Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cause and effect





Okay so Odierno steps up to the plate, what about the US Congress? We have to ask that question because yesterday Kimberly Hefling (AP) broke the story that the GI Bill payments due at the start of the fall semester? Some still haven't received them. "Thousands" still wait. For the checks that should have been cut no later than the first day of the fall semester last August or September (depending on when the semester started which differed for some campuses). It is now the end of December. It is now Christmas in fact. And veterans are still waiting. The year will end with them still waiting. Now let's be really clear, the rent doesn't wait, the food doesn't wait, the bills don't wait. Veterans have to take care of all of those things. While waiting for the VA to get off it's happy and bloated ass and do what it should have done months ago.

October 14th, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. At that point, veterans across the country were struggling as they waited for the VA to make good on the payments they were led to believe would start with the fall semester. And the Committee should have focused on that but they didn't. They fretted that Shinseki kept his "light under a bushel" (that's a direct quote from a member of Congress) and that he needed to hire a PR person so that everyone would know what a wonderful job he was doing. What wonderful job? The scandal had broken, the press was all over it and the committee was kissing Shinseki's ass instead of holding him accountable. They all played dumb when he volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, that a huge number of veterans would wait and wait and wait for checks. The Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew.

Of course, they didn't. They weren't holding him accountable. It was embarrassing in real time and it's only more embarrassing today as we now know the problem that Shinseki said was fixed has not, HAS NOT, been fixed. Here's the money quote from Shinseki, here's what he told Congress:

I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take.

He knew. He knew when he came into office. He was told it and he confirmed it with an outside consultant. But he never told Congress. No one ever told Congress and no one told the veterans waiting for the checks. "Thousands" of whom are still waiting all this time later.

The October 16th snapshot covers the October 15th appearance of the VA's Keith Wilson appearing before the Subcommittee that US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chairs. We'll note one exchange from that hearing:

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?

Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.

Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along. If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.

In that hearing, Stephanie Herseth repeatedly asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits. She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know. She wasn't alone in stating that. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us." Congress hasn't been informed of these problems and if the checks still aren't out, then obviously the VA needed additional staff. Obviously. Another VA witness lies to Congress (or doesn't know the status) and veterans are again waiting. And when does Congress intend to take the VA to task? This is nonsense. No veteran who enrolled for the fall 09 semester should still be waiting for the monies owed to them from the new GI Bill. That is ridiculous, that is insulting and until Congress gets ready to hold the VA accountable, there won't be any improvement.

The next hearing on this issue should get to when a problem was known and why Congress was not immediately notified. The next hearing should probe whether a decision was made to keep Congress out of the loop. Congress is supposed to offer supervision and thus far the VA has thwarted that by repeatedly providing the Congress with false information -- and a good portion of the false information was provided intentionally.

It is outrageous that as so many use tomorrow to celebrate with families or reflect, veterans continue waiting for fall '09 checks. It is outrageous that the New Year will begin with these veterans still waiting. If the Congress doesn't pursue this and do so strongly, then their behavior will be outragoues. Right now, it's just sad.

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"It's not complicated"


Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's not complicated







Michael Prysner and Iraq War veteran James Circello were on Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette discussing their group March Forward! "an affiliate of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition" composed of veterans and active-duty service members. (For those who can't stream or who are not able to listen to streams, there's an excerpt of the interview in yesterday's snapshot.) Information Clearing House has a video of Michael Prysner speaking:

And I tried hard to be proud of my service, but all I could feel was shame. Racism could no longer mask the reality of the occupation. These were people. These were human beings. I've since been plagued by guilt. Any time I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn't walk that we rolled onto a stretcher and told the Iraqi police to go take him away. I feel guilt any time I see a mother with her children like the one who cried hysterically and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt any time I see a young girl, like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street. We were told we were fighting terrorists. The real terrorist was me and the real terrorism is this occupation. Racism in the military has long been a tool to justify the occupation and destruction of another country. It's long been used to justify the killing, subjugation and torture of another people.
Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon than a rifle, a tank, a bomber or a battleship. It is more destructive than an artillery shell or a bunker buster or a Tomahawk Missile. While those weapons are created and owned by this government, they're harmless without people willing to use them. Those who send us to war do not have to pull a trigger or lob a mortar round. They do not have to fight the war, they merely have to sell the war. They need a public who's willing to send their soldiers into harm's way. They need soldiers who are willing to kill and be killed without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow orders to use it.
They can send every last soldier anywhere on earth but there will only be a war if soldiers are willing to fight and the ruling class, the billionaires -- who profit from suffering, care only about expanding their wealth, controlling the world's economy -- understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince that war, oppression and exploitation is in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to kill and die is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airman have nothing to gain from this occupation. The vast majority of the people in the US have nothing to gain from this occupation. In fact, not only do we have nothing to gain but we suffer more from it. We lose limbs, endure trauma and lose our lives. Our families have to watch flag draped coffins lowered into the earth.
Millions in this country without health care, jobs or access to education have watched this government squander over $450 million dollars a day on this occupation.
Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country to make the rich richer. And without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war.
I threw families onto the street in Iraq only to come home and find families thrown onto the street in this country in this tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis.
We need to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land, they're not people whose names we don't know and cultures we don't understand. The enemy is people we know very well and can identify. The enemy is the system that wages war when it is profitable. The enemy is the CEOs who lay us off from our jobs when it is profitable. It's the insurance companies who deny us health care when it's profitable. It's the banks who take away our homes when it's profitable.
Our enemy is not 5,000 miles away. They are right here at home. If we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers, we can stop this war, we can stop this government and we can create a better world.

Labor has been a significant force in the push to end the Iraq War and they don't often get the credit for their contributions. On KPFA's The Morning Show today, independent journalist David Bacon brought on US Labor Against the War's co-coordinators Kathy Black and Gene Bruskin and the USLAW's national organizer Michael Eisenscher.

David Bacon: So we wanted to take a look at what's going to happen with the war in Afghanistan and the [US President Barack] Obama administration. But in order to understand that, I thought it might be useful if, Eugene or you, Kathy, wanted to talk about what the change was in relation to the -- in terms of union's relation to the war in Iraq, the change from the way in which US labor has essentially supported, or sometimes with a great deal of conflict but nevertheless supported, most of the other military interventions by the US from WWII on through Vietnam and Central America. So why don't you start us off, Gene, by ta,king about what the historical position of US unions has been in relation to US intervention and what the change was with Iraq here?

Gene Bruskin: Well we have a, I think, the labor movement has, in some ways, not a proud history in how we've judged foreign policy cause we've pretty much accepted whatever the existing government and power structure wanted going back to the Philippines and I mean both the World Wars, of course, and Korea and Vietnam and El Salvador. There was some actually splits in the labor movement but in general what foreign policy was for many years including, you know, in all the post-WW period, is whatever policy we had to oppose the Soviet Union, for example, even if it meant supporting dictatorship supported unions in places like the Philippines and helping with the coups in places like Chile, the labor movement followed suit. So it was a huge break when US Labor Against the War was formed and the scope and the influence of that break is unprecedented.

David Bacon: What, uhm, Kathy, what do you attribute the change to? Aside from -- we're going to talk quite a bit her about US Labor Against the War itself as an organization, but are their changes that have taken place in unions and in our labor movement in terms of, for instance, the rejection of the policies of the Cold War or changes in terms of demographics which provided an opportunity I guess you would say for developing opposition to the war in Iraq which didn't exist earlier in terms of Vietnam, Central America, going all the way back to Korea?

Kathy Black: Yeah, of course all those things are factors. I think there are so many Vietnam war veterans in the labor movement and, in retrospect, people look back on that war -- even those that may have been strong supporters -- and see it in a different light. historically. You know, problems with veterans' illness and just a reflection on the policy has evolved. But I think, frankly, the single biggest factor if you can pick one that helped USLAW organize and galvanize support, it was George W. Bush. You know, I think that certainly there have been historical changes but people in the labor movement were so predisposed to be skeptical of anything he did and suspicious and automatically oppositional that that was probably the single biggest factor that helped us organize and convince people to look at the war from a different perspective.

Philip Maldari: And again, "USLAW" is US Labor Against the War, the acronym. Kathy, uh, one thing that certainly has changed is that there's no longer a Soviet Union. During the Cold War, was the labor -- official labor movement so scared of being red-baited that they uh-uh were backing every anti-communist intervention around the world for fear of being --
David Bacon: Well some actually expelled people, actually expelled whole unions.

Philip Maldari: Oh, expelled unions that had alleged Communists in their ranks, uh-uh, so was it, when the Cold War ended, did that give the labor movement a chance to get out under this fear of being red-baited?

Kathy Black: Uh, they pretty much purged the labor movement of the, you know, of Communist influences well before that so I don't know if I see it as fear but there was enormous complicity in the labor movement as Gene already spoke about.

Gene Bruskin: The most important part of it was that the labor movement had really bought into the fear of Communism and anti-communism because the criticism within the labor movement had been crushed earlier on and so they just bought the policy whole hook, line and sinker.

Kathy Black: They advocated the policy. Not everybody, but there were certainly prominent leaders in the labor movement who-who trumpeted those positions. Loudly.

Gene Bruskin: And so it did, I think, go out, after the end of the Cold War, there was clearly more openness to see what was actually workers' interest as opposed to what we usually called "national interest" which is generally business interest. But now we have not the issue of anti-communism so much as the whole issue of the fight against terrorism which is essentially the same set of logic has replaced -- you know, the Domino Theory is now the spread of terrorism.

David Bacon: And then, perhaps, I think one other factor -- maybe you could comment on this, Mike -- that played into this was the cost of the war on working people. I remember hearing this argument made at the first assembly of US Labor Against the War. And the fact that our labor movement now has a very, very large sector of public workers in it who are much more directly effected by the cost of the war and that there was a basis for saying to the people that if this war goes on people are going to lose jobs.

Mike Eisenscher: That certainly is true --

Philip Maldari: Wait a second, we've got to get your mike on. Go ahead, Mike.

Mike Eisenscher: Uh, that's certainly true. Another factor related to that is that the composition of the labor movement has changed quite a bit and there are now many, many immigrant workers in the labor movement who bring with them experiences in their own country that give them a different view of the international situation and a much more rounded and critical perspective.

David Bacon: So, Gene, the -- sort of compressing the history here a bit -- from the beginning of the war and the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the convention at the AFL-CIO where the AFL-CIO officially adopted a position calling for the withdrawal of US troops which I believe took place in the summer of 2005?

Gene Bruskin: Right.

David Bacon: Right. There was obviously a great deal of activity that went on in terms of getting union by union opposition to that war organized. Can you kind of like go through that history pretty quickly for us here?

Gene Bruskin: Well what was, in a way, breath taking to many of us was that after US Labor Against the War was launched in January 2003 and then the war happened. We weren't, unfortunately, able to prevent it. But then rather than have the reaction that happened after the Gulf War when the yellow ribbons went up everywhere, people got even angrier and there was just a-a huge wave that summer and all into the next year through every union virtually of any significance in the labor movement -- on the shop floor, at monthly union meetings, at regional meetings and a meetings of international Unions, resolutions went onto the floor and there were really intense debates where people were just saying, "This is not the role of the labor movement to take these kind of positions. We're supposed to just deal with people's job-related issues." And in many cases what happened is vets or military families stood up and said, "Look, you know, I got a son that is about to go over there and I want the troops home tomorrow cause I don't want my kid to die." That kind of stuff --

Philip Maldari: Well let's talk about exactly who's in the army, who is in the marine corps, who's fighting this war. It seems like more often than not, it's the children of the working class. It's not the children of the upper middle class that are uh-uh troops, you know, boots on the ground in Afghanistan right now.

Gene Bruskin: Right. I mean it was clearly a thing where people said, "It's us that's fighting the war, it's -- we're paying for the war and we don't want it." And it came at the time when our rights were clearly under attack from every corner, from the Bush administration. So it was very clear to see that. And we made the link even to the extent of going to Iraq. David Bacon was a part of that on a couple of occasions. And bringing Iraqi trade unionists here to make the link to workers in both countries that we had more in common with each other than we did with the Bush administration, we should oppose the war.

David Bacon: So Kathy, here we are. First of all, the Iraq War is not over yet. But we have a whole new emphasis on increasing US military intervention in Afghanistan. A very different war, one that essentially was described by Obama during his election campaign as the war we should be fighting as opposed to the Iraq War which was the war that we should not be fighting. And there are a lot of important differences between Afghanistan as a country and Iraq as a country and the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. How do you think US unions are going to relate to the war in Afghanistan and what kind of tactics and strategies were developed at the recent national assembly of US Labor Against the War in relation to developing labor opposition to this war

Kathy Black: Well it's a much more difficult task for us now. Bush is no longer president. The solidarity work that Gene referred to, that you were such an important part of, is a harder thing to establish. Afghanistan doesn't have unions although Pakistan does and we do have connections there. But we're not going to be bringing a tour of Afghani union leaders to this country to put that human face and make those direct connections for union people. And uh, and then of course there's the concern that the labor movement feels that they elected Obama, that he's our president and they're loathe at this point to criticize him for almost anything -- and certainly to come out in opposition to a major policy initiative like this. So it's a tougher lift but, unfortunately, we think that events and the trajectory of this war is on our side to build that opposition. And some of the tools -- probably the most important tool that we came out with was this terrific DVD that Michael Zweig, one of our major activists in New York has developed called Why Are We In Afghanistan? And actually it's already having a very positive effect. It was shown here in Pennsylvania there was a big SEIU state worker council and they immediately passed a resolution opposing the war and there have been some other reports like that around the country.

For more information, visit US Labor Against the War. David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. And there's already a link for Zweig's film; however, to correct something, the most important tool is always the same and no one spoke of it.

One small voice
Speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice
Speaking with the values we were taught as children
So you walk away and say,
Isn't he divine?
Don't those clothes look fine on the Emperor?
And as you take your leave, you wonder why you're feeling
So ill-at-ease--don't you know?
Lies take your soul
You can't hide from yourself
Lies take their toll on you
And everyone else
One small voice speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice speaking with the values we were taught as children
Tell the truth
You can change the world
But you'd better be strong
-- "One Small Voice," written by Carole King, first appears on her Speeding Time. [Carole begins a world tour with James Taylor in the new year, click here for information.]

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Twittering Katrina vanden Heuvel

















Michael Prysner: . . . the way that we're going to end this war and the way that we're going to stop this atrocity that's happening -- the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of soldiers -- which are no doubt going to increase as this war rages on -- is we need to build a movement, we need to build a mass, people's movement. Which is what we're doing. So I encourage everyone to pay attention to a national march on Washington, DC that's going to happen on March 20th. There's also going to be coinciding marches in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But a large organization of antiwar groups have come together. It was initiated by the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition -- you can go to for information about the march. But we're calling on everyone to be a part of this action. We want soldiers, we want veterans, we want military families and we want all people in the United States who are suffering because of these wars. We're in the middle of a Depression where every month, more and more jobs are being lost. There's this health care debate going on, we're seeing that there's people that are not going to have access to quality health care. Education -- tuition is skyrocketing. We need money so badly, most people, yet we're spending over $500 million dollars a day to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. So if you're angry about this war which everyone should be, there is something you can do and that's become active in the movement. And the first thing you can do is become involved in the organizing for March 20th and of course participate in that demonstration as well. We need as many people as possible to send a message that the people are not in support of this war and we're going to fight until it's over.

Iraq War veteran Michael Prysner was explaining that on Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton and Charles Goyette. He and Iraq War veteran James Circello were on to discuss March Forward! "an affiliate of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition" composed of veterans and active-duty service members.

James Circello: Yeah. Well March Forward!'s position on the officer corps -- or we refer to them as the officer class -- it's pretty straight forward. The officers, they do little suffering in times of war. They merely put forth the line by Washington. And the enlisted members of the military -- who we view as workers -- are made to carry out these orders. They're made to follow these orders without question or you become slandered with the "unAmerican" and even jailed for-for disobeying orders that are obviously illegal. But our line is pretty simple in that the officer class, once they retire, they go straight into the Pentagon and right into the War Profiteers right across the street. And the enlisted were obviously cast out onto the street. There's a million homeless enlisted -- or veterans, I should say, on the street tonight and 2 million will be on the street homeless this year. So there's a real class struggle within the military and the enlisted soldiers are doing all the suffering, all the dying, all the killing, coming home with PTSD and missing limbs while the officers are celebrating and stacking their resumes for their future jobs.

Scott Horton: It's almost like all the commercials about "Be All That You Can Be" and 'once you get out, then you'll be guaranteed a great job,' all that's really true for the officers basically but they're selling that for the masses out there.

Michael Prysner: Right and it's interesting because if you look at the statistics, you're actually less likely to get hired if you're a veteran because it's somewhat of a liability for the employers. But just to clarify a little more about our view on the officer corps, you know, I-I, myself in my personal experience and this is an all too common story in Iraq and in Afghanistan and James had a similar experience and it's a story that you hear much too often where, for example, myself, officers join the military because they're trying to be successful in a career. Most people become enlisted soldiers because they're pushed in for economic reasons, because they need access to health care for their family, because they need, they want, a college education, because they want job training, because they want a place to live, things that all people need and deserve which, I think, are basic human rights. But that's what pushes most enlisted soldiers into the military. Officers join for a very different reason. And what results in that is officers generally do very little time in combat but what they do is they want their units to get attacked, they want to take fire. And I know myself, personally, I went on missions called -- which we called -- "Draw Fire" missions where there'd be an officer who knew that a certain vehicle had a ransom on it if the vehicle was destroyed so he knew that it was a target so he'd say, "Hey go get so-and-so and let's drive around town and see if we can get shot at?" This is because if his unit gets in combat or if he gets in combat, it's good for his career, it's good for his promotion. He'll get a bronze star and he'll get all of these things. So there's-there's many, many soldiers who have died, who have had life changing injuries, whose lives are destroyed because they had an officer who's going to do one tour in combat who wants to help his career and wants to move up in the ranks and people have died because of this.
Scott Horton: Well now, Michael -- that's Michael right?

Michael Prysner: Yes.

Scott Horton: Now, Michael, you're basically talking about the-the satire, Joseph Heller's satire Catch 22. You're telling me and you're telling my audience that that is truly and literally and really the operational incentive in a war like Iraq? For officers to get the people under them killed for points?

Michael Prysner: Yeah, there's something that is very frequent and it was something that was very frequent in the Vietnam war too and that's why there was such a massive GI rebellion against the officer corps in Vietnam as well. And, as James mentioned, it's very obvious to see the different interests that the officer corps has because there's a study -- two years ago there was a study released that showed there's over two thousand retired generals and colonels that now are employed by defense contractors. It's kind of the most common retirement path is either you're a lobbyist for defense contractors, you're sitting on corporate boards for defense contractors and oil companies while at the same time still being paid by the Pentagon as consultants. So all this team of generals right now that's telling us that we have to be in Afghanistan, that we can't leave. This team of generals, this team of officers, that's telling us that are people that are actually on the payroll of companies like Chevron, of some of the largest defense contractors in the world So we say that we have very different interests, the enlisted and the officers. It's very obvious what their interests are. So we think that we shouldn't be ordered into combat by officers that are trying to build their careers. We think that officers should be democratically elected by enlisted soldiers in their unit. And I think that's something that most enlisted soldiers.

[. . .]

James Circello: It takes a strong voice, and that is what March Forward! is trying to become, to tell the enlisted soldiers exactly what is happening. We all understand what is happening. There's-there's definitely dissent in the military ranks. Thousands of men and women have deserted the military in the last decade. The last time I checked, the statistic was upwards to 50,000 and that isn't shown. A lot of the times it's not a political stance. A lot of the time it's just that these soldiers miss their families, that they've been deployed four times and don't want to go back to a war zone. Or a lot of the time, it's that these soldiers are suffering through PTSD and no one is listening to them, no one the VA, the medical bases -- the medical stations on the bases, they won't diagnose them for fear that they won't be able to deploy them when the time comes. So soldiers have taken it upon themselves to stand up and to leave the military and a lot of the times they're quiet about it and March Forward! is calling for that in a wider scope for all soldiers that are being told to deploy to refuse that because Afghanistan and Iraq not only are they illegal and immoral but they're against our interests as workers in the United States.

Scott Horton: Alright everybody, I'm talking with James Circello and Mike Prysner, Michael Prysner, from March Forward! They're soldiers basically telling the rest of the soldiers to quit to refuse to participate in this -- well I call it madness, you call it what you want, anymore.

This morning a female service member e-mailed to be sure we all knew one of the worst parts of the "100% repulsive order" coming down from General Prude Anthony Cucolo. Backstory, yesterday's snapshot, over the weekend Cucolo couldn't stop giving interviews about his new order which punishes any women serving in northern Iraq for pregnancy -- married or unmarried, she's punished and that may include court-martial. Yes, women in the military are not allowed to have sex with other women unless they want to risk being drummed out of the military and now they better not have sex with men (unless they have their tubes tied because contraception is never 100% effective 100% of the time). But the female service member caught another detail of the order and steers us to Navy Seals Blog's post which notes: "If the pregnancy of a female soldier, however, was proven to be caused by a sexual assault, then the soldier will not be subjected to punishment."


Do they train these generals in anything or just slap them on the back and say, "Strut around in pure ignorance"? Vic Lee (San Francisco's ABC, KGO-TV, link has text and video) reported yesterday on sexual assualts in the military -- someone might want to get a copy to General Know Nothing. Brave women like Swords to Plowshares' Tia Christopher shared their stories. Tia Christopher went to report it and the officer above her's response was whether or not this was a joke? It was no joke for Christopher who never saw justice but did receives "an early discharge with a personality disorder." Lee notes, "The National Institute of Justice says one in five women will be sexually assaulted. The ratio in the military, according to the Department of Defense is one in three or four women and a new Pentagon report says sexual assaults are increasing." And when a woman comes forward, watch the brass and 'justice' system bend over backwards to ignore the assualt. Suzanne Swift is only one example of a woman fighting back in this decade and being punished, only one example of a complete and utter failure for the military to discipline their own or to take the victims seriously.

So now in a culture that doesn't take sexual assaults seriously and then blames the victim, a woman who ends up pregnant faces even more harassment. Maria Lauterbach was raped while she was in the Marines. She identified her rapist, Cesar Laurean. The military refused to take her seriously. She was forced to continue to be around him. At what point does the US Marine Corps intend to take accountability and responsibility for their role in what happened? Maria disappeared. As the police searched for her and her family frantically worried, the Marines refused to inform the police about Cesar Laurean or even restrict him to base. Which is how Maria's murdered managed to escape to Mexico. (He is now back in US custody.) He murdered her. Then he set her body on fire. Then he told his wife. If a Marine is missing and she's accused a fellow Marine of rape, it stands to reason that command puts the accused under watch. But that's how little women mattered at Camp Lejeune. A Marine can go missing and the brass doesn't give a damn. A woman who has accused another service member of raping her and they don't give a damn. That's reality for a lot of women in the service.

But the general in Iraq doesn't live with reality. He fancies himself a king issuing orders. The heat's been on Cucolo including from the Senate. Rebecca Santana (AP) reports that he held another press conference today where he "appeared to back from the policy [. . .] saying the policy was to emphasize the problems created" by pregnancy and that no woman who got pregnant would be put in jail for "the offense." American Women Veterans charted the developments on their Twitter account:

The General clarifies: "I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court martial... from Facebook

Senate heat came from US Senators Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Barbara Mikulski and Jeanne Shaheen who sent the following to the US Secretary of the Army today:

December 22, 2009

The Honorable John McHugh
Secretary of the Army
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0101

Dear Secretary McHugh:

It has come to our attention that Major General Anthony Cucolo III -- the Commander of Multi-National Division-North, Iraq -- has implemented a stricter policy that criminalizes pregnancy for members of the United States Armed Forces under his command and for others "serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military. While we fully understand and appreciate the demands facing both commanders and service members in Iraq, we believe this policy is deeply misguided and must be immediately rescinded.

Under the policy, it is possible to face punishment, including imprisonment, for "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a Soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne" Area of Operations. The policy even extends to married couples jointly serving in the warzone.

Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martialunder this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline. This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.

This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child. This defies comprehension.

As such, we urge you to immediately rescind this policy. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this most important request, and for your continued commitment to our men and women in uniform.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Jeanne Shaheen
United States Senator

Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator

Barbara A. Mikulski
United States Senator

On ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, Diane will be covering this story this evening. Meanwhile NOW president Terry O'Neill pronounces the order "ridiculous" and tells ABC News, "How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant. This is not the 1800s."

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The London Twit




Simply put, they express a profound breakthrough: the most powerful couple in the world are black, a fact that many Americans, and many others, never thought would come to pass in their lifetime.



Starting in the US with the latest effort to spit on women. No, not the US Senate, the US military brass. Saturday, BBC World Service Radio offered a report from Iraq, where US General Anthony Cucolo yammered away about the new development for US service members: If you end up pregnant, you can be court-martialed. [Click here for BBC story online in text form.] Long gone are the days of "act of God." If you end up pregnant, married or not, and you're in Iraq, you can be court-martialed. For pregnancy. It's the US military's production of The Scarlet Letter. Cuculo and others claim the US military is in Iraq for 'freedom.' It's not the Iraqis freedom (they've been given nothing but chaos and violence) and it's certainly not America's freedom. Apparently it's Cuculo's freedom. His freedom to be an ASS in public.At some point, someone's going to grasp that women in the military are now sexless beings. They can't have sex with other women becuase of the military's ban on being openly gay. They can't have sex with men because they might end up pregnant. It's amazing that the same institution that does NOTHING to protect women in the ranks from rape, is more than happy to ensure that any consensual sex risks punishment. Paula Brooks (Lez Get Real) reports:A well place Pentagon source told LGR yesterday, that for Cucolo it is a pretty "black and white" issue... but added the Pentagon is also "watching this one pretty carefully," since this prohibition is "mine field" of legal, ethical and policy issues.... "Personally... Even though the JAG people have said this is legal... I think this one is probably going to come back to bite us in the ass at some point, if not legally, then in the form of some really terrible PR," said our source. "Here you really have issues that go to the core of personal integrity: reproductive rights," said Eugene Fidell, a professor of military law at Yale Law School in a Star and Stripes Article. There are also issues of enforcement, Fidell said. The woman is immediately suspect once the pregnancy comes to light, but unless she identifies her partner, the male could go unpunished despite bearing the same culpability under the order.

On CNN today (link has text and video), Melissa Long spoke with Eugene Fidell who played 'seer' which isn't his role. Don't "assume," don't pretend you know why the order has been made if you don't. You're brought on as a legal expert and you're not a columnist. You're there for your legal expertise. Stick to that, Fidell. In the text, not the clip, Fidell is stating that during Vietnam, something similar happened in that a female service member could be dishcharged if she became pregnant. (A) Discharge is not court-martial. (B) There were a much more limited number of women then and it would be interesting to know how many of them were married or unmarried? Most likely, the order Fidell's referring to applied only to unmarried women. You'll note he also doesn't say anything about what would happen to a man involved with that woman? That's an interesting omission on his part -- and it's an interesting turnaround by him over the weekend on this order. Sarah Netter (ABC News) reports on the issue and John Hutson is sure, sure it's legal. Really? Why? Because the general needs everyone? Well okay, here's what let's do, let's put in a stipulation that a heart attack or a stroke or any health condition brought on -- in part or in full -- by poor nutrition results in a court-martial. We won't do that though,will we? It's only when the health issue is pregnancy that men suddenly want to propose punishments and start legislating. Hutson does worry about abortion access for those overseas. Of course he does. If you're pregnant, you're going to be thinking about an abortion and, let's be real, one's going to be 'suggested' to you by some 'helpful' higher ranking military official. [For drive bys, I'm pro-choice and pro-abortion. I believe it's the woman's choice. That means I do not believe she's forced into an abortion she doesn't want. Especially by some technocrat with a few bars on their uniform threatening her with court-martial and telling her how bad it will be on the man involved unless she has an abortion. "We can go through all the paperwork and the court-martial, or you can have an abortion," might be one way it's 'suggested' to her.] Free Speech Radio News covers the news in today's broadcast.

Andrew Stelzer: A US commander in northern Iraq is being criticized for a new policy that states soldiers who become pregnant or the men who impregnante them could be court-martialed. The policy went into effect on November 4th but was written about in the Stars and Stripes newspaper this weekend. Until now, soldiers could be sent home if they became pregnant but there was no disciplinary action but under the new rule, designed to keep forces at full strength, any military or military-related civilian personnel could be sentenced to jail for being pregnant even if they are married.

Turning to the theft of Iraqi oil, on the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera -- which began airing Friday), Jasim al-Azzawi discussed the issue of Iraqi oil with Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Ibrahim Saleh al-Shahristani and the country's previous Oil Minister Issam al-Chalabi.

Jasim al-Azzawi: Dr. al-Shahristani, with no oil law in place -- Parliament has not enacted that law -- why not wait until that law is enacted so that everything will be under the supervision and according to the law?

Hussain al-Shahristani: Well the new oil and gas law has not been legislated. But this does not mean that there are no prevailing laws in the country that govern this important sector of the country of the economy of Iraq and the current laws that have been used in the previous regime are still valid and until they are replaced by new legislation, those laws are still governing the sector. And all our contracts are based on those laws which authorizes the Minister of Oil, alone, to sign any oil deal with field development or any other sector. However, the Minister of Oil has taken it on itself that any unforseen developments for the oil field will be presented to the cabinet and once it is approved by the cabinet, which is the highest executive authority --

Jasim al-Azzawi: Before it goes to the cabinet and before -- since you mentioned existing laws and rules, most probably, you are referring to Law Number 97, issued in 1967. That particular law, Dr. al-Shahristani, stipulates that each contract needs to have a special law, needs to have a special authorization from Parliament. And, according to what I know, you did not go through Parliament, you did not seek a special permission or special authorization for whether the Rumala contract or the Memorandum of Understanding.

Hussain al-Shahristani: Yeah laws always are superceded by the Constitution. The current Iraqi Constitution that was voted by 80% of the Iraqi population is the surpeme law of the country and it is very clear in the Constitution that international agreements between the government of Iraq and foreign governments or treaties between Iraq and other countries that require legislation in the Parliament. Any commercial contract between an Iraqi public company and a foreign company -- as is the case with the oil contracts -- these are within the competency of the government and they do not require any new legislation so --

Jasim al-Azzawi: That being the case, sir, Dr. al-Shahristani, I'm not sure under which legislation you are operating then. Are you saying -- you just said that you were working under existing rules and regulations and I assume it is Law 97. When I challenge that, you say it's according to the Constitution. So which way is it?

Hussain al-Shahristani: Well-well, first of all, there is a number of law, it's not only one law that you refer to and the Constitution, I explained, is the supreme law. If any of the laws contradicts the Constitution, then the Constitution prevails. In the -- under the Constitution, if there is a need for a new law, then that law should be legislated. And that's what we have done. We have drafted a new hydro-carbon law. By the way, even in the new hydro-carbon law, there is no need for presenting any oil deal or contract for legislation to the Parliament. On the contrary, the new draft authorizes what is called a Federal Council for Oil & Gas to approve any contract. What we are doing now, we are presenting it to the full cabinet for approval. Whenever --

Jasim al-Azzawi: That being the case, let me take a case in question. The Rumala contract, the Rumala deal, was negotiated by your ministry and was referred to the cabinet, per regulations, and the cabinet in turn sent it to the legal committee, and that legal committee had sixty-five stipulations and question marks about this oil deal. It was referred back to the cabinet. The cabinet met for one day. And, to my knowledge, those sixty-five questions were never answered fully and, in one day, the cabinet just approved the Rumala contract.

Hussain al-Shahristani: No. First of all, a number of the questions that were raised were simply questions and the questions were appropriately answered and the Minister of Oil has sent a detailed answer on every specific question to the legal advisor of the prime minister and a number of these uuuuuh questions have been considered by the ministry. And, uhm, the contracts, the flow of contracts have been amended if we are convinced that this will make the contract, uh, more clear. As a matter of fact, none of these points that were raised had any legal or economic impact on the contract at all. Or technical. They were purely matter of wordings. In some cases. And matter of specificity.

We'll jump ahead to the other half of the show, when Jasim al-Azzawi spoke with Issam al-Chalabi.

Jasim al-Azzawi: Issam, how dangerous is it for Iraq to sign these contracts and Memorandum of Understanding with no oil law in place.

Issam al-Chalabi: With all due respect, Dr. al-Shahristani seems to be moving on a shaky ground. I think he had fallen in his answers to your question, had fallen in the conflict between the Constitution and the existing laws. The Constitution says that, the two Articles about the oil and gas ought to be explained and there will be separate law to be issued. Until then, in a very clear, separate Article, it says that all existing oils will remain valid. Hence Law 97 of 1967 is valid as he mentioned and he ought to abide by it. That means, yes, the Minister of Oil is authorized provided they go and seek endorsement from the existing legislative body which is the Parliament for each case.

Jasim al-Azzawi: So far they haven't done that. Is that a reflection on the lack of oversight by Iraqi Parliament about this huge and overreaching contracts?

Issam al-Chalabi: No, the Oil & Gas Committee and many Parliamentarians have sought that and they have asked him, they have subpeoned him, that they should look into the matter. In fact, one particular member had gone to the federal court. And you asked about the dangers of these new contracts, I do say that it is very possible that in the future these contracts could very well be under questioning and somebody could question the legitimacy of these contracts and maybe they would be required to be amended or maybe anulled.

Jasim al-Azzawi: We are only three months away from very crucial elections in Iraq and it is quite likely tremendous changes is going to happen in Iraq and the ministries, especially in the Ministry of Oil. Even the Prime Minister might not be in the saddle. Once again, will we see rising chorus for changing these contracts or even cancelling them now that Iraqi nationalism is rising again?

Issam al-Chalabi: Well nobody knows what's going to happen from the elections and who will form the new government but definitely I would say that there are a lot of question marks. There many people are questioning the legitimacy of these contracts. And why did he rush into it? Why didn't he wait until after the elections and go to the Parliament? And also why signing so many contracts?

Here's reality on the law. If you don't have a new law, you follow the existing law. For a moment, al-Shahristani grasped that. Then, under questioning, he began stating well he's also using the Constitution. The Constitution did not resolve the oil issue, did not contain any laws on the oil. That means Law 97 is the governing law. al-Shahristani wants credit (or wants to hide behind) the fact that he's doing something in a draft law -- a proposed law. A proposed law is not a law. If the Parliament wanted it to be a law, it would have been one long, long ago. Law 97 is the law. That's it. When a new law is passed by Parliament (or if one is) that becomes the law. For now, Law 97 is the law. Law 97 is not being followed. The contracts are invalid. If a new government comes into being (meaning Nouri's kicked out as prime minister) and they want to nullify the contract, they can. The law was not followed. If that happens, the countries can sue anyone (you can sue anyone) but the only real case they have is with al-Shahristani who broke the law and Nouri who looked the other way. Even with a new government, they may not choose to invalidate the contracts. But for the life of those contracts, they will always remain iffy and the companies will have little 'muscle' in any conflict because Iraq can always say, "The contracts were illegal, we're cancelling them."

And in case it's not clear, one more time, al-Shahristani (or any Oil Minister) cannot cobble together bits of a law with bits of bill (an unpassed law) and say, "I'm following the law." No. The law is the law. In this case, Law 97 is the law. Unless and until Parliament passes a new oil law, Law 97 is the law.

Meanwhile, UPI reports, "Multinational forces were called on to ramp up their patrols in northern Iraq to protect vital oil export arteries, a spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry said." "Multinational forces"? What MNF? It's the US. The UK's 200 is not in the north. There are no multinational forces anymore. Everyone else has gone home. It's the US military patroling the 'vital oil exports'. AFP reports "the pipleine to the Turkish port of Ceyhan" was attacked and that exports have not resumed as a result of the damage. RTT notes, "This is the second attack this month on oil pipelines in northern Iraq."

On the subject of oil, let's try to play catch up since Friday when Iran seized an Iraqi oil field . . . or maybe it did that two weeks ago . . . or maybe it never did that. As we go through the reports, a hint, if you can't follow or make sense of it, don't fret, no one knows any more than they did on Friday. Timothy Williams and Sa'ad al_izzi (New York Times) reported Saturday, "The Iranian government said Saturday that an oil field that its troops occupied a day earlier was on its side of the border with Iraq, despite Iraqi claims to the contrary." RTT News reported that Iran continued to deny they seized an Iraqi oil field. Iran's Press TV reported Iran's official line that the coverage is overblown and an attempt to drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq while also noting that, "Iran and Iraq have decided to establish an arbitration commission to clear up the misunderstanding between the two countries over an oil well in the border region." Muhanad Mohammed,Suadad al-Salhy, Mohammed Abbas, Parisa Hafezi, Missy Ryan and Andrew Dobbie (Reuters) added, "The Iranian flag was flying over the disputed oil well in a remote desert area southeast of Baghdad early on Saturday and an Iranian military tent was pitched nearby." The Telegraph of London observed the reported skirmish has resulted in a higher price for oil and they add, "An official in Maysan, who asked to go unnamed, said the Iranian troops were still present at Fakka on Saturday, and that the local government would send a delegation out to the remote desert area on Sunday." Sunday Kadhim Ajrash and Zahraa Alkhalisi (Bloomberg News) reported Iraq's Deputy Minister of Oil, Abdul Kareemal-Luaibi, has declared that, following "an armed confrontation," the Iranians who allegedly took over an Iraqi oil field have left. Just when you can almost make sense of the latest claims, along comes Timothy Williams and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) explained that Iraq's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs is stating the Iranian troops left the oil field but not Iraq while reports out of Iran claim "that the soldiers had never crossed into Iraq." And if you're confused, grasp that you're supposed to be. On such a serious issue, no government sends out "deputy ministers" to speak. You only send out someone that low level -- on an issue of territorial integrity -- if you want to be able to reserve the right to deny any statements made. What really happened? Who knows? About the only thing that is known is that all the rumors did wonders for the price of oil.

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