Saturday, November 07, 2009

Barry's accomplishments






Rick Lamberth: As a LOGCAP [Logistics Civil Augmentation Program] Operations Manager, it was my duty to report to KBR management when the company was in violation of guidelines and the contract Statement of Work. I witnessed burn pit violations on a weekly basis. When I tried to report violations, I was told by the head of KBR's Health Safety and Environment division to shut up and keep it to myself. At one point, KBR management threatened to sue me for slander if I spoke out about these violations.
Rick Lamberth was in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to being an Iraq War veteran, he worked for KBR and saw "KBR employees dump nuclear, biological, chemical decontamination materials and bio-medical waste, plastics, oil and tires into burn pits" thereby exposing many US and Iraqi citizens to health risks. Rick Lamberth, for example, now has a series of respiratory problems. Last week, Kelly Kennedy (Army Times) reported, "An open-air 'burn pit' at the largest U.S. base in Iraq may have exposed tens of thousands of troops, contractors and Iraqis to cancer-causing dioxins, poisons such as arsenic and carbon monoxide, and hazardous medical waste, documentation gathered by Military Times shows." Kelly was reporting on Joint Base Balad. L. Russel Keith worked for KBR at Joint Base Balad (March 2006 to July 2007) and he explains, "While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units."

Rick Lamberth and L. Russell Keith were two of the four witnesses appearing before the Democratic Policy Committee today, for a hearing into burn pits led by Committee Chair Byron Dorgan. Also appearing as witnesses were Lt Col Darrin Curtis and Dr. Anthony Szema. At the start of the hearing, Chair Dorgan explained, "This is the twenty-first in a long series of hearings that we have held in the Policy Committee to examine contracting waste and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of these hearings have focused on substantial abuse which have put out troops lives in danger. Some focused just on waste and some on fraud. Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."

That's from Chair Dorgan's opening remarks and you can [PDF format hearing warning] click here to read his prepared remarks (the above is what was stated which differs slightly from the prepared remarks). You can also visit the Democratic Policy Committee's home page for more information and streaming video of today's hearing should be up there as well. (If it's not up already, it will be up by Monday.)

The burn pit issue was dismissed and ignored for many years -- despite the fact that the rules weren't being followed. On October 28, 2009, US House Rep Tim Bishop's office released a statement noting: "Today, President [Barack] Obama singed into law the National Defense Authorization Act 9H.R. 2647), which includes important provisions authored by Congressman Tim Bishop (NY-1) to protect the thousands of troops exposed to toxic, open burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan. These provisions were based on Bishop's legislation, the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act, (HR 2419) introduced with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter on May 14, 2009." Hopefully, that signing will result in the press paying a bit more attention to the issue and not, as some have done, treat it as a dispute between political parties -- which is how it was too often treated by the press during the Bush years, with a lot of hedging and a lot of 'some say' type 'reporting.' December 20, 2006, Lt Col Darrin Curtis wrote a memo entitled "Burn Pit Health Hazards" [PDF format warning, click here].

Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.

Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --

Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.

"I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on." And why, the bigger why? Why would anyone -- KBR or anyone -- put people at risk? Rick Lamberth explained during the hearing, "KBR was able to get away with this because the Army never enforced the applicable standards. KBR's Project Controls Department also kept their information hidden. During one visit by a representative from DCMA. I heard someone from Project Controls state that it was her job to keep DCMA away from the books during the inspection. KBR management would brag that they could get away with doing anything they wanted because the army could not function without them. KBR figured that even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit."

"Brag that they could get away with doing anything." "Even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit." Chair Dorgan noted that one of his greatest disappointments is that there is not "a Truman type committee with subpoena powers" currently "perhaps some day we'll get that." Senator Tom Udall agreed with Dorgan that a Truman type committee was needed. Rick Lamberth told Senator Udall that he did an analysis about how the burn pits could be shifted down wind.

Senator Tom Udall: They didn't want to do that?

Rick Lamberth: Correct, sir.

Senator Tom Udall: Cost them too much?

Rick Lamberth: Correct, sir.

Senator Jon Tester spoke of how Lamberth was told by KBR to keep quiet about violations "because that clean up was future business." He wondered, "How many burn pits there were in Iraq?" L. Russell Keith stated Balad was the biggest one (and the one he was familiar with), that it was ten acres, that "a lot of parts of it were below ground [. . .] there were a lot of things in it that wouldn't burn [. . .] old vehicles [. . .] transit buses". Senator Blanche Lincoln noted that the burn pits continue in Iraq and Afghanistan and we'll include this exchange.

Senator Blanche Lincoln: The comment made about the fact that these [burn pits] were used because there's potential future business, is it the typical business of KBR and others for hazardous waste clean up?

Rick Lamberth: What do you mean, ma'am, by the -- ?

Senator Blanche Lincoln: I mean if there's potential business -- what you're creating? It sounds like what we're creating, to what many of us have lived through up here, which are Super Fund sites and hazardous waste clean up. Is that a business that the current contractors actually have or can facilitate?

Rick Lamberth: Yes, ma'am. They have -- it's currently a contract line item number in the master statement of work. And what they'll do, they don't have the expertise in how, so they'll turn around and they'll contract it out. When I left July 2009, I left Baghdad, they had subcontracted that out to [**]. Yet when you talk to them, they act like they're resolved of all responsibility. And I tell them: "Negative, you are still responsible, you being the prime contractor, you're still responsible for compliance of EPA and DOD regulations and Defense Logistic Agencies regulations which is really in charge of DoD's Hazmat Defense Logistic Agency and they would want to deny that. They say 'No, [**] is doing that now.' I say 'No, you're still, you being the prime, you're still responsible.'

Senator Blanche Lincoln: Well of course that's a whole different issue I suppose in terms of spending our US tax payer dollars to clean up things that the same contractor actually created.

First, "[**]"? Epilogue or Echologue was what Lamberth was saying. I have no idea on subcontractors or whether the subcontractor would get 'fancy' with the name and spell it a different way. So we're just noting it as "[**]" Second, Lincoln went on to note that even more important than the dollars being wasted are the people who've been harmed by exposure. BURN PITS Action Center is a resource and a clearing house of information. Among those sharing their experiences is "Debby:"

I arrived at Joint Base Balad, formerly known as Camp Anaconda in March 2008, and needless to say we all have the same issues as to what we smelled and what we saw. I have been home 11 months now and I want to make a statement about this issue. First off keep a good record of how your feeling. You may not notice anything at first. I started getting shortness of breath and just thought that it was the humidity in our air here in Indiana. I got a respiratory infection once I was home that turned into bronchitis. It took me OVER a month to clear that up. I had a cough from day one from leaving Iraq, and could not understand this or why I was doing this? Blamed it on the weather. My cough got so bad I contacted the VA and said this is not normal and I want to have my lungs tested...pulmonary function test was ordered...I failed it and found out I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I now use an inhaler and my breathing is worse at night, because I wheeze now. I came home at the end of November by March I had another issue, my colon. I was 47 at the time and had to do a colonoscopy 3 years earlier than I should have. Found out I had polyps and a tear in my colon. It is now November and I cannot seem to understand why I have still a colon issue. Now my esophagus is a problem. I had another cold back a few months ago and lost my voice for 3 full weeks. I had bronchitis again. Could not shake it. I am scheduled for another colon scope since I have this issue and also to have my throat checked out. My esophagus is closing up and I may have to have it stretched back out. NO ONE in my family has ever had an issue like this. I blame this on the effects of the burn pit. My memory and forgetfulness is a REAL problem for me. I can't seem to remember anything. So I guess anyone's secrets are safe with me I would forget easily after a few days. I have other issues I just wanted to list a few. Take photos of the burn pits for your own personal records they would prove very helpful later on. Keep researching all that you can on this issue, there are long lists of what soldiers are reporting that is wrong with them. I have to write mine down or I will forget. Not that a person can but my memory won't allow me anymore to recall things like I once did. Life if going to be challenging and many of us may not live a full life due to our new found health issue. But from one soldier to all you others we fought a good battle and we should keep each other in our prayers. God Bless you all and keep up the good fight and take care of your health.

Back to the hearing, Dr. Szema compared what is being seen to the conditions of fire fighters who were at Ground Zero following 9-11. He noted that he sees young people whom he shouldn't be seeing including ones with asthma -- when asthma would prevent them from being inducted into the military and that even if a few managed to skirt by in the screening process, the rates of asthma shouldn't be as high as it is. We'll note this exchange from early in the hearing.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Dr. Szema, what's your assessment of what you've heard? You've not been in Iraq, you've not seen the burn pits, you've heard them described, you heard Mr. Lambert and Mr. Keith describe what was thrown into the burn pits. What's your assessment of what we might see as a result of this? Is this a potentially serious threat to human health of those who were exposed?

Dr. Szema: Originally, I didn't even know what a burn pit was. So we thought that the higher asthma rates that we were seeing anecdotally were related to the shamal, the dust storms in Iraq, and possibly exposure to inhalational particles of improvised explosive devices. And then we wrote -- we did our study indicating that the rates of asthma were twice that if you were an Iraq deployed versus stateside deployed. And only recently when I learned about the burn pits, I knew that that could potentially, plausibly be one of the explanations. We-we actually did have PM 2.5 data from CHPPM in one of our presentations at the American Thoracic Society Conference and the PM 2.5 levels were in the thousands. Just for an example, in comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency standards in the United States is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. If you're over 35 in the United States, that's air pollution and they were measuring it in the thousands and that's irrespective of what's actually the concentration so, in and of itself, there were clearly particles in the air. That was not included in the 2008 report, that was part of our poster presentation. So my concern is -- what -- you're not supposed to be burning anything. Even if you're burning wood in cooking, we know that in third world countries if we reduce the use of cook stoves and fires, we can reduce respiratory mortality by millions of people worldwide. And, in fact, the American Thoracic Society is coming out with a position statement that even in the United States, if we roll back the EPA pollution standards a little bit, we will save millions of lives in the United States from air pollution. So clearly, I think, when you have uncontrolled burns, there will be a litany of health effects

One more time, Rick Lamberth's statements on how greed was able to trump humanity, "KBR was able to get away with this because the Army never enforced the applicable standards. KBR's Project Controls Department also kept their information hidden. During one visit by a representative from DCMA. I heard someone from Project Controls state that it was her job to keep DCMA away from the books during the inspection. KBR Management would brag that they could get away with doing anything they wanted because the army could not function without them. KBR figured that even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit."

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Thursday, November 05, 2009







Today the Oversight and Ivenstigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled Iraq and Afghanistan: Perspectives on US Strategy, Part II. It certainly lived up to Part I and, no, that wasn't a good thing. That October 22nd hearing was covered in the October 23rd snapshot and, as we asked then, "Where the hell was Iraq?"

Let's go with a big moment which raised no eyebrows. This is US House Rep Duncan Hunter (elected for the first time last year, fills his father's seat) opening remarks. He supports sending more troops to Afghanistan, just FYI.

Duncan Hunter: We're not at the ground floor of this debate anymore. We'we're kind of talking like we are. And my question, one is, we're over there, we're committed, we're on the 50th floor, so what now? And I don't think that our commanders over there are ignorant of anything you are saying. I think they all -- they all -- Do you think they're ignorant of this? I think that they have heard probably every point of view and-and the State Department involved -- I was stationed in Afghanistan for my third deployment in 2007. I just went back this last weekend, it was fun. The State Department involvement and the civilian and Smart Person involvement now with the military in Afghanistan is unprecedented. Never happened before. It's quintupled since July -- the State Department, US AID personnel. And there's a two-star civilian for every two-star military person there, there's a whole chain of command for the civilian side along with the military side, everybody's confident, they're asking for a troop surge, I mean that's what everybody's asking for. But my question is: So what now then? I mean they -- there's -- we're talking a lot, we're at the 50th floor, not the ground floor anymore. We're over there. We're committed. Dr. Khan might have us pull out but not on the basis that we can't win, on the basis that you don't think we'll stay

Muqtedar Khan: Yes.

Duncan Hunter: Right?

Muqtedar Khan: Yes, exactly.

Duncan Hunter: Okay. So what now. That's-that's all I got. And that's the big . . . What do you recommend if we do want it stable and we do want it so that we can leave in the next two to five years, leave it relatively stable, not abandon it totally and we'll probably leave troops there like we will in Iraq. But so what now?

Excuse me, "and we'll probably leave troops there like we will in Iraq"? I don't disgree with Hunter but there has been a big effort to deny that was planned. That statement should get attention but don't wait for the press to pick it up. The same press that sold you the illegal war on Iraq really isn't interested in that war ever ending -- as long as they don't have to cover it, they're hap-hap-happy.

There's another obvious moment that should be addressed. It's not Iraq related and Kat's grabbing it for her site and will write about it tonight. So let's move over to US House Rep Mike Coffman and whether he was attempting to spit on Jonathon M. Sylvestre's memory or if he was just damn stupid? We'll go with bulb nose being damn stupid -- and possibly the WC Fields like nose was a tip off? Two days ago, DoD announced: "Spc. Jonathon M. Sylvestre, 21, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Nov. 2 in Kut, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga." Does he not matter to Coffman?

Because Coffman supports the continued war on Iraq? No, Coffman probably still supports that continued war, he supported it back when he could actually remember a war was going on there. But Coffman's lost interest in Iraq long, long ago. And it was disgusting to watch him do an exchange where he cited 'recent' deaths in Afghanistan from his home state and he didn't have a damn thing to say about Jonathon M. Sylvestre who, for the record, is Colorado's most recent service member to die in Iraq or Afghanistan. But Coffman wasn't interested in that. It should be noted US House Rep Susan Davis wasn't interested in Iraq either and our state, California, saw two deaths announced this week in Iraq; Lukas C. Hopper of Merced and Christopher M. Cooper of Oceanside.

The subcomittee heard from retired Maj Gen Paul Eaton, Professor Christine Fair (Georgetown), Professor Muqtedar Khan (University of Delaware) and Marin Strmecki (Smith Richardson Foundation). Eaton and Strmecki were aware of the Iraq War as evidenced by their opening remarks. In his opening remarks, Eaton noted speaking to US President Barack Obama over a year ago, being asked what the army wanted and replying, "Senator, we want your Secretary of Agriculture to be at least as interested in the outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq as is your Secretary of Defense." Does anyone get the idea that this interest is present in the Secretary of Agriculture? That's Tom Vilsack. And, just for example, click on this page (US Agricultural website) and note just what's been 'done' (covered) in 2009 compared to 2008. See an increase? No. And click here for archives and you'll see more efforts noted in every year of the Iraq War except 2004 and 2005. So where's the increase?
Wait, you're saying, Barack had all those problems getting qualified people (and a few tax cheats) confirmed, right?

Wrong. Not with Vilsack. He was nominated December 17, 2008 and he was confirmed by the US Senate January 20th -- the day Barack was sworn in as president. Vilsack did his swearing in January 21st. So let's not pretend like Vilsack showed up late. He was there from the first day of this administration.

Now Eaton told that story in his opening remarks. At any point did any member of the Subcommittee ever ask him, "Do you think what you asked for happened or is happening?" No. And no one ever explored it. Remember, it was about Iraq and the hearing, though including Iraq in the title, really wasn't interested in Iraq. Congress can vote, in 2002, some form of authorization or approval for an impending Iraq War they just don't seem able to focus on it while it continues. That seems to be the tricky part and may be why they've become so lousy about providing oversight on it?

(Or for that matter, pulling the plug on it.)

If there's an exception to that it's been the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Tomorrow there will be another hearing held by them, this one looking into the burn pits:

Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announced Wednesday the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) will conduct a congressional oversight hearing on Friday, November 6, to examine the health risks associated with the continued use of open-air burn pits by the U.S. military and contractor KBR in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The hearing is set for 10:00 AM and will be held in Room 628 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.
Although military guidelines allow the use of burn pits to dispose of waste only in emergency situations, most large U.S. military installations have continued to use burn pits for years, despite growing evidence that exposure to burn pit smoke may be causing an increased incidence of chronic lung diseases, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and cancer.
Hearing witnesses are expected to testify that plastics, paints, solvents, petroleum products, rubber, and medical waste have been burned in the pits.
The hearing will also examine whether military contractor KBR operated the burn pits in a safe and cost-effective manner.
Witnesses will include the Air Force's former Bioenvironemental Flight Commander at Joint Base Balad, who warned three years ago about health hazards associated with burn pit smoke at the base, two KBR whisteblowers, and a medical expert who will describe the adverse health consequences associated with burn pit smoke inhalation.

Details follow:
WHO: Senators: Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman, and others
Witnesses: Lt. Colonel Darrin Curtis, former Air Force Bioenvironmental Flight Commander at Joint Base Balad; Rick Lamberth, former KBR employee; Russell Keith, former KBR medic; Dr. Anthony Szema, MD, expert on health impact of burn pit smoke.
WHAT: Congressional oversight hearing.
WHERE: Room 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building
WHEN: 10:00 AM, Friday, November 6, 2009
WHY: To examine the health impact of burn pit smoke on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether the Army is providing exposed soldiers and veterans with accurate information about the risks, and whether contractor KBR is safely operating burn pits.

We'll try to cover that hearing in tomorrow's snapshot (but we're juggling our schedule because we only just learned of it). In other oversight news, Josh Rogin's "Exclusive: Did the U.S. government buy favorable coverage of Iraq's Anbar Province?" (Foreign Policy) reminds that a lot of money has gone into the sinkhole that is the illegal war and for a lot of questionable activities:U.S. taxpayer money that was supposed to be used for emergency purposes in Iraq was spent to buy a special advertising issue for an Anbar businessman in a British trade magazine, a U.S. government investigation has found. FDI magazine, a bimonthly print publication and website owned by the Financial Times, nearly simultaneously showered Anbar Governor Qasim Abid Muhammad Hammadi Al Fahadawi with positive coverage, praising the dangerous Anbar province as "a hot place to invest in" and giving the businessman an award as "Global Personality of the Year for 2009." FDI's award was announced three days before the "Special Report" on Anbar, entitled, "Bridge to the Future," was published on its website. The award was immediately praised by the U.S. military in Iraq, without mention of the U.S. funds spent on the supplement, and the website makes no mention of it having been paid for by the American government. Then again last month, FDI magazine Editor Courtney Fingar handed the governor another award naming Anbar province one of FDI magazine's "standout regions of the year." Reached by The Cable, Fingar confirmed the U.S. government had spent "in the neighborhood of $50,000" on the special supplement but denied her magazine's content had been bought and paid for, calling the report on Anbar "balanced and accurate." The investigation was disclosed in the October quarterly report of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), which is tasked with monitoring U.S. expenditures and projects in Iraq, but has so far not been publicly reported. Sources told The Cable that after the report is submitted to Congress, it's up to that body to determine if the payment violated funding rules or the law.

And now . . .

It could playfully be argued that by performing this concert Joni Mitchell was the attending mid wife at the birth of Greenpeace. It is a fact, however, that the music on this CD has been donated and approved by the artists and their publishers for a limited period with all proceeds from sales going to Greenpeace in support of our work.

What is that? Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and James Taylor did a 1970 concert to benefit Greenpeace. Starting November 10th, the concert is out on CD for a limited time. Click here for more information. Joni Mitchell is, of course, a legendary, one of kind songwriter and artist. The late Phil Ochs left his mark with "I Ain't Marching Anymore," "Changes" and many others and James Taylor is the name of a man who was once married to the legendary artist Carly Simon and whose intense vanity was documented by both Joni and Carly ("watching your hairline recede my vain darling," as Joni put it in "Just Like This Train"). On the live album, Joni's songs include "For Free," "Woodstock," "Big Yellow Taxi," "My Old Man," "Cactus Tree," "The Gallery," "The Circle Game" and "A Case Of You." Phil Ochs contributions to the live album include "Changes," "Chords of Fame," "I'm Gonna Say It Now," "The Bells" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore." Not having yet begun doing vanilla covers of R&B classics, James offers "Fire and Rain," "Sweet Baby James" and a few other songs he wrote (James last recorded a batch of new songs he'd written on 2002's October Road). Carly Simon's latest album is a reimagining of some of her classics as well as two new songs and is entitled Never Been Gone (an amazing album, Kat praised it here). Yesterday, Carly was a guest on NPR's Soundcheck.

Finally, with Aimee Allison (co-host of KPFA's The Morning Show), David Solnit authored the must read Army Of None. David Solnit has now teamed up with his sister Rebecca Solnit, of Courage to Resist, for a new book and there's a new action.
Two things I'd like to tell you about:
ACTION: A Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on the ten year anniversary of Seattle WTO shutdown, Nov 30, 2009. Yesterday African delegates walked out of pre-Copenhagen trade talks in Barcelona demanding the US and rich countries commit themselves to deeper and faster greenhouse gas emission cuts and European activists blockaded the talks. The key fight over the future of the planet is taking place right now around climate; corporate market solutions are the new WTO and the US and the rich countries are undermining any efforts at climate solutions to avert even more catastrophic impacts. What could shift things right now is people in the US (doing what we did ten years ago) showing mass resistance to the US government and corporate capitalism's obstruction and false solutions. Please join one of the regional actions being planned in SF and around the US (details here soon) and sign up to take or support direct action and get your folks together now!
BOOK: AK Press asked me to make a book reflecting on the Seattle WTO shutdown from an organizers view. With my sister Rebecca Solnit, Kate and the AK Press collective workers, designer Jason Justice and contributions from fellow organizers we did it just in time for the ten year anniversary. Please support by buying a book , get ten at half-off, and pass on the announcement below.
hope and resistance, David Solnit

About the book:

From dawn to dusk on November 30, 1999, tens of thousands of people shut down the World Trade Organization meeting, facing cops firing tear gas and rubber bullets, the National Guard, and the suspension of civil liberties. An unexpected history was launched from the streets of Seattle, one in which popular power would matter as much as corporate power, in which economics assumed center-stage, and people began envisioning who else they could be and what else their economies and societies might look like. The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle explores how that history itself has become a battleground and how our perception of it shapes today's movements against corporate capitalism and for a better world. David Solnit recounts activist efforts to intervene in the Hollywood star-studded movie, Battle in Seattle, and pulls lessons from a decade ago for today. Rebecca Solnit writes of challenging mainstream misrepresentation of the Seattle protests and reflects on official history and popular power. Core organizer Chris Dixon tells the real story of what happened during those five days in the streets of Seattle. Profusely illustrated, with a reprint of the original 1999 Direct Action Network's "Call to Action" broadsheet-- including key articles by Stephanie Guilloud, Chris Borte, and Chris Dixon -- and a powerful introduction from Anuradha Mittal, The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle is a tribute to the scores of activists struggling for a better world around the globe. It's also a highly-charged attack on media mythmaking in all its forms, from Rebecca Solnit's battle with the New York Times to David Solnit's intervention in the Battle in Seattle film, and beyond. Every essay in this book sets the record straight about what really happened in Seattle, and more importantly why it happened. This is the real story.

For more on the book, including ordering it, click here and last night Ann noted the book and the importance of the issues the book is covering.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Family scandals








While the violence continues, there's still no election law. Today Alsumaria reports, "Iraq High Election Commission gave the parliament a timeline that ends on Thursday in order to enact an elections' law or else it will not be able to hold elections as it is scheduled on January 16. Chief of IHEC Faraj Al Haidari said that the commission and the UN discussed elections' timeline and stressed that if he did not receive the law in the two upcoming days the commission won't be able to hold the elections on the scheduled date." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) adds, "The election commission said if parliament doesn't approve a law by the end of Thursday, it will be impossible to hold the polls as scheduled on Jan. 16 because there won't be enough time to organize it. In meetings earlier this week, United Nations officials also told lawmakers if a law isn't passed by Thursday, the U.N. would urge postponement of the elections." The Iraqi Constitution mandates that the elections must be held before the end of January 2010; however, the Iraqi Constitution mandates many things -- such as resolving the issue of Kirkuk or appointing a full cabinet by X date or requiring Parliament's approval to extend a United Nations mandate -- and Nouri's always managed to just ignore it. Ernesto Londono and K.I. Ibrahim (Washington Post) report US Ambassador Chris Hill is scrambling on the ground in Iraq attempting to use his 'influence' to push for a vote. The US' own manic depressive ambassador has little-to-no influence especially if the press wants to continue pushing the-hold-up-is-Kirkuk line. Why is that? Hill offended the KRG with his very late first visit to their region. Chris Hill offended them in his remarks which were based on Hill's gross ignorance regarding the issue of Kirkuk -- ignorance on full display when the Senate held his confirmation hearing. Hill came to Iraq with no knowledge of the KRG or Iraq. He has no pull. US Vice President Joe Biden and the top commander US commander in Iraq Gen Ray Odierno have some pull (whether or not it's enough remains to be seen) with the KRG but Hill has none. He also has no influence over non-Kurdish MPs in the Parliament. So what's he's mainly doing is rushing around in an attempt to look busy. He'll no doubt (as has been his pattern throughout his time at the State Dept) find a group to spill the beans to on whatever's hidden and supposed to be hidden. They'll agree to present whatever he wants them to because he shared secrets and then they'll stab him in the back and he'll shrug and finger-point at others. In other words, his Korean 'leadership' all over again.

Biggest idiot of the week? The editorial board of the Boston Globe -- apparently begging for readers to pull the plug on the finacial crater that is their paper. In an appalling uninformed editorial they praise Nouri al-Maliki and conclude, "In their own nihilistic way, Al Qaeda fanatics are showing their true colors not only to Iraqis but to the rest of the Muslim world. They are massacring children and other innocents in the name of a holy war to replace all existing Arab and Muslim governments with the fantasy of a multinational Islamic caliphate. The less Americans are caught up in this war within the Muslim world, the harder it will be for the regressive forces of Al Qaeda to survive." al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a home grown group and has always been a group of resistance. The Boston Globe was awfully silent when Steven D. Green and others were discovered to have gang-raped and murdered 14-year-old Abeer, murdered both her parents and murdered her five-year-old sister. The Boston Globe voiced no concern about the US soldiers making it appear the War Crimes were done by 'insurgents.' And the Boston Globe was silent as each soldier entered a plea of guilty except for Green who was a civilian when the crimes were exposed and was tried in civilian court. The Boston Globe couldn't be bothered with Steven D. Green's trial and, even after the verdict (or for that matter, the sentencing), couldn't say one damn word, NOT ONE DAMN WORD, about the War Crimes. So their selective efforts at playing editorial bully goes to the fact that they are the most ignorant and uninformed editorial board in the nation. Praise be to the Boston Globe, doing their part to demonstrate that struggling papers sometimes aren't worth the struggle to save them. It should also be noted that while condemning al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for violence that they have not claimed responsibility for (despite headlines, a splinter group claimed responsibility for the August and October Baghdad bombings that shocked so many, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not claim credit), they've refused to condemn their hero and crush Nouri al-Maliki strange choice of political bedfellows -- the ones who have claimed responsibility for invading the US base and killing 5 US soldiers, the ones who have claimed responsibility for kidnapping 5 British citizens -- 3 of whom are known dead, a fourth is assumed dead and the fifth is hoped to be alive (by the British government -- the fourth assumed dead is hoped to be alive by his friends and family but the British government has stated they assume he is dead). The Boston Globe has nothing to say about that and one wonders exactly when they got in the business of covering for those who murder US troops? Those are Nouri's friends. He got 'em released. He may have provided them with the Iraqi security forces uniforms they used in the attack on the US base and in the kidnapping of the 5 British citizens. He certainly provided the group's leader and the leader's brother with a pass out of a US prison this spring. The Boston Globe wasn't at all worried about and they continue to be a beacon for ignorance around the world. What a proud, proud moment.

While the Boston Globe tongue bathes Nouri (aka the new Saddam), UPI reports Nouri's latest planned assault: doing away with minority representation. The quota system for the cabinet exists because Iraq's a diverse country. But Nouri's never liked diversity, Nouri's a radical, fundamentailist Shi'ite who oversaw the genocide of the Sunni population because he loathes Ba'athists and sees every Sunni as a high ranking Ba'athist or at least as one of the big, scary people that forced coward Nouri to flee Iraq for decades until the US invaded and installed him as a 'leader.' Nouri really hates Ba'athists because they remind him all over again what a meek, little, sniveling coward he is. And that's why oversaw the genocide -- gladly oversaw. UPI notes the announcement by one of Nouri's political party (State of Law) spokespersons "brought a wave of criticism from Kurds, independents and Shiite members of the Iraqi National Alliance who complain Maliki is trying to take greater control of the government." UPI also reminds how Nouri's road to strongman has been littered with attacks on those who are supposed to provide security such as his December 2008 assault on the Interior Ministry whom he accused of plotting a coup -- a plan that never had any evidence to back it up then or since but did allow him to push out a Shi'ite rival -- and how his firings in August for 'security reasons' also can be seen as an attack on one of his rivals, Shi'ite Jawad al-Bolani. UPI notes of Nouri:

He has centralized power for himself to the extent that he has formed two paramilitary forces, the Baghdad Brigade -- also known as "the Dirty Squad" for its nocturnal sweeps arresting Maliki's critics, particularly Sunnis -- and the Counter-Terrorism Force. Both report directly to him.
Maliki has cemented his control over the nation's security forces by recruiting tribal militias funded by his office and seizing the power of appointing or dismissing army officers, bypassing the chief of staff who should have that authority.
In the eyes of many, this has transformed the army into a well-armed prime ministerial militia.

And for what? What is Iraq today? After nearly seven years of war, what is Iraq? The University of Pittsburg's Haider Hamoudi visits and shares impressions at The Daily Star:

Appealing as these examples may be, the role of religion must be greater in the view of the Najaf clerics concerning matters of law than merely as a voice of conscience on behalf of the people against the powerful. Are we truly to believe then that Najaf clerics are indifferent to potential reforms of the Personal Status Law that challenge existing religious doctrine, such as, for example, a ban on polygamy? Why did the Shiite Islamist parties who dominated the Constitutional Committee and who were close to Sistani fight so hard for a constitutional provision banning laws that violate the "certain rulings of Islam," which now appears in Article 2 of the Constitution? Is the fact that every woman within 50 miles of Najaf is covered by a headscarf and then a wide black cloak on top of that really just a matter of personal choice, exercised universally in precisely the same fashion, or does some form of public regulation (state law or otherwise) have something to do with it as well?
I put this point to another of the four grand ayatollahs, Mohammad Said al-Hakim, when the question was raised about the relationship of religion to law. We heard again the Najaf mantra. I asked specifically about Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution and its requirement that law conform to particular certainties in Islam. He described this as a "separate issue," and when I suggested it might mean the marjaaiyya had a role in the legal apparatus of the state, he replied, "we have a role in the clarification of the religion (bayan al-din), not in the administration of the law."
This clarifies the position to some extent, in that it makes Najaf responsible for indicating what the religious position is, and then leaves to the legislator and the judge the determinations that the state is supposed to then make on the basis of Article 2. Even Najaf's commitment to this separation is fuzzy, in that its political allies in Baghdad have fought long and hard to ensure a place for "religious experts" on the Federal Supreme Court for Article 2 questions. In the Constitutional Review Committee, the Shiite Islamist parties have proposed an amendment that indicates that members of the court would be nominated by the "relevant bodies." It is hard to imagine that they did not imagine the marjaaiyya to be the "relevant body" responsible for nominating the religious experts, or at least that number of them who were going to be Shiite.

And that's what Iraq can offer . . . after non-stop war and the US installed puppets. Elections? The US had a few of them yesterday. For the New Jersey governor's race see Mike's post and also be sure to read Betty's which expands on some of the issues Mike touches on but sets aside the race. And for Iraq related coverage in the MSM? Turns out your best chance of discovering the Iraq War is still ongoing comes via "Hints From Heloise" (Washington Post) and not 'reporting' (which long ago lost interest in Iraq):Dear Heloise: Our church group has decided to start sending baked goods as CARE PACKAGES to military personnel in Iraq. We brainstormed several ideas, such as shoe boxes, etc., but found that the best way to send a cake to anyone overseas is to bake the cake in a small, metal coffee can. After baking, remove the cake to cool. Then repack it in the can, put on the plastic lid the coffee came with and pack the can in a postal box. Soldiers tell us that they love getting cakes this way for two reasons: 1. The cake arrives in one piece 2. The cake can be stored easily, with an airtight lid, if it's not eaten all at once. -- Gwen, via e-mail
How wonderful to hear that your group is sending home-baked goodies to our troops! Nothing beats a treat from the heart and kitchen! Your group deserves a big Heloise hug, and I know the troops who receive the goodies are appreciative, too. I'd love to hear hints from other readers who send treats to troops. -- Heloise

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"No Iraq election law still"
"Service members continue being deployed to Iraq"

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"Never Been Gone"
"c.i. and ccr"
"Pins & Needles"
"The silence from the (co-opted) 'leaders'"
"Corzine goes down for the count"
"Jealousy flares up in the White House"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Jealousy flares up in the White House










So the Iraqi Parliament drags their feet and they aren't the only ones. At yesterday's public hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was learned that the Defense Department had still not submitted all the plans for the draw-down that's supposed to be on the verge of taking place. Not only have they not submitted all of their own plans, they're supervision of KBR is so lax that KBR's been allowed to skip submitting a plan. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Commissioner Robert Henke attempted to get an answer from the Pentagon's Lee Hamilton to this question: "If the president announces on February 27, 2009 the draw-down plan and we're on November 2nd, is it possible that the contractor hasn't provided you any plan to adjust staff accordingly?" Despite attempting to walk Hamilton through slowly (after Hamilton rambled on with a non-answer reply) and despite asking, "How is that possible?", Henke never got anything that would pass for an answer to his questions.

This morning Jen Dimascio (Politico -- link has text and audio) reports:

KBR, the largest contractor in Iraq, is pulling out of that country so slowly that it could end up costing American taxpayers $193 million more than expected, according to a new Pentagon audit.

Furthermore, during a hearing Monday by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a legislative body set up to study contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Commissioner Charles Tiefer said the company's plodding exit from Iraq could cost even more -- up to $300 million.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, that's only one portion of the story. Dimascio notes a quote from Commissioner Dov Zakheim and you can see yesterday's snapshot for that full exchange. From last night, Kat's "Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan" covers the hearing and she shares some impression on Commissioner Chris Shays hearing performance. But Dimascio covers one aspect of the big news from yesterday's hearings -- and we did consider skipping it but fortunately didn't because the Commission actually had their act together yesterday (we is Kat, Ava, Wally and myself) -- the other big news was the lack of completed plans.

For the Pentagon, that's especially appalling and it's either an issue of insubordination or the White House isn't really serious about a draw-down. For the Pentagon, the refusal to submit their own plans or demand that KBR draw up their own is appalling. Thompson declared in the hearing that he visited with KBR most recently on September 25th or 26th and they still had no plans -- and Thompson was neither surprised nor worried about the lack of planning.

In the US, Noor Faleh Almaleki has died. The 20-year-old Iraqi woman was intentionally run over October 20th (see the October 21st snapshot) while she and Amal Edan Khalaf were running errands (the latter is the mother of Noor's boyfriend and she was left injured in the assault). Police suspected Noor's father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, of the assault and stated the probable motive was that he felt Noor had become "too westernized." As noted in the October 30th snapshot, Faleh Hassan Almaleki was finally arrested after going on the lamb -- first to Mexico, then flying to London where British authorities refused him entry and he was sent back to the US and arrested in Atlanta. Karan Olson and CNN note that the judge has set the man's bail at $5 million. Philippe Naughton (Times of London) adds, "Noor died yesterday, having failed to recover consciousness after the attack. The other woman, Amal Khalaf, was also seriously injured but is expected to survive. "

Rachel Stockman and 12 News (link has text and video) supply this timeline:

October 20th
-Around 2 p.m. Police say Faleh Almaleki ran down his daughter, friend.
-Around 5 p.m. Nlets Alert with Almaleki's license plate and vehicle description goes out
October 23rd
-U.S. Customs and Border Protection notified.

Addressing the timeline, Rachel Stockman reports, "They allowed the suspect to cross the border into Mexico so we wanted to know where the communication broke down. What we found? Nlets, the system Peoria police use to notify other authorities is not something US Customs always checks." Dustin Gardiner (Arizona Republic) quotes: prosecutor Stephanie Low stating of the father, "By his own admission, this was an intentional act and the reason was that his daughter had brought shame on him and his family. This was an attempt at an honor killing." Iraqi American Romina Korkes offered her thoughts on the so-called 'honor' killing last week in a column for the Arizona Republic.

Women are attacked daily around the world. The attacks are dismissed. A large number of men seem to think it's okay -- and a significant number of women must agree since we're not in the streets marching -- and that goes a long way towards explaining Rory O'Connor's post at Media Channel -- a site not known for its 'inclusive' view of humanity (to put it mildly). Noting Alissa J. Rubin's opinion piece from Sunday's New York Times (we noted it in Friday's snapshot), O'Connor goes on to rip her apart. Now let's be clear, Alissa J. Rubin being a woman doesn't mean she can't be ripped apart nor are we concerned about tone. She's never been good with math (we've called her "teen queen" at this site) and she's been so wack that she's even been called "crack whore" here. But what have we done that Rory O'Connor doesn't? We've praised her, yes. She's earned a lot of praise over the years here. But that's not it. He doesn't have to praise her and, indeed, he may not find anything worth praising in her writing. That is his opinion.

But where there's a problem is that Alissa J. Rubin was never the paper's problem. On her bad days, she jumbled the numbers and was too quick to believe things she shouldn't have (such as the "Awakenings" being universally embraced in areas they 'patrolled' or 'terrorized'). Her worst day never found her as bad as John F. Burns or Dexter Filkins. I'm not seeing their names mentioned by Rory. Those are the two worst offenders for what he's demanding (truth). But they don't get called out. It's really strange that so few women have worked in Baghdad for the New York Times (others include Cara Buckley, Sabrina Tavernise, Erica Goode and, of course, Judith Miller) but they're always the ones being ripped apart. Not the males. The issue isn't that he called Rubin out. He's allowed to. He can loathe her and rip her apart. The issue is that we haven't seen that same standard applied to men.

This is the Judith Miller effect, the bash the bitch craze, we've long documented here. Judith Miller did not start a war. Judith Miller was not responsible for the entire media landscape. She did not twist the arms of PBS and NBC and Oprah to get air time. Those people wanted her on their shows. She did not twist arms at the paper to land on the front page, the paper wanted her on the front page. Judith Miller was so WRONG about the Iraq War but she wasn't a liar -- at least not on the big issue. She honestly believed their were WMD in Iraq, that's why she commandeered a squadron while stationed in Iraq. She's a lousy reporter, her 'facts' do not hold up. She needs to be held accountable. But she often had co-writers -- such as Michael R. Gordon who remains at the paper and who spent the second Bush term advocating for war on Iran. Judith Miller was a reporter for one of the top three papers in the country (at that time). If you saw her on TV, she was invited on. If you heard her on radio, she was invited on. If you read her in another paper, a decision was made to print her article. It took a lot of people echoing the government (not all of whom believed the lies the way Miller did) to start the war on Iraq, to lie to the people. Miller was one person. Hold her accountable, no question, but what about all the others?

The pleasing lie (pleasing to a lot of members of the press corps) is that Judith Miller, all by herself, lied the nation into war. Judith Miller and others like her helped the US get into Iraq but grasp that Dexter Filkins and John F. Burns kept the US in Iraq. There are some who will kiss Dexy's butt because of those bad, BAD, college campus appearances where he talks about (and has done this for several years now) about how the Iraq War is lost and how they knew it then and blah, blah, blah. That might have mattered. If he'd done it in real time. But in real time, he was lying. In real time, he was taking orders from the military -- as Molly Bingham long ago explained, Dexy even cancelled a meeting with the Iraqi resistance when US military brass frowned. In real time, Dexy let the US military vet his copy. That's reality. His award winning 'reporting'? Vetted by the US military. Vetted and delayed while it was vetted which is why the paper ran it so many days after it was written.

I have no problem with Judith Miller being called out -- and I've called her out myself. But, look through the archvies, we've called out women and we've called out men. We haven't worried about tone but we've made damn sure that people were treated fairly -- even if that just meant that abuse was heaped on equally.

I'm glad that someone at Media Channel remembered there is a war in Iraq and I'm glad that Rory O'Connor wrote with fire. But I'm also aware that Alissa J. Rubin, graded on any scale, qualifies as one of the better reporters the paper's had in Iraq. And I'm also aware that MediaChannel is more than happy to go after Katie Couric or any other woman but I find very little in efforts to praise women or to link to them. (Until O'Connor's column, which I heard about from a friend at the Times, I haven't visited MediaChannel since the efforts to distort Marcia's writing.) And if Alissa J. Rubin was Alan J. Rubin, I have to wonder whether or not MediaChannel would even be weighing in? Again, it's been a long, long time since they've made it known that they're aware of the Iraq War.

This isn't a minor issue -- not the silence on Iraq or the attacks on women. And, repeating, it's not about tone. It's about fairness. We've ridiculed many women here and will do so again and again and again. But we don't go to town on a woman and refuse to on men. Todd S. Purdum is a better writer at Vanity Fair than he was at the Times -- that has to do with the differing role, the fact that he can write longer at Van Fair and the differences between the outlets. But we went to town on Todd (who I know offline) and did so because his work was as appalling as Elisabeth Bumiller's columns (run in the news section but they were columns) at that time. (Bumiller's done some strong reporting in the last few years.) We went to town on her, we went to town on Todd. And the fact that I knew him didn't prevent that nor did the fact that he was a man make me think, "I shouldn't criticize." But there's a real locker room mentality among the online critics where a man gets a pass and another one and another one and, okay, let's make it about the work. But a woman gets ripped apart. The ripping apart doesn't bother me . . . if it's applied to both.

We've linked to Rory before and we'll link to his post today one more time. But it's really past time that a lot of online critics took a look what they were doing. I'm not suggesting anyone change their style or tone or make nice. I am suggesting that they make sure they treat people the same -- regardless of gender. I do not believe Alissa J. Rubin was treated the same as a male reporter would have been. I could be wrong, I often am. But I'm saying my call on that goes to pattern: MediaChannel's emphasis and the climate online.

Kat's "Kat's Korner: Carly Simon's warm benediction" is a review of Carly Simon's just released Never Been Gone. Carly is one of America's most gifted songwriter and one whose work has changed the landscape. She's also one of the surest of singers and for the latest project, she's re-imaging songs from her amazing canon of work. She explained to Dean Goodman (Reuters) that she was hestitant to include her classic "You're So Vain" until she heard the cover Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet did earlier this year on Under The Covers Vol. II (which Kat reviewed here) "and I thought, 'Well if they can do it, I can do it!" And as Ty noted in the roundtable at Third Sunday, "Still on the subject of Carly Simon, Bill, who runs Carly Simon Conversations, recommends this Day Trotter article on Carly Simon's concert, last week at Lincoln Center, this blog post on the concert and this video of 'Touched By The Sun'." The Day Trotter article contains video clips of Carly's concert last week.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Monday, November 02, 2009

On the celebrity skids






The first (partial) week of October saw 5 people reported dead and 24 reported wounded, the second week (October 4th through 10th) saw 46 reported dead and 131 injured, the third week (October 11th through 17th) saw 89 reported dead and 336 reported wounded, the fourth week (October 18th through 24th) saw 53 reported dead and 107 reported wounded, and the fifth week (October 25th through October 31st) saw 191 reported dead and 580 reported injured. Totals? 384 reported dead and 1106 reported wounded. At least. Michael Christie and Michael Roddy (Reuters) cite "security sources" for the toll of 343 people killed. Barbara Surk (AP) reports that AP's count for October is 364 killed. John Leland (New York Times) reports, "In October, 453 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed, an increase from a monthly low this year of 279 in September but considerably below the high of 677 in April, according to the Interior Ministry. The statistics do not count deaths in the northern Kurdish region."

8 US service members were announced dead in Iraq during the month of October. Today the US military announced another death: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- A Multi-National Corps -- Iraq Soldier died Nov. 2 of non-combat related injuries. Release of the Soldier's identity is being with held pending notification of the next of kin. The name of the deceased service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site [. . .] The announcements are made on the web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Maloy Moore (Los Angeles Times) reports that the fallen was 20-year-old Lukas C. Hopper of Merced, California who "is survived by his mother and father, Robin and Yancy Hopper, both of Merced." The announcement brings to 4356 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

[ . . .]

Appearing October 21st before the US House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy was asked of the delays in Iraq passing an election law.Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications. Though she maintained Iraq could fall back on the 2005 election law, other bodies begged to differ. As Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Yesterday Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reported, "Iraqi MPs have until Sunday to pass controversial legislation or face postponing parliamentary elections set for 16 January. The poll is seen as crucial to the stability of the country, and any delay would likely impact on the US plan for withdrawal." There was no passage and AFP reports today that KRG President Massud Barzani and US Vice President Joe Biden "pressed the need for a key election law to be passed". BBC News reports the United Nations "had warned that it could not guarantee to endorse the polls if the bill was not approved on Sunday" -- that was yesterday and the bill was not approved. BBC points out that the 'sticky points' are Kirkuk and the issue of open or closed lists. The latter will determine whether voters vote for individual candidates and this is something that many in Parliament are opposed to. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports this afternoon that things remain at a standstill and quotes Iraqi MP Hunain al-Qaddo stating, "If we don't manage to make any progress on the electoral law, that will have a negative impact on the political process and it will send a very bad signal to Iraq's enemies that the political system isn't working. [. . .] I still have hopes but I think if we don't manage to do something this week or next week, we really have to look at postponing the election." Meanwhile Mohammed Jamjoom and Jormana Karadsheh (CNN) report Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman states that the US is pushing the "highest levels of the Kurdish leadership" to go along with a plan for January elections that would yet again set aside the issue of Kirkuk. In an offensive statement issued last week, Chris Hill (US Ambassador to Iraq) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq) insisted that the election law should be a 'one-time only' type deal and not apply to or consider Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution. Article 140 is the one that mandates the Kirkuk issue be resolved (via a referendum). That was supposed to have taken place 2 years ago. It did not. Now let's get back to offensive: In 2000, the US election was decided not by the voters nor by the means outlined in the US Constitution. Instead the US Supreme Court injected itself into the dispute and issued a laughable ruling that was so perverted the Court insisted it was a 'one-time only' ruling and couldn't be cited as precedent in future cases. That's what Hill and Odierno are now proposing. Regardless of who gets or doesn't get Kirkuk, it's amazing how the US continues to kick the can down the road over and over. This issue was supposed to have been addressed no later than 2007. The US is again pushing for it to be postponed. And the only time the KRG can get people to the table on this issue is when they have the pressure of an upcoming election which needs to be addressed.

Today the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan met in DC and heard from a number of witnesses including someone on the second panel who mentioned Flournoy's October 21st testimony, Rear Adm Thomas Traaen who declared, "As I'm sure you know, the testimony given by Secretary [Michele] Flournoy, Mr. [Alan] Estevez, Vice Adm [James] Winnefeld and, my boss, Lt Gen [Kathleen] Gainey on 21 October was well received by the House Armed Services Committee. My testimony here will draw heavily from their insightful remarks." Those remarks included establishing that decisions on draw-down and going back in would be made by events on the ground in Iraq. Yes, that is a clear contradiction of the position Barack Obama presented as a candidate when he was fond of saying the US military did everything they had been tasked to do and did it well. And, yes, he was stealing from Hillary Clinton back then and, yes, Hillary was attacked by CODESTINK and others for those comments but they apparently sounded so much better out of Barack's mouth thereby explaining the refusal to call him out. So Barack's plan as outlined in that hearing was the same plan he outlined to the New York Times, the one that left Michael Gordon flabbergasted because Barack was saying that he was 'withdrawing' and at the same time saying he was going back in if anything went wrong and playing definition games regarding the military ("trainers," etc.).

Also appearing on the second panel was the GAO's William Solis who declared that the Pentagon hasn't completed the plans for a draw-down. He stated that the Defense Dept "has not fully defined or identified the contracted services it will need to successfully complete the draw-down and support the remaining US forces in Iraq." Solis explained that 128,700 US service members were in Iraq as of the end of August "spread among 295 bases throughout the country." Solis' opening, prepared remarks, can be found [PDF format warning] here. While the GAO was able to count the number of US service members in Iraq, there was no count on the number of contractors leading Co-Chair of the Commission, Michael Thibault to declare, "It is both peculiar and troubling that eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and more than six years since the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, we still don't know how many contractor employees are working in the region. [. . .] How can contractors be properly managed if we aren't sure how many there are, where they are and what they are doing?"

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Yes, uh, first, Adm Traaen, I noticed on page three of your testimony, uh, you said that there will be a proportionally larger contractor presence. Now GAO has said that you haven't -- DoD, rather, hasn't fully determined its need for contracted services so how are you planning to oversee this? You're going to have more contractors, you already have fewer CORs than you need right now, the proportions going to go up. Could you walk me through your current plans and your timetables and how you plan to address this issue?

Rear Adm Thomas Traaen: Yes, sir. First of all, I think the proportionality is prudent as we close forward operating bases and operating sites and as the military either resets or re-postures in Afghanistan. The proportionality issue is not surprising to me. Uh, I think that the number of contractors -- in terms of measuring that to the plan -- is moving down significantly faster than CENTCOM had originally planned and so I think that getting out in front of it is the first part of the plan. It's to make sure that we're removing capability where we don't need it. Certainly, I think the CENTCOM plan is to be conditions based and I think that there is a protocol that we would continue to move forward in terms of making sure that there are some outliers -- for example, the elections that are coming up in the January time frame, counter-insurgency efforts that -- if we draw down too quickly -- we could put that combatant commander in harms way of not being able to produce his mission. I do believe that there is proper planning in terms of the MNFI fusion cell that is tasked with fusing, synchronizing and integrating this effort. And as the third point, I think having MNFI and that fusion cell also combined with the Joint Logistics Procurement Support Board that is the JCCIA and an MNFI established board that will properly prioritize and coordinate those efforts as the fourth point of light making sure that drawing down in accordance with those priorities is the proper way to go, sir.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Uhm, let me turn now to Mr. Thompson. Uhm, we know that the target is a 32% contractor draw-down. I believe that's the number that Adm Traaen has in his testimony. But looking at that chart, I guess I'm thrown a little bit. Contractors have already declined by seven -- nearly eighteen percent but not KBR. In fact, KBR has declined by roughly half of that 18% number. In the previous panel, and you may have been here when we discussed this, I noted that if a service wasn't completely closed down, then any contractor -- well, not any -- some contractors, and I guess I should emphazise that, not all would act this way. But some contractors would drag their feet because service hasn't closed down, you don't pull the people out, you keep charging. Could you explain to me why it is that KBR which has been under so much scrutiny from GAO, from the IG, even from this commission, is pulling it's people back at half the rate -- half the rate -- of all other contractors.

Lee Thompson: Number one, when we talk about consolidation, draw-down, consolidation of bases, drawdown, those services that we provide under LOGCAP [Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program] are still being performed. There's a common mistake of rolling up all bases as a single base. There's different sizes of bases. So you had the small contingency operation locations and that which is a lower brigade size which would be a contingency operation site. They move into our services, the services we contracted for are still being provided. There has been a reduction as that [chart] says, from when we started. In fact, the number's around 50,000 today. So we've put a freeze on them. They -- KBR -- cannot hire above a certain limit based on the basis of the estimate that was negotiated this past August and September. As we get the guidance from CI MNFI on what bases will close, we'll descope and we'll start moving out contractors. We are in fact doing those, we're looking at those critical skills. But remember the major draw-down starts after the [Iraqi] elections. So we are watching that and I'm depending upon our DCA[A -- Defense Contract Audit Agency] folks that are doing the floor checks for us.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: So can you state with absolute certainty that KBR has moved expiditiously and, for instance, has not moved people from one location to another? Are you certain of that? Do you have that degree of oversight and visibility? Given some of the things we heard earlier from one of our Co-Chairman, Co-Chariman [Michael] Thibault about issues arising with dining halls and certain things, are you absolutely certain that KBR's getting people out as they should?

Lee Thompson: I'm not going to sit here and say I'm absolutely certain but I will tell you that we'll provide the oversight and look at those places where we are closing to make sure that there's not excess personnel there. And we will -- they have to get a blessing from us as we move and we descope, we descope the property, if we close a base, we look at the personnel where they're reallocating or realinging them to so we're looking and we're scrutinizing that. And I depend on my folks forward, the same two officers -- if you will -- that said they're against or-or whatever Chairman Thibault had to say about what they said overseas.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Mr. Solis, could you comment on both of these points? One, the adequacy of planning and, second, the degree of oversight of KBR and the seeming discrephancy between KBR LOGCAP 3 and other draw-downs.

Willaim Solis: Well I think in terms of the planning, I mentioned before in my opening statement that there is -- there's a lot of things that are going on with regards to the retrograde of equipment. One thing that we haven't seen a whole lot of is planning, as I mentioned, for determining the requirements, the oversight for the contracts that are going to be coming onboard. And we still have a concern about that, we still have seen exact plans. As I mentioned to you the GMASS [Global Maintenance and Supply Services] contract in Kuwait ,which is a major maintenance contract, which is necessary to move equipment out, look at it, and get -- and then repair it and move it out to Kuwait or whever it's going to go -- back to a unit, over to Afghanistan or whatever -- they expect a major increase, as I mentioned, doubling the size of their contract force to about 6,000 people. We have not seen what kinds of plans are going to be put in place to increase the contractor oversight there -- and that's not just there, I think it's other contracts that we have seen as well. I think in terms of the LOGCAP, we haven't really looked in terms of the numbers so I can't really contra -- comment on that. But I think that these numbers are going to flucuate, whether it's LOGCAP or some of these other major contracts in terms as the draw-down proceeds and that's why it's important to really understand what you're contract requirements are going to be during this period.

The first panel included April Stephenson who stated KBR's ineffective managing of their workforce is costing tax payers "at least $193 million". Stevenson was testifying on behalf of the Defense Contract Audit Agency. She explained KBR had not done the staff reductions and, as a result and barring no major action on KBR's part, there staff ratio in Iraq would, by August 2010, be 1 KBR employee for every 3.6 US service members. That will probably be a detail noted by any who note the hearing. But another detail -- the reason for the excerpt above -- is equally important: No plans.

The GAO -- like the House Armed Services Committee -- is not seeing plans. Do they exist? What's being discussed isn't 2011 or post-2011. What's being discussed above is the draw-down that's supposedly going to begin taking place as soon as Iraq holds national elections. Where are the plans?

The inability to move foward on the election bill (passing legislation) by the Iraqi government or 'government' is rightly being noted. What about the inability of the Pentagon to provide plans for events that are supposed to be right around the corner?

And what's up with allowing KBR to drag it's feet there? Commission Charles Tiefer asked if KBR had a written, detailed plan for their part in the draw-down. Thompson declared, "I was over there a few weeks ago, a month ago, and they provided me with a briefing. I think it was 25th, 26th of September." He continued, "Was there a written plan? We have a normal, operational, 'how do I close a base' kind of plan that they have signed up to early on." Who is providing oversight and how will there be a draw-down starting supposedly in a few months if there are no plans in writing? (No, a general "how do I close a base" is not a written plan.) Commissioner Robert Henke attempted to get a "short, succinct answer" on the KBR issue: "If the president announces on February 27, 2009 the draw-down plan and we're on November 2nd, is it possible that the contractor hasn't provided you any plan to adjust staff accordingly?" What he received was a babble from Thompson that contradicted and spun. Henke then attempted to get answers by going bit by bit through a timeline and asking "How is that posssible?" In Thompson's most honest response in the entire hearing he included "I don't know" as part of his long-winded, run-the-clock-down response.

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