Friday, March 23, 2012

Pedometer II

I wrote about the pedometer last week and three of you reading are using them.  You wrote to say that and ask how mine is going?

First, the good news.  Mine is a quality one.  A friend got one at a health fair a day after I bought mine -- she got hers for free for taking a cholesterol test and her pedometer broke within a week.

Mine stores the last seven days totals automatically and also has a clock you set on it.  And it's so sturdy.  It fell off when I took my kids to the park Sunday and I didn't realize it.  When I saw it, face down, on the path (concrete), I thought, "It's broken."  It wasn't even scratched.  It's an Omron HIP.

So that's the good news.

That's the only good news.

I'm supposed to get --

Woah!

Sorry, my bad.

I opened it when I bought it, battery was already in it, I kept the instruction booklet and junked the rest.  I thought the package had said "15,000" steps was what you were supposed to aim for.  It was just sentence across the front of the package and there's nothing like that in the instructions or suggested steps or anything.

It's 10,000.  And Dona's laughing at me.

See, she told me I was getting enough and I was telling her I wasn't.

And I'm not.  But not as bad as I thought.

I get about 9,600 Monday through Friday and that includes the 30 minutes I spend on my lunch hour (I get an hour fortunately) doing laps in the hall.  And I didn't really expect to get the amount of steps during the week.  But on Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to anything else that goes on, I walk an hour around C.I.'s grounds (don't call it a yard -- it's much too grand -- and that's not sarcasm, C.I.'s down to earth and calls it a yard but it's much bigger).  And I get 12,600 on those two days.

And I was telling Dona all week how it just wasn't possible and I must be the laziest person in the world.  And she was telling me part of the problem was, Monday through Friday, (I just had to tell her I'm putting that in, she just brought that up), I come home, I go straight to my room -- I say hi to the kids but breeze past unless they need  me to stop -- put my sunglasses, my car keys, my purse and the pedometer on this waist high bookcase by my door.  That way, in the morning, everything I need is right there.  I may take the kids somewhere later that night so I'll have to grab the keys and the purse (and maybe the sunglasses) but I'll put them back right after we get back.

And Dona's said that's the problem during the week.  That if I kept the pedometer on, I would have enough steps just from walking around the house and all.  And I told her, That's 5,400 steps.  It's not happening.

But it's actually 400 steps and it's very possible that I am getting 10,000.

I was so bummed though about the weekends.  I mean, I walk, do laps around C.I.'s property and I work up a sweat because it's my only real days to exercise hard.  And I'll usually play basketball one of those afternoons (Jim, Ty, Jess, Dona, my oldest son, my middle son and usually a friend or two).  And we'll go at it hard.  Then on Sunday, my daughter and I will ride bikes.  (She doesn't like sports but she will do bikes and she'll also do hikes, she loves to hike especially if you know about trees, birds and flowers and can tell her about what we're seeing.)

And I was pointing out to Dona, "Okay, I can handle during the week.  But I'm knocking myself out on the weekend and I'm still not getting the 15,000."  And she would remind me that I also usually swim (C.I.'s got a pool) and if it's not 'too hot' (I've become such a baby), I'll usually play tennis (C.I. has a tennis court).  I hadn't played tennis since I got the pedometer.  And all week, she was saying, "We'll play this weekend." And I'd wear the pedometer during tennis (obviously, I can't while swimming) so I was thinking, "Okay, this is going to give me that number on one of those days."  Turns out, I have gotten the number and gotten close.  That makes me feel so much better.

I was really upset.

And I could only tell Dona and other adults because my youngest son and my daughter both thought the pedometer was wonderful and wanted their own so I was telling them we'd get it on Friday I could have picked it up during the week but my daughter did not believe white was the only color and was convinced if she went to Kroger with me -- that's where I got it at the pharmacy at Kroger -- they would find a pink one.  Just for her.  They did not.  But the nice man in the pharmacy told her that she could get some poster paint and paint the outside.  Which is the first thing we did when we got home because, "Mommy, I HAVE to wear it all day tomorrow so the paint needs to dry."  She's curious to see what she'll get on the average day.

Dona's reading over my shoulder and laughing softly.  (If her daughter wasn't asleep on the bed she'd be laughing loudly.)  She asked me why I didn't look at the packages at Kroger this evening?  I didn't think too.  It wasn't until I flipped to another screen to grab the link to the post so I could put it in that I read the post and saw it was 10,000.

Dona's little girl is a sweetie.  And my daughter appears to have traded in her baby dolls (but not her Barbies) because she thinks Dona's baby is her new baby doll.  "The baby wants me, the baby wants me!" She'll start insisting that if anyone's holding the baby around her.  So she rocked her to sleep and then said we needed to put her down so we came in here. (Dona doesn't live here anymore.  Ava bought a house by C.I. She loves the neighborhood -- who wouldn't? -- and it went up for sale and she grabbed it.  And has the money too, lucky dog.  So since she's on the road with C.I. every week, Dona and Jim moved over there with their baby and Jess of course too because he and Ava are a couple.)  (Here it's Ty and his boyfriend, me and my kids and that's it during the week which would be sad if everyone wasn't always over here or over at Ava's.)

So that's the pedometer story and I had planned to say: "Kendall, Scott and Jordan, thank you for asking.  It's probably good to write about attempted fitness from time to time."  But now I will say, God bless you three.  If you hadn't written to ask, I wouldn't have looked at last week's post when I grabbed the link, and I'd still be thinking, "I'm never going to reach 15,000!"


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, March 23, 2012. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, Human Rights Watch calls for an investigation into whether or not someone was tortured to death, security sources say the targeting of Emo youths in Iraq is back on after the Arab Summit and that this time the ones targeted will be Iraqi girls and young women, even with the GAO pointing to problems the Pentagon denies there are any, and more.
There is a success story in Iraq. You'd think the White House desperate for someone to paint the illegal war as a success would have seized upon it but, even though Jane Arraf reported on it for Al Jazeera last weekend, the White House and other Operation Happy Talkers somehow missed it. This is a transcript to Arraf's video report:
Jane Arraf: It's a small step pronouncing a word but for parents and children, it speaks volumes. Without this institute, some of these children wouldn't even be making eye contact. Eleven years ago, there were no schools for autistic children, so one of the parents started her own. Nibras Sadoun was doing field research in special education when she adopted an autistic child rejected by his mother.
Nibras Sadoun: There are a lot of obstacles in the country and there were huge needs as well. So we tried to pull together the efforts of the founders, specialists and parents to establish a solid base that can serve this segment of society.
Jane Arraf: The Al Rahman Institute, named after her son, has since grown into six centers around the country -- all without Iraqi government funding. The latest just opened in Baghdad. Iraq's education ministry doesn't have any programs for autistic children. It considers them slow learners. Here in the middle of Baghdad, this is a safe place for children, a refuge. But there are only a few dozen children who have been lucky enough to come here and hundreds on the waiting list. Autism is so widely misunderstood here that a lot of children like this spend their entire lives locked up at home. Mariam has been here for a year. She's five-and-a-half but, before she came, she couldn't say "Mama" or ask for water. Her father says her progress is basic. But having somewhere to bring her during the day is a lifesaver.
Nizer Mustapha Hussein:She's a very active child and she plays with everything. Thank God, we found this place. Her mother can't cope with her at home because she can't control her.
Jane Arraf: The children have varying degrees of autism, a lot have other neurolgical or developmental problems as well. Autistic children have trouble communicating or interacting with others. At school, they teach them basic skills. Their biggest problem is lack of qualified staff. Dealing with autistic children takes training and dedication and the determination to find a place for children who don't easily fit in the world around them.
A small number of autistic children and their families can say their lives have improved. Of course, this improvement did not result from any US military project or US State Dept project and didn't result from Prime Minister and All Around Thug Nouri al-Maliki sliding over any dollars from the billions he sits on. As is so often the case with autism around the world, improvements came as a result of families of those effected doing more than their part.
The Autism Support Network highlights a report Lara Logan did for CBS News in 2008 on autism in Iraq. In the report, Logan observes, "The problem for autistic children in Iraq is that almost nothing is known about this condition. Incredibly, the only doctor who did treat it, who founded this center in the name of his own autistic son, has fled the country. He left behind these social workers who try their best to help but even they haven't been paid in four months." Click here for the CBS report with text and video. However, do not e-mail me and say, "C.I., you're wrong about the report. It aired on February 11, 2009." I have no idea what the problem with CBS and dates is this week. We noted Nancy Pelosi's "off the table" 2006 interview on 60 Minutes earlier this week and didn't link to 60 Minutes. Why? You click on that 2006 60 Minutes report and you've got a 2009 date. I didn't want the e-mails. That interview was well covered in real time (we linked to the World Can't Wait commentary the day after the interview aired). Autism is not usually well covered. So we're linking to CBS. But it aired in 2008. If you doubt it, click here, it's the video at YouTube, uploaded by CBS News on August 10, 2008. If you need further convincing, drop back to the August 12, 2008 snapshot when we first noted Lara Logan's report.
Silence on the improvement for the small number of autistic children able to attend one of the six centers may have also been ignored by the White House due to the fact that the rate of autism in Iraq may be influenced by the various chemicals and weapons and pollutants and toxins the US goverment introduced via many methods of delivery (including burn pits). Last week, Cindy Sheehan wrote about being in Stockholm with the Iraq Solidarity Group to observe the anniversary of the invasion and speaking with an Iraqi doctor who went over a number of stastics:
Two million dead during the sanction years; 1.5 milliion dead after 2003; incidences of leukemia in children in Fallujah and Basra skyrocketing by a factor of ten times normal; clean water and electricity are still in short supply; and the US occupiers do not work for the people of Iraq.
[. . .]
Of course we know that the US used depleted uranium coated weapons in Iraq and the region is now poisoned by the radioactive waste from DU for 4.5 billion years --- that is one of the reasons that incidences of leukemia are on the rise.
One woman who does activism to ban all nuclear weapons, including DU, said that now in Iraq, a woman's first question after giving birth is not: "Is it a boy or a girl," but, "Is it normal?"
No wonder the White House decided to skip the topic of Iraqi children. For more coverage of the damage to the environment and its effects on the Iraqi people, you can refer to:
"Normal" doesn't begin to describe the ongoing political crisis in Iraq or Nouri's attempts to have Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested (he claims al-Hashemi is a terrorist) which are seen as part of the same political crisis and part of Nouri's attempt to lash out at political rivals. (Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections while Nouri's State of Law came in second.) al-Hashemi was in the KRG when Nouri issued the warrant and he has remained in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. The KRG has not assisted Nouri in his witch hunt and Nouri has responded by ordering the arrests of people working for al-Hashmi. Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi was one such pe
Wednesday, Tareq al-Hashemi charged that his bodyguard had been tortured to death. We covered these issue in yesterday's snapshot. Today Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the death:
(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities should order a criminal investigation into allegations that security forces tortured to death a bodyguard of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Human Rights Watch said today.

Iraqi authorities released Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi's body to his family on March 20, 2012, about three months after arresting him for terrorism. His family told Human Rights Watch that his body displayed signs of torture, including in several sensitive areas. Photographs taken by the family and seen by Human Rights Watch show what appear to be a burn mark and wounds on various parts of his body.

"The statements we heard and photos we saw indicate that Iraqi security officers may have tortured Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi to death while he was in their custody," said
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It's essential for the Iraqi government to investigate his death and report publicly what they find."

The family said that al-Batawi's death certificate listed no cause of death. They said that before his arrest, the 33-year-old married father of three was in excellent health.

"I could barely recognize him," a close relative told Human Rights Watch on March 22. "There were horrible marks and signs of torture all over his body. He had lost about 17 kilos [37.5 pounds] from the day they arrested him."

Iraqi authorities have denied the torture allegations. On March 22, Lt. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, chief of staff of Baghdad's security command center and a judicial spokesman, said al-Batawi died of kidney failure and other conditions after refusing treatment. When asked by reporters about the photographic evidence that al-Batawi had been tortured, Baydhani replied, "It is easy for Photoshop to show anything," referring to a digital photo-editing software.

As the United States was pulling its last remaining troops from Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi on charges he was running death squads. Al-Hashemi has taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan and refused to return to Baghdad, saying he cannot receive a fair trial. Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have so far declined to hand him over.

An unknown number of other members of al- Hashemi's security and office staff have been arrested since late December and are also in custody, including two women. On March 22, al-Hashemi told Human Rights Watch, "I have made repeated requests to the government to find out who else in my staff has been arrested and where they are being held, but they have not responded."

Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to release the names of all those detained and the charges against them, and to ensure that they have access to lawyers and medical care.
Today Al Mada reports that security sources are stating that young Iraqi women and girls are about to be targeted by the militias in part of the ongoing attacks on Iraqi youths thought to be Emo and/or gay. One source stated that the militias have pulled back and 'softened' their approach recently but only due to the fact that the Arab League Summit is approaching. To avoid embarrassing Nouri, they militia's basically about to take a vacation and plans to return immediately after the summit at which point they will "hunt down girls" and security sources are also stating that some security forces may be assisting the militias in these upcoming actions. If you're new to this topic, Scott Lang's column for the Guardian provides a strong overview of what's taking place:
A new killing campaign is convulsing Iraq. The express targets are "emos", short for "emotional": a western-derived identity, teenagers adopting a pose of vulnerability, along with tight clothes and skewed hairdos and body piercing. Starting last year, mosques and the media both began raising the alarm about youthful immorality, calling the emos deviants and devil worshippers. In early February, somebody began killing people. The net was wide, definitions inexact. Men who seemed effeminate, girls with tattoos or peculiar jewellery, boys with long hair, could all be swept up. The killers like to smash their victims' heads with concrete blocks.
There is no way to tell how many have died: estimates range from a few dozen to more than 100. Nor is it clear who is responsible. Many of the killings happened in east Baghdad, stronghold of Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous). Neither, though, has claimed responsibility. Iraq's brutal interior ministry issued two statements in February. The first announced official approval to "eliminate" the "satanists". The second, on 29 February, proclaimed a "campaign" to start with a crackdown on stores selling emo fashion. The loaded language suggests, at a minimum, that the ministry incited violence. It's highly possible that some police, in a force riddled with militia members, participated in the murders.
It's logical to compare this to the militia campaign against homosexual conduct in 2009, which I documented for Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of men lost their lives then. Gay-identified men have been caught up in these killings as well, and Baghdad's LGBT community is rife with fear. Yet there are differences. The current killings target women as well as men, and children are the preferred victims. It's not quite true to say, as some press reports have suggested, that "emo" is just a synonym for "gay" in Iraq. Rather, immorality, western influence, decadence and blasphemy have come together in a loosely defined, poorly aligned complex of associations: and emo fashion and "sexual perversion" are part of the mix.
Turning to 'security' in 'free' Iraq.  Thank goodness foreign troops are out is the public pose of Nouri.  But it appears that privately he's attempting to get foreign military back into Iraq. 
The Sun Daily notes, "Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today said Malaysia is prepared to sen[d] a special peacekeeping team on a humanitarian mission to Iraq if the costs of operation were to be sponsored by other countries." The Defense Minister is quoted stating, "There's a request for Malaysia to sen[d] a team to Iraq and one particular country has also agreed to bear the costs of operation, but since the country has yet to keep its promise, we cannot send the team to Iraq." Meanwhile Reuters notes a Kirkuk prison break that has 19 prisoners on the loose.

Still on security news, KUNA reports, "All necessary security precautions have been taken in preparation for upcoming Arab summit due to be hosted by Baghdad in the end of this month, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced on Friday." The Arab League Summit is set to take place next week in Baghdad. Alsumaria TV notes the announcement as well and -- a press release from the Ministry of Interior -- and that the release claims that terrorists are attempting to create an atmosphere of hysteria. An atmosphere of hysteria? Like Nouri's comments reported by Al Rafidayn that Tuesday's attacks was carried out by terrorist including security officers inside the Iraqi security forces? Citing an unnamed security source, Al Mada reports that Nouri has ordered the closure of at least one bridge and that Baghdad barrier walls are going back up. It's already been reported that Baghdad's about to impose a seven-day 'holiday' and that Bahgdad International Airport will be closed to commercial flights. Salam Faraj and Abdul Jabbar (AFP) observe, "The Iraqi capital's already gnarling traffic has all but ground to a halt, and the government has declared a week of holidays on the days surrounding the March 27-29 summit to encourage people to stay at home." Iraq's a country already plagued with high unemployment and rocketing inflation. Now Faraj and Jabbar report that the prices in Baghdad markets are soaring due to transportation issues as a result of the barriers and checkpoints that have been going up.

On the topic of violence, Charles Tripp (Open Democracy) offers:


Violence in Iraq has now become a central part of the practice of power, both by the government and by certain non-governmental agencies, some of them bitterly opposed to, but others enmeshed in the webs of government practice. For the government of Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ever unfinished project of re-establishing the power and thus, he hopes, the authority of the central state has often taken a violent form. This has been clear ever since the campaigns in 2008 that saw a reconstituted, if not always very effective, Iraqi army reconquer a number of Iraq's provinces, with campaigns in the south in Basra, the east of Baghdad, the north in Mosul and the north-east in Diyala.
At the time and in the context of the country's emergence from a bloody civil war, these campaigns were strongly supported by the US and others who saw this precisely as a token of the 'resolve' and the 'seriousness' of the fragile Iraqi government. The fact that al-Maliki had attached to his personal command perhaps the most effective and ruthless of the units of the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces, the Baghdad Brigade, was believed to assist the state-creating project. Equally, the close and some might say politically unhealthy interest that al-Maliki took in officers' careers, promotions and transfers within the Iraqi armed forces through his own Office of the Commander in Chief was regarded as merely fitting if he wanted 'to get the job done'.
The problem, as many Iraqis began to discover, lay in what else was coming into being as a consequence. In public, the military presence was meant to symbolise al-Maliki's grip on power and his capacity to restore order, as his coalition 'The State of Law' promised. It was highly visible and clearly aimed at demonstrating both that the withdrawal of the US forces in 2010/2011 would not leave Iraq defenceless, and that the government was in full control. The effect, however, in the words of one Iraqi was that 'we live as under an army of occupation'. Given the continuing threat of violence from insurgents of one kind and another, this may have been reassuring for some. However, it also seemed to bring with it the idea that any kind of open or public opposition could and should be met with force. Most notoriously, this was evident in the ferocious response in 2011 to any Iraqis who dared to demonstrate during 2011 in the spirit of the 'Arab Spring'. Thus, whether in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, or in Basra, Mosul or in the Kurdish region in Sulaimaniyya, peaceful protestors were killed, abused and beaten up on the orders of authorities for which violence has become the default response to opposition.



And the political crisis continues in 'free' Iraq. Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) notes the various elements of the crisis beginning with Nouri's second term as prime minister and then emphasizes the speech KRG President Massoud Barzani gave this week (Tuesday):


Barzani also said that Baghdad had asked the Kurdish administration to let Al-Hashemi leave Iraq in order to avoid being put on trial, something which amounted to accusing Al-Maliki's government of hypocrisy.

"Our response was that we do not work as [people] smugglers and we won't do it," Barzani told a gathering of his Kurdistan Democratic Party in Erbil, the Kurdish provincial capital, last Thursday.
Barzani also lambasted the Baghdad government over other long-running disputes, such as oil and power-sharing with the central government. He renewed criticisms of Al-Maliki's authoritarian style of government and of his alleged attempts to marginalise the Kurds and Sunnis.
"Some in Baghdad believe they are the rulers of Iraq and want to work unilaterally," he said. "They are losers who have failed to give Iraq anything, unlike what we have done for our people in Kurdistan, and they want us to be like them," Barzani said, echoing criticisms by many Iraqis that al-Maliki's government has failed to bring security and restore basic services to Iraq some seven years after assuming power.

Speaking in the region's capital of Arbil on Tuesday, Barzani said the partnership that had built the national unity government in the country is now completely non-existent and has become meaningless. Barzani stated that if the political deadlocks remained the KRG parliament would declare independence for the Kurdish region. He also said that the oil-rich Kirkuk had to be incorporated into a future independent Kurdistan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki kept his job only with Kurdish support after his party fell short of a majority in the 2010 parliamentary elections.
Covering Barzani and Nouri's conflict, Turkish Weekly emphasizes one section of Barzani's speech:

"There is an attempt to establish a one million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person," Barzani said in the speech in Arbil. He claimed that al-Maliki and the government were "waiting to get F-16 combat planes to examine its chances again with the Kurdish peshmerga [fighters]," referring to a government order for 36 warplanes from the United States. "Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?" he asked.
Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) notes attacks on Barzani from various members of Nouri's circle.

"We strongly disagree with [Mr. Allawi's] characterization of our relationship with the government of Iraq and the role we have played to keep the Iraqi political process on track." Who said that?  Head liar for the State Dept, Victoria Nuland and Ben Birnbaum (Washington Times) quotes her latest lies as he reports on Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi:


Mr. Allawi headed the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc in Iraq's 2010 elections. The bloc won two more seats than Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law alliance, but Mr. al-Maliki was able to form a government under a 2011 power-sharing deal.
That deal, which gave several ministries to Iraqiya, was supposed to have given Mr. Allawi control of a new strategic policy council, but the former premier declined the post when Mr. al-Maliki refused to cede it much authority despite what he called U.S. guarantees.
"The policymakers promised to support this, but ultimately and unfortunately, none of this has happened, and the United States forgot about this power-sharing completely," Mr. Allawi said. "I think the United States deliberately is taking Iraq out of the screen because there is a gross failure in Iraq."
Monday and Tuesday, we noted that various left and 'left' programs and magazines were ignoring the 9th anniversary (Monday was the anniversary). An e-mail came in about Uprising Radio. Despite the fact that its segment aired on Wednesday and despite Sonali Kohlhatkar's embarrassing stab in the back of Aghan women to show her love for Barack Obama (we addressed this community wide in 2009 including in an all woman roundtable featuring all women who do community sites as well as Gina and Krista who started and do the first community newletter the gina & krista roundrobin), I did attempt to listen. While I'm sure Ann Wright had something of value to say and would guess that Kevin Zeese did as well, I can't stomach Sonali's garbage. I can't stomach her ignorance, I can't stomach her 'hugs for empire' and I can't stomach her damn cowardly soul.  For example, to say that 100,000 Iraqis have died in the Iraq War was probably 'brave' prior to the October 2006 publication of Lancet Study which found over a million had died. To say it today on a left outlet, on Pacifica Radio, is to be a damn liar. I'm not in the mood for her garbage. We've fought this fight before, we shouldn't have to fight it again. (For those late to the party, United for Peace & Justice, when it was still pretending to care about ending wars, was pimping lower numbers after the study was published by the Lancet. Elaine and I called it out repeatedly -- and not just here -- and Elaine laid down the damn law -- offline -- and got UFPJ to change the number. I'm not in the mood to refight battles that were already won because Sonali wants to be the cheap trash of empire. Her show gets pulled from the permalinks tonight when I'm by a computer. -- I dictate the snapshots over the phone. And anyone with UPFJ who wants to play and pretend that Elaine didn't force UPFJ to change their numbers should know that I'm more than happy to make private e-mails public on this topic. Elaine did it, she deserved applause for it in real time and she never said a word -- she did do a post at her site noting the number was changed but never noting all she had done -- online and especially offline -- to force that change.)
The US Goverment of Accountability Office wrote to Congressional Committees:
According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis (DFA-IN), fiscal year 2010 active Army military payroll totaled $46.1 billion. For years, we and others have reported continuing deficiencies with Department of the Army military paryoll processes and controls. In November 2003, we reported that weaknesses in processes and controls resulted in over -- and underpayments to mobilized Army National Guard personnel. In April 2006, we reported that pay problems rooted in complex, cumbersome processes used to pay Army soldiers from initial mobilization through active duty deployment to demobilization resulted in military debt to battle-injured soldiers. In June 2009, we reported that the Army did not have effective controls for processing and accounting for military personnel federal payroll taxes because of weaknesses in its procedures and controls for assuring accurate and timely documentation of transactions. In July 2011, the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General reported that the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) made potentially invalid active duty military payroll payments of $4.2 million from January 2005 through December 2009 for the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
These reported continuing deficiencies in Army payroll processes and controls have called into question the exten to which the Army's military payroll transactions are valid and accurate and whether the Army's military payroll as a whole is auditable. The Army's military pay is material to all of the Army's financial statements and comprises about 20 percent of the Army's $233.8 billion in reported fiscal year 2010 net outlays. Accordingly, Army active duty military payroll is significant to both Army and DOD efforts to meet DOD's 2014 Statement of Budgetary Resources and audit readiness goal.
That's from the cover letter to the GAO's report, released yesterday, entitled [PDF format warning] "DOD FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT: The Army Faces Significant Challenges in Achieving Audit Readiness for Its Military Pay." These issues were the subject of a joint-hearing yesterday of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management (Chair is US House Rep Todd Platts) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee (Chair is Senator Thomas Carper). Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
Yesterday's snapshot covered LTC Kirk Zecchini's testimony which included being stationed in Afghanistan and going without a month-and-a-half's pay because of some auditing error and how he does have a family to support and had to dip into savings to cover that period of time (not to mention the stress this causes -- he noted that these sort of periods of no pay are so common you can't walk through the dining halls without hearing someone discussing how it has just happened to them). We're going to briefly note the an exchange from the second panel which really sums up the entire second panel.
US House Rep Gerry Connolly: I guess one of the things I would just say to the panel is, it seems to me, progress achieved notwithstanding, we need to move from sort of the administrative clutter to the human level. No soldier on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else serving in uniform ought to -- on top of everything else -- be worried about whether the spouse and kids back home can pay the bills. That ought to be our goal, bottom line. 'That part, we got your back. Don't worry about anything but the mission, we've got the rest of it.' And it's very difficult to hear testimony as we did this morning from LTC Zecchini that in the middle of Afghanistan, on the warfront, he's worrying about trying to pay the bills back home and so's his spouse, so are the kids. That's a very human concern, a very legitimate one. We may never get to perfection. It's a big, complex system with lots of change orders. Bigger than any private sector enterprise. I understand. But that ought to be our goal. It's a human goal. We need to be seized with a mission. This isn't about numbers. This is about men and women and their lives. And I just -- I say that as somebody who's managed a big enterprise. If that's our mentality, we will fix this problem. And I commend it to you. I know that you are committed but we need to redouble that commitment so that we never have that kind of testimony again and LTC Zecchni and his colleagues never have to worry about that again. Mr. Watkins, in your outstanding testimony, you indicated that you were pretty confident we were going to meet the deadlines we've set four ourselves to finally have a certifiable audit like most federal agencies. The Pentagon's not like most federal agencies so we understand the complications. On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that we will in fact meet that deadline finally?
James Watkins: Representative Connelly, I'm very confident. I'd rate it about 8.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: Okay. Thank you. Mr. Kahn, your testimony, if I understood you correctly was the GAO found appreciable progress had been made on the fronts we're talking about. Is that correct?
Asif Kahn: Some progress has been made but there's a lot more work that needs to be done to meet the 2014 deadline.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: That's on the audit?
Asif Kahn: Correct.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: What about on the issue of accurate payroll?
Asif Kahn: That continues to be a problem.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: Statistically how much of a problem is it from the GAO's point of view? The Chairman [Platts] was talking about 250 but obviously the problem has to be bigger than that, given the size of our armed forces.
Asif Kahn: Well let me just pick up from where you left. Our sample of 250 was a statistical sample. That means the results could be generalized or extrapolated over --
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: And if we extrapolate, what would we say?
Asif Kahn: We could not say anything on the accuracy or the validity of Army's active-duty pay for Fiscal Year 2010.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly: But are there metrics we can -- I mean, if we don't have some metrics for these folks to measure against and to gauge progress than it remains anecdotal. Based on that statistical sample, what percentage of active-duty military do we feel suffer from mistakes in their payroll.
Asif Kahn: I mean that -- based on that, that will be very difficult to say because -- I mean getting two payroll records out of 250 doesn't really say much.
US House Rep Gerry Connelly explained that without some sort of basic estimate, it was impossible to know if this is a problem that's improving or if it's getting worse. His goal is to reduce it to zero. But he explained he has no idea where the problem stood without some basic numbers that the Congress could work with. Chair Todd Platts echoed him on that and also noted without a basic number they not only can't estimate how many people are being effected by this (not receiving pay in a timely fashion) but they also can't estimate how much "time and effort and money" it's taking the government to correct these problems when they arise.
Chair Thomas Carper followed by asking for some general reactions from the second panel. Khan was very clear about the problems. The Pentagon witnesses, by contrast, were optimistic and things were great, and, oh, we have figures, we do, we do, we do, we do. But Kahn was then asked what he thought about the responses and he was very clear that there was no documentation at present -- despite what Pentagon witnesses were saying. Kahn explained that the problem remains, "This is a real problem. The length of time it took to provide the documentation? It's not really going to enable an auditor to stay there and to give a valid audit opinion in a timely fashion. And the other one is the issue of supporting documentation. Regardless of the robustness of the system, the auditor will need access to the supporting documentation, the underlying records of the information which is maintained in the system. So those are the two points that need to be recognized. One is the timeliness and the other is the accuracy and the validty of the information in the system."
Chair Thomas Carper: I think in responding to the GAO's work, the Army's official letter to the GAO said -- and I'm going to quote it, "We appreciate your confirmation that no significant issues were identified in your review of the miltiary pay accounts for the Army." That's part of what it said. "We appreciate your confirmation that no significant issues were identified in your review of the military pay accounts for the Army." I think based on what we've heard from you and some from the Colonel [], it just seems like a bit of an odd comment based on your testimony. Do you believe, as the Army stated, that your audit showed no significant issues?
Asif Kahn: Our report has been very clear in highlighting the deficiencies in the Army's processes and systems. The deficiencies in the processes and systems really increase the risk of inaccurate payments -- just like I'd mentioned before. So that along with the timeliness -- with the timeliness of which information is presented, those are very significant issues -- both towards the accuracy and the validity of the information in the system and also to be able to get ready for an audit whether it's 2014 or 2017. So the issues tha we've highlighted, they're very significant.
And that is the second panel.  The auditors point to problems, the Pentagon thanks them for saying hello.  The Pentagon is in denial about the problems.  To even themselves?  Who knows but they obviously wanted to play dumb in public.  As long as they continue to do that, look for this to drag on forever and for more and more service members to suffer with wrongful pay and no pay.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whitney

"Whitney" airs Wednesdays on NBC.

 Well my big fear is real.  Mark is attracted to Roxanne.  Which means they'll probably get together.  (Roxanne would be crazy not to find Mark sexy.)

The episode started with her at the bar and running a guy off (as she went on about her husband she's now divorcing for a second time).  Mark told her she had to change up her game.


Mark: Roxanne, I'm telling you, you have to change your entire game.  You're not in your 20s anymore, guys actually listen to what you say now.  You can't just chug vodka, toss your panties in your purse and call it a night.


Roxanne: How dare you! I call that a morning.

I really love Roxanne too.  So, when they get together, hopefully the writers (which does include Whitney Cummings -- she's also a producer on this show in addition to writing and playing the title character) will keep their personalities consistent because it's hard not to love them both.

I just do not want we-break-up-we-hate-each-other and all the other junk.  Hopefully, that won't happen.  But look at Neal and Lily.  They're not getting back together.  That's over.

So . . .

Mark tries to help Roxanne with flirting, "You don't know how to talk to guys. I mean, on paper, you're a great catch, you're fun, you're hot but not uncomfortably so. And you're successful at, you know, women's work."

And Roxanne pours it on to prove to Mark that she does but he thinks, for a moment, she's serious and he's clearly aroused.  After, he tries to play it off and can't even keep the conversation straight.  He's also -- as he himself notes -- talking at a very loud level.

They go to the bar with Lily and Neal.  And Roxanne successfully flirts with a guy while Mark watches. He confesses what he's feeling to Neal.  So this is obviously headed towards a romance.

And it will be adorable in the beginning.  I just hope that will be the case after the newness rubs off.  (I'm 
expecting "Whitney" to be a long distance runner and see five seasons of this show.)


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, March 22, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad denies that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's bodyguard was tortured to death, Baghdad states he was sent to a hospital, as the day progresses, they change that to "hospitals" (pretend not to notice, the press did), Iraqiya's prepared to bring up the ongoing political crisis at the Arab League Summit (scheduled for the end of this month in Baghad), the US Congress hears that DoD can't be successfully audited because everything is in such disarray, and more.
"The purpose of today's hearing is to review the accuracy of pay to active service members in the US Army," explained US House Rep Todd Platts in his written statement this moment as he co-chaired a joint-hearing. "The hearing will examine the findings of an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office of the Army military payroll accounts for Fiscal Year 2010. In 2010, there were nearly 680,000 active duty Army service members whose pay was handled by the Defense Finance Accounting System, or DFAS, centered in Indianapolis. GAO conducted its audit of DFAS in order to verify the accuracy and validity of Army payroll transactions."
Because of various issues with documentation, there's no way for the Government Accountability Office to truly do an audit. Chair Platts noted in his written statement, "The Army payroll is also a significant portion of total Department of Defense. As a result, the Department of Defense cannot pass an audit unless the payroll systems are auditable." It you can't audit, there's no accountability and no real oversight.
That hearing started a little late and there was concern about votes being called shortly so to speed things along, Platts, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management and Senator Thomas Carper, Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee, waived their opening remarks and entered the written remarks into the record. Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
US House Rep Darrell Issa is the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and he made a surprise appearance as well.
Chair Darrell Issa: I came here for two reasons. First of all, when the House of the People [House of Representatives] and the other house [Senate] get together, it means that we have what it takes to move positive legislation all in one room so it's always preferrable to have us hear the same thing and come away from a hearing knowing we have to act and how we have to act. So the second reason is that, Colonel, like you, I was an enlisted man, paper leave and earning statements, 1970, it was real paper, as it was for Senator Carper. If one piece of paper got ripped out of there, it was gone forever. My enlisted time was fairly uneventful although I had a lot of TDY [Temporary Duty] and a lot of different supplemental dollars as an EOD enlisted man. But when I was commissioned, I saw the other side of it. I was responsible for up to 200 men and women who were constantly having to get compassionate pay, they were having to get 25 or 50 dollars because when the PCSd [Permanent Change of Station] in the paper work got lost. We would keep them sometimes for a couple of months not getting their real pay because there was a problem -- particularly if they were coming from overseas. That was approaching half a century ago. We've come a long way, we've come from paper to electronic. But we haven't come far enough to have the kind of proactive effort to where you should never have to say, "Well how do we pay this person? What do we do? Do we send them to the USO or do we in fact find some other way?" And, more importantly, do we no longer have people who receive pay and then somehow say, "Oh, that was a SNAFU and for the next six months, we're going to be deducting." I represent [Marine Corps Base] Camp Pendleton and, as a result, I see that happening. Naval assets and private assets have to find ways to take care of families because there's been an overpayment and then it has to be repaid. Last but not least, I had the pleasure of leaving the Army and the only time I've ever been audited -- personally audited -- was the year I left the Army and there's nothing worse than trying to explain all these various per diems in pays that are tax free if X,Y and Z to a man who's never served in the military but whose job it is to get a little money out of you. So I believe that when we get to where we do the job right, it will for our men and women in uniform, especially those who have families who are also earning and they've got to bring these together in a predictable way to make payments. So I'm glad to see that my good friend Chairman [Edolphus] Towns is also here. That gives us an awful lot of legacy of this Committee to hear it and to respond. So, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you all for being here today and I yield back.
Edolphus Towns is the Ranking Member (and former Chair) also chose to submit his opening statements for the record. The lack of accountability, the inability to do an audit, should be disturbing from a taxpayer stand point. We're going to focus on LTC Kirk Zecchini who has served 28 years (for any wondering, he's served in both of the current wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan) and his testimony to provide one person's struggle to get the pay they deserve and have earned. The excerpt that follows will be in order but we'll do jump cuts (indicated by: "[. . .]") to work through several examples.
Chair Todd Platts: In your time, have you ever had an instance where you -- because pay was not properly provided to you -- that it ended up a hardship, financial hardship, because of incorrect balance in a checking account or are you aware of any soldiers you've served with who have?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well, from my personal experience, the only real hardship that I encountered was when I was in Afghanistan and my pay just stopped for about a month-and-a-half and I still had a mortgage and I still had bills to pay back home. Fortunately, I had a little bit of savings while I was still deployed but, yeah, that was a really tense period, not knowing when the pay was going to get turned back on again.
Chair Todd Platts: In that example, where it was delayed, was there any compensation -- meaning any interest for the two months that were not properly paid when it finally was?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: No, sir.
[. . .]
Chair Thomas Carper: I guess you're not the only person you served with who had some problems with pay. We did in my unit, I presume you had problems in your unit. Were the problems similar in nature to those you experienced, or were they different? Were there any commonalities? Or was it just across the board, wide variety of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I can't say that I've ever experienced the same problem twice.
Chair Thomas Carper: How about when you think of your colleagues with whom you served? Did they have similar problems or were they different kinds of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I would have to say different. Again, my experiences were different from the typical Guardsman, where I had a lot of active duty time, a lot of TDYs. I did a lot more than outside of the one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-in-the-summer.
Chair Thomas Carper: Sure sounds like you did.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: So I'd have to say that mine were a little bit different and broader than most of my peers.
Chair Thomas Carper: You allued to this, but I think you said there was a period of a month or two when you didn't get paid at all. And when I think of overseas, I was married and had no wife or children and the Navy pretty much took care of our immediate needs, they fed us and gave us a place to sleep and there was medical care and that kind of thing and so we were able to save -- guys like me, we were able to save like every other pay check. We didn't make much money but we didn't spend much either. I had no wife or children to support. I tried to help my sister a little bit to go to college but that was the big obligation I had. But that's not the case with a lot of folks. Especially today when we have a lot of Reservists deployed to activated deployed, we have a lot of Guardsman and women activated deployed and they do have families. And when they have problems with their pay, it's a whole lot more difficult and a lot more complex. Okay, put yourself in the position of just providing good advice through us, but for us, to the folks who are charged with fixing these problems. I realize we'll never get to perfection. That should be our goal. And if you were just to provide some advice, good advice, with the folks charged with fixing this, and our job is to have oversight and try to make sure that it's addressed, what would be the advice? It can be fairly general, it doesn't have to be specific. One of the best, I'll give you an example, we had a guy before us testifying on the Finance Committee a couple of months ago on deficit reduction and I asked him what do we need to do on deficit reduction -- he's Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, professor of economics at Princeton -- and asked what do we do on deficit reduction? His big deal on deficit reduction is health care cost -- if we don't reign in corporate health care costs we're doomed. He said I'm not a health economist but I asked him what you'd do about reigning in the deficit, he said, "I'm not a health care economist but here's what I'd do: I'd find out what works, I'd do more of that." That's exactly what he said. "I'd find out what works, do more of that." I said, "You mean find out what doesn't work and do less of that?" And he said yes. So that's actually pretty good advice in everything we do, not just reigning in health care costs. But what should we do here? What should the folks in the Dept of Defense do to address this problem?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well obviously, I have seen a lot of changes in 28 years from paper statements to electronic statements now. And those have all been, you know, good things. Most recently Defense Travel System came online, where you can enter your travel claims online and that was huge. That really took the paper work piece and it streamlined the process for travel vouchers. You get paid now in three or four days where it used to take you a month to get your travel pay.
Chair Thomas Carper: So that's a great improvement?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes. DTS was, in my mind, great. But not everyone has access to DTS. I had access because I was full time federal technician where most traditional Guardsman and Reservists don't -- don't have that system yet.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How many times did you [. . .] have the pay problem during your years of service?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: After I started talking to Mr. Tyler last week, I started thinking back to my career. I gave him some good examples but -- the ones I just testified to -- but I can think of several other ones that weren't such a big deal and they were pretty easy to fix at the unit level. But --
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: It was so many times you can't remember? Is that what you're saying?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. How widespread is the problem among others?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I mean, you hear people talking about pay issues, you hear, you know, just dining chow how talk, people always -- somebody always seems to have a pay issue that they're dealing with.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How long did it take, the longest period, for you to correct your pay?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: The example I mentioned about my one-and-a-half-months without pay in Afghanistan that was the longest that I ever went without a pay check. But the longest that I ever had to deal with a problem in getting resolution to the problem was the one where I didn't get my various allowances from my missions in Southeast Asia. That took about a year-and-a-half.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. Could you just walk us through one process of how you went about it to get paid? Just briefly.

LTC Kirk Zecchini: About what?
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Walk us through a process you had to take in order to get paid. In other words, you didn't get your check and what you had to do in order to get it?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well the example I mentioned about the pay in allowances from Southeast Asia, I was working in Bangladesh and the Philippines and all through Southeast Asia. Each of these different countries has a different rate for hostile pay fire in the Philippines or hardship duty pay in Bangladesh and I wasn't even aware that these allowances were there when I was performing the duty. It was just through talking with my active duty counter-parts who were there with me that I was informed that we were entitled to these allowances. So when I got back to Ohio, I went back to my unit and inquired about getting these allowances. I actually had to look through the regulations. There's a chart they have in the rig that tells you that if you're in this location during this time of year, you're entitled to this much money. It was a pretty complex set of numbers and my unit clerk, my unit administrator, certainly didn't know how to process that, so that's when it got pushed up the chain of command. It went to Military Pay. Military Pay didn't seem to know anything about it. And, you know, time went on, I put together a spread-sheet. I actually did a lot of the legwork for them to make it easier to understand what I was supposed to get as opposed to what I did get. And, uh, it languished. And eventually I wrote a letter to the Ohio Inspector General requesting assistance. And that's when I finally got some action.
[. . .]
Chair Todd Platts: At what point in that year-and-a-half long process [on the Southeast Asia pay issues], how long had you tried working through the channels before you went that route to get it taken care of?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I went to my unit initially in August of 2004, I would say the very next month, in September, it got pushed up the chain to the Ohio State Headquarters.
Chair Todd Platts: Alright.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And I worked the issue with them probably until August of '05 when I was getting ready to go to Iraq, I knew I was going to be deployed again, so at that point I really just had to do something.
Chair Todd Platts: Right. So-so, for about a year, you kind of worked through the regular channels without success and this is something, once you were aware of, seems pretty straight forward. You were in this country, you qualified, yet a year later, you still weren't being compensated accordingly.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And it was a significant dollar amount too. It wasn't --
Chair Todd Platts: Roughly, round number?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: As I recall, it was a couple thousand dollars allowances.
Again, main point regarding waste and oversight: It can't be determined because the DoD can't be truly audited with so many problems with regards to their records. Main point with regards to those who are serving, it is a battle just to get paid and to be paid what you've earned.
From the Congress, to the north, Michael Bell is a former Canadian diplomat of many years and now is Professor Bell at the University of Windsor where he focuses on the Middle East. From time to time, he also writes a column for the Globe & Mail. Today he weighs in on Iraq:

The Americans had sufficient control and influence to prevent a rout in Iraq, but as that control dissipated and their efforts at democratization became increasingly problematic, they changed horses. Since their departure, they have devoted their best efforts to helping Mr. Maliki consolidate Iraq as a viable state player because of its geostrategic importance, despite his increasingly well-documented abuses. Barack Obama's administration is proceeding, reluctantly, with the sale to Iraq of more than $10-billion in military equipment, much of which is serviceable for control and intimidation.
Mr. Maliki has increasingly used the power of the state to consolidate his own autocracy, accused by human-rights groups of intimidation, corruption, deceit, torture and cronyism. Witness the arrest warrant issued for his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Witness his son and deputy chief of staff Ahmed, reputed to be the most powerful person in his entourage. Anyone deemed a threat is at risk for their lives in Mr. Maliki's Iraq.

And that's Iraq today. Don't expect to hear about those realities from the White House. Tareq al-Hashemi is Sunni and is a member of Iraqiya -- the political slate who won the March 2010 elections but Nouri having the White House's backing meant that elections in Iraq didn't matter, that what the people wanted didn't matter, that 'democracy' was as much a pretense under Barack Obama as it was under Bully Boy Bush. Tareq al-Hashemi was in the semi-autonomous Kuridsh region of Iraq when Nouri al-Maliki issued a warrant for his arrest. He has remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Baghdad has repeatedly demanded that he be handed over. It's cute to watch Nouri not get his way for once. (At least so far.) al-Hashemi has noted that Nouri controls the Baghdad judiciary and that he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad (which is correct as evidenced by nine Baghdad judges pronouncing al-Hahsemi guilty last month despite the fact that no trial had taken place -- the Iraqi Constitution makes it the law that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, that's not a slogan, that's not a bumper sticker, it's written into the Iraqi Constitution, it is the law -- the very same law the judges are supposed to be upholding but clearly either ignore or are ignorant of). al-Hashemi has asked that the trial be held in Kirkuk.
Since December, those working for Tareq al-Hashemi have been rounded up by Nouri's forces. At the end of January, Amnesty International was calling for the Baghdad government "to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president. Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges." Yesterday, al-Hashemi noted that his bodyguard had died and stated that it appeared he had died as a result of torture.
Alsumaria notes Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling for the international community to call out the death of his bodyguard, Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi, who died after being imprisoned for three months. al-Hashemi has stated the man was tortured to death. The photo Alsumaria runs of the man's legs (only the man's legs) appear to indicate he was tortured, welts and bruises and scars. They also report that the Baghdad Operations Command issued a statement today insisting that they had not tortured al-Batawi and that he died of chronic renal. They also insist that he was taken to the hospital for medical treamtent on March 7th and died March 15th. Renal failure would be kidney failure. And that's supposed to prove it wasn't torture?
If you work for an outlet that just spits out what you are told and didn't actually learn a profession, yes. Anyone with half a brain, however, apparently that's half more than the average journalist possess today knows to go to science. The Oxford Journal is scientific. This is from the Abstract for GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" from 1994:
Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.
Out of that group? 29 did live. Five died. I don't think the Baghdad Command Operations created any space between them and the charge with their announcement of renal failure as the cause of death. But, hey, I went to college and studied real topics -- like the law and political science and sociology and philosophy -- and got real degrees not glorified versions of a general studies degree with the word "journalism" slapped on it. So what do I know?
A bit more than Salam Faraj (AFP) who not only gets the cause of death wrong -- BCO issued a press release, kidney failure is layman's term, the press release uses renal failure, don't interpret, report, don't improve, be factual. I thought there were some guidelines for reporters but apparently reporting's nothing more than a creative writing class and a whim. He refused treatment, Faraj wants to introduce into the record. When? Because Faraj can't even give you the damn dates from the BCO press release -- such as March 7th al-Batawi was taken to the hospital. These are things that should be in the report. Their absences means AFP is more into gossip than reporting and also makes AFP look really stupid to anyone who can read Arabic and wonder why AFP missed all the details of this story -- details contained in a public press release? It's cute to that March 15th isn't there in the report either. But AFP does want you to know that on March 18th, the body was handed over to the family -- the family that AFP didn't talk to. It's something, but heaven help us all of that passes for solid reporting. Someone denies torture and says, oh, cause of death was . . . It's incumbent upon you to look into that given cause and its relationship to torture if it has any. If you didn't do that, you didn't do any reporting. You did stenography. Nothing more.
AP offers a much briefer account and does a far better job. They also note that Iraqiya MP Salman al-Jumaili has called today for an investigation and is stating that human rights organizations should also be examining the death. Reuters also does a better job than AFP but you have to wonder if all the 'additional details' (embellishments and filigree?) that the government keeps adding aren't being tracked and noted. Example, originally, it was stated he was taken to one hospital. That was by the Baghdad Command Operations in their official press release. Later in the day, the Supreme Judicial Council spokesperson Abdul-Sattar al-Briqdar stated "he was sent to several hospitals." Why did the number change? Why is the spokesperson weighing in? Has the Supreme Judicial Council conducted an investigation? If so, did they complete it rather fast? Wasn't the body turned over to the family too soon for an autopsy? Wouldn't an autopsy be needed for a spokesperson for the courts to pontificate at such length and with such certainty?
Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is said to be planning to present a memorandum to the Arab Summit (due to be held in Baghdad at the end of this month) which will detail a number of unresolved and internal issues including Iranian threats to Iraqi forces, human rights violations and the refusal to implement the Erbil Agreement. In addition, they plan to address the lack of national partnership. Alsumaria notes this plan as well and quotes a spokesperson for Iraqiya stating that the Arab League Summit is supposed to be a discussion of Arab peoples and therefore the issue is pertinent and valid. Dar Addustour notes that there is supposed to be (another) prep committee meeting on the national conference to address the political crisis this coming Sunday.
Yesterday Lale Kemal (Today's Zaman) reported, "An advisor to a senior Turkish state official quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as telling US President Barack Obama following the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq in late December of last year that 'you [US] left Iraq in the hands of Iran once you withdrew'." Alsumaria TV notes that Turkish warplanes bombed Arbil Province. Dar Addustour reports a woman and her four children were slaughtered in Saffron and that security checks are being carried out -- apparently door-to-door searches -- in the neighborhood (all five were killed by a knife or knives). Iraqi youths continue to be targeted for being Emo and/or gay or for being thought to be one or both. Al Jazeera has a very strong overview of the issue (link is photos, text and videos) and we'll grab that topic tomorrow (and I'm saying that here to make sure that happens, we'll also grab a Jane Arraf weekend report that I've had to keep pushing back and pushing back).
Wenesday at the Left Forum, World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet moderated a discussion on the Iraq War with Larry Everest (author of many books but we'll note Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda), Michal Otterman (author most recently of Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage) and activist and author David Swanson who runs the
War Is A Crime website (videos at World Can't Wait). We'll note this part of the discussion and the speaker is Larry Everest.
Oh and those other Iraqis -- a throw away line -- who sacrificed their lives. In other words, you know, American lives are all that count here, you know, American chauvinism and support for the American military that's carrying out illegal, unjust and immoral wars and committing War Crimes. So, anyway, with that, I am glad to be talking about Iraq. You know, we can't erase the memory of Iraq, of what happened there and the lessons we should be learning. And I agree -- I like David's point: "No, repeat the lies that were told. Let the people know.' But you know, I thought about it, it's just -- my book actually deals with the history of US and British intervention in Iraq since the 1920s. It goes through the Iran-Iraq War, the sanctions. It's interesting because now there's a big thing about the IAEA and Iran, right? Well you if you read my book, you'll find out the IAEA was involved in planning coup de'etats and assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course, that's not mentioned. But anyway, so I-I-I think it's very important to ponder the real lessons of Iraq. And that's what I want to do today. And not feel, "Oh, well." You know, this is reflected in our attendence here. "Oh, that's over with. Let's move on." Or let's move no where. We really -- The Iraq War is incredibly revealing of the nature of this system, the illegitimacy of the entire system and the need for fundamental change and revolution if you stop and think about this. And that's what I want to reflect on a little bit here today. So,first of all, what I want to start out with is a quote which I think -- I want to deconstruct this. This is from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian who is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party that I support, I write for its newspaper Revolution. He writes, "The essence of what exists in the US is not democracy but capitalism, imperalism and political structures to enforce that capitalism and imperalism." What the US spreads around the world is not democracy, the imperalism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." So just think about that. Not democracy, but capitalism, imperialism, political structures to support it. We didn't vote for the Iraq War, if you remember. And when the Iraq War began, 15 million people around the world and I mean hundreds of thousands in this country went out to the biggest protest since sometime in the sixties. 'Oh, that's a focus group.' Never mind. In other words, the political structures were not in anyway reflective of what people needed or want, they reflected the needs of capitalism and imperalism. That's what they were doing. Did the war reflect the consent of the governed? "Oh, here's what we're going to do in Iraq. Would you like us to do that?" No, it's -- as David pointed out -- one lie after another. And I liked your ten lies because it is hard to get how contorted and inflated and all this: 'No, Saddam Hussein's a Sunni and he's a secular ruler but, no, he's in bed with al Qaeda, the Islamic fundamentalists who, by the way, hate him.' And never mind, so we heard it on Fox News. You know, what about the so-called free press? That's supposed to be a pillar of democracy. It wasn't just that they repeated lies, they suppressed anyone who spoke the truth. Phil Donahue? Gone. [. . .] And then what does that say about the nature of that system? In other words, this quote I read, what the essence of what exists points to the fact that the economic base of society, the capitalistic system, is what sets the terms, not public opinion, not the interests of people, not how you vote, none of that. The system is determined and the terms are set by the needs of this capitalist, imperialist system and the political structures serve them. And what are the needs of that system? This is a system that demands global exploitation of labor -- go see the Mike Daisey Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs, Apple and all their parts made in China and so on and so forth. And it demands control of resources. It demands control of markets. And all of this is enforced how? By military bases. 732 military based in what -- 120 or 130 countries and one war or intervention after another -- by violence. And this is how the system actually functions, this is how it works. And this is actually what was behind the Iraq War because a lot of people realize that lies were told in the Iraq War but they don't realize why the war was fought. You know, this is the biggest lie of all. And the New York Times sometimes will say, 'Well it's true that Judith Miller made a mistake in her reporting. You know, we'll leave aside the fact that all of this was deliberate, it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't bad intelligence." But what they never tell is you is: "Oh, by the way, this was a war of imperialism. Because since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we the US ruling class have realized that we have an opportunity to create an unchallenged empire across the globe because we don't face any other super powers. And if we don't seize this opportunity, our window of the unipolar moment" as they called it "would vanish and we'd be in big trouble because we have a lot of problems and contradictions in our own system and we're facing China and Russia, they could re-emerge. In fact, let's not let any regional powers rise to challenge us." And this was the driving logic behind the whole war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. A lot of people thought, "Oh, the invasion of Iraq was a 'diversion' from the 'real war on terror'." No, it wasn't. It was the perfect embodiment of the "real war on terror" which was never about catching a few dozen or a few hundred or however many there were al Qaeda or Saudi or whatever groups did the 9-11 attacks. It was about restructuring the entire Middle East and Central Asia and locking it more firmly under US domination. And, yes, defeating Islamic fundamentalism because it was creating problems for the US. This is a big reason they don't like Iran. And then using that region really as a hammer against the rest of the world. Why is the Middle East so important to the functioning of the system? And here, I do think people, I do think the capitalist class overall benefits from this. That's what keeps the wheels humming and turning. Yes, there are contractors that made some money. Sure, but that's not the essence of it because one US president after another, Democrat or Republican -- it doesn't matter, has considered the control of the Middle East central to US global power, right? This is why Israel looms so large for the US, because it's their military outpost. The Middle East, 60% of the world's energy sources. Energy is a strategic commodity that allows you -- It's not about SUVs and do consumers have good gas prices? It's about global dominance. Because if you control oil, you can shape the global economy and you can control powers that depend on oil.
Time and space permitting, I would love to highlight more of that conversation tomorrow. If that's not possible, we may grab it next week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Truth telling

The World Can't Wait has reposted a must-read from Revolution, "Six Ways That Obama Has Been Worse Than Bush:"


With the presidential elections approaching, there are those who argue, yet again, that whatever problems there are with the Democrats and Obama, the "alternative"—the Republicans—are much worse. So when it's all said and done, the argument goes, people who don't want the "right wing" to take over must fall in line behind Obama and the Democrats.
The reality is that in key ways, Obama as U.S. president has been even worse for the masses of people, in the U.S. and worldwide. This is a fact that can be clearly demonstrated. Here are six main ways that Obama has gone beyond Bush in fascistic, brutal, reactionary moves, in service of the ruling system of capitalism-imperialism.

1. Assassinations on the President's Orders

Before becoming the president and commander-in-chief, Obama opposed the prison set up by George W. Bush at Guantánamo to indefinitely hold hundreds of people without charges, simply based on U.S. accusations of links with terrorism. Obama said then that "a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government's case and has no way of proving his innocence."
Once in the White House, Obama has not only reaffirmed the policy of indefinite military detentions with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act last December. He has actually gone further than Bush by claiming, and acting on, a supposed presidential authority to assassinate anyone, including those with U.S. citizenship, anywhere in the world just based on the presidential say-so that those targeted are "terrorists" and a danger to U.S. interests.
The world saw this outrageous policy in action last September when missiles fired from a U.S. drone hit a car driving across a desert in Yemen and killed seven men, including Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was a spokesman for al-Qaeda. (Another man killed in the attack was also a U.S. citizen.) A few weeks later, another U.S. drone attack took the lives of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son along with his 17-year-old friend. The U.S. claimed that al-Awlaki had a role in planning and directing al-Qaeda terrorist attacks—but refused to provide any evidence or present actual charges, and there was, of course, no trial. This was simply a cold-blooded "hit" ordered by the leading U.S. imperialist godfather.
According to news reports, there is a secret panel of government officials within the executive, part of the National Security Council, that discusses who to place on the kill list, with the president making the final decision. There is no public record of this process, no laws regulating it, no judicial review. In a March 5 speech, Attorney General Eric Holder made the ludicrous but chillingly fascist claim that this ultra-secret process inside the administration makes this executive assassination policy constitutional. As Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA chief, put it, "[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go."
For an in-depth analysis of this issue, see "Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner."

2. Blaming Youth for Their Own Oppression

In a series of Father's Day speeches since coming into office, and in various other public remarks, Obama has consistently put the onus for the poverty, high prison rates, poor education, and the whole oppressive situation that Black and Latino youth face on the people themselves. Like Bill Cosby, Obama claims that the problem is "personal responsibility"—absentee fathers, youth with sagging pants, too much TV, and so on. Left totally out of this is the reality: how this system has devastated communities of the oppressed; left little "choice" for millions of youth except the underground economy or the military; targeted young men with "stop and frisk" racial profiling and outright police murder; and thrown millions into prisons, many for minor drug violations.
And at the core of this message is the revival and strengthening of the patriarchal family, with the father at the head and acting as "role model." In a sick "joke" at a 2010 White House dinner, Obama combined his reactionary push for patriarchy with the broadening war of drones. Addressing the members of the pop band Jonas Brothers who were in attendance, and referring to his two daughters, Obama said, "Sasha and Malia are huge fans but, boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming."
As Carl Dix said in 2009 on the radio program Democracy Now! about Obama's message: "The people are being blamed—and who better than Barack Obama, the first Black president, to blame Black youth for their plight? If George Bush does it, people would say it's racist. But when the first Black president does it, it actually draws people into it."


That's just the first two.  This is some fierce truth telling.  Make a point to read the full list and great job Revolution!

And, at Black Agenda Report, Bruce A. Dixon also provides some truth telling:



  We hear it all the time.... “Give the man a chance!” “He's only been president 38 months! it took Bush eight years to mess things up....” Or “He can't do nothin' cuz Republicans are blockin' everything...,” and most tellingly “He's the president --- he doesn't have a magic wand...”
Evasions and excuses like these are now the staple of black politics. Black America's political class, its learned and wise preachers, pundits and politicians counsel us in this, the age of the First Black President to “get realistic” by dialing back our expectations for economic democracy, by dropping our demands for peace and justice. After all, in the world of mature grown folks, expecting this or any president to crack down on greedy corporations and banksters, to stem the tide of foreclosures and evictions, to rein in health care costs, to refrain from starting predatory foreign wars in Asia and Africa, or to preserve Medicare and Social Security is just plain foolish. Democratic expectations, they say, are the provice of the socially immature, the politically unsophisticated.
The president himself has repeatedly deployed the “magic wand” line, both as defense and offense, as scornful mockery of those who believed his campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, to stand up to oil companies, and to walk a picket line. It ain't his fault. They should know better. One of his spokespeople suggested that those demanding those kind of promises be kept should be drug tested. That is the level of barely concealed contempt the president and the whole of the black political class have for the rest of us.

Make a point to share these with everyone you know, please.  It's so rare we get truth.


BAR does hard hitting stuff every week, I know.  But it's just like a one-two punch having both of those on the same day.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, March 21, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri believes if everything comes to a standstill in Baghdad then the Arab Summit can be a 'success,' Senator Patty Murray demands answers on Madigan Army Medical Center reversing 40% of PTSD diagnoses, the Congress hears from veterans groups, and more.
 
 
"Another concern I wanted to mention today and one I'm sure everyone in this room is concerned about is mental health," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning. "For service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA has now projected an increased demand of over 200% for mental health care by Fiscal Year 2020.  We have got to take a hard look at whether the department's proposed 5% budget increase is enough to meet the projected demand for mental health care.  Not every veteran will be effected by the invisible wounds of war  but when a veteran has the courage to stand up and ask for help the VA has to meet that need every single time.  They have to be there not only with timely access to care but the right type of care.  Challenges like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience and we must do everything we can to ensure those effected by these illnesses can get help, get better and get back to their lives."
 
  
She was speaking at the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  She is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and, while Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member, Rep Michael Michaud acted as the Ranking Member for the hearing.  Appearing before them were Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino, the Military Order of the Purple Heart's William R. Hutton, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs' David Fletcher, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association's H. Gene. Overstreet, the Retired Enlisted Association's John Rowan and Wounded Warrior Project's Dawn Halfaker.
 
 
Chair Patty Murray: Let me just say as I continue to sit down with veterans across my home state, I hear many of the same things that those of you who will testify hear from your members: veterans who are concerned that they can't get access to health care including mental health care when they need it, continue to wait for months on a decision claims and are unaware of the services that are available to them.  Veterans tell me about the obstacles to employment that they continue to face and many tell me that they are afraid to write the word "veteran" on their resume. Last year's passage of our VOW To Hire Heroes Act was a great first step in tackling the high rate of unemployment among our veterans but there is a lot of work left to be done.
 
 
That's from Senate Committee Chair Murray's opening statements.  House Committee Chair Jeff Miller had his statement entered into the record and briefly noted the following.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: The one thing I do want to draw attention to is that sequestration does in fact still loom over the VA.  I, too, have asked not only the Secretary [of VA Eric Shinseki] but also the President as well.  I have yet to receive a response and so because of that I have filed a piece of legislation that's very simple. It's a page-and-a-half and it codifies one of the areas that is concurrent law, one of the conflicting statues that says veterans programs -- especially health programs -- are, in fact, not going to be subject to sequestration.  So I look forward to one of two things, either that bill passing and becoming law or secondly getting an answer from the administration as to whether or not we are going to be impacted by that.
 
Chair Murray had noted that in her statement, that she's repeatedly asked for an answer on this issue.  Sequestration will most likely kick in due to budget issues.  If it does, it will be automatic.  (Automatic cuts to federal programs to lower the budget for the Fiscal Year 2013.)  Is VA effected or not?  This is a question that's been asked and asked again, over and over.  Murray even asked Secretary Shinseki in a February 29th hearing (see the March 1st snapshot):
 
 
Chair Patty Murray: [. . .] let me begin the questions by getting this one off the table.  It's on the issue of sequestration and cuts to spending.  Like I said in my opening remarks I believe that all VA programs including medical care are exempt from cuts but there is some ambiguity between the budget act and the existing law. And when I asked the acting OMB director to adress this issue in a budget hearing two weeks ago, he said OMB had yet to make a final determination.  So I am concerned that by not settling this issue now, we are failing to provide our veterans with the clarity they really deserve to have.  And so while you're here, I wanted to ask you: Do you believe that all VA programs -- including medical care -- are exempt from any future cuts?
 
 
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I think, Madame Chairman, the answer that the OMB director provided you was the same one that I understand.  They are still addressing the issue. For my purposes, I would tell you I'm not planning on sequestration.  I'mI  addressing my requirements and presenting my budget as  you would expect me to do.  I think sequestration in part or in whole is not necessarily good policy.  And I think the President would argue the best approach here is a balanced deficit reduction and that the budget he has presented does that and I would ask that the Congress look at that budget and favorably consider it.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  I think we all hope that is the outcome but we want to provide clarity to our veterans. They are very concerned about this issue. 
 
 
That was 21 days ago.  Murray, Miller, Filner and Burr (among others) had been asking repeatedly for an answer prior to the above exchange.  However, when the Secretary is asked in an open session, with press present, and he doesn't know the answer, you think he would get on the ball to find out.  It's very basic, or should be, for Eric Shinseki: Would sequestration effect my department or not?
 
It's very basic and you would assume it would be one he would want immediately answered since the budget is being hammered out. 
 
There's no excuse for this non-response and, as Miller points out, he's asked for an answer from President Barack Obama as well and received nothing.  So the point is, it's gone above Shinseki's head and if the administration had wanted the Congress (and the American people) to have an answer, the White House would have already provided one.  There's no excuse for this.  It is a concern to many veterans -- of more than just the current wars -- as to whether or not their benefits or the health care or an education program might be cut.  While supposedly wanting to "honor" veterans of the Iraq War on Monday, Barack refused to do so by answering this very basic question: If sequestration kicks in, will the VA budget be targeted with automatic cuts?
 
 
In her opening remarks, one of the topics Dawn Halfaker noted was the Caregiver-Assistance program, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.  This allows caregivers access to support services, mental health services, eduaction sessions and counseling among other things.  Although passed and signed into law, the VA, for some reason, decided, "We know what the law says, but let's instead do what we want to."  Dropping back to the July 12, 2011 snapshot:
 
As Ranking Member Michael Michaud explained, the hearing was a follow up to the March 11th hearing by the Subcommittee.  On the Senate side, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee March 2nd hearing (covered in that day's snapshot and  Kat covered it in "Burr promises VA 'one hell of a fight'" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The VA still can't get it together").  What both Senate and House Committees learned in the two March hearings was that they had passed legislation that was very different from what the VA was implementing.  Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, noted, "VA's plan on the caregivers issue was overdue and once submitted it hardly resembled the bill that unanimously cleared this Congress.  Three weeks ago, my Committee staff requested information on how that plan was developed and to date no information has been provided.  Rather than following the law, the administration set forth some overly stringent rules, bureaucratic hurdles, that would essentially deny help to caregivers." 
Schulz explained she was now rated by the VA for providing 40 hours a week of caregiving.  She probably does a great deal more than that but it's not recognized.  She did want it understood that when a wounded veteran returns, there's nothing so simple as 40 hours a week of care.  She reviewed how, in her case, a great deal of time was taken with reorienting and dealing with confusing on the part of her son as to where he was and what was going on. There were sleep and other issues that had to be addressed including bathroom issues and the first weeks contained a great deal of work on reorientation.  It's an important point but it's sad that she had to underscore it. A veteran with no apparent disabilities or challenges will need time to reorient themselves and they may require help on that.  That a wounded veteran would need it should have been obvious to the VA with no caregiver having to point it out.
"I couldn't understand that," Debbie Schulz told the Subcommittee of disparities for caregivers and gave an example of "another caregiver" in Texas who cares for her son suffering from TBI with a spinal cord injury and unable to transfer himself out of his wheel chair is judged of doing only 25 hours of care a week.  "How can that be right?" Schulz wondered.
 
Schulz is Debbie Schulz, the mother of Iraq War veteran Steven K. Schulz who was severly injured in a Falluja attack on April 19, 2005.  Halfaker called for the Committees to again review VA's performance to ensure that they are indeed following the law that the Congress passed (the law that they refused to follow until the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hauled them in for hearings in 2011). We'll note this exchange from today's hearing.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Captain, you talked in your testimony or made reference to VA's resistance to the caregiver law if I runderstood what I read.  Can you kind of expand upon it a little bit for us and let us know what your thoughts are?
 
Dawn Halfaker: Sure.  Thank you.  Yeah, I think the biggest thing that we're focused on is one of the parts of the program projected, how many cases VA is going to have to address within this caregiver population and originally it was projected to be 3500 cases and we've already reached that caseload.  So I mean in terms of the ability for VA to be prepared for the amount of cases that they're going to have to deal with, we feel that they need to start looking at that and, of course, how effective is the program being? We're very interested to do another survey within our population to start looking at how well the program's being set up and really how effective it's being.  So those are two of the areas that we're highly focused on. And also looking for VA to kind of comprehensively address all facets of the program.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Mr. Cooper, you alluded to something that actually I think everybody talks about, even those of us on the Committee have talked about in the past in regards to how you translate what you did in your time in the service to your civilian life as you transition across.  And we tried in the VOW To Hire Heroes Act to begin to stimulate if you will the states to be able to waive some of their requirements that a truck driver or a combat medic or whatever it may be.  What can the VA, what do you think the VA can do to help the veteran better market themselves or market their skills?
 
Arthur Cooper:  I think if we were to say to the VA that you need to set up programs by which the service member returning is able to sit down with a counselor or counselors and do a resume that is specific to the job that he/she is trying to apply for.  You have the qualifications from having done the job but you don't have the ability to put the job on paper as a resume.  If we can do something to that effect, have that training process in place, that will do a lot toward helping us as far as getting employment -- meanful employment, I'll say it that way.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: Anybody else want to comment? Sgt Major?
 
Sgt Major H. Gene Oversight:  Mr. Chairman, I would comment on that.  Like I said, we put on forty job fairs around the countryside throughout the year and we counsel veterans, service members, young men and women getting out of the service how to write their resume.  As a matter of fact, we have a guy who we used to bring in all the time and he wrote this book Does Your Resume Wear Combat Boots? And basically, we tell people how to make those transitional words from what they do in the military to civilian terminology. So when they build their resume and they put it together, the people that's doing the hiring do understand that and, matter of fact, the people that we bring understand that they're hiring a military person, they know what they get, they know they're going to get somebody that can read and write and that sounds very simple now days but it's not so simple because they can read and write and they can similate what they read -- in other words, they understand it and they can set it to music.  They also realize that they get some leadership with that because they come early, they stay late, they're clean cut.  They're good at all of those sorts of things when they hire a veteran.  And that's the reason that when those companies that hire veterans continue to come back to us because they understand what they did in the military and what they're getting when they bring them on, sir.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: John?

John Rowan: The other issue and the problem is that this is spread across the different states and they all have different laws and applications.  But it would be interesting I think if the DoD people looked at training manuals and things to see that often times they're just missing a little something extra that would give them the certification they need for that particular job.  It's not really analogous but I was a linguist in the military and when I went back to college they gave me some credit for my college but told me I didn't take any reading courses so I couldn't get credit for the whole language.  I mean, it was just something as simple as that.  Now that's a bizarre thing but I'm sure that in some of the medics and things, there's probably just something not quite right that would equate to the equivalent of an education in the private sector and they need to figure that out and add it in.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  It's interesting that you would bring up the item of not taking reading courses.  I visited a college that shall remain unnamed and was talking with them about the VOW To Hire Heroes Act and saying, "How in the world can a person who has been in a field hospital, doing all of the things that they do, day in and day out, not transfer those skills into a nursing program or something along those lines?"  And the first response?  "Well they haven't had the humanities, they haven't had the English" -- and I'm like, "We have got to change the culture out there to help put these folks to work."  And, as the Sgt Major said, we have people who know what it's like to get up early, work late, do it when they don't want to do it, do it with a smile on their face and you don't find that a lot of times out in the civilian workforce and we've got to find a way to expand that if we can.
 
What they need to do is for DoD to offer classes -- along with medic training,  I'm sorry but I don't find, for example US history to be a joke or something to laugh at.  LVNs getting a BSN from a university (as opposed to a diploma mill) are required to have certain courses and US history and US government are part of those requirements.  DoD should be training in those areas and they should be offering humanities courses (one is generally needed in most LVN-BSN programs).  The point of education is to make you a well rounded citizen.  Is that not a goal the military has for veterans?  They can easily put together courses -- courses which could utilize the training and the mission within the course work.  This should be done for every service member.  The military owes it to them.  In most cases, there is a degree of training that already qualifies it's just not structured so that a college will recognize it. This is a DoD issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
 
 
Due to floor votes starting on the Senate floor, the Senate members had to leave the hearing after the witnesses delivered their opening remarks. We'll note the following exchange.
 
 
Ranking Member Michael Michaud:  You'd mentioned the stateveterans nursing home and the great job that they do.  I really appreciate Mr. Miller's efforts on addressing the issue on reimbursment rates which is extremely important for a lot of veterans around the country -- each one a little differently.  My question is -- because we addressed it back in October,  the Senate hasn't dealt with the legislation as of yet -- what effect is it having for veterans who are 70% or higher in their disabilies throughout some of the nursing homes around the country?
 
 
 
David Fletcher: In cases where we have a large number of -- 70% or higher of veterans in a home, uhm, the cost -- the reimbursement does not give the homes what they -- it doesn't pay for the full cost of care. So the homes actually have to come up with the difference or the veteran.  And then the veteran obviously suffers from that.  I believe in the case especially of a few of the states and in one state in particular, it happened to be Maine, there's a large number of veterans there and the more veterans that you have that are 70% and above that are -- [handed a piece of paper] And of course, the comment I just got is that homes are turning veterans away because they can't match their cost of care. 
 
Ranking Member Michael Michaud:  Thank you and that was the concern that I have.  I know from Maine, you mentioned Maine, Maine veterans nursing homes are going to lose anywhere from $8 to 16 million a year and they can't take that sustainable loss.  I was kind of curious on other states and thank you for that answer.  My next question is for Mr. Tarantino, you talked about education for soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.  And have you found problems there in different states as far as higher ed being willing to take into consideration the experience that a soldier might have had whether it's a medic or working on heavy equipment, whereas the higher ed might at ground zero and work up?  Have you found that to be a problem or is it, have most higher eds been taking that into consideration?
 
Tom Tarantino:  Thank you, Congressman, this is -- this is actually a problem over all.  And this was largely what the VOW To Hire Heroes Act, one of the provisions, was meant to address.  It's less that schools aren't using a veteran's military experience and crediting them for that, it's that professional licenses and certifications that are required to do a lot of vocational jobs -- medics, mechanics, truck drivers -- don't recognize military training experience. There have been a lot of sort of efforts where -- I know ACE has a great way to -- the American Counseling Education, forgive me -- has a great way to translate your military experience into college credit.  But we've never done the math on what a military vocation and a civilian vocation is -- largely because we've never had a generation of business leaders that hadn't served in the military before. This is the first generation where you just don't have very many people who are running the business sector having military experience.  And so now this is one of the things that Congress said last year we're going to need to ramp up quickly is to do the math on the gaps and overlaps between military jobs and vocations and their civilian equivalents so that we can actually have something that the professional sector can say, 'This is what we have, this is what we need.'  And the higher ed sector can follow up with adapting their training to what they need.
 
Ranking Member Michael Michaud:  My last question, probably quick yes or no answer since I'm running out of time, is the House, little over a month ago, passed legislation that sets up a Brack type process dealing with federal buildings and if you look at the VA facility, they already have a process within the VA facility and a utilization rate of VA facilities actually have increased dramatically.  Unfortunately, VA is covered under this legislation that's over here on this Senate side that once it's in that Brach type process they get rid of the VA facility that money doesn't go back to the VA facility and we have a problem as it is with construction within the VA area. Has your organization looked at that legislation and do you support it or oppose it?  Quick yes-or-no answer starting with Mr. Tarantino?
 
Tom Tarantino: We have looked at it.  It hasn't been a priority but we do definitely support that concept. And are looking forward to seeing a lot of stuff passed by the Senate that's come out of the House. 
 
Now we'll note another Congressional hearing.  I was not at this hearing.  Wally was and was ready to do a brief synopsis for this snapshot but we've got a press release from Senator Patty Murray's office that we can use instead (and spare Wally the trouble -- thank you, Wally):
 
Murray Presses Army Secretary on Handling of the Mental Wounds of War
 
At Hearing of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Veterans Chairman Murray pressed Army Secretary John McHugh on troubled PTSD unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and whether similar problems exist at other bases
 
 
 
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned Army Secretary John McHugh on recent shortcomings in the Army's efforts to properly diagnose and treat the invisible wounds of war.  Specifically, Murray discussed the forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord that is under investigation for changing mental health diagnoses based on the cost of providing care and benefits to servicemembers.  The Army is currently reevaluating nearly 300 service members and veterans who have had their PTSD diagnoses changed by that unit since 2007.
 
Key excerpt of Sen. Murray's remarks:
 
"Secretary McHugh, as you and I have discussed, Joint Base Lewis McChord in my home state is facing some very real questions on the way they have diagnosed PTSD and the invisible wounds of war.  And today, unfortunately, we are seeing more information on the extent of those problems. 
 
"Mr. Secretary, this is a copy of today's Seattle Times.  In it is an article based on the most recent review of the Forensice Psychiatry Department at JBLM which -- as you know -- is under investigation for taking the cost of mental health care into account in their decisions.

"And what it shows is that since that unit was stood up in 2007 over 40% of those service members who walked int he door with a PTSD diagnosis had their diagnosis changed to something else or overturned entirely. 
 
"What is says is that over 4 in 10 of our service members -- many who were already being treated for PTSD -- and were due the benefits and care that comes with that diagnoses -- had it taken away by this unit.  And that they were then sent back into the force or the local community.
 
"Now, in light of all the tragedies we have seen that stem from the untreated, invisible wounds of war -- I'm sure that you would agree that this is very concerning.
 
"Not only is it damaging for these soldiers, but it also furthers the stigma for others that are deciding whether to seek help for behavioral problems."
 
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Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834
 
The Seattle Times article referred to above is Hal Bernton's "40% of PTSD diagnoses at Madigan were reversed."
 
 
Yesterday Iraq was slammed with violence that claimed over fifty lives and left over two hundred injured, "just days before Baghdad hosts a landmark Arab summit," Eleanor Hall observed this morning on The World Today (Australia's ABC, link is text and audio) leading into a report by Meredith Griffiths on the violence.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: This is despite the fact for the past couple of days intensive searches at checkpoints have ground Baghdad to a halt. Security had been ramped up in preparation for a meeting of the Arab world's top leaders. It's the first time the Arab League have met in Baghdad in 20 years, and the government considers it the most important diplomatic event yet for post-Saddam Iraq. Officials had been hoping to use the summit to showcase the country's improved security since the sectarian fighting a few years ago that almost pulled the country into civil war.

Trend News Agency notes, "Holding the next summit of the League of Arab States in Iraq demonstrates the restoration of stability and resumption of its role in the Arab and regional areas, Iraqi ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sabir Abbud Al-Musaui told Trend today." It does no such thing. The Arab League Summit is two days. Al Rafidayn reports that the capital will be closed down for seven days. When you have to shut down the capital for seven days to hold a two day event, that's not a sign of success.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspaers) reports, "Only Monday, Iraqi authorities began practicing security procedures for the summit, flooding existing checkpoints with large numbers of special forces troops and setting up new checkpoints, where they searched cars with dogs, looking for explosives." Al Mada notes that, this morning, it might take as much as three hours for someone living in Baghdad to get to their job in Baghdad and that might require them leaving their car at some point and continuing on foot. Does Nouri al-Maliki really think that if these measures are successful it says anything about Baghdad other than that they can put the city on crackdown for seven days? Does this enstill trust in foreign investors?

As for the summit, Middle East North Africa Financial Network doesn't expect much from the summit:

One thing is certain and that is that the Baghdad summit will be anything but remarkable. Egypt will be busy preparing for its presidential election, the first since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, Libya, Tunis and Yemen have enough domestic problems of their own. The Gulf countries will find it difficult to demonize Iran when the host has special relations with Tehran, while attempts to discuss the uprising in Bahrain will be foiled by the GCC group.

Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports Nouri has called for all Iraqis to unite. Spreading love apparently means then launching into an attack on Ayad Allawi who, apparently, isn't included included in the call for uniting. Al Mada reports Nouri has declared Allawi is bad for the government of Iraq. Nouri's upset because Allawi's announced if the top four demands for the national conference aren't implemented in 72 hours Iraqiya will consider walking out. This would be highly embarrassing to Nouri with the Arab leaders visiting. Especially since most of the Arab leaders can't stand Nouri. (As most Iraqi press has noted, Saudi Arabia is only participating because the US has badgered and cajoled them non-stop.)
 
Iraqiya won the 2010 elections.  Ayad Allawi is the leader of Iraqiya.  State of Law came in second, Nouri is the leader of State of Law.  Because Nouri refused to follow or honor the results of the election and because Nouri had the White House backing him, he was able to lead Iraq into an eight month-plus period of political stalemate.  This ended in November 2010 when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all parties.  Chief among the concessions that allowed Nouri to stay on as prime minister was that Allawi would head an independent security commission.  That never happened, the promised referendum and census on Kirkuk (to please the Kurds) never happened.  He became prime minister and tossed aside the agreement.
 
Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observed yesterday of the ongoing political crisis (from the 2010 elections forward):
Since then Iraqiya has been given only a handful of ministries (fewer than promised), but with the largest plurality in parliament could theoretically push through a vote of no confidence, forcing new elections.
That is true legally speaking, but Maliki's increased centralization of power under his control, including naming himself as Interior and Defense Minister to keep control of all national troops and police, has many believing that he doesn't intend to allow step down even if he loses his legal mandate.
 
 
Malaki still holds some senior cabinet positions for himself, and still has an arrest warrant out for his own VP, who is in hiding in Kurdistan where Baghdad's law does not apply. On Monday, a million loyalists of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rallied in south Iraq Monday decrying poor services and rampant graft. Demonstrators shouted: "Yes to rights! Yes to humanity! No to injustice! No to poverty! No to corruption!"
Some protesters held aloft electrical cables, water canisters and shovels to symbolise the poor services that plague Iraq. Others carried empty coffins with words plastered on them such as "democracy," "electricity," "education" and "services." Iraq suffers from electricity shortages, with power cuts multiplying during the boiling summer, poor clean water provision, widespread corruption and high unemployment. This is despite the U.S. spending $44 billion on reconstruction in Iraq, the failure of which was the subject of my book, We Meant Well.
 
On Van Buren's first point, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is in the KRG where he is a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. He has stated he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad (Nouri's charged him with terrorism) because Nouri controls the Baghdad courts.  He's asked that the trial be moved to Kirkuk.  His assertion that he would not receive a fair trial was proven correct when, last month, nine Baghdad judges held a press conference to announce he was guilty of terrorism.  That was February 16th and, in that day's snapshot, we offered how the news being reported by AP and Reuters should have been reported:
 
 
IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT PROVEN CORRECT
After many claims that he could not receive a fair trial, Tareq al-Hashemi's
assertions were backed up today by the Iraqi judiciary.
BAGHDAD -- Today a nine-member Iraqi judiciary panel released results of an investigation they conducted which found the Sunni Vice President of Iraq was guilty of terrorism.  Monday, December 19th, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who had arrived in the KRG the previous day.  Mr. al-Hashemi refused to return to Baghdad insisting he would not receive a fair trial.  Instead, he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
During the weeks since the arrest warrant was issued, Mr. al-Hashemi has repeatedly attempted to get the trial moved to another venue stating that Prime Minister al-Maliki controlled the Baghdad judiciary.  Mr. al-Maliki insisted that the vice president return and that he would get a fair trial.
Today's events demonstrate that Mr. al-Hashemi was correct and there is no chance of a fair trial in Iraq.  This was made clear by the judiciary's announcement today.
A judiciary hears charges in a trial and determines guilt; however, what the Baghdad judiciary did today was to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilt of the charges and to do so before a trial was held. 
Not only do the events offer a frightening glimpse at the realities of the Iraqi legal system, they also back up the claims Mr. al-Hashemi has long made.
 
 
Had he been tried?  No.  Is the Iraqi Constitution unclear or confusing as to how guilt is determined?  Article 19th's fifth clause is very clear: "The accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial.  The accused may not be tried on the same crime fora second time after acquittal unless new evidence is produced."
 
They may have had an 'investigation' but an 'investigation' does not prove guilt, only a trial does and for judges to hold a press conference and announce that someone is guilty of charges they have not yet been tried for is a huge miscarriage of justice.  The nine should be impeached for misconduct.  And the process was already being criticized prior to that for all the 'confessions' that kept getting aired on television.
 
Reuters reports today that al-Hashemi has accused the Baghdad government "of torturing to death one of his bodyguards, an accusation that could make it more difficult to resolve a case that has split the country's politics on dangerous sectarian lines."
 
So Moqtada al-Sadr's followers are protesting (Van Buren's second point), Iraqiya is threatening a walk out and, see yesterday's snapshot, KRG President Massoud Barzani made blistering remarks about a new dictatorship in Iraq (referring to Nouri).  What happens next?  Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) argues nothing happens next:
 
The reason is simple: although all of Maliki's rivals are "in one box" with Erbil as one Iraqiya MP said, they are only in that box until the moment comes that Maliki is removed and everyone backs off for a different reason.
For Maliki, although the conflict between the political groups is reaching a critical point again, just like all the previous times, nothing will happen. Meetings will take place, each bloc cuts a different deal with him and he will continue to stay.
He will get a period of calm and then a new crisis starts.
 
And that may be.  Nouri has demonstrated time and time again that he's happy playing the petulant child and digging his heels in.  Over time, others are encouraged to be the 'grown up' and give in.  Until someone stands up to the spoiled brat Nouri al-Maliki, there's no real reason for him to change or believe anyone could outwait him.
 
 
In news of violence, Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) notes a Baghdad home invasion in which the throats of the "mother and her three children" were slit. Al Rafidayn notes a tribal sheik was assassinated in Rawa.
 
 
 
 
I applied for a conscientious objection discharge from the US Air Force in 2007. With the help of Courage to Resist, I was able to navigate that process successfully and I received an honorable discharge eight months later. However, today as a counselor to US military objectors, I know that things do not always go as well for others, regardless of the merits of their application. We have a lot of work to do to better support the troops who refuse to fight. It's because of the financial support of thousands of folks like yourself that I'm able to do this work as a Courage to Resist staff member.
Today, I'm interested in making sure our mission of supporting GI resisters—accused WikiLeaks truth-teller Army PFC Bradley Manning, for example—adapts to and becomes part of the broader forces gathering against US militarism and empire.
We have an atrocious and seemingly endless war and uncertain future in Afghanistan. We have not actually "withdrawn" from Iraq. We have covert wars and an expanding military presence all over the world. We have the most significant military whistle-blower of our generation, Bradley Manning, facing life in prison. And every day we're hearing threats of an attack on the nation of Iran—not unlike the propaganda fed us in the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2004.
With the backing of thousands of friends like you, Courage to Resist has had a great history of supporting individual military resisters refusing illegal war, occupation and policies of empire—from "all the way back" when Marine L/Cpl Stephen Funk publicly refused to deploy to Iraq in April 2003, to when Army Lt. Ehren Watada became the first officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq in May 2006, to the hundreds of lower profile objectors we've assisted since. We've been able to do this work by collaborating with concerned community members, veterans, military families—and folks like you. Like our mission statement says, I really do believe that by supporting GI resistance, counter recruiting and draft resistance, we can harness "people power" to weaken the pillars that maintain these seemingly endless wars.