Friday, April 27, 2012

Roberta

Roberta Flack is one of my all time favorites.  She's probably one of yours as well.  Roberta's classics include "Feel Like Makin' Love," "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Where Is the Love," "The Closer I Get To You," "Killing Me Softly With His Song," "Making Loving," "Oasis," "Tonight I Celebrate My Love," and so much more.  Including this year's classic album Let It Be Roberta.

roberta flack

On the new album, she interprets the works of the Beatles.  I reviewed the excellent album back in February. Miriam Di Nunuzi (Chicago Sun-Times) interviewed Roberta this month:

Question: Were you a big Beatles fan growing up?
Roberta Flack: I still am. I was a teacher for a part of my life, and when I was ready to move away from the classroom the Beatles were very inspiring musically for me. Songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Love, Love Me Do,” all those early songs. It was new. We were all singing them. To hear musicians from England singing those [rock and roll] songs!
Q. How did their music inspire you?
RF: It was prophetic in a way. How could these young guys who I couldn’t relate to, because I’m from Black Mountain, North Carolina, be so inspiring? For some reason, I could relate to the music but not the four young boys from England. I found something in the songs that I could interpret vocally. It began to really live inside of me. That they had the ability as young songwriters to really say something with music to all people was inspiring. It was amazingly mature, sincere, right on the money. All good songs are that. I studied classical piano for years, so I’m very moved by great melodies.
Q. You really experimented with Beatles’ melodies for this album.
RF: Their music was very complex and simple at the same time. You can get caught up in the melody of “Let It Be,” and that can be something that plays over and over in your mind. But for me it was the combination of the melody and the words that challenged me. It represented something other than what people had heard over the years, without doing something clever.

And Cheryl Wills interviews her for NY1 -- link is a little text and video.,

If you haven't heard the album yet, you should really give it a chance, it's one of the year's finest albums.


Closing with C.I.'s "

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Following Marcia's lead . . .

I never cease to marvel over C.I.'s ability to pull together an Iraq snapshot.  I thought for sure that she'd include the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  I was wrong.  (She'll go back to that topic Friday.)  And she was so tired and trying to make a hard seven o'clock deadline because we had two very lengthy roundtables to do tonight.

But she did it and pulled it together and I don't think that if I wrote about just one topic I could do it.  Every day?  I'd have nothing left to say or to cover.  So it really is something that she's doing this and doing it for 8 years now. Wow.

And for all the whining about how 'mean' she is from the press, the reality is that she'll praise pretty much anyone.  Not Dexter Filkins.  She doesn't feel there's a come back for the Falluja Liar (I agree).  But Joel Wing who is not her friend and is not nice to her and whose writing is sometimes highly uninformed, he wrote a piece that was strong and she praised it. 

She doesn't form secret alliances with Thomas E. Ricks or Nir Rosen or any of the blogger boyz.  She's truly independent. 

She is Catwoman, hear her roar.  :D

And there are people who will tell you that's not possible, not if you want to be successful online.  They're lying or they're ignorant.  She's gone her own way and the stats for the main site and the two mirror sites are off the chain.  I would tell you about the record this week in terms of stats but sometimes she reads all of our posts.  She tries to skim everyone but doesn't always have time for reading.  She'd forgive a great deal but she'd be mad at me for telling her how many people are reading this week.

(She doesn't want to know the stats.  She's afraid if she did, she'd start trying to rewrite whatever was popular and just repeat herself over and over.  So she has no idea.  But she's huge online.)

It's really amazing because there were so many Big Bloggers trying to bribe her in 2008.  Offering a link, a permanent link and not just a link in a blog post, if she'd only endorse Barack.  She blew them off.  And she could afford to because everything she is online is a result of her own work. 

She wasn't part of a circle jerk.  She didn't do reach around links.   And she made a name for herself.  Who else can claim that?

Marcia and Mike blogged about music last night, reason enough to note them, but this post is also inspired by Marcia's beautiful one.  Read it, it's really something.

And I included Elaine because she was between the two and because I love her Smash blogging.

Closing with C.I.'s  "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, April 26, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Moqtada meets up with Massoud Barzani in the KRG, State of Law whispers to the press, the White House points a finger but fails to realize four point back to them, and more.
 
Starting with violence, Al Rafidayn notes 3 car bombs were discovered in Anbar Province (before they went off) and the Ramadi home of a police officer was blown up and 1 corpse (Iraq soldier -- shot dead and tossed in the river) was discovered in Diyala  Province.  On Diyala, RIA Novosti notes a suicice car bombing there today.  BBC News adds that it was a suicide car bombing followed by a cafe bombing.  Reuters counts 10 dead and eighteen injured.  Mohammed Lazim (CNN) reports Baghdad also saw twin bombings -- a car bombing in the al-Hurriya district and another bombing in Sadr City. Raheem Salman (Reuters) counts 5 dead and twenty-seven injured in the Baghdad bombings.  Violence in Iraq has risen sharply since the 2003 invasion.  (Yeah, that's the way AFP and the others should report it instead of their embarrassing clowning where they use 2006 as a 'base year' for everything in Iraq.) And  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 10 dead yesterday and seventeen injured.
 
We noted an important column by Joel Wing about nine days ago and were going to note it as the month drew to a close with the hopes that some outlets would actually pay attention to the topic.  I hadn't planned for us to do that today but we'll jump the gun on it due to another article.  First, the coverage -- the lack of coverage -- of violence in Iraq is ridiculous.  Reuters, of course, dropped their "Factbox" which was one of the few things that covered daily violence -- McClatchy long ago dropped their daily roundup of violence.  With most western outlets no longer covering violence unless at least 20 die in one day, the false impression that violence disappeared in Iraq takes hold.  Reality is further threatened by a lazy press which has never kept their own numbers for Iraqi dead but now just pander to Nouri al-Maliki and cite his and only his figures.  It's in Nouri's interest to lie and pretend violence is dropping, dropping, almost gone.  As we've noted repeatedly in the last months, the 'official figures' don't even meet the totals of Iraq Body Count.  And for the bulk of the Iraq War, the press went with Iraq Body Count's numbers.  Now they won't even acknowledge those numbers because it might make Nouri look bad.  You've got a press corps that has bowed and scraped to Nouri in a way that makes CNN's overtures to Saddam Hussein under Eason Jordan look like nothing more than professional courtesy.  Credit to Joel Wing for his column on the issue of the dead and the way their being counted.  Excerpt.
 

In February 2012, the Iraqi government released its official figures for casualties from April 2004 to the end of 2011. It had over 69,000 deaths for that time period. That count was 30,000 less than other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq. During the height of the civil war, the country's ministries' numbers were comparable to other groups, but since 2011 they have consistently been the lowest. While some Iraqi politicians have claimed that the official counts miss many deaths, it could also be argued that the statistics are being politicized by the prime minister who controls all of the security ministries.
On February 29, 2012, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh announced the government's numbers for deaths in the country. He said that from April 5, 2004 to December 31, 2011 69,263 Iraqis were killed. 239,133 were also wounded. The deadliest year was 2006 when there were 21,539 dead, and 39,329 wounded. 2011 was the least violent with only 2,777 casualties. Of the nation's eighteen provinces, Baghdad was the deadliest with 23,898 dead for the reported time period, followed by Diyala, Anbar, and Ninewa. Muthanna in the south was the safest with only 94 killed over the seven years covered. A member of parliament's human rights committee immediately criticized the report. The deputy claimed that there were thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war that were never counted. He also said that out in the countryside, reporting to the ministries was poor. No numbers on violence in Iraq can be anywhere near complete. During the civil war from 2005-2008 there were sections of the country that were too dangerous to enter and do any serious reporting. Some insurgent groups also buried their victims. The problem with the ministries numbers however are that they are so far below other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq, which was not always true.
 
Read the column in full.  But with that in mind, see if you can spot the problem in the following passage by Robert Tollast from an interview with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (again, the passage below is writtne by Tollast):
 
In March 2006 for example, an estimated 1500 people died a violent death in Baghdad according to Iraq Body Count, and that was not the capital's worst month. In sharp contrast, official figures show a civilian death toll of 112 across all of Iraq for March 2012.
 
 
Did you catch the problem?  In 2006, X is the figure and Iraq Body Count is the source.  Last March, Z is the number of deaths but they're using "official figures," not IBC.  That's what they call comparing apples and oranges.  112 people died in Iraq last month?
 
No.  That's not what Iraq Body Count found.  They found 295 deaths in the month of March.  We used a screen snap of their monthly total in this earlier editorial for Third Estate Sunday Review. Right now -- with no addition of today's deaths, they're counting 250 dead so far this month in Iraq.  Will the press note this when they cover deaths in their monthly look back?  If the new pattern holds, they'll ignore Iraq Body Count.  And continue to pretend that reporting the tallies released by an interested party as if (a) they're objective and (b) the only tallies that exist.
 
On the topic of violence, Robert Tollast did explore the targeting of Iraqi youth -- Emos and LGBTs and those suspected of being either with Michael Knights:
 
RT: This month we have seen a disturbing spike in violence against young Iraqis who are guilty of nothing more than sporting western style fashions, which the Iraqis have dubbed "emo" (after the American music genre.) They are only the latest group to be targeted by religious extremists, alongside barbers deemed un-Islamic and homosexuals. Iraqi religious leaders have been united in condemning attacks against "emos" notably al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. The violence is also specific to Iraq, since these fashions are banned in Iran, but were briefly popular and not punishable by death. There is clearly a new generation in Iraq who are desperate to move on from war and oppression, and they are being targeted by men who are simply after the next person to kill, now that their local Sunnis have fled and the US has departed. Perhaps this is what the reconciliation of groups like Asaib ahl-Haq will look like: they will always find something to violently resist. Can the Iraqi government reasonably expect to rehabilitate groups like AAH, who could well be behind a lot of these killings?     MK: Anyone familiar with the "loss" of Basrah to the militias in 2006-2007 will shudder to see the same trends writ large across Baghdad and southern Iraq. In Basrah, the first targets for the Shiite vigilantes were the alcohol vendors, the music shops and eventually the university campuses. Some horrific things happened back then and this most recent set of attacks on youth is a reminder that religious vigilantes remain a major threat to personal security and liberty in Iraq. Back in 2006-2007 in Basrah, the British effectively surrendered the city to the vigilantes; now groups like AAH have greater license to operate because they are starting to side with the government in national politics.
The lesson from Basrah is that the militias do not stop after they target the minorities and niche groups: they keep pushing until they begin to rival the government and threaten the public perception of the government's "monopoly of force." When that day comes, the government is forced to smash the militants back down to their roots again, as occurred in Basrah and Baghdad in 2008. Getting back to your question, it is clear that reconciliation efforts should, as a prerequisite, only involve movements that have frozen their involvement in violence. AAH has never fully recanted violence: even when the United States was seeking to de-militarize AAH, the movement would not agree to any of the preconditions that other insurgent groups accepted (providing an oath to renounce violence, surrendering biometric data, etc.). Building up AAH -- which is the real Iraqi counterpart to Lebanese Hezbollah, unlike Moqtada's scattered followers -- is a dangerous game for any government to play.
 
By the way, if you're in Boston tomorrow (we will be but not in the afternoon), Boston University is hosting a panel on Iraq and Afganistan moderated by BU professor John Carroll with the following panelists: professor Andrew J. Bacevich, the Boston Globe's David Greenway, former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith and retired General David McKiernan.  Details are here and the 1:00 pm event is free and open to the public.  Early on the Boston Globe covered Iraq itself (instead of reprinting articles by their corporate owners the New York Times).  Back when they were covering Iraq, Elizabeth Neuffer was their correspondent.  She died May 9, 2003 in a car accident outside Samarra. Since her death, the International Women's Media Foundations has annually awarded the Elizabeth Neuffer fellowship. The most recent journalist honored with the fellowship is Ugrandan reporter Jackee Budesta Batanda who has covered acid attacks on women in Uganda among other topics.  IWMF notes of the fellowship:
 
One woman journalist will be selected to spend seven months in a tailored program with access to MIT's Center for International Studies as well as media outlets including The Boston Globe and The New York Times.  The flexible structure of the program will provide the fellow with opportunities to pursue academic research and hone her reporting skills covering topics related to human rights.
The Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship is open to women journalists whose focus is human rights and social justice.  Applicants must be dedicated to a career in journalism in print, broadcast or online media and show a strong commitment to sharing knowledge and skills with colleagues upon completion of the fellowship.  Excellent written and spoken English skills are required.  A stipend will be provided, and expenses, including airfare and housing, will be covered.
 
For the next honoree, applications are currently being accepted and will be through April 30th -- May 1st will be too late.  If you're interested in applying, you can click here for more information.  In addition, next week, May 3rd, IWMF will announce their winners of the 2012 Courage in Journalism Award and Lifetime Achievement Award.  We will be including that whether it involves Iraq journalism or Iraqi journalism or not.  A friend with IWMF feels that last year's winners did not get coverage from the bulk of the press.  (We didn't cover it here at all, I'll freely admit.  But she's talking about the press, not about this site.)  I told her last night I'd do what I could offline as well as mention it here.
 
Back to Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Al Rafidayn reported this morning that Moqtada al-Sadr would be visiting KRG President Massoud Barzani today to discuss the crisis   Earlier, Aswat al-Iraq reported Barzani had invited Moqtada to a May 7th meet-up in Erbil to address the political crisis.  Today AFP quotes the Sadr bloc's Salah al-Obeidi stating, "The crisis needs such a move to resolve the situation.  The Sayyed is trying to put Al-Ahrar [his parlimenatry bloc] and himself personally in the middle." Lara Jakes (AP) reports on a "45 minute interview" with Barzani in which he calls out the ongoing crisis and states, "What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule. If Iraq heads toward a democratic state, then there will be no trouble.  But if Iraq heads toward a dictatorial state, then we will not be able to live with dictatorship."  A longer version of Lara Jakes' report can be found at Lebanon's Daily Star.  In the interview, Barzanai says that September needs to be agreed to as the time by which the political crisis must be solved and, if not, breaking with Baghdad may be put on the KRG ballot.

The KRG is supposed to hold provincial elections September 12th.  They do their provincial elections differently than the rest of Iraq.  Not just because they're semi-autonomous but also because when the KRG says they're holding elections, they do so.  The 2010 parliamentary elections across Iraq were supposed to have been held in 2009.  But Nouri and company couldn't get it together to pass an election law.  The 2010 elections led to eight months of political stalemate as Nouri refused to relinquish the post of prime minister even those his State of Law came in second.  In November 2010, Political Stalemate I was ended when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all the parties.  This was a series of concessions.  Nouri, for example, conceeded to allow Ayad Allawi (of Iraqiya which came in first in the elections) to head an independent security council and to hold the census and referndum in Kirkuk that the Iraqi Constitution demands he hold.  He had to make other concessions (on paper) but those were among the biggies.  In exchange, the other parties agreed to allow Nouri a second term as prime minister.  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get that second term and then (Decemeber 2010, one month later) trashed the agreement, refusing to honor his promises to the other political blocs.  That's what started Political Stalemate II, the ongoing crisis.  Since last summer, Iraqiya, the Kurds, ISCI and the Sadr bloc have called for a return to the Erbil Agreement and for it to be fully implemented.  Yesterday, Margret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reported, "Separately, the Iraqi Accord Front, which is a member of the Iraqiya bloc, complained that Maliki has ignored the Arbil Agreement that he accepted in order to retain the premiership for a second term. Barzani was instrumental in the creation of the agreement after 2010 elections failed to produce an uncontested winner. A spokesman for the front said if they agreement is not fulfilled, they would withdraw confidence from Maliki."  Alsumaria reports that Barzani has called a meeting "next Saturday" and invited members of the Kurdistan Alliance serving in Parliament as well as all members of the KRG's Parliament -- all regardless of political party. Barzani has not announced what the topic of the meeting will be leading to speculation that this meet-up may explore Iraq politics (such as replacing Nouri) or KRG politics (such as breaking further with Baghdad). 
 
 
 
 
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, warned on Wednesday that Kurdish voters may consider secession if Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite bloc do not agree to share power by September. He said that Iraq's unity is threatened by Maliki's "dictatorship and authoritarian rule." Barzani's comments followed earlier remarks on Sunday in which he expressed his concerns that Maliki might use F-16 warplanes against Iraqi Kurdistan, saying "We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position." Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Kurdistan on Thursday in an attempt to help resolve the situation.
 
 
C Luan (Xinhua) notes that al-Sadr and Barzani were scheduled to meet today.  AFP has a photo of Barzani greeting Moqtada al-Sadr as he leaves arrives in Erbil.  And they quote him declaring at the Erbil Airport, "I met Nouri al-Maliki in Tehran, and I came to listen to the opinions of the Kurdish leaders and their views. Everyone should look out for the public interest and the unity of the Iraqi people, and I hope that everyone will be responsible."
 
 
Al Rafidayn meanwhile notes that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness."  Of Barzani, AFP notes, "He is the highest-ranking Iraqi official to disavow Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government for sidelining its political opponents and, in some cases, persecuting them in what critics call an unabashed power grab.  Critics are seeing Barazani's statements as an attempt by the Kurds to place pressure on Baghdad and force the central government to follow the Kurdish way instead of a real pursuance of secession. " 
 
It's being called a "historic moment" by some news outlets.  Aswat al-Iraq noted yesterday, "Sadrist Trend MP Hakim al-Zamili disclosed that some of the political blocs desire to have a candidate from the Sadrist Trend to assume the premiership, which matter shall be decided by Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr."  As we've noted since the summer of 2010, French and British diplomats believe that when Tehran pressured Moqtada to back Nouri al-Maliki (whom Moqtada loathes), they finally got his agreement by promising they would back him to be the next prime minister.  Earlier this week, we noted the publicly expressed strategy of Sadr which is that if there is agreement on who would be the next prime minister -- agreement among the political blocs in Iraq -- he would take part in a no-confidence vote.  Interestingly, while AFP quotes Moqtada stating that the issue of the security ministries needs to be addressed (Nouri was supposed to have nominated people to head the ministries back in December 2010 but he never did that for the security ministries which has allowed him to control those ministries), Kitabat reports that one of "the most important discussion topics" between Barzani and Moqtada is that Nouri must not have a third term as prime minister.  Kitabat notes that Moqtada was expected to go to Najaf after leaving Erbil.

 
 

Al Rafidayn meanwhile reports that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness."   When you put all the current pieces together, it appears Moqtada may be even closer to becoming Iraq's prime minister.  Dar Addustour is among those reporting today that Nouri met with Moqtada while Nouri was in Tehran over the weekend and that Moqtada promised his support. Also citing an unnamed source, Alsumaria reports on the alleged meeting.  Is it in Moqtada's interest to leak the story?  No.  But it is in Nouri's interest.  Nouri and his State of Law is the most likely source of the rumor.  It may or may not be true.  And Nouri has a habit of hearing what he wants to hear.  Also true, Moqtada has become quite the political figure and may be playing every angle.  (That's not a slam against him but it is noting that Moqtada al-Sadr of 2012 is not the struggling and tone-deaf politician of the early stages of the Iraq War.)  Finally, Alsumaria reports the League of Righteous -- armed militants/terrorists, etc. -- held a press conference in Baghdad today to announce that they plan to participate in the elections for provincial councils and that they represents the resistance which was able to defeat the most powerful country in the world (the United States). The League split with Moqtada al-Sadr over a number of issues.   Nouri had hoped to use them as a way to block Moqtada but that hasn't happened thus far.
 
 
 
In the US, Iraq's becoming a campaign issue. Ben Smith and Zeke Miller (Buzz Feed) report Mitt Romney's being slammed for choosing the husband of journalist Campbell Brown (formerly of NBC and CNN) for a foreign policy advisor because the man, Dan Senor, was a White House advisor in Iraq from April 2003 through July 2005 where he helped with press briefings and was an adivsor to Paul Bremer and many more tasks. The re-election campaign for President Barack Obama sent out a release that Smith and Miller quote from which includes: "DAN SENOR WAS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S SPIN MASTER FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ AND WORKED TO ADVOCATE LONGER U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ."  Ali Gharib (Think Progress) has a rap sheet of Senor's supposed crimes. Smith and Miller note that "Democrats see in Senor's emergence an extension of the unpopular Bush Administration and its unpopular war." And so everyone's mouthing off when, quite frankly, they all need to pipe down.
 
I'd love it if we were holding people accountable.  But that's not the case.  As so many work overtime to let you know that Dan Senor is close to Robert Kagan (I know Kagan), we're all supposed to look the other way on the fact that Barack's administration has chosen to make Victoria Nuland a State Dept spokesperson.  For those who don't know, Victoria Nuland is married to Robert Kagan.  NPR wants you to believe that when they let Kagan critique then-presidential candidate John Kerry on air that they had no idea Kagan was the husband of Victoria Nuland who was, at that time, Dick Cheney's national security advisor.  (If you need a refresher or this is new to you, drop back to November 2004 and read "When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman.")  Dick Cheney's national security advisor?  Who's married to Robert Kagan?  I'd say Joe Biden (who's the designated attack dog on this point) needs to find a new topic damn quick.  Victoria Nuland is not the only neocon that Barack Obama has brought into his administration, nor is she the only supporter of the Iraq War that he has brought into his administration.  I'd love it if they had maintained some sort of a standard, if the current White House had, but they maintained no such standard.  Most people aren't even aware of this but the only US Ambassador to Iraq that we have so far had who was against the war?  That was Ryan Crocker, the Bush appointee.  Chris Hill, Barack's first appointee, was for it.  Frothing at the mouth for it.  The current Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey was for it.  Barack's new nominee?  Brett McGurk?  Not only was he for the Iraq War, he was tasked with that war in the lead up to it and after it.  That's what his focus was when he was on Bush's National Security Council. Let's go to McGurk's Harvard bio:
 
During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq and then as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this position, McGurk oversaw all aspects of U.S. policy relating to wars in both theaters.  In 2005 and 2006, he was an early proponent of the strategy now known as the "surge" and was a lead participant in the 2006 strategic review of Iraq policy, which led to the surge of U.S. forces into Iraq and significant changes to U.S. strategy there.
In 2007 and 2008, McGurk served as lead negotiator and envoy for negotiations with the Government of Iraq on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement (also known as a "SOFA") to govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and the normalization of bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States.  The Iraqi parliament ratified both agreements on November 26, 2008, and they went into effect on January 1, 2009.  In recognition for
this achievement, McGurk received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow on a civilian not serving in the Department.
Prior to serving on President Bush's National Security Council staff, McGurk served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and then the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Ambassador John Negroponte.  In this capacity, he helped structure the legal framework for Iraq's first nationwide election and was a key participant in the negotiation of Iraq's interim constitution.  He was identified in 2004 as "one of the heroes" of the CPA period by Atlantic Monthly magazine, and has since been recognized by leading commentators as one of the few policymakers who advocated the critical changes to U.S. policy that led to the surge and an improving situation in Iraq.
 

Again, drawing attention to Dan Senor's Iraq connections?  They blew that chance years ago when they brought so many War Hakws into the administration.  In addition, nominating McGurk pretty much ensured that all the Iraq War Hawks were immunized.  Ben Smith will always carry Barack's water -- probably his urine as well -- but not everyone in the press will choose to be so compliant.  The White House will fnd out quickly that if they try to make Senor an issue, the press will be happy to note his counterpart's in Barack's administration.  It's not a winning strategy.
 
 
On top of that, there's the hypocrisy.  Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) calls the administration out:
 
 
 
The world is in chaos, war is breaking out all over, there's blood flowing in the streets of cities from the Middle East to Africa, but not to worry – we've got an "Atrocity Prevention Board"! Now doesn't that make you feel much better?
The board is chaired by the infamous Samantha Power – whose advocacy of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine is credited with the Obama administration's support for Islamist rebels in Libya, and is currently energizing calls for a similar intervention in Syria. The announcement of this new bureaucratic instrument of war was made by Obama at a recent speech delivered at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where professional warmonger and Israel Firster Elie Wiesel took the opportunity to call for war with Iran and the President, for his part, announced the imposition of new sanctions on both Iran and Syria.
The atrocities this board is supposed to prevent are those that are not committed by the US: our atrocities, you understand, are really "humanitarian" acts, as opposed to their atrocities, which are … well, just plain old atrocities. One can safely assume the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, killed by US sanctions prior to the invasion, is not one of those atrocities to be considered by the Board. Nor will those many thousands of Iraqi civilians who lost their lives in the war be so recognized.
No, designation will be reserved for the actions of governments that defy our will, like Iran and Syria. Obama singled out South Sudan and Libya as monuments to this policy of "atrocity prevention" – Libya, whose Islamist government is jailing, murdering, and otherwise repressing its own people, and South Sudan, a completely made-up "nation" that owes its very existence to Western intervention, routinely arrests opposition figures and journalists, and is currently involved in putting down local and tribal insurgencies in the majority of its provinces (with our help, you can be sure).
The piddling atrocities carried out by such tinhorn despots as Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian mullahs are nothing compared to the large-scale war crimes routinely committed by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our drones roam the world, wreaking random havoc on innocents and "terrorists" alike – oh, but that isn't an "atrocity." It's "fighting terrorism." That is how the world's biggest perpetrator of atrocities gets to set up an "Atrocity Prevention Board" and not be laughed off the world stage.
 
 
iraq 
afp
 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fire everyone at the VA

OMG.  I cannot believe the crap I had to sit through this morning.  I'm referring to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

VA was caught by the Inspector General's office lying about their wait time -- repeatedly lying to Congress, in Congressional testimony.

William Schoenhard would allow that there was a problem with metrics and they were working on it.  He'd allow that.

How generous.

You were caught lying.

There was no contrition on the part of VA.  There wasn't even an acknowledgement.  They didn't appear to take the report seriously or to be embarrassed or ashamed by it.

It was just another day for the VA.

And, sadly, they are correct.  This is how it goes now.  Over and over.  Week after week. Forever and ever.  They do nothing to improve the quality of veterans care.  I'm referring to the administration, by the way.  Not the people at the facilities who are overworked and underpaid.

I say fire all the administrators and I'm not joking.

I say start with William Schoenhard.  Get his ass -- his slow-talking ass (he tried to eat up time throughout the hearing) -- out of the VA.

They were caught ahead of the hearing in a scandal.  And it didn't appear to phase them.

Nothing did.

No offense to those Senators present, but I wish that Richard Burr would have been present (he was out) because he can scare the witness table when they start acting like a real issue is no big deal.  He would have reduced this group to tears.

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


Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, tensions continue to rise between Iraq and Turkey, the US Veterans Affairs Committee has been caught lying about wait time for veterans seeking health care, a witness calls for a cultural change at VA, and more.
 
 
An important hearing took place in DC this morning.  Before it started, Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio) was explaining the problem.  Excerpt.
 
Larry Abramson: Over the past five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs says the number of former service members seeking mental health services has climbed by a third. In response, the agency has boosted funding, and tightened standards. Now, any vet asking for help is supposed to be evaluated within 24 hours and start treatment within two weeks. The VA has claimed that happens in the vast majority of cases. But a new investigation by the agency's inspector general says the VA statistics are skewed to make wait times appear shorter. [. . ] The inspector general's report says rather than starting the clock from the moment a vet asks for mental health care, the VA has been counting from whenever the first appointment came available. That could add weeks or months to the wait time. So while the VA has been saying 95 percent of vets were seen as quickly as they were supposed to be, actually, nearly 100,000 patients had to wait much longer.
 
 
"Today's hearing builds upon two hearings held last year," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order.  "At each of the previous hearings, the Committee heard from the VA how accessible mental health care services were.  This was inconsistent with what we heard from veterans and the VA mental health care providers.  So last year, following the July hearing, I asked the Department to survey its own health care providers to get a better assessment of the situation.  The results as we all now know were less than satisfactory.  Among the findings, we learned that nearly 40% of the providers surveyed could not schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within the 14 days. Over 40% could not schedule an established patient within 14 days of their desired appointment.  And 70% reported inadequate staffing or space to meet the mental health care needs.  The second hearing, held in November, looked at the discrepancy between what the VA was telling us and what the providers were saying.  We heard from a VA provider and other experts about the critical importance of access to the right type of care delivered timely by qualified mental health professionals.  At last November's hearing, I announced that I would be asking VA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities. I want to thank the IG for their tremendous efforts in addressing such an enormous request.  The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling.  We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment and I'm glad the IG has brought those concerns to light."
 
There was one panel. William Schoenhard and Mary Schohn were among those present representing the Dept of Veterans Affairs, Iraq War veteran Nick Tolentino was present as a former VA employee who had an understanding of how the VA worked (and didn't work), Outdoor Odyssey's retired Major General Thomas Jones shared his thoughts and observations, and the VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Daigh. 
 
We'll jump to this exchange where Committee Chair Patty Murray questioned the VA.
 
Chair Patty Murray: First, let me say that I'm very happy that the VA is finally acknowledging the problem.  When the Department is saying there's near perfect compliance but every other indication is that there are major problems, I think it is an incredible failure of leadership that no one was looking into this. In fact, when you sit at that table before this Committee, we expect you to take seriously the issues that are raised here. It should not take multiple hearings and surveys and letters and ultimately an IG investigation to get you to act. I  also would like to suggest that if the reality on the ground could be so far off from what central office thought was happening as it relates to mental health, then you better take a very hard look at some of the other areas of care for similar disconnects. Now what we have heard from the IG is very, very troubling. For months now, we have been questioning whether Central Office had a full understanding of the situation out in the field and I believe the IG report has very clearly shown that you do not. So I want to start by asking you today, after hearing from this Committee, from veterans, from providers and from outside experts, why you were not proactive about this problem months ago.
 
William Schoenhard:  Chairman Murray, we have been looking at mental health for, uh, many years, as you know. With the support of the Congress, we increased our capacity and hired about 8,000 new providers between 2007 and 201.  We relied primarily on a uniform mental health handbook that would be the source of the way in which we would deliver care to our nation's veterans. That has been the focus of the department to ensure that we're getting evidence-based therapies and a staffing model that is largely based on the handbook put out in 2009.  I think what we have learned in this journey -- and we have been wanting to work with our providers -- is a number of things.  As I mentioned in my opening statement, the way in which we measure these performance measures is not a good measure of wait time. We want to work very closely with the IG and with, uh, any resources that are available to assist us in ensuring that we provide veteran centered performance measures --
 
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Shoenfield, with all due respect, I think back in 2005 the IG said this information was there.  So that's a long time with a lot of veterans in between.  So my question is how are you going to address that growing gap that we've seen --
 
William Schoenhard: Well I --
 
Chair Patty Murray:  -- between what Central Office believes and what's actually happening out there.
 
William Schoenhard: As Dr. Daigh described in our response to the IG report, we have a number of things going on.  One is first we have a working group that will report this summer on a new set of performance measures that includes providers on the ground assisting us with ensuring us that we develop measures in conjunction with support from the IG that are really veteran-centered -- that are centered on a veteran's individual condition and one in which we can revamp and go forward. We fully embrace that our performance measurement system needs to be revised and we will be doing that with the work of people on the front lines to assist us.  We have the benefit of, uh, these mental health site visits that are assisting us.  We're learning as we go on other issues to do with scheduling and all of this effort is assisting us in not just having people at Central Office develop proposed solutions but to engage the field the way that we need to in order to ensure that we're veteran-centered and we're able to support our providers in delivering this care.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  I-I appreciate that but it is very troubling to me that this didn't happen five, ten years ago.  That we're just now, after months of this, years of this, that that disconnect is there.  But we'll go back to that because I  want to ask Mr. Tolentino and I really appreciate your willingness to come forward today and I believe your testimony is going to be very helpful to addressing many of the changes that are needed in a timely fashion.  In your testimony, you suggested that VA institute more extensive oversight into how mental health care is actually delivered and funds are spent.  Given how adept many of the facility administrators are at getting around the current system without being caught, how do you think the VA can most effectively perform that oversight?
 
Nick Tolentino: Madam Chairman, to be perfectly honest, I don't have a very good answer for you because of the fact that the gaming is so prevalent.  As soon as something is put out, it is torn apart to look to see what the work-around is.  I-I feel that the reports -- the reporting is -- It's very redundant reporting that feels like it goes nowhere, there's no feedback loop.  It's one way.  We're telling you exactly what -- and most of the times you want to hear -- we did at the facilities and even at the network.  But there's no coming back and rechecking or coming back with feedback to say, 'Well you said you spent the money on these services but there's no workload to verify it. There's nothing concrete to speak to what you say you've done.'  I'm remembering in the short time that I -- that I worked there, many times we got vast amounts of financial monies for different programs but very, very seldomly did we get requests to verify what we've done with work load, with any kind of feedback reports or anything like that. So I think opening the lines of communication and development of feedback loop would be very helpful -- and a very transparent feedback loop at that.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Mr. Shcoenhard, my time is out and I want to turn it over to Senator Brown. But I do want to address an important issue here.  The Department has announced 1600 new mental health care providers and I appreciate that step, I think it's really needed but I am concerned that VA hospitals all across the country are going to run into the same hurdles that Spokane VA has been in not being able to hire health staff and I hope that medical centers are doing everything including using all available hiring incentives to fill those vacancies.  And I assure you, that is the next question this Committee is going to look at. But I want to ask you specifically, how are you going to make sure the 1600 new health care providers that you announced don't become 1600 new vacancies?
 
William Schoenhard:  Chairman Murray, that's a very important question.  And we have stood up in our human resources group and our VHA workforce two task forces to assist us with this.  One is the Recruitment and Retention of mental health providers with particular focus on psychiatry.  That's where our greatest need and problem is in retaining and recruiting mental health providers.  The second task force is a Hiring Task Force.  That is what can we be doing to expedite and make sure that we are having the process of recruitment as speedily as possible.  The group has put together a number of good recommendations that we will be implementing. Part of what Dr. Daigh spoke of earlier in terms of our four-part mission, one of our great assests -- having been in the private sector for many years before coming to VA -- is that many mental health providers including hundreds of trainees today get part of their training in VA and have the opportunity to experience us going forward.  We need to better link with these trainees and ensure that we have a warm hand-off for employment when they finish this.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Okay, that's one issue but then how you arrived at your staffing plan is really unclear to me.
 
William Schoenhard:  Oh, I'm sorry.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  The new 1600 mental health providers that you allocated, the information that we got from the department yesterday on where that was going to go isn't supported by any concrete evidence or facts.  In fact, the VISN 20 director told Senator [Mark]  Begich and I that she learned about the new positions only a couple of days ago, didn't know if it was sufficient and didn't know how the department even reached those numbers. So I want to ask you how did you arrive at that number 1600 and what makes you confident that it's going to be effectively placed across the country?  What is the plan -- staffing plan -- that you used to do that?
 
William Schoenhard:  Thank you.  Uh, I'm sorry, I misunderstood the question and I'm going to ask Dr. Schohn who may want to embellish on that.  We used a model that looks at the volume of services and I wonder if Dr. Schoen might speak to this? We are piloting this in 3 VISINs.  I would be happy to answer further.
 
Mary Schohn: Thank you. Yes, as part of our response to the Committee in November, we planned to develop a staffing model.  The staffing model --
 
Chair Patty Murray:  I'm sorry.  You planned to -- planned to develop a staffing plan?  It's not yet in place?
 
Mary Schohn:  No, no.  We did develop the staffing model.  But we submitted to you that that was part of our action plan in November. We developed the staffing model. We're in the process of implementing it in VISNs 1, 4 and 22 to -- to understand how to implement it so we don't want to simply say, 'Here's the number of staff,' without actually a plan for how this rolled out.  Is this really the right number of staff to really evaluate how well and how effective this methodology is?  Our plan, however, also is not to wait until we get a full evaluation of this plan but basically to staff up so that we'll be fully ready to implement this plan throughout the country by the end of the fiscal year. So we will have -- we are planning --  the plan itself is based idnetification of existing staff at facilities, the veteran population, the range of services offered and the demand for services. And our plan is to be able to use this to project the need so that we will have a standard so that we will have a standard model in the future that is empirically validated, that we will all know how many staff is needed.
 
Murray then passed to Senator Scott Brown who was serving as Ranking Member on the Committee in Senator Richard Burr's absence.  Ava will be covering Scott Brown at Trina's site tonight. Kat will offer her impressions on the hearing at her own site tonight and Wally will be reporting on the hearing at Rebecca's site tonight (and probably covering Scott Brown as well -- in terms of money issues).  We'll move over to some of Jon Tester's questions. Only four Senators were present for this hearing: Chair Murray, acting  Ranking Member Scott Brown, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Jerry Moran.  Both Moran and Tester have rural concers due to their states (Moran represents Kansas, Tester represents Montana).
 
 
Senator Jon Tester: Just from a rural persepctive, I will tell you that one of the reasons the VA can't contract out in a rural state like Montana is because the private sector doesn't have anymore mental health professionals than the VA has.  And I just want to point that out because it's -- it's mental health professionals -- whether it's in the private sector or the VA -- getting these folks is a big problem.  And I very much appreciate Mr. Tolentino's statements about nobody's going to go to work for a year or two years in the VA when, in fact, in the private sector, they have much more predictability in their jobs.  So we need to take that into consideration when we start allocating dollars for the VA to make sure that they have the advantage to compete. And I very much appreciate that perspective. Along those same lines, I just want to ask -- Senator Brown was right in the area of 1500 positions open and an additional 1900 so there is about 3400 positions.  They may not all be psychiatrists, they may not all be clinicians.  But how you're going to fill those in an area where the private sector's sucking folks up because this is a big issue there too.  And the VA, it's interesting to me.  Do you have an allocation by VISN of these 1600 folks?  And if you do -- Do you? Could we get a list of those?
William Schoenhard:  Yes, sir.
 
Senator Jon Tester:  And how they're going to be allocated?
 
William Schoenhard:  Yes, sir.
 
Senator Jon Tester:  And the metrics.  I know you talked about metrics -- number of veterans and that kind of stuff.  Could you give me a list of metrics on why the number are there?  How many are going to be psychiatrists, how many of them are going to be nurses, clinicians?  Are any of them going to be psychologists?
 
William Schoenhard:  Uh, sir, we are leaving to VISN in discussion with the facilities, they could be psychologists --
 
Senator Jon Tester:  Okay.
 
William Schoenhard:  -- they could be family therapists -- a variety of different health care providers.
 
Senator Jon Tester: Okay, thank you. And when it comes to contracting out, do you guys typically only use psychiatrists?  Or can you use psychologists too?
 
William Schoenhard:  No, we can contract with others.
 
 
Senator Jon Tester:  Super. That's good.  Because there are some -- there are some accessibility to those folks in place.  I like Montana. I want to put two things that Mr. Tolentino said along with Major General Jones said.  Major General Jones, I want to thank you for what you're doing. I very much appreciate it.  Mr. Tolentino said when he was there it was fairly common if someone came in with a problem, don't ask if there's another issue.  There are all sorts of correlations here that are wrong but I just want to tell you that, okay, if that's done -- and I believe he's probably right because then we can have a problem.  But if you combine that with what Maj Jones said, that the folks that he's working with, the major stressor is unknown.  We've got a problem in our system here.  Because the only way you're going to find out how to get to the real root of the problem when it comes to mental health -- and I'm not a mental health professional -- is that you've got to find out what that stressor is, you've got to find out what created that problem.  Does that kind of -- Well let me just ask you.  If you had a VA professional in one of the CBOCs [Community-Based Outpatient Clinics] or in one of the hospitals, do you tell their people: Don't ask any questions because we don't want to know?  I'm hoping to hell that doesn't come from your end. And why would they do that?
 
William Schoenhard:  Sir, if that is being done, that is totally unacceptable.
 
 
If it's being done, it's unacceptable?  That's a rather interesting comment.  If the VA hadn't lied about wait time, the hearing wouldn't have been called.  Had Schoenhard been asked if the VA was lying about wait time a month ago, he most likely would have replied, "If that is being done, that is totally unacceptable."  What's totally unacceptable is that the supervision level of the VA doesn't appear able to do their job.  They're in supervision for a reason and that is, yes, to supervise.  So all these things that are going wrong -- these things they allegedly know nothing about and certainly didn't encourage -- these fall on them. Training apparently needs to be done at extremely high levels of the VA to explain review what job duties are and what these duties entail.  There is no oversight at the VA.  That's been clear for some time now.
 
Again, the VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Daigh.  We'll note this exchange near the end of the hearing.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Dr. Daigh, let me turn to you.  As you well know, it's hard enough to get veterans in the VA system to receive mental health care. Once a veteran does take a step to reach out for help, we need to knock down every potential barrier to care. Clearly the report your team produced shows a huge gap between the time that the VA says it takes to get veterans mental health care and the reality of how long it actually takes them to get seen at facilities across our country.  Now VA has concurred with all of your recommendations but I think it's clear we all have some real concerns because some of these issues have been problems for years. So can you address a question of what you think it would take the VA to get this right this time?
 
Dr. John Daigh: I think, uhm, to begin with the veteran population is dispersed across the country and the VA is not evenly dispersed across the country so those veterans that go to fixed facilities to receive their care, the VA -- I'm guessing -- is probably trying to address in this current plan for 1600 people. I haven't come across any details of the plans.  So I think the first issue is to realize you have a problem where you have facilities and where you don't have facilities.  Then I think the second problem is that, as has been stated here, there simply are not enough mental health providers to hire off the street in a timely fashion, I believe.  I mean we looked at it the other day.  There's something like 1200 psychiatry graduates a year in this country from our medical schools so there is a limited pool and there's a great deal of demand for mental health providers.  In our discussions with private sector, they said that because of the downturn of the economy and other factors that the non-VA, non-military demand had also gone up in their experience, ten and twenty percent in the last couple of years. So I think when I look -- We were asked several years ago to go look at access to mental health care in Montana.  And it was a very interesting review for me in that Montana VA had linked up with the community health centers in Montana and I believe -- I may be -- I may be out of date by a couple of years since we did it a couple of years ago but they were, there was an organization of community health centers and by allowing veterans to go to those community health centers which were usually staffed by psychologists and social workers, usually not by physicians, they were able to dramatically improve the access time to get folks to talk to competent people in their neighborhood, in their city, to get some care. I think in order to make that care cohesive, as Mr. Tolentino said, you've got to be able to get medical records back and forth so that there's a coordination of care. So I think the all hands on deck idea is one that I fully endorse and one where if I look at some of the cases -- tragic cases --  we've looked at, in the past it was not infrequent for veterans to show up at a mental health center in their town and because they were veterans, they were sent to the VA and there was not a link, they were not accepted or there was no payment mechanism or there was no authority. So I think that would be a useful step. Secondly, I think you really have to sit down and, as bad as metrics are, you do have to sit down and model what you do and figure out what demand is and try to lay out a business case for what you're doing.
 
Chair Patty Murray: Is that in place at the VA today?
 
Dr. John Daigh: Um, I don't believe that they have for mental health the level of business plan that I think they should have.  Nor do I think they have it for most specializations.
 
 
Daigh's suggestions resulted in a number of people nodding their heads and, as Chair Murray noted, the VA had agreed with the recommendation in the report from Daigh's office.  His responses were common sense ones. So why did the brain trust of the VA need someone from the IG office to make these very basic and obvious recommendations for them?
 
Linda Halliday would note her opinion that the lying about wait time meant that there was a need for "a culture change" at VA.  She's right.  She also called for holding "the facility directors accountable for how well the data is actually being captured."  There needs to be accountability, there needs to be a cultural change.  Nothing in today's hearing provided any indication that there would be.  Senator Murray was very clear in her closing marks which included, ". . . I want to make it very clear, this is not something we're going to have a hearing on and leave and go do something else tomorrow.  This has to be taken care of. We owe it to these men and women."  She was very clear.  But the VA's attitude didn't seem overly concerned and that was only more true as the hearing concluded and three of them ambled towards the door laughing and joking and clearly not bothered by the warnings, by the reprimands, by anything.  Repeating, I don't doubt that Murray means it.  I don't doubt that Scott Brown is fed up with it.  Tester tries to word things more nicely but it was clear he was irritated.  But that hearing had no visible effect on the VA staff that should have walked out of that hearing feeling something other than good humor. 
 
 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues; however, it may be overshadowed by the regional crisis Nouri has created.  Tariq Alhomayed (Al Arabiya) offers this assessment:

With regards to Iraq, al-Maliki is profoundly at odds with the Sunnis, and wants to imprison his deputy, Tareq al-Hashemi. He has also clashed with the Kurds, as well as the Sadrists loyal to Iran, and even with [Abdulaziz] al-Hakim. He is also got involved in an intense dispute with the Iraqiya bloc, led by Dr. Iyad Allawi. So what left for Mr. al-Maliki after all this? Regionally, and in terms of the Arab world, al-Maliki does not have any normal relations with the influential Arab countries of the region, or any countries in the region for that matter, with the exception of Iran. Al-Maliki has launched attacks on Saudi Arabia in language not worthy of a diplomat, let alone a Prime Minister, and he has done the same with Qatar, and now with Turkey! This is not all of course, as al-Maliki is also the one who said: "the [al-Assad] regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?", despite all that the Baathist tyrant of Damascus has done to the Syrian people. Iraq is now creating passageways to help the al-Assad regime by transferring weapons and money and smuggling oil. So what left after all this? How can al-Maliki say that Turkey is a hostile country, inciting sectarianism in Iraq, while Tehran launches an attack on [Massoud] Barzani, on the eve of al-Maliki's visit to Iran, and also accuses al-Hashemi of wanting to restore Sunni rule in Iraq with the support of Saudi Arabia?


And Nouri's stepped in it again prompting State of Law (his political slate) surrogates to rush to the media to play another round of When Nouri Said ____, He Meant ___.  Nouri's called for a federation of Iraq and Iran.  No surprise, that call has alarmed many Iraqis.  Al Rafidayn quotes a State of Law-er insisting Nouri was using a metaphor.  (Ask Nouri to define "metaphor" and, if he can do that, I might believe it.)   Iraq has good relations with Iran, insists Nouri's surrogates, but they do not want to jeopardize their relationship with others. Alsumaria also carries the we-don't-really-want-a-federation-despite-what-Nouri-said story.  Nouri just wrapped up a visit to Tehran, one would assume he could speak plainly.  To listen to State of Law, that's not the case.


The World Bulletin notes Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Minister of Turkey, has rejected Nouri al-Maliki's accusations that Turkey is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs and quotes Davutoglu stating, "Turkey's Iraq policy is quite clear and we have been a direct part of any controversy in Iraq.  We want that all our Iraqi brothers, Shiites, Sunnis, Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds live in peace and in prosperity."  Turkey's one of Iraq's largest regional trading partners. Joe Parkinson (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The two countries have in recent years enjoyed a fast-expanding trade relationship.  Iraq is now Turkey's second-largest trading partner after Germany, with trade swelling 40% to reach $12 billion last year, according to Turkey's government.  However, more than half of that volume is between Turkey and Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region."  This war he's declared on Turkey really doesn't help Iraq nor does it improve relations with the Arabic states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc) that Nouri's already on shaky ground with.   Tony Karon (Time) notes:


And these days, it's not only Iraqi politicians that are courting the Kurds. Turkey last week feted Barzani in Ankara, rolling out the red carpet and affording him a meeting with Turkey's President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and he recently returned from a visit to Washington D.C. where he met with senior Administration officials. Those visits seemed to amplify Barzani's defiance of Baghdad in a dispute over oil revenues, with the KRG prime minister accusing Maliki of paving the way for a return to dictatorship, and warning that absent "radical solutions and a specific time-frame to resolve the present crisis … we will resort to other decisions" -- a not-so-veiled threat to declare independence from Iraq.
Independence, of course, remains the historical goal of Kurdish Iraqis, and a referendum on the issue staged in 2005 saw some 98% vote to break away from Iraq. Geopolitical realities, however, has required a curbing of that popular sentiment. Iraqi Kurdistan is small and landlocked, and while it possesses significant oil reserves, it would require the cooperation of one of its powerful neighbors --Turkey, Iran or Iraq -- to pipe that oil to market. Also, the KRG was carved out in large part because the U.S., which had just overthrown Saddam Hussein, helped ensure its emergence, but made clear it was not ready to support a breakup of Iraq.

Al Rafidayn reports that it's been decided to open up 50% of Baghdad's main streets over the next 45 days due to traffic congestion and other issues.  Dar Addustour notes there is some concern that barriers that have protected various political party offices may also be lifted.  Their fears may be justified and AFP reports that today saw "the offices of two of Iraq's top four Shiite clerics in the central city of Najaf [attacked] with sound bombs".
 
 
 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mad Cow

Mad Cow will forever be linked to Oprah because of the lawsuit.  That's actually a good thing for Oprah because she ends up coming off as a town crier alerting us all to an important menace.

If you missed it, another case of Mad Cow.  Bloomberg News reports that it was found in a central California dairy last week.  ABC News offers a text and video report here.

What does it say about us that we tolerate these issues in our food supply?

Does it speak to a death wish?  Or a refusal to value the lives of all?

I have no idea but there are too many problems with out food supply.  It's getting more and more like Margaret Atwood's classic from the last decade.  She's not just a novelist, she's a visionary.  And I don't think you could read Oryx and Crake and not be alarmed.

Unless you were deluding yourself and that really does seem to describe what we do in America, day after day after day.

Doubt me?  2007 and 2008 was all about the environment and it was too late to save it but maybe we could mitigate the effects?

Barack's sworn in and does anyone see him doing anything? Does anyone feel the pressure on that issue anymore?  No.


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


Tuesday, April 24, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, a prep meeting for a national conference takes place, Moqtada won't take Nouri down but won't stop anyone else from taking Nouri down, Bradley Manning's pre-court-martial hearings continue, and more.
 
 
"Pfc. Bradley Manning made headway Tuesday in his bid to prove that WikiLeaks' publication of more than 700,000 confidential files did not damage national security," reports Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News Service).  "Claiming that the documents [damage assessments] are classified, however, prosecutors have refused to give Manning access.  Military judge Col. Denise Lind ordered the government Tuesday to turn the documents over to the court by May 2."  What's going on?
 
In January, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  In January, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
 
Currently, pre-court martial rulings are being made.  The Center for Constitutional Rights' Shane Kadidal Tweeted the hearing today (Tweeted at CCR's Twitter Feed).
 
 
#Manning hearing: ruling from court tomorrow on arguments re: defense access to grand jury testimony - presumably investigating #Wikileaks
 
 
#Manning trial: defense argues gov didn't cite right disclosure standard. Gov won't publicly disclose even its legal arguments from briefs.
 
#Manning hearing: Judge asks if gov has found material that might be useful to defense but hasn't been disclosed. Gov says yes.
 
 
 
#Manning trial: Coombs: gov has been working to find harm from cables. From docs received so far it's clear answer is 'no damage' #Wikileaks
 
 
AFP explains, "The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said she would review the reports from the CIA, the FBI and other agencies to determine whether the documents were pertinent to Manning's defense. The damage reports, including those from the CIA, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Deparmtent, could cast doubt on prosecutors' claims that the exposure of classified documents on the WikiLeaks site had devastating or lethal results."  Larry Shaughnessy (CNN) adds, "As for the request to dismiss the charges, Coombs said because the prosecutors did not understand the discovery rules, he and his fellow attorneys have not been given information that could help in his defense."  Sky News notes, "A court-martial date has yet to be set and Manning so far has declined to enter a plea on the counts he faces in a case that involves one of the most serious intelligence reaches in US history."
 
Defense motions can be found at David E. Coombs' website Army Court Martial Defense Info.  These are the redacted ones the government is issuing as well as the unredacted ones.  The issue of public access to motions -- a standard in any legal case in the United States -- was raised today and the judge declared that the public could make a freedom of information request if they want documents.  At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the judge's decison that the government had to turn over documents to the defense.
 
 
QUESTION: In the WikiLeaks case, the judge in the Bradley Manning case this morning ordered the State Department, among other agencies, to turn over some of their documents to the defense in order to help the Manning team better prepare its case. Is the State Department going to turn over those documents? And my follow-up is: Does the U.S. still see a negative impact on its relations with other countries in diplomacy because of what happened in the alleged leaking of these documents?
 
 
 
MS. NULAND: Let me take the last part first. I think our view of the entire WikiLeaks incident has not changed at all in terms of the negative effects. With regard to what the court has ordered, Ros, I haven't seen it, so let me take it and see what we know about what's been requested of us and what our response is.
 
 
 
As an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a legal adviser to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, I continue to attend Manning's hearings and can only describe them as a theater of the absurd: the trial involves numerous and lengthy off-the-record conferences, out of sight and hearing of the press and public, after which the judge provides an in-court summary that hardly satisfies standards of "open and public". Perhaps more remarkable is the refusal even to provide the defense with a pre-trial publicity order signed by the judge – an order that details what lawyers can and cannot reveal about the case. Yes, even the degree to which proceedings should be kept in secret is a secret, leaving the public and media chained in a Plato's Cave, able only to glimpse the shadows of reality.
The press and advocacy groups, however, have not been quiet about the trampling of their rights. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on behalf of 46 news organizations, urged the Department of Defense to take measures that would allow the news media to view documents prior to court arguments. The committee pointed out that the trial for the "alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in US history" is of "intense public interest, particularly where, as here, that person's liberty is at stake". The Center for Constitutional Rights, too, has requested access in the interest of an "open and public" trial, but neither appeal has been answered.
This is a clear violation of the law, but it will likely take burdensome litigation to rectify this lack of transparency. The US supreme court has insisted that criminal trials must be public, and the fourth circuit, where this court martial is occurring, has ruled that the first amendment right of access to criminal trials includes the right to the documents in such trials.
The greater issue at hand is why this process should be necessary at all. As circuit judge Damon Keith famously wrote in Detroit Free Press v Ashcroft, "Democracies die behind closed doors."
 
 
In Iraq today, Alsumaria reports that an Anbar Province bombing left seven Iraqi soldiers injured,a Mosul car bombing targeting a checkpoint claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured and 1 person was kidnapped in Nineveh Province.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reports 12 died in Iraq violence yesterday and ten were left wounded.   As violence continues in Iraq, AFP reports that Nouri al-Maliki has reduced the wages of Sahwa (Awakening, Sons Of Iraq) members by 20%."  Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus, then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining the "Awakenings.'
 
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".
 
 
 
The Awakening Movement has been in a tricky position for some time. They haven't been integrated into the state and they've also become targets for al-Qaeda extremists, who, after the withdrawal of US troops, started a campaign of intimidation and murder targeting Awakening members. They have been, al-Jibouri says, "abandoned by everyone".   
Previously the Awakening Movement had been seen as a resoundingly successful initiative. Founded in 2006, the armed groups were so successful in their counter-insurgency campaign and in assisting the US troops, that the idea was copied in Afghanistan too. 
No doubt the fact that the US was paying out around US$300 per month in wages to Awakening members also helped – at the height of the Awakening Movement's duties, this cost more than US$30 million a month. In late 2008, the Iraqi state began paying the wages of Awakening Movement members and it also promised to begin integrating the militias into state forces proper. 
However up until today, around half of those involved in the Awakening Movement say that they don't know if they will ever be employed by the Iraqi government. And others say they haven't been paid in months.
 
 
And going without payment in Iraq is difficult when unemployment is rampant and when so many live below the poverty line.  The country of widows and children, as a result of  the wars and the sanctions which killed off so much of the population and left the median age at 20.9 years.  In an oil rich country where there's no effort made to take care of the people, everyone does what they have to in order to survive.  Saleem al-Wazzan (Niqash) reports on child prostitution in Basra:


Naji is 15 years old; he's been working here since he was 12.
"The people I have sex with are generous and kind though," Naji insists. "They are kind hearted and they love me. They bring me clothes and gifts and sometimes give me cigarettes. In return I give them my company and the joy of sex."
 A 2008 study undertaken by the well known Iraqi human rights organization, Al Amal (Hope), found that 72 percent of children of displaced families residing in Nasiriya, near Basra, were engaged in work inappropriate to their age, often more than seven hours per day, such as street cleaning and portering. The study, which surveyed 411 families with a total of around 1,200 children, also found that a lot of the child labourers were selling drugs or their own bodies.
Basra human rights activist, Sami Toman, believes that things are not that different in Basra. "That's despite the fact that Basra is the richest city in the country with regard to resources and oil," he added.
It is difficult to ascertain how widespread child prostitution is in Iraq -- a lot of the children involved won't talk about it because they have been threatened by those who use them. But observers believe child prostitution is particularly widespread among Iraq's displaced families -- that is, families who have been forced to flee to other areas due to sectarian or other violence in their hometowns. And there are an estimated one million displaced persons in the thriving southern province.

The CIA estimates 25% of the Iraqi population lives below the poverty line.  Throughout the war, that rate has remained more or less consistent.  There has been no improvement -- thus far -- for Iraqis despite claims by US officials of 'liberation' and 'democracy.'  Maybe they meant the 'liberation' of children selling sex to keep starving?  At the start of the year, Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) noted:

According to the UNDP, Iraq has a poverty rate of 23 per cent, which means roughly six million Iraqis are plagued by poverty and hunger, despite the recent increase in Iraq's oil exports. Iraq's Ministry of Planning has also announced that the country needed some $6.8bn to reduce the level of poverty in the country.
Zahra concurs.
"No-one in my family has a job," he said. "And in my sister's house, they are seven adults, and only two of them work."
Inside a busy market, Hassan Jaibur, a medical assistant who cannot find work in his field, is instead selling fruit. 
"The situation is bad and getting worse," he said. "Prices continue to rise, and there are no real jobs. All we can do is live today."


Layla Anwar (uruknet.com) noted that while the official unemployment rate is 30%, the actual rate is 50%.

 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Last week, the Congressional Research Service issued their latest report on Iraq entitled [PDF fornat warning] "Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights."   The summary notes:
 
Relations among major political factions have worsened substantially since late 2011, threatening Iraq's stability and the perception of the achievements of the long U.S. intervention in Iraq.  Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallanged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of an outright power grab as he seeks to purge the highest-ranking Sunni Arabs from government and to cripple attempts by Sunni-inhabited provinces to achieve greater autonomy.  Iraq's Kurds have also become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and have begun to similarly accuse him of authoritarian practices.  The political crisis threatens to undo the relatively peaceful political competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances that had emerged since 2007 after several years of sectarian conflict.  Some Sunni insurgent groups apparently seek to undermine Maliki by conducting high-profile attacks intended to reignite sectarian conflict. 
The political rift has stalled the movement on national oil laws that had occured during August-November 2011.  The political crisis has also renewed outside criticism that Iraq's factions lack focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity.
The splits and dysfunctions within Iraq's government that have widened since mid-December 2011 have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement. 
 
 
Noting the Congressional report, John Glaser (Antiwar.com)  observes, "All this, as America continues to give money and weapons to the Maliki government. What exactly do U.S. troops have to be proud about?"
 
On the topic of the political crisis,  Alsumaria reports that an official with Moqtada al-Sadr's movement explained the bloc's position is that if a national consensus forms around an alternative to Nouri, they will support that candidate; without a consensus on who should hold the post, they will not join in a no-confidence vote; that the survival of Nouri in the post of prime minister is not a required goal on their part; and that the Sadr bloc wants the political crisis resolved.  The position isn't a complete walk away, it's also not anything resembling support.

The Sadr bloc is aruging if others will do all the work, they'll support it. Moqtada didn't support Nouri in 2010 until intense pressure from the government in Tehran forced him to go back on his public promise to support only those who met with the approval of his followers.  The Sadr bloc voted for everyone but Nouri. Alsumaria notes Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman is stating Nouri can't be toppled because he has the support of the National Alliance.  State of Law is a part of the National Alliance.  So is Moqtada.  So is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  Those last two, if Nouri loses a portion of their upport, can result in his losing his post.  Al Sabaah notes that Iraqiya's Hamid al-Mutlaq is stating that calls of a no-confidence vote are just attempts to force a resolution to the political crisis.  Meanwhile Dar Addustour noted that a planning meeting for a national conference is supposed to take place this evening.  Alsumaria reports that the meeting was held and another is scheduled for tomorrow.  Iraqiya boycotted the meet-up and noted that they were calling for Nouri to implement the Erbil Agreement (a document where all political blocs made concessions to end the eight-month old political stalemate -- the agreement made Nouri prime minister and Nouri trashed the agreement when he got that post).


There was an endless set of meet-ups to plan for the national conference eventually called for April 5th.  For those who've forgotten, that conference ended up being called off at the last minute on April 4th.  Alsumaria adds that the United Nations today called for Iraq to resolve the crisis (the UN calls it a "political impasse") by utilizing the Constitution to address unresolved issues.

In other news, the Journal of Turkish Weekly reports, "Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said on Monday that Turkey's worrying about its neighbor country (Iraq) did not mean interference in its internal affairs."  What's going on?  Nouri's war of words with the Turkish government.  As Kat noted last night, Reuters is not even attempting to pretend they are impartial in their coverage.  Nouri called Turkey an enemy state and attacked the leadership -- this was a continuation of earlier attacks.  Turkey responded.  Somehow Reuters turned that into Turkey attacking poor, little Nouri.  In the real world, the Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usama Nujayfi has said that continuous contacts and meetings were necesary for removal of the deficiencies in Turkey-Iraq relations." And Reuters tries to bury yesterday with an attempt at balance today, "Turkey summoned Iraq's charge d'affaires on Tuesday, a tit-for-tat move a day after Baghdad summoned Turkey's ambassador in a top-level diplomatic row that has heightened regional tensions."  Today's Zaman quotes Tareq al-Hashemi stating the following:
 
[Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan has defined the current situation in Iraq as ominous. [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] should not have overreacted to that. It is only natural that Turkey be concerned over what is happening in Iraq. Developments in Iraq would certainly affect Turkey, either negatively or positively.
 


Someone needs to pull Nouri aside and explain to him that he and Tehran can be besties all he wants and then some but that's not going to mean a great deal to Iraq's other neighbors and when he starts a war of words with one, he makes Iraq look unstable.  Nouri's public image continues to be the biggest threat to a successful Iraq.  In addition, Thomas Seibert (The National) sees other problems:
 
 
 Analysts expect tensions between Turkey and Iraq to continue to rise because they are part of a growing "Cold War" between Shiite and Sunni Muslim camps in the region.
Late Monday, the Iraqi vice-president, wanted by Baghdad on charges of running death squads but enjoying red carpet treatment while staying in Turkey, fanned the flames by accusing his government of steering the country towards sectarian confrontation.
Tareq Al Hashemi's comments came before he met with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, last night. They were the latest sign that the political crisis in Iraq is part of a wider problem in the region, analysts said.
Iran and Syria have been backing the Shia side with Russia in the background. Turkey and the Gulf states have been supporting the Sunnis, who are also backed by the United States and Israel, Mr Yavuz said. "The fronts are becoming clearer, just like in the Cold War," he said in an interview yesterday.
 
 
 
In the US, the Defense Dept announces: "Master Sgt. William A. Downey was honored as the Army's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year in a DOD ceremony at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes, April 18, as family members, guests and VIPs gathered to witness the presentation."  Downey is quoted stating, "Sexual assaults are destroying our future and our future leaders."
 
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
 
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
TOMORROW: Murray to Hold Hearing on IG Report Showing Major Delays in VA Mental Health Care
On the heels of report showing that VA is failing to meet its own mandate for timely health care, Murray to hear from report's authors and question top VA officials on necessary changes
* Will be broadcast LIVE on C-SPAN.
 
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing to examine the results of a report released yesterday by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General that Senator Murray had requested on the time it takes the VA to provide mental health care appointments for our nation's veterans.  The report concludes, as Senator Murray has repeatedly warned, that the wait times faced by many veterans far exceed that which the VA has previously reported and the time the VA mandates.  At tomorrow's hearing, Senator Murray will question a top VA official and the VA Inspector General on the specifics of the report, and seek answers to the problems it raises.
 
Who:       U.S. Senator Patty Murray
                Office of Inspector General of the Department of Veternas Affairs
                Senior VA Officilas
 
 
What:       Hearing focused on VA mental health care, evaluating access and assessing care
 
When:      TOMORROW: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
                 9:30 AM ET/ 6:30 AM PST
 
Where:      Dirksen 138