Saturday, March 17, 2012

21 Jump Street

"21 Jump Street" is hilarious.  If you like laugh-out-loud comedies, get to the movies quick because this is a very funny movie.

I'm a Channing Tatum fan but even I was blown away by how good he is in the film.  Jonah Hill is equally amazing.

If you never saw the Fox TV show (starring Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson Peete among others), the premise is that a group of young police officers go undercover as high schoolers.  Think "The Mod Squad."

Greg (Channing) and Mortum (Jonah) went to high school together and bump into one another while both are training at the police academy.

It's a very funny movie and, for fans of the TV show, I counted three TV regulars in the film.  I think it's already known Johnny Depp is in the film.  He is one.  But there are two more who appear as well.

It's good nature fun and Hill and Tatum have a likable chemistry that keeps the film rolling.  My kids loved it so younger audiences will probably go wild for it.



"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, March 16, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the targeting of Iraqi youth continues, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issue statements decrying the targeting, US State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland accuses the US military of offering safe harbor to a terrorist camp (she's given a chance to walk it back by an AP correspondent but chooses not to), and more.
In every culture, the youth attempt to make their mark. They attempt this by finding their own identities which often means dressing differently. The fashion may elict laughter or groans but it doesn't usually result in murder. Except in Iraq. Ellena Savage (Eureka Street) explains:

When I was in middle school, my taste for fashion was -- to say the least -- interesting. I would hack my hair into asymmetrical experiments, dye it impossible colours, and layer myself with kitsch garments found in northern suburbs op-shops. I would have liked to have been caught reading Camus in public, and for people to ask what made me such a complex personality.
In other words, I was another precocious teenager who wore her emerging individuality on the outside. I've toned down on the black nail polish, but I still cut my own hair (with varied results).
Right now in Iraq, teenagers just like I was are afraid for their lives. The media have dubbed the phenomenon 'Emo Deaths': young men who dress in emo fashion -- skinny jeans, black t-shirts, piercings -- are being targeted as homosexuals.

The Iraqi youths are simply expressing themselves as young people do around the world. But doing this in supposedly "free" Iraq can get you killed. Killed by being pushed off a building, by being shot dead, by being beaten with concrete blocks, there are many ways Iraqi youths are being murdered. Roby Hurriya has photos of his murdered Friend Saif Asmar and shows them to the press as he explains, "They laid him down on the pavement and smashed his head with a cement block." Lists are compiled and people are threatened. Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) notes, "Activists say one sign decorated with two handguns in Baghdad's Sadr City threatened 33 people by name, warning them to stop their 'dirty deeds' or face 'the wrath of God.' Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr issued an online statement calling emos "a lesion on the Muslim community," the Associated Press reported." And through it all, the government looks the other way. Who's doing the targeting? Karlos Zurutuza (IPS) reports:


Ruby points directly to the Mehdi militia - a former insurgent group led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Such crimes are being committed in complete impunity, says Ruby.
"Ours is a militia-run government," complains this young man on the run. "The only possible solution is that Western governments put pressure on Iraq to end this nightmare."
Dalal Jumma from the Organisation of Women's Freedom In Iraq concurs, and complains about the lack of a "mandatory separation between state and religion.
"The militias' letters hanging on the walls even accuse homosexuals or 'emo' followers of 'Satanism for participating in the martyrdom of Imam Hussein' – the Shia community leader killed in the Seventh century. How can we deal with such monstrosity?" says Jumma at the NGO's headquarters in Karrada district in southeast Baghdad.
IPS has had access to one of the letters allegedly found in Sadr City – it had a list of 33 individuals classified under their residence block numbers.

In a sign of how much effect the world attention to these attacks are having, Moqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement. Alsumaria TV reports that the cleric declared yesterday that the targeting of Iraqi youths did not "please God" and he denounced the attacks. On Saturday, you may remember, he issued a statement calling them the scourge of the earth. What changed in the last five days? The level of attention the issue is receiving around the world. Which includes Amnesty International issuing a statement today:
The Iraqi government should immediately investigate and bring to justice those responsible for a targeted campaign of intimidation and violence against young Iraqis seen as belonging to an "emo" subculture, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said today.
The attacks have created an atmosphere of terror among those who see themselves as potential victims.
A 22-year-old gay man in Baghdad told the international rights groups that anonymous callers made death threats on his phone on 11 March. The callers described a friend of his whom they had kidnapped and brutally beaten days earlier, saying that was how they got his number. They told him that he would be next. He has since cut his hair and does not leave his house for fear of being targeted. He said:
"When the news started spreading about emos, the threats and violence against gays increased. They are grouping us all together, anyone who is different in any way, and we are very easy targets."
The campaign's victims appear to represent a cross-section of people seen locally as non-conformists. They include people suspected of homosexual conduct, but also people with distinctive hairstyles, clothes, or musical taste. In English, "emo" is short for "emotional," referring to self-identified teens and young adults who listen to certain types of rock music, often dress in black, close-fitting clothes, and cut their hair in unconventional ways. People perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender or effeminate are particularly vulnerable.
In an official statement on 8 March, Iraq's Interior Ministry dismissed reports by local activists and media of a campaign against those seen as emos, saying the reports were "fabricated" and "groundless," and that it would take action against people who were trying "to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion." However, an official ministry statement on 13 February had characterised emo culture as "Satanist", casting doubt on the government's willingness to protect vulnerable youth, the international rights groups said.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
"At best the response of the Iraqi Interior Ministry is completely inadequate, at worst it condones the violence against emo youth. Iraqi authorities should unequivocally condemn the attacks, investigate any killings and protect anyone in danger."
There is more to the statement but let's stay on the topic of statements to jump over to Huffington Post where they post two paragraphs and maintain that's a statement from the State Dept. Those two paragraphs are part of the four paragraph statement we ran in yesterday's snapshot. Maybe we should have included the title to the statement? "U.S. Embassy Condemns Attacks on 'Emo' Youth In Iraq." Use the link, you'll be taken to the US Embassy in Baghdad's website. From the title alone, you should be able to grasp -- even if you write for the Huffington Post -- that this is a statement not from the State Dept but from the US Embassy in Baghdad. It's a real shame Huffington Post can't stick to the facts or even do a basic fact check. As we noted yesterday of Hillary's 'quote' in the statement -- she's not speaking of Iraqi youths, it's from a speech she gave at the start of December.
Huffin Puff also forgets to note that the State Dept has received billions this fiscal year (and are asking for billions for next fiscal year) because they are the leaders of the US mission in Iraq. Where's the leadership? Silence and cowardice from the top, all the way down. If the State Dept -- and that includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- can't publicly condemn these killings than they've just demonstrated that they are unable to lead any mission in Iraq and that no further monies should go to them for this purpose.
The State Dept provides no leadership on this or any other Iraq issue. Not only that, they offer no transparency. When the Pentagon was in charge, reports had to be issued, press conferences on Iraq held. Getting billions of dollars -- billions of US taxpayer dollars -- has increased the State Dept's budget, it has not increased their efforts to inform the public of how the taxpayer money is being spent in Iraq. There is no oversight. The American people are supposed to take it on blind faith that their dollars are being used wisely in Iraq -- no, that is not how a democracy works. In December, State officially took over the US mission in Iraq. Since that time, Hillary Clinton has not given one press briefing on Iraq. She has been able to avoid the topic and the issue. The American people should be getting regular updates on how the monies are being spent. But the Congress can't even get straight answers from the State Dept on that.
The Huffington Post has a poll, the question is: "Should the U.S. and/or other countries offer support to the LGBT people and 'emo' young adults of Iraq?" That's far too vague a question. A much simpler one would be: "Should the U.S. publicly condemn the attacks on the LGBT people and 'emo' young adults of Iraq?" It's disgusting that the State Dept and Hillary can't even issue a statement calling out these murders. It sends the wrong signals and it's disgusting.
Here's the opening of the statement issued by Human Rights Watch today:
The government of Iraq should immediately investigate and bring to justice those responsible for a targeted campaign of intimidation and violence against Iraqi youth seen as belonging to the non-conformist "emo" subculture, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said today. The attacks have created an atmosphere of terror among those who see themselves as potential victims.
On March 8, 2012, the Interior Ministry, in an official statement, dismissed reports by local activists and media of a campaign against those seen as emo. The ministry said the reports were "fabricated" and "groundless," and that it would take action against people who were trying "to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion." An official ministry statement, on February 13, that characterized emo culture as "Satanist" cast doubt on the government's willingness to protect vulnerable youth, the international rights groups said.
"The government has contributed to an atmosphere of fear and panic fostered by acts of violence against emos," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of claiming that the accounts are fabricated, Iraqi authorities need to set up a transparent and independent inquiry to address the crisis."
The campaign's victims appear to represent a cross-section of people seen locally as non-conformists. They include people suspected of homosexual conduct, but also people with distinctive hairstyles, clothes, or musical taste. In English, "emo" is short for "emotional," referring to self-identified teens and young adults who listen to alternative rock music, often dress in black, close-fitting clothes, and cut their hair in unconventional ways. People perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender, or effeminate are particularly vulnerable.
And State remains silent. I attend the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday thinking Iraq might come up (the topic was the naval fleet). It didn't. But let's note a section where accountability was expected and demanded. This is Ranking Member John McCain questioning the Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus and then between McCain and the Marines' General James Amos.
Senator John McCain: As you know, Mr. Secretary, the reason why Senator Webb, Senator Levin, I and others have been concerned about the issues of Guam is because the costs have escalated dramatically. At least in one area, from six billion to sixteen billion dollars. There has been slow progress with the Japanese. So we decided after Senator Levin, Senator Webb and other of us, that we needed some outside view. An independent view of this situation. We passed the Defense Authorization Bill in December. It's now been two-and-a-half months. How long does it take to let a contract -- to get an independent assessment, Mr. Secretary?
Secretary Raymond Mabus: Senator, since this contract is not under my purview, since I don't let this contract --
Senator John McCain: I see, it's somebody else's responsibility. Well I want to tell you for sure that until we get that independent assessment there should be no concrete plans made by the Secretary of Defense or the Defense Department until we have a chance to examine the assessment and then go through the authorization process or any expenditure of funds that need to be made in order to get this redeployment issue into some kind of sanity. Believe me, we acted -- as is our responsibility -- because of our intense frustration about the lack of progress on this issue. And now, two-and-a-half months go by they haven't even let a contract to get an independent assessment by the way. And we wanted it to be completed by the first of April, the end of March, which obviously cannot happen. I'm not going to let you continue to slow walk us on this issue. Just to put things in perspective, on the F35, again, we started the program in 2001, cost estimates for a couple of thousand aircraft, 2456 aircraft were going to be $238 billion. We've now had additional costs of $150 billion. A hundred fifty additional billion dollars in cost. Block IV, as I understand it, please correct me if I'm wrong, General Amos, Block IV, 32 aircraft which are approximately fifty-percent complete are not $500 million over original estimated costs. Are those figures wrong?
General James Amos: Senator, I can't say whether the figures are wrong or not. Uhm --
Senator John McCain: Do you know what the original costs were supposed to be, General?
General James Amos: Oh, I do. I was the --
Senator John McCain: Alright, was [cross-talk] Is that fact, is that fact wrong?
General James Amos: That fact is pretty close, sir.
Senator John McCain: And there's been an additional $150 million cost overrun. Is that fact true?
General James Amos: I'm -- I'm not -- I can't comment on that. I-I don't know.
Senator John McCain: You don't even know what the cost overrun has been?
General James Amos: Well, I-I, sir, this is not a single point in time. I've noticed the program grow, I've witnessed the technical baseline review last year --
Senator John McCain: Let me interrupt you again. Do you argue the fact that there's been a $150 billion additional costs of the aircraft since the original estimate of $238 billion?
General James Amos: Sir, I can't comment on that. I cen't tell you whether it's a hundred fifty billion dollars. I know it's significant.
Senator John McCain: So, for the record, you don't know how much the cost overrun has been for the F35?
General James Amos: Not precisely.
Senator John McCain: Roughtly? [silence] Do you know roughtly what the cost overrun has been? Sir, I'm assuming since --
General James Amos: No, I don't!
Senator John McCain: That's remarkable.
Do you think State could hold up under that kind of questioning about Iraq? I don't.
Do you know what a winning election theme is? There's no evidence that either major political party does currently but that is. McCain calling out waste. That's a winning strategy any election year but especially when programs -- needed programs -- are begin cut. When that happens, the electorate really isn't the mood for officials who don't think they have to answer to the American people on how the taxpayer money is spent. Having been told the Iraq War is over (it's not), the taxpayer really isn't prepared for the billions that are going to Iraq through the State Dept and that's before you get into the lack of transparency.
Were I Secretary of State, I would've gotten my head out of my ass long ago and scheduled weekly briefings on Iraq so the American taxpayer knew what was going on.
Earlier this month, the US government posted two positionsfor a US "AID Project Management Specialist (Economic Growth and Agriculture Office -- Baghdad)." Why is US AID going to Iraq?
Back in December, Hillary received loud applause for declaring, "Gay rights are human rights." Karen McVeigh (Guaridan) reported, "President Barack Obama has instructed officials to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid. In the first US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens abroad, a presidential memorandum issued on Tuesday instructs agencies to use foreign aid to promote such rights."
Pretty words. Did they have any weight? Did they have any meaning? Not to judge by the terrorizing of Iraq's gay and/or Emo population. Amnesty International notes:
While it is unclear who is behind the anti-emo campaign, Iraqi media reports have fuelled it by characterising what they call an "emerging emo phenomenon" as Satanists, vampires, immoral and un-Islamic. Some clerics and politicians have also contributed to the demonisation of young emos. The Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called them "crazy fools" and a "lesion on the Muslim community", though he also maintained that they should be dealt with "within the law."
Documents received by Amnesty, HRW and the IGLHRC indicate that in August 2011 Iraq's Education Ministry circulated a memo recommending that schools curb the spread of emo culture, which it called "an infiltrated phenomenon in our society."In its 13 February statement the Interior Ministry's indicating that it was seeking approval from the Education Ministry for "an integrated plan that would let them [police] enter all the schools in the capital." On 29 February the Interior Ministry released another statement announcing a campaign against emo culture in Baghdad, particularly in the Khadimiya neighborhood, where they identified one shop as selling "emo clothing and accessories."
After widespread media coverage of the violence and intimidation against emos, the Interior Ministry toned down its language in its 8 March statement. It warned against "radical and extremist groups attempting to stand as protectors for morals and religious traditions from any conduct against people based on a fashion, dress or haircut." The ministry denied that any emos had been killed and threatened "necessary legal actions against those who try to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion."
Meanwhile, on 14 March security forces in Baghdad detained the film crew of Russia Today's Arabic TV channel, Rusiya al-Yaum for three hours as they tried to film a segment related to the attacks on emos. Security forces confiscated their footage even though the channel had a permit to film in Baghdad. Meanwhile, a report by Al-Sharqiya TV on 7 March said that men in civilian clothes brutally beat two young women in public in al-Mansour district because of their "fashionable clothing."
On 15 March the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a non-profit organisation that provides legal assistance and safe passage to Iraqis facing severe persecution, told HRW that in the past week it had conducted interviews with 23 young Iraqis, most of whom had cut their hair short and were in hiding after receiving death threats and harassment because they were perceived to belong to the emo or LGBT communities. The interviewees also reported that ten others perceived to be in those communities had been killed since mid-February.
And still the White House and State Dept remaing silent. In December, Barack and Hillary had a lot of strong words, but their actions this month demonstrate that they were empty words, nothing more.
The actions of the media and organizations are having some impact. You can see it in the fear of foreign coverage and in the actions of the Ministry of Interior yesterday.
First up, Kitabat reports that Russia Today (RT) found itself detained in Baghdad when it attempted to report on the targeting of Emos. Ashraf al-Azzawi Ali Hussein (correspondent and cameraman) and Abdullah al Ashe (assistant cameraman) were filming and had been given permission to film when police approached them and confiscated their equipment and film, took them to police headquarters and detained them there for three hours. When they were released, they were told they could not film in downtown Baghdad.
Secondly, Alsumaria TV also reports that the Ministry of the Interior officially recognized the murders yesterday. Though various officials have talked about the murders, they have done so on background and the Ministry's official position has been that these attacks are not happening -- this despite their posting a statement to their website in February (only removed this week) calling for the elimination of the Iraqi Emo.
Dan Levin (The Cutting Edge) observes:

Killings have been reported by other methods and in other cities as well. Since national authorities are not recording the incidents as a special category, the total is not known. In recent days, members of Shi'ite militias, mainly in the Sadr City district, have circulated lists of names of people targeted for killings. The threats refer to "obscene males and females," understood to refer to both gays and "emos," an American teenage subculture of distinctive hairstyles and black clothes that has spread to Iraq. Hurriya says he believes at least 200 men have been killed in recent years either for being gay or appearing effeminate. During an interview at the Reuters bureau in central Baghdad, he opens a satchel and brings out a series of photographs of bludgeoned corpses of young men found on the streets of Baghdad. He has been documenting the killings and running a safe house for gay men. "We, as the gay community, are connected like string," he says. "We know if anything bad has happened to any of us."
The apparent spread of the violence in recent weeks to heterosexual youth who dress in emo style has caused panic among young Iraqis. Emo, a once-obscure genre of American "emotional" punk rock, became a mainstream subculture in the West in the past decade. In Iraq, it appeals to young people -- male and female -- hungry for self-expression in a conservative, often violent culture. Young Iraqis who call themselves emos typically wear long or spiky hair, tight jeans, T-shirts, silver chains, and items with skull logos. In recent days they have been rushing to barbers to get their hair cut. Shops selling clothing and jewelry with skulls and band logos have quickly taken down their emo displays. Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government may not be helping. The Interior Ministry last month released a statement that labeled the emo culture "Satanism." It said a special police force would stamp it out.
At the State Dept today, Victoria Nuland came off more like an EST counselor than a spokesperson, crying out, "All right, everybody. Let's go right to what's on your minds. Happy Friday." Sadly, nothing about Iraq's youths were on her mind or on the mind of the so-called press gathered to jot down her faux pearls of conventional wisdom. For any who've forgotten,
since this story developed two Mondays ago, there has been no State Dept press briefing where a spokesperson has brought up the issue of the targeting of Iraqi youth or where the press has raised the issue. Today was no different from the other days.

Well, except for the fact that Nuland accused the US Army of harboring terrorists, providing aid and comfort. It's not every day a State Dept spokesperson does that. From today's brieifing (link is transcript and video):
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the status of the MEK as a terrorist group?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the review is ongoing. Beyond going back to something that the Secretary said when she was on the Hill, I don't have anything new to say. I think the Secretary made clear that it is important to us in the context of looking at this review that the MEK vacate its last known terrorist camp in Ashraf and that that would be a factor in our decision if they were be able to do that.
QUESTION: What about the court order that is asking for a response from this building by, I believe, next Friday in response to some petition on – for action on petition to be removed from the list? Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: I'm not aware of any next Friday deadline, Ros. If you have something on that, you can send it us.
QUESTION: Sure.
MS. NULAND: But we are going to do this in a deliberative way.
QUESTION: Can I try -- you're going to get bombarded. I just want to make sure that you meant to say – you meant to call Camp Ashraf a terrorist camp.
MS. NULAND: I don't know what I meant to call it. Suffice it to say, that what the Secretary on the Hill is our statement of record on that subject.
QUESTION: Right, but do you – does the United States –
MS. NULAND: The closure of camp – sorry, it's main paramilitary base. Thank you, Matt. As the Secretary said, the closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK's FTO status. Thank you for cleaning up my language as usual, Matt.
So the US military provided aid and comfort to a terrorist camp according to Victoria Nuland. And Matthew Lee was correct, March 26th is the date the federal court has ordered the State Dept to offer their classification. If Victoria Nuland doesn't know that, that's rather sad.
The Associated Press reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani left the Mayo clinic on Wednesday and is scheduled to be back in Baghdad in time for the Arab Summit (March 29th). To review, on or around March 26th, Baghdad Airport International will be closed to all commercial traffic, no protests will be allowed on the day of the Summit, 100,000 security forces will be dispersed throughout Baghdad (leaving other areas prime targets for attacks), Baghdad will have spent over $86 million (in US dollars) on the summit and Al Sabaah reports all vehicles (including bicycles) will be banned for the Arab Summit.

Going to be hard to spin that as a success.

Question: If, for example, Basra, Samara, Najaf and Rutba all suffer attacks on March 29th, would the security forces in Baghdad be forced to disperse to those areas? And, if they did, wouldn't it be similar to the way attackers use one bombing to draw the security forces to the location only to present them with another bombing?

Wednesday Kitabat reported that the 28th and 29th would be declared a holiday. Today Al Mada reports that the Baghdad government is denying that there will be a holiday. (A holiday would allow the government to close down a number of facilities.) Speaking of holidays, Al Mada reports the Parliament wants to take 35 days off (holidays) this year.
We'll close with this from the Feminist Majority:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2012
Contact: Francesca Tarant, 703-522-2214, media@feminist.org
Feminist Majority and NOW Supports the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Church and priests who have been charged in two Missouri sex abuse cases have filed a case in an effort to legally compel the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to disclose its records from the past twenty-three years. The documents requested include correspondences with victims, witnesses, police officers, and lawyers. SNAP, a network of survivors of religious sexual abuse and their supporters, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the case.

Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal adamantly spoke out against the outrageous attempts to intimidate SNAP and compel the release of its records: "The bishops are playing hardball with survivors of priest abuse, but the bishops are not playing hardball with priest predators. The Conference of Catholic Bishops needs to focus on stopping cleric sexual abuse and the hierarchy's cover-ups."

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is at it again. In addition to playing a major role in the right-wing war on women, the all-male hierarchy of the Catholic Church is trying to silence an organization dedicated to helping women and men who have been victimized by clergy," said Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women.

In the past few months, David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, and SNAP have been subpoenaed five times and questioned extensively about SNAP's operations by defense attorneys, despite the fact that SNAP is not a party in the litigation. Since SNAP refused to respond to all of the questions in the deposition or submit all of the subpoenaed documents in Kansas City, the attorneys on behalf of Catholic officials and the accused priests have filed a motion, scheduled for April 20, in attempt to compel SNAP to comply. "The effort to gain SNAP's records threatens not only survivors of priest pedophilia but also could set a dangerous precedent for victim advocates in domestic violence or other rape cases," said Smeal. Ten victims' advocacy groups filed a supporting amicus brief for SNAP saying the subpoena in unconstitutional since it violates the rights of association and would harm victims.

SNAP criticized the court's efforts to "unseal" its private records in a
statement: "Catholic officials are demanding thousands of pages of private records from child sex abuse victims and others. This has been called a 'fishing expedition.' But it's much worse than that. It's a cynical, shrewd legal maneuver to deter victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others from exposing predators, protecting kids and seeking help from SNAP. And it threatens the long-standing privacy protections that almost all crime victims - not just child sex victims of predatory clerics' victims - have enjoyed for years."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Whitney

Whitney is a hit sitcom which airs on NBC each Wednesday night.

"Guys would call during sex to brag if we'd let them," Whitney explained to Lily who was wondering if it was too soon to date.  She and Neil have broken up.  The engagement is off.  A bartender sends her a drink.  Is it too soon to start dating?

Whitney promises to find out from Alex if Neal's already dating someone.

He is. 

Neil is dating a man named Steven.

Whitney and Alex do a drop-by to check on Neil and find out that he and Steven are making lamb.  Alex thinks they're business partners.  Whitney thinks they're on a date.

And Whitney is right. 

It's a first for Neil and he comes out to Whitney about the relationship and his confusion.  Whitney then helps him come out to Alex.

Roxanne and Mark pop in right after Neil comes out to Alex.  They're there to watch Justified.


Neil: No Whitney, it's fine.  It'll be easier this way.


Mark: What's easier?  Are you coming out of the closet?  [Catching on.]  Oh, man, that joke's not funny if you're coming out of the closet.

More than any other characters, Mark and Whitney kept the laughs coming this episode.  It was a strong episode.  But Mark and Whitney brought the humor.





Neil:  I don't know what this means, just yet, I'm not attracted to all men.  And you don't have to worry, I'm not attracted to you.


Mark:  Okay, well you don't have to be hurtful

Letting Mark be upset that Neil wasn't attracted to him was smart because it was funny and completely in character for Mark.


Mark: Alright, check it out.  Did my hair, ironed my shirt, aftershave!  Let's see that little punk not be into this noise. Take a whiff.


Alex: No, there will be no whiff taking.


Mark: Why?  Scared you might like it?


Alex: Neil's not into you, alright? Get over it.  


Mark: Uh, he's confused.  But he's not blind.


I thought it was a great episode.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, March 15, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the government refuses to follow the rules for disclosure in their case against Bradley Manning, the State Dept goes after one of their own, the illegal wars compete for time and attention with the administration's war against the Constitution and the public's right to know, Iraqi youths continue to be targeted, and more.
Chanel Curry: I started off as as a veteran during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio and I joined the military in 2008. As I served overseas and came back to the United States, I suffered many difficulties finding employment. So I recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia because I had a job opportunity available to me almost immediately. So I relocated and during my process of living in Atlanta, Georgia, a lot of different circumstances forced me to have to move back to Cleveland, Ohio where I was originally stationed. Coming back to Cleveland, Ohio, it was very hard to find a job. So basically, I bounced around from different relatives homes, different friends and it just became definitely a burden because a lot of people I knew suffered their own hardships and no one could afford to accomodate another adult. So that forced me to have to contact the VA and I contacted the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and I spoke to a veteran by the name of William and he directed me over to a female by the name of Toni Johnson. Toni Johnson is a representative of the women's homeless outreach program. And she, herself, actually opened up a lot of possibilities for me to get back on my feet. She told me about the Grant Per Diem program and I lived in a homeless shelter, a women's homeless shelter, known as the Westside Catholic Center and there there were other things available for me such as the Employment Connection and I met with a representative by the name of Angela Cash and she basically helped me to get a job at the Cleveland Clinic. So she offered me classes, computer training, basically everything that I needed to be readily available for work. And also she had her own non-profit organization known as the Forever Girls At Heart which is a group of beautiful women who helped me get all of the things I needed for my apartment. Now with that being said, I will be moving into my place as of Friday if everything goes as planned. And I do have everything I need. So the VA definitely went above and beyond to make sure that I was not -- that I did not remain a homeless veteran.
Curry's testimony goes to what Senator Scott Brown rightly termed "a lack of consistency." While the VA was able to assist her, Sandra Strickland's testimony to the Committee made clear that the VA practices a scatter-shot, non-consistent response.
Chanel Curry is an Iraq War veteran and among a growing number of veterans of the current war who have or are becoming homeless. She testified to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as part of the hearing on homeless veterans. The first panel was made up of veteran Sandra Strickland, National Women Veterans Committee's Marsha Four, Deputy Assistant IG for VA Linda Halliday and Reverend Scott Rogers. The first panel was covered in yesterday's snapshot, by Ava in "Scott Brown (Ava)" and by Kat with "Glad someone's back, not impressed with hearing."
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee. In her opening remarks, she noted:
VA must focus on a new and unfortunately growing segment of the homeless veteran population -- female veterans. Like their male counterparts, women veterans face many of the same challenges that contribute to their risks of becoming homeless. They are serving on the front lines and being exposed to some of the same harshest realities of war. They are screening positive for PTSD, experiencing military sexual traum, suffering from anxiety disorder, and having trouble finding a job that provides the stability to ease their transition home. Yet when our female veterans find themselves homeless, they have needs that are unique from those of male veterans. And, as the VA's Inspector General found in a report released on Monday, some of those unique needs are not being addressed. The IG found that there were serious safety and security concerns for homeless women veterans, especially those who have experiences Military Sexual Trauma. They found bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and mixed gender living facilities without access restrictions. They also found that the VA should do a better job at targeting places and populations that need help the most. And in addition to this IG report, GAO released a report at the end of last year that cited VA for the lack of gender-specific privacy, safety and security standards. Following that report, I sent a letter to VA and HUD with Senators [Jon] Tester and [Olympia] Snowe seeking answers to a number of questions it raised. I have heard from HUD that they are reviewing their data collection process in order to capture more information on homeless women veterans. I have also heard from VA tha they are working to develop and provide training for staff and providers to better treat veterans who have experienced traumatic events and modifying their guidance on privacy, safety and security for providers who serve homeless women veterans. As more women begin to transition home and step back into lives as mothers, wives and citizens, we must be prepared to serve the unique challenges they face. As we continue to learn about the alarming number of homeless women veterans, we must be sure that VA is there to meet their needs.
The second panel was Chanel Curry and the VA's Executive Director of the Homeless Veterans Initiative Pete Dougherty. (Lisa Pape, of the VA, accompanied Dougherty.) VA's Dougherty noted a variety of figures including that 29,074 Veterans and family members are housed, as of last month, through the HUD-VASH program, 37,549 Housing Choice vochers have been handed out, Veterans Justice Outreach (legal services) have served 15,706 veterans, 366 is the number of homeless veterans (or formerly homeless) that the VA has hired in the Homeless Veterans Supported Employment Program (hires are since September of last year), "in FY 2011, VA helped 83 percent of veterans in default retain their homes or avoid foreclsoure, an increase from 76 percent in FY 2010" and "VA paid pension benefits exceeding $4.2 billion to over 500,000 veterans and survivors in FY 2011. Because pension benefits are paid to veterans and survivors whose income fall below Congressionally established minimum standards, it inherently assists in income issues related to homelessness."
We'll note this exchange from the second panel.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Dougherty, we heard from Ms. Strickland on the first panel. She reached out to the VA and was told there was no help -- literally [they] hung up [and left her] with nothing. We just heard Ms. Curry obviously a totally different story. With a "no wrong door" policy, it's unacceptable that more help wasn't given to Ms. Strickland and others like her. Ms. Curry, I wanted to ask you, what was the turning point that led you to the VA?
Chanel Curry: Actually, it was a very long time before the resources were actually known to me. I had to do some research. I actually contacted Military One Source which is a very helpful resource who helps you basically get to a lot of different resources. But what led me to the VA was the fact that I was just tired of being homeless. I was tired of not having a stable job and having to ask people for things. And I'm the type of person where I like to get everything on my own so it was definitely a challenge for me. So I had to make an adult decision and go to a shelter where the HUV Ash program would be availabe for me.
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Dougherty, both the GAO and IG found that the VA has to improve the way it serves homeless veterans -- homeless women veterans -- especially those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. I am deeply concerned about women veterans -- or any veteran -- but women veterans being placed in a place with no privacy, no locks on doors, no locks on bedrooms. It just is implicit that that should be available. I understand that the department is developing this new, gender-specific, privacy, safety and security standard for the facilities and I want that done quickly -- obviously. But I wanted to ask you: Is that enough to make sure we have protection for women -- to make sure there's no registered sex offenders? Are we following that? And especially for women who are victims of Military Sexual Trauma, are we really making sure we're focused on those issues?
Pete Dougherty: [microphone not on or working . . .] and her staff are working very closely on making those corrections. I would also say that one of the things that we have and are asking the Committee to do is to change the Contract Care Authority Requirement. Currently under law, you have to have a serious mental illnesee diagnosis in order to get contract residential care. And I think as the IG [Linda Halliday] just said a few minutes ago, that one of the issues is that in some small communities, we may not have enough need to develop a whole program that's big enough to support a community program and in those places what we need is more flexibility in contracted residential care in order to make that work.
Chair Patty Murray: Well, okay, let me be very clear given the strong oversight work that this Committee has done leading up to just this hearing, I think it's very clear we're going to be following this very carefully. We want to make sure this is implemented. It's absolutely a top item for all of us.
We'll jump to another exchange.
Senator Scott Brown: Mr. Dougherty, how is VA working to improve the data collected so that the VA and Congress have information to effectively allocate the resources to ensure homeless veterans receive the needed services? And that's based on the GAO report saying that the information's lacking. [Doughtery speaking with Pape.] Either one.
Lisa Pape: We have been collecting information on homeless veterans for over 20 years now. What we've done to really enhance in the last several years is roll over into an electronic system, enhancing the kind of data we're really asking for so that there's more questions related to people's experience, their medical issues, their housing issues prior and-and-and leaving the program. But what really is where we're shooting for is connecting with the community and aligning our data collection system with the homeless management collection system that the continuum of care do so that we have a coordinated and integrated collection system to look at what veterans are entering the VA and the community and bed capacity and things like that.
From the panel on homeless veterans to an Iraq War veteran imprisoned for over a year, Bradley Manning. In January, Josh Gerstein (POLITICO) reported, "Another military officer has formally recommended that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning face a full-scale court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables to the online transparency site WikiLeaks." In addition, Article 32 hearings are almost always rubber stamps. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.
The Associated Press reports the latest in government ridiculous, the military insisted to the court today that the release Bradley is accused of aided al Qaeda. They tossed in the word "indirectly." You know what directly aids al Qaeda, endless war. So throw some charges at Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the crooked gang making up the administration. Know what else aids al Qaeda? Keeping Guantanamo open. So throw some more charges at Barack. The latest development only underscores that Barack Obama is no different from George W. Bush, that idiots like Naomi Wolf who swore he was a Constitutional lawyer (Memo to Naomi: Constional lawyers take cases involving Constitutional issues -- they don't generally represent slum lords) were wrong (and have refused to own their errors) when they insisted Barack would protect the Constitution. He's done nothing of the sort and now he's attempting to 'ohn Walker Lindh' Bradley Manning.
Jessica Gresko (Huffington Post) reports, "An attorney for an Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information asked a military judge Thursday to dismiss the charges, arguing the government bungled the handover of documents to the defense." At issue are documents that the government refuses to hand over. Since this is a criminal prosecution, discovery attached at the beginning of the case. Therefore, the documents should have been turned over long ago. Discovery is the process by which the defense learns the evidence the prosecution has. This is standard procedure and the claim by US Capt Ashden Fein that the defense is attempting to launch a fishing expedition is outrageous and puts a stain on the already questionable concept of 'military justice.' Fein whined to the court that they had to produce "as much as possible" for the defense. Someone needs to explain the law to Fein, "as much as possible" is not how discovery works. You're compelled to turn over everything. "As much as possible" claims should get you up on charges before a legal board.
Speaking to RT on Thursday about that afternoon's hearing, Zack Presavento of the Bradley Manning Support Network said that the prosecutors in the case continue to defend their right to withhold material from the defense, something he says is just "one more absurd allegation in a long train of absurdities."
Coombs says he has repeatedly asked the government to supply him with documents that pertain to the case, but the military is defaulting to the claim that the material in question is classified and therefore must be shielded from civilian eyes. For two years, Coombs says, he has asked for documents that the government has still refused to deliver and, at this point, he believes the US should forfeit their case.
Equally disturbing, Chantal Valery (AFP) reports:
Coombs asked the government to provide an assessment of the damage Manning caused to US national security by sending WikiLeaks military field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, a quarter million State Department cables and war videos.
But military prosecutor Ashden Fein said the State Department "has not completed its damage assessment."
Any 'asssessment' should have been completed prior to charges being brought. That's basic. Yet again, the Obama administration, in their haste to punish whistle blowers, sets the law aside and goes off like a vigilante posse bound and determined to take the law into their own hands. America has never been more at risk from their own government then with these crooks and clowns in the administration. They make Bully Boy Bush look like a Constitutional defender by contrast.
Law and Disorder Radio is a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights). The Center of Constitutional Rights is among those representing WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. In that capacity, among others, Michael Ratner is closely following Bradley's trial. Today he Tweeted on it including:
There are many other Tweets Ratner's done but this may really sum up just how much lying the prosecution thinks it can get away with:
Manning. Govt saysno video of manning solitary. Manning says otherwise. Same with gitmo clients. Think govt lying? #freebradley #Manning
We were the ones, at Third, who pointed out the lie from the government that they had to keep Bradley naked to 'protect him.' We were able to point out that flaw because a very good friend of mine runs an adolescent recovery center so I know about the procedures and about scrubs and the rest. I also know when someone's basically on lockdown, Cameras are recording. Bradely was kept on watch, videos were made. The government's lie is just the latest effort by the Barack Obama administration to lie and lie and lie again. When confronted with the regulations -- and military regulations (I've just been told on another phone) include recording people like Bradley both for his protection and for the militaries -- the government will most likely trot out a new lie: The tapes were erased! Or taped over. The military is supposed to preserve those tapes. They knew a legal case was likely. If they next try to lie that the tapes no longer exist, then they should be able to provide a list of names that the defense can use as witnesses (names of people doing monitoring while the taping was going on) and a list of names of people fired for failure to follow procedure (which includes preseving the tapes).
Bradley is only one alleged whistle blower the administration is going after. , Lisa Rein (Washington Post) reports on career diplomat Peter Van Buren:


Now the State Department is moving to fire him based on eight charges, ranging from linking on his blog to documents on the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks to disclosing classified information.
In 24 years as a diplomat, Van Buren was posted around the world and speaks four languages. He called the termination notice he received Friday the coup de grace in a series of blows he received since his book, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" was published last fall.
Van Buren's supervisors admittedly singled him out, and are monitoring all of his online activities taken on his personal time using his personal computer. They have insisted that he "preclear" all of his blog posts, tweets, and other social media activities as well as live radio and TV appearance - all First Amendment-protected activities Van Buren conducts on his personal time. How is anyone supposed to pre-clear a live radio interview?
The proposed removal alleges that Van Buren mishandled sensitive information by linking - NOT leaking - to a publicly-available Wikileaks document on his blog, which contains a disclaimer that Van Buren is writing in his personal capacity and that the State Department does not endorse his views.
The State Department's lame canned quote defending against the retaliation claims offers no explanation as to why the Agency has singled Van Buren out to monitor his social media activities and selectively enforce the policies against Van Buren.
"There are protections within the government for freedom of expression and for whistleblowers," spokesman Mark C. Toner said. "The State Department has followed process and acted in accordance with the law."
How does it protect freedom of expression to propose firing an employee for exercising his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern in his private capacity?
Adding to the trumped-up nature of the charges, the State Department accuses Van Buren of "bad judgment" because he mocked Michele Bachmann and criticized Hillary Clinton's laughing at Libyan leader Qaddafi's death. Does the State Department really need to be told that the First Amendment covers political speech?
The US State Dept goes to war on Peter, but they refuse to publicly rebuke the killing of Iraqi youths. The Department won't make a statement on the record nor will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Iraqis thought to be gay and/or Emo are beign threatened, bullied and killed. And the State Dept is silent. And wishing Americans would shut up already because then the State Dept could function without accountability and below the radar. Today, State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland opened her press briefing by drawing attention to a sheet on US humanitarian assistance to Syria.
Hey, those Syrians getting humanitarian assistance? Al Qaeda. So when are we prosecuting the State Dept and the administration?
If you're not getting how unaccountable and ineffectual the State Dept is, Al Mada reports this morning that the Ministry of the Interior will be removing the February statement attacking the Emo kids. That statement, reported on by Reuters, CNN and other outlets, has been up the entire time.

Why did they finally take it down?

Because the press kept pointing to it.

Not because the State Dept lodged a complaint. Not because the State Dept did a damn thing. They've done nothing. The US Embassy in Baghdad gave an interview to Iraqi TV station Al Sumaria and they had a private e-mail exchange with a San Francisco LGBT group -- a private exchange that went public. Today they posted the following:
We strongly condemn the recent violence and killings in Iraq by groups who appear to be targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal expression. These acts of intolerance have no place in democratic societies.
We are monitoring this situation closely on the ground and in Washington, and have expressed our concern to the Government of Iraq.
Additionally, in recent days, some of Iraq's religious leaders and members of Parliament have denounced these attacks and taken steps to address this issue. A representative for Grand Ayatollah Sistani has condemned this violence and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee within Iraq's Parliament has condemned these actions as well.
As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, "Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human… It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave."
At the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Don't applaud Hillary. That quote is not on the Iraqi youth, it's pulled from her December 6th speech on Human Rights Day. In addition, the Embassy was forced to put that up and forced to make it appear it had been up. But the Baghdad embassy is only one and State Dept friends called to inform me if I visited ___ embassy and ___ embassy, I would find embassies
that did not backdate the statement. I did find those and I've got screen snaps if it becomes an issue we need to document. For not, we'll note that Hillary and the State Dept are feeling the pressure over their silence -- enough so to basically forge a press release. They should continue to feel the heat. Shawkat al Bayati (Niqash) reports:
Since February Iraqi extremists have been threatening, even murdering, Iraq's "emo" teenagers. They believe them to be Satanists, vampires or homosexuals. While religious authorities say the anti-emo campaign is wrong, activists now suspect police involvement in the threats.
Ahmad is only 16 – but for the time being, he sits, virtually imprisoned, in a small room on the roof of a building on the outskirts of Baghdad. His crime? Dressing like a teenager.
Ahmad is what is being referred to in Iraq as an "emo". In the West, the description emo has become shorthand for a certain style of dressing and music. The teenage devotees of emo tend to prefer their rock music with punk overtones and emotional lyrics and they like to dress all in black, have black hair and accessorise with slightly Gothic imagery, such as skulls or bleeding hearts.
Emo in Europe and North America was the latest evolution of music that started off as "emotional hard core" and the look and music resonated with a certain sort of melancholy outsider.
And whereas in the West, an emo teenager might expect to be harassed by those who didn't understand their funereal obsession or their dressing up – a lot of critical bystanders thought the costumed nature of the emo look meant the wearer must be homosexual – in Iraq, emo kids are at far more risk.
Emo kids first started to appear in Iraq in 2008; most of them are aged between 12 and 18, the vast majority are male and one imagines the same elements of rebellion that attract Western teens, also attract the Iraqi youth.


In other news, Al Rafidayn reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani has made clear that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is safe in the KRG and they will not hand him over to Baghdad. Nouri is targeting Iraqiya and that includes al-Hashemi. Nouri accuses the vice president of terrorism.

That ongoing crisis hasn't been resolved either (Barzani wants the three presidencies to resolve it -- that's Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Nouri). The State Dept's done nothing to help their either.

Since October of last year, the State Dept was supposed to be running the US mission in Iraq. Thus far, they're an abject failure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pedometer

I bought a Omron HIP pedometer today.

Do you know what that is?

It's a counter you clip to your belt (or to a belt clip) and it counts your steps each day.  It says "Walk 10,000 steps a day FOR A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE!"

So that's what it is, why did I buy it?

I walk less and less.  I'm not gaining weight yet but I don't want to wait until then.

In Georgia, it was easy because one of my sister's lived across the street and a friend lived next door and I was always going to both places at least 3 times an evening.  My parents were a block over, the church a two block walk (and we walked it unless the weather was bad). 

But in California it seems you're always in a car. 


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Tuesday, March 14, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada orders no protests during the summit, Iraqi youth continue to be targeted, the State Dept and White House continue to be silent, the Senate hears about homeless veterans, and more.
Sandra Strickland: In January 1990, I process out of the Army and received an Honorable Discharge. With the skills and training that I acquired from the Army, I set out to live the American dream and become a business owner. Life happened along the way and in nOvember 2002 I met and married my husband. We talked about opening up an auto repair shop together, but about 4 months after we were married, he was called back to active duty to assist in training the soldiers who were being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and was stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina while I stayed at our home in Stafford, Virginia. In 2006, my spouse was released from active duty and when he returned home, we opened up our auto repair shop in January 2007. Our marriage suffered because of the separation, among other things, and we continued to grow apart and eventually talked about divorce. Two days before Christmas of 2010, when my spouse picked up our children from school and preparatory academy, he made a verbal threat to the academy director that he was going to kill me and the kids. That was the day I took my kids and left -- and ended up living in a domestic violence shelter with my two younger children in two (ages 6 and 4 at time). At the time I was working as a temp on a Government contract so I managed to save enough money to move me and my children into a 1 bedrom with den apartment in February 2011. Everything was going great until I wakled into work on Monday, April 25, 2011 and was told that the contract that I was working on was ending and Friday, April 29, 2011 would be my last day. I became unemployed on April 29, 2011 and, despite being a veteran, going on countless interviews and submitting countless resumes and having a wealth of administrative experience, I remained unemployed until September 2011. Although I received unemployment compensation for a brief time, my fanances became depleted and the eviction notices started coming. Also during this time, I was dealing with custody issues for my children. Although the court awarded joint custody to me and my spouse, I was awarded temporary physical custody until such time as we went to court for the final custody hearing. That hearing took place and although we both maintained joint custody, the judge reversed the order and awarded physical custody to my spouse because he still had the marital home that our children grew up in which was in their best interest to stay there and because my apartment was out of their current school district, it would not be in their best interest to transition them to a new school for the upcoming school term. Not only was I in shock by the decision, I felt as though I was being victimized because I chose to take my children and leave an unhealthy environment -- regardless of the fact that we were homeless. Not only did I lose physical custody of my children, I eventually ended up losing my apartment because I couldn't afford to pay the rent, due to the lack of funds from being unemployed and not having a full time job. So now, I am homeless and have been reduced to a "every other weekend" mother because my children no longer live with me every day.
Sandra Strickland was testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at today's hearing on homeless veterans. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee. During her opening remarks, she explained, "In 2009, Secretary Shinseki laid out the bold goal of ending homelessness among veterans in five years. As we reach the halfway point, today's hearing will examine the progress made to date, as well as the challenges and opportunities moving forward -- particularly the challenges that homeless women veterans face. As many in the room know, VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that the number of homeless veterans dropped by 12% -- to a little more than 67,000. VA and HUD deserve to be commended for the signficant progress they have made. But despite this progress, challenges remain."
The number of homelss earlier in the decade was said by the VA to have been 275,000 and now the VA states it has been reduced to 67,494 veterans. While the overall veterans homeless population has been reduced, there has been an increase in the number of homeless women veterans. They once made up 2% of the homeless population but that has increased to 6% by the VA's current numbers.
The VA's Deupty Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations Linda Halliday offered anecodtal evidence as to why that number might be increasing as she discussed the results of a recent audit:
31% of the 26 providers reviewed did not adequately address the safety, security and privacy risks of veterans, especially female veterans. GPD prgoram medical facility staff allowed providers to house female veterans in male-only approved fcailities and multi-gender facilities for which security and privacy risks had not been assessed and mitigated. For example, we identified the following risks: bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and female and male residents on the same floor without access restrictions. In addition, some providers housed female veterans in female-only facilities that had inadequate security measures -- such as inadequate monitoring and not restricting access to non-residents. We discovered serious female veteran safety, security and privacy issues at one site that required immediate VHA management attention. Two homeless femal veterans were housed in a male-only approved provider facility. The two female residents shared a bathroom with male residents without an adequate lock and had sleeping rooms on the same floor as male residents witout adequate barriers restricting access to the female rooms. We found that since fiscal year 2002, VA's GPD program staff had placed 22 homeless females in this male-only approved facility without adequately addressing the safety, security and privacy needs of the female veterans.
Strickland and Halliday were part of the first panel to appear before the Committee. That panel also included Rev. Scott Rogers (Executive Director of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry), Vietnam Veternas of America's Marsh Four who chairs the National Women Veterans Committee, National Coaltion for HOmeless Veterans' John Driscoll. We'll note this exchange.
Chair Patty Murray: You contacted the VA and asked for help. Obviously, they just said to you nothing. Right? They just said nothing. You got no response?
Sandra Strickland: No. No, to me, their basic concern was my mental health. Because I had shared with them everything that was going on with me and their first question to me was, "Are you mentally stable?"
Chair Patty Murray: So you weren't assigned a case manager or referred for employment or training services or anything?
Sandra Strickland: No.
Chair Patty Murray: What do you think they should have said when you first called?
Sandra Strickland: What do you need? Not what I wanted or what they wanted for me but what I needed. And if they weren't able to provide the resources themselves, provide resources that I could reach out too. I wasn't even given that. They just told me they could give me a list of shelters. I could do that myself. But I mean, are they -- I just felt that there should be some type of partnership. If they're not able to assist or provide the assistance then there should be partners that they work with that they could refer a veteran too so that they're not just left when they hang up the phone feeling hopeless because that's how I felt.
Chair Patty Murray: Yeah. Ms. Halliday, your testimony was really eye opening, I think. Telling someone that they're going to be some place sleeping without a lock on the door, bathrooms that don't have locks. Insufficient lighting. Ms. Strickland, what would that type of environment have meant to you?
Sandra Strickland: An unsafe environment?
Chair Patty Murray: Yes.
Sandra Strickland: I would have stayed in my car. It's -- It's different when you have children, you know? I mean, of course I think of my safety but I think of my children as well. There aren't -- There are programs but it's not enough for women with children. Yes, I could have gone to other shelters but I wouldn't be able to take my children with me. And then, a female? Just from being a woman, you want to be able to feel that when you go to a transitional home or shelter that you do have adequate safety.
Chair Patty Murray: Basic. Ms. Four, Reverend Rogers, what would that have meant for the women who live in your facilities?
Marsh Four: Let me just say we do have, that's the agency, a 30 bed transitional program exclusively for women veterans. And, uhm, I believe in some cases the women do come there because it is a place that they know is safe, that they know is secured. We take great attention to that and I think one of the situations that exists is that there are so few of these programs in the community that are exclusive to women veterans, that are designed for them, to address their tremendous needs. That is one of the shortfalls also.
Chair Patty Murray: Reverend Rogers, what is the importance for basic security and things like that in your clients?
Rev. Scott Rogers: It is absolutely paramount. We really feel like it took almost two years for us to earn that trust and making sure that we could commit the amount of resources that were needed. That's why I asked you'll to consider some kind of a challenge grant. The community wants to respond but because of the numbers of women and their children are low, even though we have them housed separately and they're able to have their own room and facilities, it's at a much greater cost. With a little bit of extra help from this Committee and from Congress, we can provide not only that safety and security but that can also address the professional needs around sexual trauma, having a well trained staff, being really able to train our volunteers. I've got women who want to mentor other women but don't always understand the levels and complexities of that trauma. We would like to be able to have the funding and the support and we believe we can get it matched by the community with some leadership here because we don't, again, believe in the entitlement system but we do want to help you create the incentives but with the funding to overcome the smaller numbers but dealing with more complex issues.
Chair Patty Murray: And both of the VA's Inspector General and GAO really made it clear that the VA has to improve their services for homeless women veterans. But reports that were issued by two organizations and oversight by my staff have found really disincentives for homeless women veterans to seek VA's housing programs -- including no minimum standards for gender specific safety and limitations in available housing options for homeless veterans, especially with children. So my question to all of you is what would you do -- What would you direct the VA to do today to serve homeless women veterans? Ms. Strickland, if you had the opportunity to say to the VA, "Do this," what would it be?
Sandra Stickland: Provide adequate programs that can deal with the unique needs of female veterans.
Chair Patty Murray: The basics.
Sandra Strickland: The basics.
Chair Patty Murray: Safety, security, locks, privacy.
Sandra Strickland: Yes. And then resources to help us get back on our feet, to help us become self-sufficient, so that we don't become --
Chair Patty Murray: Chronic homeless?
Sandra Strickland: Correct.
Chair Patty Murray: Ms. Four?
Marsha Four: One I think would be that certainly the issue of the security really impacts their ability to focus on the programs that they have to work in. I think it's very important that the VA truly does some oversight of what they have in order to remold and work with some of the opportunities they have in front of them. I think that the addition of some extra funding through the special needs grants for those programs that want to do the work with women veterans -- it can be quite costly because the staff that's needed and the support that that grant allowed for assistance to the families who took care of the children while the women were attending to some very specific and some very important work to go into the mental health filed, I think that's another important place. And also to really make an evaluation of how many military sexual trauma specific residential treatment programs there are in this country and the fact that, if they are a far distance, how do they expect the homeless women to get into those programs and travel there.
Chair Patty Murray: Reverend Rogers?
Rev. Scott Rogers: First, I want to say thank you, Ms. Strickland for your courage and I'm sorry for your experience. We-we simply ask the VA to be right there with us. And what we say and what Charles George VA Medical Center does is they train their staff. There staff is with us as much as three and four days a week in our facility working with both our women and our men. But they're also there saying they're going to be the advocate, the ombudsman right alongside us as a faith-based and other community based providers. I think it's when they exhibit and put in place men and women, professionals, with that same passion that it really makes the difference because nobody can understimate the power of saying, "Welcome home, veteran."
Chair Patty Murray: Ms. Halliday, final comment?
Linda Halliday: We'd like to say that we'd like to see the VA transition away from the reliance of providing these services in multi-gender facilities. We'd like to see incentives put in place for special needs to ensure that female veterans needs are met, just as it was said before. And I think you would also have to possibly explore using contracts outside of the grant and per diem program to fit the unique needs of female veterans especially when they don't represent a large number and it would be smaller and get better economical solutions
We may cover more of the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot. Right now, we're moving over to the targeting of Iraqi youth. Michelangelo Signorile interviewed (reposted at Huffington Post) Iraqi LGBT's Ali Hili on his Sirius XM radio program. The targeted are those who are or suspected of being gay and/or Emo.
Michelangelo Signorile: What has the US State Dept done? And certainly, in light of [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton's strong statements about countries around the world -- she gave a speech in Geneva speaking out about the brutality [against] gay people and said the US would be, you know, pulling funding even in some cases for countries, foreign aid would be in jeopardy, that were pushing an anti-gay agenda. Is the US State Dept just trying to look the other way?
Ali Hili: They have been looking the other way and it's a shame on the international world community that this genocide is happening under the eyes of the world and the gay community in particular. No one is doing anything to help support their brothers and sisters inside Iraq and this is on the conscious -- this is on the conscious of everyone who's been responsible to post it.
Michelangelo Signorile: What do you think people listening right now should be doing? Americans listening. Should they be putting pressure on the State Dept and Hillary Clinton?
Ali Hili: Of course. People should stand up. Stand up against this. this administration in Iraq, this establishment of killing that has been prosecuting sexual minorities, minorities and groups like even the Emos. Nobody ever did anything to stop these killings, these atrocities. The media is going to pick up on it for a period of time and then it's going to slow down and disappear. But those victims who are living there in fear, who's going to help them who's going to support them?
Michaelangelo Signorile: Has there been any official statement from the State Dept or Hillary Clinton?
Ali Hili: No. Nothing. Nothing. We haven't heard anything.
And no statment again today. Victoria Nuland handled the State Dept briefing. She came out joking ("Only the early birds here today!") and did everything but called for someone to bump up the lights as she asked, "So, what's on your minds?" Tomorrow, Victoria does the Tarzan yell.
Who is going to stand up for the Iraqi youth? The State Dept? The White House? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
While the so-called adults in government cut class, the tragedy continues for Iraqi youths. Peter Graff (Reuters) reports the way some Iraqi youths are dealing with the targeting:

Hafidh Jamal, 19, who works in a shoe store in the upscale Karrada neighbourhood, said he used to dress in black with his hair long in the back, but he fled his home in Sadr City this week and cut his hair. Two friends were killed for dressing in the emo style, he said.
"Let them kill me. They killed my close friends," he told Reuters. "I support emo. I love this phenomenon."


Tim Marshall (Sky News) notes the work of the Organization of Women's Freedom In Iraq to call out the murders:

The OWFI documents some of the crimes here (be aware this link leads to a graphic image) and says the current wave of killings began on February 6th. Gays have always been persecuted in Iraq, but two things happened after the 2003 invasion of the country which led to the wave of anti gay killings in 2009 and now again.


Ali Hussein (Al Mada) notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's condemnation of the killing of Iraqi youths for being or thought to be Emo and Hussein notes that the targeting brings back memories of the Saddam Hussein regime when innocent people were behead and tossed into the garbage. Al Rafidayn quotes Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi stating that the liquadation of youths on the pretext of reforming Iraqi society is about embracing violence and terror and that they killers are in violation of the law. Another Al Mada article notes that while Nujaifi has spoken out against the killing, the Ministry of the Interior has remained silent except to deny that any targeting is taking place. MP Chuan Mohammed Taha serves on the Security and Defense Committee and notes that that governmental indifference to these killings is a new form of terrorism and that the Ministry of the Interior is a participant in the killings if only due to the fact that they know about the murders and they hide them from the public. Taha also declares that Emo is the expression of a personality and the law guarantees Iraqis the right to freely express their opinions.

Abe Greenwald (Commentary) offers
his thoughts on the subject:

In a Contentions post, I noted that the initiative allowed Obama to shirk America's unique role in actually securing human rights around the world, while earning praise from identity-politics activists. The administration's failure (and disinclination) to maintain an American presence in Iraq after 2012 meant that anti-gay barbarians such as al-Qaeda and Iranian proxies would stay behind and prey upon Iraq's homosexuals without fear of American influence. If Obama really wanted to protect gay rights from history's most vicious anti-gay forces, I wrote, he'd keep America in Iraq (and Afghanistan) instead of issuing memos and giving speeches. And if the progressives singing his praises really felt that gay rights were human rights they'd have been more inclined to support George W. Bush's freedom agenda and less eager to cut and run in our wars abroad. How tragic to have been proven so right so soon.
So even Commentary -- a right-wing periodical -- can weigh in publicly but elected and appointed officials in the US all have a case of Vegas throat?
Last night, Turkey launched another wave of air strikes on northern Iraq. Reuters notes Turkish Col Hussein Tamr states the assault -- supposedly targeting the PKK -- lasted over "an hour." Yesterday David Petraeus, the Director of the CIA, was visiting Turkey and speaking with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. RTT reports that they discussed "escalating sectarian strife in Iraq." Press TV tries to cover it and opens with:

The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), David Petraeus, has expressed concerns about the possible trial of Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of involvement in terrorist activities.
Al Sabaah reports that three "followers" of Tareq al-Hashemi were sentenced in Dhi Qar's Criminal court for possession of prohibited weapons and conspiracy terrorism charges. Al Rafidayn reports the three were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile Baghdad prepares to go on lockdown. March 29th the Arab Summit is scheduled to be held in the capital and Al Sabaah reports that the Baghdad Operations Command has declared approximately 100,000 security officers will provide protection during the summit. In addition, Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports that starting March 26th, Baghdad International Airport will be shut down. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) notes that Moqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement announcing protests will not take place during the summit. So much for free expression in Iraq and, if any violate the edict of Moqtada, which of his deadly militias will he use for slaughter? Dar Addustour notes that the Cabinet has agreed to foot the bill for the Summit which, according to Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh, will cost $100 billion dinars. That would be $86,073,447.54 in US dollars. As so many Iraqis remain unemployed and in poverty, it will be interesting to see how the costs play out among the people.
Nouri is stalling on the national conference to address Iraq's political crisis and his latest stalling attempt is insisting that it take place after the Arab summit. Al Rafidayn notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi and KRG President Massoud Barzani are both calling for the conference to take place this month before the Arab Summit (scheduled to kick off March 29th). Al Mada adds that after all the prep meetings for the national conference (there have been at least five), it was decided Monday to create a small committee that would set the agendy and that this committee is scheduled to meet today. For those who've forgotten, those prep meetings? They were also supposed to determine the agenda.