Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John Kenneth Galbraith's son fired

Focusing on news out of Afghanistan for tonight's post. China's Xinhua reports:

Peter Galbraith, the deputy United Nations special representative for Afghanistan and the highest American official in Afghanistan, was removed from his post, according to a statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued here Wednesday.
Just on Tuesday Ban had expressed his hope and confidence in Galbraith during a news conference.
"The secretary-general has decided to recall Mr. Peter Galbraith from Afghanistan and to end his appointment as the Deputy Special Representative of the secretary-general for UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)," read the statement.

Peter Beaumont and Jon Boone (The Guardian) adds:

Within hours of the news, a member of the UN's political affairs unit had resigned. Others are likely to follow among the diplomats who liked Galbraith personally and backed his tough approach to officials of the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC), who many believe are complicit in attempts to rubber-stamp a Karzai first round victory.
Sources say Galbraith was furious that the IEC first voted to apply a set of standards to its count that would have excluded tens of thousands of fraudulent votes, only to reverse the decision the next day, apparently following political pressure.
The recall of Galbraith would have required the agreement of the
Obama administration and has come as a surprise following the earlier demand by Obama's own envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, that Karzai respect the proper election process.

James Bone (Times of London) has comments from Mr. Galbraith over the matter:

"I think it's astonishing that the United Nations would dismiss an official because he was concerned about fraud in a UN-funded and UN-supported election," Mr Galbraith told The Times yesterday from his farmhouse in Vermont.
"I want to emphasise that my position was not for or against any candidate. It was simply that the votes should be honestly counted.
"I was not prepared to be complicit in a cover-up or in an effort to downplay the fraud that took place. I felt we had to face squarely the fraud that took place. Kai downplayed the fraud."

I was not aware that fruad in the recent voting was even considered to be in question. From the reporting I heard, largely NPR, I thought the general consensus was that there was fraud. I find it alarming that Mr. Galbraith has been fired and I agree with The Guardian that the firing would not have taken place without the approval of the White House.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, General Ray Odierno appears before Congress to discuss Iraq, US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill sends out foul mouthed e-mails to the press, and more

Today in DC, General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. The chair of that committee, US House Rep Ike Skelton, offered opening remarks that had something worthy of highlighting in every paragraph. We'll focus on a paragraph near the end because it's one the immature don't want you to hear.

Chair Ike Skelton: Finally, the US and Iraq will have to determine our future relationship. Many view January 1, 2012, as a date when our relations will transform instantly to a normal bilateral relationship. In some ways, that will likely be true. But in other ways, it may not be. Iraq will be incapable of providing fully for its external defense. Iraq may well continue to need help developing some aspects of its security forces. And we will continue to have interests in ensuring a stable Iraq, that doesn't threaten its neighbors or undermine other regional goals.

You probably won't hear about that portion of Chair Skelton's remarks -- despite the fact that the opening statement was widely distributed to the press. It's more important to the press that sold you the illegal war to begin with that you be sold (repeatedly) on the (false) notion that the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) means the war ends and all US troops come home (or all US troops come home except the ones guarding the US Embassy in Iraq). That's not what the SOFA means. It's never been what it meant. In some ways the press is trapped in their own lies. Only the Washington Post got the SOFA right in November of 2008. The Los Angeles Times came close, but it didn't grasp it as fully as the Post did. The New York Times completely misunderstood the agreement (though Elizabeth Bumiller's reporting a month and two months after would attempt to correct the paper's misrepresentations) and McClatcy didn't have a damn clue. Leila Fadel was over her head. She was on a high as she'd semi-confess in "
A reporter's farewell to Iraq," last August, too late to fix the immense damage she'd done in reports she filed and interviews she gave. "For a few months," she'd confess, "I had hope that things might work out." As many members of the Cult of St. Barack have discovered, hope doesn't pay the bills, hope doesn't put food on your table, hope doesn't put a roof over your head, and hope doesn't get the US out of Iraq. McClatchy gave us Leila The Hopeful when what the country most needed was a functioning reporter.

Let's quote Ike Skelton one more time, "Many view January 1, 2012, as a date when our relations will transform instantly to a normal bilateral relationship. In some ways, that will likely be true. But in other ways, it may not be. Iraq will be incapable of providing fully for its external defense." When you hear a liar telling you the SOFA means the war ends and the US comes home at the end of 2011, you need to ask, "Gee, then what did Ike Skelton mean?" In fairness to the Real Press, the bulk of the loudest and worst liars on the SOFA were beggars in
Panhandle Media -- at The Nation, at Pacifica, etc. Some are such liars and/or fools, they forget their own lies. Earlier this month, Ava and I wrote "TV: The Suckers" which included, "Now what the treaty (Status Of Forces Agreement) does is what it was meant to, ease heat in the US over the illegal war. It's done that. It's led to so many fools and liars proclaiming the Iraq War over or almost over: Tom Hayden, CODESTINK, Raed Jarrar, throw a dart at the fringe radical and you'll draw blood from a fool swearing the Iraq War is over or about to be."

This led to Raed Jarrar insisting that we had misunderstood him. No, we hadn't. If you can't keep track of your lies, that's probably the first sign that you have a problem. In "
Raed Jarrar tries to 'correct' Ava and C.I. (Dona)," Dona pointed out that even as she wrote, you could go to Raed's website and see X number of days to go until the Iraq War ended ("839" in Dona's screen snap). That's from Raed's site. He pimped the lie over and over that the SOFA meant the Iraq War ended and he added that tacky, lying counter to his website which provided a visualization of the lie. We knew what we were talking about, Ava and I. We always knew what the SOFA did and did not do. Raed? We'll be kind and just say he must be confused.

Today General Ray Odierno read word for word over the lengthy prepared statement that he and the White House wrote (the press may not tell you about White House involvement -- but first clue for those who can't grasp reality: If he wrote it, he wouldn't have stumbled over so many words while reading it). The thing to note from it is that Odierno lists Iraqi Security Forces of being "approximately 663,000 strong" with "245,000 soldiers and over 407,000 police." Otherwise, not much to note depite the fact that he was twenty-four seconds shy of 20 minutes when he finally finished reading his prepared remarks.

Odierno noted in reply to a question by Skelton that he has "the flexibility to speed up or slow down" the draw-down based on what he sees. Ranking Member Howard McKeon asked Odierno to walk through the election process in Iraq, noting that it is different than what those in the United States might be used to.

General Ray Odierno: I'll wal -- Congressman, I'll walk you through in general terms. First, the el - by the [Iraqi] Constitution, the election is supposed to occur no later than the 31st of January. Right now, it's scheduled for the 16th of January. Again, pending the passing of the election law. Once the election is completed, they take 45 days to certify the results of the election. And so what happens is we'll have hundreds of international observers -- maybe thousands, there's going to be quite a few international observers -- as well as the Iraqi High Electoral Commission will certify the results, they will take all complaints and then they will deem the elections to be credible, legitimate or not. That takes forty-five days. Once that happens, you then have thirty days to begin the formation of seating the Council of Representatives. You then have another thirty days to then select the leadership, the presidency, and then you have another time period to select the prime minister and then the Speaker [of Parliament]. So within that time period, we expect that it will take from January to June or so, maybe July, to seat the new government. In 2005, following the elections, the government -- the elections were in December and the government was seated in May of 2005 [C.I. note, he means May of 2006]. This is the Parliamentary system of government and it just takes time for them to do this. So it's -- there is timelines on it, they will follow those timelines strictly, but it will take time to seat that government.

US House Rep. Howard McKeon: Based on that timeline then, you're comfortable keeping combat troops in -- in the country until August and that will be sufficient and you're -- you're --

General Ray Odierno: I do.

US House Rep. Howard McKeon: -- comfortable with being able to pull them out securely at that time?

General Ray Odierno: I do, I do. You know I look at the first sixty days or so following the election as maybe the most critical time if we think there may be some form of violence following the election as the results are certified. Our experience in the past have been if -- within the sixty days, that's when you'd see some level of violence. So that allows us, I think, to make sure that we believe this will be a peaceful transition of power that we expect. But that will allow us to ensure this peaceful transition of power and then that allows us to draw-down as they seat the government.

US House Rep Michael Conaway would also follow up on the elections issue. He wondered what other risks might prevent elections from being held on time. "As I was going to say," General Ray Odierno began, "if we get the election law passed, I believe, unless there's some unforseen event that would happen -- and I have trouble getting my arms around what that might be, I really believe the elections will occur on time. Unless there's something that caused a large amount of sectarian violence to break out between now and the elections. But I just don't see it because the Iraqi people don't want to go there. They are tired of that and they want to move forward." The issue of the Kirkuk was discussed.

US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: General and Mr. Secretary, I'd like both of you to answer this question. General, at the end of July, you and Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates visited with Kurdish leaders in Irbil and you were widely quoted saying that the Arab-Kurd tensions over disputed internal boundaries and natural petroleum policy were the biggest problem facing Iraq. In fact, you said, "Arab-Kurd tensions are the number one driver of insecurity." And yet this morning when you began and you talked about the drivers you didn't mention this. So my questions are: do you still believe that the number one driver is insecurity -- or do you still think it's up there -- and what measures have been taken to manage and to reduce the tensions that are going on? And, of course, Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq provides for a phased process of normalization, census and referendum to determine the final boundaries of the Kurdish Region within a democratic process. But some have said to me that they think the US has to be more active in getting this 140 Article issue done, this process done. In fact, when I asked Secretary Gates in front of this committee, he said that, "The US fully supports Article 140." And so my question is: How involved are we in that? What are we doing to push these sides to get to a resolution under the Constitution? And if, in fact, we're going to have a responsible withdrawal, don't you think that getting that Article 140 process done is almost a pre-condition for us to be able to remove troops and make sure that these ethnic issues are taken care of? And, um, why is 140 stalled? And what are we doing to-to move it in the right direction?

General Ray Odierno: Thank you, Congresswoman. I still believe that Arab-Kurd tension is the number one driver of instability inside of Iraq. I mentioned it. I might not have said it was number one. But I did mention it. Uh-uh and this is long standing problems over land and resources and-and the distribution of those in these key areas that have been going on for hundreds of years in-inside of Iraq between the Kurds and the Arab population. The Article 140 process back in December '07 -- actually did not get finished by December of '07 which was the date on the original Iraqi Constitution -- was supposed to be finished. And when that happened what happened is we formed a UN -- uh -- the UN took over trying to renegotiate and get the sides together. So we have a UN commission now that is working very hard between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to try to uh come to -- come to some agreement with these very difficult issues regarding disputed areas in terms of boundaries as well as a sharing of hydrocarbons and resources. So what we're doing -- what we're doing is we are fully in support of that effort. We support the UN, we engage with both the government of Iraq and the KRG on these issues to make sure they continue to participate in this -- in this process. And this process will ultimately follow, hopefully, and cause the implementation of the 140 -- Article 140 and the resolution of these issues. In addition, we are attempting to work with the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reduce tensions in the areas. Over the last year or so, on several cases, it's the US forces who have helped to reduce tensions between these groups. We now have them in discussion and they are trying to come up with some sort of an architecture -- security architecture -- that would reduce tensions between the Arabs and Kurds. So we'll be at such level that everybody understands that-that they will solve this problem through the political processes of the UN. And this is something that Iraq has to solve. This is an Iraq problem that the Iraqis have to solve. We have to be engaged at all levels and we will continue to be engaged at all levels.

Yes, Odierno does grasp the issue and the tensions. No, US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill doesn't. (Loretta Sanchez grasps the issue very well, just FYI.) The response from Odierno above was in marked difference from the responses on the issue Chris Hill gave Congress earlier this month. We'll come back to Chris Hill later in the snapshot.

US House Rep Susan Davis: I wanted to ask you about the Wall St. Journal reported yesterday that the Iraqis are having difficulty with their budget crunch [see Gina Chon's "
Iraq Is Struggling to buy Equipment"] and oil prices decreasing in purchasing equipment that they had already requested from the US government. And there are a number of issued combined with that. How difficult and how high a priority is it for us to get this straight? And are their policies that we should in fact be looking at right now that would allow them to purchase more of those in advance?

General Ray Odierno: We are -- I think it's very important. We've been working this for quite some time. First the uh Iraqi budget uh, you know, I know because of the price of oil their budget has decreased quite significantly. They're-they're MO -- they're combined MOD [Ministry of Defense] budget's about $10 billion a year. About 85% of that is fixed, non-discretionary and it has to do mainly with salaries and other things. So that leaves them a very small piece left to invest in modernization. They have already purchased several things such as patrol boats, uh, and many other army and some airforce equipment that they have to still pay. So almost all of their even discretionary income is-is-is taken up. So what I want to be able to do is assist them in some small ways -- by using stay-behind equipment. Potentially leaving for them As well as improving their ability not to have to pay all costs upfront for foreign military sales, where they can spread it over a longer time period --

US House Rep Susan Davis: As I understand it, they don't meet a number of the criteria --

General Ray Odierno: That's --

US House Rep Susan Davis: -- that we have.

General Ray Odierno: That's exactly right. They have to meet -- the IMF bank has to certify them. And, of course, they're trying to get through that certification by having enough reserves so that they get certified. So it's a very complex problem and we have things competing against each other. So we're trying to come up with many different ways to help them to get them the equipment we think is necessary to have a foundational capability by 2011. And part of that might be is we might have to -- you know -- what we believe is -- there's about -- in Fiscal Year '10 and '11, we think we need -- we have an acquirement of about 3.5 billion dollars that we need to help them in order to finish getting the foundational capacity that they need in order to have -- to be able to have security by 2011. And then we'll have to continue some sort of an FMF [Foreign Military Financing] program through the State Dept after 2011. And if we're able to do that, that will allow them to slowly build up and have the security capability necessary to protect themselves.

US House Rep Susan Davis: Thank you. I appreciate that. One of the things that must be frustrating is that violence does continue to flare from time to time and I notice that one of the high ranking Iraqi army generals was recently killed as well. I guess that was reported yesterday. What effect does that have in terms of the government? The army? Do you -- or is that -- have we gotten so numb to that now in a sense that it doesn't have the kind of impact --

General Ray Odierno: I think -- I think for the Iraqis -- First of all, that was a Brigade Commander that was killed yesterday up in Mosul. It has a -- you know, it does have an impact. Uh, the Iraqi security forces -- like our forces -- understand what their duty is and what their mission is. And they are very dedicated to providing security to their people and I have seen many acts of bravery by leaders -- Iraqi leaders -- and their soldiers. And-and-and in a lot of ways, they're no different from our soldiers when it comes to that. So they see that as their mission and they're trying to root out these last remnants of al Qaeda and insurgents and some of these difficult areas. The sad part, Congresswoman, is we continue to see these attacks against innocent civilians absolutely mean nothing to the outcome and all it does is kill innocent people. And it's frustration to us and it's frustrating to the Iraqis. And that's what we're trying to stop inside of Iraq now, these-these-these last bombings that occur, although much less frequently than they used to -- they still occur and kill many innocent people. And those are -- those are the kind of incidents we're trying to stop.

US House Rep Susan Davis: Are our civilians able to move freely, go down, have a cup of tea, at all to engage in an informal fashion yet at this point?

General Ray Odierno: They can but they can't. I would -- they can in order to meet with Iraqi officials. I-I would say you can but it's still a little bit difficult to move freely because they're targets -- is part of the problem.

On the above exchange, Odierno's belief in transitioning equipment over to Iraqis? Great. No point in bringing all of it back when most brought back will be immediately phased out as out-dated. Make a gift to the Iraqis, fine. But this idea that the Iraqis are going to get a loan for weaponry and it's okay because the payments won't be immediate but will be spread out?

I knew Cindy Crawford was working for Rooms To Go, but I had no idea Ray Odierno was. Regardless of whether payments are "spread out" or not, payments are due. The bill still has to be paid. Iraq is currently trying to break their finanical obligation to Kuwait. That's one. Two, Iraq can't afford to make the purchases now. What makes Odierno believe that they will be able to afford it in the future? Does he know something about the oil market? No, I don't think he does. But the point is, if you can't afford it today, don't buy on credit thinking you'll win the lottery and be able to afford it some day in the future. The budget is the budget. Revenues are what they are. You don't loan to people who can't afford to pay back a loan. The next step would be to consider whether the US should make a gift of it? ("It" being new weapons, not the equipment Odierno is speaking of leaving over there.) That goes to the US economy as does a loan. A gift would at least not require all the faux outrage needed for a loan (when Iraq doesn't pay back the loan, US officials take to the TV monitors to wonder why, why, why!). But this is billions. Odierno, who is not an economist or even an accountant, is stating it would be $3.5 billion. Which means it would most likely be twice that amount. Why does the US need to fork over that money?

That's the question that did not get asked.

Why does Iraq need $3.5 billion it doesn't have in order to 'save' the country? Who's the big threat there? They've got bombings? Yeah, they've had them throughout this illegal war. So? Does someone think Iran's going to come stomping in? Syria? What's the point of all this equipment because what it looks like -- and the reason the House didn't touch it -- is that Nouri's illegitimate and unpopular government needs the money not to defend itself from outside forces but to hold down their own people. And that's the observation then US Senator Joe Biden was making in April of 2008. And he and Russ Feingold were insisting this was exactly the position the US did not want to be in -- arming one side against the other. So before the US government even explores how to fund or not to fun the request, what the Congress needs to do is nail down why anything is needed? Iraq has failed to establish need. Odierno couldn't do it today before Congress. No debate on whether to gift or loan needs to take place until the need for the equpiment is established.

Ideally, we'll return to today's hearing later in the week (hopefully tomorrow --
Kat's offering observations about Odierno's testimony at her site tonight) and we can grab some other exchanges. US House Rep Mike Coffman, for example, asked some solid questions -- which Odierno answered specifically -- about the ethnic make up of the army and police. But let's grab Chris Hill. Whether you agreed with Odierno's conclusions or not, he did have his facts down. So different from Chris Hill's rude and unprepared testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Relations Committees earlier this month. This week, Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) finally stumbles upon the reality re: Chris Hill. Sort of. Chris Hill was unfit for the post -- and has a personnel record which demonstrates that. He lacked the qualifications. He had no experience in the region. He has a long (documented) history of ignoring supervisors. And the rumors about his manic depressive state was already legendary long before he landed in Iraq. (And his MD may be why, despite promising Senator John Kerry that he would be on the next plane to Iraq as soon as he was confirmed, he waited several days before departing for Iraq.) In his hearings, he demonstrated no knowledge of the issues despite several weeks of prepping with handlers. He has no concept of Kirkuk, for example. At the hearings on his confirmation, his responses on Kirkuk were laughable. They were barely better at the start of this month. Contrast them with Odierno's answers and you really grasp what a problem Hill has and, yes, what a problem Hill is.

Let's make the point really clear: The answer for Iraq is not military, it's political.

You've heard that how many damn times from how many damn people? So why is that Odierno -- a military general -- is doing more work currently in Iraq than the 'laid back' Chris Hill. Hill's confirmation was a mistake and the smartest thing the administration could do would be to ask for his resignation. Republicans opposed him. They questioned him hard and they knew -- as one on the Foreign Relations Committee told me -- that Hill was the fall guy (by which they take out Obama on the Iraq issue) if anything goes wrong. They knew it. You go back and look at their responses and you see they were all echoing one another. They were raising issues of trust and qualifications. And if the withdrawal happens and if it happens before the 2012 elections and if (a ton of ifs) it's bloody and messy, Chris Hill becomes one of the biggest talking points of the 2012 election.

He's unfit for the job and he's already repeatedly demonstrated he's not up for it. And his problems with Odierno even caused questions in today's hearings.

US House Rep Joe Courtney: How is your relationship with the ambassador, how often do you interact? I mean and what efforts are still being made by us to keep moving forward on the political end?
General Ray Odierno: Thank you so much for the question. First, I interact every single day uh, I, uh -- We probably meet personally three or four times a week. I have an office in the Embassy that I'm in. But I also have about 300 people the I'm with in MNF in I [Multi-National Force in Iraq] that are actually in the Embassy, that are in support of economic and training of other agencies, planning, that are there every single day working with the Embassy. So we're completely integrated at every level, we continue to be completely integrated.

At which point he began discussing (again) a report that is scheduled to be available in January. It will outline what US military tasks (current tasks in Iraq) are being passed on to the US Embassy in Iraq and which are being passed on to the central 'government' in Baghdad. Odierno squirmed throughout his response until he got to make a sport's joke. He did not squirm throughout the hearing. He did move around at many times (and his voice cut in and out as he moved his head away from the microphone). He jotted notes and did many other things. But he obviously and repeatedly squirmed when Hill was raised.

Thomas E. Ricks noted earlier in the week:What I am hearing is that Odierno is profoundly frustrated with Hill, who despite knowing almost nothing about Iraq has decided after a short time there that it is time to stand back and stop influencing the behavior of Iraqi officials on a daily basis. In addition, I am told, the ambassador believes the war is an Iraqi problem, not something that really concerns Americans anymore, despite the presence of 125,000 American soldiers. On the other hand, the diplomats respond, the military guys believe they have good relationships with Iraqi officials, but, the dips add, how would the soldiers really know? Because unlike Hill's posse, they don't speak Arabic. Which brings to mind my favorite saying of Warren Buffett, that if you've been playing poker for half an hour and you don't know who the patsy at the table is, you're the patsy. As I've noted before, Ava and I both lobbied for women (not one women -- for a number of women) to be in that position. When Hill became the choice, efforts to give him a chance were repeatedly defeated by Hill's own statements and presentation. Maybe Ricks should have focused on the lack of qualifications back during the hearings.

I believe Thomas E. Ricks is among those saying a political solution is needed and not a military one. Well why the hell didn't he think the position of US Ambassador mattered? Why the hell did he wait until months after the confirmation to suddenly be bothered by Hill's lack of qualifications? Hill's a problem, no question. But he was a problem back when he was confirmed. Thomas E. Ricks is late to the party and we've already put away all the food. Yesterday,
Ricks again explored Hill and noted responses to his earlier post:

This is one that was posted by Joel Wit, a longtime Korea expert who, according to his bio, "served as senior advisor to Ambassador Robert L. Galluci from 1993-1995, where he developed strategies to help resolve the crisis over North Korea's weapons program, and as Coordinator for the U.S.-North Korea's weapons program and as Coordinator for the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework from 1995-1999, where he was the official in charge of implementation":
["]As someone who follows Iraq only as closely as any foreign-policy generalist but who specializes in North Korea, I can tell you none of us would be surprised by the problems between Chris Hill and the U.S. military in that country. When he worked on North Korea issues at the end of the Bush administration, Hill was not willing to listen to anyone who knew the issues and had his own little team of groupies who worshipped the ground he walked on (or at least pretended to). While there are a number of reasons why we are in trouble with the North today, not the least of which is the North Koreans themselves, Hill wouldn't listen to experts or anyone else about how to deal with a country that he knew nothing about. Sounds like he is repeating his performance in Iraq. Lets hope the consequences arent as bad.["]
A word on the brackets around Joel Wit's quote, the snapshot is reposted at other community sites. In the reposting, Wit's quote will be lost without those brackets, it will all run together and no one will know which part was Ricks and which part was Joel Wit.
Today Ricks writes that most "with first-hand knowledge" are telling him there's a problem in the relationship between Hill and Odierno (gee, did one tell you about Odierno's red-faced -- but not screaming -- response to Hill's decision to let the oil draft law wait until after January elections which means until after April of 2009? Strong words were exchanged over that). But the best part of Ricks' post is this, "I've also gotten several e-missives from Hill himself, and seen some he launched to others. He certainly does like the word 'bulls**t.' His problem is that his rep with the diplomatic press corps is that the more accurate the story about him, the more he tends to use it." I've edited the word. Ricks doesn't (he's not work safe) and it's the word Hill uses. It's among the words Hill uses in e-mails. Most people have seen that repeatedly. Grasp this is not someone who should be working in diplomacy. Grasp that Ricks -- late to the story but breaking it for many -- is someone Hill needed to win over and "bulls**t bulls**t" over and over doesn't endear you to anyone. (I've noted before, my mouth is more foul than anyone. However, I'm not a diplomat and I don't work for the State Dept. There is a way you present yourself in certain positions and Hill's little outbursts to Ricks alone would indicate a problem.) Here's a thought, since the administration doesn't care for women, offer Joe Wilson the post. The former US Ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson (not the Congress member). Joe Wilson knows how and when to stand up and he knows how and when to avoid petty nonesense. He's a diplomat in every sense of the word. Chris Hill needs to go. If he doesn't, don't be surprised if the little nothing becomes one of the issues the 2012 election turns on. For The New Republic, Nicolaus Mills and Michael Walzer (link goes to NPR repost) explore the process of withdrawal. Notice that they're also talking about political issues. Too bad the US doesn't have a functional ambassador to Iraq.

We will try to come back to today's hearing later in the week and note several including US House Rep Carol Shea-Porter. Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing that killed 1 man and left his wife wounded, a Baghdad ticky bombing that killed 1 person and left eight others injured. Reuters drops back to yesterday to note a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five people and another Baghdad roadside bombing which also wounded five poeple -- three of whom were police officers.


Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attack on a Baghdad military checkpoint that resulted in 3 Iraqi soldiers killed with another left wounded.


Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Basra, "a woman who apparently died of stab wounds". Reuters drops back to yesterday in order to note a woman's corpse was discovered outisde Mosul (shot to death).

Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports on bonding exercises and experiences between US service members and Iraqi ones which include growing mustaches -- apparently only the males. For the record, I'm not making fun of women in the US military, I am noting that some stories might need to note that some bonding naturally excludes some members of the military. And maybe if that didn't happen so often, Iraqi women wouldn't be treated so poorly? And isn't it cute how we've stopped hearing of the Daughters Of Iraq? Isn't that interesting? When the next female bomber comes along, remember the hand wringing only takes place when there's a camera around to record it.

Delaware's 261st Signal brigade is back from Iraq.
Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports that Vice President Joe Biden addressed them today in a welcome hom speech -- the brigade includes Joe's son Beau. Meanwhile the Winona Daily News carries an announcement regarding Iraq War veteran JR Martinez who will be speaking on "The American Dream: Inspiring Others Through His Amazing Story of Resilience, Perseverance and Optimism" at Winona State University Monay night at 7:00 pm (East Hall, Kryzsko Commons) and again Tuesday morning at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical's Auditorium and Tuesday at 4:00 pm at WSU-Rochester's Memorial Hall. He will be sharing his experiences including a landmine explosion that left him wounded, badly burned and required 32 surgeries. The presentation is also part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

In other news, read Ruth's amazing "
Eilene Zimmerman Is No Feminist" if you haven't already.

iraqmcclatchy newspapersleila fadel
the wall street journalgina chon
the christian science monitorjane arraf
brian montopoli
cbs news

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Health care, Barbra

Sunday, we did "Roundtable" at The Third Estate Sunday Review. I want to highlight one section and this is Jim setting it up at the start, "Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and me, Jim; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz); Trina of Trina's Kitchen; Ruth of Ruth's Report; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub." That takes care of links.

Ty: Okay, now health care and I'm jumping to it because we might run out of time and I want to be sure to get Trina in here. ObamaBigBusinessCare is what Ava, C.I. and Trina have dubbed Obama's 'plan.' Reader George wants to know if we -- and Trina specifically -- are saying we'd prefer nothing happen on health care?

Trina: Yeah. If the alternative is the plans being proposed in Congress, I would prefer nothing be done. It's going to be a lot harder to take on the insurance companies when they've got everyone's business and that's what a mandatory measure would do. Mandating that everyone purchase health insurance means the inusurance companies get a ton of new customers and, watch and see, if that happens we will never have single-payer because they will not let go of those customers.

Ruth: I agree with Trina. There is nothing in it for the American people. There is plenty in the plans for Big Business. I do not believe we do something, anything, just to say we did something. I believe we do something that helps. Barack Obama has said that we cannot have single-payer because it is too dramatic of a step. However, there is nothing in his proposals that lays down steps that could lead to single-payer. As Trina pointed out, everything about the plans being discussed guarantee that single-payer is shut out for good.

Cedric: Ruth and Trina are correct. It is better to have nothing than to add even more barriers to single-payer. It's really amazing that we were so offended under Bush that we could not negotiate pharmacy prices but with Barack offering the same crap people won't even call out Barry O. Barack has blown the chance not only for single-payer but also for something as modest as health care reform. At this point, the best thing would be for the whole thing to be scrapped. Barack blew it. Allowing the proposals to go forward and become law would mean we the American people blew it.

Janet Hook (Chicago Tribune) reports:

Underscoring the divisions within their party, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday split decisively over a central issue in the healthcare debate as centrists teamed with Republicans to reject creation of a public option for medical insurance.
The committee voted 15-8 against establishing a public program after a sometimes emotional debate that stretched over half a day, revealed tensions between liberal and conservative Democrats and laid bare the chasm between the political parties over how to repair the nation's troubled health care system.

The public option they were pushing was a joke that would have helped very few if any; however, even that was too much for them. These 'plans' are not plans that the American people need. It is better to scrap the whole thing at this point than to move forward. Doing so now would mean erecting new road blocks for single-payer, universal health care.

That is reality. It was obvious back in June. Those who continue to delude themselves need to stop.

Thank you to everyone who e-mailed about last night's post. I am glad so many of you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it. It was like when I used to take on NPR. (I started "Ruth's Report" as an entry at The Common Ills in 2005 and it was my weekly report of what took place on NPR.)

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Barbra Streisand has a new album out today. If this elderly, Jewish grandmother can download it on the computer this morning from Amazon while having her first cup of morning coffee, what is your excuse for not doing so?

Seriously, it is a wonderful album. I have listened to it all day. This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, a British inquiry hears about abuse of Iraqis by British troops, the IMF gets closer to Iraq, Ehren Watada gears up for Friday's planned discharge and more.
Today in England, the inquiry into the death of Iraqi Baha Mousa (while in British custody) heard from two witnesses. Baha died September 16, 2003, after being beaten so badly that he had at least 93 injuries. His father gave testimony to the inquiry last Wednesday and stated he believed his son had been killed because he (the father, Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki) saw British soldiers breaking into a safe and stealing money, "I believe that my son may have been treated worse than other people because I had made a complaint to Lieutenant Mike that money was being stolen from the hotel safe." D007, an Iraqi also taken into British custody September 14, 2003 testified for the bulk of the day. He explained his ordeal which started when he was driving a Ministry of Education car, with permission from the Ministry, and was car-jacked.
Gerald Elias: Yes. As you were getting to the Ministry, you tell the Inquiry in your statement that something happened. Just tell us briefly what happened please.
D007: As I contacted Mr C006 and I told him that I had dropped the director of the municipality and some of the Ministry of Oil's staff. He asked me to go with the car to the parking lot of the Ministry, which was close to the Ministry, and when I was close to the Ministry I faced that accident.
Gerald Elias: What did you see when you were close to the Ministry?
D007: I saw a car alongside my car that I had been driving and they attacked me at gunpoint. Instead of going to the Ministry, I then went very fast towards the street ahead of me. I got to a crossing in Basra and after that crossing I saw a big truck so I had to wait. I had to stop.
Gerald Elias: What happened then?
D007: In the meantime, they were alongside myself. They got off their car. One of them came to me with a Kalashnikov and put it at my head -- pointed it at my head -- and he ordered me to remain where I was, not to drive on. Two people got into the back seat of my car. The person who had me at gunpoint, next to me, he got into my car in the passenger seat.
Gerald Elias: Just pause there if you will. So there were now three people in the car, two in the back and one in the passenger seat. Is that what you are saying?
D007: Correct.
Gerald Elias: Did you see how many of them had guns?
D007: Yes, they had guns.
Gerald Elias: Each of them had a gun?
D007: Yes, yes, each had a gun.
Gerald Elias: Were they carrying the guns or were the guns slung around their necks or what?
D007: They were hand-carried and the ammunition was on their chests.
Gerald Elias: Hand-carried; the ammunition was on their chests. Do you mean the ammunition was on their chests because it was looped around their necks or what?
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: So, as you told us, you decided to drive faster and not to obey the orders of the armed men in the car. Is that it?
D007: Correct.
Gerald Elias: You took the opportunity to drive the car into a collision because you told the Inquiry that you thought that was the best way for you to escape; is that right?
D007: Correct.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: So when you crashed the car it stopped, did it?
D007: That is correct and I ran away from the car.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: I think it's right, isn't it, that shortly after British soldiers arrived on the scene where the crash had occurred?
D007: Yes, they got there.
Gerald Elias: British soldiers went to examine the car that you had been driving, didn't they?
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: It wasn't only the guns that they left in the car, was it? I am just going to tell you what else the soldiers found when they searched the car. These items were found either on the back seats or in the footwell behind the driver's seat, we are told. They found the three rifles; they found eight magazines containing, I think, 240 rounds each; they found one radio antenna, as well as some paperwork, documents, which I will come to in a minute. Had all those things been in the car before these men had come into the car or do you say they brought those things as well?
D007: What I know is that the papers were car papers --
Gerald Elias: Leave aside the papers for the moment. What about the eight magazines of ammunition? Do you say the men had left those as well?
D007: Yes. Yes.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: Did the attitude of the soldiers change at any time at the police station?
D007: As we got to the police station, one of the soldiers -- the British Council -- the British troops -- he was make a contact. The policeman asked me what had happened and I explained to him. The officer understood English to some extent, so he went on explaining to one of the British soldiers and instantly the treatment changed, the treatment of the British soldiers changed and violence by the British troops started.
Gerald Elias: You say violence started. What was done to you?
D007: They immediately pulled me from behind my collar, took me to British Army vehicle. They got me there and the cars moved. I didn't know where we were going. On the road --
Gerald Elias: Just listen to my questions, if you will. When you left the police station, you say you were dragged by your collar to a vehicle. Was that to a Land Rover?
D007: Yes, it was a Land Rover, and which was close to the centre we were going, which would do, and that was close.
Gerald Elias: Are you sure it was a Land Rover, not a different army vehicle?
D007: I am sure because usually this car would be patrolling the province of Basra.
Gerald Elias: When you were taken to the Land Rover, were you restrained in any way?
D007: At the incident as it happened, I was tied up.
Gerald Elias: In what way were you tied up?
D007: With a plastic band and my hands were tied forward.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: I want to ask you about that journey in the Land Rover: were you ill-treated in any way on that journey to the detention centre?
D007: I was getting some kicks from the soldiers who were in the back of the vehicle.
Gerald Elias: How many soldiers were in the Land Rover travelling with you?
D007: Two or three.
Gerald Elias: Where were you kicked? To which part of your body?
D007: My right thigh and my left thigh.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: All right. Now I want to ask you about arriving at the detention centre where you were then kept until the Tuesday. This was the Sunday. You didn't know where you were going, did you, with the soldiers?
D007: I didn't know. I didn't know.
Gerald Elias: When you arrived at the detention centre --
D007: then I knew where I was.
Gerald Elias: You recognized the place, did you?
D007: In the beginning that place was well known in Basra.
Gerald Elias: What did you know it as?
D007: I knew it belonged to the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Gerald Elias: Were you taken from the Land Rover when you arrived there?
D007: Until we got to the place where I had been put, they didn't get me right into the room immediately.
Gerald Elias: But they took you to a building, did they?
D007: Correct.
[. . .]
D007: When I got into the right-hand-side room, I saw people hooded. Part of those persons were on the right-hand side wall and the others were on the opposite side.
Gerald Elias: Were all the men that you saw hooded?
D007: Yes, all were hooded.
Gerald Elias: Can you remember how many men in total there were in that room hooded?
D007: Between five to six persons.
Gerald Elias: Five or six people. Apart from their heads being hooded, were they restrained in any other way that you see?
D007: I saw them restricted, tied up.
Gerald Elias: What in particular tied up?
D007: With a plastic band.
Gerald Elias: You are indicating your hands together. The wrists were tied with a band, were they?
D007: Yes, yes. [. . .] They were exhausted. Their condition was pitiful. In the beginning anybody would come in and see them, he would instantly recognise that they had been tortured.
Gerald Elias: I want a little bit more help, please, about that. Were any of them making any noise?
D007: It was moaning as a result of torture.
Gerald Elias: It was moaning.
D007: Yes.
He is hooded. His hood was removed only for meals and water (and a British soldier removed it once to give him a cigarette).
D007: They continued to beat me.
Gerald Elias: In what way did they beat you?
D007: On the right-hand side of my body at the kidney and then the right-hand side of my thigh -- on my right thigh. Then, with shoes on my head, they asked me to stand with my hands forward like this. [. . .] The blows were very hard and strong.
Gerald Elias: Do you know, for example, whether you were punched or kicked or hit with some object or don't you know?
D007: Kicks and with a device or a tool.
Gerald Elias: How soon after you were hooded did this beating start?
D007: After a short time.
And on his second night (Monday -- still not at Camp Bucca) he recalled, "Before my hood was lifted off my head, I was still receiving so many kicks -- so many beatings. One of the British soldiers strangled me -- that took around an hour or 20 minutes -- and then they left me. [. . .] His hands were -- thumbs, fingers, in my mouth, and the rest of his hands or palms around my neck with pressure. The second time he lifted my hood up to the middle of my face, to abvoe my eyes, and he also strangled me the same way." During the nearly 48 hours in custody (all before Camp Bucca), British soldiers refused to allow him to sleep, allowed him only one bathroom break, offered food only once. To keep him awake, he was beaten, "No sleep" was shouted in his ear and water was poured over his hood. It was at this detention center that Baha was killed. The witnesses were there at the same time. While he was still in detention (before being moved to Camp Bucca), the car was claimed by the Ministry of Education (the car he had wrecked) and they verified that D007 had permission. Yet D007 was not released. Another witness offering testimony today was brought in at the same time and an owner of the hotel Baha worked at (Baha was at his job when he was hauled off). He is known as D006 and he verified seeing D007 beaten and discussed the beatings he and his adult son received.
D006: As we entered the detenion centre, they had our hands tied up and made us stand toward the wall or by the wall. Then they brought a hood or hoods. Then they made us stand on one leg [. . .] Well, they were beating me all day on my head saying "No sleep, no sleep" -- always, also, hitting me on my side [. . .] they were hitting me with the torch on my head and then there was some beating with the boots.
Gerald Elias: And the beating with the boots, where were the boots
D006: My kidney area.
He and his adult son were beaten. A doctor arrived when he collapsed (CPR was given). He had a prior heart condition and had heart surgery before being taken into British custody. He had not been given his medicine. The doctor instructed that he be given medicine, attempted to have him taken to a hospital (British soldiers refused) and instead demanded he be kept unhooded and allowed to lie down. called his treatment "a crime against humainty. Even Israel wouldn't do such a thing. [Ariel] Sharon is more honourable than the army that did that, the British Army that did that. Sharon is more honourable than what the army did. It was a crime against humanity, a crime. What had we done? Can I be insulted at this age?"
The inquiry continues tomorrow morning. Yesterday the inquiry heard from D001. BBC News reports that he testified to hearing Baha begging while being beaten: "I knew it was Baha because I had known him for a long time and could recognise his voice. It seemed as if he wasn't that far away from me and the toher detainees. I heard him crying out something like, 'I am very tired, I can tolerate no more, please give me five minutes. Have mercy on me, I'm dying. I'm about to die, help me.' Then after a while I did not hear Baha scream out any more."
The needs of the disabled aren't being heard in Iraq. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports on the struggle of those wounded by the war to receive care and that "the legacy of disablement, rather than death, is now swinging into focus, as many families struggle to care for relatives who survived murderous attacks but were left with bebilitating, and often life-long injures." AFP calculates the number of wounded Iraqis "to be above 133,000" and notes that's based on reports and many are wounds are never reported.
That's an at-risk community that's emerging (for the press). Other at-risk communities include Iraqi Christians. Sunday Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Dr. Mehasin Basheer has been released after being kidnapped from her Bartala home. AFP revealed the "Chrisitan doctor [was] abducted by an armed gang overnight from her home" in northern Iraq and quote a police officer stating, "The gang kidnapped the doctor, Mahasin Bashir, in her home late at night, as her children watched." Hammoudi says a ransom was paid. Doctors and Christians have been repeatedly targeted in Iraq and, at this point, it's not known if Dr. Basheer was targeted for either of those reasons or something else. Thursday's snapshot included, "INA reports that Dr. Sameer Gorgees Youssif was released by his kidnappers following his August 18th abduction. The explain the fifty-five year-old man is at least the fourth doctor kidnapped in Kirkuk in the last two years. His family paid $100,000 for his release. His injuries include sever pressure uclers along the right side of his body, 'open wounds around his mouth and wrists' (from being bound and gagged) and bruises all over his body." Like Dr. Basheer, Dr. Youssif is both a medical doctor and a Christian. Jareer Mohammed (Azzaman) notes the kidnapping of Dr. Basheer and that "Basheer serves in a small hospital in the Christian village of Bartella, just a few kilometers to the east of Mosul. More attacks targeting the string of Christian villages to the east and north of Mosul have occurred recently. Christian liquor shops are attacked and owners either kidnapped or killed. The villages have preserved their Christian identity for centuries but the inhabitants now seriously fear for their future." John Pontifex (Aid to the Church in Need) writes:
CHRISTIANS in Iraq are beginning to flee the only place where they thought they were safe -- their ancient homelands in the Nineveh plains.
Reports have come in from clergy in the north of the country that in the past few months, a slow but steady emigration has got under-way from the villages and towns close to Mosul city, which trace their heritage back to the earliest Christian centuries.
It comes after warnings of another blow to the Church expected in the immediate run-up to the January 2010 general elections.
With government ministers publicly expecting a surge in violence as people prepare to go to the polls, Church leaders fear that a new security crisis could spark another mass exodus of Christians, which in some areas may mean the departure of the last remaining faithful.
In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, leading Iraqi priest Fr Bashar Warda made clear that Christians in the Nineveh region are now beginning to feel threatened by the kind of security problems which have blighted the lives of people in so many other parts of the country.
Speaking from northern Iraq today (Monday, 28th September), Fr Warda told the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians: "I am sad to say that the emigration of Christian families that we have seen in places like Mosul and Baghdad has now begun to affect the Nineveh area.
"We are not seeing -- at least not yet -- a large emigration from places like Alqosh and other [Nineveh] villages but it is definitely happening."
Fr Warda said he could not give precise estimates of the number leaving the region but he said that a number of exclusively Christian villages have each been losing 30 or 40 faithful every month, sometimes more.
The news has added significance because the many almost completely Christian villages in the region had become a refuge for faithful under threat in other parts of the region.
Mosul's become a targeted region for all. UPI and Official Wire report that al-Qaida in Mesopotamia has "issued death threats to truck drivers attempting to deliver goods in the northern city of Mosul" according to Ninawa Province leader Ali Malih al-Zawbaie. Nada Bakri (Washington Post) observed this morning that Mosul is "a region where many insurgents are believed to have regrouped after they were driven from Baghdad and other provinces."
Afif Sarhan ( reports on another persecuted group in Iraq, Iraqi Blacks who can trace back their history in the region to the seventh century. Ibraheem Abdel-Rassoul tells Sarhan, "After centuries since the first Black community, coming from Africa, arrived in Iraq, discrimination has been part of their daily lives, differening only in the place, or the way used to exclude them from daily social routines. In many schools children suffer discrimination and in the beginning of a new millennium, mixed marriages are still seen with bad eyes by many members of the local socity." A number, such as Jalal Diyab, are seeking official recognition for their minority status. Diyab explains, "Discrimination against Black people is a crime in the majority of countries worldwide but in Iraq there isn't a law that punishes such attitudes. A law should be drafted to prohibit racism in Iraq and a quota created like the existing quota for Christians, Assyrians and other minorities in the country. It won't end all problems but will help to build a new society without discrimination."
Another targeted and at-risk population is Iraq's external refugees. In a surprising development, the Copenhagen Post reports that Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, is insisting that Iraqi refugees should not be forced to leave Denmark and return home. al-Maliki also denied any agreement with the Danish government on the issue but the agreement was signed in May, as the Post notes, and the Immigration Minister states that the bilateral agreement remains in force.
Turning to some of today's reported violence.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 man, a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the life of Basheer al Jahishi ("member of Al Hadbaa the ruling bloc in" Nineveh Province), a Mosul roadside bombing left three police officers wounded and a Baladrouz sticky bombing wounded an Imam and a civilian.

Reuters notes the corpse of a man ("hanged, with the rope still around his neck") was discovered in Mosul.
Meanwhile Thursday, there was a prison break in Tikrit with sixteen prisoners escaping and, by yesterday, 6 of the 16 were said to have been captured. Saturday CNN reported 2 more escapees were captured this morning during "house-to-house searches" for a total of 8 prisoners now captured. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports three more have been captured (9 total) and that, with the latest three, all five who were on death row have been captured. Yang notes Col Mohammed Salih Jbara ("head of anti-terrorism department of Salahudin province) has been "sacked" as a result of the prison escape.
In economic news, Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports Iraq is claiming "sever budget crunch" as the reason why they lag in buying equipment -- military equipment. How very telling that they're never asked why they continue to be unable to deliver basic services such as potable water. For some strange damn reason, no one thinks it's out of bounds for "American commanders" to ask "the U.S. government to give Iraq what is known as 'dependable undertaking' status as part of Washington's Foreign Military Sales program." That would be overstepping their bounds if anyone paid attention. Equally true is that only an idiot would grant such a status to a 'government' which is currently claiming they do not have to pay their debt to Kuwait because that was under another 'regime' that's now 'gone.' Saddam Hussein was run out of power in March of 2003. That's six years ago. So in six years will another 'government' in Iraq attempt to welch on their debts as well? That's crazy and US "commanders" have no business attempting to facilitate the sales of weapons -- not even to prop up the cash-cow that is the weapons industry in an otherwise flat economy. (US economy is what I'm referring to.) They're not trained in economics and they're are supposed to answer to the civilian government. It's not their job and in a real democracy that would explained a long damn time ago. Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that Mudher Kasim, Iraq's Central Bank Advisor, declared today that the International Monetary Fund has extended "$1.8 billion to help it emerge from the global downturn." Those hearing the ominous strains of the cello strings aren't cracking up, they just know what follows the $1.8 billion. As repeatedly noted, the Status Of Forces Agreement that replaced the United Nations mandate ended Iraq's "ward of the state" position. That curtailed the current regime from doing many things with their economy. And it also protected them. The protection is gone and the sharks are circling.
Three Americans who were in Iraq are being held by the Iranian government. CBS News' The Early Show (link has text and video) reports vigils are planned throughout the US tomorrow for Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who have been held by the Iranian government for two months now. The three were in Iraq, allegedly hiking in the northern region when they allegedly crossed into Iranian terrain. They were detained near the border and then, a little over a week later, moved to Tehran. Maggie Rodriguez interviewed Alex Fattal (brother of Josh), Laura Fattal (mother of Josh) and Nor Shourd (mother of Sarah). Sarah's mother explained, "We worry about their day-to-day, you know, like if they're well and if they're healthy, if they're comfortable, how they're taking it mentally. We just worry about it all the time." Josh's mother explained, "It is very difficult. It is a day-by-day difficult situation. We all know Shane, Sarah and Josh are composed individuals, they're calm indviduals, and we get reassurance from that. But of course we want to hear from them. We want to hear their voices." CNN reported earlier today that the Iranian government agreed to let the Swiss government send represenatives to speak to the three Americans. Stephanie Nebehay and Andrew Dobbie (Reuters) report that Siwss diplmats did visit with the three today.
In peace news, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorializes on the announced discharge of 1st Lt Ehren Watada: "From a legal standpoint, there is no doubt that Watada won. The Army failed in its attempts to court-martial the first U.S. officer to refuse to fight the Iraq war. After a three-year legal battle, the Kalani High School graduate will leave the Army in early October, discharged under 'other than honorable conditions,' as the Army recognizes the insurmountable double jeopardy threat raised by his earlier mistrial." Ehren is the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. He is scheduled to be discharged this Friday (Ehren's pictured above with his father Bob Watada and his step-mother Rosa Sakanishi). Ehren knew the Iraq War was illegal and that put him in an ethical bind as an officer because he would be issuing orders to those serving under him. As 2005 drew to a close, he considered the various options and then made his decision not to deploy. He phoned his mother Carolyn Ho as the new year began to inform her of his decision. When he informed his superior officers of his decision, they gave the impression that they wanted to work something out -- in reality, they just wanted to attempt to keep the matter hush-hush, delay any decisions and hope that when the deployment came in June (2006), Ehren would depart with his unit. After proposing several alternatives -- including resignation as well as deploying to Afghanistan instead, Ehren went public in June 2006. His service contract ended in December 2006 but the US military kept him on to court-martial him. When that was obviously not going well, Judge John Head (aka Judge Toilet) gifted the prosecution with a mistrial over defense objection. Toilet thought that's how the law worked. The Constitution -- and US District Judge Benjamin Settle -- begged to differ. Kim Murphy (Los Angeles Times) quotes Kenneth Kagan, one of Ehren Watada's two civilian attorneys (Jim Lobsenz is the other), "I think the Army came to the conclusion that it was not going to be able to prevail in a prosecution. And I think when the new solicitor general came in, her office had a fresh look at it, and it was not bound by any of the decision that had been made previously, they saw fit to put a stop to the appellate process."
On the checks from the new GI Bill that veterans continue to wait for, we'll again note this mailed to the public account yesterday from the VA:

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting October 2, 2009.
More information on
emergency checks.
Information on
VA regional benefits offices.
Independent journalist David Bacon (at Political Affairs) reports (photos and text) on the thousand plus people protesting in San Francisco to win health care benefits for hotel workers. David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).