Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nikita season finale

Okay it's the weekend. Last night was the season finale of Nikita on The CW.  I thought we had another week! :(

Ryan: The president came through.  We're getting our pardons, should have them by week's end.  She kept her word.

Nikita: That's because she's afraid of us.  She knows what we know.  What we could do to her.  She's one of the only people in the world who knows about division.  She should be afraid.

Ryan: Nikita, is there something you want to say?

Remember, last week Amanda planted a comm on Nikita and told her she would kill the president or Amanda would activate toxins in Michael's artificial arm that would kill him instantly.

Amanda (over the comm): Now's not the time to do anything rash Nikita, or I may have to do something rash in return -- like push the trigger to activate the nano-toxin in Michael's blood.

Nikita: I just can't believe the end is in sight.

Ryan: Yeah.

Michael and Birkhoff are talking.  Nikita's acting weird.  Like when Alex was under Amanda's control.  They call Ryan looking for her.  She's leaving Division.

Michael catches up with her on the surface (Division is below ground) and tries to stop her.  She tells him someday they'll talk privately.  She fires the gun several times and flees on a motorcycle.

So she's being mind controlled by Amanda.  No, Alex says.  That's not how it works.  Nikita knows that she's not in control.  Alex says she always thought she was doing the right thing.  This is something different.  They talk about what she was saying and grasp Amanda's not controlling her, she's bugged her with an implanted communication device.


Remember the Canadian conference?  How to meet the president face to face, Nikita had to pose as Janet, a student of the president's back at Harvard?

Nikita is at a coffee shop when she 'accidentally' bumps into the president's scheduler.  The woman reminds 'Janet' who she is.  Nikita says that's good because she needs to meet the president today.  Maybe some other time but not today, there's too much checking and scheduling and -- Nikita shows her a gun and tells her it wasn't a request.

She takes the woman to where houses are being built, makes her call the White House and get 'Janet' on the list.  Then she ties up the woman and tells her someone will find her by nightfall so not to worry.

She's about to leave in her car when Birkhoff comes over Amanda's comm.  She gets out of the car and tells Birkhoff he'll ruin everything.  Michael and Alex are there.  They explain Birkhoff's jamming it but they only have a short while.  Amanda will just think Nikita's gone into a tunnel.  Quickly, the thing is laid out.  Michael dies if Nikita doesn't kill the president.  "Michael," Nikita says, "if you want to save me, save yourself."

Nikita leaves as Alex and Michael try to figure out what happens next.

Alex notes that they'd need bodies -- someone coming up with the toxins -- to do experiments on.  And she remembers a name in the dead doctor's booklet.  Another doctor.  Maybe he could help.

They find him.  Turns out, he didn't know his research was stolen.  He can't believe it.  Is it possible for him to make a serum?  Sure.  The serum kills the toxin.  It works like the living host has died and that's what kills it.  He could reverse it if he had something to experiment on.  They've got it, they say but they need to leave it may not be safe there.  No duh.

The Shop activates the chip, the doctor dies.  The guy in charge says not to tell Amanda, they can't have her going off right now.

Why did Nikita kidnap that woman?

She doesn't even use the woman's work.

Nikita goes to the White House via an underground tunnel.  She's stopped.  She says she works for (the now dead) CIA director.  Yeah, he's dead.  But, she says, my mission is still alive.

She has information for the president.

It doesn't really seem to play out.  The guys grab her -- security -- and carry her to an office.  There a fat guy in charge says to let her go, she's been cleared.

The others leave.  He hands Nikita a gun.  How much is he being paid by Amanda?  He's not working for Amanda and it's not about money, he tells her.

He takes her to the Oval Office waiting room.  Security looks at her but he gives a nod and she's allowed to walk through.  She goes into the Oval Office and shuts the door.

The president takes an attitude with Nikita.

Michael and Alex don't know what to do.  Michael makes Birkhoff patch him through.

He tells Nikita that he's fine.  Over Alex's objection, he lies to her.

Convinced he is safe, Nikita turns to the president.

Now while Nikita's been talking to Michael, the president's been asking if she's hearing voices.  Really? The president wouldn't know about comm devices?  Nikita's long hair hangs loose (over her ears) so she could have been using a blue tooth device for all the president knew.

Nikita now tells her that people are planning to kill her.

The president laughs like that's not news.

Nikita pulls out a gun and lays it on the president's desk.  She tells her it's people in her inner circle.

The president says, "I know exactly what I have to do."

Buzz in security, right? Nikita's going to be busted?

Nope.  She grabs the gun and shoots herself in the head.  The president kills herself.

Amanda says (over the comm), "I told you, I've thought of everything."

Security bursts in and they twist tie Nikita's hands and haul her off.

Alex explains that the doctor said the toxin died  with the person.  So they need to kill Michael.  Remember how Amanda killed Alex to kill the kill chip?  And then brought her back to life?  They need to flatline Michael for 20 minutes and then bring him back.  It could work.

So they go down to the medical bay and Alex and Sonya prepare Michael.  He goes 'dead.'

Amanda's furious and orders them to send the signal to release the toxin in Michael.

As she's being carried through the tunnels Amanda tells her they didn't just need an assassin, they needed a fall guy.  Amanda says, "Booth, Oswald, Nikita."

And then the fat guy shows up.  He tells them he has orders to take the prisoner.  Nikita says he's lying.  The others question him and he shoots them dead.  He's to make it look like Nikita did it and kill her.  Birkfhoff instead overwhelms the man with static on his comm device.

Nikita jumps him and they fight.  She kills him and then gets loose.

The Shop informs Amanda the signal was not received.  Amanda says she has a team ready, give them the orders to take out Division.

Birkhoff's at the computers and warns everyone in the bay - now trying to bring Michael back -- that 'the dirty thirty' are coming in.

ALex tells Sonya to stay there and keep working on Michael.  She and Ryan leave.  Nikita calls in and Birkhoff explains what's going on.

He joins Alex and Ryan and hands them rifles.  They agree to lead the group away from the medical bay to give Sonya the time needed to bring Michael back.

They kill about half the bad guys but then run out of ammo except 3 bullets for Birkhoff.

They're fighting fist to fist. Ryan's stabbed.  Birkhoff's being choked by a guy.  Two guys are going after Alex.  Nikita walks in and shoots dead all but three - bam, bam, bam.  Then she grabs a pipe and finishes off the rest.

They all go down to medical.  Sonya's neatly pinned hair is all over the place.  She's been working like crazy to bring Michael back, but it's not working.  Nikita tries.  No luck.

She starts talking to Michael.  She's telling him how much he means to her and everyone's near tears because Michael's dead.  Suddenly, his heart starts up.

They quickly pack up and leave and Ryan gives Nikita the detonator.  She looks back at the farm house (it covers an entrance to Division) and then sets off the bombs.

The president's dead.


That wasn't the president.  In Canada at that meet-up, The Shop kidnapped the president and substituted a look alike.  The president is alive in a cage somewhere being watched by The Shop.

They're at a hacker's space.  What to do now?  Maybe they can use this space.  They need a safe house.

Nikita points out that they have an image of her, the whole world wants her now.  She needs to leave the group.

Alex says, "Remember when Amanda tries to teach us that our loved ones were a libility?  Well it's a good thing you've got more than one."  Alex explains that they're a source of strength.

But Nikita slips out when no one's looking.  Michael tries to find her, tries to call her and then sees she left behind her engagement ring.

She's seen driving and tossing her cell phone out the window.

So that's the end of season three.

Season four starts next fall.  I really think they should do more than six episodes.  Next season is supposed to be the final season.

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

Friday, May 17, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, today is said to have the highest death toll in eight months, a new protest takes place in Baghdad, Ammar al-Hakim visits the First Lady, the war on the AP continues, the House Ways and Means Committee holds a surreal hearing on the IRS scandal, and more. 

Today, Danny Schecter the-so-called 'News Dissector' writes, "It turns out there is much more to the story about the government investigating leaks to the AP. It turns out the news and the government had been negotiating, about when to release the story, and the AP had held its story for five days and was wrangling with the White House over who would break it suggesting that there may be questionable practices on both sides." Don't you just hate stupid?

Does it turn out that way?  Today?  Friday, it turns out that way?

The scandal broke Monday.  Check Monday's snapshot -- it's in there. "It turns out there is much more to the story," Danny huffs, breathless from waddling back from the fridge.  Not only did we, and anyone else with a brain, note that the AP had been in discussions with the government, but the article from a year ago (which prompted the investigation) noted it as well -- we pointed that out in Monday's snapshot: "As Goldman and Apuzzo noted in their original report, the White House and the CIA knew AP would be reporting this and AP delayed the story for a week at their request."

This is not new information.  Danny Schechter is a deeply disturbed individual. Failed careers at CNN and ABC (as well as online) clearly have a lot to do with his inability to register the world around him.  In 1979, The Progressive published Howard Moreland's landmark article "The H-bomb Secret: How we got it and why we're telling it.The Progressive was in talks with the government.  They couldn't reach an agreement and that's why there was a lawsuit.  (The magazine rightly prevailed in the case.)  Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate stories?  The articles needed responses from the government for the paper to publish them.  That can be seen as negotiations as well.

He's a deeply stupid man, deeply.  I don't know the full extent of the conversations AP and the government had.  I don't really care.  I know that what happened was wrong and that you call it out.  Just like with the IRS scandal (which we'll address later in the snapshot).  Danny wants to poop on it because "Did the right-wingers now crying bloody murder ever speak up when the IRS harassed its enemies?"  Oh, heaven help us all.  That's the criteria for outrage from a media watchdog?  Because it sounds like the 'critique' offered by a three-year-old in the midst of a tantrum.

Did little Danny miss his afternoon nap?  Whether or not the other side spoke out about ___?  Who the hell cares?  I am not responsible for the actions of Generic Republican. I am responsible for my actions.  I can't control whether someone else is ethical, I can control whether I am.  What happened was outrageous. So you call it out.  Danny wants to go off on soft money.  Soft money corrupting elections? Yeah, we called out the IRS targeting on Monday and also managed to call out the influence of soft money.  We've already been there.  For someone who writes a daily dissection, he sure is behind the times

On Benghazi, Danny dumps, "Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman has come forward to question whether this office in Benghazi was really a consulate as we have been but an 'intelligence platform'  for use in a covert war that the sacking of the embassy became part of. "  Did Mel Goodman do that?  Wow.  What a genius.  Of course we noted that back in October when we attended the first hearing on Benghazi. See, US House Rep Jason Chaffetz kept saying during that hearing that things were being revealed in questions that shouldn't be and calling for the Chair to stop the revelations.  If you hadn't figure it out by then, when Chaffetz walked over to the Chair and neither appeared to know that people could hear them speaking, you should have grasped it then. If you didn't know it was a CIA outpost in October, I don't know what to tell you because I'm afraid you're brain dead.  It was also a 'consulate.'  It was a consulate that would, per Hillary Clinton's wishes, open before the end of 2012.  Maybe in six months when someone in the echo chamber Danny gets his spin from mentions that, suddenly he'll again be proclaiming, breathlessly, "it looks like there's much more to the story." Danny Schechter, stop dancing from foot to foot, go sit back on your potty chair, take care of your business and let the grown ups talk.

In peace news, the world's a little better today.  Eliana Raszewski (Bloomberg News) reports Jorge Videla has died in an Argentine prison ("from natural causes") where he was serving out his life sentence for running "the country's military junta from 1976 to 1981" -- The Dirty War which claimed the lives of thousands.  Raszewksi quotes  Ricard Gil Lavedra ("one of the judges who passed the [life] sentences in 1985") stating, "Videla will be remembered as a dictator whoplaneted death in Argentina.  He led the most bloody dictatorship that we ever had."  Adam Bernstein (Washington Post) observes of the dead despot, "He had spent his final decades consumed by legal battles stemming from the dictatorship and, in recent years, was convicted of human rights abuses such as the systematic abduction of infants from suspected left-wing radicals."  The Buenos Aires Herald also quotes Ricardo Gil Lavedra (who now serves in the Parliament) stating that "democracy judged him and gave him the opportunity for defense, an opportunity he refused to give to thousands of people. Unfortunately, he never showed remorse for what he did.  He is top responsible for a plan which ended the lives of thousands of Argentineans." In 1976, then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger visited the regime and declared that the thug "is a very dedicated, very intelligent man who is doing what is best for his country."  When does Kissinger go to prison?   The Buenos Aires Herald explains:

Rights groups say up to 30,000 people were "disappeared" - a euphemism for kidnapped and murdered - during the dictatorship, which began in March 1976 when Videla and two other military leaders staged a coup against President Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, the widow of former leader Juan Domingo Peron.
Argentina's left-wing guerrilla groups such as the Montoneros had been weakened by the time Videla came to power. He targeted union organizers, students, journalists and anyone else perceived to be associated with communism.

Human Rights Watch issued the following statement on the death:

Jorge Rafael Videla participated in the March 24, 1976 coup d’etat, and acted as de facto president of Argentina until 1981. According to local human rights groups, approximately 30,000 people were “disappeared,” thousands were tortured and arbitrarily detained, and hundreds of babies were stolen and illegally appropriated by other families during the military dictatorship that ended in 1983.
“Videla will be remembered as the man who headed the cruelest dictatorship in Argentine history,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Fortunately, the Argentine judicial system did its job and held him accountable, allowing victims of his atrocities to have access to justice.”
In 1985, Videla was one of the first Latin American dictators to be convicted of crimes against humanity in the emblematic “Trial of the Military Juntas.” He was sentenced to life in prison.
Several important human rights cases were reopened after Congress annulled Argentina’s amnesty laws in 2003 and the Supreme Court confirmed that they were unconstitutional in 2005. Starting in 2005, federal judges struck down pardons that then-President Carlos Menem issued between 1989 and 1990 to former officials, including Videla, convicted of, or facing trial for, human rights violations.
Videla was convicted in a total of three trials, one in 1985, one in 2010, and a third in 2012 for his participation in human rights violations committed during the dictatorship, including torture, kidnappings, homicide, and illegal appropriation of babies. Videla died in prison, where he was serving his sentences.

Australia's ABC reports:

Videla showed little remorse for the systematic abuses that occurred during his presidency, a traumatic five-year upheaval still being felt today.
"Let's say there were 7,000 or 8,000 people who had to die to win the war against subversion," Videla said recently in a prison interview, according to journalist Ceferino Reato.
"We couldn't execute them by firing squad. Neither could we take them to court," Videla was quoted as saying.

In a 1995 piece entitled "Friendly Dictators" (Third World Traveler), Dennis Bernstein and Laura Sydell compiled a list of US-backed dictators

Soon after the coup that brought him to power in 1976 General Jorge Rafael Videla began Argentina's dirty war. All political and union activities were suspended, wages were reduced by 60%, and dissidents were tortured by Nazi and US-trained military and police. Survivors say the torture rooms contained swastikas and pictures of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. One year after Videla's coup, Amnesty International estimated 15,000 people had disappeared and many were in secret detention camps, but although the U.S. press admitted human rights abuses occurred in Argentina, Videla was often described as a "moderate' who revitalized his nation's troubled economy. Videla had a good public relations firm in the U.S., Deaver and Hannaford, the same firm used by Ronald Reagan, Taiwan, and Guatemala. Videla also received aid from the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), through its affiliate, CAL (Confederation AntiCommunists Latinoamericana). CAL sent millions of dollars to Argentina from the US, including old anti-communist organizations with alliances with the Italian drug mafia. As part of its WACL affiliation, Argentina trained Nicaraguan contras for the US. Videla left office in 1981, and after the Falklands Crisis of 1982, he and his cohorts were tried for human rights abuses by the new government.

Since Reagan is mentioned, we should note Ronald Reagan (a president I didn't care for, to put it mildly) was sworn in as President in January 1981.  Point?  Videla left office later that year.  Point?  1976 is the last year of Gerald Ford's administration and, most importantly, Videla's human rights abuses -- ignored by the United States government -- take place mainly during the four year term (January 1977 to December 1980) of then-President Jimmy Carter.  With regards to Argentina, Reagan would basically embrace them but the Dirty War was largely over in Argentina, he embraced them and used them to fund his contras.  This would grow and grow until the illegal operation became public and was known as Iran-Contra which is considered the biggest blight on his presidency.

When the Dirty War was in full swing, Jimmy Carter was the US President.  Here's 'human rights saint' Carter vouching for the tyrant on September 9, 1977 after he entertained the War Criminal at the White House:

We discussed several items, but the two that we discussed at most length were, first, the question of nonproliferation of nuclear explosives. We are very hopeful that Argentina, which has been in the nuclear field for 25 years in the production of power, will join with other nations in this hemisphere in signing the Treaty of Tlatelolco to prevent any development of explosives. And I was very encouraged by what President Videla had to say.
The other item that we discussed at length was the question of human rights--the number of people who are incarcerated or imprisoned in Argentina, the need for rapid trial of these cases, and the need for Argentina to let the world know the status of the prisoners.
President Videla was very frank with me about pointing out the problems that have existed in Argentina and his commitment to make very rapid progress in the next few months. He wants Argentina to be judged not on his words alone, but on the demonstrable progress that he stated would be made.
We had a thorough discussion, and I think it was one of the most productive and most frank discussions that I've had with any leader.
I've had a chance to visit Argentina in the past and know the tremendous strength of your people and of your economy, the beauty of your nation, and the serious problem that presently exists in the opinion of the world about Argentina because of the repression of human rights and the terrorism that has existed there.
But we have great hopes that rapid progress might be made in alleviating this problem. And I was encouraged by what President Videla had to say.

Does Carter still think it was a good meeting with the despot, does he still "think it was one of the most productive and most frank discussions that I've had with any leader"?  Two years later (when there was no progress made) Carter did send an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Argentina September 6, 1979 -- nearly three years after he took office.  Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Patricia Derian headed that commission.  That was merely an investigation, a compiling.  The US government did nothing with the results.  Patricia Derian, however, returned to Argentina in 1985 to testify at the trials.

 Nothing changed.  You know who else gathered information?  Adolfo Perez Esquivel.   He was arrested for doing that in August 1977 and thrown into a prison where he was tortured.  His plight and his courage provided the spotlight from the world -- he was honored by, among others Pope John XXIII while he was imprisoned.  This is before Carter ever sends any commission to Argentina.  In May of 1978, he is finally released from the prison.  That's the same year, 1978 -- still before Carter's done anything other than entertain the despot at the White House, Amnesty International names Adolfo Perez Esquivel Political Prisoner of the year.  We're not done.  For his work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980Telesur TV catches up with him today.  He notes what was done went beyond Jorge Rafael Videla, that it was part of Operation Condor, a terror campaign implemented by right wing dictators in the Southern Cone of Latin America from 1976 to 1980 (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguqy and Uruguay).   The CIA, the FBI and the US Embassy were helpers in various countries.  In Argentina, in particular, Henry Kissinger was quick to convey, "The quicker you succeed the better. [. . .] If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better."  Click here for the National Security Archive for Kissinger October 1976 visit to Argentina (that's when he conveys the message quoted).

In Juan Mandelbaum's documentary Nuestros Desaparecidos (Our Disappeared), Patricia Derian asks:

What are the principles of this country?  Will we do anything to get what we want?  And the answer has always been yes, that's the sad fact of it.  We've done some wonderful things and helpful and saved people, restored governments.  But we have also -- also had a very dark side.

To be clear, she's not criticizing Carter.  She is criticizing others including Henry Kissinger.  She remains an ardent defender of Carter.  I'm the one pointing out Carter entertained the despot, made nice with him, and over half-way into his first and only presidential term, he sent an exploratory committee.  In the documentary, she notes that she was being given a tour of the Escuela de Mecaninica de la Armada and she states that she tells the officials she's knows they're torturing people on the floors below. She tells them, "I have a map, I know what's happening in every room."  Good for her.  Good for her for calling it out.  But, here's the thing, if Pat had the map and the knowledge, so did Jimmy Carter.  Unlike Pat, Carter had the power to do something.  He did nothing.  Sent a committee.  Wow.  The bravery.  (That's sarcasm.)  In the film, Pat talks about the torture which includes a woman being tortured and they put a rat into her vagina and then stitched it up.  That's what the committee could find and document.  In the fall of 1977.  And Carter did nothing.  Sent a committee which confirmed what was already known.  Did nothing after.

A lot of people do nothing.  Like today with regards to Little Saddam, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister and chief thug of Iraq who was installed by Bully Boy Bush in 2006 (the Iraqi Parliament -- who are supposed to be 'the deciders' on this -- wanted Ibrahiam al-Jafaari) and whom the Iraqi people thought they had rid themselves of in 2010 when they voted Iraqiya into first place in parliamentary elections (Barack backed the loser and had the US-goverment broker The Erbil Agreement to go around the country's constitution and the will of the people to give Nouri a second term).

In Iraq, Fridays mean protests -- this wave has been going on since December 21st.  More and more, peaceful protests in Iraq also mean a wave of attacks on participants by Nouri's forces. 

In Ramadi and Falluja, NINA notes that security measures were "tightened" and a security source tells them, "The security services have taken preventive measures to protect the worshipers in the unified prayer which are held in Baquba capital of the province, Balad Ruz, Mandali, Jalawla, and Qaratappa districts."  NINA reports thousands of protesters turned out in Ramadi and Falluja and quotes sit-in organizer Sheikh Mohammed Fayyad stating that the protesters are gathered to send a message to Baghdad that the protests are peaceful and are supported by the Iraqi people.

Nouri's forces did not protect in Baquba.  Iraqi Spring MC reports a Baquba bombing has left many dead.  Protesters and bystanders who attempted to help the wounded to the hospital were attacked and beaten by Nouri's SWAT forces.   SWAT forces also surrounded Baquba General Hospital to prevent people from donating bloodNouri's Tigris Operation Command forces ordered the hospital not to reveal the number of dead and wounded they are receiving.  Why is the Iraqi military being used against citizens, why is being used to harass medical providers?

In addition to the bombing, his SWAT forces began firing at protesters.  At least 1 man was killedAlsumaria reports 40 are dead from the bombing and 46 injured.  Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports it was two bombs "which hit almost simultaneously."  Matt Brown (Australia's ABC) also reports two bombings.  Citing security and medical sources, AFP goes with 41 dead and fifty-seven injured.  Duraid Adnan (New York Times) explains, "The Saraya mosque, where the blasts took place, is one of the main mosques where Sunnis in Baquba pray and hear speeches to support protests in Anbar and other Sunni provinces calling for change in the Shiite-dominated government." The violence is part of what Deutsche Welle has hailed as, "The deadliest day in Iraq in eight months."  Mohammad Tawfeeq (CNN) reports Baghdad bombings, one which left 12 people dead and thrity injured and one in the Baghdad home of Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Massari whic left two of his bodyguards injured.  Tawfeeq notes, "Al-Massari's brother was shot dead near his house in the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Bayaa on Thursday."  RT adds, "Another explosion struck a cafe in Fallujah, which killed two people and wounded nine." Al-Arabiya notes (link is text and video), "In Madain, south of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a funeral procession for a Sunni man, killing eight people and wounding at least 25, security and medical officials said, according to AFP." In addition, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Kirkuk inspection department employee was shot dead and his relative injured in KirkukAll Iraq News reports 1 woman's corpse was discovered in Mosul.  Jason Ditz ( looks at today's violence as well as Wednesday's and Thursday's and counts more than 160 deaths and more then 400 injured.  Dominic Kane (Al Jazeera -- in the video, not the text) reports that over 300 violent deaths have already taken place this month.
Various opinions make the rounds regarding the violence.  William Clarke (Telegraph of London) offers, "The burst of violence raises the spectre of the tit-for-tat killings that killed tens of thousands of people during the height of sectarian tensions."  Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera -- from text) observes of the violence, "It's an indication that security conditions are really going downhill in this country. There is a huge and growing sense of fear among Iraqis."

The Washington Institute's Michael Knights argued a few days ago at Foreign Policy that the problem is de-centralization was put into the Iraqi Constitution but then ignored:

But starting in 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki re-centralized power, leaning on an increasingly narrow circle of Shia opponents of the previous dictatorship. And like all successful revolutionaries, this clique is paranoid about counterrevolution and has set about rebuilding a version of the authoritarian system it sought for decades to overthrow. Maliki’s inner circle dominates the selection of military commanders down to brigade level, controls the federal court, and has seized control of the central bank. The executive branch is rapidly eclipsing all checks and balances that were put in place to guarantee a new autocracy did not emerge.
 The root of Iraq’s violence is thus not ancient hatreds between Sunni and Shia or Kurd and Arab, but between decentralizers and recentralizers – and between those who wish to put Iraq’s violent past behind them, and those determined to continually refight it. The demands that have been consistently stated by the Kurdish and Sunni Arab anti-Maliki opposition could not be clearer. First, the opposition demands devolution of fiscal authority to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the provinces, encapsulated in a revenue-sharing law that will provide a formula for the proportion of the budget allocated to the KRG and provinces. Second, it demands the implementation of the system of checks and balances on the executive branch – particularly by empowering parliament and ensuring an independent judiciary. Third, it calls for a comprehensive truth and reconciliation process that provides justice for those damaged by Saddam’s regime, but stops short of collectively punishing Sunnis.

Did the world turn its back on Iraq?  Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari tells Aleem Maqbool (BBC News -- link is text and video, quotes are from video),  "We've been several times to hell and back. But Iraq still needs the engagement the commitment of the international community to work out its recent difficulties."  Aleem Maqbool observes, "What Iraqis are asking is why there's not the urgency here and abroad to try to avert what many see as almost invetiable civil war?"  Aziz Alwan (Los Angeles Times) points out, "Sectarian tension among Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni elite have soared in the absence of compromise on the issues raised by Sunni protesters, including resolving the fate of thousands of Sunni detainees and addressing the continued marginalization of those who served in late dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party."  Today the UN News Centre noted:


17 May 2013 – The top United Nations official in Iraq today urged Iraqi leaders to protect civilians following a wave of bombings over the past few days which have claimed more innocent lives.
“It is the responsibility of all leaders to stop the bloodshed in this country and to protect their citizens,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler.
“Small children are burned alive in cars. Worshippers are cut down outside their own mosques. This is beyond unacceptable. It is the politicians’ responsibility to act immediately and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse and put an end to this.”
According to media reports, two bombs near a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 80 on Friday. One bomb reportedly exploded as worshippers were departing a mosque in the city of Baquba, while a second went off after people gathered at the scene of the first blast.
Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in recent clashes across the country, including in Hawija, north of Baghdad, where government helicopters shot at militants hiding in the village, resulting in dozens of people killed or injured.
Mr. Kobler has repeatedly called on Iraqi authorities to take decisive measures to stop the escalating violence. Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all Iraqis to come together and engage in inclusive dialogue to overcome the “deep political crisis” facing the country.
“Peace must come to this country now. The people of Iraq have suffered enough,” Mr. Kobler said. “We will continue to remind the leaders of Iraq that the country will slide backwards into a dangerous unknown if they do not take action.”

Returning to the topic of protests, Baghdad saw another target of a protest today.  All Iraq News notes that Moqtada al-Sadr is calling for the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad be closed.  Alsumaria notes that "hundreds" of followers of cleric and movement leader Moqtada attempted to protest outside the embassy today in western Baghdad but were prevented from getting in front of the building by Nouri's forces.

Meanwhile All Iraq News reports Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq leader Ammar al-Hakim met today with First Lady of Iraq Hero Ibrahim Ahmed at her official residence in Sulaimaniya.  There, the First Lady "reassured" al-Hakim "on the health of President Talabani" and al-Hakim stressed that Jalal Talabani was both "a personal and national symbol for all Iraqis, not just the Kurds."  Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.

 The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.  Last week, questions arose regarding Jalal's health.  Friday,  All Iraq News noted that the PUK's Najm al-Din Karim declared that the rumors were false and that "Talabani enjoys good health and has continuous improvement" and "Talabani's health continues to improve day after day."  Monday morning, Nouri launched an effort to replace Jalal as president and by Monday evening it was being announced (by Kurdistan Alliance MP Muhsin al-Sadoun) that Jalal would be doing media appearances "shortly" -- though "shortly" was not defined as hours, weeks or months.    Al-Hayat (translation by Al-Monitor) reports that, in the disputed province of oil-rich Kirkuk, Arab tribes and political parties are saying replacing Jalal Talabani now would send the country further into crisis:

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Monshed al-Assi, a leader in the Arab Political Council, has called upon all related parties "not to lead the country and political forces toward a new conflict through the election of an alternative to Talabani.” He stressed the need to "refer to the constitution and not to exceed its content." The sheikh also demanded that "the nomination be done away from quotas and repartition of positions on a nationalist and sectarian basis, as this would harm the political process and cause crises."
Meanwhile, Arab tribal leaders have criticized "[the parties] for being ungrateful towards Talabani, who has been unbiased and patriotic. Throughout his presidency, Talabani has not dealt with issues on a sectarian basis."
In a statement to Al-Hayat, Sheikh Farhan al-Saadi said, "It is too soon for political blocs to talk about an alternative to President Talabani, as he is still in a difficult health condition."
Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other hand, has declared his support for the nomination of a replacement for Talabani and has called to speed up the measures in this regard. The United Nations Office in Iraq’s Kurdistan region has mentioned several reasons that would hinder the nomination of any alternative. In a statement issued by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Sokol Conde, head of the UN Office, said that the "no party alone can take the place of president Talabani. Governance in Iraq was built on the basis of consensus and partnership between political blocs and components, which imposes the attainment of national consensus on various issues."

Yesterday, the US State Dept issued the following:

Press Statement

Jen Psaki
Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 16, 2013
On May 15 the first 14 Camp Hurriya residents departed Iraq for permanent relocation in Albania.
The United States expresses its appreciation to the Government of Albania for its generous humanitarian gesture to accept 210 former Camp Hurriya residents. Albania has been a strong partner of the United States in bringing peace and stability to Iraq.
The United States urges the Mujahedin-e Khalq leadership to cooperate fully with the UNHCR relocation process and to facilitate access by United Nations monitors to Camp Hurriya residents. The relocation of Camp Hurriya residents outside of Iraq is vital to their safety and security. It is the responsibility of the MEK leadership to facilitate for the residents of Camp Hurriya free and unfettered access to UN human rights monitors.
The United States reiterates its strong support for the efforts of UNHCR, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and the Special Representative of the Secretary General Martin Kobler. We continue to emphasize that the camp and its residents must be secured in accordance with the December 25, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq, and urge all involved parties to work together effectively on this.
There are over 3000 residents who need to be relocated.  These are the people who were housed in Camp Ashraf.  We call them Camp Ashraf residents because that is their history.  Moving them to Camp Liberty (Hurriya) was, in part, an attempt to strip them of their history.

US House Rep Kenny Marchant:  On July 25th, we had another Oversight Committee hearing  in which Commissioner Miller and I had an extended conversation about this very subject.  And that conversation is in this transcript, anyone can get it on the internet and read the questions but the questions were very specifically about Tea Party groups and their difficulties in getting their tax exempt status, the lengthy conversations that they were having, the questionnaires that they were having to answer.  And, again, Mr. Miller in that exchange that you and I had, I came away with that, I felt, with the assurances by you and your office that there were no extraordinary circumstances taking place and that this was just a backlog and there was nothing going on.  Mr. Miller, was that your impression of the hearing that day?

Acting Commissioner Steve Miller:  Uhm, no sir.  What I said there and what I understood your question to be was -- again, we divide this world in two, there's a question of this selection process and there was a question of what was going on at the time of your question.  At the time of your question, what was out in the public domain and what I thought we were discussing was the letter.  As you called them, the questionnaire.  Those were the over broad letters that had been referred to continuously here. Uhm, again, I stand by my answer there. Uh, there was not, uh-h-h-h-h-h, I-I-I-I did talk about the fact that we had centralized -- I believe, I'd have to take a look at it. But I was talking about the fact that we had fixed that problem.

Kenny Marchant:  But-but at that time, you knew, by that time, that there were lists being made, there were delineations, there was discrimination going on and that there were steps being taken to try to correct it.  But you knew that it was going on at that time.

Acting Commissioner Steve Miller:  We had corrected it.  TIGTA was taking a look.  At that time, my assumption is TIGTA was going to be done with their report that summer. I was not going to go there because I did not have full possessions of all the facts, sir.

Any member of Congress who finds that 'answer' acceptable is an embarrassment.  A government official appeared before Congress to testify at a hearing and was asked about potential abuses.  He knew about abuses that the Congress didn't with regard to this subject and did not reveal them.  His lousy excuse about a report coming out? No.  He said (see above) that he had addressed it.  But report or no report, you don't conceal from Congress.  He played words games and he was dishonest.  As USA Today's Susan Page observed on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show today, "Well, we have to go back and look at that, but he certainly left a misimpression among everyone who heard his answers. People heard him as denying it. Now, maybe it will turn out to be some turn of phrase that gives him an exit hatch. But I think it is hard for him to argue that he did not mislead."

That took place this morning in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing.  The Committee Chair is Dave Camp and the Ranking Member is Sander Levin.  Appearing before the Committee were J. Russell George and Steve Miller.  J. Russell George is an Inspector General for the Treasury Department while Steve Miller is the Acting Commissioner of the IRS.  The Acting Commissioner.  Wednesday, we carried in full the remarks from US President Barack Obama about the 'firing' of Miller.  Miller is not fired.  As was established in the hearing, he remains on the government payroll, he remains Acting Commissioner of the IRS.  He stated so himself today when questioned.

US House Rep Vern Buchanan: Were you terminated or fired?  What happened there?  Or are you getting ready to retire?

Steve Miller:  I was asked to resign and I will retire.

US House Rep Vern Buchanan:  Okay.

Steve Miller: Under the civil service rules.

[. . .]

US House Rep Tom Reed:  As you sit here today, you were not fired from your job.  And I can tell you, in my private experience, you would have been fired on the spot.  And all you were allowed to do is resign and retire?  And now you come here and try to say I did the honorable thing by falling on my sword' when nothing bad is going to happen to you.  You're going to get your full benefits.  You're going to get everything that's associated with your retirement as an IRS employee.

Steve Miller: [Laughing] Nohting bad is happening to me, Congressman?

US House Rep Tom Reed:  Financially.  You're allowed to retire.  That's the level of accountability in Washington, DC now. You're still acting [Commissioner].  You came here on the taxpayer dollar today. You're getting a paycheck for being here today.  Correct?  Correct?

Steve Miller:  [Pause]  Correct.

There is no accountability.  And he laughed.  He found the exchange funny.  He had many 'cute' moments.

US House Rep Peter Roskam: Why did you say you have notes if you don't have notes?

Steve Miller:  Sir, please.

US House Rep Peter Roskam:  Do you have notes or don't you have notes?

Steve Miller: (voice dripping with sarcasm) I don't know.

US House Rep Lynne Jenkins stated at one point during the hearing,  "I'm sad and I'm sick to my stomach that Americans could be targeted by a government agency based on their political beliefs."  Miller was not sick, he laughed, he found things amusing.  But why wouldn't it.  He's getting away with everything he wanted.
There's no reason to believe Miller was being honest or knows what's going on.  One of the people 'disciplined,' the press has noted this week, received an oral warning.  Oops.  Miller asked about that stated, "The oral counseling that was provided?  It turns out that that person might not have been involved."  This is a huge scandal. He is the official in charge -- still in charge, still on the job -- and he knew he was appearing before Congress but he still doesn't know who was at fault?

Is there any accountability at all?  By his testimony, not at all.  In the most outrageous moment, in response to questions asked by US House Rep Ron Kind, Miller declared, "We now have possession of the facts with respect to the TIGTA report.  Now is the time we should be looking at that, now that we have the facts."   What?  No, actually, the time to look was before the TIGTA report.  By the time the Inspector General of the Department is finding fault, you've failed at your job.  You should have corrected it and, as we know, the IRS knew long before the TIGTA report.  But, Miller insisted to Kind, that now is the time, now that the Inspector General's report has been released.  No, supervisors -- including Miller -- should have addressed it, should have found out the problems, should have found out who was involved.  Other signs of incompetence?  He didn't know that, in addition to political groups, churches were targeted.  He appeared before the Committee, after the report was released, to 'answer' questions and he didn't even know that churches were among the targeted.  What does he do all day?  He also made clear that though he doesn't "believe it should happen," he doesn't believe it's illegal.  Maybe he had been fired, as we were led to believe he was, he might have cared a little damn more.

And let's also be clear, this isn't the only IRS problem.  The IG has released one report.  As IG Russell George's remarks made clear, there are other ongoing investigations about the IRS and this issue.  Those investigations cannot be discussed because they are ongoing.  Again, this was established in George's exchange with US House Rep Tom Reed. ("That is an accurate statement, sir," George agreed.)

US House Rep Aaaron Schock had a number of issues to raise about what the IRS did. A pro-life was group was asked about the content of their prayers and Miller couldn't weigh in on wehter or not that was an appropriate question for the IRS to ask.  Another pro-life group was asked if they taught "both sides of the issue."  As anyone knows, I'm firmly pro-choice.  That does not mitigate my offense at these questions the IRS asked and, especially with regard to prayer, they crossed a line.  It's a damn shame Steve Miller didn't know how to respond but a clear indication he was never up for the job. Schock noted another pro-life group was asked to reveal what writing would be on signs they carried at a protest?  Again, Miller had no comment.

Popular responses from Miller included: "I don't know," "I don't believe so," "I have no reason to believe . . .," "I don't think so," "I don't have exact knowledge on that," "I'm really not sure" and "I'd have to go back and check."  He wasn't sure if he had notes.  He wasn't sure about timelines.  He was sure about this or about that. 

Tonight, Marcia will cover the hearing at her site, Kat at her site, Wally will cover it at Ann's site and Ava will cover it at Trina's site.

 the washington post