Friday, January 22, 2010

Sick of the War Whores

Cindy McCain, the wife of 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, announced her endorsement of the No on 8 Campaign this week with a provocative ad on the group’s website. The ad depicts McCain with a piece of duct tape over her mouth and NoH8 written on her cheek. The McCains’ daughter, Meghan, has previously spoken out for marriage equality.
Adam Bouska, founder of NoH8, wrote on the organization's website, "The McCains are one of the most well-known Republican families in recent history, and for Mrs. McCain to have reached out to us to offer her support truly means a lot. Although we had worked with Meghan McCain before and were aware of her own position, we'd never really thought the cause might be something her mother would get behind…Aligning yourself with the platform of gay marriage as a Republican still tends to be very stigmatic, but Cindy McCain wanted to participate in the campaign to show people that party doesn't matter - marriage equality isn't a Republican issue any more than it is a Democratic issue. It's about human rights, and everybody being treated equally in the eyes of the law that runs and protects this country."

That's Feminist Wire
and Ruth and I are noting it and noting that it was already noted by:

Good for Cindy McCain and also good for her daughter Meghan who made it very clear that she was for equality in 2008.

Check out Ruth for more on this. Now I'm moving over to something not so good.

"Could a woman pose nude and get elected?" asks Missy Comley Beattie -- no link to her trash. That woman ran off the community in 2008 with her Hillary hatred and then her non-stop attacks on Sarah Palin. The woman cheered the War Hawk Barack -- something she's yet to apologize for while wanting to be seen as a voice of peace.

So to answer her question: NO!

No, a woman couldn't pose nude and get elected because too many little bitches like Missy Comely Beattie are out there ready to rip the woman apart.

How this idiot gets to publish anywhere is beyond me.

In her ridiculous column she offers that people made fun of Sarah Palin. People? You.

You made fun of her.

And she offers that Palin hurt McCain's chances at being elected.

I don't know what the hell that idiot is thinking. Every poli sci person who's spoken on this subject has noted Palin energized that race and without her on the ticket, McCain would have received less votes.

But Missy's a damn liar. She's a War Whore. A voice of peace would have begged for forgiveness for pimping Barack. Missy Whore never did.

That's why no one in this community will note that War Whore.

You reach a point and that's it. You're dead to us.

We don't give a damn about you anymore.

That's usually around the sixth or seventh you're caught lying while you attack American citizens.

And you're always too chicken s**t to attack the centers of power but you will rip apart the average citizen.

These people do so much harm and, when they identify left, they ensure that a large part of the country sees us all as snotty little assholes. Thanks, Missy.

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

Friday, January 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, drama at the Iraq Inquiry, Joe Biden is in Iraq, and more.
The Iraq Inquiry continued today in London. And the opening moments recalled a film scence. Specifically, Robert Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her, the scene where Helen (Goldie Hawn), obsessed with anger and rage towards Madeline (Meryl Streep), is now institutionalized and in group therapy with a psychologist (Alaina Reed-Hall) and other patients.
Doctor: What about you, Helen? We haven't heard from you in a while. Is there anything you'd like to talk about with the group?
Helen: Yes. I would like to talk about . . .
The group tenses up.
Helen: . . . Madeline Ashton.
The group members scream, yell, go frantic.
The above scene, screenplay written by Martin Donovan and David Koepp, was vaguely similar. December 17th, John Chilcot, who chairs the committee, elected to make it all about himself with a lengthy closing remark. (December 17th was also when Alaina Reed-Hall passed away.) Today?
Chair John Chilcott: Before I begin, I should like to make a short statement. The Iraq Inquiry that sits before you is an independent committee, dedicated to establishing an account of the UK's involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and learning lessons for governments facing similar circumstances in the future. Now, from the outset, we have made it clear that we wish to stay outside party politics. Ours is a serious task and we wish to collect our evidence in a way in which our witnesses will be open about what happened and give their evidence fully without the hearings beging used as a platform for political advantage by any party. It was for this reason that my colleagues and I made a decision announced before Christmas, that we would not call ministers currently serving in posts relevant to Iraq until after the election. The Prime Minister wrote to me earlier this week to say that he was preapred to give evidence whenever we saw fit. In my reply to the Prime Minister yesterday evening, I said that, as a matter of fairness, the committee concluded we should offer the Prime Minister, if he wished to take it up, the opportunity for him, for David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, Development Secretary, to attend hearings before the general election. The Prime Minister replied to me this morning to say that he will be happy to agree dates from a range we have proposed over the next two months and this correspondece is now being published on our website. Thank you.
Over 250 words. Let's all be glad it was a short statement. In addition to the verbal statement, the Iraq Inquiry issued a lengthy release including [PDF format warning} links to Chilcot's January 21st letter to Brown and Brown's January 19th letter to the Inquiry.
Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) explains the committee is "irritated" over charges that they are allowing Brown to dictate terms. Graeme Wilson (The Sun) adds, "The inquiry is believed to be furious that the move was revealed by No 10 sources before a planned announcement today." David Brown (Times of London) also notes the anger, "An exact date for the Prime Minister's appearance is yet to be set and sources said that members of the inquiry were absolutely furious that the information was released by No 10 before its planned announcement today. They complain that Downing Street is turning the invitation, which was extended by the inquiry in a letter last night, into a political issue." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) interprets the move as a sign of the Iraq Inquiry's weakness, explaining how at first John Chilcot, chair of the Inquiry, insisted that Brown would testify after the Parliamentary elections but now that's changed and he doesn't buy that it was changed by Chilcot: "So look again at that original decision to defer Mr Brown's evidence. All that has changed between then and now is Mr Brown's public attitude on the timing. How can we avoid the conclusion that the original decision was affected by Mr Brown's attitude? I've no doubt that Sir John will say his decision reflects the wider political context and not simply Mr Brown's preference. But the reality is that the idea of his inquiry's independence has taken a heavy blow." Philip Webster (Times of London) states Brown pushed for an early appearance and observes, "It means he will go to the country with memories of his appearance at the inquiry -- and the revived spectre of the war -- fresh in voters' memories. Labour MPs, particularly those in marginal seats, will be dismayed at the timing, though most see it as inevitable given Mr Brown's decision to accede to an inquiry so late in the Parliament." James Macintyre (New Statesman) provided two possibilities for Brown's change of heart:

As to the implications of Brown's appearance: on the one hand this could damage Brown, reminding voters that this was a "Labour war", even though it was unwisely backed by the Tories and no matter how much Brown tries personally to disasssociate from it.
On the other hand, Brown strategists believe, there is a chance that -- along with the debates -- this could be a chance for Brown to level with the British people and even thrive under pressure.

This is far from the first time Gordon Brown's been forced into a different position than originally stated regarding the Iraq Inquiry. For one other example, we'll drop back to the June 18, 2009 snapshot:
Turning to England where the good times keep coming for Gordon Brown. His efforts at a behind-closed-doors 'inquiry' appear to be falling apart. Philip Webster (Times of London) reported this morning, "Parts of the Iraq war inquiry may now be held in public after Gordon Brown was forced into a partial climbdown." James Kirkup and Alastair Jamieson (Telegraph of London) add that Lord Bulter was "critical of the decision to hold hearings behind closed doors". At the Guardian, Toby Helm stated that "Buter will accuse the government of 'putting its political interests ahead of the national interest'" today. Andrew Grice, Kim Sengupta and Nigel Morris (Independent of London) report it's not one noted person who'll be speaking out against Brown, it's two: Lord Hutton and Lord Butler. Great Britain's Socialist Worker notes the crony-infested panel for Gordo's inquiry: "John Chilcot, its chair, was part of the last Iraq whitewash, the Bulter inquiry. Another committee member, Sir Lawrence Freedman, wrote Tony Blair's 1999 Chicago speech setting out the idea of 'humanitarian' war." The Belfast Telegraph reports that Gordon's closde-door policy has been criticized by former Prime Minister John Major who states: "The Government's decision to hold the inquiry into the Iraq war in private is inexplicable -- not least in its own interests. [. . .] The arrangements currently proposed run the risk of being viewed sceptically by some, and denounced as a whitewash by others. I am astonished the Government cannot understand this." ITN quotes Bulter stating, "The form of the inquiry proposed by the Government has been dictated more by the Government's political interest than the national interest and it cannot achieve the purpose of purging mistrust." Rebecca will be blogging about this topic tonight and should remember to include these words "I told you so." (Because she did.)
Rosa Prince (Telegraph of London) reports that Brown's spokesperson is hinting Brown will take a strong position in support of the illegal war and Prince quotes the spokesperson stating, "The Prime Minister is keen to take up the opportunity to state the case why Britain was right to take the action that it did. He has nothing to hide at all. The Prime Minister welcomes the opportunity to state the case. He believes it is a very good opportunity to set out the cast and answer any questions that are put to him." Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) offers this view, "No, what is of much more interest is finding out what Gordon Brown really thought about Iraq. Seven years on from the invasion we have no real idea, which is remarkable. He has made heartfelt remarks in Basra and elsewhere in support of the troops who served, and has acknowledged the importance of their mission. But beyond that he's pretty much a blank page on the most controversial British foreign policy and military mission since Suez."
Those in England not focusing on what Brown might say tend to be focused on what Tony Blair will say when he appears before the committee next week. Gordon Brown is the current prime minister. Tony Blair handed the baton off to him. Brown continued the illegal war and Tony started it with a number of lies including the now discredited assertion that Iraq had WMD and could launch them on England within 45 minutes (a detail included for "local colour," the committee was told this week). If you're late to the inquiry, Deng Shasha (Xinhua) explains that Blair is scheduled to provide testimony January 29th and offers this background on the hearing: "The public hearing opened on Nov. 24, 2009 with the chairman of the inquiry commission promising a 'fair and frank' investigation, which will cover the entire eight-year period from the build-up to the war to the withdrawal of British troops." Charles Moore (Telegraph of London) notes that some would love to see Blair crucified: "Given Mr Blair's messianic tendencies, one should surely be pleased that he is not being offered his Christ-before-Pilate moment. There would be a very real risk of him claiming to have risen again on the third day." Lance Price (Time magazine) observes, "Before Christmas, he told the BBC that he would have gone to war even if he had known that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, conceding that 'you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat.' Perhaps he will go further when he appears before the inquiry, but I wouldn't bet on it." The Daily Mail makes this call, "Day by day, witness by witness, a deeply shocking picture is emerging from the Chilcot Inquiry, a picture of Tony Blair dragging this country into a damaging and unpopular war, while his advisors doctored evidence and ministers allowed ambition to override their principles." Marco Evers (Der Spiegel) offers his own thoughts on Blair, "He will be asked to respond to charges that he lied to the public over going to war. His appearance could turn into a public tribunal on 13 years of Labour rule, and perhaps even -- just a few months before the election -- into a premature end to the Labour era."
Along with two upcoming witnesses dominating the news cycle, a third potential one as well as yesterday's also garner press attention. Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) reports of Jack Straw's testimony yesterday, "Legally, he said the case for invasion 'stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security by reasons of its weapons . . . not whether it had an unpleasant authoritarian regime . . . butchering its own people." Did Iraq have WMD? No, it did not. Which brings us to a potential witness -- one the Inquiry has refused to call thus far (though he's publicly stated he'd willing to testify) Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector for the UN in the time before the start of the Iraq War. Emma Alberici (Australia's ABC) quotes from an interview with Blix today where he stated, "Well in some cases we found conventional weapons, in other cases found nothing, in one case we found a stack of documents that were related to nuclear matters, but no weapons of mass destruction." Yesterday Straw told the committee that Blix was unsure whether Iraq had WMD -- Blix' statements in the past and present would put the burden on the committee to call him if for no other reason than to rebut Straw's remarks. Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) notes that some witnesses (Jack Straw) have stated Jaques Chirac (president of France at the start of the Iraq War) believed WMD were in Iraq but Barker notes, accodring to Blix, that this was not the case.
And some stick to comments about the Inquiry in general. Ben Macintyre (Times of London) feels, "The inquiries on Iraq mark a new way of doing politics, a different sense of how history evolves, and a technological revolution." While the paper's editorial board concludes, "To call the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War 'a farce' would be, perhaps, to endow it with a gravitas it does not deserve. With the latest intervention of Gordon Brown, it has descended even lower. It has become the Muppet Show." The paper's Ann Treneman has offered some of the strongest critiques of the day to day events such as this on yesterday's testimony:

The thing about Jack Straw that fascinated me and everyone else in the public gallery yesterday was whether the man before us was for or against the Iraq war.
It was quite hard to figure out: until the end that is, Agatha Christie could not have plotted it better. But what we could all see from the beginning was that Jack Straw was very pro all things Jack Straw.
Mr Straw is neat, pin-striped, eager to be noticed. He is not so much pompous as nerdily self-important. Thus he had submitted a memo on Iraq to the Chilcot committee, limiting himself to a mere 8,000 words (25 pages, 78 paragraphs). He then quoted himself often, via numbered paragraph reference.
His almost obsessive use of references is coupled with a true love of reflection. Thus yesterday we got his thoughts on bees, Suez, the Falklands, John Maynard Keynes, the American Civil War, Bill Clinton and, yes, Monica Lewinsky, whose name was transcribed as Liewn ski, which seemed right. Intriguingly, interlaced with all of this other stuff -- a technical term but accurate -- were his thoughts on the war and the man who was Foreign Secretary did, actually, seem to be against it.
While all that dominates the news cycle, it's easy to forget that, in addition to hearing from John Chilcot, today the committee also heard from Suma Chakrabarti and Nicholas Macpherson (link goes to video and transcript options). On Twitter, Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged today's hearing. Iraq Inquiry Blogger notes of the lack of attention to the two witnesses, "It's every performer's worst nightmare -- being upstaged by the warm-up act" and:
In the event the scheduled witnesses didn't offer up many surprises. DfID's Suma Chakrabarti added an "unworthy" to Lord Turnbull's description of the Alastair Campbell's remarks about Clare Short as "very poor". I did Tweet @campbellclaret offering a right to reply but answer (thus far) came there none.
For HM Treasury Nicholas Macpherson had a pretty good stab at rebutting Geoff Hoon's budget-slashing allegations earlier in the week. He couldn't remember the MoD complaining at the time, he said, and in any case had the generals handled their finances better the Treasury wouldn't have needed to park its own tanks on their lawn.
We'll note this from Suma Chakrabarti's testimony.
Suma Chakrabarti: Well, in May 2003, the strategy that DFID [Department for International Development] was pursuing was this one of shifting from relief to recovery and reconstruction. It essentially had three prongs to that strategy. To start with, really much focused on the infrastructure sort of components. We were moving into a period from quick impact projects to something called the essential services project, and then on to the emergency infrastructure programmes. The infrastructure was quite a large component of this in the south. The other part of it was capacity building, which came on, I would say, more so after 1483 was passed because, as I said last time, it was clear then that the UN was not going to lead this. Then de-Beatification happened, so Iraqi capacity were removed.
de-Beatification is de-Ba'athification (US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse also uses the term "de-Beatification"). And de-Ba'athification -- or the lack of de-de-Ba'athification -- is why one US official is in Iraq. The cry of "Ba'athists" is now being used to eliminate political rivals by removing them from the race. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports, "Vice President Biden arrived in Baghdad on Friday night in hopes of defusing a political crisis over the disbarment of hundreds of candidates in an upcoming election." This as BBC reports that the commission doing the banning has announced "more candidates are likely to be banned" before the March election. Today the New York Times offered the editorial "Sunnis and Iraq's Election"
The accountability commission is the successor to the destructive de-Baathification commission that sought to keep anyone with ties to Mr. Hussein out of government. Its chief, Ali Faisal al-Lami, is hardly an impartial judge. He is a candidate on the slate led by the Shiite leader Ahmed Chalabi, a relentlessly ambitious force in Iraqi politics who lured the Bush administration into the 2003 invasion and wants to be prime minister.
Both the accountability and the election commissions are part of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government, and he issued a statement supporting their decisions. But American officials say Mr. Chalabi is the main manipulator. Mr. Chalabi's absurd charge that the United States wants to return the Baath Party to power is typical of his divisive and destructive brand of politics.
Nada Bakri (New York Times) explains Biden is advocating that the issues be set aside until after Iraq holds its intended elections in March and "Many politicians said that they supported this solution, but others questioned its legality and criticized Washington for interference in Iraq's affairs." Barkri notes he has met with the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill. David Jackson (USA Today) states he'll also meet with Jalal Talabani (Iraq's President), Nouri al-Maliki (thug of the occupation) and Ayad al-Samarrai (Speaker of the Council of Representatives). Nouri's spokesmodel, Al Jazeera reports, declared, "It is an internal affair that should be discussed by Iraqi political entities." What will be accomplished remains to be seen but Biden arrived in Iraq as the country's Parliament was debating whether or not Barack Obama's "vows on Iraq" were sincere.
Whether they can trust Barack or not, it appears they can't trust 'bomb detectors.' Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight -- link has text and video) reports that England has placed an export ban on the ADE-651 'bomb detector' -- a device that's cleaned Iraq's coffers of $85 million so far. Steven Morris (Guardian) follows up noting that, "The managing director [Jim McCormick] of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today."
In some of today's reported violence, Reuters falls back to Thursday to note 1 Baaj suicide bomber who tooks his or her own life and injured one Iraqi military officer, a Mosul grenade attack which injured two people, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured a child (apparently targeted an Iraqi Christian family) and a Mosul roadside bombing which left two people wounded.
More than 40 sites across Iraq are contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins, with three decades of war and neglect having left environmental ruin in large parts of the country, an official Iraqi study has found.
Areas in and near Iraq's largest towns and cities, including Najaf, Basra and ­Falluja, account for around 25% of the contaminated sites, which appear to coincide with communities that have seen increased rates of cancer and birth defects over the past five years. The joint study by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionising radiation, which is thought to be a legacy of depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.
If you click here, you will go to the Washington Monthly's "Special Report: Agent Orange" which features video as well as these four reports from a special section of the current issue:

Introduction: A Legacy Revisited
Agent Orange is still damaging lives in
Vietnam. The time has come for America to act.

by Walter Isaacson

Agent of Influence
The realpolitik case for compensating Vietnam.
by Geoffrey Cain and Joshua Kurlantzick

The Environmental Consequences of War
Why militaries almost never clean up
the messes they leave behind.

by Clay Risen

A Hard Way to Die
Why hundreds of thousands of Vietnam vets with Agent Orange–related
diseases have been made to suffer without VA health care.

by Phillip Longman

The special section is 8 pages long in the January/February issue. This in addition to the 58 regular pages of the issue which is a bargain at $5.95. That comes to a dime a page. Contrast that with FAIR's meager (sixteen pages and they call it a magazine!) Extra! for $4.95 (over 30 cents a page for what is bascially transcripts of their radio show CounterSpin).

In the US, Matthew D. LaPlante (Salt Lake Tribune) reports that US House Rep Tim Bishop is leading on the issue of a federal registry for veterans exposed to burn-pits in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Military members concerned that exposure to toxic open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan may have caused long-term health problems can face a significant obstacle if they try to prove their ailments are connected to their service.
The U.S. military has not compiled a complete history of its burn pit use; nor does it have a way to account for where many of the 2 million members were exposed to pits while serving at war between 2001 and 2009.
New legislation introduced this week by Rep. Tim Bishop would change that. The New York Democrat is asking Congress to sponsor an official registry documenting the tens of thousands of troops exposed to the pits, where the military has discarded of much of its combat trash including chemicals, plastics, vehicle parts and medical waste.

Wednesday, Bishop's office issued the following:

Washington, DC -- Today, Rep. Tim Bishop (NY-1) and lead cosponsor Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) introduced the Military Personnel Toxic Exposure Registry Act. This bill builds on successful legislative efforts over the last year to prohibit the disposal of toxic waste in open air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and to ensure that the thousands of troops exposed to these dangerous burn pits receive proper medical care.
"The passage of the first official prohibition on burn pits in last year's defense bill was a significant victory for the health of our troops and veterans," said Bishop. "However, it is critical to have an official registry documenting the tens of thousands of troops exposed to these toxic burn pits in order to remove obstacles to accessing the VA benefits which many of them will need as a result of exposure. In addition, we are pushing for a ban on the open-air burning of large quantities of plastics, which has been widely documented to occur despite the clear health dangers. I will continue to fight to bring an end to these reckless policies which endanger our troops and to ensure that our veterans receive the medical care they need."
"The toxins emitted from burn pits can cause serious and chronic health problems, and our troops shouldn't have to worry about becoming ill from toxic air produced on their own bases," said Shea-Porter. "We must limit their exposure as much as possible, and this legislation will help continue the process of protecting them from these dangerous burn pits."
The new legislation calls for a complete history of all burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan; a registry of all troops exposed to those burn pits; physical examinations for those exposed to burn pits; annual reports to Congress on burn pits related sicknesses; and a ban on the burning of plastics in large burn pits. Copies of the new bill are available upon request.
"This new legislation is exactly what we need," said John Wilson, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans. "It is critically important that our government takes the next logical step to protect and care for our veterans who are suffering and who will potentially suffer from exposure to toxic fumes and debris in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, we must also acknowledge and assist survivors of those service members who died from this exposure. We at the Disabled American Veterans strongly urge the military to determine and document what has been put into these pits and who has been exposed to them. The Military Personnel Toxic Exposure Registry Act has the DAV's support. We applaud Rep. Tim Bishop of New York and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire for co-sponsoring this hugely important legislation."


Hundreds of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming sick and even dying from what appears to be overexposure to dangerous toxins produced by these burn pits. Symptoms include chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma, and leukemia. While the Department of Defense has officially maintained that burn pits pose no long-term health risks, senior DOD and VA personnel have recently spoken out about the health hazards of burn pits. In addition, Agent Orange and Persian Gulf Syndrome have taught us that we must be vigilant in monitoring and treating our veterans long after they have returned from the battlefield.

The National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), which has been signed into law, included important provisions to protect the thousands of troops exposed to open, toxic burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have sickened hundreds of troops. These provisions were based on the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act, (HR 2419) introduced May 14, 2009 by Bishop and Shea-Porter.

Section 317 of the National Defense Authorization Act enacted into law for the first time the following provisions related to burn pits:
· Prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except if the Secretary of Defense sees no alternative;
· Require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to the congressional oversight committees whenever burn pits are used and justify their use, and every six months to report on their status;
· Require DOD to develop a plan for alternatives, in order to eliminate the use of burn pits; further, DOD must report to Congress how and why they use burn pits and what they burn in them;
· Require DOD to assess existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and make recommendations to improve them;
· Require DOD to do a study of the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluate the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics.

Further documentation, news reports and troops' stories about the burn pits are available at this website to help veterans find and share information about burn pits:

In the Senate, Evan Bayh has led on the issue. His bill is currently buried in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs -- and has been since October. For the first time in months, next week sees the committee discuss some bills before the committee (January 28th).
Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the Court finding of the Right to Privacy. Sarah Weddington successfully took the case before the Court and Stephanie Wolf (Women's Media Center) interviews Weddington about the landmark decision and the state of reproductive rights today:
Q. You've always described yourself as an activist, first. If you could send any message to a young generation of pro-choice women activists, what would it be?
A. First, I would say "thank you, thank you, thank you." We're depending on you. Second, I would say that it's so critical to support pro-choice groups. Pick one or two. Hooking up with a group gives you e-mail information about what's happening, who's running, what are the positions of the candidates, what is happening in Congress.
Q. A recent New York magazine article quotes President Obama in a speech to students at Notre Dame saying: "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it . . . the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." Do you agree the debate is irreconcilable?
A. It's irreconcilable at the very basic level. Bart Stupak said no woman should have access to an abortion. I would never be reconciled with his position. So we should agree to disagree. But let's agree that the law should not force his opinion on people. He can hold his opinion. He can advocate it in all kinds of ways that are private. His church can do a lot to try to help women who want to continue pregnancies. There are things that he could do that I would certainly think were wonderful. But it's not to say to women, "I'm going to tell you what to do with reproduction."
The problem is that Obama seems to have a tendency to want everyone to like him and agree with him, so you read in the paper that he was meeting with anti-choice people on the health care bill. You never read that he was meeting with pro-choice people on the health care bill.

TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on many PBS stations (check local listings):

The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five American soldiers are coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, many of which require round-the-clock attention.
But lost in the reports of these returning soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice everything to care for them.
This week, NOW reveals how little has been done to help these family caregivers, and reports on dedicated efforts to support them.
Staying with TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen are Joan Biskupic (USA Today), John Harwood (CNBC, New York Times), Martha Raddatz (ABC News) and Alexis Simendinger (National Journal). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Bernadine Healy, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

60 Minutes Pre-empted
60 Minutes will be pre-empted this week for a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents: a Tribute to Don Hewitt." This hour pays tribute to the news magazine's creator and former executive producer, Don Hewitt, who passed away last August at the age of 86.

60 Minutes Presents: a Tribute to Don Hewitt, Sunday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing today (one of two hearings we attended today) and I'm going to gripe about it.

First off, where were the members. We saw and heard from Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (but she's the chair) and John Boozman (but he's the ranking member). Herseth Sandlin made a strong opening statement about how the VA was the comittee's first hearing of 2009 and they were making it the first of 2010 and that hopefully people would grasp how important the issue was as a result and how the committee considered it a priority.

I like Herseth Sandlin. I like Boozman. (He's a Republican, yes, I like him in his committee role. I don't know his politics outside this committee but in his role here, I like him.) But their message would have been stronger if more people had shown for the hearing. Usually with a subcommittee, there are more members of Congress present than there are observers. That's how it's been for me anyway. So let me explain that this wasn't the case and that the observers far, far outnumbered the committee members present.

In fact, this hearing had a huge turnout including three veterans (C.I. knew one) that we spoke with after. They were very disappointed in the hearing.

They felt that this was the same hearing. That the VA got to offer their lame excuses and, therefore, they were no longer responsible because they said "We're sorry." They do that every time when the subject is the GI Bill, they show up and offer some mealy-mouthed, insincere apology. And for those who say: "Kat, you can't look in their hearts!" No, I can't.

But I can judge by actions. And if you keep saying "I'm sorry" but never change the behavior, you're not really sorry. You're someone who's learned that "I'm sorry" will get you out of hot water in many cases so you just keep repeating it.

But someone truly sorry would not have to keep saying "I'm sorry" -- month after month -- for the same thing. Someone truly sorry would have changed their behavior.

That has not happened.

The three veterans we spoke with had no ill will towards the chair or the ranking member but they saw today's hearing as another example of a "do-nothing Congress."

And I can't say I blame them for that. I've sat through today's hearing at least three or four times now. (In the original snapshot dictated, C.I. demonstrated that by parading all the mealy-mouthed remarks from the VA on the GI Bill checks not being sent out. That snapshot was way too long and C.I. had to seriously edit. And praise for C.I. She's covering 2 hearings we attended and the Iraq Inquiry. And she didn't have time for the transcripts until one hour before the snapshot went up. She pulled up the transcript on the laptop, started streaming the video and spent the next thirty minutes speaking to friends in England following the trial to get a feel of the day's hearing.)

So what's the point?

At this point, what is the point?

The Congress calls the VA to appear. The VA shows up and insists they regret and insists they will be accountable starting right now or maybe tomorrow.

And then it's lather, rinse and repeat.

It happens over and over.

And the veterans today were very vocal about what they wanted to see: Some real anger.

The chair and the ranking member are two of the more soft-spoken members of Congress. That's not a bad thing and they handle hearings very well. But there is huge anger and those three came to DC today just for this hearing and will be going back to their veterans groups to report what they saw. They were not pleased that the VA got off yet again for the same problem.

There are approximately 1,000 veterans who still, STILL, have not received their benefits check for the fall 2009 semester. That's ridiculous.

When you grasp that each time the VA has appeared before Congress starting in October, it has sworn the problem was now fixed and those checks would be going out, that's appalling.

It's time for Congress to get tough and demand accountability. It's time for them to demand that the VA start firing people because there's no excuse for it.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces a death, the VA does another song and dance before Congress (as approximately 1,000 veterans still wait for their FALL 2009 checks), the Senate explores the Fort Hood shootings (in which 13 people died and over forty were wounded), the Iraq election 'process' remains in crisis, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A U.S. Soldier assigned to United States Forces - Iraq died of non-combat related injuries as a result of a vehicle accident, Jan. 20. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4374 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
RTE News is the only one filing on violence today and they note a Kirkuk bombing targeting the Health Dept director general (who survived) today and, dropping back to yesterday, they note that 1 Iraqi colonel was shot dead in Mosul, while 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul and a third was killed in a Mosul bombing.
In DC today, US Senator Carl Levin declared, "Today's open hearing is on the panel's unrestricted report. A restricted annex to their report entitled 'Oversight of the Alleged Perpetrator' focuses on information which, in the judgment of the Department of Defense could prejudice a criminal prosecution if it was discussed in public. So our committee will have a closed session after this open hearing is concluded." Levin is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which was hearing from former Secretary of the Army Togo West and retired Adm Vernon Clark, both of whom were tasked by US Secretary of the Defense Robert Gates to examine procedures and policies leading up to the November 5th Fort Hood shootings. John McCain is the Ranking Member on the committee and he noted, in his opening remarks, that "your report is devoted to personnel policies and emergency shooting response procedures. The report concentrates on actions and effects rather than the motivations but it was motives that led to the Fort Hood killings and that should have been examined." McCain called it an "omission" to not identify specific threats of potential violence to servicemembers.
In reading his opening remarks, Clark broke away to insist that "behaviors" were addressed in the report ("that's what we're talking about") and "self-radicalization" was in there. He also broke away to say there was "no single" answer to ensuring the protection of servicemembers from these threats but the threats really weren't identified in the public report. I'm less interested in West and Clark's opening remarks today because we covered them in yesterday's snapshot when they appeared before the House and the basics remained the same. One difference was Clark's delivery which was brusque at best and defensive in regards to issues McCain raised. His irritation was also noted by his repeated praise for "Mr. Chairman" and his pointed refusal to praise the "Ranking Member" or "Senator McCain." He offered praise for Levin not once but mulitple times and there were several times when he offered an "I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman" for something that Levin had noted in his opening remarks . . . but it had also been noted by McCain who, again, was pointedly not mentioned. (At one point he did thank "Mr. Chairman and all the members".)
Chair Carl Levin: The panel found that: "Department of Defense policy regarding religious accomodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization." And I think what you're saying is that obviously this country believes in religious tolerance, tolerance of others' religions, but it can never be tolerant of violent, radical views that are dressed up in religious garb. I think that's that point reworded. I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes the views that are clearly inherently violent, promote violence are dressed up in religious clothing and that automatically means that people who are sensitive to others' religious views then are kind of put on the defensive right away or reluctant right away to point out what is underneath the claim of religion. So the line has got to be there obviously. We want to continue our tolerance but we've got to be much harder and much more intolerant of views that are radical, promote violence, or encourage violence. And so my first question to you is that the policy of the Department which is limited to and addresses only active participation in groups that pose threats to good order and discipline is far too narrow a policy because of the self-radicalization point. You don't have to participate in a group that poses that kind of a threat to be a threat yourself. And so I guess my first quesiton is: How would you -- and I know you're not here to provide remedies and that wasn't your job -- but I assume that you agree that it's not just that that policy should be examined but that in your judgment, at least, it's simply too limited a policy. And I'm wondering whether or not for instance, you would agree that communication with a radical cleric who promotes violence is the kind of conduct that should raise real questions? Would you agree with that? Even though it's not active participation at that point it's just simply communication -- asking someone for their recommendations and views. Would you agree that that ought to be raising great suspicion without getting into this particular case?
Sec Togo West: Yeah. Mr. Chairman, I would certainly agree -- I think we both would. And I think your larger point that this is an example of, we would agree with as well. And that is: Yes, in the past perhaps, membership alone in a group may have been less looked upon than the actual act of doing things but, in this environment, we have to look at the group, we have to understand its purposes. And it is already considered by some that there is a tool that enables a commander to declare certain kinds of action including that a threat to his immediate area'ss order and discpline. But we think the Department of Defense can just simply strengthen the ability of commanders to look at and examine exactly what kind of activity they are permitting and whether or not we can better define it. Group membership in a group of that sort that has a record of active advocation of violence and as well as your point communication --especially repeated communication -- again, not referring to any particular case -- with those who advocate violence? Those are all signals that we need to be able to indicate in our publications and in our regulations commanders are authorized to look and be react to.
Chair Carl Levin: And even if there weren't active communication, excuse me, active participation or communication, with radical persons who are promoting violence, even if there's simply the expression of views which promote violence without any information about participation in a group or communication with radical extremists -- if somebody gets up and says, 'I believe that the Constitution comes in second and that my religious views come in first,' would that not be that kind of a signal which ought to indicate some real genuine concern? Would you agree with that?
Adm Vernon Clark: I certainly do agree with it and it goes without saying that where we draw our redlines is a very, very important point. But if you look at our history, we as a people, as Americans have always been very careful working about where we draw those lines. I so appreciate, your introduction to this question by your [. . .]
And we're done. Salem Witch trials are only one historical example in the US of religious intolerance. That is a flavor of the hearing a number of service members are concerned with what is going on in these hearings and wanting to be sure that care is being taken. Levin covered that at the top. Whether you think it is or is not will be your call but the issue was raised and those are some of the responses. Due to space limitations and too much else to cover, that's it on that.
Yesterday the US House Armed Services Committee heard from West and Clark. Last night Kat weighed in on US House Rep Loretta Sanchez' exchange. Sanchez noted a colonel who called into a radio program that she happened to catch and how he stated that there were warning signs and he just wanted to retire before the guy 'blew'. West told Sanchez he believed they spoke to the (left unnamed) colonel but they never heard the radio broadcast or of it. Kat: "How does that inspire confidence? You've got a public conversation out there that you can now apply to the testimony a colonel is giving you. Shouldn't you have made the comparison? Shouldn't you have been aware of the radio broadcast?" Filling in for Rebecca last night, Wally noted US House Rep Todd Akin was the one to ask a question about the issue of the suspect being Muslim and he also noted that although over sixty representatives serve on the committee, he counted 14 at one point and one of those wasn't on the committee, US House Rep Michael Burgess who was allowed to sit in.
And we're back to service members. Today the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll start by noting some of the chair's opening remarks (as delivered, slightly different from the prepared text).
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Some of those in attendance may recall that our first hearing of 2009 was on the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. This was followed up by supplemental hearings that sought to ensure VA's progress on the short and long-term information techonology solutions. I hope that it is clear to our panelists before us today that by making this our first hearing of 2010, we demonstrate the continued importance of the subject at hand. I'm sure my colleagues will agree that the current delays in processing education claims are simply unacceptable. A number of my colleagues not on this committee have spoken to me directly or have written to me documenting experiences of student veterans that they represent who have suffered some of the consequences of the delays in processing these claims. While the administration, I know, shares my concerns regarding these shortcomings,more has to be done. However, the blame doesn't rest solely with the VA. The processing of a single claim requires multiple steps involving multiple parties and computer systems, all of which must work in-sync with one another in order for a veteran to receive his or her benefits in a timely manner. These computer difficulties demonstrate the need for a fully-functional long-term solution.
The Chair then noted that the Subcommittee staff had visited Muskogee, Oklahoma's VA Regional Processing Center and Education Call Center wher ethey discovered the Education Call Center was being shut down on Thursdays and Fridays. Veterans calling were not able to speak to anyone and the staff was working on claims. It was noted by Herseth Sandlin that the Call Center can and should be open five days via better time management. Ranking Member John Boozman noted the visit as well and how the staff were the ones who told them time could be better managed and that, "As a result of that discussion, local VA management forwarded a request to the VA's Office of Field Operations to make the changes suggested and therein lies my concer: Why does it take a suggestion from Congressional staff to raise such a common sense issue and why do those responsible at the local level need to get permission from central office?" He furher noted that seven a.m. to five p.m. on the call center (from Monday through Friday) limits the opportunities for those "living outside the continental US" to speak to someone.
The VA sent Capt Mark Krause (Program Manager) and Roger W. Baker (Asst Sec for Information and Technology) to testify. I'm really not interested in their excuses or self-strokes. Nor are the service members complaining that they still haven't received their fall 2009 checks. So I'm not interested in Rober Baker's bulls**t for example where he refers (past tense) to 2009 enrollees that did not receive their checks and "I believe it is important to convey, on behalf of Secretary Shinseki and every member of the VA team, our apologies for those delays and our understanding that the impacts of those delays on Veterans are unaccpetable."
It's nonsense. And the committe heard "accountability" from Shinseki and others who followed him in October. Someone needs to explain to the VA that merely tossing around the word "accountability" (while the cameras are rolling) is not demonstrating "accountability." And the VA has yet to demonstrate that it has taken any accountability for its poor job. A congo lline of VA employees have repeatedly appeared before the committee all claiming that the delays were "unacceptable" but the VA has shown no improvements. Following a lengthy slideshow, this exchange took place.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Let me start with a statement, Mr. Wilson, that you made. On slide four, the long-term release II scheduled for June 30, 2010 that sort of allows for the automated data feeds for the schools, DoD, that this is a game changer from the user point of view. You know, for Mr. Baker, Mr. Wilson, I assume that the goal for the long-term release II is to have that operatational for processing fall 2010 semester claims. Is that correct?
Keith Wilson: Yes, that's correct.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That being the case, Mr. Baker, according to your testimony, release I has been modified to reduce its functionality because of this software requirement that you recently --
Roger Baker: Yes. The increased complexity, yes.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So why did it take until just recently to identify the need for the new software requirement?
Roger Baker: Actually . . . uhm . .. what-what occured is as the subject matter experts and the software people were sitting down together to walk through what does an amended reward really mean? What are the intracricies, the decision trees required for an amended reward . . . uhm . . . They kept uncovering , if you will, more and more depth of what was required on software of amended awards and it went beyond the estimates they had originally had for what it was going to take to do amended awards. Uh, so as we determined that the amount of work to make that March 31st date exceeded the amount possible to accomplish, we had to determine what would come out of that release?
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And how confident are you then that the June 30th deadline can be met --
Roger Baker: We're --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: In light of how important that deadline is to the fall semester?
Roger Baker: We're -- we're pretty confident in that. We-we, as you can imagine, we've had some significant focus on that as well. And we've talked about what is it possible to do in the June 30th timeframe. We know that we can get everything in that was originally scheduled for release I and release I was intended to be the replacement for the current system so -- functional replacement. If we had delayed release I until about mid-May , we'd have had a fully functional release. There's about that much additional work that was added. Uh, so we know that will come in. And we will be releasing that functionality in incremental pieces along the way to mid-May and if VBA determines it's appropriate allowing the users to work with the increased functionality in that time frame. And then adding those automated feeds that are critical as we ramp up to June 30th. So we-we have a reasonably good confidence in the June 30th -- and if you don't mind, I'll elaborate on that just a little bit further. The-the thing that I have to tell you that I'm pleased with in the slip -- and I know this is going to sound a little strange -- is that in December, this project team was able to tell us that they had a problem with meeting the March 31st date. That's not a usual thing inside of VA projects. Usually, you hear about it March 30th. Uh, you know, that's going to happen on March 31st. That gave us time to make rational decisions about: Do we want to allow the slip or do we want to force the delivery date so that we see the software and what is the impact of that on subsequent releases? And so that's why we have a reasonable degree of confidence that we're going to have what we need on June 30th for a more automated system going into the fall semester. That's exactly been our focus with that June 30th release.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I would just request that as that team -- you know, you've got a lot of internal milestones you're trying to meet and you've been very helpful to our committee and our committee staff in sharing information at every step of this process but in light of the problems that we've had with the interum solution, in light of the importance of this long-term solution, we-we need to stay on top of this, day-by-day, week-by-week. And if there is any other problem that is revealed to your project team, uh, we just need to be made aware of some of that ongoing work because of the importance of these deadlines in meeting the benefits for these students and-and understanding what more you might need from us because it's a high priority not only among this committee but the colleagues we hear from who have student veterans who are experiencing problems. You know, we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions immediately.
Herseth Sandlin wanted to know how long it will take to train the veterans claims examiners in each of the releases?
"We haven't done this before," said Krause. "I don't know that we have a feel for it," he added after some stumbling and hand gesturing. Wilson stated the training would be different blah blah blah. Which means, we don't know. But Wilson couldn't tell the truth and instead went into "that will be a more efficient process." The chair noted that after release one, the committee needed to be informed of what the time figure for training was.
Wilson stated approximately 1,000 veterans are still waiting for their fall 2009 checks ("no payments have gone out on those"). Wilson also insisted that the VA is in contact with all veterans who are waiting. No, they aren't. And as the chair pointed out, service verification from DoD is not the student's responsibility. That's the government's issue and that's their delay.
If it seemed to repeat from past hearings, that's because it did. Boozman repeated that the committee needed to know when there was a problem and that they needed to know if additional resources were need: "We have to understand what's going on." And the Ranking Member and the Chair both care about this issue but this is getting to be a joke where the committee gets informed of a problem in the midst of hearing or right before a scheduled hearing. The VA did not, DID NOT, inform Congress, that over a thousand veterans were still waiting for fall checks. That broke right before Christmas -- AP's Kimberly Hefling broke that story. Now grasp that this might have been tuition and/or housing checks. Tuition? You may say, "Well the college can wait." Many veterans -- talk to them, not the VA -- will tell you they had to take short-term loans. With interest rates. In order to cover the VA's delayed tuition payment, they had to take out short-term loans. I think the issue of money that would have gone to housing is self-explantory but I do know there is a perception (a mistaken one) that if the veteran's just waiting for a tuition check, it's no big deal. It is a big deal. And it's really past time that the committees in Congress started hearing from veterans in a public form so that all the citizens can know what they've had to go through as they've waited and waited for this promised benefit. They've waited and waited. And then, when problems emerged, they were treated rude. "It was," to quote one attending today's hearing, "as if the attitude was, 'Well we're giving it to you so you should just be grateful and stop complaining about it being late. We'll get to you when we have time.'" It has been offensive and it's been awkward. And especially so for those veterans with children. Whether they are the primary caregiver or not, many had to juggle money that was not there -- because the VA couldn't get the checks out -- to try to pull off a Christmas for their children. There's no excuse for that. There is no excuse for months and months of delays and it is very upsetting to veterans to continue to see Congress ask, "What do you need? Now you're going to tell us -- this time -- when a problem comes up, right?" Veterans at the hearing today felt like if they made that kind of mistake it would be all on them but when the VA makes it, the VA gets patted on the back and told, "Just try next time." It needs to stop and there needs to be accountabilty, There is none now and that goes to a lack of real leadership at the VA currently.
Let's move to Iraq quickly. Nizar Latif (The National) notes Iraq is now "locked in a deep constiutional crisis" as a result of the continued targeting of Iraqi politicians who might prove popular with voters. The banning is being done through a post-legal (or pre-legal) body. Jason Ditz (Antiwar) adds, "The bannings effectively destroy the third largest political alliance in Iraq just months ahead of the election, and are seen by many as an attempt by the Maliki government to cement its hold on power." Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) explains of the body:

The Justice and Accountability Commission is heir to the old, circa-2003 de-Baathification Commission, a McCarthyite blacklisting body set up by the neocon-domination occupation authorities after the US invasion of Iraq and headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the wheeler-dealer who was the chief proponent of the war in the 1990s and beyond and who was an intimate confidante of leading neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and various American Enterprise Institute apparatchiks such as Michael Rubin, Danielle Pletka, et al. Today, Chalabi -- who spends a lot of his time in Iran, and who US military authorities believe is essentially an agent of Tehran -- is still the titular leader of the Justice and Accountability Commission, which is run day-to-day by Ali Faysal al-Lami. Lami is a sectarian Shiite politician who is running on the same Shiite religious alliance in the March 7 election that was put together by Chalabi, with the support of Iran and the backing of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Iran's chief Iraqi ally.

The commission is no more. Iraq is supposed to have implemented de-de-Ba'athification measures and, in addition, the Parliament refused to appoint people to the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission. The presidency council didn't sign off on the committee. It has no power, it has no authority. So why is it being listened to?

On the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera -- excerpt in Tuesday's snapshot), a supporter explained that it exists in bits and pieces stitched together. That's what his meandering response stated and, for those paying attention, this is the same lie/excuse supporters use to justify Parliament being cut out of the process for awarding oil contracts. Nouri's people pick and choose which laws to listen to and which laws not to, ignore this aspect or that, ignore the Constitution and do Nouri's bidding. The two situations really are identical. In both cases the Constituion is being ignored as are other laws. In both cases, a cobble together pre- or post-legal argument is being made -- one with no actual legal foundation -- to justify doing what Nouri wants done. Al Arabiya reports on a document Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, has passed to Jalal Talabani, current president of Iraq which goes to the lack of authority for the commission, noting it's not been "approved by the presidency, cabinet, and paliamentary councils." Waleed Ibrahim, Khalid Al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Michael Christie and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) report the presidency council is asking for a court ruling on whether or not the committee making these decisions is even legitimate and quotes Talabani stating, "We have asked our brother Medhat al-Mahmoud (head of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council) whether the commission called justice and accountability really exists. As we know, parliament has not voted it into existence yet." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports US Vice President Joe Biden is being dispatched to Iraq and quotes Talabani stating, "We are an independent country and will not receive orders from anyone, whether it is a brotherly Arab country, a neibhoring country or a friend. Mr. Biden made proposals, but we are committed to safeguard and uphold this constitution."

In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues and today's witness was Jack Straw (link goes to video and transcript options) who was the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2001 to 2006. In the lead up to his testimony, correspondence and family drew press attention. Starting with the latter, the Daily Mirror quotes his son Will Straw stating, "My father's eventual support for Tony Blair over the war was the biggest mistake of his political life." David Cohen profiles Will Straw for London's Evening Standard: and quotes him stating, "Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have been a huge disappointment and let down the Laobur Party. I am especially deeply angry with Blair for being duplicitous about his reasons for taking us to war with Iraq, hiding behind WMDs when he was content to prosecute a war for regime change. And also for the unbelievably shoddy way he betrayed my father, demoting him from Foreign Secretary to Leader of the House, especially after my dad had been so loyal." Now to the correspondence issue, Sunday Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian of London) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ." Let's note this excerpt from today's hearing:
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Let's just go through the very interesting issues you have raised there. Let's go through a couple of them. First, the missiles, and this had always been the strongest part of the intelligence picture, and the missiles were found. The point Mr Blix made was that it was destroying -- that is, here was something that could be found and there was a way of dealing with them through the provisions of UNMOVIC. You didn't need to do anything else thereafter. He had found them. He had made the point. He dealt with them. The other question on the intelligence was that the issue that you were saying about going to war, not going to war, depended very much on a political understanding in the Security Council, indeed in this country, so that, though you may well have been right about what the resolution required and what was needed, nonetheless you were dealing with a political perception, within the Security Council, that something more was required and this was a difficulty all the way through, that the people were expecting to see more.
Jack Straw: Sir Lawrence, everybody was expecting to see more. Leave President Putin out of it, but the level of the international consensus that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was very broad, and as I record in my memorandum, Dr Blix himself says after the war that he thought they continued to have stocks -- his assumption all the way through had been that. But there was a -- there was no war party on the Security Council -- I mean, we can say maybe on the part of the United States administration, but I certainly, in the UK government -- I certainly didn't want war and I say, if Dr Blix had said -- and Dr El-Baradei, but if Dr Blix -- because this was where the focus was -- "This regime is complying with and it fulfils, as it were, the test in OP4", that would be the end of it from our point of view. I don't know what the United States would have done, but there would have been no case whatever for us taking part in any military action, and the strategy of 1441, which was to resolve this by peaceful means would have succeeded.
That's reflective of all the jumble of distortions that came out of Straw's mouth. Let's deal with the above. 1441 is the first UN resolution. There was no second resolution. There was no UN resolution giving the go-ahead for the invasion of Iraq. 1441 was about weapons inspectors going into Iraq and searching for weapons. Does Straw think the whole world is stupid? He wants to say that if the weapons inspectors had said Iraq was in compliance that there would have been no war. At least not for England, he quickly added.
2003 was some time ago, it was not, however, before the advent of recorded history. Click here for AP's real time story where the inspectors have to flee Iraq -- before finishing their mission -- because Bully Boy Bush is declaring war. Everything Straw stated was questionable. Including that he went to Tony Blair and stated the UN had to mediate or be given the chance to because otherwise the war would be illegal -- if England and the US just invaded, it would be illegal. But that's exactly what happened. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) attempts to travel through the maze of Straw's making. Louise Nousratpour (Morning Star) notes the vanity in Straw's statements as he declared if he'd told Blair he wouldn't support the war, it wouldn't have taken place. Well there you go. Now we know who to blame. As soon as he climbs off the cross, we can all proceed to the Hague.
Straw also attempted to insist that the 45-minute claim used to sell the illegal war in England (Iraq has WMD! and Iraq can attack England with them in 45 minutes!) was a mistake -- not because it was a lie (it was a lie) but, golly, that wasn't WMD, that was missiles. Missiles, Straw insisted, was what Tony Blair meant with the 45-minute claim. Not that WMD would hit England in 45 minutes, but missiles. Straw really thinks the world is stupid. The man appears unhinged when speaking, whether he was that nervous or suffering from some mental or physical issue, I have no idea. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger best captured one of the strangest moments, "Odd too when Straw appeared to suggest that the panel take evidence from the late Robin Cook to confirm how he -- Straw -- had always insisted the war only proceed after parliamentary debate." At the Guardian, Chris Ames has a detailed analysis of Straw's testimony and we'll note the opening:
Thanks to Gordon Brown, the Iraq inquiry has become largely an exercise in reading between the lines against a government strategy of the selective release of information and selective quotation. From that perspective, we learnt this afternoon, in spite of Jack Straw's best efforts, that in a letter to George Bush in July 2002, Tony Blair gave a pretty unconditional undertaking that Britain would join in the US-led invasion of Iraq. The government has blocked publication of that letter. Jack Straw, who also blocked publication of the pre-war cabinet minutes, agrees with that suppression.
The reason you have to read between the lines is that – as I first wrote in November – by virtue of the Cabinet Office protocol on information, the government can control both what the inquiry can publish and what it can directly quote in public sessions. The inquiry is increasingly kicking against this restriction and today said out loud that it is being restricted.
But, as I have also observed, government witnesses have also learnt to play the game of putting their own spin on the evidence we have not been allowed to see. In pursuit of this strategy, Straw today submitted a lengthy memorandum justifying his approach to a war that he says he never wanted. The inquiry dutifully published it on its website.
In response to Straw's testimony today, the Liberal Democrats issued the following statements:
"Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Commenting on Jack Straw's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry, Edward Davey said:
"Jack Straw's insistence that he used his 'judgement' rather than solid proof of the existence of WMD is a weak defence of his role in this disastrous war.
"Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible.
"It is clear that he is desperate to distance himself from Tony Blair's unrepentant belief that he would have got rid of Saddam whatever it took.
"Jack Straw's testimony today also shows that there is no problem with serving Cabinet ministers appearing before the Iraq Inquiry. There is no obstacle to Gordon Brown appearing before the General Election to talk about his role as Chancellor in the run up to and during the Iraq War."
Finally, BBC News is reporting that Gordon Brown will testify to the Iraq Inquiry before elections are held.