Friday, July 29, 2011

A very bad year for music

Robert Stevens (WSWS) has a wonderful look back at Amy Winehouse who died last Saturday:

Citing these influences in later years, Winehouse spoke of her love for many artists, including Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, James Moody, Carole King and Minnie Ripperton.

Her first album, Frank, was released in 2003. The title alludes to an attempt to portray her life and loves to that point. It was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, going on to sell two million copies, including more than 300,000 copies in the United States. Winehouse wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 songs on the album and won an Ivor Novello Award.

The majority of the songs have an appealing edginess, with lyrics that capture the ebb and flow of her relationships, such as “Put It In The Box”. Others comment on the obsession with the banal lifestyle of “celebrities” and the music industry. A standout is her rendition of the jazz standard, “There Is No Greater Love”. The album also includes a cover of James Moody’s, “Moody’s Mood For Love”, with a dub reggae rhythm.

In October 2006 she released her second album, Back to Black, which propelled her to global fame. In 2007 it was the number one selling album in the United Kingdom, with 1.5 million copies sold. A “deluxe” edition was released later and by June 2008, the two albums combined had spent a total of 90 weeks in the UK charts. In the US, 2.3 million copies are estimated to have been sold. The album had sold a reported 11 million copies by September 2008.

Back to Black is darker in content than Frank and portrays sadder experiences, including failed relationships. One reviewer commented, “Winehouse is sincere: this particular marriage of words and music mirrors the bittersweet dichotomy that sometimes frames real relationships”.

The album won numerous awards. It is notable for its soulful and rich sound, with the production by Mark Ronson giving a platform to Winehouse’s stirring contralto voice, piercing lyrics and memorable melodies. The title track, written by Winehouse and Ronson, includes the heartfelt chorus, “We only said goodbye with words/I died a hundred times/You go back to her/And I go back to black”. It is sung with a genuine anguish.

If I was writing the year in review today, it would be all about the British for the most part because that's where the only life has been for most of the year. Amy Winehouse's death still makes me sad. But it too underscores that the only depth and feeling is coming from across the Atlantic.

Stevie Nicks released a great album this year, her finest ever, and that's great and wonderful and full of life but she's one artist. I'm having a really hard time thinking of anyone but her or Death Cab For Cutie that raised the mark here in America this year.

Tuesday the Brits had another claim to fame with regards to a new release. It's their year. And that's great for them and I applaud them and plan to try to do a review this weekend praising the album in question. But that doesn't change the fact that on this side of the Atlantic, it's been a very bad year for music thus far.

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

Friday, July 29, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, tensions continue to rise between Iraq and Iran, is Iraq being run by an Iranian general?, protests take place in Baghdad, Tony Blair continues to think he has something to say, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War, yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war. Flashpoints Radio airs live on KPFA from 5:00 to 6:00 pm PST, Monday through Friday. Kevin Pina noted, "Today it was announced that the former Minister of the Interior of the Libyan government, Abdul Fatah Younis, who is now serving as the chief of staff of the rebels -- that's right, he had defected from the Libyan government to then become chief of staff of the so-called Transitional Council of the rebels in Libya hs been killed." On Tuesday's show Mahdi Nazemroaya had noted there were rumors Younis was near Tripoli and in the western mountains.
Kevin Pina: And we turn our attention once again to the ground in Libya where a NATO bombing campaign continues. There has also been a lot of talk that the dealine for Muammar Gaddafi to step down has passed there is even the introduction of the concept or trial balloon of landing ground troops in order to solve the 'crisis.' We also know that the United States has accelerated and sort of shown its hand as the force behind the rebels in Libya also known as the Transitional Council. Now joining us on the ground in Tripoli, Libya to talk about all of this more is our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya Mahdi is also a research assistant at the Centre for Research on Globalization based in Montreal, Canada. Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Thanks for having me, Kevin.
Kevin Pina: So lets talk about the first thing, let's talk about the fact that now we're hearing that the bombing campaign is continuing, we're hearing that there's a possibility that there might even be ground troops landing in Libya.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Well if there are ground troops, like I said, they'd have to be fools. Everybody is armed, all the territories that are under the control and jurisdiciton of the Libyan government, people are armed there and they are more than willing to fight for their home land. So they will see this as a colonial invasion and it would only bring more blood. And it would be so far from a 'humanitarian intervention' and 'no fly zone.' The only way I could see them doing that is if they tried to say that the so-called Transitional Council which they've recognized as the legitimate government of Libya now -- I'd like to point out that this is an unelected and secretive and corrupt body. And the only way I could see them trying to invade is by saying they've gotten permission from the government in Benghazi [Transitional Council]. But I cannot see that happening. I can only see them going to certain strategic areas and I don't think the US wants to be seen in another war that's going to end like the quagmire in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Kevin Pina: And that's the voice of Mahdi Nazemroaya, our special correspondent, coming to us direct from Tripoli, Libya. Mahdi, again, is also a research assistant at the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, Canada. Mahdi, I also understand that there was a high level, former Gaddafi official, a member of the Libyan government that had actually defected over to the rebel side who now, it's being announced, has actually been killed.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes. I'm at the Swiss al Nasr which was formerly the Rixos al Nasr, so sometimes you'll catch me calling it the Rixos because the name change was very recent. This is where the foreign media center is and right now the international press is gathering for a press conference and there's been a lot of hustle and bustle here about the topic. Abdul Fatah Younis has been declared dead. The circumstances around it exactly aren't known. We'll know at the press conference. And CNN will be present, BBC, Sky News, as well as various international news services.
Kevin Pina: Well Mahdi, explain to us who this man was and why it's so important. And obviously this is a breaking news story, you're breaking news on Flashpoints that this man was confirmed dead.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Well this man was the former Interior Ministry of the government in Triopoli. He's a longtime friend of Col Gaddafi as well and he's also a member of the group of young Arab officers who started the revolution with Col Gaddafi. So it was actually a big surprise when he defected and joined the Transitional Council in Benghazi. Now his death, as I mentioned, the circumstances around it aren't known. I've heard different things I'm going to have to confirm. I was told that the rebel forces, the so-called rebels, have claimed that they killed him themselves because he was about to defect --
Kevin Pina: Defect back?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes. He was going to do a second defection. Because a lot of the rebels are also tired of the fighting and I've heard that there might have even been negotiations for them to end the fighting and to come back. But anyways, I've also heard that he probably could have been killed by the government side. So this is not clear and it has to be confirmed.
Staying with that topic, Ivan Watson (CNN -- link has text and video) reports: on the death and this is included in the text report:
[Marina] Ottaway, the Carnegie Endowment scholar, said the killing raises questions about the rebel council.
"It's clear there are divisions" within the Transitional National Council, she said. "There are suspicions of some of the people who went from being close allies (of Gadhafi), as Younis was, to joining" the rebels.
The motives of those who switched sides have been questioned by people who weren't sure whether they had truly made the transition or were just pretending to have changed. There has been speculation, she said, that Younis might have been dealing somehow with Gadhafi.
"The main point perhaps is that the unity at the Transitional National Council is tenuous at best. This is a strange coalition at best," she said. "They are very aware of the fact that they are not an organization that represents the entire country."
Today Terry Gross flaunts her stupidity and her smutty by re-airing one of her stupidest interviews ever -- one of the reasons Fresh Air was pulled from several radio stations last year -- with a "dominatrix." No one needs that s**t on the public airwaves, do you understand? There's enough going on in the world that NPR doesn't need to work the blue room. Terry goes there repeatedly. And it was her laughing (and playing) her 'comedian' friend using the word fa**ot over and over on her sho last year that was the last straw for some stations. Please note, that "comedian" went public weeks ago saying Tracy Morgan's homophobic rant as funny and fine. Of course he did. He's a homophobe himself. Terry Gross awful show needs to be pulled. The woman's an idiot, ill-informed and plays to the lowest common denominator repeatedly. She's also a little War Hawk as anyone who followed her coverage should be aware (including the way Ehren Watada was covered -- and if Terry's so wise how come she and her guests were SO WRONG about what would happen to Ehren?). In 2010, as Ann, Ava and I documented at Third, only 18.546% of Terry's guests were women. Yet another reason her tired ass needs to be retired. But it was yesterday's show with CJ Chivers of the New York Times and Transitional Council that we're noting right now. Chivers is in bed with the so-called rebels. No, the paper didn't do that in Iraq. From the interview.
Mr. CHIVERS: I don't know exactly what the air power is up in the air. I've been trying to get it at that. And the governments that are involved, when they sign on for NATO, some of them seem to get sort of nondisclosure agreements with NATO. So I don't really know. I'd rather - they also almost bombed me one day...
GROSS: Oh, my G**. Really?
[. . .]
Mr. CHIVERS: Well, we later approached - I mean it was one of those situations. We came back and, you know, I was suffering from some headaches and having trouble hearing. And so we came back and I, you know, I called the paper and let them know very briefly what had happened - told them I was fine. And then we started to ask a few questions. Because, you know, it struck me as unusual that they would bomb something that was very blown up. They would bomb something that was, in this case, behind rebel lines.
Oh, you poor baby. How awful for you, the American, visiting someone else's country and free to leave anytime you want. to experience what so many Libyans are going through right now as a result of that war. [We censored Terry's use of a religious deity's name in vain because we don't allow that here out of respect for all religions and those people who are religious.] I'm also confused as to why we need a history of Libya from CJ Chivers. Meaning whatever did or did not happen years and years ago. Is that supposed to be "perspective"? If so the biggest perspective and the only one that matters right no is that Barack said this would be a few weeks and it has been months, that Libya is an established and recognized government, that the CIA has backed the so-called rebels and that this is part of the AFRICOM dream. Don't expect CJ Chivers to ever put that in perspective while working for the New York Times or to acknowledge that his little scare is the sort of thing Libyan children are living with every damn day in and near Tripoli and for no legal reason at all.
Staying with NPR. today on The Diane Rehm Show's second hour, guest host Susan Page (USA Today) and panelists, Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers), Joby Warrick (Washington Post) and Jill Dougherty (CNN) discussed Iraq.
Susan Page: In Iraq, there's been another bomb blast targeting police this time in Tikrit. Do we see a pattern emerging, Jill? What's happening in Iraq?

Jill Dougherty: Well, Iraq, I guess you'd have to say the big thing is when do the Americans pull out? I mean, we know, according to the Status of Forces Agreement, that they're supposed to be out, the troops must leave Iraq by the end of this year, December 31st. But you do have some movement now among the Iraqis and certainly the U.S. would be open to that to keep the U.S. as trainers for a longer period. But, you know, with the mood about the war, it seems, you know, in both countries, it could be a problem to try to continue them. And so if, let's say, Afghanistan and Iraq, if the local military cannot take care of the security situation, then things can fall apart. It's a real dilemma.

Susan Page: And, in fact, these -- the bombing came just hours after the Iraqi prime minister was talking on the phone to Vice President Biden about the withdrawal of U.S. troops. What is the issue there? We need Iraqis to make some decisions, Nancy?

Nancy A. Youssef: Well, the real issue is that no Iraqi wants to come out publicly and say he asked for the occupation forces to stay on, however beneficial they may be to Iraqi security. And so al-Maliki came out and said the parliament must vote on this.

Susan Page: So that's a way for him to say I'm not asking, let's have the parliament?

Nancy A. Youssef: Yes, I mean, let's -- Really there's a game of chicken going on where the Iraqis are trying to see how close they can get to not asking and having the Americans still stay. And so we heard from Hoshyar Zebari this week who is the foreign minister. He said something quite interesting. He said, well, maybe we could work out a deal defense ministry to defense ministry. And so I went to the Pentagon and I said, would that be acceptable or do you have to have parliamentary support? And there's a debate going on right now about that and my sense is that no, they'd have to have the backing of the parliament. Because remember, the parliament is the one who approved the Status of Forces Agreement that allows us to stay until the end of 2011. And so what the Iraqis are looking for is the least they have to do to get the Americans to stay without having the onus of going to the public and saying, I asked for the forces to stay.

Susan Page: But do we want to be asked to stay? Or would we prefer to be able to go?

Joby Warrick: Yeah. It's there is a push within the administration to try to get some residual force there beyond the end of 2011 because of the regional concerns, because of Iran and all the things that it's doing in the region. We'd like to have a counter-balance to that. And -- but again, we have to be asked and now this, the whole negotiation process appears to be frozen. There's no movement in sight and if we are going to leave at the end of 2011, there's a lot of logistical things involved in that and we have to start moving now.

Nancy A. Youssef: You know, Jill talked about the cost of this and the financial pressures essentially to bring down war costs. The Congressional Research Service released a study earlier this year and they found that with fewer troops, it actually costs more per trooper in Iraq. In 2006 and 2007 at the height of the violence, it cost about $500,000 per trooper and that is the logistics, the equipment and getting that trooper there. We're now in 2010 and it was at $800,000 and so there is a cost factor in this. It is actually more expensive per soldier to keep them in Iraq even if there are fewer of them.

Susan Page: President Obama campaigned as a candidate on a promise to get the U.S. forces out of Iraq. So Jill, what if he fulfils that promise? We see troops coming out and the situation there really deteriorates. Does that mean we would go back in or do we just leave the Iraqis to themselves?

Jill Dougherty: I shudder to think what they would do. I'm not quite sure because, you know, you have legal issues governing the relationship between the two countries. You have the financial realities in the United States budget, which -- It's a perfect day to be talking about that. You have the American public, I think the last I looked, 30 percent support the war or the conflict. So it would be very, very hard to begin that over again.

Nancy A. Youssef: And also I think the question becomes what could the U.S. do to mitigate whatever emerges in that period because you're starting to see Iraqis sort of positioning themselves for the post-U.S. period and so the relevancy, the impact of the United States diminishes with every brigade that the United States pulls out. So if you keep 10,000, which is the number we hear tossed around at the Pentagon, what real impact could they have to stopping whatever the momentum ends up being in Iraq post 2011?
The Los Angeles Times reports that unnamed U.S. officials say the White House is prepared to keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops around Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. That would be on top of the nearly 50,000 Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force personnel the Pentagon reports deploying "around Iraq" as of March 31 of this year.
The Pentagon is putting "multiple plans" in place to support U.S. troop operations in Iraq in 2012, Alan Estevez, the Pentagon's nominee to lead its logistics and materiel readiness office, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing July 19. As contracts expire on food services, fuel, and logistics support, he said, the Department of Defense can almost immediately turn "the volume on [them] back up."
The U.S. embassy, which opened on new grounds in January 2009, is by far the largest in the world -- about the size of 80 football fields and 10 times bigger than any other U.S. embassy.
Saturday was to be the meet-up of political blocs at Jalal Talabani's home to discuss a number of issues including whether or not to extend the presence of US troops. , Ahmad al-Rubaye (AFP) reports that meeting has been axed. (Jane Arraf noted yesterday that people were saying the meeting wouldn't take place.) al-Rubaye explains Ali Mussawi delivered the news that the meeting was off: "He said the talks were postponed because President Jalal Talabani, who was to lead them, had to visit the northern city of Arbil to attend condolence ceremonies for the mother of Massud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. She died on Wednesday." And as the White House pushes for an extension, there is silence. Dennis "DJ" Mikolay (Populist Approach) observes:
Apparently, despite the current president's tenacity for waging war, the once thriving anti-war left is uninterested in opposing him. Why? Were the peace-seeking activists of the past decade motivated more by a hatred of George W. Bush than they were a love of human life? Perhaps they believe that, unlike his predecessor's wars, the current president's are somehow morally justified?
Whatever the case, opposition to American interventionism seems to have gone the way of the Furby or the Pet Rock, meaning President Obama can wage as many wars as he likes with minimal criticism. That is a truly frightening realization. Who will the United States wage war with next? Iran and Syria seem likely contenders for that dubious honor.
One must wonder how much blood must be shed before the American public demands a revamping of the "War on Terror?" How many Americans have to die before voters turn their backs on both the neo-conservative Republican and Progressive Democratic war machines?
Given the neutralization of anti-war sentiment in the United States, coupled with the lack of viable Republican presidential contenders, the probability that the United States will remain engulfed in war until at least 2016 is becoming increasingly likely. The sad moral of this entire affair, however, is that by casting their ballots for a pro-war candidate the American public got exactly what they asked for. And they don't even seem to realize it.

Al Mada has an interesting story
on a statement released by Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi. In the statement, Allawi's stating that the problems (Political Stalemate II) are not between Iraqiya and Nouri's State of Law but "our real problem" results from agreeing to a move that left them in a lesser position (Iraqiya won the March 2010 elections) and accepting tokens instead of real partnership. He notes the Erbil Agreement was not implemented. (He is correct. The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I -- the nine months after the March 2010 elections -- and when Nouri trashed the agreement, Political Stalemate II began.) Al Mada also reports that six deputies withdrew from Iraqiya yesterday for a number of reasons but chief among them the fact that they did not support Salman Jumaili as president of Iraqiya's bloc in Parliament. The paper also reveals that yesterday's efforts by State of Law to attack the Electoral Commission with a no-confidence vote found only 94 of the 245 MPs present voting in favor of the proposal.
Turning to Iraq and its neighbors, today AFP reports a 10-year-old boy was killed in Iraq by the shelling from Iranian forces. Haj Omran's mayor Maghdid Aref Ahmed explains, "Mohammed Antar Zerrar, who is 10 years old, was killed on Thursday evening at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) by Iranian shelling of the village of Battas." Iran's Fars News Agency reports, "Iran's Police Chief Brigadier General Esmayeel Ahmadi Moqaddam announced that the country's law enforcement forces have adopted tight security measures along Iran's Northeastern borders with Turkey and Iraq to confront insecurities and terrorist groups in border areas." In addition, Reuters notes a border clash between the Iranian military and PJAK resulted in the death of 1 shepherd.
Iran maintains that the military action is to defend itself from Kurdish rebels PJAK. Protests have taken place in Iraq over Iran's attacks. This week Foriegn Minister Zebari called out the attacks but it was a meaningless statement. Zebari doesn't run the country. Nouri al-Maliki has not condemned the attacks publicly. In addition to Nouri being prime minister and tight ith the Iranian government, there's the fact that Zebari is a Kurd and the Iranian government has shon no respect for them via the treatment of the Kurds in Iran and also their treatment of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani when he visited the country which Talabani's office found so dimissive and insulting that they publicly aired their complaint. Zebari and a host of others can decry the attacks but Nouri's the only person the Iranian government might listen to. Meanwhile Iraqis watch the attacks and remember their past with Iran (the Guardian provides a timeline here) and remember that whatever they think of the Camp Ashraf residents, Iraqis have not been calling for their forced expulsion, the government of Iran has. It feeds into further distrust of Nouri and his government. Ahmad Farhardpour (Kurdish Aspect) offers:
Iraqi Kurdistan border regions have come under intermittent ground and aerial assaults by neighboring powerful countries. These threats further escalated in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. At present, Islamic Republic of Iran has resumed such confrontational attacks once again, killing scores of innocent civilians. The international community is observing, but not reacting to it. Iranian perpetuation of crimes should not go unnoticed.
To pacify public rage, Kurdish leaders and representatives dismiss their part of answerability by maintaining that there are accords and protocols in effect that constitutionally hinder Kurdish Regional Government from taking unilateral actions to defuse any menace confronting Kurdistan, apparently leaving them with the only alternative to hinge on the leniency of the incumbents in federal government in Baghdad to rush to their aid. Whether it is Kurdish Regional Government's fragility or limitations, in either case, it does not resolve the setback.
If Kurdistan is part of a federalist, democratic and pluralistic Iraq as claimed by KRG officials, then so should the burden of security provision and preservation of its territorial integrity remain those of the federal government? Iraqi citizens would like to know what has been rendered so far by their so-called federal government as regards protecting them. If the federal government is unwilling or pathetic to guard them, then who is? Has not yet the Iraqi Army or Kurdish Regional Government Army been effectively trained and empowered adequately to cope with foreign threats after elongated 8 years? And if not, where and how have all the allocated funds been expended. How long more time and what other means do they require achieving their goals.

Meanwhile Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports on rumors that Iranian military officer Qassem Suleimani is calling the shots in Iraq adding, "In Baghdad, no other name invokes the same sort of reaction among the nation's power base -- discomfort, uncertainty and fear." True or not, while it's NO reason for the US military to stay in Iraq, just the talk of it adds to more discomfort for Nouri as Iraqis have yet another reason to distrust him. His biggest problem, which he fails to grasp, is that the Iraqi people do not feel he even attempts to serve their needs or interests. This appears to be illustrated by the fact that, all these years later, they still don't have basic services and they still don't have jobs. When you add in what Chulov is reporting, true or false doesn't matter, it feeds into the pre-existing image of the way Nouri 'runs' (ruins) Iraq.
It's why the protests take place each Firday. Today? Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweeted:
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The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "Our Correspondent in Tahrir Square: A journalist in Tahrir catches the officer responsible for the infiltrators and photographs him giving them orders which led to an attempt to kidnap the journalist that failed, but they broke his camera, dragged him some distance and tore up his clothes." And they report, "Our Correspondent in Tahrir Square:The Young Rebels in Tahrir help the jounalist to escape from the infiltrators and stop the attempted kidnapping."
Turning to Iraq and another neighbor, Al Sabaah reports that Iraq and Syria concluded their eight meeting yesterday and came up with a cooperation agreement between the two countries. A statement by Iraq's Minister of Trade, Khairul Hassan Babiker praises the agreement as good for both sides. Syria borders Iraq and, throughout the Iraq War, has been a place many Iraqis attempting to escape violence have gone to. Recently, Syria has had its own turmoil and many media outlets have wrongly reported that a major exodus from Syria back to Iraq was taking place. When these claims proved false, they switched to 'reports' that it was going to happen, about to happen, give it time. That's actually not reporting and you'd think, for example, that someone at NPR would hear that report and ask how the hell it made it on air? Today Tim Arango (New York Times) provided reality explaining that the few Iraqis that have returned from Syria do not outnumber the amount of Iraqis continuing -- even no -- to go to Syria. He speaks with Iraqis visiting Iraq and no returning to Syria who, even ith the current problems in Syria, portray a better life there than in Iraq such as barber Ali Mohammed who notes that, "You can relax there. You don't need to worry about electricity, the heat."
In news of violence, Reuters notes 1 Sahwa and 1 police officer were killed in Baquba by unknon assailants, a Baghdad car bombing injured three people, a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured two police officers, 1 corpse as discovered in Kirkuk ("gunshot wounds") and, dropping back to Thursday night, a Mosul sticky bombing claimed 1 life and 1 person was shot dead in Mosul.
Turning to the British War Hawk Tony Blair who felt he had some 'authority' with which to address people, he was in New Zealand this week and the New Zealand Press Association reports that there was a citizen-led effort to arrest him but the "heavy police presence kept protesters out of Eden Park" allowing Tony Blair to continue to present himself as the victim of the Iraq War by responding to a question about doing anything differently with the comment that he wished that back then he'd had know that replacing Saddam Hussein would require a "long struggle."

Tony never regrets the loss of life, of course. TVNZ quotes him stating, "You can't govern by protest . . . you've got to do what you think is right." So lying was right? Attempting to scare the British people with the claim that Iraq could attack England in a matter of minutes was the right thing to do?

Earlier this week, Chris Greenwood (Daily Mail) reported that for Tony Blair's two days of appearaning before the Iraq Inquiry, British tax payers had to fork over five-hundred-thousand pounds to cover his security. That's a good thing. 3 News reports that his New Zealand appearance required the hiring of extra security as well. Tony Blair goes to events like the one in New Zealand because he's paid big money. If it requires big money to keep the protesters away, someone's got to pay that. It's not going to be Tony. He's too damn cheap. So if tax payers in New Zealand or the organizing body gets the bill, maybe Tony won't be invited back. And maybe at some point the War Hawk will be hemmed in and unable to travel freely? He belongs in prison for his War Crimes but if that's not possible, life can at least be made uncomfortable for him. And should be. He's now moved on to Brisbane where the Brisbane Times reports he declared there's a "confidence crisis" in the West. Why not? Didn't he lie to start an illegal war? Didn't the UN reward him for that lie by making him the Middle East Envoy when he belongs behind bars? A liar is probably the last one to lament a crisis of confidence. The paper notes, "Before he spoke, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre to exercise their right to free speech. Activists waved placards and chanted slogans, accusing Mr Blair of genocide for supporting the Iraq war." Brian Jones (Iraq Inquiry Digest) notes:
From declassified documents released in May, it has become clear that, in early 2002, Tony Blair's overriding wish was to use Iraq as the next step in the application of the political philosophy of "liberal intervention" to which he had become wedded in his first term of office. This was made plain in a minute from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, and Sir David Manning, his foreign policy adviser, in March 2002, shortly before Blair's visit to Crawford. The Crawford summit, for which Blair appears to have been thoroughly and accurately briefed, is thought by many to have been the meeting at which Blair pledged his determination to provide British military support for an invasion of Iraq.
In the minute to his closest confidants, the prime minister does not cite any need to tackle the "threat" of Saddam's putative WMD stockpiles or to support US action for wider political or security reasons. The former is not surprising because he had been repeatedly advised that intelligence on Iraq's WMD would not justify the military action he seemed to anticipate. He also appears to acknowledge that Iraq "hasn't any direct bearing on [UK] national interest".
In a speech in Chicago in April 1999, at a time when he believed he needed to persuade a reluctant President Clinton to take more direct military action in the Balkans, Blair had argued for a "political philosophy that does care about other nations". It advocated that, in a post cold war environment free of threats to national security, the west could afford to do this. For example, where appropriate they could pursue military action to achieve regime change in order to free oppressed people from unscrupulous dictators, eliminate regional dangers and restore stability.
Even in his March 2002 minute to his closest aides Blair feels the need to rehearse the case for "liberal intervention" in Iraq by reference to his successes in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone and appears to suggest it was right to be "gung-ho on Saddam". By defining things in this way he tacitly acknowledges that he did not consider as particularly serious, any current or possible future threat from Iraq and its WMD, or the consequence of an increased threat from terrorists such as al Qaida that might arise in the future or directly as a consequence of any such action. Indeed he said his greatest fear was about oil prices because: "Higher petrol prices really might put the public off."
None of this should surprise us since Blair has latterly made no secret of the fact that he was always much more than a compliant supporter of George Bush in pursuit of the policy on Iraq. It puts a little more flesh on the bones of the implication inherent in his admission to Fern Britton in 2009 that if he had known before the Iraq war that Saddam had no WMD he would have found another way to persuade people the invasion was appropriate.
All this is very strong, if not conclusive, evidence that the WMD "threat" was deliberately exaggerated as immediate (or current) to boost public, political and international support for military action because neither humanitarian considerations nor a potential future WMD threat from Iraq or terrorists would have been enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lady Gaga

Hiram Lee (WSWS) weighs in on Lady Gaga:

A self-described performance artist, Lady Gaga seeks to shock and titillate. But how shocking is any of this really? Both the acclaim the singer has received as well as the attempt by the media to drum up controversy around her are out of proportion to her actual talents and the actual “shock,” or lack thereof, in the content of her music. Behind the eccentric costumes, one sees, especially on her latest album, a great deal of conventional thinking and musical ideas that exhausted themselves decades ago.

There is something stale and calculated about Lady Gaga. Spontaneity and surprise are generally absent in her work. The costuming, the fake blood, the constant and nostalgic reference to other artists’ music can only get her so far, and the superficiality of thinking and feeling evident in her songs is more pronounced than ever with Born This Way.

Something of a caricature of contemporary dance music, virtually every song on Gaga’s new album is built around a pounding metronome of a beat with little if any rhythmic variation or inventiveness. Such tedious productions tend to numb listeners rather than enliven or engage them. The guitar and synthesizers are set to the expected tone for the genre and play their standard role. It is, at every turn, what one would expect.

“I’m beautiful in my way,” sings Lady Gaga on “Born This Way,” “cause God makes no mistakes.” The religious theme continues: “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,” she sings, “cause He made you perfect, babe.” “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen,” goes the refrain. Conceived partly as a response to anti-gay bigotry, the first single from Born This Way is an anthem of self-empowerment. “We are all born superstars,” she sings.

Some of the narrow mindedness and naïveté of identity politics is expressed in the song. While Gaga’s opposition to anti-gay bigotry may be heartfelt, including her desire to comfort those who have been hurt by it, the encouragement of gay, racial or national pride is of no help. Not a reinforcement, but a destruction and crossing over of all such boundaries is desperately needed at present, including if one wishes to combat anti-gay prejudice.

I don't agree with his take on Lady Gaga but I do enjoy the piece which is well written, demonstrates serious thought and has many new riffs in it.

Where do I stand on Gaga? I think the American landscape right now is pitiful on the music scene and that any life in it really is coming from Lady Gaga. I'm not her core audience and really have no use for dance music. But I do appreciate her work and the art involved in it. I have no problem at all applying the term "artist" to Lady Gaga.

A number of you wrote to ask if I was "ripped apart" for my post last night? No. I got no e-mails griping or complaining.

Why would I?

My position is not unpopular or strange.

I believe the United States is supposed to believe we are all created equal. I believe that if the US government slashes the safety net that you don't come whining to me about "The veterans! The veterans!" I'm sorry. If the elderly end up without Social Security and Medicare (or with forms of it that are so weakened they don't do a damn thing), then everything better take hits.

Again, my position isn't unpopular.

We will all one day be elderly. We will not all be in the military.

Which position do you really think would win in a vote?

And before someone wonders if I'm worried about my Social Security, no. I actually can survive without it. I hope I don't have to. I hope the system is there for all future generations. But I am really lucky. In 2006, C.I. asked me for a couple of thousand. I thought, "Oh, for expenses." And I forked it over with no outrage because C.I. pays for everything on the road. If we're in a hotel, C.I.'s paying for it. The plane trips? C.I.'s paying for it. The rental cars and taxis? Ditto.

So a few months later, she says to me, (this is a paraphrase), "Okay, you've got $15,000 and I would recommend you diversify."

I'm all, "What the hell are you talking about? $15,000?"

She invested my $3,000 (and turned it into $15,000 -- C.I.'s golden when it comes to investments, Wally does the buy and sell for her now and he'll tell you he can't figure it out, she'll have a dream and mention it at breakfast on the road and say, "I think it means . . ." and say sell this and buy that and she's amazingly right).

Why did she do that?

Because I had been complaining about my Social Security payments. I am self-employed and have always been free lance. And so I'm responsible for my Social Security payments. (The FICA stuff on your pay check -- if you're not self-employed, your employers does it for you.) And I was so proud about how I'd done it all these years but I got one of those statements and couldn't believe how small my projected monthly payment was.

I had forgotten about that. I griped and griped and griped and griped. I know for one full week on the road but it was probably two weeks. And at some point, C.I. said if I ever wanted to risk it, she would do some investing for me. And I said sure.

And then I went off and did a big money photo shoot (wedding photos are the easiest and the biggest money makers). I had mentioned that to her before hand, and after, when I got back, she asked me if I was able to save any of it. And I was. And that's when she said she needed $3000. Again, I assumed it was for my 'tab.' And was more than fine with paying it. But I've still never had to and that $15,000 has grown and grown over the last five years. I'm very diversified so if one thing goes under, I've got this, if that goes under, I've got something else.

I did not take the position I took for myself. I do, however, remember my grandmother that lived with us and how important that Social Security check was after my grandfather died. I take Social Security very seriously. My grandmother would have had nothing were it not for Social Security. And there are a lot of women and men just like her.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, talk of withdrawal or not withdrawal continues, Nouri's political bloc storms out of Parliament, Tirkit is slammed with bombings, a 9 to 5 moment in Iraq?, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War, yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war. Flashpoints Radio airs live on KPFA from 5:00 to 6:00 pm PST, Monday through Friday. Excerpt.
Kevin Pina: We turn our attention back to what is happening on the ground in Tripoli, Libya with our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya. Mahdi is also a research assistant with the Centre for Research on Globalization based in Montreal, Canada. Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Pina: So obviously there are a lot of developments. We hear that the United Kingdom, no big surprise there, has finally recognized the rebels in Libya. We also hear that they have expelled all of the Libyan diplomats that were representing the Libyan government from their country. Has the news hit the ground there yet?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes, it's has caused a state of shock here. I-I personally, I'm not shocked but there are a lot of people here who were shocked by it and bothered by the events in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Also at the same time as the recognition of the Transitional Council by the British government as the legitimate government of Libya and the expelling of the Libyan envoys there, the IMF has also expelled the Libyan envoy in Washington which is an illegal move. So these two things have happened. A lot of of emphasis here and a lot of focus has been on the British expelling the Libyan envoy there and the diplomatic staff there but not that much has been put on what happened with the International Money Fund in DC. I think that is also very crucial and very important for listeners to understand. This is tied to currency. It's tied to the economic agenda involving the NATO war against Libya.
Kevin Pina: Well I'm also wondering is is it possible that NATO will not back down over Ramadan? That maybe the rebels might get a couple of fatwas from a couple of mullahs to say that it's okay for them to fight a continuing jihad against the illegal government, as they'll probably term it, in Tripoli?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: That actually could be a possibility. That very well could happen. Yes, I wouldn't rule that out. In fact, I talked to some people who are worried that something is going to happen, that there's going to be a big push possibly. They are worried that there might be unexpected move involving the so-called Transitional Council and its armed forces as well as NATO against the government here and against the Libyan people so that is a strong possibility. And Abdul Fatah Younis -- who is the former Interior Minister of the regime in Tripoli, who is now the Defense Minister of the -- and one of the military officials of the Benghazi government, the Transitional Council -- is also very close to Tripoli. He's gone to the west, to the western mountains and he's been reported to be near the frontlines, so they think something might be in the works. And you are right about clerics, muftis, mullahs, sheiks, whatever you want to call them making fatwahs and saying go ahead and attack, this will not break any religious observances for the holy month of Ramadan. This has happened in the past and, in fact, in Egypt it happened, there was Fatawahs, there's been Fatawahs in the last year that are politically motivated. There are a lot of politically motivated clerics who are and subordinate to political authorities and this would not surprise me.
Kevin Pina: And you're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio and you're listening to Mahdi Nazemroaya, direct from Tripoli, Libya. Mahdi is Flashpoints' special correspondent there as well as a research assistant at the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, Canada.
As the day was starting in the US, Tikrit had already been slammed by bombings. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports there were two bombings -- a car bombing and then a suicide bomber and that 10 people died (besides bomber) and thirty were injured. Al Jazeera counts 12 dead as does Lara Jakes (AP). Jakes also counts this as "the fourth major attack" in Tikrit since the start of 2011. Al Bawaba counts 15 dead and thirty-eight injured. By the evening Muhanad Mohammed, Ghazwan Hassan, Patrick Markey and Karolina Tagaris (Reuters) were also counting 15 and quote police officer Assam Dhiyab stating, "Just a few minutes after I entered I heard a huge explosion, we ran outside to see what was happening, I saw bodies and the wounded all over the place." Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) reports, "Moments after the car bomb exploded, as a crowd gathered and ambulances and other emergency vehicles arrived, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform detonated another bomb, police said." AKI notes the bombings took place "outside a bank where soldiers and police had gathered to collect their pay." Hassan Obeidi (AFP) reports, "A witness said the state-owned bank is close to the city's wholsesale food market, which was crowded with people shopping for Ramadan that begins early next week." AGI identifies it as the Rafidain Bank. Tim Arango (New York Times) quotes farmer Majeed Mohammed who was injured in the explosions stating, "We didn't expect this to happen here, because most of the people were just ordinary citizens. Even we didn't know that this is where the Army receives their salaries." Lara Jakes (AP) explains, "Television footage of the blast showed a huge white cloud over the two-story bank, followed by thick black smoke." Yang Lina (Xinhua) adds, "The provincial authorities imposed curfew on the city until further notice, and police vehicles were seen moving across the city calling for people to stay at their homes for fear of further attacks, the source said."
The Tikrit suicide bomber isn't the only person in an Iraqi security forces uniform doing harm in Iraq. Tim Arango (New York Times) reports Kirkuk police arrested a suspected kidnapping ring and that "some of those in the ring were soldiers in the Iraqi Army and had committed crimes while in uniform" but though they ring may (or may not) have been busted, an elderly man was kidnapped in Kirkuk today "by men wearing military uniforms." In addition, Aswat al-Iraq quotes the Kirkuk Joint Coordination Center stating that "armed men, dressed in military uniform have abducted a citizen, called Adnan Khalaf Bayat, born in 1976, from al-Hajjaj district in Kirkuk. After a police force headed to the house of the abducted man, it found out that the abductors had fastened the hands of the man's family with steel bars, but the family members gave the descriptions of the abductors, that were sent for all inspection points to chase them." Hasan Obeidi (AFP) also notes that "in Baghdad's orthern Waziriyah neighbourhood, seven people were injured by a car bomb that destroyed 11 liquor store." Aswat al-Iraq reports last night an armed clash in Mosul resulted in the deaths of 2 Iraqi soldiers.
The Council on Foreign Relations' Fellow for Conflict Prevention Micah Zenko weighs in with a piece today entitled "It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Iraq: Why the United States Should Withdraw this December" (Foreign Affairs):
Yet Baghdad seems unable to make up its mind. Some political leaders privately lobby for U.S. troops to stay, but only in training and advising roles. Still, most Iraqis and many members the Iraqi parliament are weary of a continued American military presence, which is problematic since U.S. officials insist that an updated SOFA be approved by the parliament. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had requested that Baghdad's fractious political blocs decide by last Saturday whether to ask for an extension of U.S. troop presence into next year. They were unable to reach a consensus and have postponed additional negotiations on the topic "until further notice."
Still, according to anonymous U.S. officials, the White House is prepared to keep 10,000 ground troops in Iraq after the end of this year. It apparently has two reasons. The first is to prevent Iran from supplying improvised explosive devices and rockets to Shia militants in Iraq who have used such weapons to kill U.S. troops. According to U.S. officials, nine of the 15 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Iraq in June died from such attacks. The second is that somehow the mere presence of 10,000 U.S. troops will mitigate Iran's long-term influence in Iraq, which has been a proxy battlefield between Washington and Tehran for decades.
There are a few problems with this logic. For starters, it does not make sense for the United States to keep soldiers in Iraq to prevent Iranians from providing Iraqi Shias with weapons to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. As the Pentagon noted in its "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq" report last summer, "Iran will likely continue providing Shi'a proxy groups in Iraq with funding and lethal aid, calibrating support based on several factors, including Iran's assessment of U.S. Force posture during redeployment." In other words, Iran will continue its behavior as long as there are U.S. soldiers in Iraq to target, which suggests that the surest and fastest way to prevent further bloodshed is to withdraw the remaining U.S. soldiers on schedule.
Okay, for a new development (press wise), let's drop back to yesterday's snapshot for withdrawal talk:

Iraq's Foreign Minister is Hoshyar Zebari and he is in the news today with regards to withdrawal. Few appear able to figure out what he said today on the topic. Press TV puffs out its chest to insist that no US forces will be on the ground in Iraq after 2011 and that Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) emphasizes other details of today in Iraq and mentions Zebari only in passing. So what happened?
Press TV is wrong. AFP and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) get it right. AFP reports Zebari raised the issue of withdrawal and the yquote him stating, "Is there a need for trainers and experts? The answer is 'yes.' I think it is possible to reach a consensus on this. The Iraqi government alone cannot reach a decision on this issue. It needs political and national consensus; it's an issue all political leaders should back." Sinan Salaheddin explains, "Zebari and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appear to be preparing the public for some type of American military presence in Iraq past 2011, but have been trying to paint it as a training force as opposed to combat units."

A few e-mailed that the video at Press TV wasn't working. (The story had a video if you clinked on the link. I didn't say "link has text and video" because the video wasn't working.) New development: It is working now and the video report contradicts the written report. It also contradicts itself. In the video, we're told that extending the presence of the US military it's not just getting the approval of Parliament and three presidencies (they mean the president and two vice presidents) "and if it happens the extension would not be longer than two or three years." So it's not just that. Hmm. Well what does it involve? The reporter informs later in the segment, "The government cannot take such decision by its own the extension needs the approval of the Parliament, the prime minister and the president and this is not easy." Oh. Okay. So the only thing they added to the equation was . . . the Prime Minister.

Yes, that is rather ridiculous. They also fall for the claim that extending the SOFA or creating a new agreement is like setting a date for the elections and needs the same body to approve it. Nouri became prime minister in 2006. At the close of that year and at the close of 2007, he demonstrated he could extend the US military presence without the approval of anyone. (Parliament objected both times but did not punish him and by refusing to do so they've allowed this to be a power of the prime minister.) Today Lara Jakes (AP) reports Nouri posted a message to his website stating that it was up to Parliament and that he had spoken of the issue with US Vice President Joe Biden yesterday. AFP quoted a statement from Nouri's office yesterday on the phone call, "The prime minister assured Mr. Biden that in the end it is up to the parliament to decide whether the country needs American forces to stay or not after the end of this year." Alsumaria TV notes the statement from Nouri also said "he expects the leaders of Iraqi political blocs to reach an agreement in this regard during their upcoming meeting. On the other hand US vice President stressed that the USA support Iraq government in facing different challenges in the inside and the outside and stressed on the necessity of ongoing strategic relations between the two countries."

Ali Abdel Azim (Al Mada) reports on a meeting yesterday between State of Law (Nouri's political slate) and Iraqiya (Ayad Allawi's) in which both sides are stating efforts were made in anticipation of Saturday's big meet-up at Jalal Talabni's. Iraqiya's excited that the defense ministries were discussed. Dar Addustour notes that the rumor is Abdul Karim al-Samarrai, currently Minister of Science and Technology, will be nominated to be Minister of Defense. However, meet-ups don't always take place. Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweets:

jane arraf
Whether the meeting takes place this weekend or not, one thing is being extended. The United Nations Security Council notes:
The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year as it welcomed recent security improvements in the country but stressed the need for further progress on the humanitarian, human rights and political fronts.
In a resolution adopted unanimously, Council members agreed to continue the work of UNAMI for a period of 12 months, in line with the latest report of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the work of the mission.
The resolution noted that Iraq's security situation had improved "through concerted political and security efforts" and added that further advances will be made through meaningful political dialogue.
All communities in the country should be involved in the political process, refrain from statements or actions that aggravate tensions and reach "a comprehensive solution on the distribution of resources," according to the resolution.
Council members urged the Government to continue to promote human rights, including by supporting the country's Independent High Commission for Human Rights and by developing strategies to ensure that women can play a much greater decision-making role in society.
As noted earlier, State of Law is said to have played nice with Iraqiya in a meeting yesterday. They had every reason to. They needed support on a measure. Today they were set to take to Parliament in an attempt to do away with the Electoral Commission. However, Dar Addustour reported that Iraqiya decided yesterday not to vote to sack the chair of the EC or its members. What does the Electoral Commission matter? It's regularly cited as a body that can be trusted. It's independent. Nouri attempted to seize control of it a few months back but there was push back (including from the committee). In March 2010, Nouri declared himself the winner of the March 7th elections via his own polling (which he released to reporters -- some like NPR presented it as fact and did not credit where they were getting their numbers) before the votes were even counted. When the votes were counted, his State of Law came in second to Iraqiya. Even with relatives on the Commission and even with his veiled threats and explicit whining, the Electoral Commission refused to change the results enough to call State of Law a winner. Had they not been present and independent, there would have been no block on Nouri at all or even the pretense of fair elections. Before what happened today, a refresher -- Iraqiya got the most votes in the March 7th elections. Shortly after Political Stalemate I ended, a small group of Iraqiya members broke with the larger group. This smaller group is known as White Iraqiya. With that in mind, Aswat al-Iraq reports State of Law made their move in Parliament today as planned and they did not have much support. As their proposal went down in defeat what did Nouri's group do? Did you guess tantrum time? You are correct. They stomped their feet and stormed out. An unnamed MP tells Aswat al-Iraq, "The State of Law Coalition and the White al-Iraqiya Alliance have withdrawn trust from the Elections Commission" and when others did not support them, the two groups withdrew from the session.
As Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) tells Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) in 9 to 5, "Well, I'll be damned. Just look who got paid off for services rendered." Yesterday Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported 50 members of tubby tyrant Moqtada al-Sadr's encounter group won prison release despite being convicted and behind bars "for crimes including murder, kidnapping and attacks on U.S. troops." The convicted were pardoned "by President Jalal Talabani at the request of the Prime Minister Nouri Maliki" -- no doubt to allow the convicted to self-empower themselves in the cut-throat 'new' Iraq. Mini-blowhard Moqtada insisted and spat that US forces would not remain in Iraq beyond 2011 or he was going to get his Mehdi militia back together. Then he infamously did a complete turn around on the issue stating he would not reform his militia. Why? Again, "Just look who got paid off for services rendered."
The Vice President today called Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to offer condolences on the loss of President Barzani's mother, Hamayil Khan, who passed away Wednesday. The Vice President told President Barzani that he wished he could have paid his respects in person and that his thoughts and prayers are with the Barzani family at this time.
Aswat al-Iraq reports that Jalal Talabani attended the funeral today and spoke warmly of Hamayil Khan and her "important role in the Kurdish people's struggle."

Yesterday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee examined the costs of war. Kat covered it at her site last night with "Soldiers aren't gods," Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "Senator Johnny Isakson (Wally)" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "Scott Brown in the Committee spotlight ." The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Senator Patty Murray whose office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Senator Murray Chairs Hearing to Examine the Human and Financial Costs of War

Hearing shines a light on the often overlooked long-term costs that must be paid to support veterans and their families and how we must protect and plan for this lifetime of care in the current budget climate

· WATCH the hearing

· The full text of witness testimonies can be viewed here.

· Senator Murray's opening statement MP3 audio file can be found here.

· Crystal Nicely's opening testimony MP3 audio file can be found here.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing to examine the real human and financial costs of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how as a nation we need to plan to keep our promise to these veterans for the rest of their lives.

"As we all know, when our nation goes to war, it's not just the costs of fighting that war that must be accounted for. We must also

includ the cost of caring for our veterans and families long

after the fighting is over," said Senator Murray. "No matter what

fiscal crisis we face, no matter how dividied

we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, and

no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets

-- we must remember that we can't balance our budget at the

expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have

earned. Their sacrifices have been too great. They have done every-

thing that has been asked of them. They have been separated

from their families through repeat deployments. They have

sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this

selflessly and with honor to our country. And the commitment

we have to them is non-negotiable."

At the hearing, Senator Murray heard from Crystal Nicely, the wife of Marine Corporal Todd Nicely, a quadruple amputee veteran of the War in Afghanistan. Nicely described the lifetime of support her and her husband will require and about the red tape she has already faced in her daily struggle to provide Todd with the care he needs. She also discussed their continued frustration over the lack of consistent care and attention her husband has received.

The Senator also heard testimony from Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Rieckhoff outlined the high unemployment rate for new veterans and highlighted the wide range of specific skill sets they hold that translate to civilian trades. Reickhoff also called on the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work together in order to ensure returning servicemembers are able to easily transition into the American workforce.

Finally, the hearing featured the views of budget experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the RAND Corporation on the long-term costs associated with providing mental and physical health care, supporting caregivers, maintaining prosthetics, and providing benefits.

The full text of Senator Murray's opening statement follows:

"Welcome to today's hearing, where we will examine the lifetime costs of supporting our newest generation of veterans. As we all know, when our nation goes to war, it's not just the costs of

fighting that war that must be accounted for. We must also

includ the cost of caring for our veterans and families long

after the fighting is over.

"And that is particularly true today, at a time when we have more

than half-a-million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the VA health

care system -- an over 100% increase since 2008.

"This presents a big challenge - and one that we have no choice

but to step up to meet if we are going to avoid many of the same

mistakes we saw with the Vietnam generation. But it's more

than just the sheer number of new veterans that will be coming

home that poses a challenge to the VA.

"It's also the extent of their wounds -- both visible and invisible

-- and the resources it will take to provide our veterans with

quality care.

"Through the wonders of modern medicine, service members

who would have been lost in previous conflicts are coming

home to live productive and fulfilling lives. But they will need

a lifetime of care from the VA.

"Today, we will hear from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, the RAND Corporation and

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in an effort to help

us quantify and understand those costs, and to ensure that we

can meet the future needs of our veterans.

"But today's hearing is also important to better understanding

the social and economic costs borne by veterans and their

families. And today we are so fortunate to be joined by one

of those brave family members -- Crystal Nicely -- who is not

only a wife but also a caregiver to her husband, Marine Corporal

Todd Nicely.

"Todd was seriously injured by an I.E.D. in the southern

Helmand Province of Afghanistan and since that time has

come home to fight every day, focus on his recovery, and I

even heard yesterday that he has already started to drive


"I want to take a moment to say thank you so much for your

service to our country. You have shown bravery not only as

a Marine in Afghanistan, but also through the courage you have displayed during your road to recovery. I invited Crystal here

today because I think it is incredibly important that we hear

her perspective.

"The costs we have incurred for the wars in Iraq and

Afghanistan -- and will continue to incur for a very long time --

extend far beyond dollars and cents. And when I first met

Crystal last month while touring Bethesda Naval Base her story

illustrated that. Crystal is here today to talk about the human


"And that cost is not limited exclusively to the servicemembers

and veterans who have fought and fighting these wars, but it

also is felt by the families of these heroes who work tirelessly

to support their loved ones through deployments and re-

habilitation -- day in and day out. Many, like Crystal, have given

up their own jobs to become full time caregivers and advocates

for their loved ones.

"Last month, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations

Subcommittee on Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of

Staff, Admiral Mullen told me that 'without the family members

we would be nowhere in these wars.' I couldn't agree more --

and after we hear Crystal's story that will be even more clear.

"As the members of this Committee know, over the course of the

last few hearings we've examined how the veterans of today's

conflicts are faced with unique challenges that VA and DoD are

often falling short of meeting.

"We have explored mental health care gaps that need to be filled,

cutting edge prosthetics that must be maintained, a wave of new

and more complex benefit claims that are taking too long to

complete, the need to fulfill the promise of the post 9/11 GI Bill,

and the need to support veterans who are winding up out-of-work

and on the streets.

"All of these unmet challenges come with costs. Some costs

we will be able to calculate. Some will not be fully known for

decades. But today's hearings will be a reminder that in order

to meet these costs we must safeguard the direct investments

we make in veterans care and benefits, get the most value out

of every dollar we spend, and start planning today -- at a time

when critical long-term budget decisions are being made.

"As we all know, there is no question that we need to make smart decisions to tighten our belts and reduce our nation's debt and


"But no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how dividied

we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, and

no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets

-- we must remember that we can't balance our budget at the

expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have


"Their sacrifices have been too great. They have done every-

thing that has been asked of them. They have been separated

from their families through repeat deployments. They have

sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this

selflessly and with honor to our country. And the commitment

we have to them is non-negotiable.

"Not just today, but far into the future.

"Thank you all for being here today, I will now turn to Senator

Brown for his opening statement."