Saturday, May 19, 2012

Townhouses, country kitchens, mansions and pads

I hope you already read Trina's "Barbie post in the kitchen" and Kat's "Skipper with boobs, Skipper without, what the heck?" which went up last night.  Kat, C.I. and I went with Trina who had a major score  on Craigslist.

She found a woman selling four Bratz mansions.

Bratz mansion

These are huge.  Above my knee.  And the woman was selling four Bratz high rise pads.

Bratz high rise pad

She also got one other structure.  And these things are huge.  And heavy.

Trina got them for her granddaughters (Mike and Elaine's child and Mike's oldest brother's child), one was for Rebecca's daughter and one for her best friend's granddaughter.

This was probably the most fun I had all week.  And I had a pretty good week before!  But it was a lot of fun to take a mini-road trip.  It was about an hour and 30 minute drive there (to where the woman selling the items was) and then the same back (actually we made better time on the way back).

And we even stopped on the way back.  Kat was starving and hadn't eaten since lunch and it was after nine o'clock. So we stopped at a drive through and got some fries and burgers and Kat and I both had shakes. (C.I. didn't get anything, she was dictating the snapshot and didn't want to be in her friend's ear muching away.)  I don't have a big sweet tooth but every now and then I do like a malt.  I got my favorite: Strawberry. That's always been my favorite malt (but I also love chocolate and vanilla).

So we were laughing and joking and that was fun.  But what made it so incredible was getting back and seeing the little girls so thrilled and so excited.  They were on cloud nine.

And they had to divy up some treasure -- a Macy's sack of dolls and a Macy's sack of clothes.  And then, finally, it was play time.  The first thing they did?  Put their furniture in their homes the way they wanted.  Then have the Barbies visit each other's home and show them around.  I thought that was so cute.

And so practical.   You get a new home, you fix it up and then you invite friends over to see it.

And the stories they came up with for their Barbies.

We didn't have structures like that when I was little.  I had the Barbie Country Home for most of my Barbie playing.

That's not as wonderful as it may sound.  This was a cube that folded out on both sides.  It was vinyl and to one side you had your living area and to the other you had your bedroom. The coolest part was that you had these little yellow half-doors going to the kitchen.  What do they call those things, they swing back and forth. But anyway.  Also there was a cabinet made into the wall that you could pull drawers out of.

I also had a knock-off (non-Barbie, Barbie look alike) carry case that I wanted -- I remember being at Woolworth's and asking for it, begging -- because it was big, thin and wide.  It swung open and one side was a spot for dolls and a closet (with drawers underneath) and the other side was a viynl pull down that provided two beds and an end table when you pulled it down.  So after I had that, it went right next to the Barbie Country Kitchen.  And I put it next to the living room.  So I now had two bedrooms!  I was so thrilled.

Near the end of my Barbie stage, we had a beach house which, for some reason, didn't interest me.  So I didn't ask for it. But then came the Barbie townhouse.

My parents heard about it, they heard me yelling every Saturday morning if they were up, "This is it! This is it! Come look!"

They still do the townhouse because it was and remains so hugely popular.  It's still three stories and still has an elevator but they've modified it.  The elevator's strudier now and to make it look less "boxy," they've altered the third floor just a little.  They also gave it better drawings on the vinyl backing that goes up for the only wall.  They've got some really nice drawings now and they use pink as a theme.  In my day, it was this ugly piss-yellow in the kitchen.  I hated that yellow.  My dad got some poster paints and he took the backing off the house and we painted over it.  We drew in our stuff on top of the first layer and then painted it (fridge, sinks, etc.).

I really think there's too much pink in the Barbie townhouse today but at least it's an attractive color, that piss yellow was awful.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack tells the world things aren't good in Iraq (you think?), the political crisis continues, Moqtada either did or didn't receive a letter from the National Alliance regarding a no confidence vote on Nouri, Spokane gears up for their annual Armed Forces Torch Light Parade (that's tomorrow), the White House remains silent on burn pits, a wife whose husband died in Iraq is shocked by news about the man thought to have killed her husband, and more.
In Spokane, Washington, the Lilac Festival is taking place.  As usual, the third Saturday of the month (tomorrow) will be the Festival's Armed Forces Torch Light Parade. The festival has taken place since 1938 when the chair of the Associated Garden Clubs and the Spokane Floral Association, Ethyl Goodsell, organized the first event.  This Saturday's parade will start at 7:45 p.m. by the INB Performing Arts Center and will feature "high school bands, community floats, equestrian groups and individuals, and military with groups of veterans, and active military marching."  Iraq War veteran Danielle Nienajadlo's mother will be there and Lindsay Wediman will be carrying a picture of her daughter Danielle. 
John Stucke (Spokesman-Review) reports that, after graduating high school, Danielle enlisted in the army and served 13 years.  A year after she left the military, in 2009, Danielle was battling "an aggressive form of leukemia."  Like so many others who worked in and around the burn pits (open areas where every discarded item from standard trash to human waste to medication, etc. was burned to dispose of it), Danielle saw her record good health vanish.  While stationed at Balad, she coughed up blood, suffered sores and bruises over her body, experienced severe weight loss and had headaches.  Attempts to address the situation resulted in her symptoms being dismissed and ignored: "Danielle was finally sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.  She became one among hundreds of soldiers brought home from the war to battle cancers and other diseases.  Many -- though not all -- blame the burn pits for their illnesses, and class-action litigation is pending in federal court."
In March 2010, Beth Hawkins (Mother Jones) reported on Sgt Danielle Nienajdlo's passing and observed:
The government's reluctance to acknowledge the potential hazard has frustrated veterans' advocates, who remember how long it took for the Pentagon to recognize Gulf War Syndrome in the 1990s, and to acknowledge the health problems caused by aerial spraying during the Vietnam War. "We don't want another Agent Orange," says John L. Wilson, DAV's assistant national legislative director. "Silence does not do any good."
If the pits are harming troops and Iraqis, there's no telling how many. Many cancers won't reveal themselves for a decade or more, and many respiratory symptoms tend to be misdiagnosed as asthma. Like Nienajadlo, Air Force Reserve Lt. Colonel Michelle Franco, 48, had a clean bill of health when she shipped out to Balad three years ago. The 18-foot walls surrounding her quarters kept out mortar fire, but not the smoke: "You could smell it; you could taste it." As a nurse, Franco suspected the "plume crud" was hazardous. She knew that in addition to amputated limbs from her medical facility, the base's waste included hundreds of thousands of water bottles every week -- and she knew burning plastic releases cancer-causing dioxins. After just five months at the base, Franco sustained permanent lung damage. She's lucky, she says, that she kept asking questions when harried doctors handed her an inhaler. She expects her diagnosis -- untreatable reactive airway dysfunction syndrome -- to ultimately push her into retirement.
Last Friday, Iraq War veteran Spc Dominick J. Liguori died.  Bob Kalinowski (Times-Tribune) reports he died of sarcoidosis, "Family members say Spc. Liguori developed the disease from exposure to open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq, and the ailment slowly scarred and destroyed his lungs."  Denise Hook says of her 31-year-old nephew, "They did scans of his lungs.  You could see on the scans that most of his lungs were destroyed.  You'll see a lot more in the future.  You really will."  She also states, "Since he was little, he wore camouflage for Halloween every year.  He painted his wagon camouflage.  He painted his little trucks camouflage.  He hid in the trees with camouflage.  All he ever dreamt about was being in the military.  That was his lifelong dream.  I think if God could have made him better, he would have rejoined."

While the government collectively shrugs its shoulders, Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits -- which includes Leroy Torres -- and they have contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook.  Last month, she was interviewed by Rachel Cole (KRIS -- link is text and video):

His wife, Rosie, has been battling for years with Congress to get legislation passed that will recognize a connection with toxic exposure for soldiers and their poor health conditions. "To sum it up, at 39-years-old, he's lost both his careers that he's worked very hard for because of his health. Toxic exposure is something that it slowly takes over one organ at a time." Rosie said.
According to Rosie, her husband is in stable but she says others aren't so lucky. "There's several soldiers awaiting lung transplants and others on full liters of oxygen constantly." She said.
At RT for Decision Makers in Respiratory Care, Kalie VonFeldt, MS, PA-C; Maura Robinson, BS; and Cecile Rose, MD, MPH explore these issues and they note, "Reports of increased acute respiratory illnesses in deployed troops began surfacing in 2004.3 Subsequent epidemiologic studies showed that deployers have higher rates of newly reported respiratory symptoms than nondeployers (14% versus 10%), although rates of physician-diagnosed asthma and chronic bronchitis were not increased.4 More recent studies suggest that obstructive airways diseases, including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis, are occurring in excess in returning troops.1,5 The magnitude and spectrum of respiratory illnesses from deployment are difficult to judge. Lack of predeployment spirometry and challenges with diagnosis limit accurate estimates of disease incidence and prevalence."

Currently, US House Rep Todd Akin is proposing a burn pit registry in the House.  If US Barack Obama wants to earn veterans votes or to stop his empty grand standing and actually have an accomplishment to his name, he could throw some public support being Akin's bill.   Yesterday, Barack did sign into law legislation Akin sponsored . . . to name three US Post Offices in Missouri after 3 native sons who died serving in Iraq: Spc Peter J. Navarro, Lance Corporal Matthew P. Pathenos and Lance Cpl Drew W. Weaver.  Though an honor, it also really doesn't cost the government much more than the cost of plaque.  Maybe that's why the president could get on board with that but has provided no leadership for or advocay of a burn pit registry?
Wednesday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing.  Subcommittee Chair Ann Marie Buerkle noted the hearing was entitled "Optimizing Care for Veterans With Prosthetics."  The Subcommittee heard from four panels.  The first one was featured Gulf War Veteran John Register and Vietnam Veteran Jim Mayer.  Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Michael Oros, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Alethea Predeoux and Southeast Wounded Warrior Project's Jonathan Pruden made up the second panel (we covered the second panel in Wednesday's snapshot).  The third panel was the VA's Office of Inspector General's Linda Halliday accompanied by Nicholas Dahl, Kent Wrathall and Dr. John D. Daigh Jr. and Dr. Robert Yang.  The fourth panel was the VHA's Dr. Lucille Beck accompanied by Dr. Joe Webster, Dr. Joe Miller and Norbert Doyle.  Yesterday we covered some of Chair Ann Marie Buerkle's questions during the fourth panel. Today, we're going to note Ranking Member Mike Michaud questioning the same panel. 
Before we do though, we're going to note some of the remarks Iraq War veteran Jonathan Pruden made on the second panel.
Jonathan Pruden:  Under the change, only a contracting officer could procure a prosthetic item costing more than $3,000.  This policy would effect essential items including most limbs like mine and wheel chairs.  It would require the use of a system designed for bulk procurement purchases that involves manually processing over three hundred -- that's 300 -- individual steps to develop a purchase order.  This system may be great for buying cinder blocks and light bulbs but it is certainly not appropriate for providing timely and appropriate medical care.  Equally troubling, this change offers no promise of improving service to the warrior.  Instead, it would mean greater delays. The change could realize modest savings but at what cost?  A warrior needing a new leg or wheel chair should not have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary.  I know warriors who have stayed home from our events, stay home from school, from work, can't play ball with their kids or live in chronic pain while they wait for a new prosthesis.   I know first hand what it's like to not be able to put my son into the crib while I'm waiting for a new prosthetic, to live in chronic pain and to have my daughter ask my wife once again, "Why can't Daddy come and walk with us?"   With VA moving ahead on changing procurement practices, wounded warriors need this Committee's help.  A prosthetic limb is not a mass produced widget. Prosthetics are specialized, medical equipment that should be prescribed by a clinician and promptly delivered to the veteran.  We urge this Committee to direct VA to stop implementation of this change in prosthetic procurement.
That sets us up for the problem.  VA is proposing a change which will add steps to attempting to get prosthetics and which veterans groups fear (I agree with them) will lead to veterans not getting what their doctors are prescribing but instead some cheap knock-off that doesn't do what they need and that's why their doctor didn't prescribe it in the first place.   Will this fear come true?  That's a yes-or-a-no answer.  But as we saw in the hearing during the fourth panel, a lot of words flow out of the mouths of VA employees appearing before the Subcommittee but "yes" and "no" are not among them.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  I just want to follow up, Mr. Doyle, on your comment that you made where you mentioned that contracting officers do not change what the clinician prescribes but actually, in testimony that we heard earlier, from PVA, that is not the case -- because that is not the case. Their testimony states that contracting officers when they do receive the orders the request for the devices is modified and even denied in cases because of the cost. So that is a huge concern. There seems to be a disconnect between what you are hearing versus what the VSOs are hearing  The cost is a factor, it's not the veteran's health care. So do you want to comment on that and --
Norbert Doyle: Yes, yes, sir.  Thank you.  First of all contracting officers -- all contracting officers do have a mandate under Federal Acquistion regulations to ensure that there's a price reasonable aspect to the cost we're providing.  So I don't know if that is a concern or not.  I can't really speak to, uh, what may have happened before but I have put out to the contracting community that under 8123 that if a contract -- that if the contracting officer recieves a physicians consult for a specific product we'll do due dil -- due deligence to ensure that we pair a fair and reasonable price for that product but we're going to get that product for that individual.  So I -- So I don't know if it's a -- a concern that -- again I'll take full blame for not bringing the veterans service organizations into the loop, into this discussion, and we can fix that but I don't know if that's part of the issue there -- if that's why that concern was being raised.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud: Well its very clear from the VSOs, some of their statements, that it's not uncommon for  clinicians to prescribe something and it's being modified by contracting officers.  And primarily because of cost.  And that's a big concern that I would have.  My other question is, Mr. Oros talked about older veterans at his practice complaining that there appears to be a new administrative hurdle to prevent their continuing to receiving care at Scheck and Siress. The VA has assured veterans that they may choose their own prosthetist and yet veterans who wish to use community-based providers report wide-spread administrative hurdles and other pressures to choose in house VA care.  How would you explain the perception among the veterans and the community based providers because there seems to be a disconnect here as well as far as what you have told us versus  what's actually happening out there.
Dr. Lucille Beck:  Uhm, uhm, yes, sir.  I'll start and, uhm, uh, we do have contracts with 600 providers -- uhm, approximately 600 providers.  Uhm, we do offer choice to the -- to our veterans.  Uhm, and, uhm, when our  -- In our amputee clinic, when we initiate the process for the multi-disciplinary care that we provide, uhm, we have our physicians and our clinicians and our prosthetists there.  We also have contract -- our vendors, our contracted community partners, our contracted prosthetic vendors from the community are there as well.  The veterans do have that choice. That's part of our policy.  And, uhm, and, uhm -- We -- As we become aware of we-we will reaffirm that policy with the field based on what we have heard from our veterans today.  And, uhm, and we are improving the processes.  I think the Inspector General report pointed out that we -- There's some contract administration initiatives that we need to undertake including streamlining the way that we do our quote reviews so that they happen in a more timely fashion and, uhm, that they really clarify the prescriptive elements for fabrication of the leg and we are doing that -- or fabrication of the limb and we are doing that.  Uhm, the second thing that we are doing is, uhm, we are, uh, making sure that our contracting officers and their technical representatives who have as part of their, uh, responsibility to review those quotes and certify that they are doing that regularly and in a timely fashion, there's guidance that's being prepared even now, uhm, with, uh, to get -- to get -- to reinstruct the field and educate them on that.  And the third thing that we are doing is that we are taking a contracted -- what we call contracted template where we are developing policy and guidance that can actually go into our contracts so that it is clearly specified for the contract provider and the VA exactly what the requirements are and the timelines.  So, uhm, we've taken the report that we've had from the Inspector General about the need to improve contract adminstration and support our veterans seriously and we are making those corrections, uhm, and have been doing that over the last several months.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  And do you feel that with the new changes you're providing, which goes back to my original question, that the clinicians will have final say in what a veteran receives versus a contracting officer who has to look at contracts and saving costs -- which I believe that we have to do.  But the bottom line for me is to make sure that the veterans get the adequate prosthetics that they need.  And if it costs a little bit more then they should be able to get it if it fits them more appropriately.  And the concern that I have is that, yes, you have to look at cutting costs but not at the cost of providing what our veterans need and I do have a concern with contracting officers injecting, uh, more costs versus the clinician looking at the veterans' needs.  
Dr. Lucille Beck:  Uhm, yes, sir, I have a concern with that too.  I'm a clinician myself, working in another area, who provides rehab technologies to veterans.  And it is critically important that what the clinician requests and that of course is done in collaboration and in partnership with the veteran -- these are the choices and decisions about technologies that our veterans make with out clinicians.  And, uhm, we are absolutely -- Uhm, rehabiliation is not effective unless we are able to, uh, provide the-the products and services that our veterans need.  And, uhm, our role in prosthetics and in rehabilitation is to assure that any, uhm, uh-uh, that any, uh, contracts, uh -- And the way we procure items  uhm, enhances and-and, uh, not only enhances but provides high quality individualized care.  Uhm, we have done that successfully, uhm, for a long time.  And, uh, we believe that we are able to do that, uhm, as we move forward.  And as Mr. Doyle has cited, the, uhm -- We can certainly, uhm,  work within the framework of contracting requirements and the added authority that Congress gave us many years ago for 8123 is, I think, the other piece of-of sole source procurement that we can do when we need to provide and are providing highly individualized products and services.
Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  Thank you.  Thank you, Madam Chair.
The above dance was only topped by the moves Doyle proved when Chair Ann Marie Buerkle asked him more questions in the second round.  Specifically, when the Chair asked, "In the panel with Mr. Pruden -- Captain Pruden, I should say -- he talked about this new system that you're going to go to, the Electronic Contract Management System -- and talked to us about the fact that it requires 300 steps to get the request in.  Can you comment on that?"
Guess who couldn't comment?  Did you think it was Lucille?  Yeah, it was Dr. Beck.  Why was she present?  She had nothing to say, no answers to questions but after Doyle misdirected for two to three minutes every time he opened his mouth, Dr. Beck would jump in at the end to start offering slogans she must have read on hand outs in the VA's waiting room. 
She couldn't comment.  But Norbert Doyle did want to comment on the Electronic Contract Management System.  He began insisting that it "new" and that he knows the process is "labroious" and has many steps but 300?  "That's a new one on me." 
How many steps is he familiar with?
He never said.
What sounded like a highly frustrated Chair Ann Marie Buerkle replied that they weren't talking about "lightbulbs," they were talking about something "intimate," something that "becomes a part of the veteran's body."  And if she was frustrated then (she sounded it -- many of us observing the hearing had frustrated looks on our faces as well during the fourth panel's testimony), she most likely only grew more frustrated by the flat affect with which the VA witnesses greeted her comments.
Meanwhile if you're think Iraq falling off the US media radar means it's safe and rainbows flow from Nouri al-Maliki's armpits and carmel and butterscotch out of his ass, think again.  The White House issued the following today:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 18, 2012

Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Stabilization of Iraq

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent the enclosed notice to the Federal Register for publication continuing the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq. This notice states that the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq declared in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13438 of July 17, 2007, is to continue in effect beyond May 22, 2012.
Obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Accordingly, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to this threat and maintain in force the measures taken to deal with that national emergency.
Recognizing positive developments in Iraq, my Administration will continue to evaluate Iraq's progress in resolving outstanding debts and claims arising from actions of the previous regime, so that I may determine whether to further continue the prohibitions contained in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as amended by Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, on any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq, the accounts, assets, and property held by the Central Bank of Iraq, and Iraqi petroleum-related products, which are in addition to the sovereign immunity accorded Iraq under otherwise applicable law.
Alexander Abad-Santos (The Atlantic) offers, "Today Obama ordered the renewal of this executive order, which is just a tad bit disconcerting considering we are (were?) supposed to be finished in Iraq."  Indeed.
And the order comes just as explosions go off in the capitol of Iraq. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports Baghdad was slammed with three bombings today leaving at least 5 people dead and another thirty-one injured.  The Voice of Russia adds, "According to the Iraqi law enforcement agencies, three bombs went off in a busy marketplace, in a Shiite quarter of the city."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) notes that the bombs all went off close to the same time.  Dar Addustour counts 5 dead and forty-seven injured.  Iraq Body Count notes that 5 people died in Baghdad violence yesterday ("Baghdad: 4 by IED, 1 by AED") and that 111 have died violent deaths so far this month.  Iraq Body Count counted 290 violent deaths in Iraq for the month of April.
Like the violence, the political crisis continues.  US news outlets haven't even bothered to delve into the deadline Moqtada al-Sadr gave Nouri al-Maliki last week, let alone cover all that's happened since.  A few days back, we noted a photo of Nouri and Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim in a public display of affection together, they were practically rubbing noses.  Al Mada reports al-Hakim gave a speech declaring that failure to resolve the political crisis will lead Iraq into a dark abyss.  Could things get darker?  Alsumaria reports that State of Law is invoking Saddam Hussein, likening him to Iraqiya.  Mp Mohammed Chihod insists that Allawi is an exile (as is Nouri, as are most the US allowed into leadership) and that he doesn't care about anything but authority, that he leaves the country to this day (as do most Iraqis in Parliament) and he leaves to plot with Iraq's enemies.

 On the issue of Allawi being in and out of the country, State of Law picked a bad time to make that argument -- the same day Lara Jakes (AP) reports members of Parliament "hightailed it out of town" as they leave on their six-week vacation in "free armored cars" (free for them, $50 million price tag for the people of Iraq) that outraged the Iraqi people and that the Parliament swore they'd be looking into -- how did it happen, they were just so confused and swearing they understood the public's outrage over it all.  Again, Jakes is reporting they headed out in those cars they never paid for themselves and that they swore they would be doing away with. Jakes also points out that while "raw sewage runs through the streets in many neighborhoods, polluting tap water," the MPs not only receive a salary (and those armored cars) but they've given themselves a $90,000 per diem to cover living expenses. 

 At any rate, State of Law's character smear on Allawi is quite lengthy, almost as lengthy as the political crisis itself.

March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first, State of Law, led by Nouri, came in second.  Nouri did not want to give up the post of prime minister and, with support from the White House and Tehran, Nouri dug his heels in creating eight months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I.  This only ended in November 2010 when the US brokered a deal known as the Erbil Agreement.  At a big meet-up in Erbil, the various political blocs signed off on the agreement.  Nouri got his second term as prime minister in exchange for concessions to other political blocs.  But once he became prime minister, Nouri refused to honor the agreement.  By the summer of 2011, the Kurds were publicly demanding that Nouri return to the Erbil Agreement and Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr joined in the call.  More recently, April 28th, another meet up took place in Erbil.  Participants included KRG President Massoud Barzani, President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Ayad Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr.  The demands coming out of that meet-up were a return to the Erbil Agreement and the implementation of 18-point plan by Moqtada.

All eyes are on Moqtada today.  Al Mada reports that Iraqiya states they are waiting for word from Moqtada regarding the withdrawal of confidence vote on Nouri.  Moqtada is thought to be either still waiting on a communication from the National Alliance (a grouping of Shi'ite political blocs including ISCI, Moqtada's bloc, Nouri's State of Law and others) or else contemplating which step to take now?  Alsumaria reports Moqtada is stating today that he received no response from the National Alliance yesterday and that there will be a meeting soon on outstanding issues.  These statements were made online in the Q&A he regularly does with his follwers. Al Mada notes that there are conflicting reports on whether or not the National Alliance sent Moqtada a communication with MP Ali al-Tamimi stating that Moqtada was sent a letter which was a formal response.  al-Tamimi states he does not know the contents of the letter; however, he states that Moqtada is expected to respond to the National Alliance no later than tomorrow.

According to Kitabat, a meetings already taking place, one that lasted several hours today and that involved Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and senior members of Parliament and US Ambasador to Iraq James Jeffrey.  Among the topics reportedly discussed were the Erbil Agreement and the fact that Nouri must not be permitted to run for a third term as prime minister. 

That's internally.  Externally?  As noted yesterday, Nouri and his Baghdad-based government have engaged in another war of words with the Turkish government.  Turkey is one of Iraq's biggest trading partners.  Today Hurriyet Daily News reports:

Turkey and the regional government of northern Iraq have taken additional steps to deepen economic and energy ties at a moment when both parties' relations with Baghdad are strained.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq received a high-level reception in Ankara yesterday as he met with President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Jonathon Burch (Reuters) sees the Turkish government making "tricky adjustments by cutting old alliances and forming new ones, jettisoning its 'zero problems with the neighbors' policy. That shift, coupled with a more aggressive diplomacy personified by an increasingly combative Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan -- has thrust Turkey into a regional strategic game pitting Gulf Arab states and Ankara against Iran."

One 'accomplishment' Nouri can claim is he's succeeded in building a wall between Baghdad and Anakara while allowing Turkey and northern Iraq to strengthen their ties to one another.  In related news, Hevidar Ahmed (Rudaw) reports:
Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad have been high since Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani's Newroz speech, in which he accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki of leading the country towards dictatorship. Some people have interpreted the situation as a personal war between Maliki and Barzani, who is also the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Days after Barzani's speech, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani appeared in an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera and defended the Iraqi prime minister, saying, "Maliki is not a dictator and he is not the only one responsible for the problems of Iraq; I am responsible as well."
Farid Asasard, a leading official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), says disagreements arose between the PUK and KDP, but soon disappeared.
"There were significant disparities between the views of PUK and KDP, but recently they have become much closer because, in the current situation, unity is important," he says.
We'll cover what Reuters is calling Nouri's "charm offensive" next week (Monday).  Right now, we'll note the shocked reaction of a widow whose husband died serving in Iraq and who can't believe that the man said to be responsible for the death of her husband and at least four other US soldiers will apparently walk away free.  Dropping back to earlier violence,  Christine Show (Daily Mail) reports, "The wife of a U.S. Army captain who was killed while deployed in Iraq is stunned that the person named responsible for his death will be freed.  Charlotte Freeman of Temecula, California expressed her dismay when she learned on Wednesday night that Ali Mussa Daqduq was cleared of all charges in the 2007 attack that killed Brian Freeman, 31, and four other U.S. soldiers."

On May 7th, Suadad-al Salhy, Patrick Markey and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) reported that Iraq's 'justice' system has cleared Ali Mussa Daqdug of all charges related to the "2007 kidnapping attack that killed five U.S. troops."  This was actually the second time that those said to be responsible for the five deaths.  Ali Mussa Daqduq is alleged to have been working with the League of Righteous (once known as "the Special Groups network") and the US had the leader and high ranking members in a US prison in Iraq.  Had.  Though right now there are many complaints regarding the decision to set Ali Mussa Daqdug free (he remains behind bars currently while the decision is appealed), the White House ordered the release of the leader of the League of Righteous, his brother and other high ranking LoR members.  That's in the summer of 2009.  Barack Obama is president.

Why did they do it?  The White House set them free in order to help England with their outstanding issues.  The White House made the call that 5 British citizens were more important than 5 US ones and they entered into negotiations with the League of Righteous.  All but one of the five Brits were already dead.   One of the dead wouldn't be released until a few months ago.  The League of Righteous would announce Barack went back on his promises to them so they weren't releasing all five.  After the bulk of US troops left Iraq in December 2011, the League of Righteous finally released the fifth corpse.

If you're late to the story, refer to the June 9, 2009 snapshot:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

Having made the decision to release those five in 2009, the Obama administration had no qualms about handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqi legal system despite the fact that it was considered a good guess that he'd walk. December 16, 2011, Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported on the US handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqis:

He was transferred to Iraqi custody after the Obama administration "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," according to Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.

Kitabat reported  in May that Nouri caved to pressure from Tehran and that's why he was released.   It was also noted that a number of US Senators were asking the White House not to turn Daqduq over to Iraq but to move him to Guantanamo or another facility.

Today Mike Jaccarino (Fox News -- link is text and video) quotes Charlotte Freeman stating, "It was like a pit (opening) inside of me. I briefly read it and couldn't read on.  I couldn't go there.  It wasn't like he was dying again.  It was more shock that these people get away with what they do.  There's no justice. It's amazing and shocking to me that someone who did what he did could go free."

Shocking seems to be the theme the current White House was decorated in. US House Rep Walter Jones is asking why the White House negotiated a treaty with Afghanistan without the input of Congress?  And if that question sounds familiar, it's one that Barack Obama asked throughout his 2008 campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.  How dare Bully Boy Bush ram through a treaty with Iraq -- one that their Parliament had to sign off on -- while violating the US Constitution's mandate that treaties need Senate approval.  We're referring to the Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq.

Bush was wrong. And the Senate Foreign  Relations Committee was united on that in 2008 -- that's Democrats and Republicans.  Before Barack grabbed the issue, then-Senator Russ Feingold had been among the prominent leaders on it.  But Barack played glory hog and took the issue as his own.  He then continued the cry throughout his 2008 general election campaign.  The day after the election he vanished the issue from his campaign site.  That's the sort of 'change' that has characterized his presidential term:  He campaigned on one set of goals and standards and then he 'changed' once he was elected.  That's Barack's only change you can believe in.  As Martha and Shirely observed four years ago in "2008 in books (Martha & Shirley):"

It really is amazing how little Iraq mattered to the alleged left after they had used the 2002 vote to tar and feather Hillary Clinton. They stayed silent as Barack immediately began backing off his 'pledge' in June. They stay silent today as Barack and Joe Biden -- two who grandstanded against the so-called SOFA throughout 2008 -- did nothing to halt the White House from ramming that treaty through or, in fact, even publicly offered a word of objection after the election.

Pete Kasperwoicz (The Hill) reports that Jones has introduced a bill:

In 2007, the Clinton-Obama bill read, "Congress is a co-equal branch of government and as such the extension of long-term United States security commitments to Iraq that obligates or requires the appropriation of United States funds requires the full participation and consent of Congress."

Jones's bill, like the Clinton-Obama bill, requires that within 60 days of passage, the State Department submit a report to Congress that justifies the administration's decision to conclude the agreement without consulting Congress. It would require the administration to include a legal analysis on this decision.
And we hear silence on the bill as we turn to the right -- which apparently has no problem with a violation of the Constitution -- and as we turn to the left -- which is too busy attempting to figure out if a passionate Barack kisses soft with a hint of pressure or full on tongue down the throat?  These are the 'issues' that occupy them today.


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