Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sci Fi

If you've read this blog for any real length of time, you know my favorite genre to read is science fiction.  And I love sci fi TV shows as well.  (I would've subscribed to Netflix if they'd had The Event for a second year.)  I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Logan's Run, Blade Runner, etc. 

I am into science fiction.

I am not into fantasy.

That came up after work today.  A friend was trying to set me up.  I didn't realize that was what was happening until we were into the meal (and my friend suddenly had an 'emergency' phone call and 'had to' leave).

Now I don't have to have a woman who's into sci fi.  I do watch other kinds of movies.  I do have to have one who will listen to me when I'm reading a new book and jazzed on it. 

But this woman -- who did know it was a set up -- tells me she's into science fiction as well.

Great.  So let's talk sci fi.

I'm sorry, Once Upon A Time is not sci fi.

It's fantasy.

Same with her talk of Renas. Fairs and that sort of medieval thing. 

I have nothing against fantasy, I'm just not into it.

Dungeons & Dragons was fun in high school for about one hour and then it was boring.

It was like the way some girls get with their Barbies, with all these backstories and details.

So my point is that the set up didn't go well.

And I'm sorry but fantasy is not sci fi.  And I'm sure I came off very strident on that subject.

That's fine.  I'm actually on a breather in a relationship, I haven't broken up.  We're just rethinking some stuff.  Or that's where we were this weekend.

Again, I can handle someone who's not into sci fi.  But don't be into fantasy and start offering that as sci fi.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, a prep meeting for a national conference takes place, Moqtada won't take Nouri down but won't stop anyone else from taking Nouri down, Bradley Manning's pre-court-martial hearings continue, and more.
"Pfc. Bradley Manning made headway Tuesday in his bid to prove that WikiLeaks' publication of more than 700,000 confidential files did not damage national security," reports Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News Service).  "Claiming that the documents [damage assessments] are classified, however, prosecutors have refused to give Manning access.  Military judge Col. Denise Lind ordered the government Tuesday to turn the documents over to the court by May 2."  What's going on?
In January, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. 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.  In January, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.
Currently, pre-court martial rulings are being made.  The Center for Constitutional Rights' Shane Kadidal Tweeted the hearing today (Tweeted at CCR's Twitter Feed).
#Manning hearing: ruling from court tomorrow on arguments re: defense access to grand jury testimony - presumably investigating #Wikileaks
#Manning trial: defense argues gov didn't cite right disclosure standard. Gov won't publicly disclose even its legal arguments from briefs.
#Manning hearing: Judge asks if gov has found material that might be useful to defense but hasn't been disclosed. Gov says yes.
#Manning trial: Coombs: gov has been working to find harm from cables. From docs received so far it's clear answer is 'no damage' #Wikileaks
AFP explains, "The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said she would review the reports from the CIA, the FBI and other agencies to determine whether the documents were pertinent to Manning's defense. The damage reports, including those from the CIA, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Deparmtent, could cast doubt on prosecutors' claims that the exposure of classified documents on the WikiLeaks site had devastating or lethal results."  Larry Shaughnessy (CNN) adds, "As for the request to dismiss the charges, Coombs said because the prosecutors did not understand the discovery rules, he and his fellow attorneys have not been given information that could help in his defense."  Sky News notes, "A court-martial date has yet to be set and Manning so far has declined to enter a plea on the counts he faces in a case that involves one of the most serious intelligence reaches in US history."
Defense motions can be found at David E. Coombs' website Army Court Martial Defense Info.  These are the redacted ones the government is issuing as well as the unredacted ones.  The issue of public access to motions -- a standard in any legal case in the United States -- was raised today and the judge declared that the public could make a freedom of information request if they want documents.  At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the judge's decison that the government had to turn over documents to the defense.
QUESTION: In the WikiLeaks case, the judge in the Bradley Manning case this morning ordered the State Department, among other agencies, to turn over some of their documents to the defense in order to help the Manning team better prepare its case. Is the State Department going to turn over those documents? And my follow-up is: Does the U.S. still see a negative impact on its relations with other countries in diplomacy because of what happened in the alleged leaking of these documents?
MS. NULAND: Let me take the last part first. I think our view of the entire WikiLeaks incident has not changed at all in terms of the negative effects. With regard to what the court has ordered, Ros, I haven't seen it, so let me take it and see what we know about what's been requested of us and what our response is.
As an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a legal adviser to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, I continue to attend Manning's hearings and can only describe them as a theater of the absurd: the trial involves numerous and lengthy off-the-record conferences, out of sight and hearing of the press and public, after which the judge provides an in-court summary that hardly satisfies standards of "open and public". Perhaps more remarkable is the refusal even to provide the defense with a pre-trial publicity order signed by the judge – an order that details what lawyers can and cannot reveal about the case. Yes, even the degree to which proceedings should be kept in secret is a secret, leaving the public and media chained in a Plato's Cave, able only to glimpse the shadows of reality.
The press and advocacy groups, however, have not been quiet about the trampling of their rights. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on behalf of 46 news organizations, urged the Department of Defense to take measures that would allow the news media to view documents prior to court arguments. The committee pointed out that the trial for the "alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in US history" is of "intense public interest, particularly where, as here, that person's liberty is at stake". The Center for Constitutional Rights, too, has requested access in the interest of an "open and public" trial, but neither appeal has been answered.
This is a clear violation of the law, but it will likely take burdensome litigation to rectify this lack of transparency. The US supreme court has insisted that criminal trials must be public, and the fourth circuit, where this court martial is occurring, has ruled that the first amendment right of access to criminal trials includes the right to the documents in such trials.
The greater issue at hand is why this process should be necessary at all. As circuit judge Damon Keith famously wrote in Detroit Free Press v Ashcroft, "Democracies die behind closed doors."
In Iraq today, Alsumaria reports that an Anbar Province bombing left seven Iraqi soldiers injured,a Mosul car bombing targeting a checkpoint claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured and 1 person was kidnapped in Nineveh Province.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reports 12 died in Iraq violence yesterday and ten were left wounded.   As violence continues in Iraq, AFP reports that Nouri al-Maliki has reduced the wages of Sahwa (Awakening, Sons Of Iraq) members by 20%."  Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus, then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining the "Awakenings.'
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".
The Awakening Movement has been in a tricky position for some time. They haven't been integrated into the state and they've also become targets for al-Qaeda extremists, who, after the withdrawal of US troops, started a campaign of intimidation and murder targeting Awakening members. They have been, al-Jibouri says, "abandoned by everyone".   
Previously the Awakening Movement had been seen as a resoundingly successful initiative. Founded in 2006, the armed groups were so successful in their counter-insurgency campaign and in assisting the US troops, that the idea was copied in Afghanistan too. 
No doubt the fact that the US was paying out around US$300 per month in wages to Awakening members also helped – at the height of the Awakening Movement's duties, this cost more than US$30 million a month. In late 2008, the Iraqi state began paying the wages of Awakening Movement members and it also promised to begin integrating the militias into state forces proper. 
However up until today, around half of those involved in the Awakening Movement say that they don't know if they will ever be employed by the Iraqi government. And others say they haven't been paid in months.
And going without payment in Iraq is difficult when unemployment is rampant and when so many live below the poverty line.  The country of widows and children, as a result of  the wars and the sanctions which killed off so much of the population and left the median age at 20.9 years.  In an oil rich country where there's no effort made to take care of the people, everyone does what they have to in order to survive.  Saleem al-Wazzan (Niqash) reports on child prostitution in Basra:

Naji is 15 years old; he's been working here since he was 12.
"The people I have sex with are generous and kind though," Naji insists. "They are kind hearted and they love me. They bring me clothes and gifts and sometimes give me cigarettes. In return I give them my company and the joy of sex."
 A 2008 study undertaken by the well known Iraqi human rights organization, Al Amal (Hope), found that 72 percent of children of displaced families residing in Nasiriya, near Basra, were engaged in work inappropriate to their age, often more than seven hours per day, such as street cleaning and portering. The study, which surveyed 411 families with a total of around 1,200 children, also found that a lot of the child labourers were selling drugs or their own bodies.
Basra human rights activist, Sami Toman, believes that things are not that different in Basra. "That's despite the fact that Basra is the richest city in the country with regard to resources and oil," he added.
It is difficult to ascertain how widespread child prostitution is in Iraq -- a lot of the children involved won't talk about it because they have been threatened by those who use them. But observers believe child prostitution is particularly widespread among Iraq's displaced families -- that is, families who have been forced to flee to other areas due to sectarian or other violence in their hometowns. And there are an estimated one million displaced persons in the thriving southern province.

The CIA estimates 25% of the Iraqi population lives below the poverty line.  Throughout the war, that rate has remained more or less consistent.  There has been no improvement -- thus far -- for Iraqis despite claims by US officials of 'liberation' and 'democracy.'  Maybe they meant the 'liberation' of children selling sex to keep starving?  At the start of the year, Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) noted:

According to the UNDP, Iraq has a poverty rate of 23 per cent, which means roughly six million Iraqis are plagued by poverty and hunger, despite the recent increase in Iraq's oil exports. Iraq's Ministry of Planning has also announced that the country needed some $6.8bn to reduce the level of poverty in the country.
Zahra concurs.
"No-one in my family has a job," he said. "And in my sister's house, they are seven adults, and only two of them work."
Inside a busy market, Hassan Jaibur, a medical assistant who cannot find work in his field, is instead selling fruit. 
"The situation is bad and getting worse," he said. "Prices continue to rise, and there are no real jobs. All we can do is live today."

Layla Anwar (uruknet.com) noted that while the official unemployment rate is 30%, the actual rate is 50%.

In Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Last week, the Congressional Research Service issued their latest report on Iraq entitled [PDF fornat warning] "Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights."   The summary notes:
Relations among major political factions have worsened substantially since late 2011, threatening Iraq's stability and the perception of the achievements of the long U.S. intervention in Iraq.  Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallanged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of an outright power grab as he seeks to purge the highest-ranking Sunni Arabs from government and to cripple attempts by Sunni-inhabited provinces to achieve greater autonomy.  Iraq's Kurds have also become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and have begun to similarly accuse him of authoritarian practices.  The political crisis threatens to undo the relatively peaceful political competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances that had emerged since 2007 after several years of sectarian conflict.  Some Sunni insurgent groups apparently seek to undermine Maliki by conducting high-profile attacks intended to reignite sectarian conflict. 
The political rift has stalled the movement on national oil laws that had occured during August-November 2011.  The political crisis has also renewed outside criticism that Iraq's factions lack focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity.
The splits and dysfunctions within Iraq's government that have widened since mid-December 2011 have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement. 
Noting the Congressional report, John Glaser (Antiwar.com)  observes, "All this, as America continues to give money and weapons to the Maliki government. What exactly do U.S. troops have to be proud about?"
On the topic of the political crisis,  Alsumaria reports that an official with Moqtada al-Sadr's movement explained the bloc's position is that if a national consensus forms around an alternative to Nouri, they will support that candidate; without a consensus on who should hold the post, they will not join in a no-confidence vote; that the survival of Nouri in the post of prime minister is not a required goal on their part; and that the Sadr bloc wants the political crisis resolved.  The position isn't a complete walk away, it's also not anything resembling support.

The Sadr bloc is aruging if others will do all the work, they'll support it. Moqtada didn't support Nouri in 2010 until intense pressure from the government in Tehran forced him to go back on his public promise to support only those who met with the approval of his followers.  The Sadr bloc voted for everyone but Nouri. Alsumaria notes Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman is stating Nouri can't be toppled because he has the support of the National Alliance.  State of Law is a part of the National Alliance.  So is Moqtada.  So is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  Those last two, if Nouri loses a portion of their upport, can result in his losing his post.  Al Sabaah notes that Iraqiya's Hamid al-Mutlaq is stating that calls of a no-confidence vote are just attempts to force a resolution to the political crisis.  Meanwhile Dar Addustour noted that a planning meeting for a national conference is supposed to take place this evening.  Alsumaria reports that the meeting was held and another is scheduled for tomorrow.  Iraqiya boycotted the meet-up and noted that they were calling for Nouri to implement the Erbil Agreement (a document where all political blocs made concessions to end the eight-month old political stalemate -- the agreement made Nouri prime minister and Nouri trashed the agreement when he got that post).

There was an endless set of meet-ups to plan for the national conference eventually called for April 5th.  For those who've forgotten, that conference ended up being called off at the last minute on April 4th.  Alsumaria adds that the United Nations today called for Iraq to resolve the crisis (the UN calls it a "political impasse") by utilizing the Constitution to address unresolved issues.

In other news, the Journal of Turkish Weekly reports, "Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said on Monday that Turkey's worrying about its neighbor country (Iraq) did not mean interference in its internal affairs."  What's going on?  Nouri's war of words with the Turkish government.  As Kat noted last night, Reuters is not even attempting to pretend they are impartial in their coverage.  Nouri called Turkey an enemy state and attacked the leadership -- this was a continuation of earlier attacks.  Turkey responded.  Somehow Reuters turned that into Turkey attacking poor, little Nouri.  In the real world, the Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usama Nujayfi has said that continuous contacts and meetings were necesary for removal of the deficiencies in Turkey-Iraq relations." And Reuters tries to bury yesterday with an attempt at balance today, "Turkey summoned Iraq's charge d'affaires on Tuesday, a tit-for-tat move a day after Baghdad summoned Turkey's ambassador in a top-level diplomatic row that has heightened regional tensions."  Today's Zaman quotes Tareq al-Hashemi stating the following:
[Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has defined the current situation in Iraq as ominous. [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] should not have overreacted to that. It is only natural that Turkey be concerned over what is happening in Iraq. Developments in Iraq would certainly affect Turkey, either negatively or positively.

Someone needs to pull Nouri aside and explain to him that he and Tehran can be besties all he wants and then some but that's not going to mean a great deal to Iraq's other neighbors and when he starts a war of words with one, he makes Iraq look unstable.  Nouri's public image continues to be the biggest threat to a successful Iraq.  In addition, Thomas Seibert (The National) sees other problems:
 Analysts expect tensions between Turkey and Iraq to continue to rise because they are part of a growing "Cold War" between Shiite and Sunni Muslim camps in the region.
Late Monday, the Iraqi vice-president, wanted by Baghdad on charges of running death squads but enjoying red carpet treatment while staying in Turkey, fanned the flames by accusing his government of steering the country towards sectarian confrontation.
Tareq Al Hashemi's comments came before he met with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, last night. They were the latest sign that the political crisis in Iraq is part of a wider problem in the region, analysts said.
Iran and Syria have been backing the Shia side with Russia in the background. Turkey and the Gulf states have been supporting the Sunnis, who are also backed by the United States and Israel, Mr Yavuz said. "The fronts are becoming clearer, just like in the Cold War," he said in an interview yesterday.
In the US, the Defense Dept announces: "Master Sgt. William A. Downey was honored as the Army's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year in a DOD ceremony at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes, April 18, as family members, guests and VIPs gathered to witness the presentation."  Downey is quoted stating, "Sexual assaults are destroying our future and our future leaders."
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
TOMORROW: Murray to Hold Hearing on IG Report Showing Major Delays in VA Mental Health Care
On the heels of report showing that VA is failing to meet its own mandate for timely health care, Murray to hear from report's authors and question top VA officials on necessary changes
* Will be broadcast LIVE on C-SPAN.
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing to examine the results of a report released yesterday by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General that Senator Murray had requested on the time it takes the VA to provide mental health care appointments for our nation's veterans.  The report concludes, as Senator Murray has repeatedly warned, that the wait times faced by many veterans far exceed that which the VA has previously reported and the time the VA mandates.  At tomorrow's hearing, Senator Murray will question a top VA official and the VA Inspector General on the specifics of the report, and seek answers to the problems it raises.
Who:       U.S. Senator Patty Murray
                Office of Inspector General of the Department of Veternas Affairs
                Senior VA Officilas
What:       Hearing focused on VA mental health care, evaluating access and assessing care
When:      TOMORROW: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
                 9:30 AM ET/ 6:30 AM PST
Where:      Dirksen 138

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