Saturday, May 01, 2010

Smile pretty





For example, the Toledo Blade's editorial board argues what listeners of Diane Rehm's program were wrongly told the Kagans (or at least Fred) argued:
Hints by U.S. military leaders suggest the withdrawal might be delayed if Iraqis don't assemble a credible government soon. But that plays right into the hands of Iraqi political and business interests that want U.S. funds - about $2 billion a month - to continue to flow there. Mr. Maliki and others also want to maintain the protective American shield around themselves and their government.
America's interest is to withdraw according to schedule. There is no good reason to divert from that plan.
That is consistent with the Toledo Blade's February editorial "Don't yield to Iraqi stunts." Turning to the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. When noting that 'NGO,' we will always note that they're not as 'independent' as they'd love to pretend, they are an arm of the US government. So what are they saying? Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi feel the rule of law is being ignored and that the Justice and Accountability Commission is among the worst offenders:
This decision to ban elected officials has truly taken Iraq into uncharted waters, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate ad hoc political decisions from those based on the legal criteria. The January 2008 law that established the JAC and defined its mandate did not foresee the possibility of banning candidates after the election and no precedent exists on which to base a decision as these are the first elections under the law. Making the decision even more political -- the post-election bans will affect Iraqiya particularly hard, as did the pre-election exclusions. With twenty-two of the candidates banned after the vote belonging to Iraqiya, it could lose its slim two-seat advantage over State of Law.
There are also questions concerning the current legal status of the JAC, whose members were nominated by the council of ministers, approved by parliament, and ratified by the presidency council -- institutions whose mandate was terminated at the end of the last parliament and are operating in a legal limbo in the transitional period until a government is formed. The situation will worsen as the transitional period stretches from the few weeks foreseen by the constitution to the many months that now appear possible.
Today Alsumaria TV reports on seven candidates banned by JAC: "Al Iraqiya List spokesman Haidar Al Mulla revealed to Alsumaria News the names of seven candidates subject to the Justice and Accountability Law. Candidates include Fallah Hassan Zaydan, Iskandar Watout, Itab Jassem Nassif, Jamal Al Batikh, Adnan Al Jinabi, Mohammed Al Karbouli and Qays Shathar Hussein while an eighth winning candidate was not named."
Another view is offered by Jim Waldo in a letter to the Duluth News Tribune where he observes, "Every day it seems we read about bombs going off in civilian settings and the marketplaces in Iraq. How long will it take before exasperated citizens put a strongman in power through voting or a coup? He might stop the carnage by temporarily suspending democracy, installing a secret police, forming a republican guard and adopting repressive measures. And he might indeed success in stopping the bombings." But, Jim Waldo feels, this is how the New Saddam Hussein is created. Alsumaria TV reports that Nouri insisted today that Iraq was at risk of "a coup" from within the region and internationally and that threats are being made of a rocket attack on the Green Zone. Save us, Nouri, save us!!!! (Yes, he does trade on the fear. It's always been his only currency.)
Turning to some of the violence reported today . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Garma roadside bombing injured two people and, dropping back to yesterday, reports a Heet roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left a second one wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded six people, a Baghdad car bombing claimed 8 lives and left twenty people wounded, a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded CTO Sadoun Seyid Qassim. Xinhua notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left nine people injured. Reuters notes that 1 US service member was injured by a Baghdad roadside bombing last night.
Yesterday, a subcommittee of the US House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the "Status of Veterans Small Business." Calling the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee to order, Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin noted, "Today's hearing will provide the US Government Accountability Office an opportunity to update us on the ongoing work on veteran-owned small businesses, and brought the hearing to order and noted " This Subcommittee last held a hearing on veterans and small business on March 11, 2010. The focus was on the Center for Veterans Enterprise and the Subcommittee were informed about problems to do with verification -- how some businesses that were not VA-owned were making it onto the list while others which were veteran-owned but could not make the list. What's changed? They did a study, the Government Accountability Office did a study. We'll note this exchange between the Chair, GAO's William B. Shear and Ranking Member John Boozman.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: [. . .] Because we have, as it relates to contracting requirements, a goal of making sure that it's veteran-owned businesses that are getting this opportunity just as it is in terms of the restriction Ms. [Diane] Farrell described, they're jobs created here as the objective so I -- You know, in your written testimony, you stated that the VA had hired a contractor to assess the verification programs process and the contractor's report included recommendations. Again, we're a little concerned with the progress the VA's making on the verifications as it relates to those on the database who have been verified to be veteran-owned businesses to deal with the issue of sort of veteran shopping that we have had concerns about with the Subcommittee previously. Can you elaborate on what recommendations were given to the VA?
William B. Shear: Uhm, I will paraphrase in a way that, uhm, as you know we have a draft report and as I stated we have a draft report. And among those, the needs to really implement information technology in a way that allows for more efficient processing of these applications. You also need -- really it's development of people in terms of their ability of the guidance that they have to have in terms of how they verify businesses. So I'm -- I'm segueing a little bit into what's-what's-what we're reporting on. But-but basically that it's been very slow in this process. And the reason we think it's very important is because the preferences are meant to serve veterans and veteran owned small business and there's not an assurance that that is happening. And it's been delayed for some period of time, so just the fact that the consultant study, that it took so long until they kind of like moved in that direction is of concern to us.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mr. Boozeman?
Ranking Member John Boozemmn: Thank you, Madame Chair. Mr. Shear, Public Law 109-461 requires VA to review contracts for compliance with subcontracting proposals. Would you share GIO's view of VA's performance in implementing the provisions
William B. Shear: Subcontracting was the one part that is contained -- will be contained in our final report. And what we observed with subcontracting requirements, there's -- there's certain issues as far as the date when that becomes effective. But what we have observed to date is that the -- with respect to subcontracting VA falls very short of its goals.
If we wanted to go deeper into the hearing, we could note that you do not appear before Congress chewing (smacking) gum. It's not a possible rule, it's a rule. Smacking your gum between and during your testimony not only distracts from your testimony, it makes it appear you really aren't ready to appear before Congress and that they might need to instead seat you at the kiddie table.
Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. He explains at the website:

I am an Iraq-war veteran who is hiking 7000 miles across America to raise money for struggling veterans, and help get a national "Day of the Deployed" by getting signatures from mayors and governors across America on a custom Louisville Slugger bat

And with over 200 of the 7000 miles completed already, he has another milestone scheduled for the week: He's getting married Sunday. More information and videos can be found at Drum Hike.

William J. Booher (Indy Star) reports
that May is when Troy is set to be walking in Indiana and provides a list of some of the events including "a public barbecue May 7 at American Legion Post 252, 334 U.S. 31 S., between Main Street and Smith Valley Road." That is open to the public and begins at 12:30 in Greenwood, Indiana.

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"But he breaks just like a little girl"

Friday, April 30, 2010

But he breaks just like a little girl





Following a brief mark up meeting, Chair Michael Michaud called to order the Health Subcommittee (of the House Veterans Affaris Committee) to order. The Subcommmittee was receiving an update on a pilot program. Michaud noted, "I recognize and appreciate the VA's efforts in addressing the health care needs of our rural veterans who are more likely to be in poorer health than their urban counterparts. However, more work remains in this area as our rural veterans face unique challenges that are both extensive and complex. The enhanced contract care pilot program is a potential tool for expanding access to health care for our rural veterans in areas where the VA is unable to provide care." VA's Patricia Vandenberg appeared before the Subcommittee accompanied by Gita Uppal. VA is, of course, Veterans Administration. "VISN" is Veterans Integrated Service Network.
A problem that arises repeatedly is that Congress writes a bill, passes it, it's signed into law and then it's not followed. Sometimes there's accidental confusion, sometimes there's intenational confusion. Many times the confusion is not even noticed until well after the project is underway. Today the Subcommitee heard about the status on a pilot program that they passed the legislation for and that is in the process of being implemented. Because the Subcommittee members paid attention and asked important questions, a problem dealing with confusion on the part of the VA quickly became evident.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: You're testimony raises a significant concern for me, however. This started out as legislation that would effect the entire country and, if you lived a certain number of miles from a provider, you would then be eligible for VA care provided with a local provider. It was narrowed to be a certain number of VISNs as a pilot or demonstartion project but your testimony suggests to me that you're now narrowing it even further and that you're going to do a particular community within that vison and that's troublesome for me because we've gone from a broad scope taking care of a large number of veterans to -- I was convinced that we should see how this works. But the CBO score, as we talk about its costs, to me, it was never suggested that we were not going to provide the same opportunity for community based service for every veteran that lived that number of miles -- now that number of minutes from a provider, from a VA provider. Is --Am I understanding the testimony correctly that now we're just going to select certain communities within the VISN? And make that the pilot program?
Patricia Vandenberg: We have asked the visons to identify multiple sites as focal points within their vison for potentially standing up this pilot project. At this point and time that is the direction that we're moving in. We understood the wording in the law when it said the Secretary will select areas, sites -- that that was permissable, that that was feasible in the pilot structure. So we are here obviously today to gain further insight from the committee as to your expectations.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: Well that certainly would be different than my expectations then Mr. Michaud and others may have an opinion but I would -- I'd be very critical of the concept that we're going to narrow the opportunities for veterans even further so if you're a veteran that lives a number of minutes from the provider you may or may not qualify depending upon whether the VISN director decided that your community is one that now qualifies. What I envision and what I hope that the VA would pursue is that if you meet the definition of highly rural and you're in that pilot demonstration VISN, you qualify. In fact, the VA has the obligation for providing a provider, finding a provider for you to meet your health care needs. So I welcome additional dialogue. Maybe other Committee members have an opinion regarding the intention but as I recall the CBO budget information did not narrow it one more step as it suggests that you suggest may occur. So my red flag is up.
Patricia Vandenberg: Thank you for the clarification, sir.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: You're very welcome. The legislation that the president's now expected to sign, do you have a sense, which defines miles to minutes, and the definition of . . . Help me?
Patricia Vandenberg: Hardship.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: Thank you! Hardship. Will it speed up the implementation date? Do you have a sense that now we're moving ahead six months more quickly?
Patricia Vandenberg: It certainly will facilitate us not being impeded by the regulatory process and so we believe that we are on a, uh, path at this point having issued the guidance to the field and asking them to identify sites. We may have to amend that per the conversation we are having. But we don't see any firm impediment except for the fact that I referenced earlier, we have no way of knowing when this goes out to the provider community what the level of receptivity would be. So I would say that the rate of progress going forward will be a function of the contracting mechanism and the receptivity in the provider community to work with us.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: I think that receptivity will in part depend upon the reimbursement rate that you conclude is appropriate and my understanding is that the VA's current fee base is fee base and you cover the entire cost of care. You provide health care for veterans with local providers today.
Patricia Vandenberg: Yes, sir.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: And I think you cover the entire cost of doing so. That I assume would be the most desirable model for the veteran and for the health care provider in getting this implemented and wide spread use. So I'm hoping that you follow the same practices that you've been following in the past of how you reimburse hometown providers today. Mr. Chairman, my time is expired, but I would welcome your input or the staff input on this issue of a pilot within a pilot. I'm fearful that we're narrowing the scope and the number of veterans that we wanted to take care of across the country was already narrowed to a certain number of veterans -- to a certain number of VISNs. And we need to make sure, in my opinion, that it's not narrowed further, that you have to live in a particular area within that community to access this health care. I thank the Chairman.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Thank you very much, Mr. Moran. You're absolutely correct, the whole intent was to have the VISN -- the whole VISN. Not a pilot within that VISN. And I believe we actually got a CBO score predicated on the full VISN, not on pilots within that VISN. And you're 100% correct, the intent of the legislation was for the full VISN. And that is a concern. This is not the first time we've seen this thing. We actually saw it back in legislation that was passed in 2006 relating to state veterans' nursing homes which required the VA to provide full cost of veterans and, through the rule making process, the VA narrowed that down to what full cost meant for the VA and we're trying to correct that issue currently. So but you're 100% correct, Mr. Moran, it was for the full VISN.
US House Rep Jerry Moran: Mr. Chairman, excuse me, and I would point that to my knowledge this is -- at least this is the first time I've heard as we've had briefings from the VA on this topic, this is the first time I've seen the narrowing of the narrowing. And so -- I appreiciate the Chairman's comments.
Patricia Vandenberg: Mr. Chairman, may I make a further comment?
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Yes.
Patricia Vandenberg: We obviously will respond to the feedback that we're receiving today but just to go back to the question of what further challenge or impediment might we experience I would just like to observe that when attempting to put a provider in place for highly rural veterans who will, no doubt, be dispersed in a VISN, we will likely experience a situation of multiple contracting relationships so that could potentially extend the timely implementation for coverage in an entire VISN. So I'm-I'm just wanting to acknowledge that I hear you, I-I further appreciate the intent and, just practically speaking, obviously going to honor the intent and just realize that we may be dealing -- In a number of instances, it would be ideal if there were a provider network established that had outlets if you will in those multiple venues. Having had some experience in my prior life in Idaho where the organization I was associated with attempted to set up those multiple venues in rural communities, it made it very easy if someone wanted to serve those communities, they just came to my organization and we helped them get that done. In our experience thus far in rural contracting, that hasn't always been the case. So I hear what the Committee is telling us today. We will proceed to respond to this and just work with due diligence to work through the contracting as timely as possible.
Jerry Moran: Mr. Chairman, I think what Ms. Vandenberg is telling me is my two desires of having broad scope and quick implementation may be mutually exclusive. And putting the reminder back to us that this may slow the process down if they've got to contract in a multiple number of ways. But, at least from my perspective, I would put the priority on doing it right, which is to take care of every veteran regardless of where they live, not within a particular communisty as compared to the speed of its accomplishment. We want both but, again, I think we'd make a terrible mistake if we go through this pilot program and we only, in a sense, take the easy areas within a rural VISN in which it's easier to find a provider or there's a multiple number of providers or there's a larger number of veterans. We're still isolating that veteran who lives a long distance from a VA hospital. And so my priority would be back to being sure that we implement this in a way that we can demonstrate that it can be done VISN wide. Thank you.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Thank you. Ms. Halvorson?
US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And while we've been discussing all this, there's probably many veterans who haven't been able to find a way to get taken care of. So while we're trying to figure out how to do this, our veterans still need help. So instead of reinventing the wheel or trying to figure out what's "rural," what's "hardship," why aren't we just taking care of our veterans and letting them go where ever it is that they need to be taken care of? Now I may be naive and I am new, this is my first term, but while we're trying to figure out the intent of a law or how to do it the right way, no matter if it takes long, what are we doing right now for our rural veterans? Where are they going and how are they getting taken care of?
Patricia Vandenberg: Thank you for the question. I'm glad you asked it because I can speak very directly to it. We are already providing a significant amount of fee care to rural and highly rural veterans. And under the aegis of the Office of Rural Health in Fiscal Year '10, we have just put out $200 million to the VISNs to afford them the extra resources to provide fee care to rural and highly rural veterans. So I think it's important to note that is a mechanism that is already in place and what I understood the intent of this law to do was to give VA additional incentive and capacity to further contract out care to extend that access even more. But, to answer your question, we are already meeting the needs of rural and highly rural veterans through the fee care mechanism
US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: So then and not to interrupt but so then what's the estimate of how many extra veterans are we gong to take care of and the cost? So we're already spending money, we're already taking care of people, so this program -- what are we assessing the pilot program's cost, the quality and how many veterans are going to be eligible for the pilot program?
Patricia Vandenberg: Let me take the assessment of costs. First, in our initial analysis of the implementation of the pilot as we previously understood it, we estimated up to $100 million. However, we knew that that was putting significant empahsis on primary care service delivery. And as you add in the multi-speciality dimensions of a patient's care, that that cost could rise. So our current working assumption is that the pilot project as we previously conceived it would cost at least $100 million. Now you're second question about quality? That's part of the analysis and the process of contracting and we're using all of the resources of VHA that we currently employ in the contract process. Pulling those in to look at the specifics of assessing the quality of the care and the patient's satisfaction with the care.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: So for a hundred million dollars, w'ere going to help more people?
Patricia Vandenberg: Yes, ma'am.
US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: And better?
Patricia Vandenberg: I-I think, uhm, I would just observe that we believe that the standard of care, the quality of care, that is evident in our current fee relationships is of a high quality nature so when we say beter, that could connote that there is something lacking in our current approach. . .
US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Right and it's not a good word. "Better" is not a good word.
Patricia Vandenberg: I just want to be precise. We definiately are trying to enhance access. And by spreading the network of contract relationships further into highly rural communities and attempting to structure those relationships -- in some instances, they don't exist today -- that will definitely enahnce the quality of veterans care because of the --
US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Okay, I just hope that we're not reinventing the wheel. It looks like you've taken all this time to discuss "hardship" and "rural" when we should be taking this time to help our veterans with their health care. And now, with 1963 I believe, we take hardship out altogether. We should have no problem now implementing this bill. So I know my time is about up, but I'm concerned about the care of my veterans. Not debating whether they're rural or if they have a hardship. We are talking about people that we just want to take care of. Thank you.
I included Halvorson because I think she did a good job and I think a lot of people are getting very tired and very annoyed by the constant need to refer to study. When you're given a directive, the study process should not be a hold up. Now we saw the government just waste money on a PSTD 'study' which issued their report a few weeks ago and the 'answer' was 'more research and study required.' Nothing to do with really helping those who deal with PTSD. And there is a growing frustration on the part of veterans. Halvorson has worked very hard to be very connected to the veterans in her district and her comments represent what she and other House Reps in contact with veterans are hearing.
And the confusion as to what VA was supposed to be implementing? Chair Michael Michaud noted "this legislation passed in October of 2008. We did not hear back from the VA until March of 2009 of why they can't implement it. And the concern being that when we went through the hearing process, the mark up process, that was the time the VA should have been before us saying, 'Well we need these changes'." Maybe there'd be less confusion, if they'd been present for those hearings. Not just to speak, but to listen.
In other news, US Rep Henry Brown is a Republican who serves on the Subcommittee (in fact, he's the Subcomittee's Ranking Member). His online office, his Congressional website, just won an award from the Congressional Management Foundation "for having one of the best Web sites in Congress." You can click here to visit and evaluate for yourselves. And here's the press release noting the award. His was one of offices receiving an award. The top honor, Platinum Mouse Award went to the online offices of US House Rep Steve Israel (Democrat), US House Republican Conference, Mike Pence (Republican) is the Chair, the House Committee on Science and Techonology which Bart Gordon (Democrat) chairs and the online office of US Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican). CMF notes:
"These four stood out from the rest and serve as examples for others to follow. Overall, we found the good sites are getting better and the bad are getting worse," said Beverly Bell, executive director of CMF, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded 33 years ago to promote a more effective Congress. "It looks like half of the Congress is racing to the top while the other half race to the bottom. The outstanding sites follow best practices, leverage the power of social media, and serve their constituents well. Those offices falling behind are losing a great opportunity to interact with their constituents in ways the public has grown to expect."
And on the topic of online Congressional offices, we'll close with Michael Applegate's "Stop Outsourcing Security Act HR 4650" (Iraq Veterans Against the War):

Rep Jan Schakowsky and 24 cosponsors are introducing a bill to phase out private military contractors.
A similar bill is being introduced to the Senate by Sen Bernie Sanders I(VT) S 3023
Contact your reps to urge them to support this bill.
Latest Major Action: 2/23/2010 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Armed Services, and Intelligence (Permanent Select),
Currently there are 24 cosponsors:
Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] - 2/23/2010
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] - 2/25/2010
Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [OR-4] - 3/10/2010
Rep Doggett, Lloyd [TX-25] - 4/21/2010
Rep Ellison, Keith [MN-5] - 2/23/2010
Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 2/23/2010
Rep Frank, Barney [MA-4] - 4/21/2010
Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 2/23/2010
Rep Grayson, Alan [FL-8] - 3/10/2010
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 2/23/2010
Rep Gutierrez, Luis V. [IL-4] - 2/23/2010
Rep Hall, John J. [NY-19] - 2/23/2010
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 2/23/2010
Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] - 2/23/2010
Rep Kaptur, Marcy [OH-9] - 4/21/2010
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] - 2/23/2010
Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] - 2/23/2010
Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] - 2/23/2010
Rep Moore, Gwen [WI-4] - 2/23/2010
Rep Polis, Jared [CO-2] - 2/23/2010
Rep Shea-Porter, Carol [NH-1] - 2/23/2010
Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] - 2/23/2010
Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [CA-6] - 2/23/2010
Rep Wu, David [OR-1] - 4/21/2010
Please become a citizen cosponsor by going to:

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"Oh no she didn't!"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh no she didn't!







A subcommittee of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee held a hearing today. "The Subcommittee meets today to hear testimony on military pay and compensation," declared Senator Jim Webb, Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee were DoD's William J. Carr, GAO's Brenda Farrell, CBO's Carla Tighe Murray and James Hosek of the RAND Corporation. Webb noted that to retain the quality in the services, compensation must be able to compete with private business and the need for a "robust benefits and compensation program." Webb noted (after the witnesses' opening statements) that when service was compulsary (draft) for males in the US, it was decided to spend more money on the career ranks but when it became voluntary, more money was on the lower end in as a recruiting tool.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: The question that came to mind when I was listening to this, when we're talking about comprability with private sector. For instance when the comment was made if you include other benefits there's about an 80th percentile for the typical military person. I would like to hear from all of you. First of all, which benefits are we including when we do that and which benefits are we not? For instance, on the medical side, do we factor in such things as not having to have malpractice insurance or to pay for an office. Do we count that as compensation when we're looking at comparing what the cost would be on the outside. What are we doing on these different areas? What are we putting in and what are we leaving out when we hit these kind of numbers? Ms. Farrell, you might want to start on that.

Brenda Farrell: Sure, senator. As I noted, the studies differ in what they include. The first -- That's the reason you get different results. Although at this time, the reports that we looked at from my colleagues here all came up showing that the military pay was very favorable. When we're talking about the 10th QRMC including select benefits it was health care, retirement and the federal tax advantage. And we're talking about a very broad base. When you refer to malpractice insurance, I'm thinking maybe you're thinking more of a scenario that's comparing one occupation for a physician in the private sector. These studies are very broad based. And that's the reason that we say they have limitations because the populations differ from -- usually your private sector population is older than what you have in the military workforce. And usually your private sector population has already further ahead in education. As you know, many people join our military with the plans to go on and get that education. So you have different populations in terms of demographics that you're, uh, viewing -- that places some limitations. But with that said, there's -- We feel that the studies that we looked at with CNA being the backup for the data with the 10th QRMC that included the three select benefits took a very reasonable approach. There could be -- There were a couple of comments that were made on the CNA study regarding making assumptions about health care and retirement -- and some other organization could come up with different assumptions. But we still think it's reasonable. One of the assumptions made, for example, about retirement involves the discount rate. You know if someone's going to retire in twenty years and receive $100 -- to make it very simple -- the discount rate that would be the present value today and the discount rate that CNA used could be a little bit on the high side compared to if a different rate was used. So there's differences in the assumptions that are used for these non-cash benefits such as the health care -- trying to place the value on it -- as well as the retirement. Does that help?

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: That helps.

William J. Carr: Sir, to make a point, I think. Military pay, if it's simple and it's understood, for example, pay stub. We've for years used regular military service compensation which is roughly equivalent with pay stub. It considers my basic pay and allowances -- housing allowances for example. And because allowances are not taxable, the tax advantage. An enormous amount of time explaining that to the soldier, sailor, air, marines, so that they can gain some cross-comparison. Whether it's true -- And I'll stipulate that we're 70% against that pay stub measurement or 80% if we included esoteric things that aren't reflected in the pay stub, it's simply used as a means of communicating a baseline. Either one is producing the same effect. 80% if you're using the esoteric, 70% if you're not. But the importance is consistency in use. So if we are 70% today and we've used that measurement for years, and hope to use it into the future, then we're communicating a point at which core retention patterns look okay to us. So what was the pay level then? And we'd say, "Well the regular military compensation, cause we have to account for the tax break, is at this level and, yes, retention was good, and unemployment was that [gesturing below with his hand]." We can communicate in much simpler cogent terms that I think the troops would subsribe to because, first, because we've talked to them in those terms for so long and secondly because it has to do with the pay stub. And they get that.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Well the question though is whether we have the right information out to truly compare because there are a number of concerns. We hear it from the Military Officer Association, etc saying that the pay differential for the same type of job in the military is less. And we need an accurate number, if it's less, it's less. But if you're factoring all of the different pieces in together and it's good, we should say it's good. So the question again becomes what-what are we putting into this when we make the formula? And Ms. Farrell, when I was talking about medical insurance, it was just one of the things that popped into my mind when you were giving your presentation in that you can't sue a military doctor. Federal Tort Claims Act. So there are doctors in civilian practice who spend tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars in medical malpractice insurance in order to cover the possibility of a lawsuit. We, argubably, should factor that in when we look at compensation for medical folks. Just one -- just one of many questions I would have in terms of how sophisticated are we in should people should be concerned about these pay levels as they are right now. They should, maybe they shouldn't. But are we using the right for formula?

Brenda Farrell: Again we think by going with the 10th QRMC's recommendation to includes select benefits, that's an advantage to DoD, to show how good their package really is. And that it could be used as a recruiting or retention tool. We have reported in the past, through our surveys with service members, they lacked an understanding of how their pay compared to counterparts in the private sector and there are a lot of misperceptions out there. Granted, DoD has in its hands full because this is such a large workforce. I mean, they bring in about 180,000 every year, they're maintaining 1.2 million service members, it's a vast array of occupations but by doing -- when you're doing a broad based comparison of how the military compares to the private sector, we firmly believe that the total package should be included. The regular military compensation that Mr. Carr mentioned? We're not saying "Don't look at that." And keep that measurement of how the cash does compare with the civilian but also go with the recommendation to look at select benefits to the extent possible because it will give a fuller picture, it will help DoD to monitor so you can keep pace and be competative with the private sector and it's a good recruiting tool as we said.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Dr. Hosek, what do you think about that?

James Hosek: Well, various things. The first thing to observe, I think, is that the basic elements, what in the past have been referred to as regular military compensation for officers or enlisted personnel, still constitutes the vast majority of their current compensation even when one considers benefits and allowances -- that is it's on the order of 90%. And what that means to me is that it's really important to make sure that whatever we do, we keep track of that and watch it carefully. The second thing is that probably the most salient benefit to military families on active or reserve duty today would be the health benefit. And that comes not only because the military has pledged to care for military service members and their famiilies and follow through with this health benefit -- it's a fairly comprehensive benefit. But also because the cost of similar services in the private sector have risen dramatically -- at times upwards of 40 or 50% a year increase in cost. Today I believe in the private sector, the cost of a relatively good health care benefit for a family of 4 is around $13,000 whereas at the beginning of the decade, it was probably half that. And so the value of the military benefit can be thought of in terms of what it would cost a military family to obtain quality health care outside. A few years ago -- I want to certainly recognize the find work that's been done by CBO and GAO in this area -- also CNA. But with that comment let me note, a few years ago we did a study at RAND trying to place a value on the military health care benefit by which we made use of information on private sector claims data for providers and skill sets and the aging and ethnic distributions similar to that in the military. To make a story short, we too came up with a number such that when you put it in the full context, enlisted personnel had a benefit including basic pays, allowances, tax -- you know, the non-taxibility of the allowance and the health care benefit, placing their compensation at or around the 80th percentile. For officers, I believe it was at or around the 90th percentile. I'll end there with only additional final comment that as you said at the beginning, as important as it is to look at the elements of pay and be clear about what we're including and how we're doing it. We always want to be able to relate those elements of pay to our recruiting and retenetion outcomes. Thank you.

Senator Jim Webb: And also, if I may, on an issue like health care, that's a moral contract. It's a moral contract that goes beyond benefits and it goes to the life of an individual who spends their career in the military. I can't tell you how many people, in my lifetime, who are career military who point that out while they are on active duty and after they retire.

No, the witnesses are not in agreement. Shortly after, Webb would note that there's really no business model here in terms of the budgeting but that's also true in terms of how they're estimating comparble pay. The easiest way to set a standard, and Webb may end up proposing this, is for Congress to come and declare what is measured and what isn't when calculating a pay scale that you can then compare to the civilian world's pay scale for similar jobs and/or duties. That would actually make the most sense because Congress is going to determine whether or not a bump in pay takes place. They control the purse. So since they'll be the ones determining that, it makes sense to have them set the standards by which to measure whether or not the pay is comparable to the civilian pay.

Mike's been noting KPFT's Queer Voices radio program at his site. One of the features of the program is This Way Out's newswrap which is archived in text form here. Taren James and Michael LeBeau covered a large number of topics this week and we'll note the following:

The U.S. queer community's new grassroots activist pit bulls, GetEQUAL, upped the pressure on PResident Barack Obama this week over his failure to keep major campaign promises to LGBT Americans. Although Obama has taken several smaller steps seen as favorable or helpful, he's yet to secure passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Equality advocates are increasingly worried that chances for those actions will diminish after mid-term elections in November. While Democrats have significent majorities in both the House and Senate, and of course there's a Democrat in the White House, the majority party typically loses seats two years after a presidential inauguration.
Many in the mostly-younger generation of queer activists became activists after the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Some accuse the country's leading LGBT rights groups of being insider-wannabes who curry favor with administration officials rather than being the "fierce advocates" for equality that Obama himself promised to be. The Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation's largest, and its president Joe Solmonese, are the most frequent targets of that "business as usual" criticism.
GetEqual's latest broadside started April 19th at a political fundraiser for California's Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles. She's facing a strong re-election challenge in November, and Obama was there to help her raise campaign cash.
Five GetEQUAL activists paid their way into the event, and then repeatedly shouted at Obama about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell as he tried to address the gathering.
"Hey! Hold on a second! Hold on a second! We are going to do that!" Obama responded. "Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so I don't know why you're hollerin'."
The following day, April 20th, GetEQUAL protesters returned to the White House for a second round of handcuffing themselves to the fence and getting arrested, a months after the group's initial action there.
Six servicemembers locked themselves up this time. Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II -- making return visits -- were joined by Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas. "We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again," Choi said, "to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Thomas said that the protest by Choi and Pietrangelo last month "made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged. . . Many people don't know that we Black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under Don't Ask Don't Tell."
The six protesters were taken into custody and released the following afternoon. Their court dates are pending. In an unsettling footnote, U.S. Park Police forced media people covering the event away from the action. "The park's closed. Back up," the Park Police officer yelled repeatedly as he herdered journalists away from the protest. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Scholosser apologized the following day, telling that his department "screwed up."
GetEqual continued its onslaught in the U.S. capital on April 21st, disrupting a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- or ENDA -- be marked up and sent to the House floor for an immediate vote. GetEqual cofounder Robin McGehee tried to give committee Chairman George Miller a magic marker so he could "mark up" EDNA. "I don't know if because of the recession that you guys can't afford markers or whatever the issue is," McGehee said, "but in our community there are people being fired [every day] because they are lesbian, gay, bi or transgender." "We're working on that as expeditiously as we can," Miller responded. "Thank you very much."
ENDA has been stuck in Miller's committee since last year even though openly gay U.S. Representative Barny Frank of Massachusetts had said it would be voted on by the end of 2009. More recently, Frank, openly gay Representative Jared Polis of Colarado, openly lesbian Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called the bill a priority and said that they have the vote to pass it. The protesters were not arrested. Polis escorted them from the hearing room. Frank called the disruption "immature" and "tacky," and "a stupid thing to do . . . I understand people are frustrated and angry," he added, but the action was "no help whatsoever."
"We've waited too long already," McGehee said in response. "We have been promised since last year and, since the 90s, that we were going to have employment protection put in place. And yet, we still don't have it on the House floor." As if to jump on the GetEQUAL bandwagon, more than 230 U.S. LGBT and supportive groups signed on to a one-sentence statement to Congress on the same day: "Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW!" The United States has not seen this kind of burgeoning grassroots activism since the heyday of ACT UP in the late 1980s.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

He needs more TV time





Amnesty International issued a [PDF format warning] report today entitled "Iraq: Civilians under fire," click here. The human rights group's 28 page report focuses on the groups targeted in Iraq:

Hundreds of civilians are still being killed or maimed every month in Iraq, even if the past two years have seen an overall reduction in the number of civilian deaths. As a result, safety and security remain key concerns for Iraqis -- especially for those who, because of their religious, ethnic or other identity or because of their profession or work, are particularly vulnerable to be targeted for violent attack.
Although civilians have been killed, injured or otherwise abused by Iraqi security forces and foreign troops based in Iraq and by members of private military and security companies, most killings of civilians are being carried out by armed groups.

For the report, Amnesty spoke to a wide range of Iraqis in Iraq as well as to Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria and other countries. The targeted include those are who are targeted for speaking out or for reporting on abuses. "Women who have taken the lead in confronting violence against women and promoting women's rights," the report notes, "have been directly targeted because of their activities, notably by members of Islamist armed groups and militias. Some have been attacked and killed because of their efforts to promote gender equality." The report notes:

Wars and conflicts, wherever they are fought, invariably usher in sickeningly high levels of violence against women and girls. All parties to the armed conflict in Iraq have been involved in violent crimes specifically aimed at women and girls, include rape. Perpetrators have included members of armed groups, militias, Iraqi government forces and foreign military forces. In addition, women and girls continue to be attacked and sometimes killed by male relatives and Islamist armed groups or militias for their perceived or alleged transgression of traditional roles or moral codes. Most of these crimes are committed with impunity.

Relatives attacking women include not only husband but "fathers, brothers and otehr relatives, particularly if they try to go against the wishes of the family." Another targeted group would be composed of the religious and ethnic minorities. Unlike other targeted populations, they are guaranteed (a small amount of) representation in the Parliament -- or some are. Iraq's now dwindling Jewish population, for example, was never had set-aside seats in the Parliament. We cover the persecution of religious minorities regularly and will do so in another snapshot this week so we'll instead focus on one of the least reported ongoing persecutions: the assault on Iraqi's LGBT community.

Members of the gay community in Iraq live under constant threat. They are confronted by widespread intolerance towards their sexual identity and scores of men who were, or were perceived to be, gay have been killed in recent years, some after torture. Violent acts against gay men have occurred against a background of frequent public statements by some Muslim clerics and others condemning homosexuality.
[. . .]
The wave of attacks on gay men in early 2009 coincided with statements by Muslim clerics, particularly in al-Sadr City, urging their followers to take action to eradicate homosexuality from Iraqi society. They used language that effectively constituted incitement to violence against men known or alleged to be gay.
Gay men face similar discrimination as women under the legislation that provides for lenient sentences for those committing crimes with an "honourable motive". Iraqi courts continue to interpret provisions of Article 128 of the Penal Code as justification for giving drastically reduced sentences to defendants who have attacked or even killed gay men they are related to if they say that they acted to "wash off the shame". In its rulings, the Iraqi Court of Cassation has confirmed that the killing of a male relative who is suspected of same-sex sexual conduct is considered a crime with an "honourable motive", thus qualifying for a reduced sentence under Article 128.
Although provisions under Articles 128 have been amended in the Kurdistan Region by Law 14 of 2002 and, therefore, may no longer be applied in connection with crimes committed against women there, they continue to be applicable throughout the whole of Iraq in connection with crimes against gay men.
For example, on 24 October 2005 the Court of Cassation of the Kurdistan Region confirmed the conviction for murder and one-year prison sentence imposed on a man from Koysinjak who had confessed to killing his gay brother earlier in 2005. The court found that he had killed his brother with "honourable motives" because he "wanted to end the shame which the victim [of the crime] had brought over his family by practicing depravity and by being engaged in homosexuality and prostitution." The court also accepted that a one-year prison sentence was in this case appropriate for premeditated murder, a crime which carries the death penalty.

You can kill a gay man and get away with it in Iraq. Which sort of makes John T. Fleming look like a lying prick. (Much worse than that but I can use "prick" and still manage work safe language.) Fleming is with the US State Dept. Last June, Seth Michael Donsky (Boston's Edge) reported:

John T. Fleming, who heads public affairs for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, takes pains to point out that homosexuality is not a crime in Iraq. "Homosexuality," he pointed out in a recent e-mail to EDGE, "is outlawed by more than 85 countries and is punishable by death in several Islamic states . . . but Iraq is not one of them."

Being gay's not a crime in Iraq . . . except it is. And if you kill a man because he's gay and you're a family member you can walk. Much, much more complicated than Fleming's 'informed' explanation. From a US official acting the fool to a British one, Paul Canning (Pink News) explains David Miliband (Foreign Secretary) is providing one whopper after another:

He said: "Under Labour the UK will continue to be a beacon of hope for LGBT people."
This delusion sounded a lot like Home Office minister Phil Woolas' article last year, when he wrote that he was proud of the attendees of the London Pride march who'd found sanctuary in the UK -- never mind that his office would have refused them and fought tooth-and-nail to remove them.
The pair should form a double act.
An Amnesty International report released today said that gays in Iraq have no protection from the state and are allegedly even being targeted by some security forces. Yet Miliband's 'beacon' government would tell those seeking our sanctuary they could safely return and be "discreet".

Also at Pink News, Jessica Green covers Amnesty's report and notes, "An Amnesty International report claims that the UK and several other European countries are breaching United Nations rules on returning vulnerable Iraqi asylum seekers."

The internally displaced are also targeted, especially if they attempt to return to their homes. The Palestinian refugees in Iraq remain targeted and vulnerable to assaults "mainly by Shi'a militias." And, of course, the residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian dissidents -- remain targeted by Nouri al-Maliki in his attempts to curry favor with the Iranian government. The report closes with recommendations for a number of groupings in Iraq. We'll note two. First the US could

* Exercise due diligence and protect the human rights of all civilians in Iraq.

* Ensure prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into all attacks on and other violent crimes against civilians by US forces, and bring those resposible to justice in conformity with internation law and without recourse to the death penalty.

For those in government in Iraq?
* Exercise due diligence and protect the human rights of all civilians in Iraq.

* Review and improve protection measures for human rights defenders, other critical voices and vulnerable groups, including by consultation with representatives of groups at risk.

* End discrimination, including with regard to protection measures, on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status -- as required by Iraqi and international law.

* Ensure prompt impartial and thorough investigations into all attacks on and other violent crimes against civilians, and bring those responsible to justice in conformity with international law and without recourse to the death penalty.

* Immediately disarm all militias.

* Train and instruct law enforcement personnel to identify at risk individuals or groups and ensure effective protection measures.

* End the indication of holder's religion on identity cards in light of the risk of grave human rights abuses entailed in the inclusion of religious affiliation on identity cards, in consultation with religious minority communities.

* Abolish legislation that provides disproportionately lenient sentences for perpetrators claiming "honourable motives" for crimes against women and members of the gay community perceived to be transgressing traditional gender roles or moral codes.

* Ban or enforce existing bans on harmful traditional practices for girls, namely female genital mutilation and forced and early marriages.

* Provide assistance to all displaced people, including shelter, health care and other essential needs.

* Do not forcibly return any refugees or asylum-seekers to countries where they are at risk of human rights violations.

For the global community, the recommendations include: "End all forcible returns to any part of Iraq; any return of rejected asylum-seekers should only take place when the security situation in the whole country has stabilized." Friday on Free Speech Radio News, it was noted that Denmark was forcibly returning an Iraqi refugee.

Sondre Bjordal: A resigned atmosphere hung over the small group of protestors this afternoon after Umaeed the Iraqi asylulm seeker who had since 2002 was led by police to the gates. Umaeed is one of about 280 aslyum seekers including some two dozen children who are effected by an agreement between the Danish and Iraqi governments that lets them repatriate asylum seekers even if their lives may be in danger in the war ridden country. Under the agreement, Iraq has promised their safety but the UN doubts that promise can be fulfilled. Forced repatriations now happen about once a month. Umaeed's pregnant wife told FSRN that she now sees little hope for the future.

Umaeed's wife: I don't know what to do. I can't provide for myself. I can't. A woman with two children can't provide for herself. And the children of course need their father.

Sondre Bjordal: As many as 200,000 Muslims live in Denmark where limiting immigration has become a major political issue.

That was pointed out by a FRSN friend who also informed me that I was wrong (I was wrong) and that FRSN had noted the Friday's bombings on Fridays:

In Baghdad today, numerous bombs exploded across the city -- at least 58 people are dead. Varying reports say there were between 6 and 13 blasts -- most targeted Shia mosques during Friday prayers. The blasts follow yesterday's announcement that yet another high level al Qaeda leader was recently detained. In the past week, US and Iraqi forces have killed at least three high level al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, and detained a number of others.

As noted, I was wrong in yesterday's snapshot. My apologies for my error and thank you to a FRSN friend for calling me and correcting me.

Amnesty's also notes how the continued election confusion isn't helping either. It's not surprising that Iraq has yet to form a government. No one's surprised by that, not even Chris Hill. What's surprising is that roadblocks keep being tossed out there to prevent talks to forming a coalition -- such as yesterday's disqualifying of candidates -- including two who won seats in the Parliament. Today US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement:

On March 7, I congratulated the people of Iraq on their national elections, which were a clear demonstration of their commitment to democracy and a future without fear and intimidation.
Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the United Nations, the Arab League, and both international and domestic observers declared those elections to be free of widespread or systematic fraud. The United States respects the legal avenues that Iraq has set up for challenges to candidates and to electoral results. However, for challenges to be credible and legitimate they must also be transparent and must accord with the laws and mechanisms established for the conduct of the elections. Investigations into allegations of fraud should be conducted in accordance with IHEC procedures. Similarly, candidates should have every opportunity to answer charges against them. Transparency and due process are essential to protecting the integrity of the process and preserving the confidence of the Iraqi people in their democratic system.
The United States does not support a particular party or candidate. We seek a long-term partnership with an Iraq that is stable, sovereign and self-reliant. As a friend and partner, the United States calls upon Iraq's leaders to set aside their differences, respect the courageous ballots of the Iraqi people, and to form quickly a government that is inclusive and represents the will of all Iraqis and their hope for a brighter future in a strong, independent and democratic Iraq.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poster or poser?





In Iraq, Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports that there's a snag in the Baghdad recounts which were expected to begin this week but will now be delayed until at least next week as a result of a lack of instructions. Most observers have estimated the recounts would take eight to ten days. Meanwhile Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) insists that the US has entered the negotiations on who will lead Iraq: "The proposal is for Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi to split the four-year prime ministerial term, according to Dr Mahmoud Othman, who is a veteran member of the Baghdad parliament." Othman, Cockburn forgets to explain, is the Kurdistan Alliance leader. The Kurds would be kept in the circle but would they be informed of so much? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't but this is Patrick Cockburn, don't forget. The man who 'reported' a woman stoned to death was hanged -- only one of the many examples in which he continues his family's long tradition of estrangement from reality and facts. If it is an offer, it's an idiotic one. Nouri would want to go first and stepping down after two years? Now that's funny. In the real world, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill spoke to the press in Baghdad today and expressed that it was time for Iraq to "get this show on the road [. . .] While we always knew this was going to be a tough period, we are approaching almost seven weeks" since March 7th's election. No, it doesn't sound as if Hill's expressing that the US has brokered or is brokering a deal. Jane Arraf and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) quote Hill also stating, "We have not gone on to government formation as of yet and we share the concern of those who believe that its time that the politicians got down to business and started forming a government." This morning NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition) spoke with Ayad Allawi who states, "If no counting is going to take place in other places that have been disputed including what the Kurds have disputed, we are not going to acknowledge the results of the recount in Baghdad."

Allawi just had no idea. Ian Black (Guardian) reports on what happened later in the day "52 candidates were disqualified, threatening the slight lead of challenger Ayad Allawi and risking heightened sectarian tensions. Two candidates were ruled out on grounds of links to the outlawed Ba'ath party by a judicial review panel of the independnet electoral commission. Both were elected for Allawi's Iraqiya list,w hich won two seats more than the State of Law bloc led by Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, in the 7 March polls. Spokesmen for Iraqiya said they would be replaced by members of the same list." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) adds, "The court's decision, at a minimum, will delay the formation of a new government through the months when the Obama administration has pledged to withdraw its combat troops, leaving a force of only 50,000 after September." Myers also notes that Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami are attempting to have nine other elected MPs forced out by the commission for alleged Ba'athist connections. But BBC News maintains that the Justice and Accountability Commission -- which is Chalabi and al-Lami -- are the ones who did the purge -- not some electoral body or "special elections court" -- and they add "The De-Baathificiation committee is seen as being led by political figures from Iraq's majority Shia population." That Justice and Accountability is responsible is backed up by Arraf and al-Dulaimy's reporting which notes that was the body reviewing the candidates and quotes Ali al-Lami crowing, "The decision is to disqualify 52 candidates, set aside all the votes they won in the elections and to rule out the winning candidates." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, "Meanwhile, some have questioned the intentions of AJC leaders Ahmed al-Chalabi and al-Lami - both Shiite politicians who ran in the elections. The commission has become somewhat controversial in recent months as some Iraqis and foreign observers say it is being used to eliminate political opponents, including prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq, who was among more than 500 candidates the AJC banned from running in the elections ahead of the vote."

Over the weekend, Alsumaria TV reported that Allawi was stating he and al-Maliki could meet "at anytime" and "He showed willingness to ally with State of Law Coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, yet, he reiterated his attachment to Al Iraqiya List's constitutional right to form the government." Today, Alsumaria reports, Jalal Talabani, who occupies the figure head position of President of Iraq, called for unity and insisted "that winning coalitions are close to agree on the three presidencies." Yeah, Jalal, that's the pressing issue. Three presidencies? He means Iraq's president and it's two vice presidents. Despite announcing he would not seek the office again, Jalal's changed him mind and wants to hold on to the presidency. For him, it's the most important issue. More important than Iraq forming a national government.

At The Huffington Post, former Booz Allen Hamilton employee, current Truman National Security Project fellow and Georgetown PhD candidate Peter Henne advocates for Ayad Allawi as the new prime minister:

While Americans want out of Iraq, the stability of the country is far from assured, and reignited ethnic violence in that country can harm both US interests and the American conscience. The best course for the United States to take may be to fully support the outcome of the parliamentary elections, including its winner, Iyad Allawi.
As I argued recently, the recent parliamentary elections represented a significant milestone in Iraq's democratic development. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular coalition -- which many Sunnis supported -- won a plurality of votes, claiming victory. He beat out incumbent Nouri al-Maliki's coalition of Shia groups, and the more radical Shia bloc of Moqtada al-Sadr. Because no side gained a clear majority, difficult negotiations among the factions are needed before a new government is formed.
Yet, al-Maliki has hesitated in accepting Allawi's victory. Al-Maliki ominously pointed out that he remains the commander of Iraq's military, and accused Allawi of fraud. Also, he convinced Iraq's Supreme Court to allow him -- instead of Allawi -- to set up the next government. And there have been continuing moves to disqualify some candidates in Allawi's bloc for reputed Baathist ties, which could erase his lead. In addition to this, al-Maliki has been negotiating with al-Sadr to merge their blocs, which would yield a majority.
If al-Maliki succeeds in holding on to power, the results could be disastrous. If he does so through extra-democratic means -- such as a coup (even a soft one) or disqualifying members of Allawi's coalition -- it could undermine the viability of Iraqi democracy and set the stage for a return to dictatorship. Even if he wins through an alliance with al-Sadr, ignoring the outcome of an election could degrade voters' confidence in the system.

We're not advocating on behalf of anyone. And you can refer to Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts' "Iraq's Got Tyrants" for those who need a laugh -- and also Kat's "Kat's Korner: My Best Friend Is Kate Nash" went up Sunday. You can agree or disagree with Henne's argument. But if you disagree, don't do so stupidly the way one of the commentators does who rips apart Henne's argument and insists that the "60% Shia population" would not have "duly elected a Sunni as their leader." Who is the Sunni? Ayad Allawi? Allawi is a Shi'ite. Which goes to show just how poorly the media has handled this story. Iraqiya is not a sectarian slate. The political party was made up of Sunnis, Shias and anyone else who wanted to join. As for Allawi himself, you can't blame the media as much there. If someone doesn't know the second -- since the US invasion -- prime minister of Iraq, that's pretty much on them. And, no, Iraqis would not have tolerated a Sunni being installed by the US as their prime minister. Every prime minister Iraq has had since the invasion has been a Shi'ite. Allawi was the second, al-Maliki was the third. The first? He's reportedly still the choice of the Shi'ite blocs: Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Meanwhile, Friday it was reported that Moqtada al-Sadr was reactiving the Mahdi Army. AFP reports today: "The Iraqi government said on Saturday that an offer by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to help boost security at strategic sites was unnecessary, in the wake of anti-Shiite attacks in Baghdad." Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported Saturday that al-Sadr issued a statement clarifying that they had not been recalled and that they would be only if the government or 'government' out of Baghdad wanted it to be so. Also on Saturday, CNN reported, "A U.S. Department of Defense employee has died in Iraq of unknown causes, the U.S. military reported Saturday."

Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of an assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists. We will again point out that in real time, Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported, "The two Reuters staff members, both of them Iraqis, were killed when troops on an American helicopter shot into the area where the two had just gotten out of their car, said witnesses who spoke to an Agence France-Press photographer who arrived at the scene shortly after their bodies were taken away. The Reuters employees were Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, a photographer, and Saeed Chmagh, 40, a driver." Rubin quoted AFP's Ahmad Sahib stating, "They had arrived, got out of the car and started taking pictures, and people gathered. It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover." The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for an investigation into the July 12, 2007 assault and has published an open letter from their executive director Joel Simon to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by a video recently disclosed by the Web site WikiLeaks showing a U.S. military strike that took place on July 12, 2007. The attack killed an unspecified number of individuals, including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant, Saeed Chmagh.
CPJ has made numerous calls for thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths of these two men, as well as into all other cases of journalists and media workers killed by U.S. fire in Iraq . The U.S. military's Central Command said it has no current plans to reopen an investigation, Reuters reported on April 8. But in light of the fact that at least 16 journalists and three media support workers have been killed by U.S. forces' fire, according to CPJ's research, a systematic and comprehensive investigation is clearly warranted. The findings should be made public and lessons learned should be incorporated into military training to reduce the likelihood that journalists covering combat operations will come under fire.
The recently disclosed tape has been viewed by millions around the world. Several experts on international humanitarian law, including Amnesty International's Malcolm Smart and Bibi van Ginkel, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, have called for investigations to determine whether U.S. forces complied with international humanitarian law.
In the video, U.S. forces can be seen opening fire on a group of men -- some of whom they said they believed were armed -- killing or critically injuring at least a dozen people. We are particularly concerned that the troops in the helicopter mistook a camera for a weapon. This is not the first such claim by the U.S. military. In August 2003, a U.S. soldier killed Reuters photographer Mazen Dana after mistaking, according to the military's investigation, Dana's camera for a rocket-propelled grenade.
The WikiLeaks tape identifies one of the injured men in the July 12 strike as Chmagh. Soldiers are heard urging him to pick up a weapon so that they can fire. A van approaches to evacuate the man identified as Chmagh. Someone in the helicopter is heard informing a commander that the van is "possibly" picking up bodies as well as weapons. Despite the fact that no weapons are visible in the video, the helicopter is granted permission to fire and does so, killing Chmagh and several people in the van and injuring children.
It is crucial that any future investigation satisfactorily determine why an injured media worker who posed no threat to U.S. personnel was fatally shot as he was being evacuated from the scene of an initial attack, also perpetrated by U.S. fire.
The attached appendix lists the 16 journalists and three media support workers who have been killed by U.S. forces' fire in Iraq . (Another three media workers were killed by fire from the U.S. security contractor Blackwater Worldwide.) While we have not found evidence that U.S. troops intentionally targeted journalists in any of these cases, our research shows that the majority of the killings were either not sufficiently investigated or that the military failed to publicly disclose its findings.
In the aftermath of each of the journalists' killings caused by U.S. troops, CPJ has called on the Department of Defense to perform timely, thorough, and transparent investigations. Unfortunately, the Defense Department has conducted such investigations in only a limited number of instances. Since May 15, 2003, CPJ has submitted six Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the Pentagon Freedom of Information and Security Review office as well as one FOIA request to the U.S. Central Command. Three of those seven FOIA requests remain unaddressed to date. In January 2009, CPJ also called on then President-elect Obama to order thorough investigations into these killings.
We renew our call for comprehensive, impartial, and public inquiries into all of these cases, including the events of July 12, which led to the deaths of Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh. These investigations would benefit both the military and the media so long as the lessons learned are integrated into future training.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.
Joel Simon
Executive Director

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