Friday, May 07, 2010
I liked this episode so much better than last week's. Last weeks's had a one-time appeal. You can watch it once and then what's the point? The whole thing was a fairy tale told by Walter. It didn't really happen. And it was nice as a one-time thing but it didn't advance the plot line or make you know the characters better (they didn't play the characters, for one thing, they played a version of the characters if they were in a film noir).
So this was a basic episode. Martha Plimpton was a guest star and she did a great job. I was kind of thinking they'd make her a regular, that her boyfriend would be dead, and she'd tell Peter, "I've got no reason to stay in this town."
That didn't happen but she had a really strong role and did a great job with it.
Unlike Barack. And Barry O's woes never seem to go away. This is from Ben Smith and Manu Raju (Politico):
President Barack Obama’s enemies like to call him a creature of the “Chicago machine,” but when it comes to the politics of his home state of Illinois, the White House doesn’t seem to know where the gears are.
Indeed, Chicago has delivered an unending stream of embarrassment, frustration and discomfort to the administration of its favorite son, from an indicted governor to a failed Olympics bid to a series of smaller political blows.
In the latest encounter with political quicksand, the White House — already burned by a series of failures to fill Obama’s Senate seat with a chosen candidate — has been forced to proceed with extreme caution toward the damaged Democratic Senate nominee, Alexi Giannoulias, waiting to see if he drops out even as some of its allies want the White House to take a heavier hand.
Poor Barry. My heart bleeds . . . not. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, May 7, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, is it over for Allawi, Amnesty calls out the killers of Sardasht Osman, the VA can't meet deadlines -- even Congressionally mandated ones -- even ones signed off on by the President -- and thinks seven months late with a report (that was finished in September) is no big deal, and more.
Yesterday Iraqi journalist Sardasht Osman's corpse was discovered. Today Sam Dagher covers it in "Abducted Kurdish Journalist in Iraq Is Found Dead" (New York Times). He is only one of many journalists kidnapped and/or killed all over the world. So people need to think when they speak. Critics? No, the press or the pompous who consider themselves the press. Take the stammering idiot James Kitfield of National Journal who makes an ass out of himself every time he opens his mouth to offer another series of incomplete, unfinished sentences. Today he appeared on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) and uttered a series of phrases and run on thoughts including, "Also -- These guys -- The drone program as we all know has been increased dramatically, we've been killing a lot of these guys." If you didn't just get offended, let's let him continue. "We killed . . ." "We thought we got . . ." Jimmy Kit, you're in the US military? Now it's offensive that a journalist wouldn't know the large number of civilians killed in Pakistan by Barack's drones. That's offensive. But James is stupid -- listen to flop that mouth around -- and that's a given. But does the world really need his 'enlisting' right now? Are, for example, US reporters in many countries not seen as CIA or working for the government?
Is James Kitfield not aware that the National Movement for the Resortation of Pakistani Sovereignty made that (false) claim against Daniel Pearl, used that as their 'justification' for kidnapping him and killing him? The world really can't afford James Kitfield's stupidity but we'll all adjust some way. Journalism cannot afford Kitfield's stupidity. When Jimmy Kit opens his stupid mouth and starts blathering on about "we killed" or "we did," he perpetuates the myth that the press is not free and that it operates under the direction of the US government and spies for the US government. James Kitfield needs to keep his mouth shut if he can't stop damaging the profession. This is not about a media critique this is about US reporters being in hostile environments around the world. Kitfield needs to learn to present objectively and needs to stop speaking of "we." Every time he pulls that nonsense, he throws gasoline on already smouldering fire.
USA Today's Susan Page guest-hosted The Diane Rehm Show today and Iraq was raised in the second hour with the panel which consisted of Kitfield, Michele Kelemen (NPR) and David Sanger (New York Times).
Susan Page: We talked about the effort to build a government in Great Britian, let's talk about what's happening in Iraq. The two largest Shi'ite parties, the two largest Shi'ites blocs are trying to get together and form a new government. The US does not see this as necessarily a good thing. David, why?
David E. Sanger: They don't because their biggest concern here is that the Sunni minority is going to feel even more frozen out and you would end up in the kind of violence that we saw happen in 2006, 2007, until the surge began to tamp that down. So the idea was build an inclusive government. And if the Shi'ites actually stopped fighting each other and start once again thinking of how they would keep the Sunni out of the government, uh, then you've got basically all of the ingredients for an eruption. Now the next question we ask then is how does that effect the withdrawal schedule for the US? And the answer we get back is: "Not at all. At this point, the Iraqis have to sort this one out themselves and a US presence isn't going to speed this up or slow that down."
Susan Page: So even if there were signs of civil -- the kind of civil unrest that we've seen less of in Iraq, this would not prompt the US to say, "Well we better stay there for awhile and provide some stability."
James Kitfield: They say it would not. I think the pressure to do so would be too great.
Susan Page: What do you think?
James Kitfield: I was just recently in Iraq and talked to-to the military on this. There's two jumping off points since April's already passed where they could put the brakes on this because it's a very complicated rotation scheme. You have to have forces trained if you're going to keep people on the ground longer than anticipated it effects the entire rotation cycle -- in-in basically June. So they have to make their minds up pretty quick or else this withdrawal is going to, you know, go apace as we've seen and its 50,000 troops out of there by August 30th. I will say what they're trying -- You know -- I think they would clearly -- The Americans would clearly rather have Allawi who had the most number -- And he's backed by the Sunnis --The Iraqiya Party -- He's backed by the Sunnis -- They would like to see him part of a coalition. But they're making the point to the Sunnis -- Is that -- "Look, you're going to be a very powerful party in opposition that that's the way it ends up. You're going to have a lot of seats. And that's going to force them to probably give you some ministries. So it's not like they're going to totally freeze out the Sunnis. They won a lot of the -- They won 91 seats in the Parliament. So that's the message the Americans are trying to send the Sunnis. But clearly, if Allawi is frozen out of the coalition there will be hard feelings on the part of the Sunnis.
The post-election madness. Rania El Gamal and Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) report that the "alliance between Iraq's two main Shi'ite political coalitions to form the next government is far from concluded, with potentially divisive issues such as the nomination of a prime minister still unresolved." Oliver August (Times of London) observes, "Before the election, and even after it, there were hopes that a cross-sectarian alliance might bridge the divide. But a successful intervention by the Iranian Government prevented that. Many Shia leaders owe allegiance, and in some cases their position, to Tehran." Last Saturday, Lara Jakes (AP) reported that Hoshiyar Zebari (Iraq's Foreign Minister) has said the US should not be standing by observing but instead urging a solution to the post-election dispute in Iraq. He accused the Barack Obama administration of being more focused on drawdown deadlines than on the state of Iraq. Zebari was calling for help and doing so publicly. You can't get much more clear than that. Despite calls for US involvement from Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, the US did nothing as Michael Young (Lebanon's Daily Star): Instead, US officials took great pride in saying that they had not interfered in the election process. What, precisely, was the thinking here? That America would be rewarded by some cosmic moral supreme court? That Iran and Syria would gasp at American uprightness and refrain from exploiting Iraq for their own purposes? Does the administration imagine that international politics unfolds like a Frank Capra film, so that like Mr. Smith in Washington the world would dissolve into tears of affection for Mr. Obama in Iraq? Once the Iraqi elections ended, it was plain what the US should have done, or tried to do. A coalition government between Maliki and the front-runner Ayad Allawi was the right way to go. It would have helped return the Sunnis to Iraqi political life, while profiting from the Shiite split, to Iran's disadvantage. The priority should have been to keep Maliki away from the Iranians, whom the prime minister was never very close to anyway. A shotgun wedding between Maliki and Allawi might have failed, their conflicting ambitions making this difficult. Yet both could have eventually seen an interest in following through, since they would have thus marginalized their communal rivals. Here was a moment when Barack Obama's personal involvement was essential. But what did the US do? Nothing.
And the US did nothing. It offered no leadership. It just sat on the sidelines. Barack Obama is not in Iraq. Christopher Hill is. He is supposed to be the US Ambassador to Iraq. He's done a lousy job and the administration wishes they'd moved to replace him sooner (he's going bye-bye in a few months). But that's really too damn bad.Republican objections about Hill were valid when they were based on the fact that he said one thing to your face and then did another behind your back. His personnel file goes on and on about just that. It's Barack's fault and it's the Senate Democrats fault. They should have known what he was. He's done a lousy job. And Iraq was already fragile. He's only made it worse with his dithering and his stupidity and his inability to grasp even the basic issues such as Kirkuk. He couldn't even grasp Kirkuk in his Senate confirmation hearing -- despite the fact that he'd been tutored on it [The March 25, 2009 confirmation hearing was covered in that day's snapshot and the March 26, 2009 snapshots ].
Some missed the point in real time. Such as Tom Ricks' sidekick Spencer Akerman (Washington Independent) who whined the following before the confirmation hearing, "But this is one of the most important U.S. diplomatic postings in the world. It should have an ambassador filling it already." Poor Spency, fired from The New Republic and still a fool. It "is one of the most important U.S. diplomatic postings in the world" but that didn't mean that it should have someone "filling it already" -- it meant that it should have someone qualified filling the position.
Ryan Crocker had already said he would stay on a bit longer (and he did). There was no big rush. And there was no issue of "I can't get along with Crocker!" Ryan Crocker was against the Iraq invasion. He and Barack should have gotten along just fine. There was a qualified person in the position ready to stay on for as long as needed because he realized how important the post was. Chris Hill was the best Barack could do? Unfamiliar with the region, unfamiliar with the culture, unfamiliar with the history, unfamiliar with the culture and prone to morning peaks and afternoon spirals, Hill was the best choice? Were that actually true, it would be very frightening.
Iraq was not a success when Hill (finally) got to Baghdad. But he's leaving it worse than it was when he got there and the decay happened on his watch because he didn't know what he was doing. When the fool occasionally asked basic questions about protocol, he'd blow off the advice he was given. There's no way to spin it for Barack. Chris Hill is a disaster.
And Allawi? Ayad Allawi's slate won the most seat in the Parliament. Now Iraqiya finds itself shut out of the process. Kitfield's idea that some ministries might be awarded is ridiculous. Not that they might be. It could happen. But with few exceptions, the ministries are a joke. They're actually pretty much all a joke but some come with their own militias. Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet -- like his brain -- was never full. The Ministries aren't that important and they don't have a great deal of independence. Add in that if you're truly independent, you usually end up fast tracked into the US because you've got death threats and accusations against you. There is no independence. So what of Allawi? Muhammad Ashour (Niqash) believes Allawi will now have to "settle for a lower-ranking ministerial portfoilo". Paul Schemm (AP) reports that Ayad Allawi has returned to Iraq and is stating the Iraqiya Party has first shot at forming the government due to the number of seats it won in the March 7th election. Schemm notes that the Kurds state they are going with al-Maliki. The Kurds state that. It's not reality. Allawi could get the block by promising to deliver to the KRG what they've long wanted -- as anyone observing the last few years should be aware.
In addition, once the Baghdad recounts are over, MPs are sworn in. Once sworn in, they're in. Meaning?
There are 325 seats, 163 needed to form the government. After an MP is sworn in, they're in. If the new prime minister has not yet been named at that point, any MP can switch to whatever party they want for whatever reward (or bribe) they want. It's in the MPs interest to delay the process because that allows them to make demands for the people they represent and/or themselves. Should an MP switch before they're sworn into the Parliament, they could be stripped of their seat and replaced with someone else from their party. After they've taken office, they're in.
As the Iraqi National Alliance and State Of Law attempt to figure out what to do next, it is likely that the naming of the prime minister may not take place quickly.
In some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Tikrit car bombing which injured eleven people, an Abu Ghraib car bombing which claimed 1 life and left two people injured, an armed attack in Rashad resulted in 3 dead and four injured and, dropping back to last night, 1 'suspect' was killed in Ramadi.
Tuesday's snapshot noted the plans to turn Baghdad into a walled-in-city -- apparently Nouri is The Last Emperor and the Green Zone is being redubbed The Forbidden City. Al Jazeera reports today that the fence "will be made of concrete and topped by security cameras" and -- Nouri's not given up on that moat! -- in areas where The Grand Wall Of Maliki will interfere with farming, they will resort to trenches instead. Construction of the fence is said to take at least a year.
Returning to the kidnapping and murder of 23-year-old Iraqi journalist Sardasht Osman whose body was discovered yesterday, Amnesty International issued the following:
The Kurdistan Regional Government must take immediate steps to investigate the abduction and murder earlier this week of Sardasht Osman, 23, a university student who worked as a journalist for the Ashtiname newspaper in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. His abduction and murder follows a spate of other attacks on journalists and other critics of the KRG's two main political parties in recent years for which no-one has been brought to justice. Sardasht Osman, a final-year student at Erbil's University of Salaheddin, was abducted outside the university on 4 May by a group of unidentified armed men. They forced him into a car and drove away. He was not seen alive again. His body was found in Mosul yesterday morning. He had been murdered. Prior to his death, Mr Osman wrote articles for Ashtiname newspaper in Erbil, and other publications. According to Kurdish media websites, he had recently published an article in Ashtiname critical of a senior Kurdish political figure following which, according to his brother, Bashdar, he received anonymous threats to his mobile phone. It appears that his abduction and murder may be the latest in a series of attacks carried out against independent journalists and other critics of the KRG authorities in recent years. There is an emerging pattern of attacks on those who have criticised leading members and officials of the two main political parties in the Kurdistan Region - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Mas'oud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Jalal Talabani - which jointly form the KRG. The attacks, mostly physical assaults but including some killings, have generally been carried out by unidentified men in plain clothes who are widely suspected of being agents of or connected to the Parastin and Zanyari, the party security and intelligence organs of, respectively, the KDP and the PUK. Amnesty is calling on the KRG authorities to institute immediately a thorough, independent investigation into the abduction and murder of Sardasht Osman and other attacks on journalists and others in the Kurdistan Region and areas under the effective control of the KRG, and for those responsible to be brought to justice in full conformity with international law
Turning to the US where a subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled "Quality v. Quantity: Examining the Veterans Benefits Administration's Employee Work Credit and Management Systems." As Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chair John Hall noted, "One of our longer titles of a hearing." The Subcommittee heard from three panels. The first panel was composed of CNA's Eric Christensen. Why?
Chair John Hall: We also intended for today's hearing to provide an opportunity to examine a Congressionally-mandated report on the VBA's work credit and management system outlined in legislation that I developed and sponsored during the 110th Congress, the Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act of 2008, HR 5892, codified in Public Law 110-389. The goal of this legislation, among other things, was to provide VBA with a valuable roadmap to assess and improve its work credit and management systems to produce better claims outcomes for our veterans. The deadline for this report was October 31, 2009 and I note that we have yet to receive it. However, VA has authorized its independent research contractor that was retained to complete this report, the Center for Naval Analyses to testify before us today concerning a summary of the report's findings and recommendations. VA advised the Subcommittee that the report is still under review by the agency and OMB and that it should be transmitted to Congress soon. We look forward to hearing today when this report will be ready and submitted to Congress, and getting a better understanding of why it has not yet been delivered.
The above was in his opening remarks. We'll note this exchange that took place during questioning.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Thank you and can you give us any insight into why the VA has been unable to release the study that was made by CNA which I believe you said was completed in September?
Eric Christensen: That's correct. We completed it in September and delivered it to VBA per our contract. I cannot speak for VA in terms of why they have not provided it to you.
CNA completed the report in September 2009. Congress was ordered to report on that study and the report was due October 31, 2009. It is now May 2010 and the report has not been made to Congress. Representing the VA was Diana M. Rubens (on the third panel), the Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations. This is what she stated in her opening remarks:
As the Subcommittee is fully aware, Public Law 110-389 required the Secretary [of the VA] to initiate a stufy of the effectiveness of the VBA's employee work credit to evaluate a more effective means of improving disability claims processing performance. I apologize for the late delivery as we experienced delays in both the initiation of that study and the completion of that concurrence process. I do anticipate that that will be delivered shortly and I'm happy to be available for any questions you have upon review of that study.
She went on to claim that CNA and VBA were similar in their analysis. Were that correct, why would it take so long to release a report on the study? It will be "delivered shortly" -- she anticipates. In the written version of her opening statment (what will make it into the record over her verbal response quoted above), she's stating "we expect to deliver [the report] in the near future."
It all sounds like "Check's in the mail." And what is it with the VA that they can get anything right these days? They can't make fall 2009 payments on time (they just finished -- or supposedly 'finished' -- there may be some veterans still waiting) and they can't turn in a report that was due October 31, 2009. Is Eric Shinseki unable to provide leadership and oversight to the department? If so, then a new VA Secretary may be needed. How does a department head not notice that a report legally due to Congress no later than October 31st still hasn't been delivered 7 months later?
We'll note this exchange from the hearing:
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Thank you Ms. Rubens, could you please explain, first of all, what has delayed the transmission of the report outlined in PL 110-389? And when you said "shortly," what does that mean? When will we receive that report?
Diana M. Rubens: Yes, sir. I, uh, I will tell you that, uh, this study was one of eleven in 110-389. As we worked to get the studies all engaged, it took us longer than it should have. It was an unexcusable delay. Uhm. That was enacted in October. It took us until March -- you heard Mr. Christensen say we engaged them in March  and so that was an inexcusable delay. Uh, as I understand it and I spent the last couple of days trying to ascertain just where it is. The concurrence process through VA, VBA and working with OMB is closer to the end of that process than the beginning. And we've engaged in some ongoing discussions to ensure that everybody that's looking at it, if you will, outside of VBS recognize that we are late.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well if the report was done in September , are you changing the report? Is it being modified or are you just reading it before we get to read it?
Diana Rubens: I will tell you that I think we were reading it before you get to read it and the concurrence process over the course of October, November and December was painfully protracted. It wasn't so much that we're editing or changing, I think it's making sure that we understand. And unfortunately not staying on top of the concurrence process to move it along.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well I would appreciate receiving it within what I would consider to be a reasonable time -- like the next week. I see no reason why a report that was paid for by the tax payer, that was required by this Congress and by this Committee and that was completed last September by an outside contractor should be sitting somewhere at VA -- and for no good reason that I've been told -- other than, it being reviewed and 'concurred' upon -- whatever that may mean -- has not been shared with us. And I think it's time.
Diana Rubens: Yes, sir.
That was far from VA's only problem. Another example arose in the hearing.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: As of May 1st of this year, there are over 87,000 compensation claims pending before the New York RO [Regional Office], nearly half of which have been waiting for over 125 days. What can you tell my New York area veterans and those in other Congressional districts about the work that's being done to reform the systems so that the staff -- both line staff and managers alike -- focus on improving quality and still get the benefits to the veterans in a timely manner?
Diana Rubens: Yes, sir. Specifically, the New York -- As you know, we've got a new management team in the New York Regional Office. I'm very excited about their innovation approach, their collaboration approach that they've taken on on their own already with the local medical centers to ensure that we get, uh, timely, accurate exams upon which to make decisions. And so the efforts there with a new management team I think will begin to, if you will, bear fruit as they help the employees better manage the work in innovative ways that they've developed locally. At the national level, you know, I've mentioned some of the things that we've done to generate ideas whether it's internally, whether it's through the roundtable that [House Veterans Affairs Committee] Chairman [Bob] Filner hosted, whether it's our national innovation initiative. And we are working to put together an overarching approach to how do we improve nationwide? Uh, some of the things that I think heard concern about here as well. Interim ratings is one of the things that I've heard discussed in terms of if there are 3 or 4 issues on a claim and we can process one and need to develop further information on the other that we are reinforcing the use of interim ratings. It starts getting money flowing to the veteran, it starts getting them access to health care, uhm, it ensures that they're uh in our system and getting work done. We're also looking at how do we segment claims? I heard some discussion from some of the panel members about those one issue claims that might move more quickly -- whether it's that hearing loss claim or just one single-issue -- and are currently piloting in several offices. How will that work? About 26% of our work is a single-issue claim and if we can move those along more quickly, will we allow ourselves a better focus, if you will, on those more complex claims -- whether it's a complex issue or whether it's a number of issues. Uhm, I talked a little about the pro-active phone development. We've heard some concerns about whether or not we're incentivizing or rewarding employees. I will tell you that as we reward employees, quality is always a part of the requirement for a reward to be given. But it's also about that -- I'll call it "less tangible monetary award" and it's that recognition of who your performers are and making sure that we're recognizing them for that effort. One of the initiatives that we're developing and the Secretary's interested in supporting, if you will, a Who's Who in VBA for VSRs and rating specialists that will allow us to recognize quarterly uh the top 25 in each of those categories and, at the annual level, with recognition from the Secretary in an effort to have people continue to stay jazzed and focused on we've got to get this job done. I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the efforts that we're making in both technology, if you will, the VBMS -- the Veterans Benefits Management System. We are standing up an organization that brings VBA and uses, if you will, field users and the organization together to be focused on this work that will grow from the virtual regional office pilot that was just completed in Baltimore allowing us to change and pursue accurately the electronic claims processing system.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well thank you for all of that. I'm especially happy to hear that you're -- that you're moving toward streamlined granting of claims or approval of claims in clear cut cases like hearing loss. Although I'm a little bit disappointed that, in 2008, Congress passed a law unanimously that was signed by President Bush that said "The Secretary shall issue this partial claims rating," changed the language from "may" to "shall" indicating the clear intent of Congress that when there's an undisputed severe disabling injury -- which I think hearing loss might fall under or a loss of a limb or paralysis or blindness or any number of other things that are clearly service connected and are not in dispute although there may be many other facets of the claim that are either not developed yet, they're needing longer ajudication -- but that "the Secretary shall award an immediate partial rating so that the money starts flowing to the veteran" that was passed unanimously and signed by the previous president and, two years later, I'm surprised that we're talking about being part way on the road to getting that done. I would hope that we would have been there already.
We could go on and on with other examples. That's due to the fact that John Hall prepares. He's paying attention in the other hearings and he's referencing Inspector General reports. It's nothing like the Senate VA Committee. And Hall is among the stars of the House VA Committee (others on the Democrat side would include Bob Filner, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Harry Teague and Debbie Halvorson -- on the Republican side, it would include Steve Buyer, Jerry Moran and John Boozman -- and I'm basing that on Committee performance, being able to question the witnesses and usually knowing a great deal more than the witnesses). Is there a star at the Veterans Affairs Dept? If so, they've yet to emerge and Barack Obama needs to figure out what exactly is going on and whether Shinseki is up to the job he's been appointed to.
The second panel was made up of advocates. There's not space for them in this snapshot; however, the American Legion's Ian DePlanque offered testimony and the American Legion has written about that and the hearing here. If I hear from friends with other organizations that they wrote about their advocate's testimony, we'll link to those in Monday's snapshot.
"We've been here even in the worst possible weather, in pouring rain and exhuasting heat," Joan Wile tells Clyde Haberman (New York Times) for his report on the weekly protest against the wars still held every Wednesday "on Fifth Avenue at the eastern entrance to Rockefeller Center" by the Grandmothers Against the War. Haberman reports this week saw the Grannies "330th consecutive Wednesday" protest. Heberman reports:Anne Moy went there by bus from the Lower East Side. It was important to her, she said, to register her opposition to the wars. At 92, she was the oldest on the protest line. She beat Lillian Lifflander by two years. Jenny Heinz, 65, was another regular, even though she was in the midst of treatment for breast cancer. Bert Aubrey, 76, had to lean on a cane, his knees not what they used to be. As so many rushed to walk -- no, run -- to run away from calling out the ongoing wars because a Democrat now occupies the White House, the Grandmothers Against the War have remained firm -- even with some of them having endorsed Barack. 330 Wednesdays (one Wednesday the police prevented the protest) speaks to commitment and so does protesting against what you know is wrong regardless of who is running the war. Joan Wile is also the author of Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace.
TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Peter Baker (New York Times), Dan Balz (Washington Post), Elizabeth Shogren (NPR) and Pierre Thomas (ABC News). And Gwen's column this week is "The Politics of Panic." Remember that the show podcasts in video and audio format -- and a number of people sign up for each (audio is thought to be so popular due to the fact that it downloads so much quicker). If you podcast the show, remember there is the Web Extra where Gwen and the guests weigh in on topics viewers e-mail about. And also remember that usually by Monday afternoon you can go to the show's website and stream it there (including Web Extra) as well as read the transcripts and more. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Cari Dominguez, Ilana Goldman, Irene Natividad and Sabrina Schaeffer on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week's it's immigration reform. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
Homegrown TerrorSteve Kroft reports on American citizens - like the recent would-be Times Square bomber - who have traveled abroad for terrorist training in order to attack America or its allies.
The Secretary of StateScott Pelley follows Hillary Rodham Clinton as she performs her duties as secretary of state and questions her on the latest developments in foreign policy and the recent terror scare in New York's Times Square.
Walking AwayIt's estimated that one million Americans walked away from homes "underwater" or worth less than their mortgages even though they could afford the payments. Morley Safer reports on this trend, called strategic default, that threatens the economic recovery. Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, May 9, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
iraqthe new york timessam dagher
nprthe diane rehm show
60 minutescbs newsto the contrarybonnie erbe
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)
American Idol (Fox)
The Bachelor (ABC)
The Biggest Loser (NBC)
Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)
Criminal Minds (CBS)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
CSI: Miami (CBS)
CSI: NY (CBS)
Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Gary Unmarried (CBS)
Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Human Target (Fox)
Law & Order (NBC)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Lie to Me (Fox)
The Mentalist (CBS)
New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
One Tree Hill (CW)
Private Practice (ABC)
Rules of Engagement (CBS)
I look at that list and there's probably 3 shows that I'd save if I could: Medium, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Accidentally On Purpose. I don't dislike Lie To Me but I could live without it (mainly because I haven't even seen it on Hulu and had forgotten it was still on). Some of these shows I don't even know.
Others like House and Gary Unmarried need to be pulled.
Or they could put them on Saturday nights. It's not like they air anything on that night anyway.
Cancel it. I can't take another Jeff and Lester episode. Can't take it, won't take it. No intrest in it. Jeff & Lester have ruined the show. You don't sideline Laverne and Shirley to spotlight Lenny and Squiggy.
Ellie's farewell party wasn't even about her, it was about Jeff & Lester. The Young Lovers. I'm so sick of them.
And I really don't think Chuck can get any better.
The only reason to keep the show on is if NBC can't get promises that:
1) Jeff and Lester will not be used as much
2) Anna will come back
3) Barring Anna coming back, the only story that works is Morgan and Casey falling for each other. I actually would watch another season just for that because it would be hilarious.
4) Get Sarah to start wearing her hair like she did in the first episode. She doesn't need to be all styled up, she's supposed to be this ultimate fighter and she's a spy so unless she's at an embassy party down with the glamor.
5) Work on Chuck and Ellie's relationship because that grounded Chuck and now it's not even there anymore. He lies to her but tells her husband the truth? Screw her husband. Chuck needs to stand with his sister.
If they did the above, I'd watch another season. Otherwise the show is just not working.
Also not working is my political party. Jeanne Cummings (Politico) reports:
To get an idea of how far Democrats have moved to the right on the issue of immigration reform, consider this: The Obama administration’s enforcement efforts in 2009 led to the deportation of 387,790 illegal immigrants — a 5 percent jump over the Bush administration’s record in 2008.
And this: A liberal Democratic senator from New York is a co-sponsor of a measure that includes what civil libertarians fear could become the first national ID card.
And this: A PowerPoint presentation offering guidance for Democrats in the coming Senate debate concludes that the most persuasive argument to voters for supporting reform is actually a classic Republican pitch: because it will force illegal immigrants to “pay their fair share of taxes.”
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, May 6, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, a reporter is kidnapped and murdered, the US Congress hears about economic programs for injured service members, what did England ask the International Red Cross to investigate, and more.
Sardasht is a city in Iran with a largely Kurdish population. It's in the northwest region of Iran which put it close enough to Iraq that Saddam Hussein would attack it with a fly over that dropped chemical weapons back in 1987. Sardasht Osman was an Iraqi journalist who disappeared earlier this week while reporting with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He was kidnapped. AFP reports his corpse was discovered this morning and his family has buried him. He was 23-years-old, a college student (kidnapped from Salaheddin University) and he reported for Ashtiname magazine. Kurdish Media notes that Kamal Rauf, Ahmad Mira, Asos Hardi and other Kurdish journalists have issued a statement which includes:
To kidnap a journalist in the regional capital; taking him outside the Kurdistan region; and killing him, raises serious questions. This act cannot be done by one person or small group of people. That is why we believe in the first instance that the Kurdistan Regional Government and the security forces should take the responsibility. We must take maximum step to find this perpetrators responsible. [. . .] We, as a group of Kurdistan's writers and journailsts, believe that kidnapping and threatening of journalists have increased rapidly, and cannot be accepted anymore.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the murder:
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about the decline in the press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan in a release yesterday, noting that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two parties that control the region, seemed to have reached an agreement to muzzle the press and restrict the freedom of journalists as much as possible.
"Many reports and op-ed pieces have been published in which Kurdish journalists and intellectuals are unanimous in voicing their concern about the current situation and their determination to defend press freedom," yesterday's press release said (http://en.rsf.org/irak-parties-in-ruling-coalition-agree-05-05-2010,37382.html).
The city of Erbil, where Osman was kidnapped, is mostly controlled by the KDP, whose leader, Massoud Barzani, is Kurdistan's President. His son, Masrur Barzani, heads the KDP's security services.
Osman is the first journalist to be murdered in Iraqi Kurdistan since Soran Mama Hama, who was gunned down outside his home in Kirkuk on 21 July 2008. Aged 23 (like Osman), he wrote articles critical of local politicians and security officials for the magazine Leven. He had repeatedly been threatened and warned to stop his investigative reporting but his courage and professionalism pushed him to continue (http://en.rsf.org/iraq-journalist-gunned-down-in-kirkuk-22-07-2008,27900.html).
Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory calls for the KRG to conduct an investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Osman. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement which includes:
Authorities in both cities must conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of Sardasht Osman and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Unidentified gunmen approached Osman on the campus of the University of Salahadin in Arbil, where he was a final-year English student, beat him and dragged him into a white passenger car, said Rahman Gharib, a representative of the Metro Center, a local press freedom group. Police in nearby Mosul found his body with his university ID shortly after midnight today, Gharib added.
We'll come back to Iraq later in the snapshot but right now we'll head over to DC.
"During the 110th Congress," Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin declared this morning, "we held a series of hearings that focused on employment opportunites for veterans. These hearings included the VR&E programs that seek to assist our injured service members and help veterans obtain employment after their military service. As a result of those productive hearings, we were able to expand the VR&E programs by authorizing the VA Secretary to provide waivers for severaly injured veterans seeking to participat in the Independent Living Program, increasing the cap for participation in the Independent Living Program, requiring the VA to report to Congress on the measure to assist veterans participating in VR&E and authorizing a multi-year longitudinal study on VR&E. Today's hearing will allow us to learn more about what the Administration is doing to implement these new changes and to address the concerns raised over the past year."
She was bringing to order a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. She is the chair and US House Rep John Boozman is the Ranking Member and he used his opening statements to share a concern, "In short I'm very concerned about the time it takes to enter rehab. According to VA data, it takes an average of about 54 days to determine eligibility, 118 days to develop a rehab plan and 200 days to find a job following completion of the customized rehab program. That's 372 days. That does not include the average of 615 days spent completing the rehab program which brings the total average time in rehab to employment to 987 days."
VR&E is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program and each veteran (or qualifying active duty service member about to be honorably discharged) receives their own plan which focuse on either/or/both employment and life goals. Both the veteran and the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor sign off on the plan which can be updated. Ruth Fanning, of the VA, was the first panel and she explained, "VR&E's primary mission is to assist veterans with disabilities that are service related to prepare for and obtain sustainable employment. Robust services are individually tailored to each veteran's needs. Services begin with a comprehensive evaluation to help Veterans with understanding their interests, aptitudes and transferable skills. Next, vocational exploration focuses veterans' potential career goals with labor market demands, available training, and individual needs and preferences."
Fanning also noted in her opening remarks that the first job many veterans -- true whether they return with a disability or not -- accept will be a "transitional job" that they take while making plans for the future. Or for making ends meet.
She expanded on that in response to questions from US House Rep Thomas Perriello, "Often times, the first job, as well all know, isn't the right job or the best job. And we do know that veterans want to -- they tell us that they want to get a job immediately after discharge just to normalize themselves back into civilian life."
Last night, Betty wrote about NPR's The Story which featured Iraq War veteran Javorn Drummond as the guest for the first half-hour. Host Dick Gordon explained that "20% of those who come back from war are coming back to no work." Drummond shared his story which included a rough re-adjustment to civilian life, a lack of interest about the Iraq War from people he encountered and a rotten job market. His transition job, while he devised his long-range gaols, was at a pig slaughter house in North Carolina. He is now in college on the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
We'll note this portion of today's hearing.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: I guess the question is there does seem to be some concern among veterans about the average time it takes once they submit an application to start receiving services and I'm wondering if that tracks with the uptick you've seen
Ruth Fanning: We've seen a slight uptick in terms of our goal for making an entitlement decision. We're within 10% of the goal. We're not currently at the goal, we're about 10% over. The same is the case with the phase to develop a rehabilitation plan and there is overlap with those two cycles. They're not linear in that the entilement ends and then the evauation portion starts. There's some overlap in those - those two cycles. But there is a slight uptick. We're still -- within 10% is not bad. It's something we can get down. And we're actively working with the Office of Field Operations and with our staff to try to reduce that timeliness. And I can tell you that's part of my reason behind launching into the BPR and looking for ways to streamline. I think that some of the paperwork could be reduced and that could make the timeliness a little more effective. I would like to also mention that the time to develop a rehabilation plan which currently we're allowing 105 days is -- so just three and a half months approximately -- that there is always going to be a need for some time on average for that process. We're working with veterans to look at the labor market, to understand their skills and aptitudes, to understand their interests, to understand the transferable skills that they bring to the table and how they can build on those, to understand all the options that they have for their futures and then to make some decisions. That is a process. And so we don't want to be prescriptive and tell a veteran when he comes in the door what job he or she should seek. We want them to go through that process and make informed decisions that is best for them. So there always will be some time in that process because it's a counseling process. Now, saying that, do I think it could be shortened? I do. And that's somethng that I'm very committed to finding every way possible that we can make it shorter because if a veteran comes to us who's not employed and needs work, I don't want him to wait three months. I don't want him to wait three weeks if we can avoid it. We want to get services started as quickly as we can.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I appreciate that and, you know, you had responded to a question from Mr. Perriello about the transitional jobs. And your response was, you know, very impressive in terms of the recognizing that that often times is not a good fit, that transitional job, and the importance of keeping the veteran sort of looped back into your program. Do you track that somehow? I mean is the transitional job separate from the rehabiliation plan and the career development stage? Is this just what they go through TAP, maybe your office, your program helps identify that transitional job. Are they in the transitional job during the time that they're working to develop a rehabilitation plan?
Ruth Fannning: Uhm, a good majority of veterans in voc rehab are in transitional jobs. Most of them -- even if they're only supporting themselves -- and a good majority of them have families -- they need to work even if they're pursuing voc rehab. As generous as the VR&E program is, the stipend that we have is not sufficient to pay rent and buy food and pay all the expenses of daily life. So most veterans are working -- at least part-time -- some in work study programs, some in transitional full time jobs. Obviously, obviously from a rehab counselor perspective, some kind of work that's continuing to build their resume is a good thing. But we don't want -- ideally we don't want to see someone having to work full time while they're in college. It extends the period of time before they can really get into that right career.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Okay.
Ruth Fanning: So a happy medium would be good but we recognize and understand that veterans need transitional jobs. If we're helping them find them, or we're working with DoL [Department of Labor] in that process, what we're focused on is: Let's make sure it's a job that's aligned with the ultimate career goal so that it's a job that will make them more marketable when they are ready to enter that career.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And I guess, let me ask one more question before recognizing Mr. Bilirakis, when and how does the VR&E program determine or declare as such that a veteran's been rehabiliated?
Ruth Fanning: We track suitable employment first of all. So many veterans actually enter suitable employment while they're still in training and that's the ideal scenario. They are hired as a co-op and they're completing college and also in the job leading toward the job that they really want. A lot of veterans get jobs in their last semester of college, when they're ready to graduate. So as soon as they enter suitable employment, we start tracking it in our data system. We don't declare a veteran rehabilitated until they've completed the goals of their program and we can determine that they are suitably employed and that the employment is stable. And for at least a sixty day period. So a veteran may graduate on May 1st, get a job on June 1st. Maybe they have some initial bumps in the road and we learn that they need some adaptation or some kind of accomidation on the job. We assist with that. Once that stability has been gained, then sixty days beyond that point, we can close the case as rehabiliated.
The US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka and his office notes:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing yesterday on the state of care for troops and veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury. Akaka praised VA and DOD for making significant progress since a hearing on this issue in 2007, but cautioned that serious obstacles remain in providing the seamless, quality care that is needed by those suffering from what has become the signature wound of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Just a few years ago, the government knew very little about how to treat troops and veterans suffering from TBI. Since then, TBI care has improved dramatically, but we must continue to improve timeliness and enhance partnerships between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense and the private sector. As long as we have any veterans with undiagnosed TBI, any partnerships with community providers left untapped, or any research left undone, there is still work to do," said Akaka.
The hearing brought together officials from VA and DOD and experts from academia and the private sector to discuss recent progress and highlight areas where improvement is needed. Chairman Akaka also invited Jonathan Barrs, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom working to overcome TBI, and Karen Bohlinger, wife of Montana's Lieutenant Governor and mother of a former Army Special Forces soldier suffering from the injury, for their first-hand accounts.
More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here: veterans.senate.gov
You can also refer to yesterday's snapshot which covered some of Senator Jon Tester's remarks in the hearing and Chair Akaka's exchange with DoD's Dr. Michael Jaffee.
Returning to Iraq, let's pick up on some of today's reported violence.
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and left four people injured, a Kirkuk grenade attack which injured two people and a Tuzkhurmato roadside bombing attack on "a Kurdish security official" which left one of his bodyguards injured and also wounded two bystanders.
Reuters notes the corpse of Abdul-Salaam Hassan was discovered in the trunk of a Baghdad car yesterday.
Noting Abdul-Salaam Hassan, Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times) wonders if the violence of the 'civil war' period is returning to Iraq: "It was the latest in a mysterious string of assassinations and attempted killings of prominent Iraqis that hark back to the bad days of Iraq's sectarian and political violence." Daragahi notes that some sort of intelligence network appears to have been set up for the targeting to be as successful as it appears to be. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers notes the political cartoons on various violent targetings.
Serage Malik (The National Newspaper) observes, "In Iraq there is now a palpable feeling that the clock has, in some sense, been turned back and that the country may have finally slipped into the kind of sectarianism it appeared to be on course to escape just one year ago." Now? Malik's referring to this week's big post-election news of the power-sharing coalition between the Shi'ite political parties State of Law and Iraqi National Alliance. Michael Hastings (The Hastings Report, True/Slant) offers a similar thought, "I doubt, too, if there will be much incentive for the Shiite government to start sharing more power with their Sunni rivals once the Americans leave. In fact, I expect the opposite–Maliki(or whoever else takes over) will likely continue to eliminate any political opposition, by both political(banning alleged Baathists etc) and martial(arresting, exiling, killing) means." Babk Dehghanpisheh (Newsweek) feels the coalition-sharing move means the three vying for prime minister now are: Ibrahim Jafari, Jafar al-Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki. Many wags consider Nouri now effectively shut out. Would that Iraq could be so lucky. (Betty shared her thoughts on Iraq's p.m. Tuesday night.) Tariq Allhomayed (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) sees traces of Iran's fingertips in the merger and writes of "a Western official" who declares that the US has "handed over Iraq to Iran" which Allhomayed notes was first stated openly by "the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal when, in the presence of then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said that America had handed Iraq to Iran on a golden platter. A well-informed Saudi told me that the Americans, Rice in particular, were very angry that day, however today Prince Saud al Faisal's words have been confirmed decisively." Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation via Middle East Online) offers:The announcement on Tuesday that Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq has joined with the pro-Iranian coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance, to seek to form Iraq's next government is the direct result of an intervention in Iraqi politics by Iran's ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi. "The Iranian ambassador met with the Shiite parties a week ago, and he told them that Iran considers it a matter of its national security that the Shiites put aside their differences to form a government," Aiham Alsammarae, a former Iraqi minister of electricity, told The Nation. "He told them, 'Whatever you have to do, do it.'" The Iran-backed agreement creates an enormous political problem for President Obama and his administration. Not only do the events in Iraq underscore the importance of getting talks with Iran back on track, but they raise the chances that civil war could once again break out in Iraq.
Meanwhile, though both the US and UK government continue to disavow any responsibility or culpability for the huge rise in birth defects in Iraq, Robert Verkaik (Belfast Telegraph) reports that, in 2009, the British government approached the International Red Cross and asked them to examine the issue:
The legal case, which is being prepared for the High Court by Public Interest Lawyers, raises questions about the UK's role in the US-led offensive against the City of Fallujah in 2004 in which hundreds of Iraqis died.
After the battle, in which it is alleged that a range of illegal weaponry was used against the civilian and insurgent population, evidence has emerged of large numbers of children being born with severe birth defects.
This follows up Verkaik's Tuesday report for the Independent of London on the Iraqi families who are suing the UK because their children were born with birth defects and "accuse the UK Government of breaching international law, war crimes and failing to intervene to prevent a war crime."
Monday's snapshot included: "While we're mentioning Al Jazeera, please note that Annie Lennox was Riz Khan's guest on the latest Riz Khan's One on One which began airing Friday. She wears the HIV Positive t-shirt in the interview and CBS News explains the story behind that. With one minor detail everyone's missed. Trivia question to be answered in tomorrow's snapshot: What music peer of Annie's (in the eighties when she was with Eurythmics) declared publicly that he was going to do something similar to raise awareness but then let it slide? Answer in tomorrow's snapshot." I forgot it on Tuesday. I did remember it yesterday but we ended up having to pull it when other issues had to be added and I had to redictate a portion of yesterday's snapshot. My apologies. The other person who was going to raise awareness with a similar shirt but didn't follow up? Boy George. And those needing a source, look up a 1987 article Kris Kirk wrote on Boy George. (It could be any variety of British publications -- Kris wrote for many -- including Melody Maker or Gay Times. I heard the story from Kris himself many years ago.) (Kris Kirk was a highly influential music critic and he passed away in 1993 from HIV complications.) In the article, Boy George is trashing a variety of people (I'm sure Kris included Boy George's non-stop trashing of George Michael because it included printables and unprintables). (I know and like George Michael and he gets a link. Boy George? As I said, George Michael gets a link.)
In other news, Blood Money makers KBR has more problems. The Justice Dept issued the following yesterday:Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Wednesday, May 5, 2010 U.S. Intervenes in Suit Against KBR and Panalpina Alleging Kickbacks Under the False Claims Act Allegations of Kickbacks and Overbilling Related to Logistical Support in Iraq WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit against Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), Panalpina Inc. and others that alleges that employees of two freight forwarders doing business with the companies provided unlawful kickbacks to KBR transportation department employees. KBR is the prime contractor under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP III) contract for logistical support of U.S. military operations in Iraq. The whistleblowers also allege overbilling by a KBR subcontractor in the Balkans, Wesco, under a military contract. The United States is pursuing allegations that the two freight forwarders, Eagle Global Logistics (which has since merged with TNT Logistics and become CEVA) and Panalpina provided unlawful kickbacks in the form of meals, drinks, tickets to sports events and golf outings to KBR employees. The government will seek damages and penalties under the False Claims Act and common law, as well as penalties under the Anti-Kickback Act. The United States has declined to intervene in the remaining allegations of the relators' suit. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by David Vavra and Jerry Hyatt who have been active in the air cargo business–the industry relevant to the case. Under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, a private citizen, known as a "relator," can sue on behalf of the United States. If the suit is successful, the relator may share in the recovery. "Defense contractors cannot take advantage of the ongoing war effort by accepting unlawful kickbacks," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "We are committed to maintaining the integrity of the Department of Defense's procurement process." The United States previously intervened in and settled the relators' allegations that EGL included non-existent charges for war risk insurance in invoices to KBR for air shipments to Iraq, costs that KBR passed on to the Army. Two EGL employees pleaded guilty to related criminal charges. EGL paid the United States $4 million in the civil settlement. The government also intervened in and settled the relators' allegations that EGL's local agent in Kuwait, a company known as Al-Rashed, overcharged it for the rental (or demurrage) of shipping containers. The United States resolved potential claims arising from that matter against EGL for $300,000. Finally, EGL paid the government $750,000 to settle the relators' allegations that the company provided kickbacks to employees in KBR's transportation department. Former EGL employee Kevin Smoot and former KBR employee Bob Bennett pleaded guilty to related criminal charges in federal court in Rock Island. This case is being prosecuted as part of a National Procurement Fraud Initiative. In October 2006, the Deputy Attorney General announced the formation of a National Procurement Fraud Task Force designed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs. The Procurement Fraud Task Force is chaired by the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and includes the Civil Division, United States Attorneys' Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Inspectors General community and a number of other federal law enforcement agencies. The Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation participated in the investigation of this matter. This case, as well as others brought by members of the task force, demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to ensure the integrity of the government procurement process. The case is United States of America ex rel. Vavra, et al. v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 1:04-CV-00042 (E.D. Tex.). Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) reports that shortly after the Justice Dept announced the above, the US Army announced they were awarding KBR "a no-bid contract worth as much as $568 million through 2011 for military support services in Iraq".
Back to veterans issues, Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. Katherine Gustafson (Tonic) reports on Troy Yocum and his journey:
When Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum heard that a fellow vet had lost his house in this down economy, he decided to quite literally drum up support for struggling military families around the US.
Last month he began a 7,000 hike across the country while continuously beating on a small drum. The "Hike for our Heroes" aims to raise $5 million to help military families in need, says Yocum's "Drum Hike" website.
The project, sponsored by nonprofit Soldiers' Angels, aims to "spread the word that our American Heroes are fighting just as hard at home as they do overseas."
We'll close with this from Cindy Sheehan's "Here Come Those Chickens Again" (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox):Then tonight, as I was driving, I heard on the radio news that Shahzad claimed that he did that because he was upset over the CIA drone-bombing program in Northern Pakistan. So, my initial suspicion was confirmed. Let's, for the time being, take Shahzad's "confessions" at face value. We really don't know what torture, lying, or other pressure was put on Shahzad, or why our government is so readily admitting that he was upset about drone bombings. However, this incident also puts President Obama's recent remarks about threatening the Jonas Brothers with a Predator drone if they went near his two daughters in a different light, doesn't it? So many people on the "left" are defending Obama's joke -- rationalizing it as vigorously as they condemned and attacked Bush over his WMD joke at a White House Correspondent's dinner in 2004. What if the bomb in Times Square went off and killed dozens of people, like happens frequently in Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq? Would Obama's joke still seem funny? I never thought joking about bombs that kill babies from the Joker that orders these bombings funny, anyway. But we all know that if Americans were killed, the shoe would be on an entirely different foot.
the los angeles times
asharaq alawsat newspaperrobert dreyfussthe national newspaperserage maliknewsweekbabak dehghanpishehtrue/slantmichael hastings
bloomberg newstony capaccio
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
I'll start with Chuck. This was probably the best episode in weeks. Sarah got a lot to do, Devon was 'sick' so he had to shut up and Ellie actually got a few scenes. Morgan and Casey worked well together and we didn't have to suffer through the freaks of Jeff and Lester. Jeff and Lester can really tank a show.
So Chuck and Sarah met some older spies -- Fred Willard and Swootzie Kurtz -- who were married and that might be them some day. IN the meantime, Chuck and Sarah had to take a collar off a bengal tiger and they had to fight the bad guys and more.
The general didn't realize who'd done all the work. She thanked the older spies (who actually were traitors). Chuck and Sarah made a good team and at last they've moved in together.
You know who else made a good team? Morgan and Casey. Get those two in bed already!
So it was a good episode with enough humor and suspense. I'm not looking forward to the next one because I'm sure Devie-pooh will take up the entire episode. Couldn't they just kill him off already?
I like him the first season and I could stand him for most of the second season but then came the nonsense of treating him like a main character and sidelining Ellie who is Chuck's sister and his only real family. I don't like that.
I grew up in a big family and we take family seriously. This idea that Devin's going to get all the air time and Ellie's going to be disappeared doesn't play well with me.
That was one explosive moment after another. You never caught your breath the whole time. I'm really curious where this goes next.
If you missed it, the Russians killed a world leader to stop a peace process. To continue the peace process, the president wants to cover it up. Jack Bauer says no. She has him basically carted off but he escapes. Now he's out to get the information to prove the Russians did it.
So Jack and Cole (Freddie Prinze Jr) break Lexi out (I think that's her name). She's the double agent that Cole fell for and was engaged to. No one knew she was a mole. They tell her they need the proof of Russian involvement and they'll let her run because she's a small fish. She tells Cole that Jack's going to kill her and that he will hunt down everyone and kill them. Cole tells her Jack will turn the information over to the press.
So Lexi and Cole go into the bank together for her safety deposit box that has the info. She starts to open it but Cole stops her. He opens it and sees a gun. He says he understands why she wanted to open it and, as he picks up the gun, the box is rigged to go off and it does.
Cole falls to the ground, she grabs things from the box, a bank employee comes in and she shoots him. She gets on the phone and calls 911 telling them she sees a strange man (Jack) out front of the bank and she thinks she saw him on the news and "Oh my God, he's looking at me!"
The police are on their way but first the security sneaks up on Jack and catches him. He sees Lexi walk past and then takes on the security guards, goes after her and finally catches her. At which point she tries to kill him. He gets what he needs and he kills her. End of the episode.
The president put Chloe in charge of CTU. But the president brought this crook in and he's actually working with the Russians to destroy the peace deal and he's put someone in CTU who now outranks Chloe. So you've got that going on too.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, 2 US soldiers are announced dead, Moqtada al-Sadr says that his militia's reforming (says so today -- who knows about tomorrow), the two largest Shi'ite blocs in Iraq say they are partnering (ibid), and more.
Today the US military announced: "Two U.S. Soldiers died of non-combat-related in Iraq yesterday in unrelated incidents. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incidents are under investigation." The announcements bring the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4397.
News Provider reports, "May 4th, students from Kent State held their annual commemoration of the martyrs of the anti-war movement, but was also present the new Vietnam: Iraq. Hundreds of students who oppose the American occupation of Iraq began to go off campus, but were immediately repressed by the police who made dozens of arrests, claiming that the demonstration was 'not authorized'. The University outlawed the protest because he believed that 'induced violence,' while the students said that 'the only violence that was expected from the police'." They were among many students across the US today protesting the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the 40th anniversary of the Kent State massacre in which two students protesting the US assault on Vietnam -- Allison B. Krause and Jeffrey G. Miller -- were killed on the campus of Kent State by the Tricky Dick deployed National Guard as were two student bystanders: Sandra L. Scheuer and William K. Schroder. The massacre was immortalized in Neil Young's "Ohio."
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
Fred Mazelis and Patrick Martin (WSWS) attempt to provide context on those events and the events since:
As part of this process, a decades-long effort to rehabilitate the war in Vietnam was carried out. The question of Vietnam was posed not as one of imperialist aggression, but rather one of "mistaken" policies. More than a quarter century after the humiliating defeat of US troops in Vietnam, the administration of George W. Bush, with the full backing of the Democratic Party, launched new colonial wars, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, wars that continue uninterrupted under Democrat Barack Obama.
Once again, as in the 1960s, the conditions are developing for the reemergence of mass struggles of working people and youth against imperialist war, austerity and repression. The great difference, however, is that the struggles now unfolding take place under conditions of a protracted historical decline of American capitalism.
Mazelis and Martin have written a must-read. The context of Kent State was the growing peace movement in this country, LBJ's war on Vietnam (Bill Moyers is pissing his pants right now), Nixon's campaigning on a 'secret plan' (trust him!) to end the war and then nothing. Nothing. Sworn in back in January of 1969 and he doesn't end the war in '69 and he doesn't end it in 1970. He expands the war. Cambodia becomes a target, all of Southeast Asia. And the peace movement is protesting across the country. In Kent State, 4 students get killed and nine are wounded on this day, forty years ago.
Today Bush's wars haven't been ended (Iraq and Afghanistan), Barack campaigned on his own little 'secret plan' (in that, as Samantha Power told BBC News in 2008, Barack was lying about pulling out one brigade a month). Barack was sworn in back in January 2009. The wars haven't ended and he's expanded them to Pakistan. Some compare him to Bullly Boy Bush. But Barack's apparently aiming for greater infamy: Tricky Dick. And taking down a large number of 'activists' with him. Who knew, for example, that Joan Baez would decide to make the final act of her life about being the new Wayne Newton? Celebrity cover for a War Hawk. Danke schoen, Joan, danke schoen.
It's walking to the battleground that always makes me cry
I've met so few folks in my time who weren't afraid to die
But dwan bleeds with the people here and morning skies are red
As young girls load up bicycles with flowers for the dead
An aging woman picks along the craters and the rubble
A piece of cloth, a bit of shoe, a whole lifetime of trouble
A sobbing chant comes from her throat and splits the morning air
The single son she had last night is buried under her
They say that the war is done
Where are you now, my son?
Once upon a time Joan Baez wrote and sang songs like that, remembering the ones personally harmed by the wars. By 2008? Joan just wanted to whore. Doubt it? Check that endorsement she gave and find in it where she mentions ending wars. She doesn't. The so-called Peace Queen checked out a long time ago. Just as well, the last 7 years saw a lot of tired old faces try to use the peace movement for fame, to sell a bad book or a bad movie. They road the movement and ruined the movement. The students will rebuild it and they won't listen to Joan Baez or any of the others who whored themselves for a presidency but did nothing for the Iraqi people. They decided they'd rather suck up to power than speak out for the voiceless. And students have no use for them, nor should they.
Calling for an end to the Iraq War is Ron Fisher who is running for Congress in the 8th Congressional District in Virginia. Fisher is a Green. Who will he be running against? "Ron's Likely Opponent" sketches out Fisher's take on US House Rep Jim Moran (Democrat) which includes, "Jim Moran, like many in Congress, blames the Iraq War on President Bush. Bush could not have started the Iraq war without Congress authorizing him to use force and then providing the funds for the war. Moran could have helped stop the war by simply stopping the funding and/or by helping to impeach Cheney and Bush."
Allan Abramson (Huffington Post) notes of the Iraq War (and other 'changes' that apparently were shipped COD because they still haven't arrived):
Why then did Mr. Bush stay in Iraq? Instead of fighting terrorists, we were fighting the Iraqi people, mostly Sunni groups which had lost power with our invasion. The mission had changed, to become one of nation-building. We wanted to create a Western-leaning ally. This is why our continued military action in Iraq was wrong and dumb. Without a threat to the U.S., we had no right to intervene in the governance of Iraq: this was wrong. Without a threat to the U.S., we were wasting American and Iraqi lives, and billions of dollars, rather than dealing with terrorism elsewhere: this was dumb.
In the campaign, Mr. Obama said he wanted to end the war and remove American troops. In office, Mr. Obama set an extended deadline (2011) for ending U.S. military action, but also announced that he would retain some 50,000 troops (and perhaps as many contract employees) to provide training and assistance to the Iraqi government. Whatever you call them, 50,000 troops does not qualify as ending a "war." Mr. Obama has continued the Bush-Cheney mission of nation-building in Iraq.
The choice he could have made was to set a shorter deadline, and truly remove all U.S. troops from Iraq. He could have announced that the Iraqi people would have to resolve their internal political issues on their own, and that once resolved, we would provide aid in reconstruction of the country. This he did not do, and the question arises, did he mean his campaign pledge?
No, he did not. He never meant it and that's why some of us were sounding the alarms on March 7, 2008 when Barack's tutor and chief foreign advisor Samantha Power was in the news for, among other things, the BBC interview she'd given.
Stephen Sackur: You said that he'll revisit it [the decision to pull troops] when he goes to the White House. So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn't a commitment is it?
Samantha Power: You can't make a commitment in whatever month we're in now, in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009. We can'te ven tell what Bush is up to in terms of troops pauses and so forth. He will of course not rely upon some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US Senator.
"So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out within sixteen months, isn't a commitment is it?" No, it sure as hell wasn't. But if the Joan Baezes and Tom-Tom Haydens hadn't been whoring, people would have caught on. The clues were always there, From the November 2, 2007 snapshot:
Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.
For more on that 2007 news, refer to Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview.
In US occupied Iraq today, the recounting of ballots in Baghdad continues. As it does, Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that State of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's political party) is floating a new name for prime minister: Jaafar Sadr. And, if you're wondering, yes, he is related to Moqtada al-Sadr (second cousins). Sly observes, "His youth and inexperience [he's 40-years-old] count against him, but at the same time he has had no chance yet to make enemies, unlike most other politicians. Opposition to Maliki is the main obstacle to the creation of a grand Shiite coalition that could nix Allawi's ambitions." Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) notes, "A student his whole adult life, Jaafar is now nearing his bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology." Apparently, instead of the four-year-plan, he was on the twenty-two-year degree plan. Not noted by either (though Sly may be hinting) is that among those floating Jaafar Sadr as a potential prime minister are elements of the US government. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports that State of Law is having talks with the Iraqi National Alliance about forming a Shi'ite alliance which would put "them just four parliamentary seats shy of a ruling majority." Al Jazeera reports that the news was broken by, "Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a former PM, and Abdul Razzaq al-Kadhimi, an INA advisor, flanked by officials from al-Maliki's State of Law bloc made the announcement in a press conference on Tuesday." The Telegraph of London observes, "Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, appeared likely to be the main casualty of the deal between the Shiite parties, as it is widely believed the price of a coalition between his State of Law bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) was an agreement that he would not continue in his post." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) notes that Ayad Allawi and his Iraqiya political slate has been sidelined which "could intensify sentiments among Sunnis that despite voting in force in the election in March, they remain disenfranchised". The Wall St. Journal cautions, "Despite the pact, in Iraq's volatile political atmosphere, any deal could easily evaporate before a new government is formed."
The other Sadr is in the news as well. Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) report that Moqtada al-Sadr's spokesperson Salah al-Obeidi announced today that the Mahdi Army is being regrouped and that it is going to "launch qualitative attacks against the occupiers (U.S. forces) if they stay beyond 2011. It will have a big role to play to drive them out of Iraq." Last month, it was announced that Mahdi Army was regrouping. Within 24 hours, it was then announced that they weren't. But that Moqtada al-Sadr was willing to reform it. There may be a walk back on today's announcement as well. Nouri al-Maliki targeted al-Sadr's militia in Basra and Baghdad in 2008. Some, largely Shi'ites, saw the Mahdi Army as a protective force. Sunnis and many Shi'ites tended to see it as a death squad deployed at Moqtada's wishes.
If the announcement is not walked back, among the most upset will most likely be the Sunnis and the Sahwa subgroup of Sunnis. Tim Arango (New York Times) reports that Nouri's refusal to bring the Sahwa into the process is frustrating many Sunnis. Sahwa aka "Awakenings" aka "Sons Of Iraq" are Sunnis who were paid by the US military not to attack the US military or the US military equipment. These payments are credited by many -- including Gen David Petreaus and former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker -- for diminishing the number of attacks on US forces. Nouri was supposed to absorb the Sahwa but despite the press repeatedly announcing he had or he was going to, that never really happened. Arango reports Sahwa was not able to promote a united front in the March 7th elections and are feeling further unmoored: Now, under threat from insurgents they once battled and facing a government they say has not kept its promise to give jobs to the fighters, the Awakening seems to be a force whose strength is waning, as it looks for a way to cling to any rung of power it can. Some wonder if this is the beginning of the end of the Awakening. The ramifications could be stark. Most worrisome would be an increase in violence, should disenchanted Awakening fighters become insurgents again. Whether Mr. Aiffan and others accept their electoral defeat and go quietly is a question that could determine how peacefully power changes hands here.
Occupied Iraq, ruled over by a US puppet whose fighting like crazy to hold on to the position. If US service members leave the Green Zone, Nouri falls. He knows that. The US military knows it, the US government knows it. So he's proposed madcap schemes to ensure his reign since he became prime minister in April of 2006. Two Circles Net reports, "Iraqi authorities have started the construction of a security wall around the capital Baghdad, reports the country's Al-Iraqiya TV citing a Baghdad security spokesperson. The concrete wall with eight checkpoints is to be completed in mid-2011." Once upon a time, Nouri proposed building a moat around Baghdad. A moat. Stagnant water. Just what Baghdad needs more of. Especially with all the cholera outbreaks. Nouri never got his moat but he will apparently get his walled-in-city.
Meanwhile Nouri al-Maliki and his Whores among the press corps are trumpeting the claim that the 'network' behind the April 4th bombings has been 'captured' while tossing in as an aside that a supposed suspect "was later reported to have died in detention." Of the Ebola Virus? Nouri runs torture cells and forces fake confessions and his pay off is that a number of Press Whores repeatedly pimp his claims as facts -- despite the fact that his abusive relationship with the truth is well known.
Reuters notes a Mosul car bombing injured thirteen people, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 official with the police and another Baghdad sticky bombing injured three people.
Reuters notes 1 police woman was shot dead in Mosul. DPA reports 1 pharmacist was shot dead in Mosul.
Turning to veterans issues, first in DC:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow (EST), Wednesday, May 5, 2010, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, is scheduled to attend the White House bill signing of S. 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. This landmark bill, authored by Akaka, will establish an unprecedented permanent program to support the caregivers of wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand supportive services for homeless veterans.
A summary of the bill, as passed by Congress, is available here: LINK
Now across the US, Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. Soldiers' Angels notes:
Troy is headed to Indiana!
As Iraq veteran Troy Yocum hikes his way to Indiana on his 7,000-mile trek across the country, he will be joined by fellow veterans of the legendary Indiana National Guard "War Hawks" of the 151st Infantry. Sponsored by Soldiers' Angels, the goal of Troy's Drum Hike is to draw attention to and raise money to assist struggling veterans and their families.
The 151st Infantry is the unit with whom Troy deployed to Iraq in 2007, and the unit of Vietnam veteran and Drum Hike participant, "Purple Heart Parachutist" Dallas Wittgenfeld. Company D of the 151st Infantry War Hawks trained and deployed as Special Operations Airborne Rangers in Vietnam during 1968-69, becoming one of the conflict's most combat-decorated companies in the Army. The unit's history stretches all the way back to the Pioneer Era and the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Honoring their shared legacy, Dallas will be parachuting into locations along with route with a giant American flag as Troy stands by to welcome him. Together they also plan to spend time at the Camp Atterbury Museum on May 6, 2010 to honor the 151st's heroes of their fight in Vietnam, and Dallas is looking forward to sharing stories and showing Troy the pictures of his brothers who did not make it back. They also plan to welcome and spend some time with as many of their fellow 151st veterans as can join them that day.
An Airborne Ranger with four decades of experience, Dallas served in Company D, 151st and is a native of Decatur, IN. He has jumped out of planes, helicopters and hot-air balloons, and was the poster-featured parachutist in Normandy, France during D-day commemorations. He will jump in Indiana in honor of all members of the 151st, past and present. "As I pack my giant flag parachute in support of Soldiers' Angels and the 151st, I will think of all the Purple Heart veterans who are not here today," Dallas says.
As part of the events, a small number of "Drum Hiker Collector Flags" that are for sale along the Drum Hike route will be parachuted down with Dallas, and both he and Troy will be available to autograph them. The flags are can also be purchased online through the Soldiers' Angels Store.
For more information about the Drum Hike and parachute events in and throughout Indiana, DrumHike.com.
Staying with US news, at Peace of the Action, Jon has a post that we're including here in full to help get the word out.
For the first week: July 5th to July 9th we will be concentrating on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle issue around the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and drone manufacturers. Obama has dramatically escalated the use of these weapons since he has been president.
July 12th-16th we will be focusing on counter-recruitment efforts.
July 19th-23rd we will focus our energies on Congress before it recesses for summer break and going back to their home districts to campaign for November elections.
We do have some good POTA news to report. We have a fundraiser on board: Teri Perticone from Berkeley, who is fundraising for no compensation to herself, but for "love," so let's give Teri lots of love! Teri can be reached at TeriPerticone@noliesradio.org
We are also wading through many offers from activists who want to volunteer to be our Webmaster.
POTA will continue whether we have Summer Camp OUT NOW, or not. Peace of the Action is an organization dedicated to ending the empire through direct action. We are not interested in symbolic actions or Federal electoral politics.
Even though we are encouraging activist to do actions locally, we must have a strong presence in Washington, DC, too.
We are organizing for Summer Camp, but we need to have a certain number of people signed up to be able to go ahead with Camp.
If you are planning on coming to Summer Camp, please send an email to Cindy Sheehan: Cindy@PeaceoftheAction.org with the dates that you are planning on attending.
If you are planning on scheduling actions in your community, please also email Cindy.
If you would like to donate to help us work for peace, please click on the link.
Please RSVP for Summer Camp by May 10th.
1) WE NEED YOU TO RSVP BY MAY 10TH–IF WE DON'T GET ENOUGH PEOPLE TO SIGN-UP BY MAY 10TH–WE WILL NOT HOLD SUMMER CAMP.
2) THERE WILL BE NO CAMPING AT CAMP. WE ARE TRYING TO GET PERMITS TO HAVE A CONVERGENCE CAMP, THOUGH–HOUSING WILL PROBABLY BE AVAILABLE AT ST. STEPHEN'S AGAIN.
3) NO ACTIONS ON THE WEEKENDS, UNLESS SOMETHING INTERESTING AND UNEXPECTED COMES UP TO PROTEST.
Love & Peace Cindy Sheehan and POTA Team
the new york timestim arango
two circles net
the new york timessteven lee myers
the telegraph of london
the wall street journal
cindy sheehanpeace movement