Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paint with all the colors of the wind, David



For an adolescent black kid in an almost wholly white world, Hawaii was a vexed and confusing paradise.






Jane Arraf, Sahar Issa and Mohammad al-Dulaimi (Christian Science Monitor teaming up with McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Iraqi security officials took the unusual step of announcing the death toll. In a statement run on Iraqiya television, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command said 54 people had been killed and 180 injured in the attacks in Baghdad. At least another six people were killed and 12 wounded by bombings in Anbar Province, an Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold." Andy Winter (Sky News -- link has text and video) observes, "The deadly blasts came just days after the reported killings of the top two al Qaeda leaders in Iraq in what was seen as a major blow to the insurgency." Frank James (NPR) has posted the text to one of Quil Lawrence's top of the hour reports on the violence in Iraq today in which Lawrence notes Baghdad was slammed by car bombings and by motorcycle bombings and that "the blasts today may be in response to what Iraqi and American authorities have heralded as a hugely successful campagn to roll up al-Qaida's leadership." BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse offers this analysis: "Whoever did carry out the attacks, it is hard not to conclude that they were designed to inflame tensions between Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities at a time of political uncertainty." Sadr City wasn't the only area struck and Larisa Epatko (PBS' NewsHour) notes, "Other explosions struck the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, killing one person and wounding 12; a Shiite mosque in the northern Hurriyah neighborhood, where eight people were killed and 36 wounded; and the eastern neighborhood of Amin al-Thaniyah, killing 14 and injuring 36." NewsHour? No, it hasn't aired yet as I dictate this but remember they are increasing their online presence and they offer content throughout the day. Larisa Epatko's coverage is part of "The Rundown News Blog" for the program. Rebecca Santana (AP) terms it "the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq" and counts 69 dead.
In other reported violence today, Reuters notes 1 corpse was discvoered in Shirqat. Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A U.S. Soldier died of non-combat related injuries in Baghdad Thursday. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at 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 under investigation." This brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War to 4393.
Today on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Diane was joined by Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) and Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) and they addressed Iraq multiple times. We'll note this section at the start of the show (however, calls and e-mails promoted the topic to be revisted throughout the show).
Diane Rehm: This death toll in Iraq, two top al Qaeda leaders were killed. Tell us about it, Roy?
Roy Gutman: Well today's bombings show that even though the leadership has been decapitated so to speak, al Qaeda Iraq is alive and still has a lot of suicide bombers trained and ready to go and to attack. It's still so incredible to me. People at their Friday prayers in the mosques of Baghdad. I think it should just induce a certain amount of humility in the Americans and Iraqi officials who somewhat triumphantalist mood this week proclaimed that they had really broken the back of al Qaeda --
Diane Rehm: You know we've heard that before and now to have this kind of enormously effective retalitory effect, as you say, should bring some humility, Abderrahim.
Abderrahim Foukara: Absolutely, Diane. We've heard this before, we've heard it under President Obama and we certainly had heard it during the Bush administration and every time that they say they've broken the back of al Qaeda, they'll kill one or two top leaders and then they'd be replaced and things go back to business as usual. What's really sinister this time from the point of view of the plan that the Obama administration has to get out of Iraq is that all this mess now is happening in Iraq six weeks after the-the election. And six weeks after the election, the Iraqis --- We don't even know yet who's actually won the election. So if there was trepidation in light of the vacuum that happened post the 2005 election for several months before they actually got a government going, think about it this time. Six weeks -- we don't even know who the winner is.
Diane Rehm: Trudy, are they still counting ballots?
Trudy Rubin: Yes, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party appealed the count in Baghdad and the votes are being recounted there and, needless to say, this has encouraged other parties to talk about wanting recounts in their areas. This Baghdad recount should be finished in a week but it is important to say that al Qaeda here clearly has a strategy. You only need a handful of people to have a strategy like this and suicide bombers who come from outside and come in. And the strategy is to provoke sectarian warfare. I was in Baghdad just a week ago, and there were warnings that al Qaeda was trying to steal an airplane and fly it into a holy Shi'ite shrine, possibly the shrine of Iman Ali the holiest in Najaf. And, in fact, there were stories out of the Czech Republic that that might have been where they tried to get a plane and somebody was stopped there -- Iraqis. So there is a clear effort to provoke sectarian war. I don't think the country wants it, they are sick of it. But it will take a lot of careful manuevering for this election process to not spin off the rails. Right now the United States is trying to stand back. I think they're going to have to get more involved in mediation.
Diane Rehm: Now what about the questions of allegations of fraud and what's happening in terms of violence, do you think this could effect US decisions to move out, Abderrahim?
Abderrahim Foukara: Well we've had reassurances from the-the top brass of the US military in Iraq that it will not effect the decision to withdraw US troops. But those decisions were made when things looked promising that there would be elections in Iraq and that some sort of government would emerge -- even if emerges a little late -- that could take care of the security situation. Now we have this thing that's just been mentioned. You have Iraqi -- You have Prime Minister Maliki contesting the results of the election. Because of that, you also have [Aya] Allawi, his competitor, contesting the election now and demanding a recount in the south, you also have some of the Kurdish parties also demanding a recount in some of northern Iraq. So this whole thing seems to be unraveling and then you get the violence, the thing about al Qaeda and also about the prison that the Prime Minister was accused of running where inmates were alleged to have been tortured.
Diane Rehm: And you also have the case of Navy Seals accused of abusing a prisoner, Trudy?
Trudy Rubin: Let me say that I think that Navy Seal case is peanuts compared to previous cases. I really don't think that Iraqis are going to pay too much attention to the relase because, you know, after much bigger cases like Abu Ghraib and higher ups were not punished or the case where Blackwater shot up 17 people in a major square in Baghdad, you know this is really tiddly winks. I think the torture case has more possibility of upsetting people because there is -- there was -- a secret torture facility at the Muthana Airport Base where I was just nearby last week. And many Sunnis were held there and the key in this election situation is whether Sunnis feel they have sufficient place in the government. Let me add, my driver was tortured in that facility just in January and this is typical now of the problems in Iraq, he is a Shi'ite who protested against the killings of Sunnis in his neighborhood by Jaish al-Mahdi, Shi'ite militia men. He helped US and Iraqi forces to roll up those militia men and when the US pulled out the Jaish al-Mahdi got their revenge and they have contacts in the army and the police. And this man has been in jail for sixteen months and been tortured because he helped Americans and Iraqis. So I think Prime Minister Maliki, the other political leaders will have a lot to do to prevent sectarian tensions from getting out of hand and, as I said, I think the US is going to have to play a bigger role than they now want to do.

Roy Gutman: I wanted to come back to the elections if I could because -- and the recount because it is often assumed that Iraq being a third world country without a great tradition of
re-elections cannot conduct good elections. But the actual fact is-- and the record is -- that their own independent electoral commission has run very, very solid elections. It's true the politicians want recounts and what politician doesn't if he's on the losing end? But in fact, in the last -- I think it was the provincial elections -- I was there myself in Iraq some months ago and talked to commission members and they said of the 40,000 polls or polling places around the country in the previous provincial elections, only about, I think, 1% had general problems of -of too many ballots, or something going awry. So I think that part of the process is actually more in tact than most people realize.
Abderrahim Foukara: If the recount, at least in -- If the recount -- at least in Baghdad, which I understand represents about 20% of the vote, the overall vote -- if the recount gives an additional two, three seats to the prime minister Maliki who is, by the current results, is lagging behind his competitor Ayad Allawi by two seats -- If that happens, number one, we don't know how Ayad Allawi is going to react. Number two, and this has a very important regional dimension, Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite but because he canvased heavily among the Sunnis in Iraq, he gave hope to the regions of Iraq, the Sunni regions of Iraq, the Saudis among others, that if the government emerges in which he plays a very active role, then they could do business with the Iraqi goverment. As opposed to al-Maliki who is perceived by the Sunnis as being too close to Iran.
Diane Rehm: Could you end up with something like a mixed government? And if you did, what kind of power would there actually be, Trudy?
Trudy Rubin: I think that is the goal. It is certainly the goal of Prime Minister al-Maliki. I talked to one of his top advisors last week and he told me that their strategy is to try to bring all the blocs in. There are two major Shia blocs, one major Sunni bloc headed by a Shi'ite, a Mr. Allawi, and a big Kurdish bloc. And Maliki is talking to all of them. The Kurds have not ruled out going with Maliki. And there are probably Sunnis who might make a deal. There are all kinds of issues in place such as whether the president of Iraq, instead of being a Kurd as he now is, might be a Sunni, what cabinet posts -- The consequence of parceling everything out by sect and ethnicity; however, is going to be a government of patronage that really doesn't hold together and perform well. On the other hand, such a government might be necessary to prevent sectarian upheaval. And my guess is this is the direction it's going to go. The question is: How long will it take them to agree on a prime minister?
Reporting on today's bombings, Steven Lee Myers and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) note, "A member of Parliament from the [Sadr] bloc, Balqis Koli al-Kafaji, put the attacks in the context of several recent vents that she said contribute to the overall chaos here: the still unresolved elections, the controversy surrounding a previously undisclosed prison in Baghdad that held Sunnis from northern Iraq, and the government's claims of recent success in dismantling the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq, also know as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the main insurgent group here." The secret prison Trudy Rubin was referring to? Khalid al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Nick Carey, Michael Christie and Lin Noueihed (Reuters) report, "The unit that operated the detention centre reported directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, but officials denied any connection to or knowledge of the facility in Maliki's inner circle." And if that doesn't make you roll your eyes, how about this? They're reporting the prison closed down today. This despite claims that the prison was already closed since Ned Parker's "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times) broke late Sunday -- including claims by Iraq's Human Rights Minister. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) offers this on the process post-election thus far:
Positions in the 325-seat parliament were split between four main political blocs, meaning that at least three of them would probably have to band together to form a comfortable majority. But six weeks after the vote, serious talks still haven't begun.
"I don't detect serious movement yet on the real decisions regarding government formation," says Ambassador Gary Grappo, political counselor at the US embassy in Baghdad. "I could envision a scenario where it might go relatively quickly and you could have something by early June but it could drag through the summer."
US and Iraqi officials say the political parties are willing enough to bargain that a coalition government could take almost any kind of form but will have a hard time overcoming their objections to the leaders themselves.
The Committee to Protect Journalism notes the disappearance of Iraqi journalist Saad al-Aossi who is "editor-in-chief of the critical weekly Al-Shahid." They explain:

Armed men entered al-Aossi's home in central Baghdad on the morning of April 14, seized his computer and took him to an unknown location, according to local and regional news reports. The identity of the armed men remains unclear; various news sources have described them as being a "mixed force" consisting of police and military elements, belonging to the Baghdad Operations Command, or to a special security force attached to the prime minister's office.

Colonel Qassem Atta, spokesperson for the Baghdad Operations Command, issued a statement today denying government involvement in al-Aossi's kidnapping and stating that he is not in government custody.

Al-Aossi's abduction from his home took place on the same day that military and police personnel conducted wide-ranging sweeps in multiple Iraqi cities of upward of 100 Iraqis under the pretext of a preventive anti-terror sweep, according to a report in the Qatar-based newspaper Al-Arab that quotes an unnamed Iraqi police official. The same unnamed source stated that many of the detained individuals are vocal supporters of Ayad Alawi, a political opponent of the prime minister. Al-Aossi has regularly criticized the prime minister's performance in his columns.

"We are deeply concerned about the safety of Saad al-Aoosi," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem . "The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must clarify the circumstances of his seizure by men reportedly belonging to the security forces, and account immediately for his whereabouts."

They are calling for answers. And, if pattern holds, they'll be among the only ones doing so. That's really the biggest problem and why Saad is missing.

Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister in April of 2006. Shortly after the Green Zone was nearly breached in a Friday attack, Nouri announced a number of programs. Many of the programs were already in place and he hadn't created them. I know, it's very difficult to imagine Nouri ever grand standing, right? But one of his rules was an attack on journalists. And, except for the BBC, no news outlet covered what he was proposing. Other outlets, including the New York Times, covered every plank of Nouri's proposals . . . except the one to do with journalism.

Nouri should have understood there would be a loud and public international rebuke. Instead, the message was sent to him that even the press didn't care if he went after the press. Which is how you get his forces aiming a gun at a New York Times reporter and pulling the trigger -- for a joke, you understand. He set the tone. Things weren't perfect before him. I'm not trying to imply they were. (And the KRG is its own region with its own issues.) But Nouri repeatedly attacked journalists and repeatedly got away with it.

Journalists were harassed. Rules and regulations were repeatedly issued.

He tried to do that with regards to the January 2009 elections and got a push back from the UN and many in the press (including the New York Times) which caused him to drop that list of demands.

But even now, when he's claiming journalists need to be registered for their own safety, there has been very little pushback against him. There should have been a huge push back. Americans should be aware of that. McClatchy Newspapers' Iraqi journalists have won many awards.

In October of 2007, they were awarded the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and McClatchy noted:

In introducing the six McClatchy reporters — Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa — ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff said: "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.

"All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret," said Woodruff, who himself was grievously wounded while covering the war in Iraq.

"All have lost family members or close friends," he continued. "All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death."

Shyness and modesty didn't make them conceal their identies. It was that they and their families weren't safe. And that's only more true if a registry is put into effect. They can then be targeted by security forces or imprisoned, those in the government not happy with their reports can leak their names to hostile militias ensuring their deaths. In case anyone's not getting it, let's quote Trudy Rubin from today's Diane Rehm Show, "Let me add, my driver was tortured in that facility just in January and this is typical now of the problems in Iraq, he is a Shi'ite who protested against the killings of Sunnis in his neighborhood by Jaish al-Mahdi, Shi'ite militia men. He helped US and Iraqi forces to roll up those militia men and when the US pulled out the Jaish al-Mahdi got their revenge and they have contacts in the army and the police."
This isn't a minor issue. But as long as so many outlets ignore Nouri's attempts to register journalists, expect to see more problems for journalists. And don't be surprised that this week that the Committee to Protect Journalists' "2010 Impunity Index" found that Iraq tops all countries with its number of unsolved murders of journalists (88):

All 88 journalist murders over the last 10 years are unsolved, putting Iraq at the top of the index for the third year in a row. All but seven cases involve local journalists, the vast majority of whom were targeted by insurgents. The victims include Al-Arabiya television correspondent Atwar Bahjat and crew members Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi and Adnan Khairallah, who were shot on assignment outside the Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2006. There is a positive trend: For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion, CPJ documented no work-related murders in Iraq in 2009. (Four journalists were killed in crossfire in 2009.) Nevertheless, with an impunity ranking nearly three times as high as any other country, Iraq has posed unparalleled dangers to the press.

Impunity Index Rating: 2.794 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.983

This climate is encouraged when the message is sent to Nouri that attacks on the press are no big deal.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Not the People's Court









Now we're going to do what we should have done in yesterday's snapshot (but no room), drop back to Tuesday to note an evening hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee (of the US House Armed Services Committee) which addressed PTSD and TBI. Chair Susan Davis explained at the top of the hearing that some members of the military were being separated from the military (discharged) due to behavious related to PTSD or TBI and and, noting US House Rep Walter Jones' work on this issue, she declared, "I agree with the gentleman that it is unacceptable that the military departments were separating service members because of misconduct that was caused by a PTSD or TBI injury that occured during his or her combat tour. Now that we know so much more about the extent of those injuries in the force, we owe every returning service member the assurance that we will not punish them for an injury that resulted from combat service. The unfortunate truth is that we have very likely already separated a number of service members where the commanders did not consider that the member was experiencing the consequences of PTSD or TBI." Appearing before the Subcommittee were Dr. Charles Rice of the Defense Dept and Bill Carr also of DoD. We'll excerpt the following exchanges.

Chair Susan Davis: We're going to want to talk about the needs, the capacity of the health community within the services and the general population as well and being able to meet these requirements as well as having the numbers, really, to review a number of these cases. But I wanted to focus initially on the commanders in the field. And talk about how we're educating them and the role that they're actually playing in trying to assess the severity or the possibility that someone could be suffering with PTSD or TBI. One of the things we know is how difficult it is to diagnose and certainly in a subjective fashion to be able to get that information and yet the commander plays a pretty significant role. What are we doing and what's the status of that? How do you think we are doing in trying to move that area forward?

Bill Carr: The first is for the commanders to say "We use the term PTSD. What does it mean? How do you spot it, what does it mean in concrete terms?" If you can express it in a way that they comprehend than the likelihood of their uniting that circumstance with medical help is that much greater. The Army, the Marine Corps have active programs and training where they instruct the field in the terms. For example, up PTSD --

Chair Susan Davis: Excuse me, could you pull your mike just a little bit closer.

Bill Carr: I'm sorry. For example, with PTSD, my point before this was that commanders have guides that allow them to take a situation that presents and make some more informed and rational judgment as to whether or not the symptoms they're seeing represent PTSD and, for example, some of the instruction presents to them that if-if the person reports a disturbing memories and disturbing dreams reliving so forth, those are things we would all say, "Yes, I recognize that now as PTSD." But unless we actively say it to the chain of command, then they'll hear it and they won't understand the emotional significance of what they've just heard. So the education programs of the Army and Marine Coprs in making sure commanders know that --

Chair Susan Davis: Could you just be more specific in helping us understand? I think in the testimony there was some notion of how much time is spent but what does that look like in terms of that training?

Bill Carr: It would take the form of about one hour training. And I'm going to have to -- I'm sorry -- I will have to confer back to you -- exactly how it would play out at a unit at, let's say, Fort Bragg, what specifically did they experience? And I would be glad to provide that back. There are a number of resources on the web that are available to those who go look for them and they're easily found but I think the question from the Chair is "What do we present so that it's deliberately placed before the chain of command?" So that these terms that I've described. And I'm sorry I can't provide that now but I'll come back to it.

Chair Susan Davis: Dr. Rice? Did you want --

Dr. Charles Rice: Uh. Yes, ma'am. Madame Chair, I think it's important to emphasize that the emphasis on this comes from the very top. General [Peter] Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff os the US Army, General [James] Amos, the Assisting Commandant of the Marine Corps have talked about this over and over with their commanders. [Clears throat.] Excuse me. Once a month, for example, General Chiarelli has a conference with all of his commanders where a suicide has occured and the general officer at that particular post or station is there to report on what were the specific cirucmstances that led up to the suicide. Obviously, we don't want to be tumbling to this problem after a suicide has been completed. But I think it does bring to bear the fact that the emphasis from the Vice Chief and from the Assisting Commandant is continuous. It's important. They are very emphatic about making sure that it gets desseminated won the chain of command. I think the other -- in addition to the point that Mr. Carr made -- the other place that it's real important is the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer level because those are the people who are really in day to day contact with the troops and education in this area has been encorporated into sergeants' major course, for example. All of the Senior NCO leaders are taught about how to recognize various aspects. The details -- contents of those courses is something that, like Mr. Carr, I woud have to get back to you.

Chair Susan Davis: Okay, thank you very much. Because I think we all know how long it takes the medical professionals to be able to describe and understand and I think there's a great deal for our commanders to be doing and certainly the officers and it's difficult to even find some of the time for that. But I think that while we had a great deal of emphasis early in the last few years and we've had to focus a great deal on suicides in the unit, I think we want to be sure that we're spending enough time doing that because, in many ways, they really are the critical actor, I think, in this.

Dr. Charles Rice: Yes, ma'am, I think that's exactly right. I think that the most important thing that the commander, the Senior NCO does is to convey to a member of his unit: It's okay to go ask for help. It takes a strong person to do that.

Chair Susan Davis: Thank you. Mr. Wilson?

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: Thank you again, for both of you being here. And Mr. Carr how has DoD reached out to former military members who are administratively discharged, separated to inform them of the opportunity to request a review of their separation through the discharge review board? To date, how many members have requested such a review?

Bill Carr: The outreach was through media -- principally to ensure that it reached cities and towns -- and, uh, to date, the number's relatively low 129 Army have applied for -- to the Discharge Review Board.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And --
Bill Carr: So it was a media effort.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: A media effort. And also, I'm sure if a person is discharged, you'll send periodic -- I've seen them -- periodic newsletters to the discharged personnel and it would have been in that publication too, wouldn't it?

Bill Carr: I'm almost sure it was in those -- it was in those publications as well.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And inadvertently, one of my sons [Alan] -- who served a year in Iraq -- I kept, kept getting his mail and it was really very enlightening and very encouraging to me, how helpful the information that was provided and, of course, I would get it to him right away.

Bill Carr: Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And then they've got him at a correct address.

Bill Carr: Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: What is your plan for providing additional mental health assets required for the pre-separation exams and the discharge review boards? How many additional personnel do you anticipate needing? Additionally, I'm very grateful, I work with a volunteer organization called Hidden Wounds of Columbia, South Carolina which is serving as a back up for discharged personnel, they are actively promoting mental health assistance. And so it's DoD, VA and then volunteer organizations. But how many more personnel do we need?

Bill Carr: For the discharge review board function, as long as the criteria are kept broad for example, we don't stipulate a grade on whether they're active or reserve and are not overly restricted in the academic disciplines, my understanding is that the manning requirements will be met for the DRBs, that that wouldn't impose any constraint on the flow of applications.

Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And it's encouraging for me, I went to a pancake breakfast to raise money for Hidden Wounds and the VA had a table set up there with personnel from the VA hospital and it was a -- I could see that it was a really positive interaction between the volunteer organizations and DoD personnel and VA personnel.

US House Rep Dave Loebsack noted that he shared Wilson's concern that members of the Reserves and their families -- "especially those living in rural areas" -- and he wanted to know about the Tele-health program, how service members were made aware of it and how those whom the Tele-health determined needed face-to-face treatment were getting it?

Dr. Rice stated that the Tele-health was created with rural members in mind. The media was used to get the word out. Self-referral is available if someone requires more than is available through Tele-health or the website. But how clear is that to someone? Probably not that clear. This was a weak section and the answers weren't impressive nor were they reassuring. Loebsack stated (warned?) he would be staying on this issue and thinks it will be "a huge issue" especially for the National Guard in Iowa. He wanted to know about Guard members diagnosed with PTSD after separation? Dr. Rice stated they would be referred to VA. Carr stated that, if it were him, for the Reserve, that "I'm probably going to proceed with my physician on my own medical program". Or, they could go onto the VA and Carr trusted (so very trusting or so cleverly spinning?) that he would trust that the VA would "in short order . . . administratively determine it to be a consequence of combat" -- apparently Carr has paid little attention to either the news or the subcommittee hearings of the House Veterans Committee that US House Rep John Hall has chaired?

Related, we'll note this from Sherwood Ross' "PENTAGON CONTINUES TO USE 'PERSONALITY DISORDER' DISCHARGES TO CHEAT VETERANS OUT OF BENEFITS" (Veterans Today):An army sergeant who had received 22 honors including a Combat Action Badge prior to being wounded in Iraq by a mortar shell was told he was faking his medical symptoms and subjected to abusive treatment until he agreed to a "personality disorder"(PD) discharge. After a doctor with the First Cavalry division wrote he was out for "secondary gain," Chuck Luther was imprisoned in a six- by eight-foot isolation chamber, ridiculed by the guards, denied regular meals and showers and kept awake by perpetual lights and blasting heavy metal music---abuses similar to the punishments inflicted on terrorist suspects by the CIA. "They told me I wasn't a real soldier, that I was a piece of crap. All I wanted was to be treated for my injuries," 12-year veteran Luther told reporter Joshua Kors of "The Nation" magazine (April 26th). "Now suddenly I'm not a soldier. I'm a prisoner, by my own people. I felt like a caged animal in that room. That's when I started to lose it." The article is called "Disposable Soldiers: How the Pentagon is Cheating Wounded Vets." Luther had been seven months into his deployment at Camp Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, when a mortal shell exploded at the base of his guard tower that knocked him down, slamming his head into the concrete. "I remember laying there in a daze, looking around, trying to figure out where I was at," he said. Luther suffered permanent hearing loss in his right ear, tinnitus, agonizing headaches behind his right eye, severe nosebleeds, and shoulder pain.

Yesterday's snapshot addressed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Wally covered it in "Scott Brown," Ava in "Burris asks, Wilson sometimes answers" and Kat in "Marco Reininger testifes to Congress."

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Starving for attention





Bi-partisan support doesn't mean a great deal to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as senators on both sides of the aisle can attest. It is a dysfunctional committee that appears repeatedly unable to address new business. Murray's legislation may fly through, however, because what does get accomplished tends to happen as a result of her. She's pretty much the acting chair and the Committee would do much better if the current chair would acknowledge the reality that, at 85-years-old, he is not up to the job of chairing a committee, certainly not one with such pressing responsibilities. The Democratic Party has shown no leadership in confronting him on this matter.

Today the Committee held one of those oh so rare blink and you miss it hearings. So rare, in fact, that Senator Jon Tester felt the need to declare to Akaka, "I want to thank you for the hearing." Chair Akaka was doing stand up -- and about as funny as Dane Cook (translation, not at all -- though Tester might disagree, he noted after Akaka's stand up was completed, "I can't top that by any means."). The hearing was on the GI Bill and Akaka declared (straight face/dead pan) that, "Since the programs began, the Committee has been actively monitoring the implementation of the new benefits." Really?
I didn't realize Stephanie Herseth Sandlin served on this committee.

Oh, wait, she doesn't. She serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and I know I've attended at least three hearings she's held in the last seven months which have addressed the payments in the GI Bill program and other details of the program. And Danny Akaka has chaired how many hearings on this? Help me out here? The answer comes back, until today: ZERO.

Akaka's got time for jokes because he's not chairing a functioning committee. Veterans were waiting for their fall semester checks, having to take out loans, risking losing their housing and Akaka couldn't hold a hearing? This was a national scanald last fall and Akaka's response was to ignore it. This is unacceptable and the fact that Democratic leadership refuses to address it (they had no problem removing Robert Byrd as the Chair of a Committee) is beginning to translate into: We don't give a damn about veterans. The veterans of America do not have time to waste because Akaka's 85-years-old and won't admit that he's barely keeping it together and that he needs to resign as chair. The veterans of American and their loved ones do not have time to waste because the Senate Democratic leadership will not impose discpline and explain to Akaka that seniority and senility share a lot of common syllables.

The hearing was composed of two panels. The first panel was the VA's Keith Wilson and Dan Osendorf as well as DoD's Robert Clark. The second panel was Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Marco Reininger and Faith DesLauriers, Robert Madden (American Legion) and William Stephens (National Association of State Approving Agencies).

The eye rolling never stops with the ineffective Committee and its government witnesses. All on the first panel were proud of themselves and full of themselves. Keith Wilson's song and dance is old -- but of course, unlike the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the Senate version was finally hearing him for the first time.

Let's drop in to Dan Osendorf's remarks. Those paying attention should be offended.

Dan Osendorf: In October 2009, VA began issuing advance payment to veterans and service members who had not received their benefits for the fall enrollment period This was done so they could focus on their academic studies and not be burdened with their financial concerns. VA notified advance payment recipients in late January and February of the reimbursment process for the advance payments. Notification explained that $750 dollars would be deducted from their monthly education payments beginning April 1st and they could make arrangements with the debt management center for a reduced withholding if $750 was causing a financial hardship. Individuals not currently enrolled in school received notification on how payment arrangements could be made to satisfy the debt. Anticipating a large number of requests for lower withholdings for the April 1 check. VMC added six telephone lines and eight operators and extended telephone service hours an additional hour to handle the increased volume. In addition, we created a form that allowed them to request a reduced withholding and could be e-mailed to DMC. This was also furnished to the VVA education websites so that they could take calls and forward the forms to us. We created special mailboxes where they could send the forms to, we could process them to. In addition, VVA added it to its website [. . .]

Wow, you worked real hard and you're such a big sweetheart to do all that. If we forget that you had to do all of that because the VA wasn't doing their damn job. No "advance" payments would have been needed had the VA distributed the fall checks in a timely manner -- and, yes, there are still some who have not received their fall checks, their fall 2009 checks. This is akin to an arsonist bragging about how s/he saved the building after setting it on fire. If the building had never been set on fire, no efforts to put out the fire would have been needed. The idea that "advance" checks were a favor? That's laughable.
So was having to sit through another slide show by Keith Wilson -- though, again, this was a first for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee since they chose to do nothing when Kimberly Hefling and AP broke the story. They chose to do nothing while parents were in danger of losing their housing. They chose to do nothing while veterans -- as late as December -- were having to take out short term loans at high interest rates to pay for Christmas for their children because they'd used every spare bit of their own money to cover the tuition that the VA was supposed to have already covered. I love how it's "advanced" checks today -- in real time, they were calling them "emergency" checks. But let's downplay that as well.

Wilson lied to through his teeth at one point and if anyone on the panel had been to college (or paid attention to their child's college) in the last two decades, they would have confronted him on it (instead Akaka quickly moved on -- well maybe one of his great grandchildren will go to college soon). Universities do not set their tuition rate as the fall semester begins. They would lose a huge number of students that way because students (and parents if parents are paying) need to know in advance what the cost is. But Wilson pinned the blame for the delays in checks on the fact that it was "crunch time" and just as the VA wants to be paying the full fall semester at the start, well at the start of the fall semester is when the universities are setting their tuition. And anyone in college in the last two decades or with children in college would have said, "Uh, explain to me then early enrollment?" This week alone, KOMU has reported that tuition for grad school will increase this fall (2.7%) for the University of Missouri System, the Jackson Citizen Patriot editorial board just praised Michigan University's board of regents for announcing that there will be no increase in tuition (or the cost of room and board) for the fall 2010 semester (or the spring 2011). And we could go on and on. But this is set well ahead of time. We'll note the exchange in full. Please note Wilson -- as he always does -- refers to the start of the year when in fact he means the fall semester. He does that in every hearing. I have no idea why. But read the remarks in full and you'll grasp how he's claiming that the schools are submitting fall enrollment funds to the VA at the same time that the tuition rates are still up in the air. That is incorrect. There are about seven lies/errors in his testimony and, were I not so disgusted, we'd go through each one.

Chair Daniel Akaka: What one change do you believe would be most important to streamline and simplify the implement a new program?

Keith Wilson: I have to limit that to one? [Laughs at what he thinks was his own humorous remark.] The program itself is a fabulous program. Uh, and anything I would say, I wouldn't want to detract from - from the significance of this program. From-from the user perspective, from the students -- the veterans perspective what I hear a lot about is the confusion of having -- thank you [volume on his microphone had been turned up] -- more than one GI Bill program. As you're aware, the programs that we had prior to the post-9/11 GI Bill are still in existance and individuals need to make those decisions on what the best program is for them based on their unique situations. It's not always the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it's not always the Montgomery GI Bill. But that decision process causes a lot of confusion for our students and it makes it that much more cumbersome for us to administer as well. There are a lot of other issues with the payment structure uh and timing. For example, uh, paying the tuition and fees and setting the tuition and fees are at the beginning of the year. That causes us a lot of problems because the time that the states are setting the tuition rates is the same time that schools are submitting enrollment information to us and we're wanting to pay benefits. Just that crunch time that occurs in the fall with the establishments of the rates -- uh -- is very challenging.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Uh, Mr. Warren . . .

I'm not in the damn mood and the fact that the Committee was goes to their lack of leadership and, honestly, their lack of awareness. Do we have to buy them building blocks and Play Dough to explain what's what to them? This is ridiculous. US House Rep Harry Teague was calling out the problems with choosing one of the two bills -- Montgomery or Post-9/11 -- in a hearing on October 15th and he was calling it out to whom? Keith Wilson. Yeah. And now Keefers want to act like it's a big problem.

Before the problem, when answering Teague, was "statutory requirement" -- confronted with the issue, he pushed it off as a problem Congress had created. Now, he brings it up on his own and still doesn't take responsibility. I'm going to repeat what we noted when we covered that before: The VFW -- FOR FREE -- helped veterans figure out which program was best suited for their needs. They stepped up and did that for free. That's great and many were helped by the VFW doing that; however, that's the role of the VA. The VA -- paid to do this -- didn't do their damn job and the VFW -- not an arm of the government -- came in and picked up the slack as best they could.

Congress has refused, REFUSED, to call out the VA for this. People are confused, Keith Wilson wants to say today. Well, yeah, they are and it's the VA job to clarify. I know Wilson's job would be so much easier if it weren't for those 'pesky veterans' but those veterans are why he has a job, why VA exists and its past time that they started doing that job. And veterans are aware of this. It was a friend who's an Iraq War veteran that asked me to note, last fall, that the VFW was doing this and doing it for free. And he noted he was on hold or couldn't get through with the VA over and over but there was little to no wait time with the VFW. Why is that the VA isn't held to any standards at all?

And why is it that on the House Committee you have so many who are informed and who work so very hard and will ask the tough questions but on the Senate Committee it's all grins and giggles. Let's drop back to that October 15th hearing to again note US House Rep Harry Mitchell refusing to be spun by Keith Wilson:

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?

Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.

US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.

Remember that this morning's hearing was the first time that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing. They had other things to do . . . like rest. And rest some more. Nap. Naps are good. Find some soft foods that don't require a great deal of chewing. Nap. Nap some more. And when they finally hold a hearing, they are uninformed and they are unwilling to probe.

Oh, excuse me. Akaka did ask about checks. He asked about checks that were over the amount needed and how the VA was going to ensure that this didn't happen again. That he was worried about. (As was Ranking Member Richard Burr.) A small number (about 6,000) of veterans were overpaid and the VA now has to go back and figure out who those were (that was the VA's error, by the way, not the veterans) and that was a deep concern to Akaka. All the ones whose life were turned upside down while they waited, the ones who are now being pressured to pay back the "advance" payments, those aren't a real big concern for the Committee.

Jon Tester tried to ask questions and if I were in the mood to spoon feed him, I'd go over all the lies he was told. But the automated program -- and he can check with the House committee on this -- was supposed to be no problem except for new arrivals. That means when Tester was told that there would be about a 10% reduction in the future of processing, he was lied to. The VA is again changing their timelines and their figures. That was obvious throughout the hearing. Tester had some good questions (including about rural areas) but if anyone on his staff had bothered to contact the staff of the House members of the Veterans Affairs Committee, they could have prepped him and he would have realized that agreed to targets and that happy spin that was provided over the last months just got pushed back dates. There's no excuse for this.

And if you're not grasping it or you need a walk through, we'll drop back to the January 21st snapshot for this exchange that took place during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity where Keith Wilson and his co-horts were again Happy Talking:

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Let me start with a statement, Mr. Wilson, that you made. On slide four, the long-term release II scheduled for June 30, 2010 that sort of allows for the automated data feeds for the schools, DoD, that this is a game changer from the user point of view. You know, for Mr. Baker, Mr. Wilson, I assume that the goal for the long-term release II is to have that operatational for processing fall 2010 semester claims. Is that correct?

Keith Wilson: Yes, that's correct.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That being the case, Mr. Baker, according to your testimony, release I has been modified to reduce its functionality because of this software requirement that you recently --

Roger Baker: Yes. The increased complexity, yes.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So why did it take until just recently to identify the need for the new software requirement?

Roger Baker: Actually . . . uhm . .. what-what occured is as the subject matter experts and the software people were sitting down together to walk through what does an amended reward really mean? What are the intracricies, the decision trees required for an amended reward . . . uhm . . . They kept uncovering , if you will, more and more depth of what was required on software of amended awards and it went beyond the estimates they had originally had for what it was going to take to do amended awards. Uh, so as we determined that the amount of work to make that March 31st date exceeded the amount possible to accomplish, we had to determine what would come out of that release?

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And how confident are you then that the June 30th deadline can be met --

Roger Baker: We're --

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: In light of how important that deadline is to the fall semester?

Roger Baker: We're -- we're pretty confident in that. We-we, as you can imagine, we've had some significant focus on that as well. And we've talked about what is it possible to do in the June 30th timeframe. We know that we can get everything in that was originally scheduled for release I and release I was intended to be the replacement for the current system so -- functional replacement. If we had delayed release I until about mid-May , we'd have had a fully functional release. There's about that much additional work that was added. Uh, so we know that will come in. And we will be releasing that functionality in incremental pieces along the way to mid-May and if VBA determines it's appropriate allowing the users to work with the increased functionality in that time frame. And then adding those automated feeds that are critical as we ramp up to June 30th. So we-we have a reasonably good confidence in the June 30th -- and if you don't mind, I'll elaborate on that just a little bit further. The-the thing that I have to tell you that I'm pleased with in the slip -- and I know this is going to sound a little strange -- is that in December, this project team was able to tell us that they had a problem with meeting the March 31st date. That's not a usual thing inside of VA projects. Usually, you hear about it March 30th. Uh, you know, that's going to happen on March 31st. That gave us time to make rational decisions about: Do we want to allow the slip or do we want to force the delivery date so that we see the software and what is the impact of that on subsequent releases? And so that's why we have a reasonable degree of confidence that we're going to have what we need on June 30th for a more automated system going into the fall semester. That's exactly been our focus with that June 30th release.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I would just request that as that team -- you know, you've got a lot of internal milestones you're trying to meet and you've been very helpful to our committee and our committee staff in sharing information at every step of this process but in light of the problems that we've had with the interum solution, in light of the importance of this long-term solution, we-we need to stay on top of this, day-by-day, week-by-week. And if there is any other problem that is revealed to your project team, uh, we just need to be made aware of some of that ongoing work because of the importance of these deadlines in meeting the benefits for these students and-and understanding what more you might need from us because it's a high priority not only among this committee but the colleagues we hear from who have student veterans who are experiencing problems. You know, we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions immediately.

The automated data feeds were supposed to be in place by June 30th, reducing much of the work and speeding up the fall 2010 process. Today in the hearing, we heard otherwise; however, no senator was aware that they were hearing otherwise. Maybe if the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee had a functioning Chair and actually did some real work, they'd know these things. Instead they got played and punked in public and, yes, people at the hearing were shaking their heads over the lack of knowledge on that Committee.

Senator Scott Brown did a fine job. Wally's going to highlight Brown at Rebecca's site tonight -- he's Rebecca's senator (and Mike's, and Trina's). Other than him and one other -- and I may be grading him on a curve since he's new but I don't think so, "how are you going to ensure that it doesn't happen again" is a question all senators should have been asking, I only heard Brown do it -- I don't offer excuses for any of them. We're talking about people's lives here and the committee members are entrusted, by the citizens of the United States, with oversight. But they didn't want to use it. It's past time for the Democratic leadership to explain to Akaka that he needs to step down and to make Patty Murray the Chair. (Or do they really want to go into the election cycle with a disfunctioning Committee and at the same time drawing attention to how few Chairs are women in the Senate?)
Who was the one other? Ava's covering Senator Roland Burris (at Trina's site tonight). Burris actually does work. He always has. He's been an impressive senator and it's a real shame that those who never knew his work joined with the efforts to deny him the ability to run for election (he was appointed to his seat). Senator Burris knows the basics before he shows up for the hearing. (Disclosure/Reminder: I advocated for Burris to be seated after he was appointed to the Senate. I've never met him and never spoken to him.)

The second panel was very brief, roughly 35 minutes. Apparently there wasn't a great need from the Committee to hear from the people who are actually effected. At length, we'll note the following from IVAV's Marco Reininger who served in Afghanistan as a National Guard member:

Marco Reininger: Late GI Bill checks mean no rent checks and sleepless nights. I applied for my new GI Bill benefits on May 1st, shortly after being accepted to Columbia University. I knew that living in New York City and attending a private school meant that I could not afford any delays in my benefits. When my first living allowance check was significantly late, I was incredibly worried. I did not live in university housing and had to count on the generosity of my landlord to forgive my late rent paymetns. Columbia University was also very accommodating and did not penalize student veterans for late VA checks. That wasn't the case for all student veterans. A fellow Army veteran was un-enrolled from courses shortly before his final exams because of overdue account balances. I am thankful the VA finally started issuing emergency checks in October. Without this stop-gap measure, I would have quickly gotten into severe financial distress. When I stood in line, at the local New York City VA office, for my $3,000 advance payment, many of my fellow veterans from all over the region were extremely hesitant to accept the emergency payment. They were concerned that it would come back to haunt them in the future. This engrained distrust of the VA is not unusual among my peers. I had no choice but to accept the emergency payment. I took the hand written check and a letter from the VA to my bank, so they wouldn't place a hold on the check when I deposited it. In addition to the VA checks, members of our student veterans community supported one another by lending each other cash in order to get by, avoid bad credit scores and collection agencies. I finally started receiving my GI Bill benefits in November 2010. Last fall, I was one of the lucky ones who received their GI Bill in a somewhat timely manner. Sadly, many of my friends and fellow students had to struggle to make ends meet because their GI Bill checks never arrived. A fellow Columbia veteran pal of mine just received his first check last month.
Interestingly enough the most common complaint I hear from my fellow student veterans is that they didn't know when their GI Bill checks would arrive. Student veterans can scrimp and save in a pinch, photocopying assigned readings instead of buying the textbooks or being content to eat Ramen noodles for another week instead of going out to dinner with our clasmates. We can make due, but only if we know that our GI Bill check is going to arrive on a particular day. Not knowing when it will arrive and not being able to get an answer from the VA can wreak havoc on your life. You have to plan for the worst. I know some veterans who took some drastic measures. A fellow veteran ate canned beans and sardines three meals a day for an entire semester, trying to scrape up gas money for his wife and children back home. How could he possibly thrive at school when he was consumed with the responsibility of providing for his family? The new GI Bill was meant to relieve him of that burden.
[. . .]
I recently received a letter from the VA Debt Management Center warning me that they were planning to take back the $3,000 emergency payment they loaned me in the fall. They advised me that they would be deducting $750/month from my living allowance check unless I made other arraignments. Thankfully, I was reminded by IAVA that I needed to turn in my paperwork by the April deadline, otherwise the VA would have deducted the $750 automatically from my living allowance. It wasn't the VA that told me --- it was IAVA. I emailed the VA Debt Management Center, and they set up a payment plan of $150/month, which is within my means. Other student veterans didn't have it so smoothly. Some tried to set up payment plans but still had the full $750 deducted from their living allowance check. When you are living on a tight budget, $750/month can mean the difference between focusing on studies and looking for a second job. Other veterans had their debt applied to their accounts, even though the VA owed them money.
[. . .]
Lastly, and I hope not to sound too petty, I believe the VA owes me some money. The military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates went up on January 1st, but I never saw an increase in my living allowance checks. I know the rates for Columbia's ZIP code increased slightly. So what happened? I ask because I know if I owed the VA money (which I do), they would certainly be in quite a hurry to collect (which they are). But when the VA owes me money, I can't seem to get any answers. Furthermore, in some of my veteran friends' areas the difference is quite significant, particularly when one receives less money than originally budgeted.

Kat's covering the second panel at her site tonight.

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"The all new Joanie Loves Chachi"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The all new Joanie Loves Chachi







The violence has, of course, created the largest refugee crisis in the world. There's a report that's being spun by some outlets -- including Voice of America -- that an International Organization for Migration report is maintaining refugees are returning to Iraq and that the migration out of Iraq has stopped. IOM is part of the United Nations. In Syria, the UN is still registering (as of this week, I just got off the phone) Iraqi refugees who are just arriving. The IOM report (click here for IOM's summary) is not about external refugees. It's about Iraqis who stayed in Iraq but fled their own homes. The internal refugees.

On the subject of refugees, War News Radio latest weekly broadcast features a report on the Mandaeans -- ninety percent of whom have now left Iraq.

Caitlin Jennings: A few months after the US invasion, Basil al-Majidi began working for the coalition forces in Baghdad. He was appointed general manager of a tracking company responsible for making contracts to support US operations in Iraq As a member of the Iraqi minority group, the Sabian Mandaeans, al-Majidi says that he felt like a second class citizen under Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. With Hussein no longer in power, al-Majidi and his parents were optimistic about the future but in the months that followed sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. Pacificsts by doctrine the Mandaeans are one of the most peaceful religious groups in Iraq; however, al-Majidi felt forced to keep his religious identity a secret.

Basil al-Majidi: I worked from 2004 'till 2007 and no one -- absolutely no one -- in my company knew that I was Manaean. They knew that I was a Muslim. When they used to ask me, "Are you Sunni or Shi'ite," I refused to tell them. I told them I was just a Muslim. I don't discriminate.

Caitlin Jennings: Mandaeans are followers of John the Baptist and their religious practice centers on the rites of Baptism. But for Majidi and many Mandaeans public religious practice was out of the question.

Basil al-Majidi: We couldn't do funeral ceremonies for dead people. It was a problem. Many people were buried in their own backyards to avoid going to the cemetary which was in the Abu Ghraib area. So, like for practicing rituals, for maintaining and preserving your own faith inside yourself? No. We just forgot about that. We just left it behind.

Caitlin Jennings: He started to receive death threats from Islamic militias both at his work and at his house. By 2006, the situation had reached what he refers to as unbearable limits.

Basil al-Majidi: You just feel that you are, that you are being rejected from all of the community, from all of your surroundings, from all of your surroundings. So I had to escape.

Caitlin Jennings: al-Majidi and his parents fled to Syria where they joined 1.3 million other Iraqi refugees already there. After two and a half years of waiting, al-Majidi was accepted for re-settlement in the United States. Although al-Majidi is now safe in the US, he is still unable to practice his religion. He no longer fears religious persecution but without priests and other Mandaeans, he cannot practice or perform rituals. Dr. Suhaib Nashi, Secretary General of the Mandaeans Associations Union -- an umbrella organization that encompasses all Mandaean Associations outside of Iraq and Iran argues that the resettlement of Iraqi Mandaeans around the globe while saving individuals is destroying the community as a whole.

Dr. Suhaib Nashi: Dispersing them all over the place is sweet poison for us. It kills the religion It finishes what the insurgency are doing. With all of our benevolence, with our feeling of doing good for them, we are destroying them without us knowing. We really, really need understanding and being sensitive to that part of the salvage of Mandaeans. That's not salvage of a family, it's salvage of a culture -- salvation of a whole community and a whole group of people and a language and religion.

Caitlin Jennings: Originally from Iraq, Nashi, who is Mandaean, fled in 1991 after the Iraq War. He currently lives with his family in New Jersey. He says the only way for the group to survive in the longterm is to have a sustainable community in one place.

Yesterday's snapshot noted the first panel -- DoD -- of the Commission on Wartime Contracting's hearing. Some e-mails came in about the second panel. The first panel was of more interest. We'll note the second panel which lasted about a third of the time the first panel took up. Today we'll note panel two which was composed of contractors: AECOM Government Services CEO Jay Ward and CACI International's senior vice president Terry Raney. The Co-Chairs are Christopher Shays and Michael J. Thibault. Aegis Defense Services president Kristi Clemens was scheduled to testify but did not show. Thibault swore the two men before they gave any testimony. We'll note two sections.

First, AECOM has been in Iraq and in Afghanistan since 2005. Questioning Ward, Thibault noted that in Afghanistan "life support and security" is provided for Ward's employees by the US Army and he

Co-Chair Michael J. Thibault: Does the company in any case or for other purposes or other have to employ your own security?

Jay Ward: Yes, in Iraq, we've had security subcontractors provide transportation primarily from Bagram or the Green Zone or out to the different locations. And then because we work on Iraqi military installations as opposed to inside the wire at Taji, we'll have uh a security service provide parameter security at the gate into our living compounds.

Co-Chair Michael J. Thibault: And that is -- those are contractors that are awarded by the site security -- are those JCCIA contracts or are they your own?

Jay Ward: They're subcontracts to us.

Co-Chair Michael J. Thibault: That are your own?
Jay Ward: Yes, sir.

Especially due to the Afghanistan conversation, it appeared that Thibault was concerned regarding the oversight of the subcontractees in Iraq. The other moment that appeared to be going somewhere addressed disbelief on the part on the part of one commissioner.

Commissioner Grant S. Green: You have about how many people providing support to JCAA? About fifty people?

Terry Raney: We have 40 in Iraq and 12 in Afghanistan.

Commissioner Grant S. Green: And these people are providing aquisition management services, they're providing program management advice, aquisition advice to officers and managers, true?

Terry Raney: Yes, sir.

Commissioner Grant S. Green: You had mentioned in a response to Commissioner [Dov] Zakheim's question, 'Has anyone ever called, oop, I got a problem, my boss is asking me something and it crosses the line?' And you said, 'No, they never had."

Terry Raney: Not that I've received that call or I believe --

Commissioner Grant S. Green: I just -- I just find it hard to believe, human nature being what it is -- and you acknowledged this initially, that your people were probably more experienced in the workings of JCCAI/A contracting than is the new civilian or military contracting officer walking through the door to a new assignment. It's just hard for me to believe since 2004, there has not been any discussion that crosses this line. So I guess my question to you is what is your level of confidence in percentages that nothing like this has ever happened?

Terry Raney: I'll come at your question from two ways. The first is, we've been -- The requirement we have from the JCCI from day one has been to bring very experienced people. That means people familiar with the authorization processes and systems and recognize these things. And we talk about that before they go over, alright? So I guess I would say I am sure, likely, that there have been conversations between some of our people that are very experienced with somebody who's not relative to 'This is the way that I see this but it's your -- it's your -- I'm providing advice, that's what we're required to do. You have your responsibilities as well to do and that's in awarding the contract, making those decisions.' So I would suspect and I would guess that we've had some of our more experienced people handle it on a personal basis and that's the way we would look to -- look to handle it because that's what we expect of people with that kind of experience and expertise.

Again, the most interesting panel was the first one (which was covered in yesterday's snapshot). Tomorrow we may cover a hearing from late to date but it was bumped to cover the above. Meanwhile Barack went to California and it was not pretty. Though he was attempting to drive up support for Barbara Boxer, he only succeeded in antagonizing the crowd. Lin Zhi (Xinhua) reports he "was repeatedly interrupted by a number of listeners who attacked him on his policies barring gays from openly and equality serving in the military when he was delivering a speech . . . . The protesters come from GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group that has also organized similar protests recently. A coalition of groups called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan." It left some acid rain dripping on Barack's attempt to fundraise for Senator Barbara Boxer's increasingly challenging run for the US Senate. In an effort to appease the protesters, Barack made the ridiculous claim that he and Barbara were leaders on Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. That kind of crap would fly in NYC -- where Panhandle Media would lap it up because it sounds good to them. But in California, we know Boxer's done nothing. We know that Senators Roland Burris and Kirsten Gillibrand have been doing more and doing more in public and that both were just appointed to the Senate in 2009. Boxer's a senator from California who's been elected to her seat repeatedly. She bragged in 2004, in fact, that she won a greater percentage of the vote than did Bully Boy Bush. She should have been leading on this issue. Instead, allegedly due to the Prop 8 vote and the video of her that's supposed to portray her as disrespectful of the military, she's hung in the background.
Well . . . hung in the background and promoted her poorly written (co-written) latest attempt at Harold Robbins. Bad books, after all, rarely sell themselves. And picture that -- 2004, she got a higher percentage of votes than any other senator (or Bush, for that matter) and joked about having a "mandate" but today, her first re-election run since then, she's in the fight of her life just to hold on to her seat. How out of it, how non-leadership is Barack on this issue? In the middle of the protest, he had to ask Boxer if she voted for Don't Ask, Don't Tell originally and she said she didn't at which point he informed the audience "I just checked with Barbara, so if anybody else is thinking about starting a chant, Barbara didn't even vote for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in the first place." Thanks for that 'breaking' news, Barack. If she had voted for it, you better believe she would have been a one term senator. For just a moment grasp what took place.Barack claims he wants to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And he claims he is in Los Angeles standing by his friend Barbara Boxer . . . and he doesn't even know how she voted? That tells you exactly how distant Barack actually is from this issue. Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) reports of one protester, "'I am protesting because while I volunteered for, voted for, and still believe in Obama, I also believe is time to repeal don't ask don't tell,' an apparent protester wrote on"When not spinning Boxer's professional lethargy, the two were confronted by people such as Iraq War veteran Mike Prysner, of March Forward!, who the AP quotes telling Barack, "As an Iraq War veteran, I understand the importance of stopping these unjust wars. Too many civilians and soldiers are dying, too much money is going to fund death and destruction, while so many of us are hurting here at home."We are in the Great Recession and it probably doesn't help Barack look 'of the people' when the Los Angeles Independent reports, "A ticket to the dinner was $17,600 per person, a figure arrived at by combining half the maximum $30,400 contribution to a national party committee combined with the maximum $2,400 donation to a candidate. All the events sold out." They also report Barack whined about the issues he faces as president. Oh, I'm sorry, did he think it was all pageant waving and super market openings? Cover shoots and Jay Leno interviews? Andrew Malcolm (Los Angeles Times) also notes the price:
As The Ticket reported here earlier Monday, Obama flew across the country for no public events but just two fundraisers for the embattled liberal Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer seeking a four Senate term where tickets ranged up to $17,600 to sip wine and hear the president.
Obama's batting average campaigning for fellow Democrats is a pathetic 0-7 in recent months,. But Boxer needs help (especially in the money department in this expensive state) even in liberal California where she's been unable to reach the key 50% approval rating this year against a trio of potential Republican opponents.

Cedric's "He Loves LA, LA Remains Lukewarm" and Wally's "He Loves LA, LA Remains Lukewarm" (joint-post) covered the less-than-warm welcome Barack received, Ann covered the silence on Iraq "Diane Rehm has time for sleep none for Iraq," and Ruth ("Out-FM disgraces itself") and Mike ("Queer Voices, Goldman Sachs, Third") covered LGBT issues.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"Diane Rehm has time for sleep none for Iraq"
"The economy"
"Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd on Good Morning America"
"disclosures, jokes and previews"
"Out-FM disgraces itself"
"No, I won't note KPFA's Women's Magazine"
"Progressive Forum"
"Center for Media and Democracy (disgrace)"
"Kazan, Williams and Fey"
"Queer Voices, Goldman Sachs, Third"
"He Loves LA, LA Remains Lukewarm"