Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nicole Colson, always whoring to cover for a man

Elaine's "Nicole Colson can't stop lying" from last night is a must read. You really must read it.

Nicole Colson is one of those sexists who pretends she's a feminists. We addressed her at Third (after Nicole wrote a trashy e-mail to C.I.). We noted how she is male defined and all her reference points are men. "Nicole Colson forgot to write Third" is the piece I'm referring to.

In her snitty, bitchy e-mail, Nicole insisted:

Agree or disagree with me all you want about the case against Assange, that is completely your right.

What is not okay is the lies you are using to try and smear me. I am not "forever attacking women" nor have I ever "used sexism to trash Hillary Clinton." In fact, the paper I work for published an article AGAINST the sexist attacks on Clinton during the campaign. Anything I have written that opposes Clinton was and is on the basis of her policies, not her gender.

She goe son to whine about articles not being cited. They had been. By Ava and C.I., by Elaine, by all of us throughout 2008. She's a sexist bitch. That's all Nicole is. If she needs one example, how about that sexist crap she wrote about campaign theme songs?

I can provide a host of examples.

But I won't waste my time on the trash.

I do agree, however, that it's cute the way she insists that she's not sexist and that Socialist Worker defended Hillary against the sexist attacks . . . in a report written by someone other than Nicole.

She's no feminist.

In fact, few of the women at Socialist Worker qualify as feminist. They're too busy working for the man, whoring out their own talents to please a man, to champion a man.

They don't know the first thing about empowerment, they'll gladly serve the coffee at the political function just so long as they're invited.

Elaine nailed Nicole Colson perfectly.

How typical. The only person she can call out in her latest bad article is the idiot Naomi Wolf. She can't call out Tariq Ali or Dave Lindorff or Ray McGovern or any of the men who've done exactly what Naomi Wolf has. She can't even name them as offenders.

But she tell you Naomi Wolf was in the wrong.

How typical of Nicole Colson, always whoring to cover for a man.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, February 10, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Shi'ite pilgrims are targeted, Iraqi Christians migration is studied, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan names names and declares, "But the people who are high up in the anti-war movement, high up in these organizations that literally used me to promote anti-Bush -- you know, the anti-Bush agenda -- which I was anti-Bush, I still am anti-Bush -- to promote that agenda without following through on, you know, what I felt was the most important thing and that's ending the wars.," and more.
We'll open with Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan. Abby Martin (Media Roots Radio) interviewed Cindy and you can stream it here.
Abby Martin: We just wanted to jump kind of straight to the point here.
Abby Martin: You know, it seemed like when you were the figurehead of the peace movement, the mainstream media was fully behind you and then it seemed like they turned against you and the antiwar movement turned against you too. They used you as a symbol and they used you as kind of a scapegoat. Do you want to elaborate on that? What did you think about when that happened?
Cindy Sheehan: Uh, well first of all when I went to Crawford in 2005 it was a media circus. I remember like on the third or fourth day, there was this really cool AP photographer named Matt and he was down there constantly. And every day, I'd say, "Matt, is it a media circus yet?" And he'd go, "Not quite. Not quite." Then about Thursday, it was a media circus. He agreed that it was a media circus. And I think that -- You know, I used to think that the media was biased towards the right when Bush was president. And so a lot of that media -- and all the media, when they started to realize that I was like serious, I wasn't just a fluke and I wasn't going to go away, they like put the brakes on it and started to marginalize me, painting me as just a grieving mother or a slightly off-kilter because of my grief. And so that started to happen that summer. But still the so-called progressive liberal media, I was still like featured so many times on, you know, like Randi Rhodes or Stephanie Miller or Ed Schultz or whomever was considered on the left up until the Democrats came back into power in 2007. And then they didn't like it that I was saying the same thing about the Democrats that I said about the Republicans. So that came to an end. And I realized then when the Democrats came back into power -- and, you know, I'm just naming names. You know. Organizations like United For Peace & Justice and MoveOn. I realized then that they were not peace organizations. You know, United For Peace & Justice should really be United For Electing Democrats. And MoveOn really is like 'Let's Move On To Full Democratic Tyranny of Our Government.' And so, yeah, they didn't like somebody who realized that it was a systemic problem not a problem of political parties or -- You know, it wasn't just a problem for one side, it was a problem for the world. And so it's been hard -- especially since Obama's been elected because, especially in the beginning, I felt like I was one of the only people in this entire country who was saying, "No, he's -- First of all, why did you support him when he said he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan? When he said he was going to increase hostilities to Pakistan? And, you know, all of his hostile rhetoric against Iran and places like that. And his votes during the Senate? Supporting war, paying for the war, supporting the reauthorization of the Patriot Act for example? Things like that." I was like, "How can you? We have good candidates."
Abby Martin: Right.
Cindy Sheehan: We have Cynthia McKinney. We have Ralph Nader. They always have said and done the right things. So why are you supporting someone who's against what you supposedly believe in? You were against those same things when Bush was president. Why are you now pro these things now that Obama's president? So it was really, really hard, you know. But I never once considered saying, "Oh, let's just give him a chance. Let's wait and see." You know, because of the three days after, the three days after he was [sworn in] he bombed Pakistan. So it-it seems to be getting a little better. A lot of people are starting to come around. But I think that it's just -- it's just like finally, two years into this administration, you're against the wars again.
Abby Martin: Again, yeah. That's why I loved that, I remember I saw you immediately after Obama got elected, I think I saw you in San Diego speaking at the peace rally.
Cindy Sheehan: Right, it was a couple of months after, yeah.
Abby Martin: And you were just saying the same things. You said, "Why are we surprised he said he was going to do the things."
Abby Martin: "We shouldn't be shocked that he's doing them. He's an aggressive imperialist. This is -- this is who he campaigned on -- as." So I loved that. You didn't skip a beat. So that means you're a true advocate for peace. And a lot of people align themselves with the Democrats and think that's-that's an alternative and that's for peace. It doesn't make any sense. They're both aggessive imperialists, they're just two sides of the coin.
Cindy Sheehan: But there's -- but there's some people who are so-called anti-war, so-called peace activists who know the two party system is a sham, who know the Democrats are no different from the Republicans. But still it's about political party over policy and over peace and over progressivism. And so we can't -- There's some people who had just had it after eight years of the Bush administration, like all of us did. And they wanted a change and they didn't care what Obama was saying. They saw how he was saying it, they didn't hear what he was saying. So those people are one thing. But the people who are high up in the anti-war movement, high up in these organizations that literally used me to promote anti-Bush -- you know, the anti-Bush agenda -- which I was anti-Bush, I still am anti-Bush -- to promote that agenda without following through on, you know, what I felt was the most important thing and that's ending the wars.
Abby Martin: Yeah. Right. Exactly.
Cindy Sheehan: There's no excuse for those people.
Abby Martin: Right. There isn't. And just going along with what you're saying, it's astounding, that video I sent you about just interviewing people in the Bay Area and how asleep they are. All these people, they love Obama but they don't know why. They can't tell you one thing that he's doing.
Abby Martin: And just encountering other peace activists. Do you think -- Do you see more of a trend now, like you said, two years into his presidency, finally, do you see people waking up more and saying, "Oh my G**! I was duped!"
Abby Martin: So you are encountering that a lot more?
Cindy Sheehan: Yes and just like it happened when Bush was president that so many Republicans e-mailed me and said that they felt the same way. You know, at first they hated me but then they really started to research or he did something that sent them over the edge or whatever. And that started happening at the end of the Bush administration. And it's starting to happen now too because, I think really, the people who were opposed to Bush and opposed to his policies are -- I would think they were more of the intelligent people in our country. So it's not going to take them eight years to wake up like it took some Bush supporters. I'm not saying Bush supporters are stupid. [Laughter.] I guess I am saying that. If you supported Bush and still support him, what's the matter with you? Really. Come on.
Abby Martin: It's just, I almost feel like they're -- Yeah, I'd love to give people the benefit of the doubt and be like, you know, it's going to take you a couple of years to wake up. But I mean, if you got it and you woke up during the Bush administration, I don't see how you got duped at all.
Cindy Sheehan: Absolutely.
Abby Martin: There was really no -- I just don't see it. No change in civil liberties, no change in foreign policy.
Cindy Sheehan: Except for the worse. Except since Obama's been president, many things have gotten worse.
Abby Martin: Oh, yeah, exactly.

Again, you can stream it here at Media Roots Radio. Time permitting, we'll note more of the interview tomorrow. It's a really frank and important interview (as is to be expected from Cindy). And she has praise as well, including for World Can't Wait which she sees as a real organization dedicated to peace. (In fact, World Can't Wait should make their slogan, "Peace Mom approved.")
Death was in the ancient fortress
Shelled by a million bullets
From gunners, waiting in the copses
With hearts that threatened to pop their boxes
As we advanced into the sun
Death was all and everyone
-- "All and Everyone," written by PJ Harvey, from her forthcoming album Let England Shake released next Tuesday
CNN reports that an Al-Dujail "suicide bomber drove into a rest tent for Shiite pilgrims" and took his own life and that of 8 other people while thirty more were left wounded. Xinhua has the pilgrims marching and a car rigged with explosives going off as they passed and notes: "The pilgrims were heading to Samarra, some 110 km north of Baghdad to mark the death of Iman Hassan al-Askari at his tomb in the shrine of Ali al-Hadi in the Sunni dominated city. The shrine of Ali al-Hadi is one of the four most revered Shiite shrines in Iraq. It contains the tombs of Ali al-Hadi who died in 868 A.D. and Hisson Hassan al-Askari who died in 874 A.D." AFP adds, "The mosque itself was built in 944, and the golden dome was added in 1905." The golden dome, Lara Jokes (AP) reminds, was "sheered off" in February 2006 bombings, "Its destruction in 2006 sent Iraq into a downward spiral of violence between Sunnis and Shiites that left whole neighborhoods around the country cleansed and divided by sect." Sabah al-Bazee, Waleed Ibrahim, Jim Loney and Mark Trevelyan (Reuters) notes 8 people died and quotes Raysan Abood stating, "I know them by name. They were our friends and they were delivering food and tea to the pilgrims who came from other towns." They also note it was a suicide car bombing. In other reported violence?
Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) reports a Baghdad bombing which left two people injured. Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing injured one Iraqi soldier, a second Mosul roadside bombing wounded one police officer and a third Mosul roadside bombing left a young girl injured.
Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) reports 1 corpse was discovered in Baghdad.
How is our glorious country ploughed
Not by iron ploughs
How is our glorious country ploughed
Not by iron ploughs
Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet
Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet
-- "The Glorious Land," written by PJ Harvey, from her forthcoming album Let England Shake released when? This Tuesday.
Alsumaria TV reports protests took place in Babel Province today with one protest calling for the release of prisoners and another calling out the continued lack of public services. Dar Addustour reports the the Council of the Bar Association issued a call for a Baghdad demonstration calling for corruption to be prosecuted, for the Constitution to be followed and sufficient electricity in all the schools. Nafia Abdul-Jabbar (AFP) reports that approximately 500 people (mainly attorneys "but also including some tribal sheikhs") marched and that they also decried the secret prisons. They carried banners which read "Lawyers call for the government to abide by the law and provide jobs for the people" and "The government must provide jobs and fight the corrupt." Bushra Juhi (AP) counts 3,000 demonstrating and calls it "one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Iraq" this year. Juhi also notes that attorneys staged smaller protests in Mosul and Basra today. Al Rafidayn reports that five provinces saw protests yesterday as the people demanded reliable public services and an end to government corruption. Noting the Babylon Province protest, the paper quotes Amer Jabk (Federation of Industrialists in Babylon president) stating that the provincial government has not provided any of the services the province needs, that basic services have deteriorated and that heavy rains have not only seen streets closed but entire neighborhoods sinking. Hayder Najm (niqash) observes protests have taken place across Iraq, "The protesters' grievances have been many and varied: the quality and level of basic services, government restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of expression, violations against civil servants, and the rampant financial and administrative corruption within state institutions. [. . .] Eight years after the US invasion of Iraq, the electricity supply in most areas of the country still does not exceed two hours a day, and the country still suffers from poor infrastructure, a weak transport network, and an acute crisis of drinking water and sanitation."
October 31st kicked off the latest wave of targeting Christians in Iraq with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Catholic Culture reports that Iraq's Ministry of Tourism has announced Pope Benedict XVI may visit Iraq, specifically make a pilgrimage to Ur. Meanwhile Simon Roughneen (National Catholic Register) reports:

Al Qaeda in Iraq has targeted the country's fast-disappearing Christian population, describing them as "legitimate targets" and causing unknown hundreds of thousands to flee in recent years. Out of an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million Christians during the Hussein era, now less than half are thought to remain in the country.
Since an Oct. 31 attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, thousands more Iraqi Christians have run to Turkey. Exact figures are unknown, but Chaldean Church records show more than 600 arrivals in December 2010 alone, which exceeds the total arrivals for all of 2009.
The Oct. 31 attack began when Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda took Sunday worshipers hostage. As police moved in, 58 people, including two priests, were killed. According to accounts of the carnage, a young child was killed when one of the attackers blew himself up inside the church. Over 100 more were wounded.
The latest arrivals are seeking asylum in Turkey and applying for formal refugee status in the hope of transfer to third countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia. According to Father Gabriel, a Turkish Chaldean priest from the east of that country and now on sabbatical from his parish in Brussels to assist refugees in Istanbul, the resettlement process takes about two years.

Some of the injured in the October 31st assault found medical treatment and asylum in France. Jim Bitterman (CNN) reports, "They are part of a group of nearly 60 brought here in early November after a bloody massacre at their church in Baghdad. In that attack, believed to have been carried out by al Quaeda, 56 people died, including two auxiliary priests, and more than 70 were injured -- among them the parish priest of Our Lady of Salvation, Father Raphael Kuteimi." The International Organization for Migration provides [PDF format warning] an update on Iraqi Christians through January 31st. The report notes that Erbil has seen an increase in Internally Displaced People families. It explains, "Monitors in Baghdad report that Christians continue to face grave threats. Some Christians remaining in Baghdad rely on newly-created security checkpoints near their homes for protection, and church leaders are in contact with Iraqi security forces for assistance in protecting their communities. However, despite increased security measures an atmosphere of extreme insecurity persists among Christians remaining in Baghdad and many still intend to move or emigrate." And beyond temporary?
An increasing number of displaced Christian families intend to integrate into their current location. IOM monitoring teams in the field report that a clear majority of the displaced Christians in Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah governorates now plan to settle in their current location due to stable security environments and welcoming host communities. However, a far smaller number of the displaced Christians in Ninewa governorate expressed a desire to remain in their location of displacement. Monitors estimate that fewer 10% of the displaced in the Bashiqa district of Mosul intend to integrate locally.
While many displaced Christian families intend to locally integrate, monitors also report increasing Christian emigrations. IOM monitors only assess internally displaced persons, but monitoring teams have been told by community leaders of increasing Christian emigration to Turkey since November 2010, which is confirmed by colleagues in Turkey as well as recent media reports.
Turning to England where the Tenth Imperial War Museum Film Festival Awards were held in London. Richard Moss (Culture reports, ". . . Iraqi filmmakers dominated the honours in the museum's Annual Film Festival Awards by grabbing two out of the three main prizes. Doctor Nabil (2007), a searing documentary recounting the experiences of a surgeon working in a busy and under-resourced Baghdad hospital, won the Audience Poll for the young Iraqi documentary maker Ahmed Jabbar. Best Documentary went to fellow Iraqi Emad Ali for A Candle for the Shabandar Cafe (2007). The film tells the story of a the favourite haunt of Baghdad's writers and intellectuals which was destroyed in March 2007 by a suicide bombing which ripped the heart out of the historic Al-Mutanabbi street book market killing 26 people."
I have seen and done things I want to forget
A Corporal whose nerves were shot
Climbing behind a fierce, gone sun
I seen flies swarming everyone
Soldiers fell like loads of meat
These are the words, the words are these
Death lingering, stunk
Flies swarming everyone
Over the whole summit peak
Flesh quivering in the heat.
This was something else again
I fear it cannot explain
The words that make, the words that make murder
What if I take my problem to the United Nations
What if I take my problem to the United Nations
What if I take my problem to the United Nations
-- "The Words That Maketh Murder," written by PJ Harvey, from her forthcoming album Let England Shake
The Status Of Forces Agreement was misunderstood by many (and many understood it but chose to lie about it). The SOFA is a treaty. It's not a valid one for the US because it didn't follow the Constitution. Joe Biden knows that and he and Barack were opposed to it . . . until the day after the election when that lovely campaign website scrubbed the objection. Suddenly, they were happy to have the War Criminal George W. Bush's treaty and damn the Constitution and damn Senate approval. Bush pushed it through and a Democratic administration ran with it. Meaning that a precedent has been established -- call it another facet of the unitary executive view -- and future presidents will likely resort to it for treaties that cannot pass the Senate. That's not a minor damage and it's one that future generations will have to deal with it.
Having noted the legal aspect, let's move to what it was. As we have always explained, all the SOFA did was replace the UN Security Council mandate. There was not UN resolution to allow for war. It is an illegal war of choice started by War Hawks in various countries. But after the war started, the UN Security Council did do a resolution which made it legal for forces to be on the ground. It was a yearly mandate. It was renewed near automatically each year. The first time the renewal was a big problem -- so much so that even the US press had to take note -- was near the end of 2006 when the new prime minister Nouri renewed it. The Parliament was enraged. They said they had to be informed and they had to approve. This is important to grasping the SOFA, pay attention if you're new to the topic. They were right on that per the country's Constitution. Nouri swore that if it was renewed again, he'd get their approval. He was so full of regrets. Never trust a word from Nouri. In 2007, the UN resolution was again due to expire. Did Nouri go to the Parliament?
No, Nouri signed off on it on his own. If the Parliament and the people were enraged in 2006, a new word needed to be created for what they felt as 2007 drew to a close and 2008 began. The UN mandate kept Iraq in receivership on many issues. It didn't have true control over monies and assets. For certain things (the tag sale) the US wanted, it was in the US interests to stop using the mandate. For Nouri to get his hands on more oil money (oil money from before the war began), he needed to get out of receivership as well. So it was in both the US government and Nouri's interest to drop the UN out of the equation and draw up an agreement just between the two countries. In doing so, the repeat objection was known and discussed. It was thought that Nouri couldn't keep going back yearly, it was hurting him politically. So they'd make it a three year contract (actually they were yearly options which could run three years). Whatever happened after the three years (end of 2011), they could deal with then but Nouri wouldn't have to go through the yearly signing and deal with the backlash. When the SOFA was in doubt (in terms of being signed, not in terms of legal) Joe Biden was very clear about what happened if the US didn't get the SOFA: US forces had to immediately leave. If the UN mandate wasn't renewed by Iraq and an agreement didn't replace it, then US forces could not legally be on Iraqi soil. Making the agreement a three-year arrangement spared Nouri a great deal of grief. Nouri promised the Parliament that, if they'd vote for it, it would go to the people for a vote. That vote was supposed to take place in July 2009. Guess what? Nouri's promise? He never kept it.
That's Nouri. The same Nouri who courted the US government during the political stalemate by assuring them that support for Nouri meant an extension of the SOFA. Did he mean it? With Nouri, one never knows. Where the US government is currently is hoping that Nouri will extend the SOFA before the end of this year. (The SOFA waited until Thanksgiving Day, some of the UN mandate renewals came as the year was closing.) So it may yet happen. But the US government has a back up plan. US forces (and contractors) remain in Iraq past the end of this year but they get around it by taking these forces from under the control of the Defense Dept and putting them under the State Dept. This has been reported, this has been discussed in open Senate hearings (including last week in Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing and in Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing). So when Adm Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declares, "all troops out of Iraq" by the end of this year, he's being dishonest which is also known as lying.
This would be the weaponization of diplomacy. In England today, Oxfam issued the following release:

The UK government should learn from other countries' costly mistakes and resist the temptation to use the UK's internationally respected aid programme to pursue narrow military and security interests, Oxfam said today.

Whose Aid is it Anyway? a report published today by the international agency found that billions of pounds of international aid that could have transformed the lives of people in the poorest countries in the world has been spent on unsustainable, expensive and sometimes dangerous aid projects, as donor governments including the US, Canada and France have ignored international agreements and used aid to support their own short-term foreign policy and security objectives. Aid budgets have also been increasingly skewed towards Iraq and Afghanistan at the expense of equally severe conflicts and crises elsewhere.

Although the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan clearly increased the amount of aid the UK spent in those two countries, overall the UK has followed better practice than many other major donors.

There is a danger the UK will increasingly use aid to pursue foreign policy objectives, a move which would tarnish its reputation as a global leader on aid. During 2010, the coalition government has emphasised the need for greater integration of the work of the foreign office, ministry of defence and DFID, and has brought aid for priority countries under the scrutiny of the new National Security Council. There is also a requirement on DFID to show that UK aid overall is making the "maximum possible contribution to national security".

Kirsty Hughes, Oxfam Head of Policy, said: "British aid to fragile states is at a crossroads. Ministers have a choice between making every penny of British aid count for poor people or prioritising short-term security goals that risk leading to over-expensive, ineffective and often dangerous aid, while making little impact on security and stability."

Three reviews of aid, expected to report in the next two months, will be vital in determining the UK's path. A government-commissioned, independent review of UK humanitarian assistance in conflicts and natural disasters, led by Lord Ashdown, will assess the appropriate role of the military in humanitarian aid and two official reviews will determine the future of UK bilateral and multilateral aid.

Oxfam's report warns that 225 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or injured in attacks during 2010, compared to 85 in 2002. In part, this reflects the greater number of workers operating in violent places but a large part of the increase was due to a rise in politically motivated attacks. Aid workers' neutrality is compromised if local people see aid as a tool of the military.

Hughes said: "The stark lesson from the last decade is that politicising aid during conflicts does more harm than good. Ill-thought out 'politicised' projects alienate the very people whose 'hearts and minds' they seek to win. Blurring the role between civilian aid workers and the military turns aid workers and the communities in which they work into targets for attack."

Since 2001, more than 40% of the total increase in development aid from the OECD club of rich donors has gone to just two states, Afghanistan and Iraq, with the remainder shared out between around 150 other poor countries, the report found.

Standing at more than $1.5bn in 2010, aid funds used for short-term projects by US military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are now almost as large as the US' worldwide poverty-focused development assistance budget.

Lifesaving humanitarian aid for urgent needs amidst conflict has also been skewed. At best, humanitarian aid per head given annually to the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a twelfth of that spent in Iraq. This is despite the fact that thousands of civilians in the DRC die every year as a result of conflict and per capita income in the DRC is more than ten times lower than in Iraq.

In addition, 'War on terror'-led foreign policy in targeted countries has in some places made it harder for aid agencies to provide help to those who need it. New US and European anti-terror laws have prevented potentially lifesaving aid reaching areas controlled by proscribed groups.

Hughes said: "Britain should reinforce its reputation as a world leader on aid by ensuring that all UK aid is focussed on tackling poverty and meeting vulnerable people's needs. This would do more for Britain's standing in the world than choosing to use aid as a tool of foreign policy.

"Aid will only win hearts and minds when it is clearly distinct from military efforts and aimed at reducing poverty and suffering, rather than addressing the short-term security problems of donor governments."

Read the report: Whose Aid is it Anyway?

To arrange an interview, obtain a copy of the full report or for further information contact: Jon Slater on 01865 472249/ or Rebecca Wynn 01865 472530/ 07769 304351/

Though the issue gets little traction from the US Panhandle Media, the latest Guardian Focus podcast focused on it. Madeleine Bunting explained, "In recent years a disproportionate amount of aid has been swallowed in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq alongside UK military operations. UK aid to Afghanistan alone is set to increase by forty percent over the next three years. I'm Madeleine Bunting and this week's Guardian Focus podcast examines what some call the securitization of aid -- the subordination of aid and development programs to defense and security objectives. And we ask: What is the role aid should play in a war zone?" With that she began a discussion with the Guardian's Jonathan Steele, the European Council on Foreign Relation's Daniel Korski, Oxfam's Mike Leis and War on Want's John Hilary. Excerpt:
John Hilary: I think it's wrong to suggest that the British intervention in Afghanistan has anything to do with development. It's been made quite clear by the government -- [Prime Minister] David Cameron in many of his speeches and also recently in the National Security Strategy -- that Britain's role in Afghanistan is drive by British interests of security and also of geo-strategic principle. It's not a humanitarian intervention a la Blair Doctrine or any of the ideas which have been dealt with over the last ten years. It's a military and strategic intervention. And from that follow all the other consequences. Particularly not for us around the politicization of aid because aid has always been political but around the militarization of aid. Not just the delivery of aid by military or joint-military and civilian teams, but also the use to militarize the Afghan state and that's become one of the characteristics of British and US interventions across the world. It's not just Afghanistan here. You look at Iraq. You look at occupied Palestinian territories where I was some months ago and spoke to the representatives of some European there. They were horrified at the level of militarization of the state. And that's becoming almost the leading theme for us -- build up a state, militarize it, make it stronger --
Madeleine Bunting: Can you explain how aid militarizes the state? And presumably in this instance you're talking about the Afghan state.
John Hilary: In Afghanistan, almost half of the aid given by the US government, for example, has gone to arming the police and building up the military. And so that formation of a highly militarized state with very over, excessively armed police officers with rocket propelled grenades and all of that, that's become a facet of life in terms of our interventions. Again, in Palestine, instead of building up a democratic system, you put all of your eggs in that one militarized basket. You try to build up the strong, excessively hyped state and that's your model for dealing with instability. And that whole stabilization agenda -- this is the whole thing which is sort of forwarding this -- the stabilization agenda is explicitly a militarized agenda not a development agenda.
More room would mean we'd include more. It was an important discussion. One key point in terms of the US, the State Dept and USAID are lumped together in budget and by Barack. In the US, some remember the wars continue. Daniel White (Maine Campus) writes:
In setting out to eradicate an enemy, the United States is creating more enemies.
These wars are happening and here we are at a university, safe and blissfully preoccupied with where our place in society will be. These wars are not a part of our daily awareness, so it is hard to feel connected to them. It is also hard to feel we can make a difference, even if we do oppose war. I am telling you it is worth the effort.
The powers that be prefer the public doesn't know what is going on because people cannot organize against something that is unknown to them. Knowledge is power and there is power in numbers. There is a growing movement on campus to gather strength and support to protest the injustice of these wars and the system that perpetuates them.
If you feel opposed to the wars as we do and want to be a part of something meaningful, please participate in the Maine Peace Action Committee on campus. What you do matters.
Also remembering the wars is the Jewish Daily Forward whose editorial board asks:
How can we forget those American Jews who have fought in these wars, and the 37 who have died? How can we ignore or minimize their sacrifice? Part of the answer lies in the complex attitude toward these wars, burdened as they are with faulty missions and uncertain outcomes. What are we hoping to accomplish in Afghanistan? Why did we invade Iraq in the first place? The imperative to defend Israel is clear and -- in the minds of some, holy -- while our wars just seem intractable.
Listen to the family members of the fallen, and those explanations become empty excuses. "I think people are surprised to learn that Jews serve in the military in America because people think that any Jew interested in serving in the military is going to serve in the IDF," says Beverly Wolfer-Nerenberg, whose brother, Stuart, was killed in Baghdad. "I think that people overlook the fact that Jews living in this country are patriotic and do have a sense of duty and gratitude and are grateful for what this country has given to us over the years."
The truth is, we overlook that fact in ourselves. In some of the painful interviews collected for this week's "Profiles of Our Fallen" feature, we heard from parents initially worried and embarrassed about their childrens' choice. Melinda Kane, whose son, Jeremy, died in Afghanistan, described "the stigma that a nice Jewish boy from Cherry Hill would want to go into the military. It was really unheard of and sadly I was afraid that people would judge my son for being a certain way that was not who he was."

Rick Hampson (USA Today via Cherry Hill Courier Post) wonders about the impacts in the US from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars:
"Americans are used to being successful, and these wars have not been successes," says Mark Lytle, the historian who writes the most current chapters of the U.S. history textbook Nation of Nations. "It erodes the image that Americans are exceptional."
The wars have lasted almost a decade, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and claimed the lives of more than 5,000 U.S. servicemembers and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. The impact on the U.S. military, and military families, is obvious. What about people and places with no military connection?
Yesterday the US House Veterans Affairs Committee heard about JP Morgan Chase breaking the law and harassing veterans. We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot, Kat covered it in "Grading the new Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee," Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "JP Morgan Chase's song and dance" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The crooks get away with it (Ava)." Stephanie Mudick is with JP Morgan Chase and was identified correctly in a paragraph but was wrongly called "Susan" in the transcript of her exchange with Ranking Member Bob Filner. I typed up the transcript and dictated the rest so it was my mistake (and I had "Susan" in my notes so I added a note to Kat, Wally and Ava's posts noting it was my error). My apologies for my mistake. (How was it right in the dictated portion? I was flipping through the various handouts including the prepared statements of the witnesses.)
We'll close with this from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator Patty Murray, released the following statement on the joint report from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development's on veterans homelessness which was released today.

"I commend the Obama Administration for taking real steps to shine a light on a problem that has for too long been ignored. For too long homeless veterans have been forgotten heroes. But this report provides an important foundation to better understand who these veterans are, the nature of the problems they face, and how to develop solutions to address their needs. This is a critical piece of the Obama Administration's laudable effort to prevent and end homelessness among veterans.

"What this report shows is a stark and finally more accurate picture of this serious issue. It shows that the disabilities and mental health challenges facing many of our nation's veterans put many of them, particularly those living in poverty, at greater risk of homelessness. It also shows that current economic conditions and the influx of young veterans are putting many more of our veterans at risk of homelessness."

"What this report calls on all of us to do is clear - more. We need to build on the work we have begun. With the HUD-VASH program that I restarted in 2008 we have been able to provide vouchers and supportive services for those who have sacrificed for our nation but are now homeless. We need to continue this program that has proven its worth.

"But we also need to do more to prevent veteran homelessness before it starts. That means prevention programs like the pilot program I worked with my colleagues to create near some of our nation's military installations. Prevention also includes focusing on getting our veterans into stable employment. We need to help veterans translate the skills and expertise they learned on the battlefield into the skills needed in today's working world.

"We also need the Administration to continue to come together as they have with this report. If we are going to bring veterans off the streets and into steady housing and employment we need VA, HUD, and the Department of Labor to continue working together. I look forward to working with all of these agencies, as well as the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to put forth innovative and effective solutions to get our veterans into safe, secure, and stable housing."

As Chairman of the Senate Housing Appropriations Committee and the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Murray has initiated and passed into law critical help for homeless veterans including the
Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program which provides housing vouchers and supportive services for homeless veterans and the Veterans Homelessness Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) program which provides housing, health and other supportive services at areas adjacent to military installations to help prevent homelessness. Both programs were cited by today's report as critical sources of help for homeless veterans.

Today's report shows that female veterans are twice as likely to be represented in the homeless population as they are to be the U.S. adult female population. Last Congress, Public Law 111-275, Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010, included provisions derived from legislation introduced by Chairman Murray which provides new support for
homeless women veterans reintegrating into the workforce.

Chairman Murray has also introduced
veterans jobs legislation that aims to reduce a rising unemployment rate among returning veterans.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Michelle Obama lied

Michelle Obama appeared on NBC's Today Show today and was asked about her husband dying his hair. She lied. She started saying if he died it, he would have done so years ago.

Michelle, stop lying.

Not since Jaclyn Smith tried to excuse away her gray hair by claiming that her head had a 'shock' because, while filming Charlie's Angels years ago, a rock was thrown and hit her in the side of the head causing the gray has anyone told such a stupid lie.

Clearly, Barack dies his hair.

I have no idea why you would want to lie about something so minor. But if you lie about that, don't expect anyone to believe you on anything else.

I'm doing a short post tonight because I'm weighing a few things. Including how to best address the issues of Little Julie.

I'll probably be talking about that tomorrow night.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, February 9, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Kirkuk sees multiple bombings, protests continue in Iraq, the House Veterans Affairs Comittee hears about JP Morgan Chase's latest scandal and House Rep Bob Filner points out, "You broke the law. Your bank broke the law. Shouldn't someone go to jail for that?," Senator Patty Murray declares, "I'm not going to let the VA minimize the impact of the bill that we passed" and more.
This morning, House Veterans Affairs Committee US House Rep Jeff Miller Chaired the first oversight hearing of the Committee for the new Congressional session exploring violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by JP Morgan Chase Bank. Chair Miller explained in his opening statement, "The Servicemember Civil Relief Act has existed in various forms since the war of 1812 and each version has shared a singular goal: to protect those who protect us. The 2003 version, which I co-sponsored, and the amendments we have made since continue that tradition." He also provided a goal for the hearing: whether or not the SCRA was meeting the needs of service members and their families.
US House Rep Bob Filner was the Chair in the previous session. The 2010 mid-term elections gave control of the House to the Republian Party. Bob Filner is now the Ranking Member on the Committee. In his opening statement, he noted:
Today's hearing seeks to examine why banks such as JP Morgan Chase have overcharged our military familes who are actively engaged in defending our country. While we want to know how these overcharges havppened, I also want to know what they are doing to prevent them from occurring again. As foreclosure filing continue to rise, the effect on Americans has been acute, with my state of California having one of the most affected populations. According to RealityTrac -- I'm sorry, RealtyTrac, California metro areas such as San Diego have been seriously affected by the foreclosures. Like most Americans, many of our nation's heroes see home ownership as an integral part of the American dream. Unfortunately for a number of military families, that part of the American dream became a nightmare when JP Morgan foreclosed on their homes. It is my sincerest hope that JP Morgan Chase will be taking immediate corrective steps to restore these families to their homes as soon as possible.
For context, last Friday's snapshot included this: " Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports that many veterans who mistakenly put their trust in 'special government-backed mortgages,' such as DoD's Homeowner's Assistance Program, have seen their homes taken away from them in foreclosures. In related news, Rick Maze (Army Times) reports that the US Labor Department released unemployment figures today and the unemployment 'rate for veterans climbed to 9.9 percent, up from 8.3 percent the previous month. For Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans, the unemployment rate for January was 15.2 percent. This is a sharp increase from 9.4 percent in November and 11.7 percent in December, a clear trend of worsening job market for younger veterans, many of them combat veterans'." Last Friday, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee) released a statement on the sharp rise in unemployment for veterans which included, "This is very disappointing report that demonstrates clearly the need for us to move quickly to help ournation's veterans find jobs. We all know that veterans going from the battlefield to the working world face a unique set of challenges. And as we see with today's numbers, far too many of our veterans coming home from overseas are having trouble finding work in this tough economic climate." Murray promised in her statement to continue fighting for veterans and to continue her work on job legislation for veterans.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee heard from three panels today. The first panel was made up of Julia and Capt Jonathan Rowles and their attorneys Richard Harpootian and William Harvey. Panel two was JP Morgan Chase's executive vice president from the Office of Consumer Practices Stephanie B. Mudick. The third panel was Col Shawn Shumake (DoD) and Hollister Petraeus (US Treasury Dept).
Richard Harpootian noted Chase's opening statement in his opening remarks and referred to it as "Woops! I made a mistake." He declared, "I was a state prosecutor for 12 years in South Carolina. Every person we ever caught breaking the law, taking something that wasn't theirs, was more than willing to give it back, give a mea culpa and go the other way, be on their way." He stated he wanted to ensure that they were deterred from similar activity in the future and that included upgrading the actions from misdemeanor to felony.
So what happened to the Rowles specifically? They were harassed and threatened. JP Morgan Chase repeatedly threatened to foreclose on their home and attempted to bully the Rowles into payment of more money than they owed on their home mortgage. They also invented little hoops for the Rowles to repeatedly jump through. For example, knowing that Capt Rowles was on active duty, they demanded a verification every 90 days with new threats accompanying them. The Rowles' attorneys are also representing Lt Col Sarah Letts-Smith and Lance Cpl Martin Hupfl who faced similar problems. Letts-Smith, for example. was being threatened with home foreclosure while she was stationed in Iraq.
Chair Jeff Miller: When did you first realize that Chase had violated SCRA? Did you notify the Marine Corps legal staff? And, if you did, what actions did they take on your behalf?
Capt Jonathan Rowles: Yes, sir, I first learned about SCRA while I was at OCS [Officer Candidates School] -- and my rights, thereof. Afterwards, in 2008, after lengthy letters and calls and what not, I did go to the legal staff at NAS Pensacola where I was a flight student at the time. They looked over the case but they were unsure of how to proceed and, due to the volume of other cases that they had at the time they just did not have the resources to pursue it. At which time, we were told, 'We are doing pretty much everything that we could, sir."
Chair Jeff Miller: And you say you were first educated about it at OSC?
Capt Jonathan Rowles: Yes, sir. We got a class while we were at OSC there in Quantico, Virginia, on our rights there to SCRA.
Chair Jeff Miller: Can you give us some idea of the reaction when you contacted JP Morgan Chase and how they handled the situation? And I'm sure you both had conversations with them, so feel free to elaborate.
Capt Jonatha Rowles: Yes, sir. I would characterize it as a delayed and confused. I was asked to fax my orders several times and, being in the field, you would have to -- You would fax your orders, you would go away for a week or two, you'd come back to find, they'd asked for it again. You get a statement that is not correct, so you call to recognize it, they see they need your orders again. Again. At that point, got a letter from my commander as well, just to emphasize the point that I was active duty and sent my orders along with that as well, sir.
Richard Harpootian: Mr. Chairman, I think if Mrs. Rowles could speak, she was pregnant with their second child, he's deployed, the child was born prematurely. She was having to deal with the birth of a child alone and Chase at the same time and she's a little more emotional about it than he is.
Julia Rowles: Yes, sir. Chase always had a problem with acknowledging any of our evidence or of our -- homework, I guess you would say in our SCRA benefits. We would instruct them that we were doing everything we could. We did make our payments every month, on time, in the full amount that they were supposed to be for; however, every month our statements were different. While Jonathan is away -- either in training, flight school or any of his Marine Corps duties, I was left at home to deal with Chase and their problems. We have two children. One of them was born prematurely and had to have a lengthy stay in the hospital but yet at the same time I'm dealing with Chase and getting their phone calls, getting their harassment around the clock. Jonathan missed two hours of our daughter's birthday party because Chase would simply not hang up the phone until he made a payment in which we had already paid our mortgage. This constant harass -- this constant ignorance for the SCRA benefits to service members is ridiculous and it's actually very -- It's very upsetting that for five years, we've had to educate Chase as to the benefits that we were privy to.
Chair Jeff Miller: Entitled to.
Julia Rowles: Entitled to, I'm sorry.
Chair Jeff Miller: Did they ever acknowledge -- I mean, obviously if they kept asking for orders, they must have known that there was something that they had to abide by.
Julia Rowles: We were -- Sir, we were sending them orders quarterly which we later found out we did not have to do. Once you send in orders and verify that you are active duty military, we were acknowledged. We were granted the persmission under the SCRA. That should have been it until his cotract expired and he continued military service. We had -- We have done that time and time again. And it's very -- We didn't have to do this. It's harassment. Even without collection calls, constantly sending them, I guess, his orders and all other paperwork was harassment.
Ranking Member Filner noted that he found what was going on illegal and that it was effecting all Americans and thanked the Rowles for sharing their experience. Filner agreed the actions being taken were illegal but wondered whether or not upgrading the punishment to felony level would just prevent the banks from making the loans? Richard Harpootian noted that the actions were not being taken by banks who had done the loans but by banks who bought the loans when they were resold. (JP Morgan Chase was not the bank the Rowles took their loan out with.) US Rep Michael Michaud wondered if the Rowles had been in contact with JP Morgan Chase management at any time during their ordeal?
Julia Rowles: Yes, there were numerous times when we tried to speak with anyone in management. There were times when we were told we were speaking with management and, to our surprise, management did not know how to fix our problem either. Jonathan and I traveled to Colorado from South Carolina briefly, right before he deployed in July, because we thought we found a mortgage branch manager that said he could help us. And after sitting with him for hours on two different dates, he threw his hands up into the air and said, "I have no clue how to fix your situation. There is nothing I can do. Sorry." And that was pretty much the consensus of every manager we spoke with. I would spend hours trying to find people that would actually talk to us and that would not just write down our name and number and say that they would call us back. We've spoken with managers in South Carolina, to Texas and California. Nobody knew how to fix our problem.
"But when you call your wife at two in the morning just to see how things are going," Capt Jonathan Rowles stated, "and you spend 20 minutes talking about how we can send another letter or how we can make another phone call instead of 'Honey, I love you. How was the day? How's the babies?' It's rough."
As Bob Filner noted during the first panel, "The fact that we have some publicity for what you're going through means we'll have some changes." After identifying herself on the second panel, JP Morgan Chase's Stephanie B. Mudick stated, "Before I go further, I'd like to express to the men and women serving our country and to the memebers of this Committee Chase's deepest regret over the mistakes we made in applying those protections. I commit to you that we will get this right." She acknowledged that Chase charged above the 6% capped interest rate and stated that Chase had identified over charges of $1.8 million and that they intended to repay that amoung along with "7.25% interest from the date of the overcharge." On the issue of forms, she noted that the SCRA requires that the service members is protected from foreclosure or sale while on active duty and for nine months after. (Which would mean that no one needs to supply repeat proof of status every 90 days.) She stated that they have discovered 18 service members who SCRA protections were violated (at least 18 times when Chase broke the law) and that, "In twelve of these cases, we have eitehr rescinded the sale or entered into a settlement with the borrower. We will attempt to make the remaining borrowers whole as quickly as possible."
We'll leap ahead to an exchange between Ranking Member Filner and Mudick.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Uhm, how many executive vice presidents are there at Chase? Or, let me put it another way, how high are you up in the heirarchy there?
Susan Mudick: Uh, I am a member of Chase's Executive Committee which is fewer than a hundred employees at Chase -- at JP Morgan Chase.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And what does the 100 people do? I mean, that's the highest policy making thing in Chase?
Susan Mudick: Uh, there is an Operating Committee which is a group of approximately 20 people.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: How many executive vice presidents are there?
Susan Mudick: I don't have the answer to that question, sir, I'm sorry.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: But you'll find out for me, right?
Susan Mudick: I will indeed.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Could you fix things if we need to ask? I mean, you're here on behalf of Chase so I assume that means you can fix things. Can you fix things? I mean, you said you weren't aware of that hotline number [a JP Morgan Chase number to deal with SCRA problems which Julia Rowles testified was just an answering machine passed off as a hotline and one that has now been disconnected for months]. Can you find it out right away? Can you call someone and say, "What's going on there?"
Susan Mudick: Uh, together with-with my colleagues -- There is -- I would say --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, so you can't fix things.
Susan Mudick (Con't): -- there are many -- Excuse me, sir. I would say that we try and fix whatever --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, the Rowles testified that they didn't have any statements for a year, you hadn't cashed their last mortgage check. Can you fix that today?
Susan Mudick: Uh --
Raking Member Bob Filner: You said you were going to make them whole. They've brought up several questions. Can you fix that?
Susan Mudick: We are trying to fix --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't want a "we." You? Can you fix that?
Susan Mudick: I can, together with my colleagues causes changes to be made in our organization. Uh -- and with respect to the Rowleses -- Uh, uhm, you know,,we are trying to figure out how we can come to an agreement --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Come to an agreement because of a lawsuit. But you said you were going to make them whole. As I read your statement, your average payment to make people whole was seventy dollars. Does that make people whole who've gone through this stuff?
Susan Mudick: The-the median payment is $70 and-and let me explain to you how-how we get to that number.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Because you're just dealing with the amount of interest you overpaid plus some fees, that's all you're dealing with. You're not dealing with any human costs or any emotional costs or any pain and suffering as they would say. You're just dealing with the amount of interest and fees that you overcharged. Right? I mean that's what it says here [holds up Mudick's prepared statement] anyway.
Susan Mudick: Congressman, most of the, uh, service members who were impacted by this, uh, are-are not even aware that they overpaid. And in part that's because the amount they overpaid was not-not material to them.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I can't believe that there's nobody else going through what the Rowles did. But, you know, I mean, you can't make the changes, you're not making them whole. Why should -- You broke the law. Your bank broke the law. Shouldn't someone go to jail for that?
Susan Mudick: Uh --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And who should? Who should? Who's responsible? Are you as the executive v.p. who was given us by the bank to answer for this? Should you go to jail?
Susan Mudick: Uh, we are doing a review internally in order to --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know --
Susan Mudick: -- figure out --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: -- who's responsible?
Susan Mudick: -- who's responsible for what happened.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Are you going to tell us who? Are you going to give us a person? Or people? That are responsible?
Susan Mudick: Well we will certainly hold those folks who are resposible for this accountable.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know about you. You broke the law. How are we going to hold you accountable? Are we going to know who did what when?
Susan Mudick: Uh-uh, as a result of that -- our-our review -- we will be happy to share more information with the Committee.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I'm sure you will. I think you'll have to probably do it in discovery [legal period in a lawsuit before trial in which the opposing sides are supposed to know what the other side knows and have access to paper work, etc.] before you're going to give it to us. It just seems to me that you all, you're not alone in this. You all have no responsibility. Everything you said was impersonal. Nobody is responsible. You said the SCRA coding 'fell off' the statement? I mean nobody took it off, nobody was responsible, it 'fell off.' Wow. Every -- You look at your testimony, everything is impersonal, everything is "we," "they." Nobody is ever responsible. And yet these people's lives have been turned upside down. Somebody or some group of people should be held responsible. And mabye then -- as the attorney said -- maybe then you'll take this seriously, if somebody went to jail, with a white collar. There's no more Mr. Morgan or Mr. Chase, I take it, but somebody should have responsibility for what's going on. You just cannot hide. As the Supreme Court tells us now, you're an individual. You're not just a corporation. Somebody has to come forward and take responsibility for this. You just cannot apologize and give back people 70 bucks and to think this is over. This is not over for them and they're still going through the thing. You heard what they're still going through. And now you can't fix it anyway. So when are they going to get their mortgage statements? Just to take one thing. You should be able to call somebody right now and say, "Get them their mortgage statements." But apparently you can't. You know, I appreciate your apology. But you've broken the law, you've ruined people's lives and people ought to take responsibility for that.
Back to her opening statement, of the Rowles, she stated she'd examined the files "and we clearly made mistakes. The customer service that we provided to him and to his wife was unacceptable. And the fact that this was a service member makes our mistakes all the more inexcusable." Actually, the fact that Rowles is a service member makes JP Morgan Chase's mistakes illegal. "We deeply regret any hardship we caused the Rowles family," she continued. I didn't buy it but it may be the most the Rowles get publicly from JP Morgan Chase so we'll note it.
What happens next for the Rowles will be determined either by the courts or via an out of court settlement. (The media attention today probably means JP Morgan Chase will work very hard to settle out of court. They have no defense at this point. That's what happens when you publicly admit you broke the law -- even when you call that law breaking "mistakes.")
From the House Veterans Affairs Comittee to the Senate Veterans Committee which released the following today:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Yesterday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, sent a letter to Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemember Affairs in the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau at the U.S. Treasury Department, in response to concerns that some financial institutions were not offering protections to servicemembers provided under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Among the safeguards in the SCRA, which is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, are a number intended to ease concerns over financial situations at home for servicemembers. Recently, however, it has come to light that some servicemembers have been improperly overcharged on their mortgages or even been foreclosed upon by lenders.

"I am concerned that numerous military members were improperly overcharged or foreclosed upon while deployed because lenders failed to follow the requirements of SCRA; this is unacceptable," Senator Murray wrote. "I would like your assessment of how well financial institutions are following SCRA, and what additional steps need to be taken to ensure compliance."

The full text of the letter is below:

February 8, 2011

Holly Petraeus, Team Lead
Office of Servicemember Affairs
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Implementation Team
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Washington, DC 20220

Dear Mrs. Petraeus:

Congratulations on your nomination to head the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Bureau will provide consumers, including servicemembers and their families, with the information they need to make better informed financial choices. It will also promote a fair and transparent process for obtaining services like mortgages and credit cards, while enforcing consistency between the providers of these services. Your role in protecting the rights of our servicemembers is especially important as military families, including the Reserves, are experiencing more frequent deployments.

One of the strongest tools to protect servicemembers is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). SCRA's protections, such as the six percent cap on mortgage interest and foreclosure protections, enable our deployed military to stay focused on the mission instead of worrying about their financial situation at home.

I am concerned that numerous military members were improperly overcharged or foreclosed upon while deployed because lenders failed to follow the requirements of SCRA; this is unacceptable. I appreciate the action you took on February 1, 2011, to notify 25 mortgage lenders of their responsibilities under SCRA. This is an important step in making sure these lenders are following the law.

In response to the concerns raised about compliance with SCRA, some companies have already self-identified non-compliance in their home loan business and are working to make corrections. However, I am concerned there may be other lenders that have overcharged or foreclosed upon SCRA-protected servicemembers. It is critical that all lenders provide their employees adequate training and put systems in place to ensure compliance with SCRA.

As you know, SCRA applies to a variety of financial instruments, including consumer loans and credit card debt. It has come to my attention that some companies have identified non-compliance in other service sectors, such as student loans. Companies providing lending services should review their files in order to identify potential violations and move quickly to resolve any they find. As you continue your work on behalf of servicemembers, I hope the scope of your review of financial institutions' practices includes all of the protections covered by SCRA.

Based on your work to date, I would like your assessment of how well financial institutions are following SCRA, and what additional steps need to be taken to ensure compliance.

Thank you again for your work on behalf of servicemembers and veterans. I look forward to hearing from you and to working together in the future.


Patty Murray

We'll come back to service members and veterans later in the snapshot.
Today Kirkuk is in the spotlight with a series of bombings. Lu Hui (Xinhua) reports it was a triple car bombing with two aimed at "police patrols" and the third at a security base. AFP quotes the head of the health department, Sadiq Omar Rasul stating, "We have received eight dead bodies and 68 people have been wounded, they are being treated at Kirkuk General Hospital and Azadi hospital." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports on the bombings and also notes two Baghdad roadside bombings today which have left at least eight people injured. Reuters adds a Tal Afar roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers with two more left injured. The Telegraph of London has video of one of the bombings. MSNBC offers two Reuters photos of the aftermath. Jamal Hashem (Xinhua) surmises, "The latest attacks are almost certainly going to increase pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who showed himself as the strongman persona during his re-election propaganda and promised to restore stability. But Maliki has not yet appointed anyone to the country's security ministries in his cabinet since late December last year." Hayder Najm (Niqash) observes:

It has been about six weeks since Iraq's new government was formed, but the top security posts are still vacant.
The different political parties cannot agree on the candidates for the defence, interior and national security ministries, and this vacuum has led to a new wave of violence in various parts of Iraq.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is managing these ministries himself, including that of intelligence chief. And despite the worsening security situation, he seems in no hurry to fill the posts.
"I don't have to accept candidates if they don't convince me that they are the right ones", he said in an interview on the official Iraqiya TV station.

In other news, Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and puppet of Iraq, insists that "the electricity crisis in Iraq will be resolved by next winter." However, AFP reports, "The electricity ministry needs almost a tenth of Iraq's annual budget for debts and new projects to bring the limping power sector back on its feet, a senior official told AFP on Wednesday. Adel Mahdi, advisor to the electricity minister, also said that between 2012 and 2030 the ministry would need 3.85 billion dollars a year to rebuild the sector and keep up with growing demand." Nouri's become very wealthy as prime minister while Iraqis continue to go without basic services. He also has a pattern of offering pretty (and empty) words. Remember in the provincial elections of 2009? Remember the lack of potable water and his claims that he was fixing the problem immediately but in the meantime enjoy this ice. And then came the day after the elections and the lack of potable water didn't go away. So Nouri could put 10% of the government's budget into addressing the electricity problem; however, it seems very unlikely, based on pattern, that he's going to. Al Rafidayn notes that when making his promise or 'promise' he also stated that Iraqi citizens have a right to protest over the lack of basic services -- which puts him on the same page as the clerics who declared that last Friday (and one who did so Monday). More following from Nouri but very little leadership.

If anything's going to force Nouri's hand, it will be continued protests. Al Rafidayn reports that "dozens" protested in Najaf yesterday over the lack of services and the ration card items and notes the various protests which have taken place across the country and how Diwaniyah was the first last Thursday. One problem with the ration cards (we noted some problems in yesterday's snapshot, this is another one) is that Iraq's implementing a higher tarrif next month on imports. That's going to mean higher prices on some goods. Imported goods? Monday Tony C. Dreibus (Bloomberg News) reported on Iraq's purchase of 300,000 tons of wheat from the United States and Australia.

Yesterday Amnesty International released [PDF format warning] their report "Broken Bodies, Tortured Minds." Alsumaria TV reports that the Ministry of Justice has issued a statement stating "the formation of joint work committees with the Supreme Judicial Council to follow up the pending cases of detainees." Al Mada emphasizes the secret prisons aspect of the report and notes Nouri's denial of any secret prison to AFP on Saturday. Dar Addustour also notes the secret prisons mentioned in the report. (If you haven't read the report, it includes great detail on the torture of prisoners.)
The Iraq War has not ended. Lara Jakes (AP) reports on US soldiers who don't see the ongoing Iraq War as over. Lt Daniel McCord is aware of the continued bombings and shootings and characterizes Iraq as "better" but not "safe." And Rusty Dennen (Free Lance-Star) reports that US soldiers are still deploying to the ongoing war, specifically 850 from the Virginia National Guard who will do "final training in Indiana in June"and then head to Iraq.
In the US, Lindsay Wise (Houston Chronicle) reports on the increase in suicides in the Texas National Guard and Wise offers this comparative statistic: since 2001, the Texas Army National Guard has experienced 12 deaths "in action" while 18 members have taken their own lives with seven of those taking place in 2010. As last month wound down, John Donnelly (Congress.Org) reported, "For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan." Last week Gretel C. Kovach (San Diego Union-Tribune) reported on military suicides and noted some specific examples:

When the body of an 18-year-old Marine, Pfc. Derek Capulong, was found hanging from a rifle range watch tower in July, the pain reverberated far beyond Camp Pendleton.
Months later, the young private's family in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., is still trying to make sense of his death.
Zenaida Capulong, who helped raise Pfc. Derek Capulong and spoke to him weekly, said she didn't learn that her grandson was upset until it was too late. He had broken up with his high school sweetheart and been rebuked by a Marine supervisor, "but he had all his dreams," she said.
Wilfredo Capulong still can't accept that his grandson took his own life. "He was really determined to finish his ambitions," he said.
In related news, Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) -- warning, he only manages to keep the smarmy in check for two paragraphs -- notes that it is estimated that 2,000 contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Estimated. Thomas E. Ricks forgets that word and doesn't bother to explore. Reality, that number is far higher -- especially when you don't state "military contractor." And, no, the smarmy Tommy forgets to make that point.

Meanwhile Iraq War veteran Kevin Schrock has entered a plea agreement where he admits guilt and agrees to repay money he's stolen. Adam Ashton (News Tribune) reports the money was stolen from CERP funds (walking around money in Iraq used to bribe the locals which Congress has repeatedly noted is not accounted for rigorously enough). He raised the attention of authorities due to deposits in his bank accounts. He's admitted to stealing $47,000. Problem with the case? No problem for Schrock who appears to have received a sweet deal. But if prosecutors believed his claim that he stole the money to pay off loans, care to explain why the amount if $47,000? He put the money into his accounts in small increments over the years. A major in the US military should be aware of the risks of that. And certainly anyone stealing to pay off loans would most likely not be funneling the money through a bank. You'd make loan payments in cash, you'd do them via money orders from the local 7-11. You wouldn't put money in your checking account to then write a check for if it was stolen money and you were already cautious (cautious enough to take approximately 4 years to put your stolen $47,000 into the bank). Maybe Schrock struck them as extremely stupid. But, as Ashton presents the details, it would appear Schrock got a very sweet deal where he admitted to guilt only over what the prosecution would have had no difficulty proving in a court of law and to a sum that seems incredibly low when you examine the details.
Lastly, the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is putting the VA on notice:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray issued the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that, even after long delays, there is still no definitive date when veterans and caregivers will begin receiving the services required by the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. VA also put forth criteria narrowing eligibility for the caregiver program. The VA, in a report submitted today to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, unveiled criteria which would seriously limit access to the benefit further from the approximately 3,500 veterans who would be eligible under the plan passed by Congress and enacted into law on May 5, 2010.

The VA announcement comes just days after Senator Murray sent a
bi-partisan letter, cosigned by 17 additional Senators, calling on the Administration to end delays in moving forward with the law which provides the families of seriously injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with training to become caregivers for those veterans, and ongoing supportive services including respite, counseling, technical assistance, and a living stipend. The law directed VA to begin providing caregiver support by January 30, 2011. The Administration is only now preparing regulations - which will have to undergo a lengthy public comment and approval process - to implement the law.

"I appreciate the VA coming forward today with their plan to implement the Caregivers Act. I remain concerned by the delay in moving forward with providing this crucial benefit for those that are taking care of our wounded warriors.

"Unfortunately the plan they put forward today is simply not good enough. The VA outlined how they intended to limit this benefit to an even smaller group of caregivers than intended by Congress, which is unacceptable.

"This law was passed to help support the thousands of family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover from wounds they suffered defending our country. It's a cost of war that for too long has gone unaccounted for but it's one that last year Congress very clearly decided that our country must step up to meet. I'm not going to let the VA minimize the impact of the bill that we passed.

"I know that this Administration has made clear that they want to provide new support for our military families. This is a critical step to doing just that. Nowhere is providing support more important than in the homes of those severely wounded veterans who everyday need help from their families just to get through the day."
the associated press
lara jakes
the free lance-star
the houston chronicle
lindsay wise
john donnelly
the san diego union-tribune
gretel c. kovach
the news tribune
adam ashton