Friday, June 26, 2009


Friday!!!! At last! Weekend. Are you happy? I'm ready to start dancing!

Farrah Fawcett passed away yesterday. She was a really talented actress. But for people my dad's age she was the seventies. He read C.I.'s "I Hate The War" where C.I. shares some memories of Farrah and he asked me to be sure to highlight it. I should have done that on my own but because Dad asked, you know I will.

Okay, this is from Philip Butler's "On Torture, From Someone Who Knows:"

Civil liberties and human rights organizations around the country are calling for accountability for torture. I’m amazed and profoundly disappointed that this has apparently become necessary in our country.
Upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1961, I had the honor of serving in the United States Navy. I served 20 years as an active duty commissioned officer. During that time, I became a naval aviator, flew combat in Vietnam, was downed over North Vietnam on April 20, 1965, and became a prisoner of war. I was repatriated on February 12, 1973, having served 2,855 days and nights as a POW — just short of eight years.
During those eight years, I and more than 90 percent of my fellow POWs were repeatedly tortured for the extortion of information to be used for political propaganda and sometimes just for retribution. Because the Vietnamese had not yet formally recognized any international treaties on treatment of prisoners — including the
Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War or the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture — we were not treated as POWs, but instead pronounced "criminals."
We were regularly subject to torture, harassment, malnutrition, isolation, lack of medical care, and other degradations during our captivity. I was tortured dozens of times during my captivity. I often thought of our Constitution and the higher purpose we served — a purpose that helped me resist beyond what I thought I’d ever be capable of. Ironically, we POWs received great moral and psychological strength during our incarceration, telling each other, "Our country is civilized and would never knowingly treat people like this. Our country would never stoop to torture and the low level of treatment we were experiencing at the hands of our captors."
We felt we had the moral high ground and took great pride in being American, above such barbarity. Besides, we all knew from experience that torture is useless, because under torture we told our tormentors whatever we thought they wanted to hear. Whenever possible, we slipped in ridiculous statements like one I used in a torture-extracted "confession," that "only officers are allowed to use the swimming pool on the USS Midway." Another friend wrote in a "confession" that "my commanding officer, Dick Tracy, ordered me to bomb schools and hospitals." These are just two examples of the kind of culturally embedded nonsense people can expect to extract through torture.

For all of my adult life, the US has tortured. It's almost lulling a lot of us my age into a slumber as if it's not a bad thing. So I wanted to highlight this because I'm hoping that his perspective will wake some people up.

And I'm also wondering about people my age and younger, if the ones who are always apathetic are not so much apathetic as uninformed. The torture thing's the perfect example. The death penalty is wrong and most people I know agree but other than a petition most of the time I can't get people in my classes to do anything. "We've always had the death penalty," one guy told me when he signed a petition. And maybe some of us are thinking that we've always had torture?

If they are, that can make it harder for them to see the need to work on ending it. Not because they don't believe in ending it but because they believe it's always been used.

Stonewall Riots 40th Anniversary: A Look Back at the Uprising that Launched the Modern Gay Rights Movement
Trans Day of Action: “The Rebellion Is Not Over”
A Look at the Gay Rights Movement Beyond Marriage and the Military

Those are links to Amy Goodman's reports on Democracy Now! which aired today and which addressed the gay rights movement. I haven't done a link to audio or video this week so the above will cover it. Wait! I linked last night. Okay, good, I did it two nights this week.

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

Friday, June 26, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi oil garners attention, the pull-out becomes a ring around the roses, the Defense Department announces a death, Barack talks Iraq (briefly), and more.

Violence continues this morning in Iraq.
Alissa J. Rubin and Campbell Robertson (New York Times) explain a Baghdad motorcycle suicide bombing which has claimed multiple lives. Nizar Latif (The National) reports the bomb was "packed with nails and ball-bearings, designed to make the blast even more deadly". CNN counts the dead to be 15 with another forty-six injured. Abdul Rahman Dhaher, Missy Ryan, Michael Christie, Tim Cocks, Sophie Hares and Bill Trott (Reuters) add, "Shredded shoes and bits of bloody clothing were scattered around the twisted frames of motorbikes. The blast site was swiftly sealed off by Iraqi soldiers and police."
The motorcyle bombing was the second in Baghdad this week. The first was
Wednesday's which resulted in at least 78 deaths. That wasn't a suicide bombing, however, the bomber was said to have fled the motorcyle (used to pull explosives hidden beneath produce) before it exploded. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the third took place Friday night in Baghdad and resulted in the death of 1 man and left three more injured. In other violence . . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and wounded two more. Reuters notes Thursday included a Mosul car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldiers, a Baghdad overnight mortar attack which left four people injured and a Baghdad roaside bombing which injured two people.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Iraqi security forces in Mosul shot dead a suspected bomber. Reuters drops back to the Thursday to note: "Gunmen wearing military uniforms attacked a convoy carrying a senior criminal judge in Mosul on Thursday, wounding one of his bodyguards, police said. The judge was not hurt."

Today the
Defense Department announced a death (one MNF never reported): "Spc Casey L. Hills, 23 of Salem, Illinois died June 24 in Iraq of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assiagned to the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, Pago Pago, American Samoa. The circumstnaces surrounding the incident are under investigation." The announcement brought the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4315.

Turning to the US, yesterday's
Free Speech Radio News featured a report on the latest Winter Soldier by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Click here for the segment.Manuel Rueda: At home Iraq Veterans Against the War, a grassroots organization of vets opposed to US wars, continues to organize Winter Soldier hearings across the country. It´s a venue where veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan can tell stories from their war days, in a venue where veterans can tell stories from their war days in an environment that's safe and supportive. Leo Paz reports from Los Angeles. Leo Paz: Ryan Endicott is a former Marine Corporal who did multiple tours in Iraq and returned to the US in 2006. He talked about what it's like for US marines to enforce martial law in a foreign country. Ryan Endicott: Young boys 18 to 22 are having martial law over a group of people. It's complete oppression and it actually borders on the line of terrorism. I mean you strap dead bodies to your Humvee and drive around a city with it, that's terrorism. That's scaring a group of people into your beliefs -- into your belief system and structure and that's exactly what we're doing, we're terrorizing them.Leo Paz: Corporal Endicott who was in Ar Ramadi Iraq says these were not isolated incidents but daily occurrences. Ryan Endicott: Every single day, every time you kick in a door and drag a man out of his bed in the middle of the night, that's terrorism. That's not -- we're not saving people that's not liberation. You don't liberate people by -- by kicking in their doors in and arresting people by mass numbers by shooting them that's not liberation, that's occupation. Leo Paz: Some of the soldiers recalled the harsh treatment of Iraqi civilians stopped at the numerous checkpoints installed by the US throughout the country. Former Marine Corporal Christopher Gallagher compared the checkpoints in Haditha and Falluja to herding cattle. Christopher Gallagher: If any Iraqis voiced their opinion for the way they were being treated the Iraqi police -- we had a checkpoint -- would handle the situation by harassing and assaulting them. Leo Paz: According to Gallagher when the US military went door to door in the middle of the night, raiding homes to eliminate any resistance to the occupation, Iraqis held massive protests. Gallagher described the typical US response to this protest. Christopher Gallagher: In 2004 the Iraqis would hold protests in the town of Haditha against the occupation typical response for this was to have fighter jets fly over the crowd and scare them away. Leo Paz: Corporal Endicott questioned the sanitized version of war portrayed in mainstream American media. Ryan Endicott: What should be on the media is the thousands of doors that are kicked in every day and the thousands of people that are terrorized by the US soldiers that are pumped up on adrenaline and just looking to kill people. I mean there's plenty of people that joined the military just to kill people. Leo Paz: Endicott is one of many vets who denounced the indiscriminate shooting of civilians by US military. Devon Read a former Marine infantry Sgt who took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw comrades anxious to fire at whatever came in their path. He told people at winter soldier about driving through Nazaria, speeding on the way to Baghdad, on the back of a Humvee and Marines in his unit shooting randomly at people in houses. Devon Read: You know, none of the grunts that wanted to shoot people really cared about that. If it was an opportunity to shoot someone, they'd be shooting. So there's two of us on my side of the vehicle and three guys on the other side of the vehicle and we're facing outboard and suddenly the guys on the other side of the vehicle start shooting and I'm curious what the heck they're shooting at but I can't really look because I'm paying attention to my side and the other guy that's with me decides to switch sides, switches over to the other side and starts shooting also. And I finally take a moment to look and I'm looking and they're all just shooting wildly. Leo Paz: Sgt. Reed was appalled by the random gunfire and wondered how many civilians had been shot by US troops that day. Devon Read: There's, you know, people in windows way off in the distance, who really knows? Plenty of civilians with their -- poking their heads out of the window but its just someone to shoot at and there's shooting going on so no one's going to ask any questions if they start pulling the trigger too. So everyone starts shooting randomly and I talk to everyone after and none of them had any idea what they were shooting at or why. Leo Paz: Many Vietnam war vets showed up to support the IVAW and the Iraq veterans in denouncing war and violence. Ed Garza an army gunner with the 173rd airborne Brigade still has nightmares forty years after the war. Ed Garza: I remember the dead bodies and I remember seeing them and I remember we used to kill the Vietnamese and we'd put our patch on them To remind the other Vietnamese in the area that uh that we were there, the 173rd airborne. So those are some of the things I remember. Leo Paz: According to a study conducted by Iraqi doctors, and published in a British medical journal, Iraqi dead are in the hundreds of thousands since the US invasion in 2003, Afghan civilians are estimated at more than 10,000 dead. Now into the 8th year of the war, more than 5,000 soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan according to the US military. Leo Paz, FSRN.

Staying with resistance to illegal wars,
Australia's The Guardian (The Worker's Weekly) carries an interview by Elsa Rassbach with war resister Andre Shepherd who is appealing for asylum in Germany after having served one tour of Iraq already.

Elsa Rassbach: Since the "war on terror" began, there have been many US soldiers who have spoken out and many who have refused to serve. But you are the first so far to apply for asylum in Germany. What are the grounds on which your application is based?

Andre Shepherd: Well, it's very simple: In the war of aggression against the Iraqi people, the United States violated not only domestic law, but international law as well. The US government has deceived not only the American public, but also the international community, the Iraqi community, as well as the military community. And the atrocities that have been committed there these past six years are great breaches of the Geneva Conventions. My applying for asylum is based on the grounds that international law has been broken and that I do not want to be forced to fight in an illegal war.

Elsa Rassbach: In your asylum application, you mention the Principles of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which were incorporated in the UN Charter. In Nuremberg, the chief US prosecutor, Robert H Jackson, stated: "To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." In opening the trial on behalf of the United States, he stated that "while this law is first applied against German aggressors, this law includes and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment." What does Nuremberg mean to you?

Andre Shepherd: The Nuremberg statutes are the foundation of many US soldiers' refusal of the Iraq war and to some extent of the Afghanistan war. The United States with its allies after World War II crafted these laws stating that even though you've gotten orders to commit crimes against humanity, you don't have to follow them, because every person has their own conscience. That was more than 60 years ago. Today the US government seems to be under the impression that those rules do not apply to it. In invading Iraq, they did not wait for a UN mandate, they didn't let the inspectors do their job, and they made up stories about who's a real threat. This is totally violated everything stated in the Nuremberg statutes. The US Constitution states that the US is bound to our international treaties, for example with the UN. When we ignore the UN, we are violating the US Constitution, which every US soldier is sworn to uphold. And the US must also respect our own very strict laws against war crimes and torture. Since the Obama administration refuses to investigate and prosecute the previous administration, it's clear to me that the Obama administration is an accomplice to the previous administration's crimes. They're setting a very dangerous precedent for the future of the world, something I don't want to see. The German people are well aware of the history; it is here that the Nuremberg tenets were first set down. Now we have to find a way to restore those tenets, to actually respect the Nuremberg tenets as well as the Geneva Conventions. Germany needs to tell the US, "Look, you guys helped create these laws, and now you guys should abide by your own rules."

On Iraq, the second hour of NPR's
The Diane Rehm Show featured Michael Hersh of Newsweek, Elise Labot of CNN and Warren Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers and Iraq was addressed early on.

Diane Rehm: Michael Hirsh, there have been bomb attacks all across the country in Iraq this week. What's going on?

Michael Hirsh: Well you have what remains of the insurgency trying to forment sectarian violence and war to get them back to -- very close to the civil war in Iraq they were at in 2006 as the US prepares for this dramatic withdrawal from Iraqi cities which is really effectively the end of George W. Bush's surge. The surge was all about putting American troops on the front-line in the cities. It worked along with other aspects of change policy. So this is a -- this is a very, very critical moment, perhaps the most critical moment since the beginning of the insurgency in Iraq War.

Diane Rehm: But why this week is it an attempt to get the US to change it's mind? is it a protest, what is it, Warren?

Warren Strobel: I think it's an attempt to portray the US withdrawal as a retreat by the insurgents. We saw similar stuff happen in Gaza a few years ago when the Israelis withdrew and Hamas was trying to do this, so that's -- that's part of it. I totally agree with Michael. I think this at least the most critical moment in Iraq since the surge began -- if not since the insurgency began. I mean this is a really, really critical point and uh it's -- we're going to see whether the Iraqi security forces all the money and training we've thrown into them can handle this.

Diane Rehm: That's a huge question, Elise.

Elise Labott: And it's not just the American troops that are leaving. They're taking with them this whole infrastructure of support and logistics and intelligence that the Iraqis have come to rely on. I mean you have intelligence satellites, cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs, medical evacuations. All of these things that the Iraqis have kind of come to rely on that they're not going to have anymore. And I think on Warren and Michael's point, it's not just about trying to portray it as a retreat, I think it's also trying to show, um, that the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki is not suit -- able to handle this. And I think what we need to see right now is whether you're going to start to see the development of militias that we saw in 2005 when there was a lack of confidence in the government to be able to protect the people.

Michael Hirsh: There will continue to be a quiet presence of the US special forces and intelligence

Diane Rehm: Yes --

Michael Hirsh: In addition --

Diane Rehm: -- in what numbers?

Michael Hirsh: We don't know. As well as uh obviously surveillance from the skies And let's not forget either that uh, you know, Maliki has an air force, the US air force which is actually both his artillery and his air force and proved to be very effective when he first began cracking down on the militias as he did in Basra. So it's not a total withdrawal nor will it be, I believe, even when we supposedly fully pull out at the end of 2011. But it is a real, real test for Maliki's leadership and, as Warren said, the training of the Iraqi forces.

Diane Rehm: So what is the mood of the Iraqi people as the US prepares to withdraw, Elise?

Elise Labott: Well I think they're kind of ambivalent about it. On one hand they're ready to see the Americans go. I mean this is the last true symbolism of their sovereignty but at the same time, the reports that we hear from Iraq is that a lot of Iraqis aren't really looking for the United States to leave, they're worried as to whether the government can handle this and I think it is, it's going to be looking to the government to pick up the slack. They're not sure if Nouri al-Maliki is able to do it.

Warren Strobel: Well I think they wanted us to leave [laughing] until we actually started to leave. And now some at least Some people are having second thoughts.

Elise Labott: You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Warren Strobel: Exactly. And there was this guy quoted in the paper from Sadr City, a huge Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad, expressing great concern about the pull-out of a specific, I guess it was a US security station maybe it was a joint-security station there, about what would happen next. I mean I agree with Michael that we're still going to have a lot of US assets there but the American ability to influence the situation has been steadily declining and it's going to decline a lot more in the coming months.

Elise Labott: I think you also started to see the US and the Iraqis working to implement of the US withdrawing from the cities but maybe trying to fudge the lines of what the city constitutes so that some forces could stay but at the same time technically they're outside of the cities. And the US acknowledges that it's very difficult because it's time for the Iraqis to stand up on their own. The longer the Americans are there, the Iraqis are going to become dependent on them they need to be seen as leaving for the Iraqis to step up.

Diane Rehm: What about rebuilding those cities? To what extent might that begin to take place? And do the Iraqis themselves have to go about doing that? Where do they get money, Michael?

Michael Hirsh: Well I mean obviously the oil, their oil industry is back on line to some degree. Accompanying this development of US withdrawal you finally have serious interest by US oil companies and wri-- agree to contracts that they have been unwilling to do up until now because of the violence. So they'll be getting additional revenues from that but this is -- this is also a very good test for Maliki. One is security, the other is rebuilding. You still have long periods of blackouts in Baghdad. You know, six years or more into this, you have very, very poor infrastructure and a lot of unhappiness among the Iraqis.

Diane Rehm: Michael Hersh of Newsweek, Elise Labot of CNN, Warren Strobel of McClatchy.

As for the pull-out from Iraqi cities,
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reveals, that instead of being in the cities, US forces will "encircle them," "put in place in the belts around those cities and in areas that are potential flashpoints of Kurdish-Arab tension. . . . The plan keeps US advisers within the cities, and in Mosul redeploys battalions that had been within the city to the surrounding areas." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that while "[t]housands of U.S. combat troops will remain at a handful of bases in Baghdad and on the outskirts of other restive cities, such as Mosul and Kirkuk, in nothern Iraq, past the June 30 deadline" and that this has US military officials worried that US service members as well as Iraqis will be put at risk in the new holding pattern Barack's created. Stop the holding pattern, just bring the troops home.

At the White House today, President Barack Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and he spoke about Iraq when NPR's Don Gonyea asked about Iraq's "upsurge in violence; a lot of bombings, a lot of deaths, does that give you any second thoughts on the coming deadline to pull the combat troops from the cities?"

Barack Obama: On Iraq, obviously any time there's a bombing in Iraq we are concerned. Any time there's loss of innocent life or the loss of military personnel, we grieve for their families and it makes us pay attention. I will tell you if you look at the overall trend, despite some of these high-profile bombings, Iraq's security situation has continued to dramatically improve. And when I speak to General [Ray] Odierno and Chris Hill, our ambassador in Iraq, they continue to be overall very positive about the trend lines in Iraq. I think there's still some work to do. I think the Maliki government is not only going to have to continue to strengthen its security forces, but it's also going to have to engage in the kind of political give and take leading up the national elections that we've been talking about for quite some time. And I haven't seen as much political progress in Iraq, negotiations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds, as I would like to see.
So there are always going to be -- let me not say "always" -- there will continue to be incidents of violence inside of Iraq for some time. They are at a much, much lower level than they were in the past. I think the biggest challenge right now is going to be less those attacks by remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq or other insurgent groups, and the bigger challenge is going to be, can the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds resolve some of these major political issues having to do with federalism, having to do with boundaries, having to do with how oil revenues are shared. If those issues get resolved, then I think you will see a further normalization of the security atmosphere inside of Iraq.

Later at the White House, spokesmodel Robert Gibbs was asked to clarify Barack's statement ("express some of the things the president is hoping for and what is he intending to do about that?") and he responded, "Well -- I mean -- Obviously, he's met continually with Ambassador Hill. Obviously, the stops -- or the meetings -- that we made during the stop in Baghdad on the -- I guess that was in late March, early April -- Obviously, without getting specific, there continues to be progress in terms of political reconciliation in terms of oil and hydrocarbons that, as move throughout a year -- a very important year -- of elections in Iraq, again, proving that it will take the steps necessary to govern its country." Interesting and telling that Gibbs would go straight to the theft-of-Iraqi-oil law.

Staying with oil, when
you're caught serving up US government propaganda at the start of the week, you'd think you'd keep your head low for the rest of the week. Not only do your talking points end up on the US government propaganda outlet Voice of America (and all its spin-offs with "Radio Free . . ." in the title), but you're rah-rah Nouri talking point is slapped down by Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) and public events slap down your 'Western companies aren't going to do oil business in Iraq!'. But apparently you woke up yesterday begging for a beating which is why Timothy Williams offers up "Warily Moving Ahead on Oil Contracts" in this morning's New York Times. In the real world, AP offers a list of the Big Oil countries rushing in to bid on Iraqi oil and we'll note their first eight countries on the list:UNITED STATES: Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil, Hess Corp., Marathon International Petroleum Ltd., and Occidental Petroleum Corp. United Kingdom: BP Group PLC. Japan: Inpex Holdings Inc., Japex and Nippon Oil Corp. Australia: BHP Billiton Ltd. and Woodside Petroleum Ltd. China: China's CNOOC Ltd., CNPC International Ltd., Sinochem International Co. Ltd., and Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical co. Ltd. Italy: Edison International SPA and Eni. Russia: JSC Lukoil and JSC Gazprom Neft. France: Total SA. Anthony DiPaola (Bloomberg News) explains that Exxon and Shell are foaming at the bit and they are only 8 "of the world's top 10 non-state oil producers" who are rushing to cash in on Iraq oil. Sinan Salaheddin's "Big Oil poised for return to Iraq" (AP) explains the basics. While Timothy Williams played the violins for Big Oil on Monday and begged for a greater theft of Iraqi oil, Ahmed M. Jiyad (UPI) details what the contracts actually allow and concludes, "Considering the above and their possible implications it seems these model related to the first bidding round do not and could not deliver the best interest for the Iraqi people, and probably this explains the growing opposition to them." Reuters explains, "Here are some facts about Iraq's oil industry" in this report which points out: "Iraq's oil has been coveted by foreign powers for decades." Also of interest, Christopher Helman's "Cashing In On Iraqi Oil" (Forbes). Earlier this month, IVAW's Aaron Hughes reported on his trip to Erbil for the International Labor Conference in Iraq at US Labor Against War at which a resolution was passed "against the draft oil and gas law" :The conference was set up to bring together the major labor constituencies from across Iraq to form a confederation based on worker rights. At the end of our second day, the eve of the conference, workers from fifteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces began to arrive. There were representatives from Iraq's oil and gas industry, its port union, the electrical generation and distribution industry, construction, public sector, transportation, communications, education, rail roads, service and health care industries, machinists and metal working sector, the petro-chemical industry, civil engineers, writers and journalists, food oil workers, tailors and students.The historical nature of the conference was clear. This opportunity for the international community and the workers across Iraq to show solidarity was long overdue. After the United States invaded Iraq and set up the provisional government, a new constitution was drafted that included worker rights. However, at the same time, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, retained Saddam Hussein's labor laws.
[. . .]
Leading by exmaple is the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) lead by its president Hassan Juma'a Awad, which exploded in size over the past four years to over 25,000 members. It is the strongest and most powerful union in Iraq and is also extremely militant in regards to workers rights. For example, the union has protested, gone on strike, and used direct non-violent tactics to force the British occupation forces to stand down and furthermore drove the US contractor KBR from the oil fields near Basra.

In their 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (from February 25, 2009), the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor notes:"The constitution provides the right to form and join unions and professional associations, subject to regulating law. Labor Law 150 of 1987, enacted by the Saddam government, ...declared virtually all public sector workers to be government 'executives,' and therefore legally ineligible to form or to join unions, a move that, in effect, eliminated unions and the right of association from the public sector. In the private sector, the extant 1987 Trade Union Organization Law ...was also intended, in practice, to remove the right of association from a majority of private sector workers, because most private sector businesses employ fewer than 50 workers. Decree 8750 of 2005, which cancelled unions' leadership boards, froze their assets, and formed an inter-ministerial committee to administer unions' assets and assess their capacity to resume activity, also inhibited union activity. The laws and decree do not prohibit anti-union discrimination by employers or others. In addition to this oppressive legal and regulatory framework, violence and insecurity, high unemployment, and maladapted labor organizational structures inhibited the exercise of labor rights."Throughout the conference, in moments here and there, over sips of tea, in the hallway between talks, over a meal of lamb and rice, or in the marble floored lobby I had the opportunity to speak with the different labor leaders. Their stories were hopeful and humble. They were filled with courageous acts of resistance against the many odds stacked against them. Their government does not legally recognize unions and organizing in the public sector (seventy percent of the economy) is illegal. Union assets are frozen and confiscated. The US military has raided union leaders' homes and occupied factories and plants. The local militias target union leaders and female workers. Despite these odds, the unions are organizing, growing and winning.

Last week,
Andy Rowell (Oil Change) noted the Independent's report on the "public fury" in Iraq as "the country is handing over control of its fields to foreign companies." And you can also refer to an article by Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal). Rowell also notes a cartoon by Peter Brookes (Times of London) about the Iraq inquiry in England and concludes, "Whether the inquiry is in secret or public, one thing is certain an inquiry is unlikely to tell us whether Iraq was ever about oil." The Great Britain's Socialist Worker observes, "The row over the transparency, or otherwise, of the inquiry into the war on Iraq has exposed the continuing influence of Tony Blair on the Labour Party -- and the weakness of Gordon Brown. Blair put pressure on Brown to ensure that the inquiry into the war would be held in private." They conclude that testimony and evidence should be submitted by peace activists and they should "hold protests at MPs' surgeries to demand that the warmongers are brought to justice."

Not interested in the oil and despite foreign forces and foreign media leaving the country, Sister Maria Hanna has no intention of leaving.
She explains to Carmen Blanco (Catholic Spirit), "I am committed to staying in Iraq for those who remain: the poor, the vulnerable, the widows and their chilren." Blanco adds, "Sister Hanna, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Mosul, Iraq, visited Washington in June to talk about her work and to give Catholic agencies and organizations an update on current conditions in the country. She has set goals to build schools and hospitals for those remaining in Iraq and to give hope to all Iraqis."

TV notes. Coming up on
NOW on PBS:American streets are littered with foreclosed houses, but one daring advocate says these homes shouldn't go to waste. He encourages and facilitates homeless squatting. It's an idea that addresses two issues at once - homelessness and foreclosed homes -- and it's also illegal.This week, NOW travels to Miami to meet with Max Rameau, an advocate for the homeless. Rameau's organization, Take Back the Land, identifies empty homes that are still livable, and tries to find responsible families willing to take the enormous legal risks of moving in.Rameau, who considers his mission an act of civil disobedience, says it's immoral to keep homes vacant while there are human beings living on the street. But while these squatters have morality in their hearts, they don't have the law on their side.With the faltering economy separating so many people from their homes, what's society's responsibility to those short on shelter?That and other PBS programming noted begin airing on many PBS stations tonight, check local listings. Only on PBS can you get crap like Gwen gas bagging with three men and one woman in 2009 and have that junk be considered 'appropriate' and 'diverse'. On Washington Week, Gloria Borger (US News & World Reports, CNN) is the lone woman. Pete Williams (NBC), David Sanger (NYT) and John Dickerson (Slate, CBS News) are the men. To actually see women address the week's issues, join Bonnie Erbe who sits down with Sam Bennett, Victoria Lipnic, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Tara Setmayer and Genevieve Wood on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
The Cheaters 60 Mintes and The Washington Post reveal how online poker players suspecting cheating were forced to successfully ferret out the cheaters themselves. That's because managers of the mostly-unregulated $18 billion Internet gambling industry failed to respond to their complaints. Steve Kroft and The Washington Post's Gilbert Gaul report. Watch Video
Mind Reading Neuroscience has learned so much about how we think and the brain activity linked to certain thoughts that it is now possible - on a very basic scale - to read a person's mind. Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video
Gorongosa American Greg Carr is using his great wealth to try to help some of the poorest people in Africa by attracting more tourists to their neighborhood - the beautiful national park of Gorongosa in Mozambique. Scott Pelley reports. Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, June 28, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

On this week's White House plant in the press conference,
please check out this video from Newsy. The Hurt Locker opens in Los Angeles and New York today and opens July 10th in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Oahu, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver, Toronto and DC. Kenneth Turan gives it a rave review in "The Hurt Locker" (Los Angeles Times):

"The Hurt Locker" has the killer impact of the explosive devices that are the heart of its plot: It simply blows you apart and doesn't bother putting you back together again. Overwhelmingly tense, overflowing with crackling verisimilitude, it's both the film about the war in Iraq that we've been waiting for and the kind of unqualified triumph that's been long expected from director Kathryn Bigelow.

free speech radio newsleo paziraq veterans against the wardevon readchristopher gallagherryan endicott
the washington postanthony shadid
jane arraf
ernesto londono
us labor against the war
aaron hughes
gina chonthe wall street journal
ahmed m. jiyadanthony dipaolacarmen blanco
60 minutescbs newsto the contrarybonnie erbenow on pbsnprthe diane rehm showpbs
the los angeles timeskenneth turankathryn bigelow

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Friday is tomorrow!!!! :D And it's almost the Fourth of July. Holiday!!!! Celebrate!!! Is that Madonna? I think it is.

At a Times of London article, the following comment was left:

"I was always and am always going to get on with the job I have set myself.” Um, isn't this country supposed to be a democracy? Brown is always going to be getting on with the job he's set himself...Always? When do we the voters get a say in any of this?
Craigoh, London,

Well said. Gordon Brown's ineffectual and lying. He really needs to feel the pressure right now or he's going to really see to it that the Iraq inquiry is a whitewash.

Okay, now if you click here you can watch video of PBS' Margaret Warner in Russia and this is a NewsHour online exclusive so it's not even been shown on TV. I found it interesting for a number of reasons including the scenery. Now here's an item from Free Speech Radio News:

Supreme Court says strip search of teen unconstitutionalIn an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled Safford, Arizona school officials violated a 13-year-old’s 4th Amendment rights when they conducted a strip search on her. FSRN’s Amanda Shauger reports from Tucson.
Reporter: The case stems from an incident at an Arizona middle school where administrators strip-searched Savana Redding because of a tip she was carrying prescription strength ibuprofen. Another student found with the medicine pointed to Redding as the source. But no pills were ever found. The court said that school searches – quote - “will be permissible . . . when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction." This means the ibuprofen did not pose a significant danger to others – and there was no reasonable reason to search the teen’s underwear for the pills. But the court also said school officials are not liable in the case because the original law did not clearly signify that strip searches in this situation violated the Fourth Amendment. Amanda Shauger, FSRN, Tucson.

Hey, eight to one decision. They forget to tell you who. Wanna guess? Who's the pervert on the Court? Did you see Clarence Thomas? Bingo!

This New York Times article tells you that Thomas is now fretting because the ruling told students "the safest place" to hide their stuff. Panties and briefs! Get your hidden score on!

Anyone else thinking Clarence Thomas was jerking his pud while he wrote his opposing argument?

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

Thursday, June 25, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military brass continues its attempts to censor a Stars and Stripes reporter, Congress holds a hearing to see if the VA is ready to issue payments under the new GI Bill, and more.

Starting in the US where Barack Obama likes a scripted press conference. As noted yesterday,
Dana Milbank (Washington Post) broke the story on Arianna-toy Nico Pitney being a plant in Barack's press conference. As Cedric and Wally noted in their joint-post yesterday, CBS News' Peter Maer raised the issue to portly Robert Gibbs in yesterday's White House press briefing.

PETER MAER: All right. I've got a procedural question about yesterday's news conference. What led to your decision to plant a designated hitter right here to ask the President a question? And what kind of a message do you think that sends to the American people and to the world about the kind of free-flow and pure questioning that's been expected at presidential news conferences? MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it did nothing more than underscore that free-flow. Peter, that was a question from an Iranian in Iran, using the same type of manner and method to get that information as, I guess, many of you and virtually every one of your outlets has done, because in this country we enjoy the freedom of the press.In Iran, as many of you know, your colleagues have been dismissed. They've been kicked out. Some of them have been rounded up. There aren't journalists that can speak for the Iranian people. What the President did was take a question from an Iranian. That's, I think, the very powerful message that that sent just yesterday. PETER MAER: Couldn't he have accomplished that without you guys escorting someone through here and planting him the room? MR. GIBBS: Did you get a question yesterday from an Iranian that you had hoped to asked the President? PETER MAER: No, I did not. MR. GIBBS: Well, then I guess the answer to that would have been, no. PETER MAER: Is this going to become a regular feature of President Obama's news conference, that you all are going to bring people in here that you select to ask questions? MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand -- let's be clear, Peter. I think you understand this, so -- but I'll repeat it for your benefit. There was no guarantee that the questioner would be picked. There was no idea of what the exact question would be. I'll let you down easily: A number of questions that we went though in prep you all asked. Iran dominated the news conference, not surprisingly. But Peter, I think it was important and the President thought it was important to take a question using the very same methods, again, that many of you all are using to report information on the ground. I don't have any -- I won't make any apologies for that.

Peter Baker (New York Times) attempts to cover the story and misses the major point. He tries to cover his based. He gets the Arianna Huffington to self-importantly blather -- between cobbling together George Clooney quotes to pass off as his 'writing' and between posting 'jokes' about special-needs children -- on with remarks like: "This was an exciting moment for new media and citizen engagement. It's a pity so many in traditional media didn't get it." No, it's a pity that an Aging Socialite whose husband decided to come out of the closet dumped her on the rest of the (unsuspecting) world.

Let's break it down for the dithering, money grubbing, wanna-be Gabor whose face appears assembled out of bits of chicken fat. The US is engaged in three wars currently -- Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the undeclared war on Pakistan. Iraq is non-stop violence these days. It was SHAMEFUL and it was EMBARRASSING that the president of the United States was setting up questions but even more distressing than that was WHAT the question was about: Iran. How nice of Huff & Puff to allow Barry O to gas bag on a topic that's not about his own performance, not about his own obligations and allows him to offer more 'inspirational' words. How nice of Huff & Puff to give Barry a foot rub as opposed to hold his tootsie to the fire.

Citizen engagement, which Arianna knows nothing about -- serving off brands to guests, that she knows about -- would have been little Nico breaking from the script and asking a question that put Barack on the spot. Arianna knows damn well if this was a George W. Bush moment, she'd be screaming her head off. Instead, today's she's her own Jeff Gannon. And how nice of Huff & Puff to prove that they don't give a damn about Iraq. The website could have brought that issue into the press conference. It chose not to do so. Remember that the next time Arianna tries to pretend she cares about anything other than the cold hard cash. Drop a twenty on the dresser and thank her for her time, she's done.

Currently at Newt Gingrich's former girlfriend's website it's tabloid city. New media? That smut's been available in the supermarkets for years, usually under the banner of Weekly World News.

In the real world, Iraq was rocked by violence again today.
CNN observes, "Violence is unnerving Iraqis, with attacks increasing as the United States works toward withdrawing combat troops." Susan Webb (People's Weekly World) notes, "The killing spree began June 20 with a series of car bombings and other attacks in several cities, including a massive suicide truck bombing that killed 82 people in a mainly Shiite town near the northern city of Kirkuk, a scene of ongoing ethnic strife." Al Jazeera notes, "At least seven people have died in a new wave of attacks in Iraq amid funerals for some of the victims of a bomb explosion in a busy Baghdad market the previous day." The number's risen to at least nine dead with twenty-eight Iraqis injured. Today's reported violence?


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured, a Baghdad mortar attack left two people injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing resulted in two police officers being wounded, a Baghdad car bombing left five people injured and a Baghdad roadside bombing resulted in 2 deaths with four injured, a Mosul car bombing which left thirteen people injured and a Falluja roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 5 police officers. Reuters notes two Baghdad roadside bombings resulted in nine US soldiers being injured and a Baghdad bus bombing which left three Iraqi civilians injured..


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed clash in Mosul which left three police officers injured and 1 16-year-old boy male was shot in Mosul.

Dropping back to yesterday's Baghdad bombing whose death toll continued to rise after
yesterday's snapshot. Saif Hameed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) inform the bombing "killed at least 78 people Wednesday and wounded 145, highlighting the danger of Iraq slipping back into violence after the deadline for U.S. combat troops to leave its cities -- now less than a week away." Jim Lehrer (PBS' NewsHour -- link has text, audio and video) explained yesterday, "The blast tore through a market in Sadr City, the capital's main Shiite district." Ernesto Londono and Zaid Sabah (Washington Post) add this context, "The blast, the second in Iraq in less than a week to kill more than 70 people, happened six days before the June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to retreat from urban outposts, the first of three withdrawal deadlines mandated under a security agreement." Alice Fordham (Times of London) adds, "The June 30 deadline was made in a status of forces agreement between the US and Iraq at the start of the year. A national holiday has been declared for that day, although a curfew may be imposed." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) provides these numbers: "About 300 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives so far in June; more than 330 were killed in May. Eight U.S. soldiers have lost their lives so far in June, while 25 died in May, according to Defense Department figures." Shortly before yesterday's Baghdad bombing took place, Dept of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell was holding a press briefing and declaring, "I think -- well . . . First of all, we saw a horrific bombing take place south of Kirkuk over the weeken which was rather unusual given where it took place. It was also unusual just in terms of the trend that we've been seeing lately. Security incidents -- despite that awful attack -- remain at all-time lows since March 2003." BOOM!!! would be the sound of the bombing in Baghdad before Morrell finished his press conference. Alissa J. Rubin and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) offer, "A number of political observers here say they now believe that the attacks are intended to discredit Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He has taken credit for improving security, but the stance carries considerable political risk when violence breaks out." And taking credit apparently translates as "bullying the press," Mike Tharp and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) note that the harassment of the press continued yesterday in the wake of the bombings, "An Iraqi journalist, who asked not to be named because he feared reprisal, said that Iraqi officials refused to let him and other reporters into local hospitals to try to interview witnesses, family members and victims." Puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki is the self-styled new Saddam. Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) offers a must-read report which looks at the thug the US chose to install: "Although Iraq's parliamenatry elections are not until January, the campaign has begun, and Maliki has shown a determination to fight with a tenacity and ruthlessness borrowed from the handbook of Iraq's last strongman, Saddam Hussein. From Diyala, where men under Maliki's command have arrested and threatened to detain a host of his rivals, to Basra, where security forces have swept up scores of his opponents since January, the message is: cooperate or risk his wratch. Although Iraq's sectarian war has largely ended, and the Sunnis feel they lost, another struggle for power, perhaps no less perilous, has begun in earnest. Maliki has resorted to a more traditional notion of politics in which violence is simply another form of leverage. His goal is simple -- to ensure he emerges as prime minister again after the vote."

Thug Nouri isn't the only one attempting to censor the press in Iraq.
Tuesday's snapshot noted the efforts of the US military to prevent Stars and Stripes reporter Heath Druzin from reporting (those efforts are censorship). This is from Joe Strupp's "UPDATED: Reporter Barred from Iraq Embed -- MRE Blasts Move -- Sends Protest Letter to Gates, Petraeus" (Editor & Publisher):The president of the Military Reporters and Editors group has blasted the move in an email to E&P. "Asserting that Stars and Stripes 'refused to highlight' good news in Iraq that the U.S. military wanted to emphasize, Army officials have barred a Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division that is attempting to secure the violent city of Mosul," the report says. It adds that Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour. It also adds that military officials cited a March 8 story Druzin wrote that stated many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and return security tasks to Iraqi forces.New West Boise's Jill Kuraitis has worked with Druzin and she offers, "In my opinion, it's a serious matter when the delivery of accurate and timely news is denied to the American people who always deserve the truth in accordance with our founding principles. We are funding the war with our tax dollars, which makes us even more deserving of the information. Druzin is a professional trained to do exactly what he is doing, and his efforts to be accurate should not be impeded, nor his priorities manipulated." Mark Prendergast is a professional journalist whose outlets have included the Washington Post and the New York Timesand he also teaches journalism (St. John's University). In December 2008 it was announced he would be the new ombudsperson at Stars and Stripes. He weighs in on the censorship efforts:

The unit's commander, Col. Gary Volesky, simply does not want Druzin back. The various reasons offered by Volesky and his public affairs officer, Maj. Ramona Bellard, involve Druzin's personality, professionalism, reluctance to discuss story ideas and that he "refused to highlight" aspects of the Mosul campaign that they wanted him to promote (See Editorial Director Terry Leonard's point-by-point rebuttal, "
Army denies Stripes reporter access to combat team in Mosul," article, June 24).
In a raft of e-mail correspondence between Stars and Stripes and the military that began May 11, the colonel and the major emphasized that their problem was not with the newspaper but with Druzin -- another Stripes reporter would be welcome in Mosul, they said. (Army officials in Baghdad offered to let Druzin embed somewhere else.)
In other words, they made it personal. And that is wrong, in just about every way.
Before I go any further, let me say that while I do not know Col. Volesky personally, his public record of service to his country bespeaks a soldier's soldier, one who presently bears huge responsibility in carrying out an extraordinarily tough, dangerous and complex mission in Mosul.
Now serving his third tour in Iraq, Volesky has received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star three times, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Infantryman Badge (twice). He has an advanced degree in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton, studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute, attended the Command and General Staff College and the Air War College, and once held the post of Chief of Infantry Doctrine at the United States Infantry School. And did I mention he's a Ranger?
Even reporters in Baghdad hold him in high regard,
according to Thomas E. Ricks, the veteran military affairs reporter for The Washington Post.
But for all that, Col. Volesky is way wrong on this one.
According to both standard journalism practice and Defense Department policy, military commanders do not get to say which reporters get assigned where, whether they work for Stars and Stripes, The New York Times, MSNBC, the Huffington Post or the Podunk Gazette.
Editors do.
And whether Volesky, Bellard, the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry, the people of Mosul or the readers of Stars and Stripes think Druzin is a good reporter or a bad reporter is a matter of opinion outside the legal and policy framework that governs military-media relations and the assignment of reporters.
In that regard, the only opinion that counts, by practice and by law, is that of Druzin's editors. And they are standing by him and his performance in Iraq. And they want him back in Mosul.

As he notes, it's really not the military brass' decision which reporter an outlet sends. Not noted, but equally true, it's appalling in this alleged 'change' government going on in the US that this matter has been allowed to fester. The White House could have taken care of this with one phone call. That it chose not to says a great deal about it and goes to why they feel the need to staff press conferences with ringers.

Many years ago (the 90s) a friend who was nervous about a taping was on the phone as she waited and watched a segment preceding her own. As someone in the audience ran off at the mouth to Orpah (standing there with the microphone), my friend said over the phone to me, "Someone needs to tell Little Miss Voice of a Generation, sit down." It's hard not to feel that way when reading
Erik Leaver and Daniel Atzmon's latest at Foreign Policy In Focus. Specifically: "On November 17, 2008, when Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker signed an agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, citizens from both countries applauded." Little Miss Voice of a Generation, sit down. Not only did Iraqis not applaud but many Americans didn't either. The treaty masquerading as a SOFA was hugely unpopular in Iraq which is why so many MPs skipped the vote. Skipped the vote on Thanksgiving Day. November 16th was when Nouri's cabinet voted . . . and ten cabinet members skipped that vote. As for it being about withdrawal? Mary Beth Sheridan (Washington Post) reported in real time that "the Iraqi cabinet on Sunday approved a bilateral agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in this country for three more years." That's all the SOFA did. The UN mandate (covering the occupation) would expire on December 31st. A new agreement was needed (or the UN mandate renewed) or else US forces (as Joe Biden had noted repeatedly) would be forced to leave Iraq. Even then-White House spokesperson Dana Perino didn't try to inflate it the way it would eventually be inflated. November 17th she declared, "One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates." Aspirational. As opposed to "actual." Learn the terminology.

November 27th, Parliament passed it -- leading the White House to finally release the document to the American public (another reason there wasn't mass celebration on November 17th -- does any editor at Foreign Policy In Focus actually have any duties that fall under the role of "editor"?). Parliament passed it. 149 members voted. And how many MPs are there? 275. And Leaver and Atzmon want to act as if the SOFA led to celebrations?

Maybe they have to because Phyllis Bennis embarrassed herself at every forum (including FPIF) acting the fool. She was thrilled, she was excited and she knew nothing, absolutely nothing. When Barack adopted Bush's SOFA, Phyllis was thrilled and even made the
blood curling statement that it didn't matter to her if 'withdrawal' took a few months more. Doesn't matter to her? Well she's not serving in Iraq and she has no family serving in Iraq and, apparently, she also lacks both empathy and sympathy. So possibly the distasteful opening of Leaver and Atzmon's article is required because FPIF readers have been hyped on the b.s. treaty and lied to about the treaty?

If you can hold your nose through that opening paragraph, you've got
the strongest analysis FPIF has provided on the SOFA or on what Barack's actually doing in Iraq:

The failure to fully comply with the withdrawal agreement indicates the United States is looking to withdraw from Iraq in name only, as it appears that up to 50,000 military personnel
will remain after the deadline.
The United States claims it's adhering to the agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), even with so many troops being left in the cities. But the United States is changing semantics instead of policy. For example, there are no plans to transfer the 3,000 American troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon, because commanders have
determined that despite its location, it's not within the city.
The original intent of moving troops out of the cities was to reduce the U.S. military role and send the message to Iraqis that the United States would be leaving the country soon. But troops that are no longer sleeping in the cities will still take part in operations within Iraqi cities; they will serve in "support" and "advisory" roles, rather than combat functions. Such "reclassification" of troops as military trainers is another example of how the United States is circumventing the terms of the SOFA agreement.

To get the SOFA through the Parliament, a last minute agreement (and plenty of US strong arming) was made that the Iraqi people would be allowed to vote on the treaty in a national referendum which was supposed to take place next month. It will not take place next month and has now been pushed back to January. In 2008, the White House strong armed to get their way, in 2009 the White House strong arms to get its way. No change you can believe in.

Turning to the topic of the VA,
Steve Vogel (Washington Post) reports:

The number of unprocessed disability claims has grown by nearly 100,000 since the beginning of the year and totaled 916,625 as of Saturday, a rise driven in part by increasing numbers of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), who last week chaired a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee meeting titled "Can VA Manage One Million Claims?," said the department needs "a cultural and management sea change." Veterans "are waiting to have their claims and appeals processed," Hall said at the hearing last Thursday. "They are waiting for compensation. They are waiting for medical assistance and rehabilitation." That hearing took place Thursday evening and was noted in the
June 19th snapshot.

"Any change, any legislative change increases the risk to August 1st," declared the VA's Director from the Office of Education Service Keith Wilson. "There's no question about it. We wouldn't know the full impact until we could sit down and evaluate what the volume of individuals would be."

He was appearing this afternoon before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and replying to US House Rep John Boozman's question about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which "has those killed on active duty into Chapter Thirty Two, I'm sorry, Chapter Thirty Three would something like that would that cause delay in payment?" Wilson stated anything would. The meeting was about the Post-9-11 GI Bill which requires new payments starting August 1st. US House Rep Harry Teague chaired the subcommittee (filling in for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin) and noted in his opening remarks:

Today we will continue with our series of oversight hearings on the VA's implementation plans for the Post 9-11 GI Bill. It is important that we continue to provide the VA the opportunities to update the subcommittee on their implementation effort for the short-term and long-term solutions. This hearing will also give the VA the opportunity to ask for Congressional assistance if it is required. Since the passage of the Post-9-11 GI Bill, many items of concern have been raised about this very complicated program. I'm sure our Chair and Ranking Member will agree that this Subcommittee will continue to seek answers to the implementation but also veteran outreach, university partnerships and other items of concern. While there was tremendous Congressional support for the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, responsiblity does not end after a bill is signed into law. As our panelists know, this Subcommittee will continue to work with the adminsitration to ensure that our veterans receive their educational benefits in a timely manner.

Ranking Member Boozman noted this was the fifth hearing providing oversight on the implementation of the bill and encouraged the VA to come forward with problems as they arise so they can be addressed.

August 1st is the start date in order to begin making payments for the fall 2009 semesters. These payments, like other government payments, will be issued via computer programs so today's hearing focused on the IT aspects of it.

Keith Wilson was the only witness appearing before the Subcommittee today. He was accompanied by the VA's Stephen W. Warren and Mark Krause. (Warren handled the slide presentation -- he provided the narration of the steps on the flow chart, etc.) Wilson stated that there were two strategies, short-term and long-term. The programs will handle processing and delivering (addressing) the payments and allowing payments to be calculated. This system, however, vanishes December 2010 when a new system replaces it. (That system hasn't been developed yet and will be created with SPAWAR Systems Center.)

Keith Wilson: On May 1, 2009, VA began accepting applications to determine eligibility for the Post- 9-11 GI Bill. We've received more than 75,000 applications, and the RPOs have fully processed approximately 35,000 of these claims. On July 6, 2009, we will start accepting enrollment certifications from school certifying officials and begin processing claims for payment. The first payments will be released by US Treasury Department on August 3, 2009. Approximately 530 claims examiners have been hired under term appointments to support the implementation of the short-term strategy. All employees completed training of Phase 1 of the short-term solutions on June 15th. Phase 2 training started on June 8th and is expected to be complete no later than July 3rd. VA authorized the RPOs to hire 230 additional claims examiners. All of the employees are expected to be on board by August 31, 2009.

Those are hard numbers and in the above and when asked questions, Wilson actually had answers. A rare thing for a witness from the VA. Wilson referenced the
VA's GI Bill website as a resource. For those with limited internet access or who would prefer the human interaction, the toll free number is 1-888-GI-BILL-1 or 1-888-442-4551. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has a webpage that gives you a historical overview and also allows you to locate a VFW service officer who can assist veterans with the application process. Those are resource provided by the VFW and they're a resource many veterans may need to consider utilizing because, at present, Wilson stated they were surprised that the applications coming in are not as high as expected (at present, the VA is able to process more applications each day than it is receiving, according to Wilson). Teague noted his surprise at the low number of applicants and suggested stronger outreach efforts may be needed.

US House Rep Harry Teague: You may recall that with the leadership of Ranking Member Boozman, Congress authorized the VA to conduct mass media outreach services. Today I have not been made aware of the VA using mass media as an outreach option. Will you be using mass media such as television or radio to advertise the new GI Bill benefit?

Keith Wilson: We will. We have, underway right now, a acquistion process to bring a, uh, professional media firm on board specifically for that purpose.

One reason for the delay may be that next week the VA will be providing a list of an estimated 700 colleges who will be part of the Yellow Ribbon Program. Wilson explained those colleges would have "a matching contribution program between VA and IHLs to assist eligible veterans in covering tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate." How much is covered is an issue even in good economic times and some may be waiting on the VA to release that date before beginning the application process.

Also on veterans,
Daniel Suddeath (News and Tribune) reports that US Rep Baron Hill's bill Health Care for Members of the Armed Forces Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act was introduced because of the long, long wait veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Oragne had to go through and he "doesn't want to wait 30 years to address similar problems encountered by veterans of the Iraq War." On the issue of Congress, Kat covered a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing (on Iran) last night.

Farrah Fawcett has passed away and that is a huge loss.
20/20 tonight will feature Barbara Walters reporting on Fawcett's life.

Independent journalist
David Bacon, whose latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). , is one of the last labor reporters left in the US. This is the opening to his latest report, "CRIMINALS BECAUSE WE WORKED" (Political Affairs):VERNON, CA (6/18/09) -- The production lines at Overhill Farms move very quickly. Every day for eighteen years Bohemia Agustiano stood in front of the "banda" for eight or nine hours, putting pieces of frozen chicken, rice and vegetables onto plates as they passed in a blur before her. Making the same motions over and over for such a long time, her feet in one place on the concrete floor, had its price. Pains began shooting through her hands and wrists, up her arms to her shoulders.Complaining also had a price, however. "I was reluctant to say anything because of my need," she says. "I have four children. So I preferred to stay hurt, and take pills for it, than to go out on disability." Finally, though, it got too much. She couldn't sleep without pain constantly waking her, and she was moving through a haze of exhaustion. So she went to the company doctor. "He said my nerves were inflamed, and sent me to therapy," she recalls. "I know I have repetitive stress syndrome, but I asked him not to put me on restricted duty, because there is no easy work in production and I knew the company would just send me home. He put me on restrictions anyway, and that's what happened. It didn't change anything, and eventually I had to go back to my job. It still hurts to work." It might seem hard to understand that a job like this is worth trying to keep. But being out of work is worse. On May 31 254 people, including Agustiano, were fired. Their crime? According to Overhill Farms, they had bad Social Security numbers. Behind this accusation is the unspoken assumption that the workers' numbers are no good because they have no legal immigration status. Every day Agustiano and the fired workers are out in front of the company's two plants on East Vernon Avenue, in an industrial enclave in southeast Los Angeles, trying to fight their way back onto those speeding production lines.

iraqthe los angeles timesned parkersaif hameed
the new york times
alissa j. rubinduraid adnanthe washington postanthony shadid
dana milbank
the times of londonalice fordhammcclatchy newspapersmike tharpsahar issa
gina chonthe wall street journal
ernesto londono
joe struppjill kuraitisstars and stripes
david bacon

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kenneth J. Theisen, Boston Phoenix

Hump day, hump day. Waiting for the weekend and it's never going to get here, is it?

It just feels that way. It's not like they're Barack's campaign promises -- those will never get here!!!!!

This is from Kenneth J. Theisen's "Obama condemns violence against innocent civilians in Iran while murdering them in Pakistan:"

As I write this, various news reports coming out of Pakistan claim that up to 80 people at a Pakistani funeral were killed after missiles were fired from a U.S. drone. According to Pakistani intelligence officials and witnesses the attack occurred in the village of Najmarai in the Makeen district of South Waziristan on Tuesday.
"Three missiles were fired by drones as people were dispersing after offering funeral prayers for Niaz Wali," a Pakistani intelligence official told the Reuters news agency. The funeral was being conducted for six victims of an earlier Tuesday drone attack.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of War claimed, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan." But since the beginning of the year there have been more than a score of these non-existent U.S. drone attacks launched within Pakistan. The drone attacks were begun under the Bush regime and the attacks have been increased by the Obama administration.
While more innocents were being murdered in Pakistan on Tuesday, in Washington President Obama was holding a press conference where he was hypocritically condemning the Iranian regime of using violence against civilians.
According to an Associated Press account of the news conference, Obama said the world was "appalled and outraged" at Tehran's use of violence. Obama stated, “…we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."

Yep, Barry O was lecturing about violence while getting hot and horny over killing innocent Pakistanians. Do you realize how many people in that country whose deaths Barack is now responsible for? He's soaked in the blood of others and people want to act like he's a hero or a saint.

They're a joke and he's a War Criminal.

And if this were 2007, we'd be seeing the administration called out. But it's 2009 and the left is too chicken s**t to call out Barack. There's a small group who will. But the bulk are either chicken s**t or groupies of the Cult of St. Barack.

It's embarrassing and shameful.

And it's past time that Barack was held accountable. This is from the Boston Phoenix's "Benign neglect? It's time Obama moved vigorously to advance gay and lesbian rights:"

As the Phoenix goes to press, more than 155 days have passed since President Barack Obama took office. In that short span, Obama has faced an awesome array of challenges: preparing to exit Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan, contending with North Korea, making sense of the Iranian uprising, appointing a new Supreme Court justice, figuring out health care, reforming Wall Street, and reinventing the economy. There is no doubt that his plate is full.
But if you are gay or lesbian, or if you care about realizing social justice, you must be wondering when Obama is going to turn his attention to the fact that one in 10 of the nation's more than 230 million adults are second-class citizens. These friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members are barred in most states, and totally on the federal level, from enjoying the civil right of marriage, and are prohibited from making a host of personal and financial choices that straight Americans take for granted.

In a narrow sense, Obama's neglect smacks of political ingratitude. Seventy percent of LGBT voters are estimated to have voted for Obama. And while it is difficult to pinpoint the outsized proportion of gay giving to Obama and the Democrats, the cold cash was significant in keeping the Republicans out of power. But this isn't about votes or cash.

All Barack does is betray. And maybe he wouldn't if people would call him out? I don't know. Maybe he would. But we have no self-respect until we start holding him accountable.

Okay, let me note the theme posts from last night:

Cedric's Big Mix
Barack caught in another lie
9 hours ago

The Daily Jot
9 hours ago

Thomas Friedman is a Great Man
DMZ: The Hidden War
9 hours ago

Mikey Likes It!
Warren Ellis' No Hero, ACLU
9 hours ago

Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude
gordon brown, wonder woman
9 hours ago

G.B. Trudeau Talk to the Hand!
9 hours ago

Ruth's Report
Naoki Urasawa's Monster
9 hours ago

Oh Boy It Never Ends
Heroes Volume Two
9 hours ago

Like Maria Said Paz
Mark Evanier's Mad Art
9 hours ago

Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills)
9 hours ago

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Gordon Brown's made another U-turn, Baghdad rocked by violence, at a US Congressional hearing the VA yet again embarrasses itself, and that June 30th 'deadline'? Not so much.

Starting in England with the planned inquiry into the Iraq War. "As the prime minister said last week," Foreign Minister David Miliband declared in the House of the Commons today, tapping the table twelve times for emphasis, "it is not an inquiry that has been set up to establish civil or criminal liability. It is not a judicial inquiry. Everything beyond that is within it's remit. It can uh praise or blame whoever it likes. It is free to write its own report at every stage." [
BBC has a clip here currently.] The House of Commons debated many topics including the Iraq inquiry. BBC News live blogged it here. The Daily Mail dubs it the latest "U-turn" from Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet: "It is the latest climbdown on the inquiry, which was only unveiled by the Prime Minister last week as he attempted to restore his authority." Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) also calls it a U-turn and observes, "After watching David Miliband open today's debate on the subject in the Commons this afternoon, I've counted at least five U-turns." Sparrow then reviews the five U-turns. U-turn was also the phrase shadow foreign secretary William Hague used (BBC has clip here): "A U-Turn executed in stages as painful to watch as a learner driver doing a six-point turn, having started off the wrong way down the motorway. And they have performed this U-turn by getting the chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, to announce changes we have all been demanding but to announce them himself so that no minister has had to come back to the House and admit that the government were in the wrong. Indeed Sir John is now -- I will give way in a moment -- indeed sir John is now busily engaged in the very process of consultation with opposition parties and other -- others -- that a prime minister doing his job properly would have carried out before hand."

In addition to the issue of apportioning blame,
Philippe Naugton (Times of London) highlights another issue about the inquiry that was raised during the debate, "Mr Miliband was also pressed by MPs from all sides on how the inquiry could take evidence on oath -- as Mr Brown had said he hoped it would -- if it was not established on a statutory footings. The Foreign Secretary eventually told them: 'I am reliably informed that you don't need a statutory power to administer an oath'." Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson ( report that the debate followed a motion put forward by the Conservative Party that the inquiry be a public one. BBC reports the vote was 260 for a public inquiry and 299 against. Joe Murphy (Evening Standard) notes that Milband also "confirmed that Tony Blair will be questioned in public about his role" and that Hague promised if his party wins the upcoming elections (his party is the Conservative party) they will "beef up" the inquiry Brown's proposing if it has not finished its work (the report from the commission will not be released until after the election -- whether or not it will be finished with the investigation before the election has not been addressed).

A lengthy exchange can be
found here (YouTube) in an ITN video. Here are two excerpts:

William Hague: We said that the membership of the inquiry, while encompassing people we have no call to criticize seem to us to be too narrow and that in particular some experience of ministerial office was desirable. And the following Monday my right honorable friend, the leader of the opposition, also made the point that military experience was desirable. And we further pointed out that the inquiry as proposed by the government consisted of four nominees -- none of whom was a woman. The government went a small way to meeting a part of these objections by adding Baroness Prasha to the inquiry membership. And I hope the Foreign Secretary will also acknowledge that his statement on the Today program -- that these five people were approached and then the cabinet secretary went to talk to the opposition parties -- was also inaccurate. Because the fifth, Baroness Prasha, was only added when it was pointed out to ministers that they proposed an inquiry to narrow in its membership.

David Miliband: At various points there have been allegations, for example, that the inquiry would not be able to look at the run-up to the war or the decisions in Basra in 2006 to 2008. These concerns, Mr. Speaker, are not well founded. The Chilcot inquiry has the widest possible remit. The committee will be free not just to examine all the evidence as I will document below but also do what it considers to be the most important issues the scope is deliberately not limited. As the prime minister said last week no inquiry has looked at such a long period and no inquiry has the powers to look in so much breadth. Second, Mr. Speaker, independence. The prime minister wrote Sir John Chilcot on the 17th of June assuring him of the government's commitment to a thorough and independent inquiry Sir John confirms in his repo - reply of the 21st of June, "I welcome the fact that I and my colleagues are free to decide independently how to -- how best to fulfill our remit.

Socialist Party issued the following statement by Sean Figg:

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the invasion: the Blair government's rush to war, twisting and turning to justify an attack on Iraq, using the most spurious of arguments to get the invasion they had already decided upon. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed as a result, along with over 4,600 US, British and other coalition soldiers. Massive destruction and devastation has also been wrought on Iraq.
Brown has tried to pose the inquiry as part of a new 'openness' in politics following the MPs' expenses scandal. But given his initial stance that the inquiry should be behind closed doors, clearly Brown is still unsure exactly what 'openness' means!
There has since been an 'establishment rebellion' amongst MPs, civil servants, and top military brass over a secret inquiry. In response, Brown announced a partial retreat last week asking the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, to consider opening a few sessions to the public - far from a complete climbdown.
The truth is that on Iraq, Brown is in up to his neck. He still has everything to lose from an 'open' inquiry. He voted for the invasion, was part of Blair's war cabinet and has been a consistent supporter of the occupation. Brown could point to the reduction of British troops in Iraq since he took over as prime minister to try and improve his image, if he wasn't for escalating the war in Afghanistan instead!
The news that Tony Blair had intervened in an attempt to keep any inquiry secret will anger people further.
But even if there is a fully open inquiry, its chairman Sir John Chilcot - chairman of the Police Federation and a member of the unelected, unaccountable Privy Council - is clearly part of the establishment. And when establishment figures are left to investigate other establishment figures, even if not directly involved in the events they are investigating, there are still many vested interests in ensuring not too much damage is done.
And while an inquiry may bury itself in details of government shenanigans, the real motives for the war - securing oil resources and geopolitical control of the region by western imperialism - will be conveniently ignored.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats leader
Nick Clegg has declared, "We need an independent process to decide exactly what evidence is heard in private. This decision should not be down to the whims of Prime Ministers past and present. The burden of proof must be on the Government to demonstrate a clear impact on national security of specific evidence before any session can be held in private." Anne McElvoy (This is London) observed this morning, "The PM has havered and obscured his own position on Iraq because he did not want to pick a fight with Mr Blair at the time or, more cynically, concluded as the UN resolution unravelled, that the fallout was more likely to precipitate his predecessor's time in office than extend it and so kept shtoom. It is, when you consider the breadth of Mr Brown's other international interests and emphasis on the the 'big picture', an odd thing not to have a position on -- even now. What do you remember the Prime Minister saying at all about Iraq since the war? Nope, me neither." The Stop the War Coalition has issued a call for a full inquiry:

Nothing less than a full public inquiry into Iraq war
Contact your MP: We need a full public inquiry. Write, phone, fax your MP. Download letter . . . The revelation that Tony Blair -- who led Britain into the illegal war in Iraq -- is behind Gordon Brown's decision to hold an inquiry in secret won't surprise the anti-war movement and will further fuel the anger of MPs, peers, military leaders, former civil servants and bereaved families appallbed by the plan to hear evidence in private. Read more. . . . No surprise either that a leaked memo proves that Tony Blair met with George Bush in January 2003 to hatch a plot to go to war, whatever the United Nations decided. Read more . . . . A full public inquiry would reveal the secrets and lies in Blair's rush to war. What chance of that with Brown's inquiry panel of four knights and a baroness, some of whom were pro war?

ITN News reports that a Baghdad bombing in Sadr City has claimed at least 52 lives and left one-hundred-and-four more people injured. The Telegraph of London adds, "The blast shook the predominantly Shia district of Sadr City, a slum that is home to supporters of the firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr." They also state that the bomb was on "a motorcyle rickshaw which had been loaded with explosives hidden underneath its load of vegetables." BBC quotes their correspondent Jim Muir stating the neighborhood "has been struck often and provocatively in the past." CNN updates the death toll to 55 and the number injured to one-hundred-and-sixteen. Al Jazeera cites an unnamed official with the Interior Ministry stating the bomber fled his motorcycle before the bomb went off. When the death toll rose to 56, AP was calling it the third worst bombing of the year in Iraq (based on the death toll). AP counts the dead in Saturday's Kirkuk bombing at 72 (the highest of the year) and then falls back to April 24th's suicide bombings in Baghdad with 71 dead. Sattar Rahim (Reuters) is reporting the death toll has reached 72 which would put it at the second deadliest. The death toll may continue to rise. Alice Fordham (Times of London) reports, "Today's blast came after a spokesman for the US military in Iraq told reporters that after June 30, some US soldiers will remain at posts called Joint Security Stations to train and advise local security forces." The military spokesperson making that declaration was Brig Gen Steve Lanza.

The June 30th 'deadline' calls for US troops to be out of all Iraqi cities. And that's not happening. Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported that months ago -- explaining how, in Baghdad, the sprawling military bases would be overlooked and the 'deadline' fudged.
Nordland reports this morning on attempts to explore Anbar Province, supposedly newly safe, and notes that before the police commander Tarqi al-Youssef would allow a reporter to visit "only after the general ordered dozens of Provincial Security Force troops to clear the streets and rooftops first." That's Falluja. Mike Tharp (McClatchy Newspapers) reports on Kirkuk:

The Iraqi army major, a Kurd, didn't know what hit him. Col. David Paschal, the 6'6" commander of the 10th Mountain Division based in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk last year, had taken off the diplomatic gloves. As tea and soft drinks were served by fawning subordinates, the major almost preened in his easy chair. The top-ranked American soldier in the area had come to visit HIM. After a few minutes of pleasantries--the Arabic translated by Paschal's female Lebanese interpreter--the officer from Chicago leaned forward in his seat. Rawboned hands as big as those of former Bulls defensive ace Jerry Sloan clasped themselves together, as if trying to avoid making fists. His usual command voice grew even louder. He demanded to know why 200 Sunni Arab inductees had been turned away the previous week by the major. The major started to explain about not enough trucks and lack of bunks and..."Bull! I know why," the colonel thundered. "Because they were Sunni! We can't have that here. We need every soldier we can get."

Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports on the problems in Mosul where the US military insists that attacks "have been cut by more than half with far fewer of the devastating suicide bombs and car bombs that hav been the hallmark of Sunni insurgents. But smaller attacks -- three to four a day -- have become the backdrop of daily life here." And to bring that back to today's news from Brig Gen Steve Lanza that US forces will not all be leaving Mosul, Sunday Jane Arraf reported US forces might not leave Mosul and quoted Col Gary Volesky stating, "We're waiting for a final decision, and we're prepared to execute whater they tell us to execute."

In some of today's other reported violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left two people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left ten people injured, a Mosul bombing which wounded eight people, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left five people injured, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left four people wounded and "Insurgent Yaseen Salam died Wednesday when an IED he was planting in Rashad neighborhood exploded while he was handling it."


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 guard for the ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was injured by sniper fire. Reuters notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse (female, shot in "the head and chest) was discovered in Mosul.

This afternoon in DC, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's DAMA Subcommittee held a hearing. Subcommittee Chair John Hall opened the hearing by allowing US House Rep Joe Donnelly to offer his statements -- as part of the first panel -- because he had another commitment.

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson spoke, as part of the first panel, on behalf of the legislation she is sponsoring (HR 2774, the Families of Veterans Financial Security Act" whic would allow veterans to receive Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) for two years. This takes place at present; however, it is set to expire shortly. Halvorson's legislation makes the two years permanent and in need of no additional legislation to renew it.

Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I would like to ask -- well it seems to make a lot of sense of course to permanently extend the coverage for SGLI for two years since service members who are disabled are going through a very difficult and trying time. Have you had any feedback from service members or their families who have benefitted from this coverage and what did they think?

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Well what I've heard -- and we're talking here about service related, totally disabled veterans and these are the veterans that often can't find any other commercially offered insurance -- and I have a veterans' advisory committee and this is one of the things that came to my attention as something that they find very, very important as they're making these informed decisions with their family.

The second panel was composed of
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Bonnie Carroll and Disabled American Veteran's Joe Wilson. Wilson noted DAV supported Donnley's bill and had no objections to Halvorson. Joe Donnelly's proposed legislation addresses out of date tables being used today, specifically a 1941 mortality chart used to set premiums -- a table that has continued to be used despite being out of date.

US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrik arrived as Wilson and Carroll were breifly speaking and, following the second panel being dismissed, Kirkpatrik proposed legislation is HR 20968 and she explained:

I introduced this bill with Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina to do just one thing: To make the group life insurance offered to veterans and service members both fairer and more consistent with commercial life insurance Under both veterans groups' life insurance and service members' group life insurance, when a veteran or a service member is terminally ill, they can elect to receive up to half of their coverage while they are still alive. They can use this accelerated benefits option to pay medical bills, improve their quality of life or in any way they see it. However, current regulations require VGLI and SGLI to decrease the pay-out these veterans and service members collect by a percentage based on the prevailing interest rates. In recent years, this has amounted to a decrease in as much as $6,000. By contrast, most commercial life insurance policies that allow ABO withdrawals do not decrease this pay-out to claimants. We can and must do better for our veterans. This simple, common sense, bipartisan bill removes this deduction so that we might better serve terminally ill veterans and service members at the most financially vulnerable time for them and their families. Removing this deduction can be accomplished using the life insurance premium veterans and service members currently pay. This means that we can accomplish this important change without any additional cost to veterans service members or tax payers and without pay-go implications.

The third panel's only witness was the VA's Thomas Lostowka. He insisted that VGLI is competative with private practice and that everyone raises their premiums every five years -- every one. VA's raising has to do with the mortality table, remember that? Subcommittee Chair Hall wanted to know why a 1941 mortality table was being used and Lostowka agreed that it was out of date but insisted there would be a "higher cost to government if you were to change the table at this time." So when could the table be changed? According to Lostowka, never.

The father of a veteran who had traveled to DC for the hearing stopped us (
Wally, Ava, Kat and myself) to ask why Lostowka knew so little? He shared that if someone was coming to offer opinions on proposed legislation -- as Lostowka was -- it seemed to him they should be able to answer basic questions. That is not a minor point and it's one that can be made whenever VA sends witnesses (I think we've made it here). His House Rep sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee but not the Subcommittee and he intended to raise that issue with his rep's staff. It's a question the White House and Congress should be raising with the VA. The embarrassingly poor performance of Lostowka's was all the worse when you grasp that he felt the need to "brag" (his word) on the VA and to pat himself on the back stating "so we're doing quite a good job." No, Lostowka, you're not and you might need to meet with the families of veterans if you don't grasp that.

In the US yesterday, Barry O gave another press conference. One that avoided covering the Iraq War or even mentioning it.
Helene Cooper and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times) live blogged it. We'll note this:
A Brief Wrap 1:33 p.m. Helene Cooper: Well, Sheryl, he really ramped it up on Iran. We heard the president use the word "condemn" for the first time since the Iranian elections to describe the government's actions. It will be interesting to see what comes next from Tehran in response.Sheryl Stolberg: Yes, I was struck especially by his last answer to Suzanne Malveaux about the "heartbreaking" video. He showed more passion than earlier in the press conference. And speaking of passion, I was also struck by the way Mr. Obama seemed irritated with reporters at various times during this news conference. The cigarette question seemed to really get under his skin. He rarely loses his cool, but there were more flashes of anger here than in the past."Heartbreaking." Some in the US might think the people dying in Iraq are "heartbreaking" but apparently, without video, it's no big deal to Barack. While Barry O had time to market the next war, he had no time for Iraq:It's Over 1:31 p.m. Sheryl Stolberg: Mr. Obama leaves the room. "No questions about Iraq or Afghanistan?" a reporter cries out. The question hangs in the air. It does seem amazing, not a single question for the American president about the nation's two wars.He didn't have time for Iraq. But he had time for a planted question as
Dana Milbank (Washington Post) explains. Aging Socialite's Cat Litter Box (Huff & Puff) was contacted by the White House. They invited Nico Pitney to the show:They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet," Obama went on. "Do you have a question?"Pitney recognized his prompt. "That's right," he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian." Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world -- Iran included -- that the American press isn't as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn't so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, "The Obama Show." Missed yesterday's show? Don't worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting "Good Morning America" from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), "World News Tonight" from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room. Barry O wants to decry Iran . . . from his staged press conference?A sign of how pathetic Panhandle Media is, you won't find that as the lead item on any Pacifica programming, you won't find it decried at The Nation, et al this morning. Bill Clinton, whom Panhandle Media chose to demonize, got a similar approach during the 90s. He could have handled a push back and probably would have had stronger terms in office if there had been one. Instead it was kid's gloves. So realize, kiddies, this story you're being read aloud? It has the same ending. Eight years from now the same people who've been silent will be screaming their heads off about how Barack did this or did that but, in real time, when it mattered, they didn't say or do a damn thing. Excuse me. That's not true. They begged for money. Endlessly, they begged for money. Always they begged for you to send money. Anything to stop from having to work a real job. The same programs and magazines and websites that rightly called out staged events by Bully Boy Bush now fall strangely silent providing a text book example of "situational ethics."

Many of those same outlets have wasted our time with the nonsense from the PR group "Save Darfur" -- Amy Goodman would be the prime example there and she's refused to book
Keith Harmon Snow for over three years now but she's not interested in guests who call out the nonsense but she has repeatedly booked propagandists for the advertising 'activists'. Bruce Dixon (Black Agenda Report) continues the strong work he's done on his own (and with Glen Ford and Ford's done some on his own as well) exposing Save Darfur:

A hundred years ago, in the Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois observed that "...the country's appetite for facts on the Negro question has been spoiled by sweets." If he was around today, DuBois could say the same for America's appetite for facts on Darfur, Sudan, the rest of Africa, Iraq, and most of the world. Facts are messy things. Facts come with historical contexts and uncertain consequences. Eternal truths, like good vs. evil are sweet like candy, simple and comforting.
Since its founding in 2004, the Save Darfur Coalition has spent tens of millions on a state of the art advertising campaign to paint us a picture that is exactly that. Sweet and simple, easy to understand, and most of all, we get to be the good guys. Darfur is, to use Samantha Power's phrase, "a problem from hell," a piece of pure, unambiguous evil in which the global power of the US can be put to use constructively, because stopping a genocide calls for action, not for politics. Stopping genocide, we are told, is above politics. The lesson of genocide is that great powers must act, people of conscience and good will must intervene.
There are several problems with this, both as a general proposition, and specifically as it applies to Darfur. In the first place genocide is defined as the attempt to wipe out a nation or a people. There is so little evidence that mass killings on the scale necessary to be called genocide have occurred in Darfur that back in 2007, Save Darfur's UK operation was prohibited from using the figure of 400,000 dead that routinely appears in its advertisements in the US. Britain has a government truth-in-advertising agency called the Advertisement Standards Authority. They looked at Save Darfur's massive death toll. They took into account a 2006 US General Accounting Office report in which GAO assembled a number of death and casualty estimates, high and low for Darfur, and summoned a panel of experts to determine which were accurate.
GAO study [1] found the low estimates of 50 to 70 thousand dead from a variety of causes including disease and starvation due to desertification on all sides of the conflict to be more accurate than the high estimates of 200 to 400 thousand by direct armed violence on one side alone claimed by Save Darfur. The GAO report maintained that the peak death toll occurred in 2004 and early 2005 and had been trending downward since. This was compelling enough evidence for Britain to ban the inflammatory claims that Save Darfur still makes with impunity in the US, which has no truth in advertising laws.
African scholar
Mahmood Mamdani [2] has traveled extensively for many weeks in Sudan and Darfur as part of the African Union's Dialog for Darfur project, interviewing officials, activists and ordinary people on all sides of the conflict. In a talk at Howard University on March 20, 2009 [3] he reported that only days before, the general in charge of the African Union's peacekeeping forces in Darfur pegged the death toll for the entire year in and around the refugee camps at a mere 1,500. While the deaths of 50 to 70 thousand people several years ago on multiple sides of an armed conflict are a grievous matter, not to be minimized or brushed aside, they don't count as the ongoing genocide of helpless civilians.

iraqbbc newsanne mcelvoythe new york timeshelene coopersheryl gay stolbergthe washington postdana milbank
the times of londonalice fordham
rod nordlandmcclatchy newspapersmike tharpjane arraf
bruce dixon