Friday, August 03, 2012

The post office

  • Song Travels with Michael Feinstein
    19 hours ago 
    What's that?  It is the posts Ruth and I did on the NPR show last night.  I hope you already read Ruth but, if not, read her now.
    The United States Postal Service (USPS) defaulted Wednesday on a $5.5 billion payment to the US Treasury for future retirees’ health care. The USPS also said it would not be able to make a $5.6 billion payment due next month.
    The default comes as the Postal Service continues to lose $25 million a day, due in large part to the decline of first-class mail. The USPS is seeking drastic cost-cutting measures, including shuttering mail-sorting facilities, ending Saturday delivery, and attacking the jobs and benefits of hundreds of thousands of postal workers.
    In a statement in the run-up to the default, the USPS said, “This action will have no material effect on the operations of the Postal Service. We will fully fund our operations, including our obligation to provide universal postal services to the American people,” it insisted. “We will continue to deliver the mail, pay our employees and suppliers and meet our other financial obligations.”
    It is clear, however, that the default will be seized on by the Postal Service, as well as politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties, to escalate the assault on both the provision of mail services to the American public, as well as the jobs, wages and benefits of current and future postal workers and retirees.
    The USPS, the second biggest US employer after Wal-Mart, operates as an independent agency of the federal government. It currently employs about 574,000 career employees. The agency receives no tax dollars and is run as a business, not a public service. It is expected to fund its operations through the sale of postage and other services. The agency posted a $10 billion loss for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011.

    One of the great joys of my young life was the mail delivery.  

    I loved it.  We had dogs but they were backyard dogs (in a fence) so the postal carrier (hence forward called p.c.) didn't have to worry about them.  He or she was able to just walk right up to the porch, open our mailbox and drop off the mail.

    If he/she was lucky.

    If not?

    If not, I was on the front porch yammering away ready to grab the mail.

    And male or female, every p.c. was the nicest person in the world to me.  They'd always learn my name.  They'd pick up on conversations we'd started days before (ask my parents, they'll tell you).  

    And they always brought something.

    Like a really well brought up guest!

    And because I loved the mail so much, loved getting it, my two grandmothers (who both lived in Atlanta, not far from our home) would put a note in the mail for me each week.  In addition, they would sign me up for free mailings.  And they would subscribe to magazines for me and have catalogs sent to me. 

    I loved it.

    Our p.c. probably hated the weight of all that junk.  But I loved it.

    I was a little girl before the internet.  So this was really huge.  And I claimed everything.  Our auto insurance had a newsletter they put out every 3 months.  I claimed that.  If it was junk mail, I got it.

    And I read it.

    We'd be at one grocery store and I'd say, "Oh, Mom, no, grapes are on sale at the other store. Put those back."

    My mother was always so nice about that.  But you know she was thinking, "Look little girl, I'm not in the mood to drive across town to save 4 pennies!" :D

    I think the Post Office needs government help, not cuts.  I think it's a national service and should be treated as such.
    But mail was always magical to me.

    E-mails don't do it for me.  But you can write me three words on a piece of paper, drop it in the mail, and I'll read it several times and be so touched that you mailed me something.

    "Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

    Friday, August 3, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Nouri goes nuts over Turkey, his backup singers shimmy behind him and ooh and ahh about suicide, arrests and all things 'evil' about Turkey, depleted uranium gets some press attention, the VA's interesting contract practices are discussed in Congress, and more.
    In Iraq, Political Stalemate II continues.  Richard Weitz (World Politics Review) offers a strong overview:
    A power-sharing agreement brokered in November 2010 at Erbil among Iraq's key political actors was meant to establish a balanced coalition government, in which key executive branch posts were to be distributed among the main parties in rough proportion to their electoral strength. A newly created National Council for Strategic Policy was also meant to broaden representation in policymaking beyond the cabinet. The resulting checks and balances, it was thought, would prevent the government from adopting extreme positions by requiring compromise policies acceptable to all the major stakeholders. 
    Since then, however, Maliki's critics claim he has ignored the Erbil agreement, instead accruing excessive power, bypassing the Iraqi constitution and bringing under his personal control the country's other political institutions, including the judiciary, federal agencies and the nominally independent election and integrity commissions and central bank.
    He has also placed many key national security posts in the hands of his supporters, appointing many senior police, military and intelligence officers without parliament's approval, while seeming to exercise undue influence on their activities. The judgments of the supposedly neutral Constitutional Court also consistently favor the government.
    Furthermore, Maliki and his allies have blocked the creation of the aforementioned strategic council in parliament and refused to hold referenda in governorates whose provincial councils were seeking to become federal regions to increase their autonomy from Baghdad.
    Again, it's a very strong overview.  (My own personal favorite observation?  "Finally, to reassure his critics, he has sometimes stated that he may not run for a third term in national elections scheduled for 2014.")  The thing about Nouri is that once he unleashes the crazy, he can't reel it back in, he can't bottle it up.  Which explains the latest development in the Baghdad-based government's attempt to be a 'good neighbor.'  Barry Malone (Reuters) reports, "Iraq made a formal protest to Turkey's envoy in Baghdad on Firday after the Turkish foreign minister made a surprise visit to an oil-rich Iraqi city claimed by both the central government and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region."
    Huh?  Who knew Iraq had it's own Area 51, off-limits to all.  But, wait, it's Kirkuk. A city in the province of Kirkuk, where an estimated 388,000 people live.  And it's not a gated community.  People travel in and out of Kirkuk freely.  But let a Turkish official touring northern Iraq visit the city and Nouri's uncapping the crazy. 
    The backstory: Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Erbil on Wednesday and continued his visit on Thursday by visiting various parts of the KRG and, most 'controversially' for Baghdad, Kirkuk.  Kirkuk is a disputed region with both the KRG and Baghdad claiming it.  (How to solve the issue?  Article 140 of the Constitution explains it.  But that census and referendum was supposed to be instituted by the end of 2007, per the Constitution, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to do so and continues to refuse to do so.) 
    And since it's been months since Nouri created the May 24th international incident -- where 4 Russian bikers were arrested and tortured by Nouri's forces -- he was apparently fearful that someone might mistake him for rational or even competent.  Nouri need not worry.  Kitabat noted this morning that Nouri's Baghdad government continues to complain and carp about the visit.  Marwan Ibrahim (Middle East Online) reports:

    Davutolgu visited leaders of Kirkuk's Turkmen community, with which Ankara has long had close ties, as well as religious and historical sites including the city's Ottoman cemetery.
    Turkmen Front head Arshad al-Salehi said: "Turkmen should work to enhance relations with Turkey, and Shiites with Iran, and Sunnis with Gulf countries."
    The front's deputy leader, Ali Hashem Mukhtar Oglu, said Davutoglu was the highest-ranking Turkish official to visit the city in decades.
    Ties between Iraq and Turkey have been marred by a flurry of disputes this year.
    In July, Iraq warned Ankara against "any violations" of its territory and airspace, and instructed the foreign ministry to register a complaint at the UN Security Council, after Turkish jets bombed Kurdish rebels in Kurdistan.
    A few days earlier, Iraq called on Turkey to stop accepting "illegal" transfers of crude oil from Kurdistan, which an official from the region said had begun earlier in the month.
    Sapa-AFP note that in the meeting between the Turkish ambassador to Iraq and the Iraqi government, it was conveyed to Iraq that "Turkey has no secret agenda."  Nouri's paranoia being what it is, that reassurance most likely meant very little. 
    Nouri unleashed the dogs.  Al Mada reports that today the Ministry of Health announced that there have been seven suicides -- all under 16-years-old -- as a result of a Turkish soap opera.   Also today State of Law's Abdul Salam al-Maliki is stomping his feet.  All Iraq News reports that he is demanding that the Arab League condemn the visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister and that the Arab League call the visit a breach of Iraq's sovereignty.  The KRG should actually pay Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law political slate a monthly fee.  These little tantrums by State of Law are like a mini-advertisement: "Come to the Kurdistan where adults are in charge."  You have to wonder if Nouri gets how stupid his slate makes Iraq look?  On the world stage, State of Law is a joke.  al-Monitor notes, "According to Rudaw News Agency, parliamentarian Abdulhadi el Hassan from Maliki's party said: 'Turkey is blatantly interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. The Turkish embassy should be closed down. We have the right to detain Davutoglu'."
    KUNA reports, "Turkey's foreign ministry Friday summoned Iraqi Ambassador in Ankara to protest against Iraqi criticism over Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit to Kirkuk."   Alsumaria notes that Iraqiya (the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections) has called on Nouri's government to lower the rhetoric and stop escalating the situation.  Hurriyet Daily News reports Davutoglu met today with Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya).
    Is it any wonder that the KRG is so much more attractive to the international business community?  After all, they don't have to deal with Crazy Nouri in the KRG.  Daniel Graeber (Oil Price) reviews recent deals with the KRG that irk Baghdad:
    Iraq, more than seven years after the first post-Saddam government was voted in, still lacks effective legislation to govern the oil sector. The central government in Baghdad considers unilateral oil contracts with the Kurdistan Regional Government illegal. U.S. supermajors Chevron [CVX  111.12    1.87  (+1.71%)   ] and Exxon Mobil [XOM  87.55    1.67  (+1.94%)   ] were blacklisted by Baghdad for making deals with Kurdish authorities. In April, the Kurdish government retaliated by blocking oil exports but has since sent some shipments over the border to Turkey. Despite the political infighting, French majors Total and Marathon Oil locked step in the Kurdish north. Total, in a statement, said it was looking for "new opportunities" in Iraq. (More: Investing Lessons in One of the World's Most Volatile Sectors)
    That move brought additional fire from Baghdad. A spokesman for the energy ministry said the central government would "punish" companies that made deals without Baghdad's consent, warning Total it could face "severe consequences" for its actions.

    Maybe it was the Kurds announcing a few days ago that they had no problem with the US making efforts to assist Iraq with its ongoing political crisis but Nouri's government lately has made clear that they're not pleased with either the US or the KRG.  Al Mada reports that insiders in Nouri's Cabinet are stating that the rebuffing by the Interior Ministry on police training by the US is only the first step and that they are/will be making it clear that the government has little desire to work with or have a relationship with the US government.  A quote from the article: "Iraq is capable of moving forward without the United States and is no longer needs its assistance in either construction or development."  Apparently, yesterday's phone call with US Vice President Joe Biden did not go as well as Nouri would have liked.

    Violence continues today in Iraq. AFP reports that a Dhuluiyah roadside bombing has claimed the lives of 4 Iraqi soldiers and left four more injured while a Baquba checkpoint was attacked resulting in the deaths of 4 police officers with two more left injured.  In addition to those two incidents today, KUNA reports that late last night there was an attack in al-Rutba in which 2 police officers were killed and two more injured by assailants (three of which were injured in the battle).  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that "three drive-by shootings in Baghdad" today resulted in the deaths of 3 Iraqi soldiers and 2 police officers with five soldiers and six police officers left injured.   Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes, "The unrest coincides with an emerging political crisis, with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs increasingly at odds in the fractious legislature. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is Shiite, has struggled to forge a power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security."
    Violence includes what has been done to the country.  On Shihab Rattansi's Inside Story Americas (Al Jazeera), ex-US Marine Ross Caputi, weapons researcher Dai Williams and Raed Jarrar joined Rattansi for a roundtable on whether the United States caused the vast increase in birth defects in Falluja after the November 2004 assault on that city.
    Raed Jarrar: The second attack on Falluja happened in 2004 and this was the years where the US actuallly used very heavy military weapons to attack the entire country.  I was in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and went around the country before the attack on Falluja and after documenting the US use of depleted uranium.  I think Iraqis were not very familiar with the dangers of depleted uranium.  I documented many cases of kids playing inside tanks that were by DU bullets.
    Shihab Rattansi: Now, of course, the US has denied using DU in the Iraq War -- in the second Iraq War at least.
    Raed Jarrar: I mean, in many cases, it is very much documented. They denied it in the first war and then after that it was documented.  And in the second war, I think there are so much documentation --
    Shihab Rattansi: Is the documentation of DU or simply elevated radiation?
    Raed Jarrar:  Both. So I've found -- I've personally found documented many DU bullets and DU bullet entry points into tanks and [. . .] of course, elevated radiation.  The DU radiation is very limited so it's usually around a foot from where the DU bullet punctured the tank.  And the radiation there was between 2,000 and 10,000 percent
    Shihab Rattansi:  We'll get back to that discussion in a moment because I think there might be a discussion about what's -- if there is uranium being used, if it is indeed depleted uranium.  And we'll get back to that later on.  But as far as that second assault on Falluja occurred, I mean just remind us what happened.  There was basically an evacuation order given.

    Raed Jarrar: So there was another first attack on Falluja that failed [April 2004].  And there was another attempt to go in.  And they gave evacuation orders to many Iraqi civilians, many people, hundreds of thousands, left the city and everyone knew that the entire town would be destroyed.  Now, of course, the promise was at that time that the US will go get rid of all of the bad guys and rebuild the city.  Now, of course, that did not happen.  We saw a total destruction of Falluja and the use of so many unconventional weapons.  But then after that no reconstruction was --
    Shihab Rattansi: How many people were behind during that assualt?
    Raed Jarrar: No one knows the exact numbers because it wasn't documented.  But there were at least tens of thousands of left behind.
    And there was some 'documentation.'  The New York Times' Dexter Filkins won a little prize for his 'documentation.'  I wasn't aware there was a See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil prize for journalism but then again the profession's in shambles these days.  So Dexy's prize winning feature took many, many days to appear in print.  Apparently the US military vetting Dexy's copy didn't feel any pressing deadline.  You know what might be worst than a Go-Go Boy in the Green Zone (whose antics ended there ended his marriage)?  The idiots like Tom Hayden and Terry Gross who fawn over the Look The Other Way When War Crimes Go Down Boy.  Click here to check out the photo of Falluja by Jahi Chikwendiu (Washington Post).  It kicks off a Falluja photo essay.
    Still on violence, and consider it the laugh of the day, Kitabat reports that Ali Musa Daqduq being deported to the US (see yesterday's snapshot) was turned down by the Iraqi court because they were worried he might face capital punishment.  Iraq holds something of a record with 68 executions in 2011 and they're prepared to top that this year and, see the July 30th snapshot, have announced 196 more individuals they plan to execute.
    Last week,  Amnesty International issued an alert on the latest announced executions:
    Contact: Suzanne Trimel,, 212-633-4150, @strimel
    (New York) – Amnesty International today urged Iraqi authorities to commute
    all pending death sentences and impose a moratorium on executions with a
    view to abolish the death penalty after the chief of police in the Iraqi
    governorate of Anbar announced on Monday a Court of Cassation decision          to uphold 196 death sentences in the region.
    It is unclear if the sentences have been ratified by the Iraqi presidency yet.
    The announcement gave no timeline for carrying out the executions but expressed a hope that it would be soon.
    "After this alarming announcement, Iraqi authorities must move quickly to commute all death sentences and declare a moratorium on executions
    across the country," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director
    at Amnesty International.
    "If the Iraqi authorities carry out these death sentences, they would nearly quadruple Iraq's already shocking execution record so far this year."
    In the first half of 2012 alone, Iraq executed at least 70 people, which is
    already more than the figure for all of last year.
    According to Amnesty International's information, in 2011 a total of at least
    68 people were executed in Iraq. Around the country, hundreds of others
    are believed to remain on death row.
    The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003
    but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.
    Amnesty International opposes the death penalty – the ultimate cruel,
    inhuman and degrading punishment – in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life.
    Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist
    organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever
    justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

    Back in December, he called for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq to be stripped of his post.  By May, he was making nice with al-Mutlaq and the push for a vote of no-confidence on al-Mutlaq in Parliament had been dropped by State of Law.  All these weeks later, Al Mada reports, nouri is finally asking Parliament to withdraw his request of a no-confidence vote on al-Mutlaq.  This comes as Dar Addustour notes he's also sent al-Mutlaq a letter asking him to, please, attend the Cabinet meetings. On the Parliament front, the proposed federal court law has been bottled up in Parliament for some time due to various disagreements.  Alsumaria reports that Parliament is planning to vote on the law next week and that they have agreed on the disputed point -- the number of members of the Court will be 17 (9 judges, 4 Islamic law scholars and 4 legal experts).
    Turning to the United States . . .
    Chair Bill Johnson:  And one final question and then we'll move on to my colleagues, in your analysis -- or your analysis shows that as of April 1, 2012, 60% of the firms listed as eligible in VetBiz had yet to be verified using this more thorough process, we just talked about that, and 134 of these firms received a total of 90 million in new VA SDVOSB contracts during a four month period.  So do you still feel that there is a vulnerability  here until all of the firms have been verified under the new process?
    Richard Hillman: Yes, Mr. Chairman.  Consistent with the VA OIG study which found that for the level of review those that were using  the less rigorous process 70% of the time, upon more detailed review they were found to be ineligble for the program causes us significant pause and believe that we need to ensure that the rigorous process is being followed by all of those within the VetBiz program
    Chair Bill Johnson:  And given the fact that  we're talking about tens of millions in this case, a total of 90 million in new contracts during a four month period,  there are millions of dollars --  of tax payer dollars -- at risk here of going to companies that are ineligible thereby diminishing the amount of contract awards that should be going to eligible veteran companies. Would you agree with that?
    Richard Hillman:  The VA study, through it's work, determined that for a one year period of time there were potentially $500 million dollars going to ineligible firms.  And if actions weren't taken to address that problem, over a 5-year-period of time 2.5 billion dollars would be provided to ineligible firms.
    Chair Bill Johnson:  And given the fact that according to your statement a few minutes ago that previous experiences that often times even after they're found ineligible they're allowed to complete those contracts, we're talking about millions, hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars, going to ineligible firms that walk away scott free.  Correct?
    Richard Hillman:  Seems that's so.
    US House Rep Jerry McNerny would observe after the exchange, "That was pretty sobering, Mr. Chairman."  And it was.  And distrubing to hear Richard Hillman, with the Government Accountability Office, explain that, in cases where the VA has determined that a firm is not a veterans small business and that the company may have been dishonest (even to the point of fraud), the VA has "allowed [these firms] to complete those contracts even though they had been found to be uneligible."
    It was Thursday's joint-hearing of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.  Yesterday's snapshot noted the issue of whether or not the VA was breaking the law and the VA's interesting concept of what ownership and control of a business was.  In the real world, if you have at least 51% of a business, you have control of it.  In the VA world, not really.  This is a very big issue because veterans who start small businesses and compete for contracts may find out that they're not a veterans small business . . . by the VA's definition.  The VA's Thomas Leney was the witness we focused on.  Today we look at the second panel made up of GAO's Hillman and the VA's Office of Inspector General's James O'Neill.   We're going to include two excerpts and they will not instill confidence in how the VA is handling its small business program.
    US House Rep Jerry McNerney: I think our first panel showed the difficulty we face in terms of coming up with a non-subjective standard for awarding veteran statuses to businesses.  The 100% control?  Clearly, there was a lot of questions within the Committee.  But the fraud issue is another part of this that we haven't talked about too much.  Mr. Leney was saying that only 5% of applicants tend to be fraud.  But my fear, and I think that's something that you're showing in prior testiomny, is that that 5% can end up awarding a lot of contracts to people who are undeserving and should be prosecuted.  What -- How much of a problem do you think fraud is in the overall program, Mr. Hillman?
    Richard Hillman:  The work that we have done looking at individual case studies is not something that we can extrapolate to the universe as a whole to give you the percent of fraud that we think may exist within the program.  The closest example of that would be a study done by the VA's OIG [Office of Inspector General] who, in 2011, did a study that was a statistically valid, random sample projecting the extent to which there may be fraud within the program.  What they found with their study was -- in a review of 42 firms -- they found that 32 of the 42 or 76% of those firms were not eligible for the program.  Now that study included a verification process that was the less rigorous process under the 2006 act as well as just a plain self-certification process that was implemented before the 2006 act.  If you look at only those firms that were included as part of the 2006 verification process, you see a similar percentage.  About ten of fourteen firms that were included in the VA's OIG sample was found not to be eligible.  Or 70% of those programs, a very comparable percentage. 
    US House Rep Jerry McNerney: Well do you think this 100% control standard is contributing to fraud?  Is that a standard that's difficult to verify in some ways?  Is there some way that we can improve that standard in order to reduce the appeal of fraud to unscrupulous players?
    Richard Hillman: Like Jim has said, in the cases we have examined as part of our work, there has been very little ambiguity as it relates to an ownership or control issue -- when we have gone out and conducted our own investigations.  For example, ownership issues are most often validated associated with the operating agreement -- operating plans -- that exist.  And you can document the extent to which on paper the individual is an owner of the business or not. Control on the other hand is a much more subjective determination and, uh -- For example, conversations this morning associated with the fact that if you own 51% of the company, you can decide to sell that company.  You not only own it but you control it.  Well there could be instances in the operating plan or other agreements with that firm that if the principal decides to sell that business there's an agreement that they must consult with the minority owners first to get their agreement.  Well that would be a provision where there was maybe 51% ownership but because of an operating agreement, not 100% control. 
    US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  Well --
    Richard Hillman:  So the devil is in the details.
    US House Rep Jerry McNerney: -- that's informative.  That's informative because then ownership is easily -- it's subjective, it's easy to establish, it means something, everybody can understand it and if people are committing fraud, then they can be prosecuted.  Whereas control is a much more subjective standard that we're having to try and manage.
    Richard Hillman:  In -- In all our cases we have looked at, we've seen instances and where individuals may be living and working in other practices 500 miles away.  We see instances where they may be receiving a salary of $12,000 where a minority owner may be receiving a salary of $80,000.  You see examples like these which suggest on paper ownership exists but control isn't being afforded that leave you to pause.  In those instances, we provide our cases and our case results to the enforcement organizations and they provide and adjuidcate over those issues. 
    US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  So ownership has its own risks then with regards to somebody just using a veteran on paper and maybe skimming off some of the profits but not having control.  So this is -- this is still a difficult issue for us.
    Richard Hillman:  And there is -- there is -- In addition to ownership issues, there's also this issue that you just referred to as a pass through where you do have a service disabled veteran as the owner of the business but that service disabled veteran may pass that contract through to an entity that is run by non-veterans or non-service disabled veterans to manage that activity and, in accordance with provisions of the program, if they don't handle 50% of that service contract or up to 15% of that contract or related contract then they're not fulfilling the provisions of the program as well.  So the details dictate whether or not the program is -- is elibable for the program and I think that's -- that is a source of confusion and something that the program has attempted to clarify.
    [. . .]
    Chair Marlin Stutzman:  Mr. O'Neal, in your testimony, all of the cases you cite involved companies that self-certified their status as veteran owned and controlled.  CVE has now installed a more rigorous verification program to determine whether a company is truly veteran owned and controlled. Can you tell us how many of your cases -- opened or closed -- involve companies certified under the more rigorous process and whether that process is meeting the goals of eliminating most of the cheaters?
    James O'Neill:  No.  I can't tell you here.  I can give you a written response. I'd have to do some research but I know of one instance, for example, where the company had been certified under the more rigorous standards but it was at the beginning of the process and mistakes were made in CVE and we -- don't forget, we can execute search warrants, we can get e-mail, we can uncover evidence of fraud that even the most rigorous standard applied by CVE won't find.  So it's going to happen.  I think it's certainly far fewer cases -- I don't think the number would exceed 10, I'd be surprised -- I've actually -- our companies that have passed that level of scrutiny by CVE.  But I will respond to you in a written response.
    Chair Marlin Stutzman: Okay.  Thank you.  Mr. Hillman, looking at the highlights, you start off the first paragraph saying that the CVE SDVOSB program remains vulnerable to fraud and abuse.  And you mention that several times.  And even with your recommendations, at the conclusion of the one paragraph, you say GAO made some changes to the report that you had made after the Veteran Affairs -- after they had challenged some of them or you guys discussed them but you continue to believe that the program remains vulnerable to fraud and abuse.  Do you feel that the VA is concerned about this particular program?  Are they -- What kind of response do you get from them when you discuss your concerns about fraud and abuse?  Is it as much of a concern to them as it is a concern to you? 
    Richard Hillman:  When you review an organization such as the Veterans Administration or perhaps even the Small Business Administration, those entities have largely a role of advocacy and service to those constituent groups -- either veterans or small businesses.  The OSB function which Mr. Leney operates is also more of a service oriented function.  The idea of having a strong controls environment to help deter or detect fraud and abuse isn't necessarily part of that DNA.  So when we're going in and evaluating the extent to which a program has strong prevention controls or detection and monitoring controls or controls to ensure that the program is taking aggressive actions against bad actors, we seem to be looking at it with a lens the extent to which you can identify and address conditions offraud and abuse.  That type of influence -- I believe Mr. Lenny's organization is attempting to develop through additional training, through additional guidance.  But it really hasn't existed to this same degree that we would have hoped that it might to date.
    Chair Marlin Stutsman: Why do you think that is?
    Richard Hillman: I believe it has an awful lot to do with what the organization's mission as an advocate for those constituents groups -- in this case veterans -- uh-uh -- The -- uh -- interest in ensuring that there's strong oversight and protection over the fraud, waste and abuse angles isn't something that is really what they see as their primary function.
    Chair Marlin Stutzman:  What's your opinion of the VA's process for debarring companies? Have they set the thresholds high enough?  Are more companies getting denied verification that should be also considered for debarment?  What is your opinion?
    Richard Hillman: The statistics that we have seen show that, over time, the debarment committee within VA is making more debarment decisions and has more proposed debarment decisions than they have had in the past.  As of July 26, 2012, there are now 11 SDVOSB [Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program] cases that have been tried by the debarment committee, 5 debarments, 6 proposed debarments.  And these debarments when they occur, occur for a four to five year period of time.  They're taking aggressive action in that regard. However, you use numbers such as five debarments, six proposed and you're seeing many more being provided to them for their review.  The committee itself was established in September 2010 -- almost two years of activity.  I do believe that is sufficient time for someone to go in and take an evaluation of how well that Committee has been functioning over that two year period and what additional steps could possibly be taken with this.
    Chair Marlin Stutsman: Okay. Last question.  Would you think -- Do you think self-certification was a mistake?  Does it open the door for more fraud and abuse?
    Richard Hillman:  Absolutely.  The government-wide program which manages 7o percent of all SDVOSB contracts is largely a self-certification program and it is very suseptable to fraud and abuse.  The VA is the only agency that has a certification process for service disabled small veterans business and that has reduced the vulnerability of fraud.  We're hoping that Mr. Lenney will continue to make that level of fraud as low as possible, commiserate with the cost of establishing controls. And we're -- we're very concerned about the government-wide program being a self-certified program and, uh, that is not serving veterans well.
    And we'll close with the war on Syria.  Alex Lantier (WSWS) notes how a Democrat in the White House allows faux peace types to really go to town getting their War On:
    Obama's reassurance that the US is providing only "non-lethal assistance" to anti-Assad forces is a cynical lie. The US is waging a brutal civil war by proxy that has already cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
    Its goal is to install a US puppet regime in Damascus to isolate and prepare for war against Iran, remove a potential enemy of Israel, and advance a broader agenda of complete dominance of the Middle East by US imperialism. This agenda—pursued in the course of a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and intensified after last year's mass uprisings in North Africa with wars in Libya and Syria—is deeply unpopular in the working class in the United States and internationally.
    Washington's covert backing for the Syrian "rebels" lays bare the role of pro-imperialist pseudo-left groups—like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain and the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France—which have promoted the war in Syria. Their "leftism" amounts to nothing more than giving "left" justifications for the crimes of American and European imperialism.
    The ISO openly declares its support for intervention. In an article by Yusuf Khalil and Lee Sustar in its Socialist Worker publication, it writes: "The increasing role of the armed struggle raises the question whether to accept arms and support from the West … While many in the Syrian revolutionary movement are opposed to US and Western intervention, they will take whatever help they can get."

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Song Travels with Michael Feinstein

"Choking The Chicken - The Totalitarian Left Filets Itself" (Hillary Is 44):
Oops, excuse us, that’s Barack Obama talking about the “sacred union” of marriage. That’s Barack Obama discussing in Biblical terms why he opposes gay marriage and why he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
We must have missed the protesting kiss-in disruptions at Obama headquarters from the totalitarian left outraged at invocations of scripture on a public policy matter.
We also must have missed the disruptive protests as Barack Obama and his monstrous campaign apparatus spent great sums of money in 2008 to promote anti-gay African-Americans such as Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, Hezekiah Walker and Reverend James Meeks as they displayed themselves on behalf of Barack Obama. But that was when Obama needed black votes more than gay money.
Now of course Barack Obama needs gay money more than the slavish dedication of black voters so he has revolved 180 degrees. It’s all about the gay money this cycle - the Bible along with America, be damned.
The contemporary left of Barack Obama DailyKooks and assorted gay marriage supporters appear not to understand the dangerous, unconstitutional horror of elected officials such as the ballet dancing thug from Chicago and the daft mayor of Boston declaring a jihad against free expression backed by the full coercive power of the state. Well that’s not entirely true, the Barack Obama DailyKooks do indeed understand what they do but like flowers twisting to the sun their tropism is towards totalitarianism. It’s the dictatorship of the proletariat with the DailyKooks hallucinating themselves as the vanguard of the proletariat.
We well know these thugs.
I'm trying to decide between Jill Stein and Roseanne Barr currently -- for my vote.  I'm now leaning towards Roseanne and a great deal of that is because she's named Cindy Sheehan her running mate.

I may write about the race for the presidency tomorrow.

Tonight, I'm writing about radio.  Community member Billie wrote Ruth and I about a program she loves, "Song Travels with Michael Feinstein."  This is an hour long, weekly show that is carried by NPR.  She was really excited about the latest broadcast on her local NPR and e-mailed.  The guest was Rumer and you can stream it here.

Michael Feinstein is a gifted artist.  He is also funny.  I met him at a party C.I. was invited to (and if she goes, she generally takes several people with her and I was lucky enough to tag along).  It was probably a post-awards show party.  But I remember thinking, "Oh, what a funny and cute guy."  He plays the piano like no one else except maybe Hoagy Carmichael.  (Please don't e-mail, "Hoagy who?" My grandmother ensured we knew these older musicians.  We knew Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughn and so many more.  Hoagy Carmichael wrote two of my favorite songs: "The Nearness of You" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well.")  (My favorite version of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" is the one Carly Simon does on the "Torch" album.)

Oh, my goodness!  I looked up some basics.  He is 55-years-old, Michael Feinstein.  He looks great.  I thought, and remember I was face-to-face with him at a party, he was my age (early 30s).  Okay, so he is plays the piano and sings and gives tours that draw in tons of people and he is a very successful recording artist.

Now why to listen to the Rumer episode?  Rumer is an amazing singer.  I am not sure how to describe her.  In America, I know how she'd be described but I'm not sure if they hyphen in England.  Her father was from Pakistan (biological father), her mother and father who raised her were British.  She discovered her love for music in a variety of ways including old Judy Garland movies.  She especially identified with "Easter Parade."

So Michael plays the piano and she sings "Buds Won't Bud" which is a song I have never heard before and I so love.  It reminds me of another song (the other song was written much later so it was clearly inspired by it) and they do "Where Or When?" and "That's All."  And it's a great hour.  You really need to stream this.  Rumer is amazing singer. 

And what a great guest.  She's funny and so open.  She talks about Shirley MacLaine with Michael Feinstein and about Judy Garland (of course) and about gas station flowers (you have to hear it).  But she's so open about her own life and shares a pretty shattering event that happened when she was 11.

So make a point to stream it. 

Thank you, Billie, for e-mailing me about the show.  It is a great program.  And Ruth is going to blog about the program but a different episode of it so be sure to visit Ruth's site tonight.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, August 2, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri fumes as Turkey visits Kirkuk, Allawi makes a high profile stop in the region, is the Dept of Veterans Affairs violating US law, what is controlling ownership, and more.
With the non-stop wars of the last years, there are a large number of veterans in the US population.  Some of them would like to start their own businesses.  Gordon Block (Watertown Daily Times) reports on "soldiers and veterans" who turned out for a seminar on that topic that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was behind.  Those attending were able to ineract with "Empire State Development; the Departments of State, Labor, and Taxation and Finance; the state Liquor Authority and the Workers' Compensation Board." Governor Cuomo's Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, Alphonso B. David, explains, "We want them to understand there are these resources."  This week the Deputy Administrator of the US Small Business Administration Marie C. Johns explored the topic at The Huffington Post and noted, "In fact, over nine percent of veterans start or purchase a business once they return home.  And the ripple effect of their entrepreneurial spirit is evident in the rate of small business ownership across the nation.  Currently, there are over two million veteran entrepreneurs employing close to six million people across the nation."
Veteran businesses, Congress was told today, that apply for to be recognized as such by the VA suffer from a 60% initial rejection rate and there is a 40% rejection rate for those who apply a second time. The VA's Leney stated that the VA believed, this year alone, 59 businesses had fraudulently applied for veteran status and that they had referred those 59 to the Office of Inspector General.  This is more than double the 2011 numbers (25 referred) and 2012 is not yet over.
Chair Marlin Stutzman: Everyone here knows about the problems VA has had implementing the small business provisions  of a series of public laws beginning Public Law 109-461 and we'll hear more about it today, I'm sure.  While addressing those continuing issues is important, especially those that may include criminal activity, the past is not my focus today.  I want to know how and -- equally important -- when VA will put in place the systems and the policies that will shorten the time, decrease the level of effort needed to pass muster to lower the costs and finally create a community of veteran owned businesses that is reasonably free from unqualified companies.  This is not just a VA task.  There are issues we in Congress need to deal with as well.
"We have patiently waited for signs of progress following the installation of a new Executive Director of Smll and Veteran Business Programs at the VA," declared Chair Bill Johnson this morning.  "And while some improvements have  been made, unfortunately the goals established nearly a year ago have yet to be achieved.  This Committee has an oversight responsibility to the American people to ensure that tax dollars administered by the VA are going to legitimate, qualified, veteran owned businesses.  I am hopeful that today's hearing will encourage and assist the VA in reaching their goals of improving the CVE [Center for Veterans Enterprise]  once and for all."
Stutzman and Johnson were co-chairing a joint hearing of two House Veterans Affairs subcommittees -- the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (Johnson) and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation (Stutzman). 
The first panel was the Executive Director of VA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Thomas Leney.  That's what we're emphasizing today because I want it on the record here that the Congress believes the VA is not in compliance with the law.  In addition, we're going to note the most puzzling and troubling moment of the hearing.  This also took place on the first panel.  If you're a veteran wanting to start a small business, you may need money.  One way to get money for your business is to bring in investors.  But while, in the real world, doing that will not penalize you, in the faux world of VA classifications, it turns out many veteran owned businesses are not getting recognized as such -- which can mean that they are not allowed to bid for VA contracts.  VA is operating under a defintion of ownership and control that is unique to the world of VA and clearly puzzled the members of Subcommittees -- Democrats and Republicans.
First up, the issue of the law. Excerpt:
Chair Bill Johnson:  Mr. Leney,  you heard the quote I read just a little bit before from the Federal District Judge for the District of Columbia.  He said "several of the groups cited by the CVE as a basis for denying the application for inclusion in the VetBiz VIP database are described in such generalized and ambiguous terms that the Court is essentially left to guess as to the precise basis for the agency's decision."  So what steps has the CVE taken to ensure that decisions for appeals are sufficiently reasoned so that,  if the issue does go to court, a judge can properly exercise judicial review.
Thomas Leney:  Uh -- sir, I find that, uh, judicial concern, uh, troubling --
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay, I know you find it troubling. And we've got a lot of witnesses to hear from today.  I don't want to -- I don't want to spin our wheels. Have you made any improvements as a result of that District Judge's findings and the input that we've given you from this Committee -- Subcommittee -- to make sure that appeals are sufficiently reasoned to make sure that they can be understood? Has any action been taken?
Thomas Leney: Yes, sir. As I mentioned in my oral statement every request for reconsideration receives a legal review from our Office of General Counsel on the basis of are we prepared to defend it in court?
Chair Bill Johnson: Have you made any changes to your process to make sure that they are --
Thomas Leney: That is the change to the process.  Every one of our requests for  reconsideration receives a legal review.
Chair Bill Johnson:  Okay. And that wasn't being done prior to --

Thomas Leney:  That was not being done prior.
Chair Bill Johnson:  Does -- does VA possess the necessary expertice in making determinations of ownership under their current process?
Thomas Leney:  Yes, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay.  Does -- VA does not allow for affiliatons whereas because you testified a few minutes ago that because your processes are consistent, your regulations are consistent with SBA regulations if I heard you correct.
Thomas Leney: Yes, sir.
Chair BIll Johnson:  The VA does not allow for affiliatons whereas government-wide rules do allow for affiliatons.  Why is there a difference between SBA and VA's interpretation?
Thomas Leney:  Sir, in response to engagement with this Committee, we undertook a review of our regulation with respect to 13 CFR 125 and 13 CFR 124 which are the SBA regulations. We found that not only are our regulations similar, our interpretations are similar as well.  In fact, based on our review to date the SBA regulations routinely reaches similar if not identical decisions as the VA.  We have -- We have undertaken a review of the regulation.  We're doing that in collaboration with the SBA and, in fact, one of the elements, if you compare the two regulations, our regulation is much more detailed than 13 CFR 125.
Chair Bill Johnson: What about 13 CFR 121, Mr. Leney, that's also a part of this disccusion that describes the intent of the Congress?  How do you -- how do you involve 13 CFR 121 in your process?
Thomas Leney: Sir, the 13 CFR 121 is one of the regulations we are now looking at as part of our review of our regulations. 
Chair Bill Johnson: But it's been for a long time and we've suggested that you include it for a long time.  And you're just now looking at it?
Thomas Leney:  Sir, our focus -- my focus has been to implement the regulations that the VA utilizes for the verification program.
Chair Bill Johnson:  But shouldn't the regulation be based on the law, Mr. Leney?
Thomas Leney:  The regulation, we believe, is based on the law, sir.

Chair Bill Johnson:  But not if you exclude, uhm, 121.
Thomas Leney:  Sir, like I say, the Secretary [of the VA Eric Shinseki] has directed us to review the regulation.  We are doing so in conjunction with the SBA and stakeholders.  I cannot -- I cannot speak to why it was not being done previously.  But it is being done now.
Chair Bill Johnson:  How long have you been here, Mr. Leney?
Thomas Leney:  Sir, I've been here a year.
Chair Bill Johnson:  And this is not the first time that you've testified before this Subcommittee.
Thomas Leney:  This is not the first time. 
Chair Bill Johnson:  We've talked about 121 before.
Thomas Leney: Yes, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson: Okay.  So why are you waiting for the Secretary to tell you to do something that the law clearly requires?
Thomas Leney:  Sir, as I stated, my focus has been to implement the regulation that is in place with the VA. That regulation has been long standing and it has been tested.  We are now reviewing that regulation based on an extensive series of stakeholder engagements.  And I'll be happy to come back and report --
Chair Bill Johnson:  You'll get a chance  to come back, Mr. Leney, because it's a violation of the law.  121 is part of the process and that's what this Subcommittee demands, it's what the American people demand.  That's why we're losing patience with the process -- because we keep making these suggestions and we keep spinning our wheels and chasing this same rabbit around the corner over and over again.  So I'm sure I'll have more questions but I'm going to go now to Mr. Stutzman for his questions.
Chair Marlin Stutzman: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I believe the VA has a fairly robust statistical analysis section.  Is that correct?
Thomas Leney:  Sir, I can't speak to that. I don't know.
Chair Marlin Stutzman: You don't know that --
Thomas Leney:  I don't know the extent of the statistical analysis.
Chair Marlin Stutzman:  You do have -- You do have one?
Thomas Leney:  I can't speak to that.  I do not know.
Now let's move over to issues of ownership and control and, again, we're just on the first panel and the one witness, Thomas Leney.
US House Reps Jerry McNerney and Phil Roe asked about veterans who are turned down despite owning 51% of their company.  They can't get a veterans small business contract if they own 51% because that's not "control."  Roe explained that if you owned 51% of GM stock, you control General Motors.  However, that's not the VA definition.  The VA definition is that the owner must have 100% control.  There can be partners, but they can't have control or even voting rights because, as the VA is interpreting it, even voting rights waters down control.  No, that doesn't make any sense at all.
Chair Bill Johnson:  You said you're going towards lines of clear delineation.  Give us the definition of control.  You ought to be able to do that.  You're the Director of this department. Tell this Subcommittee right now, tell the people that are listening today what is the defintion of control if 51% ownership doesn't qualify.  What is it?
Thomas Leney: The definition of 100% control is that you can do anything you want with that business, make any decision concerning that business to include selling that business for a dollar and no one else in that business to include other owners -- other minority owners -- can do anything to prevent you from doing so.
Chair Bill Johnson: Mr. Leney, do you know of any business in the world that has more than one owner where that defintion would qualify?  Can you name me one business?  One?
Thomas Leney: I can name you thousands of businesses
Chair Bill Johnson:  Where that definition qualifies?
Thomas Leney:  Yes, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson:  Under a court of law?
Thomas Leney:  Yes, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson:  I'd like to see them.  Would you write them down and submit them to this Committee?
Thomas Leney:  Yes, sir.
Chair Bill Johnson:  I'd like you to do that.  I'd like to see that.
Those were among the big moments in the hearing today.  Time and space permitting, we'll note some other moments from the hearing tomorrow.
Lara Jakes (AP) reports that attempts by the US government to have Ali Mussa Daqduq extradited to the US to stand trial for his part in "the 20007 killings of five American soldiers" has been rebuffed by an Iraqi legal panel composed of three judges whose ruling notes, "It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case.  Therefore, the court decided to reject the request to hand over the Lebanese defendant Ali Mussa Daqduq to the U.S. judicial authorities, and to release him immediately."   Back in December, law professor Robert Chesney noted where blame could fall.  The list included:
Blame the Maliki administration for intransigence in refusing to let us remove Daqduq during the waning days of our presence, and for now apparently going forward with comically minor charges.  Blame the Obama administration for not somehow overcoming that intransigence.  Blame critics of the administration who fiercely objected (for reasons that still make little sense to me) to the prospect that Daqduq might be brought into the United States for a military commission trial, making a fetish out of GTMO as the only permitted geographic location for such proceedings.  Blame the Obama administration for refusing to use GTMO in the face of such intransigence. 
Back in June of 2009, the US began releasing those responsible for the deaths of the five American soldiers.  They did so, see the June 9, 2009 snapshot, so that Barack could get a terrorist group to turn over some British corpses.  As noted in that snapshot:
CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
We've gone over this at length, see the July 24th snapshot most recently,
December 17, 2011, Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported on what was termed "a move likely to unleash a political backlash inside the United States." What was he reporting on? The White House's decision to release Ali Musa Daqduq to the Iraqi government, the man "accused of helping to orchestrate a January 2007 raid by Shiite militants who wore U.S.-style uniforms and carried forged identity cards. They killed five U.S. soldiers -- one immediately and four others who were kidnapped and later shot and dumped beside a road." Reporting on it the same day, Matt Apuzzo (AP) noted the reactions of two US senators.
Senator Mark Kirk (in a letter before the release): "Daqduq's Iranian paymasters would like nothing more than to see him transferred to Iraqi custody, where they could effectively pressure for his escape or release. We truly hope you will not let that happen."
Senator Saxby Chambliss (after news broke of the release): "Rather than ensure justice for five American soldiers killed by Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, the administration turned him over to Iraq, once again completely abdicating its responsibility to hold on to deadly terrorists. Given Iraq's history of releasing detainees, I expect it is only a matter of time before this terrorist will be back on the battlefield."
Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported that US National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor insisted that the White House "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes." Some assurances. May 7th, Daqduq was cleared of all charges. Senator Kelly Ayotte released a statement that day noting that she and 19 other US Senators lodged their objection to transferring Daqduq July 21, 2011 in a formal letter which "expressed the Senators' concerns that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody might result in his release and a return to terrorist activities." Those concerns were dismissed. When the May 7th verdict came down the White House demanded a "do-over" in Iraqi courts. No surprise (except maybe to the White House) the same Iraqi courts cleared Daqduq of the charges which led the July 12th fuming from the White House that appeared to be just for show:

AFP reports that there was an attack on a police patrol in Taji yesterday which led to the deaths of four police officers and that there was an attack on a Taji prison in which four other police officers were killed.  Alsumaria reports that the attack started with a bombing at the gate and then assailants stormed the prison where they clashed with prison guards -- they state officials have not released the death tolls -- and they remind something similar happened in Baghdad Tuesday when a car bombing outside the counter-terrorism center was followed by assailants attempting to storm the center leading to five deaths and twenty-seven people being injured.  The supposed goal behind the Tuesday attack was to break out forty terrorists including leadership.  Of the Tuesday attack, Al Mada notes that there were six suicide bombers outside the center who detonated before assilants attempted to storm the counter-terrorism center. Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that this morning a Baghdad attack using three bombs have left 4 police officers dead and four more injured.  All Iraq News reports there has been an armed attack on the Diyala headquarters of Sahwa ("Awakening," "Sons of Iraq") which has claimed the life of 1 and left four more injured.  AFP notes a Baghdad car bombing has left 9 people dead and another thirty-two injured, a Kirkuk home invasion left four family members dead (the victims were Turkmen -- parents and two daughters -- and their throats were all slit), three more Kirkuk attacks resulted in the deaths of 7 Iraqi soldiers with eleven more left injured, a Tirkit attack resulted in 4 police officers being shot dead, a Tikrit bombing left 3 Sahwa dead, 1 soldier was shot dead in Dujail with four more kidnapped and a Samarra attack resulted in the death of 1 Sahwa and 1 police officer at the hands of unknown assailants.
As the violence in Iraq refuses to vanish, Ayman Khalil (Global Arab Network) offers a very in depth look at the violence and at the political crisis:
Iraq Body Count, an independent tracking database, reports no drop in civilian casualties, with an average of about 4,000 killed per year since 2009.
The US troop pullout six months ago has taken the wind out of the sails of many armed groups, especially Shia groups, whose raison d'etre was opposing the occupation. But it has also led to a rebalancing of power in which politicians, militias, "terrorists" and countries in the region are vying for influence.
"The main event in Iraq, which was postponed for many years due to the US presence, is the struggle among Iraqis to control the country," argues Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and author of several books on Iraq. Analysts expect the struggle to continue bubbling along for some time to come.
Here are a few of the drivers of conflict in Iraq:
Dysfunctional parliament: Iraqi politics are young - only truly born after the US withdrawal - and its players are still learning how to make democracy work. "The main driver of violence in Iraq is the dysfunctionality of the political process and the polarization between [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki and his opponents," says Joost Hiltermann, Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group. The Shiite rulers do not know how to absorb minorities into the fold, and many questions around the constitution, federalism and power/resource-sharing remain unanswered. The inability to reach agreement has left the government unable to do much of anything: unable to provide basic services (leading to mounting frustration with the government) and unable to properly run its security forces (who cannot contain the insurgents). Without some kind of political consensus on how to run the country, insurgent groups will keep finding fuel to light the fire. Or as one UN analyst put it: "Iraq will be stuck like this until Iraqi politics become mature enough."
With July now seen as the deadliest month in two years, Nouri's government is eager to change the topic and are instead trying to steer the focus to oil.  Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraq's crude exports in July rose for the third consecutive month to an average of 2.52 million barrels a day, generating sales of $7.5 billion, the head of the country's State Oil Marketing Organization said."  AFP adds, "Iraq's revenues from oil, which account for the lion's share of the country's income, were up by about $1 billion in July compared to the month before, an oil ministry spokesman said on Wednesday."  The announcement will most likely lead Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc to further question the Ministry of Finance's assertion earlier this week that there was no oil surplus revenues to distribute among the Iraqi people.  UPI notes that "independence-minded Kurds seeking their own oil industry and a new bombing offensive by al-Qaida, could cripple Baghdad's ambitions to become the world's top oil producer."
Meanwhile Reuters notes the KRG is stating they will cease exporting oil if Nouri's government "does not make all outstanding payments" owed to the KRG for oil.  Basil el-Dabh (Egypt Daily News) reports, "Baghdad owes the KRG 1.5 million USD in oil revenues needed to pay oil-producing companies in its region." Furthermore, Christopher Helman (Forbes) explores the conflict between Baghdad and the KRG over the issue of oil:
It started late last year with ExxonMobil, then a month ago Chevron joined in, followed this week by Total and now Gazprom. That's four of the world's biggest international oil and gas giants that have defied Baghdad to sign up for concessions to drill for oil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
Baghdad has blacklisted the oil giants from future bidding rounds for southern fields, and has condemned the sweet deals that the Kurds have been offering as in violation of the Iraqi constitution.


All Iraq News notes Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's Foreign Minister, arrived in Erbil yesterday on a regional visit and today he is visting Kirkuk.  The outlet states he may visit Baghdad.  Al Mada notes that Davutoglu was received yesterday by Kurdish Regional Government, the Minister of the Interior, the Governor of Erbil and other dignataries.  Click here for a photo of KRG President Massoud Barzani receving Davutoglu and the KRG press release notes that the two addressed the relationship between their two gvoernments (which has seen increased friendship, the release notes) and discussed economic and energy partnerships as well as the situation in Syria. The Journal of Turkish Weekly adds:
According to the written statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Davutoglu and Barzani held productive meetings in Irbil about bilateral relations, regional problems and discussed the Syria crisis.
According to the statement, Davutoglu and Barzani clarified their satisfaction over the relations and agreed to expand them in all fields, particularly in the fields of economic development and energy.
According to statement Davutoglu and Barzani discussed the situation in Syria. "They emphasized that the situation in Syria is grave. Syrian people continue to suffer. Loss of life and destruction are at unprecedented levels. They underlined that the actions of the Syrian regime and its policy to provoke sectarian and ethnic conflict within the country will further deteriorate the situation. The developments in Syria also pose a threat to regional security and stability. This situation is unacceptable by all standards," the statement said.
 UPI reports that upon seeing Kirkuk, Davutoglu declared, "This is the most important day of my life. I am visiting Kirkuk, which was always in my dreams. I am happy to be the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Kirkuk in 75 years.  Kirkuk will be an eternal city of peace in Iraq where our Turkmen, Kurdish and Arab brothers live together."  All that peace talk was apparently too much for Baghdad.  UPI notes that the visit resulted in "outrage from the Iraqi government."  Basil el-Dabh (Egypt Daily News) also notes, "Iraq's federal government condemned Davuutogulu's visit on Thursday."
Kirkuk is disputed with both Baghdad and the KRG claiming it.  We're dropping back to the July 26, 2011 snapshot for more on this issue:
Of greater interest to us (and something's no one's reported on) is the RAND Corporation's  report entitled "Managing Arab-Kurd Tensions in Northern Iraq After the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops."  The 22-page report, authored by Larry Hanauer, Jeffrey Martini and Omar al-Shahery, markets "CBMs" -- "confidence-building measures" -- while arguing this is the answer.  If it strikes you as dangerously simplistic and requiring the the Kurdish region exist in a vacuum where nothing else happens, you may have read the already read the report.  CBMs may strike some as what the US military was engaged in after the Iraqi forces from the central government and the Kurdish peshmerga were constantly at one another's throats and the US military entered into a patrol program with the two where they acted as buffer or marriage counselor.  (And the report admits CBMs are based on that.)  Sunday Prashant Rao (AFP) reported US Col Michael Bowers has announced that, on August 1st, the US military will no longer be patrolling in northern Iraq with the Kurdish forces and forces controlled by Baghdad. That took years.  And had outside actors.  The authors acknowledge:
Continuing to contain Arab-Kurd tensions will require a neutral third-party arbitrator that can facilitate local CMBs, push for national-level negotiations, and prevent armed conflict between Iraqi and Kurdish troops.  While U.S. civilian entities could help implement CMBs and mediate political talks, the continued presence of U.S. military forces within the disputed internal boundaries would be the most effective way to prevent violent conflict between Arabs and Kurds.
As you read over the report, you may be struck by its failure to state the obvious: If the US government really wanted the issue solved, it would have been solved in the early years of the illegal war.  They don't want it solved.  The Kurds have been the most loyal ally the US has had in the country and, due to that, they don't want to upset them.  However, they're not going to pay back the loyalty with actual support, not when there's so much oil at stake.  So the Kurds were and will continue to be told their interests matter but the US will continue to blow the Kurdish issues off over and over.  Greed trumps loyalty is the message.  (If you doubt it, the Constitution guaranteed a census and referendum on Kirkuk by December 31, 2007.  Not only did the US government install Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in 2006, they continued to back him for a second term in 2010 despite his failure to follow the Constitution.)
Along with avoiding that reality, the report seems rather small-minded or, at least, "niche driven."  Again, the authors acknowledge that as well noting that they're not presenting a solution to the problems or ways to reach a solution, just ways to kick the can further down the road and, hopefully, there won't be an explosion that forces the issue any time soon. ("Regional and local CBMs have the potential to keep a lid on inter-communal tensions that will, without question, boil beneath the surface for a long time.  They cannot, however, resolve what is, at its heart, a strategic political dispute that must be resolved at the national level.") Hopefully? Page nine of the report notes that the consensus of US military, officials, analysts, etc. who have worked on the issue is that -- "given enough time -- Arab and Kurdish participants will eventually have a dispute that leads to violence, which will cause the mechanism to degrade or collapse."
The report notes that, in late 2009, Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq at that point) had declared the tensions between Arabs and Kurds to be "the greatest single driver of instability in Iraq."  It doesn't note how the US Ambassador to Iraq when Odierno made those remarks was Chris Hill who dismissed talk of tensions as well as the issue of the oil rich and disputed Kirkuk.
These issues are all at play.  Further irritating Nouri may be Ayad Allawi's visit.  KUNA reports that he is in Anakara meeting with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In other news, President Barzani has a response to Nouri's whisper campaign.  Earlier this week, State of Law was whispering to the press that Barzani would be called before Parliament for questioning.  Then the Speaker of Parliament's office weighed in noting that no such request had been made.  Al Mada reports today that Barzani states he's more than ready to appear before Parliament and answer questions if called.  This not only allows Barzani to appear open to the Iraqi people, it also underscores that Nouri's ongoing refusal to appear before Parliament for questioning is in violation of the Constitution.