U.S. House Representative Jared Polis recently visited Iraq and, in writing about it, he shared the following:
Upon arriving in Iraq yesterday, our first briefing was with General Ray Odierno, the Commander of the Multi-national Force in Iraq and the Charge D'Affaires and Interim ambassador Patricia Butenis.
Iraq is still waiting on the Senate ratification of Obama's new ambassador, Christopher Hill, so we have a Charge D'Affairs as acting ambassador as she is the highest ranking state dept official in Iraq. Hopefully the ambassador will get here soon as surely this is one of the most complex and delicate diplomatic assignments in the world for the United States.
Well Mr. Polis, I would suggest to you that if Patricia Butenis is doing the job, has been for over a year, I would suggest that she is more than qualified to be the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and, as a plus, she actually has experience in Iraq.
So why is Chris Hill, completely unqualified, being considered for the post? It would appear to me that Ms. Butenis has it under control.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Thursday, April 9, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, if you play dumb it's easy to praise Barack's VA budget, a US soldier is wounded in a bombing, Baghdad sees a huge protest calling for the US to leave, a member of the US Congress asks questions about the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community, and more.
Phenola Lawrence (The Daily Collegian) reports on James Reilly who served two tours in Iraq:
Reilly's transition to civilian life was hard. He didn't have a job and was strapped for cash, so he began delivering pizza in order to keep the bills paid. His wife was a 911 dispatcher. Money was always a problem for them. His wife urged him to stay home at night, but he wanted to celebrate making it out alive.
He drank excessively to cope with his memories. After nights out, he would drive home inebriated. He still wasn't afraid of death. But this time, he realized it wouldn't only be his life on the line.
[. . . .]
His wife complained and he became more frustrated. He had a low-paying job, no prospects for the future and a crumbling marriage. He separated from his wife in the summer of 2007. Two months later, they got a divorce.
At 26, Reilly is now a Penn State student, war veteran, divorcee and future engineer.
When Barack Obama's speech on veterans was scheduled last week (he gave it today), it seemed like Thursday snapshot would especially require a focus on veterans. There was, however, the hope that some in the press would have done the heavy lifting by then. Apparently not. Last Friday, Maria Hinojosa (NOW on PBS) was mindlessly chattering away in her usual excessive praise of Barack, "His fiscal 2010 budget -- set to be approved this month -- would increase the VA's budget by $15 billion. That's the largest increase ever requested by a president." Wow, Maria. If we can all be mindless Obots (and hasn't the press proved that it is possible for many to be just that), we can be happy . . . and stupid. Maria proves that. She also proves this lesson: Always hide the context to strip news from the factoid you want to pimp.
Barry gave his big speech today and, as a friend at the White House said, "He didn't say 'guys' this time." Well good for Barry. It's a real shame that when addressing a (mixed) crowd in Iraq, he used the terms "guys." What he did offer today was his usual bloated sense of bragging to the point that every speech is now an informercial for Barack. Following the 2010 elections, look for the White House to bring in new blood for the speeches. Until then, get used things like this: "I'm also pleased that the budget resolutions adopted by both houses of Congress preserve priorities that I outlined in my budget -- priorities that will go a long way towards building that 21st-century VA that we're looking for. The 2010 budget includes the largest single-year increase in VA funding in three decades. And all told, we will increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years." Cute, wasn't it? Three references to himself in the first sentence alone.
When not self-stroking, Barry was pushing "streamlined transition of health records." This isn't his idea. It predates him and he did no work on this in Congress, he's not on the committee. (The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have worked on this and held hearing on this.) But what Barry's done is advocate for money for it. How much money will go for that? That is the fourth measure of the seven items the administration was promoting at the end of February ["(4) investing in better technology"]. So how much of the $15 billion will go to that? Do we want to tell the veterans how much is allocated to the VA under "discretionary budget" and where that money will go?
And at any damn point does the press plan to address reality? The 2010 fiscal year increase is approximately 10%. 47.6 billion dollars was the 2009 fiscal year budget. For eight years, Bully Boy Bush underfunded the Veterans Affairs -- despite the fact that two wars would be fought thereby increasing the number of veterans. A ten percent increase is a joke. This 'hallelujah' nonsense doesn't even grasp that Barack's insulting budget is less of an increase for the VA than what John Kerry was promising in his 2004 presidential run.
Barack promised open government and bills would be posted online and this would be and that would be and blah, blah, blah. Didn't happen and most look the other way. But it can't happen. If it does, it'll make life hard for Barack cheerleaders like Maria Hinojosa who allegedly wanted to illuminate the plight of veterans last Friday on PBS but instead pretended cheerleading and distorting actually passed for reporting NOW on PBS should either drop their we-care-about-veterans segments are learn to be a damn advocate. The VA has been underfunded for eight years. During that time, two wars have been fought. Barack has decided to continue those words and is offering a pittance of a ten percent increase in the budget for the VA (with a huge amount of money going to "discretionary" spending -- which won't be explained or justified any more than the CERP funds in Iraq are). It's shameful and it's disgusting.
And for eight years the press let Bully Boy Bush get away with underfunding so maybe it's not really a damn surprise that they'll now encourage Barack to do the same thing. There's a legislative proposal by US House Rep Walter Jones that someone should build on. HR 743 is the Executive Accountability Act of 2009 which Jones introduced January 28th, US House Rep Neil Abercrombie signed on as co-sponsor and reads: "To prohibit the President or any other executive branch official from knowingly and willfully misleading the Congress or the people of the United States, for the purpose of gaining support for the use of the Armed Forces of the United States." That is needed. But notice how no one's rushing to push for its passage. What's also needed is that before X number of service members are deployed to a combat zone, it needs to be established the potential VA costs. And since Barack's committed to continuing Bully Boy's wars, a ten percent increase is an even bigger joke. He will ensure the creation of a more than ten percent increase in the need for VA care in fiscal year 2010. While the VA is supposed to be thrilled with the $15 billion increase to its tiny budget, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made his Pentagon budget proposal this week: $534 billion. That's $21 billion more than for fiscal year 2009. The always bloated Pentagon budget increased by $21 billion only further establishes what a pittance the $15 billion Barack tossed out was. Patrick Martin (WSWS) observes that "Gates unveiled the biggest military budget in world history, in anticipation of an endless series of Iraq and Afghanistan-style wars by American imperialism. Both the military budget itself and the official who drafted it -- Gates held the same position in the last two years of the Bush administration and is the first Pentagon chief to be retained by a new president -- underscore the fundamental continuity between Obama and Bush. For all its pretensions of 'change' and all the popular illusions attached to Obama's supposed 'anti-war' stance, the new administration is as committed to the ruthless pursuit of the interests of American imperialism as its discredited predecessor." Jeremy Scahill (at CounterPunch) covers the bloated budget and the myths of 'cuts' while noting that US House Reps Lynn Woolsey and Jim McGovern are among those expressing distress over the proposed budget of the Pentagon. The two budgets need to be placed side-by-side, they need to be talked about in connection with one another. You can not grossly overfund the war machine and refuse to fund the care of veterans. This might be a good time to note Cindy Sheehan has a new book out, Myth America: The 10 Greatest Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution. She will be hitting the road with her internet radio show to discuss the book and the stops include:
April 18 to 22nd, New Mexico (Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos)
April 23rd Eureak Springs, Arkansas
May 3rd Chicago
There are other dates, some confirmed, some tentative currently. Refer to her website for more information. And the VA budget and the Pentagon budget are not separate issues. The budget of the Pentagon does effect the numbers the VA has to serve. Staying with the costs of war, Deidra Walsh (CNN) reports, "The Obama administration will ask Congress for another $83.4 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of September, Democratic congressional sources said Thursday."
Barack wants more money to continue his illegal wars. They're his now. As Elaine noted Kathy Kelly was a guest on KPFA's Flashpoints Wednesday.
Dennis Bernstein: We continue our series talking with high profile resisters of the US war in Iraq, the occupation there and the expanding war in Afghanistan. And yesterday Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Iraq. He congratulated the troops and all Americans on a job well done there, quite a different visit and flavor from his last anti-war visit and people are concerned about the expanding war in Afghanistan, Pakistan. Now joining us is Kathy Kelly. Kathy Kelly is co-founder for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She is making her way, I guess you're in Nevada now, right?
Kathy Kelly: That's right, Dennis, I joined a group of people who are intent on bringing attention to the Predator and Reaper drones -- the unmanned aireal vehicles that are headquarted inside of Creech Airforce Base and I think that there is now some increasing awareness of how it is that the United States is conducting escalated warfare in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. There's increasing reliance on what might be called a sort of remote control assassination squad or extrajudicial execution. The drones don't have pilots inside the airplane the pilot is inside Creech Airforce Base or Langley Airforce Base if the pilots are working for the CIA. So we've been vigiling since April 1st outside the base. We hold signs that say "Ground the drones lest you reap the whirlwind" and "Ending war: our collective responsibility" along with "Keep the troops home" and it's amazing the cordial response that we've had from people in the air force or others going inside the base. We've been given waves, peace signs, smiles, indications to keep going. And yet they are themselves becoming very instrumental in the changing face of the United States military.
Dennis Bernstein: Well Bush War Secretary, now Obama War Secretary, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates loves these drones. This is his vision for 21st century war along with a forward fighting force that is reinforced by depleted urainmium the drones, this is the way he wants to move. Talk a little bit about Gates and now the Obama pro-war policy. I mean, after all when Obama says "Job well done" in Iraq, I think he's talking about an illegal war and occupation that destroyed a country and led to the deaths of about a million people.
Kathy Kelly: Well I think there is a certain blindside that both Mr. Gates and President Obama are not seeing. They seem not to be aware of the tremendous antagonism toward the United States that's been occassioned by a long history of United States regarding life in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan as being expendable, cheap if you will. Right now there are one million people in Pakistan who have fled their homes because they're afraid that they might be struck by a drone Predator or drone Reaper and, you know, I think if we could just imagine what would it be like if we looked up into the skies and heard a sound that was like a snow mobile or a leaf blower and realized that that vehicle up in the sky could carry two Hellfire Missiles and two 500-pound bombs. We'd be terrified. We wouldn't want to conduct our lives always afraid that maybe they're going to decide to launch one of those bombs at us. And so similarly people who have fled their homes because they're so afraid are going to feel increasing antagonism in a country that is already very angry with US policies. And I suppose the US miltiary might say "Well it's better than carpet bombing this is more precision bombing than what we're accustomed to and we don't have to worry about losing a single soldier." But I think, again, we have to be aware of the context of a region of the world where the United States has regarded people's lives as expendable. There's a horrendous loss of life in Iraq amongst many people who meant us no harm. And also in the United States occupation of Afghnaistan where people have been forced to become refugees as well.
Dennis Bernstein: Now Kathy I spoke with Adam Kokesh who I'm sure you know very well. An Iraq War veteran and on the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. And we were speaking and I asked him how he felt or when he felt these War Crimes committed by the Bush administration become the War Crimes of the Barack Obama administration?
Kathy Kelly: Hmm. Well I think that Barack Obama is the world's chief exporter of weapons. I mean that goes with the job. And I think that you can't look at attacks on civilian populations using conventional military force and not discuss War Crimes. And so the United States is certainly in the position of being easily accused of having committed war crimes and also in having given so much weaponry to Israel. And Israel has, I think, in the Operation Cast Blood assault and in those twenty-two days certainly committed War Crimes. And then when you think about the fact that we create and export more weapons than the next -- well we're six times greater in our weapon production and use than any following country. We've placed our economy on a war footing throughout a time when we could very well have been repaing a peace dividend. And this is the world that President Obama inherets but in the appointments that he made in the -- which are center-rightest appointments by and large -- and his indications -- since the time he was campainging, that there would be an uptick in military spending in an Obama administration the clue for all of us who want to abandon the military -- and I mean that, abandon the military -- our work is the same as it was under [Occupant] Bush.
"[Occupant]" is my insertion. See Elaine's post if you're late to the party. For more on the drones, see Tom Engelhardt's article at Information Clearing House. Dennis mentioned Barack's speech during the exchange (the above is not a full transcript of the segment) and we'll note these observations by Kenneth Theisen (World Can't Wait) about the for-show visit:
Obama made a short propaganda speech to the assembled U.S. troops and stated, "It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country." Obama told the troops, "You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." I wonder if Obama sensed the irony of declaring a country "democractic" in making this announcement at just one of the many U.S. bases used to occupy it. But in a deeper sense, the invasion and continuing military occupation of Iraq concentrate exactly what the U.S. delivers when it claims to bring democracy to any country. The so-called democratic government there was installed after a massive U.S. invasion that has resulted in the deaths of a million Iraqis. Millions more are external or internal refugees. Hundreds of thousands of medical personnel and other educated Iraqis have fled the country. The U.S. still occupies the country with more than 100,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of U.S. contractors. The U.S. is currently training tens of thousands of Iraqi puppet troops to help the U.S. to control the country, even after the so-called withdrawal of "combat troops."
While Barack wanted to talk 'democracy' to the Iraqis from one of Saddam's former palaces which the US military occupies, today saw something far more democratic: A protest. Corinne Reilly and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad was marked by "tens of thousands of Iraqs" calling for the departure of US troops. BBC News reports "tens of thousands" have taken to the streets in Baghdad to protest, carrying flags and chanting "No, no America. Yes, yes Iraq" to mark the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. The protestors are said to be followers of Muqtada al-Sadr and "the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says the cleric is still showing that he has some political clout. His political followers did quite well in January's provincial elections and he is again showing that he has the ability to call tens of thousands of people out into the streets, our correspondent says." BBC offers a photo essay here. Assel Kami and Richard Balmforth (Reuters) add the chants also included, "Down, down USA." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes protestor Nahab Nehme who states, "This is not democracy. When America came, they didn't do anything for Iraq -- they moved Saddam out, but he was their servant, and the people who are in power now are their servants, too." Wail al-Haforth (Times of London) quotes protestor Abu Alla stating, "I say to Mr Obama, we are Iraqis and we can solve our problems among ourselves. The occupying forces must leave Iraq immediatly." Xinhua quotes demonstrator Abdul Zahra Ali stating, "Demonstrations are part of our rights to peacefully express our rejection to occupation. We will continue protesting the occupation from time to time until the remove of the occupation." Al Jazeera went to the Strategic Studies Centre in Qatar to ask Abdel Wahab Al-Qassab his opinion: "The US has said verbally that it will end the occupation but we do not know what the real ambition of the invaders is. They could yet say there is no stability in the country and extend their presence there. The US has already said that 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq for what they say is training Iraqi troops. But I think that every Iraqi wants US troops out of the country because what has occurred is the shattering of the Iraqi society." Of the speakers, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN -- link has text and video) reports, "Hazem al-Araji, a senior aide to the radical Shiite cleric [al-Sadr], called on the Iraqi government to release all Sadrist detainees inside U.S. and Iraqi prisons." Irish Times quotes the message from al-Sadr that was read at the rally, "God, unite us, return our riches, free the prisoners from the prisons, return sovereignty to our country . . . make our country free from the occupier, and prevent the occupier from stealing our oil. God, make us liberators of our land." Irish Times also quotes protestor Khalid al-Ibadi stating, "Iraq has experience of occupation . . . No country has emerged from it through politics and transparency. It will only end through the sword." Though most reports focus on the Shi'ites in attendance, McClatchy's Reilly and Issa note that Sunnis were present at the rally including Sahwa/"Awakening"/"Sons of Iraq" leader Hameed al Hayis:
In a speech Thursday, Hayis demanded that the government release Shiite Sadrist prisoners and that high-ranking government security officials resign. The recent spike in violence proves that they're unqualified, he said.
His attendance Thursday suggests that his party may be looking to strike an alliance with Sadrists, a possibility that Hayis didn't rule out in an interview after the demonstration.
"Our Sadrist brothers have a clear vision. We appreciate that they don't compromise on that," he said. "They don't want an occupation on their land."
Any alliance shouldn't come as a surprise, Hayis added: "This is only an unusual idea to people with short memories, because we must remember there was a time when we were all Iraqis. The divisions only came when the Americans came."
Yesterday saw the Kadhemiyah neighborhood of Baghdad bombed for the second day in a row. While the US has blamed al Qaeda and Nouri al-Maliki's blamed Baathists, Iran's Press TV reports this speculation:An Iraqi lawmaker alleges that 'the occupiers' are behind the recent bomb blasts in Iraq basing his claims on the fact that the US has access to Iraq's security and intelligence files. Maha al-Dori, a member of Sadr fraction in the Iraqi parliament said that "the occupiers are causing disarray in Iraq with aim of at taking control over the country's affairs." Al-Dori, who was speaking to al-Alam on Wednesday, also noted that Sadr's anti-occupation movement has called on Iraqis to hold a demonstration, calling for the occupiers' - a term referring to American forces -- immediate withdrawal from Iraq. He added that the demonstration would also urge the release of the innocent detainees, while protesting at calls for the return of the Baath party.
It's not known who was behind the bombing but it's interesting what the US press makes time to serve up. What makes the speculation they keep tossing out any more valid than the speculation above? Nothing. Repeating, no one knows who was behind the bombing.
It is known that US House Rep Jared Polis just finished a visit to Iraq. It is known that Michael Riley (Denver Post) is covering it even if others aren't. While in Iraq, Riley raised concerns to the Iraqi government and the US State Dept employees in Iraq about "the case of a man allegedly sentenced to death in a criminal court for membership in a gay-rights group." Riley notes how 'sensitive' the issues are for Iraq and the US government -- since the US government installed the current government in Iraq. Riley references Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher's "Iraq's Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder" and notes how relatives are being "blamed" for the murders but "Polis said the most disturbing aspect of the persecution is that the government itself may be involved. The Boulder Democrat said that while State Department officials in Washington initially dismissed the claims of Iraqi Interior Ministry involvement, the charge d'affaires in Baghdad has requested more documentation and the chance to speak with witnesses and victims."
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which left eight people injured, a Baquba sticky bombing which claimed 1 life, another Bauqba bombing which claimed the life of 1 construction worker and left one more injured, a Balad Ruz bicycle bombing which wounded six people and a Salahuddin Province grenade attack on a US convoy: "One American soldier was wounded with one vehicle damaged."
Reuters notes 1 man was shot dead in Mosul.
In legal news, Rick Rogers (San Diego Union-Tribune) covers yesterday's closing arguments in the court-martial of the marine who twice confessed to murder on tape. And the BBC reports he was aquitted. What a proud moment for him and his hack of an attorney who demonstrate that the marine corp belief is lie and get your buddy to refuse to testify and somehow pretend that qualifies as "honor." Belittle the dead and mock the fact that no one even knows their names. That's the Hacket way, apparently. What a proud, proud moment. May he can cry in public again about those mean Democrats who promised him he'd have an easy run for Congress and then went back on their words which forced him out of the race because he's not running for office unless a political party's going to clear the field for him. In someone's cracked mind that too translates as "democracy" and as "honor." From crackpot justice to the real thing, famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, author most recently of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, is interviewed by Michael Collins in "Murder Trumps Torture Says Bugliosi" (Dissident Voice) and we'll note this section:Vincent Bugliosi: There was a cover story in, I think it was Harper's Magazine about two months ago, about prosecuting Bush. Obviously, I bought the magazine, and I opened it up to the prosecution. What was it all about? Torture. The New York Times had a pro and con in the op-ed section about two months ago, pro prosecution to Bush, anti prosecution to Bush. So I looked at what the prosecution was about -- torture. I'm offended by this. Who's fighting to bring about justice for the perhaps one million innocent Iraqi men, women, and children and babies in their graves? Actually, I shouldn't say I'm going to bring about justice for them, or try to, because I was unable to establish jurisdiction to go after Bush for the deaths of the Iraqi citizens. I did establish jurisdiction to go after him for the deaths of the 4,200 American soldiers. In any event, it would be a symbolic effort to bring about justice for the million people in their graves. Let's say that number's high. In my book I say over 100,000. Certainly there's over 100,000 innocent Iraqi men, women, children and babies who died as a result of Bush's war. Some numbers put it in excess of one million, and we know there's 4,200 American soldiers. Who's fighting to bring about justice for those in their graves, decomposing in their cold graves right now as I'm talking to you, Michael? Who's doing that out there? MC: Right. VB: No one seems to be interested in that. It's all torture, torture, torture, torture, so apparently torturing 24 or 200 Iraqi citizens or Iraqi insurgents or what have you is more important than bringing about justice, let's say, for 4,200 American soldiers who died in Bush's war. So you can see where I am offended about that. I'm not saying that Bush should not be prosecuted for torture. Let's talk about why it's even more offensive to me than I've already told you. I've given you the main reason why I'm offended by it, that that's all they talk about, as opposed to saying let's go after him for taking this nation to war under false pretenses, and then let's also add a count to the indictment for torture. Do you follow? Bugliosi is correct and among the reasons for the disconnect is that a lot of the torture 'prosecutors' have never prosecuted a thing, live in a sheltered world where they give lip service to "international law" but really can't visualize an American being forced to face the same sort of justice anyone else would have to. Torture becomes the "easy" path, the "low hanging fruit" they think they can grab or at least point to.
Last night Cedric's "Barack caught bowing and scraping" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! BARACK WORSHIPS SAUDI KING!" dealt with Barack Obama's decision to violate etiquette and proceudre and bow to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. A US president does not bow to any royalty. It's considered offensive for anyone occupying that office -- that elected office -- to bow to royalty. You shake the hand, that's it. William Warren (Liberty Features Syndicate) has a comic on the issue -- click here -- and it's probably right-wing and I really don't care. It's a comic. And it's on an issue that the press really is working overtime to avoid.
We started with veterans health care and we'll end with it. Stephen Soldz (CounterPunch) explores the lies the government resorts to in order to avoid paying for needed treatment:
Michael de Yoanna and Mark Benjamin in Salon have just published the first of a three-part series on pressure from the military to not diagnose soldiers with PTSD. They obtained a secret recording of a Denver neuropsychologist confessing to his patient, a sergeant wounded in Iraq, that he is under tremendous pressure to not assign PTSD diagnoses. [Thanks to Salon, you can listen to a portion of this recording here.]
"OK," McNinch told Sgt. X. "I will tell you something confidentially that I would have to deny if it were ever public. Not only myself, but all the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD and diagnose anxiety disorder NOS [instead]." McNinch told him that Army medical boards were "kick[ing] back" his diagnoses of PTSD, saying soldiers had not seen enough trauma to have "serious PTSD issues.""Unfortunately," McNinch told Sgt. X, "yours has not been the only case ... I and other [doctors] are under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD. It's not fair. I think it's a horrible way to treat soldiers, but unfortunately, you know, now the V.A. is jumping on board, saying, 'Well, these people don't have PTSD,' and stuff like that."
[. . .]
This article provides new confirmation of previous reports, several of which are by Mark Benjamin, that the military is seeking to reduce the number of PTSD diagnoses assigned to soldiers. In some cases they have been accused of assigning personality disorder diagnoses, presumed to have existed prior to enlistment, to soldiers more likely suffering from the traumatic effects of war. A personality diagnoses makes the soldier ineligible for veterans benefits, thus avoiding the government assuming the potential high costs of treatment.
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