Saturday, June 04, 2011

Pretty, little princess





But the president seemed to have made a gaffe during the occasion - signing Westminster Abbey's distinguished visitors' book with the wrong year.

Mr Obama dated his entry in the book May 24 2008, rather than the current year.

Apparently Mr Obama was heard to ask the dean what the day's date was - but managed to get the year wrong.

A Westminster Abbey spokeswoman confirmed it was the president who had written the wrong date.

AS BETTY OBSERVED IN REAL TIME, "It's just like Barack claiming he had visited 57 of the states in the US -- apologizing because his people hadn't let him visit Hawaii or Alaska yet. There are only 50 states in the US and, yes, that's counting Alaska and Hawaii. There's always an excuse when Barack, unable to be carried by his teleprompter, makes yet another mistake."



May 11th, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, held a press conference to explain Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, a Senate bill to assist veterans with employment. Among the things that the bill would do:
* Makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for separating servicemembers;
* Requires that each servicemember receive an individualized assessment of jobs they may qualify for when they participate in the Transition Assistance Program;
Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is supposed to help service members transitioning to veteran status with a number of issues that will come up in the civilian world such as how to market skills. "TAP is a program," US House Rep Marlin Stutzman declared yesterday, "that is supposed to help discharging veterans transition from the military into civilian careers. VA also has a portion of TAP where they educate the servicemembers on the multitude of services that are available to them once they become veterans."
Stutzman is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity which was holding a hearing on TAP. The first panel was composed of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Marco Reininger and AMVETS' Christina Roof. Excerpt.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: I do have a couple of questions for both of you. You mentioned the figure of 45% of service members attend TAP. Is that for all branches? Am I wrong in that the Marines do require, it is mandatory for their service members to attend TAP before they are discharged? And do we know if their percentages are any higher than the other branches?
Christina Roof: When I spoke with Marine Corps officials last week, I was told it is mandatory that their Marines complete the TAP program. I was also told there were some exceptions, of course, you know, like critical injuries involved and so on. But I was told last week that it is mandatory that all their Marines complete TAP before their service discharge.
Subcommittee Chair: Marlin Stutzman: So that's with no exceptions? Every Marine coming out does -- has completed TAP or . . .
Christina Roof: Again, I can only go on what they told me which was, it is mandatory which I think is a great idea that should be across the board. I can't speak, again, to each individual case but it seems like they are enforcing it.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: So would the 45% number have Marines in that percentage? Or do we not know more of -- the demographics or --
Christina Roof: I'll let my colleague, I think that was his number.
Marco Reininger: Sir, if I may, I'm not 100% sure whether or not this number includes the Marine Corps but I believe that making it mandatory DoD wide would be the right solution here. That same survey indicated that many veterans didn't attend the TAP program where TAP courses were offered because it had a reputation of being redundant, not really useful for making a successful transition. And, in some cases even, commanding officers wouldn't let them go. This is what they say, again, this is what the survey indicated. So mandating it DoD wide for all service branches would be the right answer here, sir. And, of course, along with that comes having to overhaul the program so that it actually works and makes sense for people to actually attend.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Bruce Braley: Let me ask you this basic question. Isn't it true that the Department of Defense could make these programs mandatory, across the board right now without any further action by Congress if they wanted to? [They nod their heads.] That was a "yes" from both of you.
Marco Reininger: Yes, sir, absolutely, the executive branch could order this to be mandatory and that would most likely be the end of it as far as I understand the process.
At Third last month in "Hiring Heroes Act of 2011," we noted our support for Senator Patty Murray's bill including the mandatory aspect of TAP:
We think it has to be mandatory to be successful and we feel that way based on the many stories shared with us and those shared in public about returning service members. How you're gathered in a large group and told there's help available if you have 'emotional' problems, but nobody has 'emotional' problems, right? In other words, the VA's been able to avoid issues like PTSD by demonizing and ridiculing them when they should be providing treatment.

We can see something similar happening with the military's job skills training program. Wait. See it happening? It's already happening which is why Murray could state, in the news conference, "Today, nearly one-third of those leaving the Army don't get this training."

There are a lot of programs the military offers. There's a real problem getting the word out. In some instances, such as PTSD, it's hard to draw any conclusion either than the military wants to keep the numbers down. Making the program mandatory means it falls back on superiors if veterans aren't getting access to these programs.
Making it mandatory does make superiors answerable if TAP isn't attended. Why wasn't it attended? Why didn't you ensure that ___ attended it? Did you not understand it was mandatory and your role in this was to ensure that it happened?
Back to the Subcommittee hearing. The second panel was composed of VA's Thomas Pamperin, Ruth A. Fanning, Dept of Labor's Ramond Jefferson and DoD's Philip A. Burdette and Brig Gen Robert Hedelund. Staying with the topic of TAP, we'll note this exchange.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: General Hedelund, my question is with the Marine Corps policy that requires TAP, have you seen any negative effects? And how does the Corps enforce mandatory attendance?
Brig Gen Robert Hedelund: Yes, sir. Thank you for that question. First, no. No operational impacts by requiring Marines to go to mandatory TAP. As I mentioned in my opening statement, our goal is to make this mandatory requirement almost OBE because people will figure out this is something they need and want. That said, some of the discussion earlier from the first panel is relevant in that it is a bit of a leadership issue. Let's not forget that this event does not happen in a vacuum. And that's part of the issue right now with TAP is that it's a one-shot deal. And where it falls on a Marine's timeline to get out of the Marine Corps sometimes is convenient, sometimes not so much.
Now we'll note another hearing this week (I didn't attend this hearing) via press coverage. Jane Cowan reports on PM (Australia's ABC -- link includes text and audio) about the Wednesday House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing.
JANE COWAN: In a report to Congress in the middle of last year the Pentagon said Iraq's security forces would continue to rely on US support to meet and maintain minimum standards. In March this year the US Senate heard there would be "loose ends" unless the Iraqis asked America to stay on. This is how the Democratic congressman Gary Ackerman puts it:

GARY ACKERMAN: Iraq seems to have been a marriage of convenience. Everybody seems to agree that there should be some kind of a divorce but when? And everybody thought that we were waiting for the final papers to come through and now we seem to have some remorse about that. Maybe we're sticking around for the sake of the children, and now they're all saying we should leave, although they really mean we should stay but we ain't staying unless they ask us it seems like a mess. I don't know how you explain that to the civilian population that's going to be asked to pay for child support.

JANE COWAN: The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been saying for months he'll stand by the deal but recently did a turnaround, saying he'd support keeping some troops beyond the deadline if he can get most of the country's politicians to agree.
Sophie Quinton (National Journal) adds, "Testifying experts stressed that the United States is expected to continue to influence Iraq by civilian means. The State Department is scheduled to take the lead role in supporting Iraq's security, political, and economic development in October 2011, and the U.S. Agency for International Development will continue its capacity-building efforts." Quinton quotes the State Dept's Patricia Haslach (Iraq Transition Coordinator) telling the Subcommittee, "We're not done. We have no intention of leaving Iraq." John T. Bennett (The Hill) emphasizes US House Rep Gary Ackerman's remarks:
"Most Americans believe we're done in Iraq," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia subcommittee. "That is at odds with the reality in Iraq.
"The American people thought they had already bought this and paid for this," Ackerman said. "That appears to not be the case."
So, too, did members of Congress.
That means the White House soon will have to start "selling a lot of members," Ackerman said, predicting that the "collision" of reality and lawmakers' desires "will not be pretty."

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Do you wanna dance?









No matter what happens, Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh's DC event opens tomorrow's snapshot. The host of RT's Adam vs. the Man was among those assaulted by DC Parks Police over the weekend discusses his Dance Party this Saturday at Thomas Jefferson's Memorial starting at noon on yesterday's broadcast (airs Mondays through Fridays at 7:00 pm EST). You can refer to Adam's program and to this Facebook page for more on the event. And while Adam's hosting the DC Dance Party, soldiarty Dance Parties are springing up around the country to be held at the same time for those who are unable to attend the event in DC. Excuse me, all over the country and at places around the world. Ontario has announced their Solidarity Dance Party and so has Paris. There's also a video contest taking place here (winner to be determined by noon tomorrow based upon which video has the most views). Adam noted on yesterday's broadcast, "We just decided that Friday night, at 8:00 pm, for those of you in DC or who are coming to DC for this event, we are going to be meeting for a pre-party at 8:00 pm at Dupont Circle and it will be a chance for you to meet, maybe some fellow dancers, hang out, get to know them, in a slightly more relaxed environment than what we might see at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday."
"I think we all can agree that this is one of the most important hearings that we'll have in this Congress," noted House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller yesterday morning. Noting that the unemployment rate for today's veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (young veterans) is "as high as 13.1%," and went on to make remarks that left me confused. What does Miller mean when he proclaims "there are legal protections for Guardsmen and Reservists who left work to fight for our country. By law, they are entitled to have or back to their jobs when they come home. We need to be aggressive in enforcement of this law"?
Yes, it is illegal to fire someone because they're serving in the Guard. But what is this "we need to be aggressive in enforcement of this law"? Congress makes laws, it doesn't enforce them. And on the enforcement side here, it doesn't exist. Disclosure, I'm covering legal expenses for a friend in my state who is suing to get his job back (it was 'filled' while he was overseas). There's no, "Quick, call San Francisco PD and get an officer out here to arrest someone!" There will be no prison time at the end for the employers. My friend will get his job back and he'll get some sort of cash settlement. But there's no enforcement of this law. That's a joke and it's insulting to pretend that there is. The branch addressing this is the judicial branch.
If Chair Miller would like to legislate some new and more strict laws, that would be great. But as they exist currently, let's stop pretending that these laws are "enforced." They're not. That's why so many Guard members and Reservists are having to turn to the courts. This is not a minor point and it enraged me yesterday so I held off on this hearing thinking I'd be more laid back on the issue today. I'm not. If Chair Miller was just trying to offer some meaningless but pleasing words, he needs to be aware that people aren't stupid enough to applaud those words. But if he comes up with an actual plan -- he says he's hoping to "introduce a new jobs bill for veterans," great. We'll note it, we'll review it here. But if the bill has nothing on protecting the jobs of those called up (or it has toothless and meaingless words), we'll note that as well. This is becoming one of the biggest employment issues for Reservists and Guard members. And prior to recently, I would note, scanning the papers across the country, at least one regional story each month on a veteran going through this. But until a friend of mine faced this problem recently, I didn't realize how widespread it was. I think many people are as ignorant of that as I was. It's not getting the attention it deserves.
Ranking Member Bob Filner noted in his opening remarks (oral, not the prepared, written remarks), "I would associate myself with your [Chair Miller] comments except for one statement. You -- you start off with the mantra that we have to reduce taxes on small business which I would agree with and cut spending. And then you go on to say how we need more training and this and that. Seems to me we have to increase spending in these areas and I'm not afraid to come out and say it. We've got to increase our spending in these areas. If we're going to put people back to work, it's going to take some investment."
The Committee heard from three panels of witnesses. The first panel was composed of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies' Richard Hobbie, DirectEmployers Association's Jolene Jefferies, the Chamber of Commerce's Kevin Schmiegel and the Society for Human Resource Management's Hank Jackson. Schmiegel was the only witness on any panel to note that unemployment might be about to increase with a number of service members due to return from Afghanistan and Iraq. We'll note this from the hearing.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Thanks to each of you for your testimony. I think we've heard a common thread among a lot of what you had to say. There are a lot of programs out there and a lot of information out there, a lot of ways that people can get to it but nobody knows it's there. How do we do it? I mean that's -- we've already got the programs in place, the websites are out there, VA's got it, SHRM's got it. Who wants to start? And I'd be glad to hear from anyone of you on a simple way to fix our problem.
Hank Jackson: I'll -- I'll take that simply because SHRM, as a human resource association, sort of takes its on as one of our responsibilities. I truly believe that education is what's sorely lacking. When we go to our members -- we surveyed our members last year -- 53% of our members indicated that they were actually attempting to hire veterans but were not sure about how to go about it, how to target veterans. We believe that through the programs with the Dept of Labor Vets, that we are developing a tool kit for veterans and employers that we hope to roll out sometimes before the end of the year in conjunction with the Dept of Labor. We believe that our members are truly committed to this cause. It's a matter of giving them a succinct place to go to address this issue.
Richard Hobbie: Mr. Chairman, I agree with Mr. Jackson that partnerships with employers and federal, state and local agencies is extremely important and, of course, we've made great progress on that in the last four years with our partnership with DirectEmployers Association and we continue to make progress.
Jolene Jefferies: And I can just say, I kicked off -- we did a, DirectEmployers Association hiring and retaining veterans web in our education series and that has been keeping me incredibly busy. There's definitely a strong interest in this. And to Mr. Jackson's point, there's a lot of turnover in these human resource departments and it does require continuous communication and education. And we just can't stop that effort. It's got to be an ongoing initiative. So in that spirit, we're providing this education series, recording it, and it's open to the public, does not cost anything and we've had state work force agencies, LVERs [Local Veterans Employment Representatives], DVOP [Disabled Veterans Outreach Program], the VA, the OFCCP [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] employers all demanding this training so there is a huge need for that.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Finally, Mr. Schmiegel.
Kevin Schmiegel: Thank you, sir. I'd like to make two points. The first point which is one of the principles we talked about is that the effort has to be focused on the local community. In my last assignment as a Marine, I was the head of Assignment Monitors. I managed 60 human resource specialist in the Marine Corps that assigned 170,000 Marines worldwide. One of our other primary responsibilities was to retain Marines. We only retain about 1 out of every four Marines so when we were doing our interviews to talk to those Marines about their decision to leave, we often asked them what they were going to do next. They never talked about what they were going to do next, they always talked about where they were going. The fact is, veterans and their families are returning to local communities every day. So the second point, which talks to the local community, is efforts have to be better coordinated between the public and private sector in those local communities. Our approach is simple, we're going to do a hundred events, a hundred hiring fairs in those local communities using the local Chambers of Commerce and the relationships that we have formed nationally with the Dept of Labor Vets and with the employer support of the Guard and Reserve and Ray Jefferson's state directors [Jefferson is the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor Veterans Emplyment and Training] and Ron Young's -- Ron Young's team of state directors [Young is the Executive Direcot of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve] in the Guard and Reserve are going to get together in those local communities and execute events. If we focus on local communities and we better coordinate private and public sector efforts, we will be more successful.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: I salute the Chamber on the 100 jobs fairs you're talking about holding but I think you just hit on part of your problem. If they're all returning to their own home communities, you have tens of thousands of communities which we need to be penetrating and be able to communicate with. So how do we solve that problem? They all want to go home -- and I certainly understand that -- so I mean we've got small cities of several thousand to large cities of millions. Sir?
Kevin Schmiegel: I think there has to be several different models, several different approaches to this. So we've conducted what Ray and I refer to as mega-hiring fairs in cities like Chicago, in cities like New York, in cities like Los Angeles, that model may have over a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty employers and a couple of thousand veterans and their spouses attend. We generally have high level speakers, we have transitional workshops to offer in conjunction with that. When we go to smaller areas -- We'll be in, we'll be in Great Falls, Montana on August 13th, the model is different. You have to focus on fewer number of employees and you have to also take into account that neighboring states from Montana may have significantly lower rates of unemployment than Great Falls. So you may ask a big employer like Haliburton, who has a significant number of jobs in the eastern portion of the state and in the neighboring state, to offer jobs to veterans and their families to relocate either in Montana or in a neighboring state. So I think the answer to the question is the model is different. You have to start somewhere. A hundred is a very aggressive number. The US Chamber of Commerce has over 17,000 local Chambers of Commerce affiliated with us. Next year, if this campaign is successful, we hope that the 100 becomes 500. And the year after that, we hope the 500 becomes 1,000. Thank you.
Commitee Chair Jeff Miller: Thank you. Mr. Filner?
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you all for your testimony and your efforts. This is obviously a Congressional hearing and we have oversight of the VA. I haven't heard any suggestions on what we ought to be doing or what the VA ought to be doing. Looks like the only guy who's doing anything in government is Mr. Jefferson over here -- I mean, from the testimony -- I know you're false modest. But what are we all doing here? I mean this ought to be a top priority for everybody. And I can imagine -- you guys are the experts -- but if I just thought about it for a few seconds I could think of what the VA could be doing. I mean, why isn't every regional office, for example, putting out a list of veterans and their specialties and what they're seeking jobs as? You guys all said we have trouble linking up with who the veterans are. Well the VA knows every veteran. Let's just put out a list of everybody who's looking for a job. I mean, it just doesn't seem difficult. We hear about the transition of skills in the military being hard to translate. We could deem anybody who's in electronics or a medic or a truck driver -- I mean, we can give them a certificate that says "For the purposes of hiring, this serves as" you know "what ever entry level." And people can be trained further. But they have incredible skills. We've been working on this civilian certification for, I don't know, decades. Nobody can seem to solve it. We've got guys truck driving all over Iraq or Afghanistan, they come home and they find out they have to take a six month course to get a commercial driving license. They say, "Hey, what do I need that for?" And they get discouraged. They're truck drivers. They know how to do it and they do it under the most difficult conditions you can imagine. Let them have a certificate that starts with a job. Or electronics people or medics. I mean, I've watched these medics. They have incredible -- they do things that no civilian would ever think of doing and yet they've got to go through some other certification, masters and go to this college and that college. Come on. They have the training. And we could just do it. I'd like you to give us some suggestions in either law, regulation, just executive order that we can help you do the kind of things you're doing every day. You are out there. We ought to be helping you in every way we can and the VA's job is to do that. Give us one thing we could do, if each of you could do that.
Jolene Jefferies: I think for starters, what would really help employers and we don't need a list of names necessarily but even just a simple heat map, for instance, that shows what the talent pools of veterans are, what their skills are, and where, in terms of geography, where can we find certain veterans with specific skills. And that way, we can at least hone down our recruiting strategy --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Done. Let's do it. Anybody from the VA here? Where's Ms. Fanning? [VA's Ruth Fanning] Afraid to raise her hand? Whatever -- she say heat map? [Pointing to VA staff] Whatever a heat map is, let's do it. I can imagine what it is, but I'm sure it's easy.
This continued with Filner handing out assignements but only Jefferies had an answer ready on what she needed. She had to be asked, she did not require prompting (not true of others). There's another hearing, one we attended today, that I'll try to note tomorrow. There's no room in the snapshot for it today.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall








Kate Wiltrout (Virginia Pilot) reports on today's send-off ceremony for members of Task Force 183, "The group is also part of the Viriginia National Guard's largest single-unit deployment since World War II. Its 825 soldiers come from seven unites across the state, including four in Hampton Roads." Erin Barnett (WSLS) adds, "The soldiers will spend 45 to 60 days at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, before leaving for Iraq. They are expected to be in Iraq for more than a year." Hugh Lessing (Daily Press) reports on those departing including Capt Brian Gallavan who states, "We have some of our soldiers where this is their third or fourth deployment. I have two on their fifth deployment."
And it's a year long deployment. But they're being told to be 'flexible.' Why? Because the US government's really not sure what's happening with the US military and Iraq just yet. On Antiwar Radio. Scott Horton spoke with Jason Ditz about what may or may not happen with US troops in Iraq. Excerpt.
Scott Horton: We've been talking quite a bit about this. The empire has made no secret that they're determined to stay, they want so badly to stay, but there is no UN resolution authorizing the occupation. There's only the Status Of Forces Agreement that Bush signed with Maliki in 2008 and now that says that every last one of our army troops have got to be out of the country -- and that goes for Air Force, Navy and Marines too -- at the end of this year, December 31, 2011. Our guys are trying to get Nouri al-Maliki to "invite us" to stay -- the way they've been able to successfully coherce the South Koreans and the Japanese into inviting us to stay in their countries. And this Sadr guy doesn't seem to be going for it -- but then "seems" are iffy things. And I read a couple of things that said that the Pentagon is betting that Sadr is bluffing and that the only way Sadr can make the United States leave is basically by what he's doing right now which is saying, 'Listen, you're going to have to start the war all over again and you don't want that.' They stood by when the Americans rolled in from Kuwait to take out Saddam Hussein, they've been fighting for the Shi'ite factions -- the Iraqi National Alliance -- this whole time. They're saying, 'You're going to have to start the war all over again against us.' And the Pentagon is betting, trying at least, they're hoping that he's just bluffing. And I wonder, from all the indications, what you're reading about the situation over there, whether you think Moqtada al-Sadr is really willing to turn the south of Iraq upside down in order to force the Americans out?
Jason Ditz: It looks like he might well be but Prime Minister Maliki, of course, came up with ruling out the occupation beyond the end of the year several times in public speeches and then recently he's backed off that entirely saying that 'Well, it's going to be up to the Iraqi Parliament to decide whether or not to extend the Status Of Forces Agreement --
Scott Horton: You know I wonder --
Jason Ditz: -- so --
Scott Horton: You know I wonder exactly how to spin that one or which spin on that is most likely, I guess. Whether that's him beginning to give in to the Americans and really work for them and trying to invite us to stay or whether that's him just setting the stage for trying to say, 'Look, I tried to reason with them and they just won't go along' -- you know, as his excuse to us for not inviting us to stay?
Jason Ditz: Well either one is possible but the several times that he came out publicly and said absolutely not, the US pretty much pretended like they didn't hear. It's like they put their fingers in their ears and said, 'La-la-la we can't hear you.' And then they would ask again, a couple of days later. And they even went so far in one of their public speeches -- I believe it was Secretary Gates -- expressing concern that the Iraqi government hadn't responded one way or another after several times of Maliki saying 'absolutely not.'
Scott Horton: Right. Yep, well, boy oh boy, I mean, it's not hard to imagine that over at the Pentagon, they figure that they stole Iraq fair and square, they get to keep but somebody should have told them who they were fighting for and how it wasn't working out so well. I got to refer again to that book The Good Soldiers by [David] Finkel, the Washington Post reporter where he covers the surge in east Baghdad against the Sadrists in 2007 and 2008 and these guys had no idea that they were fighting for Moqtada al-Sadr against the rest of the country, that in the Sunni provinces that are guys are basically the reserve forces for Sadr's death squads, going in there and ethnically cleansing or religiously cleansing, whatever, the vast majority of Baghdad and consolidating all that power for the Iraqi National Alliance and their Iranian allies. All they thought they were doing was going out on patrol, fighting those terrible Sadrists. They had no idea the war they were even in.
Jason Ditz: Oh and I think a lot of people still don't realize the type of war that we're in and a lot more people seem to figure that this war is over and has been over for awhile now.
Scott Horton: That's what Rachel Maddow says and apparently that's what makes things true.
That broadcast may need to be revisted January 1, 2012. (Listen in full and you'll understand that remark.) Jack A. Smith (Foreign Policy Journal) observes:

The Obama Administration is anxious to retain military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq, which it is supposed to leave entirely at the end of this year, and in Afghanistan as well, when the U.S. is scheduled to depart at the end of 2014. President Obama is applying heavy pressure to Baghdad and Kabul to "request" the long-term presence of U.S. troops and "contractors" after the bulk of the occupation force withdraws.

Why keep troops in Iraq? The neoconservative Bush White House invaded Iraq, which was considered a pushover after 12 years of U.S.-British-UN killer sanctions, not only to control its oil, but as a prelude to bringing about regime change in neighboring Iran, thus providing Washington with total control of the immense resources of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi guerrilla resistance destroyed the plan, for now.

Thus, the upshot of the war -- in addition to costing American taxpayers several trillion dollars over the next few decades in principal and interest -- is that Shi'ite Iran's main enemy, which was the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad until 2003, has been replaced by the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician who usually bends the knee to Washington but is quite friendly to Tehran, as are many Iraqi politicians. (The Shia are nearly 65% of the population; the Sunnis, nearly 35%.)

On May 16 Maliki declared that "Security, military and political cooperation between Iran and Iraq is essential, and we will certainly see the expansion of relations in these areas in the future." Washington's big fear is that Maliki may eventually thumb his nose at Uncle Sam, and that in time, Iraq and Iran will draw much closer together -- a prospect deeply opposed by the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

According to Stratfor, the private intelligence resource, on April 26: "[T]he U.S. has reportedly offered to leave as many as 20,000 troops in the country" after its "pullout" at the end of this year. In addition, a large but undetermined number of "contractors" -- often paramilitary hirelings -- are to remain.

Further, according to an Inter Press Service report May 9, the State Department "intends to double its staff in Iraq to nearly 16,000 and rely entirely on private contractors for security." So large a staff is almost unbelievable, but so is the immense size of the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone -- the largest such facility in the world.

Lara Jakes (AP) informs, "The Obama administration is ready to play ball on keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year. But for Iraq's government, in the words of one lawmaker, the issue is like playing with fire." In iraq, New Sabah calls it US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey's "first public reaction" on the issue of US forces staying in Iraq beyond 2011 (and possibly it is for the Iraqi press). It? He's dimissed the review of the Mahdi militia from last week. He also called out Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia's claim that they can attack US forces insisting that the presence of US forces on Iraqi soil was a result of the "legitimate will of the Parliament." (He's referring to the 2008 Thanksgiving Day vote on the SOFA. And while he may have a point, a stronger point would be that the Iraqi people were promised a voice in the process -- without that promise, some believe Parliament wouldn't have passed the SOFA -- I disagree, but a number of people believe that -- and the promised referendum that they'd vote in never came to be.) And a new group joins the chorus of 'extend' that Kurdish officials have been chanting. Dar Addustour reports that the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Association has come out in favor of US forces remaining on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 stating that their presence is necessary to provide safety for Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities. The organization also maintains that the continued presence of US forces would allow Iraqi forces the opportunities to refine their own performance. Nouri al-Maliki is expected to call a meeting shortly to discuss keeping US forces on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What a girl wants






Monday was Memorial Day for the United States -- a time to note the sacrifices of the fallen. From Kelley B. Vlahos' "Memorial Day in Wartime" (

Another Memorial Day. Of course it's been around for 103 years, but this is our ninth during wartime, which means we're simultaneously honoring dead soldiers, while were putting new ones in the ground at Arlington Cemetery.

As of Friday, 4,454 American servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq; 1,595 in Afghanistan. That doesn't seem like a lot when you consider the more than 58,000 dead in Vietnam and over 415,000 killed in World War II, but we know that today's singular medical capabilities have allowed for tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines to live today who wouldn't have made it off the battlefield 40 years ago. Let's just say it's been a war of a hundred thousand casualties.

Kimberly Hefling (AP) reminds that there are over "4,3000 children of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars". Yesterday on PRI's The Takeaway, Celeste Headlee spoke with Iraq War widows LaNita Herlem (her husband, Sgt 1st Class Bryant Herlem, was killed in Baghdad April 28, 2006) and Tayrn Davis (her husband Cpl Michael Davis was killed in Baghdad May 21, 2007). Davis has started the American Widow Project.

Taryn Davis: I guess it all started when my husband Michael was killed in Baghdad, Iraq. I was 21-years-old and basically felt ostracized from society -- even though I had family and friends around -- due to my age and it being written off because I was 21. And I found myself on the internet looking for a way to embrace this title that I held as a military widow because I already knew it signified my husband's sacrifice and my own but I wanted to find the answers on how it could one day symbolize my survival. So I typed in "widow" and it came back with "Did you mean 'window'?" Which probably discouraged most. But it led me to doing more and more research and over half of those serving now are married so we're looking at around 3,000 military widows from Iraq and Afghanistan alone and over 83% of those are under the age of 35. So I just saw this need to bring together this new generation of military widows. Not so much find them counselors, but give them peer-to-peer support, let them see other twenty and thirty and forty-something-year-old widows that really had just started out this amazing lives with their spouses and had them torn apart.

Last week, Danielle Berger (CNN -- link has text and video) reported on the American Widow Project and explained, "When a widow first makes contact with the American Widow Project, Davis sends her an introductory packet that includes her documentary film. The website provides a 24/7 hot line that allows immediate connection to another widow, information on support and services, and personal stories from women who have lost their husbands. It constantly reminds the women that they are in familiar, accepting company." And where was the president of the United States? Niles Gardiner (Telegraph of London) reports:
Can you imagine David Cameron enjoying a round of golf on Remembrance Sunday? It would be inconceivable for the British Prime Minister to do so, and not just because of the usually dire weather at that time of the year. Above all, it would be viewed as an act of extremely bad taste on a day when the nation remembers and mourns her war dead. I can't imagine the PM even considering it, and I'm sure his advisers would be horrified at the idea. And if the prime minister ever did play golf on such a sacrosanct day he would be given a massive drubbing by the British press, and it would never be repeated.
Contrast this with President Obama's decision to play golf yesterday, Memorial Day, for the 70th time during his 28-month long presidency. For tens of millions of Americans, Memorial Day is a time for remembrance of the huge sacrifices made by servicemen and women on the battlefield. The president did pay his respects in the morning, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, but later in the day traveled to Fort Belvoir to play golf. The story has not been reported so far in a single US newspaper, but was made public by veteran White House correspondent Keith Koffler on his blog.
So, with US troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack basically tossed a wreath and then ran to the links, making clear his priorities.
Today Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) quotes State of Law's Izzat Shabandar stating that it is too soon to determine a position on whether or not to extend the presence of US military on Iraqi soil beyond 2011. Dar Addustour reports that US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has stated in a media conference that the issue of withdrawal or remaining remains up in the air. Sunday on Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen wrapped up her strong tenure as host of the program (she will be strongly missed and hopefully will return as guest host from time to time -- she offers her goodbye to Sunday Weekend Edition here) and she examined Iraq with the US weapons inspector sent to Iraq (after the start of the war) to find WMD, David Kay. "We've taken our eye off Iraq," Kay observed and noted of telling the truth about WMD (he was sent to Iraq post-US invasion to locate WMD and there were none) that "you lose some friends by what position you take on various issues. I discovered -- although it really wasn't a new discovery -- that candor is one of the values not valued in Washington. Oh, what I miss most are the friendships that were shattered by that, just had staked too much of their career on there being weapons of mass destruction. And not only didn't we find them, we found that they didn't exist prior to the war." For any who have forgotten the lie of WMD is one of the biggest lies the US government told to start the Iraq War. The Sunday broadcast also featured a report by Kelly McEvers on Nouri's recent declaration that, if the majority of the political blocs agree, US troops can stay on the ground in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011.

Kelly McEvers: Before the speech, few thought Maliki would be bold enough to take such a position in public, mainly because many Iraqis still view an American troop presence as an occupation. Now, though, Maliki's advisers, along with officials in the U.S. military, are working on changing the narrative. They're not combat troops anymore, they say. The soldiers who'd be here next year wouldn't even be advisers. [. . .] Analysts in Iraq say a new agreement between the U.S. and Iraq to authorize some 20,000 American troops beyond December is likely; there are just under 50,000 troops now. But like other political debates in this deeply divided country, analysts say, it's going to be a long and drawn-out fight.

Sunday, on Weekend Edition, NPR became the first US mainstream news outlet to tell the truth about what the US government is working on. For weeks now, relying on the Arab press, we've noted the pressure that is taking place to extend the SOFA or develop a new arrangment. Day after day, the US press has ignored it. And, in the beggar media (the so-called alternative press), they've flat-out lied and told you nothing or told you it's all Robert Gates. Robert Gates is stepping down as the US Secretary of Defense. When that happens, who are these cowards going to hide behind to avoid placing the blame where it rightly goes?
Monday the New York Times' Tim Arango appeared on Talk of the Nation (NPR) and discussed Iraq -- specifically the variables if US forces stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 -- thereby allowing NPR to be out front on the story. Arango observed of Moqtada al-Sadr's threats of violence if the US stays beyond the end of this year, "At the same time, you know, a lot of people, you know, a lot of people believe it's a bluff, and a lot of people say that he would have no chance with the, you know, fighting the Iraqi security forces today. The last time he did so was in 2008, and they've - you know, they're much improved." And, in 2008, he lost in Baghdad and he lost in Basra.

Arango then acknowledges what a minor presensce al-Sadr's bloc is in Parliament ("roughly 40" seats out of 325) but goes on to talk about how Moqtada backed Nouri for prime minister. While that is true, Nouri became prime minister. Unless there's a vote of no-confidence, it doesn't matter if Moqtada supports him or not. (In 2007 and 2008, Moqtada openly refused to support Nouri. Didn't force his government to collapse.) If Moqtada wants to push a no-confidence vote, it needs to be remembered that Moqtada would only be 40 votes and you need to be figuring who would align with Moqtada?

Let's play this out. Say the majority of the blocs vote to extend the SOFA and keep the US military beyond 2011 and Moqtada is against that. Is that issue going to be the one Moqtada rides to a no-confidence vote? Not at all. He can't. If the bulk of the blocs votes that way why would they then turn against Nouri over it? It makes no sense.

Moqtada vowed he would not support Nouri. He also vowed that he would hold a referendum and abide by the vote. Nouri was not the number one choice in the referendum or the number two choice. But Moqtada ran with Nouri when Iran broke down the facts and handed out the orders to Moqtada. What he did in October and November is now meaningless. He can't say, "I take back my October support!" We'll note this exchange.

CONAN: Secretary Gates, who of course retires next month, but he has said if we're going to stay beyond the end of this year, we're going to have to have a request from the Iraqi government for that pretty soon. Any idea of what's the drop-dead date?

Mr. ARANGO: You know, it's funny, when you talk to the military commanders, they'll say, and they'll remark, and it's been a trend throughout the war. Like, the Iraqis march to a different time than the Americans do, and there really is no drop-dead deadline. And I guess the drop-dead deadline is December 31st because I think - which is a bit of an exaggeration, but I think as they're planning the drawdown, they will always have these contingencies, the American military to leave X amount of troops should the Iraqis finally, you know, make this request.

What will happen if there's no extension by December 31st is that any US troops in Iraq will switch to State Dept's oversight and that a significant number will be deployed to Kuwait where they would wait in limbo if the White House believed that an extension of the SOFA was going to take place (though it hadn't by December 31st). That is the actual plan at this point.

(Not my plan. I'm for all troops out now. That's the White House's plan but they don't believe it's going to take that long. They believe they'll have an extension. And, of course, the back up plan has been -- as addressed in open hearings in Congress repeatedly -- to move the troops from the umbrella of DoD to the State Dept.)
As continuing the US military presence is discussed, the US military recently ticked off a community. In Karbala, the US carried out a military operation involving a helicopter as they attempted to raid a home for a man . . . who died four days prior to the raid. And the response in Karbala? Aswat al-Iraq reports:

The deputy chairman of Karbala's Provincial Council disclosed that a letter of denunciation shall be handed to the U.S. Embassy due to the U.S. Army's airborne landing north of Karbala, calling on the central government to exert pressures on the U.S. army to cease its violations.
Nisayif Al-Khatabi told Aswat al-Iraq that "the U.S. forces carried out an airborne landing on house to arrest a citizen without any coordination with the local government or security forces."