Saturday, March 12, 2011

Foppy B O






"Mr. [Ranking Member Mike] Michaud has a distinguished history of support for our veterans and I look forward to working closely with him to ensure that those who have honorably served our nation receive the highest quality care that they so, so deserve," Chair Ann Marie Buerkle as she brought the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing to a start this morning, setting a strong bi-partisan tone. She also recognized Sarah Wade and Patty Horan who are full time caregivers for their husbands who were wounded while serving in Iraq. Chair Buerkle asked the two women to stand and then led a round of applause for them. But she and Michaud had serious concerns that echo those raised in the March 2nd Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
The Senate hearing was covered in that day's snapshot and Kat covered it in "Burr promises VA 'one hell of a fight'" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The VA still can't get it together." In the Senate hearing, the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Under Secretary Robert Petzel were the witnesses.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Secretary, I have a great deal of respect for the work that you've done on homeless and women's issues and I know you're working diligently in a number of ways. But I wanted to bring up an issue that I'm very concerned about. I've already discussed the caregiver issue with you, I've talked about it with Jack Woo, I've talked with senior staff at the White House and I have spoken directly with the president of the United States. VA's plan on the caregivers issue was overdue and once submitted it hardly resembled the bill that unanimously cleared this Congress. Three weeks ago, my Committee staff requested information on how that plan was developed and to date no information has been provided. Rather than following the law, the administration set forth some overly stringent rules bureaucratic hurdles that would essentially deny help to caregivers. Sarah and Ted Wade who were staunch advocates and worked hard with us to get this passed were invited by the president to attend the bill signing at the White House, they won't be eligible for the program under the plan that the department submitted. We're also hearing a lot from veterans and caregivers from across the country who fall outside of this new line in the sand the VA has drawn, who have been left in limbo and now don't know if this benefit that they advocated and worked so hard for will support them. Mr. Secretary, it appears your that department is not complying with the law as we have written. Can you please tell this Committee why?
And he couldn't. As Kat reported, Ranking Member Richard Burr informed Shinseki that either the law was implemented as written or Shinseki better be prepared for "one hell of a fight." As they should. DAV notes, "The veteran population aged 65 and older is expected to increase from 37.4 percent to 44.8 percent by the year 2020. VA is also treating a new era of younger, severely injured servicemembers. Many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will need lifetime care."
The Subcommittee heard from two panels. The first panel was Disabled American Veterans' Adrian Atizado, Wounded Warrior Project's Ralph Ibson, Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino and National Military Family Association's Barbara Cohoon. The second panel was the VA's Robert Petzel (Under Secretary for Health) who lawyered up with Walter Hall and Deborah Amdur. We'll note this exchange from the first panel.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: This question is for each of the members on this panel, based on your expertise and all of the investigation and work you've put into this law and looking at its implementation, could each one of you identify for me what it is that you see as the single most serious deficit in the implementation of this law and what your solution would be for that deficit? And if you could just limit your remarks so that everyone could have a chance to respond, I would really appreciate it. We'll start with Mr. [Atizado] --
Adrian Atizado: Chairman Buerkle, I appreciate that question but, again, I have to caution the Committee that eligibility is only one of a number of gateway provisions in this law. Certainly if a service member and their caregiver -- veteran and their caregiver are deemed eligible and meet other gateway provisions that don't allow them the appropriate services then being eligible becomes a moot point in the end. As the other panelists have mentioned, it appears that VA's eligibility criteria does raise the bar that a caregiver and veteran must meet to be entitled or at least considered eligible and my testimony has a specific example of that. But I think in all -- In all fairness, I believe, VA has -- VA clinicians know what they need to do. And I think we know what -- we know what we want them to do. And I think there's -- There may have been a little bit of a misinterpretation on both sides. My point is -- is that we all have to step back a little bit from this very emotionally charged situation, reassess ourselves and come together on equal grounds because I fear that no matter what we say today, if we continue down this path, we will not come to a very amicable solution.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you. Mr. Ibson?
Ralph Ibson: I share -- I share my colleagues -- thank you [to Tom Tarantino, who helped him with his microphone] -- I share my colleagues view that it's difficult to isolate a single factor because there really are a great many flaws but -- but honoring your question, I do think that the imposition of very, very restrictive eligibility criteria that are inconsistent with the law and have the effect of disqualifying three of every four caregivers who probably should be covered under this law is the most profound of the many problems we have discussed this morning.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you. Mr. Tarantion.
Tom Tarantino: I associate myself with the comments of Adrian and Ralph. I think they're absolutely correct. There are multiple issues with the regulation of this law but if we needed to start somewhere, we have to start at eligibility because that's the first gateway. Uhm, and-and if you want to look at how to do it, I would suggest that they read the law because it's very explicit. It is in fact probably the most explicit piece of legislation that I've read since I started working in this field three years ago. But I-I actually do and I share Adrian's concern: We need to caution ourselves that we don't just stop there, that we have to actually look at how this program -- how this program is implemented holisticly and that once, if the elegibility criteria is fixed, that we don't just stop and say "Great!" put a win on the board and then move on. This is a very complicated program and we have to keep looking at it until it is -- We get it right.
Chair Ann Marie Buerkle: Thank you.
Barbara Cohoon: Our association would feel that it has to do with when you're actually going to be starting the benefits. It's not until there's all these other requirements that are met. And so therefore it pushes elegibility to all these benefits until further down the road and while it may be several months or years into veterans status. And we would like to see that start earlier because our caregivers need these benefits much earlier in the process than when they'll possibly be getting them. The VA's also rolling out all the benefits at the same time. So we feel that they should be able to start some of the benefits earlier in the process interjecting them at the time when the caregiver actually needs them so that they have the resources that they need, have the right skills to provide the care that they need and therefore the veteran gets the care -- or the service member's getting the care -- that they need. So our concern is the fact that they're waiting until all the wickets are met before they start any of the benefits and one of the major wickets has to be that the veteran has to be receiving care 100% in home and many of our service members are still going through the recovery phases where they might be having wound revisions or maybe they're having burns taken care of. So waiting until it's 100% in home as far as care, that could also delay either them leaving the military or starting this particular benefit. So that would be our concern. Elegibility also, but that's the biggest for us.
Elsewhere during the first panel, Tom Tarantino brought up what is considered "the signature wound" of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). If you're new to the topic of TBI, Barbara Mannino (Fox Business News) has a report on the topic, just published today. While the first panel was forthcoming, the second panel was a sad joke. It was the same performance from last week for Robert Petzel who still can't convincingly mouth words allegedly of regret.
Due to a vote about to take place, time was limited on the second panel and the Chair turned the questions over to US House Rep Phil Roe who is also Dr. Roe (medical doctor). We'll note a bit of the exchange.
US House Rep Phil Roe: Quickly, I've watched this now for the third year. It seems like all the programs we see are slow and glacial to get going. And I know it's a very complicated program but as you clearly pointed out, it's not nearly as complicated as having no arms or legs and getting around in your home or with a Traumatic Brain Injury where you can't balance the check book and someone has to be there to help you do that. That's a lot harder, as you just pointed out. I could not agree more. So why is it taking so long? And this program doesn't seem as complicated to me as many of the programs that the VA has.
Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congressman Roe. I will turn to Debbie Amdur to elaborate on this but I think the biggest aspect of this is that it is a completely new concept for us. We have never been in the business of providing a stipend to somebody who is providing caregiving services. And developing the regulations for this, getting all of the correct input before the regulations are actually in place, takes a long time. I-I-I think -- I apologize as I have before for the fact that we are so late in doing this but I think the fact that this was new and it required relatively complex regulations is part, at least of the explanation.
US House Rep Phil Roe: This reason? I mean we have regulations now for home health care people that go in. It looks to me like it would have been fairly simple to look at those and say "There's some criteria there." We've been pretty easy. I think we micro-manage this down to "what if? what if? what if? what if?" until it got to be almost -- and also the intent of Congress was to provide this to as many families. And I think right now, just like in the HUD-VASH voucher program we found out we've got 11,000 vouchers out there with no veterans, homeless veterans. So I think what you're going to find out with this is there's going to be a lot more need than we thought but we don't even know what that is now because it's so hard for people to get in and, as Mr. Tarantino pointed out, the gateway as eligibility, but that's just the first step. So we really don't know right now how many people -- And do you know how many people have applied or how many have to date?
Robert Petzel: Well, of course, there hasn't been application period yet, Congressman, But have an estimate of somewhere between 750 and a thousand people would probably be applying or would be eligible under the way the criteria are presently deliannated.
US House Rep Phil Roe: Well I guess that seems like an awfully small number to me in a country with millions of veterans. It seems to me like I'll be it will be ten or twenty or thirty times that many.
On TBI, Deborah Amdur declared, "And [I] was very concerned to hear the interpretation that we would not be covering veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. When we put together the eligiblity crtieria we brought forward subject matter experts from across VA including leadership of our Federal Recovery Coordination from our programs our poly trauma programs, Traumatic Brain injury programs and so forth. And there was significant recognition of the challenges that are faced by family members caring for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury." Dr. Roe wanted Adur to promise that by July, caregivers will be receiving money. And she did. She tried to go with "It is our intention" but she ended up promising. But that doesn't mean the VA will keep the promise, they never do. But we'll go ahead and note that the promise was made and we'll note it if it's kept or if it's broken.
Protests took place across Iraq today. AFP estimates that 500 Iraqis gathered in Baghdad's Liberation Square (Tahrir Square before the protests began last month) and they speak to Layla Saleh Yaseen who explains why she is protesting, "I demand the rights of Iraqis -- more rations and an improvement in services like electricity. I have four children and have to care for a disabled brother by selling simple goods in the streets." And that's the type of person the Iraqi military was advancing on, that's the type of person that scares Nouri so that he orders military helicopters to patrol the air space above Liberation Square. Jonathan Blakley (NPR's The Two-Way blog) reports, "Security forces lined the streets of central Baghdad with riot gear. Authorities didn't bother issuing a curfew or banning traffic in the normally congested city, but entrances into Baghdad province were blocked to motor vehicles. At times, traffic passed through Baghdad's Tahrir Square as the protesters, numbering between 500 and 1,000 shouted into megaphones and waved anti-government banners." Dar Addustour notes that the protesters are calling on Nouri al-Maliki to listen to them. Aswat al-Iraq quotes activist Emad Karim stating, "Dozens of citizens went to streets on Friday billed as 'Friday of Truth', calling for better services and fighting corruption." Yahya Barzanji, Bushra Juhi and Lara Jakes (AP) report protesters decried the way they had been treated by Iraqi forces in previous protests. Sami Majid pointed to the February 25th and explained, "They beat and kicked me, then forced me to sign a commitment that I would not participate in demonstrations or raise riots." Khalid Walid ( reports that riot police descended on the protesters late in the afternoon, using batons to intimidate and disperse them and that Ali Kamal declared that Nouri al-Maliki has stated reforms will come in 100 days and that they will continue demonstrating and that they have little to no confidence in the government.
Dar Addustour reports that protesters in Najaf carried flowers as they called for an end to corruption, improved basic services and ration card items. Aswat al-Iraq notes protesters in Nassiriya are criticizing the way security forces have treated protesters. In Falluja, Dar Addustour reports, protesters called for an end to random arrests. Aswat al-Iraq notes that Falluja saw a crackdown ahead of the protest with "a vehicle and bike ban around the protest region." Yahya Barzanji, Bushra Juhi and Lara Jakes (AP) report approximately 4,000 people turned out to protest in Sulaimaniyah. Saman Mahmoud Mawloud (Reuters) reports one Sulaimaniyah protester attempted to burn himself but was stopped by other activists, notes the protesters chanted for KRG President Massoud Barzani to step down and quotes Nasik Qadir stating, "There has been no response from the government. We are here to change the despotic system, end the corruption in Kurdistan. People feel the corruption and want jobs, justice and services."
Al Mada reports that Hilla saw two protests and the demands included that the govenor of Babel Province (Babylon Province is another term used for it and the term Al Mada uses) be elected directly and not via quotas. They also called for an end to unemployment, all ration card items being available and reductions in the costs of water and electricity. Those were some of the demands of the first group. The second group had overlapping demands and some of their own demands as well. They agree that a new governor is needed and they want qualifications for the office -- including that he or she must hold a bachelor's degree.
In an opinion piece, Al Mada argues that the protests taking place in Baghdad's Tahrir Square have dug a grave for and buried sectarian politics and forced sectarian politics to fall away by pulling sectarian politicians and their constituents apart, and that the biggest victors are young Iraqis who, among other things, trained themselves in something that was not possible in Iraq's previous five decades, protesting the rulers. This training creates a bond between today's Iraqi youths and those of the 1940s and 1950s who also engaged in cross-sectarian demonstrations. Al Mada sees the protests as strengthening the notion of "Iraqi" and of "citizen."

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"An explanation that makes sense"

Friday, March 11, 2011

An explanation that makes sense






"First, I'd like to welcome our witnesses for today's hearing on current and longer-term threats and challenges around the world. We are delighted to have James Clapper here for the first time as the Director of National Intelligence, along with the DIA Director General Ron Burgess," declared Chair Carl Levin this morning at the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. In his opening remarks, the Director of National Intelligence did nod to Iraq.
James Clapper: In Iraq, I think actually what has happened in Iraq has been a very interesting and encouraging evolution as they have gone -- they're going through a very difficult transition into a democracy. Uhm, they have too had demonstrations that have taken place widely throughout many cities in Iraq and personally was heartened by the uh excellent performance of the Iraqi security forces who reacted temperately to the professionally for the most part to these demonstrators.
However, it is equally true that Levin noted in his opening remarks, "We will want to learn from our witnesses their estimate of the prospects for democracy and for security for religious minorities in Iraq." Those topics were never touched on. In fact, Carl Levin was the only senator to ask of Iraq. Iraq exchange in full:
Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us an assessment of the vulnerability of the government of Iraq to the kinds of protest which have -- we've seen in other parts of that region? And has the government of Iraq cracked down on peaceful demonstration and could that lead to greater demonstrations?
James Clapper: Well, sir, I think the people in Iraq have the same aspirations as we're seeing throughout the MidEast, uh, the same four factors I indicated. And, uh, I think, uh, the word "crackdown" I guess -- that's somewhat of a loaded word. I guess they have curtailed -- controlled these demonstrations and, uh, I think the real test is the, uh, how responsive the, uh, Iraqi government can be for things like provisions of water and electricity to-to the people. And I think it's, uh, sort of basic fundamental, uh, needs, uh, and the government of Iraq, I think, understands that. The -- Prime Minister Maliki certainly does and that, uh, he's got to deliver. And that's going to be the test. And to the extent that, uh, they're not able to do that, then I think that, uh, frustration will fester more among the Iraqi people.
Chair Carl Levin: And just to tie that up, what's the Iranian influence in the Iraqi government, what's the extent of it?
James Clapper: Well sir it's, uh -- I think sometimes there is a tendancy to overstate that. I think, uh, clearly they're interested, uhm, they're going to try to influence, uh, things in Iraq in a manner that's, uh, supportive of their interests. Uh, I think, though, Prime Minister Maliki is, uh, his eyes are wide open here. He's got some background with the Iranians and, uh, I think they are very much aware of that. And certainly that's a great concern to others in the region.
Chair Carl Levin: So a limited effect? The Iranian influence?
James Clapper: Well I wouldn't -- I don't know what the right characterization is. It is a concern it's a factor and uh certainly the Iranians will try to exploit any openings they can whether in Iran -- Iraq or anywhere else in the region. And some measures -- some-some ways, uh, they would like to exploit the situation. But uh, I think that's going to be very problematic for them.
No one else bothered to ask. Ranking Member John McCain asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week (see Tuesday's snapshot, it's noted in full -- and that was the only time Iraq came up in that hearing). Let's see we heard about Mexico being the new Columbia and we heard about the Balkans and we heard about -- Goodness, it was so bad maybe we should be grafeful no one felt the need to note the 'great' Grenada invasion of 1983.
While we were at the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was testifying in front of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Simmi Aujla (Politico) reports, "Clinton told House Republicans that cutting the agency's 2012 budget would also threaten U.S. progress in [typo error at Poliltico edited out here] Iraq and Afghanistan." I'm sorry, Hillary, we need to do that why? Those of us attending the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning heard the US "world wide threat assessment" and Iraq wasn't one. Russia was number one and China was number two. We know that because after Clapper made that surprising announcement in response to Senator Joe Manchin's questions, Chair Carl Levin quickly brought him back to that issue to make sure everyone had heard correctly. (Levin: "I was frankly quite surprised by your answer.") They had. Levin gave him a third attempt to self-correct noting how it will look -- especially in Russia -- when the headlines emerge (I doubt they will outside of Russia, there were not a lot of front page press types at the hearing) of "Russia Greatest Threat To The US." Clapper said he was sticking with his answers because, for greatest threats, only Russia and China would have the capability.
In fact "cyber threats" -- specifically "malicious software" -- were the focus of more grave words from Clapper than was Iraq. The US and England led the world into the Iraq War (Australia tagged along with John Howard as everyone's pudgy kid sister). But the United Kingdom's not fretting Iraq these days. From the March 1st snapshot, when Hillary was appearing befor the full House Committee on Foreign Affairs:
While Hillary was repeatedly saying that the billions to go into Iraq -- a third surge, was how she billed it -- were necessary for national security, a curious thing was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Alex Stevenson (Politics) reports, "Britain has shaken up its international development budget by placing renewed emphasis on poor countries which directly affect the UK's national security. The move means 16 countries including Angola, Niger, Cameroon and Lesotho will no longer receive any funding from Britain. Neither will Russia, Iraq, Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia and Burudni." That's very interesting. The Iraq War was started and led by the US and the UK. They spent the most money on the illegal war and sent the most bodies to fight it (and had the most foreign people die in Iraq). To sell the Iraq War in the US, Bully Boy Bush resorted to many lies including that Iraq had sought yellow cake uranium from Africa. Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, had the ability to use chemical and/or biological weapons on England within 45 minutes. That's much quicker than an attack on the US and that's because England is physically closer to Iraq than is the US. So why is it that the UK argues today that they don't need to give Iraq anymore aid because it's not a threat to their own national security but the US -- White House and Hillary Clinton -- is arguing differently?
So can Hillary and the White House get honest about what's really going on? Clearly England is as tied to Iraq as the US and they're not calling it a threat to their national security and, turns out, based on Clapper's testimony, the US isn't either. Maybe we're back to what Ted Koppel, on NPR's Talk of the Nation Tuesday, speaking with Neal Conan declared?
Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
That was noted in the March 8th snapshot. So was this:
It would be "very unwise" to leave, he insisted and those who think the US is trying to help Iraq are looking at it wrong because "the prism that we're there for Iraq's interests? We're not. We're there because of US interests."
That quote is incorrect and should have included "[. . .]" and the first "we're" should have been "United States" -- my error, my apologies. What Koppel stated was, "the prism that we have been learned to - that we have been taught to accept over the last few years, and that is that the United States is in Iraq for Iraq's interests. We're not. We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United States." My apologies for my error.
Is oil what Hillary's calling national security? If so, the White House needs to get honest about it. If not, they need to do a lot of explaining due to the fact that Iraq's not a national security issue for the US. It never was. It was never a threat to the US' safety. When Barack, Joe, Hillary, et al start insisting "national security" for the US staying in Iraq, they are LYING the exact same way Bush did when he claimed Iraq was a threat to the United States. If that's the standard they want to meet, then let all three of them be judged accordingly.
When Barack declared his candidacy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, February 2007, Tom Eley (WSWS) broke down the realites of 'antiwar' Barry:
In the coded language of official American politics, a ''responsible end'' can mean only one thing: the total subjugation of Iraq, in one way or another, and the expropriation of its enormous oil wealth, delicately referred to by Obama as ''our interests in the region."
"Our interest in the region"? What are they? Barack's a War Hawk. And he's as dishonest as Bully Boy Bush. Back to Eley:
Obama endorses and recycles as his own all of Bush's "thirteen benchmarks" for "progress" in Iraq. Among them, Obama singles out the demand for "eliminating restrictions on US forces." In other words, the Pentagon should be given an even freer hand to drown the Iraqi resistance in blood. Obama also demands the Iraqi government reduce "the size and influence of the Militias" -- that is, fully confront the powerful Al Mahdi militia.
Benchmarks. As Eley notes, Barack was thrilled to grab onto Bush's benchmarks. In fact, he, Joe and Hillary -- all US senators at the time -- were calling for benchmarks. Where are his benchmarks?
Let's review a few of the targeted groups in Iraq.
* Christians and other religious minorities
* the LGBT community
* women
* orphans
* special needs persons
There are many more targeted populations. Barack is in the White House and desperately wants to be in it in 2013. Shouldn't he have something to add? The US tax payer is being asked to fork over billions of more dollars and for what? So Nouri and his thugs can torture gay men and suspected gay men? So they can seal these men's anuses with glue and cause them to die a very painful death?
We have seen zilch from this White House when it comes to Nouri's violations of basic human rights. Doubt it? Let's go over an exchange today one more time.
Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us an assessment of the vulnerability of the government of Iraq to the kinds of protest which have -- we've seen in other parts of that region? And has the government of Iraq cracked down on peaceful demonstration and could that lead to greater demonstrations?
James Clapper: Well, sir, I think the people in Iraq have the same aspirations as we're seeing throughout the MidEast, uh, the same four factors I indicated. And, uh, I think, uh, the word "crackdown" I guess -- that's somewhat of a loaded word. I guess they have curtailed -- controlled these demonstrations and, uh, I think the real test is the, uh, how responsive the, uh, Iraqi government can be for things like provisions of water and electricity to-to the people. And I think it's, uh, sort of basic fundamental, uh, needs, uh, and the government of Iraq, I think, understands that. The -- Prime Minister Maliki certainly does and that, uh, he's got to deliver. And that's going to be the test. And to the extent that, uh, they're not able to do that, then I think that, uh, frustration will fester more among the Iraqi people.
Clapper thinks the security forces showed moderation. Really? When they beat five journalists in Basra last Friday? When did they show restraint? When they injured protesters? When they killed them? When did they show restraint? When they beat up Baghdad journalists? When? And how the hell does this behavior earn the support of the US government?
It's an illegal war and the US has installed a thug. But if that doesn't matter to the current White House -- and it obviously doesn't since it was the current White House that ensured Nouri continued as prime minister -- how about this: The man considered an idiot (George W. Bush) laid down (under duress, true) benchmarks that Iraq was supposed to meet in order to continue to receive US tax payer money; however, someone supposedly smarter than George W. Bush doesn't even see the need for benchmarks today. Doesn't see the need while despite the targeting of religious minorities, of Iraq's LGBT community, of Iraqi women and on and on. That's very telling and what it's telling on the current White House isn't at all pretty.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

They gave him their heart and he gave them a pen








For most of us in the United States, imaging a loved one injured in the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars (or any future wars) is a mental exercise detached from reality. How fortunate for us if we (that includes me) do not have to picture someone in their immediate family who could be wounded, return home and require that we become the primary caregiver. Again, for most of us, we're very lucky -- most, but not all. And addressing the realities of what a caregiver caring for a wounded veteran and what the veteran has to face is something that the Congress has spent several years working on. The House and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee have held hearings, taken testimony, worked up proposals
And after all of those many hearings and many meetings with the effected populations, both houses of Congress agreed upon the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (May 5, 2010) which was to go into effect January 30, 2011. This bill had support from both political parties -- and support from independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. In the Senate it passed by 98 votes (all present voted for it). In the House, it passed by 419 votes with all present voting in favor of it. President Barack Obama signed it into law May 5, 2010. It shouldn't have caused any problems because of the huge Congressional support it had -- universal support -- and because the Congress took so much care in investigating the issues, in taking testimonies from stakeholders, in evaluating and re-evaluating before they wrote the bill. But as the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee made clear March 2nd, there were huge differences between what the Congress passed and what the VA was planning to do with the law. This afternoon the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee released the following statement:
Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees call on President Obama to stop the VA from severely limiting a benefit for those who are forced to leave careers, health care behind to care for their loved ones

(Washington, D.C.) – Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a bi-partisan, bi-cameral letter to President Barack Obama yesterday calling on him to ensure that eligibility for a law Congress passed to support veterans caregivers is not limited and that the law is implemented in a timely manner. In the letter, the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Congressional Committees that oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expressed their frustration over VA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delays in moving forward with caregivers support, and with additional criteria that will severely limit the ability for some family caregivers to access the benefit. Specifically, the Congressional leaders asked the President to direct OMB to "ensure that the regulations or other elements of the program's implementation comply with the specific eligibility criteria that are set out in the law."
"It's simply unacceptable that the VA would limit a program Congress designed to support family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover at home," said Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray. "We are calling on the President to make sure that the will of Congress and the needs of these veterans are not being ignored. Caring for our veterans is part of the cost of war. This program is part of the cost of war."
"When he signed the Caregiver Law, President Obama stood with wounded veterans and caregivers in promising that they'd be getting the help they needed," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller. "We're now calling on him to fulfill that pledge and direct his administration to hear the will of Congress, veterans, and caregivers to get this program right."
"This legislation was originally designed to provide a path forward for caregivers who are already sacrificing their own aspirations in order to make the lives of severely wounded veterans easier to bear," said Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "I urge the President to work with VA to get this bill right so that caregivers in dire need of assistance can receive the benefits promised to them,"
"VA's continued delay in the implementation of such a vital program is inexcusable. Many of these caregivers have wiped out their savings, have had to forego their own health care coverage and have given up their careers in order to care for their loved one," said Rep. Bob Filner Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Last year, Congress saw fit to extend critical benefits to the Caregivers of our nation's veterans and we will not stand idly by as VA prolongs the process. Too much time has passed already."

We'll note the letter in full at the end of the snapshot. But I'm having to juggle things to make this the opening -- and it's important enough that it should be the opening. Today
Christopher Caskey (Auburn Citizen) reports on a send-off ceremony in Auburn (upstate New York) yesterday for 15 members of the Auburn National Guard Armory who are part of 115 soldiers with the 105th Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard deploying to Iraq. Before deploying to Iraq, the soldiers will receive additional training at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. The Iraq War hasn't ended. And, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, on Tuesday's Talk of the Nation (NPR), Ted Koppel explained why the Iraq War continues (and continues and continues and . . .):

Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
Jane Arraf: This is what's left of the Rasheed family's alcohol store, one of the few that was still open in Baghdad. It was bombed, along with seven others recently just after Aid Rasheed closed up for the day. Aid is a Yazidi -- an ancient religion here. Yazidis and Christians have always owned liquor stores in Iraq. But as the government embraces a stricter interpretation of Islam, Aid says there's no room for them anymore
Aid Rasheed: Especially the Christians and the Yazidis, we don't know how we will live. In the north if we open a restaurant, no one will come to it. In the south, we have these shops they attack us and steal from us and kill us.
Jane Arraf: It's not just drinking that's under threat. The cultural heart of Baghdad, al-Mutanabbi Street, has been rebuilt since it was bombed in 2007. But many of the cities writers, artists and intellectuals have left the country Baghdad has always been known for its diversity, for its cultural tolerance. It's a part of the national identity but many people fear it's being crushed. Hadi al-Mahdi is an out spoken radio host but his criticism of the government has cost him dearly. He was one of dozens of media people arrested and beaten after a recent protest. Iraq is at a crossroads he said between freedom and dictatorship. Zena Hatab is a television presenter. She felt free enough to enter and win a local beauty pagent. That could be harder if a new warning seen in the al-Kadhimiya district is heeded. The display warns women of the dangers that await them if their bodies aren't covered head-to-toe.
Abass Ali Hussein: This shows this life and behind it is the after life. Being tortured by fire for those who are unveiled or wear too much make up. The Koran says we have to cover the chest and the arms. Only the face and the hands should show.
Jane Arraf: Many Iraqi Muslims dispute that reading of the Koran but it's a sign of changing time that few in this neighborhood will openly say so. Jane Arraf, Al Jazeera, Baghdad.
Religious minorities have been among the targeted groups in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. "Among" -- there is a long, long list of targeted groups in Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq reports that the country's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory released a statement today: "A total of 160 attacks took place against journalists throughout the country, including 60 in Kurdistan region. Security authorities waged a big campaign on media institutions in Baghdad and other provinces, and arrested journalists and ceased al-Diyar satellite channel." Sunday, Nouri al-Maliki sent police and military forces to throw the Communist Party out of their headquarters. The Party also produced their newspaper at the headquarters and were most likely targeted because they've been strong supporters and organizers of the protests. Al Mada reports that Hamid Majid Moussa held a press conference today in Baghdad, not far from where the Party's Newspaper By The People was produced, and declared that the government cannot justify the eviction of the Communist Party because the Party is not terrorists but they are instead being punished for their politics in violation of their Constitutional guarantees so the government must immediately return the Party's property. Patrick Martin (WSWS via Global Research) provides an overview of some of the recent attacks on the press, "Journalists covering an anti-government protest March 4 in Basra, in southern Iraq, were seized and beaten by police. Gunman in military uniforms raided an independent radio station in the Kurdish town of Kalar. The station's director, Azad Othman, told the Associated Press the volunteer station had been reporting extensively on demonstrations in Sulaimaniyah against the two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. These attacks follow nationwide raids the previous Sunday, in which Iraqi police detained 300 people, mainly journalists, artists, lawyers and other intellectuals [. . .]"
The National Newspaper's editorial board observes, "Iraq's democratic exuberance is in tatters. A year ago this week, the US president Barack Obama praised elections as an 'important milestone in Iraqi history'. Today, diplomats cross their fingers that the country's mounting protests don't spiral out of control. More than anything, though, Iraq's popular uprisings underscore that an unhappy public is no longer content idly watching a kleptocracy emerge. Iraq's leader should take heed." Al Mada reports that the US government expects protests to continue but that the US government -- citing Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq -- does not feel the protests will call for the overthrow of the (puppet) government in Iraq. Alsumaria TV quotes Corbin declaring, "People are protesting not for regime change, but for services, against corruption, for better government response to their needs."

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ready when?





Throughout the Iraq War minority populations have been targeted in the 'new' Iraq. The targeting comes in waves and the press attention in much smaller waves. For Iraqi Christians, the latest wave of targeting began October 31st with the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. That attack and the ones that followed forced many Iraqi Christians to flee Baghdad and Mosul for northern Iraq or for places outside of Iraq. Aidan Clay (Continental News) observes:

The U.S. government had received numerous cries for help. In July 2010, Christian leaders from Iraq visited Capitol Hill to beg for the preservation of their communities. They came as representatives of a newly established council of churches. Putting aside denominational differences, the council was formed by the common belief that together they could best withstand persecution. At the time of the visit, some estimate that only 400,000 Christians remained in the country, a fraction of the 1.4 million who were there before the war.
"We have no militia. We have no way to defend ourselves. We are sitting ducks. And when we are attacked, no one is prosecuted. How can we survive?" the head of the council told a congressman's office. However, pleas and policy recommendations fell on deaf ears and the Christian council grew void of hope. "Nothing is going to change," one council member told me. "Who is concerned about Christians whent he U.S. is trying to win a war?"

If you're new to the issue, you may be interested in the recent timeline the article provides. Brooke Anderson (Catholic News Service) reports on some of the Christians who fled to the KRG in hopes of safety. Suhail Louis is one such person and now he wonders if he should attempt a life there or attempt to leave Iraq? Another is Rakan Warda who says, "I want to leave Iraq. I'm thinking about my daughter and her future. I'm no longer thinking about my own future." AFP reports that Austria has granted 30 Iraqi Christians asylum. But in Iraq, questions remain about the October 31st assault and fingers are pointing towards Nouri al-Maliki. Ken Timmerman (Assyrian International News Agency) reports:

Four months later, Hana and her husband continue to mourn Ayoub in their home in Karakosh, where they fled from Mosul a year earlier after jihadi Muslims murdered her husband's brother. A portrait of the 27-year old Ayoub sits on a chair in their living room. He had just gone down to Baghdad to visit family.
But the story of what happened to Ayoub Adnan Ayoub is much more than just a sad testimony to the persecution Iraqi Christians are enduring on a daily basis at the hands of jihadi Muslim groups. It is also prima facie evidence of criminal malfeasance on the part of the Iraqi government.
"There was an outside door to the side chapel where those people were hiding," said Yohanna Josef, who made an unsuccessful campaign last year for the Iraqi parliament as an independent. "They could have gone in through that door and rescued many people," he told Newsmax in an interview at the Ayoub home in northern Iraq. "Instead, they burst in through the front doors and shot everyone in sight."
Iraqi bloggers and even some politicians have openly accused the Iraqi government for its handling of the Oct. 31 attack.
They point out that the terrorists brought explosives and weapons to the church in cars with dark-tinted windows and no license plates that are only available to officials with high-level security clearance. This allowed them to get waved through checkpoints without being stopped.
They also point to the slow reaction of the security forces, and the botched handling of the rescue attempt itself. It still remains unclear how many of the victims were killed or wounded by the Iraqi rescue team, who opened fire wildly once they burst into the church.
A senior officer in the Iraqi police, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that for the 10 days prior to the attack that the Interior Ministry security forces gradually moved barriers closer to the church, until the terrorists could drive right up in front.
Turning to some of today's violence. Aswat al-Iraq reports that US Special Forces did "an air drop operation on a village in al-Huweija district and raided some houses, killed a physician and arrested his brother" -- and if you're wondering, US Special Forces roam free in Iraq. Osama al-Nujefi, Speaker of Parliament, wants an investigation into US actions. In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes a Mosul IED killed 1 Iraqi soldier, an 18-year-old man was shot dead in Falluja and a Mosul roadside bombing left two police officers injured. Mo Hong'e (Xinhua) reports 1 University of Mosul professor was shot dead outside his Mosul home, a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured a Diyala Province sticky bombing left three people injured in Baquba and Diayal Province was the focus of searches "during the past 14 hours and arrested 14 suspects and wanted individuals".
Today is International Women's Day. Suha Alsaikli and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) report that women from such groups as the Association of Iraqi Women, Iraqi Council for Peace and Solidarity and the Iraqi Communist Party gathered in Baghdad today to address the new realities for women in 'new' Iraq where they face harsh social and economic conditions, many live in houses made of tin, widows and divorcess struggle. The Communist Party's Umm Ammar called for the Communist Party's building to be returned. Benoite Martin (Insight on Conflict) notes the 'new' Iraq included "a backlash against women's rights and feminist activists" and that, "Women's bodies and women's independence became the battleground of ethnic, religious and political strife."
Religious groups launched pressure campaigns on women to avoid 'immoral' or 'un-Islamic' behaviour, forcing them to wear headscarves -- including Christian women in Baghdad. Unmarried women dressing improperly became the target of violent attacks in the streets of Basra. Women were increasingly used as a bargaining tool or gift among tribes, while forced marriages, kidnappings and honour-related crimes increased, in particular in the region of Kurdistan.
The violent conflict in Iraq has resulted in the disappearance of women from the public sphere and has minimised their role in decision -- making processes.
In order to ensure a sustainable post-conflict reconstruction process, and a sincere national reconciliation process, it is necessary to encourage an increased participation of women within the society and to seriously combat the occurrence of gender-based violence.
Baghdad Women Association and the Women Leadership Institute are two organisations that have adopted an agenda to combat gender-based violence, and to build the leadership skills and capacities of women, so that women can play an active role in private and public spheres through increased participation in economic, social and political processes.

In other news, and how appropriate that it come on International Women's Day, Pig Ritter is in the news cycle. Reuters reports the man busted at least twice before for attempting sexual encounters with underage females, arrested for a third time in late 2009, has a court date, April 12th.
On the first season of Ellen (then called These Friends Of Mine), Ellen Degeneres' groundbreaking sitcom, she had lunch with "the most irritating, annoying, life endangering person on the face of the planet," Audrey Penney (Clea Lewis) in the episode "The Anchor" written by Neal Marlens, Carol Black and David Rosenthal.
Ellen Morgan: So uhm did you see Nightline last night?
Audrey Penney: Oh don't you hate Ted Koppel? He's so superior. It's like there's only one opinion in the world and Ted has to have it.
Sounds like Audrey was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation today, when Neal Conan spoke with Ted Koppel and NPR's Mike Shuster. Conan wondered what Iraqis think when they here US Defense Secretary Robert Gates say that the US is in talks with Iraq to extend the deadline of all US forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011?
Neil Conan: Is there an Iraqi airforce?
Mike Shuster: No, there's not an Iraqi airforce and that's in fact one of the key issues that the Americans here want to focus on.
By "here," Shuster meant Baghdad (he was on satellite phone). Ted Koppel shared that US forces would stay one way or another. Either there would be an extension or the White House would (this is all public knowledge -- or should be) pull some US soldiers out from under the Defense Dept umbrella and put them under the State Dept umbrella. He noted, "You're going to have this bizarre situation where the State Dept is going to be, in effect, running the military situation." And though this has been trotted out before Congress repeatedly, he may be the most public fact to share, "Speaking quite frankly, I think it would be a disaster."
He objected to "the State Dept running its own little army over there [Iraq] and running missions for which diplomats have not been trained" for many reasons including the issue of money. Since they wouldn't be able to maintain all US soldiers currently in Iraq, they'd have to use more contractors and he estimated a security contractor would make $100,000 a year. (A caller who had been a contractor stated he had made $150,000 a year in Iraq.)
Ted Koppel is against the US leaving Iraq. He started yammering away about the blood and time and money invested. Never sit at the black jack table with Ted. Long after he's lost everything, he'll be attempting to bum a few chips fro you. And he rejected a caller who stated that the US would be smart to cut their losses as he rejected the idea that the US could not make things better for Iraqis. It would be "very unwise" to leave, he insistead and those who think the US is trying to help Iraq are looking at it wrong because "the prism that we're there for Iraq's interests? We're not. We're there because of US interests." That includes a staging platform for the region, according to Koppel, and, of course, the vast amount of oil Iraq has:
Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
His conclusion is, "In one form or another, we're still going to have thousands of people operating out of Iraq," it just depends on whether they'll be under the Defense Dept or the State Dept. He also took a swipe at the public, insisting, "As it is the US public pays little enough attention to US troops in Iraq." That's the second NPR program that's suggested that this week. Know what happens when you ride your high horse? You get knocked off. Ava and I will revisit this topic on Sunday at Third.
Koppel's always been the voice of the beltway. "Good morning everybody," declared Senate Armed Services Committe Chair Carl Levin today as he began the Committee hearing. "I want to welcome Secretary [of the Navy Raymond] Mabus, Adm [Gary] Roughead and Gen [James] Amos to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the Department of the Navy in our review of the fiscal year 2012 annual budget and overseas contingency operations request to the administration. We are pleased to welcome Gen Amos to his first posture hearing as Commandant and to welcome Adm Roughead for what will probably be his last posture hearing before the Committee as the Chief of Naval Operations." Ranking Member John McCain subscribes to the same belief of continued US forces in Iraq that Koppel does. We'll note this exchange.
Senator John McCain: Gen Amos, in the withdrawal from Iraq, is it your personal opinion that Iraq will be able to take over logistics, intelligence and air sovereignty -- missions that the US has been carrying out?
Gen John Amos: Senator, I've always believed that, uh, I can't speak to the degree of where they are today because the Marines are out of there and we're focused primarily in Afghanistan and other parts of the world but we were certainly on a glide slope to make that happen.
Senator John McCain: Adm?
Adm Gary Roughead: Uhm. I believe we are on that path, yes, sir.
Senator John McCain: So you're not concerned about a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq as far as logistics, intelligence, training of an air force, a navy? None of that is of concern?
Adm Gary Roughead: As of my most recent visit there, Senator, where I focused primarily on the Navy, I see very good progress and, in addition to that, because that Navy will also offshore our Fifth Fleet that operates in the Arabian Gulf I believe it will be a very supportive relationship, addressing the needs of Iraq from the naval perspective.
Senator John McCain: So they need no other assistance?
Adm Gary Roughead: I-I believe that assistance will continue the way that we interact with all navys in the region with our Fifth Fleet headquarters and the ships that deploy there, the exercise programs that we have. And that will continue on with the Iraqi navy and not have to have people ashore.
Ted Koppel won't be participating in a rally against the Iraq War this month. But many will be, A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in this action:

March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.

The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.

While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.

Actions of civil resistance are spreading.

On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.

Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.

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"It's not like he has any real responsibilities"

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's not like he has any real responsibilities







There has been the Day of Rage, the Day of Dignity and, today, the Day of Regret.
Alsumaria TV reports that Iraqis demonstrated in Baghdad today on the one-year-anniversary of the March 7, 2010 elections which were supposed to bring about a new government but somehow allowed Nouri to remain as prime minister and Jalal Talabani
to remain as president -- no changes and, one year after the election, Nouri still hasn't
formed a full Cabinet and the Ministers of Interior, Defense and National Security remain filled 'temporarily' by Nouri himself. AFP reports that people had ink stained fingers -- the photo shows red ink -- and that there were approximately 500 shouting "Yes, yes to democracy!" and "Maliki, liar!" Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains that the the red fingers were "a parody of the purple-stained fingers they proudly displayed last year as proof that they had voted on election day." DPA counts 200 demonstrators in Baghdad and "hundreds" in Falluja where chants included "WE WILL NOT VOTE AGAIN, THEY STOLE OUR VOICES" and 'BROTHERS, SUNNIS AND SHIITES, WE WILL NOT SELL OUR COUNTRY." AGI notes Falluja protesters included "intellectuals, tribal leaders and unemployed people". Alsumaria TV also reports, "Iraqi security forces banned media from covering manifestations live on air." This continues the long pattern of attacking journalism that we saw most recently, yesterday, with the military and police forcing the Communist Party to leave their Baghad headquarters where they publish the Party's newspaper and, on Friday, the physical attack on five journalists (attacked by Iraqi security forces) who were attempting to cover a demonstration.
Ayad Allawi told Al Jazeera that Iraq doesn't have a democracy and used as one example "what happened to the Communist Party yesterday." What did happen yesterday?
Aswat al-Iraq notes the claims by Nouri that the government owns the building the Communist Party is in and that is why they were targeted. No, that's not believable.
As noted before, among those organizing protests in Iraq has been the Communist Party. On Friday (The Day of Dignity), Iraq saw more protests. Many efforts were made to try to cut down on the protests. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq issued a press release (it's in Arabic) Friday noting that you couldn't enter Baghdad from the north on Friday, the main gate had been shut. In addition, early Thursday, hotels on Batwaiyyin Street were ordered not to provide rooms to young people because they might be protesters. It noted that Iraqi forces in "heavy" combat gear stormed Tahrir Square Tuesday night at 9:20 Baghdad time and that on Friday, Hummers and other security vehicles surrounded Tahrir Square. These efforts to cut down on the protests were made by Nouri al-Maliki. (Note, you can click here for the English lanaguage version of the site; however, it is not up to date and you won't find any of the many press released issued in the last few weeks.)
The Communist Party's efforts to organize protests have not gone unnoticed. And in "free" Iraq, that means you make Nouri's hit list. Dar Addustour reports that the Communist Party headquarters in Baghdad -- where the party produces their newspaper, among other things -- were forcibly evacuated early Sunday morning with Iraqi troops surrounded the bulding and insisting they required no judicial orders to do what they were doing. The Communist Party's Jassim Hilfi states that Iraqi police and Iraqi military took part in the operation. Hilfi notes that they have paperwork demonstrating they have the right to be there -- real estate documents. Al Mada reports on the forced evacuation and notes the Communist Party was provided with no reasons as to why they were being thrown out or why the Iraqi military was involved in the operation. Again, the Communist Party produces their newspaper there. On Friday, at least five journalists were attacked in Basra by security forces. There are ongoing attacks on the press. With what's known at present, it would appear likely that the Communist Party is being punished both for their role in organizing the (legitimate) protest and for attempting to exercise their free press rights via their newspaper. Alqanat notes Nouri issued the order in his role of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and that the Communist Party had a written agreement with the Ministry of Finance with regards to the building. It's also pointed out that Dawa (Nouri's political party) occupies many buildings illegally and that the Green Zone is nothing but an illegal occupation of buildings by Nouri and the ruling elite. The article also notes that the Communist Party saw much of their own property confiscated under Saddam Hussein's rule and that property -- even though Hussein's dead and gone -- has still not been returned. Shakir Noori (Gulf News) observes, "The Iraqi police surrounded the headquarters of the Communist party because some of its members were active participants in these protests and also coordinated with left wing parties. They demanded that the communist party should evacuate the area which they control during the American occupation." Michael S. Schmidt and Jack Healy (New York Times) add that the Iraqi Nation Party was also ordered to leave their headquarters on Sunday per Nouri and while "the Communists were told their builidngs were being requisitioned for government use, Mr. Alusi said he had received no explanation why he was being evicted." But he tells the reporters that members of the Dawa Party (again, Nouri's party) showed up last week attempting to get "him to align with them" and against the protesters. On the journalism aspect, Suha Sheikhly (Al Mada) adds that the Friday protests are leading people to ask if Iraq needs a national stop the violence campaign in order to protect journalists from Iraq's security forces? Ahmed al-Khafaji, Undersecretary for the Ministry of the Interior, issued a statement declaring that Iraq cannot succeed without a strong fourth estate (press) and that a free press is necessary and must be protected if Iraq is going to be a democracy and leave the era of dictatorships in the past. He called for the development of a "culture of human rights" among the people. Academic Dr. Kazem Mikdadi is quoted calling for a national campaign and stating that Article 38 of the country's Constitution must be respected (their free press clause) and he said that, too often, Iraqi police and Iraqi military do not see their job as protecting the protesters -- or their role as protectors of the people -- but instead they see themselves as protectors of those in power. And that is "free" Iraq via the illegal war, the US government and their installed puppets.
Ayad Allawi has given a lengthy interview to Al Jazeera today where he repeatedly stated, "There is no power sharing" in the Iraqi government. Allawi's political slate was the winner of the March 7, 2010 elections; however, Nouri used his position as sitting prime minister to ensure he continued in that role. The United Nations should have installed a caretaker government. This was called for by many -- we called for it here -- because it was obvious Nouri was going to 'wait it out' until he got his way. The only thing that would have stopped his (abuse of) power to do that would be removing him from office. For over nine months, there was absolutely no progress. Then a power sharing agreement was brokered. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) rightly observes today that this power sharing agreement "was brokered by US Vice President Joe Biden and backed up by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani" and Arraf notes this interview Allawi gave Alsumaria TV yesterday where he states that Joe Biden personally asked him to step away from the "his claim to be prime minister" and to instead lead the National Security Council. Allawi told Al Jazeera today that there is no power sharing agreement any more "because our agreements have not been fulfilled including the National Council." He says it's "a big lie" and "a joke" to say Iraq has a democracy. While he says that, Michael S. Schmidt and Jack Healy (New York Times) note that "a year after the elections and three months after Iraq's leaders ended a long political standoff and formed a government, Mr. Maliki has not finalized his government and is still personally overseeing the powerful army and police forces."
Okay, let's note the reality that throughout the nine months-plus, Nouri was deal making and horse trading. As we noted in real time, he was promising more positions in his Cabinet than he had. Which is why, when he became prime minister-designate in early November (officially on November 25th), it wasn't a surprise to discover he was creating new positions in an attempt to keep as many promises as he could. But the point in bringing that up today is no one had more chances than Nouri.
Ayad Allawi was a prime minister in Iraq after the US invaded. So was Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But Nouri was the first prime minister of Iraq after the 2005 Constitution was law of the land (Nouri became prime minister-designate in April 2006; prime minister in May 2006). Meaning he knew all about the Cabinet, all about the deadlines, etc. He knew it not just in some read it and comprehend it way, he knew it from actually having to do it. And yet in November 2010, after months of deal making, he can't create a Cabinet? When he's the only one with experience in doing that?
He can't create a Cabinet or he won't create a Cabinet? Because there is a difference. And as we've learned that he was lobbying the Supreme Court in December to turn over the independent bodies (Central Bank, Electoral Commission, committee that investigates corruption) to him and his control, as we've now learned that he's altered the rules so that now he claims only he has the right to introduce legislation to Parliament -- he's claiming that Parliament cannot write their own bill and pass it -- is it still looking like he just wasn't able to fill those posts?
Or is it looking more and more like he may end up claiming those posts belong to the prime minister? While everyone was riding waves of Operation Happy Talk, we were calling out his inability to fill his Cabinet (and noting that his inability should have prevented him from moving from prime minister-designate to prime minister). But so many wanted to happy talk it and pretend that everything was wonderful. It's not looking so wonderful now.
Omar (Iraq The Model) notes the apparent end of the power sharing agreement and observes, "Now Allawi is not naive. He knows very well that a) the Kurds will stick with Maliki with whom they have a strategic deal. He has so far given them what they wanted, including the right to resume oil exports, and b) the Sadrists and ISCI -- even if they ally with him -- will not allow him to become Prime Minister, as we saw druing 9 months of negotiations." Younis Omaima (Al-Alem) quotes an unnamed 'insider' who states that Allawi, seeing the spirit of protest spread across Iraq, has decided it is better at present to not be part of the government so many are condemning. Moh Hong'e (Xinhua) adds that 8 members of Iraqiya who serve in the Parliament have walked away from Iraqiya.
Al Sabaah notes that Nouri al-Maliki met yesterday with a delegation of tribal leaders and officials from Nineveh and that Nouri insists issues with the ration cards program are being dealt with, that the government is listening to the demands of the people and that meeting these demands are everyone's job. Of course, he's also given lip service in recent days to the need for a free press -- while cracking down on the press. And he held his meeting and made his announcement about the ration card system at the same time that, Al Mada reports, MP Mona Amiri (National Alliance) held a press conference explaining that many of the trations in Diyala Province have been allowed to sit -- instead of being distributed -- and have now one bad. Amiri stated that 124 tons of fat were discovered, 400 tons of tea and an unspecified number of tons of beans. If they'd been distributed, the items would have helped the people. Now they've gone bad. Al Sabbah notes that Nouri a session of Parliament on Thursday about "achieving" reforms. Meanwhile the Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi is itemizing the demands according to the most pressing.

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