Friday, October 21, 2011

What do you do?

What do you do when you know you're about to screw up someone's plans?

I was there today.

C.I. was dictating the snapshot on one cell phone while juggling the other by taking calls, returning calls and making calls -- and it's really something to watch, by the way -- while other calls came in on Ava's cell phone.

"Okay, okay, I've got all I can do, bye."

That was C.I. agreeing to fit in the last link for the snapshot.

She put her second phone down and started dictating the first paragraph of the snapshot (that's the last thing she dictates in every snapshot).

And the cell she'd placed down was ringing. I grabbed it because Wally had gone off with his grandfather to get something to eat (we had the good fortune to have Wally's grandfather with us this week) and I thought he might be calling (because he'd said he'd call me before they left so I could make a take out order). He hadn't called on my phone so I grabbed C.I.'s phone and it was (as noted in the snapshot) two Iraq War veterans who used to be part of IVAW. They told me they were upset and asked if C.I. had finished the snapshot? I told them to hold on and they were filling me in as I gulp and tug on C.I's sleeve to get her attention.

She was done with the snapshot. It was probably 6:00 pm EST -- or almost that. And I told her she really had to take the call.

She did. She listened. She asked questions. She gave them thirty minutes of her time and told them she'd find a way to work in some of the points they'd made. She then called her friend back and said, "Pull ___" (a number of things including a Senator Patty Murray press release) "because we've got to make room for something really important." And she worked about 15 minutes on what to pull (5 minutes before doing the new section, 10 minutes after) and then did the the new section. Added a few sentences in other places to lead up to the section. And then her friend tried to send it and it was too big. So that's when she did the ten minutes additional editing.

I think it was important and I'm glad it's in the snapshot because (a) it's important and (b) it adds a take that's not going to get included otherwise.

But I did think, "Should I stop her? Should I just let her say, 'Send it' and then hand her the phone after that?"

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

Friday, October 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Barack holds a press conference, few reporters listen to what he actually says, they then miss another press conference, the Iraq War continues, the Iraqi refugee problem continues, and more.
This afternoon Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweeted:
janearraf Obama: "After nearly nine years, America's war in #Iraq will be over" raising the question 'What about Iraq's war?' Goodbye and good luck.
Today in DC, US President Barack Obama held a press conference to announce . . .
Well, let's look at how it's being reported. The best reporting? How about Mark Landler's "U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq by Year's End, Obama Says" (New York Times)? The journalists didn't write the headlines. We're not holding them responsiblve for them. We will, however, hold them reponsible for their content. Mark Landler didn't sleep through the press conference and it shows. Not among the worst but probably somewhere above the middle is Yochi J. Dreazen's piece for National Journal which opens: "President Obama's speech formally declaring that the last 43,000 U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year was designed to mask an unpleasant truth: the troops aren't being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They're leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay."
The biggest flaw for that? Remember the ones that will remain with the embassies in Iraq (under the State Dept) for a moment? Yochi didn't and didn't realize that in addition to those, there will be others. CNN notes that approximately 150 "will remain to assist in arms sales." Julian E. Barnes, Carol Lee and Siobhan Hughes (Wall St. Journal) remembered the ones assigned to the State Dept and also report on the ones who will remain for "arms sales." It's a toss up between the Los Angeles Times and AP on who has the worst report. Both are pretty ridiculous. But Reuters was probably the worst report until Ben Feller (Christian Science Monitor) elected to file. Normally, we don't link to Wired but a friend called in a favor so we'll note Spencer Ackerman (Wired) observes, "But the fact is America's military efforts in Iraq aren't coming to an end. They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas." Ackerman also notes there will be a CIA presence. It's a strong report. Eli Lake (Daily Beast) notes:
But the end of the war does not mean the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Indeed, speaking after the president's brief announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough acknowledged that the United States would continue to train Iraq's military in the new weaponry that Obama has agreed to sell the government that emerged after U.S. troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Just this year, the Pentagon approved a sale of F-16s to Iraq's air force.
Also remaining in Iraq will be military contractors who currently protect American diplomatic missions in Iraq, such as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Irbil.
I spoke to many people today. The news media sure is compliant -- not the ones praised above or below. I was told by friends at State that we were correct about negotiations and bluffing (see earlier this week). (That's their term, I call it the power of no and note you can't bluff the power of no. You have to be prepared to walk away if you don't get what you need.) From the Vice President's office, no, it's not time (in reply to whether I should announce here that the site would be going dark shortly -- and please note, this from a friend who is not only unhappy with the way Barack comes off here but also that I critique Joe when I feel it's needed). So I'm really not understanding why there's so much hoopla. Between what was said especially. As a friend at State pointed out, Barack specifically spoke of discussions being ongoing for "trainers" and the White House has never considered "trainers" to be soldiers. My friend at the Pentagon suggested I think of a scene we both quote to one another from Black Widow.(starring Debra Winger as Alex and Theresa Russell as Catherine) written by Ronald Bass, directed by Bob Rafelson)
Catherine: The truth is, I'm sorry it's over.
Alex: The truth is, it's not over yet.
So what does that all mean. For starters, is a withdrawal really a withdrawal if you move from Iraq to Kuwait? October 12th the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing. As Ava noted in her coverage, State's Patrick F. Kennedy provided testimony about how State will have "employees" in Kuwait that will be flown in as needed via airplanes ("long wing") and helicopters. Who'll ask that question?
Probably few. But credit to Brian Montopoli (CBS News -- link has text and video) who gets it right from the opening sentence: "President Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw nearly all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, effectively bringing the long and polarizing war in Iraq to an end." And Brian Montopoli also grasps what many others didn't hear -- he quotes Barack stating at the press conference, "As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces, again just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world." Mark Landler also notes that statement and points out, "Mr. Obama appeared to leave open the possibility of further negotiations on the question of military trainers".
New York Times' Tim Arango Tweeted, (if only he'd been drunk):
tarangoNYT props to @larajakesAP and @ruskygal. they nailed this iraq news last week
"If only he'd been drunk"? It would excuse his not grasping what Mark Landler -- who works for the New York Times as well -- had reported. It's nice of Tim to credit Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana of AP but it's not really over yet and he might need to read his own paper to discover that. In addition, the sources that spoke to AP for that article were incorrect. Listen to the press conference by Barack and then the one that followed. (We'll get to the one that followed in a moment.)
What Barack announced was not anything to cheer. There is the continued negotiations (I'm told Joe Biden will still be going to Iraq shortly to press on "trainers") for post-2011. David Swanson points out that what Barack announced today and what he promised on the campaign trail were two different things. There's also the issue of the remaining soldiers -- for 'arms sales' and for the US Embassy staff -- and there's the issue of contractors. Iraq Veterans Against the War posted a stupid, stupid statement which opened with: "IVAW is excited to hear President Obama's announcement this afternoon about a total troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. We are happy to know troops will be home with their families soon. However, there will be many issues to resolve in the aftermath of this disastrous war and occupation." When a lot of us were supporting to IVAW, the people in charge were aware of issues like 'security' contractors. But it doesn't seem to matter at all to IVAW today.
But that's IVAW. They've repeatedly embarrassed themselves over Barack Obama and it goes to the split that has led some to leave the organization. For whatever reasons, certain elements of IVAW got behind in 2007 and they've really whored for him and turned the organization into, as one former member likes to put it, "a bunch of __s" (p-word for vagina). And that's how they're seen now because in 2008 they went partisan and they never got their intelligence back. The same former member likes to point out that he can't take one of the faces of IVAW seriously because (quoted with permission) he's an "extreme 9-11 Truther, extreme, heavy, and he's also a member of that whole Cult of [St.] Barack you talk about. In other words, George W. Bush, all by himself, planned 9-11 and Barack is peaches and cream and puppy dog tails -- or maybe puppy god tales, I have no idea. But it's one foolish extreme or the other, where someone's the supreme goodness or else the supreme badness." And in each 'belief' there is naivete.
Then again, as another former IVAW points out, maybe it wasn't a good idea to make someone executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War when the person never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's a puzzler.
Now they're gearing up to talk "reparations." The US doesn't owe the puppet government reparations. Those exiles lobbied the US government to invade Iraq. If anything, they should be paying the US. The Iraqi people, I believe, deserve reparations. But I don't believe you turn that over to the Iraqi government. Not when so many Iraqis continue to live in poverty while the Iraqi government officials not only steal freely (and proudly) but also waste money like crazy. Dar Addustour reports the Iraqi government is spending $150 million to buy three deluxe planes -- one of which will be for the Iraqi president, another for the prime minister. $150 million. While people struggle in poverty. And someone thinks it's a good idea to give the government of Iraq more money?
If IVAW had anything to offer, they would have issued a statement today noting that Barack stressed negotations were still ongoing. They would have called out the contracters as well as the US soldiers who are going to be remaining on the ground in Iraq not to mention those who will be stationed in Kuwait. But that would have required leadership and IVAW turned themselves into a get-out-the-vote organization. For those who've forgotten, IVAW got punked big time at the Democratic Party's convention in Colorado. We were there, Ava and myself, reporting on it for Third and IVAW had the Democratic officials running scared. They were making demands, they were going to have a protest. People in the press that we knew were asking Ava and I about it and the excitement was building and IVAW was geared to get more publicity than they'd ever had in their lives. Then they got stage managed right out of their press moment. They were all happy and thrilled and Barack was going to meet with them and blah, blah, blah. The clock had already been running out. They got punked. The party shut down their protest and shut them up and then ignored them.
The big split in IVAW, that it's never recovered from, was not, as some want to reduce it, about whether or not a political statement was being made with a US flag or whether the flag was being disrespected. That was the eruption point and it was issues like the refusal to be the independent organization that was going to hold all politicians accountable. IVAW was not a Democratic Party organization but that's what it became in 2008 and they have made clear today that they have chosen to remain that. That's a priority but being a veteran of the Iraq War or even the Afghanistan War, not so much. Despite being named Iraq Veterans Against the War.
If that hurts, I really don't give a damn today. We don't link to Wired and I dislike Spencer Ackerman. While a favor called in got Wired it's link, I didn't have to give kind words to Ackerman. I did it because he did a good job reporting on what's really going down. I don't care for David Swanson and usually see him as the most extreme Barack apologist but he didn't try to spin it or lie today and he got a link. He earned his link, good job, David Swanson.
By the same token, I didn't intend to write about IVAW today. Except for a few passing sentences about the shameful 2008 behavior, I've not criticized the organization. But this snapshot was ready an hour ago when Kat tugged on my shoulder and whispered (as I was finishing dictating in my cell phone), "You have to take this call." And I said "Hold the snapshot, I'm going to have to change something I know" and took the other cell phone and it was two former members of IVAW telling me about the IVAW statement -- which I hadn't even read yet -- and expressing their extreme anger.
I don't blame them. The fact that they're not IVAW now doesn't matter -- and doesn't matter to them. They worked to build up that organization and IVAW had core beliefs about the Iraq War. Those beliefs got shoved aside to promote Barack today. They're outraged and I think they're right to be. If it was just their opinion and I didn't agree with it, I'd present as "two former IVAW's feel . . ." and leave it alone. But they are right and IVAW really needs to take a look what they believe in what they started and the mutant child they've become.
Today was interesting. It wasn't what much of the press portrays but it was interesting. Like this statement, after Barack's press conference, by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, "You know, Matt, I think it's important to point out that we have a capacity to maintain trainers. In fact, the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq will have a capacity to train Iraqis on the new kinds of weapons and weapons systems that the Iraqis are going to buy, including, importantly, like the F-16s that they just purchased just about a month ago. So we will have a training capacity there. We'll have the kind of normal training relationship that we have with countries all over the world. You'll see, for example, Central Command looking for opportunities to have increased naval cooperation. You'll see opportunities in naval exercises; opportunities to have increased air force training and exercise opportunities. So we're going to have the kind of robust security cooperation with the Iraqis that we have with important allies all around the world. So the suggestion of your question that somehow there is not going to be training is just not accurate."
Did those doing their shine-on-the-glory write-ups bother to pay attention to that press conference? Apparently not. We'll probably go into that one on Monday (including the admission that ups the numbers -- probably by about 45, I'm guessing -- of US troops that will remain in Iraq).
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweeted some thoughts on Iraq:
Prashant Rao
prashantrao Politics in #Iraq remain deadlocked to a large degree - after elections in March 2010, still no permanent minister of defence or interior
Prashant Rao
prashantrao Violence remains high in #Iraq by international standards - 185 people died as a result of violence in September. #US
Violence does remain high. It also remains unreported. There are minimal foreign reporters in Iraq so when something happens (like Turkey's attacks), it sucks up the oxygen for any other story. And violence didn't end this week, bombings didn't stop, it's just the outlets had no time for coverage. Aswat al-Iraq -- an Iraqi news agency -- has continued all week long to cover the violence while more established, well known, bigger budgeted foreign news outlets couldn't be bothered. (I'm not picking Prahsant despite him being above. I'm especially knocking Reuters, however.) Aswat al-Iraq notes a woman was killed in Mosul home invasion, two Mosul bombings left three police officers injured, and 3 Baghdad bombings claimed 1 life and left eleven people injured.
The Turkish military continues to assault northern Iraq. Roy Gutman, Ipek Yezdani and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report that while various Kurdistan Regional Government officials have condemned PKK attacks, they have not joined in the assault on the PKK. That's not at all surprising. The PKK assaults, as the press portrays the story, leads to the Turkish military response. That's not true. Not only is not where the story begins -- the starting point is the continued disenfranchisement of Kurds in Turkey -- there is no logical relationship between 'I condemn the PKK attack on a checkpoint' and 'I support the carpet bombing of the northern Iraq mountains.' The press has created a false narrative (I'm not referring to McClatchy who -- in this story and in Sahar Issa's report earlier this week) have pretty mcuh played it by the facts). They'e turned it into a high speed chase, tossing in everything but a white Bronco, when nothing could be more false. There was no high speech chase -- though yesterday afternoon the New York Times was pimping that hard in an early draft -- but pretending that there was allows people to pretend that the only one who might die are the evil doers that we can see up ahead and have had our eye on all along. Again, that's a lie.

From the article:

"We have no intention of sending any reinforcements to the site of the conflict on the border," said Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga defense force, adding that this was "because force is not the answer."

AP reports that Turkey and Iran are stating they will work together on the issue of Kurdish rebels. Iran recently worked out some form of an understanding with PJAK, the Kurdish rebels that attack Iranian security targets. So whether this is a real partnership or just an effort to strengthen its relationship with Turkey by offering public statements of support remains to be seen. In related news, Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq's Ahrar bloc affiliated to Sadrist Movement criticized, on Tuesday, head of White Iraqiya Party Hassan Al Alawi's statements which called to unify the two main Kurdish parties in Kurdistan 'in preparation to declare the independent Kurdish state.' These statements reflect the failure of Alawi's overstated ambitions, Al Ahrar argued confirming that Kurds are an integral component of Iraq's community."

This morning, the Iraqi press was reporting on the ongoing negotiations regarding a US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011. Al Mada notes Nouri's statements to the press that the number of trainers will be no more than one thousand. In a separate report, Al Mada notes that US Vice President Joe Biden is due in Iraq shortly to discuss the issue of 'trainers' and immunity and that Biden will be citing US laws and the US Constitution as the need for immunity. In addition to meeting with Nouri, he will also meet with Massoud Barzani, KRG President and with Amar al-Hakim (Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq leader).

In other news, the Iraqi press has been full of articles this week (such as this one at Al Rafidayn) about calls for certain professors to lose their jobs or be demoted on charges that they are Ba'athists. Alsumaria TV notes, "Iraqi Minister of Higher Education Ali Al Adib accused on Wednesday his predecessor Abd Diab Al Ujaili of having run the ministry upon Baathist Party's directions. The 140 staff members that were sent away from the University of Tikrit were subject to the Justice and Accountability Law, Adib pointed up. The University's president reported their names to the ministry, he added." Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq rejected what he called 'demotion' of a number of professors from Mosul and Tikrit universities, pointing out that these procedures are 'disappointing and depressive' to the coming political stability and uprising of scientific and economic situations. In a field visit done by Mutlaq to Salah al-Din province, he met the governor, university teachers and tribal sheikhs." Presumably crying "Ba'athist" every five seconds allows many to refuse to focus on real issues such as Dar Addustour's report on new data which finds that the number of Iraqi widows and orphans continues to rise.

Al Mada offers a lengthy report on the state of press freedoms in Iraq and notes the crackdown on journalists when "government agents" started arresting those who dared to cover the Friday protests, how their cameras and laptops were confiscated, how security teams beat demonstrators, used tear gas, water cannons and bullets on the protesters, how journalists were arrested, etc. Hadi al-Mahdi, the Iraqi journalist and activist, was arrested February 25th, the article notes, after covering the protest. He and two other journalists were eating lunch when Iraqi forces rushed up and began beating them with sticks and the butts of the rifles. The paper notes the assassination of Hadi al-Mahdi and how friends believe the murder was part of the government crackdown. That's just the first part of the article.

Now we turn to targets and refugees. Starting with Iraqi Christians. Last week The NewsHour (PBS) examined Christianity in the Middle East and we'll note the question and answer section on Iraq:

How did the Christians benefit from Saddam Hussein?

"There was a kind of a social contract in Iraq," between minorities and Hussein, says Adeed Dawisha, a professor at the University of Miami in Ohio. "Under Saddam, it was understood that if you don't interfere in politics, then you are provided with a good life."
"If the Christians supported Saddam, not because they loved what he was doing, it was the fear of the alternative," Dawisha says. As a result of turning their focus elsewhere, Christians prospered economically. They were businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. A select few were part of the political elite, like Tariq Aziz who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Hussein. According to Katulis, that created a "network of protection that existed through some of the leaders [in] Saddam's inner circle ... trickled on down through community."
What did Hussein get out of it?

Hussein, by being intolerant of all sectarian violence, ensured that his minority-rule regime was safe from uprisings. The regime was equally intolerant of any sectarian-led violence, says Dawisha. However, Christans were not a "favored community" under Hussein's rule, Dawisha explains, "they were simply left alone." As a result, these minorities did not rebel against him.
What happened after Hussein left?

Nothing good. Once the regime fell, animosity between all religious communities exploded. The smallest minorities suffered the most. Before 2003, there were about 800,000 Christians in Iraq. Currently, Dawisha says, there is less than half that number.

Sister Rosemarie Milazzo (Maryknoll Sisters) is in Iraq and writes today of an Iraqi Civil Socieity Soldiarity Initiative conference in Erbil last weekend, "The Iraqis I met there are on fire with passion for justice and peace and have been demonstrating, marching, etc. They came from all over Iraq for this meeting. Presentations from trade unions, women empowerment groups, environmental groups, etc. I met lots of courageous young activists. One was a young woman who shared her story of torture and beatings in Baghdad recently." Phil Lawler (Catholic Culture) wonders, "How is it that after more than two decades of US involvement in Iraq, Christians there face a steadily deteriorating situation?" Because, among other reasons, the US government wasn't interested in the Iraqi people, they were interested in thugs who could terrorize and distract the Iraqi people while various US government desires were imposed. Thugs, generally speaking, don't have a high regard for any anyone but fellow thugs. Which is how you get the waves of attacks on Iraqi Christians and on Iraq's LGBT community, on Iraq's religious minorities (which include more than just Christians) and ethnic minorities, attacks on Iraqi women, etc. The Witchita Eagle's editorial board notes, "More than half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the U.S. invasion, according to a State Department report last year. And the persecution and attacks on Christians have increased in recent years." Alex Murashko (Christian Post) reported yesterday, "Ongoing violence against Christians in Iraq has produced an accelerated exodus of believers recently and numbering in the hundreds of thousands over the last 10 years, said Open Doors USA officials." Dennis Sadowski (Catholic News Service) reported earlier this month on Bishop Gerlad Kicanas (Tucson) and Bishop George Murry (Youngstown) visiting Iraq (October 2nd through 5th) where they saw that security was still an issue that needed to be addressed and quotes Bishop Kicanas on a church scarred by a machine gun attack (the physical structure still scarred and the congregation still scared), "You still see vivid remains of the attack. This was a defining moment for Christians relizing they weren't safe in their own homes or their own churches." Sadowski notes, "The number of Christians in Iraq has declined from about 1.5 million in 2000 to less than 500,000 in 2010, according to Iraqi Christians in Need, a British charity established to address the exodus of Christians from the country. The agency cited long-imposed economic sanctions, continuing violence and the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 as reasons for the mass migration of Christians from the country."
Last week Vatican Radio (link is text and audio) noted a lower estimate of the remaining Christians in Iraq (150,000) and noted that while safety issues continue to force many to flee "their homes and even the country," Ankawa in the Kurdistan Regional Government has seen an increase in a little over two decades from 8,000 Christians to 25,000 due to Christians moving there in an attempt to find safety. It was nearly a year ago, October 31st, that Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked. Church goers were held hostage, over 50 people were killed, many more injured. A woman in the church explained to Jim Muir (BBC News -- link is text and video), "Gunmen entered the church and started to beat people. Some of the people were released but others were wounded and some died and one of the priests was killed." Police officer Hussain Nahidh told John Leland (New York Times), "It's a horrible scene. More than 58 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to hospitals without legs and hands." John Pontifex (Scottish Catholic Observer) reported earlier this month on the increase in Ankawa's Christian population noting that "1500 have arrived within the last year alone" and that "Christians arriving in Ankawa have fled not only from the Iraqi capital but from all across the country -- Mosul in the north, Kirkuk in the north-east, and even Basra, hundreds of miles away in the extreme south." Rob Kerby (Belief Net) notes that the Kurdistan Regional Government is offering Iraqi Christians "plots of land as well as $10,000 per family to settle in the village of Se Ganian, whose population was murdered by poison gas during Saddam's campaign against the Kurds." Joni B. Hannigan (Florida Baptist Witness via Asia News) adds, "The Grace Baptist Cultural Center in Dohuk [Province, in the Kurdistan Regional Government] -- a partnership between Iraqi, Jordan, Brazilian, American and Lebanese Baptists -- is being built with the blessing of Iraqi Kurdistan's Regional Government, who donated the $2 million properly. The land is in the same village, Simele, where in 1933 an estimated 6,000 Assyrians and Chaldeans were slaughtered by the Iraqi government following the withdrawal of British troops from the region after a treaty granting Iraq's independence in 1930."
Sister Mary Brigid Clingman (GateHouse News Service) explains what the Dominican sisters in Iraq share:
Throughout the last 10 years, these sisters kept us in a different loop of information as their country fell futher into chaos. One comment we heard was "order under a dictatorship was better than anarchy," which followed the collapse of the government.
The religious tolernace that had existed had disappeared. The Christian Church existing in Iraq since the days of the Apostles ironically is disappearing as Christians from the West despoil their country.
[. . .]
What might the world be like if instead of weapons we had invaded Iraq and Afghanistan with bread and roses, medicine and education, electricity and roads? What if we had acknowledged our responsibilities for the anguish and anxiety of these people existent decades before 9/11?
The Iraq War created the largest refugee crisis in the MidEast since 1948. Steve Beaven (Oregonian) reports on Baher Butti who left in 2006 and who is part of Jim Lommasson's photo exhibit at the Launch Pad Gallery through Saturday, October 29th entitled "What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization" which features photographs and also the paintings of Iraqis Farooq Hassan and Samir Khurshid, both of whom "now live in Portland." Beaven notes that Baher Butti and his wife (Balsam) and "their daughter and two sons [. . .] live in a house in Cedar Hills. Butti is a case manager and counselor for refugees at Lutheran Community Services in Southeast Portland. Balsam hopes to get her medical license here, their daughter goes to Sunset High School, and their sons are Portland State University students." The Launch Pad Gallery describes the exhibit:
What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization is about leaving one's homeland. Portland Photographer/Writer Jim Lommasson is currently photographing and interviewing Iraqi refugees and immigrants who have fled to the U.S. since 1990. This project dovetails with Lommasson's visual and oral history of returning American soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars called Exit Wounds. Lommasson feels that there is another side of the story that needs to be told, about those who have left their homeland and are now resettling around the world. Lommasson is photographing those few important personal items that have survived the long journey from Iraq to the U.S. The journey may take months, sometime even years, and includes refugee camps, piles of documents and possibly a few bribes. After photographing the objects, Lommasson asks the participants to write about the significance of their objects on the finished photographs.
Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via the Modesto Bee) remembers Barack stating in 2007, "One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stood with America -- the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors -- are being targeted for assassination. . . . And yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends. That is not who we are as Americans." He felt that way before he got in the White House. Trudy notes, "I've received dozens of e-mails from desperate Iraqi interpreters (some with glowing recommendations from senior U.S. military officers) who have all received death threats. Some interpreters are getting kicked off U.S. bases where they've lived for safety's sake, because those bases are closing." Pacific News Center notes that Guam-Senator Judi Guthertz has proposed that Guam be used as a asylum location for Iraqi refugees. The refugees include many groupings. Iraq's gay and lesbian community has been targeted repeatedly. Paul Canning (Care2Care) reports:
Iraqi gay refugees may be almost forgotten, but one man has photographic proof that they exist. Back in June, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law published the report 'A Decade Lost: Locating Gender in U.S. Counter-Terrorism,' the first account of how U.S. counter-terrorism efforts have undermined the rights of women and sexual minorities.
The report includes the 'collateral damage' from the Iraq war, the hundreds of LGBT people hunted down and killed in Iraq, including some by state actors, and the probably thousands (no one knows) who have fled. The group Iraqi LGBT has been almost solely responsible for documenting the murders.
Another report [PDF], released by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) in September says that attacks on LGBT in Iraq continued in 2010.
Neither report got much play, but a new show of photographs by Bradley Secker puts a name to the gay refugee.
We noted Bradley Secker's exhibit in the August 31st snapshot:
Switching to the UK, London's First Out Cafe is hosting Bradley Secker's photo exhibit of LGBT Iraqis in Syria: "His primary aim was to create a photo essay with writtne, first hand testimonies. Accompanying the images, a short documetary film has been made to further highlight the issue in another medium. Through photos and interviews, the individual accounts are posing questions as to how, and why, such acts of violence and brutality can be overlooked in a new 'free' Iraq." August 22nd, Bradley Secker posted a photo from the exhibit to his blog and explained:
After being left for dead by militia men in Iraq for photographing a story about the treatment of gay men, Nasser fled to Damascus, Syria, barely alive. 18 months later he is robbed in Damascus, everything he had stolen by a boyfriend. He was feeling betrayed and impatient, and tired of waiting to hear of news of resettlement to another country through the United Nations.
Nasser wanted to go to Bulgaria, smuggling himself into the European Union illegally.
Instead he went back to Iraq to get new documents, risking his life doing so.
Arriving back in Iraq Nasser was kidnapped and has dissapeared. His whereabouts, his survival; unknown.
I just had a phone call from someone in Iraq telling me that Nasser had been taken away, and that his friends are worried he might have been killed for real this time.
In the search to make a new start, Nasser; a very brave, quiet and confident man may have lost his life and become another number added to the countless others killed because of their sexuality in Iraq. Sexual genocide continues.
He may be alive, held somewhere.
If he's alive, his courage will allow him to break out, escape, and start the new life he has been wishing for.
I never got to note Adam Kokesh this week. Please visit his site (Adam is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and a truth teller) because he's doing his program again and you can stream an episode there. Joan Wile is the founder of Grandmothers Against the War and has written the book Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace. She is taking part in the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and this is her latest report on that:

by Joan Wile, author,
"Grandmothers Against the War; Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)
Culture seekers streaming through Lincoln Center Tuesday evening, Oct. 18, were undoubtedly surprised to see a tableau not usually seen at the arts complex. Approximately 100 members of the Granny Peace Brigade and their followers formed a semi-circle around the fountain located in the midst of the plaza surrounded by the Koch Theatre (home of the New York City Ballet); the Metropolitan Opera House, and Avery Fisher Hall.
The mostly elderly women, interspersed with a few men, stood silently from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. wearing placards with messages such as "AGAINST WARS, INVASIONS, OCCUPATIONS" and "AGAINST U.S. MILITARFY BASES ABROAD." The main purpose of the action was to challenge the rules forbidding private public spaces being used to advance political agendas, in essence preventing freedom of speech. And, as always, the grannies meant to convey their anti-war, anti-militarization message. They chose the date to celebrate the six years since 18 of them were arrested and jailed on Oct. 18, 2005, when they tried to enlist to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way in an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
The grannies believe that because of the national and international crises currently prevailing, which sorely demand resolution, it is essential that there be opportunities to rally, to vigil, to demonstrate on behalf of peace and social justice wherever people congregate.
After about 20 minutes, an official from Lincoln Center came over to the group and said that they would have to disperse, and, if not, the police would be called. The peace people stood their ground. No police came, though they were at a nearby location ready to pounce. More time passed, and again the woman from Lincoln Center warned the grannies to leave the premises or the police would be called. The grannies continued standing silently, and again there was a notable absence of the men in blue to carry out the threat.
Promptly at 8 p.m., the grannies broke ranks and, as cameras flashed and the watching crowd burst into applause, spoke happily about their feelings of having accomplished their mission. They had, after all, held their vigil without interference.
One wondered why the police backed off from removing and presumably arresting the vigilers. Was it because they retain vestiges of their childhood respect and fear of their elders -- they were psychologically unable to clamp handcuffs on old women like their grannies?
Or was it because they've been getting a bad rap lately as stories have circulated about young women being pepper sprayed while peacefully marching with the Occupy Wall Street people, and for randomly brutally mistreating OWS persons on Brooklyn Bridge, in Citibank? If so, it was a wise decision. YouTube videos circulating throughout the world showing cops dragging white-haired old ladies into paddy wagons would not exactly enhance the reputation of New York's Finest!
So, have the grandmothers created a new precedent paving the way for future vigils and rallies to take place in public private spaces (or is it private public spaces)? Was this a unique event resulting from intimidated police confronted with their elders? Or if it's a younger assemblage next time, will the police revert to their old aggressive tactics?
Time will tell. One hopes, however, that a new chapter is beginning, allowing for more freedom to peaceably assemble in order to alert the public to the perilous circumstances confronting us all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Returning to an important topic I blogged about: Deportations. Tom Eley (WSWS) reports:

This is appalling. And Barack talked big about immigration in the campaign but he's done nothing for immigrants.

I think it's disgusting to break up families anyway but I especially think it's disgusting to do so when you have refused to offer a path to citizenship like you promised in the election.

Barack is full of crap.

And let's take note of the fact that when not one but two of his family were caught, after he was sworn in, being in the country without documentation and both were scheduled for deportations, they got to stay. One nearly hit a cop car while driving drunk and he gets to stay too.

But everybody else is out of luck.

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Turkey continues to attack northern Iraq, US veterans get some good news, and we drop back to last week to examine a hearing that was nothing but bad news for veterans and for tax payers.
We'll start with the good news for US veterans. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, October 20, 2011 (202) 224-2834

Chairman Murray Passes Veterans Cost-of-Living Increase to Allow Veterans to Share in Critical Benefit Boost for the First Time in Two Years
Murray's bill, which passed the Senate yesterday, would result in more money in the pockets of millions of veterans across the country

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, announced that a bill that she sponsored to provide a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for America's veterans has passed the U.S. Senate. The COLA for veterans will match the 3.6 percent annual increase provided to Social Security recipients, which on Wednesday was announced will happen this year for the first time since 2009. The Veterans COLA would affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. It is projected that over 3.9 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2012.

"A cost-of-living increase for our veterans is long overdue and well deserved," said Senator Murray. "Particularly in this difficult economy, our veterans deserve a boost in their benefits to help make ends meet. This is an important step for our veterans, especially on the heels of news that a COLA will be provided for the first time since 2009."

The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time. The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.


Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

News Releases | Economic Resource Center | E-Mail Updates

That's good news. Now we're enterting the bad news for veterans and tax payers stage.
Reportedly coming off tired and bored yesterday, US President Barack Obama wrapped up his three day bus tour at the Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia. Jennifer Epstein (POLITICO) reports he declaed, "Standing up for our veterans is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility. It is an American responsibility." Would that the panderer in chief believed in standing up for veterans. Forget new things Barack wants to create, how about just doing what was promised? The VA has been a joke under Barack Obama and it continues to be. It's the sick joke that left veterans scrambling to pay for college and board when the VA program wasn't up and running -- as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki admitted, in an October 14, 2009 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, he knew there would be problems as far back as January 2009 when it came to the tuition payments.
Erick Shinseki: A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short timelines, I'm looking at the certifcates of elegibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consulatant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take. We based our numbers on the Montgomery GI Bill which is about a 15 minute procedure. The uh chapter thirty-three procedures about an hour on average, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. So right off the bat, we had some issues with assumptions. Uh, we are still receiving certificates of enrollment. This week alone, we received 36,000 certificates of enrollment coming from schools who are working through the process and we put them into the execute of providing those checks -- three checks.
He may have realized "in about May that the 530 were probably a little short" but "so we went and hired 250 more people" is incorrect in the way he presented. If you realize "in about May" that you need 250 more people, then you hire them and do so quickly because they need to be trained -- they especially need to be trained and on the job by August 3, 2009 when the US Treasury Department would be releasing the first payments. But as we learned in the June 25, 2009 House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing from VA's Keith Wilson, the 230 would be "on board by August 31, 2009." If you knew there was a problem "in about May" and 230 more employees were needed (in fact, many more than that would be needed) and you gave orders to fill those positions and train the people, you should have it all done by August 3rd when Treasury began sending out checks.
That did not happen.
The Subcomittee hearing? That day US House Rep Harry Teague filled in for Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Both of them as well as Ranking Member John Boozman repeatedly asked the VA, in one hearing after another, if the program would be ready and that they be kept informed of any potential problems. In that hearing, for example, Teague noted at the start, "It is important that we continue to provide the VA the opportunities to update the Subcommittee on their implementation effort for the short-term and long-term solutions. This hearing will also give the VA the opportunity to ask for Congressional assistiance if it is required." The VA did a sorry job, to put it mildly, and they also didn't keep Congress informed. Congress learned of the problems, after the program started, from the media. Heads should have roled over that including the head of the VA, Shinseki.
Panderer-in-Chief Barack needs to start firing some people immediately. How is Shinseki still over the VA after the scandal at the Miami VA Medical Center in 2009? Or the continued problems at the Miami VA Medical Center? As was noted at the start of a hearing last week, the Miami facility was in "the spotlight" two years ago when "endoscopes were not reprocessed correctly, placing over two thousand veterans at risk of exposure to disease." The instruments were used and reused and not steralized from one patient to another. In other words, a needle exchange for intravaneous drug users treated people better and more safely than the Miami VA Medical Center did. Back in July, Fred Tasker (Miami Herald) reported that 5 veterans using the Miami, the Murfreesboro or the Augusta facilities had "tested positive for HIV, 25 for hepatitis C and eight for hepatitis B."
That was the public safety scandal two years ago. You might think they'd get their house in order. But when you don't have a functioning head of the VA and you don't have a president who holds Cabinet heads accountable, you get one problem after another.
Last Wednesday, October 12th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the facility and its myriad of problems. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. If it started on time, I missed the first 90 minutes (I was at the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations hearing). Any reference to opening remarks in the hearing will be the prepared remarks. I walked in as a tooth-pulling exchange between the Chair and the director of the facility was taking place. One that was apparently characteristic of the hearing as evidenced by US House Rep Bill Johnson's comment immediately following the exchange that "Are -- I'm just curious are you -- are you astutely hearing the responses to the questions that this Committee is asking and some of the answers we're getting?"
For those wondering here's part of the exchange immediately before Johnson spoke. Committee Chair Jeff Miller is speaking to Mary Berrocal who is the director of the Miami facility.
Chair Jeff Miller: So would you know if a veteran had come to your facility with a particular disease return home and then expire the next day? Would you have anyway of knowing that?
Mary Berrocal: Usually what happens is we -- Any deaths, we do review and there is -- Where indicated we do peer reviews, where the death is not expected, peer reviews are done and we --
Chair Jeff Miller: So there is a way that you would know if a veteran presented 24 hours prior to their death at your facility but was sent home? You would have a way of tracking that?
Mary Berrocal: Every -- every morning, we get a report on, uh, on anything that is unusual that might have happened, uhm, on the evening before or the day before. We get a report every single morning. I meet with my leadership. Uh, the staff in the ER presents their information following that, you know, we stay with the leadership and discuss anything we might need to follow up on.
Chair Jeff Miller: Is it unusual that a veteran would come to your facility, be dischaged -- not just discharged, but just be sent home, not admitted, and would pass away the next day? Would you consider that unusual? And if you do consider that unusual, is that something that you would report then to the VISN that this has occurred?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, we would normally report deaths, uh, unexpected deaths to the network, yes.
Chair Jeff Miller: So this particular, if an incident like this did occur, it would have been reported to the VISN?
Mary Berrocal: It would be my expectation that it would be reported. If it's an unexpected death, there are reports that, uh, that go forward.
Chair Jeff Miller: Regardless --
Mary Berrocal: Now we don't independently, like in an issue, report every single death if it's an expected death.
Chair Jeff Miller: Regardless of what the peer review may have found, you would still report it?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, the peer review's focus, uh, specifically on the provider to determine whether it was a, uh, uhm, something that didn't go the way it should go in that direction.
Chair Jeff Miller: If a --
Mary Berrocal: So yes.
Chair Jeff Miller: If a vet -- Okay, let's go inside the facility. Now we have somebody who has been admitted to the facility and is having surgery. If there is a death on the operating table, what would prevent that death from being reported to VISN?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, those, uh, would be reported to the network.
Chair Jeff Miller: All deaths on an operating table are reported --
Mary Berrocal: Are reported, should be reported. There's a system that we put through to report unexpected deaths.
Chair Jeff Miller: All deaths on the operating table are reported to the VISN?

Mary Berrocal: Yes, sir.
Chair Jeff Miller: All deaths?
Mary Berrocal: Unexpected deaths are reported.
Chair Jeff Miller: There's a difference now: Unexpected deaths or deaths? If a patient dies on the operating table, is that reported regardless? Is that reported to the VISN? And if not, why not?
Mary Berrocal: It would be my expectation that it would be reported.
Chair Jeff Miller: Is there a root cause analysis on every death on the operating table?
Mary Berrocal: There, uh, there would be, uh, a root cause analysis, again, if it's an unexpected death, there would be a root cause analysis --
Chair Jeff Miller: What would be an expected death on an operating table?
Mary Berrocal: [Sighs.]
Chair Jeff Miller: I would expect if I went in for surgery, you wouldn't expect me to die. You'd expect me to recover. Now what is an expected or an unexpected death? What is that?
Mary Berrocal: Again, it's, you know, I'm not a clinician.
Chair Jeff Miller: You're the director of the medical center.
Mary Berrocal: Correct.
Chair Jeff Miller: For now.
Mary Berrocal: Not a clinician. I, uh -- I, uh, I am not a clinician, uh, but, uhm, I, uhm, I would expect that -- I-I would -- Any unexpected death would be something where, you know, if they, uhm, found something that they were not expecting to find. Uh, I, uh-uh, you know, I believe that, uh, any death would --
Chair Jeff Miller: Who makes the determination as to whether it's expected or unexpected?
Mary Berrocal: [Long pause while she shakes her head repeatedly] There are systems in place to, uhm, to report, and we -- [a man hands her a note] and we've had, we've had a variety of -- of, uhm, of groups come and look and determine that we have done things appropriately. [Reading from card passed to her] All deaths are reported and they are investigated but not necesserarily through, uh, the RCA process. We do investigate, again, we do peer reviews to determine --
Chair Jeff Miller: Is a peer review punative?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, it could lead to be. But, uh, not necessarily a peer review. There's a group of peers that review to see whether or not the care that was provided was adequate care.
Chair Jeff Miller: So if everybody just decides that the care was adequate and that it was an expected death, you may not even report that to the VISN, right?
Mary Berrocal: Then there's a committee that, uh, reviews after, there's a, uh, peer review, it goes to a committee and then a deterimination is made. There is -- There are rankings or scores that are provided determining whether or not it's a --
Chair Jeff Miller: Who makes the final determination as to whether or not it is sent to VISN?
Mary Berrocal: They are sent to the VISN. The deaths are reported to the VISN.
Chair Jeff Miller: All deaths? All of them? Is there ever a death that's not reported to the VISN.
Mary Berrocal: Uhm, uh, we have, for example, deaths in the hospice, these would be expected, you know.
Chair Jeff Miller: I'm talking about on the operating table.
Mary Berrocal: I would expect --
Chair Jeff Miller: I'll let you think on that. Mr. Johnson?
There are a number of developments that are questionable and speak to a lack of oversight from the VA. But let's note the scandal from two years ago. When you give someone AIDS because you are not cleaning your equipment, the head of the facility needs to go down with everyone else. That's Mary Berrocal. Hepatitis is nothing nice to have either but what took place under Berrocal's watch, grasp this, is going to result in big money pay outs (there's already one lawsuit seeking approximately 30 million dollars). And most jurors would vote (I certainly would) to award the victim the maximum amount of money. Grasp that Mary Berrocal is paying a penny in any settlements or law suits or anything. The screw ups at her facility cost the US tax payer.
People have diseases they caught from Berrocal's facility because Berrocal didn't know how to supervise a facility. She shouldn't be running it. And grasp that she was removed from her position. Temporarily. Fred Tasker (Miami Herald) was reporting a year ago, "Mary Berrocal, director of the Miami Veterans Administration Healthcare System who was temporarily reassigned in July during a scandal in which thousands of South Florida veterans were given colonoscopies with improperly cleaned equipment, was back on the job Friday. It happened quietly. The announcement was made internally, without public notice. VA officials at the local, regional and national levels failed to return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment." They brought her back. And brought her back to leadership. After people were infected with diseases under her watch, she was put back in charge.
Where is the leadership at the VA? And maybe Barack needs to get off his candy ass and demand Shinseki's resignation. Maybe then, the VA will realize that these actions are not acceptable, do not show leadership and are not what the veteran expects from a medical center or what the US tax payer considers work worth paying for.
US House Rep Johnson noted a Fred Tasker Miami Herald article from last month: "Miami Veterans Administration hospital director Mary Berrocal and her former chief of staff, Dr. John Vara, should be disciplined for 'lack of oversight' that led to long delays in notifying 79 local veterans that they might have been infected with HIV or hepatitis through improperly performed colonoscopies at the hospital, a VA board has concluded." Johnson noted this information while questioning William Schoenhard (Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, Veterans Health Administration, VA). Johnson pointed out that the information in the article was only obtained via a Freedom of Information request and . . .
US House Rep Bill Johnson: In documents submitted to us just last night, by the VA, only a draft unsigned and undated recommendation for action war provided and then 30 minutes before today's hearing a notice of admonishment was provided that was dated December of 2010 with no specific day. Can you clarify and explain this discrephancy and how that fits into your 'we're going to hold leadership accountable'? Yeah.
William Schoenhard: Yes, sir. The AIB recommended administrative action. The one that I conveyned, the national AIB, after the second disclosure of the veteran who had not been contacted and found that there was reason to take administrative action against the medical director and the chief of staff. The way that works in VA then is that I shared that report with Mr. Weaver and he took the administrative action. He may want to speak to the process we use in VA and in government to
US House Rep Bill Johnson: What administrative action was taken?
William Schoenhard: An admonishment was issued against both these individuals.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: A-a veteran escapes the facility and dies --
William Schoenhard: No, sir. This was taken predating this incident.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Okay. So this admonishment that came through the Miami Herald incident from a previous AIB, correct? Have I got this right?
William Schoenhard: That's correct, sir.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Then the patient that escaped the center and subsequently committed suicide happened after that, correct?
William Schoenhard: That's correct, sir.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Right. So, do you think the admonishment worked?
William Schoenhard: I think --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Next question. Can you provide to this Committee, Mr. Schoenhard or Mr. Weaver, a record of disciplinary actions from the Miami VAMC over the last 24 months? I would specifically like to see -- and with the Chairman's approval -- I would like to see the incident -- you don't have to give us names for privacy -- I would like to see the incident and the action and what level of leadership and management that action was taken against. Miss Berrocal, last week, one of your employees was arrested for selling names of veterans. In the past six years, it's estimated that more than 3,000 veterans' information has been sold. Have you alerted any veterans that their information may have been compromised and if so how have you done that?
Mary Berrocal: Actually, this was an investigation that was done by the IG and it was a covert operation. I learned about it at the time shortly before they were going to be arresting the individual and at the time what we knew was there was more than one, there was information on 18 individuals that was compromised and then, uh, uh, on --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Have those veterans been notified?
Mary Berrocal: The, uh, the, uh, --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Yes or no, have those veterans been notified? You talked earlier about a process for making sure that veterans are notified. I've heard that from various pieces of testimony this morning --
Mary Berrocal: We-we are in the process now of finding
US House Rep Bill Johnson: So they have not been notified? When was the guy arrested?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, this just happened in the last --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: And you didn't know anything about the investigation prior to his arrest?
Mary Berrrocal: I knew that they were doing an investigation and that they had some concerns The individual --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: So prudent leadership would be poised and ready to act if the investigation proved out, right? That you would immediately begin to notify those veterans whose information had been compromised. And you're saying that as of today, there have still been no veterans notified? You're only in the process of? 18 veterans. How long does that take? I can make 18 phone calls in 30 minutes.
Mary Berrocal: We have, uh, worked with our privacy officer to make sure that the, uh, information is done and, uhm, that we communicate to those veterans as we need to.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Okay and have they been communicated with?
Mary Berrocal: I believe so. I --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: You believe so?
Mary Berrocal: Yes, sir.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: But you're not certain?
Mary Berrocal: The 18 have been communicated. The individual in the case --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: A few minutes ago, you told me you were in the process of notifying them. Now you're saying that they have been notified?
Mary Berrocal: We have communicated with the -- with the privacy officer whose --
US House Rep Bill Johnson: No, no, no. I'm not asking if you communicated with the privacy officer. Have the veterans whose information has been compromised been notified that there information has been compromised and sold by an employee under your direction?
Mary Berrocal: I will have to get that information for you.
US House Rep Bill Johnson: Okay. So now you don't know. First it was you've got a process. Then 'they have been notified.' And now you don't know. Mr. Schoenhard, if I'm the wing commander, I'm paying real close attention to these answers. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Chair Jeff Miller: I can answer the question for you. According to AIG last night, they have not been contacted.
Miller would go on to ask Berrocal about her decision to cancel the golf carts that took veterans to the facilities from the parking lot while at the same time she okayed renovations for her offices at a cost of two-and-a-half million dollars. She denied that was the case repeatedly. We'll make this the last excerpt but there's so much more (including US House Rep Phil Roe's questions -- Roe is also a doctor, he had spot on questions about Berrocal's behaviors and supervision).
Chair Jeff Miller: Did you suspend golf cart service for the veterans in the parking lot?
Mary Berrocal: Uh, we did, uh, in the parking lot, we did suspend the, uh, that, uh, service. We, uhm, what we did, uh, was when --
Chair Jeff Miller: That's all. I just wanted to know if you did. You did. Now how did you deterimine that the current office renovations of approximately a million dollars to your executive suite wasn't sufficient and that two-and-a-half million dollars was more important than golf cart escorts for the veterans trying to come into your facility?
Mary Berrocal: S-s-sir, I would have to get back to you on that, uh --
Chair Jeff Miller: Well what's more important? Your office or golf carts for the veterans to get to the hospital?
Mary Berrocal: I would always put the veteran first, sir.
Chair Jeff Miller: But you cancelled the golf cart.
Mary Berrocal: Uh, the golf cart, uh, issue was, uh, cancelled during this year. I-I would have to look at the information that, uh, that, uh, you are giving me about the, uh, renovations. But --
Chair Jeff Miller: Have you renovated your offices?
Mary Berrocal: My office is not renovated.
Chair Jeff Miller: Are you going to be renovating your offices?
Mary Berrocal: The-the -- What we've done with the office is we've painted the -- painted -- I would have to look at the information that you -- that you have on hand.
Chair Jeff Miller: Are you going to be renovating your offices?
Mary Berrocal: No, sir.
Chair Jeff Miller: Okay. So if I produced a contract, executed, that said you were, would you change your answer?
Mary Berrocal: I really would need to see what, uh, I really would need to see what --
Chair Jeff Miller: We'll produce it for you. We'll show it to you. You are. You've contracted for that to be done. I just think it's egregious that you would stop golf carts from escorting veterans to the front door but you would sign a contract -- or somebody would sign a contract -- to expand the executive offices. Doesn't that sound odd?
Mary Berrocal: Yes, sir.
There is no excuse for this nonsense. It reflect poorly on the VA, it reflects poorly on the White House. But has Barack done a thing? No. It's a failure of leadership and the failure goes to the top of the VA all the way to the White House. And Mary Berrocal's excuse for the additional $24,000 spent (tax payer money) on replacing locks because she's "currently raising a 9-year-old grandson" has to be one of the great howlers of Congressional testimony.
Yesterday, Turkey entered Iraq with the intent of assaulting PKK or suspected PKK. Patrick J. McDonnell (Los Angeles Times) reports "The Turkish offensive across the Iraqi border included helicopter gunships, ground commandos and fighter jets, authorities said." Kelly McEvers (NPR's All Things Considered, link has text and audio) notes, "The conflict that began in 1984 has left tens of thousands dead. The Turkish government and Kurdish separatists have been going back and forth between attempts at reconciliation and violence in the past few years. The most recent spate of attacks escalated over the summer. One roadside bomb this week killed policemen, civilians and a four-year-old girl." Today's Zaman notes, "Nechirvan Barzani, the number two of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and a former prime minister of the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq, arrived in Ankara on Thursday to express solidarity and cooperation with Turkey in its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)." Aswat al-Iraq reports:

The Kurdish Analyst, Ribin Rassoul, had stated to Aswat al-Iraq news agency that "the Iraqi government won't have a firm response towards the Turkish invasion."
"The reason for such position is that the Iraqi government had failed to interact with the Turkish dossier and its position towards the PKK and the loss of trust among Iraqi political forces and weakness of the government to take a military attitude to protect the Iraqi soil," he stressed.
On the other hand, Rassoul said that the "Central government and the Kurdistan Region's government have failed to expel the PKK forces, even if they wanted to do that."
"The Iranians had reached a decision to settle their problem with the Kurds and reached an agreement with the anti-Tehran PJAK party, adding that the problem of PKK is a Turkish problem and not an Iraqi problem, that must settled by Turkey," he said.
Hurriyet reports that "10,000 elite Turkish soldiers" have entered Iraq "backed by fighter jets, helicopters, gunships and suveillance aircraft." Justin Vela (Independent) adds, "It was Turkey's largest such offensive since February 2008, when thousands of ground forces staged a weeklong offensive into Iraq on snow-covered mountains."

Al Sabaah reports MP Mahmoud Othman (Head of the Kurdistan Alliance) states that the solution to the issue is not in Baghdad or Erbil but in Ankara (Turkish capitol) and he also states that the US has been providing negative encouragement to Turkey which I will say (he's not saying this) is basically egging them on when they should be providing a calm voice and addressing the issues. Otherwise, we'll be reading about Turkey and the PKK for decades. The issue is the disenfranchisement of Kurds within Turkey. Until that's addressed, nothing's going to change. Al Mada notes the Turkish military's months of bombing the villages in northern Iraq's mountains and the fact that the people there denied the PKK were present but the bombings continued and women and children were harmed, farms went up in flames and people were displaced as a result. (The PKK has base camps in the mountains -- not villages, the Turkish military should have known -- even without the US intelligence provided -- what was a village and what was a base camp. The Times of London reported on these camps, with photographs -- and visited them -- repeatedly.)

Turning to the topic of the US military remaining in Iraq beyond 2011, Aswat al-Iraq reports Moqtada al-Sadr is stating that they should not remain even as trainers. Yes, this is a reversal from his reported remarks yesterday. Dar Addustour notes that US Vice President Joe Biden is supposed to be visiting Iraq shortly for discussions regarding US troops. Iraqi government spokesperson Naseer al-Ani is cited stating that the request for trainers will not come with any immunity and that is the only offer in play. al-Ani denies rumors of a secret pact. Dar Addustour also notes that US Ambassador to Iraq held discussions in Kirkuk on post-2011 issues.

In reported violence, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "A US Army patrol has come under an explosive charge blast west of Kut, the center of southern Iraq Province of Wassit on Wednesday night, but losses were not known, a Wassit Police source reported on Thursday."
We'll close with this from the office of US Senator Jon Tester:

Senator requests information and better accountability to protect U.S. taxpayers
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

(U.S. SENATE) -- Senator Jon Tester is raising a red flag about costly and unsustainable reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding more scrutiny over taxpayer-funded contracting projects in war zones.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan recently found that waste, fraud and abuse cost taxpayers one-third of the $206 billion spent on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Tester today requested more examination, information and "appropriate action" on efforts to protect taxpayer dollars and to better address the sustainability of reconstruction projects.
"It is clear that U.S. officials are not closely scrutinizing projects for sustainability," Tester wrote. "Not only are these projects wasteful, but they complicate our military and diplomatic efforts and undermine our ability to build trust and goodwill with locals on the ground."
Tester pointed to several examples of potentially wasted spending -- and how those funds could make a difference in Montana.
For instance, the United States spent $35 billion to train the Afghan Security Forces. Yet "the VA continues to lack the resources to reach all of our veterans."
Tester also noted that American taxpayers paid $277 million for a water-treatment plant that remains unused in Iraq while two vital water infrastructure projects in Montana sit unfinished due to a lack of funding.
"For constituents struggling to make ends meet, this is a bitter pill to swallow," Tester wrote. "I request that you examine both completed and current projects for risk of sustainment failure and take appropriate action on those projects with no credible prospect of being sustained. It is long past time that we bring real change to the way our government does business with contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Tester cosponsored legislation to establish the Wartime Contracting Commission in 2007. At a recent hearing on the Commission's findings, he pushed for serious changes in how the United States uses wartime contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater.
Tester also recently called for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, noting that the war's price tag is approaching $1 trillion.
Tester's letter to Clinton and Panetta appears online HERE.