Friday, April 30, 2010

Bill Moyers Journal

Bill Moyers Journal ended its run on PBS tonight. Once upon a time, that would have made me sad. Instead, the show ends and we all live happily ever after.

Up until the start of 2008, I was a fan of Mr. Moyers. What changed?

My eyes opened.

I saw reality.

I saw what a sexist he was.

I am a Democrat. So I spent years ignoring his attacks on Republicans. I am not talking about holding them accountable. I am talking about lying and serving up half-truths.

It was only when he aimed that at Hillary Clinton, only when he revealed himself to have no ethics at all that I finally woke up to reality.

Bill Moyers is a joke and he made himself that.

I will not miss the show. Once I saw him cut corners with the truth to attack Hillary Clinton, I began to look into his statements. I only had to check a few daily papers to find out how often he lied, how often he 'altered' or 'improved' the 'truth' to make the story play better.

If he had never bet his entire reputation on Barack Obama, I probably never would have caught on, but I did catch on.

I think others should have as well. For example, was it not obvious that he refused to book Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney for his show? Was it not obvious that, to drum up votes for Barack, he ignored them. That he was as guilty of the crimes he regularly charges the MSM with?

In the end, he was just a tired old whore. That really comes through if you read the tributes to him. It just proved what Noah Cross says in the film Chinatown: " 'Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough. "

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

Friday, April 30, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, GAO did a study (another study), post-election madness continues, Nouri holds a press conference to attack and instill fear, and more.

Today on hour two of
The Diane Rehm Show, Diane and her guests (including caller Ralph) Daniel Dombey (Financial Times of London), Moises Naim (Foreign Policy) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) addressed Iraq.

Ralph: . . . It's a no-win situation in all of these because it's fighting and enemy that's a civilian and I don't care what their political reasoning or whatever you cannot win any kind of insurgency or insurrection.

Diane Rehm: Interesting, we've got a number of comments on Facebook regarding Iraq which is likely one of the areas Ralph is talking about. Pam says, "Honestly, Iraq will destabilize before we get the last man out regardless of what's put in place. At some point, we just have to leave. It's just sad. We've let their infrastructure in an almost complete shambles." Nancy?

Nancy A. Youssef: Pam, in a lot of ways, sounds a lot like the Obama administration. The United States has said it is leaving even though it looks like it could be weeks or months before government is formed in Iraq, even though the election appears to have been divisive and that there's real question that Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi -- the-the, right now the winner -- and their coalitions will be able to work together. And I think the question becomes what could the United States do if it stayed? Remember, the United States is there at the invitation of the Iraqi government and-and the movement that -- the train has sort of left the station. The United States is moving towards training Iraqi forces, putting them in the lead and I'm not sure that there's anything more that the United States could do --

Diane Rehm: What about the election discord? Could that effect the US timetable, Moises?

Moises Naim: We're talking about three worlds of difference. These were elections where 325 seats, Parliament, and Maliki's State of Law won 89 and the Iraqiya won 91, so they're the winners. But they're contesting votes and everything else. So you can take two-two views about this. You can say, "Well that's what happens in imperfect democracies. We have seen around the world, contested democracies awhere people are clashing including in Florida." So that would be a flippant way of saying: Elections, that's the nature of democracy. The other more troublesome view, and I think more realistic view, is this is just more of the same -- a manifestation of a deadly, lethal clash, between Sunnis and Shi'ites there and is just a struggle for power and is now taking that manifestation. When that is over, they will continue to battle each other. The good news is that so far, this has not been as violent and deadly as it used to be two or three years ago.

Daniel Dombey: Yes, I would agree with a large part of that. I mean I think the interesting thing is that this exist shows the fall of US influence. The Obama administration has been very concerned about what Mr. Malliki's done to try and get the lead in the and the prospect of the next government back from Allawi. It's been very concerned about these effors to strike candidates that have already been elected from Parliament. But those are pleas that aren't backed up by anything very much. And in a certain sense that's perhaps good because these are decisions that Iraq has to make. It's not clear how keeping US combat troops would help. In fact, one of the big champions of the surge Fred Kagan, of the AEI, wrote a piece in today's Washington Post where he says 'it is really only in the most extraordianary circumstances should the US delay its plans to get its combat troops out' --

Diane Rehm: Nancy?

Daniel Dombey: -- by the end of this summer. I think that shows it is actually Iraq's problem and not a bad problem for a Middle East country to have: How to work out the results of an election?

Diane Rehm: Nancy.

Nancy A. Youssef: You know I thought it was interesting this week that we learned that there was a secret prison in Iraq that largely held Sunnis prisoners, where people were tortured and there are charges that Maliki knew about it. We're starting to see the kind of state that is emerging. It is a quasi-democracy that still sort of employs tactics that are reminescent of Saddam's regime. Who makes a good torturer? But someone who has been tortured. And we're starting to see that. What can the US do to stop that? The only thing I want to say is that there is a real practical reson why the United States can't leave and that's becauseit's committed troops to Afghanistan. That 30,000 that's being sent into Afghanistan -- is conditioned on US troops leaving Iraq And in addition, you have a US military that's really already starting to think poster in terms of how it's going to reset itself, train itself for the next kind of warfare. The military's left Iraq already and I think the Obama administration has to.
Diane Rehm: I met a young woman just last night, having served three terms of duty in Iraq headed off to Afghanistan Sunday.

Okay, the above. First off, Frederick W. Kagan didn't write a column -- he co-wrote one. If you'r colleague already publicly 'joked' on Diane's show about a "cat fight" between Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni, you probably should work a little harder to ensure that you credit women.
The column was written by Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan. (Column ran in this morning's Washington Post.) Second, the Kagans gave three examples of what would slow the drawdown or stop it. Or what should in their opinion. David Dombey needs to learn to read because he has completely misrepresented the Kagans column which was not 'To Drawdown Or Not To Drawdown.' It was a call for US involvement in the post-election proceedings. Third, Nancy A. Youssef left the world of facts for opinions. And that's fine but that doesn't make her right. Example: The choice is not between staying or a drawdown -- and a drawdown is NOT a withdrawal, something Diane's guests need to learn REAL DAMN QUICK. That's nonsense. That's such nonsense that the string of words I would use to describe it could not appear here.

Reality, Nouri exists -- to this day -- only because US forces have propped him up. That's not 'opinion' or at least it's not uninformed 'opinion.' That is the opinion of the bulk of Democratic Senators and they have expressed it repeatedly and publicly -- that includes former senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama who are now vice president and President of the United States.

Reality, despite the oil profits (which are not going to the people), Iraq's 'government' still depends on a lot of US tax payer monies. And they can be denied that money. There's no reason to provide money (or credits for weapons) just to help Little Nouri become the New Hussein. No reason at all. In addition, there are many other diplomatic routes and there is also world opinion which can be courted.

Nancy's spending too much time at the Pentagon and appears to believe that the only answer is kill or don't kill but every problem doesn't require a show of violence to reach a solution. In her last exchange (last quoted above), I know what she meant but I'm not in the mood to interpret her. (She mispoke.) She's also wrong. "WE" did not learn about the secret prisons "this week." If "WE" had, then it wouldn't have been mentioned on Diane's show last week. Ned Parker broke that story online two Sundays ago. Ned Parker broke the secret prison story for the Los Angeles Times ("
Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad") and Human Rights Watch issued a report this week on the secret prison ("Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail "). Nouri's been laughably insisting it's all lies, made up by his enemies, and, so what, look what the Americans did at Abu Ghraib! If someone really thinks the story was breaking news this week, it goes to how little informed they are on the subject. I am aware it can be hard to think on your feet especially when the topic isn't scheduled but comes up because listeners took to the program's Facebook page. But, as with what she meant in her last exchange, I'm not in the mood to interpret her, I'm not in the mood to be generous.

A drawdown is not a withdrawal. Were I Nouri al-Maliki -- or
apparently Barack Obama -- I would declare that all reporters repeating that LIE should be imprisoned. But they need to start getting their facts right. A drawdown is what may take place. A drawdown would take the number of US service members in Iraq down to approximately 50,000. Such a drawdown has not yet taken place. If and when it does, it will be a fact that reporters can toss around. At present, they disgrace themselves when they make like Miss Cleo telling us what's happening months from now. How about you stop the predicting and get your facts right? It's not that difficult and it might let you know when a story broke or who wrote a column or any number of things. But when you're in such a rush to gas bag that you can't do the facts, you're not helping anyone.

Will the drawdown take place. "I'm no prophet, and I don't know nature's ways,"
Carly Simon sang (and wrote) in "The Right Thing To Do" (first appears on her No Secrets album). We do know the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is due to issue a report. Community member Joan caught a problem with yesterday's snapshot -- the bulk of a sentence is missing and it's my fault because of a link I put in that I didn't close and when it was dictated around later it ended up knocking out half a line. So this is what should have appeared in yesterday's snapshot ("*" indicates it's added today):Speaking Tuesday to John Hockenberry on The Takeaway, BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse also felt that the counting would take longer than some estimates, "That could take several weeks. Then the votes have to be certified." In addition to noting that lengthy process, Gatehouse is apparently the only reporter aware of wh*at is supposed to be coming, a report by the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno. Gatehouse explained, "*General Odierno is the overall in charge of US forces here, has promised to make an assessment -- another assessment of that withdrawal time table two months after the election so we're looking at about a week from now. So I think we'll wait to see what he says in about a week's time."An evaluation is due from Odierno? And it will determine and assess. Now Barack can (and may) choose not to listen to it or at least not let effect the current stated plan or 'plan'; however, until that's decided, there is no, "In August, ____ happens." And reporters need to stop claiming that there is. You are not predictors. You deal in the known. When you fail to do that, you better not whine when someone objects to your bias. In fact, when you leave the factual world repeatedly, you are begging readers, listeners, viewers to check you for your bias.

Odierno will issue a report. It's probably not going to be the only report issued between now and August. President Barack Obama's stated plan is that the number of US troops in Iraq will drop down to approximately 50,000 as summer draws to a close. That's his plan. It's spring right now. What will or will not happen will not be known until then. That's reality.

Reality is that from November 2008 through January 2009, had George W. Bush attempted to sign million and billion dollars deals, people would be outraged. He was outgoing. He shouldn't be tying the country into any deals, agreements or debt. But Nouri, whose party did not win the most seats in the March 7th elections, is doing just that.
Sylvia Pfeifer (Financial Times of London) reports that Nouri's prepping a potential one billion dollar deal in which Iraq will purchase "Hawk trainer jets from the UK". What does the Iraqi Parliament say about that deal? Nothing. Their terms expired. Until the newly elected members are sworn in, there is no Parliament. Nouri's term should have expired as well. But he's pushing deals that will tie Iraq down for sometime including the five-year plan that he could never get through Parliament so he's now rammed it through his council.
UPI reports that Moqtada al-Sadr "has demanded that 'illegal' contracts signed with foreign oil companies in 2009 be negotiated." Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) adds, "The Sadrists, fervent nationalists although they have been heavily linked with Iran, where their leader is currently based, say the deals break Iraqi laws. The Iraqi oil ministry says the contracts will result in 'more than US $100 billion' (Dh367bn) worth of investment."
Nouri rejected any notion of an interim government. Ayad Allawi is calling for one. But if Nouri doesn't control the government, then he can't get his recounts and he can't get the judges to go along with him and he can't steal the election. He also can't make any of the deals he wants to. Caesar Ahmed and Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times) report Nouri al-Maliki appeared on Iraqi state TV today to declare, "We will not allow any foreign interference in our internal affairs that will breach our sovereignty." Which brings us back to Nancy A. Youssef. First, Nouri, Iraq was breached in March 2003. You weren't concerned about "foreign interference" then. No, you were cheering on an invasion. Nancy A. Youssef wants to claim that the US is present at Iraq's invation. What a load of s**t. First off, an uninvited guest who never leaves is not there on any invitation. Second, who 'invited'? Not the people of Iraq who want the foreign forces off their land. Not the Parliament as evidenced by the huge number of MPs who elected to skip the November 2008 vote. Ahmed and Daragahi report Nouri attacked Allawi in his televised statements and also of Allawi and others, "I don't know why there are parties criticizing the Iraqi judiciary. This demonstrates that there is a regional, international project against Iraq that seeks to overthrow [the government] via the ballot box." Does the idiot understand that using the ballot box to reject someone is more than allowed?

In DC today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad al-Sabah.
The two spoke to reporters in the Treaty Room (link has text and video) and took questions. In one of her replies, Hillary noted the following:

The deputy prime minister and I discussed recent political developments in Iraq and the ongoing process of forming a new government. The security and stability of Iraq is critical to the security and stability of Kuwait, but of indeed the entire region. The United States recognizes that there is still work to be done to address some of the outstanding issues related to the Iraq-Kuwait relationship, and we are committed to working with Kuwait and the new Government of Iraq and the United Nations in the months ahead.
On the post-election madness,
Heather Robinson (Huffington Post) notes:

Iraqi liberal Mithal al-Alusi, who
raised concerns about fraud against himself and fellow liberals after he lost his seat in Parliament in the March 7 elections, is now raising concerns about a potential lack of oversight of the Baghdad recount that he says could lead to a repeat of the fraud that prompted the recount in the first place.
"It will be a disaster if the same people who did the first counting will do the second counting," Alusi told me in a phone interview from Baghdad.
Alusi is no stranger to controversy. Iraqi-born and bred, in the 1970's he protested Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses, and was forced to flee the middle east for his life. He returned to Iraq with his two grown sons following the U.S. invasion and took a position as culture director of the de-Baathification commission in the Iraqi interim government.

We dealt with the Kagans already. (Disclosure, as noted before I know Robert Kagan, that's Fred's bother, Kimberly's brother-in-law.) But, again, their column was completely distorted. From the right (the neocon right), the
Frederick and Kimberly Kagan argue in today's Post:

Washington should strongly support Iraqi leaders such as Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Allawi, who have strongly opposed the AJC's illegal effort to manipulate the results. The United States must encourage Iraq's Presidency Council to adhere to the electoral laws and reject the AJC's manipulation. The United States must also ensure that legal processes and court decisions about the elections are not unduly influenced by political or violent intimidation. Above all, the United States must oppose any effort to exclude votes properly cast and counted.
U.S. officials must state clearly that Iraq's government should be formed by Iraqis in Iraq and encourage Iraqis to form a government that ensures real power-sharing and continued political accommodation -- rather than cobbling together a government without any genuine political settlement.
Staying silent is not the same as remaining neutral. This does not mean that Washington should choose a party or prime minister, but the United States must protect the electoral process from politicians (and external actors) seeking to manipulate its outcome.

Again, the Kagans are right-wingers. Let's get some other opinions. For example, the
Toledo Blade's editorial board argues what listeners of Diane Rehm's program were wrongly told the Kagans (or at least Fred) argued:

Hints by U.S. military leaders suggest the withdrawal might be delayed if Iraqis don't assemble a credible government soon. But that plays right into the hands of Iraqi political and business interests that want U.S. funds - about $2 billion a month - to continue to flow there. Mr. Maliki and others also want to maintain the protective American shield around themselves and their government.
America's interest is to withdraw according to schedule. There is no good reason to divert from that plan.

That is consistent with the Toledo Blade's February editorial "
Don't yield to Iraqi stunts." Turning to the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. When noting that 'NGO,' we will always note that they're not as 'independent' as they'd love to pretend, they are an arm of the US government. So what are they saying? Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi feel the rule of law is being ignored and that the Justice and Accountability Commission is among the worst offenders:

This decision to ban elected officials has truly taken Iraq into uncharted waters, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate ad hoc political decisions from those based on the legal criteria. The January 2008 law that established the JAC and defined its mandate did not foresee the possibility of banning candidates after the election and no precedent exists on which to base a decision as these are the first elections under the law. Making the decision even more political -- the post-election bans will affect Iraqiya particularly hard, as did the pre-election exclusions. With twenty-two of the candidates banned after the vote belonging to Iraqiya, it could lose its slim two-seat advantage over State of Law.
There are also questions concerning the current legal status of the JAC, whose members were nominated by the council of ministers, approved by parliament, and ratified by the presidency council -- institutions whose mandate was terminated at the end of the last parliament and are operating in a legal limbo in the transitional period until a government is formed. The situation will worsen as the transitional period stretches from the few weeks foreseen by the constitution to the many months that now
appear possible.

Alsumaria TV reports on seven candidates banned by JAC: "Al Iraqiya List spokesman Haidar Al Mulla revealed to Alsumaria News the names of seven candidates subject to the Justice and Accountability Law. Candidates include Fallah Hassan Zaydan, Iskandar Watout, Itab Jassem Nassif, Jamal Al Batikh, Adnan Al Jinabi, Mohammed Al Karbouli and Qays Shathar Hussein while an eighth winning candidate was not named."

Another view is offered by
Jim Waldo in a letter to the Duluth News Tribune where he observes, "Every day it seems we read about bombs going off in civilian settings and the marketplaces in Iraq. How long will it take before exasperated citizens put a strongman in power through voting or a coup? He might stop the carnage by temporarily suspending democracy, installing a secret police, forming a republican guard and adopting repressive measures. And he might indeed success in stopping the bombings." But, Jim Waldo feels, this is how the New Saddam Hussein is created. Alsumaria TV reports that Nouri insisted today that Iraq was at risk of "a coup" from within the region and internationally and that threats are being made of a rocket attack on the Green Zone. Save us, Nouri, save us!!!! (Yes, he does trade on the fear. It's always been his only currency.)

Turning to some of the violence reported today . .

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Garma roadside bombing injured two people and, dropping back to yesterday, reports a Heet roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left a second one wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded six people, a Baghdad car bombing claimed 8 lives and left twenty people wounded, a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded CTO Sadoun Seyid Qassim. Xinhua notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left nine people injured. Reuters notes that 1 US service member was injured by a Baghdad roadside bombing last night.

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the US House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the "Status of Veterans Small Business." Calling the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee to order, Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin noted, "Today's hearing will provide the US Government Accountability Office an opportunity to update us on the ongoing work on veteran-owned small businesses, and brought the hearing to order and noted " This Subcommittee last held a hearing on veterans and small business on
March 11, 2010. The focus was on the Center for Veterans Enterprise and the Subcommittee were informed about problems to do with verification -- how some businesses that were not VA-owned were making it onto the list while others which were veteran-owned but could not make the list. What's changed? They did a study, the Government Accountability Office did a study. We'll note this exchange between the Chair, GAO's William B. Shear and Ranking Member John Boozman.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: [. . .] Because we have, as it relates to contracting requirements, a goal of making sure that it's veteran-owned businesses that are getting this opportunity just as it is in terms of the restriction Ms. [Diane] Farrell described, they're jobs created here as the objective so I -- You know, in your written testimony, you stated that the VA had hired a contractor to assess the verification programs process and the contractor's report included recommendations. Again, we're a little concerned with the progress the VA's making on the verifications as it relates to those on the database who have been verified to be veteran-owned businesses to deal with the issue of sort of veteran shopping that we have had concerns about with the Subcommittee previously. Can you elaborate on what recommendations were given to the VA?
William B. Shear: Uhm, I will paraphrase in a way that, uhm, as you know we have a draft report and as I stated we have a draft report. And among those, the needs to really implement information technology in a way that allows for more efficient processing of these applications. You also need -- really it's development of people in terms of their ability of the guidance that they have to have in terms of how they verify businesses. So I'm -- I'm segueing a little bit into what's-what's-what we're reporting on. But-but basically that it's been very slow in this process. And the reason we think it's very important is because the preferences are meant to serve veterans and veteran owned small business and there's not an assurance that that is happening. And it's been delayed for some period of time, so just the fact that the consultant study, that it took so long until they kind of like moved in that direction is of concern to us.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mr. Boozeman?

Ranking Member John Boozemmn: Thank you, Madame Chair. Mr. Shear, Public Law 109-461 requires VA to review contracts for compliance with subcontracting proposals. Would you share GIO's view of VA's performance in implementing the provisions

William B. Shear: Subcontracting was the one part that is contained -- will be contained in our final report. And what we observed with subcontracting requirements, there's -- there's certain issues as far as the date when that becomes effective. But what we have observed to date is that the -- with respect to subcontracting VA falls very short of its goals.

If we wanted to go deeper into the hearing, we could note that you do not appear before Congress chewing (smacking) gum. It's not a possible rule, it's a rule. Smacking your gum between and during your testimony not only distracts from your testimony, it makes it appear you really aren't ready to appear before Congress and that they might need to instead seat you at the kiddie table.

Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. He explains at the website:I am an Iraq-war veteran who is hiking 7000 miles across America to raise money for struggling veterans, and help get a national "Day of the Deployed" by getting signatures from mayors and governors across America on a custom Louisville Slugger batAnd with over 200 of the 7000 miles completed already, he has another milestone scheduled for the week: He's getting married Sunday. More information and videos can be found at Drum Hike.William J. Booher (Indy Star) reports that May is when Troy is set to be walking in Indiana and provides a list of some of the events including "a public barbecue May 7 at American Legion Post 252, 334 U.S. 31 S., between Main Street and Smith Valley Road." That is open to the public and begins at 12:30 in Greenwood, Indiana.
TV notes,
Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Naftali Bendavid (Wall St. Journal), Eamon Javers (Politico), Margaret Kriz Hobson (National Journal) and Karen Tumulty (Washington Post). And Gwen's column this week is "Washington Rhetoric: The Decoder." Remember that the show podcasts in video and audio format -- and a number of people sign up for each (audio is thought to be so popular due to the fact that it downloads so much quicker). If you podcast the show, remember there is the Web Extra where Gwen and the guests weigh in on topics viewers e-mail about. And also remember that usually by Monday afternoon you can go to the show's website and stream it there (including Web Extra) as well as read the transcripts and more. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Melinda Henneberger, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Genevieve Wood. on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week's it's immigration reform. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
The All American CanalThe most dangerous body of water in the U.S. is a deep canal on the Mexican border with California where over 550 people - mostly illegal immigrants - have drowned. Scott Pelley reports.
Watch Video
Chef Jose AndresPioneering Chef Jose Andres takes Anderson Cooper's taste buds on a savory tour of his culinary laboratory, featuring his avant-garde cooking technique, molecular gastronomy. Watch Video
ConanLate-night television comedian Conan O'Brien appears in his first interview since having to give back his spot on the "Tonight Show" to Jay Leno. Steve Kroft reports.
60 Minutes, Sunday, May 2, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

nprthe diane rehm show
the financial times of londonsylvia pfeiferthe national newspapernizar latif
the los angeles timesned parker
bbc newsgabriel gatehousethe takeawayjohn hockenberrythe huffington postheather robinson
the toledo blade
mcclatchy newspaperssahar issa
60 minutescbs newsto the contrarybonnie erbe
washington week

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Look who's gone to the Gulf (the other Gulf)

If you have time, listen to this Wade Goodwyn report for All Things Considered (NPR) which aired today and tell me if this does not strike you as beyond strange? As possibly frightening?

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has apparently required the U.S. military to come and assist. Does that bother you?

As a country, we do not have the capability to do a clean up -- a civilian task -- without resorting to the U.S. military?

Is that correct?

BBC News reports:

US President Barack Obama has said "every single available resource" of government will be deployed to help contain the Gulf Coast oil leak.
Up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day may be now be leaking into the water after last week's explosion on a BP-operated rig, which then sank.

So even with "every single available resource," the U.S. government has to depend upon the military?

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, a new report on the state of religious freedom is released, Nouri says "NO!" to interum government, a US Congressional Subcommittee does their job, and more.

March 7th, Iraq held elections. When the votes were tallied, the political slate receiving the most seats in Parliament was Ayad Allawi's bloc. Yesterday, Allawi issued a call.
Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports on Allawi's call for an interim government to ensure no election theft takes place, "Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, also proposed extending the mandate of the outgoing parliament until a new one is in place, "for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch." Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Allawi, a secular Shiite, urged the United Nations and other international organizations to back him in his demand for a caretaker government and a new vote, if matters continue on the current path." Asia News quotes Allawi stating, "Certainly what is going on is a theft of the Iraqi will and democracy, jeopardising the safety of the country." Zahraa Alkhalisi and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report Nouri's spokesperson has rejected the proposal. Ali al-Dabbagh declared, "It is an illegal and unconstitutional request." AINA reports al-Iraqiah issued the following statement earlier this week:1. To send a letter to the Head of the Supreme Judicial Council stressing the urgency of his intervention to protect the Judiciary from political influence, as this may have serious ramifications on the stability of the country. 2. To hold to account those responsible of distorting the election results by the appropriation of the electorates' votes through malicious disqualifications and arrests affecting the candidates and supporters of Al-Iraqiah Bloc. 3. Al-Iraqiah Bloc will reject any tampering with the election results, and therefore proposes the following: 1. That since Iraq is governed under Chapter VII, Al-Iraqiah has examined the option of resorting to the international community, including the members of the Security Council, European Union, Organisation of the Islamic conference, the states of the Arab League, to exercise their moral and legal right over the protection of the political process from any injustices, and to form a caretaker government and repeat the elections in an environment free of any political manipulation. 2. To send a request to the Presidential council, as the protector of the Constitution, to call upon the House of the Representatives to continue their duties until the certification of the election results, and to form a new House of Representatives for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch, that operates without authority, as to prevent any violations of the political process and the Constitution.

Meanwhile, optimistic timelines have said six to eight days to do the Baghdad recount. That would be the recount that was to start Monday but was put on hold. In Iraq, all but the violence gets put on hold.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that the recount is now expected to take between two and three weeks and quotes the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission head Faraj al-Haidari stating, "The electoral commission decided to start the recont for the ballots of Baghdad province next Monday." However, Rachel Scneller offers Bernard Gwertzman (the Council on Foreign Relations) a different timeline today, "We had the Shiite coalition seeking a recount of votes in Baghdad, which, if undertaken, will take up to two months." Speaking Tuesday to John Hockenberry on The Takeaway, BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse also felt that the counting would take longer than some estimates, "That could take several weeks. Then the votes have to be certified." In addition to noting that lengthy process, Gatehouse is apparently the only reporter aware of wh General Odierno is the overall in charge of US forces here, has promised to make an assessment -- another assessment of that withdrawal time table two months after the election so we're looking at about a week from now. So I think we'll wait to see what he says in about a week's time."

Today the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued their [PDF format warning] "Eleventh Annual Report on Religious Freedom in the World" which is 356 pages of text. The report examines religious freedoms in 28 countries and the timeline for the report is April 2009 to March 2010. Iraq falls under the category of "Countries of Particular Concern." From page 76:

FINDINGS: Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Iraq. Members of the country's smallest religious minorities still suffer from targeted violence, threats, and intimidation, against which they receive insufficient government protection. Perpetrators of such attacks are rarely identified, investigated, or punished, creating a climate of impunity. The small communities also experience a pattern of official discrimination, marginalization, and neglect. In addition, there continue to be sectarian attacks, often with impunity, and tense relations between Shi'a and Sunni Iraiqs, and other egregious, religiously-motivated violence also continues.
Based on these concerns, USCIRF again recommends in 2010 that Iraq be designated as a "country of particular concern," or CPC.* The Commission recommended that Iraq be designated as a CPC in 2008 and 2009, and placed Iraq on its Watch List in 2007.
The religious freedom situation in Iraq remains grave, particularly for the country's smallest, most vulnerable religious minorities. The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization, and neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten these ancient communities' very existence in Iraq. These minorities, which include Chaldo-Assyrians and other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, and Yazidis, continue to experience targeted violence, receive inadequate official protection or justice, and suffer discrimination. Since 2003, many have fled to neighboring countries, where they represent a disproportionately high percentage of registered Iraqi refugees. The diminished numbers remaining in the country are now concentrated in areas in the highly dangerous Nineveh governorate over which the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is seeking to extend its control, and they suffer abuses and discrimination as a result. Although the Iraqi government has publicly condemned violence against these groups, it continues to fall short in investigating the continuing attacks and bringing perpetrators to justice, and its efforts to increase security to minority areas are not adequate. In addition, though greatly reduced from 2006-07 levels, violence between Shi'a and Sunni Iraqis continues. Significant tensions between these groups remain, including tensions due to the ongoing government formation process. Finally, other religiously-motivated violence and abuse continues.

PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS: For Iraq to become a secure, diverse, and stable democracy, the United States must pay greater attention to helping ensure that the human rights of all Iraqis are guaranteed and enforced both in law and practice. With U.S. forces drawing down and a new Iraqi government being formed in the wake of the March 7 elections, the United States should emphasize, with both the new Iraqi government and the KRG, the urgent need to protect vulnerable religious minority communities and ensure them justice. USCIRF also recommends that the U.S. government appoint a special envoy for human rights in Iraq, create an inter-agency task force on Iraqi minority issues, and prioritize funding for projects that foster religious tolerance. [. . .]

Recommendations continue on pages 77 through 79. We'll zoom in on the external refugees and the internally displaced aspect.

The U.S. goverment should:

* increase assistance, and encourage the Iraqi government and U.S. allies to do likewise, to the UN, humanitarian organizations, host nations, and host communities providing necessary aid to vulnerable Iraqi displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, including funding programs to provide medical care, psychological care, educational opportunities, direct financial assistance, basic needs packages, and information campaigns;

* fund capacity-building programs for the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration to ensure that it can adequately provide assistance and protection to IDPs;

* clearly state that the U.S. government does not encourage the return of Iraqi refugees to Iraq until necessary conditions are met, including security, assistance, legal frameworks, and integration programs;

* encourage and fund information campaigns, including "go and see visits" by religious and/or community leaders selected by the refugees/IDPs themselves, to ensure that displaced Iraqis considering return have the information needed to make informed decisions;

* work with the government of Iraq and international organizations to help the Iraqi government develop a cohesive plan to assist voluntarily returning refugees and IDPs, including addressing property disputes, assistance upon return, livelihood opportunities, and lingering security problems;

* continue to process a significant number of Iraqi refugees for resettlement to the United States, taking into account the continued targeted violence against members of Iraq's smallest, most vulnerable religious minorities and the P2 designation in the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007; and

* ensure that members of Iraq's smallest, most vulnerable religious minorities scheduled to be resettled to the United States are not delayed unnecessarily by providing adequate personnel to conduct background screening procedures and by enforcing proper application of the existing waiver of the material support bar to those forced to provide support to terrorists under duress.

Although the above are all important, one of the strongest things the US could do -- and it would cost not one cent -- would be to follow the recommendation that they "clearly state that the U.S. government does not encourage the return of Iraqi refugees to Iraq until necessary conditions are met, including security, assistance, legal frameworks, and integration programs". It shouldn't be left to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to be the only ones making that statement but, sometimes, they are the only ones. Many who did return to Iraq were slain. That's less the case for Iraq's Christians because they're less apt to return if they leave.

Staying with this topic,
Ekklesia reports on an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates from religious leaders calling on the US government to protect Iraq's religious minorities. The letter from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA to Hillary reads: We are writing to express the concern of the National Council of Churches, and our partners in Iraq and throughout the world, about the on-going situation of violent attacks on minority groups in Iraq, including the Christian community. We strongly request that you raise this concern with the Government of Iraq, provincial authorities, and the leadership of the Coalition Forces, urging them to take all possible steps to prevent further incidents of this type. Christians in Iraq have suffered more than a dozen violent deaths so far this year, including a three-year old child in Mosul who died on March 27 after a bomb, placed next to his family's home, exploded. As you know, thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes because of their fear of violence. Our concern is now particularly acute because it is possible that tensions will increase as various political forces continue to vie for power following the recent elections. We fear that a growing climate of mistrust and animosity will further threaten the fragile Christian community. With this is mind, we appeal to you to work directly and with Iraqis to * protect minority groups, including Christians in Mosul and other parts of Iraq; * extend necessary humanitarian aid to displaced families and * encourage the preservation of religious and ethnic diversity in Iraq. Thank you for your attention to this most urgent concern. Among those signing the letter are Rev Michael Kinnamon, Rev Canon Peg Chmberlin, Bishop John F. White, Rev Paula Clayton, Rev Roy Medley, Bishop Charles Leigh, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Rev Robert Welsh, Stan Noffsinger, Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, Rev Mark S. Hanson and Rev Michael E. Livingston. Nathan Black (Christian Post) adds:The letter comes days after Christians in northern Iraq erected a statue of Jesus, modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, amid mounting attacks by extremists.Bashar Jarjees Habash, coordinator of Christian affairs in the city of Hamdaniya, said the statue of Jesus opening his arms was built to "send a message of peace to everyone to say that we want to live in peace with all," as reported by Agence France-Presse.Pakistan Christian TV explains, "Iraqi Christians used to make up about 3 percent of Iraq's population, but now make up for more than half of its refugees, the Telegraph has reported.Iraqi church leaders who have visited the National Council of Churches offices in New York have implored U.S. Christians to take closer notice of their fellow Christians in Iraq." And thus far nothing has been able to stem the decreased presence in Iraq. Michael Swan (Catholic News Service) reported last week that Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria for safety are not planning any return and that the secular political party of Ayad Allawi's victory in the March 7th election (a victory now in dispute) has not convinced them of changes. Toma Georgees tells Swan, "It's very, very difficult to turn back to Iraq, impossible to turn back. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people, ignorant people who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians. . . . Those people are ignorant, and they just want to drink our blood as Christians." Despite repeated, false claims, Iraqi Christians who fled the country aren't planning to return. That has been the case over and over. But some in the press continue to attempt to spin. Why would they want to return? If you were threatened and attacked and people you knew were killed forcing you to flee, would you be eager to return? The spin never had the numbers to back it up but there was never any psychological truth in it either. This has been a consistent attitude on the part of Iraqi Christians. NPR's Deborah Amos is the author of this year's Eclipse Of The Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. On page 199 of her book, she notes the UNHCR's deputy representative in Amman, Jordan Arafat Jamal, "As for the Christian minorities in Amman, Jamal was convinced they would never return. By 2009, the European Union had stepped up re-settlement quotas, promising places for as many as ten thousand Iraqis, mostly threatened Christians, despite appeals from Iraq that doing so would diminish the remaining Christian community and raise questions about its continued viability."
Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a 28-page report entitled "Iraq: Civilians under fire," [PDF format warning]
click here. News notes of the report "thousands of Christians, as well as many members of the Sabean Mandaean religion, Yazidis and women and girls, being targeted for un-Islamic behavior. Amnesty International said that many of these people are at risk of being killed." Spero News reports that a recent Babel College (Erbil) seminar was entitled "The Role and Identity of the Priest in Iraq Today" and:The key issue - a priest present at the seminar told Fides - was that of the ministerial priesthood, examined in a human, spiritual, theological, and biblical sense, and all lived within the reality of Iraq today, which has among its most pressing challenges to face: violence, forced emigration of Christians, and the critical security conditions of Christian communities. The conference also stressed the importance for the Church as a whole to accompany the priests during their journey of formation and during their pastoral life, as every priest needs to feel the community's support in the form of concrete aid and prayer.Rudi Stettner (Indyposted) observes, "Even if the physical survival of Iraq's religious minorities can be assured, their endurance as distinct religious groups is endangered by the displacement they have endured in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. It is important that the world show its support for Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis in Iraq, whether they choose to remain there or not. Concerns for their safety should be made clear to the Iraqi government. A desire to welcome them should be made clear to the American government as well." And Kathleen McManus, OP of the University of Portland writes the Catholic Sentinel:As a Dominican Sister, I know from our own Iraqi Sisters about the persecution Christians are experiencing. Our Sisters in Baghdad and Mosul have chosen to stay and minister to Christians and Muslims alike. A tragic effect of the war and our U.S. presence has been a persecution of Christians never experienced during the admittedly brutal and unjust reign of Saddam Hussein.In recent weeks assassins entered the home of a Christian family in Mosul, killing an elderly father and his two sons. Panicked by the realization that they are no longer safe in their own homes, more than 100 families fled Mosul. Rapes and murders have been reported. The elderly sisters in the Dominican motherhouse in Mosul have chosen to stay in the convent, lest terrorists seize it.The U.S. Dominican Iraq Coordinating Committee has written to Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to urge the bishops to exhort Washington to pressure the Iraqi government to attend to the violence. Swift and definitive intervention is necessary to ensure the protection of all, and, through them, the democratic process for which so many have already suffered and died.Today's report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom never sees the problem as one person or one group's problem to address. Like the illegal war that created the Iraq refugee crisis, fixing the problem would require a global effort.

Silver tongues
Digest the truth
What have we done
And where was any proof
In the heat of the sun
Nothing can be done
And the blood lies on the hands of everyone
-- "Blood Lies," written and performed by
David Saw whose most recent album is Broken Down Figure (Kat reviewed it here).

Turning to some of today's violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing which claimed 8 lives and Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured six people and a Kirkuk sticky bombing which claimed 1 life.

Following a brief mark up meeting, Chair Michael Michaud called to order the Health Subcommittee (of the House Veterans Affaris Committee) to order. The Subcommmittee was receiving an update on a pilot program. Michaud noted, "I recognize and appreciate the VA's efforts in addressing the health care needs of our rural veterans who are more likely to be in poorer health than their urban counterparts. However, more work remains in this area as our rural veterans face unique challenges that are both extensive and complex. The enhanced contract care pilot program is a potential tool for expanding access to health care for our rural veterans in areas where the VA is unable to provide care." VA's Patricia Vandenberg appeared before the Subcommittee accompanied by Gita Uppal. VA is, of course, Veterans Administration. "VISN" is Veterans Integrated Service Network.

A problem that arises repeatedly is that Congress writes a bill, passes it, it's signed into law and then it's not followed. Sometimes there's accidental confusion, sometimes there's intenational confusion. Many times the confusion is not even noticed until well after the project is underway. Today the Subcommitee heard about the status on a pilot program that they passed the legislation for and that is in the process of being implemented. Because the Subcommittee members paid attention and asked important questions, a problem dealing with confusion on the part of the VA quickly became evident.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: You're testimony raises a significant concern for me, however. This started out as legislation that would effect the entire country and, if you lived a certain number of miles from a provider, you would then be eligible for VA care provided with a local provider. It was narrowed to be a certain number of VISNs as a pilot or demonstartion project but your testimony suggests to me that you're now narrowing it even further and that you're going to do a particular community within that vison and that's troublesome for me because we've gone from a broad scope taking care of a large number of veterans to -- I was convinced that we should see how this works. But the CBO score, as we talk about its costs, to me, it was never suggested that we were not going to provide the same opportunity for community based service for every veteran that lived that number of miles -- now that number of minutes from a provider, from a VA provider. Is --Am I understanding the testimony correctly that now we're just going to select certain communities within the VISN? And make that the pilot program?

Patricia Vandenberg: We have asked the visons to identify multiple sites as focal points within their vison for potentially standing up this pilot project. At this point and time that is the direction that we're moving in. We understood the wording in the law when it said the Secretary will select areas, sites -- that that was permissable, that that was feasible in the pilot structure. So we are here obviously today to gain further insight from the committee as to your expectations.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: Well that certainly would be different than my expectations then Mr. Michaud and others may have an opinion but I would -- I'd be very critical of the concept that we're going to narrow the opportunities for veterans even further so if you're a veteran that lives a number of minutes from the provider you may or may not qualify depending upon whether the VISN director decided that your community is one that now qualifies. What I envision and what I hope that the VA would pursue is that if you meet the definition of highly rural and you're in that pilot demonstration VISN, you qualify. In fact, the VA has the obligation for providing a provider, finding a provider for you to meet your health care needs. So I welcome additional dialogue. Maybe other Committee members have an opinion regarding the intention but as I recall the CBO budget information did not narrow it one more step as it suggests that you suggest may occur. So my red flag is up.

Patricia Vandenberg: Thank you for the clarification, sir.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: You're very welcome. The legislation that the president's now expected to sign, do you have a sense, which defines miles to minutes, and the definition of . . . Help me?

Patricia Vandenberg: Hardship.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: Thank you! Hardship. Will it speed up the implementation date? Do you have a sense that now we're moving ahead six months more quickly?

Patricia Vandenberg: It certainly will facilitate us not being impeded by the regulatory process and so we believe that we are on a, uh, path at this point having issued the guidance to the field and asking them to identify sites. We may have to amend that per the conversation we are having. But we don't see any firm impediment except for the fact that I referenced earlier, we have no way of knowing when this goes out to the provider community what the level of receptivity would be. So I would say that the rate of progress going forward will be a function of the contracting mechanism and the receptivity in the provider community to work with us.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: I think that receptivity will in part depend upon the reimbursement rate that you conclude is appropriate and my understanding is that the VA's current fee base is fee base and you cover the entire cost of care. You provide health care for veterans with local providers today.

Patricia Vandenberg: Yes, sir.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: And I think you cover the entire cost of doing so. That I assume would be the most desirable model for the veteran and for the health care provider in getting this implemented and wide spread use. So I'm hoping that you follow the same practices that you've been following in the past of how you reimburse hometown providers today. Mr. Chairman, my time is expired, but I would welcome your input or the staff input on this issue of a pilot within a pilot. I'm fearful that we're narrowing the scope and the number of veterans that we wanted to take care of across the country was already narrowed to a certain number of veterans -- to a certain number of VISNs. And we need to make sure, in my opinion, that it's not narrowed further, that you have to live in a particular area within that community to access this health care. I thank the Chairman.

Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Thank you very much, Mr. Moran. You're absolutely correct, the whole intent was to have the VISN -- the whole VISN. Not a pilot within that VISN. And I believe we actually got a CBO score predicated on the full VISN, not on pilots within that VISN. And you're 100% correct, the intent of the legislation was for the full VISN. And that is a concern. This is not the first time we've seen this thing. We actually saw it back in legislation that was passed in 2006 relating to state veterans' nursing homes which required the VA to provide full cost of veterans and, through the rule making process, the VA narrowed that down to what full cost meant for the VA and we're trying to correct that issue currently. So but you're 100% correct, Mr. Moran, it was for the full VISN.

US House Rep Jerry Moran: Mr. Chairman, excuse me, and I would point that to my knowledge this is -- at least this is the first time I've heard as we've had briefings from the VA on this topic, this is the first time I've seen the narrowing of the narrowing. And so -- I appreiciate the Chairman's comments.

Patricia Vandenberg: Mr. Chairman, may I make a further comment?

Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Yes.

Patricia Vandenberg: We obviously will respond to the feedback that we're receiving today but just to go back to the question of what further challenge or impediment might we experience I would just like to observe that when attempting to put a provider in place for highly rural veterans who will, no doubt, be dispersed in a VISN, we will likely experience a situation of multiple contracting relationships so that could potentially extend the timely implementation for coverage in an entire VISN. So I'm-I'm just wanting to acknowledge that I hear you, I-I further appreciate the intent and, just practically speaking, obviously going to honor the intent and just realize that we may be dealing -- In a number of instances, it would be ideal if there were a provider network established that had outlets if you will in those multiple venues. Having had some experience in my prior life in Idaho where the organization I was associated with attempted to set up those multiple venues in rural communities, it made it very easy if someone wanted to serve those communities, they just came to my organization and we helped them get that done. In our experience thus far in rural contracting, that hasn't always been the case. So I hear what the Committee is telling us today. We will proceed to respond to this and just work with due diligence to work through the contracting as timely as possible.

Jerry Moran: Mr. Chairman, I think what Ms. Vandenberg is telling me is my two desires of having broad scope and quick implementation may be mutually exclusive. And putting the reminder back to us that this may slow the process down if they've got to contract in a multiple number of ways. But, at least from my perspective, I would put the priority on doing it right, which is to take care of every veteran regardless of where they live, not within a particular communisty as compared to the speed of its accomplishment. We want both but, again, I think we'd make a terrible mistake if we go through this pilot program and we only, in a sense, take the easy areas within a rural VISN in which it's easier to find a provider or there's a multiple number of providers or there's a larger number of veterans. We're still isolating that veteran who lives a long distance from a VA hospital. And so my priority would be back to being sure that we implement this in a way that we can demonstrate that it can be done VISN wide. Thank you.

Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Thank you. Ms. Halvorson?

US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And while we've been discussing all this, there's probably many veterans who haven't been able to find a way to get taken care of. So while we're trying to figure out how to do this, our veterans still need help. So instead of reinventing the wheel or trying to figure out what's "rural," what's "hardship," why aren't we just taking care of our veterans and letting them go where ever it is that they need to be taken care of? Now I may be naive and I am new, this is my first term, but while we're trying to figure out the intent of a law or how to do it the right way, no matter if it takes long, what are we doing right now for our rural veterans? Where are they going and how are they getting taken care of?

Patricia Vandenberg: Thank you for the question. I'm glad you asked it because I can speak very directly to it. We are already providing a significant amount of fee care to rural and highly rural veterans. And under the aegis of the Office of Rural Health in Fiscal Year '10, we have just put out $200 million to the VISNs to afford them the extra resources to provide fee care to rural and highly rural veterans. So I think it's important to note that is a mechanism that is already in place and what I understood the intent of this law to do was to give VA additional incentive and capacity to further contract out care to extend that access even more. But, to answer your question, we are already meeting the needs of rural and highly rural veterans through the fee care mechanism

US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: So then and not to interrupt but so then what's the estimate of how many extra veterans are we gong to take care of and the cost? So we're already spending money, we're already taking care of people, so this program -- what are we assessing the pilot program's cost, the quality and how many veterans are going to be eligible for the pilot program?

Patricia Vandenberg: Let me take the assessment of costs. First, in our initial analysis of the implementation of the pilot as we previously understood it, we estimated up to $100 million. However, we knew that that was putting significant empahsis on primary care service delivery. And as you add in the multi-speciality dimensions of a patient's care, that that cost could rise. So our current working assumption is that the pilot project as we previously conceived it would cost at least $100 million. Now you're second question about quality? That's part of the analysis and the process of contracting and we're using all of the resources of VHA that we currently employ in the contract process. Pulling those in to look at the specifics of assessing the quality of the care and the patient's satisfaction with the care.

US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: So for a hundred million dollars, w'ere going to help more people?

Patricia Vandenberg: Yes, ma'am.

US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: And better?

Patricia Vandenberg: I-I think, uhm, I would just observe that we believe that the standard of care, the quality of care, that is evident in our current fee relationships is of a high quality nature so when we say beter, that could connote that there is something lacking in our current approach. . .

US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Right and it's not a good word. "Better" is not a good word.

Patricia Vandenberg: I just want to be precise. We definiately are trying to enhance access. And by spreading the network of contract relationships further into highly rural communities and attempting to structure those relationships -- in some instances, they don't exist today -- that will definitely enahnce the quality of veterans care because of the --

US House Rep Debbie Halvorson: Okay, I just hope that we're not reinventing the wheel. It looks like you've taken all this time to discuss "hardship" and "rural" when we should be taking this time to help our veterans with their health care. And now, with 1963 I believe, we take hardship out altogether. We should have no problem now implementing this bill. So I know my time is about up, but I'm concerned about the care of my veterans. Not debating whether they're rural or if they have a hardship. We are talking about people that we just want to take care of. Thank you.

I included Halvorson because I think she did a good job and I think a lot of people are getting very tired and very annoyed by the constant need to refer to study. When you're given a directive, the study process should not be a hold up. Now we saw the government just waste money on a PSTD 'study' which issued their report a few weeks ago and the 'answer' was 'more research and study required.' Nothing to do with really helping those who deal with PTSD. And there is a growing frustration on the part of veterans. Halvorson has worked very hard to be very connected to the veterans in her district and her comments represent what she and other House Reps in contact with veterans are hearing.

And the confusion as to what VA was supposed to be implementing? Chair Michael Michaud noted "this legislation passed in October of 2008. We did not hear back from the VA until March of 2009 of why they can't implement it. And the concern being that when we went through the hearing process, the mark up process, that was the time the VA should have been before us saying, 'Well we need these changes'." Maybe there'd be less confusion, if they'd been present for those hearings. Not just to speak, but to listen.

In other news, US Rep Henry Brown is a Republican who serves on the Subcommittee (in fact, he's the Subcomittee's Ranking Member). His online office, his Congressional website, just won an award from the
Congressional Management Foundation "for having one of the best Web sites in Congress." You can click here to visit and evaluate for yourselves. And here's the press release noting the award. His was one of offices receiving an award. The top honor, Platinum Mouse Award went to the online offices of US House Rep Steve Israel (Democrat), US House Republican Conference, Mike Pence (Republican) is the Chair, the House Committee on Science and Techonology which Bart Gordon (Democrat) chairs and the online office of US Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican). CMF notes:

"These four stood out from the rest and serve as examples for others to follow. Overall, we found the good sites are getting better and the bad are getting worse," said Beverly Bell, executive director of CMF, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded 33 years ago to promote a more effective Congress. "It looks like half of the Congress is racing to the top while the other half race to the bottom. The outstanding sites follow best practices, leverage the power of social media, and serve their constituents well. Those offices falling behind are losing a great opportunity to interact with their constituents in ways the public has grown to expect."

And on the topic of online Congressional offices, we'll close with Michael Applegate's "
Stop Outsourcing Security Act HR 4650" (Iraq Veterans Against the War):

Rep Jan Schakowsky and 24 cosponsors are introducing a bill to phase out private military contractors. A similar bill is being introduced to the Senate by Sen Bernie Sanders I(VT) S 3023
Contact your reps to urge them to support this bill. Latest Major Action: 2/23/2010 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Armed Services, and Intelligence (Permanent Select),
Currently there are 24 cosponsors: Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] - 2/23/2010 Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] - 2/25/2010 Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [OR-4] - 3/10/2010 Rep Doggett, Lloyd [TX-25] - 4/21/2010 Rep Ellison, Keith [MN-5] - 2/23/2010 Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 2/23/2010 Rep Frank, Barney [MA-4] - 4/21/2010 Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 2/23/2010 Rep Grayson, Alan [FL-8] - 3/10/2010 Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 2/23/2010 Rep Gutierrez, Luis V. [IL-4] - 2/23/2010Rep Hall, John J. [NY-19] - 2/23/2010 Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 2/23/2010 Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] - 2/23/2010 Rep Kaptur, Marcy [OH-9] - 4/21/2010 Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] - 2/23/2010 Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] - 2/23/2010 Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] - 2/23/2010 Rep Moore, Gwen [WI-4] - 2/23/2010 Rep Polis, Jared [CO-2] - 2/23/2010 Rep Shea-Porter, Carol [NH-1] - 2/23/2010 Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] - 2/23/2010 Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [CA-6] - 2/23/2010 Rep Wu, David [OR-1] - 4/21/2010
Please become a citizen cosponsor by going to:

the washington posternesto londonothe los angeles timesned parkerasia news
bloomberg newscaroline alexander
xinhuamu xuequan
deborah amos
david saw
iraq veterans against the warmichael applegate
ekklesiathe christian postnathan blackpakistan christian tvcatholic news servicemichael swanspero newsindypostedthe catholic sentinel

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Naomi Klein: Professional Homophobe

I have just about had with Little Miss Naomi Klein. As if her glorification of homophobes in her Iraq writing (2003 and 2004 primarily, I need to add that because Klein used Iraq to appear serious and long ago dropped it), she continues it. This is from an article by Ms. Klein up at ZNet:

It was 11 am and Evo Morales had turned a football stadium into a giant classroom, marshaling an array of props: paper plates, plastic cups, disposable raincoats, handcrafted gourds, wooden plates and multicolored ponchos. All came into play to make his main point: to fight climate change, "we need to recover the values of the indigenous people."

Now I know 'journalists' Naomi Klein worked so hard behind the scenes at the last climate disaster and she has a lot vested in the outcome of this one. Her professional reputation, for instance, is at stake. It is all about fame -- and her fame, at that -- for Ms. Klein. AKA child of a war resister "but don't you ever ask her about that!"

But could the mental midget please stop glorifying homophobes?

Monday KPFT's Queer Voices included the following:

Another president in the Western hemisphere came under fire this week for his bizarre comments about the modern diet. Speaking at a regional conference on Climate Change, Bolivia’s Eso Morales claimed that eating hormone-injected chicken makes men gay, and also causes baldness. “The chicken we eat is full of female hormones,” he said. “So when men eat it, they tend to deviate from their manhood.” "Baldness, which seems normal, is a disease in Europe,” he added. “Almost everyone is bald and it's related to the food they eat.” He said that he only eats non-genetically modified chicken to avoid becoming gay or effeminate.
Brazil’s Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals issued a statement asking Morales to “reflect on the gravity of his statement to the dignity of LGBT people and [to] offer an explanation.”
Cesar Cigliutti, president of the Argentina Homosexual Community, told “Agence France Presse” that "It's an absurdity to think that eating hormone-containing chicken can change the sexual orientation of a person. By following that reasoning,” he added, “if we put male hormones in a chicken and we make a homosexual eat it he will transform into a heterosexual."
The Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transexuals promised a protest demonstration at the Bolivian Embassy in Madrid. Their statement called Morales’ comments homophobic, and demanded an immediate public retraction of “these most absurd and unscientific statements."
The U.K.’s “Guardian” newspaper pointed out that chicken producers in Europe, the U.S. and many other countries abandoned the use of hormones in poultry several decades ago.

Oh look, Naomi And The Free Radicals, are again promoting a homophobe. Now I grasp that a woman like Ms. Klein lives in shame. (Maybe she thinks her father was a coward for refusing to serve in Vietnam? Why else would she refuse to talk about it at a time when US service members were refusing to fight in Iraq?) I grasp that she is married to a man most consider to be far, far ahead of her intellectually. And I am sure the thought of returning to the Gap and a career folding sweaters does not delight her. But I do not need her continual spreading of homophobia.

She has yet to call out any homophobe except on the right. And she tends to attack Republican politicians who associate with homophobes. As a result, it is incumbent upon her to note when she is covering homophobes and she certainly should not be showering them with praise.

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, post-election madness continues in Iraq, Human Rights Watch calls out Nouri's secret prison, Senator Jim Webb holds a hearing on military compensation and more.

In Iraq, post-election madness continues as Nouri abuses power and the system.
Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) adds, "Weighing in on legally dubious efforts to change the outcome of Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Iraqi officials Tuesday to act more speedily and openly in forming a new government." We'll again note her statement in full:
On March 7, I congratulated the people of Iraq on their national elections, which were a clear demonstration of their commitment to democracy and a future without fear and intimidation. Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the United Nations, the Arab League, and both international and domestic observers declared those elections to be free of widespread or systematic fraud. The United States respects the legal avenues that Iraq has set up for challenges to candidates and to electoral results. However, for challenges to be credible and legitimate they must also be transparent and must accord with the laws and mechanisms established for the conduct of the elections. Investigations into allegations of fraud should be conducted in accordance with IHEC procedures. Similarly, candidates should have every opportunity to answer charges against them. Transparency and due process are essential to protecting the integrity of the process and preserving the confidence of the Iraqi people in their democratic system. The United States does not support a particular party or candidate. We seek a long-term partnership with an Iraq that is stable, sovereign and self-reliant. As a friend and partner, the United States calls upon Iraq's leaders to set aside their differences, respect the courageous ballots of the Iraqi people, and to form quickly a government that is inclusive and represents the will of all Iraqis and their hope for a brighter future in a strong, independent and democratic Iraq.

Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) reports the White House is troubled/worried over the continued non-progress and he speaks to Wayne White -- 25 years with the State Dept before he left and also a one-time Iraq analyst for the Dept, who states, "They're increasingly afraid of ending up with another Karzai-like mess. There was always concern over time and the impact a drawn-out process of naming [an Iraqi] government could have. But the prospect of a government tainted by illegitimacy is quickly becoming a much larger problem." Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) zooms in on US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill's efforts to prod the process along:

The fact that America's man in Baghdad was reduced to asking Iraq's politicians to perform their basic duties should be a warning sign to anyone hoping the U.S. will leave behind a stable democratic Iraq when its last troops are scheduled to depart at the end of next year. U.S. combat troops are scheduled to withdraw by the end of August, and U.S. officials have begun to doubt whether Iraq will have a government in place by then. In the past, U.S. officials have indicated they might slow the timetable of troop withdrawals should Iraq's election process not proceed smoothly. But even if the Pentagon puts the brakes on and keeps combat troops in country, there may not be much they can do to fix Baghdad's political mess.
Turning to the care and feeding of the New York Times. US troops need to leave and need to leave now. That's the position of this community -- has always been the position and always will be. But? Let's weigh in on the nonsense of 'firm' Barack.
Some people are worried that Iraq's descending into chaos and Barack's going to continue pulling troops out. They worry about that because of a New York Times piece, a recent one. That piece is so stupid we've never linked to it nor commented on it. As Politico notes today, the White House loves to feed the New York Times. Here's a little more reality: If that story was true, those two wouldn't be covering it for the Times.

Were the story the paper printed true, Michael R. Gordon would have had part of that byline. And it is to Gordon that Barack explained what would happen if he were president and was planning -- or had started -- withdrawal (he's not talking of doing a withdrawal, he's talking of doing a drawdown, they are not the same thing). He was very clear what would happen. It's a shame no one listened in real time. But the paper's not going to put Michael Gordon on the puff piece about Barack because Gordon's going to note what's being fed contradicts what Barack has publicly stated. He'd note that if only to give himself credit for his earlier interview. (He'd also note it because he believes US troops need to remain in Iraq.)
Ahmed Rasheed, Khalid al-Ansary,Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) report that Ayad Allawi is calling out Nouri's attempts to steal the election, demanding a "caretaker government" to prevent that and states, "We will not stay silent in the face ofw hat is happening in the Iraqi political areana with attempts to marginalize and exclude the Iraqiya list." Alsumaria TV reports, "Kurdistan Alliance member Mahmoud Othman announced that the decision of the Justice and Accountability Commission to invalidate the votes of some winning candidates in elections is dubious mainly that it has allowed them to stand in elections while it banned others ahead of the electoral process, Othman noted." Saif Nasrawi (Al-Masry Al-Youm) reports that Allawi was in Egypt today and met with the country's President Hosni Mubarak and the two discussed "ongoing efforts to form the new Iraqi government."

Allawi's political slate won 91 seats in the Parliament in the March 7th elections while Nouri's party won 89 seats. In the time since, Nouri has thrown non-stop tantrums.
Jason Ditz ( reviews some of Nouri's attempts to invalidate the election:

Maliki's party got a ruling from the Iraqi High Court saying that the number of MPs who are seated in the first session of parliament, not the number actually elected, which decide who gets to form the government. Since then Iraqiya's winning members have faced harassment, arbitrary detentions, and efforts by the
Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC), which disqualified hundreds of Iraqiya candidates before the vote, to disqualify many of the winning MPs after the fact.
Iraqiya has
already lost two MPs to an Iraqi court ruling, and scores of non-winning candidates have also been lost, setting up possible gains for State of Law, the Kurdistan Alliance, and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) in those districts.
Beyond that, JAC is looking to oust another nine MPs, mostly Iraqiya, at least one of their MPs is being indefinitely detained by the Maliki government, and the Maliki government has also promised to dramatically change the results of the Baghdad vote with a manual recount. When all is said and done Iraqiya would likely be a distant second if not a third place finisher in the parliament, despite having won the actual election.

An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy writes at Inside Iraq about issues facing Iraqis more important than the battles between Allawi and al-Maliki including:

Improving and developing the relation with the owner of the private generator is for sure more important than any political issue because it means having more electricity during our long summer season. Negotiations about one or two extra work hours will be very hard because of the high cost of the fuel and the greed of the owners. From their own sides, the owners of the generators will work for the best agreements with the electricity engineers who supervise providing Baghdad sectors with electricity. They will ask them to supply the areas with electricity during the work hours of the generator which means less generating hours with the same high prices for the supply. We already started the suffering of power shortages and these days we have electricity less than six hours a day.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .

Reuters notes 2 Baghdad sucide car bombings which claimed 5 lives (plus drivers of cars) and left seventeen people injured, a Baghdad truck bombing which injured four people, a Baghdad mortar attack on the Green Zone and two Baghdad roadside bombings which left six people injured. Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – A United States Division-North Soldier was killed in Diyala province. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4393 the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War.

Last week, Ned Parker broke the news about a secret prison in Iraq housing Sunnis which was under the command of Nouri al-Maliki in "
Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times). On the secret Iraq prison, Human Rights Watch issued the following:
(Baghdad) - Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraq should thoroughly investigate and prosecute all government and security officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed. The men's stories were credible and consistent. Most of the 300 displayed fresh scars and injuries they said were a result of routine and systematic torture they had experienced at the hands of interrogators at Muthanna. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions. "The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systematic brutality." The Iraqi authorities should establish an independent and impartial inquiry to investigate what happened at Muthanna, determine who was responsible, and prosecute them, Human Rights Watch said, including anyone in authority who failed to prevent the torture. The government also needs to ensure that courts will not admit any confessions obtained through torture. The men interviewed said the Iraqi army detained them between September and December 2009 after sweeps in and around Mosul, a stronghold of Sunni Arab militants, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They said torture was most intense during their first week at Muthanna. Several well-informed sources told Human Rights Watch that this secret facility was under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's military office. All the detainees interviewed described the same methods of torture employed by their Iraqi interrogators. The jailers suspended the detainees handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee's head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body.
During the interrogations, security officials mocked the detainees and called them "terrorists" and "Ba'athists." To stop the torture, detainees said, they either offered fake confessions or signed or fingerprinted a prepared confession without having read it. Even after they confessed, many said, torture persisted. The detainees told Human Rights Watch of other torture methods as well. They described how interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels and, the detainees said, raped younger detainees, who were then sent to a different detention site. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards. Interrogators also forced some detainees to molest one another. Security officials whipped detainees with heavy cables, pulled out fingernails and toenails, burned them with acid and cigarettes, and smashed their teeth. If detainees still refused to confess, interrogators would threaten to rape their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters. The interrogation sessions usually lasted three or four hours and occurred every three or four days. Muthanna held more than 430 prisoners before their transfer to other detention facilities earlier this month. For months, nobody knew their whereabouts. Detainees had no access to their families or legal counsel. They were not issued any official documents or even a detainee or case number. An investigative judge heard cases in a room down the hall from one of the torture chambers in the facility, they said. After the Los Angeles Times first reported the abuse at the Muthanna detention facility on April 19, the Iraqi government said it would investigate the torture claims and has arrested three army officers in connection with the abuse. "What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind," Stork said. "Everyone responsible, from the top on down, needs to be held accountable." The following are excerpts from the detainees' testimony:
Detainee A was captured with 33 others in Mosul on the night of September 17, 2009: "The interrogators would tie my arms behind my back and blindfold me before they would hang me upside down and beat me. They would suffocate me with a bag until I passed out and would wake me with an electric shock to my genitals. Even after they forced me to confess that I killed ten people, the torture never stopped. Ten days before I was transferred out on April 8, I endured a horrific beating for speaking to an inspection team from the Human Rights Ministry. After they left, the prison staff beat me so badly that I urinated blood."
Detainee B is a pediatrician who saw one of his cellmates dragged out for a torture session on January 18, 2010. When they brought him back to the cell, the doctor noticed swelling above his liver and suspected internal bleeding and told the guards that the man needed immediate medical attention. The guards took the tortured man out but returned him an hour later saying that he was fine. He died in the cell an hour later.
Detainee C was arrested in September in Mosul: "The torture sessions lasted for hours on end. The guards would come into our cell and grab three or four detainees at a time. They would walk us to the interrogation room to begin the abuse. They would beat us for hours and so badly that we could not stand up so they would have to drag us back to our cells. They would let us recover for three days before the cycle of torture began anew."
Detainee D, a formal general in the Iraqi army and now a British citizen, who is in a wheelchair, was arrested on December 7, after he returned to Mosul from London to find his son, who had been detained. His jailers refused him medicine for his diabetes and high blood pressure. "I was beaten up severely, especially on my head," he told Human Rights Watch. "They broke one of my teeth during the beatings. ... Ten people tortured me; four from the investigation commission and six soldiers. .... They applied electricity to my penis and sodomized me with a stick. I was forced to sign a confession that they wouldn't let me read."
Iraqi soldiers arrested Detainee E, a 21-year-old, on December 19 at his home in Mosul: "During the first eight days they tortured me daily. They would put a bag on my head and start to kick my stomach and beat me all over my body. They threatened that if I didn't confess, they would bring my sisters and mother to be raped. I heard him on the cellphone giving orders to rape my sisters and mother." During one torture session, the man, who was blindfolded and handcuffed, was stripped and ordered to stroke another detainee's penis. After he was forced to the floor, the other detainee was forced on top of him. "It hurt when it started to penetrate me. The guards were all laughing and saying, 'He's very tight, let's bring some soap!' When I experienced the pain, I asked them to stop and that I would confess. Although I confessed to the killings, I mentioned fake names since I never killed anyone. So the torture continued even after I confessed because they suspected my confession was false." One of the guards also forced him to have oral sex.
Detainee F was arrested with his brother in Mosul on December 16. His interrogators strung him upside down and severely beat him with his eyes blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. He suffered broken ribs from the beatings and urinated blood for days. The interrogators threatened to rape his wife if he did not confess. One time he was stripped naked and told to penetrate another naked inmate lying on the floor or that he would otherwise be raped by two male guards.
Detainees G and H, father (59) and son (29) respectively, were arrested at their house in Mosul on September 30. Both endured sessions in which interrogators hung them upside down and beat them. During one session the father was stripped naked in front of the son, and the son was told they if he did not confess they would rape his father. The father was told that if he did not confess they would kill his son. The son was subsequently sodomized with a broomstick and the guards' fingers.
Detainee I, 24, was arrested on September 30 in Mosul. He still has severe leg injuries and wets his bed after he was sodomized numerous times with a broomstick and pistol. During one session, an interrogator told him that they would rape his mother and sister if he did not confess. During another beating, interrogators hit him so hard that he lost several front teeth.

Human Rights Watch researcher
Samer Muscati spoke to Melissa Block (NPR's All Things Considered) today:

Samer Muscati: What we saw was horrific. We went to the facilities on Monday and interviewed about 42 detainees who had been transferred from Muthanna and each of them told us of specific cases of torture. Many of the practices that were taken against them were the same in the sense that people were flipped upside down, suffocated with a dirty bag, beaten and hit with belts and other implements until they passed out and they were brought to using electrical shocks and other specific forms of torture as well including pulling out fingernails and breaking fingers.

[. . .]

Melissa Block: You also apparently heard numerous accounts of rape and-and sodomy in this prison.

Samer Muscati: Yes, and it was obviously very difficult for detainees to talk about -- especially in this culture, for a man to be raped or molested -- it's extremely humiliating. And it was extremely difficult for people to talk about what happened to them but I felt that they needed to explain what happened to them because they are seeking justice and accountability for what happened. But it seems that the younger men -- and actually there were minors there as well -- were subjected to rape while the older men were sodomized using various implements and lots of other ways.

In other prison abuse and torture news, the inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa continues. Yesterday,
Marcia explained that the inquiry was told that after Baha died in British custody, Maj Michael Peebles attempted to cover his own end by suddenly making calls to find out what the procedures were for holding a prisoner.

A subcommittee of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee held a hearing today. "The Subcommittee meets today to hear testimony on military pay and compensation," declared Senator Jim Webb, Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee were DoD's William J. Carr, GAO's Brenda Farrell, CBO's Carla Tighe Murray and James Hosek of the RAND Corporation. Webb noted that to retain the quality in the services, compensation must be able to compete with private business and the need for a "robust benefits and compensation program." Webb noted (after the witnesses' opening statements) that when service was compulsary (draft) for males in the US, it was decided to spend more money on the career ranks but when it became voluntary, more money was on the lower end in as a recruiting tool.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: The question that came to mind when I was listening to this, when we're talking about comprability with private sector. For instance when the comment was made if you include other benefits there's about an 80th percentile for the typical military person. I would like to hear from all of you. First of all, which benefits are we including when we do that and which benefits are we not? For instance, on the medical side, do we factor in such things as not having to have malpractice insurance or to pay for an office. Do we count that as compensation when we're looking at comparing what the cost would be on the outside. What are we doing on these different areas? What are we putting in and what are we leaving out when we hit these kind of numbers? Ms. Farrell, you might want to start on that.

Brenda Farrell: Sure, senator. As I noted, the studies differ in what they include. The first -- That's the reason you get different results. Although at this time, the reports that we looked at from my colleagues here all came up showing that the military pay was very favorable. When we're talking about the 10th QRMC including select benefits it was health care, retirement and the federal tax advantage. And we're talking about a very broad base. When you refer to malpractice insurance, I'm thinking maybe you're thinking more of a scenario that's comparing one occupation for a physician in the private sector. These studies are very broad based. And that's the reason that we say they have limitations because the populations differ from -- usually your private sector population is older than what you have in the military workforce. And usually your private sector population has already further ahead in education. As you know, many people join our military with the plans to go on and get that education. So you have different populations in terms of demographics that you're, uh, viewing -- that places some limitations. But with that said, there's -- We feel that the studies that we looked at with CNA being the backup for the data with the 10th QRMC that included the three select benefits took a very reasonable approach. There could be -- There were a couple of comments that were made on the CNA study regarding making assumptions about health care and retirement -- and some other organization could come up with different assumptions. But we still think it's reasonable. One of the assumptions made, for example, about retirement involves the discount rate. You know if someone's going to retire in twenty years and receive $100 -- to make it very simple -- the discount rate that would be the present value today and the discount rate that CNA used could be a little bit on the high side compared to if a different rate was used. So there's differences in the assumptions that are used for these non-cash benefits such as the health care -- trying to place the value on it -- as well as the retirement. Does that help?

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: That helps.

William J. Carr: Sir, to make a point, I think. Military pay, if it's simple and it's understood, for example, pay stub. We've for years used regular military service compensation which is roughly equivalent with pay stub. It considers my basic pay and allowances -- housing allowances for example. And because allowances are not taxable, the tax advantage. An enormous amount of time explaining that to the soldier, sailor, air, marines, so that they can gain some cross-comparison. Whether it's true -- And I'll stipulate that we're 70% against that pay stub measurement or 80% if we included esoteric things that aren't reflected in the pay stub, it's simply used as a means of communicating a baseline. Either one is producing the same effect. 80% if you're using the esoteric, 70% if you're not. But the importance is consistency in use. So if we are 70% today and we've used that measurement for years, and hope to use it into the future, then we're communicating a point at which core retention patterns look okay to us. So what was the pay level then? And we'd say, "Well the regular military compensation, cause we have to account for the tax break, is at this level and, yes, retention was good, and unemployment was that [gesturing below with his hand]." We can communicate in much simpler cogent terms that I think the troops would subsribe to because, first, because we've talked to them in those terms for so long and secondly because it has to do with the pay stub. And they get that.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Well the question though is whether we have the right information out to truly compare because there are a number of concerns. We hear it from the Military Officer Association, etc saying that the pay differential for the same type of job in the military is less. And we need an accurate number, if it's less, it's less. But if you're factoring all of the different pieces in together and it's good, we should say it's good. So the question again becomes what-what are we putting into this when we make the formula? And Ms. Farrell, when I was talking about medical insurance, it was just one of the things that popped into my mind when you were giving your presentation in that you can't sue a military doctor. Federal Tort Claims Act. So there are doctors in civilian practice who spend tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars in medical malpractice insurance in order to cover the possibility of a lawsuit. We, argubably, should factor that in when we look at compensation for medical folks. Just one -- just one of many questions I would have in terms of how sophisticated are we in should people should be concerned about these pay levels as they are right now. They should, maybe they shouldn't. But are we using the right for formula?

Brenda Farrell: Again we think by going with the 10th QRMC's recommendation to includes select benefits, that's an advantage to DoD, to show how good their package really is. And that it could be used as a recruiting or retention tool. We have reported in the past, through our surveys with service members, they lacked an understanding of how their pay compared to counterparts in the private sector and there are a lot of misperceptions out there. Granted, DoD has in its hands full because this is such a large workforce. I mean, they bring in about 180,000 every year, they're maintaining 1.2 million service members, it's a vast array of occupations but by doing -- when you're doing a broad based comparison of how the military compares to the private sector, we firmly believe that the total package should be included. The regular military compensation that Mr. Carr mentioned? We're not saying "Don't look at that." And keep that measurement of how the cash does compare with the civilian but also go with the recommendation to look at select benefits to the extent possible because it will give a fuller picture, it will help DoD to monitor so you can keep pace and be competative with the private sector and it's a good recruiting tool as we said.

Subcommittee Chair Jim Webb: Dr. Hosek, what do you think about that?

James Hosek: Well, various things. The first thing to observe, I think, is that the basic elements, what in the past have been referred to as regular military compensation for officers or enlisted personnel, still constitutes the vast majority of their current compensation even when one considers benefits and allowances -- that is it's on the order of 90%. And what that means to me is that it's really important to make sure that whatever we do, we keep track of that and watch it carefully. The second thing is that probably the most salient benefit to military families on active or reserve duty today would be the health benefit. And that comes not only because the military has pledged to care for military service members and their famiilies and follow through with this health benefit -- it's a fairly comprehensive benefit. But also because the cost of similar services in the private sector have risen dramatically -- at times upwards of 40 or 50% a year increase in cost. Today I believe in the private sector, the cost of a relatively good health care benefit for a family of 4 is around $13,000 whereas at the beginning of the decade, it was probably half that. And so the value of the military benefit can be thought of in terms of what it would cost a military family to obtain quality health care outside. A few years ago -- I want to certainly recognize the find work that's been done by CBO and GAO in this area -- also CNA. But with that comment let me note, a few years ago we did a study at RAND trying to place a value on the military health care benefit by which we made use of information on private sector claims data for providers and skill sets and the aging and ethnic distributions similar to that in the military. To make a story short, we too came up with a number such that when you put it in the full context, enlisted personnel had a benefit including basic pays, allowances, tax -- you know, the non-taxibility of the allowance and the health care benefit, placing their compensation at or around the 80th percentile. For officers, I believe it was at or around the 90th percentile. I'll end there with only additional final comment that as you said at the beginning, as important as it is to look at the elements of pay and be clear about what we're including and how we're doing it. We always want to be able to relate those elements of pay to our recruiting and retenetion outcomes. Thank you.

Senator Jim Webb: And also, if I may, on an issue like health care, that's a moral contract. It's a moral contract that goes beyond benefits and it goes to the life of an individual who spends their career in the military. I can't tell you how many people, in my lifetime, who are career military who point that out while they are on active duty and after they retire.

No, the witnesses are not in agreement. Shortly after, Webb would note that there's really no business model here in terms of the budgeting but that's also true in terms of how they're estimating comparble pay. The easiest way to set a standard, and Webb may end up proposing this, is for Congress to come and declare what is measured and what isn't when calculating a pay scale that you can then compare to the civilian world's pay scale for similar jobs and/or duties. That would actually make the most sense because Congress is going to determine whether or not a bump in pay takes place. They control the purse. So since they'll be the ones determining that, it makes sense to have them set the standards by which to measure whether or not the pay is comparable to the civilian pay.

Mike's been noting KPFT's Queer Voices radio program at his site. One of the features of the program is This Way Out's newswrap which is archived in text form here. Taren James and Michael LeBeau covered a large number of topics this week and we'll note the following:

The U.S. queer community's new grassroots activist pit bulls,
GetEQUAL, upped the pressure on PResident Barack Obama this week over his failure to keep major campaign promises to LGBT Americans. Although Obama has taken several smaller steps seen as favorable or helpful, he's yet to secure passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Equality advocates are increasingly worried that chances for those actions will diminish after mid-term elections in November. While Democrats have significent majorities in both the House and Senate, and of course there's a Democrat in the White House, the majority party typically loses seats two years after a presidential inauguration.
Many in the mostly-younger generation of queer activists became activists after the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Some accuse the country's leading LGBT rights groups of being insider-wannabes who curry favor with administration officials rather than being the "fierce advocates" for equality that Obama himself promised to be. The Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation's largest, and its president Joe Solmonese, are the most frequent targets of that "business as usual" criticism.
GetEqual's latest broadside started April 19th at a political fundraiser for California's Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles. She's facing a strong re-election challenge in November, and Obama was there to help her raise campaign cash.
Five GetEQUAL activists paid their way into the event, and then repeatedly shouted at Obama about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell as he tried to address the gathering.
"Hey! Hold on a second! Hold on a second! We are going to do that!" Obama responded. "Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so I don't know why you're hollerin'."
The following day, April 20th, GetEQUAL protesters returned to the White House for a second round of handcuffing themselves to the fence and getting arrested, a months after the group's initial action there.
Six servicemembers locked themselves up this time. Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo II -- making return visits -- were joined by Petty Officer Larry Whitt, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cadet Mara Boyd and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas. "We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again," Choi said, "to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Thomas said that the protest by Choi and Pietrangelo last month "made me realize that I needed to do something to stand up for all the black female soldiers who have been discharged. . . Many people don't know that we Black women are discharged disproportionately more than others under Don't Ask Don't Tell."
The six protesters were taken into custody and released the following afternoon. Their court dates are pending. In an unsettling footnote, U.S. Park Police forced media people covering the event away from the action. "The park's closed. Back up," the Park Police officer yelled repeatedly as he herdered journalists away from the protest. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Scholosser apologized the following day, telling that his department "screwed up."
GetEqual continued its onslaught in the U.S. capital on April 21st, disrupting a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- or ENDA -- be marked up and sent to the House floor for an immediate vote. GetEqual cofounder Robin McGehee tried to give committee Chairman George Miller a magic marker so he could "mark up" EDNA. "I don't know if because of the recession that you guys can't afford markers or whatever the issue is," McGehee said, "but in our community there are people being fired [every day] because they are lesbian, gay, bi or transgender." "We're working on that as expeditiously as we can," Miller responded. "Thank you very much."
ENDA has been stuck in Miller's committee since last year even though openly gay U.S. Representative Barny Frank of Massachusetts had said it would be voted on by the end of 2009. More recently, Frank, openly gay Representative Jared Polis of Colarado, openly lesbian Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called the bill a priority and said that they have the vote to pass it. The protesters were not arrested. Polis escorted them from the hearing room. Frank called the disruption "immature" and "tacky," and "a stupid thing to do . . . I understand people are frustrated and angry," he added, but the action was "no help whatsoever."
"We've waited too long already," McGehee said in response. "We have been promised since last year and, since the 90s, that we were going to have employment protection put in place. And yet, we still don't have it on the House floor." As if to jump on the GetEQUAL bandwagon, more than 230 U.S. LGBT and supportive groups signed on to a one-sentence statement to Congress on the same day: "Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW!" The United States has not seen this kind of burgeoning grassroots activism since the heyday of ACT UP in the late 1980s.

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