Tuesday, June 09, 2009

He costs a lot, is he worth it?









At the United Nations Human Rights Council's General Debate yesterday, the General Federation of Iraqi Women's Entesar Araibai stated "that since the American occupation of 2003, the Iraqi people had been deprived of their basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Civil infra-structure was completely destroyed and the Iraqi people faced losing their basic right to remain alive as disease spread due to the breakdown of the medical and basic clean drinking water system. Furthermore, there was the premeditated obliviousness by the Government which had nothing to do better than pilfering the immense wealth of Iraq into private accounts in countries that lectured about human rights. Recent United Nations statistics told of more that five million Iraqi refugees, dispersed either inside Iraq or somewhere else in the world, deprived of medical assistance and suffering extremely dangerous perils." During the General Debate, Iraqi government flack Faris al-Alani declared that lies, lies, were harming Iraq. He then went on to insist that Iraqi women had freedoms across Iraq, the education was solid in Iraq, that the press was free and that the number of orphans was inflated. It was all, you understand, a conspiracy against Iraq, a conspiracy against the truth. No word on whether or not, al-Alani next attempted to flap his arms and fly back to Iraq but, in the real world, Hoda Abdel-Hamid files a report (video only) for Aljazeera:

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: It's a miracle he's alive today. Four years ago Seif was traveling with his parents from Diyala to Baghdad. Their car was destroyed by a roadside bomb. His mother and father killed on the spot.

Seif Saleh: After the death of my parents, I was taken to an orphanage and then brought here. I have relatives but I don't want to stay with them. Everything is good here, I have many friends, they are like me, they lost their parents.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: House of Safety is an orphanage in north Baghdad, home to 32 children, victims of the carnage that swept Iraq in the last six years. It's a safe where Seif can try to forget those horrific moments in which he lost his parents. Children here are given a second chance in life. Iraq has become a land populated by orphans. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there are nearly five million orphans -- that's about 15% of the population who's lost at least either one or both parents. More than half-a-million children live on the streets. Seif and his friends are relatively lucky. They are among just 500 children to find a home in one of Iraq's 15 orphanages. Ahmad is not so lucky. At only 11, he has four sisters and a grandmother to take care of and feed. Faced with the burdens of an adult, he dropped out of school and is now making a living out of garbage collection. It earns him five dollars per day.

Ahmad Riyadh: It's not enough but I don't have any other alternatives. The work is not guaranteed and it's always risky. I don't have expectations for the future. I just live day by day.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: Child experts say the situation has far more reaching consequences, ones that will effect Iraq's society for decades to come.

Dr. Haidar al Maliki: Those children have many problems like sleep disorder, educational problems, social problems with their peers. 70% of our children have what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 20% of them have psychological problems like depression and excited disorder, social phobia. Some of our children have neurosis, especially nocturnal neurosis, about 3 to 4%, and we have an increasing percentage of abuse.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: Back at the House of Safety, Seif and his friends are facing an uncertain future. The government allocates $12 per child per month and the volunteers here have a hard time making ends meet. Now the owner of the house wants to evict them. With no where else to go, these children could end up on the streets.

Hisham Thahabi (Director of House of Safety): We need to take care of them. Otherwise they fall into terrorism, militias or organized gangs. They are vulnerable and could easily fall into the trap. They are the easy prey.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: The US military has several times accused al Qaeda in Iraq of recruiting and training children. Many of these youngsters feel abandoned and belonging to a group -- any group -- is very attractive to them. In many ways, Iraq's orphans are the forgotten collateral damage of six years of war. Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera.

The Iraqi government -- which sits on billions -- allocates only $12 per month. That's shameful. So is the US contribution. Today the Public Library of Science released a study entitled "Tracking Official Development Assistance for Reproductive Health in Conflict-Affected Countries." Tan Ee Lyn and Sanjeer Miglani (Reuters) explain the report found: "Countries that are at war such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq get only US $1.30 a person a year in aid to help prevent mothers dying from childbirth and children dying before they are five, a study has found."

As last month drew to an end, Ghassan Awad and Gao Shan (Xinhua) reported on Iraqi children such as six-year-old Jasim who becomes upset when he sees Iraqi or US troops having seen a US and Iraqi patrol kill someone outside of Baghdad and seven-year-old Kholood who saw her father shot dead in front of her, six-year-old Khalil Muhiee who saw his father saw a militia storm the family home and then discovered "his father beheaded".

These are among the realities missing from the speech at the center of Barry O Goes To Cairo. Ali Abunimah (Guardian) observes, "He dwelled on the 'enormous trauma' done to the US when almost 3,000 people were killed that day, but spoke not one word about the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows left in Iraq -- those whom Muntazer al-Zaidi's flying shoe forced Americans to remember only for a few seconds last year. He ignored the dozens of civilians who die each week in the 'necessary' war in Afghanistan, or the millions of refugees fleeing the US-invoked escalation in Pakistan." Iraqi journalist Ahmed Habib (bigHead) offers:

We were mostly disappointed that we couldn't show the new president around. In the Kadhimiya Hospital, in the northern end of Baghdad, cancer patients withering away from depleted uranium crowning the tip of American munitions, couldn't wait to kiss Obama's feet before they left this god forsaken world. Students at decrepit schools throughout Iraq, part of an education system sold out to the World Bank, were planning to anxiously await the arrival of the new emperor and beg and plea for chalk, pencils, desks, and dignity. Widows and internally displaced refugees had a really cute event planned for Obama, and Ms. Clinton. They had organized a mass burn-in for the new eloquent Commander in Chief. Overpriced and scarce gasoline was going to be used to set millions of bodies alight in homage to the new emperor. The theme of the soiree was, "With nothing left, why bother to live?" Thousands of different sectors from our destroyed society were waiting in anticipation for the Barack Show. From persons disabled by war to millions of youth scouring the streets for crumbs, we had some pretty nifty ideas that we couldn't wait to put into action. One of my personal favorites was the planned "Thank you for Democracy" festival. Millions of Iraqis were planning to line the streets of Baghdad, with empty bags in hand, and ask Barack to bless them with the vomit of himself, and his entourage.

And Chris Hedges (Information Clearing House) raises the issues too many Americans refused to (and continue to refuse to raise):

Did they play Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world in the prison corridors of Abu Ghraib, Bagram air base, Guantanamo or the dozens of secret sites where we hold thousands of Muslims around the world? Did it echo off the walls of the crowded morgues filled with the mutilated bodies of the Muslim dead in Baghdad or Kabul? Was it broadcast from the tops of minarets in the villages and towns decimated by U.S. iron fragmentation bombs? Was it heard in the squalid refugee camps of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live in the world's largest ghetto?What do words of peace and cooperation mean from us when we torture-yes, we still torture-only Muslims? What do these words mean when we sanction Israel's brutal air assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, assaults that demolished thousands of homes and left hundreds dead and injured? How does it look for Obama to call for democracy and human rights from Egypt, where we lavishly fund and support the despotic regime of Hosni Mubarak, one of the longest-reigning dictators in the Middle East? We may thrill to Obama's rhetoric, but very few of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world are as deluded. They grasp that nothing so far has changed for Muslims in the Middle East under the Obama administration. The wars of occupation go on or have been expanded. Israel continues to flout international law, gobbling up more Palestinian land and carrying out egregious war crimes in Gaza. Calcified, repressive regimes in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are feted in Washington as allies. The speech at Cairo University, which usually has trucks filled with riot police outside the university gates and a heavy security presence on campus to control the student body, is an example of the facade. Student political groups, as everyone who joined in the standing ovation for the president knew, are prohibited. Faculty deans are chosen by the administration, rather than elected by professors, "as a way to combat Islamist influence on campus," according to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report. And, as The Washington Post pointed out, students who use the Internet "as an outlet for their political or social views are on notice: One Cairo University student blogger was jailed for two months last summer for 'public agitation,' and another was kicked out of university housing for criticizing the government." The expanding imperial projects and tightening screws of repression lurch forward under Obama. We are not trying to end terror or promote democracy. We are ensuring that our corporate state has a steady supply of the cheap oil to which it is addicted. And the scarcer oil becomes, the more aggressive we become. This is the game playing out in the Muslim world.

With Laila Al-Arian, Chris Hedges co-authored Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians. The collateral damage is the dead and wounded Iraqis. The US' collateral damage also includes the dead and wounded US forces. This morning the US House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommitee held a hearing entitled "Assessing CARES and the Future of VA's Health Infrastructure." "CARES" is Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services. Subcommittee Chair Michael H. Michaud opened the hearing explaining, "The purpose of this hearing is to assess the VA's implementation of CARES and to investigate the effectiveness of CARES as a capital planning tool. In addition, today's hearing will explore whether CARES should continue in the future or if the VA should adopt an alternate capital planning mechanism."

Michaud added a little to his prepared statement but otherwise stuck to reading it. His and other prepared statements from the hearing can be found here. Ranking Member Henry Brown added that CARES was established following a 1999 Government Accountability Office study which "found that VA was wasting a million dollars a day on the maintenance of outdated and underutilized health care facilities." This hearing was scheduled as part of Congress' ongoing oversight of the VA. As 2008 drew to a close, the GAO found that the Veterans Affairs had not conducted the needed and "meaningful" dicussions when seeking a contractor to construct an ambulatory care center. Today the GAO issued a [PDF format warning] review of the VA's CARES process which "drives VHA's capital planning efforts" and they found that Veterans Affairs is not "centrally tracking" the 34 CARES decisions that they implemented: "Our past work found that, while VA had over 100 performance measures to monitor other agency programs and activities, these measures either did not directly link to the CARES goals or VA did not use them to centrally monitor the implementation and impact of CARES decisions. Without this information, VA could not readily assess the implementation status of CARES decisions, determine the impact of such decisions, or be held accountable for achieving the intended results of CARES." The GAO's Mark L. Goldstein offered it as testimony today as a witness on the second panel. CARES has little oversight and few checks which is why it's important that Congress regularly provide oversight.

The first panel was composed of the American Legion's Joseph L. Wilson, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States' Dennis M. Cullian, Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman and Disabled American Veterans' Joy J. Ilem. Ilem walked through the CARES process and explained the problems being faced:

For nearly a decade, the IBVSOs have argued that the VA must be protected from deterioration of its health infrastructure and the consequent decline in VA's capital asset value. Year after year, we have urged Congress and the administration to ensure that appropriated funding is adequate in VA's capital budget so that VA can properly invest in its physical assets, proect their value and ensure health care in safe and functional facilities long into the future. Likewise, we have stressed that VA's facilities have an average age of more than 55 years, therefore, it is essential that funding be routinely dedicated to renovate, repair and replace VA's aging structures, capital and plant equipment system as needed. Mr. Chairman, unfortunately, the past decade of deferred and underfunded construction budgets has meant that VA has not adequately recapitalized its facilities -- now leaving the health care system with a large backlog of major contruction projects totaling between $6.5 billion to $10 billion with an accomanying urgency to deal with this growing dilemma.

When asked by Michaud, Richard Weidman stated he felt the process itself was the problem, "Unfortunately, good ideas are often given to the VA and they're like an 18-year-old who gets a hold of a bottle of whiskey and they run amuk. And the example would be so-called Project Hero where the Congress instructed VA to rationalize the contracting out and instead VA tried to turn it into a firesale of contracting out as opposed to increasing and strengthening the organizational capacity within the hospitals themselves."

"We believe it has to be more transparent," Joseph L. Wilson explained to the committee noting that a question recieves a supposed complete answer from the VA but it's really a general response and then the American Legion has to go through the process of tracking down the details that they were seeking from the beginning. "The bottom line," Wilson stated, "is the veteran's going to suffer if they're [the VA] trying to make the system look perfect." Richard Weidman agreed and stated that they have consistently "been able to find out a great deal more of what is going on by talking to union members around the country than we can find out by meeting with the Under Secrectary for Health. And this is not the kind of partnership that certainly the veterans' services organizations envisioned, nor the Hill, nor people that want to make this system work." Dennis Cullinan voiced the opinion that the process is not clear, referred to VFW being snowed under with CARES paperwork which seemed intentionally confusing and obsevered of proposed facilities that "something's going to be one thing, then it's going to be another and then it changes back again."

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Mrs. Ilem you mentioned in your testimony that some of the facilities are out dated. One of them you mentioned is near my district -- [Edward] Hines [Jr. VA Hospital] -- in Chicago. With the need and probably too much need basically to get it up to the 21st century needs, do you think that it might be better to put the money and the needs to expand more the CBOCs because as Mr. [US House Rep John] Boozman said we need to adapt to change and now people aren't spending as much time in hospitals and maybe we need to do more to the out patient clinics?

Ms. Ilem responded that what she gets told is that "it costs more to renovate a place than to build a new facility and because of the new types of equipment that are available today, the rewiring, the ceiling heights, I just mean there's a number of issues like that that come into play." Carl Blake noted that there's a spinal cord injury center at Hines and if it's work is distributed to various clinics it dilutes the work that can be done. And he and Weidman

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Well I have a tendancy to agree with that however and that's why I'm asking all of you is the future and where is it that we need to go? I have people calling me all day that are tired of going there and sitting there all day just to be turned away and what are we going to do about that? So we need to do something. Our veterans deserve the best care possible. So if we need to build them a new hospital then we need to do that. There's all kinds of things we can be doingfor them.

We're mainly noting the exchange because it was Halvorson's strongest performance on a VA committee or subcommittee since being sworn in at the start of the year. I'll make Little Debbie jokes as needed but none were needed today. Halvorson did a good job on the subcommittee today. Kat's grabbing 49% tonight. 49%? Read her later tonight.

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

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