Friday, September 25, 2009
First up, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted here yesterday, was hospitalized. Josh Gerstein (Politico with text and audio) reports she was released today and "was expected to be back at work in the afternoon, the court said in a statement." So, knock wood, she's okay. Someone asked about seeing a lot of Politico at community sites lately? That's due to C.I. adding them to TCI's permalinks because their news reports usually come in text and in audio. I use them to make sure I get my at least one audio link a week. (The Common Ills community is diverse and we have couples where one person is sighted and the other isn't. They are both community members and are both valued. So when possible, an audio link allows one not to have to read -- or for them to use a mechanical reader -- and they can both listen and enjoy at the same time.)
So that was some news I liked. Now to the topic of sicko John Edwards. This is from
Patrick Gavin's "The Route To Political Rehab" (Politico):
While these pols have turned things around for themselves, Edwards seems stubbornly headed for a flameout. Last Sunday, The New York Times cited associates who said Edwards “is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible.”
Furthermore, the paper reported that a former Edwards aide is shopping a book proposal that will claim Edwards soothed his mistress, Rielle Hunter, “by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.”
Although the specific situations of all these political operatives are different (and full political comebacks are anything but certain), the recent Edwards news provides a stark lesson straight out of any political playbook: Tell the truth, and a revival is possible.
What stands to sink Edwards are not his sins — he’d hardly be the first politician to cheat, father a love child and do both under circumstances that are particularly offensive. (Edwards’s wife has terminal cancer.) But whereas politicians such as Spitzer and Foley were forced to quickly cop to their sins, then retreat to private life for a spell, Edwards can’t seem to downshift. He has compounded his troubles with repeated attempts to defer, delay and deceive, all of which makes news and exacerbates the damage. And it has made the public sour on his already bad behavior.
The difference is that John Edwards is scum. The difference is that John Edwards attacked Hillary. So did Elizabeth Edwards. They were perfect, they seemed to think, and Hillary wasn't to be trusted. Uh, who had a baby with another woman?
He's total scum. There are things that I know now that I didn't before. C.I. would always caution me (in 2007 and through the first part of 2008) that people weren't who they presented all the time whenever I'd be a little too, "Wow, Edwards today . . ." I had no idea how trashy John Edwards was or how much C.I. loathed him. C.I. knew about the baby long before Edwards dropped out. C.I. found out from a US senator and Kat was with C.I. and overheard it. They only told my mother (and probably Elaine, C.I. tells her everything). And every now and then, C.I. would say something like, "The nomination will not go to him [Edwards]." And I was just thinking, "Well why not?"
But he tricked for so long. And then I started to see the real him in the final weeks he was in the primary race. As he ripped apart Hillary and apologized to Barack. As he kissed Barack's ass. He stayed in the race just to publicly do the dirty work that Barack couldn't do publicly. He stayed in to defeat Hillary.
And Elizabeth Edwards?
You know how pathetic of a life can somone have?
I don't need to trash her because look at the life she's living. It's now known to the world that not only did John father a baby with another woman, but he planned to marry the woman as soon as Elizabeth died.
That's the life she made for herself. And, yeah, she's responsible because she lied to America for him. She could have campaigned without lying. She shouldn't have attacked Hillary and, for those who forgot, among her attacks on Hillary in 2007 were little jabs about Bill and Monica. Well her problems are far worse than anything Hillary had to go to.
The whole world knows she's married to a sleeze who's just counting down the days till she dies. How pathetic.
John Edwards is scum.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, September 25, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Talabani buries a prized request in his UN speech to emphasize a momentary one (already addressed as it turns out), the VA has a really, really bad week and ends the week on a bad note, Nouri's forming his own coalition and right now it's . . . well Nouri, and more.
Yesterday (6:18 pm EST), Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President, addressed the United Nations General Assemnbley. He tapped the microphone four times before he began reading his prepared speech for the next 17 minutes and four seconds
The most important challenges we face in the near future is the legislative elections due to be held in January 2010 for which the political parties have already started preparations. The success of these elections will put the current political regime based on democracy, pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power on the right path. The success of the elections will transfer the political process from the establishment stage to one of permanence and stability and will promote stability and security in Ira. The elections will strengthen our capabilities in building national institutions qualified to fulfill the requistes of a strong state based on law, living peacefully with its own people and neighbors and to be a key factor in the security and stability in the region. This will reflect postively on Iraq's Arab, regional and international relations and its active return to the international community.
The real danger currently facing Iraq is outside interference in its internal affairs which has committed the worst crimes against innocent Iraqis from various segments of society, men, women, children and the elderly. In an attempt to destabilize security and stability achieved in Iraq during 2008 and 2009, Iraq has witnessed recently a series of bombings and terrorist attacks, the last of which was the Bloody Wednesday explosions that targeted the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance which targeted the country's sovereign institutions on 19 August 2009. This led to many innocent victims, including many employees of the government, diplomats and administrators. These criminal acts and large number of victims have reached the level of genocide and crimes against humainty subject to punishment under international law. We believe these acts at this level of organization, complexity and magnitude cannot be planned, funded and implemented without support of external forces and parties and primary investigations indicate the involvement of external parties in the process.
Therefore, the government of the Republic of Iraq puts this important matter on the table of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and requests its submission to the Security Council for the purpose of forming an independent international investigation outside the jurisdiction of Iraq and bring those found guilty to a special international criminal court.
The Iraqi government finds itself obliged to resor to the United Nations to protect its people and stop the bleeding of innocent Iraqis and we are looking to the assistance of the international community and its support ot the Iraqi positions in the formation of an independent international commission to investigate the crimes of terrorism against the Iraqi people we request the United Nations Secretary General to name a senior offficial to evaluate the extent of foreign intervention that threatens the security and integrity of Iraq and to consider terrorist crimes as genocide. We also look for better cooperation and coordination with the neighboring countries and other concerned states to control Iraq's boraders, exchange information, coordinate efforts and prevent the groups that support terrorism and work against Iraq under any cover.
It was a far cry from his speech to the United Nations September 25, 2008 when he was speaking of the importance of ensuring that women were able to participate in "all spheres of influence". This year, almost 12 months to the day, he stood before the United Nations and wanted to open with what can be seen as an attack on Syria. Bloody Wednesday, Black Wednesday, August 19th, whatever you call it, no one knows who was responsible. Nouri al-Maliki had been in Damascus and met with Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, to demand that Syria turn over 179 Iraqis residing in Syria to Iraqi authorities. This demand wasn't new. When Nouri was hiding out for 18 years in Syria, there were many calls from Saddam for Syria to turn Nouri and others over to Iraqi authorities. Syria refused then to turn over anyone without proof and Syria stands by that policy today. The demand for the 179 to be turned over came before the August 19th attacks.
Like George W. Bush, Nouri used an attack to push through things he already wanted. Nouri and others thought Turkey would be the one to lean on because Turkey does conduct raids in (and assaults on) northern Iraq. Their 'right' to do so was just renewed and the hope of Nouri and his allies was that the desire to renew would mean Turkey would automatically side with Iraq against Syria. That's why Iraqi officials made idiotic statements in the last few weeks on Arabic TV claiming that Turkey agreed with Iraq and said the 'proof' offered by Iraq that Iraqis in Syria were responsible for the August 19th bombings was irrefutable. Turkish officials didn't say that, nor did they feel that. Their role was to get the two sides to come together. That's how they saw it. It's doubtful that Turkey's desire for continued raids could have been leveraged by Nouri to begin with but the fact that Iraq suffers from a drought and needs Turkey for water further undercut any hopes that Iraq could strong-arm Turkey.
So yesterday Jalal Talabani took the matter to the United Nations. Not to the Arab League. They don't want to take it to the Arab League because a Cairo meeting this month did not go well for Iraq and indicated that other governments saw Iraq's 'evidence' to be as weak as did Syria. Despite attempting to bypass the Arab League, Talabani claimed to the United Nations yesterday that "we seek to establish better relations with the Arab and Islamic countries and we are committed to the decisions of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference."
How much can one person beg for? Traditionally, you beg for one thing. Jalal was begging non-stop. After demanding an international inquiry, he then went into how Iraq should be spared of its debts and obligations. Is Iraq a new country? No. And the 20 million-plus Iraqis that lived there before the start of the illegal war (approximately 26 million was the CIA estimate in 2002; they estimate 28 million today which apparently includes external refugees and corpses in the count) are still in Iraq. So what's going on?
Under a United Nations mandate authorizing the foreign occupation of Iraq -- issued after the illegal war started (no UN mandate was issued on the illegal war) -- Iraq was seen as a ward that needed protection -- not only from foreign forces but also from the international community. The treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement was wanted by the White House and by Nouri. Nouri wanted it so that Iraq was no longer a 'ward of the state'. As such, Jalal Talabani pressed the UN to lift Iraq's debts, "Therefore, we request a clear resolution issued by the Security Council to terminate all resolutions issued under chapter VII which affected the sovereignty of Iraq and led to financial obligations which are still binding on Iraq because the situation which necessitated the adoption of those resolutions no longer exists. We and the Iraqi people look forward to the day when Iraq is released from chapter VII sanctions."
To some degree, Talabani's second round of begging will most likely be met. However, he will forever be criticized historically for making that his second request and not his first and only request. Nouri's petty-grudge war resulted in the Iraq basically being taken out of receivership on the internaional stage becoming request number two and not the primary one. This request was the one the non-representative government in Baghdad had worked the last three years on and suddenly it became a secondary issue in Talabani's speech. With news from Alsumaria that Foreign Minister Hosheyar Zebari has declared Syria, Turkey and Iraq have agreed "to form a Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi investigtation committee," Talabani's decision to emphasize August 19th over the economic issues looks like an even bigger mistake.
Yesterday, there was a prison break in Tikrit with sixteen prisoners escaping -- one of whom was later caught, five of whom had been sentenced to death. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) notes the curfew and that "American search dogs and aircraft" are being used to hunt for the escapees. Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) reported this morning that two of the sixteen have now been captured and that 4 "prison guards were under investigation on suspicion of helping the detainees escape. The prison director was dismissed and detained while under investigation, officials said." BBC News reports 5 of the escapees have now been caught and that the "police detain 100 staff for questioning about the breakout." Nada Bakri (Washington Post) adds, "Authorities said Friday that at least 100 prison officials and guards, including 10 officers, have been arrested and three special committees formed to investigate the prison breakout in Tikrit." Bakri also notes that with 5 of thte 15 escapees back in custody, the curfew in Tikrit has been lifted. Iran's Press TV notes that posters of the escapees "have been distributed across Tikrit and other cities in Salaheddin province to ensure that the 10 remaining jail breakers will not remain long at large." Reuters notes Iraqi officilas are now saying 6 of the 15 escapees have been captured.
In other prison news, Anne Tang (Xinhua) reports Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, stated of allegedly violent prisoners in Iraqi prisons, "Those people, who had been involved in killing Iraqis must be punished. [. . .] We hear voices calling for release of criminals under claim that they have been defending rights of minorities and (religious) sects, forgetting that those criminals had been behind catastrophes." Nouri's words are laughable since he's so tight with the League of Righteous (responsible for an assualt on a US base in which 5 US service members were killed, responsible for the kidnapping of 5 British citizens in Baghdad -- four of whom are known to be dead -- those are the crimes they've claimed credit for). He's so tight with them that he got their leader (and the leader's brother) released from a US prison earlier this year and has met with them repeatedly. Despite the fact that a fight British citizen is either still held hostage or dead. Thug Nouri runs with his own. And his pretense to care for Iraqi lives is laughable when he sits on billions and Iraqis struggle for something as simple as potable water.
In Iraq today 15 Iraqi soldiers were killed in Baashiqa. Xinhua reports that the 15 were in northern Iraq attempting "to blow up a large arms and ammunition depot" but things went horribly wrong. In addition to the 15 dead, another is reported injured. BBC has the bombing taking place while the soldiers were transporting "confiscated bombings to a disposal area". However, Nada Bakri (Washington Post) reports, "The explosion took place in a lot where security forces store and detonate explosives and ammunition confiscated from insurgents." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) explains, "Officials described the blast as an accident but provided few other details." Gulf News adds, "Witnesses said American soldiers had cordoned off the area. The US military did not immediately respond to queries for additional details."
In other reported violence today . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two police officers. Reuters notes two other Baghdad roadside bombings from yesterday which injured four people and an attack on a Mosul military checkpoint which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left another injured.
Moving to political news. September 11th on Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq (a transcript excerpt is in this snapshot), Kassim Daoud repeatedly insisted to host Jasim Azzawi that there was still the possibility that Nouri al-Maliki might join the Shi'ite alliance.
Jasim Azzawi: al-Maliki has refused to join the new bloc that has been created and you are a member of that bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance primarily because of the presence of Ibrahim al-Jaafari and perhaps because of Moqtada al-Sadr. Can Maliki win without your bloc?
Kassim Daoud: Well that's a very difficult question. I mean it's premature to answer the question like this to comment that the Alliance, actually, is still open to everybody. We announced it as a bloc which has to be the foundation for the national mandate or the national enterprise. We cannot say that Maliki didn't join us so far, the negotiation is still going on.
Jasim Azzawi: Kassim Daoud, it seems to me that his answer is final. He wanted to be the sole candidate to run for the premiership as well as he wanted a limitation on to Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Moqtada al-Sadr blocked. That has become amply clear.
Kassim Daoud: Well the problem before you is clear but for me since I'm an insider, actually, I'm not looking at the situation as it is. The guy having sort of a political mandate, he would like to pursue with his mandate. The Alliance would like to -- their own mandate so I cannot say the negotiation terminated. I think still we have room although the room is probably slim but I think that we cannot give such a sharp answer till we have to wait for probably too more weeks.
Jasim Azzawi: Slim indeed it is.
Slim indeed. Alsumaria reports that Nouri has revealed he's creating his own coalition and "will announce" it in the next week. The coalition will be Dawlat al-Qanun (State of Law) and will be a mixed coalition as Nouri attempts to paint himself more secularist due to the January 2009 elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces indicating that fundamentalists were not popular with the people. Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on the plans by the politicaly party SIIC (Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council) which include recruitment and appearing open (possibly being open, but time will tell on that) and to point out the current government's broken promises: "The cleric critiqued the government's management of electricity and vowed his list would improve basic services. He heaped scorn on the country's current electricity minister, Kareem Wahab, for failing to improve power." Alsumaria also reports that the Kurds are calling for elections to take place in Kirkuk and not be postponed "under the pretext of voters' register incomplete scrutinizing." The upcoming elections are scheduled for January 2010 and the fate of Kirkuk will not be, according to Nouri, addressed then. Despite the Iraqi Constitution long ago calling for a referendum on Kirkuk (disputed territory claimed by both the KRG and the centeral government in Baghdad).
On the topic of the elections, they're often presented as the saving moment for Iraq that will change everything. Last week Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) offered another take after recounting the US government's distaste for the recent elections in Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan:
The similarity in American thinking about the role assigned to elections in the Iraqi and Afghan case bears particular attention. In each case, the elections are supposed to do very specific things for American strategy: legitimate the political order, bring excluded challengers into the political process, resolve enduring political conflicts, create a political foundation for the counter-insurgency campaign. In Afghanistan, the opposite appears to have happened. Should this worry those assigning the same hopes to Iraq?
This is not to say that the scheduled Iraqi elections don't matter (even if it were an American decision to hold them, which it most assuredly is not). The looming elections have very clearly profoundly shaped Iraqi politics. The jockeying over electoral coalitions, questions about Maliki's power or vulnerability, and reshaping of both intra-communal and inter-communal politics have dominated the Iraqi political arena for months. The outcomes will matter in important ways-- Shia politics could fragment or reunite, Maliki could emerge as the power broker many hope for or fear, Sunni groups might find a better entree into the ruling coalition, particular groups may rise or fall --- and in contrast to most Arab elections, the outcomes are not pre-ordained.
But things could go in bad directions as easily as in good directions -- or, even more likely, could shuffle the deck without producing any miraculous breakthroughs in national reconciliation. Certainly the 2005 elections produced their fair share of negative results -- worsening the spiral towards civil war, locking in communal representation, and paralyzing the government for months over the inability to agree on a Prime Minister. The January 2009 provincial elections were seen, by contrast, as a great success. But as the Times pointed out the other day, disillusionment with the results of the provincial elections -- which carried similar weight in U.S. thinking -- has grown in Anbar as new leaders fall into old habits.
Scholar F. Gregory Gause (Abu Dhabi's The National Newspaper) also questions whether too much emphasis is put on the elections:
But neither immediate security concerns nor short-term electoral politics will determine the future of Iraq. Ultimately, political stability in Iraq will depend on how Iraqis (and, for the near future, the American government) define the kind of state they want to have. Do they want a strong centralised government? Or do they want to empower regional governments and carefully divide and circumscribe power in Baghdad? Neither quantifications of terrorist violence nor the 2010 parliamentary elections will answer that question.
[. . .]
There is certainly an argument to be made that what Iraq needs now is strong leadership. State-building is rarely done effectively by committee, and Iraq is still in the midst of rebuilding the institutions that were hollowed out by Saddam Hussein and then upended by the American occupation. The core of al Maliki's appeal, and his argument for a new term as prime minister, is that only a strong leader can build the institutions necessary to maintain security, promote economic development and prevent the political fragmentation of Iraq. Of course, a strong leader is no guarantee of such progress. Plenty of kleptocratic states are headed by strongmen; Zimbabwe is no model for state development. But it is hard to see how al Maliki's rivals in the Kurdish leadership or in the sectarian Shia Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which in the past has advocated a Shia regional government on the model of the KRG, could rally Iraqis across ethnic and sectarian lines to support the rebuilding of the state.
But after the disastrous experience of Saddam's rule, perhaps Iraqis would prefer a central government that is both weaker, in terms of its authority over the provinces, and more divided, with a separation of powers in Baghdad – so that no single figure can consolidate power, even if that means relatively inefficient governance. The risk of a new dictatorship, in this view, trumps arguments about security and efficiency and the logic of centralised state power. The political groups forming coalitions against al Maliki will make that argument in the upcoming elections. The major Kurdish parties, invested in their own autonomy in the KRG, certainly see things this way. Even Arab parties that in the past have advocated strengthening the centre are reluctant to ally with al Maliki, at least right now.
Turning to the US where Gregg Zoroya and Mary Beth Markelein (USA Today) report, "Nearly a month into the fall college semester, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid benefits for fewer than half the former Iraq and Afghanistan veterans requesting under the new post-9/11 G.I. Bill, according to a VA estimate." And they quote the director of the VA Education Service, Keith Wilson, stating, "We realize we're not meeting everybody's expectations." David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) notes Amber Oberg's expectations. The army veteran has been attending UC Davis for a month. And the promised funding? Hasn't arrived. Oberg states, "I didn't expect to get out of the military and then have to wait and wait for the education money that was promised me. Now she and her kids are in danger of being homeless as she waits for the promised monthly housing payment of $1,736. Across the country, veterans check the mail looking for the promised funding. Audrey Hudson (Washington Times) reports John Kamin has been waiting and thought he had good news yesterday only to open the envelope and discover he was being notified that he might "be called back into active duty." He tells Hudson, "It felt like salt in the wound. That was really disheartening." Jessica Calefati (US News & World Reports) explains that "some 70,000 eleigible veterans who filed claims for this school year are still waiting for their first checks." After a very bad week for the VA, they knew it was time to spin into action. Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that the department stated late today "that checks will be issued starting Oct. 2." That link, by the way, also includes an earlier report by Hefling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki making statements. I am saying this, he is either ignorant of what he is speaking on or he is lying through his teeth. He pushes the problem off on the colleges. The VA program is no different than the US Pell Grant program. There is no delay in the Pell Grants so for him to claim it's the colleges screw up reveals extreme stupidity on the subject matter or a gross eagerness to lie. He also tries to hide behind drop and add periods. What an idiot. Drop and add periods. Anyone who has gone to college and received assistance is damn well aware that the assistance starts at the start of the semester. They're also damn well aware that students have many, many more weeks to drop classes. We'll go with stupidity because it wasn't just college tuition, it was book allowances, living allowances and more. Shinseki embarrasses himself and that's also part of the reason for the late announcement that checks will be out starting October 2nd. They don't want people digging to deep into his spin. When the entire department already looks incompetent, it's not a good idea to go into the weekend with the focus on the director's stupidity. If you're late to the party on the VA's bad week, you can refer to Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot" covering a hearing which Kat covers in "Crooks in the VA" and there was more on Congress addressing veterans issues in Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and Kat's "House Veterans Affairs Committee."
The homeless problem continues to grow while the VA offers excuses and, no doubt, promises of a toll free number on the way that will be the 'answer' to everything. Thom Patterson (CNN, link has text and video) reports on the homeless veterans and notes the numbers for Iraq War and Afghanistan War veterans could be over 7,000 with the VA estimating "about 10 percent of all homeless veterans are women." Iraq War veteran Angela Peacock shares her story with Patterson which includes raped while serving, PTSD, self-medicating leading to a drug addiction, loss of spouse, eviction from apartment. For more on the issue, we'll drop back to the June 3rd snapshot, when US House Rep Bob Finer chaired the House Committee on Veterans Affairs committee for the hearing entitled "A National Commitment to End Veterans' Homelessness:" The number of women veterans who are homeless is rising. [Vietnam Veterans of America's Marsha] Four observed, "There certainly is a question of course on the actual number of homeless veterans -- it's been flucuating dramatically in the last few years. When it was reported at 250,000 level, two percent were considered females. This was rougly about 5,000. Today, even if we use the very low number VA is supplying us with -- 131,000 -- the number, the percentage, of women in that population has risen up to four to five percent, and in some areas, it's larger. So that even a conservative method of determinng this has left the number as high as [6,550]. And the VA actually is reporting that they are seeing that this is as high as eleven percent for the new homeless women veterans. This is a very vulnerable population, high incidents of past sexual trauma, rape and domestic violence. They have been used, abused and raped. They trust no one. Some of these women have sold themselves for money, been sold for sex as children, they have given away their own children. And they are encased in this total humiliation and guilt the rest of their lives." About half of her testimony was reading and about half just speaking to the committee directly. Click here for her prepared remarks. We'll come back to the issue of homeless women veterans in a moment. [. . .] Marsha Four: I believe, sir, that there are very few programs in the country that are set up and designed specifically for homeless women veterans that are seperate. One of the problems that we're run into in a mixed gender setting is sort of two-fold. One the women veterans do not have the opportunity to actually be in a seperate group therapy environment because there are many issues that they simply will not divulge in mixed gender populations so those issues are never attended to. The other is that we believe, in a program, you need to focus on yourself and this is the time and place to do your issue, your deal. In a mixed gender setting, let's say, interfering factors. Relationships are one of them. Many of the veterans too come from the streets so there's a lot of street behavior going on. Some of the women -- and men -- but some of the women have participated in prostitution and so there's a difficult setting for any of them to actually focus on themselves without having all these other stressors come into play. So we feel that's an important issue.
While some veterans go homeless, efforts are made to deport the spouses of some deceased veterans. Most recently, the September 17th snapshot, we noted Kristin M. Hall (AP) report Hotaru Ferschke, a military widow. Her husband, Sgt. Michael Ferschke, died serving in Iraq August 10, 2008. They had tried to have children for some time and when they learned she was pregnant, he was already in Iraq so they got married by proxy and the US military recognizes the marriage but the US Immigration and Naturalization Service plays dumb. She and their son Michael "Mikey" Ferschke III, are now facing deportation. INS is stating that the proxy marriage could be a fake because it wasn't consumated. Consumated? He remained in Iraq and they're not counting their long relationship prior to the proxy marriage. Her mother-in-law, Robin Ferschke told Hall, "She's like my daughter. I know my child chose the perfect wife and mother of his child."Bob Yarbrough (Volunteer TV.com) observes, "Too bad we can't legislate common sense. If we could, Hotaru Ferschke would be raising her son in Maryville without fear of being kicked out of America." Tim Morgan (National Ledger) adds, "What should become of her and her son - should they not get to stay in the US for her husband's ultimate sacrifice? Right now Hotaru Ferschke, and the baby are living in Tennessee with his parents." Matthew Stewart (Daily Times Staff) reports that Second Battle, a documentary about Hotaru's struggle and those of another military widow, was shown at Maryville College and Stewart notes, "Ferschke and his bride had been together in Japan for more than a year, and she was pregnant when he deployed. They married by signing their names on separate continents and did not have a chance to meet again in person after the wedding" and he quotes immigration attorney Brent Renison stating, "She is being denied because they are saying her marriage is not valid because it was no consummated -- despite the fact that they have a child together."
Winding down, we'll note the opening of Sherwood Ross' "PENTAGON TAKING OVER U.S. FOREIGN POLICY" (Veterans Today):The Pentagon has virtually replaced the State Department in making U.S. foreign policy, The Nation magazine charges. "Quietly, gradually---and inevitably, given the weight of its colossal budget and imperial writ---the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of US foreign policy-making," reporter Stephen Glain writes in the Sept. 28 issue. In addition to new weapons and war fighters, the Pentagon's budget "now underwrites a cluster of special funds from which it can train and equip foreign armies---often in the service of repressive regimes---as well as engage in aid development projects in pursuit of its own tactical ends." Although these programs technically require State Department approval and are subject to Congressional review, Glain writes, "legislative oversight and interagency coordination is spotty at best." Meanwhile, the Pentagon "is pushing for full discretionary control" over large sums that Glain points out "would render meaningless the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which concentrated responsibility for civilian and military aid programs within the State Department."
This is the opening to "'We Made them Millions, and they Complain About Insurance,' Lupe Chavez, a housekeeper at the San Francisco Hilton, tells her story to David Bacon" (ColorsNW):I was born in Santa Tecla, near San Salvador. My father was a big rig driver and my mother was a stay at home mom. We had a big family -- four brothers and two sisters. When I was old enough, I worked in the Armando Araujo coffee and soap factory. We Salvadorenos are hard working people. From the time I was twelve my aunts took me with them whenever they had a demonstration. They were teachers, and taught me that we have to fight for what we need, because that's the only way to achieve anything. Even before the war, it was dangerous to be involved with a union. After the war started, many died protesting.I was nineteen years old when I came to the U.S. to care for an elderly woman. My family was very poor and when the opportunity came I didn't hesitate. The woman eventually returned to El Salvador, but I stayed on with her family. I thought I was going to earn money and help my family, but they didn't pay me for an entire year. They told me I had to repay the transportation fee and all the money they'd spent on me. A friend of my grandmother told me I was being treated as a slave. She said she'd rescue me, so I found my passport where they'd hidden it, grabbed my bag and left. But my rescuer took me to another home, to care of another elderly woman. They hardly paid me anything -- just $100 a month. When I said I wanted to go to school, they told me immigration officers would get me.David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).
TV notes. Washington Week begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and joining Gwen around the table are John Harris (Politico) Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Karen Tumulty (Time) and Nancy Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Melissa Harris Lieface, Irene Natividad and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
McChrystal As the news from Afghanistan moves to the front pages of Americans' newspapers, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, tasked with turning things around there, tells 60 Minutes that the spread of the violence in Afghanistan was more than he expected. David Martin reports. Watch Video
The Liquidator The man in charge of recovering assets from Ponzi scheme king Bernard Madoff says there is about 18 billion still out there that he hopes to recover for victims of the scam. But it won't be easy. Morley Safer reports.
A Living For The Dead Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis are dead and now, so is Michael Jackson. But as Steve Kroft reports, they are very much alive when it comes to earning money for their estates.
The season premiere of 60 Minutes, this Sunday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
iraqthe new york timessteven lee myersthe los angeles timesned parkersaif hameed
the washington postnada bakri
usa todaygregg zoroyamary beth markleindavid zucchinothe washington timesaudrey hudsonkimberly heflingthom pattersoncnn
tim morganbob yarbroughmatthew stewart
60 minutescbs newspbsto the contrarybonnie erbe
david baconkpfathe morning show
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I was asked if it really felt like winter? Yeah, here it does. It's overcast or barely sunny and it's windy and it's just never like a fall day. It's like summer ended right after Labor Day, the day after, and, boom, it was winter.
On Iraq, this is from Diana Ljungaeus's "Summer of Tough Love: Iraqi Double Agent Remains In Limbo" (LA Weekly):
It’s been a bad summer for the man L.A. Weekly dubbed The Asset. A cover story last May detailed the life of an Iraqi double agent who spied on and killed insurgents on behalf of the United States. Faris Al-Baghdadi, who today spends weekends relaxing with friends in Los Angeles and weekdays working for the Marines in Camp Pendleton, was denounced by his father and brother, targeted for death — and then got the cold shoulder from the U.S. State Department when it was time to flee Iraq with his family.
Now he’s a man in a bind. His family is living safely in Sweden, a nation that took them in without delay. He sees them over Skype, and works long days at Camp Pendleton, where he is respected for his ability to quickly train Marines to cope with tricky situations on the ground in Iraq.
His high-level job as a language and culture instructor has protected him from possible deportation, but the man some see as a hero is in legal limbo, his life unfolding as a series of impermanent deals are negotiated to keep him on U.S. soil.
And still on Iraq, Reuters says New Yorker Betim Kaziu is arrested and being held because the FBI claims he was "seeking training from Islamic militants to fight U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan." Think it's true? Seems a little too good to be true type story, doesn't it?
Now we're talking my state, Big Mass. Scot Lehigh (Boston Globe) opens with, "DEVAL PATRICK went bland and safe yesterday, choosing Kennedy loyalist Paul Kirk as the state’s interim US senator." I had to laugh at that. Governor Who went bland yesterday? Yesterday? Try his entire term. And how pathetic that instead of getting someone in there who wants to work, they've put in seat warmer Paul Kirk. Mike Dukakis wanted it and I could have gone with that. He's been a governor, he's part of the state, he's not a fly-over. I know he'd represent us and I know he'd work like crazy even if he didn't want to run for election in 2010 (we vote in January). But instead Governor Who gave the seat to a little kiss ass.
Joan Vennochi (Boston Globe) made some good points in her column "Backroom politics over Kennedy's seat:"
Kennedy’s wish for an interim replacement is being framed as a noble desire to retain two votes for Massachusetts, and especially to deliver a vote on health care legislation in the US Senate.
It’s also about keeping Kennedy’s office staff in Washington as long as possible. Given the Kennedy staff reputation for excellence, there’s nothing wrong with that goal and there’s nothing terrible about choosing Kirk to carry it out. He’s a good man for the interim job. But let’s not overwrap it in Camelot’s gauze. Pushing Kirk as the temporary bearer of the Kennedy torch is typical backroom politics. And, it’s being done with typically sharp Kennedy elbows.
Kirk, a lawyer and onetime chairman of the Democratic National Committee, served as a special assistant to Kennedy from 1969 to 1977. He is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. He will do exactly what Kennedy would want him to do on health care reform and other issues that come up in the limited time of his interim appointment.
But so would Dukakis. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Is that so bad?
Why must Kirk be promoted at Dukakis’s expense, by painting the former governor as a stubborn, aging, trash-collecting eccentric?
And David G. Savage (LAT) reports that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, has been admitted to a hospital today "after becoming faint and light-headed in her office." Hopefully, she's fine and dandy. Anyone can get a little light-headed. She has been ill before but so has my grandfather and he gets a little dizzy sometimes -- especially if he's doing too much and skips lunch. So hopefully this is nothing big and she'll be fine. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, September 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, things get hot in a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee meeting today, a new report is released on Iraqi refugees, a family tries to raise money to travel to Iraq for the hearing of the men accused of forcing their son to take his own life, and more.
"From the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, American service member have given their lives for this country," declared US House Rep John Hall as he brought the US House Veterans Committee's Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs to order this morning. Among the problems Hall cited is that there's no space for needed cemeteries. At least 31 more cemeteries are estimated to be needed and 2015 is the soonest that for a location "that will meet the current criteria for the establishment of a new national cemetery." The requirement is that a region's population have at least 170,000 veterans before it can have a national cemetery. Subcommittee Chair Hall also noted that the VA's $300 for a funeral plot and $300 for burial does not begin to cover the costs.
There were three panels. The first panel included former US Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland who is the Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, Arlington National Cemetery's John C. Metzler , DoD's Lynn Heirakuji and Dept of Interior's Katherine Stevenson. The second panel was composed of American Veterans' Raymond C. Kelley, Ft Logan National Cemetery's John Nicolai, Gold Star Wives of America's Vivianne Cisneros Wersel, Disabled American Veterans John Wilson and National Funeral Directors Association's Lesley Witter. The third panel was the VA's Steve L. Muro (with VA's Ronald Walters). We'll cover the strongest moment of the hearing.
During the first panel, US House Rep Steve Buyer opened with a visual display showing various cemeteries. Normandy American Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. These were "beautiful" and up to standard. He then went to a national cemetery run by the Department of the Interior, Andersonville National Cemetery. Pointing to the dingy, dirty headstones, "This should not matter that this is the marker of someone who died in the Civil War. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't matter if it was someone who died in the Revolution or someone who died that's interned in Mexico City." He then "So when you said in your testimony that you gently, finely clean the markers, well that's going to take you a lot of time. This is not a standard for which we should have in America. I think Mr. Cleland, if you saw that in one of yours, you would just freak out." Buyer explained that he complained about the weeds and the result was they pulled out everything, including the grass.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Let me ask you something, Ms. Stevenson, tell the committee here, what are your needs? What do you believe your needs are to raise the standard within the Dept of Interior?
Katherine Stevenson: The report that I just mentioned [in opening statement] will have some recommendations for funding and it will have recommendations for increased treatment of, uh, cleaning and so on.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: What are your goals?
Katherine Stevenson: Our goals are the same as the goals set by the National Cemetery Administration. We have the same three standards, height and alignment, clean stones and level grave sides as they do.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: How many cemeteries did you go to in the review?
Katherine Stevenson: Four.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: How many do you have in your system?
Katherine Stevenson: Fourteen.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Why wouldn't you go to all fourteen cemeteries?
Katherine Stevenson: We wanted to do it as quickly as we could and get some sense of uh what was going on -- in the ones that you mentioned, for example, Andersonville was one of them. So we took ones that were fairly close to Andersonville.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Did you go to -- what are the four that you went to?
Katherine Stevenson: Andersonville, Andrew Johnson, Fort Donaldson and Stones River.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Andrew Johnson? Is that the -- that's the one in Tennessee? That's the one in Tennessee? [Stevenson nods.] Have you sent inquiries out to the other ten?
Katherine Stevenson: No, sir. No more than usual. I mean, we-we talk to them a fair amount.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Alright. You've got fourteen. Alright, there's a disconnect here. I'm not going -- I'm not in a fight with you here, okay? I want us to raise the standards, so when this review -- this report -- comes out, I'm going through it.
Katherine Stevenson: Good.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: The light's on you, okay? So what I -- what I -- My immediate sense here is is when I think the Secretary tells me he's going to do a review, that it's going to be of all 14 cemeteries. I don't want something done quick and easy. Alright? I want this to be done correctly. And if your sense is and your counsel to us is that four is going to be sufficient well [shrugs] that's fine but is what you're asking me is, "Steve, just pause here. When you get the report, you're going to be satisfied?"
Katherine Stevenson: [speaking very slowly] You know, you can choose a photograph in any of these cemeteries and [picking up speed] any, I bet, of the veteran cemeteries that are managed by other people and we will have some scenes that are perfect and some scenes that are not. And I know that that's true in the cemeteries that we manage. We are trying to do our very best for the veterans and for their burial places.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Alright. Well your standard of very best doesn't meet the standards established by others. So we're going to take your standard of very best and we're going to raise it. We're going to raise your very best even higher. Okay? And, uh, I didn't go out and selectively choose to find what I think would be the worst photograph. It's easy to go out there and take that photo. And I was extremely upset the day I saw a veteran being buried in a cemetery like I saw. It's one thing -- it's one thing, you know, we've all been to cemeteries and we've seen the conditions of some of them but to think that this was an active cemetery under the stewardship of the federal government was extremely disheartening. I-I-I'm going to pause here, Mr. Chairman, give it back to you under the time.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall asked when the report would be finished and Stevenson stated it was complete but "it just needs to go through formal review." From the third panel, we'll note two exchanges. First up, an informative exchange between US House Rep Deborah Halvorson and the VA's Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, National Cemetery Administration Steve L. Muro covering outsourcing issues and homeless veterans.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: I'm really concerned with something that just came up with the fact of this outsourcing of jobs. Can you explain to me what's happening with outsourcing of our jobs? Are they truly being taken away from veterans and going to other companies and not our veterans?
Steve Muro: Well, let me explain what we've done. As we open new national cemeteries, we keep certain jobs in-house: the internments, the rep work. And we do the headstone and mowing, we contract that out. We have increased FTEE [Full Time Equivalent Employee] in our system, we're up to 1600. So we're doing in-house work and some contract -- same thing at some of our closed cemeteries where it is more difficult to get employment. The gentleman spoke about south Florida, it actually took us two years to fully staff that cemetery with-with veterans, those that were willing to apply. We had a high turnover there because of the cost of living. So in many areas, the cost of living has forced us to look at other ways to get the work done. But we still, each year we've increased our FTEE, all our new cemeteries open with approximately 15 FTEE to manage the cemetery so we are keeping the-the internment work in-house, we're keeping the rep work and all of the public affairs type work in-house. The mowing, the trimming and the setting of headstones, we do contract out.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Well because we're doing everything in our power to create opportunities for veterans, I don't want to be embarrassed when I hear that veterans' cemeteries and groups like yourselves are going outside of our veterans groups. So --
Steve Muro: And those -- those that we're hiring are disabled veterans companies. We are hiring with disabled veterans companies.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Because?
Steve Muro: So we are giving the work to veterans. We work with VBA [Veterans Business Association] to hire OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom], OAFs [Operation Afghanistan Freedom] instead of going through different training programs. Each network -- we have five networks throughout the system -- are required this year and last year to hire 5 OAF and OIFs. So we are hiring vets. You know, 70% of our employees are veterans.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Okay, I just want to make sure that that's happening. I mean, as you know, we're doing everything to make sure that, because we're having more and more veterans come back, and I just want assurances that we're doing everything we can to make sure that we're hiring veterans, we're giving incentives to hiring veterans. I don't want to be talking about our Veterans Administration, of all people, aren't doing what -- We can talk all the time, but until we practice what we preach, you know, that's not doing us any good.
Steve Muro: And I understand that and we are.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Great. One last question is one thing that I know that we're interested in exploring and something that the Secretary is very interested in, you know, is homelessness among our veterans. But also where you're concerned with, can you take us through some of the situations. What happens with burial issues with regards to those who are homeless veterans and what happens when a veteran doesn't have any family members? How do you deal with that situation?
Steve Muro: Our cemetery directors work closely with the different coroners' offices and they -- we try to determine eligibility, we work with the regional office to determine eligibility so that if we do find that they are a vet -- those that they find on the street, the homeless -- so that we can ensure that they can be buried in a national cemetery.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: How do you know that they're a veteran if they don't have --
Steve Muro: We get finger prints. So long as they haven't cremated, we can get finger prints. And as long as they have finger prints, we go to FBI with the finger prints and we can find files. And we've been really successful throughout the country doing that. Working with the coroner's office.
In the final minutes of the hearing, Subcommittee Chair John Hall would follow up to ask if Muro was stating that the contractors hired were all veterans and whether they used veteran workers? Muro replied that they are all veteran contractors and they are encouraged to use veteran workers. Next up, music. If a veteran's getting a burial, he or she is entitled to the send off expected. Instead, many are being buried without bugles.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I just wanted to ask you, Secretary Muro, in the -- continuing and following up on a comment that was made by the Ranking Member of the full committee, Mr. Buyer, when he was here earlier, talking about artificial or digital bugle machines. As the token musician on the panel, I [laughter] -- a French horn player and a decent, at one time anyway, a decent trumpeter and bugler, there are many very accomplished high school band bugle players -- or trumpet players who can play a bugle just as well -- does the, uh, is this in your purview? Is this something that the NCA in the process of working with the families handles? I just came from a 9-11 ceremony -- as did many of us recently -- where there were two buglers calling-answering backing and forth to each other, playing real bugles and it's a very moving moment with the Color Guard standing attention and the crowd and survivors in our -- in my, one of my five counties, 44 family survivors of 9-11 victims and I can only imagine how much less moving the moment would have been if someone had pushed a button on the tape or a CD, you know, had an artificial reproduction. So I'm just curious, have you contacted, do you work with local schools or find people who actually play the instrument?
Steve Muro: Yes, well, couple of things we're doing to get real buglers at the cementeries for not only services but for ceremonies. We worked closely the last three years with Taps Across America, Bugles Across America, to get more interest in buglers to come and volunteer. We work with the local school districts, the ROTC that may have buglers and we try to get them scheduled for our services so that we can utilize them to support the families. The artificial bugle? It's actually a real bugle with -- with an electronic device that goes in, instead of looking like a --
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: That's not a real bugle, I'm sorry.
Steve Muro: You're right. But it is better than the boom box.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well it looks better. It's a boom box that's shaped like a bugle.
Steve Muro: But we are trying to get volunteers.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I understand, sir.
Steve Muro: And there are those that charge the families, unfortunately. You see the papers, people advertise, "I can do a bugle for this amount." We don't encourage it, but we can't stop the families from hiring them. So we try to work with the VSOs and the schools --
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I appreicate that, sir. I used to get paid to pay organ at Mass when I was a teenager but it didn't mean that maybe I shouldn't have volunteered but they offered and I was mowing lawns and doing other things to. But anyway.
A funeral is not a spur of the moment elopement in Vegas. While you might endure a recording of a wedding march being played at your elopement ceremony, a burial isn't last minute and there's no excuse for using a recording. With the bases across the US, all the bases, there's no reason a veteran's funeral on a national cemetery or a private ceremony can't be supplied with a bugle player. High school (and middle school players as well) are very talented and can be used in a pinch but why, when the military has countless bugle players, they're not dispatching them automatically to ceremonies is a question that needs to be asked. And the word for using an 'electronic' bugle is tacky. It's tacky and it's beneath the service that's been given by the veteran. It'd be cheaper to use flag decals on the coffins instead of cloth ones. But the point of veterans funerals isn't do do them on the cheap. Survivors shouldn't have to hire a musician for a military funeral nor should they have to endure canned music.
"A loss in any family is hard to take," Shane Wilhelm, father of Keiffer P. Wilhelm, tells Cary Ashby (Norwalk Reflector). Keiffer Wilhelm died of "a gunshot wound to the head" in Iraq August 4th. It is thought he took his own life and that this resulted from abuse he suffered from other soldiers. The US military has charged four soliders in the matter and the military states a date has been set for the hearing, however, it isn't giving out the date. Ashby explains, "Shane and Shelly Wilhelm, Keiffer's stepmother, want to attend the hearing. The couple said Sept. 14 they're not sure if the military will allow them to attend or testify, but they want the chance to share their side of the story and the impact Keiffer's death has had on them." Marcia noted earlier this month that the First Merit Bank of Willard has set up a Memorial Fund for Keiffer Wilhelm to raise money for the family to attend the hearing (419-935-0191, Cari McLendon for more information and donations can be sent by mail to First Merit Bank, 501 Ft. Ball Road, Willard, OH 44890). Dropping back to the August 21st snapshot for details on the death:
Today the US military announced that Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt Bob Clements, Sgt Jarrett Taylor and Spc Daniel Weber are all "charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates . . . The four Soliders are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately." CNN states they are accused of "cruelty and maltreatment of four subordinates in Iraq after a suicide investigation brought to light alleged wrongdoing, the military said Friday." Michelle Tan (Army Times via USA Today) reports, "The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of the subordinate soldiers, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for Multi-National Division-South wrote in an e-mail to Army Times."
Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) has reported that Keiffer Wilhelm "was abused by his 'first-line supervisors,' Sgt. Brandon LeFlor wrote in an e-mail. He is a spokesman for Multi-National Division-South in Basra, Iraq."
Turning to some reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports two Baghdad roadside bombings with no casualties reported.
Shootings?Reuters notes an attack on a Mosul police checkpoint in which two police officers were wounded.
AINA reports that Dr. Sameer Gorgees Youssif was released by his kidnappers following his August 18th abduction. The explain the fifty-five year-old man is at least the fourth doctor kidnapped in Kirkuk in the last two years.His family paid $100,000 for his release. His injurries include sever pressure uclers along the right side of his body, "open wounds around his mouth and wrists" (from being bound and gagged) and bruises all over his body.
The big news of the day? Prison break. Xinhua reports that 16 prisoners have escaped from a Tikrit prison after they "broke through a ventilation duct in the prison" -- five of the sixteen were on death row. Al Jazeera cites Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf claiming six "are considered dangerous." Reuters notes one of the escapees was captured post-escape. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) adds that Tirket is now under "complete curfew" and that "The facility from which the inmates escaped was a makeshift prison, built on the compounds of one of Saddam's former palaces. Inmates were housed in a former school of Islamic studies, surrounded by tall concrete blast wallas and guard towers." Sabah al-Bazee and Missy Ryan (Reuters) report, "Mutashar Hussain Allawi, governor of Salahuddin, said an investigation had been opened into the matter and that it appeared there may have been police involvement or negligence."
Negligence describes the Iraqi government's treatment of refugees. Alive in Baghdad's Omar has had to leave Syria and go to Sweden due to threats. Threats keep many refugees on the run. Minority Rights Group International has released a new report, written by Chris Chapman and Preti Taneja, entitled [PDF format warning] "Uncertain Refuge, Dangerous Return: Iraq's Uprooted Minorities." The 37 page report focuses on conditions in and out of Iraq for refugees. It notes the minority groups in Iraq: Baha'is, Black Iraqis (ancestors "believed to have migrated from East Africa"), Christians, Armenians, Chaldo-Assyrians, Cicassians, Faili Kurds, Jews, Palestinians, Roma, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabacks, Turkmen and Yazidis. Yes, that is a bit more complex than the Sunni-Shi'ite pimped by the media repeatedly. (Yes, sometimes they'll toss in Sunni-Shi'ite-Kurd and they really seem eager for Arab v. Kurd.) The minority groups are repeatedly targeted and have been since the start of the Iraq War: Many of Iraq's minority communities have been present in the country for more than two millennia. Others have made their homes there over generations. During the conflict that began in 2003, minorities had suffered disproportionate levels of targeted violence because of their religions and ethnicities, and have formed a large proportion of those displaced, either by fleeing to neighbouring countries or seeking asylum further afield. Today, the survival of Iraq's minority communities remains at high risk, even as the focus of international attention shifts from Iraq to conflicts elsewhere. Inside Iraq, the threat of violence against minorities is still very real. Across Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains where Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen have historical roots, violence shows no signs of abating. Recent attacks have particularly targeted Turkmen villages. This is connected to the struggle over Kirkuk and Nineveh, which is escalating between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government. Minorities are caught between the two, and their relatively smaller numbers and lack of recourse to justice contribute to their vulnerability.The report notes the minority communities have left Iraq and "scattered across the world" -- a dispersion that puts the communities at risk of losing many traditions and rites as well as at risk of host governments with little grasp of the communities. Host governments also are feeling an economic pinch -- the report does not note that Nouri al-Maliki publicly boasted that Iraqi money would be sent to those hosting refugees and that it still hasn't happened -- which further leaves Iraqi refugees at risk. On the press loved but factually unsound Myth of the Great Return, the report notes:This has led some asylum countries to start deporting rejected asylum-seekers back to Iraq. Returns, however, must be viewed in the context of refugee situations. Many refugees find it difficult to afford to stay in the countries to which they have fled, not least if they have not been granted permission to work. Meanwhile, the Government of Iraq, in collaboration with host governments, is providing incentives for people to go back. But the United Nations HighCommissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other organizations, including MRG, do not yet consider it safe to return to Iraq. The verdict of minorities, according to testimony collected in Jordan, Syria and Sweden, three countries where the Iraqi minority presence is particularly high, is striking: despite incentives, none of those from minority communities interviewed for this report said they would ever return to reintegrate in Iraq. I know it's Thursday and that the US' manic depressive Ambassador to Iraq peaked some time ago, but could someone please consider reading the above paragraph to Chris Hill who continues to insist not only that Iraqi refugees must return but that the fate of Iraq hinges on their return. You have to wonder how Chris Hill would have handled Germany if he'd been the US Ambassador there post-WWII?If Hill still can't get it, read him this testimony from a 55-year-old Armenian now living in Damascus:"In Baghdad there was unlimited suffering -- fear of kidnapping, killing. When you go to work it's like going to fight in a war. I didn't get a mobile because I was afraid of receiving threats by mobile. On my son's birthday, I went to get a cake, I was surrounded by four people with masks, threatening me with a gun. They were from the Islamic parties. They told me that they are investigating me, my work with the Americans. They told me to pay $50,000 or be killed; my cousins paid $15,000. After they released me, I decided to leave Iraq; next time they might kill me. They also told me to leave the house because it wasn't mine. "First we came to Syria, then Armenia. There is a foundation that helps you settle in Armenia, but you have no rights there, they just give you temporary residence. Armenia is very poor. My salary was $250, working eight a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. It was better than Iraq, at least we could sleep well. "They put my daughter and son in classes two years below their age. I asked why; they said Maths is in English, they have to learn it from scratch. Then the support from the foundation ended, my wage was too little, so I came back to Syria. "The kids are confused. They were studying in Russian in Armenia, here in Arabic, possibly another language if resettled. They lost three years of studies. They will suffer in the future."The report notes that Iraqi's minority communities account for a large number of the external refugees and that this is due to "specific forms of persecution suffered by these communities". A table offers a look at some destinations for Iraqi refugees. We'll note the top five neighboring countries and then compare it to the US.Syria has 1.1 million refugees with 174,000 being Christians, 8,400 Yazidis, 9,500 to 11,000 Sabian Mandaeans and 742 Palestinians. Jordan is second ranked with 450,000 Iraqi refugees of which 56,000 are Christians, 900 are Yazidis, 3,100 are Sabian Mandaeans and 386 are Palestinians. Coming in third is Lebanon with 50,000 refugees -- at least 17,000 are Christians (only group ranked). Fourth is Turkey which houses 8,000 refugees and breaks down three groups: 5,000 Christians, 100 Yazidis and 100 Sabian Mandaeans. Fifth place is Egypt with 30,000 (600 of which are Christians).Of the ten countries listed, the two who have accepted the least number of Iraqi refugees are the US and Canada. Australia beats the two indidivually and Australia beats the US and Canada if you combine the two. Sweden and Germany also have accepted more Iraqi refugees. And all the five neighboring countries in the previous paragraph have accepted more (than the US and Canada). [For any wondering, about the numbers for Western countries, the endnote for the table reads: "Figues of total Iraqi refugees in Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweded and US from UNHCR, Statistical Online Population Database, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a013eb06.html accessed 18 August 2009.]Chris Hill appears to think Iraq's external refugees just decided, "Hon, let's summer in Syria!" A Sabian Manadaen couple in Amman, Jordan share their story. [Husband] "An American patrol came into my jewellery store for 10 minutes, and then said they would come back. After they left, three of the Mahdi Army came and called me a dirty Mandaean. They asked, 'Why did you let the Americans come into your shop -- why are you dealing with them? You must be a spy'."[Wife] "Afterwards, they sent a threat, then they broke into the house. They held my daughter with a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if I didn't tell them where my husband was. I didn't know what to do. They tore at my clothes, they were going to rape me. I said I was pregnant. They kicked me and said, 'This is what you deserve, you filthy Mandaean.' I bled, I fainted. I miscarried after the trauma. It is hard for me to talk about this. "We have lost hope here, but at least we are secure. When I hear loud voices I feel traumatized and scared. I wake in the night and I am afraid, even when someone just slams the door. This is reflecting on my daughter. I don't let her go out. She is always asking me, 'Why don't you let me go and play?' I embrace them even when I am sleeping." [Husband] "I pressurize my wife because I am so tired. When I go out she gets angry and I get upset. We have thought of separating because of the pressure we have been through. I am supposed to support her, look after her and the kids and prepare for her delivery. I see myself unable to do anything. Everyone has left. Why not us? We are stuck here." The report concludes: In the long term, the objective must be to maintain that diversity by ensuring that minorities, who said that they would not go back 'even if they beg' or 'even if I were President,' can learn to see the country as their home again. The Iraqi government must do more than make rhetorical gestures about safeguarding minorities in order to recreate a sense of belonging. It must pass laws guaranteeing minority rights, building on Article 125 of the Constitution, and set up mechanisms for minorities to participate effectively in decisions that affect them.Security must be provided, by involving minorities themselves in policing, and by strengthening discipline and accountability. As UNHCR notes, that stage has not been reached, and it is not an option to return Iraqi refugees, minorities or not. The international community must therefore provide genuine access to protection. Asylum procedures must be fair and asylum adjudicators must recognize the continued instability and uncertainty facing minorities in Iraq. The international community must therefore ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected. Resettlement must remain available for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the region, including minorities. Additionally,the world community must give more support to the already overburdened countries in Iraq's neighbourhood that are home to the vast majority of the displaced. The report's release comes as Xinhua reports Asghar Abdulrazaq al-Moussawi, Deputy Minister of Immigration, states that "30,000 families have been displaced from northern Iraq's Nineveh province since the U.S.-led war in 2003". And for the tiny number of Iraqi refugees who are granted asylum in the US? Hannah Allam's "Web forums help Iraqi refugees adapt to America" (McClatchy Newspapers) explains: One of the best-known Iraqi forums is Ankawa.com, which draws about 30,000 visitors a day, or nearly a million a month. Ankawa, named after a small town in northern Iraq, began 10 years ago as an online meeting place for Iraq's Christian minority, said the site's Sweden-based manager, Amir al Malih. Malih, responding by e-mail to questions from McClatchy, said the site's popularity had soared with the exodus of Iraqis displaced by the U.S.-led war and sectarian violence. In the early days, Malih said, a volunteer legal adviser monitored refugee-related forums to ensure accuracy. Now, he said, so many resettled Iraqis of all backgrounds visit the site that the community is self-policing.
Joan Lownds (Wilton Bulletin) reports on one Iraqi refugee family that relocated to Connecticut, "The Wilton group worked with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a New Haven nonprofit group, which has sponsored 112 refugees from 19 countries in 25 years, according to the IRIS Web site. The families are carefully vetted under a U.S. government program 'for suitability and for the legitimacy of their refugee status as victims of persecution in their native land,' according to Stephen Hudspeth of Glen Hill Road, housing committee chair of the Wilton Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee. Both church and individual donations have helped to sponsor the family, and volunteers give them rides to lessons in English As A Second Language, medical appointments, and other activities."
Those who remain in Iraq face additional problems this summer. UPI notes that Iraq's water crisis not only continues but worsens and beyond the issues of the Tigris and Euphrates' natural flow being circumvented by dams to supply more water to Turkey, a new problem has emerged: "encroaching tidal waters from the Gulf that are poisoning vital farmland, the result of climate change." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) focuses on the drought which is destroying farms as well as the fish, " Vast lakes have shriveled. River beds have run dry. The animals are sick, the birds have flown elsewhere and an ancient way of life is facing a new threat to its existence. The fabled marshes of southern Iraq are dying again -- only this time the forces of nature, not the hand of man, are to blame."
Meanwhile WUWM reports that the Wisconsin Air National Guard is en route to Iraq, this will be their fourth deployment and the WNG "currently has 32-hundred soldiers and airmen serving in Iraq." Delaware News Journal reports the state's Air National Guard's 261st Signal Brigade is scheduled to return on Friday after a year in Iraq (this is the brigade that Beau Biden, son of US Vice President Joe Biden, serves in). Bernie Quigley (The Hill) reports on a movement to get all National Guard troops home, "The Bring the Guard Home movement brings state-based opposition to the Cheney/Bush/Obama/Biden war now meandering through Afghanistan. Bring the Guard Home is a national movement of state campaigns to end the unlawful overseas deployment of the National Guard, their ewebsite states."
Socialist Workers Party notes a photo exhibit in Dublin running from September 25th through October 9th (Monday through Friday, 1:15 p.m. to 4;15 p.m.) at 55 Middle Abbey Street. The exhibit is on the futility of war and includes images from Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. "We plan touring with this exhibition in countries that have any involvement in any wars or the arms industry and also other Irish locations to highlight the use of Shannon Airport being used as a stopover by the American military." At Foreign Policy In Focus, Erik Leaver reviews IraqiGirl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq) and notes:
A new book now joins that list of must-reads, IraqiGirl. This compilation of blog posts stands out from the rest because of the age of the writer. Hadiya published her first post on July 29, 2004 at the age of 15. Her writing focuses far more on her family and school than on the politics and battlefield that consumed the writing of Riverbend and others. On one hand, it makes the book less useful for scholars of the war but on the other, it is an essential tool for activists and those teaching younger generations in the United States and around the world about what it's like to live with war surrounding you.The daily trauma of war is illuminated in nearly every blog post. Hadiya writes, "At the beginning of the war, when we heard an explosion we called all the family to make sure that they are fine. But now because the explosions don't stop all day, we stopped calling each other."
As the war goes on, the writing and story lines remain a constant. Hadiya worries about school, her family, and her friends. One keeps reading hoping to see a change on the ground. After all, President George W. Bush repeatedly assured the American public that we were "succeeding". But one of Hadiya's most oft-repeated phrases of the book is that "things are getting worse." Indeed, even in her final few posts in November 2007, she writes, "The basic fact is that we are still insecure and in danger even when we are in our own homes."
the common ills
michelle tanel paso timeschris roberts
xinhuaqassim abdul-zahraminority rights group internationalupithe los angeles timesraheem salmanmcclatchy newspapershannah allam
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Massachusetts legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that allows Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) to appoint an interim United States senator, and he is leaning heavily toward naming Paul Kirk, a longtime aide to the late senator Edward M. Kennedy, to the position, according to a source familiar with the machinations.
71-year-old? Kirk's 71-years-old? We're replacing a sentor who died in office. We really want to choose a replacement (even an interim one) who's over the legal retirement age?
Oh, wait. We're not choosing. If we were choosing, there's no way in hell Kirk would even considered. Big Mass wouldn't go for that. But that's what the Kennedys want and have they pissed and sh*t in and on our state repeatedly like it was their own personal cat litter box?
I don't give a damn what they want. And if Governor Who wants to listen to them, he's going have an even more difficult time running for re-election.
If there needs to be a rule on appointments for vacancies, I propose that until we have more women and people of color in the Senate, all appointments go to those groups.
The New York Times quotes Governor Who stating, "This is a very serious and important decision. I expect to make it very, very soon."
Yeah, it is important. We've had a senator for months and months now who couldn't even attend hearings. We've been robbed and reduced to only one senator for all intents and purposes. We don't have time for an understudy to go on now. Toss someone in that spot who wants it and let her or him work for it. We may decide we like them enough to keep them, we may decide otherwise. But we've been screwed long enough by the Kennedy family. We need a real worker in that job. Not some ass-kiss suck up to the Kennedys.
This is the opening to World Can't Wait's "To Socially Conscious Educators:"
As school starts back up, look around at the world your students are going to inherit. Over one million Iraqis dead in an unjust and immoral war, and 5 million displaced from their homes . Economic conditions in this country have led more young people to view joining the military as a viable option, and the election of Barack Obama and his popularity with many young people has made “fighting for Obama” seem appealing to some youth.
Obama plans to expand the military by 92,000 in the next months. An intense debate among U.S. policy makers has begun about further expansion of the war in Afghanistan, and many of these voices are already calling for still more U.S. troops to be sent to carry out their deadly mission in Afghanistan. Where are these troops going to come from? They are going to come from those who are in high school now. Your students.
World Can't Wait has been on a mission for the past year to inspire students to create a climate of resistance, and to drive recruiters - who literally prey on young people - out of our schools and communities. We have gone into classrooms all over the country with Iraq vets and military family members so that students can learn from them about the true nature of the war, and what they are being recruited to do. Veterans and organizers have told students how recruiters promise things to them and lie just to get them to sign up, and that the military is NOT a legitimate career option.
A lot's going on in Congress with veterans issues and VA scandals. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Wednesday, September 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, an inquiry into the death of an Iraqi in British custody resumes, the US Congress hears how th VA regularly employes friends and family and violates every ethical rule -- as well as labor laws -- on the book, the VA's prescription mail program has little to no oversight, CBS Evening News wins an Emmy for veterans coverage, and more.
"This is a hearing on SES bonuses and other administrative issues at the US Department of Veterans Affairs," US Rep Harry Mitchell explained as he brought the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing to order this morning. The SES bonuses? Bonuses awarded by the VA. Are they being awarded fairly? What's the process? Who's overseeing? In addition, there is concern over hiring practices including issues of nepotism. "Since 2007," US House Rep John Hall said, "I have been -- and this committee has been -- deeply concerned about this issue of bonus awards at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I hope that this hearing will demonstrate the steps that the VA has taken to make bonuses about rewarding excellence not about helping out friends or families."
At a time when the country's experiences an economic crisis, the bonus issue has already gotten headlines in the corporate world. Now it comes to the public sector and does so at a time when many are surprised top officials in the VA still have jobs with all the problems veterans face attempting to access care. Hall put it more nicely.
US House Rep John Hall: Recent news articles and reports from the VA's Inspector General have shed light on rampant nepotism and abuse by those in a position of power. The Associated Press detailed an embarrassing episode in which a VA employee, having an affair with their superior, was reinbursed for 22 flights between Florida and Washington. One office at the VA received $24 million in bonuses over a two year period. $24 million is a lot of money in this economic climate, with many veterans living on an ever tightening budget, and it's irresponsible for us to allow this to continue without taking a careful look at who is earning the bonuses and who is not. As many of you know, I introduced a bill in the last Congress that required no bonuses to be paid out to senior VA officials until the claims backlog was under 100,000 claims. I think we can all agree that our first priority is to the veterans that served our country and paid the price. In this Congress, I'm considering other ways to make sure that bonuses are awarded fairly and within reason and, to me, an increasingly backlog indicates that there are some at VA who should not be receiving bonuses?
Today's hearing follows multiple reports of veterans struggling to get needed care. Friday, Tom Philpott (Stars and Stripes) reported on a forum and noted Army Cpl Kevin Kammerdiener's mother Leslie Kammerdienr explaining how her son, a veteran of both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, suffers when attempting to receive care:
One of their worst experiences occurred Labor Day weekend last year when she and Kevin, who was severely burned and lost the left side of his brain to an explosion, arrived at the VA Polytrauma Center in Tampa, Fla., for follow-up treatment and no one knew he was coming. "We had no medications for him. We had no bed for his burned body and we had no food for his feeding tube -- for 30 hours," Leslie said. "My son suffered for 30 hours because this system was not ready." Just a week ago, she said, Kevin signaled that he wanted to take his own life by hanging. She called the VA hospital for help. "Days went by and nobody called me." Finally, she confronted VA doctor at a social event "and said, 'Look, you guys have to help us ... I'm not trained. I'm not a nurse. I'm not a neurosurgeon. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a therapist. I'm just a mom. And I don't have any help with this'."
Elaine noted that article on Friday and observed how common these type of stories are, "At a certain point, I don't think you can be immune to these stories (nor do I believe you should), but I do think it gets to a level where you can no longer pretend that it's an isolated incident or a series of isloated incidents. The VA isn't doing their job. Why is that? It goes to the top and it goes to a disrespect of veterans at the top."
Today's hearing certainly backs that up -- as have other hearings. Subcommittee Chair Mitchell explained, "We all know that the Department of Veterans Affairs has some of the hardest working and dedicated employees; however, there are concerns about the VA bonus process and how the VA matches pay to individual and organizational performance." Again, the problem's at the top. It's not the workers having direct contact with the veterans. But there is a culture of neglect at the top, a culture of abuse as well. US tax payers fork over money for any number of things and among those things that hopefully only a small number would complain about is veterans health care. However, when the money that is supposed to go to veterans health care goes elsewhere, there's a serious problem which should result in serious investigations.
The subcommittee heard from two panels. The first panel was James O'Neill from the VA's Inspector General's Office (joined by Joseph G. Sullivan and Michael Bennett). The second panel was the VA's Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould (joined by John Gingrich, John U. Sepulveda and Willie L. Hensley). Subcommittee Chair Mitchell put the witnesses under other before they testified.
In his opening statement, James O'Neill observed, "Federal law states that a public official may not apoint, employ, promote, advance or advocate for the appointment, employment, promotion or advancement in or to a civilian position any person who is a relative of the public official." That seems pretty clear.
But some officials at the VA seem confused. O'Neill detailed attempts by a VA official to get a contractor to hire her friend, the same official passing on "nonpublic VA procurement information" which the friend could use in seeking employment from a contractor, anoter woman working for the VA broke policies and used preferential (illegal) treatment to hire five friends, she went on to then give two of them higher pay than was warranted, a male manager used his position and influence to see that an unqualified family member was hired in the same division, he also abused his position (and the rules) by getting an additional family member appointed to the Austin Human Resource staff, another official informed her subordinates involved in hiring that she wanted her friend hired, to ensure that this friend working for a contractor was 'familiar' with the job, the official began bringing her "into government day-to-day business," closed the job because, by rules, a veteran was ahead of the friend in the relisting and then had the job relisted so her friend could reapply, three employees pushed friends to the top of the applicant pool by falsifying information and spreadsheets. Education? VA officials helped one another attend George Washington University at the tax payer expense despite the degrees not being related to their positions, they 'curiously' failed to track the spending and the Inspector General's Office had to get the information from GWU. Despite a departmental shortfall -- a known shortfall -- senior managers awarded $24 million in retention bonuses and awards over two years.
As O'Neill noted, "OI & T officials broke the rules to hire, favor and financially benefit their friends and family in so doing they wasted VA resources that could have been put to better use and they failed to ensure that the best qualified individuals were hired so veterans can receive the best possible service that they deserve and have earned."
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: Why did you go to OI & T [Office of Information & Technology]? How did you happen to pick that? Have you done other divisions or departments? Was it tipped off or what?
James O'Neill: It was an allegation that we received, sir. Specifically about certain individuals in OI & T. That launched our investigation.
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: And this is the only section that you've looked into? Was OI & T?
James O'Neill: In this matter, sir.
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: In this matter. But you don't know if nepotism or the bonuses or anything other departments you'd find the same type of behavior in other departments?
James O'Neill: That would be speculation because I don't have any data to support it. We periodically have conducted investigations relating to allegations of nepotism in the past but, frankly, I can't recall the last one we had. It's been awhile.
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: I guess I was saying that a lot of your investigations are based on somebody coming forward and allegating, making some sort of allegation of some misuse or improper procedure.
James O'Neill: Particularly administrative investigations, yes, sir.
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: What are the top three recommendations that you've made for the VA to ensure that the procedures that you've outlined and that we know that are there are actually enforced?
James O'Neill: Well in this particular matter -- uh -- we recommended that they determine and apply the appropriate administrative actions against the eight individuals that were cited in the report, that they issue bills of collection where appropriate for improper payments related to the graduate degrees in particular, determine what corrective actions would be appropriate to deal with the problems we identified during our investigation. Someone hired under an expired direct hire authority? They -- VA has to take some corrective action. Uh -- provide training on hiring and the provision of awards throughoout OI & NT. And review the use of the hiring authorities and the funding for academic degrees and retention allowances to ensure compliance with applicable standards.
Subcommittee Chair Harry Mitchell: I guess maybe you've kind of answered this but what oversight function in the VA broke down in the Human Resources process?
James O'Neill: I would say that um the leadership of OI & T did not pay adequate attention to the awards that were being distributed, the hiring practices that we cite in our report and uh and of course the payment for academic degrees so I would lay it at the feet of management of OI & T at the time and whatever oversight HR would provide would also need addressing.
Ranking Member David P. Roe was bothered by the awards and bonuses and twice noted the case of one VA new hire who had not completed her first 90 days but was given $4,500 award/bonus from a supervious who now claimed not to remember why that was. As Roe noted, when this happens, others know and it destroys morale. Roe noted that it was difficult to grasp "how this wasn't picked up," the various violations including hiring your family.
US House Rep John Hall: Does the Department have guidelines for administrative action to cover this type of behavior, for instance, hiring multiple members of one's family?
James O'Neill: Certainly, sir.
US House Rep John Hall: Good. Glad to hear it. Is there a timeline for the implementation of your recommendations by the Office of Human Resources
James O'Neill: Well as I mentioned earlier, I belive the timeline request came in to extend -- in order to, uhm, take the recommen -- the recommend action, the individual against whom the action is recommended has a period of time for an appeal so I think that the request is to allow that time to pass to provide a formal response to us. We -- I have reasion to believe this is pursuing on track.
US House Rep John Hall: I will take that -- I will take that to mean we shouldn't have to worry that the VA is looking at this with the seriousness with which the public and this committee sees it.
James O'Neill: I am absolutely confident they are looking at it with quite serious eyes.
US House Rep John Hall: What do you think is the top number one action out of your report that would improve the way bonuses are given out? We're all expressing a concern that they reflect performance rather than just being automatic, yearly, like a Christmas gift.
James O'Neill: Well we made a specific recommendation to review retention bonuses within the Office of Information and Technology. Retention bonuses make up a large portion of the "bonus" [C.I. note, he made air quotes when saying bonus] pool that is expanded in that area and perhaps elsewhere in VA. But they -- our recommendation, I think, is very specifically directed at retention bonuses. Uh, we didn't make a formal recommendation to look at, uh, awards beyond that but it would be clear to me that, after reading this report, that the current management would feel required to look at it. This is pretty appalling when you talk about a $4500 award for GS5, I've been administrating awards for a long time and we have GS13s that risk their lives and don't get anything close to that so it's glaring. I think that our report will prompt a close review of these processes.
Last week. Julia O'Malley (McClatchy's Anchorage Daily News) reported on Iraq War veteran John Mayo who was on multiple medications and was charged by the military with shoplifting -- an crime Mayo can't even remember taking place. As a result he was discharged and he and his family became homeless when the military immediately showed up, during dinner, at their base home and kicked them out. Mayo suffers from PTSD. His mother Cathy Mayo feels Iraq change her son, 'broke' him and, "What they did to him, you don't do it to a dog. I lost my son."
It's in that climate, where veterans are struggling for help and not getting it or getting the wrong kind of help and the realization that this comes down to economic issues resulting not from an attempt to spend generously on veterans or a bad economy but from abuse and misuse by the VA that Congress really needs to launch an investigation. This is a disgusting misuse of tax payer money -- and Congress controls the purse. In addition, it should be criminally prosecuted when the VA money is misused. Regardless of whether or not, for example, the money going to bonuses was from a special section of the budget and didn't take away monies already budgeted for care, it's still a misuse and it should result in criminal penalties. Not simply firing, not simply making someone pay it back. It's criminal and it should be treated as such. Bonuses are far from the VA's only problem as Congress learned on Tuesday. Before that, a correction to yesterday's snapshot. This appeared "(Ranking Member Dan Rohrabacher attempted to follow up on Berman's question and got the same run around)". That is wrong and incorrect and it is my mistake and I apologize. US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is Ranking Member and my apologies for my mistake.
Now from yesterday's snapshot, "At a US House Veterans Subcommittee hearing today, US House Rep Debbie Halvorson declared, 'We need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service'." As promised, we're covering yesterday's House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health which was chaired by US House Rep Michael Michaud and the hearing was composed of two panels. The first panel was made up of Georgetown University's Jack Hoadley, Columbia University's Frank Lichtenberg, Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman and the National Council on Patient Information's William R. Bullman. The third panel was VHA's Michael Valentio (with Paul Tibbits and Chester Good also of the VA). The meeting explored the pharmaceutical needs of veterans and the need for the hearing was outline early on.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: This is one of the issues that is probably brought up more and more every time I get together with my veterans so I appreciate having the opportunity to ask questions. Many times people will come to me and say, 'How come these drugs are covered and all the sudden I get a notice saying that this will no longer be covered anymore?' So again, I thank the chairman for putting this together because this is one of those important issues that we need to get to the bottom of and make sure that we take care of our veterans. Our motto here is "If you were there, we care." And we need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service.
Richard F. Weidman noted that the process is flawed with "most" of the decisions taking place behind closed doors which, he noted, is not how it goes at DoD. He noted that the metrics need to be reviewed and updated. The first panel was making recommendations, many of which have been made before. We'll focus on the second panel which was composed of US HHS' Iyasu Solomon, VA's Office of Inspector General's Belinda J. Finn (with Irene Barnett). VAOIG issued a report this year on the inability of the VA to track their inventory of drugs they mail out. Belinda Finn explained that the VHA and CMOP delivered "126 million prescriptions" and "We reported VHA medical facilities and CMOPs could not accurately account for non-controlled drug inventories because of inadequate inventory management practices, record keeping and inaccurate pharmacy data. VHA needs to improve its ability to account for non-controlled drugs to reduce the risk of diversion and standardize its pharmacy inventory practices among its medical facilities and CMOPs. Without improved controls, VHA cannot ensure its non-controlle drug inventories are appropriately safeguarded -- nor can VHA accurately account for these expensive inventories." We'll focus on the exchange between Finn and US House Rep Vic Snyder who is also a medical doctor.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Ms. Finn, I need you to educate me here. Is this an inventory problem or is it a record keeping problem at the time drugs are prescribed? I mean is the -- where's the accuracy and inaccuracy? When you go in and count up the number of pills and drugs available in the storeroom, do we think that's accurage and that the record keeping was wrong? Or do we think that the record keeping is right but somehow either too many pills were sent in or some are walking out the door unannounced? Which is the problem? Or do you know?
Belinda Finn: The problem I think is we can't tell which is really accurate because the physical inventories --
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Is different than the record keeping.
Belinda Finn: -- are different from the records. We know there are problems with the transactional records and we know there are problems with the actual taking and recording of the physical inventories.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Now -- okay, there are problems on both ends. Now if somebody had asked me an hour ago when I got to the airport do I think that somebody could make a phone call to a VA pharmacy and say, "How many Lipitor, 40 mg, prescribed last year?" -- I would say, "Yeah, they can probably do that within an hour." But apparently that's not right. I thought because of the electronic record keeping there would be an ability to come up with those numbers fairly quickly. Is that right or wrong?
Belinda Finn: They may be able to give you an answer. I couldn't vouch for its accuracy.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Accuracy. So let's suppose it was inaccurate. Where would the inaccuracy come from? Prescriptions are written and they never get sent to a patient? What would be . . .
Belinda Finn: Part of the problems that we saw is that the pharmacy may dispense pills using a reprint function which may not actually hit the pharmacy records so there could be prescriptions dispensed that aren't being recorded because they're using an informal method.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Now in terms of the inventory, you had quite a range of potential problems, right? Do we think at any time that this interferes with veterans getting medication because of the inaccuracies or inefficienes? Or veterans getting prescriptions, they're told by the pharmacist, 'Well this one isn't in, we didn't order it in a timely fashion' or not?
Belinda Finn: No, sir, we didn't see any evidence of any harm to veterans because the pills were not available.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Well I don't necessarily mean harm. I mean just kind of inconvenience?
Belinda Finn: No, none of that either.
US House Rep Vic Snyder: Okay, so then it becomes an issue of cost.
Belinda Finn: It becomes an issue of cost and accountability.
I don't see any coverage of yesterday's hearing. (There's a lot more to cover than what we emphasized with one highlighted exchange.) The press needs to utilize their oversight power. And when the press is suffering from bad images, you'd think they'd run with an issue like this. Not only does it improve their images, it can result in awards. CBS Evening News with Katie Couric just won an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism in a Regularly Scheduled Newscast. The award was for the series of reports on veteran suicides. Armen Keteyian, Pia Malbran, Keith Summa, Rick Kaplan, Ariel Bashi, Craig Crawford, Matt Turek and Catherine Landers worked on that series (Armen was the on air journalist for the reports). From their award winning coverage, CBS Evening News notes these reports:
Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans Veteran Suicides: How We Got The Numbers Congress Vows Action On Vets' Suicides VA Admits Vet Suicides Are High VA Says E-mail Was "Poorly Worded" VA Official Grilled About E-Mails Soldier Suicide Attempts Skyrocket
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing targeting "a senior tribal leader" that injured his bodyguard and a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 3 Iraqi soldiers. Reuters notes another Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another wounded.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul attack in which 1 police officer was killed and another left injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul home with "signs of stabbing".
In England today, the inquiry into the death of Iraqi Baha Mousa (while in British custody) resumed. (See Monday's snapshot for opening remarks.) Sangita Myska (BBC News) reports that Daoud Mousa, Baha's father, declared today that "he had reported Queen's Lancashire Regiment members for breaking into a safe" and that he believed his son may have been killed in retaliation. Baha died September 16, 2003. Adam Gabbatt (Guardian) explains Baha's father was forced out of the police by Saddam Hussein and that he and his family saw the arrival of British troops in 2003 as a good thing, "We welcomed the troops; we gave them flowers. They were walking about everywhere in the markets, quite free of any concern. That was in light of the good relationship between the people of Basra and the British troops." The Telegraph of London emphasizes that Daoud saw "three or four British soldiers breaking into a safe and taking out packets of money which they stuffed into the pockets of their uniform and inside their shirts." The London Evening Standard also emphasizes that aspect of the testimony and adds that Daoud lodged a complaint with a British officer whom he knew as "Lieutenant Mike," following that, Daoud saw the hotel employees on the floor face down, including his son, "I believe that my son may have been treated worse than other people because I had made a complaint to Lieutenant Mike that money was being stolen from the hotel safe."
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki testified through an interpreter. He spoke of what he encountered when he went to Ibn Al Haitham Hotel looking for his son Baha. He denied that Ba'athist were using the hotel to meet up -- stating he would have known if that was taking place as would his son.
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I used to stop at the hotel to take him home with me because each morning I had to drop one of my daughters to school, which was not far from the hotel, and she was taking her final exams at the time.
Gerald Elias: So on this morning, at about what time did you arrive at the hotel?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: It was eight or less than eight.
Gerald Elias: When you approached the hotel, as you have said in your statement, did you see the presence of British soldiers outside?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I noticed some British vehicles outside the hotel and I saw a crowd in the street. There was one soldier standing guard at the gate.
Gerald Elias: As you approached the hotel, did you look through the hotel window and see something inside?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: As I approached the hotel, I saw through -- through the glass of doors of the hotel. I saw soldiers, British soldiers, breaking a safe with two points -- two poitned sides, one round pointed side and the other was broad.
Gerald Elias: How many soldiers did you see trying to break the safe?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I am not quite sure. Three to four.
Gerald Elias: Three to four. Did they break into the safe?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: They broke the safe from behind and made a hole in it.
Gerald Elias: When they had made a hole, what, if anything, did the soldiers do then?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: They reached inside from behind and took out packets of money, part of which they put in their pockets. They had side pockets in their uniform which had more than one pocket and they put the others inside their shirts on their naked body.
Gerald Elias: When you talk of packets of money, you mean, do you, packets of notes, paper money?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: What I am talking about and what I mean is notes.
Gerald Elias: Do you remember how many soldiers were actually putting money in their pockets?Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: I didnt' focus on this side of events, but somehow I think there were three to four.
Gerald Elias: When you saw that, what did you do?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: After I had seen that, I thought that it was a violation of English dignity and honour and the honour of English troops, so I asked a soldier standing by the door to allow me to get in as a crime had been committed inside. I did enter the hotel after that.
He recounts how he was taken to Lt Mike, given a red pen to write a statement, did so, Lt Mike called to one of the soldiers discovered money in his pocket, grabbed his gun and told him to leave the hotel. He speaks of being informed two days later that his son was dead and taken to see the body.
Gerald Elias: Did he have marks to his head and face and to his body?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: Yes, yes, there were traces, there were marks.
Gerald Elias: How extensive were the marks and bruises about his body?
Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki: There is so many and so many intensive injuries and marks as a result of hardship, as a result of the violence inflicted on the body, the hitting on the body, strong hitting on the body.
There were attempt to discredit Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki as a witness. Repeatedly, a document was referred to, written in September 2003. Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki's statement says Lt Mike slapped the soldier with money in his pockets. And now he states that did not or may not have happened.
But Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki's statement wasn't presented. What was presented was a statement in English. He neither speaks nor reads English. He didn't write the statement. It has his signature but, as he pointed out, he was told it was a translation of the written statement he gave (in Arabic). This was repeatedly cited during questions and the point was an attempt to discredit him as a witness. It was, honestly, rather shameful. Attorneys may want to win a case but there are certain things you really shouldn't do.
A transcript to Monday's testimony is up at The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry. A transcript for today has not yet been posted but will be. (I've used a copy of the transcript and reports from friends attending the inquiry today for the snapshot.)
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