Saturday, March 27, 2010

The flop sweat of Barry O




I am confident that Bob’s talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to bolster security and screening measures at our airports. I can think of no one more qualified than Bob to take on this important job, and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.



The retired major general, who would have been the first African American to helm the TSA, withdrew his nomination late Friday night, saying he didn’t want to cause “distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor,” according to The Post's Spencer S. Hsu and Ed O'Keefe.

Too late.

Washington’s chattering classes will spend days chewing on the administration’s latest TSA vetting miscue, surely noting that it follows on the national-security near-disaster of the Nigerian underwear bomber, not to mention reversals of fortune over closing Guantanamo and the planned Manhattan trial of self-avowed Sept. 11 hijacker Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

What a way to spoil the president’s victory party on health care.


March 7th was the official day of voting in Iraq (early voting began days before with security forces voting on Thursday) and 95% of the results of an unofficial (not yet certified) count has been released. Today, a 100% count is supposed to be released. Muhanad Mohammed, Khalid al-Ansary, Jim Loney and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report Nouri's 'supporters' are still insisting upon a recount today "hours before officials were due to release the final vote tallies." Katarina Kratovac (AP) reports a laughable move by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani -- he's insisting that the count not be released, he's insisting it will cause violence. I'm sorry, Jawad, weren't you just insisting Wednesday that "the elections proved the terrorists' days are numbered"? (Yes, he was.) Oh, how quickly things change in Iraq. On the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today, Diane was joined by Daniel Dombey (Financial Times of London), Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers).
Diane Rehm: And what about the Iraq election results? What's the latest there, Daniel?
Daniel Dombey: Well we're still waiting for the final results but it's a very interesting story because you have two men who both want to be prime minister who can't stand each other, who have very different profiles, who have both served in that office and virtually neck and neck -- neck and neck. And this is actually a very, very important contest between Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister. Maliki feels very strongly that he's the man who saved Iraq -- that he took on the security problems in Basra and Sadr City and so on. And he has strong Shia support. Allawi has reinvented himself as a more secular kind of figure and gets on much better with the Iraqi neighbors particularly Syria and Saudi Arabia and so on. There's concern some people voiced if Maliki made it it would be seen as a real blow by the Sunni Arabs who would respond accordingly and be bad for relations. On the other hand, Maliki says he has a record of success. So there's an awful lot to pay for and there's always the possibility that someone from outside as happened someone else can come from outside as happened when Maliki who was previously someone you'd never heard of. But it's a very important issue all the more so for the fact that it doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Nancy A. Youssef: I think the other thing is that there's real angst in the streets of Iraq about what happens when these elections -- when the results come out -- which are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. local time in Iraq tonight, which is in the middle of the morning for us in the United States. There's a real angst about how the transition to power will happen and whether it will lead to more violence given that Maliki and Jalal Talabani called for a recount, called the elections fraudulent, whether the elections will be seen as legitimate. And also because these elections really galvanized and re-empowered Moqutad al-Sadr and his bloc. Of all of the -- As we talk about the jostling between Allwai and al-Maliki, Sadr comes out pretty strong in this. He will have more seats than any other member. And that fundamentally changes the dynamic as well. So it's a very interesting time. It will be months before we have this government seated which is a dangerous place for Iraq to be in given the precarious security situation -- all while the United States plans to rpaidly drawdown it's forces from 96,000 today to about 50,000 at the end of August.

Diane Rehm: Paul Richter.
Paul Richter: The comeback of Ayad Allawi is an interesting story. He was prime minister of Iraq early in the American occupation. He left office with seemingly very little public support. A secular Shia, kind of a "strongman," and known to have past ties with the CIA. Now he's possibly back. Intresting personal story.
Nancy A. Youssef: You know the interesting thing is, from the Iraqi persepctive, Allawi is seen as an American puppet and Maliki is seen as the Iranian one. And so it's an interesting dynamic about who is going to emerge and what that means. And what Sadr really represents is the Iraqi movement, in a way. And so those are the three sorts of powers that are vying for their place in the post-America Iraq, if you will.
That was this morning. Results were announced during a lengthy presentation and Ayad Allawi's secular party, National Dialogue Front, has won the most seats in the Parliament. Michael Hastings (True/Slant) offers, "Four big questions that come to mind: Does Maliki, who is calling for a recount, hand over power? Can Allawi find the 72 seats needed to get him to the 163 seats required to form a government? How does Iran–which has close ties to the other large Shiite list–feel about Allawi? Ie, will Tehran give the okay to the Shiite list to join forces with Allawi against Maliki? Finally, how does this impact the security situation, or, how much violence will we see during the government formation process?" Hannah Allam (McClatchy's Miami Herald) notes that 91 of the 325 seats went to Allawi's political party with 89 going to State of Law, Nouri's slate. Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) calls it "an unexpected upset" while BBC News calls it "a surprise result" -- and it certainly is surprising to NPR and Quil Lawrence as well as anyone who depended on NPR's reporting from Iraq to enlighten them. Possibly next time there's an election, before Quil Lawrence and Steve Inskeep declare a winner, they might try waiting until some votes have been counted? Sunday March 7th was the election. Monday March 8th, while pretending to 'report,' Quil Lawrence and Steve Inskeep called the election for Nouri al-Maliki -- despite the fact that no vote tallies had been released. They would continue to make this call daily during the first week even though they were going by less than half of Iraq's provinces and those counts were less than 50% of each province. But they gas bagged and they gas bagged. They didn't report, they didn't enlighten. They were wrong. WRONG. It's not the press' job to call the election. And what Quil and Steve did was not reporting. It was gas bagging and not the sort of thing NPR needs to engage in during what is supposed to be a news report. Rod Nordland and Timothy Williams (New York Times) report that drama queen Nouri took to "national television" to proclaim, "No way we will accept these results." The United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Representative to Iraq, Ad Melkert, hailed the elections as "an historic achievement" and called on everyone "to assume responsibility to lead Iraq to the next stage of democracy, stability and prosperity for all. Whether winning or losing, participation in the elections has been a collective victory." Again, Nouri's reponse on Iraqi TV was, "No way we will accept these results." On behalf of the US State Dept, Philip J. Crowley (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs) issued the following statement:
Today, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) issued the provisional results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections held on March 7. We congratulate the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government, candidates and coalitions, and IHEC for carrying out a successful election. In support of the election's integrity, IHEC has investigated and adjudicated a number of complaints. International observers and the more than 200,000 domestic observers expressed their confidence in the overall integrity of the election and have found that there is no evidence of widespread or serious fraud. We note the critical role played by the United Nations in supporting this historic election.
We urge all political entities to pursue any complaints or appeals through established legal mechanisms and processes. Following IHEC's release of the results, political entities may file appeals that will be heard by the Electoral Judicial Panel. When these have been resolved, Iraq's Federal Supreme Court will certify the results. Iraq will then move to seating a new Council of Representatives, choosing a President, and forming a new government.
These important steps likely will take months. We call upon all candidates and all parties to accept the results, respect the will of the Iraqi people, and work together cooperatively to form a new government in a timely manner. In this connection, it will be important for all sides to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation. It also is important that the Iraqi government continue to provide security and other essential services for its citizens during this period leading to the formation of a government.
The United States will continue to work closely with all Iraqi leaders to build a long-term, multi-dimensional relationship between our two nations.
The results still have to be certified by the country's Superme Court but, as Andrew England (Financial Times of London) points out, "The results mark a remarkable turnaround for Mr Allawi, who served as prime minister in 2004 in the wake of the US-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, and a blow to Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister." The New York Times offers a photo essay including two photos of Nouri's fan club -- one protesting today before the results were announced, the other of them protesting tonight after the results were known -- both photos by Joao Silva. Of Little Nouri's fan club, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports, "More worryingly, his supporters have openly threatened there would be a return to sectarian violence if Mr Allawi were declared the winner." Alice Fordham (Times of London) reports Little Nouri "responded angrily to the news, which was widely seen as a damaging blow to his crediblity and leadership." And what's the real scoops in the news cycle, Fordham notes, "Sources in Nassariya and Basra told The Times that protests there were orchestrated by State of Law, which rallied supporters and instructed government employees to attend." Just like when the banned candidates from Allawi's parties were unbanned and Nouri got his thugs out in the street to use violence to intimidate in order to change the results. Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) goes over the numbers and the uncertainties:
It's far from certain that Allawi will get al-Maliki's job. State of Law and other blocs have already indicated they will contest the results and demand recounts. Even if the results announced today hold up to scrutiny, there's a chance al-Maliki will be able to pull together a coalition to form the new government and retain the Prime Ministership. Meanwhile, the main Shi'ite bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance, won 70 seats; the main Kurdish alliance got 43. A simple majority of 163 seats is needed to govern.
Allawi also took to the airwaves, as celebratory gunfire resounded through parts of east Baghdad. In a triumphant speech he said: "Iraqiya [his party] has started a dialogue with other parties already and we will not refuse anyone."
He confirmed he would be his cross-sectarian list's candidate for the prime minister's office, his second tilt at the top job, but a position that Maliki's State of Law list and the conservative Shia Islamic Iraq National Alliance had vowed to block him from taking.
Chulov also quotes Haidar Dakhle of Dora stating, "This is a big step for the future of Iraq. Allawi is the best candidate because Maliki had started to resemble a dictator." Also at the Guardian, Ranj Alaaldin counsels against counting anyone out and notes that the battle for the next prime minister may be a lengthy one. In terms of the results themselves -- which were only on seats in the new Parliament -- Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) provides the walk through, "According to the Iraqi electoral process, candidates have a three-day period to lodge complaints. After that, the Supreme Court ratifies the results." Clicking here takes you to a Wall St. Journal video (The News Hub) half of which is Coker discussing the news.
Simon Constable: Meg, I want to ask you, are the losing sides accepting the results? Because I know there's been a lot of challenges about whether the elections were fair or not.
Margaret Coker: Right. Prime Minister Maliki has already had a press conference this evening straight after the election results were announced. He said he is not going to accept the results. And he's going to challenge them through the legal process that-that goes on for the next three or four days whereby the electoral commission will hear new complaints against the process. So Nouri al-Maliki is not a happy man tonight. On the other hand, Ayad Allawi, the challenger, has called for a grand coalition, an alliance to build a stable, new government and he says he's willing to take all comers who want to join a government with him.
Simon Constable: Meg, stay with us, I want to bring in Adam Horvath. Adam, the context of this is pretty important because an alliance has to form because no one party has a majority, right? This is -- what do they call this?
Adam Horvath: A hung Parliament is a possiblity out of it. Right now you have each one of these main contenders has about a third of the seats so they need to build a coalition as Meg said. And the coalition powers in Iraq, some of them are very divided from each other. Uh, no one is a perfect partner for anyone else, you might say. So a lot of kingmaking and a lot of rangling is going to start that could last awhile.
Reuters coverage includes speaking to multiple analysts for their take on the results and we'll note IHS Global Insight's Gala Riani:
"Allawi has achieved what Maliki had hoped and aimed to do. The mission he had was to run a coalition on a non-sectarian platform and secure an election victory on that platform.
"Iraqiya (Allawi's bloc) has fared much better across the board than State of Law has, much better in the southern provinces than State of Law did in the north. It puts Allawi in a better place to secure better credibility across the county.
"What Allawi has achieved is hugely significant. It's a massive blow to Maliki, to his credibility and to the type of platform he has tried to run."
Reuters offers five facts about Allawi and five about al-Maliki. Stephen Farrell (New York Times) offers the reactions of 8 Iraqi citizens and we'll note Amal al-Jalili (a teacher in Mosul), "This election is the justice which was absent from Iraq for 36 years. It is the right of the people, and it is what brought us real, nationalist, people who defended the country and took it away from sectarianism, and those who pursue sectarianism. The best outcome is to change Prime Minister Maliki." NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams covered the results this evening:
Brian Williams: Richard, you were saying earlier in the newsroom today, people rooting for the US-side of the equation would be dancing in the streets of Baghdad at this result. What did you mean by that?
Richard Engel: This was an incredibly significant day, perhaps the most important one in the last several years in Iraq. Ayad Allawi won these elections. Now he is a Shi'ite, he's secular and he's pro-American and he's very anti-Iran. The current government in Iraq right now is a religious state that leans toward Iran. So if Ayad Allawi can hold on to this position, that he gained today, he still has to form a government and face off challenges by the current prime minister, then we could see a major change in direction in Iraq.

Brian Williams: Dancing in the street with those cement blast walls in the background, kind of a reminder that it's still a dangerous state.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Explanation? Excuse?





Turning to the United States where US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held a press conference today at the Pentagon and a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee held a hearing. We'll start with actual news. This morning, US House Rep Michael Michaud called to order the Subcommittee On Health so that they could review pending bills. The first panel was made up of members of Congress including the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Bob Filner.
Us House Rep Bob Filner: Mr. Chairman, we thank you for your leadership on this Subcomittee and for your fine working relationship with [Ranking Member] Mr. [Henry] Brown. I appreciate the leadership that both of you have given and I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say we appreciate the opportunity to talk about our legislation before you, so thank you for that. The bill that I am speaking on, HR 949, would improve the collective bargaining rights and procedures for reviews of adverse actions of certain VA employees. This bill is all about ensuring equity amongst the health care professionals employed by VA so that providers such as doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, optomerists and podiatrists who are hired under the so-called "pure title 38" system have the same rights -- the same rights as their fellow VA health care professionals who are hired under different hiring systems. Without this bill, the "pure title 38" providers do not have the right to challenge errors in pay computations and lack other key bargaining rights enjoyed by their colleagues at the VA. To address this problem, HR 949 would clarify that these "pure title 38" providers have equal rights -- equal rights -- to collective bargaining. This means that they would be able to challenge personnel actions through such methods as grievances, arbitrations and labor-management negotiations. This bill would also require the VA to review the adverse presonnel action and issue a final decision, no later than 60 days after the employee appeals the adverse personnel action. Finally the bill would subject the VA's final decision on employee appealed adverse personnel action to judicial review in the appropriate US District Court or the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. I know that the VA has concerns , I know that they are in discussions with stakeholders and I am looking forward to working with all of them as we move forward on this piece of legislation.
These hearings allow Congressional members to present their bills to the subcommittee or committee and allow the VA to provide testimony and any others that the Congress might chose to hear from. US House Rep Steve Scalise is a representative from Louisiana and he is sponosring HR 1075 which would address continuation of medical care should a disaster close a VA hospital -- as happened with the New Orleands VA Medical Center as a result of Hurricane Katrina. US House Rep Leonard L. Boswell is sponsoring HR 3926. Boswell took a moment to recognize his legislative director Alexis Taylor who is an Iraq War veteran and he explained discovery the need for this bill when Taylor "went back to Iowa for a five-year post-deployment reunion with her unit and others and one of the women at the reunion had returned home from serving her country and was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy at age 25. Through the course of the night, the service members at the reunion were able to piece together, talk to one another, about six women they were deployed with who had come back from their deployment in Iraq with breast cancer -- all between the ages of 25 to 35 years old. Also, there were another half dozen women who returned with new lumps in their breasts that needed additional tests such as mammograms, ultrasounds and/or biopsies. With 70 women deployed in a battallion of about 700, this incidence rate in young women seemed high and alarming as Alexis brought this to my attention." His bill calls for a study on breast cancer within the service and within veterans to determine whether the rate is higher among the military and whether breast cancer might be a service connected disability? Boswell noted that he personally believes it is. He also explained how, during Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange and suffers many health issues as a result and feels that the Congress needs to be on top of this issue now and not waiting as was the case with recognition of the effects of Agent Orange. "If we could do something about it," he declared, "and we don't, shame on us."
US House Rep Virginia Brown-Waite is sponsoring HR 84 which is concerned with the lengthy wait involved in seeing a doctor and calls for timely appointments and eliminating delays.
US House Rep Virginia Brown-Waite: In September 2007, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that the Veterans Health Administration's method of calculating waiting times of new patients understates the real waiting times. In this report, the Inspector General made five recommendations to reduce these wait times. To date, four of these five recommendations remain unresolved. When I first was elected to Congress, I inquired about wait times from my local VA community, out-based clincis and hospitals. The numbers the VA gave me both for VISN 8 and nationwide quite honestly did not match the stories that I was hearing from my veterans. I challenged them on it and I told them that I was going to be in their offices watching and waiting and talking to individuals. What was happening was, they were making the appointments within 30 days but then, around the 20th day, they'd call and change the appointment to a later date so it would be maybe 40, maybe 50 days.
US House Rep Gabrielle Giffords is sponsoring HR 2698 and 2699 which are both concerned with treatment for PTSD. The first would provide a scholarship to train VA workers and allow veterans to access PTSD health care at the VAs even if -- especially if -- the PTSD is newly emerging/manifesting. The first bill would put more and better trained workers in the VA and allow the veterans greater access to treatment. The second bill would create pilot pograms that would provide treatment but also track feedback from the veterans and their families in order to devise better treatments. US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick is from Arizona and "my district is home to 11 tribal communities spread out across an area larger than 26 states and yet it is served by only one VA medical center." HR 4006 is one of the bills she is sponsoring.
If at all possible, we'll cover -- even if it's only one tiny section -- something from the subcommittee hearing US House Rep John Hall chaired yesterday. It went on too late to make it into yesterday's snapshot and there's not room for it today.
Moving to Sec Gates' Pentagon briefing today where he declared:
In February, I established a high-level working group to review the issues associated with implementing a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and to develop recommendations for implementation should the law change. At the same time, I directed the department to conduct a review of how the militiary implements the current policy, and, within 45 days, present to me recommended changes that would enforce the existing law in a fairer and more appropriate manner. Today I have approved a series of changes to the implementation of the current statute. They were developed with the full participation of the department's senior civilian and military leadership and the changes are unanimously supported by [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman [Mike] Mullen, Vice Chairman [James] Cartwright and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Department's General Counsel, Jeh Johnson, and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel have also concluded that these changes are consisten with the existent Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. These changes reflect some of the insights we have gained over 17 years of implementing the current law -- including the need for consistency, oversight and clear standards. The changes are as follows. [1] We will raise the level of the officer who is authorized to initiate a fact-finding inquiry or separation proceeding regarding homosexual conduct to a general or flag officer in the service member's chain of command. [2] We will raise the level of the person who is authorized to conduct a fact-finding inquiry to the level of lieutenant colonel, navy commander or above. [3] We will raise the level of the officer who is authorized to begin an inquiry or separation proceeding by, for example, specifying that information provided by third parties should be given under oath and by discouraging the use of overheard statements and hearsay. [4] We will revise what constitutes a "reliable person," upon whose word an inquiry could be initiated with special scrutiny on third parties who may be motivated to harm the service member. Finally, certain categories of confidential information will no longer be used in support of discharges including [a] information provided to lawyers, clergy and psychotherapists, [b] information provided to a medical professional in furtherance of medical treatment or a public-health official in the course of a public-health inquiry, [c] information provided in the course of seeking professional assistance for domestic or physical abuse and [d] information obtained in the course of security-clearing investigations in accordance with existing DoD policies. The services will have 30 days to conform their regulations to these changes. Meanwhile these modifications will take effect immediately and will apply to all open and future cases. In effect this means that all separations from this point forward will take place under the revised regulation. I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice -- above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved. Of course only Congress can repeal the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell statute. It remains the law and we are obligated to enforce it. At the same time, these changes will allow us to execute the law in a fairer and more appropriate manner. The work of the DoD working group chaired by Mr. Johnson and Gen Carter Ham continues. As i told the Congress in February, I am determined that we in the Dept carry out the president's directive on Don't Ask, Don't Tell in a professional and thorough way. I look forward to the continued progress of the working group as they undertake their important task in weeks and months ahead.
The announcement offers damn little to cheer but it does indicate the pressure the administration is finally start to recognize and feel. Last week, Lt Dan Choi and Capt Jim Piertrangelo chained themselves to the White House fence to protest Barack Obama's refusal to keep his campaign promise and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After entering not guilty pleas last Friday, the two left the court and Choi made a statement.
Lt Dan Choi: There are other people who are oppressed that have the chains on them in their hearts. There were many times when people would say when you go and get arrested, it's difficult because your hands are restrained and the movement is a little bit stymied or halted on the physical level. But it is my hope that the larger movement, even with the chains on it, will do nothing but grow to the point where it cannot be controlled by anything but that freeing and that dignified expression of getting arrested for what you know is absolutely morally right. There was no freer moment than being in that prison. It was freeing for me and I thought of all the other people that were still trapped, that were still handcuffed and fettered in their hearts and we might have been caged up physically but the message was very clear to all of the people who think that equality can be purchased with a donation or with a cocktail party or with tokens that are serving in a public role. We are worth more than tokens. We have absolute value. And when the person who is oppressed by his own country wants to find out how to get his dignity back, being chained up and being arrested, that's how you get your dignity conferred back on you. So I think that my actions, my call, is to every leader -- not just gay leaders, I'm talking any leader who believes in America, that the promises of America can be manifest. We're going to do it again. And we're going to keep doing it until the promises are manifest and we will not stop. This is a very clear message to President Obama and any other leader who supposes to talk for the American promise and the American people, we will not go away .
Who stood with them? (Backstory, US House Rep Barney Frank revealed the administration was not pushing to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's what led to the White House fence action.) Who stood with them?
The Center for Constitutional Rights used to brag in their BAD ASS BUSH YEARS that they didn't whine, they got active. So did CCR publicly stand with Dan Choi? Hell no. Hell _____ no. You can't stand from a kneelling position, someone tell CCR. What about our radical friends at the National Lawyers Guild? Did they issue a release supporting Choi? Nope. Like their noted alumni John Conyers, they talk a good game when things are easy. It was real easy for John Conyers to talk impeachment when the Democrats weren't in power. They get into power and John asks, "How far does my leash go, Nancy?" And Pelosi snaps her fingers and he drops to the floor and rolls over so she can scratch his belly. And as pathetic as John is (has karma hit the home life?), even more pathetic was how stupid he thought Americans were. We can and will, he would insist, impeach Bush after he's out of office. There's nothing to stop us, he would maintain, from impeaching Bush after he's out of office. John Conyers. What a sad, sad way to go out of public life. And will the defense be (the rumor is the current criminal charges may spread beyond the spouse) be: "I'm just a senile old man married to a young woman and I don't know what the hell she was doing, your Honor"? Fun times. Like Conyers, NLG couldn't speak out because speaking out required holding the White House accountable. You can't stand while you're on your back, boys and girls. The joke that is Amnesty International USA? That's funny. Friends with Amnesty in other countries ask what's up with our Amnesty? What's up? They're the 'independent' and 'non-partisan' organization that turned their website over to glorify the deity that thought they saw in Barack Obama. Like many a false god, he let them down -- hence the loss of their cute little graphic about Barry O and his 100 days. Amnesty, you'll never be able to speak with something rammed down you throat -- you know what I'm saying. So did anyone speak up for Dan Choi? Yeah, acutally, one organization stood with him publicly. (LGBT organizations have stood with him -- though not the cowardly HRC -- but I'm not talking about that. On the left, we either stand with each other or we allow them to turn us against one another. Dan Choi and others are fighting for basic dignity and our humanity as a nation. Everyone should have been on board.) So the only one to get on board was . . . NOW.

The National Organization for Women joins Lieutenant Dan Choi, Captain Jim Pietrangelo and equal rights advocates around the country in demanding President Obama act immediately to suspend the military's discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prevents LGBT service members from serving openly. Lt. Choi and Capt. Pietrangelo were arrested March 19 after chaining themselves to the fence of the White House in protest of the policy, under which Choi faces discharge and Pietrangelo was discharged. The policy has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,500 service members since its inception in 1994. An estimated 66,000 LGBT people currently serve in the military

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has a disproportionate impact on women in the military, according to the Service Women's Action Network. Sexual harassment of military women often takes the form of lesbian baiting; and in 2008, 34 percent of service members discharged were women, although women make up only 15 percent of military personnel.

"The Department of Defense doesn't need to study this issue any longer," NOW President Terry O'Neill said. "Extensive research has already been done. Equality and justice are on the line. Instead of wasting time on another study, NOW calls on President Obama to immediately suspend Don't, Ask Don't Tell, Congress to repeal the policy and the DOD to focus on implementing the discontinuation without further delay."

"Delaying implementation until December 2010 is unnecessary," O'Neill continued. "Every day that this unjust policy continues is another day of discrimination that leads to the military's loss of valuable service members and the needless disruption of their careers and lives."

"Leadership from NOW joined Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Pietrangelo on Friday for their arraignments after the two men spent the night in a cell filled with cockroaches -- all for peacefully demonstrating for the repeal of this extremely unjust and unnecessary policy," O'Neill said. "NOW commends all LGBT service members for their contributions to this country and demands the immediate repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

NOW stood with Dan. CCR? They just soiled their diapers and cried like the little babies they've now become. If you missed that earlier ad, from their Bad Ass Bush Years, click here because Mike posted it at his site back in 2006 when CCR actually was worth praise.
Good for NOW and good for their president. Terry's standing up when everyone else is crumpling or playing silent. And, since it is the month for it, let's note the obvious: Of course it would take a woman to lead. Of course. Praise for Terry.

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Gearing up for Iowa





Iraqi women are among the targeted in Iraq. They can be straight or gay and they will be targeted. Iraq's LGBT community has been targeted repeatedly and you actually don't have to be gay to be targeted, you just have to be suspected or mistaken of being gay. To call Iraq 'stable' today requires that you ignore the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community (or the Christian community or . . .). On the LGBT community:

The UK government through its Border Agency has decided not to give priority to the asylum application of Iraqi LGBT leader Ali Hili, in exile in London. The application has been outstanding for nearly three years and while it is outstanding, Ali cannot travel. This decision directly impacts not just on Ali but on harshly persecuted Iraqi lesbians and gays through the reduced ability of their sole visible leader to raise their profile internationally.
Can you help?
As you may be aware, numerous human rights organisations and journalists have documented the pogrom against lesbians and gays in Iraq. Iraqi LGBT estimates that over 700 LGBT have been assassinated over the past few years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised 'favourable consideration' for asylum claims because of the situation. As the public leader of the only group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both inside Iraq and in the diaspora, Hili has received a fatwa from inside Iraq as well as numerous threats in London which have forced him to move. He is under the protection of the Metropolitan Police. US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin spoke last month of their concerns for LGBT both in Iraq and as refugees, in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-signed by 64 other Congresspeople. Hili has received many requests to speak about the situation in Iraq internationally, including from US-based groups such as the Gay Liberation Network and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign, which he has been unable to pursue. His solicitor, Barry O'Leary, wrote to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in August 2009 that: "he desperately wishes to do this [travel] in order to further the aims of his organisation, that is, supporting lesbians and gay men in Iraq and bringing the world's attention to their plight." Six months later, the UKBA told O'Leary that:
the assistance given by Hilli to the Foreign Office "does not count"
the fatwa does not mean that Hilli "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
that the delay in deciding Hilli's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance"
his case is not "compelling"
Peter Tatchell says of Ali:
"It was Ali Hili of Iraqi LGBT who first alerted the world to the organised killing of LGBT people in Iraq - way back in 2005. For a long time, he was a lone voice." "Mr Hili was also the person who set up the 'underground railroad' and safe houses inside Iraq, to give refuge to LGBT people on the run from Islamist death squads and to provide escape routes to neighbouring countries - which saved the lives of many Iraqi LGBTs.
Ali must travel!
The UK Foreign Office Human Rights Report for 2009 specifically names Iraqi LGBT over other NGOs as a key source of information. Hili has met with them numerous times. The report quotes Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell condemning persecution of LGBT in Iraq. Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant wrote in his blog on Feb. 24: "I know some people dismiss LGBT rights as something of a sideshow in international relations, but I am proud to say that the FCO has argued for a decade that human rights are a seamless garment." Yet the same government through the Home Office is effectively aiding that persecution through the failure of government recognition to Iraqi LGBT's leader.
We want the UK government to expedite Ali Hili's asylum claim so he is properly able to tell the world about what is happening to LGBT in Iraq.
How you can help
Sign the international petition
Write to the UK Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to ask that he intervene in Ali's case that his asylum application be prioritised. Please mention Ali's Home Office reference which is S1180507/7. (Get a standard letter - please personalise and remember to sign it)
Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF Telephone: 020 7035 4848 Write to UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to ask that they ask Johnson to intervene in Ali's case. Please mention Ali's Home Office reference which is S1180507/7. (Get a standard letter - please personalise and remember to sign it)
The Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AAEmail the Prime Minister's Office Write to your MP to ask that they ask Johnson to intervene in Ali's case. If you are outside the UK, ask politicians, prominent persons and organisations to invite Ali to your country and make Brown and Johnson aware of this request. Ask those politicians, prominent persons and organisations to issue their own public statement in support of Hili's asylum prioritisation from the UK government.Write to newspapers, write blog posts in support of Ali, tell people about Ali. Please copy any letters to the campaign in support of Ali Hili to
Join the Facebook page ~~~~~~~Visit our website, LGBT asylum news (formally Save Medhi Kazemi)http://www.medhikazemi.comTwitter

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing injured five people, another Mosul roadside bombing injured one person, a Mosul mortar attack which left four children and three adults injured, a third Mosul roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left two people injured, a Muqdadiya roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people.


Reuters notes Iraqi forces in Baghdad killed 1 person (another injured). Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports 5 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in a Baghdad "by a group of men in three cars as they passed through a checkpoint".

DoD lie of the day: "I promise that going forward, we-we will be as open as we possibly can and candid about the -- the uh -- what's going on in this program." DoD lies, where does it take place? Congress. The House Armed Services Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcomittee held a joint-hearing today. US House Rep Adam Smith Chaired the hearing and he raised the issue of the spending, of the costs that keep rising. He is Chair of the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and Roscoe Bartlett is the Ranking Member. Bartlett also raised the issue of soaring coasts and how Congress is not kept up to date on the spending. And we'll note this section of his opening remarks:

I also share my colleagues' concern over the health of the Joint Strike Fighter program. This is an enormously expensive program that promises a great deal of capability, but I'm frankly concerned that cost growth will render it unaffordable in the long term. In my eighteen years in Congress, I have seen program after program in which the cost grows, the production is reduced to fit inside a fixed budget, and the program ends in a spiral that leaves the services well short of their inventory requirements.

US House Rep Gene Taylor is the Chair of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee and Todd Akin is the Ranking Member. In his opening remarks, in the first sentence of his opening remarks, Akin called for Congress to be kept informed as to "affordability challenges." He outlined, at length, with hard numbers, how the Department hadn't been very good with numbers.

The soaring costs would come up repeatedly in the hearing but Bartlett bore down on the issue. For the record, Congress controls the purse. Congress controls all spending. Congress is supposed to be kept informed of any cost increases for programs they authorize (they authorize but which the tax payers fund). Bartlett is speaking with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

US House Rep Roscoe Bartlett: Are there regulations, written or unwritten, in the building that precludes including us as a partner in those discussions?

Ashton Carter: Uh -- I have to get back to you on the technicality of that. Certainly uh-yuh as a general matter, no, we try promptly to keep this Committee informed of important developments in programs that are in -- are in your purview. As I said when I uh earlier, because of the particular timing of the jet estimate and the Department's deliberations which were in the December-January period, leading up to the release of the president's budget -- It wasn't until the president's budget was released that the uh-uh jet estimate was -- which was included in that budget -- was uh-uh available. We did however -- It's my understanding that the jet estimate, even back in 2008, was made availabe uh to the Committee.

US House Rep Roscoe Bartlett: Thank you. Your statement goes on to say that program management contractors and the department need to surface candidly and openly issues with this program as they arise so that Congress is aware of them and they can be addressed." In the spirit of that statement, it would have been nice, I think, if we'd been part of that two month discussion between November and January. Would you agree?

Ashton Carter: I promise that going forward, we-we will be as open as we possibly can and candid about the -- the uh -- what's going on in this program.

Yesterday's snapshot and Kat's "Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing" covered a hearing of the House Armed Service's Military Personnel Subcommittee. Kat noted, "You've got a woman over 80-years-old but for her to receive the monies she's owed, she needs to drop her widow status and remarry." A visitor e-mails the public account to ask if that's hyperbole? No. Suzanne Stack testified, "Ms. Kozak of Jacksonville, Florida, needs to receive her SBP in full but does not want to start dating and remarry at age 85." I'm not sure that "Kozak" is the spellling, it may be "Kozack." But it was part of Stack's testimony. The woman does not receive her Survivor Benefit Pay and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation monies in full. Because she is eligible for both, her SBP is reduced. That's not fair but there is a way around that. She can, after the age of 57 (and she's 85), remarry and she'll get both payments in full. An 85-year-old widow being told to remarry to get the money she's owed and the money her husband assumed she would receive. SBP today, this was one part of the testimony, is not being explained accurately to service members who are signing up and thinking that the payments will be full. They take this out, it's a policy. Then they die and their wife or husband may or may not receive the full payments.

In the US over the weekend, demonstrations against the wars were held around the country. Sam Waite and Michael Chase (US Socialist Worker) report today:

In Washington, D.C., thousands turned out to a demonstration, called by International ANSWER, against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan across the street from the White House early in the afternoon. Well-known antiwar activists such as Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War took the stage to denounce the Obama administration's continuation of George Bush's "war on terror." "We can't make more excuses for the government," said Sheehan. "We can't make any more excuses for the president, no matter what party that president comes from."The sentiment was widely shared by demonstrators. "Obama is the president. He's the leader of this war effort, and we're going to oppose it," said Bruce Wolf of U.S. Labor Against the War. Wolf has organized a weekly vigil outside Walter Reed Memorial Hospital since 2005. Jessica Rua, who came from Atlantic City, N.J., agreed, saying that Obama's election had "no effect at all" on the prospect of ending the wars. "Our kids don't deserve this hell," said Rua, whose brother is missing in action in Afghanistan.The crowd was notable for its diversity. Veterans of antiwar movements since the Vietnam era mixed with a sizeable student contingent. Immigrant rights activists took part, as did Muslim and Arab American organizations.

Samuel Davidson (WSWS) reports on the DC actions:
On the official website of the demonstration,, there is little of Obama. His name did not even appear on the website's home page. Only a few of the more than two dozen updates on the website calling for people to attend the rally and reporting on support mention the Obama administration.Outside of a few homemade signs, none of the official mass-produced placards mentioned Obama and the role of the Democrats in promoting the war.As for the speakers, one had the strange feeling that you could have heard the exact same speeches at the rallies held two years ago when George W. Bush was still president. One had to wonder if Obama's name was censored from their remarks. However, it is more likely that the silence on Obama was self-imposed, a reflection of the fact that most of those who addressed the rally had either endorsed Obama in the 2008 elections or had adopted the more general "anybody but Bush" line promoted by the protest groups as a shamefaced form of backing the Democrats.Brian Becker, the National Coordinator for the ANSWER coalition did not mention Obama at all, and gave no explanation for the growing militarization of American life.

John Catalinotto (Workers' World) has a strong article but we're grabbing on Los Angeles because there's been little coverage of that action:

In Los Angeles, thousands, including many youth of color, gathered at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and marched down Hollywood Blvd. to the rally site at Highland Ave. There they listened to speakers prominent in left and progressive movements demand an end to U.S. militarism and money for human needs at home and abroad.

Martin Steiner files what may be the lengthiest report on the Los Angeles action and she files it (audio report) for KPFK's Uprising. We'll note this from a male speaker in her report:

As students, we are gathering from all around the state to say, Mr. President, we are the future! And we need education! As veterans, we are saying today, Mr. President, we will not fight your battles anymore! We will not spill our blood for you anymore! We will not give our lives for you anymore! And for the profit of these corporations that run these wars and then profit off of the deaths of our brothers and sisters every single day in the war! Today, let us stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the people of Iraq, with the people of Afghanistan and with the homeless men and women and children of America and say that today we will stand up and we will form a movement and we will be back in the streets every day until we get our demands!!!

The report features many other speakers and it also features interviews with people taking part. 8 people were arrested at the DC protest including Cindy Sheehan. Jon Gold (Peace of the Action) writes of the arrests:

Cindy Sheehan, myself, and others walked through the crowd until we reached the barrier closest to those laying down on the sidewalk. As you can see in this video, the barrier failed, and Cindy Sheehan walked across. As soon as she entered the "arrest zone," the Park Police immediately grabbed her, and handcuffed her. They were literally manhandling her.
This made me angry, and I yelled at the Park Police to "let her go!" Before I knew it, the barrier was back up. I tried to push through the barrier, but the Park Police pushed back. I managed to push two Park Policeman back until one of them grabbed for something on their side to use against me. It was probably mace, but it could have been anything. I stopped pushing. I walked around to the side where the police tape was, that failed, and I found myself within the "arrest zone." I decided that I was going to allow myself to be arrested in order to keep an eye on Cindy. One of the Park Police grabbed me by my arm, and placed me next to Matthew and the others.
When I sat down next to Matthis, he said to me, "you're on the right side of the line," and I said, "I know." One of the Park Police walked over to me, and said to another officer, "he crossed the line, arrest him." That Park Policeman lifted me up, and put me in regular metal cuffs. As I stood up, I screamed as loud as I could, "THIS ARREST IS DEDICATED TO 9/11 VICTIM FAMILY MEMBER ROBERT MCILVAINE JR.!!!" and part of the crowd cheered. As they walked me away I could see Ann Wright waving her fist at me with a big smile on her face as if to say, "RIGHT ON!"

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"Let me loosen up your collar . . ."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Let me loosen up your collar . . .



Senator Bob Casey Representative Bart Stupak Representative Kathy Dahlkemper Representative Marcy Kaptur Representative Nick Rahall Representative Jerry Costello Representative Chris Carney Representative Steve Driehaus Representative Charlie Wilson Representative Jim Oberstar Representative Alan Mollohan Representative Brad Ellsworth Representative Henry Cuellar Representative Mike Doyle



Starting in the US where the Iraq War has not ended despite claims from some. Chris Durden (Kansas CW) reports that some members of the Kansas Army Reserve have learned they're deploying to Iraq and a send-off ceremony will take place this Saturday at two p.m. (3130 George Washington Blvd, Wichita, Kansas). Sending Reserves and Guards out of the US? The National Guard is supposed to protect the US, right? Bush threw that to the wind and Barack's continued to do so.

Which is a good time to shift into these comments from this morning.

Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: The [National] Guard and Reserve are unique. A lot of the benefit programs that are in place for them -- even though they have improved over the last ten years are still relics of the Cold War. And as we rely more and more on the Guard and Reserve to be an operational force, we've already been told from fairly high ranking officers that the Guard's mission in Iraq is going to continue well into the future. We will become the peacemakers in Iraq. Not only that but we have the Sinai mission, Africa, Bosnia -- you name, we're there, along with the Afghan mission. And 90% of the air sovereignty of the United States is flown by Air National Guard pilots. And if we don't do something to retain these people and, as the economy gets better, we're going to start losing real good people. And then what's going to happen is recruiting and retention budgets are going to go up and then we're going to have to spend $100,000 per soldier, per air man to get them retrained. And so we have to find a balance. We have to bring the operational reserve force into the 21st century with pay and benefits. And when we -- when Congress gave the Reserve retirement program, they started it on January 28, 2008. You said from those people who served from 9-11 to that time, "Your service don't count." And yet you still want them to go. We have units right now in Minnesota that are on their fourth rotation to either Iraq, Afghanistan or Bosnia. And, you know, these people are being taken away from their civilian jobs, they're losing their 401Ks, putting stress on the families. Bankruptcy is becoming an important thing in the Guard and Reserve community. So things have to change. We realize it's stressing the budget but, you know, it's not uncommon to see the rules waived to provide things. We've seen it with the GI Bill. We've seen it with Tri-Care for life.

Cline informs that the Guard and Reserves will continue to shoulder the burden of Iraq -- guess Iraq really is a US colony now, that this screws with their own lives, their own families, their own financial security at present and when they retire. And he provides that to the House Armed Service's Military Personnel Subcommittee which is chaired by US House Rep Susan Davis. Joe Wilson is the Ranking Member. Chair Davis explained at the start of the hearing, "Today the subcommittee will focus on the legislative priorities of military associations and the implications of direct spending on the ability of the Congress to meet these priorities. It has been the tradition of this subcommittee to hear from the beneficiary and the advocacy organizations at the start of the legislative season so that the Subcommittee has a better understanding of the many issues of interest to service members and their families."

Cline was part of the first panel which also included The Retired Enlisted Association's Deidre Parke Holleman, Retired Col Steve Strobridge, CBO's Sarah Jennings and Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Barnes.

Since, as Davis noted, the point was to hear about the issues, we'll again go to Cline who was speaking of the disparities in pay.

Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: Well I think it would go a long way in solving any future retention problems that we have. You know anytime that we have a deployment, we have soldiers that come home, air man that come home, sailors and marines that come home and their families have said, "I've had enough, you know, I'm tired of you being gone." The employers are starting to get riled up. These service members are looking at their civilian careers and they're saying, "Every time I'm deployed, I'm losing money out of my 401 K. I'm losing part of my future retirement. The start of January 28, 2008 for that retroactivity, that was a great start. Your idea of for every two years of service, you get a year early retirement --

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: [Every year] Over 20.

Retired Master Sgt Michael Cline: You know, we've been fighting, I've been doing this for 21 years and for 21 years we have been trying to get the H55 retirement. You know, every place you go -- in fact, I talked to a group of chief master sergeants yesterday, and that's the first thing out of their mouth -- the retroactively or the early retirement. "When are we going to see this?" And unfortunately the public doesn't understand mandatory spending and discretionary spending. When they see $750 billion given to banks and auto makers, or $3 billion in three weeks to clear carlots, a trillion dollars for health care -- they don't understand that it's a different pot of money. We do because we work it every day and try to explain it to our members. But they're the tax payers, they're the voter, they're sitting there saying, "Hey, I've done my service but you're not recognizing me. You know, I've rotated twice before Januay 28, 2008 and you're not recognizing my service." It's like you're sticking them in the side with an ice pick.

There were two panels that the Subcomittee heard from and the second panel was composed of Gold Star Wives Suzanne Stack and Margaret McCloud. Kat's grabbing some of Suzanne Stack's testimony (at her site tonight) so we'll go with Margaret McCloud for the snapshot.

Margaret McCloud: Good morning. I am Maggie McCloud, proud widow of Marine Lt Col Joseph Trane McCloud who was killed in Iraq over three years ago. Thank you very much, Madame Chairwoman, Congressman Wilson and members of the Committee for allowing us to speak to you today regarding our personal narrative regarding the elimitation of the offset which affects 54,000 military surviving spouses, 94% of whom are survivors of retirees who pay premiums [. . .] and 6% like me who are survivors of active duty deaths. My husband paid for it with his life, the retiree paid for it with premiums and now we are both being denied it. As Suzanee has said and I will echo, Congress has set precedents in removing offsets to military retired pay such as the penalty for military retirees working as federal civilians, concurrent receipt of disability compensation and retirement pay for severely disabled retirees and the Social Security offset to SBP at age 62. The president's budget restores full military retiree pay to all other disabled retirees and therein lies my confusion. Why can't we find the money to fund this offset, one that effects 54,000 military widows, if we are able to find the money to fund these other most worthy benefits? We are told over and over again, year after year that the issue is cost not the principle but the reality has been that finding the funding has not been a priority. Elimination of this widows' tax was included in the GI bill of Rights for the 21st Century. Congress acknowledged this inequity by creating the Special Survivor's Indemity Allowance. Additional money was found last year in the tobacco legislation. Small progress for which we are grateful but recognition of the injustice created by the off-set. In explaining it's opposition to removal of the off-set, OSD has stated an inequity would be created with one select group receiving two survivor annuities. There are already groups receiving two benefits, widows who remarry after age 57 and widows like me who forfeited their SBP annuity to their children to ensure adequate resources to raise our families now and surviving spouses of federal civilians. The vast majority of military retirees did not die of their service but rather they retired and went on to have second careers. My husband did not enjoy the opportunity to have a second career and help raise his children and the DIC should be added to, not subtracted from, his retirement annuity. As it should, the administration has shown its strong support for our military members and veterans for whom the fighting has ended. Well the fighting has ended for our loved ones as well. Whether they fought on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of Vietnam, the desert of Iraq or the countless other places where brave Americans have fought and died. But we their survivors are still struggling each day. And now I also have to answer such questions as "Mom does it hurt to drown?"; "Why couldn't the Marines save Daddy if they could save the others?"; and "Was I the last thing he thought of?" These are the questions the families of the fallen have to face while carrying on and holding our families together. In conclusion, my family continues to support our military service members in any way we can. You need only look at my living room in December when it was filled with Boy Scout popcorn to send to our troops or currently the hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies that I have yet to mail. It is very important to me to show our support for our military members who willingly leave their families and lay their lives on the line every day to protect and defend our freedom. As a country, don't we have a responsiblity to support their survivors when they don't come home or when they die later from that service ? How can't our government find the money to fix this widows' tax? Thank you so very much.

SBP is Survivor Benefit Pay. We'll note that Suzanne Stack's husband, SGM Michael Stack, also died serving in Iraq.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: The American people need to know what the widows' tax is. Ms. Stack, you did an extraordinary job explaining the net. That's horrifying to think that somebody would get a four dollar check, a fourteen dollar check -- that-that -- And so, we have a time constraint here but I really am interested if you could -- both of you -- explain again what the Survivor Benefit Plan is briefly and who administers it and what it's intent, and then the indemnity -- dependency and indemnity compenstation, who administers that and then, without being totally specific, you take a number, you subtract a number and then you come back. The American people need to know this.

Suzanne Stack: I'll start. Thank you so much. It's hard to begin. The SBP is a annuity, it's something that is purchased at retirement when a military person does retire and they make a choice to have a certain portion of their retirement income provided to their spouse if they should die. It also has now been opened up to active duty deaths which is where both Ms. McCloud and I will fall and we receive that same benefit. That is usually figures as a percentage. Our husbands would be considered 100% disabled at a thirty year mark. If they -- My husband entered the service earlier than 1980, so his retirement pay would be based on the last base pay that he had received. I think Ms. McCould's started after that period so hers would be based on the high three. And then there's an average. And you take 75% of that and then 55% of that is what the SBP is based on. I don't know if that's clear, but it's easier when you have a chalk board.

Ranking Member: Joe Wilson: No, no, no. But that's good. And then the offset?

Suzanne Stack: Well the DIC [Dependency and Indemnity Compensation] is from the -- the SBP comes from the DoD, the DIC comes from the VA.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: The VA.

Suzanne Stack: And for the two of us, we are provided the DIC on a flat -- rate, flat rate, excuse me, I couldn't think of what it was. A flat rate amount. Again, prior to that, it would be rank based. And if you receive both of SBP and DIC then the SBP is off-set by the DIC. For some people, as you saw in my remarks, they receive nothing. There is a great number that receives absolutely nothing. And that tends to be the E6 and below -- widows and widowers, we do have some widowers. And that can be very, very difficult and very hard -- very much a hardship on their families. [To McCloud] Can you think of anything that I've left off?

Margaret McCloud: Well what I would like to add -- and I appreciate your comment about trying to get this story out -- first of all, to all the people from the first panel who spoke so strongly and elequently on our behalf this morning thank you so very much. The military coalition has been a wonderful advocate on our behalf for years now. But the fact remains that as far as who this off-set truly effects, it's 54,000 military widows -- largely elderly women scattered across the country and they keep telling me I'm a young woman, I'm a young widow -- I have to say I feel like I've aged in dog years the past three years -- but so you're asking elderly ladies throughout the country who are in frail health themselves. They gave up so much over the years during their spouses own military career, they followed them around, they gave up their opportunity frequently to work themselves and generate their own retirement income. Then their spouse became ill and they spent year after year after year caring for them at great physical cost to themselves. And then you have the "young widow" such as myself. I'm not a whiner but our plates are very full. We hold down jobs. We do the work of both parents. My husband was an operational officer -- Operations Officers for the Second Batallion, Third Marine Regiment out of Kaneohe Bay Hawaii and I would like to think he would be in awe of the operation plan that I have to have in effect every day to raise three children by myself, to get them to school, Scouts, church, after school requirements, band. For fun last week, I just had to do a wonderful father-daughter event with my five-year-old daughter because I didn't want her to be there alone. That's what we have to do. Our plates are very full. And then we're told Congress has agreed the benefit in principle this is wrong , it's simply a matter of funding and we need to get the word out. Well we're trying but it's very discouraging and hard to keep coming at this year after year after year and hear: "We support you in principal but we just can't find the money."

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And something -- and my final point -- this effects a family like a thousand dollars a month.

McCloud: Yes.

Ranking Member: Joe Wilson: And so raising small children or people of age, hey, that's a lot of money. And it can be quality of life. So thank you very much for being here today.

Chair Susan Davis: Thank you both. I would say it's not just the dollar [. . .] -- it's not just the dollars, it's also the idea that you're fighting for and I think that we certainly acknowledge and recognize.

And Iraqis have, of course, suffered. A point David Corn raised in debating Michael Rubin on today's Talk of the Nation (NPR). No transcript or excerpt. Rubin's far too touchy and I'm not in the mood for "--" to note Corn being cut off or the other nonsense. Short version: Rubin tried to surf a wave of Operation Happy Talk and David Corn stayed factual. If they could provide Corn as a monologue, it would make for a nice listen but Rubin's too touchy and too eager to stretch the truth -- stretch to the point that it has runners throughout and finally breaks. Corn is with Mother Jones now. We will note one caller (whom even Rubin knew better than to attack):

I don't think we're better off because of the war. My son was killed in September 2007 in Iraq and the only ones I can see that've gained on this is like Exxon-Mobile and Shell who are now drilling for oil over there and it moved the price of oil from $20 a barrel to $147 during this war.

On the oil issue, Antonia Juhasz and Joseph Juhasz tackle it at Iraq Veterans Against the War. Last week, Aamer Madhani (USA Today) noted some of the scars Iraqis suffer from:

The soldiers said they had received tips that Senaa's husband and her sister's husband were insurgents against the government in Iraq. Senaa and her four children were hustled outside.
When they were let back in, they found her husband on the kitchen floor, his bloody body full of bullet holes. Senaa's brother-in-law was dead in the living room.
"I was sitting on the couch the other day, and all I could do was cry and wish that I was dead," says Abid, recalling her distress as her four young children played nearby.
"I know my psychological situation is fragile," she says. "I am always thinking about committing suicide, but there is a voice inside my head that tells me my responsibilities are too big to leave this world."

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Drama queen




Over the weekend in the US, protests took place against the wars. They started Friday and continued through Sunday. In San Francisco, the protest I attended, you could follow the pink road, follow the pink road. I'm referring to a large ground banner which was pink and asked: "Where is our change? Where is our hope?" People began gathering for the rally a little before 11:30 in the morning (you could tell it was about to start as about 20 visible police officers were joined by 16 additional visible police officers just arriving) and, approximately an hour later, the march began ending a little after two o'clock. Chants included "Hey, hey, hey, ho/ The occupation has got to go!" and "Money for jobs and education! Not for wars and occupations!" Signs called out the occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and drew links to where the US money went and where it didn't. I saw no signs regarding Columbia but I probably missed them. A speaker, Cristina Gutierrez, spoke on the issue and "even under the so-called liberal Obama administration, they still call our freedom fighters 'terrorists' regardless of whether they are in Columbia or Palestine." She gave a powerful speech on how change has not come, with a wide range of supporting evidence including that it is Barack's administration that continues to imprison Lynne Stewart and has "taken over 7 of the 12 military bases in Columbia."

Cristina Gutierrez: We are hear to ask you to stop your government from destroying the aspirations of the people of the world for justice and freedom. We are hear not to ask you not to raise money for us not to commit solidarity with our people but we are here to ask you stop the military budget, to stop the wars and to demand that the money be spent on education, creating jobs, housing and health care of all in this country.

It was a large group -- especially considering that there were demonstrations all over California (Los Angeles and San Diego being only two others). The people were diverse -- in terms of race and ethnicity, economic classification and age. Among the speakers were Daniel Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg: . . . 40 years ago, 41 years ago, in 1969, there was a group and a movement called the moratorium. And they called it the moratorium rather than call it a "general strike" because that seemed too inflamatory. But what it was was, like today, demonstrations all over the country being counted not just in one city. There was 75,000 in indeed in San Francisco, 100,000 in New York. But here were ten here, twenty there, a thousand there, all over the country adding up to 2 million. And the difference was that it was on a weekday. They took off for the day for this so it really was a general strike. They thought it had no effect. They were wrong, the people who ran that and the people who took part in it. Nixon had threatened the North, through Russia and China, that he was going to escalate on November 3, 1969. He was threatening and planning to use nuclear weapons. And, also, as well, to invade Laos and Cambodia, North Vietnam, hit the dikes, hit Hai Phong, All the things that he did do later in the invasion of North Vietnam.

Ellsberg called for more actions like the ones today across the US and a general strike to send the message to DC that we can't "afford one or two trillion dollars away from our infrastructure, our education and our health to kill people". KPFA's Evening News' report on Saturday featured some of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s Richard Becker's speech. Jonathan Nack (Indybay Media -- link has text and photos) reports on the San Francisco action, "The mobilzation was notable not only for its greater size, which organizers estimated at 5,000, but also for its diversity. The crowd was both younger and more multiracial."
DC was the main focal point in the US. Cuba's Periodico reported that gathering rallied "at Lafayette Park on the north side of the White House. The rally was followed by a march that made stops at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Veterans Administration. Organizers said it was the largest demonstration to date opposing the Barack Obama administration's decision to expand the war in Afghanistan with tens of thousands more U.S. occupation troops." AP quoted Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan wondering if "the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House," while Ralph Nader felt the only difference demonstrated between Bush and Barack was "Obama's speeches are better." Narayan Lakshman (The Hindu) added, "While the protest drew a smaller crowd than the tens of thousands who marched during the final years of the Bush administration, the ANSWER coalition, the main organiser, said momentum was building due to disenchantment with President Obama's troop surge decision for Afghanistan. Other participating groups included Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and the National Council of Arab Americans and activists such as Ralph Nader and Cindy Sheehan." Russia Today offers video of the DC protests. The Times of India quoted Iraq War veteran and Iraq Veterans Against the War member Matthis Chiroux stating, "Obama policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are as criminal as Bush's. The US machine produces war regardless of who is president. We are killing innocents." David Rosenberg (The KPFA Evening News) reported Saturday, "At least eight people, including activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested by US Park Police at the end of the march after laying coffins at the fence outside the White House." Katherine Shaver (Washington Post) quotes A.N.S.W.E.R.'s Brian Becker stating, "A huge part of the antiwar movement has been focused on the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush is gone. Millions of people thought his exit would mean an end to these wars. Instead, after one year of real-life experience, they're far from ending." Also reporting on DC's action is Kosta Harlan (Fight Back!):

Military veterans gave a powerful condemnation of the occupation, and two speakers with Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War ripped their dog tags and badges off of their uniforms and threw them off the stage, in a symbol of their rejection of the immoral, unjust, and criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the protestors were youth and new to the antiwar movement, and are committed to rebuilding a broad movement to force the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

AP and NBC New York write that the Manhattan protest against the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars today only generated "a few dozen people." I call out the New York leadership in this entry Saturday (and I admit there and here that I was oh so wrong -- that entry was written when a friend and LA peace activist bet me the NYC protest would be miniscule). Good for those who demonstrated. Joan Wile is the author of Grandmothers Against the War. She and Edith Cresmer are members of the Granny Peace Brigade and they wrote the following regarding the NYC action:
On Saturday, March 20, 2010, a beautiful unseasonably warm day, the eighth year of our occupation of Iraq began. Although we are told that officially we are no longer fighting there, that we have pulled back our forces, nevertheless our soldiers continue to die there. And so do many more Iraqis. It is way past time for us to pull out, and yet we remain. Why?
To commemorate the end of our seven years of illegal and immortal attack and occupation of Iraq a compendium of 10 New York City peace groups called the Seven Years Too Many Coalition gathered at the Times Square Recuriting Center to protest the continuation of the war and to call for an end of all wars.
Cheryl Wertz, Exec, Director of Peace Action New York State (PANYS) introduced the speakers -- Councilwoman Gale Brewer, and Vietnam vet Chaplain Hugh Bruce of Veterans for Peace. They discussed some of the terrible effects of war on people at home -- lost jobs, libraries, fire companies, and teachers -- and even worse effects on the people of Iraq and on our G.I.s. Literature was handed out with facts about the terrible results and the absurdity of war.
Demonstrators chanted: What is the cost of War? How Many? and How Much? And answered Too Many, too Many . . . and Too Much, too Much.
Good for all the groups who participated, good for all the individuals. But don't think for a moment that we forget who was silent. That's an NYC action. Where the bulk of Little Media is based. As Elaine pointed out Friday, Little Media wasn't realyl concerned with the Iraq War (forget the kiss ass article you saw at Al Jazeera). As we noted at Third in "Editorial: Barack is killing the left," Saturday morning, NYC Indymedia had nothing on their home page about the demonstration, WBAI didn't have it on the home page or on their monthly calendar. Praise for the Granny Peace Brigade and others who participated but grasp that if the word had gotten out, the number present would have been higher. But 'leaders' weren't interested. Chicago saw action on Saturday. Matt Muchowski (Gapers Block) explains, " On March 17, 2010 over a thousand people rallied at Federal Plaza and marched on Michigan Ave. It came as President Obama is intensifying the war in Afghanistan. The protesters seemed to be mocking Mayor Daley's challenge, 'Where are the anti-war people? They disappeared! They stopped marching!' No, we never did stop marching, even as Daley has continued to antagonize us." CBS reports Chicago activists dyed the Chicago River red and stated, "Most college students can now say that more than one quarter of their lives have been lived while the U.S. has been at war." Melissa Allison (Seattle Times) reports that they gathered "near Westlake Center . . . before marching for an hour through downtown streets." While, according to AP, the people of Raleigh were apathetic as indicated by the lethargic Chris Skidmore who "sipped a drink on the artificial lawn" and stated, "Honestly, with everything that's going on in my personal life, it slipped my mind." AP notes that Albuquerque saw over 100 (local estimates are 120) gathered to protest the continued wars on Saturday. Jake Begun (Badger Herald) reports that Madison, Wisconsin saw 200 gather Saturday for rally and he notes, "Iraq Veterans Against the War Madison Chapter President Todd Dennis said his aim in attending the day's events was to show solidarity with the various groups present and his own friends who have served. The war itself, and veterans' services are lacking, he said. By raising awareness through actions like Saturday's rally and march the issues facing those who fight the country's wars can be better represented." Charles Purnell (Daily Titan) reported on the Los Angeles action and noted Tamara Khoury "was a lead organizer and stage manager at the anti-war protest and peace march. Khoury is also a member of Act Now to Stop War and Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), the organization that put on the event. Formed September 14, 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, A.N.S.W.E.R. has grown to encompass branches in nearly every major city across the country and has organized some of the largest demonstrations in recent years, including the annual March 20 multi-city marches."
Even among those who attended the protests, there were some whose opposition to this administration's foreign policy is squishy at best. The same AP article cites one Shirley Allan of Silver Spring, Md., who "carried a sign that read, "President Obama We love you but we need to tell you! Your hands are getting bloody!! Stop it now."
Ms. Allan's sign says more about her than it does about the issue she purports to address. To confess to loving a political leader whose hands are even a little bit bloody is quite a revealing statement to make, and it just about sums up why the crowd was smaller than on previous occasions. The hate-Bush crowd has quickly morphed into the love-Obama cult of personality, and the so-called progressives have deserted the antiwar movement in droves. Our multiple wars just aren't an issue inside the Democratic party.
On the non-Marxist left, the triumph of the Obama cult is complete. Only the old-fashioned Leninists, such as the main organizers of the ANSWER rallies, have come out in visible opposition to Obama's wars. Even the Marxist left, however, is not immune to Obama-mania: the other major antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice, led by veterans of the old Communist Party, USA, issued a euphoric statement upon Obama's election and has been essentially moribund as an active antiwar organization ever since.
It was in this kind of political atmosphere, then – one of near complete political isolation – that rally attendees heard Cindy Sheehan wonder whether "the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House." Sheehan's remark was met, according to AP, with merely "moderate applause." Ms. Allan was not among the applauders:
Many in the media spent the weekend ignoring the anniversary. Bob Schieffer (Face The Nation, CBS News -- link has text and video) didn't, he commented on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War:

Washington has always been a one-story town. And for the last few weeks -- months, really -- the story has been health care reform. It's all we've been talking about.
Which is probably one reason a rather important anniversary passed almost without notice: March 19.
Ring a bell? Probably not. But March 19 was the seventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion, which began our longest war.
Turning to Iraq where the counting never stops. March 7th, Iraqis completed their voting in Parliamentary elections. Today is March 21st and the votes are still being counted. Rania El Gamal and Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) report that 95% of the votes have been counted and that the results of the 100% count (unofficial count) would not be publicly revealed until Friday; however, Ayad Allawi's political party is at the top of the seesaw currently. One minute the unofficial count has Allawi in the lead and then, as more votes are counted, the lead switches to Nouri al-Maliki's political party. Then it switches again. At this rate, if the official count is anything like the current count, either political party could become the ruling party depending upon which one is able to enter a power-sharing coalition soonest. Sunday Martin Chulov (Guardian) reported, "Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has invoked the spectre of renewed violence if there is no recount of all ballots cast in the general election as its chaotic aftermath appears to increasingly threaten his grip on power." When in doubt, Nouri always screams violence is coming. Of course, when it actually comes, he's forever caught by surprise. Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Iraq's electoral commission on Sunday brushed aside increased pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other politicians demanding a recount in the close parliamentary race that could unseat the incumbent leader and other officials who have dominated Iraq's transition to democracy." If you're thinking of Nouri and how he loves to scream violence to get his way, you may be aware of step two: He stages protests. Hannah Allam and Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy's Miami Herald) report that already Nouri's supporters have taken to the streets in Najaf to 'protest.' The two reporters quote political analyst Haider al-Musawi stating, "The situation may well deteriorate into a state not unlike what happened in Iran. This would be catastrophic for the political process. Iraqis have started to believe that their votes could make a difference. If they see their votes turned around, God only knows where that would lead us -- maybe to violence once again."
Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) also sought out an analyst, "Kenneth Katzman, an analyst on Iraq for the Congressional Research Service, warned Sunday that Maliki could be building the foundations for a non-democratic regime. 'Especially with this language of defending the constitution, setting themselves up as the protectors of the constitution, that is how authoritarian parties usually justify what they do,' Katzman said. 'It's ominous'." Meanwhile another voice joins Nouri's. Timothy Williams and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) explain Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, has joined in the cries for recounts -- but then, as he did in July's elections, he's sunk his own political party again and is demanding recounts to shift the focus away from his lousy leadership. Talabani is a Kurd. He got himself into trouble not with charges of corruption (though those exist) but by failing to understand his own people. He called a Kurdish land in Iraq "a dream" that would never come true. When he made that statement, he destroyed his own power-base and his party. The Ahrar Party is also calling for a recount and they issued this statement on Friday:

Iraq election results being fixed - call for election recount

The leader of the Ahrar Freedom Party in Iraq today called for a nationwide recount of the results in the recent General Election held on 7 March.

Ayad Jamal Aldin said, "We have sound evidence of nationwide corruption in the election results presently being declared across Iraq. A large number of smaller parties are being deliberately squeezed out of the election result. Thousands of votes are being stolen and transferred to the larger parties, within the Malaki, Allawi and Hakim camps.

"Our Ahrar Party was polling fourth in a large number of governorates and

regions across Iraq and we have evidence that our, and other parties', votes are being excluded and not declared in the results so far.

"We have no confidence in the fairness and honesty of the election counting process. We call for international observers, including the United Nations and

US Vice President Joe Biden to intervene and support an independently

monitored recount of all the votes cast on 7th March. The people of Iraq are

being cheated out of a fair election result. No one has anything to fear from

a fairly conducted recount but if the present election results are allowed to

go unchallenged, Iraq will descend again into conflict rather than benefiting

from a free and fair electoral process."

For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:

Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a

new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free

of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected

as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party

for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption

and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

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