Friday, April 23, 2010


Iraq is bracing for a most dangerous period as at least 60 people were killed in bomb attacks on Friday across the country amid a political deadlock following the March 7 general election -- the second since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
A series of car bombs and roadside attacks mainly targeting Shiites during Friday prayers left 52 dead and scores more wounded. Eight died earlier Friday in western Anbar Province in multiple blasts.

The above is from Li Laifang, Shaalan Jubury report from Xinhua. Today's bombings in Baghdad (bombings also took place elsewhere in Iraq today) resulting in what some are calling "the bloodiest day of the year" for Iraq so far. I wonder how much attention Iraq will get and how quickly it will fade?

Iraq really doesn't get the attention it deserves. And maybe that's why a British politician thought she could get away with lying about it in her campaign material? Max Calo (Guardian) reports on Joan Ruddock's attempts to rewrite history:

The facts state otherwise. She was absent on the vote for the use of force in Iraq, just as she was absent on most parliamentary votes on the issue. Her claims do not match what she really should have done. Admittedly, she voted in favour of defeated attempts to amend two important motions, but when Parliament was ultimately asked to authorise the use of force she expressed no view, when 85 Labour MPs had the courage to oppose the government.

I really am surprised by the lack of attention to Iraq in this country. At least 69 people have to die for Iraq to even get a toe hold in the news cycle.

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

Friday, April 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed by bombings, the US military announces another death, a new ruling knocks out an earlier one from 2007, and more.

Iraq was slammed today by multiple bombings. In the Iraqi city of Khaldiya,
Reuters counts 7 dead and 10 injured in at least seven bombings. BBC News adds, "They were planted among several houses belonging to police officers and a judge." NPR also noted in hourly headlines that police and a judge were targeted. Khaldiya is part of Al Anbar Province which is Sunni majority. In the fall of 2006, Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily (IPS via reported on how children at the local school were so accustomed to the bombings that one "just outside the school" didn't even cause them pause. Noting anti-occupation sentiment in the fall of 2003, Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) described it as having a population of approximately 15,000.

The attack on the Sunnis has been tossed into the scrap heap because
8 dead in these bombings was no longer big or even moderate news for the cycle once Baghdad was slammed with bombings. Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) puts the number of car bombs at "at least five" and notes they went off throughout Baghdad, outside mosques. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) counts "at least 64" dead in Baghdad leading Moqtada al-Sadr -- whose supporters were among those targeted -- to call up the Mahdi Army (al-Sadr's militia) with the orders that they protect Sadr City. The regrouping of the Mahdi Army may have as much to do with the bombing today in Sadr City as it did with the reactions to and from Iraqi forces: "Minutes after the car bomb detonated in Sadr City on Friday -- as worshipers were leaving prayers -- residents began lobbing bricks and stones at Iraqi soldiers who responded to the scene, witnesses said. The soldiers opened fire in response, killing some and injuring several, according to some of the wounded and doctors in Sadr City." Though some may have found that news reassuring, others did not. Alice Fordham (Times of London) adds, "Fears that the attacks could heighten sectarian tensions reawakened by the elections were strengthened by a statement from Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist political and religious movement. He called, via a representative, for mosques to be protected by the Mahdi Army, the militant wing of the movement. The Mahdi Army, responsible for massive bloodshed during the worst years of sectarian fighting, has formally been disbanded." Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna (link has text and video) reports of the bombings:

Mike Hanna: A period of relative calm violently ended. In a series of apparently coordinated attacks bombs explode in six Baghdad neighbourhoods. There's no clear sectarian pattern as citizens are killed in both Shia and Sunni districts. The most serious attack though in the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City. There two car bombs killed well over 30 people shopping at the local market following Friday prayers. And intense anger among residents aquestioning how cars carrying explosives managed to pass through numerous check points to get into the area.

Sadr City Male Resident: The vehicle entered Sadr City without being searched. It is not acceptable when a car bomb goes off near a policeman. I think there must be a plot with the police. Why was Sadr City a target?

Mike Hanna: The escalation of violence follows what the Iraqi government said were major successes in the fight against the insurgency.

Jane Arraf, Sahar Issa and Mohammad al-Dulaimi (Christian Science Monitor teaming up with McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Iraqi security officials took the unusual step of announcing the death toll. In a statement run on Iraqiya television, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command said 54 people had been killed and 180 injured in the attacks in Baghdad. At least another six people were killed and 12 wounded by bombings in Anbar Province, an Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold." Andy Winter (Sky News -- link has text and video) observes, "The deadly blasts came just days after the reported killings of the top two al Qaeda leaders in Iraq in what was seen as a major blow to the insurgency." Frank James (NPR) has posted the text to one of Quil Lawrence's top of the hour reports on the violence in Iraq today in which Lawrence notes Baghdad was slammed by car bombings and by motorcycle bombings and that "the blasts today may be in response to what Iraqi and American authorities have heralded as a hugely successful campagn to roll up al-Qaida's leadership." BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse offers this analysis: "Whoever did carry out the attacks, it is hard not to conclude that they were designed to inflame tensions between Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities at a time of political uncertainty." Sadr City wasn't the only area struck and Larisa Epatko (PBS' NewsHour) notes, "Other explosions struck the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, killing one person and wounding 12; a Shiite mosque in the northern Hurriyah neighborhood, where eight people were killed and 36 wounded; and the eastern neighborhood of Amin al-Thaniyah, killing 14 and injuring 36." NewsHour? No, it hasn't aired yet as I dictate this but remember they are increasing their online presence and they offer content throughout the day. Larisa Epatko's coverage is part of "The Rundown News Blog" for the program. Rebecca Santana (AP) terms it "the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq" and counts 69 dead.
In other reported violence today,
Reuters notes 1 corpse was discvoered in Shirqat. Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A U.S. Soldier died of non-combat related injuries in Baghdad Thursday. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at 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." This brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War to 4393.

Today on the second hour of NPR's
The Diane Rehm Show, Diane was joined by Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) and Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) and they addressed Iraq multiple times. We'll note this section at the start of the show (however, calls and e-mails promoted the topic to be revisted throughout the show).

Diane Rehm: This death toll in Iraq, two top al Qaeda leaders were killed. Tell us about it, Roy?

Roy Gutman: Well today's bombings show that even though the leadership has been decapitated so to speak, al Qaeda Iraq is alive and still has a lot of suicide bombers trained and ready to go and to attack. It's still so incredible to me. People at their Friday prayers in the mosques of Baghdad. I think it should just induce a certain amount of humility in the Americans and Iraqi officials who somewhat triumphantalist mood this week proclaimed that they had really broken the back of al Qaeda --

Diane Rehm: You know we've heard that before and now to have this kind of enormously effective retalitory effect, as you say, should bring some humility, Abderrahim.

Abderrahim Foukara: Absolutely, Diane. We've heard this before, we've heard it under President Obama and we certainly had heard it during the Bush administration and every time that they say they've broken the back of al Qaeda, they'll kill one or two top leaders and then they'd be replaced and things go back to business as usual. What's really sinister this time from the point of view of the plan that the Obama administration has to get out of Iraq is that all this mess now is happening in Iraq six weeks after the-the election. And six weeks after the election, the Iraqis --- We don't even know yet who's actually won the election. So if there was trepidation in light of the vacuum that happened post the 2005 election for several months before they actually got a government going, think about it this time. Six weeks -- we don't even know who the winner is.

Diane Rehm: Trudy, are they still counting ballots?

Trudy Rubin: Yes, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party appealed the count in Baghdad and the votes are being recounted there and, needless to say, this has encouraged other parties to talk about wanting recounts in their areas. This Baghdad recount should be finished in a week but it is important to say that al Qaeda here clearly has a strategy. You only need a handful of people to have a strategy like this and suicide bombers who come from outside and come in. And the strategy is to provoke sectarian warfare. I was in Baghdad just a week ago, and there were warnings that al Qaeda was trying to steal an airplane and fly it into a holy Shi'ite shrine, possibly the shrine of Iman Ali the holiest in Najaf. And, in fact, there were stories out of the Czech Republic that that might have been where they tried to get a plane and somebody was stopped there -- Iraqis. So there is a clear effort to provoke sectarian war. I don't think the country wants it, they are sick of it. But it will take a lot of careful manuevering for this election process to not spin off the rails. Right now the United States is trying to stand back. I think they're going to have to get more involved in mediation.

Diane Rehm: Now what about the questions of allegations of fraud and what's happening in terms of violence, do you think this could effect US decisions to move out, Abderrahim?

Abderrahim Foukara: Well we've had reassurances from the-the top brass of the US military in Iraq that it will not effect the decision to withdraw US troops. But those decisions were made when things looked promising that there would be elections in Iraq and that some sort of government would emerge -- even if emerges a little late -- that could take care of the security situation. Now we have this thing that's just been mentioned. You have Iraqi -- You have Prime Minister Maliki contesting the results of the election. Because of that, you also have [Aya] Allawi, his competitor, contesting the election now and demanding a recount in the south, you also have some of the Kurdish parties also demanding a recount in some of northern Iraq. So this whole thing seems to be unraveling and then you get the violence, the thing about al Qaeda and also about the prison that the Prime Minister was accused of running where inmates were alleged to have been tortured.

Diane Rehm: And you also have the case of Navy Seals accused of abusing a prisoner, Trudy?

Trudy Rubin: Let me say that I think that Navy Seal case is peanuts compared to previous cases. I really don't think that Iraqis are going to pay too much attention to the relase because, you know, after much bigger cases like Abu Ghraib and higher ups were not punished or the case where Blackwater shot up 17 people in a major square in Baghdad, you know this is really tiddly winks. I think the torture case has more possibility of upsetting people because there is -- there was -- a secret torture facility at the Muthana Airport Base where I was just nearby last week. And many Sunnis were held there and the key in this election situation is whether Sunnis feel they have sufficient place in the government. Let me add,
my driver was tortured in that facility just in January and this is typical now of the problems in Iraq, he is a Shi'ite who protested against the killings of Sunnis in his neighborhood by Jaish al-Mahdi, Shi'ite militia men. He helped US and Iraqi forces to roll up those militia men and when the US pulled out the Jaish al-Mahdi got their revenge and they have contacts in the army and the police. And this man has been in jail for sixteen months and been tortured because he helped Americans and Iraqis. So I think Prime Minister Maliki, the other political leaders will have a lot to do to prevent sectarian tensions from getting out of hand and, as I said, I think the US is going to have to play a bigger role than they now want to do.
Roy Gutman: I wanted to come back to the elections if I could because -- and the recount because it is often assumed that Iraq being a third world country without a great tradition of
re-elections cannot conduct good elections. But the actual fact is-- and the record is -- that their own independent electoral commission has run very, very solid elections. It's true the politicians want recounts and what politician doesn't if he's on the losing end? But in fact, in the last -- I think it was the provincial elections -- I was there myself in Iraq some months ago and talked to commission members and they said of the 40,000 polls or polling places around the country in the previous provincial elections, only about, I think, 1% had general problems of -of too many ballots, or something going awry. So I think that part of the process is actually more in tact than most people realize.

Abderrahim Foukara: If the recount, at least in -- If the recount -- at least in Baghdad, which I understand represents about 20% of the vote, the overall vote -- if the recount gives an additional two, three seats to the prime minister Maliki who is, by the current results, is lagging behind his competitor Ayad Allawi by two seats -- If that happens, number one, we don't know how Ayad Allawi is going to react. Number two, and this has a very important regional dimension, Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite but because he canvased heavily among the Sunnis in Iraq, he gave hope to the regions of Iraq, the Sunni regions of Iraq, the Saudis among others, that if the government emerges in which he plays a very active role, then they could do business with the Iraqi goverment. As opposed to al-Maliki who is perceived by the Sunnis as being too close to Iran.

Diane Rehm: Could you end up with something like a mixed government? And if you did, what kind of power would there actually be, Trudy?

Trudy Rubin: I think that is the goal. It is certainly the goal of Prime Minister al-Maliki. I talked to one of his top advisors last week and he told me that their strategy is to try to bring all the blocs in. There are two major Shia blocs, one major Sunni bloc headed by a Shi'ite, a Mr. Allawi, and a big Kurdish bloc. And Maliki is talking to all of them. The Kurds have not ruled out going with Maliki. And there are probably Sunnis who might make a deal. There are all kinds of issues in place such as whether the president of Iraq, instead of being a Kurd as he now is, might be a Sunni, what cabinet posts -- The consequence of parceling everything out by sect and ethnicity; however, is going to be a government of patronage that really doesn't hold together and perform well. On the other hand, such a government might be necessary to prevent sectarian upheaval. And my guess is this is the direction it's going to go. The question is: How long will it take them to agree on a prime minister?

Reporting on today's bombings,
Steven Lee Myers and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) note, "A member of Parliament from the [Sadr] bloc, Balqis Koli al-Kafaji, put the attacks in the context of several recent vents that she said contribute to the overall chaos here: the still unresolved elections, the controversy surrounding a previously undisclosed prison in Baghdad that held Sunnis from northern Iraq, and the government's claims of recent success in dismantling the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq, also know as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the main insurgent group here." The secret prison Trudy Rubin was referring to? Khalid al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Nick Carey, Michael Christie and Lin Noueihed (Reuters) report, "The unit that operated the detention centre reported directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, but officials denied any connection to or knowledge of the facility in Maliki's inner circle." And if that doesn't make you roll your eyes, how about this? They're reporting the prison closed down today. This despite claims that the prison was already closed since Ned Parker's "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times) broke late Sunday -- including claims by Iraq's Human Rights Minister. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) offers this on the process post-election thus far:

Positions in the 325-seat parliament were split between four main political blocs, meaning that at least three of them would probably have to band together to form a comfortable majority. But six weeks after the vote, serious talks still haven't begun.
"I don't detect serious movement yet on the real decisions regarding government formation," says Ambassador Gary Grappo, political counselor at the US embassy in Baghdad. "I could envision a scenario where it might go relatively quickly and you could have something by early June but it could drag through the summer."
US and Iraqi officials say the political parties are willing enough to bargain that a coalition government could take almost any kind of form but will have a hard time overcoming their objections to the leaders themselves.

Committee to Protect Journalism notes the disappearance of Iraqi journalist Saad al-Aossi who is "editor-in-chief of the critical weekly Al-Shahid." They explain:

Armed men entered al-Aossi's home in central Baghdad on the morning of April 14, seized his computer and took him to an unknown location, according to local and regional news reports. The identity of the armed men remains unclear; various news sources have described them as being a "
mixed force" consisting of police and military elements, belonging to the Baghdad Operations Command, or to a special security force attached to the prime minister's office.
Colonel Qassem Atta, spokesperson for the Baghdad Operations Command, issued a
statement today denying government involvement in al-Aossi's kidnapping and stating that he is not in government custody.
Al-Aossi's abduction from his home took place on the same day that military and police personnel conducted wide-ranging sweeps in multiple Iraqi cities of upward of 100 Iraqis under the pretext of a preventive anti-terror sweep, according to a
report in the Qatar-based newspaper Al-Arab that quotes an unnamed Iraqi police official. The same unnamed source stated that many of the detained individuals are vocal supporters of Ayad Alawi, a political opponent of the prime minister. Al-Aossi has regularly criticized the prime minister's performance in his columns.
"We are deeply concerned about the safety of Saad al-Aoosi," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem . "The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must clarify the circumstances of his seizure by men reportedly belonging to the security forces, and account immediately for his whereabouts."
They are calling for answers. And, if pattern holds, they'll be among the only ones doing so. That's really the biggest problem and why Saad is missing.Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister in April of 2006. Shortly after the Green Zone was nearly breached in a Friday attack, Nouri announced a number of programs. Many of the programs were already in place and he hadn't created them. I know, it's very difficult to imagine Nouri ever grand standing, right? But one of his rules was an attack on journalists. And, except for the BBC, no news outlet covered what he was proposing. Other outlets, including the New York Times, covered every plank of Nouri's proposals . . . except the one to do with journalism.Nouri should have understood there would be a loud and public international rebuke. Instead, the message was sent to him that even the press didn't care if he went after the press. Which is how you get his forces aiming a gun at a New York Times reporter and pulling the trigger -- for a joke, you understand. He set the tone. Things weren't perfect before him. I'm not trying to imply they were. (And the KRG is its own region with its own issues.) But Nouri repeatedly attacked journalists and repeatedly got away with it.Journalists were harassed. Rules and regulations were repeatedly issued.He tried to do that with regards to the January 2009 elections and got a push back from the UN and many in the press (including the New York Times) which caused him to drop that list of demands.But even now, when he's claiming journalists need to be registered for their own safety, there has been very little pushback against him. There should have been a huge push back. Americans should be aware of that. McClatchy Newspapers' Iraqi journalists have won many awards.In October of 2007, they were awarded the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and
McClatchy noted:In introducing the six McClatchy reporters — Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa — ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff said: "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.
"All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret," said Woodruff, who himself was grievously wounded while covering the war in Iraq.
"All have lost family members or close friends," he continued. "All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death."
Shyness and modesty didn't make them conceal their identies. It was that they and their families weren't safe. And that's only more true if a registry is put into effect. They can then be targeted by security forces or imprisoned, those in the government not happy with their reports can leak their names to hostile militias ensuring their deaths. In case anyone's not getting it, let's quote Trudy Rubin from today's Diane Rehm Show, "Let me add,
my driver was tortured in that facility just in January and this is typical now of the problems in Iraq, he is a Shi'ite who protested against the killings of Sunnis in his neighborhood by Jaish al-Mahdi, Shi'ite militia men. He helped US and Iraqi forces to roll up those militia men and when the US pulled out the Jaish al-Mahdi got their revenge and they have contacts in the army and the police."

This isn't a minor issue. But as long as so many outlets ignore Nouri's attempts to register journalists, expect to see more problems for journalists. And don't be surprised that this week that the Committee to Protect Journalists' "
2010 Impunity Index" found that Iraq tops all countries with its number of unsolved murders of journalists (88):
All 88 journalist murders over the last 10 years are unsolved, putting Iraq at the top of the index for the third year in a row. All but seven cases involve local journalists, the vast majority of whom were targeted by insurgents. The victims include Al-Arabiya television correspondent
Atwar Bahjat and crew members Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi and Adnan Khairallah, who were shot on assignment outside the Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2006. There is a positive trend: For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion, CPJ documented no work-related murders in Iraq in 2009. (Four journalists were killed in crossfire in 2009.) Nevertheless, with an impunity ranking nearly three times as high as any other country, Iraq has posed unparalleled dangers to the press.
Impunity Index Rating: 2.794 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.983

This climate is encouraged when the message is sent to Nouri that attacks on the press are no big deal.

Turning to updates,
Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) notes the latest on a 2006 case:

A military appeals court has overturned the murder conviction of a US Marine in the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania. Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins had been the only one of seven US servicemembers involved in the killing to receive a murder conviction. On Thursday, the verdicts were overturned on the grounds Hutchins' attorneys were improperly dismissed before his 2007 trial. The victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, was dragged from his home, shot, and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was planning an attack.

For court documents,
click here. Last week, we noted that Binghampton, New York would be getting a financial cost of war counter for Iraq and Afghanistan. That has changed. Kai Liu (Binghampton University Pipe Dream) reports, "Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan announced Tuesday that he would reevaluate his decision to install a digital sign on Binghamton City Hall that would display the cost of American wars."

TV notes,
Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), John Harwood (NYT and CNBC), Janet Hook (LAT) and David Shepardson (Detroit News). And Gwen's column this week is "Remember Dorothy Height" who passed away this week and Gwen and company have dipped into the archives to provide a 2003 video interview Gwen did with Dorothy Height. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Dona Edwards, Nicole Kurokawa and Irene Natividad on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week's it's the effects physical discpline can have on children (more likely to bully). For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
The NarrativeA former member of a Muslim extremist group tells Lesley Stahl the reason for the increase in home-grown jihadists like the U.S. Army major accused of shooting 13 at Ft. Hood is an ideology called "the narrative," which states America is at war with Islam.
Boosting Brain PowerMore people, especially college students trying to improve their grades, are illegally boosting their brain power by using prescription "smart drugs" like Ritalin and Aderall, meant for those with attention deficit disorders. Katie Couric reports.
Watch Video
Competing Against TimeByron Pitts reports from the construction site of the future Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland, Calif., where there's a race to complete the new, earthquake-resistant span alongside the old structure, which authorities fear cannot stand up to the next large earthquake.
Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, April 25, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

the washington posternesto londono
the times of london
alice fordham
the christian science monitor
jane arraf
mcclatchy newspapersmohammed al dulaimi
sahar issa
bbc newsgabriel gatehouse
rebecca santana
nprthe diane rehm show
the philadelphia inquirertrudy rubinal jazeera
mcclatchy newspapers
roy gutman

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

I want The Mary Tyler Moore Show!

I said that tonight when we were wrapping up the roundtable for the gina & krista round-robin and it was stated that we should do theme posts tonight and the topic should be sitcoms. (I can't remember who suggested it, sorry.)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.

I loved every episode.

"Where There's Smoke, There's Rhoda" is one of my favorites because Rhoda's apartment catches fire and she has to temporarily move in with Mary. They are best friends. But they can't stand living together. That's very funny.

There's the episode where Mary loans Rhoda money (from bank clerk Louise Lasser!) and then feels like Rhoda should have repaid her and notices that Rhoda's buying a lot of new stuff and still hasn't repaid her. And then she goes with Rhoda to look for a new car and she starts to confront her. After telling Rhoda that the yellow car Rhoda likes should be in another color. At which point, Rhoda reveals the new car isn't for her, it's for Mary. "Yes, Mary, the car you love in the color you hate is yours." Rhoda had wanted to repay the loan (with some interest she wasn't asked to pay) by getting Mary a new car.

And then there was Twinks. Twinks went to summer camp with Mary. And pops back into her life when they're both adults. And Mary's asked to be Maid of Honor. At the last minute. She agrees and Rhoda's stuck being a bride's maid. They throw the shower and everything for Twinks. Then, right before the wedding, she tells Mary she won't need to be bride's maid. Her best friend was able to come in!

Mary feels used and Twinks doesn't even register when Mary tells her that. The kicker is that while Mary doesn't have to wear the ugly dress since she's no longer maid of honor, Rhoda has to because she's still a bride's maid!

There's the episode where Rhoda's finally lost the weight she's been working on and enters a beauty contest at the store she works at. It's hilarious with Phyllis singing "Ten Cents A Dance" and trying to upstage Rhoda by showing off her vacation pictures. Rhoda coming back and saying she got second or third place. Phyllis not surprised. Mary heart broken for Rhoda.

The end?

Rhoda's said she was okay with it. Leaves Mary's apartment. Then knocks again and reveals, she won! She's got the crown and the sash and the everything. Phyllis comes back through and says, "Wow, they sure make a fuss over third place." Rhoda says, "I won, cookie!" :D

Rhoda was Valerie Harper's character, Phyllis was Cloris Leachman's character and Mary was, of course, played by Mary Tyler Moore. It is a hilarious show. And I didn't even get to when Chuckles the Clown dies.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri offers more pleasing claims in public, the WikiLeaks tape showed what happened but what happened after (key detail left out of the narrative), World Can't Wait holds a conference on the assault video, Congress discusses PTSD and TBI, and more.

Monday April5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of an assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists. In real time, Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported, "The two Reuters staff members, both of them Iraqis, were killed when troops on an American helicopter shot into the area where the two had just gotten out of their car, said witnesses who spoke to an Agence France-Press photographer who arrived at the scene shortly after their bodies were taken away. The Reuters employees were Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, a photographer, and Saeed Chmagh, 40, a driver." Rubin quoted AFP's Ahmad Sahib stating, "They had arrived, got out of the car and started taking pictures, and people gathered. It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover." That detail really didn't make it into the story recently, did it? We could have Diane Rehm smear the two journalists on her show (as she did when she read a piece of crap e-mail asserting the two were embedded with terrorists and got whatever they deserved and then declared that would be "the last word" on the issue). We could have a host of gas baggery.

But who bothered to tell you that after the event, it happened again. The footage captures what took place in real time. The footage ends before the second wave starts. The footage captures the realization that there were children present. And none of that prevented a second round being fired from US helicopters?

Last night,
World Can't Wait held a conference on the WikiLeaks video with Debra Sweet moderating and Dahr Jamail, Elaine Brower and Matthis Chiroux participating. All but Dahr were in New York City. The conference was streamed live online last night. Dahr is an independent journalist. He reported in Iraq as a non-embed. He could have just as easily been killed/targeted as the two Reuters reporters. Elaine Brower is a peace activist and the mother of a service member who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has long been active in the peace movement and has not allowed the changing of the White House to silence her speaking out against the continued wars. Matthis Chiroux served in Afghanistan. He is an Iraq War resister. Like Elaine, he is a very strong member of the peace movement and the two of them were arrested, along with Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan and at least five others, for using their Constitutional rights of free speech to protest the continued wars while they were in DC last month. Early on, Dahr spoke about how Iraqis are still caught in the conflict and how that hasn't ended. The Iraq War continues. That's based on hearing about every third or fourth word. For me, his feed was garbled. Debra did review some of his points. And all excerpts should be considered "really rush transcript" and not just "rush transcript" because I wasn't aware that my notes (which weren't that in depth, most of what follows is from memory -- keep that in mind) is what I would rely on today. I thought the video was going up at World Can't Wait but that hasn't happened yet.

Debra Sweet: I don't know if everybody caught Dahr's reference to General David Petreaus. He is the general that is now in charge of the Central Command which is all of Europe and Asia basically. Like three years ago, when the incident we're talking about happened, he was in charge of Iraq and where is he right now? [Debra then noted their action to protest Petreaus.] I just wonder if people heard what Dhar said? That in Iraq so far, 1.5 have been killed. And I think he said 4.8 million Iraqis are displaced from their homes. And this is a war that is supposed to be ending. So Dahr, could you give us just sixty seconds of what to say to people who say "But wait a minute, Obama has ended the war in Iraq, it's over, the troops are coming home?"

Still garbeled, he twice mentioned the National Security Strategy. The feed cleared up shortly after and he was asked about the WikiLeaks video of the assault.

Dahr Jamail: That is a very disgusting vile situation and that is exactly what psychiatrist Robert J. Lipton has said early on in the occupation that when you send soldiers into an unwinnable occupation and who have been, for the most part, very effectively brain washed by the propaganda and by ideology and they thoroughly dehumanize the Iraqi people, this is what is called an atrocity producing situation and that is exactly what this video shows us -- that we can see with our own eyes. And I think why it has caused such a stir is for finally, one of the few times that the American public can see with their own eyes an atrocity producing situation being carried out right in front of their eyes. There's no denying it. There's no denying watching them kill unarmed civilians and there's no denying the callous disregard with which they carried it out.

Matthis Chiroux: Well it's, it's really interesting actually. All of us sitting at this table right now -- me, Elaine and Debra, and even folks in this room who've been doing demonstrations or have done demonstrations at the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia where they actually allow young people they are trying to recruit into the military to pilot helicopter simulators and it -- even through these simulations -- it is clear that the US kills civilians and that when children simulate killing civilians in this video game, the military recruiters explain it to them as not simulated murder but as a rules of engagement violation. So simplyl including this in the simulation points that -- I wonder how they would react to having this simulated so that young people could-could see what it's really like to experience a so-called rules of engagement.

Dahr Jamal: That's another really good point, Mathis, because, again, it's all part of the dehumanizing where you don't even talk about the Iraqis as human beings. You know, they're "targets," they're "suspected insurgents," etc. etc. And you don't talk -- you talk about things like the rules of engagement. You kind of really steralize the whole situation by using this type of terminology. And, of course, they're not going to show this video to the kids. Of course, they're going to let them play things that are kind of like video gamesque situations to really basically start getting them thinking along these lines, which I would have to think that folks who fly drones -- who sit in Nevada or California and pilot drones -- and the people who fly the helicopter in the video, that they were probably raised playing similar types of video games and again getting the brain washing backed up by the media where these are not human beings, these are prssible insurgents, they're terrorists, they're al Qaeda, etc etc. And it makes it possible to where these people can basically become simply trained murderers and go out and do just that. And, you, Matthis, from the military know all too well that which I discovered through interviewing dozens and dozens of veterans I've interviewed for news stories and
my latest book and that is that they come into the military and they're basically trained to be murderers, you don't ask questions, you just follow orders, you don't think about "the other" as a human being, you think about them as an enemy. This is drilled into you in basic training and then reinforced throughout your entire contact with the military. And so that, again, is what puts soldiers in this position in Iraq and Afghanistan -- where when you put this kind of trained soldier out into the field, have them afraid, have them completely brain washed so basically everyone they're looking at is a potential threat, then this is only going to go one direction and that's the direction that we see in this video.

Elaine Brower: This is Elaine Brower, Dahr. How are you?

Dahr Jamail: Hi, Elaine, thanks, good.

Elaine Brower: Thanks for doing this this evening but I have a question for you regarding how you feel about these soldiers and marines that perform these types of operations and are so callous about it. Should we feel disgust? Should we feel that they should be held accountable personally for this? Or do we look to the government for training them that way? The military? Isn't it up to the individual person to, uh, seek their own humanity and reality especially when they've been on several tours of combat deployment? Don't they realize after awhile that they are killing innocent people? Or is this just they become robots?

Dahr Jamail: Well, Elaine, I-I agree with you and that's why earlier I said that, for example, that the soldiers do carry out atrocities and do commit war crimes absolutely have to be held to account, they absolutely have to be brought to justice. You know, the whole thing, again, in the Nurember Trials, when Hilter's henchmen were put on the stand and then tried to use the excuse of "I was just following orders," that doesn't apply for exactly what you said and that is that you, as a human being, are morally responsible for the actions you take. And, for example, another thing is that the US was ever a member of the International Criminal Court and we started to see some justice and some people actually going to trial, I think one thing a lot of international lawyers would focus on and a lot of domestic lawyers is that the oath that soldiers swear, for example, is to support and defend the Constitution by following lawful orders. There it is right there. You can only follow lawful orders. So whenever your commander, whoever he is, tells you as a soldier, you know, "Go fly this helicopter and just shoot whatever," even if they're just suspected or whatever, that is not a lawful order by the Geneva Convention. [. . .] They are both legally and morally bound to use their heads and make correct decisions even if that means not following an order. Okay?

Laurie Arbiter: Dahr, this is Laurie Arbiter. I have two questions. One is if you could speak about the corporate interests in Iraq -- US corporate interests -- that are in Iraq right now and have been and the gains that they may have made over these years during the occupation. Because I have a theory that it was an investment of both blood and US money but there was also a return to a certain sector of this country. So I just wondered if you could speak about that. And the second thing is speak to us about the-the civilian population here in the US who are witnessing crimes against humanity, who have enough evidence to not be able to say that we didn't know and have not mounted a resistance commiserate with those crimes. And if you could speak to what you think -- do you think that that's going to happen or how should that be organized?

Elaine had to repeat the question for Dahr who had trouble hearing that. Dahr declared those the primary questions and noted that it was "the right thing to do" (protesting) and that people just have to keep working "to basically wake people up and go, 'Look, this is where your tax money is going, this is what your government is doing'." He was also asked about Iran and he talked about how there was no proof that Iran had nuclear weapons but there was proof that Israel did and Israel is not the object of war talk from the White House.

Debra Sweet noted, "We need a national movement, we can't do this city by city. All across this nation, we have to take responsibility. And I want to do two things before Matthis or Elaine speaks. World Can't Wait is not an organization that has money or any big backers. We're just us and we decided we have to do this, we have to stop these illegitimate wars, the torture and the whole direction this society is going in."
World Can't Wait is publishing an advertisement in The New York Review of Books entitled "Crimes Are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them."

Matthis and Elaine were supposed to speak after but my feed dropped out last night. And I was hoping World Can't Wait would have the video up today but they don't. That may be due to being very busy -- the conference last night was followed by a demonstration -- or possibly due to the feed dropping out with Dahr at the start. And repeating, a large portion of the above transcript is from memory, I wasn't taking in depth notes. So consider it "rush, rush" and more of a guidepost than an actual transcript.

Dahr and Abdu Rahman (IPS via Mideast Dispatches) reported yesterday:

The assassination of Sheikh Ghazi Jabouri, a prominent Sunni Imam in the Al- Adhamiya district of Baghdad, has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence in the wake of the Mar. 7 elections.
Tensions have been reported in the area following the assassination Wednesday last week. At least two gunmen killed Sheikh Jabouri, 42, as he walked home after completing morning prayers at the Rahman Mosque.
His brother Sarmad Faisal Jabouri, like many Iraqis in Adhamiya district, blames the government. "We hold the government fully responsibility for the killing of my brother, because they are supposed to be in control of security at the entrances and exits to the area," Jabouri said.
The attack came on a morning when a high-ranking officer in Iraq's anti- terrorism police was killed by a bomb planted in his car. The attack also killed two nearby policemen.
The violence comes amidst a wave of increasing attacks across the capital, and amidst political instability in the wake of last month's elections, that have yet to yield a clear winner.

And if you doubt the reality of the above, look to the editorial boards of the papers that sold the Iraq War to begin with and note how they're either downplaying the violence or keeping their mouths completely shut. (And, point of fact, always worry more about a journalist when s/he's not talking then when they are.)

In today's New York Times, Steven Lee Myers reports:

An Iraqi security force under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's direct command held hundreds of detainees from northern Iraq in an undisclosed prison in Baghdad, torturing dozens of them, until the country's human rights minister and the United States intervened late last month, Iraqi and American officials said. Mr. Maliki ordered the prison closed and said he had been unaware it existed, according to the officials. His move brought the release of 71 detainees and the transfer of others to established prisons, but more than 200 remain in the place, on the grounds of the Old Muthanna military airfield, in northern Baghdad. All of the detainees were apparently Sunni Muslims. American diplomats visited the prison on Wednesday, the officials said, and pressed Mr. Maliki's government to investigate the circumstances of its creation and the treatment of detainees there, originally 431 in all.

This follows up on Ned Parker's "
Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Monday's Los Angeles Times print, posted at the paper's website late Sunday). Steven Lee Myers quotes the ridiculous Wijdan Mikhail Salim in his article who not only offers Nouri praise for closing the prison he oversaw but huffs, "He's doing the best he can." Really? That's his best?

In the wake of Nouri al-Maliki's claims that two big al Qaeda leaders were killed on Sunday, he continued to be chatty.
Tuesday, we noted, "BBC News notes that today Nouri claimed they'd killed Ahmed al-Obedi. That's generally the thing that trips up Nouri when he's making false claims -- they're bought and he just keeps upping the claims. Time will tell if that was the case again this time." So that was Tuesday, Nouri was claiming a third scalp on his belt. Today Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Nouri and company are claiming they are holding Manaf Abdul Raheem al-Rawi and have been dong so since March 11th who is the al Qaeda leader in Baghdad. So many leaders in Iraq? Were it true, you'd picture them in an intra-mural squabble every other week. They also claim he was responsible for some bombings last year. Londono observes, "The operations against al-Qaeda in Iraq have come at an opportune time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting to keep his job after March 7's disputed parliamentary elections." See, this is the sort of thing that trips Nouri up. He lies a little and gets away with it, then he lies a little bigger, then he continues and continues and continues. So from "We have killed two terrorist on my safety watch!" on Sunday, we've gotten another alleged high profile terrorist killed on Tuesday and today the news that they arrested another high profile terrorist. It's wonderful spin. And some people really believed Tom Cruise was saving all those lives too, right? That was laughable and Tom was then steered by Pat Kingsley. Nouri's on his own and just gets more and more creative. Marcia addressed Nouri's alleged streak of good luck last night in "He's got good karma? Him?"

Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that Iraq managed to bring in $4.351 billion last month as it exported approximately "1.841 million barrels of oil a day" which may not see the same this month. Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report a bombing on the pipeline carrying oil to Turkey: "Plumes of black smoke could be seen. The last time an explosion struck the pipeline in the north was two months ago, when it took four days to repair and resume pumping." Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that the police and North Oil Company both state it was a bombing attack. In addition, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured "the head of security for the power grid in western Iraq" and a passenger and a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people.

Now we're going to do what we should have done in yesterday's snapshot (but no room), drop back to Tuesday to note an evening hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee (of the US House Armed Services Committee) which addressed PTSD and TBI. Chair Susan Davis explained at the top of the hearing that some members of the military were being separated from the military (discharged) due to behavious related to PTSD or TBI and and, noting US House Rep Walter Jones' work on this issue, she declared, "I agree with the gentleman that it is unacceptable that the military departments were separating service members because of misconduct that was caused by a PTSD or TBI injury that occured during his or her combat tour. Now that we know so much more about the extent of those injuries in the force, we owe every returning service member the assurance that we will not punish them for an injury that resulted from combat service. The unfortunate truth is that we have very likely already separated a number of service members where the commanders did not consider that the member was experiencing the consequences of PTSD or TBI." Appearing before the Subcommittee were Dr. Charles Rice of the Defense Dept and Bill Carr also of DoD. We'll excerpt the following exchanges.

Chair Susan Davis: We're going to want to talk about the needs, the capacity of the health community within the services and the general population as well and being able to meet these requirements as well as having the numbers, really, to review a number of these cases. But I wanted to focus initially on the commanders in the field. And talk about how we're educating them and the role that they're actually playing in trying to assess the severity or the possibility that someone could be suffering with PTSD or TBI. One of the things we know is how difficult it is to diagnose and certainly in a subjective fashion to be able to get that information and yet the commander plays a pretty significant role. What are we doing and what's the status of that? How do you think we are doing in trying to move that area forward?

Bill Carr: The first is for the commanders to say "We use the term PTSD. What does it mean? How do you spot it, what does it mean in concrete terms?" If you can express it in a way that they comprehend than the likelihood of their uniting that circumstance with medical help is that much greater. The Army, the Marine Corps have active programs and training where they instruct the field in the terms. For example, up PTSD --

Chair Susan Davis: Excuse me, could you pull your mike just a little bit closer.

Bill Carr: I'm sorry. For example, with PTSD, my point before this was that commanders have guides that allow them to take a situation that presents and make some more informed and rational judgment as to whether or not the symptoms they're seeing represent PTSD and, for example, some of the instruction presents to them that if-if the person reports a disturbing memories and disturbing dreams reliving so forth, those are things we would all say, "Yes, I recognize that now as PTSD." But unless we actively say it to the chain of command, then they'll hear it and they won't understand the emotional significance of what they've just heard. So the education programs of the Army and Marine Coprs in making sure commanders know that --

Chair Susan Davis: Could you just be more specific in helping us understand? I think in the testimony there was some notion of how much time is spent but what does that look like in terms of that training?

Bill Carr: It would take the form of about one hour training. And I'm going to have to -- I'm sorry -- I will have to confer back to you -- exactly how it would play out at a unit at, let's say, Fort Bragg, what specifically did they experience? And I would be glad to provide that back. There are a number of resources on the web that are available to those who go look for them and they're easily found but I think the question from the Chair is "What do we present so that it's deliberately placed before the chain of command?" So that these terms that I've described. And I'm sorry I can't provide that now but I'll come back to it.

Chair Susan Davis: Dr. Rice? Did you want --

Dr. Charles Rice: Uh. Yes, ma'am. Madame Chair, I think it's important to emphasize that the emphasis on this comes from the very top. General [Peter] Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff os the US Army, General [James] Amos, the Assisting Commandant of the Marine Corps have talked about this over and over with their commanders. [Clears throat.] Excuse me. Once a month, for example, General Chiarelli has a conference with all of his commanders where a suicide has occured and the general officer at that particular post or station is there to report on what were the specific cirucmstances that led up to the suicide. Obviously, we don't want to be tumbling to this problem after a suicide has been completed. But I think it does bring to bear the fact that the emphasis from the Vice Chief and from the Assisting Commandant is continuous. It's important. They are very emphatic about making sure that it gets desseminated won the chain of command. I think the other -- in addition to the point that Mr. Carr made -- the other place that it's real important is the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer level because those are the people who are really in day to day contact with the troops and education in this area has been encorporated into sergeants' major course, for example. All of the Senior NCO leaders are taught about how to recognize various aspects. The details -- contents of those courses is something that, like Mr. Carr, I woud have to get back to you.

Chair Susan Davis: Okay, thank you very much. Because I think we all know how long it takes the medical professionals to be able to describe and understand and I think there's a great deal for our commanders to be doing and certainly the officers and it's difficult to even find some of the time for that. But I think that while we had a great deal of emphasis early in the last few years and we've had to focus a great deal on suicides in the unit, I think we want to be sure that we're spending enough time doing that because, in many ways, they really are the critical actor, I think, in this.

Dr. Charles Rice: Yes, ma'am, I think that's exactly right. I think that the most important thing that the commander, the Senior NCO does is to convey to a member of his unit: It's okay to go ask for help. It takes a strong person to do that.

Chair Susan Davis: Thank you. Mr. Wilson?

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: Thank you again, for both of you being here. And Mr. Carr how has DoD reached out to former military members who are administratively discharged, separated to inform them of the opportunity to request a review of their separation through the discharge review board? To date, how many members have requested such a review?

Bill Carr: The outreach was through media -- principally to ensure that it reached cities and towns -- and, uh, to date, the number's relatively low 129 Army have applied for -- to the Discharge Review Board.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And --
Bill Carr: So it was a media effort.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: A media effort. And also, I'm sure if a person is discharged, you'll send periodic -- I've seen them -- periodic newsletters to the discharged personnel and it would have been in that publication too, wouldn't it?

Bill Carr: I'm almost sure it was in those -- it was in those publications as well.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And inadvertently, one of my sons [Alan] -- who served a year in Iraq -- I kept, kept getting his mail and it was really very enlightening and very encouraging to me, how helpful the information that was provided and, of course, I would get it to him right away.

Bill Carr: Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And then they've got him at a correct address.

Bill Carr: Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: What is your plan for providing additional mental health assets required for the pre-separation exams and the discharge review boards? How many additional personnel do you anticipate needing? Additionally, I'm very grateful, I work with a volunteer organization called
Hidden Wounds of Columbia, South Carolina which is serving as a back up for discharged personnel, they are actively promoting mental health assistance. And so it's DoD, VA and then volunteer organizations. But how many more personnel do we need?

Bill Carr: For the discharge review board function, as long as the criteria are kept broad for example, we don't stipulate a grade on whether they're active or reserve and are not overly restricted in the academic disciplines, my understanding is that the manning requirements will be met for the DRBs, that that wouldn't impose any constraint on the flow of applications.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And it's encouraging for me, I went to a pancake breakfast to raise money for
Hidden Wounds and the VA had a table set up there with personnel from the VA hospital and it was a -- I could see that it was a really positive interaction between the volunteer organizations and DoD personnel and VA personnel.

US House Rep Dave Loebsack noted that he shared Wilson's concern that members of the Reserves and their families -- "especially those living in rural areas" -- and he wanted to know about the Tele-health program, how service members were made aware of it and how those whom the Tele-health determined needed face-to-face treatment were getting it?

Dr. Rice stated that the Tele-health was created with rural members in mind. The media was used to get the word out. Self-referral is available if someone requires more than is available through Tele-health or the website. But how clear is that to someone? Probably not that clear. This was a weak section and the answers weren't impressive nor were they reassuring. Loebsack stated (warned?) he would be staying on this issue and thinks it will be "a huge issue" especially for the National Guard in Iowa. He wanted to know about Guard members diagnosed with PTSD after separation? Dr. Rice stated they would be referred to VA. Carr stated that, if it were him, for the Reserve, that "I'm probably going to proceed with my physician on my own medical program". Or, they could go onto the VA and Carr trusted (so very trusting or so cleverly spinning?) that he would trust that the VA would "in short order . . . administratively determine it to be a consequence of combat" -- apparently Carr has paid little attention to either the news or the subcommittee hearings of the House Veterans Committee that US House Rep John Hall has chaired?

Related, we'll note this from Sherwood Ross' "
PENTAGON CONTINUES TO USE 'PERSONALITY DISORDER' DISCHARGES TO CHEAT VETERANS OUT OF BENEFITS" (Veterans Today):An army sergeant who had received 22 honors including a Combat Action Badge prior to being wounded in Iraq by a mortar shell was told he was faking his medical symptoms and subjected to abusive treatment until he agreed to a "personality disorder"(PD) discharge. After a doctor with the First Cavalry division wrote he was out for "secondary gain," Chuck Luther was imprisoned in a six- by eight-foot isolation chamber, ridiculed by the guards, denied regular meals and showers and kept awake by perpetual lights and blasting heavy metal music---abuses similar to the punishments inflicted on terrorist suspects by the CIA. "They told me I wasn't a real soldier, that I was a piece of crap. All I wanted was to be treated for my injuries," 12-year veteran Luther told reporter Joshua Kors of "The Nation" magazine (April 26th). "Now suddenly I'm not a soldier. I'm a prisoner, by my own people. I felt like a caged animal in that room. That's when I started to lose it." The article is called "Disposable Soldiers: How the Pentagon is Cheating Wounded Vets." Luther had been seven months into his deployment at Camp Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, when a mortal shell exploded at the base of his guard tower that knocked him down, slamming his head into the concrete. "I remember laying there in a daze, looking around, trying to figure out where I was at," he said. Luther suffered permanent hearing loss in his right ear, tinnitus, agonizing headaches behind his right eye, severe nosebleeds, and shoulder pain.

Yesterday's snapshot addressed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Wally covered it in "Scott Brown," Ava in "Burris asks, Wilson sometimes answers" and Kat in "Marco Reininger testifes to Congress."

the new york timesalissa j. rubin
the world cant waitelaine brower
dahr jamail
debra sweet
matthis chirouxcindy sheehan
dow jones newswireshassan hafidhbloomberg newskadhim ajrashnayla razzoukreutersjamal al-badrani
steven lee myersthe los angeles timesned parker
the washington posternesto londonosherwood ross

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Marco Reininger testifes to Congress

Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Post 9/11 GI Bill. That's the bill that Senator Jim Webb (and others) helped steer through to ensure that today's veterans got some real breaks when they returned the same way that happened after WWII. And that's not how it's turned out because the VA has been so damn inept.

I really think pressure should be brought on Barack to fire everyone at the VA in leadership because they've done nothing praise worthy.

The first panel was the government and, goodness, can they lie. Keith Wilson, let me set you up on a blind date. You've never met her, but she's really great. Her name? Truth.

Wilson is a big liar.

And the Committee let Wilson and the others lie and lie and waste our time. (I did not see Webb or Patty Murray at the hearing.)

And it was just awful. The first panel was given at least an hour, maybe longer to testify. The second panel? The second panel was veterans and veterans groups and it was a rush to hustle them off. They were given about 35 minutes and you get that much time if you include the lengthy sermonette that Daniel Akaka delivered at the end.

Did they not hear? Marco Reininger testifies about how the VA screwed up the checks so bad that a veteran was living on canned beans and sardines and trying to send money home to his family.

As he asked, how can you expect to learn and earn a degree while you're going through that?

He also talked about how when his check didn't arrive at the start of the fall semester, he depended on the generous nature of his landlord. That's great that he's got a landlord like that but that doesn't mean it was easy for him. We're talking about people who came back from the battle field and life's changed enough for them and they're readjusting and now you're asking them to do something that, to them, may seem like charity? That's what a lot of veterans would have felt, that they were begging their landlords for charity?

I really wish they had spent five minutes with Keith Wilson and the other government witnesses and then devoted a full hour to just Marco Reininger's testimony.

It was so much more important than the lies and the excuses the government hid behind.

He's a poli sci major, by the way, and I hope he runs for Congress one day and, when he wins, he remembers everything he and his friends were put through so that he can be sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

As he pointed out at one point, while the VA had a million and one excuses for why his checks weren't ready and expected him to wait, he was expected to pay them back for the 'advance' payments. (The emergency loans the VA forced them to take out.)

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, post-election jockeying continues and a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee better be willing to plead "the dog ate my homework" because there's really no excuse for what took place today.

Starting with veterans issues,
Les Blumenthal (News Tribune) reports:With more than one in five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unemployed, Sen. Patty Murray introduced legislation Tuesday that would provide expanded training, job placement and small business assistance to them, calling the current situation unacceptable. "It really makes you ask how this can be, how these heroes … struggle so much when they come home," said Murray, D-Wash., adding that existing programs offered by the Veterans Affairs Department and the Defense Department were inadequate.The legislation has bipartisan support. Among the co-sponsors are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin.Bi-partisan support doesn't mean a great deal to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as senators on both sides of the aisle can attest. It is a dysfunctional committee that appears repeatedly unable to address new business. Murray's legislation may fly through, however, because what does get accomplished tends to happen as a result of her. She's pretty much the acting chair and the Committee would do much better if the current chair would acknowledge the reality that, at 85-years-old, he is not up to the job of chairing a committee, certainly not one with such pressing responsibilities. The Democratic Party has shown no leadership in confronting him on this matter.

Today the Committee held one of those oh so rare blink and you miss it hearings. So rare, in fact, that Senator Jon Tester felt the need to declare to Akaka, "I want to thank you for the hearing." Chair Akaka was doing stand up -- and about as funny as Dane Cook (translation, not at all -- though Tester might disagree, he noted after Akaka's stand up was completed, "I can't top that by any means."). The hearing was on the GI Bill and Akaka declared (straight face/dead pan) that, "Since the programs began, the Committee has been actively monitoring the implementation of the new benefits." Really?
I didn't realize Stephanie Herseth Sandlin served on this committee.

Oh, wait, she doesn't. She serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and I know I've attended at least three hearings she's held in the last seven months which have addressed the payments in the GI Bill program and other details of the program. And Danny Akaka has chaired how many hearings on this? Help me out here? The answer comes back, until today: ZERO.

Akaka's got time for jokes because he's not chairing a functioning committee. Veterans were waiting for their fall semester checks, having to take out loans, risking losing their housing and Akaka couldn't hold a hearing? This was a national scanald last fall and Akaka's response was to ignore it. This is unacceptable and the fact that Democratic leadership refuses to address it (they had no problem removing Robert Byrd as the Chair of a Committee) is beginning to translate into: We don't give a damn about veterans. The veterans of America do not have time to waste because Akaka's 85-years-old and won't admit that he's barely keeping it together and that he needs to resign as chair. The veterans of American and their loved ones do not have time to waste because the Senate Democratic leadership will not impose discpline and explain to Akaka that seniority and senility share a lot of common syllables.

The hearing was composed of two panels. The first panel was the VA's Keith Wilson and Dan Osendorf as well as DoD's Robert Clark. The second panel was Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Marco Reininger and Faith DesLauriers, Robert Madden (American Legion) and William Stephens (National Association of State Approving Agencies).

The eye rolling never stops with the ineffective Committee and its government witnesses. All on the first panel were proud of themselves and full of themselves. Keith Wilson's song and dance is old -- but of course, unlike the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the Senate version was finally hearing him for the first time.

Let's drop in to Dan Osendorf's remarks. Those paying attention should be offended.

Dan Osendorf: In October 2009, VA began issuing advance payment to veterans and service members who had not received their benefits for the fall enrollment period This was done so they could focus on their academic studies and not be burdened with their financial concerns. VA notified advance payment recipients in late January and February of the reimbursment process for the advance payments. Notification explained that $750 dollars would be deducted from their monthly education payments beginning April 1st and they could make arrangements with the debt management center for a reduced withholding if $750 was causing a financial hardship. Individuals not currently enrolled in school received notification on how payment arrangements could be made to satisfy the debt. Anticipating a large number of requests for lower withholdings for the April 1 check. VMC added six telephone lines and eight operators and extended telephone service hours an additional hour to handle the increased volume. In addition, we created a form that allowed them to request a reduced withholding and could be e-mailed to DMC. This was also furnished to the VVA education websites so that they could take calls and forward the forms to us. We created special mailboxes where they could send the forms to, we could process them to. In addition, VVA added it to its website [. . .]

Wow, you worked real hard and you're such a big sweetheart to do all that. If we forget that you had to do all of that because the VA wasn't doing their damn job. No "advance" payments would have been needed had the VA distributed the fall checks in a timely manner -- and, yes, there are still some who have not received their fall checks, their fall 2009 checks. This is akin to an arsonist bragging about how s/he saved the building after setting it on fire. If the building had never been set on fire, no efforts to put out the fire would have been needed. The idea that "advance" checks were a favor? That's laughable.
So was having to sit through another slide show by Keith Wilson -- though, again, this was a first for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee since they chose to do nothing when Kimberly Hefling and AP broke the story. They chose to do nothing while parents were in danger of losing their housing. They chose to do nothing while veterans -- as late as December -- were having to take out short term loans at high interest rates to pay for Christmas for their children because they'd used every spare bit of their own money to cover the tuition that the VA was supposed to have already covered. I love how it's "advanced" checks today -- in real time, they were calling them "emergency" checks. But let's downplay that as well.

Wilson lied to through his teeth at one point and if anyone on the panel had been to college (or paid attention to their child's college) in the last two decades, they would have confronted him on it (instead Akaka quickly moved on -- well maybe one of his great grandchildren will go to college soon). Universities do not set their tuition rate as the fall semester begins. They would lose a huge number of students that way because students (and parents if parents are paying) need to know in advance what the cost is. But Wilson pinned the blame for the delays in checks on the fact that it was "crunch time" and just as the VA wants to be paying the full fall semester at the start, well at the start of the fall semester is when the universities are setting their tuition. And anyone in college in the last two decades or with children in college would have said, "Uh, explain to me then early enrollment?" This week alone,
KOMU has reported that tuition for grad school will increase this fall (2.7%) for the University of Missouri System, the Jackson Citizen Patriot editorial board just praised Michigan University's board of regents for announcing that there will be no increase in tuition (or the cost of room and board) for the fall 2010 semester (or the spring 2011). And we could go on and on. But this is set well ahead of time. We'll note the exchange in full. Please note Wilson -- as he always does -- refers to the start of the year when in fact he means the fall semester. He does that in every hearing. I have no idea why. But read the remarks in full and you'll grasp how he's claiming that the schools are submitting fall enrollment funds to the VA at the same time that the tuition rates are still up in the air. That is incorrect. There are about seven lies/errors in his testimony and, were I not so disgusted, we'd go through each one.

Chair Daniel Akaka: What one change do you believe would be most important to streamline and simplify the implement a new program?

Keith Wilson: I have to limit that to one? [Laughs at what he thinks was his own humorous remark.] The program itself is a fabulous program. Uh, and anything I would say, I wouldn't want to detract from - from the significance of this program. From-from the user perspective, from the students -- the veterans perspective what I hear a lot about is the confusion of having -- thank you [volume on his microphone had been turned up] -- more than one GI Bill program. As you're aware, the programs that we had prior to the post-9/11 GI Bill are still in existance and individuals need to make those decisions on what the best program is for them based on their unique situations. It's not always the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it's not always the Montgomery GI Bill. But that decision process causes a lot of confusion for our students and it makes it that much more cumbersome for us to administer as well. There are a lot of other issues with the payment structure uh and timing. For example, uh, paying the tuition and fees and setting the tuition and fees are at the beginning of the year. That causes us a lot of problems because the time that the states are setting the tuition rates is the same time that schools are submitting enrollment information to us and we're wanting to pay benefits. Just that crunch time that occurs in the fall with the establishments of the rates -- uh -- is very challenging.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Uh, Mr. Warren . . .

I'm not in the damn mood and the fact that the Committee was goes to their lack of leadership and, honestly, their lack of awareness. Do we have to buy them building blocks and Play Dough to explain what's what to them? This is ridiculous. US House Rep Harry Teague was calling out the problems with choosing one of the two bills -- Montgomery or Post-9/11 -- in
a hearing on October 15th and he was calling it out to whom? Keith Wilson. Yeah. And now Keefers want to act like it's a big problem.

Before the problem, when answering Teague, was "statutory requirement" -- confronted with the issue, he pushed it off as a problem Congress had created. Now, he brings it up on his own and still doesn't take responsibility. I'm going to repeat what we noted when we covered that before: The VFW -- FOR FREE -- helped veterans figure out which program was best suited for their needs. They stepped up and did that for free. That's great and many were helped by the VFW doing that; however, that's the role of the VA. The VA -- paid to do this -- didn't do their damn job and the VFW -- not an arm of the government -- came in and picked up the slack as best they could.

Congress has refused, REFUSED, to call out the VA for this. People are confused, Keith Wilson wants to say today. Well, yeah, they are and it's the VA job to clarify. I know Wilson's job would be so much easier if it weren't for those 'pesky veterans' but those veterans are why he has a job, why VA exists and its past time that they started doing that job. And veterans are aware of this. It was a friend who's an Iraq War veteran that asked me to note, last fall, that the VFW was doing this and doing it for free. And he noted he was on hold or couldn't get through with the VA over and over but there was little to no wait time with the VFW. Why is that the VA isn't held to any standards at all?

And why is it that on the House Committee you have so many who are informed and who work so very hard and will ask the tough questions but on the Senate Committee it's all grins and giggles. Let's drop back to that October 15th hearing to again note US House Rep Harry Mitchell refusing to be spun by Keith Wilson:

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?

Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.

Remember that this morning's hearing was the first time that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing. They had other things to do . . . like rest. And rest some more. Nap. Naps are good. Find some soft foods that don't require a great deal of chewing. Nap. Nap some more. And when they finally hold a hearing, they are uninformed and they are unwilling to probe.

Oh, excuse me. Akaka did ask about checks. He asked about checks that were over the amount needed and how the VA was going to ensure that this didn't happen again. That he was worried about. (As was Ranking Member Richard Burr.) A small number (about 6,000) of veterans were overpaid and the VA now has to go back and figure out who those were (that was the VA's error, by the way, not the veterans) and that was a deep concern to Akaka. All the ones whose life were turned upside down while they waited, the ones who are now being pressured to pay back the "advance" payments, those aren't a real big concern for the Committee.

Jon Tester tried to ask questions and if I were in the mood to spoon feed him, I'd go over all the lies he was told. But the automated program -- and he can check with the House committee on this -- was supposed to be no problem except for new arrivals. That means when Tester was told that there would be about a 10% reduction in the future of processing, he was lied to. The VA is again changing their timelines and their figures. That was obvious throughout the hearing. Tester had some good questions (including about rural areas) but if anyone on his staff had bothered to contact the staff of the House members of the Veterans Affairs Committee, they could have prepped him and he would have realized that agreed to targets and that happy spin that was provided over the last months just got pushed back dates. There's no excuse for this.

And if you're not grasping it or you need a walk through, we'll drop back to the
January 21st snapshot for this exchange that took place during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity where Keith Wilson and his co-horts were again Happy Talking:

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.

The automated data feeds were supposed to be in place by June 30th, reducing much of the work and speeding up the fall 2010 process. Today in the hearing, we heard otherwise; however, no senator was aware that they were hearing otherwise. Maybe if the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee had a functioning Chair and actually did some real work, they'd know these things. Instead they got played and punked in public and, yes, people at the hearing were shaking their heads over the lack of knowledge on that Committee.

Senator Scott Brown did a fine job.
Wally's going to highlight Brown at Rebecca's site tonight -- he's Rebecca's senator (and Mike's, and Trina's). Other than him and one other -- and I may be grading him on a curve since he's new but I don't think so, "how are you going to ensure that it doesn't happen again" is a question all senators should have been asking, I only heard Brown do it -- I don't offer excuses for any of them. We're talking about people's lives here and the committee members are entrusted, by the citizens of the United States, with oversight. But they didn't want to use it. It's past time for the Democratic leadership to explain to Akaka that he needs to step down and to make Patty Murray the Chair. (Or do they really want to go into the election cycle with a disfunctioning Committee and at the same time drawing attention to how few Chairs are women in the Senate?)
Who was the one other?
Ava's covering Senator Roland Burris (at Trina's site tonight). Burris actually does work. He always has. He's been an impressive senator and it's a real shame that those who never knew his work joined with the efforts to deny him the ability to run for election (he was appointed to his seat). Senator Burris knows the basics before he shows up for the hearing. (Disclosure/Reminder: I advocated for Burris to be seated after he was appointed to the Senate. I've never met him and never spoken to him.)

The second panel was very brief, roughly 35 minutes. Apparently there wasn't a great need from the Committee to hear from the people who are actually effected. At length, we'll note the following from
IVAV's Marco Reininger who served in Afghanistan as a National Guard member:

Marco Reininger: Late GI Bill checks mean no rent checks and sleepless nights. I applied for my new GI Bill benefits on May 1st, shortly after being accepted to Columbia University. I knew that living in New York City and attending a private school meant that I could not afford any delays in my benefits. When my first living allowance check was significantly late, I was incredibly worried. I did not live in university housing and had to count on the generosity of my landlord to forgive my late rent paymetns. Columbia University was also very accommodating and did not penalize student veterans for late VA checks. That wasn't the case for all student veterans. A fellow Army veteran was un-enrolled from courses shortly before his final exams because of overdue account balances. I am thankful the VA finally started issuing emergency checks in October. Without this stop-gap measure, I would have quickly gotten into severe financial distress. When I stood in line, at the local New York City VA office, for my $3,000 advance payment, many of my fellow veterans from all over the region were extremely hesitant to accept the emergency payment. They were concerned that it would come back to haunt them in the future. This engrained distrust of the VA is not unusual among my peers. I had no choice but to accept the emergency payment. I took the hand written check and a letter from the VA to my bank, so they wouldn't place a hold on the check when I deposited it. In addition to the VA checks, members of our student veterans community supported one another by lending each other cash in order to get by, avoid bad credit scores and collection agencies. I finally started receiving my GI Bill benefits in November 2010. Last fall, I was one of the lucky ones who received their GI Bill in a somewhat timely manner. Sadly, many of my friends and fellow students had to struggle to make ends meet because their GI Bill checks never arrived. A fellow Columbia veteran pal of mine just received his first check last month.
Interestingly enough the most common complaint I hear from my fellow student veterans is that they didn't know when their GI Bill checks would arrive. Student veterans can scrimp and save in a pinch, photocopying assigned readings instead of buying the textbooks or being content to eat Ramen noodles for another week instead of going out to dinner with our clasmates. We can make due, but only if we know that our GI Bill check is going to arrive on a particular day. Not knowing when it will arrive and not being able to get an answer from the VA can wreak havoc on your life. You have to plan for the worst. I know some veterans who took some drastic measures. A fellow veteran ate canned beans and sardines three meals a day for an entire semester, trying to scrape up gas money for his wife and children back home. How could he possibly thrive at school when he was consumed with the responsibility of providing for his family? The new GI Bill was meant to relieve him of that burden.
[. . .]
I recently received a letter from the VA Debt Management Center warning me that they were planning to take back the $3,000 emergency payment they loaned me in the fall. They advised me that they would be deducting $750/month from my living allowance check unless I made other arraignments. Thankfully, I was reminded by IAVA that I needed to turn in my paperwork by the April deadline, otherwise the VA would have deducted the $750 automatically from my living allowance. It wasn't the VA that told me --- it was IAVA. I emailed the VA Debt Management Center, and they set up a payment plan of $150/month, which is within my means. Other student veterans didn't have it so smoothly. Some tried to set up payment plans but still had the full $750 deducted from their living allowance check. When you are living on a tight budget, $750/month can mean the difference between focusing on studies and looking for a second job. Other veterans had their debt applied to their accounts, even though the VA owed them money.
[. . .]
Lastly, and I hope not to sound too petty, I believe the VA owes me some money. The military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates went up on January 1st, but I never saw an increase in my living allowance checks. I know the rates for Columbia's ZIP code increased slightly. So what happened? I ask because I know if I owed the VA money (which I do), they would certainly be in quite a hurry to collect (which they are). But when the VA owes me money, I can't seem to get any answers. Furthermore, in some of my veteran friends' areas the difference is quite significant, particularly when one receives less money than originally budgeted.

Kat's covering the second panel at her site tonight. Moving to Iraq, March 7th, Iraq ended voting in Parliamentary elections. The way it works, the prime minister is selected when someone has the support of at least 163 seat holders in the new Parliament. The winner of the elections was Ayad Allawi's slate which won 91 seats in the Parliament. Current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's slate won 89 seats. To reach 163, either will have to form a power-sharing coalition with other blocs. Thus far, that hasnot happened and Nouri has thrown up a large number of roadblocks including, most recently, the demand for a Baghdad recount. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reminds, "U.N. officials, who worked closely with Iraq's electoral commission, have said they found no evidence of widespread fraud." UAE's the National Newspaper editorializes today, "For Mr Allawi to become prime minister, he must overcome the perception that he is merely a proxy for Sunnis. This is something that the third place coalition -- the religious, Shiite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) -- is particularly afraid of. The Kurds might be receptive, but not without concessions on the key city of Kirkuk, where Mr Allawi prevailed. He would be seen as betraying his Sunni allies if he gave it up to the Kurds." The Watertown Daily Times notes of the Baghdad recount, "The court's ruling applied only to the Baghdad province but other challenges are pending that could expand the recount. Officials and international observers election fear delays could cause instability and violent repercussions." AP reports that the recount could begin as early as next week. Al-Masry Al-Youm adds that the recount could take two weeks. Meanwhile David Rising (AP) reports that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, is expressing the opinion that the position of prime minister would be better filled by someone either than Allawi or al-Maliki, "We are talking about a person who should be accepted on a national level. This is the most important point because the prime minister is not going to be a prime minister of his own party or his political movement, but for all of Iraq . . . On such a basis, we find it's difficult for Mr. Maliki or even Mr. Ayad Allawi to gain the needed acceptance." Translation, as noted Sunday, Ibrahim al-Jaafari still has the momentum behind him to be prime minister. In post-invasion Iraq, the country has three prime ministers. The first was al-Jaafari, followed by Allawi and then al-Maliki. Nouri was a compromise candidate selected in April of 2006 only after the US said "NO!" to al-Jaafari who was the choice of the Iraqi government. Moqtada al-Sadr followed the March 7th vote with a referendum open to all (though the press believes only al-Sadr's supporters voted) to decide whom al-Sadr's Parliament bloc should back. al-Jaafari was the winner of that poll. al-Sadr's bloc holds 40 seats in the new Parliament, a formidable number. In addition, they are part of a bloc with ISCI and al-Hakim has repeatedly sent emmisarries to meet with al-Sadr since the March 7th elections.

In an attempt to increase his favorables, Nouri (and puppets in the press) have attempted to make much out of the alleged deaths of terrorists in Iraq. Around the world, the reaction has been great skepticism.
The Ethiopian Review notes this from the centrist Brookings Institute:The announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki that the two top leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have been killed after a very long manhunt was greeted by many al Qaeda watchers with skepticism. The Iraqi government and the American military have claimed to have killed Abu Ayub al Masri, the Egyptian leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, more than once in the past. Abu Omar al Qureshyi al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda's self proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq has also been reported dead or captured several times in the last few years. At other times the U.S. military has claimed he is not a real person but an invented one, a fictional leader of a fictional state.If the claims are indeed true this time, expect al Qaeda to laud its martyrs publicly. It will be a serious but not fatal blow to al Qaeda in Iraq. The al Qaeda franchise in Iraq has been in retreat for the last four years -- ever since its founder Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed on June 7, 2006 by an American air raid. What is so astonishing is not that al Qaeda in Iraq is now in retreat, but rather how close it came in 2005 and 2006 to pushing Iraq into a civil war and defeatingthe American intervention in Iraq with very little real popular support in the country and a leadership composed largely of foreigners like Zarqawi, a Jordanian, and al Masri, an Egyptian.

Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports on the reaction of Iraqi's being "somewhat muted but there were some instances of jubilation, particularly given that the American military backed up the Iraqi government's announcement this time. But in a tongue-in-cheek posting on Wednesday the Iraqi blogger Ishtar al-Iraqiya questioned the very existence of the two leaders, writing wryly: 'Finally, Maliki and the American administration agreed to kill the legend!'" Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) adds:

Nor does it seem likely that Allawi's Iraqiya and al-Maliki's State of Law coalitions could easily put their differences aside and share power, despite the fact that al-Maliki recently said the next government should contain significant Sunni representation. Iraqiya politicians believe that al-Maliki orchestrated the move by a government de-Baathification committee to ban some 500 parliamentary candidates -- most of them Sunni and many of them members of Iraqiya -- from running in the election just a few weeks before it took place. And they have long claimed that the Prime Minister has been using a special counterterrorism unit to arrest critics and political opponents. On Monday, Iraqi human-rights officials said they discovered a secret prison run by al-Maliki's military office that contained hundreds of Sunni men who had been routinely tortured and raped by guards. It's beginning to feel like 2005 again in Baghdad.

In some of today's reported violence . . .


Reuters notes Ramadi bombings injured eight people, a Mosul roadside bombing injured two police officers, another Mosul roadside bombing injured six people, a Baquba car bombing claimed 3 lives and injured two people and three Baghdad roadside bombings left six people injured.
Shootings and beheadings?

Xinhua reports, "Five family members of local leader of Awakening Council group were killed, among them three children were beheaded, at their home in north of Baghdad on Tuesday, a local police source said." The deaths were noted in yesterday's snapshot but this additional details (including the beheadings).

Reuters notes 2 corpses were discovered in Baghdad, "The killings were worryingly reminiscent of sectarian murders at the height of the violence in 2006/07, when dozens of bodies were found each morning, but they could be related to crime."

Abdu Rahman and Dahr Jamail have an important article at Asia Times and we'll try to note it tomorrow (we will be noting Dahr tomorrow). But we're short on space, so lastly, news of a new documentary:

Journalism has faced challenges in forecasting and covering the truth behind our economic calamity. There was a media failure alongside the financial failure. There were some economists and columnists who did see the handwriting on the wall, among them
Danny Schechter, the former ABC and CNN producer and leading independent filmmaker. His 2006 film IN DEBT WE TRUST exposed subprime lending and forecast a credit collapse. He is back with a new feature length documentary, PLUNDER: THE CRIME OF OUR TIME, as well as a companion book, calling the financial crisis what it is: A Crime Story… and the word is getting out. Rupert Murdoch's The Wall Street Journal, who you might expect would dismiss this contention, has given Schechter serious attention in the paper and on its respected Deal blog: YOU CAN ORDER THE FILM HERE.

the news tribuneles blumenthalthe national newspaperthe watertown daily timesthe associated pressdavid risingthe ehtiopian review
the washington posternesto londono
the new york timessam dagher
danny schechter