Friday, September 23, 2011

Idiot of the Week

Weekend at last. I really wish we could all win the lottery this weekend and never have to worry about money again. Don't you?

But that won't happen so let's focus on idiot of the week.

The winner this week is America's Princess Barack Obama. How come? Let's let Robert Fisk tell it:

Today should be Mahmoud Abbas's finest hour. Even The New York Times has discovered that "a grey man of grey suits and sensible shoes, may be slowly emerging from his shadow".

But this is nonsense. The colourless leader of the Palestinian Authority, who wrote a 600-page book on his people's conflict with Israel without once mentioning the word "occupation", should have no trouble this evening in besting Barack Hussein Obama's pathetic, humiliating UN speech on Wednesday in which he handed US policy in the Middle East over to Israel's gimmick government.

For the American President who called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, an end to the theft of Arab land in the West Bank – Israeli "settlements" is what he used to call it – and a Palestinian state by 2011, Obama's performance was pathetic.

As usual, Hanan Ashrawi, the only eloquent Palestinian voice in New York this week, got it right. "I couldn't believe what I heard," she told Haaretz, that finest of Israeli newspapers. "It sounded as though the Palestinians were the ones occupying Israel. There wasn't one word of empathy for the Palestinians. He spoke only of the Israelis' troubles..." Too true. And as usual, the sanest Israeli journalists, in their outspoken condemnation of Obama, proved that the princes of American journalists were cowards. "The limp, unimaginative speech that US President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations... reflects how helpless the American President is in the face of Middle East realities," Yael Sternhell wrote.

Once upon a time Barack's bad speeches won praise. Thankfully, that nonsense has ended.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's on another power-grab, Jalal Talabani is in the US and making curious statements, a Republican debate demonstrates how DADT may not be over, and more.
We're going to start in the US because something big happened last night and you might think that with so many people writing online and unable to do any real work of any kind, you just might think they could get the point. But, yet again, they miss it completely. It's hard to believe how collectively stupid The New Yorker and all the rest can be. Last night was a GOP debate. The Republican Party is currently watching to see who they want to support for their party's presidential candidate. This is of grave interest to the stutned left as opposed to the real left. The stunted left can't find a real issue even if you taped it to their ass and let them use both hands.
One of the questions submitted via Google was from Stephen Hill, an Iraq War veteran. He was booed. And for homophobes like Amy Davidson, that's the story. And it's shocking and it's appalling and please vote Democrat!!!!!
Amy Davidson is nothing but a homophobe. If you doubt there are homophobes at The New Yorker, you haven't read very closely. A homophobe looks at a very complex threat to the gays and lesbians and instead reduces it to "mean Republicans booed! Vote Democrat!"
Amy has nothing to offer except, "Teacher! Teacher! They booed! They booed!" As a second grade tattle tale, she's almost gifted but as a grown woman she's an embarrassment. For starters, her little tattles were done yesterday and this morning by others. And I could have called them out then but I didn't take it as seriously until this afternoon when Amy Davidson suddenly 'discovered' the topic and aped everyone else already writing about it.
For those who tremble and sob right now, I suggest you grow the hell up. Anthony Mahchek is an Iraq War veteran, a wounded one. And he spoke at Columbia this year. And he was booed and heckled. It was not the end of the world or even of the end of society. We covered this in "On speaking and being booed in a democracy."
The United States is a democracy. I speak all the time, right after the election (2008) to antiwar audiences, I was booed for refusing to lie that the SOFA meant the war ended in 2011. I was booed, I was cursed. It wasn't the first time in my life and surely won't be the last time. Anyone who gets up to speak better be prepared for that. I have a right to speak, you have a right to boo me. You have a right to speak, I have a right to boo you. If the boos become a problem then something may be done. In most settings, including Columbia, booing after comments is not going to get the booer in trouble. An organized boo, a boo-in, if you will, might result in security doing something because a boo-in would prevent anyone from speaking.
But if you get before an audience -- and I have many, many times -- there's a chance you're going to get booed. If you don't want to be booed, don't put yourself out there.
The veteran took a highly unpopular stand. He was allowed to speak, people were allowed to register their objection.
[. . .]
The outrage, I do want to note, that is being churned is being churned by the Daily Mail and the New York Post. The veteran is not quoted boo-hooing that he got booed. He's been in combat, I don't think he's a cry baby. He's seen a lot worse than a negative reaction to his taking what (he must have known) was an unpopular position.
He obviously believes in his position or he wouldn't have taken it. Why did he face an angry crowd? Because he probably hopes that his remarks would lay the groundwork for them to reconsider. And it might. Or it might make it easier for the next person who speaks out in the same manner. The veteran doesn't seem stupid -- the press does -- I doubt he expected a standing ovation. I would guess his hopes were more along the lines of "I'll plant some seeds and maybe they'll sprout in a few weeks or months."
That's what we all do, regardless of the issue and our position, when we speak out on something that's unpopular. He had every right to speak and those that booed had every right to boo. That's what life is in America. Again, he doesn't seem scarred by it (he may be laughing about the whole thing) or surprised by it. There is no caste system in America. We are all equal. Your opinion is something you can share, but you're not able to pull rank on me and silence my dissent because you did this or that or whatever. That's not how free speech works.

That's fairly straightforward. I would assume most adults and teenagers could follow it. If someone disagrees with you, there's a chance that you will be booed if you speak in public. And someone almost always disagrees with you on something. No one is protectedfrom booing, not a president, not a nun, not a soldier, no one. It's part of the social contract.
Is it good that they booed Anthony Mahchek? Yeah, it is. It shows that they have the strength to disagree if nothing else. And maybe that's true of those who booed Stephen Hill as well? And like Mahcehck, I doubt Stephen Hill shed any tears over it or was surprised that some members of the audience wished he'd hide in a closet for all time. Good for him for getting his question out there.
But Amy Davidson doesn't want to tell you about that.
That seems to be a common element among the press since the 2008 election. Remember how the gas bags just couldn't understand the SOFA? Remember how confusing tht was for them? In November 2008, on Thanksgiving Day, when the White House finally released the SOFA, we were able to figure it out. But then our main concern was the Iraq War not how to spin things for partisan politics. Anyone with even a basic understanding of contract law who took the time to readover the SOFA would have quickly realized it was a three year contract replacing the one year one (the UN mandate). Yes, the SOFA said that all US troops would leave Iraq at the end of 2011. And for those completely stupid, that was the end of it. But there were kill clauses that would allow the SOFA to be killed and that provision about 2011? That was only if nothing replaced the SOFA and the SOFA wasn't extended.
The gas bags misled America on the SOFA. Now they're doing the same on LGBT rights. I'm not in the mood to play.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell wasn't repealed, it was vanished. An important decision on Don't Ask, Don't Tell came from Judge Virginia Phillips of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. She found it unconstitutional. That was her ruling. That ruling needs to stand. As Marcia noted earlier this week, the Justice Department is attempting to get the decision tossed. If the decision is vacated, Stephen Hill's question becomes even more important.
Here's what Stephen Hill asked:
In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I'm a gay soldier and I didn't want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your Presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?
There was booing. And that's all the Amy Davidson's care about. I believe Stephen Hill's concern, however, was about equality in the US military. I don't think his concern was hurt feelings over what Republicans might do. Had that been his concern, he probably wouldn't have asked his question.
Why did complain about the way Don't Ask, Don't Tell was handled? Because there's nothing on the books in terms of a law. As pointed out here repeatedly, Barack didn't sign a law guaranteeing equality. No law was passed on that. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was simply removed from the books. Therefore it could come back under a different president. If it does come back, one thing that would help gay soldiers would be Judge Phillips' ruling which is why the Justice Dept needs to stop trying to overturn the judge's decision. It hurts the Justice Dept not one bit for that decision to stand. It's a historic decision and one that needs to be cited in other cases. If the decision is vacated, stare decis doesn't apply, no precedent was set via the decision. That matters tremendously and for those who never got why, last night's debate pointed it out. From the official Fox News transcript, this is the response from Rick Santorum to Stephen Hill's question.

SANTORUM: Yeah, I -- I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. And the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to -- to -- and removing "don't ask/don't tell" I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country.

We need to give the military, which is all-volunteer, the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient at protecting our men and women in uniform.


And I believe this undermines that ability.


KELLY: So what -- what -- what would you do with soldiers like Stephen Hill? I mean, he's -- now he's out. He's -- you know, you saw his face on camera. When he first submitted this video to us, it was without his face on camera. Now he's out. So what would you do as president?

SANTORUM: I think it's -- it's -- it's -- look, what we're doing is playing social experimentation with -- with our military right now. And that's tragic.

I would -- I would just say that, going forward, we would -- we would reinstitute that policy, if Rick Santorum was president, period.

That policy would be reinstituted. And as far as people who are in -- in -- I would not throw them out, because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration, but we would move forward in -- in conformity with what was happening in the past, which was, sex is not an issue. It is -- it should not be an issue. Leave it alone, keep it -- keep it to yourself, whether you're a heterosexual or a homosexual.

I don't want to debate Santorum on this issue. I cleary believe he's wrong and we could play Dumb Ass one step above Amy Davidson and go into all the ways in which Santorum's wrong. But if we're going to be adults and not homophobes, because we're going to pay attention to what he said in relation to what Stephen Hill asked.
Would President Rick Santorum "circumvent the progress that's been made for gays and lesbian soldiers in the military?" And Santorum's answer is: Yes, he would reinstate Don't Ask, Don't Tell. By his own words. (I actually would guess he'd do far worse. Were he president, I think he would go back to the 1982 directive from Reagan which barred gays from serving.)
How is that possible?
No, the answer isn't, "Because Rick Santorum's an idiot." Whether he's smart or not, he's intelligent enough to grasp what the next president can do: Refuse to allow gays and lesbians in the military.
That might make Rick Santorum a mad genius, that he sees what so many refuse to. This is exactly what we pointed out repeatedly on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. You don't vanish it, you overturn it. If you vanish it, if you just wipe it away, there's nothing to prevent it from coming back.
Congress should have gone with an equality law. The White House didn't want that. And currently the White House wants to destroy Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling -- even as we now know that at least one Republican wanting to get into the White House plans to ban gays and lesbians from serving if he becomes president.
Judge Phillips' ruling needs to stand. And it was a huge, huge mistake on the part of the Congress and the White House to act as if they did something amazing. They didn't. And if you're concern is equality and not scoring partisan points for one side or the other, that's what you address. You address the realities that Stephen Hill and so many others could be facing. But The New Yorker and Amy Davidson want to play you and waste your time. I'm sorry, I don't tolerate or embrace homophobia. I call it out. I did so when Barack Obama put homophobes on stage at campaign events. When an 'ex-gay' preached hate at an official campaign event, I didn't play dumb and stupid. Amy Davidson is a homophobe because she only cares about homophobia when she score points against a Republican. Furthermore, she'll deliberately confuse the issue and waste everyone's time while risking the hard earned rights of the LBGT community in order to avoid addressing the real issue, the real question Stephen Hill was asking which is that Don't Ask, Don't Tell got erased but nothing was put in to protect gays and lesbians in the military from future discrimination.

Until you'r ready to deal with that, you don't need to weigh in on the issue. You're just causing problems. The same way those who insisted the SOFA meant US forces all leave Iraq at the end of 2011. That end is approaching but the US is engaged in engaged in negotitations to extend the US military presence. Maybe had a lot of uninformed idiots not lied and whored, those of us who believed in "OUT OF IRAQ NOW!" would have stayed focused on the issue and troops would already be out of Iraq.
December 21, 2010 was an important day. Iraq is currently in Political Stalemate II which began December 21st when Nouri al-Maliki's inability to follow the Constitution and nominate a Cabinet which Parliament signed off on was overlooked and he was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister. In the nine months, two days and counting since, Nouri's been unable or unwilling to fill the security ministries. Acting ministers are not real ministers. They've never been voted on by Parliament so they have no real powers and can be dismissed by Nouri at any time without any oversight from Parliament. The puppet has puppets.

The Political Stalemate largely results from the failure of Nouri to abide by the Erbil Agreement -- the understanding which ended Political Stalemate I. Nouri got what he wanted out of the agreement (to remain prime minister) and then trashed the agreement. Ayad Allawi and his Iraqiya political slate have been highly critical of Nouri over this. More recently, the Kurdish voice calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement has grown stronger. Currently, Nouri and the Kurds are at logger heads. Earlier this week, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi traveled to the Kurdistan Regional Government to meet with Kurdish officials.

Al Sabaah reports that while al-Nujaifi did carry a few ideas or proposals with him, they were verbal and nothing in writing. Both sides were in agreement that the Constitution needed to be followed and, the paper reports, there are plans for a meet-up between the Kurds, Iraqiya and the National Alliance. New Sabah spoke with the National Alliance's Hassan al-Jubouri earlier this week and he stressed the need for a consensus to be reached.

Al Mada reports that al-Nujaifi will visit Iran and Turkey to raise the issues of their bombing northern Iraq. In addition, al-Nujaifi told the press that the Constitution must be followed and any oil and gas law must result from dialogue and discussions. One of the Kurds chief complaints is Nouri's proposed oil & gas bill. Kurds have strong reasons to complain, Nouri's staged yet another power grab and gone back on an agreement. Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) reports that the 2007 agreement has been pushed aside, "The amended law would give the oil ministry authority to hold bidding rounds for most oil and gas fields, leaving currently producing fields and discovered but undeveloped fields close to them in the hands of a newly created Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC). The 2007 draft version restricted the ministry to auctions for discovered, undeveloped fields. The changes could result in the inclusion of Kurdish fields in future auctions, which the Kurds say they will not accept." Reuters also provides an overview of past oil laws and bills. As Nouri attempts this power grab, maybe it's worth noting how Shell Oil got a pending deal under his 'leadership'? Ben Lando and Ben Van Heuvelen (Iraq Oil Report) utilize WikiLeaks cables to demonstrate that Shell was laughing and mocking Iraqi officials, bragging about how they were so stupid Shell had to teach them basic economics. The reporters notes that "in contrast to the transparent and competitive bidding rounds that the Iraqi Oil Ministry held in 2009 and 2010 for oil and gas contracts, the Shell deal has been brokered behind closed doors. Critics have charged that the noncompetitive and secret process has put Shell's prerogatives -- particularly its desire to export gas -- ahead of Iraq's interests. And although the draft contract that now stands before the Cabinet is substantially different than the agreement that first drew widespread opposition, the deal remains haunted by its shadowy history."
So Nouri's hand-picked team was a laughing stock to Shell? At what point does this start to reflect on Nouri? He's not a newbie. He's been prime minister since 2006. That's five years. In that time he has repeatedly demonstrated little concern for the needs of the Iraqi people and he has refused to listen to other politicians.
Al Mada quotes Ayad Allawi stating that he urges dialogue and that Iraq has entered into a "crisis" period which must be resolved. But it's another Al Mada article today in which Allawi voices his thoughts at length including that the only thing the Erbil Agreement achieved was to inaugurate Nouri as prime minister. The article notes that Iraqiya met yesterday and quotes their spokesperson as she states that Iraqiya has repeatedly provided Nouri an opportunity to return to the Erbil Agreement and that this is the last time they will urge him to do so. Whether or not this means Iraqiya will move for a no-confidence vote is not addressed in the article. Since it's not addressed in the article, either it's not being planned or it's being kept a secret plan. And Al Mada notes the Kurdish bloc is denying that any secret deal has been made between political blocs, that the only deal is the Erbil Agreement.
Meanwhile Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is out of the country. He's in the US and today he spoke to the United Nations. Many things about his visit trouble some observers but maybe what should be most eye brow raising is this series of remarks from his speech to the UN:
Iraq is concerned about the tragic situation of the Palestinian People which is the result of Israeli Practicis which are incompatible with international laws and customs and international humanitarian law. Iraq is doing everything in its capacity to support the struggle of Palestinian People in getting all its inalienable rights, in particular establish its independent state on their homeland, with its capital Jerusalem, and inthis regard, Iraq endorses and supports the direction of the Palestinian Authority to go to to the United Nations to achieve full international recognition of a Palestinian state during the meeting of the current session of the General Assembly, and calls on the international community and all peace-loving forces to stand by the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle to achieve its goals, and demanding the Israeli government to fully withdraw from all Arab territories occupied in 1967. This would contribute to the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to bring comprehensive fair peace in this vital region of the world.
Those are laughable statements coming from Talabani. Not only because of Iraq's own problems with human rights, but also because, golly molly jolly gee who could it have been that had Palestinian refugees trapped on the border for almost seven years? Oh, that's right. Iraq. Yeah. It wasn't until February 2010, when Syria agreed to take them in, that these stranded persons were finally given something other than a desert prison posing as a 'refugee camp.' And, stay with me, it gets worse, which country was it that saw the Palestinian Human Rights worker kidnapped? Oh, right again, Iraq. Wednesday it was reported that "gunmen wearing the attire of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior" kidnapped Qusaia Abdul-Raouf. International Middle East Media Center reports:
The foundation said that, on Wednesday evening, Qusai Abdul-Raouf was on tour documenting the increasing attacks carried out by the Iraqi Forces against the Palestinian refugees in Al Baladiyyat neighborhood in Baghdad.
During his documentation tour, a black tented shevorleh parked near him, and three gunmen wearing the attire of the Iraqi Forces, operating under the Ministry of Interior, violently placed him in their vehicle and drove away. His whereabouts remain unknown until the time of this report.
Palestinian refugees are subject to kidnap and murder in Iraq as some groups accuse them of being supporters of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.
Dozens of attacks were carried out against the Palestinian refugees since the war on Iraq in 2003 leading to the death, injury, and abduction of hundreds of refugees.

And the president of Iraq wanted to get up before the UN today and claim concern about the plight of Palestinians?
Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq reports that protesters gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square today to protest over the large amount of money being spent so Jalal Talabani can be in the US. Of the protest, the Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Our correspondent in Tahrir Square:: A number of ambulances are seen near the Square. By every one of these ambulances stood four intelligence officers, curiously enough, the ambulances' engines were running and later it became apparent that they intended to abduct some of the activists and protestors." And ambulance 1038 was used in the abduction of Sanaa Aldulaimi overseen "by an intelligence officer called Abdullah Al Rikabi" -- Sanaa Aldulaimi was later released.
Turning to other reported violence, Reuters notes multiple bombs went off in a single Baghdad leaving 4 injured and nine wounded. Aswat al-Iraq notes a Baquba attack left 1 police officer dead and three more injured, and an armed attack in Mosul left 1 Iraqi soldier dead, a second armed assault left 1 woman dead. Alsumaria News notes 1 female corpse was discovered outside of Kut. Three Chrisians were kidnapped on a Kirkuk hunting trip (see yesterday's snapshot). Alusmaira News reports that the ransom for the three is set at 600,000 dollars. Aswat al-Iraq reports Ary Mohammed Ali was kidnapped in Kirkuk yesterday and the kidnappers have stated their ransom is $50,000.
Back to the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray applauded the passage of H.R. 2646, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011. This bipartisan legislation will allow for new construction projects in five states and Puerto Rico and will allow VA programs to operate uninterrupted, including vital assistance to homeless veterans. The bill also includes approval for upgrades at the VA Medical Center in Seattle.

"VA has worked tirelessly to get veterans off the streets and into housing. Their efforts are commendable, but there is still work to be done," said Senator Murray. "H.R. 2646, as amended, contains critical extensions to many of VA's programs to end homelessness among veterans. Our nation's veterans have sacrificed much in their service to this country, we must make sure they receive the care and benefits they earned."

"I'm also delighted that this bill would allow VA to begin a $51.8 million project to seismically strengthen the nursing tower and community living center at the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System in Seattle, Washington. It is vital that this building be upgraded so that the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System can continue to deliver world-class healthcare to veterans in a safe environment."

Specifically, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011 will:

· Allow for seismic corrections for Building 100 at the VA Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, in an amount not to exceed $51.8 million;

· Authorize job-creating infrastructure improvements to VA's facilities;

· Authorize increased funding for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which provides prevention and rapid rehousing assistance for homeless veterans;

· Authorize increased funding for the Grant and Per Diem program, which provides transitional housing assistance for homeless veterans;

· Reauthorize the special needs set aside in the Grant and Per Diem program which provides transitional housing for the frail, elderly, terminally ill, women, and those with children; and

· Reauthorize the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, which provides employment assistance for homeless veterans.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The hype

Thursday! One day, just one, until the weekend. I'm so tired I can't stop falling asleep as I type. Anyway.

Two main things for tonight.

First, I told you not to buy the hype on Elizabeth Warren. POLITICO pulls back the hype just a little bit, just one tiny corner, to show you that she's not the great left hope some would have you believe.

And the same hype machine once created Barack.

And remember how that worked out?

The hype machine today tries to tell you that Warren would fight Barack. Did they not read her meek resignation letter?

This is from Bill Van Auken's WSWS article on Barack:

President Obama delivered an empty and arrogant sermon to the United Nations Wednesday, laced with platitudes about “peace” that were designed to mask Washington’s predatory policies.

The American president received a tepid response from the assembled heads of state, foreign ministers and UN delegates. Not a single line in his speech evoked applause. The novelty of two years ago, when Obama made his first appearance before the body posing as the champion of multilateral-ism in contrast to Bush, has long since worn off. As the world quickly learned, changing the occupant of the White House did little to shift the direction of American foreign policy or curb the spread of American militarism.

The immediate purpose of Obama’s 47-minute address was to supplement a behind-the-scenes campaign of bullying and intimidation aimed at forcing the Palestinian Authority to drop its plan to seek a UN Security Council vote on recognition of Palestine as a sovereign member state.

Washington has vowed to veto any bid for Palestinian statehood if it comes to the Security Council, a move that would only underscore the real character of US imperialist policy in the Middle East and the hypocrisy of its claims to identify with the revolutionary upheavals of the Arab masses.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, Nouri continues to look unhinged, a US Senate committee digs for answers but few are provided, Senator David Vitter has to remind Adm Mike Mullen that Congress is part of the political leadership, Senator Patty Murray asks the Labor Dept to help connect veterans and employers, and much more.
"We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad," declared the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, today.
He and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were appearing in DC this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mullen's comment was disturbing and if you're not getting how that is so, let's note what came immediately before it.
Senator David Vitter: What's the minimum number in your opinion would be required for them to protect themselves? I mean, that's where you start.
Adm Mike Mullen: But inside how much training am I going to do, who's going to do it -- again -- assuming we're going to do this -- where's it going to exist? It depends on where it is in the country. It's different west than it is north than it is south or in Baghdad. It's just not -- it's just not -- I know people -- others, you -- would love to have me get a number out there -- I --- Honestly, it's just -- It's not determined yet. It really does depend on what we're going to do. And where we're going to do it. And how often we're going to do it.
Senator David Vitter: Okay. Well I guess I'm just a little frustrated, Adm, because on our side, on the US government side, we're part of the political leadership so I'm asking for that advice as we have that -- as we have that discussion.
And that's when Mullen declared, of that discussion, "We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad." As Vitter noted, Congress is part of the government, Congress should be involved in these discussions. But they're shut out of the loop.
The Bush administration did that with the Status Of Forces Agreement. They not only refused to follow the Constitution's mandate on advise and consent on treaties, they refused to provide the Congress with a copy of the SOFA. When Congress finally began addressing elements of the SOFA, they were doing so via a translated copy from the Iraqi side of the negotiations. The White House kept the US Congress in the dark until after the Iraq Parliament passed it, at which point the White House released the SOFA publicly on their website (Thanksgiving Day, 2008).
For those who have forgotten, this refusal was called out by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Among the more prominent names calling it out were Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
And yet now, as the US government and the Iraqi government are in negotations about extending the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, the two senators who once objected to keeping Congress out of the loop on Iraq have decided that, as President and Vice President, they don't want the US Congress having any input or even knowledge of the negotiations.
It is almost October. December 31st all US troops (not including those shoved under the umbrella of the US Embassy in Iraq) might be out. That's certainly what Americans expect to happen because they've been told that's what would happen. Maybe they won't care about a broken promise?
Today the Los Angeles Times editorial board argued that withdrawal is more a state of mind than an actual action so 5,000 or less US troops remaining in Iraq is a-okay with them. And one minute they're decrying the deaths of nearly 5,000 US troops in the Iraq War in one sentence but in the very next sentence they declare that continued war is a-okay provided "the force were kept small -- 5,000 or so". So 5,000 is a big number except . . . when it's not? Clearly logic is not a prerequisite for serving on the paper's editorial board. And the editorial is saying that a pledge during a campaign, a promise to the public and even bad reporting from almost every outlet (and that includes the Los Angeles Times) telling Americans since the end of November 2008 that the SOFA meant US troops had to leave by the end of 2011 doesn't matter. Accountability apparently is no longer a concern of the press.
As noted, Committee Chair is Carl Levin. Senator John McCain is Ranking Member. Both attempted to garner answers and specifics were never forthcoming.
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Arms Committee. He attempted to get some idea of how many troops might or might not be staying.
Chair Carl Levin: But putting that aside, in terms of a mission in Iraq, would you agree that we must be careful to avoid keeping a large number of troops in Iraq as being, number one, inconsistent with the agreement that President Bush has entered into [the SOFA] and, number two, that it could unleash some street demonstrations which possibly could result in instability but that whatever we are negotiating should be at the request of the Iraqis and we should be very careful in terms of the numbers that we might negotiate?
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think we have to be very careful about the numbers. I -- For me, at a very high level, the most critical part of this is to get the strategic partnership right as the Secretary [of Defense Leon Panetta] testified and that we really are in the middle of negotiations right now with respect to what do the Iraqis want? And what, quite frankly, can the Iraqi political leadership deliver? And, as the Secretary said, there has been no determination and no decision at this point.
Chair Carl Levin: And the issue is not what the Iraqis want, the issue is what we believe is going to be appropriate, if any, after they make a request --
Adm Mike Mullen: Well actually.
Chair Carl Levin: It's our decision, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: I - I think it will be, certainly, but that's part of the negotiations.
Chair Carl Levin: Of course. Secretary Panetta, do you want to add anything to that in terms of continuing training mission in Iraq?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I - I - I think it's important that - that the whole purpose of these negotiations is to listen to what - what is it that they need, uh, in order to ensure that they can provide security, in order to ensure that they can deal with the threat of terrorism, in order to ensure that they can take the steps necessary to be able to deal with security threats within their country. We've gotta' -- We've gotta' take the -- Listen to their needs, take them into consideration, indicate what can be provided in order to meet those concerns and then, obviously, through a process of negotiations, arrive at, you know, what - what is that going to look like? And that's the process that's going on nonw. And clearly it's not going to reflect the numbers that we've had there in the past but, uh, it - it -it does have to meet their needs. That's what's being negotiated by Gen [Lloyd] Austin as we speak.
Chair Carl Levin: Senator McCain?

Ranking Member John McCain: Well, Secretary Panetta, I don't want to waste the time of the Committee and my questioning but the fact is that one of the reasons why this has been delayed as much as it has is because the Iraqis wanted to know what our assessment was as to how many troops should be there and that has not been forthcoming. And it's very difficult for them to make a decision without us making input into what those needs are. And if we are basing it all on Iraqis' needs, that, to me, is an incomplete picture because we need to know what America's national security needs are as paramount reason for leaving American troops in harms way. Adm Mullen, do you believe that US forces should remain in the disputed territories of northern Iraq as part of a post-2011 mission?
Adm Mike Mullen: Again, Senator, I think certainly that is a very, very contentious area and it's --
Ranking Member John McCain: Do you believe or not believe that we should have --
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think the security posture in that area has to be such that that doesn't, in any way shape or form, blow up. It is a very tough area and the exact composition of how that should happen, uh, is a product of these negotitations.
Ranking Member John McCain: So --
Adm Mike Mullen: And quite frankly, I've --
Ranking Member John McCain: So you'll not give your opinion --
Adm Mike Mullen: Sir, sir --
Ranking Member John McCain: -- as to whether we need to have a residual peace keeping force in northern Iraq in post 2011?
Adm Mike Mullen: There have -- There -- There -- Quite frankly -- and very recently -- there is still a very contentious debate about that issue.
Ranking Member John McCain: I understand there is a debate. I was asking you for your opinion.
Adm Mike Mullen: That's an issue that a security force is going to have to be there to resolve, yeah. It's composition, uh, is, I think, to be determined.
Ranking Member John McCain: Well every number that I've heard and been briefed on is at least 5,000 troops would be needed in that area, US troops, to prevent what has already been a very volatile are and if we weren't there would have already been conflict.
[. . . McCain takes the conversation to Afghanistan for a series of questions.]
Ranking Member John McCain: Finally, again back to Iraq, Mr. Secretary, it's not a training mission in the disputed areas. It's a peace keeping mission. So if you're confining it all only to training mission than you have got the complete picture of the security risks in Iraq that I have.
While visiting troops in Iraq in July (see July 11th snapshot), Leon Panetta made a serious of comments that were seen as gaffes. One wasn't a gaffe and that's become ever more clear. Panetta falsely linked 9-11 and Iraq. Panetta was widely called out in the press for this. His statements before the Committee today were often just as false and reactionary. His big theme, he pimped it three different times during the hearing, is that the Iraq War cannot just wind down because strides need to be made in Iraq and not to achieve those would be an insult to the dead.
He declared that the worst thing about it would be leaving the impression "that somehow all of this was in vain."
It was in vain in terms of its stated goals. In terms of creating a new market for corporations it's been a success. In terms of stealing Iraqi oil, it may yet be a success. But Leon Panetta has entered major reactionary territory taking him far from his center-left roots.
And, he better accept this, the American people have already determined that the Iraq War was not worth the cost.
The idea that approximately 4,480 Americans have died in the Iraq War so the US must remain in it is nonsense and it's insulting. Those lives lost are lost. That's very sad, it's very troubling. It does not excuse forcing other Americans to continue to die. To pretend that we cannot learn from mistakes is a rejection of the human experience and Leon Panetta was insulting, rude and crass. How dare he use the dead to shore up his weak argument. It was shameful and calls into question not only where he stands today but also whether or not he's fit to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Allegedly, Barack Obama as president meant change. But there's been no change with regards to war (except Barack embraces a little tighter). Today was one of the most embarrassing and shameful days for the administration. Barack may be able to take comfort in the fact that none of it resulted from a comment or comments he made, but that doesn't change the embarrassment or the shame.
If Leon Panetta feels that leaving Iraq will mean dead Americans (John McCain was the only one who ever noted the pain and struggle of Iraqis as more than a fleeting aside -- wait, Lindsey Graham did as well, he praised the Iraqis who had fought with Americans and noted that many had died during this war) died in vain, maybe he should tender his resignation, contact DynaCorp, grab a gun and head on over to Iraq as a mercenary?
But to insist that, because 20 or 30 people died walking into a fire that they were told would be a beautiful meadow, we must therefore keep sending people into that fire or the 20 or 30 dead was in vain, is an illogical argument devoid of any recognition of our greatest ability: The ability to learn from our mistakes.
The Committee was clearly (and rightly) bothered by the refusal of the administration to keep them informed on the negotiations or to bring them into the negotiations. We'll note this section of the hearing.
Senator Lindsey Graham: You're not going to tell me the number, I understand why you're not going to tell me the number. But we're going to talk about Iraq in terms of our strategic interest. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it that Iraq end well in terms of our national security interests?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: It's -- it's certainly an 8 and above.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Okay. So let's look at it in terms of 8 and above. The resourcing for an 8 and above situation should be robust but reasonable. And Gen Ray Odierno says that we don't want a too large a force, I agree. The Iraqis want to take over but they need our help. If you looked at the Kurdish-Arab dispute as a potential failure point in the future of Iraq, where fighting could break out, Adm Mullen, how would you rate that as a risk?
Adm: Mike Mullen: High.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Okay, if you look at the construct you have of peshmerga, Afghan [Iraqi] security force and American soldier forming a new brigade or company, that construct is paying dividends, isn't it?
Adm Mike Mullen: Yes, sir, it has.
Senator Lindsey Graham: They call it the Lion's Brigade. So what I would ask you to do the next time you sit down and look at the number of troops to make sure the fault line does not crack because we've got a plan to integrate the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces. And we're the referee. Over time, we're going to build a transition force that will be more stable. You said something, capacity and capability is as important as numbers. And I agree with that but there's a time in military engagement where numbers do matter. We're at the point now where capability matters. So my point about 3,000 -- and I know that's not the number -- intelligence gathering. What ability do the Iraqis have to gather intelligence on their own? Compared to us?
Adm Mike Mullen: I-I would describe that as one of the gap areas that they clearly need to work on. It's not none but it's an area that they certainly have --
Senator Lindsey Graham: But they dont have close to what we have and, if you want to keep Iran at bay, the more we know about what Iran's doing better off the Iraqis are, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: But, Senator Graham, I don't think we should make them us either. Yes, they need to improve but --.
Senator Lindsey Graham: But we have a national security interest field in Iraq, right? So it's in our national security interest to know what's going on in that country. So when you look at the fault line of the Kurd-ish Arab dispute, you look at the fault line, you're looking at capabilities they don't have, when you look at their air force, training their army and having a force protection plan for our diplomats, the numbers begin to add up. And all I'm saying is, would you feel comfortable with a member of your family serving in a force of 3,000?
Adm Mike Mullen: I would -- I have confidence that whatever -- If -- assuming there is a number -- That force protection will be -- will be, uh, that our force protection will meet of whomever might be there --
Senator Lindsey Graham: One last question --
Adm Mike Mullen: So in that regard, yes.
The White House keeps the Congress out of the negotiation process. Their puppet Nouri al-Maliki mirrors their behavior. The Associated Press reports that Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament, held a press conference today in which he announced that Nouri al-Maliki has provided no information to Parliament about US troops remaining in Iraq or even about the capabilities of Iraqi forces. Nouri was designated as the sole negotiator in discussions with the US government to keep US forces in Iraq beyond 2011. As the commander of the Iraqi military, it is incumbent upon Nouri to deliver a report on readiness to Parliament.
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's criticism of Nouri al-Maliki swearing out an arrest warrant for Sabah al-Saadi claiming that criticizing Nouri is a threat to national security (see yesterday's snapshot). al-Sadr has called out the move and compared it to a new dictatorship and issued a call for the government to work on inclusion and not exclusion. Another Al Mada report notes Sadr declaring that Nouri needs to drop this issue and focus on the needed political work. It's noted that the Sadr bloc waited until Moqtada issued a statement to weigh in and that the Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barazni declared that the Kurdish bloc would not support a vote to strip al-Saadi of his immunity. As a member of Parliament, Sabah al-Saadi should be immune to Nouri's arrest warrant for the 'crime' of speech. Currently, the warrant exists but cannot be executed due to the immunity members of Parliament have. So in addition to filing charges against al-Saadi, Nouri and State of Law (his political slate) are also attempting to strip a member of Parliament of his immunity.

But that's not all. Nouri has a back up plan. Should the Parliament not agree to strip al-Saadi of his immunity, the warrant will stand through 2014 when al-Saadi's term expires (al-Saadi's decided not to run again or Nouri's made that decision and intends to utilize the Justice and Accountability Commission to keep him from running?) at which point all-Saadi would be a citizen (without immunity) and then the warrant can and will be executed. In addition, Al Mada notes the claim that immunity can be stripped of a member of Parliament if half-plus-one of those in attendance vote in favor of the motion.
For those wondering how an insult, any insult, rises to the level of criminal, this AFP report (in French) explains that Nouri's complaint utilizes a law from the reign of General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Article 226 of the 1969 Criminal Code which made it a crime for anyone to insult a member of Parliament, the government, the courts, armed forces, etc.

Dar Addustour reports that al-Saadi could face as much as five years in prison if convicted of the charges. Dar Addustour also notes the open speculation that Judge Medhat al-Mahmoud, President of the Supreme Judicial Council, caved and issued the warrant in the first place because he's been threated by Nouri. al-Mahmou has ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein and Nouri's made it clear, the rumors go, that charges can be brought against the judge as a result. AFP quotes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi declaring, "The issue of removing immunity from any MP must be studied carefully, to be sure that it is not malicious or political targeting. There is a committee that will study this request, and after the [Parliamnent's] presidency committee [al-Nujaifi and his two deputies] will decide whether or not to remove the immunity."
janearraf Cafe next to #Baghdad womens' radio station burned after tribute show for slain radio host Hadi Mehdi. Other activists report death threats.
Iraqi poets are featured in Malpais Review's Fall 2011 issue. One of those poets is Dunya Mikhail whom guest editor Lauren Camp interviews at her own site (Which Silk Shirt) -- click here for part one and here for part two. Dunya Mikhail states, "It's hard to see Iraq as a whole because part of it has been buried under the ruins. I mean what's on the surface to see is just half of the truth. You can see that half through the eyes of regular people and through the works of artists and writers, and onlly sometimes through the words and pictures of journalists. What the politicians let you see is zero% of that truth."
At the end of last October, an attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, the latest in a never-ending wave of attacks on Iraq's religious minorities, forced many Iraqi Christians to flee. Some left the country, some left Baghdad for the Kurdistan Region which is seen as more welcoming to all religions. Reuters reports that, 11 months later, some of those who fled to the region struggle to find employment and while Menas Saad Youssef states she is safer and "can go out at night," she also can't find employment. Along with the issue of unemployment throughout Iraq, there's also the fact that the KRG requires you to have residency permit (which you must renew annually) to work in the region. Iraq currently has 18 provinces. There is a push on the part of some to create a province just for Iraqi Christians. Alsumaria TV notes that some are pushing for it to be formed in some part of Nineveh Province. This call comes as Alsumaria TV reports 3 Iraqi Christians were kidnapped while on "a hunting trip [in] southern Kirkuk" and that the kidnappers "killed their hunting dogs". (In contrast to Alsumaria's report, Reuters implies that the dogs are alive.)
In other violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left two Iraqi soldiers and one bystander injured, a Mussayab roadside bombing left two people injured, a Haswa suicide bomber took his/her own life and the lives of 4 other people with seventeen more injured, 2 corpses were discovered in Tikrit and 1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk.
Aseel Kami (Reuters) reports on the water issue in Iraq and how, within two decades, the country may see the demise of clean water. Kami notes, "Iraq, already struggling with water shortages, says hydroelectric dams and irrigation in Turkey, Iran and Syria have reduced the water flow in its main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris." We've noted the salty water making its way into Iraq via Iran (and the Iranian government's claims to be addressing the issue) but there's another issue not noted in the article: Oil and gas pollution. And don't forget GE is going into northern Iraq -- the same GE who 'helped' the Hudson River become what it is today.
Turning to the United States, yesterday's snapshot covered the joint hearing by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Ava's "Post office closing raised in hearing" went up at Trina's site last night which also covered the hearing. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and we'll note this from her office:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray sent a letter to Secretary Hilda Solis at the Department of Labor urging the Department to reach out to employers who want to hire separating servicemembers. The letter asks the Department to outline the ways it partners with prospective employers committed to hiring veterans and shares such information with veterans. Senator Murray is the sponsor of the comprehensive veterans' employment legislation, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which would require that separating service members attend the Transition Assistance Program. The bill would also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military.
"Every step that can be taken should be taken to fully capitalize on employers' interest in, and commitment to, hiring America's veterans," said Senator Murray in the letter. "This is especially true given President Obama's recent challenge to the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. To this end, it is critical that such employers are connected to the right resources, and that veterans have the information they need to be competitive for these employment opportunities."

The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:

September 22, 2011

The Honorable Hilda L. Solis

Secretary of Labor

Frances Perkins Building

200 Constitution Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Solis:

With the unemployment rate for young veterans reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, ensuring that America's veterans can access living-wage jobs is of paramount concern. I know that the Administration shares my concern -- as evidenced by the unveiling of the American Jobs Act.

One area where we have an opportunity to make a real and meaningful difference in addressing the high veteran unemployment rate is outreach to -- and partnership with -- employers who want to hire veterans.

Recently, my office was contacted by an employer regarding a hiring initiative for veterans within his industry. According to the employer, despite the initiative's potential to create thousands of job opportunities for veterans, the employer found it difficult to connect with the right people at the Department regarding his efforts to hire veterans. And every day my staff or I talk with companies that are desperate to find employees to fill good jobs.

Every step that can be taken should be taken to fully capitalize on employers' interest in, and commitment to, hiring America's veterans. This is especially true given President Obama's recent challenge to the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. To this end, it is critical that such employers are connected to the right resources, and that veterans have the information they need to be competitive for these employment opportunities.

Therefore, please detail for me the current process by which the Department partners with prospective employers committed to hiring veterans and shares such information with veterans:

§ How does the Department cultivate and foster partnerships with prospective employers?

§ Does the Department coordinate such efforts with the VETS web portal, and if so, how? If not, what portal (if any) does the Department use to engage with prospective employers?

§ Has the Department developed a best practice as to the manner by which it connects separating servicemembers and recently separated veterans with employers who are hiring? If so, please share a description of that practice with my office.

§ Does the Department attempt to match veterans and employers by targeting veterans whose military occupational specialties are aligned with the unique needs of the employer?

§ How does the Department disseminate information to veterans about employers who are currently hiring? Is such information included in the Transition Assistance Program? If not, why?

§ How does the Department communicate information about employers who are currently hiring to the Department's One-Stop Career Centers and coordinate with Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program specialists and relevant Local Veterans' Employment Representatives?

§ How does the Department coordinate efforts to engage employers with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense? What other departments and agencies are also involved with your efforts?

§ Finally, does the Department possess all the necessary legal authority to partner with prospective employers and connect separating servicemembers and veterans with such employers? If not, what specific authority is lacking.

Secretary Solis, thank you for your leadership and work on behalf of America's veterans, and for your response to these questions. I am confident that the Department, in partnership with private industry, can continue to make real progress against the high rate of veteran unemployment that has persisted for far too long.

I look forward to working with you in the weeks and months ahead to help get our veterans back to work.


Patty Murray

And finally, we'll note this from Sherwood Ross' "OBAMA'S RE-ELECTION CHANCES MAY BE FADING, AND SO WHAT?" (Veterans Today):

Unless President Obama breathes life into a massive New Deal-type jobs and reconstruction effort, now, and not in some vague Tomorrow, his chances for re-election, will shrivel. (Not that I care: I plan to vote Green.) That's because this presidential campaign early on gives every appearance of one that will be fought out largely on domestic issues as the candidates appeal to voter self-interest. In all the Republican debates and Democratic oratory until now, it's been rare to catch a word about USA's engulfing the Middle East and Africa in wars to steal their energy resources.
Thus, the campaign talk is all-about rebuilding American infrastructure---not about restoring Iraq's infrastructure that we destroyed in an illegal war. The talk is about finding jobs for long-term unemployed Americans----not about the Depression-level unemployment we created in Iraq. Americans seem indifferent to the fate of those we are destroying overseas with our brilliant killing machines. And maybe that's not surprising as the six wars we are waging get so little media play. We think we can commit crimes against humanity and walk away from them---and so we do.
Last night's commentators on MSNBC television waxed eloquent about Mr. Obama's "tough talk" on creating jobs. It is as though they forgot this is the same man who talked like a liberal during his initial run for the White House but largely acted like any reactionary once elected. His pledge to get out of Iraq is visibly undercut by U.S. construction of a gigantic embassy-fortress in Baghdad. The U.S. has subjugated Iraq and intends to rule it until the last drop of oil has been squeezed from its soil.
It must be remembered that President Obama is a creature of the Central Intelligence Agency, the foremost international criminal organization in the world today; that his college loans were paid for by the CIA and that he got his first job after college from the CIA. And the CIA has long aligned itself closely with grasping oil firms out solely to plunder and profit---and who are reaping sensational war-time profits at this hour---the world's motorists and homeowners be damned. It needs to be understood those 900 bases the Pentagon has built are not for defense, but for offense, to control every region of the planet, as the latest deals with Colombia and Australia reveal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sea of Love

Hump day. Okay, I'm doing a movie post.

I like Ellen Barkin. I think she's a good actress and I think she's a sexy woman. I'd really say she's better than "good." She always does something a little bit different that makes her characters seem real. Happy Tears is a film that stars Parker Posey and Demi Moore and they're great in the film, so much so that you really forget about everyone else until Ellen Barkin shows up.

I've seen most of her movies and The Big Easy was the first one.

But I never saw Sea of Love.

And I'm a big Al Pacino fan.

So Elaine and I watched it tonight and I really love that movie.


It's a really good movie. It takes forever for Ellen Barkin to show up as Helen. That's my only big complaint.

But it was really good.

And I knew Ellen wasn't the killer.

Let me back up.

Al Pacino's a cop.

Someone, apparently a woman, is killing men. The killer is forcing the men to get naked, mount the bed and thrust around on top of it like they would if they were making love to a woman on it. While they're thrusting, they are shot dead.

Al's on the case and then he meets up with John Goodman who's also working it.

And John Goodman's so good in this movie.

And I knew Ellen wasn't the killer so I started thinking, "Oh, it's going to be Goodman! I don't want it to be him!"

It's not him.

Which made me love the movie even more.

I won't tell you who the killer is but if you've never seen it, you really should.

What lifts it into a classic film is all the character work that Al, Ellen and John are doing. They bring so much complexity to the film.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada al-Sadr accuses Nouri of building a dictatorship, Hoshyar Zebari makes Nouri's s**t list, Zebari also says US troops will remain in Iraq in 2012 as trainers, US Senator Jon Tester calls on Barack to remove all US troops (beyond those that guard the embassy) from Iraq at the end of this year, the Veterans Affair Committees in the House and Senate hold a joint-hearing, and more.
"As many of you know," declared Senator Patty Murray today, "my father was a World War II disabled veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered during the invasion of Okinawa. I grew up watching his struggles with the knowledge that he had sacrificed for our nation and that he asked very little in return. Then later in my life -- during college -- I worked as an intern in the Seattle VA hospital, providing physical therapy to Vietnam veterans who came home with the visible and invisible wounds of war. Those personal experiences have given me not only a very real understanding of the consequences of sending our service members into combat, but also a sense of the obligation we have to care for them when they return." Murray was speaking this morning in DC at a joint-hearing held by the Senate and House's Veterans Affairs Committees. Murray is Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The primary witness appearing before them was the American Legion's National Commander Fang Wong. Also appearing were the American Legion's Tim Tetz, Michael Helm, Verna Jones and Daniel Dellinger. Helm addressed proposed post office closings when asked (and Ava will be cover that Trina's site tonight).
Wong testified that the American Legion strongly opposes the recommendation that premiums for TRICARE be increased. He reminded that US President Barack Obama spoke to the American Legion last month at their 93rd Annual National Convention and swore "that the budget would not be balanced on the backs of veterans." Wong noted that this promise would be broken if TRICARE premiums were increased -- as the proposal Barack presented to the nation on Monday recommended -- for military retirees because "military retirees are veterans."
In an exchange with US House Rep Timothy Walz, Wong called out reports and reporters who referred to "medical and retirement benefits earned by military personnel as social welfare. I resent that. We're not here looking for handouts. We earned those rights and you folks should protect those rights." On employment, he noted that the government says 'Hire veterans, hire veterans!' to private industry; however, approximately 80% of all veterans who now work in the federal government work can be found in the Dept of Defense, the Dept of Veterans Affairs or Homeland Security.
US House Rep Silvestre Reyes noted the "tough budget times" the US is in "but like you [Wong], I feel we should take care of the veterans first and foremost" and he then noted he had "signed on" to a piece of legislation on veterans identification cards, a piece of legislation he felt had good intent, but now he's found out that "there's a proposal to charge the veteran for that identification card. I don't agree with that." Wong went with a joke instead of addressing the issue. He had many laughing out loud (proposing Congress mandate that all veterans join the American Legion). But maybe addressing the issue, even only in a "I personally think . . ." manner would have done a better job of representing veterans' interest?
From the hearing, we'll excerpt this section.
Senate Committee Chair Patty Murray: I really appreciate your attention and focus on the employment of our returning heroes and I know Chairman Miller and I are both working on this. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned mandatory TAP and of course seemless transition. Do you hear a lot from your membership about the lack of certifcations service members receive? That their resumes don't show the true breadth of their skills they have learned in the military?
Fang Wong: Madame Chairman, I was fortunate to serve on the Department of Labor Advisory Committee for a couple of years and at that particular period of time TAP was one of our major concerns. We actually conducted field trips by the committee members to various military installations to see how it worked. And what we find -- this is a couple of years back -- at that time was that TAPS really needs some standardization and repackaging because we find that depending on what installation and service that you attend, they - they do different things. The - the instructions presented were really outdated and the things that they stressed mostly, perhaps it's not really close to what the service member really needs. There were some service that required mandatory -- I believe the Marines Corps is the only service that requires mandatory training. A lot of the other posts? I went to Fort [. . ] the Army post and basically it's open, you should come; however, if you're not there, it's okay. That type of atmosphere. The committee I served with, we spent a lot of time studying that and we make a lot of recommendations to the Secretary and I guess to Congress that we should do something with TAP and get some standardization because we find out from a lot of success stories of service members that we have opportunity to interview and talk to that TAP, if used properly, actually helped them prepare. The thing about that is when we take in inductees and volunteers into the service now days, DoD and the government, we, the tax payers, spend millions and millions of dollars to train them to be a professional soldier. And when the time for them to change the uniform and go back to the civilian world, perhaps we're not spending nearly as [much] time or attention to prepare them back to the civilian world where they could seamlessly go back to a normal life. Of course, you know anybody that ever served in the service, especially those great men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing will ever again be normal when they go back to their world. But we should do what we can to prepare them and make sure that they get the benefit. And a lot of time, with TAP, I beliee we were not providing the opportunity or providing the tools where they could easily equate what they performed, what they were trained in the military as to what's out there in the civilian world for them. And the civilians license and agency, the certification agency, they're throwing -- I'm not saying they're bad but they're throwing road blocks up there and saying that unless you are getting this piece of paper, you're not qualified. You know, when we -- when we entrust 18, 19, 20 year-old young men and woman that volunteer to serve for our freedom, we entrust them operating machines, planes, tanks that cost millions, million, millions dollar, how can we tell them that you're not qualifed? We have to understand one thing, when the government trained this particular individaul, he or she, to me, is the most disciplined, most learnable most qualified individual because one thing that we need to understand: They love this country. That's why they serve. And we owe it to them that we do everything we can to make sure they will have a good job, they will have a good career.
Senate Committee Chair Patty Murray: Thank you, I really appreciate that. I have a number of other questions but we have a lot of members here so I'm going to turn it over to Chairman Miller.
House Committee Chair Jeff Miller: If I could just follow on with the TAP issue, Friday I was the reviewing official at Paris Island, the end of 13 grueling weeks I'm sure for some young Marines, very grueling, right? It's my belief and I want to know if you share the same belief and you talked about TAP needign to be revamped and changed, 13 weeks to make a Marine or the other boot camps, I mean I don't -- I don't think that just having them in classroom for a day or two or however long the TAP program is enough. Do you think there's a way that we can convince DoD to give a substantial amount of time at the end of the service and I know that service member is focused on really one thing and that is reuniting with their family, getting on with their life. But this TAP program is so important to that individual to prepare them for that transition. And I'd like to know what you and the Legion think about the possibility of making it a not only mandatory but a longer program?
Fang Wong: Mr. Chairman, maybe we're talking about two separate issues here. We were looking at TAP. Tap basically, they were provided to members separating from the service. And most of the time it happens at an installation. And you're right, the members will go there for maybe a week and TAP is maybe part of that one week transistion, training or orientation. What we learned, again, I refer back to the administriaton or the committee, and what we learned in a lot of institutions, they will provide the TAP training a lot sooner anybody who wants can sign up for it as then that way they can get the basic information. And then, as they're getting close to the separation day or the retirement day, they will be reinvited back. By that time, they will have the time in between to learn or figure out what he really needs or what she really needs, and able to ask some more direct questions or recieve more direct help from the instructor. And that when we interviewed some of the recently separated members, they indicated that helps a lot whereas you cram in one day, half a day and the end and the service members have a lot more on their mind to worry about that they don't have time to sit down and allow that to sink in and realize how important in preparing the resume and preparing himself or herself to be interviewed and that may not be the top priority of them. So give them an opportunity to come back. And so we do it sooner and then give them the opportunity to come back, I think that would be more helpful. The other scenario I can see is like when we are moving soldiers back from the war zone, a lot of them, we let them go home real quick. And they may still have service obligation left, but we release them and there's different opinions about how do we separate them? We ask questions: Are you okay, do feel anything different? Things like that. And we have to bear in mind, when you're young, you serve and you're away from your loved ones for a long tif that is the only gate or opportunity that stands between you and your family, I'll bet 99% of the time, that soldier will say, "No, no, no. I just want to be with my family." And so I don't know how to fix it. I don't know whether we should keep them a little bit longer or make it mandatory but that is something we need to look forward to.
At the end of the hearing, Mark Begich used his time to note that Alaska has 77,000 veterans which he stated was the highest per capita of any state.
Turning to Iraq where there's a new president, Tareq al-Hashimi. Actually, Dar Addustour explains, the Sunni vice president is actually the acting president while President Jalal Talabani is in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly. Though the president may have (temporarily) changed, Nouri and Political Stalemate II remain the same.
Starting with Nouri and his petty nature, yesterday's snapshot noted that MP Sabah al-Saadi was denying there was an arrest warrant sworn out against him and he was stating that Nouri al-Maliki was targeting him, that Nouri was deliberately keeping the three security ministries vacant in an attempt to seize more power and that Nouri was willing "to sell Iraq to maintain his hold on power." The situation continues to develop. Al Rafidayn reports that the Parliament received an arrest warrant for al-Saadi yesterday and the charges are threatening national sovereignty and integrity." They also remind that al-Saadi previously lodged the accusation that Nouri had forced Judge Rahim al-Ugeily out as Chair of the Integrity Commission. These are not separate stories. Nouri filed a complaint against him for those charges. Making those charges, Nouri insists, threatened national sovereignty and integrity. Nouri is demanding that parliamentary immunity be lifted.
The story doesn't end there. al-Saadi held a press conference. Al Mada reports that the press conference revolved around a document which revealed a plan to kill a number of members of Parliament "including me personally" as well as journalists and tribal chiefs. Numerous people have received the document including the Ministry of the Interior and security officials in various provinces; however, no one informed al-Saadi of the threat against his life. Dar Addustour notes that any such vote on lifting al-Saadi's immunity has been pushed back to Monday. Among those criticizing Nouri's move? Moqtada al-Sadr. Aswat al-Iraq quotes al-Sadr stating that the warrant is part of "building a new dictatorship" and "we suggest to Premier Maliki to stop these moves for the Iraqi reputation, because political action is build on partnership, not demotion."
And who he can't swear out a warrant on, he still manages to attack. Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) reports Nouri is allegedly gunning for the Kurd serving as Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari:
Last Tuesday, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted Yassin Majeed, a close aide to Al-Maliki, as saying that the Iraqi prime minister had threatened to fire Zebari "if he does not improve his ministry's performance."
In addition to accusations of mismanagement and a lack of inter-agency communication and coordination, critics say that the Foreign Ministry is plagued by corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
Iraqi media outlets thrive on reports of corruption inside the ministry and at Iraqi embassies abroad, the latter having acted as channels for hundreds of millions of dollars intended for rehabilitation work in Iraq.
Little has been done to investigate the allegations.
Meanwhile Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani has declared that a few words and airy promises are not enough to resolve the conflict between the KRG and the centeral government out of Baghdad and that he sent a letter to Nouri al-Maliki informing him of that. The disputed issues remain Nouri al-Maliki's failure to implement the Erbil Agreement, Nouri's proposed oil and gas bill and the failure to implement Article 140 of the Constitution which resolves the disputed Kirkuk region.
Still on the topic of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the government of Turkey is boasting of another round of carpet bombing today on northern Iraq. AP reports that in addition to carpet bombing the region, the government is using Heron drones to track movement (those drones supplied by the Israeli government) and intelligence passed on by the US government which the US government obtained via "U.S.-operated Predator drones". World Bulletin notes the Turkish boast of hitting "152 targets" since the bombings began on August 17th. The Times of Oman reports, "Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has submitted a list of requests for help from the United States to counter Kurdish separatists, Anatolia news agency said Wednesday." And Erdogan's quoted stating his belief that it will be no problem for Turkey to get those predator drones from the US it requested last week.
Turning to other violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer, an attack on a Baghdad cell phone store in which the owner was killed, an attack on a Baghdad supermarket in which the owner was killed, a Udhaim roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 2 police officers, a Kirkuk sticky bombing which injured two people, a Baaj home invasion which killed a police officer and a Balad Ruz mass grave with 27 corpses.
What of any request for US forces to remain in Iraq beyond 2011? Yochi J. Dreazen (National Journal) reports on the negotiations and observes differences in the two governments:

A senior Maliki aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the internal discussions, said the premier believed Iraq needed a minimal number of American troops to remain here past the end of the year.
But the aide said Maliki was unlikely to make a formal request unless he has clearer political support from the country's other major parties. So far, only the main Kurdish bloc has been willing to publicly call for extending the American troop presence, with Massoud Barzani, the head of the quasi-independent Kurdish Regional Government, warning a few days ago that a full withdrawal risked triggering a new "civil war" here.
American officials say the Iraqis seem to be playing out the clock. The officials said the U.S. hasn't discussed any specific troop numbers with the Iraqis, and cautioned that the discussions between the two countries have yet to even address basic issues like what specific missions would be entrusted to the holdover American troops.

Lara Jakes (AP) reports Hussain al-Shahristani, a deputy prime minister for energy (and so trusted by Nouri that he made him acting Minister of Electricity after Nouri forced out the Minister), declared that until Iraq passes its budget, they can't take up the issue of "how many troops would be asked to stay, or what exactly they will be doing". Aswat al-Iraq adds that US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and Iraq's Shi'ite vice president, Khaudair al-Khuza'i, spoke today about withdrawal and training needs ofr Iraq's forces. But Hoshyar Zebair tells Alistair Lyon (Reuters) today, "Definitely we as a country need these trainer and experts to help and support the Iraqi security capabilities." He states a training agreement will happen but an extension of the SOFA will not. Even if he's wrong, Michael Tennant (New American) adds:

The last remaining troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by December 31, though the Obama administration has been working hard to ensure that some residual force remains -- anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 troops. But while the official military presence is declining, the number of embassy personnel is set to double to 16,000, about half of whom will be security forces. The State Department will have 5,000 security contractors comprising a private army under the command of the Secretary of State. Meanwhile, the Office of Security Cooperation will get 3,000 armed guards to protect the office's personnel as they enrich U.S. defense contractors to the tune of "an estimated $13 billion in pending U.S. arms sales, including tanks, squadrons of attack helicopters and 36 F-16s," Froomkin reports.

The United States will also have two consulates in Iraq besides the Baghdad embassy, and it plans to have over 1,000 staffers at each consulate. Froomkin argues that "the diplomatic corps" has already taken a "substantial" hit from the staffing of the embassy; adding 2,000 more personnel at the consulates cannot help matters any. Then again, a government whose slogan is "You're either with us or against us" -- a situation that has changed little since Obama took office -- hardly has much use for diplomats, who are trained to negotiate. Anyone can deliver an ultimatum.
In the US, Dennis Bragg (KPAX) reports Senator Jon Tester delivered a statement on the Senate floor yesterday calling for the White House to stick to the Status Of Forces Agreement and withdraw all US troops at the end of this year. We'll note this press release from the senator's office:

Tester calls for removal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end
Senator: 'Let's end this war for good' by December 31 as planned

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
(U.S. SENATE) -- U.S. Senator Jon Tester today delivered a clear message to Congress and President Obama: America's troops should leave Iraq by December 31 of this year as planned.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Tester praised the hundreds of thousands of American troops who "never faltered" and "provided security and Democracy to a nation that had never known it."
"Iraq now has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy," Tester said. "Iraq's new leaders must solve their problems for their own people. Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger. It would cost American taxpayers more money. And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups."
In a letter sent today to President Obama, Tester said U.S. troops "should not be in Iraq one minute more than is necessary."
The Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government calls for withdrawing Operation New Dawn troops from Iraq by year's end. Although there has been no official announcement, recent news reports suggest the possibility of keeping several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq past the December 31 deadline.
"We cannot afford moving the goal post," Tester told his colleagues today.
"Across Montana, and this nation, people are saying: Come home now."
Tester said U.S. Marines should continue to guard America's embassies, and that the U.S. should maintain a "strong diplomatic presence" in Iraq.
Tester noted that between his first visit to Iraq in 2007 and his second visit earlier this year, Iraq's leaders were "finally moving forward after too many wasted years, too many wasted dollars and too many lives lost."
Tester said the progress is largely due to the fact that "Iraqis were told in no uncertain terms that the United States was leaving," which "galvanized Iraqi politicians to take control of their own country."
"Since 2003, our nation has sent hundreds of thousands of other young men and women to fight in Iraq," Tester said. "We have done so at an enormous cost: 4,474 Americans have given their lives. More than 32,000 have been wounded. And we can't put a number on those who suffer from injuries unseen."
Tester also noted that "the price tag of this war that was put on our children" is approaching $1 trillion.
Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, praised efforts to help Iraq veterans transition back to civilian life, such as the Montana National Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program.
"I will do my best to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain," Tester said. "Whether it's a college education, health care or compensation for an injury suffered on the field of battle, we will honor our commitment to our heroes."

Tester's floor speech appears below.

Tester's letter to President Obama is online HERE.


Floor Remarks
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
September 20, 2011


Mr. President, during a trip to Baghdad this past January, I had an opportunity to meet with several members of the Montana National Guard's 163rd Combined Arms Battalion.
That day, I told them that I was proud of each and every one of them, from unit commander Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Hull and Sergeant Major John Wood on down the line.
Through courageous service to our country, they were making tremendous sacrifices on our behalf. And they were representing the very best of Montana.
This month, these folks have been coming back to Montana from their demobilizing station in Washington state. Today, I join their families, their friends and their neighbors in welcoming the last group of these citizen soldiers back to Montana. Job well done, soldiers.
And thank you.
For nearly a year, these 600 Montanans served in some of the harshest conditions imaginable -- escorting numerous convoys across dangerous terrain and conducting other critical security missions throughout Iraq.
At one point over the last 12 months, this unit accounted for more than half of Montana's best and brightest serving overseas.
They gave up the comforts of their families, their homes, and their communities to bring stability to a nation on the other side of the world. Through it all, they showed courage in difficult times. They remained strong. And they were always in our thoughts and prayers.
Now that they're home, it is our duty to continue our support by providing the benefits, quality care and services they need as they transition back to their families, their jobs and their communities.
Many Iraq veterans make that transition with success, coming home to good jobs and welcoming communities.
But for others -- making that transition is no easy task.
It's no secret that there is a potential for higher rates of substance abuse. Higher divorce rates. Higher unemployment rates. The effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury can impact entire families.
Thankfully, veterans often look after each other. We should recognize the important role of America's Veterans' Service Organizations, and their willingness to help with that transition.
Montana was one of the first states in the nation to adopt the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program. It involves entire families of National Guard soldiers and airmen, preparing them for the changes that come before, during and after a deployment. The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program is a success. And I'm pleased that in the last Congress, my colleagues gave all states the resources to implement it.
Furthermore, I will do my best to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain. Whether it's a college education, health care or compensation for an injury suffered on the field of battle, we will honor our commitment to our heroes.
We make this promise to the men and women of the 163rd -- and to the Montanans who make up the many other units of the Montana National Guard that were deployed this year, and to the folks who are part of Montana's RED HORSE squadron now in Afghanistan.
To our Reservists and to the folks serving in the active duty military today, we make the same commitment.
Even as we make this commitment, many folks in Montana are wondering what should happen next in Iraq.
Since 2003, our nation has sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to fight in Iraq. We have done so at an enormous cost: 4,474 Americans have given their lives. More than 32,000 have been wounded. And we can't put a number on those who suffer from injuries unseen.
And let's not forget, the price tag of this war that was put on our children is quickly approaching $1 trillion. And then there's tens of billions of dollars in waste and fraud.
Mr. President, the war in Iraq started with political leaders who had their own agenda. They went there looking for weapons that never existed. But through it all, the professionalism of our military never faltered. They provided security and democracy to a nation that had never known it.
But for far too long, Iraqi politicians did nothing to secure their own future. I first went to Iraq in 2007 and returned there again this January. I was struck by how much had changed in those four years. Iraq was finally moving forward after too many wasted years, too many wasted dollars and too many lives lost.
There are many reasons for the change. The improved security from our military and the training provided by our troops played a big role. But American diplomats and military leaders told me that the biggest reason for progress in Iraq was this:
The Iraqis were told in no uncertain terms that the United States was leaving. Our military presence would end on December 31 of this year.
That, Mr. President, was what galvanized Iraqi politicians to take control of their own country.
Today, I am sending a letter to the President calling on him to stand by his commitment to pull all U.S. Operation New Dawn troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. We should bring the last of them home on schedule.
U.S. Marines will still guard our embassies as they always have. And we will still maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Iraq.
Despite this year's deadline, I know there's talk of possibly keeping a sizeable force of U.S. troops in Iraq into next year. If that's the case, it's not good enough.
We cannot afford moving the goal post. Across Montana, and this nation, people are saying: Come home now.
I know that sectarian violence in Iraq will continue. But we should not be asking American troops to referee a centuries-old civil war. That conflict is likely to continue into the distant future regardless of our presence.
Iraq now has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy. Iraq's new leaders must solve their problems for their own people.
Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger. It would cost American taxpayers more money.
And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups.
That's where our focus needs to be. And that's why I'm saying: "Let's end this war for good."
Mr. President, I yield the floor.