Saturday, March 24, 2012

He should have played Billy Sive




Let's face it: Big Oil is used to getting its way. But not today... and we have President Obama to thank for standing up to them in spite of the political risk.
[. . .]
The president stood up to Big Oil and listened to Americans saying: "We're done with fossil fuel schemes that destroy our land, poison our water and wreak havoc with our climate so that oil companies can make out like bandits." Now we need to continue to stand with the president and make it clear that tar sands pipelines are not in our national interest.




There is a success story in Iraq. You'd think the White House desperate for someone to paint the illegal war as a success would have seized upon it but, even though Jane Arraf reported on it for Al Jazeera last weekend, the White House and other Operation Happy Talkers somehow missed it. This is a transcript to Arraf's video report:
Jane Arraf: It's a small step pronouncing a word but for parents and children, it speaks volumes. Without this institute, some of these children wouldn't even be making eye contact. Eleven years ago, there were no schools for autistic children, so one of the parents started her own. Nibras Sadoun was doing field research in special education when she adopted an autistic child rejected by his mother.
Nibras Sadoun: There are a lot of obstacles in the country and there were huge needs as well. So we tried to pull together the efforts of the founders, specialists and parents to establish a solid base that can serve this segment of society.
Jane Arraf: The Al Rahman Institute, named after her son, has since grown into six centers around the country -- all without Iraqi government funding. The latest just opened in Baghdad. Iraq's education ministry doesn't have any programs for autistic children. It considers them slow learners. Here in the middle of Baghdad, this is a safe place for children, a refuge. But there are only a few dozen children who have been lucky enough to come here and hundreds on the waiting list. Autism is so widely misunderstood here that a lot of children like this spend their entire lives locked up at home. Mariam has been here for a year. She's five-and-a-half but, before she came, she couldn't say "Mama" or ask for water. Her father says her progress is basic. But having somewhere to bring her during the day is a lifesaver.
Nizer Mustapha Hussein:She's a very active child and she plays with everything. Thank God, we found this place. Her mother can't cope with her at home because she can't control her.
Jane Arraf: The children have varying degrees of autism, a lot have other neurolgical or developmental problems as well. Autistic children have trouble communicating or interacting with others. At school, they teach them basic skills. Their biggest problem is lack of qualified staff. Dealing with autistic children takes training and dedication and the determination to find a place for children who don't easily fit in the world around them.
A small number of autistic children and their families can say their lives have improved. Of course, this improvement did not result from any US military project or US State Dept project and didn't result from Prime Minister and All Around Thug Nouri al-Maliki sliding over any dollars from the billions he sits on. As is so often the case with autism around the world, improvements came as a result of families of those effected doing more than their part.
The Autism Support Network highlights a report Lara Logan did for CBS News in 2008 on autism in Iraq. In the report, Logan observes, "The problem for autistic children in Iraq is that almost nothing is known about this condition. Incredibly, the only doctor who did treat it, who founded this center in the name of his own autistic son, has fled the country. He left behind these social workers who try their best to help but even they haven't been paid in four months." Click here for the CBS report with text and video. However, do not e-mail me and say, "C.I., you're wrong about the report. It aired on February 11, 2009." I have no idea what the problem with CBS and dates is this week. We noted Nancy Pelosi's "off the table" 2006 interview on 60 Minutes earlier this week and didn't link to 60 Minutes. Why? You click on that 2006 60 Minutes report and you've got a 2009 date. I didn't want the e-mails. That interview was well covered in real time (we linked to the World Can't Wait commentary the day after the interview aired). Autism is not usually well covered. So we're linking to CBS. But it aired in 2008. If you doubt it, click here, it's the video at YouTube, uploaded by CBS News on August 10, 2008. If you need further convincing, drop back to the August 12, 2008 snapshot when we first noted Lara Logan's report.
Silence on the improvement for the small number of autistic children able to attend one of the six centers may have also been ignored by the White House due to the fact that the rate of autism in Iraq may be influenced by the various chemicals and weapons and pollutants and toxins the US goverment introduced via many methods of delivery (including burn pits). Last week, Cindy Sheehan wrote about being in Stockholm with the Iraq Solidarity Group to observe the anniversary of the invasion and speaking with an Iraqi doctor who went over a number of stastics:
Two million dead during the sanction years; 1.5 milliion dead after 2003; incidences of leukemia in children in Fallujah and Basra skyrocketing by a factor of ten times normal; clean water and electricity are still in short supply; and the US occupiers do not work for the people of Iraq.
[. . .]
Of course we know that the US used depleted uranium coated weapons in Iraq and the region is now poisoned by the radioactive waste from DU for 4.5 billion years --- that is one of the reasons that incidences of leukemia are on the rise.
One woman who does activism to ban all nuclear weapons, including DU, said that now in Iraq, a woman's first question after giving birth is not: "Is it a boy or a girl," but, "Is it normal?"
No wonder the White House decided to skip the topic of Iraqi children. For more coverage of the damage to the environment and its effects on the Iraqi people, you can refer to:
"Normal" doesn't begin to describe the ongoing political crisis in Iraq or Nouri's attempts to have Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested (he claims al-Hashemi is a terrorist) which are seen as part of the same political crisis and part of Nouri's attempt to lash out at political rivals. (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri's State of Law came in second.) al-Hashemi was in the KRG when Nouri issued the warrant and he has remained in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. The KRG has not assisted Nouri in his witch hunt and Nouri has responded by ordering the arrests of people working for al-Hashmi. Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi was one such pe
Wednesday, Tareq al-Hashemi charged that his bodyguard had been tortured to death. We covered these issue in yesterday's snapshot. Today Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the death:
(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities should order a criminal investigation into allegations that security forces tortured to death a bodyguard of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Human Rights Watch said today.

Iraqi authorities released Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi's body to his family on March 20, 2012, about three months after arresting him for terrorism. His family told Human Rights Watch that his body displayed signs of torture, including in several sensitive areas. Photographs taken by the family and seen by Human Rights Watch show what appear to be a burn mark and wounds on various parts of his body.

"The statements we heard and photos we saw indicate that Iraqi security officers may have tortured Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi to death while he was in their custody," said
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It's essential for the Iraqi government to investigate his death and report publicly what they find."

The family said that al-Batawi's death certificate listed no cause of death. They said that before his arrest, the 33-year-old married father of three was in excellent health.

"I could barely recognize him," a close relative told Human Rights Watch on March 22. "There were horrible marks and signs of torture all over his body. He had lost about 17 kilos [37.5 pounds] from the day they arrested him."

Iraqi authorities have denied the torture allegations. On March 22, Lt. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, chief of staff of Baghdad's security command center and a judicial spokesman, said al-Batawi died of kidney failure and other conditions after refusing treatment. When asked by reporters about the photographic evidence that al-Batawi had been tortured, Baydhani replied, "It is easy for Photoshop to show anything," referring to a digital photo-editing software.

As the United States was pulling its last remaining troops from Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi on charges he was running death squads. Al-Hashemi has taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan and refused to return to Baghdad, saying he cannot receive a fair trial. Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have so far declined to hand him over.

An unknown number of other members of al- Hashemi's security and office staff have been arrested since late December and are also in custody, including two women. On March 22, al-Hashemi told Human Rights Watch, "I have made repeated requests to the government to find out who else in my staff has been arrested and where they are being held, but they have not responded."

Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to release the names of all those detained and the charges against them, and to ensure that they have access to lawyers and medical care.
Today Al Mada reports that security sources are stating that young Iraqi women and girls are about to be targeted by the militias in part of the ongoing attacks on Iraqi youths thought to be Emo and/or gay. One source stated that the militias have pulled back and 'softened' their approach recently but only due to the fact that the Arab League Summit is approaching. To avoid embarrassing Nouri, they militia's basically about to take a vacation and plans to return immediately after the summit at which point they will "hunt down girls" and security sources are also stating that some security forces may be assisting the militias in these upcoming actions. If you're new to this topic, Scott Lang's column for the Guardian provides a strong overview of what's taking place:
A new killing campaign is convulsing Iraq. The express targets are "emos", short for "emotional": a western-derived identity, teenagers adopting a pose of vulnerability, along with tight clothes and skewed hairdos and body piercing. Starting last year, mosques and the media both began raising the alarm about youthful immorality, calling the emos deviants and devil worshippers. In early February, somebody began killing people. The net was wide, definitions inexact. Men who seemed effeminate, girls with tattoos or peculiar jewellery, boys with long hair, could all be swept up. The killers like to smash their victims' heads with concrete blocks.
There is no way to tell how many have died: estimates range from a few dozen to more than 100. Nor is it clear who is responsible. Many of the killings happened in east Baghdad, stronghold of Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous). Neither, though, has claimed responsibility. Iraq's brutal interior ministry issued two statements in February. The first announced official approval to "eliminate" the "satanists". The second, on 29 February, proclaimed a "campaign" to start with a crackdown on stores selling emo fashion. The loaded language suggests, at a minimum, that the ministry incited violence. It's highly possible that some police, in a force riddled with militia members, participated in the murders.
It's logical to compare this to the militia campaign against homosexual conduct in 2009, which I documented for Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of men lost their lives then. Gay-identified men have been caught up in these killings as well, and Baghdad's LGBT community is rife with fear. Yet there are differences. The current killings target women as well as men, and children are the preferred victims. It's not quite true to say, as some press reports have suggested, that "emo" is just a synonym for "gay" in Iraq. Rather, immorality, western influence, decadence and blasphemy have come together in a loosely defined, poorly aligned complex of associations: and emo fashion and "sexual perversion" are part of the mix.
Turning to 'security' in 'free' Iraq. Thank goodness foreign troops are out is the public pose of Nouri. But it appears that privately he's attempting to get foreign military back into Iraq.
The Sun Daily notes, "Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today said Malaysia is prepared to sen[d] a special peacekeeping team on a humanitarian mission to Iraq if the costs of operation were to be sponsored by other countries." The Defense Minister is quoted stating, "There's a request for Malaysia to sen[d] a team to Iraq and one particular country has also agreed to bear the costs of operation, but since the country has yet to keep its promise, we cannot send the team to Iraq." Meanwhile Reuters notes a Kirkuk prison break that has 19 prisoners on the loose.

Still on security news, KUNA reports, "All necessary security precautions have been taken in preparation for upcoming Arab summit due to be hosted by Baghdad in the end of this month, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced on Friday." The Arab League Summit is set to take place next week in Baghdad. Alsumaria TV notes the announcement as well and -- a press release from the Ministry of Interior -- and that the release claims that terrorists are attempting to create an atmosphere of hysteria. An atmosphere of hysteria? Like Nouri's comments reported by Al Rafidayn that Tuesday's attacks was carried out by terrorist including security officers inside the Iraqi security forces? Citing an unnamed security source, Al Mada reports that Nouri has ordered the closure of at least one bridge and that Baghdad barrier walls are going back up. It's already been reported that Baghdad's about to impose a seven-day 'holiday' and that Bahgdad International Airport will be closed to commercial flights. Salam Faraj and Abdul Jabbar (AFP) observe, "The Iraqi capital's already gnarling traffic has all but ground to a halt, and the government has declared a week of holidays on the days surrounding the March 27-29 summit to encourage people to stay at home." Iraq's a country already plagued with high unemployment and rocketing inflation. Now Faraj and Jabbar report that the prices in Baghdad markets are soaring due to transportation issues as a result of the barriers and checkpoints that have been going up.

On the topic of violence, Charles Tripp (Open Democracy) offers:

Violence in Iraq has now become a central part of the practice of power, both by the government and by certain non-governmental agencies, some of them bitterly opposed to, but others enmeshed in the webs of government practice. For the government of Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ever unfinished project of re-establishing the power and thus, he hopes, the authority of the central state has often taken a violent form. This has been clear ever since the campaigns in 2008 that saw a reconstituted, if not always very effective, Iraqi army reconquer a number of Iraq's provinces, with campaigns in the south in Basra, the east of Baghdad, the north in Mosul and the north-east in Diyala.
At the time and in the context of the country's emergence from a bloody civil war, these campaigns were strongly supported by the US and others who saw this precisely as a token of the 'resolve' and the 'seriousness' of the fragile Iraqi government. The fact that al-Maliki had attached to his personal command perhaps the most effective and ruthless of the units of the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces, the Baghdad Brigade, was believed to assist the state-creating project. Equally, the close and some might say politically unhealthy interest that al-Maliki took in officers' careers, promotions and transfers within the Iraqi armed forces through his own Office of the Commander in Chief was regarded as merely fitting if he wanted 'to get the job done'.
The problem, as many Iraqis began to discover, lay in what else was coming into being as a consequence. In public, the military presence was meant to symbolise al-Maliki's grip on power and his capacity to restore order, as his coalition 'The State of Law' promised. It was highly visible and clearly aimed at demonstrating both that the withdrawal of the US forces in 2010/2011 would not leave Iraq defenceless, and that the government was in full control. The effect, however, in the words of one Iraqi was that 'we live as under an army of occupation'. Given the continuing threat of violence from insurgents of one kind and another, this may have been reassuring for some. However, it also seemed to bring with it the idea that any kind of open or public opposition could and should be met with force. Most notoriously, this was evident in the ferocious response in 2011 to any Iraqis who dared to demonstrate during 2011 in the spirit of the 'Arab Spring'. Thus, whether in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, or in Basra, Mosul or in the Kurdish region in Sulaimaniyya, peaceful protestors were killed, abused and beaten up on the orders of authorities for which violence has become the default response to opposition.

RECOMENDED: "Kat's Korner: Carole's back catalogue"

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"Egg plant casserole in the Kitchen"
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"Pedometer II"
"A Friday"
"why community sucks"
"elizabeth warren"
"The John Edwards Sewer"
"Movie Musicals through the years"
"Janis Ian"
"Whitney and the Iraq War"
"My Mother The Spy"
"Netflix and the Dunce"
"Barack's Wipings"
"Smash and other things""
"Missing (ABC)"
"Custard's last stand?"

Friday, March 23, 2012

Custard's last stand?








"The purpose of today's hearing is to review the accuracy of pay to active service members in the US Army," explained US House Rep Todd Platts in his written statement this moment as he co-chaired a joint-hearing. "The hearing will examine the findings of an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office of the Army military payroll accounts for Fiscal Year 2010. In 2010, there were nearly 680,000 active duty Army service members whose pay was handled by the Defense Finance Accounting System, or DFAS, centered in Indianapolis. GAO conducted its audit of DFAS in order to verify the accuracy and validity of Army payroll transactions."
Because of various issues with documentation, there's no way for the Government Accountability Office to truly do an audit. Chair Platts noted in his written statement, "The Army payroll is also a significant portion of total Department of Defense. As a result, the Department of Defense cannot pass an audit unless the payroll systems are auditable." It you can't audit, there's no accountability and no real oversight.
That hearing started a little late and there was concern about votes being called shortly so to speed things along, Platts, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management and Senator Thomas Carper, Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee, waived their opening remarks and entered the written remarks into the record. Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
US House Rep Darrell Issa is the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and he made a surprise appearance as well.
Chair Darrell Issa: I came here for two reasons. First of all, when the House of the People [House of Representatives] and the other house [Senate] get together, it means that we have what it takes to move positive legislation all in one room so it's always preferrable to have us hear the same thing and come away from a hearing knowing we have to act and how we have to act. So the second reason is that, Colonel, like you, I was an enlisted man, paper leave and earning statements, 1970, it was real paper, as it was for Senator Carper. If one piece of paper got ripped out of there, it was gone forever. My enlisted time was fairly uneventful although I had a lot of TDY [Temporary Duty] and a lot of different supplemental dollars as an EOD enlisted man. But when I was commissioned, I saw the other side of it. I was responsible for up to 200 men and women who were constantly having to get compassionate pay, they were having to get 25 or 50 dollars because when the PCSd [Permanent Change of Station] in the paper work got lost. We would keep them sometimes for a couple of months not getting their real pay because there was a problem -- particularly if they were coming from overseas. That was approaching half a century ago. We've come a long way, we've come from paper to electronic. But we haven't come far enough to have the kind of proactive effort to where you should never have to say, "Well how do we pay this person? What do we do? Do we send them to the USO or do we in fact find some other way?" And, more importantly, do we no longer have people who receive pay and then somehow say, "Oh, that was a SNAFU and for the next six months, we're going to be deducting." I represent [Marine Corps Base] Camp Pendleton and, as a result, I see that happening. Naval assets and private assets have to find ways to take care of families because there's been an overpayment and then it has to be repaid. Last but not least, I had the pleasure of leaving the Army and the only time I've ever been audited -- personally audited -- was the year I left the Army and there's nothing worse than trying to explain all these various per diems in pays that are tax free if X,Y and Z to a man who's never served in the military but whose job it is to get a little money out of you. So I believe that when we get to where we do the job right, it will for our men and women in uniform, especially those who have families who are also earning and they've got to bring these together in a predictable way to make payments. So I'm glad to see that my good friend Chairman [Edolphus] Towns is also here. That gives us an awful lot of legacy of this Committee to hear it and to respond. So, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you all for being here today and I yield back.
Edolphus Towns is the Ranking Member (and former Chair) also chose to submit his opening statements for the record. The lack of accountability, the inability to do an audit, should be disturbing from a taxpayer stand point. We're going to focus on LTC Kirk Zecchini who has served 28 years (for any wondering, he's served in both of the current wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan) and his testimony to provide one person's struggle to get the pay they deserve and have earned. The excerpt that follows will be in order but we'll do jump cuts (indicated by: "[. . .]") to work through several examples.
Chair Todd Platts: In your time, have you ever had an instance where you -- because pay was not properly provided to you -- that it ended up a hardship, financial hardship, because of incorrect balance in a checking account or are you aware of any soldiers you've served with who have?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well, from my personal experience, the only real hardship that I encountered was when I was in Afghanistan and my pay just stopped for about a month-and-a-half and I still had a mortgage and I still had bills to pay back home. Fortunately, I had a little bit of savings while I was still deployed but, yeah, that was a really tense period, not knowing when the pay was going to get turned back on again.
Chair Todd Platts: In that example, where it was delayed, was there any compensation -- meaning any interest for the two months that were not properly paid when it finally was?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: No, sir.
[. . .]
Chair Thomas Carper: I guess you're not the only person you served with who had some problems with pay. We did in my unit, I presume you had problems in your unit. Were the problems similar in nature to those you experienced, or were they different? Were there any commonalities? Or was it just across the board, wide variety of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I can't say that I've ever experienced the same problem twice.
Chair Thomas Carper: How about when you think of your colleagues with whom you served? Did they have similar problems or were they different kinds of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I would have to say different. Again, my experiences were different from the typical Guardsman, where I had a lot of active duty time, a lot of TDYs. I did a lot more than outside of the one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-in-the-summer.
Chair Thomas Carper: Sure sounds like you did.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: So I'd have to say that mine were a little bit different and broader than most of my peers.
Chair Thomas Carper: You allued to this, but I think you said there was a period of a month or two when you didn't get paid at all. And when I think of overseas, I was married and had no wife or children and the Navy pretty much took care of our immediate needs, they fed us and gave us a place to sleep and there was medical care and that kind of thing and so we were able to save -- guys like me, we were able to save like every other pay check. We didn't make much money but we didn't spend much either. I had no wife or children to support. I tried to help my sister a little bit to go to college but that was the big obligation I had. But that's not the case with a lot of folks. Especially today when we have a lot of Reservists deployed to activated deployed, we have a lot of Guardsman and women activated deployed and they do have families. And when they have problems with their pay, it's a whole lot more difficult and a lot more complex. Okay, put yourself in the position of just providing good advice through us, but for us, to the folks who are charged with fixing these problems. I realize we'll never get to perfection. That should be our goal. And if you were just to provide some advice, good advice, with the folks charged with fixing this, and our job is to have oversight and try to make sure that it's addressed, what would be the advice? It can be fairly general, it doesn't have to be specific. One of the best, I'll give you an example, we had a guy before us testifying on the Finance Committee a couple of months ago on deficit reduction and I asked him what do we need to do on deficit reduction -- he's Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, professor of economics at Princeton -- and asked what do we do on deficit reduction? His big deal on deficit reduction is health care cost -- if we don't reign in corporate health care costs we're doomed. He said I'm not a health economist but I asked him what you'd do about reigning in the deficit, he said, "I'm not a health care economist but here's what I'd do: I'd find out what works, I'd do more of that." That's exactly what he said. "I'd find out what works, do more of that." I said, "You mean find out what doesn't work and do less of that?" And he said yes. So that's actually pretty good advice in everything we do, not just reigning in health care costs. But what should we do here? What should the folks in the Dept of Defense do to address this problem?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well obviously, I have seen a lot of changes in 28 years from paper statements to electronic statements now. And those have all been, you know, good things. Most recently Defense Travel System came online, where you can enter your travel claims online and that was huge. That really took the paper work piece and it streamlined the process for travel vouchers. You get paid now in three or four days where it used to take you a month to get your travel pay.
Chair Thomas Carper: So that's a great improvement?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes. DTS was, in my mind, great. But not everyone has access to DTS. I had access because I was full time federal technician where most traditional Guardsman and Reservists don't -- don't have that system yet.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How many times did you [. . .] have the pay problem during your years of service?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: After I started talking to Mr. Tyler last week, I started thinking back to my career. I gave him some good examples but -- the ones I just testified to -- but I can think of several other ones that weren't such a big deal and they were pretty easy to fix at the unit level. But --
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: It was so many times you can't remember? Is that what you're saying?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. How widespread is the problem among others?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I mean, you hear people talking about pay issues, you hear, you know, just dining chow how talk, people always -- somebody always seems to have a pay issue that they're dealing with.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How long did it take, the longest period, for you to correct your pay?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: The example I mentioned about my one-and-a-half-months without pay in Afghanistan that was the longest that I ever went without a pay check. But the longest that I ever had to deal with a problem in getting resolution to the problem was the one where I didn't get my various allowances from my missions in Southeast Asia. That took about a year-and-a-half.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. Could you just walk us through one process of how you went about it to get paid? Just briefly.

LTC Kirk Zecchini: About what?
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Walk us through a process you had to take in order to get paid. In other words, you didn't get your check and what you had to do in order to get it?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well the example I mentioned about the pay in allowances from Southeast Asia, I was working in Bangladesh and the Philippines and all through Southeast Asia. Each of these different countries has a different rate for hostile pay fire in the Philippines or hardship duty pay in Bangladesh and I wasn't even aware that these allowances were there when I was performing the duty. It was just through talking with my active duty counter-parts who were there with me that I was informed that we were entitled to these allowances. So when I got back to Ohio, I went back to my unit and inquired about getting these allowances. I actually had to look through the regulations. There's a chart they have in the rig that tells you that if you're in this location during this time of year, you're entitled to this much money. It was a pretty complex set of numbers and my unit clerk, my unit administrator, certainly didn't know how to process that, so that's when it got pushed up the chain of command. It went to Military Pay. Military Pay didn't seem to know anything about it. And, you know, time went on, I put together a spread-sheet. I actually did a lot of the legwork for them to make it easier to understand what I was supposed to get as opposed to what I did get. And, uh, it languished. And eventually I wrote a letter to the Ohio Inspector General requesting assistance. And that's when I finally got some action.
[. . .]
Chair Todd Platts: At what point in that year-and-a-half long process [on the Southeast Asia pay issues], how long had you tried working through the channels before you went that route to get it taken care of?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I went to my unit initially in August of 2004, I would say the very next month, in September, it got pushed up the chain to the Ohio State Headquarters.
Chair Todd Platts: Alright.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And I worked the issue with them probably until August of '05 when I was getting ready to go to Iraq, I knew I was going to be deployed again, so at that point I really just had to do something.
Chair Todd Platts: Right. So-so, for about a year, you kind of worked through the regular channels without success and this is something, once you were aware of, seems pretty straight forward. You were in this country, you qualified, yet a year later, you still weren't being compensated accordingly.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And it was a significant dollar amount too. It wasn't --
Chair Todd Platts: Roughly, round number?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: As I recall, it was a couple thousand dollars allowances.
Again, main point regarding waste and oversight: It can't be determined because the DoD can't be truly audited with so many problems with regards to their records. Main point with regards to those who are serving, it is a battle just to get paid and to be paid what you've earned.
From the Congress, to the north, Michael Bell is a former Canadian diplomat of many years and now is Professor Bell at the University of Windsor where he focuses on the Middle East. From time to time, he also writes a column for the Globe & Mail. Today he weighs in on Iraq:

The Americans had sufficient control and influence to prevent a rout in Iraq, but as that control dissipated and their efforts at democratization became increasingly problematic, they changed horses. Since their departure, they have devoted their best efforts to helping Mr. Maliki consolidate Iraq as a viable state player because of its geostrategic importance, despite his increasingly well-documented abuses. Barack Obama's administration is proceeding, reluctantly, with the sale to Iraq of more than $10-billion in military equipment, much of which is serviceable for control and intimidation.
Mr. Maliki has increasingly used the power of the state to consolidate his own autocracy, accused by human-rights groups of intimidation, corruption, deceit, torture and cronyism. Witness the arrest warrant issued for his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Witness his son and deputy chief of staff Ahmed, reputed to be the most powerful person in his entourage. Anyone deemed a threat is at risk for their lives in Mr. Maliki's Iraq.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pray God there's no black dress in the wings







"Another concern I wanted to mention today and one I'm sure everyone in this room is concerned about is mental health," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning. "For service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA has now projected an increased demand of over 200% for mental health care by Fiscal Year 2020. We have got to take a hard look at whether the department's proposed 5% budget increase is enough to meet the projected demand for mental health care. Not every veteran will be effected by the invisible wounds of war but when a veteran has the courage to stand up and ask for help the VA has to meet that need every single time. They have to be there not only with timely access to care but the right type of care. Challenges like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience and we must do everything we can to ensure those effected by these illnesses can get help, get better and get back to their lives."
She was speaking at the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. She is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member. US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and, while Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member, Rep Michael Michaud acted as the Ranking Member for the hearing. Appearing before them were Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino, the Military Order of the Purple Heart's William R. Hutton, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs' David Fletcher, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association's H. Gene. Overstreet, the Retired Enlisted Association's John Rowan and Wounded Warrior Project's Dawn Halfaker.
Chair Patty Murray: Let me just say as I continue to sit down with veterans across my home state, I hear many of the same things that those of you who will testify hear from your members: veterans who are concerned that they can't get access to health care including mental health care when they need it, continue to wait for months on a decision claims and are unaware of the services that are available to them. Veterans tell me about the obstacles to employment that they continue to face and many tell me that they are afraid to write the word "veteran" on their resume. Last year's passage of our VOW To Hire Heroes Act was a great first step in tackling the high rate of unemployment among our veterans but there is a lot of work left to be done.
That's from Senate Committee Chair Murray's opening statements. House Committee Chair Jeff Miller had his statement entered into the record and briefly noted the following.
Chair Jeff Miller: The one thing I do want to draw attention to is that sequestration does in fact still loom over the VA. I, too, have asked not only the Secretary [of VA Eric Shinseki] but also the President as well. I have yet to receive a response and so because of that I have filed a piece of legislation that's very simple. It's a page-and-a-half and it codifies one of the areas that is concurrent law, one of the conflicting statues that says veterans programs -- especially health programs -- are, in fact, not going to be subject to sequestration. So I look forward to one of two things, either that bill passing and becoming law or secondly getting an answer from the administration as to whether or not we are going to be impacted by that.
Chair Murray had noted that in her statement, that she's repeatedly asked for an answer on this issue. Sequestration will most likely kick in due to budget issues. If it does, it will be automatic. (Automatic cuts to federal programs to lower the budget for the Fiscal Year 2013.) Is VA effected or not? This is a question that's been asked and asked again, over and over. Murray even asked Secretary Shinseki in a February 29th hearing (see the March 1st snapshot):
Chair Patty Murray: [. . .] let me begin the questions by getting this one off the table. It's on the issue of sequestration and cuts to spending. Like I said in my opening remarks I believe that all VA programs including medical care are exempt from cuts but there is some ambiguity between the budget act and the existing law. And when I asked the acting OMB director to adress this issue in a budget hearing two weeks ago, he said OMB had yet to make a final determination. So I am concerned that by not settling this issue now, we are failing to provide our veterans with the clarity they really deserve to have. And so while you're here, I wanted to ask you: Do you believe that all VA programs -- including medical care -- are exempt from any future cuts?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I think, Madame Chairman, the answer that the OMB director provided you was the same one that I understand. They are still addressing the issue. For my purposes, I would tell you I'm not planning on sequestration. I'mI addressing my requirements and presenting my budget as you would expect me to do. I think sequestration in part or in whole is not necessarily good policy. And I think the President would argue the best approach here is a balanced deficit reduction and that the budget he has presented does that and I would ask that the Congress look at that budget and favorably consider it.
Chair Patty Murray: I think we all hope that is the outcome but we want to provide clarity to our veterans. They are very concerned about this issue.
That was 21 days ago. Murray, Miller, Filner and Burr (among others) had been asking repeatedly for an answer prior to the above exchange. However, when the Secretary is asked in an open session, with press present, and he doesn't know the answer, you think he would get on the ball to find out. It's very basic, or should be, for Eric Shinseki: Would sequestration effect my department or not?
It's very basic and you would assume it would be one he would want immediately answered since the budget is being hammered out.
There's no excuse for this non-response and, as Miller points out, he's asked for an answer from President Barack Obama as well and received nothing. So the point is, it's gone above Shinseki's head and if the administration had wanted the Congress (and the American people) to have an answer, the White House would have already provided one. There's no excuse for this. It is a concern to many veterans -- of more than just the current wars -- as to whether or not their benefits or the health care or an education program might be cut. While supposedly wanting to "honor" veterans of the Iraq War on Monday, Barack refused to do so by answering this very basic question: If sequestration kicks in, will the VA budget be targeted with automatic cuts?
In her opening remarks, one of the topics Dawn Halfaker noted was the Caregiver-Assistance program, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. This allows caregivers access to support services, mental health services, eduaction sessions and counseling among other things. Although passed and signed into law, the VA, for some reason, decided, "We know what the law says, but let's instead do what we want to." Dropping back to the July 12, 2011 snapshot:
As Ranking Member Michael Michaud explained, the hearing was a follow up to the March 11th hearing by the Subcommittee. On the Senate side, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee March 2nd hearing (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"). What both Senate and House Committees learned in the two March hearings was that they had passed legislation that was very different from what the VA was implementing. Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, noted, "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."
Schulz explained she was now rated by the VA for providing 40 hours a week of caregiving. She probably does a great deal more than that but it's not recognized. She did want it understood that when a wounded veteran returns, there's nothing so simple as 40 hours a week of care. She reviewed how, in her case, a great deal of time was taken with reorienting and dealing with confusing on the part of her son as to where he was and what was going on. There were sleep and other issues that had to be addressed including bathroom issues and the first weeks contained a great deal of work on reorientation. It's an important point but it's sad that she had to underscore it. A veteran with no apparent disabilities or challenges will need time to reorient themselves and they may require help on that. That a wounded veteran would need it should have been obvious to the VA with no caregiver having to point it out.
"I couldn't understand that," Debbie Schulz told the Subcommittee of disparities for caregivers and gave an example of "another caregiver" in Texas who cares for her son suffering from TBI with a spinal cord injury and unable to transfer himself out of his wheel chair is judged of doing only 25 hours of care a week. "How can that be right?" Schulz wondered.
Schulz is Debbie Schulz, the mother of Iraq War veteran Steven K. Schulz who was severly injured in a Falluja attack on April 19, 2005. Halfaker called for the Committees to again review VA's performance to ensure that they are indeed following the law that the Congress passed (the law that they refused to follow until the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hauled them in for hearings in 2011). We'll note this exchange from today's hearing.
Chair Jeff Miller: Captain, you talked in your testimony or made reference to VA's resistance to the caregiver law if I runderstood what I read. Can you kind of expand upon it a little bit for us and let us know what your thoughts are?
Dawn Halfaker: Sure. Thank you. Yeah, I think the biggest thing that we're focused on is one of the parts of the program projected, how many cases VA is going to have to address within this caregiver population and originally it was projected to be 3500 cases and we've already reached that caseload. So I mean in terms of the ability for VA to be prepared for the amount of cases that they're going to have to deal with, we feel that they need to start looking at that and, of course, how effective is the program being? We're very interested to do another survey within our population to start looking at how well the program's being set up and really how effective it's being. So those are two of the areas that we're highly focused on. And also looking for VA to kind of comprehensively address all facets of the program.
Chair Jeff Miller: Mr. Cooper, you alluded to something that actually I think everybody talks about, even those of us on the Committee have talked about in the past in regards to how you translate what you did in your time in the service to your civilian life as you transition across. And we tried in the VOW To Hire Heroes Act to begin to stimulate if you will the states to be able to waive some of their requirements that a truck driver or a combat medic or whatever it may be. What can the VA, what do you think the VA can do to help the veteran better market themselves or market their skills?
Arthur Cooper: I think if we were to say to the VA that you need to set up programs by which the service member returning is able to sit down with a counselor or counselors and do a resume that is specific to the job that he/she is trying to apply for. You have the qualifications from having done the job but you don't have the ability to put the job on paper as a resume. If we can do something to that effect, have that training process in place, that will do a lot toward helping us as far as getting employment -- meanful employment, I'll say it that way.
Chair Jeff Miller: Anybody else want to comment? Sgt Major?
Sgt Major H. Gene Oversight: Mr. Chairman, I would comment on that. Like I said, we put on forty job fairs around the countryside throughout the year and we counsel veterans, service members, young men and women getting out of the service how to write their resume. As a matter of fact, we have a guy who we used to bring in all the time and he wrote this book Does Your Resume Wear Combat Boots? And basically, we tell people how to make those transitional words from what they do in the military to civilian terminology. So when they build their resume and they put it together, the people that's doing the hiring do understand that and, matter of fact, the people that we bring understand that they're hiring a military person, they know what they get, they know they're going to get somebody that can read and write and that sounds very simple now days but it's not so simple because they can read and write and they can similate what they read -- in other words, they understand it and they can set it to music. They also realize that they get some leadership with that because they come early, they stay late, they're clean cut. They're good at all of those sorts of things when they hire a veteran. And that's the reason that when those companies that hire veterans continue to come back to us because they understand what they did in the military and what they're getting when they bring them on, sir.
Chair Jeff Miller: John?

John Rowan: The other issue and the problem is that this is spread across the different states and they all have different laws and applications. But it would be interesting I think if the DoD people looked at training manuals and things to see that often times they're just missing a little something extra that would give them the certification they need for that particular job. It's not really analogous but I was a linguist in the military and when I went back to college they gave me some credit for my college but told me I didn't take any reading courses so I couldn't get credit for the whole language. I mean, it was just something as simple as that. Now that's a bizarre thing but I'm sure that in some of the medics and things, there's probably just something not quite right that would equate to the equivalent of an education in the private sector and they need to figure that out and add it in.
Chair Jeff Miller: It's interesting that you would bring up the item of not taking reading courses. I visited a college that shall remain unnamed and was talking with them about the VOW To Hire Heroes Act and saying, "How in the world can a person who has been in a field hospital, doing all of the things that they do, day in and day out, not transfer those skills into a nursing program or something along those lines?" And the first response? "Well they haven't had the humanities, they haven't had the English" -- and I'm like, "We have got to change the culture out there to help put these folks to work." And, as the Sgt Major said, we have people who know what it's like to get up early, work late, do it when they don't want to do it, do it with a smile on their face and you don't find that a lot of times out in the civilian workforce and we've got to find a way to expand that if we can.
What they need to do is for DoD to offer classes -- along with medic training, I'm sorry but I don't find, for example US history to be a joke or something to laugh at. LVNs getting a BSN from a university (as opposed to a diploma mill) are required to have certain courses and US history and US government are part of those requirements. DoD should be training in those areas and they should be offering humanities courses (one is generally needed in most LVN-BSN programs). The point of education is to make you a well rounded citizen. Is that not a goal the military has for veterans? They can easily put together courses -- courses which could utilize the training and the mission within the course work. This should be done for every service member. The military owes it to them. In most cases, there is a degree of training that already qualifies it's just not structured so that a college will recognize it. This is a DoD issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Due to floor votes starting on the Senate floor, the Senate members had to leave the hearing after the witnesses delivered their opening remarks. We'll note the following exchange.
Ranking Member Michael Michaud: You'd mentioned the stateveterans nursing home and the great job that they do. I really appreciate Mr. Miller's efforts on addressing the issue on reimbursment rates which is extremely important for a lot of veterans around the country -- each one a little differently. My question is -- because we addressed it back in October, the Senate hasn't dealt with the legislation as of yet -- what effect is it having for veterans who are 70% or higher in their disabilies throughout some of the nursing homes around the country?
David Fletcher: In cases where we have a large number of -- 70% or higher of veterans in a home, uhm, the cost -- the reimbursement does not give the homes what they -- it doesn't pay for the full cost of care. So the homes actually have to come up with the difference or the veteran. And then the veteran obviously suffers from that. I believe in the case especially of a few of the states and in one state in particular, it happened to be Maine, there's a large number of veterans there and the more veterans that you have that are 70% and above that are -- [handed a piece of paper] And of course, the comment I just got is that homes are turning veterans away because they can't match their cost of care.
Ranking Member Michael Michaud: Thank you and that was the concern that I have. I know from Maine, you mentioned Maine, Maine veterans nursing homes are going to lose anywhere from $8 to 16 million a year and they can't take that sustainable loss. I was kind of curious on other states and thank you for that answer. My next question is for Mr. Tarantino, you talked about education for soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And have you found problems there in different states as far as higher ed being willing to take into consideration the experience that a soldier might have had whether it's a medic or working on heavy equipment, whereas the higher ed might at ground zero and work up? Have you found that to be a problem or is it, have most higher eds been taking that into consideration?
Tom Tarantino: Thank you, Congressman, this is -- this is actually a problem over all. And this was largely what the VOW To Hire Heroes Act, one of the provisions, was meant to address. It's less that schools aren't using a veteran's military experience and crediting them for that, it's that professional licenses and certifications that are required to do a lot of vocational jobs -- medics, mechanics, truck drivers -- don't recognize military training experience. There have been a lot of sort of efforts where -- I know ACE has a great way to -- the American Counseling Education, forgive me -- has a great way to translate your military experience into college credit. But we've never done the math on what a military vocation and a civilian vocation is -- largely because we've never had a generation of business leaders that hadn't served in the military before. This is the first generation where you just don't have very many people who are running the business sector having military experience. And so now this is one of the things that Congress said last year we're going to need to ramp up quickly is to do the math on the gaps and overlaps between military jobs and vocations and their civilian equivalents so that we can actually have something that the professional sector can say, 'This is what we have, this is what we need.' And the higher ed sector can follow up with adapting their training to what they need.
Ranking Member Michael Michaud: My last question, probably quick yes or no answer since I'm running out of time, is the House, little over a month ago, passed legislation that sets up a Brack type process dealing with federal buildings and if you look at the VA facility, they already have a process within the VA facility and a utilization rate of VA facilities actually have increased dramatically. Unfortunately, VA is covered under this legislation that's over here on this Senate side that once it's in that Brach type process they get rid of the VA facility that money doesn't go back to the VA facility and we have a problem as it is with construction within the VA area. Has your organization looked at that legislation and do you support it or oppose it? Quick yes-or-no answer starting with Mr. Tarantino?
Tom Tarantino: We have looked at it. It hasn't been a priority but we do definitely support that concept. And are looking forward to seeing a lot of stuff passed by the Senate that's come out of the House.
Now we'll note another Congressional hearing. I was not at this hearing. Wally was and was ready to do a brief synopsis for this snapshot but we've got a press release from Senator Patty Murray's office that we can use instead (and spare Wally the trouble -- thank you, Wally):
Murray Presses Army Secretary on Handling of the Mental Wounds of War
At Hearing of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Veterans Chairman Murray pressed Army Secretary John McHugh on troubled PTSD unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and whether similar problems exist at other bases
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned Army Secretary John McHugh on recent shortcomings in the Army's efforts to properly diagnose and treat the invisible wounds of war. Specifically, Murray discussed the forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord that is under investigation for changing mental health diagnoses based on the cost of providing care and benefits to servicemembers. The Army is currently reevaluating nearly 300 service members and veterans who have had their PTSD diagnoses changed by that unit since 2007.
Key excerpt of Sen. Murray's remarks:
"Secretary McHugh, as you and I have discussed, Joint Base Lewis McChord in my home state is facing some very real questions on the way they have diagnosed PTSD and the invisible wounds of war. And today, unfortunately, we are seeing more information on the extent of those problems.
"Mr. Secretary, this is a copy of today's Seattle Times. In it is an article based on the most recent review of the Forensice Psychiatry Department at JBLM which -- as you know -- is under investigation for taking the cost of mental health care into account in their decisions.

"And what it shows is that since that unit was stood up in 2007 over 40% of those service members who walked int he door with a PTSD diagnosis had their diagnosis changed to something else or overturned entirely.
"What is says is that over 4 in 10 of our service members -- many who were already being treated for PTSD -- and were due the benefits and care that comes with that diagnoses -- had it taken away by this unit. And that they were then sent back into the force or the local community.
"Now, in light of all the tragedies we have seen that stem from the untreated, invisible wounds of war -- I'm sure that you would agree that this is very concerning.
"Not only is it damaging for these soldiers, but it also furthers the stigma for others that are deciding whether to seek help for behavioral problems."

Meghan Roh

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The Seattle Times article referred to above is Hal Bernton's "40% of PTSD diagnoses at Madigan were reversed."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Barry's in the Boom-Boom Room





Today Iraq was slammed with bombings. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "Tuesday's violence was surprisingly widespread, striking not just the capital, but locations to the east, west, north and south. Medical authorities predicted the death toll would rise because many of the wounded are in serious condition." In a text, photo and video essay, ITV's Bill Neely explains, "They are snapshots of a forgotten conflict; one that most people can't bear to read or think about any more. This is Iraq. And this is carnage. Another day of slaughter in the land many in the West like to argue is better, safer, calmer now."
Early on, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) counted "at least 38 dead and 171 injured" as violence exploded "in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Karbala, Hilla, Tikrit, Baiji, Ramadi, and Falluja." AKI noted the bombings "killed 13 in Kirkuk, 13 in Karbala, 6 in Baghdad, 2 in Ramadi and 2 in Mahmudiya." Patrick J. McDonnell and an unnamed Iraqi correspondent (Los Angeles Times) note, "The attacks were apparently aimed at a range of targets: Shiite Muslim pilgrims, Iraqi police, an army patrol, government officials and guards outside a Christian church in Baghdad." Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London -- link is text and video) notes, "In most of the cases, the targets seem to have been civilians and police, but a motorcade carrying the governor of Anbar province, a Sunni heartland west of Baghdad stretching to the Syrian border, and long a haven for al-Qaeda, was also hit. A bodyguard was killed." Governor Qassim Fahdawi,. Al Rafidayn reports, is the Anbar Province governor who survived an assassination attempt in Ramadi (car bombing). AGI notes the claim that Baghdad security forces "managed to defuse 6 car bombs" before they went off. Salam Faraj (AFP) notes that in addition to bombings -- including one "in the center of the capital" -- a Baghdad church was attacked with 3 people shot dead. Catholic Culture explains it was the St. Matthew Baghdad Church, a Syrian Orthodox Church. The Telegraph of London offers video of the aftermath of the Kirkuk bombings. Lindsey Tugman (CBS News -- link is text and video) reports on the Kirkuk bombing, "Security teams, backed by ambulances and fire engines, who rushed to the scene in southern Kirkuk, examined the vast damage and wrecked vehicles, some still smoldering." The Australian quotes Kirkuk police officer Mohammed Sobheh stating, "We lost everything. Not one of my colleagues is alive; they were all killed. I will never forget their screams as long as I live." Sky News runs Sammer N. Yacoub's AP report quoting wounded cameraman Saman Majid explaining of the Kirkuk attack, "I quickly got out of my car to see burned bodies trapped inside the cars. Dozens of cars were on fire. It was a scene from hell, where there is only a huge fire and dead people and nothing else." A Kirkuk shop keeper tells Peter Biles (BBC News -- link is video) that, "A car parked here. We shouted for security because it looked suspicious. But no one from the police responded. A few minutes later it exploded." BBC News offers a photo essay of the aftermath in various cities.
Alice Fordham (Washington Post) provides this context, "The violence followed the mass killing of more than 20 police officers in Anbar provinces this month and an attack on police cadets in February. The wave of attacks is worrying Iraqi and Western officials alike." Late in the day, Trend News Agency was noting, "At least 56 people died in bombings in seven Iraqi cities on Tuesday, on the ninth anniversary of the United States-led invasion. Nearly 150 people were wounded, dpa reported." Jill Reilly (Daily Mail) notes of Karbala provincial council member Shadhan al-Aboudi, "Mr al-Aboudi immediately blamed the attacks on al Qaida, the terror network which officials believe is behind the recent violence with the aim of forcing the Arab League's summit in Baghdad next week to be cancelled for the second year in a row." Remember, when you have a ready-made 'bad guy' that you can always rush to blame, you never have to examine what it is that keeps courting these attacks. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) speaks with someone who wants to look a little further than al Qaeda in Mesopotamia:
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told McClatchy that while the attacks had the hallmarks of al Qaida, they also could be the result of infighting among Iraqi political parties trying to undermine one another's credibility just before the summit meetings.
"It seems they (the political parties) will never stop. They will continue this war for supremacy until the very end. So until political issues are resolved at the top level, we will see no peace." he said.

Read more here:
In addition to the above, AFP adds, "Separate gun and bomb attacks in Salaheddin province, north of the capital, killed four people, including a city councillor, police said. Gunmen also killed a member of the Shabak minority in the main northern city of Mosul." BBC News' Peter Biles (link is video) notes today's attacks were "an attempt to undermined confidence" ahead of the Arab Summit. On The World (PRI) today, anchor Lisa Mullins spoke with McClatchy News Service's Sahar Issa. Excerpt.
Sahar Issa: [. . .] And I think insurgents want to remind people that although nine years have passed, everything in Iraqi politics today stems from an occupation of the country.
Lisa Mullins: The fact that the explosions are continuing now in such large numbers, what's the potential that this will derail the Arab League Summit next week?
Sahar Issa: The Iraqi government has taken this into consideration, I believe, because they have given two days holiday and there is a high possibility -- in fact, it is expected -- that a curfew will be announced. In which case, if people want to arrange bombings, it is going to be very difficult. But I don't believe it will be derailed, I believe it will take place. The Iraqi government looks to the summit to give it legitimacy in the Arab world. I doubt very much that it is going to let this opportunity slip between its fingers.
Lisa Mullins: Even if it has to embrace this opportunity and hold the summit against a backdrop of bombings?
Sahar Issa: They will want to keep it. It remains for the guests to decide whether they want to come to the site of bombings or not.
A week ago, we noted, "Dar Addustour notes that the Cabinet has agreed to foot the bill for the Summit which, according to Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh, will cost $100 billion dinars. That would be $86,073,447.54 in US dollars." Today Jack Healy (New York Times) reports, "Iraq is spending about $500 million on the meeting, for extensive security plus everything from hotel renovations and overtime to catering, stationery and new sod and palm trees on the road fromt he airport. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called the price tag 'an investment for the country'." I'm sure his figure is correct -- and not just because the cost has increased as the government has added this closure and that. Al Bawaba News adds, "The government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, announced a week-long holiday in Baghdad, from 25 to 31 March, during which government offices will be closed. A curfew will be imposed on March 29 in some areas of the capital to secure the arrival of Arab leaders. The roads near the fortified Green Zone where the summit is to take place will be barred and the residents will be encouraged to stay home." Al Rafidayn notes that, after today's wave of attacks, the government decided to stop work this Sunday and declare a holiday beginning March 25th (the Summit is scheduled to run the 27th through the 29th) and that the move comes as Iraqis are already complaining about "security measures" for the summit which are already causing big traffic news. Prior to today's decision to impose a week long holiday, barricades were already going up throughout Baghdad, it had already been announced that Baghdad International Airport would be closed and Baghdad was already set to be closed to non-official vehicular traffic. Sam Dagher, Munaf Ammar, Ali A. Nabhan and Jabbar Yaseen (Wall St. Journal) quote cab driver Ashraf Mohammed delcaring today, "The Arab summit is worth nothing as long as the people continue to pay the price."

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