Monday, June 21, 2010

When DVDs do not play

As Tori Amos sings on one of her albums, "I don't like Mondays." :D I really don't. Do you?

I don't like our Supreme Court much right now either. Did you hear about that? This is the opening to LAT's editorial:

Disregarding the dictionary as well as the Constitution, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that advising foreign terrorist groups to pursue their objectives peacefully amounts to "material support" of their violent activities. The 6-3 ruling blurs a distinction that Congress needs to sharpen in the interest of free speech.

The ruling is a defeat for two groups of activists that want to engage in so-called peace building. One is a collection of organizations supportive of the humanitarian and political activities of Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka. The other, headed by USC professor Ralph Fertig, wants to advise the Kurdistan Workers' Party on how to take its grievances against Turkey to the United Nations.

Can you believe that crap? They're stripping away our rights. Warren Richey (Christian Science Monitor) adds:

The prohibition extends beyond knowingly facilitating illegal operations. The law – part of the USA Patriot Act – makes it a federal crime to provide any help or support to a terror group – even support designed to teach a violent group how to use legal and peaceful means to achieve political change.

Violators face up to 15 years in prison.


You know who else to blame besides the six justices who made that finding? CCR. Dumb asses brought the case. Just knew now was the 'right climate' and that with Barack On Their Side, they couldn't lose. Stupid asses. Stupid Barack suck-ups. Stupid dumb asses. He is not on their side. And Elane Kagan fought for the verdict in court. CCR is really becoming an embarrassment.

Meanwhile, read Andy Barr at Politico to see the latest mess Barack's gotten himself into. Classic Barry. What a moron.

Now a consumer warning before anything else: Rent something other than Alice In Wonderland. Maybe you'll have better luck than me, but I rented that movie hoping it might be worth watching. Today I rented it. I'm on my third copy and just taking this one back tomorrow and asking for credit. Everyone of them shuts down after the Red Queen's talking about how she likes toadstools on toast or something. Just when that dull movie finally gets some life, it stops. And then it goes into this Disney advert including how the disc has "Fast Play." I have no idea what the problem is, but it happened with three different discs today. (And you can't then get the damn thing to play where it was and if you start over, same problem at the same point with the Red Queen.)

Let's get to Third. Along with Dallas, here's who worked on the edition:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen
Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And this is the content:

This was an NPR one. It also allowed us to note the Gulf Disaster.

Jim breaks down the edition.

I really do like this editorial. I wish we had an illustration with this but I really like what we wrote here.

Ava and C.I. :D They like the Olyphant. :D Justified is a good show though. I was surprised when it was the end of the season because I thought it would go on through the summer. Instead, we all have to wait until the fall to find out what happened.

I did like this book. I'll write more on that tomorrow. Or Wednesday. Just remembered that I need to do a short piece this week. That'll be tomorrow or the day after. But I took the critical negative for this book. I like the discussion but Ann's wrongly mentioned as being a part of the roundtable and she wasn't. Jim needs to correct that.

Ava and C.I. tackle sexist Diane Rehm. Explain how a woman books only 30% female guests and then wants to pretend she had no idea? Explain that to me.

Dona's short post. I really like this.
This had to be the headline for our music mag roundup. It's so obvious a headline.

Short post suggested by me.

Dave Zirin is a moron. A stupid dumb ass. Attacking a sports team for what a bunch of silly legislators did. Dave Zirin's needs to get a damn grip.

I worked on this. (So did Ann.)
PSAs.

And we wrote this.

I'm still bummed about Alice in Wonderland. I was going to watch it by myself and was embarrassed just by myself. But by the time I exchanged it the third time, Elaine was home. Fortunately, she said she'd like to see it too. I told her what had happened with the other two copies, just to warn her, but never dreamining in a million years it would happen with this one too. I just realized I should have checked to see if it was available for streaming on Netflix? That would have saved a lot of trouble.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:''

Monday, June 21, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi heat continues, protests over the lack of electricity continues, Turkey again sends troops into Iraq, Ayad Allawi talks of assassination plots, and more.
Starting with Bulls**t Artist of the week: Evan McMorris-Santoro. His "S**t My Rand Says: A compendium of Paul's Wacky Quotes" (Google it, no link to the trash) explains everything that's always been wrong with Joshy Micahy Marshy hairy ass blog TPMCDC. Little Evan never got an education, never read a book apparently. He's trashing Rand Paul and throwing everything he can at him? Why? Because TPMCDC isn't a news outlet, isn't a resource, it's just Democratic Party organ. It's the same crap you'd get from Rush Limbaugh but from the Democratic Party. TPMCDC just discovered the Iraq War continues and Evan McMorris-Santoro decided to use it to smear Rand Paul (who is running for the US Senate and the son of Republican Congress member Ron Paul) with comments like "he's claiming he understands the reasoning behind suicide bomb attacks against US forces in Iraq." We're all supposed to recoil in horror over that.
Of course, Rand Paul understands it. Anyone with a brain can follow it. Rand Paul has not justified bombing anyone -- Evan's trying to pimp that Rand's endorsing bombing US troops -- he's merely noted the mind set. And by talking seriously about a serious issue, he's rewarded by the crap that is TPMDC with a partisan trashing. Rand Paul's not the idiot on this one, Evan McMorris-Santoro and TPMDC are the idiots. Little whores who, in 2004, would have bent over backwards (and did) to justify similar comments by Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry now rip apart Rand Paul for similar remars because he's 'on the other side.' All little whores like Evan do is make it that much harder to ever have an honest discussion about Iraq. But they're not about honest discussion and they don't give a f**k about Iraq. All the little whores at TPMDC are about is pimping for Democrats, getting them in office and spending post-election time justifying the elected Dems refusal to do a damn thing.
I don't have time of TPM's crap, the world doesn't have time for it. People are dying and we need something more substantial than talking points and half-truths. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Most of the time, I just ignore the foul stench from TPM but when they want to pretend to care about the Iraq War? Please. (And Josh cheered that war on as much as Judith Miller's bad reporting did though he tries real hard to pretend otherwise today.) If you want information about Rand Paul, check out his campaign site. Getting information on him from TPM is a bit like asking an accountant's angry, bitter ex whether or not you should hire him/her to keep your books.
Turning to Iraq where the sweltering heat means 100 degree days and the lack of electricity means many Iraqis sleep outside (the US military killed a husband and a wife on a rooftop this month and a Sahwa family was killed by unknown assailants last week while sleeping in their garden). The lack of consistent and reliable electricity in the oil-rich country of Iraq is becoming an issue with the citizens. Saturday Aziz Alwan and Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported, "At least one person was killed and three others were injured Saturday in the southern port city of Basra when police fired into a crowd of unruly protesters who were demanding electricity and potable water to help cope with the blistering summer heat, officials and witnesses said." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) noted "More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq still suffers from a lack of basic services including water and electricity. The lack of power is especially unnerving during Iraq's searing summers. Temperatures in Basra, one of the hottest places in the country, soared above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday." In a 24 hour period, Basra receives -- on a good day -- six hours of electricity. Karim Jamil (AFP) added, "Thousands had gathered to demand the dismissal of Electricity Minister Karim Wahid and provincial officials over the rationing, which sees residents receive power for just one hour in five in temperatures that hit 54 degrees Celsius (130 Fahrenheit) on Saturday, an AFP correspondent said." Jamil reports signs reading "We don't want oil or medicine, we want water and electricity" and "The people of Basra ask the authorities to provide services for citizens." Aref Mohammed (Reuters) noted, "Demonstrators said the Basra protest was spontaneous. But provincial council officials from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc said the rally had been exploited by Shi'ite political rivals, who want Maliki to give up his bid for a second term in talks on forming a coalition government." Police fired on the demonstrators. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports, " On Saturday one man was shot dead by police at a demonstration protesting the lack of electricity, clean water and services in the southern city of Basra, where most of Iraq's oil is exported. During the funeral of the victim, Haidar Salman, a 26-year-old father of three, protesters demanded the resignation of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and his caretaker administration."
Basra was the location for Saturday's protests, today they were in Nasiriyah. For protest photos click here. Nasiriyah.org reported on the protests in depth noting that "the protesters gathered in different areas of the city of Nasiriyah, and then moved to the main government building of the province of Dhi Qar." They state that riots broke out and, along with police, the Iraq military arrived in a Hummer. Ambulances arrived on the scene and medical sources confirm that several were wounded and transferred to the hospital. A comment left at the site by "I'm Naserya" expresses the sentiment that the people are demanding that the provincial council and governor be dissolved: "And I repeat, I demand nothing less than the dissolution of the provincial council and governor because of their abject failure in the province." The number of wounded eventually reached 17 -- that's the number of wounded who were taken in ambulances. Tear gas was sprayed and authorities, after the demonstration was broken up, arrested a police officer. That arrest is only mentioned once and the province's "Director General of Police," Maj Gen Saeed, is quoted elsewhere claiming that the police "should be regarded by the Iraqi man as the Holy Grail" ("man" is the word used -- don't blame me for the fact that the US put a bunch of sexist thugs in charge of what was an advanced country). Reuters notes that a water cannon was used.
The two protests struck a nerve in an otherwise unresponsive government or 'government.' Assad Abboud (AFP) reported mid-day that Karim Wahid, the country's Minister of Electricity, was offering to resign on Iraqi state television. Faced with the offer of resignation, Nouri al-Maliki demonstrated the same paralysis that has always characterized his tenure as prime minister. His spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told the press that "Maliki would take no decision on Wahid's resignation offer until after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday." Nouri froze. And later today when the resignation was accepted -- as everyone knew it would be -- Nouri looked yet again like the village idiot. Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports the resignation was accepted and, "The crisis has raised concerns that growin unrest over the lack of basic services could jeopardize efforts to stabilize Iraq even as security improves. It also has put a new dent in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's image as a provider of law and order as he battles to keep his job after inconclusive national elections." Yacoub quotes Wahid announcing ("with courage") his resignation and notes that Nouri's office could not be reached for comment. Al Jazeera adds, "Many parts of southern Iraq receive just six hours of electricity per day, and tempers have flared as an early-summer heat wave in the Gulf pushes temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius."
A new dent in Nouri's image? Try another -- more than any bodyshop could handle. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the two still lack four seats necessary (or so it is thought) to form the government.
"Despite denial and protestation by Iraqi politicians," Jasim Azawi explained on the lastest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday), "the decision as to who should govern Iraqi is made as much in Tehran, Damascus and Washington as by Iraqi voters." Last Monday, the Parliament finally met for the first time and for less than 20 minutes. This was the topic Jasim and his guests -- Iraqi National Alliance's Al-Aharif bin al-Hussein and Iraqiya's Mustafa al-Hiti -- explored.
Jasim Azawi: Now that the federal court has sanctioned the results of the March election, the real political horse trading has just started and most likely it is going to continue for some months to come. Al-Aharif bin al-Hussein, what does Iraqiya want exactly from Ayad Allawi?
Al-Aharif bin al-Hussein: Well I think, first of all, we have to all agree that the Constitution states that the largest political bloc has the right to present a candidate for the prime ministership. It doesn't say that the largest winning -- that the largest list -- electoral list --has the right, it says the largest parliamentary bloc and that is the National Alliance. So first we need them to accept that and then we can move on to the second stage which is deciding on who -- which candidate is the most likely to achieve a majority in Parliament. A great deal of the discussion revolves around some -- which party has the right to form the government. That isn't really what's under discussion. What's under discussion should be who is most capable -- able -- to get a majority in Parliament. And from what we see, that at the moment, the two leading candidates, the two front runners, are having a great deal of difficulty. That's Dr. Ayad Allawi --
Jasim Azawi: Until that difficulty is resolved, let me seek the judgment and the wisdom of Mustafa al-Hiti who is a leading figure of al-Iraqiya, headed by Ayad Allawi. Have you in Iraqiya considered the first point and that is: The largest bloc entering the Parliament is going to form the government or the largest winner in the election?
Mustafa al-Hiti: Well I think both from the Constitution and from the call of the Constitutional Court, it is not a Constitutional one, it is the federal one which was formed at least, maybe one year before, we had the Constitution. So this court says it is form both, it is okay. But if we go back to the election law and we define it and we find that any coalition should be formed before the day of election and then closed all, what we call it, the coalition along time before the 7th of March so anything related to this matter, I think, when they said it could be before and after, we don't accept it.
Jasim Azawi: Judging by what you said and what Al-Sharif bin al-Hussein said, it seems to me as well as observers of Iraqi situation, this period between the first session of Parliament and until the next Iraqi government is sworn in, it is going to take perhaps months and some people say even perhaps next year. So Al-Shair bin al-Hussein, let me ask the question in a different manner, what will it take for al-Maliki, for instance, who is currently perhaps your candidate in the Iraqi National Alliance to get the consent of al-Iraqiya? Is there some kind of a sweetner? Is there something you can give him? Because Ayad Allawi is adamant that it his right, that he should be called upon when the Iraqi president is elected -- and most likely that is going to be Jalal Talabani -- that he should be called upon to form the new government.
Al-Aharif bin al-Hussein: Of-of-of course National Alliance hasn't agreed yet on-on a candidate. Uh, but we expect that to happen in the next few weeks. I think --
Jasim Azawi: That's what you said a few weeks ago and that did not happen. It looks like it's quite possible that even this alliance between al-Maliki and [Ammar] al-Hakeem is going to fracture and perhaps they will find, I don't know, a compromise candidate?
Al-Aharif bin al-Hussein: I mean the compromise candidate is always hanging in the wings -- depending upon whether you consider that to be an alternative to Dr. Allawi or Dr. al-Maliki, Mr. Maliki. But going back to your first point, I think what we need from Iraqiya is-is to deal with political realities. The political reality is the National Alliance is now the largest Constitutional bloc. The political reality is that we are very close to the Kurdish bloc in Parliament and that it is very likely that we will reach agreement over the government program in the next four years. At that point, Iraqiya has to make a serious discussion. Will they accept working with us to agree on a candidate which is put forward by the National Alliance or not? It is all well and fine over the last three months that they have been taking this negotiating position and insisting on Dr. Ayad Allawi becoming prime minister, being prime minister, but the political realities are that it is very unlikely that he will be able to form a majority in Parliament.
Jasim floats the idea that the Iraqi government might not be formed until next year. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR's All Things Considered) reports on the rising anxiety among Iraqis with the political stalemate and the US drawdown.
Meanwhile Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi has stated that unnamed persons in the current Iraqi government are devising a plan to assassinate him:

Allawi first spoke publically of the alleged assassination plot at a public gathering Saturday after the pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat published a report about the threat, citing unnamed security sources. He said a sniper planned to shoot him on the road to the Baghdad airport or inside the compound.
Allawi said Sunday that he was warned that the plot would be preceded by a government order barring all politicians from flying into and out of the Muthanna airfield, a restricted military base in Baghdad from which Allawi had traveled exclusively since 2004. The order came down last week.

Parker also notes that the US military put in writing (last April -- and Parker saw it and the military confirmed it to him) that they had heard reports that there would be an attempt on Allawi's life. Oliver August (Times of London via the Australian -- Rupert, work on your firewalls) reminds, "Members of Mr Allawi's Iraqiya bloc has been the target of repeated assassination attempts since the March election" and he quotes Allawi stating, "When they want to assassinate a person they have different ways. I was told there are reasons to believe there is a plan to assassinate me by sticking a bomb in my car at a checkpoint, perhaps a temporary one that is set up illegally." UAE's National Newspaper adds, "The Iraqi government will be the first to be held accountable in the event of a security shortfall, for the safety of party leaders remains the government's responsibility. That was basically Mr Allawi's message: the Iraqi government isn't doing enough to protect the Iraqi people's choice."

Turning to violence. Last week both Iran and Turkey continued shelling Iraq's northern region. Turkey sent 800 ground troops into northern Iraq and made a big to-do over pulling them out. The violence continued over the weekend. Saturday, Turkish military planes again bombed northern Iraq as the struggle between the Turkish military and the PKK continued. The PKK has bases in the mountains of northern Iraq. They advocate for a Kurdish homeland (and a bit more but that's their overall goal). They are seen as terrorists by a number of governments including Turkey, the US, the UK and by the European Union. Sebnem Arsu (New York Times) reported that the PKK launched an attack Saturday which resulted in 8 Turkish soldiers being killed and fourteen more injured leading to the Turkish bombings. (Saturday's death toll for Turkish soldiers would rise to 11.) The call-and-response of the activities may cover Saturday, but this back-and-forth has been going on for years. BBC News traces this week's exchanges between the two groups and also goes back a bit further. Turkish planes continued bombing on Sunday and among the dead was a teenage Kurdish girl, said to be "the first reported civilian death," according to Selcan Hacoglu (AP) who noted her three-year-old brother was injured in the assualt as was the children's mother. Sify puts the girl's age at 11. AFP states the girl was 15 and reports, "By Sunday morning, the [Turksih ground] troops had advanced 10km into Iraqi territory in the Qandil mountains where the rebels maintain a network of rear bases in their 26-year-old armed campaign for self-rule in south-eastern Turkey, the Iraqi Kurdish security official said." Hoshyar Zebar, Iraq's Foreign Minister stated, "No country should resort to unilateral action." Today Reuters reports that Turkish helicopters have also been deployed and "Elite troops rappelled down from helicopters and poured out of mechanised infantry units to surround Kurdish rebels in an opeartion along the Iraqi border, security sources said" while Turkey's President Abdullah Gul met with his cabinet for "an emergency security meeting." AFP adds that Turkey is using drones -- made in Israel -- to fly over and monitor northern Iraq. (On the topic of drones, AP's Chet Brokaw reports that the 'home' for the US squadrons operating the US drones in Iraq and Afghanistan will be South Dakota's Ellsworth Air Force Base.)
As this continues to heat up, it's a good thing that PBS' NewsHour didn't recently have the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on as a guest and 'forget' to ask him about the PKK and about the meeting between the KRG's President Massud Barzani and the Turkish president. Oh wait, The NewsHour did 'forget.' And in the process not only wasted everyone's time, missed the opportunity to inform which is supposed to be its role and is, in fact, why it gets grants and, yes, tax payer dollars. If you're late to the party, refer to the June 2nd snapshot. Semih Idiz (Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News) offers this analysis of the conflict:
Most of the anger on the Turkish side is being directed at the Erdo─čan government, whose so called "Kurdish Opening," many believe, is at the bottom of this turmoil. That contention is true to a large extent, except that the name is wrong. It was never a "Kurdish opening" as such, but in fact a "PKK opening" which, in the end, was totally mismanaged and inevitably went awry.
Many Turks believe that the government caved to the PKK – which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, as well as the United States and the European Union – as a result of this "opening." This feeling was heightened after last year's scenes at the Habur border gate with northern Iraq, when PKK militants giving themselves up were greeted by Turkish officials. The idea was that those militants would be arrested but given the full leniency of the law, with the understanding that, if they showed a degree of repentance, they would be allowed to go free.
Here we go again. Another regime under the influence of the military opting to continue a violent solution that has already cost thousands of lives.
Turkey is repeating its big mistake as just Iraq and Sudan did. Turkey, like Saddam Hussein's Iraq previously, should learn that you cannot deny people their basic human rights. What are the Kurds in Turkey and for that matter the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) are asking for is only basic recognition of the fact that they are a people who are different and want to enjoy their cultural identity.
It is ridiculous that Turkey only until recently would not even recognise the existence of the Kurds in Turkey. So why is this mighty unholy alliance of all the major powers ganging up against a few hundred PKKs?
In other news, the mass bombings in Iraq are not over. Sunday demonstrated that yet again. Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) report a Baghdad "double suicide bombing" outside -- guess where. What was last Sunday's target? A bank. Right. THis was outside a government bank. They count 27 dead and fifty-seven injured. Khalid D. Ali and Timothy Williams (New York Times) add, "The twin blasts near Nisour Square, which was crowded with people at the start of the workweek here, were powerful enough to toss several cars onto nearby rooftops, witnesses said, and turned the area into a scene reminiscent of the worst days of the war, with white sheets covering the dead, body parts littering the ground and people with shrapnel wounds wandering dazed, asking for water." Al Jazeera notes:


Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Baghdad, said the location of the attack would be viewed as another sign that the Iraqi army and police are struggling to provide basic security.
"If you walk 150 metres, you will have an Iraqi army checkpoint there," he said. "So it's kind of a blow to the security forces."


Kim Gamel (AP) reports
, "Hours later, a man wearing an explosives vest blew himself up as police and onlookers responded to a roadside bomb apparently set as a trap in the northern city of Tikrit. At least five people were killed and 12 wounded in the late night attack, according to police and hospital officials."

In other violence today, Reuters notes a Baiji motorcycle bombing injured six people, a Shirqat suicide bomber took his/her own life and claimed the lives of 8 other people (with ten more wounded), 1 person shot dead in Mosul and, dropping back to last night, a Mosul roadside bombing which left three police officers injured.

Moving over to the finanical cost of war, at the start of this month, the Institute for Public Accuracy offered a dollar amount for the financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars: $1 trillion dollars. BBC notes that the costs for the UK government in fighting the two wars has surpassed the 20 billion pound mark -- which would be approximately 29.7 billion US dollars. They go on to note, "Critics questioned why the UK was spending so much on conflict when public finances were in a dire state." The US has spent much, much more than that but ask yourself when you ever heard the anchor of the ABC, CBS or NBC news note that anyone might wonder why, when the US' economy is "in a dire state," the government was spending so much money on war? Carl Ramey (North Carolina's Pilot) notes, "Amazing, isn't it? We can talk endlessly about the nation's debt crisis and rampant spending, but nary a word about two wars that are costing us more than $12 billion every single month, and whose cumulative costs, over the past eight years, have already surpassed $1 trillion."
Last week, the Washington Post offered an editorial (noted in Friday's snapshot) asserting the US Senate Armed Services Committee was acting irresponsibly, Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responds:

The Post's recent editorial on U.S. funding for Iraq's defense ministry ["Poor transition," June 18] accused the Senate Armed Services Committee of ignoring "a few facts" in trimming $1 billion from the administration's request of $2 billion for Iraq security funding. That's funny, because The Post ignored plenty of facts in its editorial.

The Post made two arguments: that Iraq's budget is in such terrible shape that it can't make up the funding difference on its own and that the cut sends a message "that the long-term strategic partnership" between our two nations "is likely to be barren." Both arguments are wrong.
The case that Iraq's budget is in worse shape than our own, and therefore the country is unable to provide funding for its own defense, is simply false. The Post ignored the fact that just this month, Iraq's finance minister reported that the budget has a $10 billion surplus, thanks to rising oil prices, and that projections for future deficits have fallen. At the same time that oil prices are bringing a budget windfall, Iraq is slashing spending on its security.
Even with our approved cut, U.S. taxpayers will contribute $1 billion next year directly to building Iraq's military, in addition to the cost of maintaining our troop presence. I doubt American taxpayers see that as a "barren" commitment.
Supporters of the Iraq war downplayed or ignored the costs in advocating invasion. Those costs now total more than $800 billion. The American taxpayer can't ignore those costs, and neither can we in Congress.
Carl Levin, Washington

Wednesday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing which is covered in Wednesday's snapshot and Friday's snapshot. Alaska's Senator Mark Begich did the bulk of the questioning in the first panel and chaired the second panel. His office notes:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Julie Hasquet, Press Secretary
(907) 258-9304 office
(907) 350-4846 cell
June 16, 2010
2010-120

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, chairing a hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, today secured a commitment from the Veterans Administration (VA) to a high level meeting in the next three months with officials from the Indian Health Services (IHS) to focus on ways to improve care for rural veterans.

The topic of the hearing was VA Health Care in Rural Areas and included testimony from three Alaska witnesses directly involved in health care delivery to Alaska's veterans.

"I am pleased the VA recognizes the challenges faced by Alaska's veterans, particularly in rural areas, in accessing affordable and easily available health care services," Begich said. "The more we can coordinate and find ways to improve the system, the better off Alaska's veterans will be."

The committee heard testimony from Dan Winkelman, Vice President and General Counsel at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation; Brigadier General Deborah McManus, Assistant Adjutant General and Commander, Alaska National Guard; and Verdie Bowen, Director, Office of Veterans Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

All of the Alaska witnesses testified about the difficulty in providing efficient services for veterans in rural parts of the state.

Winkelman testified that high energy, food and personnel costs add to the enormous disparity rural veterans have in accessing health care, a problem compounded by the fact there are few veterans health facilities in rural areas.

"To lack access upon their return from duty to culturally appropriate and quality health care services by the VA is a shame," Winkelman said.

Witnesses talked about the possibility and need for allowing rural veterans to access care at IHS funded facilities and have the VA reimburse the provider later, in many cases saving money and time by not forcing veterans to travel to Alaska's larger cities where VA facilities are located.

In response to the testimony and under questioning from Sen. Begich, VA Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, William Schoenhard agreed to organize a high level meeting between VA and IHS officials in the next few months.

"We should collaborate. I would certainly welcome how we can better serve and get veterans engaged with IHS," Schoenhard testified.

Schoenhard admitted the VA doesn't have a thorough understanding of some of the obstacles faced by rural veterans and is looking at ways to revitalize the Rural Pilot Project, an outreach program designed to enroll more rural Alaska veterans in the VA health system.

And finally, David Bacon offers photos of a San Francisco demonstration "Afternoon Unloading of Israeli Ship at Oakland Port Canceled after Morning Protest" (Berkeley Daily Planet):

"Hundreds of demonstrators from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area set up early morning picketlines in front of four gates into the SSA terminal in the Port of Oakland, as a ship carrying Israeli cargo was preparing to dock. Demonstrators were protesting the Israeli attack on the flotilla that sought to break the blockade of Gaza, in which Israeli troops killed nine people. In response to the picketline, members of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union decided not to go into the terminal and unload the cargo. In the afternoon, with picketlines again in front of the gate, the stevedoring company decided not to ask for a crew of longshosre workers to unload the ship, in the expectation that the crew would again not enter the terminal."

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which 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).