Monday, April 30, 2012

Dan Savage needs to apologize

Celebrity In Chief

That's Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Celebrity In Chief" from last night. 

I love it.

I only like Dan Savage.  He does some good activism but he can also be a real prick in his writing.

He's in hot water.  The Los Angeles Times does a lousy job explaining why.  I had to go to his blog at the independent weekly to understand what was going on.  LANGUAGE WARNING, click here for his mini-essay.

Let me explain something to people who apparently weren't taught what an apology is.

You apologize, you say you're sorry.  You don't excuse your behavior, you don't minimize it, you don't blame anyone else for what you did.

Otherwise it's not an apology.

Dan Savage made a real jerk out of himself.

He was speaking to student journalists and felt the need to attack the Bible with a curse word and said worse.

That alone is bad.  I don't like the concept of 'tolerance' because -- as a lesbian -- I don't want to be 'tolerated.'  I am who I am.  That's not going to change.

But using "tolerant," if I want people to be tolerant of me, I need to be of them.  Standing up in front of an auditorium full of people and attacking the Bible and  mocking students who walk out doesn't seem funny or cute.

And let me note that as a Black woman, I'm damn tired of these White gay men who are always dragging us into s**t we don't need to be.

Sit your ass down, Dan Savage.

Now not only does he do a poor job taking accountability for his actions with regards to his attacks on the Christian students, he also fails to realize he owes the gay community an apology too.

When he's mocking those who walked out on his speech, he calls the kids "pansy-ass people."  Really?  That's what an adult does?  Goes to speak to high school students, shows off a dirty mouth as he makes statements that are offensive to some, when those people leave, he insults them by calling them "pansy-ass people."

That's rude and there's no excuse for it.

But I want to zero in on "pansy."  I've never been called that.  I'm a lesbian.  But who gets called a pansy?

Let's go to the Urban Dictionary: "A sissy, f*g, fairy, or one that is generally unmanly."

Do you get it now?

Dan Savage felt it was okay to attack people by insulting them and using a word that many gay males have had hurled at them.

He should have known better.  His actions were bullying and it's demonstrated by his attempt to bully using the term "pansy."

I didn't elect him to be the voice of Gay America.  He owes an apology for his use of "pansy."

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Monday, April 30, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the SIGIR releases a major report on Iraq, Tareq al-Hashemi's now being charged with the murder of six judges (among 300 charges against him), Saturday saw a big meet-up in Erbil that Nouri wasn't invited to, Bradley Manning's semi-secret trial gets some media attention, and more.
Starting in the US with Bradley Manning.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.  Since then the court-martial has been scheduled to begin September 21st.  Recent weeks have seen a flurry of pre-court-martial hearings.
On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), topics explored include Bradley Manning. 
Heidi Boghosian:   We continue our updates on the Bradley Manning trial.  Senior staff attorney Shane Kadidal from the Center for Constitutional Rights recently returned from one of the hearings in Fort Meade, Maryland.  Welcome, Shane to Law & Disorder.
Shane Kadidal: Thanks for having me, Michael.
Michael Smith:  You know, Heidi and I, were down at the Mumia demonstration in Washington, DC yesterday.   We took the train down from New York.  We're sitting on the train, passing the Fort Meade exit on the train, you were sitting in that courtroom, in that semi-secret trial of Bradley Manning.  And we thought about, 'Well we'll get to talk to you today about what's going on in that semi-secret trial? And what do you think's at stake?
Heidi Boghosian: [laughing]  Are you allowed to talk about this, Shane?
Shane Kadidal: [Laughing.]  We are. It was funny sitting there to contrast, for instance, to Guantanamo occasionally classified hearings and every word of what's said in there is presumed classified until you get told otherwise.  It wasn't like that, but it was odd in other ways.
Michael Smith: Well it's odd because it's not like you can't say what you want to say but because  you don't have access to the court pleadings, you don't have access to the off-the-record discussions with the judge, you don't have access to court orders so a lot of this trial is a secret trial which I always thought to be against the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Shane Kadidal:  Right. It's interesting to note two things about that.  You know, first of all, people think about this First Amendment right to access to judicial proceedings being about basic Democratic values.  It's good to have government in the sunshine just as a philosophical principle.  But that's not what the Supreme Court says about it.  What they said about that very clearly in a number of cases in the late seventies and the early eighties, you know, openness actually helps the truth finding function of trials.  It gives a disincentive to witnesses to commit perjury.  It lets new witnesses come out of the woodwork and so forth.  By having the factual basis for legal ruling sort of exposed to the light of day and having the legal arguments exposed as well, it means that the court is less likely to make mistakes.  And that makes a difference when it comes down to accuracy.  And you can imagine how this might play out in a case like Manning's where an awful lot is riding, for instance, on the testimony of a supposedly quite drugged out and unreliable informer whose name actually happens to be redacted from the few public documents that we do have.  So that's one point, that openness helps the accuracy of judicial proceedings -- and it's especially important in cases like this.  The other is sort of a meta-point about media coverage.  While I was down there, there were only about two or three reporters that came out of the media room  during the breaks and sort of milled about and talked to us which I think was a little bit shocking giving the significance of this case.  You know, supposedly the largest set of leaks in American history, a set of leaks where the documents dominated news coverage globally for a good year-and-a-half.  And yet there are only two or three reporters there.  And I think it shows that when the government manages to choke off the flow of interesting detail about a case by redacting it out of documents or not releasing documents or holding proceedings off the public record, that is almost more effective at diminishing press coverage of an issue than completely barring the press from the courtroom as happens in classified hearings.  Because completely barring the press piques the press interest but simply blacking out all the colorful detail or the stuff that kind of makes a story interesting just results in boring coverage and eventually people sort of give up.  And I think that might be what's happening here.
Heidi Boghosian:  Well, Shane, since the media wasn't there, can you give us a sort of nutshell version of what happened?
Shane Kadidal:  You know, at the Tuesday hearing which I was at, one of the first issues up actually was around our letter to the court -- CCR's letter demanding that the court release its own orders including the protective order that governs what can be sealed off from public access and what can be released and what should be redacted.  So the court's own orders, then all the government's motions and the government's responses to the defense's motions.  And then a third subject which is an awful lot of the argument happens in what are called 802 conferences where the parties can agree to discuss anything in chambers and the public never has any sense of the legal arguments that are made or the conclusions that happen which is kind of different from a lot of public access issues because it means both parties can collude to keep something out of the public sight.  A little different from the usual situation where it's usually the government trying to keep something out.
Michael Smith.  Especially in a shocking case like this with, for example, one of the things that Manning was allegedly accused of releasing was a 39 minute video called The Collateral Murder Video where you've got US soldiers in a helicopter murdering two Reuters journalists and then seriously injuring two children.  It's all on video.  It's a War Crime.  They're trying to cover this up in this semi-secret trial. It's really shocking.  I remember the famous Judge Damon Keith saying, "Democracy dies behind closed doors."  So what do you think your chances are of prying open those doors?
Shane Kadidal: Well I think maybe on appeal they'll be good.  But what we learned on Tuesday was that this judge [Col Denise Lind] doesn't really want to hear it.  So the first thing she said was, 'You know, the Center of Constitutional Rights has sent a lawyer down here and asked for permission to address the court and asked for all this release including making all of these documents public and that motion which is essentially a motion to intervene -- is denied.
Michael Smith:  Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press which I think is 45  press organizations did the same thing which is the same thing you guys did at the CCR
Shane Kadidal:  Right.  They wrote some letters as well.  And, you know, the letters kind of the court had disappeared into a black hole so we sent a second letter to the defense council so that he could kind of read it out in open court.  The judge revealed yesterday that she had, in fact, received both letters, which I guess was good news.  But the bottom line is this allows to go up the chain to the two courts of appeals in the military system  that stand above this judge and demand that we get immediate public access to these documents. And it was a First Amendment case so I was very clear that being deprived of public access to judicial proceedings even for a short period of time is irreparable injury and that kind of principle goes back to the Pentagon Papers case really.
Heidi Boghosian: What did Michael Ratner say in his piece last week in the Guardian?
Shane Kadidal:  A terrific piece which is worth reading.  But, you know, a couple of things. First that Manning's revelations including that the Collateral Murder video you know really were made in the face of military lies about what had actually happened.  You know, the military's initial response was that there was no question that that gunfight involved a hostile force when it turned out that two children and a bunch of journalists were among the people who were shot.  But I think that the bigger picture, I think it's ironic that the government's heavy handed approach -- as Michael said in his piece -- really only serves to emphasize the motivations for whistle blowing of the sort that Bradley Manning is now accused of. It's this kind of blanket approach on the part of the government to secrecy that forces people to reveal things by going outside the letter of the law.
Michael Smith: Shane Kadidal, who is the senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights has been down at Fort Meade, Maryland on behalf of the center at the Bradley Manning trial.  We'll keep checking in on you, Shane.  Good luck with your appeal.
Ann Wright spent most of her life in government service.  In the army, she rose to the rank of Colonel.  In 1987, she went to work for the US State Dept and she continued serving there until her March 19, 2003 resignation, the day before the Iraq War started and she resigned in protest of that war.  At The Daily Progress, Wright pens an article on Bradley:
I recently inadvertently and fortuitously ended up at a meeting with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group of young professionals from the Middle East who were brought to the United States to learn more about our country. I mentioned that I was attending the hearings for the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning.
The reaction of the group was stunning. Immediately hands for questions went up. The questions began with a comment: Without WikiLeaks, I would never have learned what my own governments was doing, its complicity in secret prisons and torture, in extraordinary rendition, in cooperation in the U.S. wars in the region. WikiLeaks exposed what our politicians and elected officials are doing. Without WikiLeaks, we would never have known!
And that is what Bradley Manning's trial is all about and what the charges against six other government employees who face espionage allegations for providing information the government classified to protect its own wrongdoings -- to silence other potential government whistleblowers.
Today the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released April 2012: Quarterly Report To Congress. From the introduction of the report, we'll note this:
As of April 3, 2012, DoS reported that 12,755 personnel supported the U.S. Mission in Iraq, down about 8% from the previous quarter.  Current staffing comprises 1,369 civilian government  employees and 11,386 contractors.  In February, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said that DoS will continue to reduce the number of contractors over the coming months in an attempt to "right size" Embassy operations.
As currently constituted, the U.S. reconstruction programd evotes the preponderance of its financial resources to providing equipment, services, and advice to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).  The Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) manages U.S. security assistance to the Government of Iraq (GOI), OSC-I is staffed by 145 U.S. military personnel, 9 Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, and 4,912 contractors.  DoS's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) administers the Police Development Program (PDP) whose 86 advisors mentor senior police officials at the Ministry of Interior (MOI).
Eli Lake (Daily Beast) notes, "A 2012 audit conducted by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and released to the public on Monday found that 76 percent of the battalion commanders surveyed believed at least some of the CERP funds had been lost to fraud and corruption." There's so much in the report.  We'll note more of it tomorrow.  Right now we'll note page 59 demonstrates how the US government repeatedly subsidizes the weapons industry.  The US government thinks Iraq needs weapons.  For some reason -- despite having billions in oil money -- the US government seems to feel they need to 'assist' -- provide US government welfare -- to weapon makers.  So $2.54 billion will be spent, by the US government, on weapons for the government of Iraq.  Some of the sales are pending and the US tab right now is 'only' $968.4 million.  It's really something to read the report and find that, among other US agencies, Homeland Security remains in Iraq.  Remember, there was a drawdown, there was no withdrawal.
 G.W. Schulz (Center For Investigative Reporting) reports, "California continues to lead the nation in fatal sacrifices made to the conflicts, according to an analysis of the most recent Defense Department data available. The figures, which include both hostile and non-hostile casualties, cover three major operations across the two wars: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn."
Turning to Iraq, Alsumaria reports a Baghdad roadside bombing has left 6 people dead and a Ministry of Health official's wife and 3 children were killed when unknown assailants slit their throatsAl Rafidayn says the wife and children were killed by blunt objects.
Over the weekend, a major meet-up took place in Erbil.  Before we get to that, let's recap the political crisis.  Only instead of me doing it, let's refer to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released April 2012: Quarterly Report To Congress.  And, please note, the Erbil Agreement is in November 2010 -- not December.  It's implemented in November. It's briefly implemented.  (Refer to the November 11, 2010 snapshot about Parliament meeting finally and the agreement that allowed it to.)
 Along with the serious threat posed by terrorism, an array of interlocking governance and economic issues endanger the health of the Iraqi state.  Foremost among them is the lack of reconciliation among the many political blocs, which stems from disputes over the March 2010 Council of Representatives (CoR) election and its unsettled aftermath.  The so-called "Erbil Agreement," reached in December 2010, ostensibly crafted a road map for resolving these disputes, though the map has not been followed.  Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki thus sits atop a fractious coalition government wracked by internecine rivalries. 
Last December's events, including the Prime Minister's attempt to oust Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq and the Higher Judicial Council's (HJC) issuance of a warrant for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, continued to cause turmoil this quarter.  Al-Mutlaq did not attend Council of Ministers (CoM) meetings (and called the Prime Minister a "dictoator"), while al-Hashimi remained outside the effective jurisdiction of the HJC, primarily in the Kurdistan Region.  Al-Mutlaq and and al-Hashimi are both Sunni members of the al-Iraqiya political bloc, a heterogeneous union of political parties dominated by Sunni interests.  In early April, efforts by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and CoR Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to convene a national reconciliation conference to address the issues dividing the government foundered, and the April 5 meeting was abruptly canceled.  The disputing factions have yet to agree on a new date.
Vice President al-Hashimi's decision to seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region aggravated an increasinly troubled relationship between the GOI and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  This dispute was also worsened by ExxonMobil's decision to pursue contracts with the KRG, despite GOI threats to exclude the company from further operations under its contract for work in southern provinces.  The GOI appears to have sidestepped the issue for the moment, announcing that ExxonMboil had "frozen" its dealings with the KRG.  But the relationship between the centeral government in Baghdad and the KRG remains tense with the flames recently fanned by the KRG's April 1 shutdown of all oil exports leaving its territory in retaliation for the GOI allegedly withholding about $1.5 billion from the KRG.
Iraq's political strife continued in mid-April with the arrest on the corruption charges of Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).  Al-Haidari, who previously clashed with the Prime Minister after the 2010 CoR elections, stands accused of improperly using state funds.  Members of al-Iraqiya, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the Sadrist Trend immediately questioned the arrest.  The IHEC is responsible for administering Iraqi elections, including the upcoming provincial elections in 2013 and CoR elections in 2004.
Saturday, Al Mada reported on that day's big political meet-up in Erbil.  Among those attending were Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) and Speaker of Parliamen Osama al-Najaifi.  Alsumaria reported on the meet-up and publishes a photo of the meet-up -- Moqtada al-Sadr is seated between Talabani and Allawi.  The consensus was that there must be a national partnership and that the Erbil Agreement must be implemented.

This wasn't at all surprising.  They and others have been calling for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented for months and months. Nouri al-Maliki is the one who agreed to the agreement and then trashed it when he got what he wanted out of it.
Lara Jakes (AP) called the meet-up a "mini summit" and feels that the participation of a wide range of groups -- including Shi'ites -- "underscored the growing impatience with the Shiite prime minister." Dar Addustour quoted from a press release noting the Erbil Agreement and the power-sharing and that the participants stress the need for things to be done logically (that may be "scientifically," I think it's logically), fairly and that the needs of the Iraqi people are paramount, they must be served and there should be no disruption of services.

The paper also notes that Ammar al-Hakim (head of the Islamic Supreme Countil of Iraq) was not present.  And it notes various reasons for that.  One common trait is he was not invited.  Why he was not invited is in dispute.  One explanation is that al-Hakim is seen as too close to Nouri, another given is that his stand is known and that those present were calling for possible solutions and debating their potential. 

Alsumaria noted that there's also a call to implement Moqtada's 18 points.  That's apparently on the same level of importance as returning to the Erbil Agreement.  Moqtada's 18 points were presented Thursday in Erbil.  There's been talk of them in the press; however, there's not any publication of the 18 points themselves.  They have been said to support the Erbil Agreement, they're supposed to guarantee judicial independence and be good for Iraqis but that's from statements made on Moqtada's behalf and not from anyone working with the 18 points.  Here's AP reporting on the 18 points on Thursday:

On Thursday, Moqtada Al Sadr offered an 18-point plan to solve the Iraq crisis, mostly through dialogue and political inclusiveness. The plan calls for having good relations with neighbouring nations, but to not let them meddle in Iraq's affairs. That appeared to be a reference to Iran, which is close to Nouri Al Maliki's Shiite-dominated government.
In a nod to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, Al Sadr said Iraq's oil must be used for the benefit of Iraq's people, "and no individual has the right to control it without participation from others".

Al Rafidayn noted that the Saturday meeting was closed-door and took place at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. That's the political party Talabani heads. They also note that the meeting lasted three hours.  Also Al Rafidayn notes that Ibrahim al-Jaafari (leader of the National Alliance) declared Friday that Iraq needs to hold a national conference and needs to do so next month, the first week.  The previous deadline Nouri was working with came from Massoud Barzani.  The KRG will hold provincial elections in September and Barzani's made clear that if the political crisis isn't solved by then the issue of what the KRG does next can go on the ballot.  al-Jaafari just moved the deadline up and moved it up signficantly.

Like Ayad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jaafari has held the post Nouri al-Maliki currently does, prime minister of Iraq.  In fact, Ibrahim was the choice of Iraqi MPs in 2005 and 2006.  The US refused to allow al-Jaafari to be named prime minister again and insisted that their pet Nouri be named.
Today's big news was  Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around.  The press rarely gets that fact correct.  When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a  boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry .  Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point.  Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya.  December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .

al-Hashemi was already in the KRG when the arrest warrant was issued.  He did not "flee" there.  He remained there with the approval of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani until April when he left the country on a diplomatic mission. Nouri and his flunkies insisted that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey hand him over.  None did.  They also insisted that INTERPOL arrest him when he was in each of the three countries.  INTERPOL cannot take part in political arrests, it's against their charter.  They have to look impartial, per charter.

Alsumaria notes that May 3rd is when the Baghdad court intends to officially try al-Hashemi.  "Officially"?  Baghdad judges held a press conference in Februrary insisting al-Hashemi was guilty of the charges.  Having insisted that publicly -- in violation of the Iraqi Constitution -- they now want to have a trial?  The Baghdad courts are controlled by Nouri and a joke.  Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hashemi is still in Turkey and that the trial will take place in absentia.   Alsumaria reports that al-Hashemi and his bodyguards are now also charged with the murders of 6 judges.  Still having not learned what a joke they are on the national stage, the Baghdad judges sent their spokesperson Abdelsatter Bayraqdar out to make a statement about how "confessions were obtained on them, including the assassination of six judges, mostly from Baghdad."  The judicail system is corrupt and ignorant in Iraq.  They have confused the role of the judge with the prosecution and their actions betray their country's Constitution.  They should all be immediately removed from office.  They won't be, but they should be.

Al Sabaah notes that there are 300 charges in all, according to the spokesperson, and that there will be 73 defendants on trial and, in addition to being accused of murdering judges, al-Hashemi and his bodyguards are also being accused of mudering military officers.   Dar Addustour reports rumors that al-Hashemi will be stripped of his office prior to the start of the trial.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sexist EW

Entertainment Weekly just f**king lies:

Whitney: Nosedived after being moved to Wednesdays. Girl, you’re done.

They do that because they hate women.  They really hate women.

I'm so sick of this b.s.  You'd think it would be gone after high school and we could be mature and go about our lives but some punk ass bitches have nothing better to do with their pathetic lives than lie about TV shows with women in them.

Whitney got more viewers on Wednesday nights than any other NBC show on that night.  It was NBC's highest rated Wednesday show and it led the night.  It had no lead in, it got no bump by following some massive hit.  It had to open the night cold and it brought viewers in.  They left after the show was off and never came back that night but Whitney is a hit.

EW can whore and lie as they hate on women all they want. 

But the facts are the facts.

And real critics would be pointing that out.  Real critics would make damn sure that if other sitcoms that can't deliver ratings (30 Rock, Community, etc., etc.) were brought back, audiences would know NBC killed the highest rated to keep these low rated shows that have been on forever still on the air.

But doing their job isn't something EW is big on.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, April 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  the prosecution says they don't have to establish that Bradley Manning's actions resulted in any harm to go after him, the political crisis continues in Iraq, a State of Law flunky disses Biden, and more.
Starting in the US where perceived whistle blower Bradley Manning and his defense have been in pre-court martial hearings this week.  The judge has issued a ruling.  AP reports Col Denise Lind announced yesterday that she would not toss "aiding the enemy" allegation the government has made against Bradley.
Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of pre-court-martial hearings.  Arun Rath (PBS' Frontline) explains, "Yesterday, Army Col. Denise Lind, the presiding judge in the court-martial of alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, announced that his trial would begin on Sept 21.   After weighing arguments from the defense and prosecution, she also ruled that all 22 charges against Pfc. Manning would stand."  Larry Shaughnessy (CNN) adds:
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, argued that the charge should be dropped for two reasons. First, the prosecution failed to show intent in the way the charge is worded, he argued. Second, Coombs said, the charge is so vague and broad that it's unconstitutional.
Coombs argued the charge is "alarming in its scope." He told the judge that if he accepted the government's argument, "no soldier would ever be comfortable saying anything to any news reporter." Coombs said they could even be charged after posting something on a family member's Facebook page.
Trent Nouveau (TG Daily) notes that Maj Ashden Fein, prosecutor for the United States government, states that the government isn't required to prove that any damage took place, "Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant to the charges.  That tomorrow's effect is somehow relevant to the charges on the crime sheet is irrelevant."
That's certainly a curious take on the law.  If there's no injury, what's the point? If Bradley Manning is guilty -- he's thus far entered no plea -- and there were huge damages, the judge would certainly be encouraged by the prosecution to keep that in mind.  The government has not only declared him guilty -- that includes US President Barack Obama who truly does not know the law if he thought pronouncing the accused guilty before a trial was how a president conducts themselves -- they've insisted repeatedly that tremendous damage was done.
Having used that to drive the press coverage, the government now wants to claim that the level of damage -- if any -- doesn't matter?  The court-martial has been set for September 21st.  The Center for Constitutional Rights  Michael Ratner retweets:
In Iraq, violence continues.  Erik West (Australian Eye) reports an Abu Garma home invasion in which 3 children (ages ten to fifteen) were shot dead along with their mother when a killer or killers broke into the home around three in the morning.
KUNA notes that Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, met with Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy, yesterday at the White House and that Biden "reaffirmed U.S. commitment to work with Iraqi leaders from across the spectrum to support the continued development of Iraq's energy sector."  While Joe was making nice, al-Shahristani was showing his ass.  Alister Bull (Reuters) explains, "A simmering dispute between Iraq's central government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan is an internal affair, a top Baghdad official said on Thursday, in an implicit rebuff of U.S. efforts to broker a compromise between the two sides."
Thursday Erbil witnessed what some news outlets are calling a historic moment.  Press TV reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's visit to the KRG  to meet with KRG President Massoud Barzani and the press conference Moqtada held in Erbil.  They quote him stating, "I came here to listen to their (Kurds') points of view (on issues related to Iraq's political situation).  In fact, I adovcate getting closer to the Iraqi people and protecting the Iraqi people before protecting our parties and blocs.  All sides have to pay attention to the public interest and the Iraqi people. The oil of Iraq is for the people and no one has the right to claim it for himself and exclude others. . . . Dialogue is the only solution to end former and current political disputes and all other issues."  Margaret Griffis ( notes, "During talks with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani yesterday, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mandate insisted that there would be no support for an overthrow of the government, but he did suggest the possibility of not renewing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's mandate as premier. Barzani and Sadr have both called Maliki a dictator in recent weeks, and the increasingly marginalized Sunnis mostly agree with them."  At Foreign Policy, journalist James Traub examines Nouri al-Maliki:
Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, has a remarkable ability to make enemies. As Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group puts it, "Personal relations between everyone and Maliki are terrible." This gift was vividly displayed in March, when the annual meeting of the Arab League was held in Baghdad. Although the event was meant to signal Iraq's re-emergence as a respectable country after decades of tyranny and bloodshed, leaders of 10 of the 22 states, including virtually the entire Gulf, refused to attend out of pique at Maliki's perceived hostility to Sunnis both at home and abroad, turning the summit into a vapid ritual. The only friend Iraq has left in the neighborhood is Shiite Iran, which seems intent on reducing its neighbor to a state of subservience.
[. . .]
But one can be agnostic about Maliki's motivations and still conclude that he is doing harm to Iraq's own interests. No sensible Iraqi leader would pick a fight with Turkey, as he has done. Back in January, when Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested that Maliki should not be waging war against the Sunni opposition at home, Maliki accused Turkey of "unjustified interferences in Iraqi internal affairs," adding for good measure that Erdogan was seeking to restore Turkey's Ottoman hegemony over the region. This in turn led to another escalating round of insults and a mutual summoning of ambassadors.

Moqtada was attempting to address the ongoing political crisis. Briefly, March 2010 saw parlimentary elections.  State of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's slate) came in second to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi).  Nouri did not want to honor the vote or the Constitution and refused to allow the process to move forward (selecting a new prime minister).  Parliament was unable to meet, nothing could take place.  This is Political Stalemate I and it lasted for over eight months.  In November 2010, Political Stalemate I finally ended.  What ended it?

The US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  This was a written document where everyone made concessions and everyone got something out of it.  Nouri got to be prime minister.  He was loving the Erbil Agreement then.  And as soon as he was named prime minister-designate, he began demonstrating he wouldn't honor the Erbil Agreement.  He had called for a referendum and census on Kirkuk for December 2010.  He was supposed to have done that by the end of 2007.  But he refused to even though Article 140 of the Constitution demanded it.  But as he was trying to get everyone to agree to the Erbil Agreement, he was trying to appear resonable and scheduled the referendum and census.  After being named prime minister desisngate, he called off the census and referndum.  It's still not taken place all this time later.  He was also fully on board with the idea of an independent national security commission and it being headed by Ayad Allawi.  But then he got named prime minister-deisgnate and suddenly that was something that couldn't be created overnight but would take time.  17 months later, it's still not happened.

Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get a second term as prime minister and then trashed the agreement.  He used everyone's concession to him but refused to honor his concessions to them.
This is Political Stalemate II, the ongoing political crisis in Iraq and, no, the political crisis in Iraq did not start December 19th or 21st as Nouri went after political rivals from Iraqiya (Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 elections).  From Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace):

Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart. 

Kitabat reports Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared today in Karbala that the Erbil Agreement should be published.  The Ayatollah noted that there are disputes about whether or not it was implemented.  He says the way to end the dispute is to publish the agreement and that the people can then decide for themselves whether the agreement was carried out, whether or not it was Constitutional*, whether or not it represented the best interests of Iraq.  The agreement and the Constitution? There's nothing in the Constitution that allows for the Erbil Agreement.  There's also nothing in the Constitution that bars the Erbil Agreement.  The White House and the State Dept examined that at length before it was put into writing.  They brokered the agreement and did so to end the eight-month-plus gridlock (Political Stalemate I).  The agreement is clearly extra-constitutional and we warned about that in real time.  But it is not forbidden by the Constitution.  After getting what he wanted from the agreement, Nouri and his lackeys began to insist that it couldn't be honored because it was unconstitutional.  It's not.  If it is unconstitutional then the Parliament needs to vote on a PM because they haven't freely done that, they've allowed Nouri to become prime minister-designate (and then prime minister) in spite of the Constitution.  An argument can be made that the only known aspect of the Erbil Agreement that might be unconstitutional would be Nouri being PM since the Constitution is specific on how you become prime minister designate (Nouri didn't meet those qualifications and he knows it, that's why he implemented the eight month stalemate) and since it is specific on how you then move to prime minister. 

For those who've forgotten, a prime minster-designate is judged to be competent to be prime minister by forming a Cabinet in 30 days.  That is nominating the people and get the Parliament to vote on each one.  A Cabinet is a Cabinet.  The Constitution doesn't allow for half Cabinets or partials.  Nouri was unable to name a full Cabinet in 30 days (actually more than 30 -- as usual Jalal Talabani broke the Constitution for Nouri thereby allowing him more than 30 days).  The Constitution is clear that if you do not form a Cabinet in 30 days, a new person is picked to be prime minister-designate.

Nouri failed.  Among the posts empty when he was wrongly and unconstitutionally moved to prime minister were all three of the security posts.  He had no Minister of the Interior, no Minister of Defense and no Minister of Natioanl Security. 

For those who want to claim that a full Cabinet wasn't what was intended, that's a flat out lie.  The Constitutionw as written in 2005, not 80 years ago, not 100.  There is only one requirement to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister: building your Cabinet.

And for those who still can't grasp that this means every seat, every post, then at least have the brains -- if not the integrity -- to grasp that there is no way in hell that the Constitution ever intended for Minister of the Defense (army) or Minister of Interior (police) to be empty posts.

When Nouri refused to announce them in December 2010, "critics" (so labeled by the press) turned out to be prophets.  They stated that Nouri wouldn't fill them in the next few weeks (as the press claimed), they siad it was a power grab.  All this time later, these posts are still not filled.

Which is why Jason Ditz (, reporting on Moqtada's visit to Erbil, observes, "Removing Maliki could be harder than it seems, however, as he is not only the prime minister but the acting Interior Minister, Defense Minister, National Security Minister and chief of military staff. This gives him de facto control over the entire national army and police force."
Massoud Barzani has stated that a solution must be arrived at by the start of September (or the Kurds may include choices on the ballots of their provincial elections).  Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi are calling for a national conference to address the political crisis.  Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi tells AFP, "We could enjoy a prime minister from the Shiite national alliance on the ground that he is committed to power sharing ... and he keeps all Iraqis equally according to the constitution.  This is all what we are dreaming, this is all what we are looking for."
Turning to the United States . . .
Senator Jon Tester: There is a stigma in this country -- and probably in the world
 -- but definitely in America, in the United States, attached to mental health
issues -- injuires.  There are  -- I have multiple stories about folks who won't
go get treatment because they're afraid it wll be on their record,  of afraid they
won't be able to get a job, afraid it might impact the job they do have,
perception by family, friends, colleagues.  Does the VA have an active education
pogram to try to reach out to those folks,  to let them now that this part of --
this is -- as Major General [Thomas S.]  Jones says, it's increasing, it's present,
it's growing and it's not uncommon. Is there -- Is there some kind of education or
outreach going on?
William Schoenhard: Yeah.  Yes, Senator.  There's Make The Connection
Initiative that has just been undertaken. I think it gets back to the primary
care integration of mental health where we're able to screen for PTSD.  And
the other aspect of care that we haven't mentioned today is the vet centers --
Senator Jon Tester: Yes.
William Scoenhard:  -- who are also ways veterans can approach for help if they
have -- for whatever reasons -- reluctance to access the traditional system.
That's from Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  Appearing before the Committee was the Dept of Veterans Affairs' William Schoenhard and Mary Schoh, Iraq War veteran Nick Tolentino who testified about what he observed while working for the VA, Outdoor Odyssey's retired Major General Thomas Jones and VA's Office of Inspector General was represented by Linda Halliday and John Diagh.  Four senators participated including Committee Chair Patty Murray, acting Ranking Member Scott Brown, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Jerry Moran.  What was the hearing about?
Chair Patty Murray: Today's hearing builds upon two hearings held last year.  At each of the previous hearings, the Committee heard from the VA how accessible mental health care services were.  This was inconsistent with what we heard from veterans and the VA mental health care providers.  So last year, following the July hearing, I asked the Department to survey its own health care providers to get a better assessment of the situation.  The results as we all now know were less than satisfactory.  Among the findings, we learned that nearly 40% of the providers surveyed could not schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within the 14 days. Over 40% could not schedule an established patient within 14 days of their desired appointment.  And 70% reported inadequate staffing or space to meet the mental health care needs.  The second hearing, held in November, looked at the discrepancy between what the VA was telling us and what the providers were saying.  We heard from a VA provider and other experts about the critical importance of access to the right type of care delivered timely by qualified mental health professionals.  At last November's hearing, I announced that I would be asking VA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities. I want to thank the IG for their tremendous efforts in addressing such an enormous request.  The findings of this first phase of the investigation are at once substantial and troubling.  We have heard frequently about how long it takes for veterans to get into treatment and I'm glad the IG has brought those concerns to light.
If there's any confusion, McClatchy Newspapers are featuring an editorial by the editorial board of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (one  of the newspapers McClatchy owns).  It notes the VA problems that were addressed in the hearing. Excerpt:

Even though the Veterans Health Administration reported in 2011 that 95 percent of veterans received a comprehensive mental exam within 14 days of requesting one (the time frame in agency policy), the actual number was 49 percent, the inspector general reported this week. It took an average of 50 days to provide a full evaluation for the rest, the report said.
"VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services," the inspector general said.
Part of the problem is with the way records are kept: Schedulers don't always follow the rules, and the lag between referral by a primary care physician and the evaluation might not be reflected properly.
Part of the problem is a shortage of personnel, particularly psychiatrists. Officials knew the data-keeping was problematic; the inspector general pointed it out in reports in 2005 and 2007.
They also knew of the growing staffing needs and, in fact, increased personnel 46 percent from 2005 to 2010, the report said. But in an informal survey of VA mental-health professionals, requested by Congress, 71 percent of those responding said their centers didn't have enough people to keep up. A veteran seeking treatment at the VA medical center in Salisbury, N.C., for instance, had to wait 86 days to see a psychiatrist, the IG said.
We covered the hearing in Wednesday's snapshot.  Kat offered her take and conclusions in "Fire everyone at the VA."    Ava covered it at  Trina's site with "Scott Brown: It's clearly not working (Ava)" and what she emphasized was the exchange between Brown and Schoenhard with Brown growing more and more irritated at Schoenhard who did not want to answer questions and did not want to own the problem.  From Ava's report, this is when Brown tried to get answers as to why there were delays in care but referrals outside the VA were not being utilized.
Again, it had long ago been established that only 2% had been referred out last year.  But Schoenhard wanted to insist on top of the referral issue that the VA was providing veterans with immediate care.

Before we go further, grasp that the IG report already demonstrated that Schoenhard's claim was false.  Grasp that.

Senator Scott Brown: But they're not.  But they're not.

William Schoenhard:  They should be.

Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not!

William Schoenhard:  We have an obligation to be sure that they are.

Senator Scott Brown:  But they're not!

Then Schoenhard wanted to argue that the VA can provide the best care.

Brown responded, "Sir, with all due respect, that's not happening. That's why we're here.  It's clearly not working."

 Wally covered the hearing at  Rebecca's site with "VA paid out nearly $200 million in bonuses last year (Wally)" and he emphasized Brown's shock over the vast amount of money VA's paying out in bonuses.  Excerpt.
Brown's other big issue was that the country's in a fiscal nightmare.  And yet the VA -- which has had one scandal after another -- is handing out bonuses.
There's been the failure to send out the GI Bill checks.  There's the alarming suicide rate of veterans.  There's lying about the time wait for appointments.  We could go on and on.  So the point is, bonuses are being handed out.
You might not think it's a big deal.  Do you know how much the VA gave out last year in bonuses?
Remember this is on top of the salary and wages they paid.  In 2011, Brown noted that the VA paid out $194 million in bonuses.  Nearly $200 million dollars.  Brown asked what the average salary was for someone receiving a bonus and the VA's William Schoenhard wanted to take that for the record.
On top of that, Schoenhard felt the VA deserved credit for keeping the number so low.  Brown was shocked and asked if Schoenhard was saying that in years prior to 2011 over $200 million was paid in bonuses?  Yep.
Again, only four Committee members were present.  Moran used his time mainly, as he noted, to allow someone to talk about a program that was working -- a non-VA program. Since I didn't note Moran Wednesday, we're going to include a little of  that today.
Senator Jerry Moran:  Part of my interest in this topic is coming from a state as rural as Kansas in which our access to mental health professionals is perhaps even more limited than more urban and suburban states.  And we need to take advantage of the wide array of professional services that are available at every opportunity.  And so I'm here to encourage you -- now that you've made that announcement, let's bring it to fruition. And thank you for reaching the conclusion and getting us to this point.  I want to direct my question to General Jones. I thank you very much for your Semper Fi Odyssey efforts. I had a Kansan visit with me in the last month who has organized a program -- I don't know whether it's modeled after what you're doing -- it's the same kind of focus and effort.  And it's somewhat related to the conversations and questions of Senator Tester about the stigma or lack of willingness to admit that one needs help, the lack of knowledge of what programs are available, how to connect the veteran with what's there.  I wanted to give you the opportunity to educate me and perhaps others on what it is that you've been able to do to bring that veteran who is not likely to know of the existence of your program or programs like yours.  And, secondly, what can be done to overcome the reluctance of military men and women and veterans to access what is available -- such as your program.
Major General Thomas Jones:  Thank you, sir.  Well first off, I think that the Semper Fi Fund that I've been a board member of is --  provides the ability for these veterans to come. Admittedly, most of the veterans that come back to the case workers of Sempre Fi Fund have some problems or they wouldn't be there. I mean, they've had a difficult time making the transition. So when they arrive in western Pennsylvania for one of the weeklong sessions, they arrive with a major degree of skepticism and very tentative and we try to restore them to what was really the strength of their experience in the Marine Corps: the team, the cohesion, team building and basially restoring their trust.  I would say -- trust in the system and trust in others.  I think my work through the Semper Fi Odyssey because of the mental health professionals that have come in and really bought into the program and really advertised the program and allowed me to speak to other groups led me to a project I'm doing with the Institute of Defense Analysis, sponsored by OSD, that looks at best practices.  So, you know, I was a Marine for a long time, we never talked much about mental health issues until recently.  As a Vietnam platoon commander, we never talked about it.  But now there are programs in the Marine Corps and I would say the army too -- Comprehensive Soldier Fitness in the army; Marine Corps' program is Operational Stress Control and Readiness.  It's a great program. But it's not easy to overcome the stigma and the program really rests on the strength of the NCO. No Major General's going to ride into  a Marine Corps squad or platoon or company and build immediate trust.  It's going to come from the NCO. So overcoming that skepticism, that chasm of trust, is difficult but it's happening -- especially those units that have deployed four and five times, young NCOs, young officers are seeing the power of what a squad leader or a platoon commander can do to identify problems when they're still in the category of combat stress injuries and haven't migrated to combat stress illnesses. I think that's the strength of the Marine Corps program. I think the problem -- this is only my opinion now -- of the army program is that it's very well built, the application is not focused on the young NCO as is the Marine Corps program. And I don't say it because I'm a Marine.  I just sense that the NCO identifying in Iraq or Afghanistan, if there's a problem, you can start the dialogue right then, you can start the reconciliation process right then.  You don't have to wait six months after he returns and he's got this problem in his mental wall locker and he pulls out then when he's by himself. So we try to restore and very successfuly restore because all these veterans have come in and actually volunteered their services. 
So in one form or another, the above and the work by Kat, Ava, Wally and the Wednesday snapshot have covered the bulk of the points raised in the hearing. 
On the topic of helping veterans, Tuesday Iraq War veteran Jason Moon will take part in a fundraiser for Soldier's Heart at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 246 S. Church St., Grass Valley, California.  The event, which kicks off at 6:00 pm,  is open to the public and free but there is a suggested donation rate of $10.
The things that I have done that I regret
The things I seen, I won't forget
For this life and so many more
And I'm trying to find my way home
Child inside me is long dead and gone
Somewhere between lost and alone
Trying to find my way home
-- "Trying To Find My Way Home," written by Jason Moon, from Moon's latest album Trying To Find My Way Home

Iraq War veteran Rick Collier (with No Soldier Left Behind) shares his PTSD story at The Oregonian.  Excerpt:

My time in country left me with traumas and exposures no human should see or be a part of. It also created an environment in which hazing and death threats were part of my ritual coming from my NCO. Without knowing it, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) soon became my reality and at 18 I started to lose control of my life.
Shortly after my return my best friend Daniel Parker died in Iraq. I was the lead pallbearer for his military funeral. After losing Daniel, I felt I lost everything. I struggled with lack of family and support upon my return and found Daniel's death, combined with my PTSD, set me over the edge.
I tried getting help from my command. I spoke with my NCOs in charge and even a Sgt from another platoon. I couldn't take the harassment from my NCO both in country and at home, topped with PTSD and the loss of my best friend. With lack of help I began to drink and numb my pain. My suicidal ideation grew and I began to lose sight of who I was. I ended up going UA (unauthorized absence) with suicide in mind.
When I was brought back to base by Marine Corps Chasers I soon found myself in the brig again with no help from my command. I was left to deal with PTSD in a cell, like a POW. After a couple months in the brig I was court martialed and given a Bad Conduct Discharge. All I needed was help, I never wanted out.
After being discharged, I was released from duty and sent on my way. Here I was a combat vet, a kid, just left out on the street to fend for myself. Not once did I get mental health treatment. It took me two years after my discharge to finally figure out I had PTSD. It took me doing my own research, trying to help myself, to put all the pieces together from symptoms I was showing. It hurt having to do it alone.

And then Collier got help, right?  Wrong.  That's when he begins a long struggle to get the treatment he needs.  That involved the VA, getting a discharge upgrade and much more.  His experience and wanting to assist in others in the same situation led to his founding No Soldier Left Behind
 We'll close with this from the Feminist Majority Foundation:
April 27, 2012
Contact: Hannah Gordon, 703-522-2214,
Feminist Majority Board Member Dolores Huerta to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar, and Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin issued the following joint statement on the announcement that Board Member Dolores Huerta will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
The Feminist Majority Foundation and its board salutes our colleague and friend Dolores Huerta for all of her historic achievements for social justice and equality. We are very proud that she will be awarded by President Barack Obama the highest civilian award.

In response to the announcement, Chair of the Board Peg Yorkin said, "No one deserves this honor more than Dolores Huerta. She has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who work the farm fields of this country and has been an incredible advocate for women and girls' empowerment."

President Eleanor Smeal said, "For some 25 years, we have worked very closely with Dolores Huerta in our fight for women's equality, civil rights, and worker's rights. Dolores is an inspiration to all of us at all times. She is dedicated to win equality for women in the state house and Congress and she has significantly increased the number of Latina women running for office."

Executive Vice President Kathy Spillar praised Dolores' work, saying, "It has been my great honor to work with Dolores for nearly 25 years to empower women and girls and secure our fundamental rights. I have learned enormously through her example. Despite the hardship she has seen and the difficulties she has endured, she is the single most optimistic person I have ever known. There is nothing that can't be done when Dolores Huerta is involved."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fake issue

So on the NPR hourly summary (the news headlines) tonight there was something that stood out.  US House Speaker John Boehner was complaining about Barack and the issue of wanting to cap the student loan interest rate.  He was saying that the 3 colleges he visited were part of his efforts to create a fake issue and part of his re-election campaign.

Then they played Jay Carney, White House press secretary, and he was saying, "The president was advocating on a policy that he believes is essential."

If that's really true then why did Barack miss both Congressional votes on this issue in 2007?

I think that's a question that needs to be answered..

And until it is answered, I think that campaign stops -- on tax payer dollars -- is the right call.

I also agree that it's a phony issue.  I took out loans. I've actually paid mine all off. And if I hadn't, Barack's 'help' would mean nothing to me because it only applies on loans being taken out right now.  Not existing loans.

So yes, it is a phoney issue.  And that's very clear. And I can't link to the NPR hourly story but I can link to the newswrap on The NewsHour (PBS) which was basically the same story (link has audio, text and video)

Okay, I need to note some stuff:.

  • Mike and I spoke on the phone last night.  I didn't mean for him to feel like he had to blog about Laura Nyro and Janis Ian.  But it was sure nice of him to do so.  Elaine's Smash coverage is the main reason I watch the NBC show.  And then there's Ruth.  She's covering the John Edwards trial every night at her site so be sure to check her out.

    Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

    Thursday, April 26, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Moqtada meets up with Massoud Barzani in the KRG, State of Law whispers to the press, the White House points a finger but fails to realize four point back to them, and more.
    Starting with violence, Al Rafidayn notes 3 car bombs were discovered in Anbar Province (before they went off) and the Ramadi home of a police officer was blown up and 1 corpse (Iraq soldier -- shot dead and tossed in the river) was discovered in Diyala  Province.  On Diyala, RIA Novosti notes a suicice car bombing there today.  BBC News adds that it was a suicide car bombing followed by a cafe bombing.  Reuters counts 10 dead and eighteen injured.  Mohammed Lazim (CNN) reports Baghdad also saw twin bombings -- a car bombing in the al-Hurriya district and another bombing in Sadr City. Raheem Salman (Reuters) counts 5 dead and twenty-seven injured in the Baghdad bombings.  Violence in Iraq has risen sharply since the 2003 invasion.  (Yeah, that's the way AFP and the others should report it instead of their embarrassing clowning where they use 2006 as a 'base year' for everything in Iraq.) And  Margaret Griffis ( counts 10 dead yesterday and seventeen injured.
    We noted an important column by Joel Wing about nine days ago and were going to note it as the month drew to a close with the hopes that some outlets would actually pay attention to the topic.  I hadn't planned for us to do that today but we'll jump the gun on it due to another article.  First, the coverage -- the lack of coverage -- of violence in Iraq is ridiculous.  Reuters, of course, dropped their "Factbox" which was one of the few things that covered daily violence -- McClatchy long ago dropped their daily roundup of violence.  With most western outlets no longer covering violence unless at least 20 die in one day, the false impression that violence disappeared in Iraq takes hold.  Reality is further threatened by a lazy press which has never kept their own numbers for Iraqi dead but now just pander to Nouri al-Maliki and cite his and only his figures.  It's in Nouri's interest to lie and pretend violence is dropping, dropping, almost gone.  As we've noted repeatedly in the last months, the 'official figures' don't even meet the totals of Iraq Body Count.  And for the bulk of the Iraq War, the press went with Iraq Body Count's numbers.  Now they won't even acknowledge those numbers because it might make Nouri look bad.  You've got a press corps that has bowed and scraped to Nouri in a way that makes CNN's overtures to Saddam Hussein under Eason Jordan look like nothing more than professional courtesy.  Credit to Joel Wing for his column on the issue of the dead and the way their being counted.  Excerpt.

    In February 2012, the Iraqi government released its official figures for casualties from April 2004 to the end of 2011. It had over 69,000 deaths for that time period. That count was 30,000 less than other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq. During the height of the civil war, the country's ministries' numbers were comparable to other groups, but since 2011 they have consistently been the lowest. While some Iraqi politicians have claimed that the official counts miss many deaths, it could also be argued that the statistics are being politicized by the prime minister who controls all of the security ministries.
    On February 29, 2012, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh announced the government's numbers for deaths in the country. He said that from April 5, 2004 to December 31, 2011 69,263 Iraqis were killed. 239,133 were also wounded. The deadliest year was 2006 when there were 21,539 dead, and 39,329 wounded. 2011 was the least violent with only 2,777 casualties. Of the nation's eighteen provinces, Baghdad was the deadliest with 23,898 dead for the reported time period, followed by Diyala, Anbar, and Ninewa. Muthanna in the south was the safest with only 94 killed over the seven years covered. A member of parliament's human rights committee immediately criticized the report. The deputy claimed that there were thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war that were never counted. He also said that out in the countryside, reporting to the ministries was poor. No numbers on violence in Iraq can be anywhere near complete. During the civil war from 2005-2008 there were sections of the country that were too dangerous to enter and do any serious reporting. Some insurgent groups also buried their victims. The problem with the ministries numbers however are that they are so far below other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq, which was not always true.
    Read the column in full.  But with that in mind, see if you can spot the problem in the following passage by Robert Tollast from an interview with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (again, the passage below is writtne by Tollast):
    In March 2006 for example, an estimated 1500 people died a violent death in Baghdad according to Iraq Body Count, and that was not the capital's worst month. In sharp contrast, official figures show a civilian death toll of 112 across all of Iraq for March 2012.
    Did you catch the problem?  In 2006, X is the figure and Iraq Body Count is the source.  Last March, Z is the number of deaths but they're using "official figures," not IBC.  That's what they call comparing apples and oranges.  112 people died in Iraq last month?
    No.  That's not what Iraq Body Count found.  They found 295 deaths in the month of March.  We used a screen snap of their monthly total in this earlier editorial for Third Estate Sunday Review. Right now -- with no addition of today's deaths, they're counting 250 dead so far this month in Iraq.  Will the press note this when they cover deaths in their monthly look back?  If the new pattern holds, they'll ignore Iraq Body Count.  And continue to pretend that reporting the tallies released by an interested party as if (a) they're objective and (b) the only tallies that exist.
    On the topic of violence, Robert Tollast did explore the targeting of Iraqi youth -- Emos and LGBTs and those suspected of being either with Michael Knights:
    RT: This month we have seen a disturbing spike in violence against young Iraqis who are guilty of nothing more than sporting western style fashions, which the Iraqis have dubbed "emo" (after the American music genre.) They are only the latest group to be targeted by religious extremists, alongside barbers deemed un-Islamic and homosexuals. Iraqi religious leaders have been united in condemning attacks against "emos" notably al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani.
    The violence is also specific to Iraq, since these fashions are banned in Iran, but were briefly popular and not punishable by death. There is clearly a new generation in Iraq who are desperate to move on from war and oppression, and they are being targeted by men who are simply after the next person to kill, now that their local Sunnis have fled and the US has departed. Perhaps this is what the reconciliation of groups like Asaib ahl-Haq will look like: they will always find something to violently resist. Can the Iraqi government reasonably expect to rehabilitate groups like AAH, who could well be behind a lot of these killings?
    MK: Anyone familiar with the "loss" of Basrah to the militias in 2006-2007 will shudder to see the same trends writ large across Baghdad and southern Iraq. In Basrah, the first targets for the Shiite vigilantes were the alcohol vendors, the music shops and eventually the university campuses. Some horrific things happened back then and this most recent set of attacks on youth is a reminder that religious vigilantes remain a major threat to personal security and liberty in Iraq. Back in 2006-2007 in Basrah, the British effectively surrendered the city to the vigilantes; now groups like AAH have greater license to operate because they are starting to side with the government in national politics.
    The lesson from Basrah is that the militias do not stop after they target the minorities and niche groups: they keep pushing until they begin to rival the government and threaten the public perception of the government's "monopoly of force." When that day comes, the government is forced to smash the militants back down to their roots again, as occurred in Basrah and Baghdad in 2008. Getting back to your question, it is clear that reconciliation efforts should, as a prerequisite, only involve movements that have frozen their involvement in violence. AAH has never fully recanted violence: even when the United States was seeking to de-militarize AAH, the movement would not agree to any of the preconditions that other insurgent groups accepted (providing an oath to renounce violence, surrendering biometric data, etc.). Building up AAH -- which is the real Iraqi counterpart to Lebanese Hezbollah, unlike Moqtada's scattered followers -- is a dangerous game for any government to play.
    By the way, if you're in Boston tomorrow (we will be but not in the afternoon), Boston University is hosting a panel on Iraq and Afganistan moderated by BU professor John Carroll with the following panelists: professor Andrew J. Bacevich, the Boston Globe's David Greenway, former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith and retired General David McKiernan.  Details are here and the 1:00 pm event is free and open to the public.  Early on the Boston Globe covered Iraq itself (instead of reprinting articles by their corporate owners the New York Times).  Back when they were covering Iraq, Elizabeth Neuffer was their correspondent.  She died May 9, 2003 in a car accident outside Samarra. Since her death, the International Women's Media Foundations has annually awarded the Elizabeth Neuffer fellowship. The most recent journalist honored with the fellowship is Ugrandan reporter Jackee Budesta Batanda who has covered acid attacks on women in Uganda among other topics.  IWMF notes of the fellowship:
    One woman journalist will be selected to spend seven months in a tailored program with access to MIT's Center for International Studies as well as media outlets including The Boston Globe and The New York Times.  The flexible structure of the program will provide the fellow with opportunities to pursue academic research and hone her reporting skills covering topics related to human rights.
    The Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship is open to women journalists whose focus is human rights and social justice.  Applicants must be dedicated to a career in journalism in print, broadcast or online media and show a strong commitment to sharing knowledge and skills with colleagues upon completion of the fellowship.  Excellent written and spoken English skills are required.  A stipend will be provided, and expenses, including airfare and housing, will be covered.
    For the next honoree, applications are currently being accepted and will be through April 30th -- May 1st will be too late.  If you're interested in applying, you can click here for more information.  In addition, next week, May 3rd, IWMF will announce their winners of the 2012 Courage in Journalism Award and Lifetime Achievement Award.  We will be including that whether it involves Iraq journalism or Iraqi journalism or not.  A friend with IWMF feels that last year's winners did not get coverage from the bulk of the press.  (We didn't cover it here at all, I'll freely admit.  But she's talking about the press, not about this site.)  I told her last night I'd do what I could offline as well as mention it here.
    Back to Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Al Rafidayn reported this morning that Moqtada al-Sadr would be visiting KRG President Massoud Barzani today to discuss the crisis   Earlier, Aswat al-Iraq reported Barzani had invited Moqtada to a May 7th meet-up in Erbil to address the political crisis.  Today AFP quotes the Sadr bloc's Salah al-Obeidi stating, "The crisis needs such a move to resolve the situation.  The Sayyed is trying to put Al-Ahrar [his parlimenatry bloc] and himself personally in the middle." Lara Jakes (AP) reports on a "45 minute interview" with Barzani in which he calls out the ongoing crisis and states, "What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule. If Iraq heads toward a democratic state, then there will be no trouble.  But if Iraq heads toward a dictatorial state, then we will not be able to live with dictatorship."  A longer version of Lara Jakes' report can be found at Lebanon's Daily Star.  In the interview, Barzanai says that September needs to be agreed to as the time by which the political crisis must be solved and, if not, breaking with Baghdad may be put on the KRG ballot.

    The KRG is supposed to hold provincial elections September 12th.  They do their provincial elections differently than the rest of Iraq.  Not just because they're semi-autonomous but also because when the KRG says they're holding elections, they do so.  The 2010 parliamentary elections across Iraq were supposed to have been held in 2009.  But Nouri and company couldn't get it together to pass an election law.  The 2010 elections led to eight months of political stalemate as Nouri refused to relinquish the post of prime minister even those his State of Law came in second.  In November 2010, Political Stalemate I was ended when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all the parties.  This was a series of concessions.  Nouri, for example, conceeded to allow Ayad Allawi (of Iraqiya which came in first in the elections) to head an independent security council and to hold the census and referndum in Kirkuk that the Iraqi Constitution demands he hold.  He had to make other concessions (on paper) but those were among the biggies.  In exchange, the other parties agreed to allow Nouri a second term as prime minister.  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get that second term and then (Decemeber 2010, one month later) trashed the agreement, refusing to honor his promises to the other political blocs.  That's what started Political Stalemate II, the ongoing crisis.  Since last summer, Iraqiya, the Kurds, ISCI and the Sadr bloc have called for a return to the Erbil Agreement and for it to be fully implemented.  Yesterday, Margret Griffis ( reported, "Separately, the Iraqi Accord Front, which is a member of the Iraqiya bloc, complained that Maliki has ignored the Arbil Agreement that he accepted in order to retain the premiership for a second term. Barzani was instrumental in the creation of the agreement after 2010 elections failed to produce an uncontested winner. A spokesman for the front said if they agreement is not fulfilled, they would withdraw confidence from Maliki."  Alsumaria reports that Barzani has called a meeting "next Saturday" and invited members of the Kurdistan Alliance serving in Parliament as well as all members of the KRG's Parliament -- all regardless of political party. Barzani has not announced what the topic of the meeting will be leading to speculation that this meet-up may explore Iraq politics (such as replacing Nouri) or KRG politics (such as breaking further with Baghdad). 
    Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, warned on Wednesday that Kurdish voters may consider secession if Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite bloc do not agree to share power by September. He said that Iraq's unity is threatened by Maliki's "dictatorship and authoritarian rule." Barzani's comments followed earlier remarks on Sunday in which he expressed his concerns that Maliki might use F-16 warplanes against Iraqi Kurdistan, saying "We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position." Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Kurdistan on Thursday in an attempt to help resolve the situation.
    C Luan (Xinhua) notes that al-Sadr and Barzani were scheduled to meet today.  AFP has a photo of Barzani greeting Moqtada al-Sadr as he leaves arrives in Erbil.  And they quote him declaring at the Erbil Airport, "I met Nouri al-Maliki in Tehran, and I came to listen to the opinions of the Kurdish leaders and their views. Everyone should look out for the public interest and the unity of the Iraqi people, and I hope that everyone will be responsible."
    Al Rafidayn meanwhile notes that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness."  Of Barzani, AFP notes, "He is the highest-ranking Iraqi official to disavow Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government for sidelining its political opponents and, in some cases, persecuting them in what critics call an unabashed power grab.  Critics are seeing Barazani's statements as an attempt by the Kurds to place pressure on Baghdad and force the central government to follow the Kurdish way instead of a real pursuance of secession. " 
    It's being called a "historic moment" by some news outlets.  Aswat al-Iraq noted yesterday, "Sadrist Trend MP Hakim al-Zamili disclosed that some of the political blocs desire to have a candidate from the Sadrist Trend to assume the premiership, which matter shall be decided by Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr."  As we've noted since the summer of 2010, French and British diplomats believe that when Tehran pressured Moqtada to back Nouri al-Maliki (whom Moqtada loathes), they finally got his agreement by promising they would back him to be the next prime minister.  Earlier this week, we noted the publicly expressed strategy of Sadr which is that if there is agreement on who would be the next prime minister -- agreement among the political blocs in Iraq -- he would take part in a no-confidence vote.  Interestingly, while AFP quotes Moqtada stating that the issue of the security ministries needs to be addressed (Nouri was supposed to have nominated people to head the ministries back in December 2010 but he never did that for the security ministries which has allowed him to control those ministries), Kitabat reports that one of "the most important discussion topics" between Barzani and Moqtada is that Nouri must not have a third term as prime minister.  Kitabat notes that Moqtada was expected to go to Najaf after leaving Erbil.


    Al Rafidayn meanwhile reports that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness."   When you put all the current pieces together, it appears Moqtada may be even closer to becoming Iraq's prime minister.  Dar Addustour is among those reporting today that Nouri met with Moqtada while Nouri was in Tehran over the weekend and that Moqtada promised his support. Also citing an unnamed source, Alsumaria reports on the alleged meeting.  Is it in Moqtada's interest to leak the story?  No.  But it is in Nouri's interest.  Nouri and his State of Law is the most likely source of the rumor.  It may or may not be true.  And Nouri has a habit of hearing what he wants to hear.  Also true, Moqtada has become quite the political figure and may be playing every angle.  (That's not a slam against him but it is noting that Moqtada al-Sadr of 2012 is not the struggling and tone-deaf politician of the early stages of the Iraq War.)  Finally, Alsumaria reports the League of Righteous -- armed militants/terrorists, etc. -- held a press conference in Baghdad today to announce that they plan to participate in the elections for provincial councils and that they represents the resistance which was able to defeat the most powerful country in the world (the United States). The League split with Moqtada al-Sadr over a number of issues.   Nouri had hoped to use them as a way to block Moqtada but that hasn't happened thus far.
    In the US, Iraq's becoming a campaign issue. Ben Smith and Zeke Miller (Buzz Feed) report Mitt Romney's being slammed for choosing the husband of journalist Campbell Brown (formerly of NBC and CNN) for a foreign policy advisor because the man, Dan Senor, was a White House advisor in Iraq from April 2003 through July 2005 where he helped with press briefings and was an adivsor to Paul Bremer and many more tasks. The re-election campaign for President Barack Obama sent out a release that Smith and Miller quote from which includes: "DAN SENOR WAS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S SPIN MASTER FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ AND WORKED TO ADVOCATE LONGER U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ."  Ali Gharib (Think Progress) has a rap sheet of Senor's supposed crimes. Smith and Miller note that "Democrats see in Senor's emergence an extension of the unpopular Bush Administration and its unpopular war." And so everyone's mouthing off when, quite frankly, they all need to pipe down.
    I'd love it if we were holding people accountable.  But that's not the case.  As so many work overtime to let you know that Dan Senor is close to Robert Kagan (I know Kagan), we're all supposed to look the other way on the fact that Barack's administration has chosen to make Victoria Nuland a State Dept spokesperson.  For those who don't know, Victoria Nuland is married to Robert Kagan.  NPR wants you to believe that when they let Kagan critique then-presidential candidate John Kerry on air that they had no idea Kagan was the husband of Victoria Nuland who was, at that time, Dick Cheney's national security advisor.  (If you need a refresher or this is new to you, drop back to November 2004 and read "When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman.")  Dick Cheney's national security advisor?  Who's married to Robert Kagan?  I'd say Joe Biden (who's the designated attack dog on this point) needs to find a new topic damn quick.  Victoria Nuland is not the only neocon that Barack Obama has brought into his administration, nor is she the only supporter of the Iraq War that he has brought into his administration.  I'd love it if they had maintained some sort of a standard, if the current White House had, but they maintained no such standard.  Most people aren't even aware of this but the only US Ambassador to Iraq that we have so far had who was against the war?  That was Ryan Crocker, the Bush appointee.  Chris Hill, Barack's first appointee, was for it.  Frothing at the mouth for it.  The current Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey was for it.  Barack's new nominee?  Brett McGurk?  Not only was he for the Iraq War, he was tasked with that war in the lead up to it and after it.  That's what his focus was when he was on Bush's National Security Council. Let's go to McGurk's Harvard bio:
    During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq and then as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this position, McGurk oversaw all aspects of U.S. policy relating to wars in both theaters.  In 2005 and 2006, he was an early proponent of the strategy now known as the "surge" and was a lead participant in the 2006 strategic review of Iraq policy, which led to the surge of U.S. forces into Iraq and significant changes to U.S. strategy there.
    In 2007 and 2008, McGurk served as lead negotiator and envoy for negotiations with the Government of Iraq on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement (also known as a "SOFA") to govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and the normalization of bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States.  The Iraqi parliament ratified both agreements on November 26, 2008, and they went into effect on January 1, 2009.  In recognition for
    this achievement, McGurk received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow on a civilian not serving in the Department.
    Prior to serving on President Bush's National Security Council staff, McGurk served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and then the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Ambassador John Negroponte.  In this capacity, he helped structure the legal framework for Iraq's first nationwide election and was a key participant in the negotiation of Iraq's interim constitution.  He was identified in 2004 as "one of the heroes" of the CPA period by Atlantic Monthly magazine, and has since been recognized by leading commentators as one of the few policymakers who advocated the critical changes to U.S. policy that led to the surge and an improving situation in Iraq.

    Again, drawing attention to Dan Senor's Iraq connections?  They blew that chance years ago when they brought so many War Hakws into the administration.  In addition, nominating McGurk pretty much ensured that all the Iraq War Hawks were immunized.  Ben Smith will always carry Barack's water -- probably his urine as well -- but not everyone in the press will choose to be so compliant.  The White House will fnd out quickly that if they try to make Senor an issue, the press will be happy to note his counterpart's in Barack's administration.  It's not a winning strategy.
    On top of that, there's the hypocrisy.  Justin Raimondo ( calls the administration out:
    The world is in chaos, war is breaking out all over, there's blood flowing in the streets of cities from the Middle East to Africa, but not to worry – we've got an "Atrocity Prevention Board"! Now doesn't that make you feel much better?
    The board is chaired by the infamous Samantha Power – whose advocacy of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine is credited with the Obama administration's support for Islamist rebels in Libya, and is currently energizing calls for a similar intervention in Syria. The announcement of this new bureaucratic instrument of war was made by Obama at a recent speech delivered at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where professional warmonger and Israel Firster Elie Wiesel took the opportunity to call for war with Iran and the President, for his part, announced the imposition of new sanctions on both Iran and Syria.
    The atrocities this board is supposed to prevent are those that are not committed by the US: our atrocities, you understand, are really "humanitarian" acts, as opposed to their atrocities, which are … well, just plain old atrocities. One can safely assume the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, killed by US sanctions prior to the invasion, is not one of those atrocities to be considered by the Board. Nor will those many thousands of Iraqi civilians who lost their lives in the war be so recognized.
    No, designation will be reserved for the actions of governments that defy our will, like Iran and Syria. Obama singled out South Sudan and Libya as monuments to this policy of "atrocity prevention" – Libya, whose Islamist government is jailing, murdering, and otherwise repressing its own people, and South Sudan, a completely made-up "nation" that owes its very existence to Western intervention, routinely arrests opposition figures and journalists, and is currently involved in putting down local and tribal insurgencies in the majority of its provinces (with our help, you can be sure).
    The piddling atrocities carried out by such tinhorn despots as Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian mullahs are nothing compared to the large-scale war crimes routinely committed by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our drones roam the world, wreaking random havoc on innocents and "terrorists" alike – oh, but that isn't an "atrocity." It's "fighting terrorism." That is how the world's biggest perpetrator of atrocities gets to set up an "Atrocity Prevention Board" and not be laughed off the world stage.