Friday, June 05, 2009

Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant was one of several Black men taken off a train by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officers while appalled passengers shouted for police to stop. Grant was assaulted before being forced facedown onto the platform by one cop, Tony Pirone, while another, Johannes Menserle, shot him at close range.
Black community groups, left organizations, and the Alameda County Labor Council mounted or participated in a series of demonstrations. Some protesters vandalized cars and shop fronts. Over a hundred people were arrested.
Public condemnation, including the militant protests that resulted in arrests, finally forced the authorities to indict Menserle for murder two weeks after the shooting. The rage of the arrestees is fully justified, and they should get amnesty. Oakland has a long history of police murders of young Black men, including the infamous 1968 shooting of “Lil” Bobby Hutton, a 15-year-old Black Panther Party member.
The anger of young Black male protesters interviewed by video blogger Zennie62 leaps off the screen. “It was a modern-day lynching!” one yells. “Black people need to get together, and not just Black people, everybody in Oakland!” says another.

That's from Megan Cornish's "Oscar Grant Murder: Double Standard of Justice in Oakland" (Dissident Voice) and I've noted his murder before so when I saw that, I wanted to note Oscar Grant again. The San Francisco Chronicle reported today: "Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle was ordered Thursday to stand trial for murder by a judge who told him he didn't believe the explanation defense attorneys gave for his killing of an unarmed passenger." Wednesday, Paul T. Rosynsky (Oakland Tribune) reported, "The commanding officer on the Fruitvale BART platform the night Oscar Grant III was shot in the back and killed by another officer said Wednesday the 22-year-old victim posed no threat to either him or others seconds before he was killed." AP says that Mehserle's attorney is seeking a change of venue.

If you'd like or prefer audio for the latest developments, click here for Friday's report from Free Speech Radio News. Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, July 5, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, Iraqis are not impressed with Barry O's big speech, members of the US Congress call for the US Embassy in Baghdad to investigate the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community, and more.

Barry O! gave his big speech in Cario. Iraqi Alaa Sahib Abudllah of Karbala states, "
The most important thing is to accomplish things, not just say them. I am astonished of how much the media is caring about it. I heard such speeches by Bush more than once. There is nothing new in Obama's speech." Patrick Murphy (WSWS) observes:

The speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Cairo yesterday was riddled with contradictions. He declared his opposition to the "killing of innocent men, women, and children," but defended the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US proxy war in Pakistan, while remaining silent on the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. These wars have killed at least one million Iraqis and tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.
Obama declared his support for democracy, human rights and women's rights, after two days of meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two of the most notorious tyrants in the Middle East. He said nothing in his speech about the complete absence of democratic rights in Saudi Arabia, or about the ongoing repression under Mubarak's military dictatorship. In the days before the US president's arrival at Al-Azhar University, the campus was raided by Egyptian secret police who detained more than 200 foreign students. Before leaving on his Mideast trip, Obama praised Mubarak as a "steadfast ally."
While posturing as the advocate of universal peace and understanding, Obama diplomatically omitted any reference to his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan with the dispatch of an additional 17,000 US troops. And he tacitly embraced the policy of his predecessor in Iraq, declaring, "I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein." He even seemed to hedge on the withdrawal deadline of December 2011 negotiated by the Bush administration, which he described as a pledge "to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012."

Hillary Is 44 points out, "Murdered Iraqis who are gay were never mentioned. Gays and their oppression was not mentioned at all. Instead Obama quoted the 'Holy Koran' with the verse 'Be Conscious of God and speak always the truth.' Then Obama proceeded to avoid telling the truth." Stanley Heller (CounterPunch) also breaks down the Iraq section of the speech:

His speech in Cairo was the usual glittering generalities, the dropping of an Arabic word here and there, a sophisticated tone, and the pledge to tell "the truth." But look what he said about Iraq: "Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible." Though the war was controversial the Iraqis are "better off". Over a million dead from sanctions, invasions, and civil war, and Obama had the utter gal to declare the Iraqis "better off". Our only problem was not recruiting enough flunkies to join the effort. Some on the Left immediately declared that Obama remarks were a "denunciation" of the Iraq war. Keep on dreaming.

Stan offered his take on the speech last night. Marcia noted that the Wall St. Journal offered "Barack Hussein Bush" because they heard in Barry's words a continuation of Bush policy. The speech came up repeatedly today on both hours of NPR's Diane Rehm Show and we'll focus on Iraqis and note this section between Diane Rehm and McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef.

Diane Rehm: Alright let's talk about the latest violence in Iraq in light of the president's promise that all troops will be out of Iraq by --

Nancy A. Youssef: The end of 2011.

Diane Rehm: 2011. And isn't there a June 30 deadline this year as well?

Nancy A. Youssef: Yeah.

Diane Rehm: How was that received by Iraqis? This morning we heard that many don't believe that is going to happen, that all US troops are going to be out. And in the meantime you've got bombings still going on in Baghdad.

Nancy A. Youssef: Yeah. And let's -- the June 30th requires -- and this -- I want to make a distinction. Obama mentioned it in the speech but the truth is this was outlined under the Bush administration, under the Status Of Forces Agreement that they signed with the Iraqi government, I think in part, with the anticipation of Obama coming to the White House and wanting to, I think the Bush administration wanted to set the withdrawal on its terms and not on the Obama administration's terms and so the June 30th deadline is part of that. The Iraqi government demanded that all US troops be out of major cities. Now we're already starting to hear a little bit of a dance: Maybe on the outskirts of Sadr City they'll stay? Maybe in parts of Samarra they'll stay? Maybe in parts of Mosul where we're seeing violence this week -- a US soldier was killed in Mosul. We're seeing a little dance about how strict that's going to be. Remember that for the Iraqis this is also their domestic politics. They have an election coming up -- if not at the end of the year, in January. Maliki, the prime minister, cannot afford to have US troops in the face of his people anymore. They are tired. That all said, you are absolutely right. You ask Iraqis, they don't believe that the United States is ever leaving -- that they'll be a presence there for the rest of their lives. And in some capacity you have to think there would be in the sense that, you know when the US -- with each soldier that leaves is less US influence over the course of events in Iraq. You know to me the most dangerous thing going forward is not a quick collapse of the security situation in Iraq but a small one, a gradual one that happens as the United States is increasing its force presence in Afghanistan. That United States finds itself with say 100,000 troops in Iraq and 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and truly stuck in both conflicts. But you're right, you ask Iraqis, the United States is going to be there in some capacity. And this year is this game of security and domestic and even US politics.

With regards to the points Youssef was making on the dance that's going on, yesterday
AP reported that the US military is hoping to keep "about 14 joint facilities [open] . . . after the deadline." Back to Iraqi reaction, Michael Slackman (New York Times) explains Barry O's speech was greeted in iraq by "a heavy dose of skepticism" and quotes diners in Mosul yelling "What a stupid speech!" Campbell Robertson and the Times Iraqi correspondents (New York Times' Baghdad Bureau) offer more reactions. In Najaf, Fadhil Mohammed states, "Obama's speech is nothing more than a way to paint a phony improved image about America for Islamic countries." In Falluja, Abu Adil states, "We've heard such nonsense from your former White House guys. We're overstuffed with such words." Yes, the speech the press can't stop creaming their panties and briefs over has been given many, many times before. Now when George W. Bush did that and the MSM treated it as new, CounterSpin would ridicule them for that. Today? CounterSpin's working for the man. But Aluf Been (Haaratz) points out some of the realities regarding Barry's 'words' on Palestinians and Israelies:

The United States has objected to the settlements since 1967, but its position has changed. The Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations stated that the settlements were illegal. Since the Reagan administration (1981), the U.S. has called the settlements "an obstacle to peace" without referring to their lawfulness. Former president George W. Bush agreed to Israeli construction in the large settlement blocs in exchange for Israel evacuating the settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, and accepting the "two-state solution."

Rob Reynolds (Al Jazeera) noted The Changeling's shape shifting abilities, "Another thing struck me as distinctly political: Obama's constant references to his Muslim background, boyhood days in Indoensia, and frequent citations from the Quran sounded a bit odd coming from a man who made strenuous efforts to ignore those aspects of his autobiography in the 2008 campaign for the White House. In fact, Obama's campaign attacked critics who insisted on using his middle name; now, here was Barack Hussein Obama on stage in Cairo dropping a "shukran" (Arabic for "thank you" here) and an "assalaamu alaikum" (peace be unto you) there." Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller (ABC News) caught that shift on Tuesday: "Back then, the campaign's "Fight the Smears" website addressed the candidate's faith without mentioning his father's religion:
'Barack Obama is a committed Christian. He was sworn into the Senate on his family Bible. He has regularly attended church with his wife and daughters for years. But shameful, shadowy attackers have been lying about Barack's religion, claiming he is a Muslim instead of a committed Christian. When people fabricate stories about someone's faith to denigrate them politically, that's an attack on people of all faiths. Make sure everyone you know is aware of this deception'."

Though that's just appearing on the radar it's long been known that Iraq's LGBT community was being targeted.
Jessica Green (UK's Pink News) reports that Iraqi LGBT is stating the Ministry of the Interior is part of the assault and quotes Ali Hili stating, "A police office from the Ministry of Interior Intelligence told us secretly that there is a campaign of murder and violence against gays. We had to pay him $5,000 US to help release one of our members from jail. With all the evidence we have been presenting, including some from one of our members who was recently released from pison, we have evidence of mass arrests [of LGBT Iraqis]. Still, the US is denying Iraqi government involvement, doing nothing to stop it and not assisting with our efforts to help gays in Iraq." Green also notes that US House Reps Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank have requested in writing that US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill investigate the charges. Polis has posted [PDF formart warning] the letter on his website and we'll jump in after the congratulations to Chris Hill on being confirmed as Ambassador:

As you know, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqi citizens have become more susceptible to discrimination and violence. However, over the last month, we became aware of alarming human rights violations that fundamentally threaten the safety of LGBT citizens of Iraq. Both in the United States and Abroad, reports of the harrassment, detention and execution of LGBT Iraqi by Iraqi law enforcement have reached a fever pitch.
The information we received was derived from two separate testimonials of gay and transgender Iraqi men that were detained, tortured and sentenced to death for being members of an allegedly forbidden organization in Iraq called Iraqi LGBT. One of these individuals was able to escape, while the other was reportedly executed by Iraqi Ministry of Interior Security Forces. Through conversations with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Heartland Alliance, it has become clear to us that these are not isolated reports, but instead, reports that accurately portray an aggressive campaign to locate, arrest and execute LGBT Iraqis in and around Baghdad.
As LGBT Americans and co-chairs of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, we are disturbed and shocked at allegations that Ministry of the Interior Security Forces may be involved in the mass persecution and execution of LGBT Iraqis. As has been stated by the State Department, we are aware that LGBT Iraqis are not being officially executed or being held on death row in Iraq for being LGBT. However, the persecution of Iraqis based on sexual orientation or gender identity is escalating and is unacceptable regardless of whether these policies are extrajudicial or state-sanctioned.
We hope that by reaching out to you and members of your staff, that the U.S. Embassy in Iraq will prioritize the investigation of these allegations, work with the Iraqi government to end the executions of LGBT Iraqis, and make protecting this vulnerable community a priority. It is crucial that the United States government take action to address this urgent humanitarian crisis and examine the evidence provided by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Heartland Alliance in Iraq. Given cultural sensitivity around these issues, it is also important that the U.S. Embassy work with human rights organizations to carefully ensure the safety of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis that may be afraid of reporting incidences to state authorities, particularly when those instances involve state authorities.
Please know that we will continue to monitor this situation and hope to be of assistance in your investigation. We wish you well in all of your endeavors as the newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

The targeting of journalists in Iraq also continues.
Earlier this week, another journalist lost his life, Alla' Abdul Al Wahab and others were wounded (one in the same attack, two in another attack). Reporters Without Borders declared, "It is time the slaughter of journalists in Iraq was stopped. The Iraqi authorities created a special police unit last year to investigate murders of journalists. We urge them to investigate these two bombings very thoroughly. Only conclusive results are likely to discourage these killers and improve the safety of journalists." Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill (writing at the US Socialist Worker) provides the walk through:

The U.S.
bombed Al Jazeera in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, attacked it multiple times in the 2003 Iraq invasion, and killed Al Jazeera correspondent Tarek Ayoub. On April 8, 2003, a U.S. Abrams tank fired at the Palestine Hotel, home and office to more than 100 unembedded international journalists operating in Baghdad at the time. The shell smashed into the fifteenth-floor Reuters office, killing two cameramen, Reuters's Taras Protsyuk and José Couso of Spain's Telecinco. In a chilling statement at the end of that day in Iraq, then-Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke spelled out the Pentagon's policy on journalists not embedded with U.S. troops. She warned them that Baghdad "is not a safe place. You should not be there."
Last week, a Spanish judge
reinstated charges against three U.S. soldiers in Couso's killing, citing new evidence, including eyewitness testimony contradicting official U.S. claims that soldiers were responding to enemy fire from the hotel. One year ago, former Army Sergeant Adrienne Kinne told Democracy Now! she saw the Palestine Hotel on a military target list and said she frequently intercepted calls from journalists staying there.
As I have
reported previously, Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was shot by U.S. forces near Abu Ghraib prison when his camera was allegedly mistaken for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The U.S. listed as "justified" the killing of Al Arabiya TV's Mazen al-Tumeizi, blown apart by a U.S. missile as he reported on a burning U.S. armored vehicle on Baghdad's Haifa Street.
There have also been several questionable killings of journalists at U.S. military checkpoints in Iraq, such as the March 2004 shooting deaths of Ali Abdel-Aziz and Ali al-Khatib of Al Arabiya. The Pentagon said the soldiers who shot the journalists acted within the "rules of engagement." And Reuters freelancer Dhia Najim was killed by U.S. fire while filming resistance fighters in November 2004. "We did kill him," an unnamed military official told the New York Times. "He was out with the bad guys. He was there with them, they attacked, and we fired back and hit him."

Jeremy Scahill will be a guest on
Bill Moyers Journal tonight (check local listings -- online it provides video, audio and transcript -- accessible to all). Meanwhile Halliburton is in the news cycle. Guillermo Contreras (San Antonio Express-News) reports that "Robert Cain of San Marcos; Craig Henry of San Antonio; Francis Jaeger of Haltom City; David McMenomy of Lampasas; Mark Posz of San Antonio; and El Kevin Sar of Houston" have filed charges against Halliburton stating that "they were poisoned by toxins and emissions from burn pits at U.S. camps in Iraq and Afghanistan". Pratap Chatterjee (CorpWatch) reports on the War Profiteers of Halliburton:

The Houstonian Hotel is an elegant, secluded resort set on an 18-acre wooded oasis in the heart of downtown Houston. Two weeks ago, David Lesar, CEO of the once notorious energy services corporation Halliburton, spoke to some 100 shareholders and members of senior management gathered there at the company's annual meeting. All was remarkably staid as they celebrated Halliburton's $4 billion in operating profits in 2008, a striking 22% return at a time when many companies are announcing record losses. Analysts remain bullish on Halliburton's stock, reflecting a more general view that any company in the oil business is likely to have a profitable future in store.There were no protesters outside the meeting this year, nor the kind of national media stakeouts commonplace when Lesar
addressed the same crew at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston in May 2004. Then, dozens of mounted police faced off against 300 protestors in the streets outside, while a San Francisco group that dubbed itself the Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane fielded activists in Bush and Cheney masks, offering fake $100 bills to passers-by in a mock protest against war profiteering. And don't forget the 25-foot inflatable pig there to mock shareholders. Local TV crews swarmed, a national crew from NBC flew in from New York, and reporters from the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal eagerly scribbled notes.Now the 25-foot pigs are gone and all is quiet on the western front. How did Halliburton, once branded the ugly stepchild of Dick Cheney -- the company's former CEO -- and a poster child of war profiteering, receive such absolution from anti-war activists and the media? Of course, the defeat of the Republicans in the 2008 U.S. election, the departure of the Bush administration, and a general apathy towards the ongoing, but lower-level war in Iraq are part of the answer. But don't ignore a potentially brilliant financial sleight of hand by Halliburton either. That move played a crucial role in the cleansing of the company.

Michael Winship of
Bill Moyers Journal notes Chatterjee's piece in "The Privatization of 'Obama's War':"

KBR, Halliburton and the private security firm Blackwater have come tosymbolize the excesses of outsourcing warfare. So you'd think that witha new sheriff like Barack Obama in town, such practices would be on the"Things Not to Do" list. Not so. According to new Pentagon statistics, in the second quarter of thisyear, there has been a 23% increase in the number of private securitycontractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq and a 29% hike inAfghanistan. In fact, outside contractors now make up approximately halfof our forces fighting in the two countries. "This means," according toJeremy Scahill, author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World'sMost Powerful Mercenary Army, "there are a whopping 242,647 contractorsworking on these two U.S. wars."Scahill, who runs an excellent new website called "Rebel Reports," spokewith my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of Bill MoyersJournal on PBS. "What we have seen happen, as a result of thisincredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the UnitedStates has created a new system for waging war," he said. By hiringforeign nationals as mercenaries, "You turn the entire world into yourrecruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to anescalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies toparticipate in your wars. "In the process of doing that you undermine US democratic policies. Andyou also violate the sovereignty of other nations, because you're makingtheir citizens combatants in a war to which their country is not aparty.

You can catch the discussion on
Bill Moyers Journal.

Today the
US military announced: "AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- A Multi National Force -- West Marine died as the result of a non-combat rleated incident June 5. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." And they announced: "CAMP VICTORY, BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Corps -- Iraq Soldier died late last night of injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Diyala province of northern Iraq, June 4." These 2 announcements bring to 4311 the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War since it began in March 2003. In other violence today, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured two people.

Turning to the US
Kimberley Hefling (AP) reports on Chris Scheuerman whose son Jason died in Iraq. August 1, 2005, the DoD announced: "Pfc. Jason D. Scheuerman, 20, of Lynchburg, Va., died July 30 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, of non-combat related injuries. Scheuerman was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga." In December of 2007, AP reported that it took "well over a year" for his family to be informed Jason had left a note which read, "Maybe finaly I can get some peace." Hefling reports today that Chris Scheuerman is upset because the "Army Medical Command's inspector general's investigation, completed in November" states no policies were violated by the military use of "unlicensed psychologists in Iraq". Scheuerman should be upset and the country should be outraged. Unlicensed psychologists are not psychologists. You're five-year-old son or daughter is an unlicensed psychologist and about as qualified as any other unlicensed psychologist. The license serves a purpose, without the license, there's really no point in calling yourself a psychologist. The military yet again played it on the cheap and did so in the combat zone where no one could afford to 'play doctor'. They didn't take it seriously, they never did. Just like they still don't take PTSD seriously today -- though they know to give it lip service due to public outrage.

Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan doesn't just offer lip service, she offers action and she's preparing to face off against Bully Boy Bush in a matter of days. Cindy's currently on a
speaking tour and these are some of the upcoming dates:
Phoenix: June 5th
Dallas: June 7th and 8th
Waco: June 9th
Austin: June 10th and 11th
Nashville: June 14-16
St. Petersburg, FL: June 17-18
Philadelphia: June 20-23
NYC: June 24-26
Cape Cod: June 27-29
New Hampshire: June 30 - July 1
San Francisco: July 3 - 5 (Socialist Conference)
Cleveland: July 8-9 (National Assembly to end the Iraq War)
Pittsburgh: July 11-12
Norfolk, VA: July 15-18
Vashon Island, Washington: July 25-26
The Dallas Peace Center notes the action Cindy will lead while in Dallas:
Start: Jun 8 2009 - 4:30pm
Cindy Sheehan will come to Dallas to protest crimes against humanity that occured during the Bush administration. According to Sheehan, "The actions of his administration are criminal and we need to keep up the pressure for accountability." To support Sheehan's effort, meet on the SW corner of Preston & Royal to join a march on the sidewalk west on Royal, south on Netherland, east on Meaders to the front of John J. Pershing Elementary School, across from Daria Dr. which leads to Bush's gated compound. No major streets will be crossed. Participants are asked to stay on message – the American people will not tolerate torture in our name, and those who have betrayed our trust must be held legally accountable.
SW corner of Preston & Royal
Dallas, TX
United StatesSee map:
Yahoo! Maps Cindy Sheehan hosts the radio program Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox which airs each Sunday (and archives at link). June 16th she'll team up with singer-songwriter David Rovics for a luncheon at Ellendale's Restrauant (2739 Old Elm Hill Pike, Donelson, TN from one to three p.m.) sponsored by Nashville Peace and Justice Center (4732 Peace and Justice Center, 4732 West Longdale Drive, Nashville, TN 37211). This is a fundraiser, I believe, and for more on it contact Jerry Hader at who is with Nashville Peace and Justice Center. This Saturday in Michigan, the Green Party of Michigan will be rallying in Benton Harbort to Save Jean Klock Park and to Free Rev Edward Pinkney:The Green Party of Michigan (GPMI) will be leading a peaceful march to Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbon on Saturday, June 6. The march will leave from the Berrien County Courthouse (at 811 Port Street) at 3:30 pm. Members of Save Jeane Klock Park will be joining the march to protest the destruction of this section of Lake Michigan beachfront dunes and the theft of this pristine piece of nature from the people of Benton Harbor, to whom it was willed "in perpetuity"!
The march will also emphasize the need to free Reverend Edward Pinkney. An appeal hearing for the community activist will be held on Tuesday, June 9 by the Third District of the Michigan Court of Appeals (State Office Building; 350 Ottawa NW; Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2349; 616/456-1167). Rev Pickney and representatives of Save Jean Klock Park will be speaking at a public meeting before the march. This session, which is open to the media, will be held at Hopewall Baptist Church (756 Highland) starting at 2 pm.
Turning to PBS, and, as noted earlier,
Bill Moyers Journal features Jeremy Scahill. Bill Moyers latest installment begins airing tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings) as does NOW on PBS:Americans have a longstanding love affair with food—the modern supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what goes into making the products we so eagerly consume?This week, David Brancaccio talks with filmmaker Robert Kenner, the director of "Food, Inc.," which takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are actually empowered to make a difference.Find out why you'll never look at dinner the same way.I really have to wonder about the above summary. It is not one that will make most say, "Honey, let's watch NOW!" The same topic with a 'find out what foods you should be serving' would be seen as instructive. The promo appears to have been written by someone whose responsibility for a meal never went beyond ordering at the drive through.Gwen sits around the table for Washington Week (which begins airing on most PBS stations tonight) with New York Times' Helene Cooper, The Economist's Greg Ip and Gebe Martinez of the publication that should not speak its name. Yes, you read that right. Two female guests to one male guest. It's usually the other way around or three male guests to one woman. Also tonight on most PBS stations, Bonnie Erbe sits down with Heather Boushey, Amanda Carpenter, Avis Jones-DeWeever and Star Parker to discuss the week's news on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers: The ChairmanIn a rare interview with a sitting Federal Reserve chairman – the first in 20 years – Ben Bernanke tells Scott Pelley what went wrong with America's financial system, how it caused the current economic crisis, what the Fed's doing to help fix it and when he expects the crippling recession to end. (This is a double length segment.) Watch Video
DollyDolly Parton, the oh-so-country music superstar with the city-slicker sense of show business talks to Morley Safer about her childhood, her career and the Broadway production of her film, "9 to 5." Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, June 7, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Iraq Veterans Against the War is a group this community supports. I have friends who are members of IVAW. I mention that because two former members of IVAW have taken to e-mailing the public account for this site with smears about the organization. I dictated a response for today's snapshot but the snapshot is too long so the topic will be carried over to Third on Sunday. In the meantime, if someone's accusing IVAW of being controlled by some political party -- take a second to look at the ones accussing. What you will most likely see is Barack Obama supporters who attempted to whore out IVAW as a Barack Obama front group. That they were not allowed to do that upset them and they left. Now they're offering smears. IVAW has a diverse membership and anyone telling you otherwise should be suspect right there. Again, we'll carry it over to Third there's just no room today. But we will close with this from IVAW's Phil Aliff's "The red badge of courage" (US Socialist Worker):

When you cannot inflict casualties on the enemy, you learn that there are no limits to the level of human rage. It is the kind of rage that eats away at you. It is like a disease that tears you apart from the inside.
MILITARY VETERANS continue to carry this rage when we return home. When you are in Iraq, it is easy to justify shooting into a house or calling in mortars on a palm grove. But when you return home, you can't fire a machine gun at someone who cuts you off on the highway.
This feeling of vulnerability drives a veteran mad. We pack up our civility to prepare for combat. Everyone at home carries their socially accepted morals, while we throw them out the window to justify killing someone for nothing. We were taught how to pack our morals away, but we were never given directions for unpacking them.

iraqshane bauercampbell robertsonthe new york times
michael slackman
nprthe diane rehm shownancy a. youssefmcclatchy newspapers
sahar issakimberly heflingthe associated press
jake tappersunlen miller
phil aliffiraq veterans against the war
60 minutescbs news
jeremy scahill
bill moyers journalto the contrarybonnie erbe
now on pbs

Thursday, June 04, 2009

House Committe on Veterans' Affairs' Subcommitte on Health

What is "respite"? I really didn't know. Until today's House Committe on Veterans' Affairs. It first came up during Dr. Barbara Cohoon's testimony on the first panel of the Meeting the Needs of Family Caregivers of Veterans and I had no idea what she'd even just said. I looked over at C.I.'s notes and saw the word "respite" written. It wasn't really until the second panel, when Jill Kagan spoke, that I knew what it was. She is the chair of ARCH National Respite Coalition.

After she introduced herself to the committee, she immediately went into what respite care is:

Respite care provides temporary relief for family caregivers from the ongoing responsibility of caring for an individual of any age with special needs. As a preventive strategy, respite helps strengthen families, protects their health and well being and allows them to continue providing care at home. Respite is also an import component of a continuum of comprehensive family support and long term services that are available to caregivers not only on a planned basis but also in the event of a crisis or emergency situation.

So that's a little overview of respite.

My thoughts on today's hearing? This was the Subcommitte on Health (of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs).

To me, the best witness was Anna Frese of the Wounded Warrior Project. She was just really straightforward. I also liked how she spoke of her brother Eric -- which reminded me of two brothers. Eric was wounded while serving in the military in 2007. He was an adventurer and he remains a very caring father and is working on walking. She spoke of his daughter Gracie and how he loaded up on presents before deploying and his wife Stephanie was pointing out some of them weren't age-appropriate -- one was a pink car, kid's car that she could ride in later in her childhood -- and he wanted to be sure that she had things and knew her father loved her in case anything happened to him while he was serving.

Anna Frese really put a face on the issue and I'm surprised she was able to testify without getting choked up because my eyes were watering when she was talking about Gracie.

The first and second panel were knowledgable and interesting. I enjoyed them. Then came the VA crew. Do they really need to be invited? They have nothing to offer but spin and you can hear them bored and distant sometimes. When the woman C.I. tears into in today's snapshot (for good reason) was responding to a question (the exchange C.I. has in the snapshot), you should have been in that room. Looking around, while that woman (Dr. Madhulika Agarwal) was speaking, every face had a "WTF?" expression. And for good reason. (See the snapshot below.)

That's going to be it for me tonight.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, June 4, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, Iraq's Oil Minister wanted for questioning by their Parliament, the latest attack on Cindy Sheehan (from the conservative paper) comes as Cindy gears up to protest Bully Boy Bush again, Congress explores the needs of veterans' care-givers and Congress ignores that the VA's contracted duties to EDS either weren't done or a VA administrator lied to them today during her testimony, Arianna Huffington explains what's required for her to grasp a 'teachable moment' and more.

"Let me begin by asking you to think about what it took for each of you to get prepared for the day today," Anna Frese of
Wounded Warrior Project declared. "I'm not talking about the first cup of coffee or your morning paper. I'm asking you to think about more basic activities. Raising your arm to reach for a bedside light switch. Moving a finger to wipe the sleep from your eyes. Getting out of bed, walking to the bathroom. While most of us take this for granted, severely injured service members, like my brother Eric [Edmundson], can no longer carry out these basic activities of daily living without assistance. Eric and other severely wounded warriors get the most intimate, devoted care from family members in the privacy of their homes, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Anna Frese was addressing the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health this morning in a hearing entitled "Meeting the Needs of Family Caregivers of Veterans." She explained how her father and her brother are a team in his care and wellness and how "Eric relies on Dad to assist him in everything, and Dad does it with pride and great respect. But there is an unseen price. Our father, now 54 years old, is no longer employed and has used up his retirement funds and savings, no longer has health insurance and has not contributed to Social Security in almost four years. Even though his future has been drastically altered, he tells me often, 'Eric would do it for me'."

Frese was on the first panel as was Ret. Commander Rene A. Campos of
Military Officers Association of America who read a letter from the father of a veteran injured in 2007 during part of her testimony, "All the army ever wanted was a soldier. The army got it. All we want is a little help. We got excellent care at the military treatment facility but we had to fight to get our son in private care and take him home. There are so many problems with the VA bureaucracy. We were lucky to know the system but so many other families are struggling."

US House Rep Michael Michaud chaired the subcommittee and noted that the hearing was a way of "exploring ways to better help the family caregivers of our veterans." Dr. Barbara Cohoon of the
National Military Family Association noted that family caregivers are an integral part of the recovery.

Cohoon, Campos and Frese made up the first panel. Prepared opening statements for this hearing can be found
here. (Individual links did not work in yesterday's snapshot. My apologies. So we'll just note the main page for the statements.)

Chair Mike Michaud: My first question is, we've talked about financial compensation for family caregivers so my question is, to all three, what do you think that compensation should be financially? Commander?

Rene Campos: I couldn't speak to a dollar value but, as I mentioned and as Barbara talked about, this needs to be addressed at the very beginning, at the time of injury and we have to recognize that, I don't believe, one system will fit all, that these situations are going to change over time, that the needs of families are going to change and the service member and the veteran. I -- I look at trying to get DoD and VA to work closer together, than recognizing that these families are -- are getting quite a bit of support and immediate care at the time of injury and they're pretty much in a cocoon. So when they transition into the VA system it needs to be easier for them and not try to guess all over again where to start and that's why in terms of compensation, we want to see DoD and VA work together to build a package that is -- because these folks will be going back into the DoD system and they'll be trans-trans, uhm, transitioning between the systems at several times throughout their longer term care. So I can't give you a dollar value or specifically but we should make sure that it is a package that will meet the needs of veterans, of the family, of the wounded, as they transition over their life.

Chair Mike Michaud: Doctor?

Dr. Barbara Cahoon: Our association has really proposed as far as two different types of payment -- one as far as the non-medical care and the other as far as the medical care which would be more of your hands-on. And the reason for that is that we do find caregivers are really providing two different roles and depending upon the type of injury and also the cycle of the recovery or where they are in the recovery phase kind of determines how much involvement that they're doing. If someone has a severe or a moderate TBI but, other than that, is functional as far as being able to get around then the caregiver is more involved in what you would call non-medical care -- they're making the doctors' appointments, they're making sure they are getting to where they need to go, they're actually maybe looking on their Blackberry and following a GPS to make sure they made it to Walter Reed or to Bethesda or to where ever and they're making sure that they do go home. So there's a lot of non-medical care that go on. So we're looking more at that to be kind of a range but basically a kind of an amount that's given each month. And as far as the medical care? We're looking more at what that would be as far as hands-on, similar to nursing care that would be given -- especially if someone was -- had a spinal injury and basically was from the waist down needed certain types of care, you're turning them in the bed. You're actually physically giving them medication. Those types of things. And there are systems in place now where that's actually then, you know, compensated hourly. So that's -- we're kind of looking at those two different pieces. But also too, as far as the care that they're giving, as far as providing them, they also have lost significant amount of money as far as walking away from the current job that they are. So there's two different financial impacts going on at the same time.

Chair Mike Michaud: Thank you. Ms. Frese?

Anna Frese: That's a good question. Uh -- let me work with the number that we do know. The cost per day for in-house VA nursing home care for next year is projected to rise to $887.33. Per day. We can then get an annual cost of $324,000. And while I don't want to guesstimate the cost of what enacting the caregiver legislation would be I can comfortably express with confidence that the failure to provide such support increase the risk that veterans would have to be institutionalized and those costs are clearly far in excess of the relatively modest cost of caregiver assistance would be.

Chair Mike Michaud: Thank you my next question, I know some of you have answered this in your opening statements, but if all three of you could just address if we were to pass legislation what are the -- would we put in the legislation? The three most important components of offering a caregiver program, what would the three most top priority parts be? Anna? And I know you've talked about some during your opening testimony but not knowing what we'll be able to get through the House and through the Senate, if we had to pick three, what would the three top priorities be? Ms. Frese?

Anna Frese: As we spoke about earlier, each family, each circumstance, family dynamics of each family is so drastically different. From what I hear from families and from our own experience, the health care especially for the parents who are caring and those who are not a spouse and not covered under that health care, they need some form of health care to take care of their own health so they can actually be around and continue to care for the veteran. And also it comes back to the economic support as well. The time spent worrying about how they're going to continue living and paying for their needs. You spend more time focusing on the worrying than actually -- you want to be able to focus your time, your strength and your full ability on your veteran rather than worrying. The health care piece, the income and the mental health to help sustain the long term ability of the care giver.

Rene Campos: As I mentioned, we're concerned about adding more programs or adding more layers onto already complicated bureaucracies. We go back to the need for and establishing some sort of permanent office or seamless transition agency of some kind and, again, I -- I -- if it's extending the current SOC [Joint DoD-VA Senior Oversight Committee] out or whatever, we need some good solid oversight that doesn't change when the administration changes -- So we need the continuity of the leadership and oversight of programs. So I think that's critical to whatever we do. The other thing we need to do is that we have, again, a reciprocal program for caregivers that includes both the medical and the non-medical aspects. Because, again, these families that have been on active duty, have child care, they have a lot of other family support, non-medical support services that are there. So they should have a package that they can expect that would also help transition over into the VA system. And then finally we go back to at the time of injury, they really need an advocate. They need someone that can walk them through all these different things that are going to be happening to them over, in some cases, the course of their life. So we think there needs to be an advocacy program of some kind that's set up. I think the quality of life foundation report I mentioned is a good starting point.

Dr. Barbara Cohoon: First of all this needs to start upstream, as I mentioned before, while they're still active duty if you're going to do anything as far as the caregiver. One of the conversations we recently had with Secretary [of Veterans Affairs Eric] Shinseki is that -- If the care-giver's not taken care upstream, by the time he gets them, in their veteran status, they're either burnt out or they're so frustrated with the system that they may stop being a caregiver and then everyone loses -- especially the family. So this really needs to make sure -- we want to make sure that this actually starts upstream while the service member is still active duty. The other piece is that we have to remember that the caregiver well being is directly linked to the veterans' care, well being. So if the care-giver's taken care of, we know that the veterans' taken care of and vice versa. And so ways in which we can help the caregiver is we can recognize that the role that they're playing is important and then the pieces that they are providing also need to be recognized and how we go about recognizing that can be done in lots of different ways. We talked about the compensation as far as financial, we also realize that they have walked away from a lot of different things. They lose their health care, they lose their ability as far as to maintain a retirement or even lose their retirement. We also need to make sure that they have respite care, those types of pieces. So we need to make -- we're looking at the well being of the caregiver as one of those packages you talked about. The other is the caregiver also needs to maintain a purpose in life -- not only as far as taking care of the veteran but also as far as them personally. And also remember that what surrounds them is their family. It may not be Mom or Dad, it may be their sister or brother. Or if it's Mom or Dad that's doing that, they have other children that they're taking care of or maybe a father that they're also taking care of so that the family unit itself is in a delicate balance so whatever you provide the caregiver effects everyone else.

US House Rep Henry Brown (Ranking Member) raised issues of payment and should it go to the primary care-giver. Dr. Cohoon explained why that was necessary and also addressed how more than one person in the family could be trained in the care-giving but one person would be doing it. She also noted that at some point in the process, someone steps forward and that person becomes the primary care-giver. An important point and one that does conflict with the aim to appoint a care-giver before someone is wounded -- a point she seemed not to grasp or to ignore. A service member, not injured, picking someone as their primary care-giver may fill a blank on a piece of paper but it's a lot more complicated than listing someone as a primary contact should you be injured or killed. There are people who think they can be it and then, exposed to the realities, can't. There are people who think they can do it and in injury comes when they're pregnant or some other health issue has arisen. A service member designating a primary care-giver before deploying would only fill a blank on a piece of paper, it would not really answer anything.

US House Rep Henry Brown would return to the issue of payment during the third panel where you saw government workers from the VA (administrators) pretend they worked for their tax dollars and pretend that progress was being made. How little they are doing (how slowly they are dragging their feet) would emerge slowly. But first Brown hoped he found a roll dog the Dept Under Secretary of Defense Office of Transition Policy and Care Coordination Noel Koch. But first Koch needed to know if he was being asked a question. Then Koch needed Brown to repeat the question because, Brown apparently, hadn't been paying attention. Brown actually had to repeat the question and then he had to explain it. And having to ask the question twice -- the second time at Brown's request -- it does not build confidnece in the VA that their Deputy cannot grasp the basic formulation of words into a question. After Brown explained it (after asking it twice), Koch took a stab at it.

Noel Koch: This is -- this is -- this is a somewhat complicated issue here the question of who is the receipiant of the support is -- is -- is the issue. And there's a point beyond which we can't control how families function so, in some cases, the concern is the money goes to the -- to the family and the family spends it and it's not spent on care and it's not spent on the purpose that it's been provided for. Suggestions that we provide it straight to the service member raise some of the same concerns so this is just -- it's not something -- there's a point beyond which we can't manage the way human beings conduct their lives. I mean, everybody has a sugestion and usually that suggestion is a function of some personal experience or something they're familiar with . . .

And on and on he went. Did he understand the question? If so, his simple answer was, "Different people would feel differently about payment methods." Equally true is he could have pointed to Brown that anyone wrongly using monies that resulted in a veteran not getting care would be subject to prosecution for abuse and neglect. In fairness to Koch, Brown's question may have been so confusing because the monies being discussed in the hearing were not the veterans' benefits. The hearing was about payments to care-givers for the work that care-givers do.

Brown then raised that the services were said to be hard to follow, "We've heard testimony that access to resources and information for family care-givers is highly variable and there's not any standardized and ongoing training of any formal support network. How would you respond to those concerns?" That question was directed at Dr. Madhulika Agarwal who is with the VA and is the Chief Officer of Patient Care Services. Grasp the title and prepare to be frightened. Agarwal strung a lot of words together which said nothing. She ate up time and thought she'd done a great deal of it.

Dr. Madhulika Agarwal: Um. Thank you for the question, sir. Um. [Plays with mike. The same one she was using for her opening statement just minutes prior. But it ate up a second or two of time.] We certainly are making efforts in doing better outreach about our programs. We've had an initiative known as the Combat Call Center Initiative which was instituted by Secretary [James] Peake last year which reached out to about 1600 veterans who were identified in the seriously ill category during the transition process and were given information on our current program -- particularly about the care management -- case management programs and other services and also offered services at that time. The Federal Recovery Program, again, for the seriously injured veterans . . . this resource . . . has been . . . really . . . I think amplifying in helping us with . . . navigating between the VA, the DoD as well as the private sector. They have a resource directory. Which I think is a useful resource for the care-givers and the families. We have a set of liasons in the military treatment facilities and a case management system which is very knowledgable about the programs that we offer uhm. And we are working to improve and align our outreach through the internet, intranet and MyHealth.web.

Once she mentions Peake's name, she is reading from a piece of paper in front of her, it should be noted. That's shameful. In her position, she should damn well know what the VA offers. Someone should have asked that, someone should have said, "Doctor, are you unable to answer this basic question about what the VA provides without stealing long glances at your crib sheet?" Her little cheat sheet didn't even help her. It's the "Combat Veteran Call Center" -- not the "Combat Call Center." In addition, that wasn't a test program. In May of last year, that was a program. It's supposed to be up and fully running. The
VA contracted to EDS who predicted in May of 2008 that the first six months (starting May 1, 2008) would see the Combat Veteran Call Center assisting "nearly 570,000 recent war time veterans." 16,000? 17,000 was the initial focus but by month six, 570,00 veterans were supposed to be served and if they weren't, the EDS didn't do the job they promised and the VA didn't provide the oversight they were supposed to. Now she should have been asked that but Little Debbie got to close up the questions so American veterans and their families suffered. The doctor was an idiot and anyone who needs a cheat sheet and still can't get the facts right doesn't just need to be left behind a grade they need to be expelled. There is no oversight at the VA when it comes to the administrators and, until there is, there will be very little improvement for veterans and their families.

Brown seemed confused by the doctor's wordy non-answer (it was confusing) and attempted to give her the benefit of the doubt.

US House Rep Henry Brown: So you basically have a website that has these services which are available --

Dr. Madhulika Agarwal (overlapping): We're currently working on that

US House Rep Henry Brown: -- and how to get those resources?

Dr. Madhulika Agarwal: We are working on it, sir. It's in -- it's in development phase.

Well Agarwal, the Iraq War is not in the "development phase" so when does the VA plan to get off its ass and gets its act together? Hmm. A website of resources. They're developing it. They're in that phase. The obvious follow up was: "What is the timeline for this project? When is this website scheduled to be up and running?" Again, the committee passed to Little Debbie Halvorson. All the thought Little Debbie put into the day took place in the morning when selecting that very bad outfit (was the necklace a faucet?) with the plunging neckline.

In other news of inept government employees,
last week Iraq's Trade Minister resigned. Abed Falah al-Sudani was arrested over the weekend after attempting to fly out of Iraq only to have the plane he was traveling on forced to return. The Oil Minister is now in the spotlight, as expected. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports al-Shahristani is stating he can handle the questioning from Parlaiament "[b]ut he said he thinks members of parliament have ulterior motives. He said some lawmakers want only to advance their public images before national elections in January, while others are involved in oil-related corruption." Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) notes 117 MPs are calling for Shahristani to face their questions and that the "parliament has become far more assertive since Samarai, a Sunni politician viewed as a foe of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was picked as speaker in April.

Claudiu Zamfir (AGERPRES) reports that Romania has completed their military mission in Iraq (838 at the start of the Iraq War, 365 which are now withdrawaing) and that the country's President Traian Basescu met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani today in Baghdad where the two spoke of building a business relationship between the two countreis and, no doubt, Basescu didn't grasp how it sounded when he bragged, "Romania has a great tradition in oil and gas exploitation". AP notes the ceremony marking the departure took place in Nasinriyah, that 3 Romanians died in the Iraq War and "Aside from the United States, the remaining troops [in Iraq] come from Britain and Australia." England and Australia? They're not out of Iraq. Despite all the hoopla. Mike highlighted the BBC report on the UK Royal Air Force would be ending the "nearly 19 years of operations in Iraq when seven aircraft fly personnel back to the UK." And we've heard all the "England's out!" stories. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reports, "Britain's final military mission in Iraq is in disarray after a failure to seal an agreement with the Baghdad Government by the end of last month forced two British ships to leave and scores of Royal Navy trainers to suspend work." This forced, as UPI notes, the British Navy to stop their work. The so-called Status Of Forces Agreement replaced the United Nations Security Council's authorization for the occupation of Iraq -- for the US. By not renewing the authorization, each country was required to set up their own arrangements. Romania and Iraq had worked out a memorandum of understanding. England? AFP reports that they rushed through an agreement -- one which still needs to go before the Iraqi Parliament for ratification -- which would allos the British Navy to remain in Iraq for one year, according to Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabagh. The Mirror notes they were to depart at the end of June but now as many as "100 troops and five ships" will remain to "protect its [Iraq's] floating oil terminals". Earlier this week, Jeremy Scahill (RebelReports) reported "with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of 'Private Security Contractors' working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which 'correlates to the build up of forces' in the country. These numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors. Companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy work on State Department contracts and it is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. This means, the number of individual "security" contractors could be quite higher, as could the scope of their expansion." Nebraska's North Platte Bulletin reports that the US Army Reserve's 1013th is composed of 98 soldiers and that fifty-seven of those "head to Iraq later this year to support military operations there" while the Honolulu Advertiser reports that the 130th Engineer Brigade is sending over 150 troops to Iraq for a one year tour of duty (their send off takes place tomorrow at Hamilton Field starting at ten a.m.). Tom Barton (Des Moines Register) reports on Tim Geiger, 19-years-old, who compets in the X Games' Hometown Heroes Amateur Skateboard Tour Competition in Urbandale and then leaves for Iraq. Though interest among many so-called 'anti-war' types has vanished, the Iraq War has not ended.

One thing that doesn't have to be sent to Iraq is homophobia -- Nouri al-Maliki ensures that homophobia thrives in the country.
Queerty weighs in noting:

We're about 99.99999999877 percent certain life is pretty miserable for many of Iraq's openly gay and transgender folks. If actually being murdered and tortured weren't bad enough, living in fear that you'll be among those rounded up (sometimes by state police), slayed, and left "wearing diapers and women's lingerie" must be pretty daunting to just getting through the day. But wait, what's this? News that being gay in Iraq is FANTASTIC? Despite laughable assurances from U.S. State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs John Fleming that all is okay with gays in Iraq -- you know, because homosexuality isn't illegal, so what's there to worry about? -- reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and British-based Iraqi LGBT tell a very different story. Like how international advocates, so worried about the fate of queers there, are simply working to evacuate them after attempting the more insurmountable task of just keeping them safe.

Seth Michael Donsky (Boston's The Edge) speaks to Human Rights Watch's Scott Long who states that some believe the assaults on Iraq's LGBT community are an effort by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr to portray "themselves as moral crusaders." Long is quoted stating, "What is clear is that this is an organized and extensive murder campaign and must involve some degree of high-level direction."

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .

Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports four Baghdad roadside bombings which destroyed 1 military vehicle and a police car while injuring six people, a Mosul "suicide car" bombing apparently aimed at a private seucirty company which resulted in 1 civilian being killed and six being injured.

Today the
US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -- A Multi-National Division -- North Soldier died from injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Kirkuk province of northern Iraq, June 4. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4309.

Turning to the US where Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan's currently on a
speaking tour and these are some of the upcoming dates:
Phoenix: June 5th
Dallas: June 7th and 8th
Waco: June 9th
Austin: June 10th and 11th
Nashville: June 14-16
St. Petersburg, FL: June 17-18
Philadelphia: June 20-23
NYC: June 24-26
Cape Cod: June 27-29
New Hampshire: June 30 - July 1
San Francisco: July 3 - 5 (Socialist Conference)
Cleveland: July 8-9 (National Assembly to end the Iraq War)
Pittsburgh: July 11-12
Norfolk, VA: July 15-18
Vashon Island, Washington: July 25-26
The Dallas Peace Center notes an action Cindy will lead while in Dallas:
Start: Jun 8 2009 - 4:30pm
Cindy Sheehan will come to Dallas to protest crimes against humanity that occured during the Bush administration. According to Sheehan, "The actions of his administration are criminal and we need to keep up the pressure for accountability." To support Sheehan's effort, meet on the SW corner of Preston & Royal to join a march on the sidewalk west on Royal, south on Netherland, east on Meaders to the front of John J. Pershing Elementary School, across from Daria Dr. which leads to Bush's gated compound. No major streets will be crossed. Participants are asked to stay on message – the American people will not tolerate torture in our name, and those who have betrayed our trust must be held legally accountable.
SW corner of Preston & Royal
Dallas, TX
United StatesSee map:
Yahoo! Maps Cindy Sheehan hosts the radio program Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox which airs each Sunday (and archives at link). Cindy notes that she's been attacked online (at the Dallas Morning News' "Park Cities" edition -- they always go north and futher north at the Morning News -- it allows them to keep the paper 'White' and ignore that the city of Dallas became majority minority sometime ago -- so they expand to Park Cities and soon will be in Sherman -- anything to avoid covering Oak Cliff or South Dallas) and explains some of the lies being repeated. She raised Casey. He is her son. She and her husband were married throughout Casey's life. (They divorced sometime after his death.) Though she doesn't note it, the attackers are confusing her (intentionally?) with another mother of a fallen soldier who is against the illegal war. That woman is divorced and the attacks being launched at Cindy are the same attacks that the step-mother (who barely knew the fallen) has repeatedly launched at the mother. Now maybe the hatred of Cindy is so intense that they just can't see clearly but it takes a lot of ignorance not to know Cindy's story. Cindy notes:

In the blog there are a lot of inaccuracies, but these people don't care about fact or reality: they care about propping up and still supporting someone who used his Presidency to enrich his oil buddies and break almost every amendment in the Bill of Rights and shred this country's laws to pieces. Bush left office with a rating that was even lower than his I.Q. and he probably purchased a house in one of the only neighborhoods in this world where he wouldn't be guaranteed a nightly flaming bag of dog poo on his porch. Many people commenting on the blog also wish that I would "Leave that poor man alone." He's not president anymore and we shouldn't be protesting someone who can't do anything about the war anymore, anyway. I think the people making the comments really believe that we are going to protest so Bush will bring the troops home. It didn't work when he was president, so why should it work when he is Citizen Village Idiot? We are protesting in front of Bush's Dallas home because we are tired of American presidents committing war crimes and crimes against humanity and getting away with it to live long lives of bar-be-que, golf and revisionist history to repair their scandalous legacies.

And if you're not understanding that this an orchestrated attack on Cindy from the Dallas Morning News, check out
this hit piece by DMN editor Michael Landauer. Cindy's event is June 8th in Dallas, Texas. The Path to Peace Foundation announces a June 9th event in New York City:On 9 June 2009 the Path to Peace Foundation will bestow posthumously the 2009 Path to Peace Award to Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, of Mosul, Iraq. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, and President of the Path to Peace Foundation, announced that decision was made by the Board of the Path to Peace Foundation, an agency established to carry out projects to support the work of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. Paulos Faraj Rahho was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1942. He spent nearly all his life in Mosul, a city with one of the oldest Christian populations. Following his ordination to the priesthood on June 10, 1965, he was appointed to St. Isaiah's Church in Mosul. He later founded the Church of the Sacred Heart on Tel Keppe, a new district of Mosul. He also opened an orphanage for disabled children. On February 16, 2001, he was ordained Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, giving him responsibility for about 20,000 Catholics in ten parishes. Chaldean Catholics comprise a tiny minority of the Iraqi population, but are the largest group among the less than 1 million Christians in the country. Archbishop Rahho expressed disquiet at the moves to incorporate Sharia law more fundamentally into the Iraqi constitution, and continued throughout his life to lead worship in difficult situations. Following the start of the Iraq war, persecution of Christians increased dramatically. Despite the adversities facing Christians, Archbishop Rahho encouraged Christians to stay in Mosul, and he pushed for tolerance among all factions. On February 29, 2008, gunmen kidnapped Rahho outside his church in Mosul as he drove home after he had finished celebrating a prayer service. After two weeks of searching, officials at the Archeparchy were informed that the Archbishop had died and where to find his body. Also murdered were his bodyguards and driver.In addition to the Path to Path Award, four individuals will receive the Servitor Pacis Award for their contribution to the common good. These honorees are: Judge Andrew Napolitano, Bob & Suzanne Wright (Co-Founders of Autism Speaks), and Father John P. Foley, S.J. (Co-Founder of Cristo Rey Network). The event will be held at a Gala Dinner sponsored by the Foundation at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

At wowOwow, Lesley Stahl interviews Republican Arianna Huffington who declares that "I feel that this left/righ way of looking at the world is very obsolete" -- spoken like the wolf in sheep's clothing Arianna is. One exchange quotes Lesley trying to bring in the reality and a news perspective and Ariana bathed in the sweat of 'inspirational glow':

Lesley Stahl: Every time I point my clicker at the television set and surf around, I see Barack Obama. He's making announcements, he's giving interviews, he's there all the time. There's a debate about why he's in our faces so much and whether he's overexposed. What do you think about that? What do you think about the president and is he overdoing it?

Arianna Huffy: I don't think so, Lesley. I believe that Obama's strength from the first time he burst onto the national scene with a speech at the convention in 2004, to the last speech he gave this morning . . .

Lesley: Yes. Exactly, my point.

It's a point that escapes Ari. But a great deal escapes the backlash, anti-feminist Arianna. Why is that? The answer's actually in the interview. Nut case Arianna shares "one of those amazing, teachable moments". A teachable moment? Well here's what it takes Ari to learn something, in this case, over fifty and she's learning the importance of sleep:

And I remember getting up from my desk the first morning and fainting from exhaustion, hitting my head on my desk, breaking my cheekbone and having five stiches on my eye. And it's one of those amazing, teachable moments, because I just knew immediately that I had to change the way I was trying to do things.

Well there you go. The old dog can learn new tricks.

Provided she breaks a bone and requires medical attention.

Arianna always loves to inflate the truth. She made a career out of it. She's like a nun who gave herself to Christ. Only in this case, Christ was a gay man who wanted to stay in the closet and Arianna was a money grubber who was willing to take part in a faux marriage. No, Lesley doesn't ask her about that. It's forbidden. No one ever asks Arianna about that. Despite the fact that it is the most interesting thing about her oversimplified life. How many frumpy socialites end up with her life? Not many. In the UK, she'd be a cross dresser by now. In the US, she pretends she grasps politics. That she doesn't is very clear when Lesley asks her about Sonia Sotomayor (Barack's nominee for the Supreme Court) and Arianna insists "I really feel that she is immensly qualified for the job" but when Lesley (again) asks about the abortion issue (Arianna sidesteps it the first time -- pay attention kids, Republicans don't change their spots) and whether a campaign should be mounted against her "if it isn't clear that she's pro-choice," Arianna immediately responds, "No. I don't think so." Well she wouldn't, now would she. She's the anti-feminist woman and when that comes up, Arianna offers a bunch of sexist stereotypes about feminism ("all that anger twoard men and toward family and children" -- she's just a money grubbing liar) and then tries to prove she's not anti-feminist by insisting her position was like The Second Stage. That's the book
Susan Faludi called out in Backlash, noting it was the most damaging to the feminist movement as a 'leader' set about ripping apart the own movement the press (falsely) credited her with starting. Arianna's a backlash queen, never forget it. For more on anti-feminist Arianna see Isaac Chotiner's "The Puffington Host" (New Republic) which Elaine recommended on Tuesday.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs

Patches. I couldn't stop laughing tonight. Someone once made the mistake of saying something insulting about C.I. within C.I.'s ear shot and C.I. turned around and gave her a nickname. Patches. 6-4-09 CORRECTION: Wally told me "Patches" insulted Ava. C.I. overheard at which point C.I. turned around and made the patches remark to the woman. Ava confirms it was she who was insulted. Back to my post already in progress. She's horrified by the nickname and tonight I saw her on the TV and saw why. Oh my goodness. Are those patches on her elbows? What the hell was that?

I wish I'd noticed that some time ago but to be honest I hadn't even noticed that the woman was flat chested or bow legged. Ava and C.I. are always talking about that and she "has all the grace of a lumber jack." I saw all that and more tonight. I wish they were back here but they're speaking and, I think, partying, because we're in DC. But I was flipping the channelsand came across it and thought that woman really doesn't have any breasts. And she really doesn't. And she is bow legged. I wish I could remember their joke about the mechanical bull on that.

But they don't miss a thing. If you're on their list, they don't miss a thing.


That makes me laugh.

So does Little Debbie. US House Rep Deborah L. Halvorson. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs. We knew we were in for a show when we caught Little Debbie's ensemble. In the days of Mary Kay, that probably would have passed for stylin'. In the US House? Someone really needs to take Little Debbie by the hand and explain how to dress.

She could get away with it and be considered "eccentric" if she was able to say anything worth hearing. But you can't fumble and embarrass yourself verbally and also dress so poorly. You gotta get something right.

Other things that stood out?

Doug Lamborn was filling in as the Ranking Member and you could tell, at the start, that he was nervous about that but I really thought he did a fine job throughout the hearing. He's a Republican so I have no reason to praise him. But I sincerely thought he did a strong job.

Bob Finer always does a good job. He's one of my favorites in terms of chairs. In terms of attending hearings. That's because he does a good job of keeping things focused and he never forgets why everyone's present. Ike Skelton and Susan Davis are strong chairs as well. I think John Hall is one too but I've only seen him chair one or two subcomittees at this point (I think). I thought Joe Biden was a great chair but he's out of the Senate now. John Kerry is good at keeping things on track and focused.

My favorite witness today was on the second panel, Dr. Carol L. Adams. She's a PhD (in sociology) with the Illinois Dept of Human Services and she wasn't just on top of her game in terms of information, she also really knew how to handle the give and take during the exchange. There are some people who appear before Congress and speak in a monotone and might as well be reading (poorly reading) from prepared statements even when they're answering questions.

Dr. Adams was a great witness. She explained that the Illinois homeless shelter population is 60.4 pecent African-American and that 33 percent of the homeless they serve are also between 41-years-old and 61-years-old. (The next highest age group was from 22 y.o. to 40 y.o.). Men make up 58.6 percent of the homeless. Veterans make up 5.64 percent of the homeless they are serving.

My least favorite witness today? He was on the first panel. I'm not fond of brown nosers in real life let alone when it's people kissing up to a committee.

The first panel erred big time, my opinion, due to not explaining what the funding was. They may have thought, "Oh, it's okay, the Congress understands." Maybe they did but I made a point to ask everyone I could when the hearing was over -- everyone in the audience -- and not one person could explain what the funding problem was, let alone how it works.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Congress hears about the veterans homeless population, Little Debbie explains to America some people want to be homeless -- they want to be, the UN says you don't have to admit them but they can't go back, and more.

"How do we help those who don't want to be helped?" pondered Little Debbie today as she launched into a diatribe against those veterans who, according to her, just want to be homeless. Remember those who mistakenly defend US House Rep Deborah L. Halvorson, you don't know Little Debbie. Every Congressional hearing is a Mary Kay convention for Little Debbie who appears to serve on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs for comic relief purposes only. Little Debbies are snack cakes and we don't start meal with dessert so we'll come back to it.

"I want to thank everyone today, both on the committee and our witnesses, those who are here in our audience, to be here which a lot of people in our country apparently don't want to face and that is the issue of homelessness," declared Committee Chair Bob Finer in his opening remarks (
click here for his prepared remarks -- they were not read in the hearing). "And I have decided I guess and many of us here have decided, if people won't look at the homeless in general, maybe they'll look at homeless vets. And depending upon what statistics you use, it's anywhere from between 40 to 50 percent more of the homeless. So if we here and our committee can deal with the issue we'll have dealt with almost half the issue that the local communities won't have to deal with. I know that our Secretary of the VA, Mr. [Eric] Shinseki has, uh -- has, uh, taken on this battle himself also so working together we want to eliminate homeless veterans." That outlined the goals of the hearing. US House Rep Steve Buyer is the Ranking Member on the Republican side. He was not present at the start of the meeting. US House Rep Doug Lamborn filled in and gave his opening remarks -- after requesting that Buyer's prepared remarks be put into the record (here for Buyer's). Lamborn's remarks (which he read, click here) included noting, "Each night approximately 131,000 veterans, the men and women who have served our country are among the nation's homeless. While this number is alarming, we have seen a steady decrease in this number over the past few years, including a decrease of 15 percent from the 2007 estimate and 33 percent lower than 2006."

The hearing was entitled "A National Commitment to End Veterans' Homelessness" and there were four panels. The first panel was composed of the
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans' John Driscoll, United States Veterans Initiative's Dwight A. Radcliff Sr., Vietnam Veterans of America's Marsha Four, R.N. (she chairs the Women Veterans Committee of VVA), Manna House's James S. Fann and Veterans Village of San Diego's Phil Landis. The second panel was composed of Illinois Dept of Human Services' Dr. Carol L. Adams, New York City Dept of Homeless Services' Robert V. Hess with Roland Marte who is a veteran from the Bronx. Panel three was Columbia Center for Homelessness Prevention's Carol L. Caton and Brendan O'Flaherty. Panel four was US Dept of Veterans Affairs' George P. Basher and Peter H. Dougherty with Paul E. Smits from the same department and John M. McWilliams from the US Dept of Labor. We'll be focusing on the first panel.

"GPD is the foundation of the VA and community partnership and currently funds approximately 14,000 service beds in non-VA facilities in every state,"
Driscoll explained. "Under this program veterans receive a multitude of services that include housing, access to health care and dental services, substance abuse and mental health supports, personal and family counseling, education and employment assistance and access to legal aid." Driscoll wants to see the budget increased to $200 million annually. (He would also like to the see GDP system changed.) Radcliff noted that, "US VETS programs have served more than 18,000 homeless veterans with more than sixty-five perecent making successful transitions into permanent housing in the community while achieving self-sufficiency [. . .] and currently operates 727 Grant and Per Diem Transitional Housing beds in five States, making it the largest single recipient of Grant and Per Diem funding."

The number of women veterans who are homeless is rising. Four observed, "There certainly is a question of course on the actual number of homeless veterans -- it's been flucuating dramatically in the last few years. When it was reported at 250,000 level, two percent were considered females. This was rougly about 5,000. Today, even if we use the very low number VA is supplying us with -- 131,000 -- the number, the percentage, of women in that population has risen up to four to five percent, and in some areas, it's larger. So that even a conservative method of determinng this has left the number as high as [6,550]. And the VA actually is reporting that they are seeing that this is as high as eleven percent for the new homeless women veterans. This is a very vulnerable population, high incidents of past sexual trauma, rape and domestic violence. They have been used, abused and raped. They trust no one. Some of these women have sold themselves for money, been sold for sex as children, they have given away their own children. And they are encased in this total humiliation and guilt the rest of their lives." About half of her testimony was reading and about half just speaking to the committee directly.
Click here for her prepared remarks. We'll come back to the issue of homeless women veterans in a moment.

US House Rep David Poe introduced Fann, noting they were both from Johnson City, Tennessee and listing some of Fann's accomplishments. He ended by noting the Traveling Wall was in Johnson City. This is the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC with the names of 58,000 dead or missing US service members. There is no fee to view The Traveling Wall and it is open to all -- and there's an opening ceremony at ten tomorrow morning. I'm plugging it because it came up in the hearing and I have a very good friend who works with
Rolling Thunder. The Traveling Wall will be exhibited through Sunday night in Johnson City. More information on The Traveling Wall being exhibited in Johnson City can be found in Ted Overbay's report (WJHL, TriCities -- text and video). Fann explained, "Homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are now showing up in our homeless shelters. At this time we have more than twenty men on our waiting list in Manna house. Ten of those men are veterans, four fought in Iraq. Mental illness, especially post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuses, have long been seen as the major causes of homelessness among our veterans. While those are certainly factors, they are not the only reasons veterans are left homeless. Affordable housing, medical care, mental health counseling, case management and education/employment assistance to transfer their military jobs into marketable civilian positions need to be expanded in an aggressive outreach program for our veterans." Phil Landis explained, "[Veterans Village of San Diego] has operated the Veteran Only Winter Shelter for the city each year of operation. This year's shelter program ended on April 2, 2009 and over 400, non-duplicated Social Security numbers of veterans were recorded. What does this mean? The issue of homeless veterans is not going away and may in fact be growing."

US House Rep Jerry McNerney: I don't know where to begin. The testimony was fairly stark and I appreciate your honesty. I appreciate your hard work. One of the themes that was recurring was that the per diem needs to be increased and I think every single person on the panel said that much so we'll be looking at how to do that. A couple of things that also stuck out. Mr. Radcliff, you -- I'd like to ask how you advertise your programs and -- and maybe everyone on the panel can answer this -- and how widely known are the programs available to homeless vets? If you go out to a place where you see homeless vets, do they know what's available to them? How widely known is that, how easily can we get to them?

Dwight Radcliff: As you know, they do not typically. In fact one of the dilemmas is that the returning veteran has no idea of this network of service. Marketing is a huge issue. And -- and there's really not a lot of money to pay for marketing. We -- we try to connect with the veteran based upon when there's an active crisis that is happening. Typically, it's a jail or it's a court hearing or it's a substance abuse dilemma or -- we're seeing the veteran during active crisis. Our marketing is very limited. We don't -- we don't -- we're typically -- as I mentioned before -- we're -- we're barely thriving. We're barely surviving. Let alone, not thriving as community based organizations. And we're -- we're used to living there. We're on the edge.

US House Rep Jerry McNerney: So how -- how do you get in touch with a veteran that's having a crisis? The police contact you?

Dwight Radcliff: We -- we -- we usually work with government entities to -- to be referred veterans, yes. In this case, we would have veterans who are in crisis, who are in jail -- we're actually doing out reach now where we're seeing those veterans. We're referred -- local VA have homeless centers where veterans are referred to different programs depending on the veterans' needs. We do have a 1-800 number and we try to advertise that through street outreach.

We'll stop there to note Dwight Radcliff never gave the 1-800 number and, point of fact, neither does the website, not even on "
Contact Us." If you've got a 1-800 number it should be at the top of your website.

Marsha Four: I think one of the real integral parts of this is there is a connection between the VA and the cities and muncipalities, the government entity under which these programs fall. And that we also as non-profits have a direct connection with those at the city level who are dealing with social services and their address of the homeless. Most social service areas/arenas do not know the benefits and entitlements for veterans. They don't what to do with the veterans and they certainly don't know how the VA works. That's one major thrust that's very important. I also see the VA enhancing the outreach of its programs and grant per diem by communicating with other VAs and other VISNs on what programs are available for homeless. In the case of special needs grants, I'll mention the women's program that the VA actually has an intranet communication with other and all mental health directors and -- uh, all the directors of the mental health and domiciliary programs within the VA so that their homeless outreach team members know of specific specialized programs for veterans who are homeless.

John Driscoll: I'd like to add if I could.

US House Rep Jerry McNerney: Sure.

John Driscoll: When I talk about the VA community organization partnership -- and I've seen this develop over ten years, it's pretty incredible. Ten years ago, there were vet centers who would refer walks ins to community resources that existed at that time. But that number has increased dramatically over the last ten years. The VA vet centers, every VA medical center, has a homeless liason who knows who in their communities provide transitional housing or lesser services. What is missing in my estimation -- because once you've reached out and asked for help there are referral systems that will get them to the organizations that can help them. What's missing in my mind is the person who realizes he's got stressors at work, he doesn't know what to do. And so the idea of public service announcements, we see all these advertisements about join the army and join the marines and so obviously there can be federal dollars spent to put out public announcements and I believe that's what's missing. If I'm marginal and I know I've got stressors but I'm not sure who to turn to it would be nice to see a message saying "No matter what the need, you've earned this right, call this number" and then the VA call center resource takes over and they're putting that together now and I meant to mention it in my testimony. That's a tremendous resource.

Phil Landis: If the chairman will allow?

Committee Chair Bob Finer: Mr. Landis.

Phil Landis: Veterans Village truly has become a community resource -- of course we've been working at this for a very long time. One of our partners and we think in terms of the VA in San Diego as a partner truly with us works with us on a daily basis. The VA represenative from the hospital actually has an office in our facility and is there on a weekly basis. Outreach, outreach, outreach. It really falls to us as the providers of the services to create the avenues within the community. San Diego has created something called the
United Veterans Council. United Veterans Council is a group of all of the service providers, all of the veterans organizations within San Diego that meet on a monthly basis. And, of course, our organization outreach is through them as well to the homeless community. If you're a veteran and you live in San Diego and you're homeless or you're about to become homeless, I guarantee you, you know about our organization. And then we are referred -- we have referrals from every concievable avenue in the community to our organization as well.

Leaping ahead to an awkward moment when an obvious question was asked. ("Obvious question" is not meant as an insult to the Republican Congress member who asked it. It should have been asked.)

Doug Lamborn: Now can I assume that all of you have seperate facilities for homeless women veterans?

Dwight Radcliff: We don't necessarily have seperate facitilities but they are encompassed in our -- in our -- in some of our programs. And some -- depending on the stage, you know, transitional or long term housing, often times you'll see women veterans in a co-ed facility. Uh -- uh, early on, when they're going through the treatment process, you probably want to seperate the women veterans. Their -- their needs are unique and the resources are unique. So we do have female veterans programs that are -- that are both at permanent housing and programatically.

Marsha Four: I believe, sir, that there are very few programs in the country that are set up and designed specifically for homeless women veterans that are seperate. One of the problems that we're run into in a mixed gender setting is sort of two-fold. One the women veterans do not have the opportunity to actually be in a seperate group therapy environment because there are many issues that they simply will not divulge in mixed gender populations so those issues are never attended to. The other is that we believe, in a program, you need to focus on yourself and this is the time and place to do your issue, your deal. In a mixed gender setting, let's say, interfering factors. Relationships are one of them. Many of the veterans too come from the streets so there's a lot of street behavior going on. Some of the women -- and men -- but some of the women have participated in prostitution and so there's a difficult setting for any of them to actually focus on themselves without having all these other stressors come into play. So we feel that's an important issue.

April 23rd, the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs which US House Rep John Hall chaired. On the first panel,
Disabled American Veterans' John Wilson explained that some veterans were not getting the treatment they needed because their injuries were not being properly rated as combat injuries and they were being forced to dance through hoops in order to prove that the injuries received while serving in a war zone were combat injuries. He testified to the following in that hearing:

The female soldiers who accompany male troops on patrols to conduct house-to-house searches are known as Team Lioness, and have proved to be invaluable. Their presence not only helps calm women and children, but Team Lioness troops are also able to conduct searches of the women, without violating cultural strictures. Against official policy, and at that time without the training given to their male counterparts, and with a firm commitment to serve as needed, these dedicated young women have been drawn onto the frontlines in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles in Iraq.
Independent Lens, an Emmy award-winning independent film series on PBS, documented their work in a film titled Lioness which profiled five women who saw action in Iraq's Sunni Triangle during 2003 and 2004. As members of the US Army's 1st Engineer Battalion, Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Pendry Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow and Ranie Ruthig were sent to Iraq to provide supplies and logistical support to their male colleagues. Not trained for combat duty, the women unexpectedly became involved with fighting in the streets of Ramadi. These women were part of a unit, made up of approsimately 20 women, who went out on combat missions in Iraq. Female soldiers in the Army and Marines continue to perform Lioness work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would like to highlight the issues faced by Rebecca Nava as she seeks recognition of her combat experience and subsequent benefits for resulting disabilities. Then US Army Specialist Nava was the Supply Clerk for the 1st Engineering Battalion in Iraq. In conversations with her and as seen in the film Lioness, she recounts several incidents. Two of those incidents are noted in my testimony today.
The first is the roll-over accident of a 5-ton truck that was part of a convoy to Baghdad. In this accident, the driver was attempting to catcuh up with the rest of the convoy but in doing so lost control of the vehicle. The five ton truck swerved off the road and rolled over, killing a Sergeant who was sitting next to her, and severely injuring several others. Specialist Nava was caught in the wreckage. She had to pulled through the fractured windshield of the vehicle. While not severly injured in the accident, she did suffer a permanent spinal injury.
Another incident occurred wherein she was temporarily attached to a Marine unit and her job for this mission was to provide Lioness support for any Iraqi women and children the unit contacted. It was a routine mission patrolling the streets of Ramadi. Before she knew it, the situation erupted into chaos as they came under enemy fire. She had no choice but to fight alongside her male counterparts to suppress the enemy. No one cared that she was a female -- nor did they care that she had a Supply MOS -- their lives were all on the line -- she opened fire. The enemy was taken out. During this fire fight she also made use of her combat lifesaver skills and provided medical aid to several injured personnel.
This and other missions resonate with her to this day. When she filed a claim with the VA, she was confronted with disbelief about her combat role in Iraq as part of Team Lioness. Specialist Nava filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but was told that she did not qualify because of her logistics career field. Since she does not have a Combat Action Badge, she cannot easily prove that the combat missions occurred which impacted her hearing.

In today's hearing US House Rep Hall declared, "I just want to mention that because approximately 45% of homeless veterans -- in some instances higher from your experiences -- have mental illnesses that I have introduced legislation to try to alleviate the burdens currently placed on veterans trying to gain disability benefits particularly for PTSD and the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will be marking up this legislation, The Combat PTSD Act HR 952, later on this afternoon, to try to make it automatic that a man or woman who serves in uniform and subsquently at any time after returning home has a diagnosis by a psychiatrist or a doctor that they do in fact have the symptoms that compose a PTSD diagnosis will automatically be eligible not just for treatment, but for compensation and not have to connect it to a particular incident, or a particular attack, or a particular battle or a particular medal. We know that the conflits we are facing today are different than the ones in the past and I think that the VA and the country should be of the attitude that our veterans have done enough and shouldn't have to prove that they're suffering and that they're traumatized."

Now for snack time.

Debbie: During our break, I held several roundtables and one of them I held was not only with veterans' assistance uh not for profits or people that helped but also my area agencies that are for aging and people that helped with homelessness in general and they all want to help. They want -- and some of the problems they see are the veterans that don't want to be helped. They can't get them to come into their places, their shelters, they want to be homeless, they don't trust anybody. How do we help those who don't want to be helped.

"How do we help those who don't want to be helped?" Ah. A question Little Debbie's teachers struggled with -- and never found the answer to. Now Little Debbie is in Congress and wasting everyone's time with myths about homeless veterans wanting to be homeless. "They want to be homeless," she declared. Sounding like a Republican in blame-the-victim mode.

Turning to the topic of Iraqi refugees, this is the United Nations' "
Iraq needs continued international engagement -- UN refugee agency" in full:2 June 2009 -- Although the humanitarian situation in Iraq has been out of the spotlight recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) today cautioned that the situation for the millions of uprooted Iraqis both inside and outside the country remains dire and urged the international community to maintain their support. "While overall security conditions have improved, they are not yet sustainable enough to have encouraged massive returns of Iraqis," agency spokesperson Ron Redmond said, noting that more than 1.5 million Iraqis are still living in other countries, mostly in Syria and Jordan, with another 2 million internally displaced.Although some have returned to their homes, many of these returns have neither been safe nor sustainable, he added. "It is UNHCR's opinion that Iraqis should not be forced back, which would be detrimental to the safety of those concerned and would negatively affect the fragile absorption capacity of the country."The Government of Iraq is torn between many priorities in the political, electoral and national reconciliation areas, and faces many obstacles related to socio-economic issues and requirements for the return and reintegration of the uprooted, according to UNHCR. Mr. Redmond said authorities must make strides in implementing the national policy on displacement and return; take action on land allocation and property restitution; and launch housing and rehabilitation programmes. For its part, UNHCR, along with its partners, is still hindered by a shortage of funds and the need for heavy security which impedes its mobility and ability to deliver assistance, he said. Nevertheless, the agency has expanded its presence to 14 of Iraq's 17 provinces, the spokesperson said, "but these efforts will remain piecemeal if not integrated into a national, Government-led framework aimed at addressing the myriad social and economic challenges that must be overcome." UNHCR's $299 million appeal for its work in Iraq for 2009 is less than half funded, he said, warning that without an influx of resources, some programmes cannot be implemented. Outside Iraq, asylum countries are feeling the burden and are increasingly concerned over what they believe could become a protracted refugee situation, Mr. Redmond noted. "Iraq has experienced waves of mass displacement over the last 40 years that have resulted in deep social dislocation and complex humanitarian problems," he said. "What we are dealing with today is the accumulation of these problems. Bringing stability to such a complex situation is going to take time and requires the collective and continuous engagement of all."

No, it is not safe for Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq. It is NOT SAFE. And it's a real shame some organization (remember who) urged host countries to strip the refugee category from the refugees -- the same organization which now states that it's not safe for refugees to return. Try not to note the inconsistency.
PBS' Wide Angle reminds, ". As recently as May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revised its refugee guidelines to stop recommending automatic refugee status for Iraqis abroad. But on Tuesday the commissioner said many Iraqis had been forced to return home before it was safe, and he urged the international community to maintain its support." Delinda C. Hanley (Washington Report On Middle East Affairs) focuses on the refugee crisis:

AHLAM MAHMOOD was a member of Baghdad's city council until she was kidnapped in 2005. She was freed on condition that she leave her country, Mahmood told participants at a March 17 seminar at the American University Washington College of Law on the Iraqi refugee crisis. When she left Baghdad, she and her three young children joined more than two million Iraqi refugees who are living in Jordan, Syria and other neighboring countries, and an additional 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Iraq.
Mahmood fled to Syria, where she and her children lived with 20 other people in a one-bedroom flat. She had no savings and no permission to work. Her oldest son died in Syria, she said, due to poor health care. Mahmood became an activist, helping other Iraqi refugees, until she was arrested in May 2008, imprisoned, and finally, in November, put on a plane to the United States.
Last year some 13,800 Iraqis were resettled in the U.S., and this year's goal is to take 17,000, Barbara Strack of the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services told the conference. Until two years ago the U.S. had no meaningful resettlement program, even for Iraqis whose lives were endangered by working for the U.S. government, contractors or media. Now Homeland Security personnel interview Iraqi applicants in Amman, Damascus, Cairo, Istanbul and Baghdad, Strack said, and begin the careful background screening and fingerprinting process to make sure no "bad actors" try to get into the U.S.

The Iraqi refugee crisis is one receiving little attention. "No one cares whether an Iraqi dies," Yassin Salem tells
Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) who reports:Haditha is an instance, writ small, of that divide. No one disputes that 24 people were killed in this forlorn but picturesque town along a majestic stretch of the Euphrates.For the U.S. Marines, they were in a town as dangerous as any in Iraq when a devastating roadside bomb killed one of their own along a strip of asphalt bordered by olive trees and pink oleander. In time, they came under fire from insurgents, they said, and followed the rules of engagement in answering a threat. Eight Marines were prosecuted, but since then, charges have been dropped against six. Another was acquitted. The last Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, still faces charges of voluntary manslaughter.In Haditha, no one calls it a crime. No one refers to it as a killing. The only word used is "majzara," or "massacre." Nearly every villager seems able to recall even the minute details of what they say were revenge killings by Marines first targeting unarmed men in a car, then men, women and children, including a 1-year-old girl, gathered in three houses.

In Iraq, there are problems with roadside bombs. At McClatchy Newspapers, Jack Dolan and Jenan Hussein cover the landmines.
Reporting on the removal of them, "U.S. military officials estimated in 2007 that 15 percent of the charges for improvised explosive devices -- the ubiquitous homemade bombs used to attack American forces -- came from land mines and other unexploded munitions." And in "Iraq halts clearing landmines even as huge toll keeps rising," they explain:Sadiqa Foroon has lost two brothers, her right foot and 32 sheep to landmines and other explosive remnants of the three wars that have raged through her village since 1980.Burns from the mine she stepped on contort the right side of her face. "And my horse is missing a hoof," she said with a weary laugh. "So is my donkey."Still, every morning she trudges back into the sun-scorched scrubland behind her house -- one of the most densely contaminated minefields on the planet, according to international aid organizations -- to collect firewood in order to cook for 12 children, and to harvest whatever scrap metal she thinks she can sell.

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing claimed 9 lives and left thirty-one injured while a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead at a checkpoint in Mosul and another injured.

The illegal war has not ended. And US service members continue to deploy to Iraq.
Cali Bagby (KVAL -- link has text and video) reports on Louisa Babcock and others with Oregon Army National Guard from the Charlie Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation who are on a 400 day deployment, "The mission: prepare to extract wounded soldiers and others from hot spots in Iraq." The Des Moines Register reports that the Iowa Army National Guard's 294th Area Support Medical Company are sending 75 members "to Iraq for a one-year tour of duty." Tom Gordon (Birmingham News) reports 75 is also the number the Alabama Army National Guard is sending to Iraq in August where they will do "police training."
While the US deploys to Iraq, a small number of Iranians have left. During Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq, he allowed Iranian rebels, the People's Mujahedeen, to set up camp. There are approximately 3,500 on a northern Iraq base alone. They reportedly seek the overthrow of Iran. Iran has long wanted them out but Iran's wants weren't a real big concern to Hussein. Nouri al-Maliki, of course, has strong ties to Iran. For example, he hid out there when he wanted Saddam overthrown but was too chicken to do that himself so he waited and waited for decades outside Iraq until the US invasion. He went back to Iran over the weekend. Iran's
Press TV reported he flew to "Hakim's bedside in Tehran" this weekend because Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is receiving treatments for cancer. al-Hakim, like Nouri, is an Iraqi chicken who ran to exile, stayed in exile for decades and then, after the US invasion, was a 'respected' Iraqi . . . in the eyes of the US. al-Hakim grew up in Najaf and left Iraq in 1980 for Iran. Robin Wright (Washington Post) reported May 19, 2007 that al-Hakim had gone to Houston due to lung cancer: "Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said." Back to the People's Mujahedeen, AFP reports the International Committee of the Red Cross has assisted 260 in relocating.