Friday, May 23, 2014

Idiot of the Week

Make a point to read Norman Pollack's latest at CounterPunch which includes this:

From the late-18th century Alien and Sedition Acts through the Palmer Red Raids through McCarthyism and HUAC, right up to now, the continuum of thought control has been inscribed in the nation’s DNA, only today, having by now become the normalization of repression, we pay little or no heed. Jim Clapper is our Joe McCarthy, but for that matter, so is Barack Obama, John Brennan, and the whole merry band of White House nutcakes, except that they are not nuts, they’re very efficient and methodical, and it is we who are nuts for letting them get away with stealing our freedoms.

It's an important piece.

Another important work is a new album, Unrepentant Geraldines.   "Kat's Korner: Tori Climbs The Mountain In Stiletto...." is a strong review of the album. 

It's already become my favorite Tori Amos album.

Some people won't like it, I can understand that.

I can't understand this:

Both are beautifully produced and arranged, as is "Promise," a somehow optimistic song about loss."
Far less effective is "Giant's Rolling Pin," with a child-friendly rhythm reminiscent of some of the weaker songs on the Beatles' "Abbey Road."

I happen to like "Giant's Rolling Pin," but, fine, we can disagree on it.  But to then say "some of the weaker songs on the Beatles' 'Abbey Road'"?

What an idiot.

Abbey Road is the best of the Beatles' albums.

I had to search to find out what idiot wrote that: Gregory Katz.

For his tone deaf nature, Gregory Katz is the idiot of the week.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the Kurds best Nouri on the oil issue, two more Democrats urge embattled VA Secretary Shinseki to resign over the VA scandal, and much more.

Imagine that you woke up this morning to find you were the ruler of a country and that your country had only one high value export while your people lived in poverty and you had to import rice and other basic food staples.

Realizing the importance of your sole commodity, you would most likely attempt to ensure that everything was in order, every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed.

You'd do that because of the importance of the commodity to your entire country.

And if you didn't do that and the citizens found out, they'd consider you a failure.

Well the commodity is oil, the country is Iraq and the failure is Nouri al-Maliki.

The chief thug of Iraq was put into place by Bully Boy Bush in 2006 with the understanding the Nouri would push through an oil and gas law because 'liberated' Iraq had none.  In 2007, with the US Congress questioning what was being accomplished in Iraq, the Bully Boy Bush administration came up with a series of 'benchmarks' which success would be measured by.  Chief among the benchmarks?  Passing an oil and gas law.

Nouri wanted the US taxpayers money that the US government had been wasting to continue to flow into Iraq, so he readily agreed to the benchmarks.

But he was unable to pass any oil and gas law.

Not in 2006.

Not in all the years he held the post.

Let's not pretend that there weren't problems.

There were problems.

I, for one, was always thrilled watching Nouri's continued failure.

That's because the law the US government wanted, the one Nouri forever pimped, wasn't wanted by Iraqis and especially wasn't wanted by Iraqi labor groups.

When a proposed law is deeply unpopular what do you do?

If you're the leader you can try to ram it through.

It's not democratic but sometimes it can be rammed through.

But you might try that once or even twice.  When you've tried that over and over since 2006?

You're not just a bad leader, you're kind of idiot.

A smart person jettisons the parts that are felt objectionable and refashions a new bill.  A smart person refashions it in a way to get more people on board and uses horse trading on that and other issues to bring others on board.

When your economy has no diversification to speak of and is rooted around only one commodity, you do everything you can to secure that commodity.

If you're not an idiot.

Nouri's an idiot.  Eight years in a row as prime minister and he couldn't even make the most basic move to secure the economy.  And yet the failure thinks he deserves a third term as prime minister.

SPA reports, "Iraq filed for arbitration against Turkey on Friday" and that the filing was "with the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce."

What's going on?

From yesterday's snapshot:

Marina Ottaway offers an analysis for CNN which includes, "Elated by his victory, al-Maliki is sounding uncompromising, and although he has declared that he is open to work with any political party, he has made it clear that it would be strictly on his own terms. For example, he has told the Kurdish party that they are welcome in a government coalition as long as they accept his interpretation of the constitution, thus renounce their ambition to export oil independently."  Apparently while preparing that analysis today, Ottaway missed Sinan Salaheddin's Associated Press report which opens, "Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region on Thursday started exporting crude oil to the international market through the Turkish port of Ceyhan despite objections from the central government in Baghdad, Turkey's energy minister said." 

This morning, Gary Dixon (TradeWinds) noted, "Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz told Reuters loading of the 1m barrel stem was completed on Thursday."  Selcan Hacaoglu and Ali Berat Meric (Bloomberg News) added, "More than one million barrels of Kurdish oil were shipped from Turkey to Europe yesterday, Turkey’s energy minister and the Iraqi Kurdish administration said, a sale that may trigger legal action by Iraq’s government."

The Kurdistan Regional Government issued the following today:

Erbil, Kurdistan ( - In line with its policy of implementing the 2005 Constitution of Iraq and helping Iraq achieve its oil production, export and revenue targets, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has completed the first sales of crude oil produced in the Kurdistan Region and piped to the port of Ceyhan.
A tanker loaded with over one million barrels of crude oil departed last night from Ceyhan towards Europe. This is the first of many such sales of oil exported through the newly constructed pipeline in the Kurdistan Region.
The revenue from the sales will be deposited in a KRG-controlled account in Halkbank in Turkey and will be treated as part of the KRG’s budgetary entitlement under Iraq’s revenue sharing and distribution as defined under the 2005 Constitution of Iraq.
Meeting Iraq’s continued international UN obligations, five percent of the sales revenue will be set aside in a separate account for reparations.
The KRG has invited independent bodies to observe the sales and export process in line with the KRG’s commitment to transparency. KRG also hopes that officials from SOMO (the federal Iraqi oil marketing organization) accept KRG’s invitation to observe the process. 
The KRG will continue to exert its rights of export and sell oil independently of SOMO but remains committed to negotiate in good faith with its counterparts in Baghdad to reach a comprehensive settlement on oil issues within the framework of Iraq’s Constitution.

  The KRG has worked tirelessly with its international partners and investors to create new pathways to prosperity and economic development for the people of Kurdistan and Iraq and is ready to become a reliable and stable source of energy both for its immediate neighbours and international markets.

The Kurds can sale their oil because (a) they're semi-autonomous and (b) no national oil & gas law has been passed.
Nouri's hands are tied.  It's as though he's finally been placed in the straight jacket he has needed for so long.  If he let's his crazy run loose he could piss off the Kurds.  If he really let's his crazy run free, he could frighten even potential Shi'ite partners.  Nouri, if he's going to have a third term, needs to cobble together a coalition and looking crazy isn't going to help with that.  As BBC News points out, "The tensions come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki looks to form a new coalition government after falling short of a majority in last month's parliamentary elections.  Analysts say the Kurds could use the negotiations to secure concessions."
So he's suing.
He's suing Turkey over what he insists is Iraqi oil.
Ahmed Rasheed and Isabel Coles (Reuters) reports:

"By transporting and storing crude oil from Kurdistan, and by loading that crude oil onto a tanker in Ceyhan, all without the authorization of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, Turkey and BOTAS have breached their obligations under the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline Agreement," the government said in a statement.
Both BOTAS and Turkey's Ministry of Energy said they had yet to receive any information about the arbitration from either the ICC or the Iraqi government.
Today's Zaman reports:
The revenue from the sale was deposited into an account of Turkey's state-run Halkbank. The KRG said it remained open to negotiations with Baghdad and would comply with United Nations obligations by setting aside 5 percent of the revenue in a separate account for reparations for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said on Friday that the first cargo was sold in to the Mediterranean spot crude market.
In 2009, the northern Kurdish region attempted to ship its oil to the international market via a pipeline controlled by Baghdad connected to Ceyhan; however, the shipments were halted amidst payment disputes. Last year, the KRG began building a separate pipeline to Ceyhan, skirting Baghdad's control. Iraq has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the world, and oil revenues account for just under 95 percent of the country's budget.
The Kurds are using their own pipeline but let's jump to the other pipeline to Turkey, the one the central government out of Baghdad controls because there's development there as well.  Ahmed Rasheed and Ziad al-Sinjary (Reuters) note, "Iraqi engineers are at last fixing the main pipeline to Turkey after it was shut down for nearly three months in attacks by an al Qaeda-offshoot cell, causing a total collapse in exports from northern oil fields worth billions of dollars."  For three months, Nouri let that pipeline cease production? What kind of a leader is that?
AFP notes, "Baghdad has warned that it will not give the Kurds their 17% share in the national budget and will sue the buyers if they go ahead with the exports without central government approval. Officials in Baghdad did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment."  Nouri's blackmail hasn't worked and it would probably be beneficial for AFP to include the Kurdish claim that they haven't received a cent of funding from Baghdad since the start of the year.
Rudaw explains, "Erbil opened its new pipeline to Ceyhan in December, but after strong opposition from Baghdad Ankara said it would hold off on allowing the sales until consent from the central government. But after months of bickering and acrimony, including Baghdad freezing Erbil out of the national budget for months, no agreement was reached."

I'm unclear on the constitutional or legal principle that allows Nouri to refuse to give regions their share of federal monies -- I'm unclear because the Iraqi Constitution doesn't allow for it nor does any Iraqi law.  AFP notes a fact but it's a partial fact.  They don't note that Nouri's blackmail is illegal.  But they will carry his claim that what the Kurds are doing is wrong.
Seeking Alpha notes, "Oil companies with a Kurdistan presence include global majors Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), Marathon Oil (MRO), Hess (HES) and Total (TOT), as well as wildcatters such as Gulf Keystone (GUKYF) and Genel Energy (GEGYF)."  Mike Whitney (CounterPunch) develops that theme further:
If it sounds like the big boys are dividing the spoils among themselves; it’s because they are. Exxon, BP, Shell; they’re all here. They all have their contracts in hand, and they’re all drilling their brains out thanks to the American servicemen and women who gave their lives for some trumped up baloney about WMD. Isn’t that what’s going on?
Sure it is. And even now–after all the reasons for going to war have been exposed as lies–the farce continues. Nothing has changed. Nothing. There’s still no talk of reparations, no official investigation, no indictments, no prosecutions, no trials, no penalties, no nothing. Not even a stinking apology. Just a big “up yours” Iraq. We’re way too important to apologize for killing a million of your people and reducing your five thousand year old civilization to a pile of rubble.  Instead, we’ll just screw you some more and paper it over with a little public relations, like Obama did a couple weeks ago when he promised to “leave behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people”.
Oh yeah. Obama’s all about sovereignty and stability, everyone knows that.  That’s why Baghdad is the terror capital of the world, because Obama’s so committed to security.
These PR blurbs are effective though, they provide the necessary cover for leaving enough troops behind to protect the oil installations and pipelines.  That’s the kind of security Obama cares about. Security for the oiligarchs and their stolen property.  Everyone else can fend for themselves, which is why Baghdad is such a bloody mess.  
At yesterday's US State Dept press briefing, the oil issue was raised to spokesperson Jen Psaki.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today Turkish energy minister stated that Turkey began shipping Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil to the world market. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: We’ve seen these reports and we’ll discuss their implications with our partners in Turkey and in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Our most immediate concern is for Iraq’s stability. We’ve had a longstanding position on this issue, as you know, that has not changed. And Iraq is facing a difficult situation. We’ve been clear that it’s important for all sides to take actions to help the country pull together and avoid actions that might further exacerbate divisions and tensions. So we’ll be in touch with both sides.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Baghdad over this recent decision?

MS. PSAKI: Have we talked --

QUESTION: -- talked to the Maliki government on this particular issue?

MS. PSAKI: We will be in touch, I’m certain, with them as well. We’re in touch with them on a regular basis. But again, I don’t have any specific updates on contacts. But go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you see this shipping to the world market of Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil – is this a factor for division, contribute to division of Iraq? Is this your assessment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our position has long been that we don’t support exports without the appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi government, and certainly we do have concerns about the impact of those continuing.
Actually, that's incorrect, the position of the State Dept changed in that press briefing, the one where Psaki insisted there was no change.  We've long argued here that the position Psaki presented Thursday is the true US government position.  However, until yesterday, the State Dept like to pretend they weren't taking sides.  They also liked to repeatedly note, "That said, you know that for many years, in fact, the United States has been urging all parties in Iraq to enact the necessary national laws that can govern the oil and gas sector because the sooner they do that, the sooner companies can invest in a legally viable way."
That quoted statement?  It's at random.  Then-State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland made it in the November 22, 2011 State Dept press briefing but you can find it almost any of them.
Psaki's made clear that the US government is not neutral on this issue and is taking sides.  She's also failed to include the historical detail that the State Dept spokesperson usually includes regarding there being no national law at present.
Hopefully, the Kurdish government caught what happened in that press briefing as well and will remember the US government is no friend of the Kurds -- and hopefully they will remember that when the US government attempts to counsel them on how to form the next government.
Can someone counsel Paul Waldman?
Free Speech TV reposts his American Prospect piece -- a deeply stupid and deeply embarrassing piece. Before we get to the stupidity, let's note a few things.
The VA scandal has some on the right arguing that this is proof of a failure of socialized medicine and various people are being ridiculed who have suggested in the last 15 years or so that the VA system be opened wide for all Americans.
Our focus is the VA scandal.  And I've never written about expanding the VA medical system for all Americans.  So I could take a pass on this and get away with it.  But I have been speaking around the country about war for so many years and one thing that comes up is this.  I have no problem stating -- or now dictating -- that I do think the expansion of VA would be a good thing.  I have no problem with socialized medicine.  The VA's current scandal isn't about socialized medicine.  
I don't want to get to deep into this because it's not a main point (we can touch on it tomorrow in "I Hate The War").  But certainly, true socialized medicine would not have to factor in profit motive.  And yet two sets of lists -- one real, one fake -- were kept at least in part because certain officials got bonuses and high performance appraisals (which means raises) by doctoring the books.
There may be reasons to argue against or for socialized medicine but the VA scandal currently is not one of them.
Unless you want to treat an issue like a political football.  Gun control advocates who immediately start screaming after a public shooting never get how tacky and outrageous to most Americans.  A tragedy has taken place and a group is stepping forward to try to hijack the grief for their own political goals.  It's unattractive.  It's also unattractive when the right or the left tries to use the current VA scandal as a political football on the issue of socialized medicine.
So let's try to stay focused on reality.
Veterans are suffering.
They're suffering because a number of officials in the VA are crooked and dishonest and have participated in crimes.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week expressed the possibility that crimes may have been committed and, if so, would need to be addressed via the legal system.
Nancy's talking about big crimes -- and she's right.  But I'm talking about basic fraud.  And fraud was committed and people need to be charged with it.
They defrauded the government, they defrauded the taxpayer.
They kept two sets of lists.  The false one promoted the lie that veterans were getting medical appointments within fourteen days of requesting them.  The real one showed that veterans were waiting weeks and months for these appointments.
Paul Waldman writes:
This scandal isn't about the quality of care. While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score.
No, Paul, it is about the quality of care.  And nobody gives a damn about what some stupid poll says about customer satisfaction.  Those polls are rarely accurate -- as anyone knows who knows a thing about polling.  Whether it's a grocery store, a fast food place, a zoo or the VA, most respondents try to be kind and take into account that people tried to help them.  A small number of respondents fear their responses will come back to haunt them (they don't trust that the feedback will be anonymous).  There are many issues at play here but no one ever believes -- except the uninformed -- a customer satisfaction survey really conveys customer satisfaction.
Barry Coates is a victim of the current scandal.  The long delays allowed his cancer to reach stage-four before being diagnosed.  His story is part of the scandal.  If the VA hadn't kept two sets of books, they wouldn't have been able to drag out the long time between appointments for Coates.  Equally true, the VA failed to recognize his symptoms early on when he did get a medical appointment.  Trina went over all of this last night at her site:

In the  April 9th "Iraq snapshot", C,I. reported on that day's House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Veteran Barry Coates appeared before the Committee to explain how he had blood from his rectum and went to the VA for medical attention.  He was palmed off on one doctor after another.  He was not given the needed exams.  For a year, he waited and waited for tests that were not ordered and treatment that did not come.
Mr. Coates had cancer, colon cancer.  It was in the early stages.
Had the basic procedures been followed, it would have been diagnosed in the early stages.
Instead, as he waited for a year for proper medical treatment, the cancer went undiagnosed and untreated.
When it was finally discovered, Mr. Coates had stage-four cancer.
Outside of prayer, Mr. Coates' prognosis is not a pleasant one, as he himself noted.
He has stage-four cancer because the VA refused to schedule him for appointments.
Because the VA refused to recognize his symptoms.
Barry Coates' story is not uncommon.  And before the next Paul Waldman makes an idiot of themselves in public, let's also point out what those of us who attend the VA Committee hearings in Congress damn well know but the Chattering Waldmans don't: VA doctors are not the best.  Some are very good.  But if you practice at San Francisco General Hospital or Santa Ana's Western Medical Center, you have to be licensed with the State of California.  That's true in all the states.  But it's not true with the VA.  Their doctors don't meet those standards and are not held to those standards. So before the next chattering idiot from my side (the left)  extols the great excellence of the VA, stop.  Because what you're actually pimping is less regulation.  Again, the VA has some very good doctors.  They also have some doctors who couldn't work in a county hospital because they can't meet the state requirements.
AP reports Michelle Nunn (Sam Nunn's daughter who's running in the Democratic primary for the open Senate out of Georgia) and Alison Lundergan Grimes (running for the US Senate out of Kentucky) have both called for VA Secretary Eric Shineski to step down.  Nunn is quoted stating, "It has become increasingly clear that we need new leadership to build confidence, focus and accountability at the VA to fix what is wrong with the agency.  I hope that Gen. Shinseki will step aside to allow for fresh leadership to tackle these pressing issues and support the veterans that the general is deeply committed to serving."
The two women are part of a building chorus.  From yesterday's snapshot:
Bret Hayworth (Sioux City Journal) reports Iraq War veteran Jim Mower, who is running for Congress, publicly called today for Shinseki to resign:

"I am appalled by the actions of the president and the V.A.," Mowrer said.
Mowrer is a veteran who served in Iraq for 16 months with an Infantry Battalion out of Waterloo, Iowa. He said Obama only reacted after weeks of media outcries about veterans hospitals, so he sees "a rudderless ship approaching disaster."
Mowrer is not worried about any fallout from his criticism of Obama, who is a fellow Democrat.
"I don't care who the president is, it needs to be fixed," he said.

Jim Mower isn't the only Democrat making the call for Shinseki to step down.  As noted in yesterday's snapshot, US House Reps John Barrow and David Scott (both Democrats) called yesterday for Shinseki to step down.   In addition, Andrew Johnson (conservative National Review -- link is text and video) notes Bob Kerry appeared on Hardball last night and called for Shinseki to step down.  (Disclosure, as noted before, I know and like Bob Kerrey.)  The Vietnam veteran, former Governor of Nebraska and former US senator told Chris Matthews, "In this case I think there's an urgency for General Shinseki, who is honorable man and served his country honorably, but he needs to step aside."

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following yesterday:

IAVA Meets with Senator McCain on VA Scandal

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or


IAVA Meets with Senator McCain on VA Scandal
Leaders applaud his strong leadership on VA accountability

Washington DC (May 22, 2014) – Today, leaders from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), including IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff, met with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of only two combat veterans in the Senate, about the ongoing crisis of confidence in the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Senator McCain and IAVA have lead the charge for reform and accountability at VA since the news first broke four weeks ago. 

“Since this scandal first broke, Senator McCain has had our back. While others have followed, delayed and made excuses, he has stepped out in front. We applaud his strong leadership, tenacity and demands for real accountability. As a fellow combat veteran, and the father of a post-9/11 veteran, Senator John McCain uniquely understands the outrage that IAVA members feel as this crisis at the VA continues to escalate.” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA Founder and CEO. “Just days before Memorial Day, it was an honor to stand with Senator McCain to call for strong leadership, action, and results. He more than anybody understands that our veterans deserve nothing but the best from their elected leaders. Together, we will fight to ensure they get it.”

From left to right: Paul Rieckhoff, Senator McCain, Lauren Augustie and Alex Nicholson

Senator McCain and IAVA also discussed effective measures to combat suicide among America’s troops and veterans, IAVA’s top priority for 2014. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

As Laura Flint (of right-wing media watchdog Newsbusters) notes, IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff appeared yesterday on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd and discussed the House passage of the VA Management Accountability Act and whether it would pass in the Senate:

TODD: I imagine it'll fly.

RIECKHOFF: Well, it probably will. And that's been the problem throughout this. Is that the House has continued to be aggressive on veterans' issues and the Senate's been pretty silent. The oversight on the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee by Bernie Sanders has not been aggressive and they've really got to step up their game because they're at fault here too. Both committees, the president, everybody in Congress, they can't just throw Shinseki under the bus alone. Everyone knew this was happening. There have been GAO reports and IG reports and hearing after hearing after hearing. So if you're not outraged already, you haven't been paying attention.

Rieckhoff's opinion on the Senate and Chair Bernie Sanders is not a minority view.  As noted in last Friday's snapshot, after I shared my thoughts the day prior on a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing (see the Thursday prior snapshot), five veterans who were at the hearing wanted to weigh in.  They felt I was wrong and missing some key observations.  They made their case well and I stated in that snapshot that I was wrong.  There is tremendous disappointment with Bernie Sanders especially.  And this was before Chris Cuomo told Sanders, live on CNN, that he was sounding like a schill for the VA.

Dona moderated a roundtable Sunday ("Congress and Veterans") and in it I stated, "So there's this whole group of elements coming together to form a storm.  We're talking about this in terms of Shinseki and that's where the focus should be.  However, I think the way this unfolds will also determine how Bernie Sanders tenure as Chair is seen.   I think they need to get ahead of this, Sanders and his office, because they've lost a lot of support already, in the days since the hearing, as a result of this issue and what is seen as a lack of strong response to it."

That's only become more true. He and his office do need to get ahead of this.

Bernie Sanders is a Socialist.  That's fine.  There's nothing wrong with that and too bad we don't have more in Congress.  But Bernie's the first open Socialist to serve in the Senate post WWII. That means he has obligations as a senator and obligations as a first.  If he can't defend veterans, if he can't stop making excuses for the VA, he's not just giving himself a bad name, he's giving Socialists a bad name.

Socialists like John Nichols have been trying to promote a Bernie For President in 2016 campaign.  Whether that would be a real campaign (truly running for the office) or just one to raise issues, no one's going to care too much if Bernie Sanders won't stand up for veterans and, most importantly, won't stand up to the government. Bernie can't be a lackey and also be seen as some brave maverick politician.

The former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Her office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Friday, May 23, 2014                                                                      (202) 224-2834
MEMORIAL DAY: Senator Murray’s Statement Honoring Fallen Servicemembers
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released the following statement as the nation prepares to commemorate Memorial Day:
“This Memorial Day, we are united in honoring the American heroes who answered the call to service and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation, our families, and our freedom. It is because of their sacrifice that our children and grandchildren can enjoy a future safe from harm and full of opportunity. And it is because of their selfless commitment that America can remain a beacon for democracy throughout the world.
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, but also a day for reflection. When our brave men and women volunteered to protect our nation, we promised we would take care of them and their families when they return home. We must reaffirm our commitment to those still bravely serving and to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834


Monday is Memorial Day and that only adds to the importance of the VA's latest scandal.  Media critic Howard Kurtz (Fox News) notes:
President Obama is mad as hell. The media are mad as hell. The veterans are mad as hell. We’re all mad as hell.
The journalistic uproar about the VA hospital mess has been loud and forceful, with even such liberal columnists as Dana Milbank and Gene Robinson saying this is a real, genuine, big-deal scandal—and not letting Obama off the hook.
Once again, we saw the president in reactive mode. Once again, defending an aide who didn’t seem to have control of his department. Once again, saying he didn’t know about some outrage until he heard about it from the media.
Kurtz wonders whether the media will hold Barack accountable or bury the story in the coming days?  It's a question worth pondering.

Back to Iraq where thug Nouri continues to bomb the residential neighborhoods of Falluja.  The latest victims?  National Iraqi News Agency reports that seven family members were injured today when their home was bombed.  And, later in the day, Sheikh Ali al-Basri was injured by one of the bombings while 3 civilians were killed in other residential bombings with five more injured.
In other violence, National Iraqi News Agency reports 2 Aljahash Village bombings left 1 police brigadier and 1 police colonel dead, a Tuz Khurmato roadisde bombing left 2 police members dead and three more injured, a Sharqat mortar attack left 3 family members dead and a fourth injured,  2 Bab-Jideed and Alfarooq car bombings left nine people injured, a Kadhimiyah bombing left 1 pilgrim dead and twelve more injured, 1 police officer was shot dead in Tikrit, 1 pharmacist was shot dead in Basra, a Muqdadiyah bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead, 1 police member was shot dead in Mosul, 1 civilian was shot dead in Mosul, and a Mosul roadside bombing left two people injured.

April 30th, Iraq held parliamentary elections which means in two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine? months, a government will be formed.

Press TV notes, "Iraq's State of Law Coalition has officially named incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as its only candidate for premiership."  All Iraq News reports MP Hussein al-Mansoury with the Sadr bloc declared today, "There are some blocs that reject Maliki's nomination for the third PM Post and he has to avoid the nomination for this post to prevent shedding the Iraqis' blood due to the disturbed security situation."

Shinseki and the lack of leadership

Patrick Martin (WSWS) weighs in on Barack's VA speech Wednesday:

Obama went before television cameras without Shinseki, in what was a transparent attempt to distance himself from the crisis and set the top VA official up as a potential scapegoat as more revelations emerge about poor care and falsification of records.
As usual with Obama, he spoke first about his role as Commander-in-Chief, citing “the honor of standing with our men and women in uniform at every step of their service,” and claiming—without displaying the slightest genuine emotion—that “the most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter Reed, or Bethesda, or Bagram and meeting troops who have left a part of themselves on the battlefield.”
He continued, “So when I hear allegations of misconduct—any misconduct—whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it… If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it—period.”
Candidate Obama used almost identical rhetoric in 2007, when he criticized the dismal record of the Bush administration on care for veterans. “When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored,” he said. “When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country. As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits.”
Once in office, the Obama administration engaged in a massive publicity campaign to portray his administration as uniquely sensitive to the needs of veterans, spearheaded by joint appearances on the part of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife. Under Obama, however, the claims waiting list swelled to more than 600,000, reduced to “only” 300,000 last year, although that figure is likely to be as dubious as the figures on waiting times for patient care.
Obama concluded his remarks to the press by downplaying the scale of the problem, noting, “there are 85 million appointments scheduled among veterans during the course of a year. That’s a lot of appointments… This is a big system with a lot of really good people in it who care about our veterans deeply.”

On the scandal, Halimah Abdullah, Scott Bronstein, Tom Cohen and Holly Yan (CNN) report:

It's "just the tip of the iceberg." That's what a congressional committee chairman investigating allegations of delayed care and cooked books at Veterans Affairs health care facilities told CNN.
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who heads the House Veterans Affairs panel, on Thursday forecast more serious developments in the national program serving nearly 9 million veterans.
"We've received some information and some tips that will make what has already come look like kindergarten stuff," he told CNN's New Day.
Obama: VA misconduct 'disgraceful'
VA wait lists include returning troops
How is Obama handling the VA scandal?
The controversy has broadened since CNN first reported six months ago on allegations of alarming shortcomings within the VA medical care system that potentially have had deadly consequences in dozens of cases.

Joe Klein (Time) says Shinseki needs to go:

You might expect that the system, which is staffed largely by older veterans, would have adapted with alacrity to the crisis posed by the wave of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over the past decade. But the VA’s response has been stagnation, and worse. It is now clear that there was a conscious, and perhaps criminal, effort to camouflage the time veterans had to wait for service in Phoenix and at other VA facilities. It is alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for service in Phoenix; whether or not that proves accurate, we’re facing a moral catastrophe.
The question is, How do we change this situation? The simple answer is leadership, which is why some have called (as I did last year) for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. By all accounts, Shinseki is a fine man who has spent nearly six years lost in the system. An effective leader would have gone to Phoenix as soon as the scandal broke, expressed his outrage, held a town meeting for local VA outpatients and their families—dealt with their fury face-to-face—and let it be known that he was taking charge and heads were going to roll. Instead, Shinseki intoned the words “mad as hell” at a congressional hearing. And White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said the President was “madder than hell” about the situation. Does anyone actually find this convincing?

I don't believe Barack.  Sorry, Joe Klein. 

He's unconvincing because he never fires anyone.  There's no accountability in his administration.

Shinseki needs to go and firing him would send a message to everyone below him in the VA:  Get your s**t together or you can be fired too.

But Barack's such a candy ass.

He lacks the ability to lead or to take responsibility. 

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

Thursday, May 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, more charges of fraud surface in Iraq's recent elections, various people offer their take on the elections and what it means, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the US gets called out for the War Crimes, the VA scandal continues to mount, more Democrats emerge to call for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, Nancy Pelosi allows the scandal may involve criminal wrong doing, and much more.

Starting with the VA scandal.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, May 22, 2014                                                                            (202) 224-2834
Murray: “What we need from VA now is decisive action and I think this Committee should be clear to the VA what we expect. The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot be allowed to continue.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) continued her push for action at the VA during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s first Full Committee Markup of the year. During consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill, Murray reiterated her call for decisive, transparent action from the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the deep, system-wide problems when it comes to health care wait times. Murray also expressed support for provisions that would address those wait times and increase accountability through prohibiting the VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
The bill also funds Senator Murray’s key priorities for veterans, including mental health and suicide prevention, gender specific care for women veterans, Vet Centers, care for veterans in rural areas, and care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Full Text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:
“I want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk and their staffs for all their work putting this bill together. 
“Like pretty much every American, I believe that when it comes to caring for our nation’s heroes, we cannot accept anything less than excellence.
“The VA and the Department generally offers very high quality health care—but it is really disappointing that the Department has failed to address wait times for that care.
“I was glad to see President Obama weigh in on this issue yesterday, but these recent allegations are not new issues – they are deep, system-wide problems, and they do grow more concerning every day. We should not be waiting to take action.
“The Inspector General and GAO have reported on this problem repeatedly for several years.  But many of the recommendations still have not been implemented by the VA.
“The Department has announced it’s going to conduct a nation-wide review of access to care.   And there have been some adjustments in personnel. But those are really only first steps. 
“There are still far too many unanswered questions about the review, including whether it is taking a serious look at the problem.
“As I told Secretary Shinseki last week, I continue to believe that he does take this seriously and wants to do the right thing.  But we really have come to the point where we need to have more than good intentions.
“What we need from VA right now is decisive action and I think this Committee mark should be very clear to the VA what we expect.
“The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot continue to be allowed. 
“Giving bonuses to hospital directors for running a system that places priority on gaming the system and keeping their numbers down rather than providing care to veterans – has to come to an end.  
“That is why I am very pleased the Subcommittee’s mark includes a provision to prohibit VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and  the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
“And I also commend you Mr. Chairman for adding an extra $5 million to the Inspector General to conduct that review. 
“We cannot continue to not provide the resources for the care at the local level or for the IG to be able to conduct this very important review.
“So I really want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk for including those really important provisions in this bill and addressing wait times and increasing accountability. I think this takes a very important direction, and I appreciate it.
“There are other issues in this bill very important to all of us. I do want to thank the Chairman for his willingness to continue to work with me on providing reproductive health services to our most catastrophically wounded heroes. I wasn’t able to include it in this, but we are going to continue to work on that.
“Madam Chairman, I just think it is extremely important that all of us recognize that this committee is making a strong statement with this bill about the challenges we’ve been hearing at the VA, and I appreciate it.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

The cooking of the books by the VA?  Two lists were kept at some VA medical centers (over 20 are now under investigation).  One was the fairy tale list known as the 'real' list and it was entered into the computer system.  It showed veterans needing medical attention being able to make appointments within 14 days of calling in for an appointment.

Senator Murray's calling for an end to the bonuses and that is smart because these fairy tale lists allowed VA officials to be rewarded for their 'good' job.

But the reality was there was an off book list.  It was kept by hand and it demonstrated that veterans were not receiving timely medical attention. Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN -- link is text and video) report:

Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care, a VA doctor told CNN.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA's post-deployment clinic, outlined the allegations in a report that aired Wednesday night on CNN's "AC 360°."
She accused the Phoenix VA -- up until at least three weeks ago -- of not following a mandate that the highest priority be given to new or injured veterans for scheduling appointments.

Wait lists in Phoenix for veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be "six months, nine months or longer," Mitchell said.

In the video (from Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360), Drew Griffin comments on Barack's speech from yesterday.

Drew Griffin:  You know, I thought these poor veterans are going to have to wait now even longer to get care while the President studies the issue, Anderson.  The fact is veterans across the country have been waiting too long to get doctor's appointments.  That is a fact.  The other fact is, the VA has known about that.  Not only that, the VA has known that its offices out here in the country have been cooking the books to try and hide those numbers.  Those are facts which come from numerous government reports.  So those are facts that are already out there.  In the last several months, six months, on your program, whistle-blowers have come forward and told us, have told us, they have talked to the VA Inspector General reporting that due to delays in care, deaths have occurred as a result.  The VA has admitted to 23 deaths due to delays.  Now, I just want to tell you, Anderson, who this is harming and why many believe the President's speech today was completely inadequate.  Last night, here in Phoenix, I talked to a physician at the VA who runs the post-deployment clinic, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, and I had to ask her twice because I couldn't believe what she was telling me.  She told me even recent war vets, vets coming home injured are waiting months to get care.

The Economist weighs in on yesterday's speech noting:

Not for the first time, Mr Obama’s first response seemed oddly detached. He offered tepid support for Eric Shinseki, a former four-star general who serves as his secretary for veterans’ affairs, calling him a great public servant who “cares deeply about veterans”, before noting that, if Mr Shinseki were to conclude that he had let veterans down, “then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.” With that out of the way, the president then explained how hard it is to run the VA, an agency that has endured backlogs for decades and now faces an influx of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as claims from newly-eligible veterans after rules were relaxed for those exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam or suffering from post-traumatic stress.

This afternoon, Dana Bash informed Jake Tapper (The Lead, CNN) that Shinseki told (bragged to?) reporters today that he has not offered his resignation and insisted, "You guys know me better than that."

Bret Hayworth (Sioux City Journal) reports Iraq War veteran Jim Mower, who is running for Congress, publicly called today for Shinseki to resign:

"I am appalled by the actions of the president and the V.A.," Mowrer said.
Mowrer is a veteran who served in Iraq for 16 months with an Infantry Battalion out of Waterloo, Iowa. He said Obama only reacted after weeks of media outcries about veterans hospitals, so he sees "a rudderless ship approaching disaster."
Mowrer is not worried about any fallout from his criticism of Obama, who is a fellow Democrat.
"I don't care who the president is, it needs to be fixed," he said.

Jim Mower isn't the only Democrat making the call for Shinseki to step down.  As noted in yesterday's snapshot, US House Reps John Barrow and David Scott (both Democrats) called yesterday for Shinseki to step down.   In addition, Andrew Johnson (conservative National Review -- link is text and video) notes Bob Kerry appeared on Hardball last night and called for Shinseki to step down.  (Disclosure, as noted before, I know and like Bob Kerrey.)  The Vietnam veteran, former Governor of Nebraska and former US senator told Chris Matthews, "In this case I think there's an urgency for General Shinseki, who is honorable man and served his country honorably, but he needs to step aside."

Mike Lillis (The Hill) notes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that the scandal "could rise to the level of criminal misconduct" and points out, "She's not alone in suggesting the alleged misconduct might be criminal. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to call in the FBI to investigate."

In related news, the following was issued by the office of US House Rep Jeff Miller who is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee office:

May 21, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following House passage of H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, Chairman Jeff Miller released the below statement:

“The House has voted to take an important first step toward ending the culture of complacency that is jeopardizing patient safety within the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. VA’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems, including the department’s stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of preventable deaths – including 23 recent fatalities due to delays in care – at VA medical centers across the country. While the vast majority of the department’s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hard-working, VA’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for negligence and mismanagement is tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it. With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA Secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do, and I applaud my colleagues in the House for supporting it. Now the Senate is faced with a stark choice: stand with veterans who rely on VA health care or stand with poorly performing bureaucrats entrenched in a dysfunctional personnel system. For the sake of our veterans, I hope the Senate chooses wisely.  – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

About the VA Management Accountability Act

The bill was developed in response to reams of evidence supporting a widespread lack of accountability in the wake of the department’s stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of preventable veteran deaths – including 23 recent fatalities due to delays in care – at VA medical centers across the country. More than a dozen instances of this trend are documented on the VA Accountability Watch portion of the HVAC website. In each instance, VA senior executives who presided over mismanagement or negligence were more likely to receive a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment.
Moving over to Iraq, the end of May is near and Nouri has been bombing residential neighborhoods in Falluja since January.  The civilian dead includes children.  Today's shelling has left a man, a woman and a child injured.

A family whose 'crime' was living in their home.

Hamid Shahab (Kitabat) traces the attacks to the decay of American standards which, he argues, were at their height with the leadership of then-President Abe Lincoln and have dropped steadily since then.arriving at the current lack of values which tolerates the attacks on civilians in Falluja despite these attacks being a flagrant violation of human rights and the law and, as this genocide continues, Americans either remain silent or turn a blind eye to the murders.

The assault on Anbar was a political move by Nouri in his attempt to increase support for himself among Shi'ite voters while decreasing the voting of Sunnis who largely oppose him due to his non-stop attacks on the Sunni population.

Al Mada notes that over 500,000 of Anbar's population was displaced due to Nouri's assault on the province.  That's a large number which -- along with Nouri's military turning Sunnis away from polling stations in Anbar for half the day on April 30th and refusing to allow voting in Falluja -- may explain the low turnout among Sunni voters. Iraq Times notes the growing charges of fraud in the elections.  The new electronic i.d. cards used in this election are part of the fraud charges.  Al Mada notes that two million people issued those cards were two million who should not be voting for one obvious reason: They were dead.  The voter rolls not only carried the names of 2 million dead people, voting cards for that dead segment were somehow distributed to living people who voted.  In addition, Ghazanfar Laibi (Al Mada) reports that although 12 million Iraqis voted in the election you're looking at 11.222 million votes because over 750,000 votes have been invalidated by the so-called 'Independent' High Electoral Commission.  The bloc of cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr is charging that these votes were tossed aside by the Commission to aid in Nouri's 'victory.'  The Economist notes:

The result “cannot be described as anything other than a victory” for Mr Maliki, writes Reidar Visser, a Norwegian expert on Iraq. Yet the prime minister is still not certain to hold on to power. With a quarter of the seats, he may need months to forge a new ruling coalition; last time it took nearly ten to do so. He is widely detested across the sectarian spectrum. He has many enemies in his own dominant Shia group, as well as among Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Alice Fordham (NPR) asks the question, "So why did Maliki do so well at the polls when Iraq is facing so many serious problems?"  But she notes none of the charges of irregularities being made and instead relies on things like this:

Kirk Sowell, a risk analyst who studies the country for the newsletter , reckons the answer is threefold: First, Maliki has manipulated media coverage of the bloody chaos in Iraq so that he looks like a strong military leader rather than the man responsible for the mess.

Sometimes, Grace Slick notwithstanding, you don't go ask Alice.

What Fordham can't even note in passing, Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) explores at length and notes:

If proved, the allegations of irregularities and vote-rigging will cast shadows over the legitimacy of the new parliament elected on 30 April and may further worsen the decade-long political ructions and sectarian violence that have been largely blamed on the nation's political class.

Fraud and election theft issues to the side,  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) offers an analysis of where things stand which includes:

Most significantly, the Shiite Muslim parties are now divided; previously they were all working together. But over the past few years, the leaders of the popular Sadrist movement, represented by the Ahrar bloc in politics, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, which is represented by the Muwatin bloc, have expressed their dislike of al-Maliki.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Sadrists, has been overt and harsh in his criticism while Amir al-Hakim of the ISCI has been more guarded. Al-Maliki has previously said that al-Sadr is too young and inexperienced in politics.

The problem for al-Maliki though is that his two former allies are close and apparently they both agree that he should not be given another term in office.

The Sunni Muslim politicians of Iraq are of the same mind. But within the major Sunni Muslim blocs there are some conflicts. For example, the Sunni Muslim parties with the most seats – respectively, Nujaifi and al-Mutlaq – may find it hard to convince Allawi’s group to join them because the latter feels the former betrayed him after the 2010 elections, by leaving to form their own parties, affectively splitting the Sunni Muslim bloc. Additionally al-Mutlaq is considered by many Sunnis to be too close to al-Maliki.

So what will happen next? And how will these various and troubled political groupings choose Iraq’s next Prime Minister?

It’s going to be tough. For one thing, al-Maliki’s State of Law seems to consider their 92 seats enough of a victory to push for al-Maliki’s next term as Prime Minister. There is also talk that all of the anti-al-Maliki parties may get together to ensure that al-Maliki is removed from power – that would mean a cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic coalition united in one desire. And apparently there have been talks between the various players about this possibility, and about the potential to elect a leader from al-Hakim’s Citizen bloc. However it would still be difficult to achieve this because it ignores State of Law’s 92 seats, not to mention what one Iraq expert describes as the “psychological quantum leap” it will require of all of the players.

In 2010, the Iranian government forced Moqtada al-Sadr to support Nouri despite Moqtada's public opposition to Nouri.  That may not happen this go round.  At Gulf Today, Michael Jansen explains:

While Maliki has the most seats in the assembly and appears to be in a strong position, Tehran may not be prepared to put pressure on Hakim and Sadr to form a coalition with his State of Law faction. Maliki is deeply disliked by the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia which would not look with favour on a second intervention by Tehran currently trying to court their good opinion.

The Saudi invitation to visit Riyadh issued to Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javid Zarif has offered Tehran a chance to thaw relations between his country and the kingdom and it is unlikely that Iran will want to spoil this opportunity by backing Maliki. There are suggestions that another figure from State of Law could be a compromise candidate. 

Marina Ottaway offers an analysis for CNN which includes, "Elated by his victory, al-Maliki is sounding uncompromising, and although he has declared that he is open to work with any political party, he has made it clear that it would be strictly on his own terms. For example, he has told the Kurdish party that they are welcome in a government coalition as long as they accept his interpretation of the constitution, thus renounce their ambition to export oil independently."  Apparently while preparing that analysis today, Ottaway missed Sinan Salaheddin's Associated Press report which opens, "Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region on Thursday started exporting crude oil to the international market through the Turkish port of Ceyhan despite objections from the central government in Baghdad, Turkey's energy minister said."  On the Kurds, Borzou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) observes:

The various Kurdish parties, with 62 seats, are pressing for maximum gains, offering to lend their support only in exchange for concessions from Baghdad on oil revenues and amid constant disruptive warnings that they will bolt from the union if they do not get their way. “If they don't like us to be with them, they should tell us and we will take another path as well,” Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani was recently quoted as saying. "We are going to have a referendum and ask our people. Whatever the people decide.”

Daragahi's analysis includes more than the Kurdish aspect; however, both Daragahi and his former outlet (the Los Angeles Times) distinguished themselves in the early years of the Iraq War with their understanding of and focus on the Kurdish region of Iraq.  As for the referendum KRG President Massoud Barzani was speaking of, David Romano (Rudaw) explains:

Since 2003, most of us who closely watch Iraq knew that the threat to call a referendum on independence forms one of the cards up the Iraqi Kurdish sleeve. Any real move towards an Iraqi Kurdish state would need to be preceded by such a referendum, in order to provide the project with legitimacy both at home and abroad. Even just throwing this card down on the table involves significant risks, however, which explains why Kurdish leaders in Erbil remained cautious during the past ten years.
A referendum on Kurdish independence, whether in the form of confederalism or outright secession, would likely awaken forces that would prove difficult to contain or control. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Kurds in southern Kurdistan would vote for independence, that they deserve independence and that they will enjoy the enthusiastic moral support of fellow Kurds in neighboring states if they opt for independnece. Once these long-repressed passions are fully aroused, putting them back in the bottle might prove impossible. So although Iraqi Kurdish leaders may wish to play the referendum card in order to strengthen their negotiating position with Baghdad, they may quickly find themselves unable to step back from the process if they actually place the card on the table.

National Iraqi News Agency reports two police members were injured in a Mosul shooting, Joint Operations Command states they killed 23 suspects in Anbar, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 9 suspects in Falluja, a Mosul home invasion left 1 police member, his brother and another family member dead, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 15 suspects in Baghdad, an attack to the north of Tikrit left 1 police officer and his driver dead and three bodyguards injured, army forces say they killed 11 suspects in Ramadi, a battle in Shirqat left 4 rebels deadsecurity forces say they killed 15 suspects to the east of Ramadi, a Mosul sticky bombing left a bodyguard for Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi injured, an attack on a Ramadi checkpoint left 2 police members dead and two Sahwa and one more police member injured, an Alrashidiyah bombing left 1 police colonel dead, an Ur car bombing left 5 people dead and eighteen more injured, an al-Liqa suicide bomber took her own life and the lives of 6 people while leaving thirty four people injured, a central Baghdad bombing left 4 people dead and thirteen more injured,  and security forces say they killed 3 suspects in Abbid Weis.  All Iraq News adds 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Tikrit and three more injuredAlsumaria reports that a woman was shot dead in Mosul -- she was a university professor and had run in the parliamentary elections -- her name isn't given. NINA identifies the woman as Dr. Valihah Salih who taught at the Technical Institute and she was a candidate with Tahalof Nineveh.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "A suicide bomber blew himself up among pilgrims in western Baghdad's Mansour district, killing 11 other people and wounding others, police said."

Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 635 violent deaths so far this month.

Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). We'll close with this from Bacon's  photo essay "WORKERS AREN'T A DISPOSABLE PRODUCT" (New Labor Forum):

Eulogio Solanoa is a Mixteco migrant from Oaxaca, and was a farm worker for many years.  After leading strikes and community protests, he went to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers.  Today he lives in Greenfield, California, where he told his story to David Bacon.  Thanks to Farmworker Justice for the support for this project of documenting the lives of farm workers.

I've been here in Greenfield since 1992, so that's twenty years.  But I'm from a small town called San Jose de las Flores in the Putla district in Oaxaca.  My family has ejido land there -- not a lot of land, just what they call a cajon, less than a quarter of an acre.  That's about the amount of land everyone has there.  We only have enough to live, but not enough to buy a house or car.  My father didn't even own any land -- the land we have comes from my mother.

The entire town is an ejido [communities created by Mexico's land reform that hold their land in common], but everyone has their own little piece of land.  We don't choose a different plot each year -- whatever piece of land you first got is what you keep.  That is what Emiliano Zapata fought for, so that everyone can have their own land.  We didn't have that before.  But it's not enough land for a family to live, only enough to grow corn and a few beans.  It's enough to eat, but not enough to grow crops to sell.

That's why we didn't have clothes and barely enough to eat.  When I was fourteen and going to school I still didn't own a pair of shoes.  I was barefoot.  I really enjoyed going to school, though.  My teacher said I was the brightest one in class.  But I couldn't continue - I had to go to work with my family. 

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