the entire family. Ancillary benefits in our belief must be available to veterans and family members."
Glazer would go on to note issues such as criminal charges for veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI, training in the management of personal finances. Glazer, and her organization, are a little too Republican for me (Tom Ridge chairs the organization) and it's a little too "smile and pull up those bootstraps." But Glazer was one of the few who knew how to speak. Globbidy-gook? No one gives a damn. Don't reference a model, for example, in another country, without explaining it. If that's the root of your response to Hall's question, you're wasting everyone's time including your own. I don't usually note "I like this organization, I don't like that one" but on this panel, Glazer's being noted because she knows how to speak and because two others will be ignored, I want to be really clear that no one reads this as I'm endorsing Glazer's organization. And let's also note that when all you do is toss out a bunch of numbers, no one's really impressed. In fact, it's assumed you actually don't know what you're talking about -- including your numbers -- or you'd be offering testimony that people could actually follow. I've never seen as many blank stares in a hearing before (true of the first panel to a lessor degree). Those not doing blank stares? A man to the right of us repeatedly put his hand over his face during the second panel, at a loss as to what was being said. At the end of the hearing, he stated he felt as if it had been conducted in a foreign language. Glazer knew how to speak and so did Kimberly Munoz.
Munoz was asked to estimate the amount spent by veterans and their families for assistance and stated she didn't know that answer but that it varies due to the fact "that some families have the assistance they need to get the benefits they need from VA and they have to use less out of pocket to get the services their veteran needs. Other families who may have not had the guidance from perhaps a VSO or who don't have the education in our country -- maybe they've moved here from another country -- and they don't speak our language, it's hard for them to run through all the rules and regulations and applications
and so they have a difficult time accessing the benefits that they need. There was a study that was released by the Center for Naval Analysis that estimated 19 months of lost income of around $2,000 some odd dollars for a total of $36,000 average loss per family of a catastrophically injured service member. That's their income loss which isn't necessarily answering your question of how much do they spend out of pocket to get the services but it is -- it is a figure that's been widely reported."
Chair John Hall: Thank you and what additional factors do you think VA should specifically consider when it adjudicates aid and attendance or housebound rates?
Kimberly Munoz: I think they need to consider the -- one of the key questions is: Can the veteran keep themselves safe from the hazards of daily living? There's many other questions related to a body part function or a loss of a body part but buried deep in there is can the veteran keep himself safe from the hazards of daily living? For those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and stand-alone TBI I believe that that is a key to determining whether or not that veteran needs aid and attendance. The aid and attendance can also vary in terms of do you need physical aid and attendance or do you need oversight? So one package of aid and attendance does not meet the needs of every single veteran.
Chair John Hall: That seems to me that that judgment about the safety of the veteran living independently is similar to a judgment that one would have to make about an Alzheimer-Alzheimer's patient, for instance. In many families they go through that difficult time when they realize that a stove or an electric socket is no longer a safe thing for this adult family member to be handling alone.
Kimberly Munoz: Some of the family members have suggested specially adapted equipment be included in the grants available for home modifications -- like stoves that automatically turn off after a certain amount of time. Or other appliances that consider short term memory loss for some of the Traumatic Brain Injury patients.
Chair John Hall: And what else do you think Ms. -- Ms. Munoz what else could the VA do to improve the quality of life of disabled veterans and their families.
Kimberly Munoz: It sounds simple but I know it's very difficult and that is: Make it easier for families to get what they need. Anytime you look at the Title 38 and try to determine, "Well what am I -- what is this veteran eligible -- or how do I go about it?" It's so hard to know who is eligible for what. One family care giver told me the story of, you know, "We thought we were eligible for respite care and then when we called my son's rating wasn't, wasn't high enough." Or the SMC [Special Monthly Compensation] code wasn't the right code. So they work very hard then to find out, "Well how to I get that code?" And that's a backwards way to work a system. You need to find out what does that veteran need, much like you [George Kettner] suggested, what is the need of that veteran and what is the need of that family so that they can live safely and live independently -- not how do we get you pigeon holed into the right code so that you get the services that that code offers.
Can you follow that? Yes, you can. And an organization that sends a speaker like that. or Glazer, into a hearing is way ahead of others. You need to know the topic of the hearing -- a problem for one person on the first panel who repeatedly answered questions with a variation of "I don't know" -- and you need to be able to speak clearly on the topic. Glazer advocated for less benefits -- I'm not joking -- and whether anyone agreed with her or not, everyone could follow what she was saying. (She was saying that benefits can prevent work. And that's as much as I'm doing to circulate her nonsense argument.)
Yesterday's snapshot noted the House Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Kat covered it last night at her site (and plans to cover today's hearing at her site tonight). Despite the fact that the New York Times and one of their reporters were repeatedly trashed in that hearing, the paper of some record ignored the hearing, as did most of the press. Walter F. Roche Jr. (Pittsurgh Tribune-Review) covers the VA's Kent Wallner's testimony. I didn't find him believable, Roche obviously did and use the link to read about that aspect of yesterday's hearing. Rachel Baye and Naomi Jagoda (The Daily Pennsylvanian) cover the hearing and zoom in on Dr. Gay Kao and his attempt to play victim.
Also in yesterday's snapshot was Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, and US President Barack Obama's performace at the Rose Garden. Apparently journalists also wanted to play a role -- something other than reporter -- judging from the articles filed on the nonsense. For perspective, we drop back to Whit Stillman's Barcelona. Specifically, a party where American Fred (Chris Eigeman) is discussing his home country.
Female Party Goer: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people?
Female Party Goer: All those people killed in shootings in America?
Fred: Oh. Shootings, yes. But that doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.
America's not more violent, insists Fred, they're just better shots. Apparently some similar defense was on the minds of Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Jeff Zeleny (New York Times) and Mark Silva (Los Angeles Times and other Tribune properties). None of the three challenges Barack's laughable assertion that "Violence continues to be down". No, it doesn't. As we explained yesterday, the trend in lower violence ended with the month of January. Starting with February, you see an uptick in violence. That trend has held each passing month. We also cited Al Jazeera which was explaining, "An estimated 437 Iraqis were killed in June, the highest death toll in 11 months, and the near daily attacks have continued in July." June, the most recent month with data, saw "the highest death toll in 11 months," but Barack wants to claim violence is down? Apparently Iraq isn't more violent currently, it's just seen better shots and better bomb builders? DeYoung has the strongest article, then Zeleny and then Silva. One compliment to all three is they covered it. Strongly or badly, they covered it. Nouri al-Maliki met with Barack Obama yesterday. The Iraq War is six years old and counting. Where was the coverage? Amy Goodman's pathetic two sentences in headlines? That's something to be proud of? How pathetic. What do you get instead? You get the crap Bob Somerby's calling out today (the mind readers who 'just know' something but don't know a thing -- which didn't stop Amy Goodman from doing yet another segment on it today). You really need to ask how the media -- Big and Small -- is serving you because in this round of Liar's Poker, seems to be a lot of Liz Smiths sitting down at the table wanting to be dealt in.
Back to this morning's articles: Where are Americans? The leader of a country the US remains at war with visits and where are the voices of Americans? We do grasp that the Iraq War continues, right? Check yesterday's snapshot and then read the articles again. A poll was released yesterday. It addressed Iraq. Where's any citation of the results? From yesterday's snapshot:A new AP-GfK Roper poll finds a decrease in the number of respondents who believe Barack will remove troops from Iraq -- 15% lower than the last poll. [PDF format warning, click here for the data breakdown.] 62% of respondents ranked "The Situation in Iraq" as either "Extremely important" or "Very important." The poll found an increase of five percent on the number of respondents who disapprove of Barack's handling of the Iraq War. Is this increase a result of angry right-wingers upset over Barack's so-called plan? Maybe. But the respondents were asked if they believed Barack would "remove most troops from Iraq?" In January, 83% of respondents said it was likely and 15% said it was unlikely. The 83% who thought it was coming has fallen to 68%. The number who believe it is not happening has risen to 26%.
Nouri and Barack meet up at the White House yesterday as a poll is released which finds the number of people who believe Barack will "remove most troops from Iraq" has fallen from 83% in January to 68% presently -- a 15% drop. Where's that in any of the articles?The articles repeatedly (and falsely) claim the US will be out of Iraq in 2011. That's not what's happening. It's not even claimed to be happening. Does no one listen to Adm Mike Mullen, Gen Ray Odierno or even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? Reading the articles today, it doesn't appear that anyone does. Uh-oh. Reality slaps them in the face. Aljazeera reports, "The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011." Yeah, he did it today and it's only a surprise if you've never grasped what the Status Of Forces Agrement does and does not do. The Washington Post, for example, has one person on staff who understands the SOFA completely. That's one more than the New York Times has. Drop back to real time coverage (Thanksgiving 2008) and you'll see the Washington Post could explain what it did and didn't do and get it right. No other US outlet can make that claim. (The Los Angeles Times hedged their bets but did appear to grasp it in an article co-written by Tina Susman.) McClatchy Newspapers? Oh goodness, Leila Fadel made an idiot of herself over the SOFA. Even more so than the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller -- in December and January -- offered some realities but they were lost on the other reporters at the paper). The Times just got it wrong. Fadel got it wrong and sang praises of it. It wasn't reporting, it was column writing passed off as such. Today, Nouri declared, "Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at the time, based on the needs of Iraq." Sound familiar? It should. This month you should have heard Adm Mike Mullen make the same statement, you should have heard General Ray Odierno make it over and over beginning in May and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it many times -- generally he's asked when he's visiting a foreign country because US reporters don't really seem to care. One exception would certainly be Dahr Jamail who was on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday and explained, "We still have over 130,000 troops in Iraq. Troops are not being withdrawn from Iraq. They are being relocated to different bases, some of the bases still within cities, but they are not being withdrawn thus far." Dahr's latest book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan has just been released this month. IPA provides this context from Global Policy Forum's James Paul: "For all the talk of 'U.S. withdrawal' from Iraq, the reality on the ground is starkly different. U.S. troops still patrol the cities, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, while Washington remains hugely influential in the politics of the country. The gigantic U.S. embassy looms large in Baghdad, U.S. forces still hold thousands of Iraqi prisoners in the vast U.S. prison camp in the southern desert, dozens of U.S. military bases remain in place including the sprawling 'Camp Victory' complex in Baghdad and Washington continues to press towards its ultimate goal -- the de facto privatization of Iraq's vast oil resources."
At Time magazine online, Bobby Ghosh offers a look at yesterday's press conference and what it means:
You wouldn't know all that from al-Maliki's performance at a Rose Garden press conference on July 22. Standing alongside Obama, the Iraqi Prime Minister was the picture of self-confidence. He talked about broadening Iraq's relationship with the U.S. and cooperation in the area of economics, culture and education as well as a conference in October for potential investors in Iraq. "All of this comes as a natural consequence of [Iraq's] stability," he said. (See pictures of the U.S. troops' six years in Iraq.)
But in private, Iraqi officials concede that the stability is, well, unstable. Before any meaningful economic and cultural cooperation takes place, they say, the U.S. must shepherd Iraq through to the elections, scheduled for January 2010. They worry that the Obama Administration, eager to move on to more pressing problems at home and abroad, may not realize just how fragile Iraq is. The Obama Administration "must not lose its focus" in Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told journalists on July 21.
Spencer Ackerman (Washington Independent) examined the speech by Nouri today and contrasted it with remarks by Afghanistan's Ambassador to the US (Said Jawad) where Jawad noted, at length, US military fatalities. Ackerman observes, "By contrast, in his speech today to the U.S. Institute of Peace, here's the closest Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to recognizing the fact that over 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq: "He extended his thanks to 'the international community and all the countries that have cooperated and helped Iraq,' saying Iraq would enjoy a 'solid relationship with a great and strong country like the United States'."
Chris Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq. He's in the US (we'll get to it) and today he was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports (link offers video options -- Hill is "Iraq, what next?"):
Andrea Mitchell: You're here obviously because Prime Minister Maliki's here and met with the president. There are still tensions over the terms of disengagement if you will. What do we know now as a result of the meetings? About the way Iraq is stepping up to the plate and taking on its own governance?
Chris Hill: Well, first of all, this is pretty complex withdrawal. We have 130,000 troops in country, we just brought them out of the remaining cities. This is a, you know, major undertaking. And for the Iraqis, it was a major development, a major political development for them. So they're very pleased at how it went. Now it's a complex business. You have the world's greatest fighting force, the United States military, turning it over to the IRaqis who aspire to being better than they are but, you know, this is going to be a work in progress. Certainly the world's greatest fighting force has also become the world's greatest training force. That is, we have done a lot of work for the Iraqis. We've really tried to prepare them for this but, you know, they'll be some glitches through this but we will work through them. And I think, so far, so good.
Andrea Mitchell: The Pentagon has said that things are working with the fact that there are new rules of the road, the US is not in the cities. Yet commanders in the field are still complaining that there are time lags and intelligence lags, that you have to get permission from the Iraqis before you can engage. That doesn't work in a fighting field.
Chris Hill: Well, first of all, I think overall, it's going very well. You know there's a joint-operation center where the Iraqis and the US military sit together. They get the information at the same time, they make the decisions about what to do. So overall, it's going well but are there incidents where it hasn't gone well, are there incidents where the Iraqi say we want to do X and the American military guys say we want to do Y? Of course there are, and there will probably continue to be. But I think what is important is to stand back and look at where we are --
And that's as much of Hill as I can take. Back in March, Ava and I were asked by a MSNBC friend to note Andrea Mitchell Reports:
"But I'm in there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." A male friend at MSNBC asked us Friday night why we never mentioned Andrea Mitchell Reports? We honestly weren't aware of it. He pointed out that Mitchell, a reporter, is actually anchoring a daily hour long show (airs Monday through Friday, one p.m. to two p.m. EST). He pointed out that Women's Media Center and other "women-centric" (his term) outlets had tongue-bathed non-journalist Rachel Maddow for her on air musings and abusings but no one's giving Andrea Mitchell credit for holding down a solid hour of news. That may be due to the fact that MSNBC hasn't created a site for her. We looked and couldn't find it. We could find other MSNBC programs (even Al Roker Reporting: Marijuana Inc.), but no page for Andrea Mitchell's show. But, yes, it is disturbing that the "women-centric" outlets can repeatedly note the factually-challenged Rachel Maddow, the non-journalist on a news channel, but they can't give even a mild shout-out to Andrea. "But I'm in there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." Though we frequently disagree with Andrea, we wouldn't ever claim that she's not out "there fighting every day because I got a few more dreams in me." And when we might lose faith in all, it's good to find someone who is. Her fights aren't usually our fights, but she keeps fighting. And for those who doubt the power of doing that, Katie Couric.
The same friend advised about the Hill interview today and that MSNBC (finally) has a webpage for Andrea Mitchell Reports. Ava and I will note that on Sunday but this is the first I've heard that they finally gave her program a webpage. So we'll note it and underscore it and make sure everyone grasps that. (I'm not being sarcastic about community readers or even drive-bys. I am underscoring the fact that MSNBC had a one hour program driven by an actual journalist -- not a sports commentator or drive-time hijinks radio reject or any of the others -- and they refused to promote the show or even give it a webpage.) In terms of Hill.
Why is he in the US? Andrea says on air that it's because of al-Maliki being in the US. Hill's not supposed to hold Nouri's hand when Nouri travels. More importantly, early voting has started in the KRG. What is Hill doing back? This is his second trip to the US since going to Iraq and, for those who've forgotten, despite telling John Kerry he would leave immediately upon confirmation for Iraq, when his nomination was confirmed, he waited days before leaving. And that was at the end of April. It's July and Chris Hill, so eager to be confirmed, is now out of Iraq for his second trip to the US. And he's out at a time when you would think the ambassador would want to be present, to monitor reports on the elections. As for his comments to Andrea Mitchell about what's going on in Iraq, we'll drop back to Liz Sly and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) interview Hill:
The Times asked whether the embassy will have enough information to judge what is happening in Iraqi cities now that U.S. forces will be restricted in their movements and based outside of cities.
Hill: We have embassies operating in scores of countries, and developing good information about what is going on is always a challenge anywhere in the world. I think our contacts in Iraq are better than in most countries. Our ability to reach senior ministers, our ability to talk to people, get their views and get information from them is pretty good in Iraq compared to many countries we operate in. I personally don't feel we have a problem there. If you are comparing it to a time when we ran all the security ourselves, that is obviously a different era. It was a different era that was not sustainable for the rest of history. Clearly there is a point where you return security to the host country security forces.
What's going on Iraq? Chris Hill depends on stringers to tell him, not unlike many a US outlet. The KRG holds provincial and presidential elections Saturday, early voting has begun. Heath Druzin (Stars and Stripes) explains that despite "a canopy of colorful campaign banners and a stream of breathless programs on party-run television channels, there's an eerie quiet on the streets of this regional capital just days before elections in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region." He quotes "Change" candidate Dara Saeed stating that people are "afraid of the police and security forces, of being fired from their jobs" and don't want to say who they'll vote for. Change is one party competing with the KRG's two long dominat political parties: Jalal Talabani (president of Iraq) represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani (president of the KRG) represents the Kurdish Democratic Party. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports "Change" is former PUK members who are "fed up with the party's leadership" and "who are attracting voters who are frustrated with what they say has been corruption, curbs on democracy and the neglect of basic services in recent years." NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition) follows that theme for his report and notes the so-called Change Party. Lawrence offers his opinions and those of others. It's an overview and one that is cheapened by the snarky intro Linda Wertheimer offers. Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) offers the opinion (he's doing a column, not a report) that "the status quo is likely to continue for a while" and, on the power-sharing/horse-trading of the past, "The PUK and KDP, as a coalition government, have a number of agreements to divide key governmental positions equally between them. The Kurdistan region presidency, for example, is held by the KDP in return for its support for a Talabani presidency in Baghdad. Most important of all is the KRG premiership which carries a host of decision-making powers. A KDP official, Nechirvan Barzani, also holds this position. He should have relinquished the role to the PUK in 2008 but, with Talabani's consent and against the will of PUK politburo members, is to carry on until after the elections; the understanding was that he would then make way for leading PUK candidate Barham Salih." AFP explains early voting has begun for the Kurdish military, the "police, prisoners and the sick."
Violence continued today in Iraq with multiple bombings.
Reuters reports a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left three injured, a Ghazaliya bombing that injured three members of one family, a Yusufiya roadside bombing (targeting the US military) which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi bystander and left two more injured, a Kirkuk grenade attack which left three US soldiers and one Iraqi interpreter and one Iraqi bystander injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baquba roadside bombing which wounded 1 Iraqi soldier and notes of the three family members wounded in the bombing that they were "a returning displaced family."
We'll close with Cindy Sheehan. First, her radio program Cindy's Soapbox airs each Sunday and this Sunday the scheduled guest is Gore Vidal. And we'll note this from her latest column, "George W. Bush, Part III" (Cindy's Soapbox).Okay, so the United States of America has had a new puppet regime for six months now. I was never so much into giving Obama a "chance" and I think it's way past time to call Obama and his supporters out, like we called Bush and his supporters out. Our Presidents are merely puppets for the Robber Class and Obama is no exception. I am observing very little "change" in actual policy, or even rhetoric from an Obama regime. Granted, his style and delivery are more polished than the last puppet, but especially in foreign policy, little has changed. Evidently we elect Presidents based on empty rhetoric and if we can find someone who can say as little as possible with using as many words as he can, that's better. I knew a year ago when Obama and his ilk were blathering on about "change" that they didn't mean positive "change" for us, but it's a shame Obama's voters didn't ask him to be a little more specific or demand some good "change." Besides foreign policy where he is a complete disaster, it appears Obama's jobs program is little more than adding tens of thousands of troops to an already bloated military, instead of bringing troops home from anywhere. Billions will go to the money trap of the Pentagon to invest in recruiting our innocent, young, jobless and hopeless youth, when the budgets of peace groups who do counter recruitment are tanking. This is the 3rd week in July and already it's the deadliest month for US and coalition troops deaths in Af/Pak. Who would ever have thought when violence is surged that deaths would surge, also? I think I've seen this movie before.
Oops. we'll note this from ETAN last:
Groups Oppose U.S. Training of Indonesia's Notorious Kopassus Special Forces Contact: John M. Miller, ETAN, +1-718-596-7668 July 23 - More than 50 U.S. organizations today urged the U.S. government to "strictly prohibit any U.S. cooperation with or assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus)' in a letter sent today to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of Congress. The letter was coordinated by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). "Restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia are needed to support democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Supporting Kopassus, which has <http://www.etan.org/news/2008/04brikop.htm>a long history of terrorizing civilians, would send the worst possible signal to those fighting for justice and accountability in Indonesia and East Timor," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. The letter, signed by human rights, religious, peace and other groups, states, "The history of Kopassus human rights violations, its criminality and its unaccountability before Indonesian courts extends back decades and includes human rights and other crimes in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere." A recent <http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/06/24/indonesia-abuses-special-forces-continue-papua>Human Rights Watch report documents how Kopassus soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks." In 2008, the Bush administration proposed to restart U.S. training of Kopassus. the State Department legal counsel reportedly ruled that the ban on training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations, known as the Leahy law, applies to Kopassus as a whole. "The previous administration was forced to conclude that training Kopassus was both illegal and bad policy. The Obama administration should maintain this restriction," said Miller. The text of the letter is below. The letter with a complete list of signatures can be found at http://www.etan.org/news/2009/07kopassus.htm. ---Text of Letter We the undersigned organizations call upon the U.S. government to strictly prohibit any U.S. cooperation with or assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). This force, more than any other in the Indonesian military, stands accused by the Indonesian people of some of the most egregious human rights violations. The annual human rights report of the U.S. Department of State, the East Timor's (Timor-Leste) truth commission (CAVR), United Nations human rights monitors, and the full range of Indonesian and international human rights have reported in detail the many crimes of Kopassus. Those responsible for these violations continue to enjoy broad impunity for their actions, even in a democratizing Indonesia. The history of Kopassus human rights violations, its criminality and its unaccountability before Indonesian courts extends back decades and includes human rights and other crimes in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere. In 1998, a program -- organized and led by then Kopassus commander (and recent vice- presidential candidate) General Prabowo Subianto -- kidnapped, tortured and killed pro-democracy activists. Prabowo told reporters he is unrepentant over these crimes saying, "we could say it was preventative detention." Other well-documented Kopassus crimes include organizing anti-Chinese rioting in Jakarta in 1998 and the 1984 massacre at Tanjung Priok in Java. Throughout 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Kopassus personnel, tortured and killed civilians in an attempt to intimidate and terrorize the population. Kopassus personnel played a key role, including organizing militia proxies, in the violence and destruction during 1999, the occupation's final year. The crimes of Kopassus are not only in the past. A recently published Human Rights Watch report details ongoing Kopassus human right violations in West Papua. The report documents how Kopassus soldiers "arrest Papuans without legal authority, and beat and mistreat those they take back to their barracks." Those who favor engagement argue that U.S. training could lead to reform of Kopassus. This argument is clearly refuted by history. For decades, the U.S. trained and gave other assistance to Kopassus personnel, including General Prabowo and other leading officers. This relationship had no ameliorative affect, rather, it provided the equipment and skills used for repression. U.S. law prohibits the training of military units with a history of involvement in human rights violations. This provision has been long been interpreted as narrowly as possible. However, in 2008, the State Department ruled that the ban, known as the Leahy law, applies to Kopassus as a whole. We believe that this ruling should apply and the U.S. must continue to refuse to train Kopassus.
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the los angeles timesned parker
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