Saturday, July 25, 2009

Asshole means never having to say you're sorry







Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died, July 24, of non-combat related injuries in eastern Baghdad. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of the service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Website at . The announcements are made on the Website no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. MND-B will not release any additional details prior to notification of next of kin and official release by the DoD. The incident is currently under investigation." The announcement brings to 4328 the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War.That number is not a complete count. Trejo Rivas just passed away and he was a veteran of the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War. It was in Iraq that a mortart attack October 12, 2006. As Sig Christenson (San Antonio-Express) explained Tuesday, "Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Raymond Trejo Rivas died Wednesday in San Antonio after battling to recover from head injuries suffered nearly three years ago. He was 53." Meanwhile John Hacker (Carthage Press) speaks with Isaac "Jerry" Conway who explains "his grandson, U.S. Army Spec. David Conway II, was injured in the Iraqi city of Sharqat when an improvised explosive device exploded near him while he was leaving a meeting with local officials. Also injured were six other American soldiers and two Iraqi civilians working with the soldiers." Conway says the incident took place July 12th. I'm not doubting Conway, but I am noting M-NF never noted it. They did have time, however, the day after, to issue a release about "Facebook, [and] other social media." Priorities. Yesterday Nouri al-Maliki announced US forces might stay in Iraq past 2011. And who noted it? Margaret Talev's "Iraq's Maliki raises possibility of asking U.S. to stay on" (McClatchy Newspapers) may shock some readers since McClatchy is the only newspaper outlet covering it. It's not because it just emerged or emerged late. The comments are noted in yesterday's snapshot. It's not ignored because it's not newsworthy. Three outlets rushed to print articles yesterday morning on the topic . . . when they claimed all US troops would be out in 2011. (See yesterday's entry.) It's only not news when it doesn't agree with their outlets spin purposes.To recap, when you can pimp the lie that all US troops will be out of Iraq in 2011 (and, apparently, pimp yourself as a psychic who can tell the future), you run with it and call it news. When Nouri al-Maliki publicly, in front of a crowd, declares not-so-fast, you duck your head and pretend it didn't happen. Anne Gearan covers al-Maliki's remarks for AP.

Though most of the broadcast media ignores the Iraq War (and much of the print media), there are many news items related to and coming out of Iraq. It's Friday, so smart news consumers knew there was a good chance The Diane Rehm Show would cover the Iraq War -- the only program to do so regularly. Diane's on vacation. Steve Roberts filled in for her today. The panelists for the second (international news) hour were: The Financial Times' Daniel Dombey, Washington Post's David Hoffman and CNN's Elise Labott.

Steve Roberts: Let's talk about a neighboring country, Iraq, and, David Hoffman, Prime Minister Maliki in Washington this week. Interestingly, not only in talks with President Obama but also talking a lot about the economy of Iraq -- an issue we don't hear a lot about, but trying to drum up interest among American investors and entrepreneurs. Give us your take on his visit.

David Hoffman: Well I actually thought the most interesting thing was the president pledged to help get rid of these UN sanctions. You know, Iraq still has to pay billions of dollars to Kuwait in reparations. If they get some of that money back, that will help them and, you know, I think when Mal-Maliki goes home from Washington, it's going to look grimmer on the ground there. There's a big election coming in Kurdistan, it's very important. The parties that have led Kurdistan are being challenged by an upstart party. I think Kurdistan is the real new frontline, the real flashpoint, in potential sectarian tensions in Iraq so Maliki's country's not all together yet.

Steve Roberts: Uh, well you mentioned, there are several issue here including, in his conversation with President Obama, the whole issue of the deadline of withdrawal of American troops. What did we learn?

David Hoffman: Well, I think, you know, we're committed to the deadline but what's going to happen is the deadline is going to be tested and it was just tested this morning. There's going be firefights and there are going to be military conflicts involving all these rules and deadlines and those things, you know, they're very, very sensitive and volatile.

Steve Roberts: Uh, talk Daniel, about this sense of national unity. David raises this issue of Kurdistan. Over weeks now, there's been increasing assertions of independence on the part of Kurdistan leaders, there's a huge fight over the status of Kirkuk, an oil-rich area. Is Iraq holding together? Is-is there a real threat to its national unity hear.

Daniel Dombey: I think both are true. Iraqi is holding-holding together to the moment but the Kirkuk is-is the biggest unsolved problem of-of Iraq -- not least because of the oil revenue but also because of Kurds who have come in and Turkmens who were there before. But I think just to look at Maliki's visit, I think that you need to bear two things in mind. This is a cold relationship rather like the relationship with [Hamid] Karzai and if you looked at some of President Obama's comments where he talked about wanting an Iraq where everyone could thrive -- Shia, Sunni and Kurds -- it didn't take a genius, it didn't take a Sherlock Holmes, to see that the US worries that Maliki could be a bit more of a narrow sectarian than it would like. There's that tension there. There's also a little bit of tension about how much freedom of maneuver the US military has following the June the 30th pull-out. And I wonder Iraq's economic situation is hard. There biggest thing is oil. They had a big auction to-to sell out rights to eight big oil fields uh in, near Basra. Only one of those went through that seems to be renegotiated -- it still -- the British are kind of less keen than they were. They're not getting the investors they need at a time that the oil price is going down. They need oil and money to grease the wheels to make Iraq a more coherent place.

Elise Labot: Part of the issue has been that there hasn't been enough national reconciliation in the country and the issue is part of the reason for the surge was not just -- in 2007 -- was not just to improve security but it was to give the political space for more reconciliation and that never happened. And the kind of grand constitutional bargain and the concessions that were necessary to make that were never completed. So what President Obama was saying to Maliki: "You need to do this, you need to not only include Sunnis into the political process but you need to, uhm, settle some of these issues with the Kurds." And Maliki said to him: "We need your help on doing this. We understand that there will be a military disengagement but it can't be a political disengagement because Iraq has a lot more challenges that not only are of sectarian nature but go to the whole future of the country. Is the power going to be in the central government? Is it going to be in the provinces? Who's going to be in control over the oil and the natural resources? I mean, these are major issues that the Iraqis are going to have to resolve and they are looking for the United States in many ways to help mediate these.

Steve Roberts: Well there were stories this week about this pact or protocol that was apparently signed with Sunnis in Turkey, what was that all about?

David Hoffman: It's not really clear. But there were two meetings between Americans and representatives of the Sunni insurgency that were held in Turkey. It's really -- the third meeting is the mystery. Why didn't it happen? It was scheduled. The Americans didn't come. There's some signs of some disenchantment maybe, that this wasn't really a very good channel or it wasn't working. But I do think it's at least an indicator that reconciliation's got to be the goal.

During listener feedback, a panelist completely blew it. He had no idea what he was speaking of.

Steve Roberts: Let me read some e-mails from some of our listeners. This is Randall in Cincinatti: "With the death toll rising in Afghanistan, I want to know where the anti-war groups that were protesting during the Bush administration -- the anti-war movement was seen and heard daily during the few years but they seem to have disappeared in mainstream media since Obama was elected. Could it be these were just anti-Bush groups posing as anti-war groups?" What do you think?

David Hoffman: Well I think, also, you know Obama did endorse deadlines, troops have pulled back, violence has gone down in Iraq, that may play a big part.

When we noted the Iraq portion of The Diane Rehm Show on Fridays, there are things said by panelists I disagree with. If it's not called out by another guest, the issue is, can the person's remarks be seen? Could someone look at the facts and conclude as the panelist did? If it's an opinion, it can go in. But if someone is just factually wrong, we need to call it out. So we will. David didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Obama endorsed deadlines? You mean the June 30th 'pull-out'? You mean the draw down? You mean the supposed 2011 departure? If that's what you mean, you mean Obama "endrosed" Bush's "deadlines" because those 'deadlines' are Bush's. Those are from the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement which replaced the UN mandate (that Bush didn't want to renew) and which required a full-on push from the US government to pass through Parliament (with a huge number of Iraqi MPs skipping the vote) on Thanksgivng day in 2008. What was being asked was a fair question. More than fair.
And the honest answer, which Randall wasn't given, was that a large number of the 'anti-war' groups were nothing but anti-Bush groups -- and, more importantly, anti-Bush groups who existed to put Democrats into office. They weren't about ending the Iraq War. Look at MoveOn, for example. These were not real peace groups -- which is why they preferred the title "anti-war." These were not groups concerned with ending the illegal war. Their answer, over and over, check those stupid MoveOn e-mails from that time period, were: Stop the Iraq War by voting Democrats into office! That was all they had to offer. That and a few pathetic 'candle light vigils.' Randall asked a fair question and he didn't get a fair answer.

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"Things you don't Tivo"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Things you don't Tivo









This morning the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled Examining the Ancillary Benefits and Veterans Quality of Life Issues.

"This Subcommittee has actively tackled many complex and complicated issues that have been encumbering the Veterans Benefits Administration and and it's ability to properly compensate veterans who file disability claims," explained US House Rep John Hall who is the Chair of the Subcommittee. "These issues have majorly centered on VA business processes and operations. Today's hearing will focus on the actual appropriateness of available benefits in meeting the needs of disabled veterans and their families."

US House Rep Doug Lamborn is the Ranking Member and, due to other demands, made his opening remarks before Hall did and then Lamborn had to leave the hearing. The hearing was grouped around three panels. The first was composed of Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, National Veterans Legal Service Program's Ronald Abrams and Blinded Veterans Association's Thomas Zampieri. The second panel was composed of National Academies' Lonnie Bristow, Economic Systems Inc.'s George Kettner, Quality of Life Foundation's Kimberly Munoz and National Organization on Disability's Carol Glazer. The third panel was the VA's Bradley Mayes and Thomas Pamperin.

Chair John Hall: Mr. Zampieri, as you noted in your testimony, eye and ear injuries have been associated with TBI, with explosions of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan among other battlefields and theaters of combat. Do you feel that VA has done a sufficient job evaluating all the face and head trauma completely and accurately to compensate veterans and provide them with all necessary ancillary-ancillary benefits?

Thomas Zampieri: Thank you for the question. I think it's actually a concern of ours and probably safe to say many of the other VSOs that individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries that have sensory associated symptoms have a very difficult time in getting their ratings because so many of those are subjective kind of complaints. You know we frequently hear a a lot about the problems with tinnitus, for example. Frequently TBI patients complain of photophobia which is extreme sensitivity to light. And those are very difficult to rate. But those things can have quite an impact on the individual's ability to function and also their relationship socially, employment wise. And so we're concerned about the way TBI assessments are done in regards to sensory losses. I know that the VA has put a lot of effort towards looking at new assessment methods and congratulate them for-for recognizing this is a serious problem.

Chair Hall then asked him whether there were any devices currently are in the works that hoped to address sight issues and he pointed to the Brainport Vision Device which was a topic of the May 13th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. From that day's snapshot:

Robert Beckman [Brainport Technologies] spoke of a portable device, the Brainport Vision Device, where a small camera ("with zoom capability") is hooked to other neurochannels ("such as the tongue"). Beckman stated, "One blind user with two glass eyes was able to successfully shoot a basketball and another used the Brainport Vision Device at an indoor rock climbing gym to see the next rock holds and at home with his daughter to play Tic-Tac-Toe."

"The Brainport Vision Device will not replace the cane or the sight dog," he continued. "But it will become an important, additional tool to improve the safety, mobility and quality of life for blind users. Some examples. Finding the open seat on a crowded bus or train. Identifying the direction to the target building in a confusing parking lot. Finding the handle in order to remove a hot pot from the stove. Wicab recently sponsored clinical testing of the Brainport Vision Device at the Atlanta VA. Dr. Michael Williams, the PI concluded, 'Bottom line, the device performs remarkably well for the tasks that we looked at in phase one'. To optimize the device we need feedback from a much larger pool of users who are blind. We would welcome the opportunity to further test the Brainport Vision Device at VA sites. Perhaps those willing soldiers who are blind as a result of a blast injury should be first in line to test this new technology?"

Zampieri noted the device was still in the early stages of research and stated those who have tested it would declare "it holds some hope, but it's not going to replace natural vision." Under questioning from Hall, Abrams explained that he had a relative in residential care "and it cost over $90,000 to $100,000 to put somebody in a home and homecare, if you need twenty-four hour care, is hugely expensive."

"First observation," declared Glazer on the second panel noting an ongoing program -- Army Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration Project -- the National Organization on Disability is conducting with the army, "a fundamental mismatch many of the supports for veterans are constrained to an active service model placing the burden on veterans and their families to find and approach agencies But we find that the most seriously injured soldiers, especially with cognitive injuries are not really able to effectively access these services. [. . .] Second observation, the need to deal with both a veteran and the family member. As others have stated, the process of recovering from injury and coming home and coming to terms with disability is a very complex process that impacts the entire family. Ancillary benefits in our belief must be available to veterans and family members."

Glazer would go on to note issues such as criminal charges for veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI, training in the management of personal finances. Glazer, and her organization, are a little too Republican for me (Tom Ridge chairs the organization) and it's a little too "smile and pull up those bootstraps." But Glazer was one of the few who knew how to speak. Globbidy-gook? No one gives a damn. Don't reference a model, for example, in another country, without explaining it. If that's the root of your response to Hall's question, you're wasting everyone's time including your own. I don't usually note "I like this organization, I don't like that one" but on this panel, Glazer's being noted because she knows how to speak and because two others will be ignored, I want to be really clear that no one reads this as I'm endorsing Glazer's organization. And let's also note that when all you do is toss out a bunch of numbers, no one's really impressed. In fact, it's assumed you actually don't know what you're talking about -- including your numbers -- or you'd be offering testimony that people could actually follow. I've never seen as many blank stares in a hearing before (true of the first panel to a lessor degree). Those not doing blank stares? A man to the right of us repeatedly put his hand over his face during the second panel, at a loss as to what was being said. At the end of the hearing, he stated he felt as if it had been conducted in a foreign language. Glazer knew how to speak and so did Kimberly Munoz.

Munoz was asked to estimate the amount spent by veterans and their families for assistance and stated she didn't know that answer but that it varies due to the fact "that some families have the assistance they need to get the benefits they need from VA and they have to use less out of pocket to get the services their veteran needs. Other families who may have not had the guidance from perhaps a VSO or who don't have the education in our country -- maybe they've moved here from another country -- and they don't speak our language, it's hard for them to run through all the rules and regulations and applications
and so they have a difficult time accessing the benefits that they need. There was a study that was released by the Center for Naval Analysis that estimated 19 months of lost income of around $2,000 some odd dollars for a total of $36,000 average loss per family of a catastrophically injured service member. That's their income loss which isn't necessarily answering your question of how much do they spend out of pocket to get the services but it is -- it is a figure that's been widely reported."

Chair John Hall: Thank you and what additional factors do you think VA should specifically consider when it adjudicates aid and attendance or housebound rates?

Kimberly Munoz: I think they need to consider the -- one of the key questions is: Can the veteran keep themselves safe from the hazards of daily living? There's many other questions related to a body part function or a loss of a body part but buried deep in there is can the veteran keep himself safe from the hazards of daily living? For those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and stand-alone TBI I believe that that is a key to determining whether or not that veteran needs aid and attendance. The aid and attendance can also vary in terms of do you need physical aid and attendance or do you need oversight? So one package of aid and attendance does not meet the needs of every single veteran.

Chair John Hall: That seems to me that that judgment about the safety of the veteran living independently is similar to a judgment that one would have to make about an Alzheimer-Alzheimer's patient, for instance. In many families they go through that difficult time when they realize that a stove or an electric socket is no longer a safe thing for this adult family member to be handling alone.

Kimberly Munoz: Some of the family members have suggested specially adapted equipment be included in the grants available for home modifications -- like stoves that automatically turn off after a certain amount of time. Or other appliances that consider short term memory loss for some of the Traumatic Brain Injury patients.

Chair John Hall: And what else do you think Ms. -- Ms. Munoz what else could the VA do to improve the quality of life of disabled veterans and their families.

Kimberly Munoz: It sounds simple but I know it's very difficult and that is: Make it easier for families to get what they need. Anytime you look at the Title 38 and try to determine, "Well what am I -- what is this veteran eligible -- or how do I go about it?" It's so hard to know who is eligible for what. One family care giver told me the story of, you know, "We thought we were eligible for respite care and then when we called my son's rating wasn't, wasn't high enough." Or the SMC [Special Monthly Compensation] code wasn't the right code. So they work very hard then to find out, "Well how to I get that code?" And that's a backwards way to work a system. You need to find out what does that veteran need, much like you [George Kettner] suggested, what is the need of that veteran and what is the need of that family so that they can live safely and live independently -- not how do we get you pigeon holed into the right code so that you get the services that that code offers.

Can you follow that? Yes, you can. And an organization that sends a speaker like that. or Glazer, into a hearing is way ahead of others. You need to know the topic of the hearing -- a problem for one person on the first panel who repeatedly answered questions with a variation of "I don't know" -- and you need to be able to speak clearly on the topic. Glazer advocated for less benefits -- I'm not joking -- and whether anyone agreed with her or not, everyone could follow what she was saying. (She was saying that benefits can prevent work. And that's as much as I'm doing to circulate her nonsense argument.)

Yesterday's snapshot noted the House Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Kat covered it last night at her site (and plans to cover today's hearing at her site tonight). Despite the fact that the New York Times and one of their reporters were repeatedly trashed in that hearing, the paper of some record ignored the hearing, as did most of the press. Walter F. Roche Jr. (Pittsurgh Tribune-Review) covers the VA's Kent Wallner's testimony. I didn't find him believable, Roche obviously did and use the link to read about that aspect of yesterday's hearing. Rachel Baye and Naomi Jagoda (The Daily Pennsylvanian) cover the hearing and zoom in on Dr. Gay Kao and his attempt to play victim.

Also in yesterday's snapshot was Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, and US President Barack Obama's performace at the Rose Garden. Apparently journalists also wanted to play a role -- something other than reporter -- judging from the articles filed on the nonsense. For perspective, we drop back to Whit Stillman's Barcelona. Specifically, a party where American Fred (Chris Eigeman) is discussing his home country.

Female Party Goer: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people?
Fred: No.

Female Party Goer: All those people killed in shootings in America?

Fred: Oh. Shootings, yes. But that doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.

America's not more violent, insists Fred, they're just better shots. Apparently some similar defense was on the minds of Karen DeYoung (Washington Post), Jeff Zeleny (New York Times) and Mark Silva (Los Angeles Times and other Tribune properties). None of the three challenges Barack's laughable assertion that "Violence continues to be down". No, it doesn't. As we explained yesterday, the trend in lower violence ended with the month of January. Starting with February, you see an uptick in violence. That trend has held each passing month. We also cited Al Jazeera which was explaining, "An estimated 437 Iraqis were killed in June, the highest death toll in 11 months, and the near daily attacks have continued in July." June, the most recent month with data, saw "the highest death toll in 11 months," but Barack wants to claim violence is down? Apparently Iraq isn't more violent currently, it's just seen better shots and better bomb builders? DeYoung has the strongest article, then Zeleny and then Silva. One compliment to all three is they covered it. Strongly or badly, they covered it. Nouri al-Maliki met with Barack Obama yesterday. The Iraq War is six years old and counting. Where was the coverage? Amy Goodman's pathetic two sentences in headlines? That's something to be proud of? How pathetic. What do you get instead? You get the crap Bob Somerby's calling out today (the mind readers who 'just know' something but don't know a thing -- which didn't stop Amy Goodman from doing yet another segment on it today). You really need to ask how the media -- Big and Small -- is serving you because in this round of Liar's Poker, seems to be a lot of Liz Smiths sitting down at the table wanting to be dealt in.

Back to this morning's articles: Where are Americans? The leader of a country the US remains at war with visits and where are the voices of Americans? We do grasp that the Iraq War continues, right? Check yesterday's snapshot and then read the articles again. A poll was released yesterday. It addressed Iraq. Where's any citation of the results? From yesterday's snapshot:A new AP-GfK Roper poll finds a decrease in the number of respondents who believe Barack will remove troops from Iraq -- 15% lower than the last poll. [PDF format warning, click here for the data breakdown.] 62% of respondents ranked "The Situation in Iraq" as either "Extremely important" or "Very important." The poll found an increase of five percent on the number of respondents who disapprove of Barack's handling of the Iraq War. Is this increase a result of angry right-wingers upset over Barack's so-called plan? Maybe. But the respondents were asked if they believed Barack would "remove most troops from Iraq?" In January, 83% of respondents said it was likely and 15% said it was unlikely. The 83% who thought it was coming has fallen to 68%. The number who believe it is not happening has risen to 26%.
Nouri and Barack meet up at the White House yesterday as a poll is released which finds the number of people who believe Barack will "remove most troops from Iraq" has fallen from 83% in January to 68% presently -- a 15% drop. Where's that in any of the articles?The articles repeatedly (and falsely) claim the US will be out of Iraq in 2011. That's not what's happening. It's not even claimed to be happening. Does no one listen to Adm Mike Mullen, Gen Ray Odierno or even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? Reading the articles today, it doesn't appear that anyone does. Uh-oh. Reality slaps them in the face. Aljazeera reports, "The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011." Yeah, he did it today and it's only a surprise if you've never grasped what the Status Of Forces Agrement does and does not do. The Washington Post, for example, has one person on staff who understands the SOFA completely. That's one more than the New York Times has. Drop back to real time coverage (Thanksgiving 2008) and you'll see the Washington Post could explain what it did and didn't do and get it right. No other US outlet can make that claim. (The Los Angeles Times hedged their bets but did appear to grasp it in an article co-written by Tina Susman.) McClatchy Newspapers? Oh goodness, Leila Fadel made an idiot of herself over the SOFA. Even more so than the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller -- in December and January -- offered some realities but they were lost on the other reporters at the paper). The Times just got it wrong. Fadel got it wrong and sang praises of it. It wasn't reporting, it was column writing passed off as such. Today, Nouri declared, "Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at the time, based on the needs of Iraq." Sound familiar? It should. This month you should have heard Adm Mike Mullen make the same statement, you should have heard General Ray Odierno make it over and over beginning in May and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it many times -- generally he's asked when he's visiting a foreign country because US reporters don't really seem to care. One exception would certainly be Dahr Jamail who was on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday and explained, "We still have over 130,000 troops in Iraq. Troops are not being withdrawn from Iraq. They are being relocated to different bases, some of the bases still within cities, but they are not being withdrawn thus far." Dahr's latest book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan has just been released this month. IPA provides this context from Global Policy Forum's James Paul: "For all the talk of 'U.S. withdrawal' from Iraq, the reality on the ground is starkly different. U.S. troops still patrol the cities, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, while Washington remains hugely influential in the politics of the country. The gigantic U.S. embassy looms large in Baghdad, U.S. forces still hold thousands of Iraqi prisoners in the vast U.S. prison camp in the southern desert, dozens of U.S. military bases remain in place including the sprawling 'Camp Victory' complex in Baghdad and Washington continues to press towards its ultimate goal -- the de facto privatization of Iraq's vast oil resources."

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grease wasn't the word








We'll start in the US for VA news. Brachytherapy is one treatment for prostate cancer. Walt Bogdanich (New York Times) explained the treatment last month as: "a doctor implants dozens of radioactive seeds to attack the disease." But at the VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania, Bogdanich reported, Dr. Gary D. Kao's treatment resulted in nearly all of the forty seeds ending up "in the patient's healthy bladder, not the prosate." Instead of addressing it or Dr. Kao's other problems, regulators who are supposed to oversea the VA allowed creative records to be kept and Kao was allowed to rewrite what happened, to hide his errors. The paper's investigation discovered "92 implant errors resulted from a systemwide failure in which none of the safeguards that were supposed to protect veterans from poor medical work worked". Josh Goldstein (Philadelphia Inquirer) reported last month, "It took officials more than six years to catch the mistakes, investigators said. When they were discovered last year, all brachytherapy treatments at the hospital were halted and remain so." That's some of the backstory. Today the House Veterans' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by US House Rep Harry Mitchell, held a hearing entitled Enforcement of US Department of Veterans Affair Bracytherapy Safety Standards. In his opening remarks, Chair Mitchell observed:

Brachytherapy is a form of radio therapy, often used to treat prostate cancer, in which radioactive seeds are placed inside or next to a patient's malignancy. Failure to accurately place the radioactive seeds can cause serious harm. To say that it is disturbing to learn that veterans received bungled procedures and that safety protocols failed to safeguard against such mistreatment would be an understatement. As a result, we are hear today to examine system-wide safety standards for these procedures to ensure that our veterans are receiving the best and safest care available.

Mitchell explained that there were four VA brachytherapy programs which were suspended (Cincinatti, Washington and Jackson, Mississippi) and that "we know that Philadelphia was by far the worst." The hearing was composed of three panels and the first panel had the witness of greatest interest, Dr. Gary Kao who no longer works for the VA after his repeated errors. In his opening statement, he decried "some very serious false allegations that have appeared in the media about me" (in his written statement he decries the reports on himself "in recent publications, most notably the New York Times"). He sneared at the term "92 botched cases" -- insisting this was a mischaracterization and that reported incidents to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the VA's radiation safety program, did not mean "botched cases" or even that anything was wrong. Apparently, Dr. Kao believes, it's just a little candy heart that says "BE MY VALENTINE" on it. Kao apparently slid one over to the Ranking Member, US House Rep Phil Roe (Republican), who decried the New York Times efforts to "sensationalize" the issue. Roe apparently doesn't read, we've cited two papers above, those were not the only ones reporting on the problems.

The first panel was Kao, Dr. Steven M Hahn, Dr. Michael R. Bieda -- all of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. Kao is offended that the "botched" incidents are associated with him because he has never, ever had a medical malpractice law suit against him. Damn lucky. Most doctors plant a treatment in a liver by mistake (and botch the follow up procedure as well), they'd be sued. When his colleague, Hahn, was offering his opening remarks and got to wanting "to express my deppest regret that prostate cancer patients receiving brachytherapy at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center," Kao nearly dropped the pitcher he was holding to pour himself a glass of water.
For any wondering, Kao expressed no such regret in his opening statements which were all about (a) how great he was and (b) how wronged he'd been by the press. He expressed no sadness or regret for any of the veterans harmed by the 'treatment' they received (eighty of the 92 botched cases were his, according to statements made in the hearing by subcommittee members).

Chair Harry Mitchell: First can you please explain the quality of care provided at the VA compared to the quality of care at other facilities you've worked at?

Dr. Gary Kao: The-the brachytherapy procedure that we adopted at the VA was, um, identical to the system that was used at uh-uh other -- at the University of Pennsylvania and also, um, one of its satellites. Um, and in my training, in fact, um, I went to observe, uh, brachytherapy procedures performed in, um, our satellite in, um, in Trenton, New Jersey. And, uh, as a resident, I-I was trained, um, in brachytherapy by senior physicians at, uh, the University of Pennsylvania

Chair Harry Mitchell: Uh, what quality of care matrix do other facilites follow?

Dr. Gary Kao: My-my understanding is that, um, the quality [long pause] control -- the quality assurance procedures are similar in that a CT is performed after the procedure and, uh, the symetry calculated, uh, from that CT.

Chair Harry Mitchell: And the last one I have, what markers are red flags when conducting the brachytherapy procedures indicated a problem?

Dr. Gary Kao: I-I now understand that, uh, [long pause] one-one of my regrets is that, um, I could have been, um, much more assertive in engaging the NRC in what it defines as a reportable medical event. Um, at -- as a result of their investigation in 2003 and 2005, we-we were, uh, under the understanding that the definition of a reportable medical event was based on the number of seeds laying outside the prostate. Um, subsequently, I-I-I, I wuh -- I was, um, I found out that that, uh, was not the case, that the NRC, um, uh, apparently is now relying on a D90 metric and that is something that, um, to my regret, I-I could have been much more, uh, much more [long pause] focused on using that metric.

It would take repeated questioning and intense pressing of the issue for Kao to express any regret at all for the patients he was supposed to be caring for. We'll note US House the questioning from US House Rep John Adler (New Jersey).

US House Rep John Adler: I guess my first question is for Dr. Kao. We've heard about, um, the closure of this program in June of 2008. We've heard about possibly 92 cases out of 116 with some concern. Some of us use the word "botched," you don't like that word. We've heard that the National Health Physics program reported to the NRC at least 35 medical events later in 2008. We heard Dr. Hahn just now acknowledge on behalf of U Penn that not every -- not in every instance did every patient get the best possible care. This program is still closed. You were running this program. You were the principle operative of this program at the VA in Philadelphia. How do you reconicle your view in your own testimony here today that patients received appropriate medical care with the VA's view that it made mistakes during this period of years, with U Penn's recognition that not every patient got the best possible care, um, with NHP and NRC saying there are medical events even in a context where we probably don't define medical event suffientilly to trigger reporting to the extent that we would want reporting? So let's assume there's some under-reporting going on. Even with under-reporting, we've got at least 35 instances from 2008, um, reported about, over a period of time, a program you ran. I'm thinking you're in a dream world right now. I'm thinking everybody else, all the other experts, are looking at this and saying, he didn't go well enough, that whether the number is 92 or less than 92, we want the number to be zero botched cases. How do you reconcile your view that every patient received appropriate medical care with the view of every other expert, of every potential supervisor, every contracting body, every regulatory body. Um, I kind of want to hear you acknowledge you did things less well than you would have wanted to have done.

Dr. Gary Kao: Sir, I, um, I don't disagree with, um, many of the other comments that-that were made. Uh, um, medicine is both an art and a science and the art of it is that, uh, even though the treatment may be effective it may be made to be even more optirmal essential, uh, theme here is [long pause] uh, what -- what is defined as a reportable medical event. An even -- a case that is a reportable medical event does not mean that the patient was harmed or did not receive effective treatment. Um, when the program was closed in 2008, we did not have any confirmed cases of tumor recurrence. Um, the NRC itself recognizes that a reportable medical event does not mean, uh, that -- does not address the ethicacy of the treatment. So-so, uh, in summary, there are -- I recognize there are many things -- several things that I could have done better, uh, but I still believe that the patients received the standard of care that was, um, in place at the time.

US House Rep John Adler: I'm just seeing it differently than you are, I guess. I understand from some news reports that it was at least a period of a year where you were not getting, um, post-implant dosimetry information to guage whether the patients had the seeds placed properly and that the seeds had stayed where you'd want them to be. Is it true that there was a year where you did not have that post-implant dosimetry information?

Dr. Gary Kao: It-it is true that [short pause] for a period of about 14 months there was a computer interface problem, uh, at the VA that, um, although the CTs that could be performed after the brachytherapy but that data could not be transmitted to the VariSeed work station used to calculate the doses. During that time, I followed the chain of command. I complained to radiation safety, to the chair of the department, uh, and, uh, other members of the program did the same but this problem was never fixed. I was then faced with the very difficult choice of either stopping the program -- but if I had done so, then the patients would not have received any care. As I mentioned earlier, many of the patients who came to us, uh, did not have re- surgery or other forms of radiation as a choice. So given the choice between delivering no care and having their cancers progress or to p -- go ahead and perform the procedure, I made that decision. I could still see from the CT that the seeds were in the prostate and I could judge that the seeds were concentrated around, uh, part of the prostate where the cancer was located. So the -- these gave me a measure of confidence that the patients were-were being appropriately treated but it is -- you're correct, sir, that is one of my regrets that I should have broken the chain of command, I should have been more assertive, I should have stopped the program at that point.

US House Rep John Adler: What number would you say was the number of patients who didn't get adequate care? The total you did was 116. Of that number what would you say? I've heard numbers 57, 35 and 92. What number would you say was the number?

Dr. Gary Kao: Sir, since 2008, I have not had access to the patient records but I believe based on the calculations that our team performed before it was shut down that the cases were far fewer, uh, and, um, probably closer to, uh, 20 or uh-uh cases that were reported -- that were [short pause] defined as medical-medical events. But-but-but again, what a case that is defined as a medical event does not mean that the treatment was not effective, sir.

Throughout the hearing, Kao repeatedly shot daggers at Hahn who, sincere or not, stated what Kao refused to. Such as following the above when Hahn interjected, "And let me just say that even if it were just one human being who did not receive the best possible care, Congressman Adler, that would be unacceptable." US House Rep Timothy Walz found Hahn sincere and noted that in his remarks.

The second panel was composed of Dr. Paul Schyve of The Joint Commission, Dr. Robert Lee (American Society for Radiation Oncology) and Steven A. Reynolds (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). From that panel, we'll note NRC's Steven Reynolds on the issue of medical event. Kao wanted to repeatedly argue what the meaning was. The NRC is the one defining. Reynolds explained that the term "misadministration" had been in use prior to 2002 and was then replaced with "medical event." What does that mean? He defined it as meaning "that the radioactive material or the radiation from the material, was not delivered as directed by the physician." That definition easily translates as "botched." When something is "not delivered as directed by the physicians," it was botched.

The third panel was composed of Joseph Williams Jr. (VA), Dr. Michael Hagan (VA), E. Lynn McGuire (VA), Michael Moreland (VA), Richard Whittington (VA) and Kent Wallner (VA). We're not noting titles. Reading off the non-medical titles of one panelist, Chair Mitchell asked, "Can they put that all in a name tag? Woo." Mr. Williams would lament that the Philadelphia VA "did not deliver the intended dose".

[. . .]

Military propaganda makes it on air in the US and is disguised as news. At least two Wisconsin TV stations have aired military propaganda with one putting their own reporter over it (Jeff Alexander) to read the military's copy. Madison Wisconsin's WKOWTV offers a pure propangada look (video report) at the US run Iraqi prision Camp Cropper. It tells you that terrorists and criminals are in the prison. It forgets to tell you that no one's been tried. It forgets to tell you that at least six prisoners have died or that the Red Cross has documented abuses at the prison. But it does run it as is. Meaning the report ends with the announcer of the footage declaring, "Army Sgt. Frank Morello, Joint Area Support Group, Public Affairs." An ABC affiliate wanted to air the propaganda but they wanted to present it as a news report created within the station. What to do, what to do? Oh, I know! Let's take Morello's exact words and let's have our own Jeff Alexander read them. Let's have him step before the camera in the studio and then go to the military's footage while Jeff narrates, then we'll cut to him at the end and he'll do a wrap up and we'll let viewers think that Jeff actually reported this. As opposed to letting them know that the footage and every word spoken was from the US military. Which is how Green Bay's WBAY promotes the propagndad insisting, as they toss to Jeff, that this is "a rare behind the scenes look at their mission is our top story on Action Two News at Four." Their top story is one they didn't even film? Their top story is one they didn't even write? How pathetic is WBAY and where do they get off lying to viewers?They've put Jeff Alexander's voice over on top of Morello's and presented this as their own report. That's outrageous. That's shameful and it violates every rule of journalism. Jeff Alexander, as the on air, should be fired as should every one responsible for that segment making it on air and an on-air apology should be made to viewers.These aren't the only two stations airing this. You should look for it if you're in Wisconsin, this 'inside look' at Camp Cropper. Fox 11 at least had the good sense to state before airing the footage that it was produced by the US military, "Tuesday the military released video of the Camp Cropper, along with interviews from some Wisconsin soldiers working there." They should have noted, however, that their own Becky DeVries was reading the copy that the US military wrote with just a few variations.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009







Yesterday on NPR's Morning Edition, Quil Lawrence filed a story on Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Jassem:

Quil Lawrence: Ibrahim Jassam was 29-years-old when he began filming news for Reuters wire service. That was 2006 and the towns southwest of Baghdad had earned the name Triangle of Death because of the violence between Shi'ite militias and Sunni insurgents. His brother Waleed says Jassam took his work very seriously.

Waleed Jassam: When there was an explosion Ibrahim was always the first one to be in the location filming. He felt whatever was happening on the ground, he wanted to be seen on the television.

Quil Lawrence: But, as with many cases in the past, the US military apparently thought Jassam's photos looked a little too close to the action suggesting a connection to insurgents. One morning last September, a combined US and Iraqi force cordoned off Jasam's neighborhood hours before dawn. They broke down the door of the house where he lived with his parents and siblings and dragged Jassam away in his underwear, handcuffed. They brought dogs inside the house said his sister Iman as she points out Jassam's room. Iman says she tried to tell the soldiers her brother had done nothing wrong.

Iman Jassam: One of the Iraqi soldiers said, "Why are you still talking? If you only knew what we are going to do to your brother, you would be crying." These words are still echoing in my ears.

Quil Lawrence: It took months before the family got word that Jassim was in a US military prison and they eventually visited him. What they're still waiting for is any kind of criminal charge against him.

Capt Brad Kimberly: Ibrahim Jassam is still in detention because he's classified as a high security threat

Quil Lawrence: Capt Brad Kimberly is a US military spokesman. He says starting this year with the new US-Iraqi security agreement, all American arrests require an Iraqi warrant but, since Jassam was arrested last year, no warrant was needed. Kimberly said the only obligation is to transfer him sometime after December. But Kimberly offers no evidence.

Capt Brad Kimberly: Prior to the first of January, all detainees were held as wartime security threats, no legal charges were assigned.

Quil Lawrence: In fact, an Iraqi court document from last November says that, since the Americans provided no evidence or confession, Jassam should be released. Michael Christie is the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad. He says Jassam did a good job in a dangerous city.

Michael Christie: We have to assume he has been detained because of the work he was doing as a journalist. Until we see otherwise, until the evidence is declassified, he deserves the presumption of innocence.

Quil Lawrence: Iraqi journalists have been regularly detained by US forces through the course of the American occupation. Several have been killed when mistaken for insurgents. According to Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Jassam is the only one still in US custody.

Mohammed Abdel Dayem: No charges have been brough against any of the journalists. Journalists, if and when they are detained, their cases should be reviewed in a quick and timely way and they should either be charged with a recognized crime or be released.

Quil Lawrence: After a few months in a prison near Baghdad, Jassam was transferred to Camp Bucca, a massive US prison camp near the border with Kuwait. It's an eight or nine hour drive south from his home but the family was able to visit him last month. Ibrahim Jassam's sister Iman says he isn't eating enough and looks thing. She says her brother knows the Iraqi court cleared him in November and he can't understand why the Americans keep holding him for ten months now and counting. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

From the December 1, 2008 snapshot:

In other news, Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam has been a prisoner in Iraq since Sept. 1, 2008 when US and Iraqi military forces drug him from his Mahmudiyah home. He has been held a prisoner since then at Camp Cropper. Reporters Without Borders and Journalistic Freedom Observatory have been calling for his release. Reuters reported yesterday that Iraq's Central Criminal Court has ordered that Ibrahim be released because "there was no evidence against" him; however, "There was no immediate response from the U.S. military to the ruling." Daryl Lang (Photo District News) adds, "Jassam's case resembles those of several other Iraqi photographers and cameramen working for Western news organizations, all of whom were eventually freed. And the decision comes as the U.S. is releasing thousands of security detainees and preparing to turn its much-maligned detainee system over to the Iraqi government."

December 9, 2009, Reuters reported that US Maj Neal Fisher stated all the Iraqi court order meant was that when he is released Ibrahim "will be able to out-process without having to go through the courts as other detainees in his threat classification will have to do." Why is that? Because the court has found no reason to hold Ibrahim. So while others will go on to have their day in court, Fisher is admitting that Ibrahim's had his but the US military just doesn't want to release him. In June of this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Nouri al-Maliki and they noted Ibrahim and requested, "Press the U.S. military to respect the decision of the Iraqi courts and immediately release Ibrahim Jassam." Last September, Reporters Without Borders pointed out that over "20 journalists have been arrested in Iraq in similar circumstances since 1st January 2008, all of whom have been released after spending days or even months in custody without any charges being made against them." CPJ notes him here (note that Adel Hussein, whose profile follows, has been released and shouldn't even be on the current list of journalists imprisoned). Reporters Without Borders notes that three journalists are currently detained in Iraq, there's Ibrahim starting September 1, 2008; Mountazer al-Zaidi starting December 14, 2008 (he's the one who threw his shoes at Bully Boy Bush and Nouri's joint-press conference in December) and Jassem Mohamed who has been imprisoned since February 2009. Meanwhile, last week Reporters Without Borders declared, "Iraqi security forces working with Sahwa militias seem to be taking advantage of the withdrawal of the US forces to physically target journalists. The Iraqi authorities must do what is necessary to put a stop to this and to ensure that there are independent investigations into these two recent incidents." The first incident involved Ali Al-Juburi (Ifaq) Ahmad Omad (Biladi TV) and Karim Al-Qasimi (Al Fiha) outside Ramadi, traveling in a car clearly marked as press being pulled over by Sahwa and Iraqi police and physically attacked. The second is Haydar al_Qotbi (Radio Sawa) attacked in Baghdad by Sahwa after he displayed his press credentials ("dragged from the car and badly beated by six men").

Staying with the topic of Iraqi reporters, one year ago today, Soran Mama Hama was assassinated in Kirkuk Province. From the July 22, 2008 snapshot:

Reuters notes "an Iraqi journalist working for a Kudrish magazine" was shot dead in Kirkuk Monday and 5 people wounded in shootings in Haswa while Tirkit was the site of an attack today "on the convoy of Khalid Burhan, head of health office of Salahudding province" that left his guards wounded. The journalist was Soran Mamhama. He was 23-years-old and AP states he worked for the "magazine Leven and often covered government corruption." Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condeming the murder and stated, "We call on the Kudristan authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Hama's murder. He wrote hard-hitting articles about local politicians and security officials and had received threats from people telling him to stop his investigative reporting. The authorities should therefore give priority to the theory that he was killed because of his work." Xinhua notes Soran was shot dead outside his home and quotes Journalist Freedoms Observatory's Ziyad al-Ajili stating, "The first step to halt the assassinations against journalists is to capture those culprits." Iran's Press TV quotes Latif Satih Faraj (Kurdish Journalists Union in Kirkuk) stating, "If the government can't protect Kurdish journalists in Kirkuk, we might adviste them to withdraw from this city." Iraq's The Window reports Leveen is calling for an investigation and that "Leveen, which is an independent Kurdish magazine founded 6 years ago in Sulaimani, is known as a muckraking journal in Kurdistan and Iraq."

The Committee To Protect Journalists is calling for his murder(s) to be brought to justice, "Authorities in Kirkuk province must bring to justice those responsible for the 2008 murder of journalist Soran Mama Hama . . . the Committee to Protect Journalists said on the eve of the anniversary of the reporter's slaying. . . . Mama Hama published an article in Livin before his death about the alleged complicity of the police and security officials in prostitution rings in Kirkuk. He claimed in the article that his sources had provided him with names of 'police brigadiers, many lieutenants, colonels, and many police and security officers,' who were clients. The shooting occurred at around 9 p.m. in the dominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Shorija, a relatively safe area in Kirkuk." They note that Soran was one of 139 journalists killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

A year ago today, Nouri was gearing up for his trip to Berlin where he'd meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This as thug and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki gears up for his media stop in the US, just in time for Barry O's prime time address Wednesday night. July 25th, three provinces in Iraq hold their provincial elections and to steal attention (what little's been given) for the KRG, Nouri plans to announce an education plan that would put 10,000 Iraqis in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US for college study. Of course, that 10,000 wouldn't come anytime soon. He plans to do 500. He'll make his announcement of the program in DC Saturday morning. Ned Parker's "Maliki remakes himself ahead of elections" (Los Angeles Times) covers the region's Madonna as he prepares to embark on his Blonde Ambition tour and notes of self-promoter Nouri:Iran has played a king-making role in Iraqi Shiite politics since 2003 because of its ties to many Shiite lawmakers, who spent years in exile across the border."In the period of 2006 and 2007, there were moves to remove Maliki. It was Iran who stopped it. Maliki has to remember this. They can make his life harder," said Sami Askari, a Shiite legislator and confidant of the prime minister.Still, Askari warned that Maliki would not be hemmed in; he would set the conditions for any list of candidates he might join."Maliki will not accept to be marginalized. . . . Some may have ambitions to surround Maliki. I doubt they will succeed," Askari said. "Everyone understands Maliki is an asset."Noting the visit is Jake Kurtzer (Refugees International) who stresses the ongoing Iraqi refugee crisis -- internal and external displaced persons -- and offers:President Obama can convey this message by urging Al-Maliki to take a few basic steps. First and foremost, the Iraqi government must continue to improve its own response to the displacement crisis. Reports that the Iraqi government plans to close the IDP file at the end of this year indicate a desire on their part to gloss over this humanitarian emergency. This is unacceptable. The Iraqi government, with U.S. support, must continue to improve its legal framework for supporting returnees and must ensure that all returns are voluntary, and conducted with dignity to areas that are safe and suitable for return. In urging Al-Maliki to take these steps, President Obama should reiterate America's commitment to meeting the basic needs of Iraq's displaced, through financial support for humanitarian agencies and through diplomatic engagement with host countries. The announcement of a potential return of an Ambassador to Syria is a welcome and overdue step that RI has been calling for since 2007. This will ensure that the U.S. can engage with the Syrian government on issues relating to the basic needs of Iraqi refugees. Finally, the President can continue to affirm the U.S.'s commitment to resettle those most vulnerable Iraqi's who will never be able to return home. Refugees International's latest report is [PDF format warning] entitled "IRAQI REFUGEES: WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND SECURITY CRITICAL TO RETURNS" and it's covered in yesterday's snapshot.

Nouri's first stop will be the United Nations. No surprise, the UN is suddenly interested in Iraq again. The same UN that's shutting down offices and websites. (Didn't you notice? Try to visit UNHCR's Iraq page. It's gone.) Tim Cocks (Reuters) reports that an unnamed UN diplomat is swearing that the KRG needs to stop their demands on Kirkuk and just wait because, "We (all) believe that would lead to war and the U.N. has . . . told the Kurds that." And the response of the Kurds should be: Who the hell cares? The referendum on oil-rich Kirkuk was supposed to have taken place no later than December 2007. It's 2009 and they're still being told to wait? The UN claimed in the summer of 2008 they'd work on a solution. It's a year later and the solution is: Wait?

No. If you were a Kurd you wouldn't support waiting one more moment. They've waited. They've listened. It's really past time for something to be done about the situation. Iraq's Constitution has not been followed and if the United Nations wants to help, they might try actually helping instead of being the joke to every NGO and charity in Iraq right now. They made themselves that joke. They did it when they let a man WHORE out the good name of the UN to appease al-Maliki. Yeah, back when they said that host countries shouldn't consider Iraqi citizens refugees from a dangerous country. Under huge protests internally, the UN issued a statement saying that, of course, the situation in Iraq was still too dangerous for a return. But they'd already made a joke of themselves and they'd yet again proven that they will LIE for Nouri. They did last fall when they allowed their spokeswoman to lash out at Iraqi women in a press conference, to blame Iraqi women for the cholera outbreak. That's wasn't public health, it wasn't anything but take the heat off Nouri. The United Nations has played the fool for Nouri one time too damn many and their reputation is in tatters in Iraq. It's their own fault and it will require real work to build it back up. Until they do, the Kurds should tell them to butt the hell out of an issue in a supposedly soveriegn country. What's the United Nations doing butting in yet again anyway? The Kurds didn't invite them into the conversation.

Oh, Nouri invited them in. Well it's not all about Nouri and the KRG doesn't have to listen to the UN and shouldn't at this point in time. Read Tim Cocks' report and grasp that the unnamed diplomat is WHORING for Nouri. (Cocks has written an excellent report, the embarrassment is the UN diplomat.) It's all, "Bad Barzani!" from the diplomat. First off, July 25th is when the KRG holds provincial elections and presidential. It's funny how many times I've heard friends at the UN excuse Nouri's alarmist rhetoric with, "He's just trying to drum up support for the elections." Yet, Barzani faces an election on Saturday and he's not given the same benefit of the doubt? The UN has embarrassed themselves and the problem has been from day one that no one person is in charge. This group (usually on the ground in Iraq) goes off and does what it wants. The UN attempts to fix it by using an agency spokesperson from outside Iraq. But they never punish their staff in Iraq that continually causes these problems. Instead of fretting over Kirkuk, the UN should work on getting their own damn house in order. The United Nations needs to be seen as an honest broker. It gave that up due to on the ground staff repeatedly distorting to benefit Nouri al-Maliki. Those people were not disciplined (and it took forever just to get two of them removed from Iraq). Now the UN wants to tell the Kurds to wait? After it gave up the right to be seen as an honest broker?

If I were Baghdad, I'd wait. I'd wait happily. If I were the Kurds, I'd grasp that maybe a little violence will come in the already violent Iraq if I move but if I don't move the issue will continue to be postponed while the US government gets closer and closer to Nouri. I'd grasp that Nouri's violence usually leads to the US Embassy appeasing him. I'd grasp that maybe setting off my own violence might get me some of Kirkuk or Nineveh. I'd grasp that the United Nation's diplomat is trashing me to the press when Nouri is the one who has held up the Kirkuk issue. When the Iraq Constitution mandated that he commission a census and schedule a referendum before the end of 2007, when the White House benchmarks included that he resolve the issue of Kirkuk. Nouri didn't do that. But the one causing the problem is the Kurds? I'd grasp that any UN staff that turned around and trashed me to the press wasn't worth working with and I'd decide what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. Two and a half years after the Iraq Constitution mandated this issue be settled, it's still not and the United Nations wants to say "WAIT!" and blame the Kurds? And they want to be seen like they are being fair to both sides? It's nonsense. And that's demonstrated by the fact that Iran's Press TV provides perspective the UN diplomat seems not to grasp:The Kurds say that parts of the majority Arab Nineveh belong to their ancient homeland and want them included in Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Kurds represent 16 of Nineveh's 37 seats in the parliament. They complain that Arab Governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi has marginalized them in the provincial council since he was elected on January 31, restoring Arabs to power.Should the problem fail to be resolved, the Kurds will be forced to split the province into two, forming their own splinter council to run the 16 administrative units, Kurdish councilor Derrman Khitari said on Sunday.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Barry O in a panic









Starting with Iraqi refugees. Today the International Committee of the Red Cross explains they "issued travel documents to 96 Palestinian refugees from Al-Waleed Camp (Anbar Governorate) to enable them to travel to Europe and the United States, where they will be resettled with the help of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International ORganization for Migration." Last week, Miriam Jordan (Wall St. Journal) reports that the US has agreed to take in 1,350 Palestinian refugees from Iraq --from among the over 3,000 refugees stuck in the 'camps' between Iraq and Syria. Jordan quoted University of California Hastings College of Law's professor George Bisharat stating, "These particular Palestinians are a fallout from the Iraq War. The Obama administration had to take some responsibility for the consequneces of the invasion." Patrik Jonsson (Christian Science Monitor -- link has text and video) had earlier reported that the refugees would "be resetteled in the US". However, Stephen Kaufman, writing at and for the US government at, doesn't say these refugees have been accepted, he states (on July 13th) that they "are being considered" for admittance to the US and sites the US State Dept as the source for that: "A State Department spokesman told July 13 that the resettlement process for the group actually began in 2008, and so far 24 Palestinians from Iraq have arrived in the United States."

While the refugees need to be offered asylum in the US, what sort of life awaits them? Not a good one if most reports are any indication. Fields Moseley (Utah's KUTV) reports on Raida Jarjes and Taofiq Rasheed, husband and wife Iraqi refugees living in Utah after being granted asylum following many years of waiting in Syria. In Iraq, she was a journalist, he was an attorney but here in the US they are among "50 refugee families [who] might be in the homeless shelter next month." Moseley explains, "The Rasheeds are foreign professionals without jobs, a common story among Iraqi refugees. They were delivered to this apartment complex and told a job should be their first priority. They received $920 each from the state department and a couple hundred bucks follows each week. But it won't last." The State Coordinator for Refguee Resettlement, Gerald Brwon, tells Moseley, "We are not able to find people jobs at the rate we have to if they have to pay rent." Saundra Amrhein (St. Petersburg Times) reports on Hayder Abudlwahab and his family (Iman, his wife, and their two sons) who escaped Iraq, made it to Syria and finally were accepted into the US, settling in Tampa in August 2008. They left Iraq after Hayder was injured in a bombing and "awoke on a pile of bodies in a Baghdad morgue. [. . .] Paralyzed, blinded, unable to scream, Hayder lay in a jumble of bodies. Knobby bones poked him from underneath, a still-warm arm lay across his side. The smell of rot was overwhelming." Now they live in Tampa trying very hard to make ends meet and just to make rent each month. Earlier this month, Aamer Madhani (USA Today) explained there was a 3.1% increase this year in "no-shows" for Iraqi refugees granted asylum to the US who do not take make the "U.S. government-paid flights out of Iraq" and that "the reluctance is a reflection of the difficulties faced by thousands of Iraqis who have arrived in the U.S. since 2006." Not all Iraqi refugees are struggling to those extremes. Maureen Sieh (Syracuse Post-Standard) noted, In the last year, 130 Iraqi refugees have been settled in Syracuse by refugee programs run by Catholic Charities and Interfaith Works Center for New Americans." Most charity programs have dried up in the US due to the economy and/or disinterest. Mosques and churches are among the few that remain. What of the US government's obligation? Last week the Boston Globe offered the editorial
"An obligation to refugees" which argued, "The United States should provide a haven for more refugees." Friday the International Organization for Migration announced the US State Dept had provided them $10 million "to meet the most urgent needs of Iraqi returnees." Returnees. Not refugees.

What are they doing for refugees? In it's most recent [PDF format warning] report on Iraq, the US State Dept notes that "as many as 2 million Iraqi refugees" are being housed by "regional governments," an estimated 2.8 million are currently displaced within Iraq and then they offer a dollar figure . . . for Fiscal Year 2008. FY2008 ended months before Barack Obama was sworn in. Fiscal Year 2009, the current year, is nearly over. It ends at the end of September. March 20, 2009, much was made of the announcement of pledges by the US in excess of $141 million which was added to the stingy sum of $9 million that had already been 'committed.' Have those pledges been honored, has the money -- $90 million to UNHCR, $15.5 million to UNICEF, for example -- been paid out? Were the pledges honored? Yvonne Abraham (Boston Globe) pointed out another area of concern yesterday, "The federal government desperately needs Arabic speakers, particularly ones who know the Middle East. Hundreds of the Iraqis who worked with US forces are now here, and desperately need jobs. Yet nobody seems to have come up with a way to match our needs with theirs. Kirk Johnson, whose List Project brings Iraqis who helped American forces to the United States, said only a few have found work as government translators here. The rest are shut out because the security hurdles are too high, or because they're not citizens."

Saturday, James Denselow (Guardian) explored "Iraq's forgotten crisis" and noting the interlocking nature of the conflicts (such as the KRG and the central government), the failed and failing infrastructure and the drought on issues including the external and internal refugees:

The consequences of the upstream damming of Iraq's rivers, when compounded with a general trend towards the reduction in rainfall entering the two river basins, is having a severe impact on the Iraqi breadbasket's ability to feed its population. The World Food Programme estimates that some 930,000 people are currently food-insecure in Iraq, with a further 6.4 million at risk of becoming food-insecure in the event of the failure of the Public Distribution System (PDS). Resettlement of internally displaced refugees and the potential return of the millions of Iraqis from Jordan and Syria all have the potential to place a further burden on this fragile system. Adam L Silverman, who worked as a social science adviser for the US army human terrain teams in 2008, noted that lack of river discharge leads to "ongoing soil erosion that leads to further desertification and increased heat and dust storms, which has a measurable negative impact on the quality of life of the Iraqis". Reuters reported that the sandstorms that delayed Biden's trip led to several deaths and "hundreds of Iraqis seeking medical help after one of the worst sandstorms in living memory stretched beyond a week, choking throats, clogging eyes and afflicting asthma sufferers in particular".

"The Iraqi refugee crisis is far from over and recent violence is creating further displacement," notes Refugees International, "Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families' well being." Refugees International's latest report is [PDF format warning] entitled "IRAQI REFUGEES: WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND SECURITY CRITICAL TO RETURNS." It finds that not only are large scale returns not coming in the immediate future but that "[n]ot one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return. Some women said they won't return because they are members of targeted minority groups, or because of injuries they suffered. . . . Some fear rising conservatism would restrict their ability to participate in civic and professional life. . . . Others feared they were at risk of so called 'honor killings' by family members because they refused marriages, had divorced, or were accused of prostitution." The field report found reoprts of forced marriages in Syria and the KRG. In Syria, "an Iraqi women working as a singer in a restaurant . . . was attacked by three men and raped. When she reported the crime to the police and asked for assistance, she was arrested, detained for six days, and threatened with deportation for working illegally. UNHCR finally obtained her release, but her assailants were never arrested." The report notes:

In northern Iraq, the KRG has taken some welcome steps to respond to the disturbingly high levels of reported gender-based violence (GBV), particularly so-called "honor killings," burnings and other attacks on women, often disguised as accidents or suicides. Recent higher GBV statistics in KRG may indicate a greater willingness to report such crimes, but further visible government support for women's rights is sorely need throughout Iraq.
The KRG, unlike the Government of Iraq, has supsended laws providing for "mitigating circumstances" to reduce the punishments for so-called "honor" crimes and has increased the penalties. Its Prime Minster set up a Cabinet-level Committee on Violence against Women and set up and staffed in each KRG governorate a "Directorate to Follw up Violence against Women." The offices conduct outreach and public education and investigate cases to turn over to the prosecutor. To protect women at risk of serious violence, the KRG and nongovernmental organizations operate small residential shelters. However, staff has little training or experience on security, confidentiality, or the counseling skills needed to assist clients. RI learned of recent incidents of women being trafficked from shelters.
The KRG could enhance these institutions' effectiveness and credibility by appointing experienced women to senior leadership posts in the Cabinet Committee and the Directorates, by regulating the shelters, and by ensuring shelter staff receive training and oversight. Donors should provide technical assistance through deploying specialist in investigations, witness protection, counseling, and helping to create standard operating procedures for temporary shelters. Donors should increase support to local NGOs experienced in GBV prevention and response services. Help is also needed in ensuring the wider distribution of public education materials in both Kurdish and Arabic, since higher levels of domestic violence are reported in the displaced population, which has not benefitted from any government outreach.

Moving to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. July 25th, they hold their provincial elections as well as elect a president. Nada Bakri (Washington Post) notes the region is "simultaneously considered the most democratic in Iraq and not all that democratic. Two main parties -- [KRG President Masoud] Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- have for years exercised a stranglehold on the region, dividing between them politics, patronage, investments and business deals." Pakistan's The National observes that a vote was also supposed to be held "to approve the new constitution, but a hurried intervention by the US vice president Joe Biden and warnings from Baghdad have persuaded Kurdish leaders to postpone that referendum. Kurdish anxiety is understandable. . . . The Kurds now appear to feel that the goodwill they displayed when they were strong brought few benefits." All weekend the tensions between the KRG and the centeral government in Baghdad continued to increase. Mehid Lebouachera (Kuwait Times) explained the roots of the tensions as follows: "Six years after the US-led invasion in which Kurdish rebel groups were key allies, their decades-old claims to historically Kurdish-inhabited areas remain unresolved by the new Iraqi government in which they hold both the presidency and a deputy premiership. And opposition to the Kurdish demands remains as strong as ever, not only among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein's ousted regime but also among the Shiite majority community that leads the new government and among ethnice minorities such as Turkemn. As time drags on, Kurdish leaders have voiced mounting frustration at the impasse in their talks with Baghdad, sparking an increasingly heated war of words with Arab politicians."

Lebouachera explains the tensions over unresolved borders. There are a number of disputed territories but let's zoom in on oil-rich Kirkuk. Nouri al-Maliki was installed by the US over three years ago. That's important. The 2005 Constitution, which went into effect in the final third of 2005 -- mere months before Nouri was installed -- promised an independent census of Kirkuk and a 2007 referendum. Nouri came to power and didn't get on that issue. Following the 2006 mid-term elections in the US, when both houses of Congress were handed over to Democrats (November, 2006), the White House, under pressure on the never-ending illegal war, began talking benchmarks for 'success.' The White House defined those benchmarks and Nouri signed off on them. The benchmarks included resolving the issue of Kirkuk. 2007. Two years later and still nothing.Not only throughout the illegal war, but also before it began, it was always known that Kirkuk was a divisive issue. (Hence the September 1998 White House meeting with Jalal Talabani, Kurd and current president of Iraq, and Masoud Barzani, Kurd and current president of the KRG; as well as the passage of in October 2002 of legislation by the Kurdish parliament preparing for the Iraq War.) Saddam Hussein ran Kurds out of the area and installed Arabs. The Kurds see Kirkuk as their land. The land is oil-rich and the Arabs aren't eager to hand it over to Kurdish control.So despite the fact that Nouri came into office mere months after the Constitution went into effect (calling for resolution of the Kirkuk issue) and despite the fact that, in 2007, he signed off on benchmarks which included resolving the Kirkuk issue, he's done nothing. There has been no referendum, there hasn't even been a census.Last summer, lands the Kurds consider their own were nearly invaded by Iraqi forces in what some saw as an attempted take over and others saw as a 'crackdown' or assault similar to what Nouri staged on Basra in March of last year. It was a very tense situation and war could have erupted right then. Unlike the Shi'ite - Sunni conflict which was more ethnic cleansing due to the fact that the Sunnis are not in power and do not have the numbers that the Shi'ites, the KRG has its own army, has its own forces and the tensions do not cease, if these issues aren't resolved, it's not unlikely that real civil war will break out in Iraq. A real one. Not ethnic cleansing being 'prettied up' with the phrase 'civil war.' Not a bunch of powerless minorities being killed and run out of the country, but a full on war.

But that doesn't seem to be a concern to the US installed government. Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that, as nothing is done regarding disputed territories, Kurds in Nineveh Province have issued statements threatening to secede but that's apparently not cause for concern either. And all the statements being made by KRG officials? Apparently not a concern either. AFP reports that Massud Barzani, president of the KRG, stated yesterday, "We are committed to the application of Article 140 (of the Iraqi constitution) and we rpomise that we will absolutely not compromise on this issue or on the rights of the people of Kurdistan." Article 140 requires an independent census in Kirkuk and a referendum to take place no later than . . . December 2007. This is not a minor detail nor is it something once touched on and then forgotten. Saturday, the KRG's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave a speech and it included the following:In formulating policy for our government, we have always been committed to the Iraqi Constitution and protection of the interests of the Kurdistan Region and all of Iraq.As you are all aware, recent tensions have occasionally surfaced with the federal, central government over pending issues. It is clear that, as long as those issues remain unresolved; this will threaten the stability that we all aspire to achieve in Iraq. I would like to address this matter openly. What we in the Kurdistan Regional Government want to achieve is to resolve these issues peacefully and in accordance with the terms and conditions enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution, for which 80% of Iraqis voted. We have always been ready in the past, and we are ready and willing now to sit at the negotiating table with the federal government and talk with those who possess the will to solve these issues. Sometimes we in the Kurdistan Region are accused of being too firm and insistent in our demands. But I would like Iraqis and the whole world to be aware of two things: First, our insistence on the commitment to the Constitution and its guarantees for freedom and democracy emerge directly from our history. We in the Kurdistan Region have suffered greatly as the result of agreements which were unfulfilled and promises which were ignored. In order for us to live in peace and stability, we want our rights to be protected. This will take place as a result of permanent agreements by which all concerned will abide, in accordance with Constitutional principles. We don't have any hidden agenda in Iraq.Second, for those who say that we cannot negotiate seriously, there are tangible examples of how the KRG has participated seriously in negotiations that have led to historic results. Therefore, we can engage in a similar manner with Baghdad in this regard.We want to be a reliable and cooperative partner with the federal government. Our vision of security, stability and prosperity for the Kurdistan Region requires a peaceful and cooperative relationship and coordination with all of Iraq and with Baghdad and we will continue with this policy in the Kurdistan Region. All that we ask for is to have a relationship within the framework of the Constitution, which is the highest law of the land and the greatest guarantee to us that history will not repeat itself. Our message is clear. The Kurdistan Regional Government is ready and hopeful that serious dialogue will resume with the federal government to solve the issues according to Constitutional principles and within a federal, democratic Iraq.Our insistence on resolving the issues are with the aim of guaranteeing a bright future for our people and the prevention of any repetition of our tragic history.

Meanwhile, do-nothing Nouri is headed to the US. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports Nouri, who has been making disparging remarks about US service members lately, intends to visit Arlington Cementary while visiting the White House. Reportedly he plans to pay his 'respects' -- non-existant ones to judge by his recent remarks. She quotes Nouri al-Maliki's boy-toy Sami Askari declaring, ""The Democrats were in opposition to George Bush so they tended not to see his positive points, only to concentrate on the negative ones. So I think the prime minister needs to say this: That as a people, we are not ignoring what others did for us. Every Iraqi who goes to Washington needs to make clear that the war was not a failure." Save the fantasy talk for Nouri, Askari. Nouri made quite clear to Barack last summer what he thought of Bully Boy Bush. The idea that after running Bush down (no problem with that here), Nouri's now going to counsel Barack on the 'good' in George W.'s efforts is laughable. What's not being reported are rumors that Biden has scheduled a high-level meeting with Nouri and former Ba'athists for this visit. Those are rumors. When Biden visited Iraq, Nouri remainded non-committal to the idea and indicated he would weigh a meet up with Ba'athists and Arab neighbors. Shortly after Biden departed Iraq, Nouri began issuing fiery statements indicating otherwise. Nouri's personal press representative Mike Tharp of McClatchy Newspapers and Nouri's Ass raves like he's audtioning for Pat Newcomb: The Movie, insisting -- in a non-journalistic manner -- that Nouri is "the popular leader of an American ally, the prime minister of an increasingly independent-minded country". When Mike gets the taste of Nouri's ass washed out of his mouth, someone inform him that Nouri's a thug and a US installed puppet currently testing the length and tethering of his leash.

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