Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Drone wars

So it's Wednesday and I get kind of sad if I think about it and think about how we'll be leaving Hawaii in a few more days.  :(

But it's been a great vacation and we took so many pictures the last three weeks. 

On the plus, In These Times has another strong article up at their site.  This is from a piece by Leonard C. Goodman:

in 1995 Albie Sachs, then a member of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, helped abolish capital punishment, explaining that his goal was to disable the post-apartheid government from “any temptation in coming years to attempt to solve grave social and political problems by means of executing opponents.”
Sachs understood that reasonable minds can differ as to whether a person who commits a heinous crime deserves to die, but no one can dispute that rulers given extraordinary powers—such as the power to decide who lives and who dies—will sooner or later abuse those powers. Sachs had reason to distrust government. During the apartheid regime, he was held in solitary confinement for his political activism on behalf of the African National Congress; later, he had his arm and eye blown off when government agents tried to assassinate him with a car bomb.
Sachs’ warnings about unchecked power came to mind recently when I read the New York TimesWashington Post found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s use of drones to kill terrorist suspects abroad. article by Jo Becker and Scott Shane about President Obama’s “kill list.” According to Becker and Shane, Obama meets every Tuesday with his advisers to help decide who should be assassinated by killer drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. A February poll by ABC News/
In contrast, support for the death penalty here in the U.S. is declining, with five states voting to abolish it in recent years. Americans have come to accept that the state can’t be trusted with the machinery of death. So why do we trust our elected officials to assassinate terrorists on foreign soil, where they act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner?
The likely reason for the difference in public opinion is access to information. Our government says that its drone strikes are “crippling al Qaeda” and only rarely killing civilians. But we the people cannot evaluate this claim because the Obama administration has classified all the evidence, only releasing information at its own discretion. As David Sirota recently noted, Congress is focused not on overseeing the assassination program, but on punishing those who leaked it to the press. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is aggressively prosecuting the whistleblowers who reveal information about the disreputable acts it wants kept secret.

The Drone War really is the war they don't want us to talk about. C.I. was telling me that DoD calls them "digital warriors," these people manning the drones.  She was at some Congressional hearing and she couldn't believe the lighthearted way in which they talked about it and treated it.

And that was the government.

I really thought, four years ago, that by now, as a country, we'd be grappling with the stain over what we did to Muslims in this country in the '00s.  The round ups, the abductions.  The shakedowns.  Instead we're still on the same denial divan, unable to get off our lazy asses and make the needed change.

So this Drone War will probably go on for eight or more years as a result.

And even then we probably won't admit it.

And in the Barack era, EP Bannon informs us everyone gets spied on:

An article published in the July 14 New York Times exposes systematic surveillance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of scientists employed by the agency. The FDA accumulated more than 80,000 pages of documents, many of which were private e-mails between the employees and members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama.What allegedly began as an inquiry into the possible leak of confidential information quickly grew into a hunt to identify and silence internal critics of the agency’s medical review policy.
In 2010, the New York Times published an article citing several FDA scientists about concerns regarding a new line of CT scanning devices built by General Electric. The scientists claimed the devices emitted dangerously high levels of radiation.
Dr. Julian Nicholas, one of the scientists subsequently placed under surveillance, told the Times that the machines could “expose a number of Americans to a risk of radiation that is unwarranted and may lead to instances of solid organ abdominal cancer.” Dr. Robert Smith, another team scientist, said that “the increased radiation exposure to the population could be substantial and would raise a serious public health/public policy issue.”
General Electric was quick to react. In a letter addressed to the FDA, the company’s legal counsel charged that agency employees had released confidential “proprietary” information to the public.

How did Barack ever fool so many people?

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence, UNAMI's mandate is extended another year, Tareq al-Hashemi discusses the case against him, Iraqi forces continue to attack protesters but Iraqis continue to protest,  the US Congress hosts a hodgepodge of a hearing with one member possibly getting trippy, and more.

This morning, US House Rep Jeff Miller noted that "in 1961 John F. Kennedy said we'd put a man on the moon, eight years later, we were there.  We're talking about an integrated electronic health records by 2017.  Why could we put a man on the moon in eight years and we're not starting from ground zero on the electronic health record -- why is it taking so long?" He was asking that of the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki who were appearing before a joint-hearing of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs Committee.  

Of course no real answer was given.  A grinning -- apparently amused -- Shinseki began his non-answer by declaring that "I can't account for the previous ten years."  Though he didn't say it, he also apparently couldn't account for the three years that he's been Secretary of the VA.  Three years and seven months.  You'd think Shinseki would be able to speak to the issue.  He couldn't.  He could offer that he met with Panetta four times this year with plans for a fifth meeting.  This was the same amount he met with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates but, apparently, in a few months less time.   I have no idea what that or his ridiculous grin was about. 

But I do think Shinseki may have inadvertantly provided an answer for the delay when he went on to declare,  "It's taken us seventeen months to get to an agreement that both Secretary Panetta and I signed that describes the way forward."  There's the problem right there. 

Back in March 2011 what was Shinseki bragging about?  As Bob Brewin ( reported, "Veteran Affairs Sectretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed on March 17 that their departments would develop a common electronic health record system."  So that was agreed to in March 2011.  But it took Shinseki and and Gates 17 months to figure out how?  There's your time waster right there.  And it was not needed.  Shinseki and Panette did not need to 'invent' a damn thing.  This is not a new issue.  VA has long ago addressed what they need with regards to records and DoD has identified the same.  And after this had been done (and redone), Robert Dole and Donna Shalala served on the Dole -Shalala Commission coming up with many of the same things.  The Dole -Shalala Commission was established in 2007 and formally known as the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.   Appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee February 7, 2008, VA's Dr. James Peake testified that this electronic record was "a critical recommendation in the Dole-Shalala Commission report."

The hearing meant nothing for progress on that issue.  It was an embarrassment.  Leon Panetta can take comfort in the fact that he's only now about to hit the one-year mark but Shinseki was sworn in back in January.   Shinseki will get easy press at the end of his term and no one will complain about the foot dragging, the refusal to utilize the work that was already done -- that tax payers footed the bill for over and over -- and instead to take a laid back and non-rush attitude towards something identified as "critical" by a presidential commission back in 2007. 

US House Rep Susan Davis would ask about the lack of coordination between VA and DoD and also about "the kind of counselors that are needed for this" -- the influx of veterans expected as the Afghanistan War draws down -- and will be aware of the service member issues and resources and veterans issues and resources?  Training was the reply from Panetta to a question that probably required something more than a stock reply.

Other issues were brought up.  For example, Sequestration was discussed.  This is an automatic measure that will kick in if the buget is not balanced.  Established in the hearing is the Veterans Affairs will not be effected but the Defense Dept will be. 

Chair Buck McKeon:   As I've already said, we know there's high unemployment among our veterans -- our young veterans.  And we know with the 487 billion cut in defense, we will have a hundred thousand leaving the military.  We will have another hundred thousand  if the sequestration takes effect.  What plans do you have to ensure that these service members will not go from the front lines to the unemployment lines?  And how do you see potential reduction in the Defense workforce resulting from the sequestration and what effect will that have on -- what will you be able to do to try to move them into some kind of meaningful employment?  Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well I sure as hell hope sequestration doesn't happen. 

Chair Buck McKeon:  I'm with you.

Secretary Leon Panetta:  It would be -- as I said -- time and time again, a disaster for the Department as far as our budget is concerned and as far as our ability to respond to the threats that are out there.  And it would have a huge impact.  It takes -- It doubles the cuts in the military.  It would obviously add another hundred thousand that would have to be reduced and the impact of that on top of the reductions that are currently going to take place would place a huge burden on the systems to be able to respond to that.  I think that it would be near impossible to do the work that we're trying to do and make it work effectively.  I think that we can handle what we've proposed in our budget and the drawdown numbers that are coming now.  We've tried to do this pursuant to a rational strategy over these next five years.  And I think the systems that we are working on and what we are trying to put together in place, I'm confidant in that. But if sequestration should happen and be put on top of it, I think it could really strain the system. 

Chair Buck McKeon:   Mr. Secretary, could you please give us that input for the record.

US House Rep Buck McKeon is Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, House Rep Adam Smith is Ranking Member.  On the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the leadership is Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Bob Filner.  There are many things that will be takeaways from today's hearing.  But the real take away should be Shinseki's ridiculous statement about the 'progress' on the eletronic medical record front,  "The fact that we've agreed upon a concept is, I think, groundbreaking."

Listening to that, it was hard not to recall Ranking Member Filner's opening remarks, specifically this: "The issues that we have, we've been talking as a Congress and with the Executive Branch for many, many years.   Decades in fact.  We've got to break down the bureaucratic stuff that keeps us from having a common health record system.  I mean it just -- People die because that system is not integrated enough.  It seems this is not beyond our capacity to get those systems integrated."  He said those words before either witness had spoken.  20 years in Congress did not make Bob Filner psychic but it has made him one of the most informed members of Congress on veterans issues.

Ranking Member Bob Filner:  In a democracy where you need  obviously the support and vote of people to go to war, the cost of war is a pretty important item to understand.  And treating our veterans is obviously part of the cost of war and should be considered that.  I have tried on several occasions to add an amendment to any war appropriations, 15 to 20% surcharge because that's the difference in your budgets for veterans.  And of course since we've been borrowing money for war, nobody wants to borrow the money for veterans.  So it's not looked on kindly.  But part of the cost of war, you know, we have the statistics show about 6,000 killed in action -- I'm sorry, 5,000 killed in action since 9-11.  And almost 50,000 wounded.  And yet those who have showed up at the VA for help -- and I know there are different definitions and different circumstances -- I think it close to or could be over a million. Why is there such a disparity between -- and it's important for the public to understand what is the cost of war?  How do you account for a million veterans seeking help for problems in war and only 50,000 considered casualties?  Mr. Panetta, I'll go to you first since you know how to manipulate the two minutes, you're looking to him, I know, so you don't have to answer?

Secretary Leon Panetta:  Well, no, I mean it's -- it clearly is the-the impact of war over the last 10 years and how it's effected those who have served and they do return.  When they come back, the reality is that, uh, not -- not all of them -- not all of them are getting the kind of care and benefits they should get. And it's our responsbility to try to respond to those kind of needs as they return.  This -- look, this system's going to be overwhelmed.  I mean, you know, let's-let's not kid anybody, we're looking at a system that's already overwhelmed.  The likelihood is that we drawdown further troops and, uh, as we -- over these next five years, assuming sequester doesn't happen, we are still going to -- we are going to be adding another hundred thousand per year.  And the ability to be able to respond to that in a way that effectively deals with the health care issues, with the benefits issues, with all the other challenges.  That is not going to be an easy challenge.  And, uh, the cost, you talk about the cost of-of war, this is always part of the cost of war.  It's not just dealing with fighting, it's also dealing with the veterans who return and that is going to be a big ticket item, if we're going to do this right.

Ranking Member Bob Filner:  I just hope you'll look at that boot camp idea as a way to really get at that issue.

What idea?  Ava's covering it tonight at Trina's site. 

US House Rep Silvestre Reyes noted his hope that they could do more joint-hearings like this and, earlier, Ranking Member Bob Filner had noted they had tried repeatedly to do a joint-hearing like this with the two Secretaries but had been unsuccessful.  If they do have another hearing, they might want to have a basic topic.  I have never sat through such a disorganized hearing or heard someone muse at length -- and mistakenly, he would be corrected after -- as US House Rep Hank Johnson did in the middle of the hearing.  What was the point of any of those remarks -- none of which were questions?  You had two minutes to ask either or both Panetta and Shinseki questions and instead you offered some sort of enjambment poem? 

Even in a scattershot hearing, that stood out.  Why did he even show up?  I asked Betty's father on the phone if veterans issues aren't a concern in the area?  (Betty's father, who is a veteran, is also a constituent of Hank Johnson's.)  And he couldn't understand why his representative wasted the time instead of utilizing it.  I sat through it and I still don't know what that nonsense was?

"Back from the Battlefield" is probably too broad of a topic for a hearing, let alone a joint-hearing.  But many people did raise important issues in their time.  Take US House Rep Loretta Sanchez who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: In preparing for this hearing, I asked my staff back in Orange County to go through the casework we have with respect to veterans in transtion.  And although we have a great relationship with our VA in Longbeach and we have two clinics -- one in Santa Ana and one in Anaheim -- in our district, the reality is that the most troublesome area with respect to these cases involved the quality and the lack of health care for our service members who are transitioning from active or having been called up and now out into the veteran world if you will.  And, in fact, I have a lot of veterans who come to my office and they express real concern about not receiving treatment or having a longtime to wait for a speciality doctor, for example.  In Longbeach, it would be oncology where we must be short-staffed or something of the sort.  And the other really big concern for them is being prepped up for surgery and then somebody on the surgery team then doesn't show up -- out of whatever -- and then the surgery is postponed..  And it isn't until these people come to my office  and we call in directly that we're able to get that rescheduled.  So my question is how are you addressing these types of concerns with respect to health care and why, if a surgery's scheduled, why aren't people showing up to be on that surgery team?  And, more importantly, why does it take a Congressional office to call to ask that it be rescheduled?

Of course Shinseki had to take it for the record (meaning his office will respond to her questions after they've looked into the matter, respond outside the hearing).  But you better believe veterans in her district are about to find rescheduling postponed surgeries a lot easier.  She used her time wisely and served her constituents -- probably better than anyone else present (and that was just her first question). 

Contrast that with Johnson's "spread my love for you  publicly" and "true gentleman" and "the underdog is now on top" rambles.  Offering up bios "become the Secretary of the Army -- Chairman of the Army?  Or whatever.  Uhhhhmmm.  Hmmm."  At the end of his pause -- word -- pause -- stumble what is one to say?

"Far out!"?  "Groovy!"? 

Maybe: "Who's holding?" 

He stops his ramble to note he's hearing thing and then attempts to reproduce the sound.  When told his time has expired, he responds, "Already?" 

Again, what do you say after all that?

No one was served by that crap.  No one.  And if you're going to tell a witness their own biography, have your facts straight.  But better yet, don't waste everyone's time with that garbage to begin with.  It's a real shame Johnson doesn't seem to believe that he has veterans in his district and that they have needs that should have been addressed.  That was embarrassing and there's no excuse for it.  Maybe Jay Leno was right and we should be drug testing members of Congress?

I have no idea but enduring that nonsense was like one of those Congressional townhalls where you are all waiting hours to way in on an issue but everyone has to first endure the idiot who brought a guitar and can't sing and can't write a song but wants to force all gathered to endure his little ditty as he stands at the mike.

It was a distraction and a diversion.  Fortunately, others had serious issues to explore.  Such as suicide.

US House Rep Mike Michaud:  Quick question, and I want to read from a Veterans Service Organization letter that they actually sent to Senator [Jim] Webb just last week.  And just part of it says, "The only branch of the military to show a marked improvement decreasing the number of persons taking their own life is the United States Marines.  They should also be praised for their active leadership from the very top in addressing the problem and implementing the solutions.  The remaining services have yet to be motivated to  take any substanative action. "  Secretary Panetta, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and I've looked the generals in the eye and I've asked them what are they doing personally to help the stigmatized TBI, PTSD?  And the second question is: Do they need any help?  I get the same answer over there as I do over here in DC: 'Everything's okay.  We've got all the resources we need.  We don't need any help.'  But the interesting thing is someone much lesser ranked came up to me, after I asked the general that question, outside and said, "We need a lot more help."  And he suggested  that I talk to the clergy to find out what they are seeing happening.  And I did that trip and every trip since then.  And I'm finding that our service members are not getting the help that they need.  And my question, particularly after looking at this letter that was sent to Senator Webb, it appears the Marines are doing a good job so why is it so different between the Marines, the Army and other branches?  And can you address that?

Secretary Leon Panetta: You know -- Obviously, there's no silver bullet here.  I wish there were to try to deal with suicide prevention.  We-we have a new suicide prevention office that's trying to look at programs  to try to address this terrible epedemic. I  mean, we are looking.  If you look at just the numbers, recent total are you've got about 104  confirmed and 102 pending investigation in 2012.  The total of this is high,, almost 206.  That's nearly one a day.  That is an epedemic.  Something is wrong.  Part of this is people are inhibited because they don't want to get the care that they probably need. So that's part of the problem, trying to get the help that's necessary.  Two, to give them access to the kind of care that they need.  But three -- and, again, I stress this because I see this in a number of other areas, dealing with good discipline and good order and, uh, trying to make sure that our troops are responding to the challenges -- it is the leadership in the field.  It's the platoon commander.  It's the platoon sergeant.  It's the company commander. It's the company sergeant.  The ability to look at their people, to see these problems.  To get ahead of it and to be able to ensure that when you spot the problems, you're moving that individual to the kind of-of assistance that they need in order to prevent it.  The Marines stay in close touch with their people.  That's probably one of the reasons that the Marines are doing a good job.  But what we're stressing in the other services is to try to develop that-that training of the command.  So that they two are able to respond to these kinds of challenges. 

US House Rep Mac Thornberry also raised the issue of suicides, noting Time magazine's recent cover story (July 23rd issue), Mark Thompson &; Nancy Gibbs' "One A Day: Every day, one U.S. soldier commits suicide.  Why the military can't defeat its most insidious enemy."  He raised the issue of "33% of all military suicides have never deployed overseas at all and 43% had deployed once."  Panetta confirmed that statistic from the article was accurate.  Panetta argued that suicide is on the rise "in the larger society" and that this is reflected within the military.  Chair McKeon wanted to know if the age group committing suicide in the military was reflective of the age group doing the same in the civilian sphere?  Shinseki stated that in the age group of 15-34, suicide is the third leading cause of death and, in the age group of  25 to 34,  it is the second leading cause of death.

There are three more members of Congress we may note from the hearing tomorrow.

Today the United Nations extended UNAMI's mandate.  The UN News Centre notes:

The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year, while also reiterating its encouragement of further progress in the country's security, humanitarian, human rights and political fronts.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15- member body encouraged the Government of Iraq "to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, improving security and public order and combating terrorism and sectarian violence across the country, and reiterating its support to the people and the Government of Iraq in their efforts to build a secure, stable, federal, united and democratic nation, based on the rule of law and respect for human rights."
The Council welcomed improvements in the Middle Eastern country's security situation, while stressing that challenges remain and "that improvements need to be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national unity."

In Qatar today, Al Jazeera landed an exclusive interview  with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  al-Hashemi is being tried in absentia in Iraq.  Nouri has declared him a terrorist.  Nouri's court has consistently ruled against him (this week they won't let him call President Jalal Talabani as a character witness) and the same court held a press conference in February announcing he was guilty before the trial had even begun -- that he was guilty and that he was trying to kill them.  The insanity never ends when Nouri's left in charge of Iraq.  From the interview.

Stephen Cole: Now the Iraq government accused you of running the death squads against Shia pilgrims, officials and security.  What's your official reaction to that?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Thank you very much for this interview.  In fact, I could absolutely say there is no crime case.  There is a political case and all of these confessions, in fact, have been accepted under severe torturing.  And one of my guards being killed.  More missing. And unfortunately in fact, I didn't receive any sort of fair trial as is written in the Constitution.  Therefore, I've been obliged to go and address the United Nations and NGOs to look after my case, in fact.

Stephen Cole: And you say this is a political case against you.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: That's right.

Stephen Cole:  What do you mean by that? Are you saying a vendetta or what --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemmi: Well the problem in fact is the judicial system has already lost its neutrality and lost its independence and is becoming just an instrument in the hand of the prime minister -- Mr. Maliki, in fact -- who has a committee very close to the circles surrounding him. This committee is in fact fabricating files against the active politicians in Iraq like myself -- all the time being seen and known as one of the most active advocate of national security, to the human rights to the stability to known interference of neighboring countries and I all the time in fact be seen as an opposition to Maliki and this is why he's fabricating this case and presented --

Stephen Cole: So you're saying that the case is made up against you basically?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: It's totally been fabricated.

Stephen Cole: Is this a Sunni-Shia conflict or --

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it yes.

Stephen Cole: -- is there any Kurdish involvement as well?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Part of it is, partially is.

Stephen Cole: Partially?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Partially. Because I belong to Iraqiya. Iraqiya is a non-sectarian political entity. And, as your fully aware, even the chairman, the leader of Iraqiya is a Shia -- Ayad Allawi. He's not a Sunni, for instance. But regardless of that fact, part of my political targeting is because my position in my community. If you were to check innocent people behind bars, it's more than 90% of them belong to the Sunni community. So the Sunni are in a real tragedy as far as Iraq is concerned.

Stephen Cole: So once again, you're returning to the fact that you're being persecuted, in your words, for your political views, your religious views?

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: I said partially. I did not say that exclusively. So I am one of the political advocates advocating and opposing to al-Maliki and Maliki policy but, at the same time in fact, that political motivation is partly because I belong to the Sunni community you see.

Stephen Cole:  Alright. Every month there have been coordinated attacks in Iraq. Using car bombs, mortars, gun fire. Do you think it's linked to this political crisis? It's linked to Iraq Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite tensions.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi: Whether we like it or not, the ongoing violence is just a reflection of the fragile political situation of Iraq.

 AFP 'reports' "After the initial charges were filed, he fled to Iraq's autonmous Kurdish region." Oh, they think they're clever in being pejorative.  Reality:

The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around.  The press rarely gets that fact correct.  When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a  boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry .  Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point.  Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya.  December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .

 Nouri caused the political crisis.  Most pin the start of the current stalemate to the above events in December.  But it even goes back beyond that.  Following the March 2010 elections, there was an eight month stalemate as second place Nouri refused to budge or let anything go forward until the Constitution, democracy and the vote was set aside and he was given a second term as prime minister.  He got away with that crap because the White House backed him on it.  The brokered the Erbil Agreement which all the heads of the political blocs signed off on -- including Nouri.  In exchange for this, you get that.  And what Nouri got was a second term as prime minister.  But he took that and then shredded the Erbil Agreement after he got what he wanted.  He refused to honor the contract.  That's what the stalemate's about.  It's not complicated.  Since the summer of last year, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  In April when the move towards a no-confidence vote in Nouri began, Moqtada repeatedly stated that Nouri could stop the effort cold just by returning to the Erbil Agreement.  This isn't complicated, this doesn't require a forensic investigation.

 All Iraq News notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi hosted a meeting of his political slate last night but that details on the meeting weren't know.  They add that Nouri al-Maliki met with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq yesterday (al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya).

In related news, AKnews states, "An Iraqi legal expert said he is counting on the results of the efforts of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the oil disputes between Baghdad and Erbil after visiting and meeting with officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan Region, adding that the crisis will be resolved during the next two days."  That may be but this All Iraq News report where ExxonMobil's accused of violating Iraq's sovereignty and more by an MP close to Nouri doesn't make it appear to be a sure thing.  In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG entered into an oil agreement which has enraged Nouri.  Now Chevron's followed ExxonMobil's lead and signed an oil deal with the KRG. Yesterday, Reuters noted, "Iraq hit out at Chevron Corp over its just-signed oil contract with Kurdistan, barring it from any oil agreements with the centeral government in a move meant to deter other companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous northern region."

 Meanwhile, as Kitabat explains, Nouri al-Maliki has yielded to international pressure (actually, to international shaming) and is backing off his previous stance and now allowing Syrian refugees (not just Iraqis returning from Syria) into Iraq.  AFP notes that the plan now is for "camps at two of its three border crossings with Syria."  Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) reports that one border crossing is open in Al Anbar Province, "But as for Syrian refugees, the UN is saying there's still no sign of them in huge numbers.  But the Iraqi government has decided to allow in those refugees and it's discussing with the UN refugee agency putting them in a camp near the border in western Al Anrbar at the lead border crossing.  That camp now holds Palestinian refugees who've been there for several years as well as other nationalities but it will be expanded, the UN tells us, to accomodate other refugees."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated last month that the US equivalent of $193 million was needed to assist refugees from Syria.  That figure may be revised shortly because there's a larger number than expected seeking shelter in surrounding countries of Jordna, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.  Last week, UNHCR's Adrian Edwards noted, "The number of Syrian refugees registered or assisted by UNHCR in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey has almost tripled since April 2012 and now stands at 112,000.  Three quarters are women and children.  This actual number of Syrian refugees is thought to be significantly higher, as many people seek to be registered only when they run out of resources."

Last week, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council that he'd visited the Syrian refugee camp in the KRG (semi-autonomous region of Iraq, controlled by the Kurds) and that the number of refugees in the camp was 7,000.  Kitabat notes that Syrian Kurds are especially choosing to flee Syria for the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.  While many are fleeing Syria, the number of Iraqis fleeing is about 10% (possibly less -- it's around 10% of the official number of Iraqi refugees in Syria).  Yesterday UNHCR's Melissa Fleming declared, "The violence in Syria has prompted over ten thousand Iraqi refugees to return home since Wednesday last week.  Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria."  Ammar Karim (AFP) reports that the returning "find themselves returning to a homeland where basic services remain poor and unemployment and housing costs are still high."  Widow Faatin Mohammed Hussein is quoted stating, "Life is much easier in Syria than in Iraq.  There you can live in a house for $200 a month, and finding a job is easy.  Here, finding work is difficult, and housing is very expensive.  Where can I work to provide food for my son and daughter?"

 Xinhau reports that the Islamic State of Iraq posted a statement online claiming that Monday's attacks which left over 115 dead was the first step in their "Breaking The Walls" plan which they announced Sunday.  They quote from the statement:  "The coordinated jihadist operations have stunned the enemy and made him lost his mind, and showed the failure of intelligence and security plans which filled the world with noise and bluster."  Prashant Rao (AFP) quotes from the new announcement: "As part of the new military campaign aimed at recovering territory given up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan.  The operations by the jihadists have stunned the enemy and made him lose his head.  It has demonstrated the failings of the security and intelligence services."  Along with the 115 dead, The Voice of Russia notes over three hundred people were injured in Monday's violence.  KUNA reports, "Arab League General Secretariat on Wednesday strongly condemned the series of bombings that hit some Iraqi cities on Monday, which targeted security and civilian buildings, causing numerous deaths."

Iraq Body Counts notes at least 355 people have been killed by violence in Iraq so far this month.

Alsumaria notes today saw a Diyala Province roadside bombing which left five people injured, a Diayal Prvoince attack which left 2 police officers dead, a Diayala Province roadside bombing which left one police officer injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left 4 people dead, 1 government employee shot dead in Baghdad, an Abu Ghraib bombing that wounded two security officers, 1 police officer shot dead in Nineveh Province, a second armed attack in Nineveh left 2 police officers dead, a Nineveh roadside bombing wounded two soldiers, 1 retired Peshmerga was shot dead in Kirkuk, a Wasit sitcky bombing which left a police officer and his wife injured and 2 corpses were discovered in Dohuk Province.   Alsumaria also reports that the FPS director was in his convoy to the south of Mosul when a bombing targeting him went off. Police state he survived and do not mention any dead or note any wounds to (him or anyone else).  Others weren't so lucky.  AFP reports a Salahuddin Province car bombing has claimed the lives of a police officer's wife and their four children.   Alsumaria reports a member of Parliament's Security and Defence Committee is calling for the security strategies to be changed and for all of Iraq to be protected which is most likely a criticism of the the strategy that places a premium on securing the Green Zone while other areas of Iraq suffer.  (Additional security and anti-aircraft devices have been put around mosques and shrines over the weekend.  Why?  I don't know apparently Nouri's expecting some sort of invasion of Iraqi skies.)   All Iraq News picks up on the story noting MP Riad Saadi declared that security was deteriorating and that attacks indicate additional security needs to be sent to other cities.  As long as they're examing causes, they might want to read the report Dar Addustour posted last night about a Thursday assault in Diwaniya.  Who was doing the assaulting, I'd argue the police who showed up and started arresting "dozens" of protesters last Thursday at which point activists and bystanders responded by throwing rocks at the police who opened fire on the protesters. 

 Despite the recent history of assaulting protesters, Iraqis continue to protest.  Alsumaria reports that tonight, in Basra, they turned out by the dozens to protest the declining electrical service, that they set fire to tires and that the military and the police were sent in.  Nasser Awad tells Aljazeera that the protest wasn't well planned because it was spontaneous.  He also states that this is just the start and more protests will take place over the coming nights.

A recent report in the UK Guardian by Charlie Skelton explains that Western news outlets remain willing victims (or accomplices) in a propaganda campaign for US -NATO led Syrian intervention being carried out by skilled and well-financed public relations practitioners. According to Skelton, "the spokespeople, the 'experts on Syria', the 'democracy activists' … The people who 'urge' and 'warn' and 'call for action'" against the Assad regime are themselves part of a sophisticated and well-heeled public relations effort to allow NATO forces to give Syria the same medicine administered to Libya in 2011. "They're selling the idea of military intervention and regime change," Skelton reports,
"and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the "activists" and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn't necessarily pure news – it's a sales pitch, a PR campaign."[1]
If one thinks that a revelation of this magnitude would be cause for other major Western news media to reassess their reportage of the Syrian situation they would be greatly mistaken. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now is a case in point. Since the beginning of the "Arab Spring" color revolutions the foremost broadcast venue of "independent" progressive-Left journalism in the United States has used its reportage to obfuscate and thereby advance the campaign for regime change in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. The tactics of disinformation and death squads employed in Libya and Syria should be easily recognizable since they were refined against popular Central American moves toward popular enfranchisement by the Reagan administration during the 1980s.
As Finian Cunningham recently observed [2] Democracy Now's adherents look to Goodman on a regular basis because of her perceived credibility; she is the self-avowed " exception to the rulers"—a tireless crusader against the restrictive corporate media where there remains a "deafening silence … around the issues -- and people -- that matter most."[3] Today Goodman's vaunted program is contributing to the very violence being committed by Western-backed mercenaries against the Syrian people.
Goodman and similar Left media are engaging and convincing precisely because of their posturing against corporate media control, economic exploitation and war mongering. Occupying the outer contours of National Public Radio's milquetoast programming, Democracy Now's self-described "independent" reportage takes on a certain aura of authenticity among its supporters --mainly progressives with concerns for social justice and human rights.
Such characteristics make Goodman and Democracy Now among the most effective sowers of disinformation. Further, their role in assuaging an educated and otherwise outspoken audience serves only to aid and abet the wanton military aggression Goodman and her cohorts claim to decry. In light of the program's broader coverage of the "Arab Spring," such reporting must be recognized and condemned as sheer public relations for NATO and the Obama administration's campaign of perpetual terrorism and war on humanitarian grounds.[4]