Friday, February 22, 2013


"Whitney" airs Wednesdays on NBC. It stars Whitney Cummings as Whitney and it's about her relationship with Alex and her relationship with her friends.

 I usually write about Whitney or Mark. Mark's one of my favorite characters on the show. So I thought I'd write a little about the male characters on the show.

RJ is a nice addition to season two but something is missed by Neal's absence. In the first season, he was Lily's fiancee until somewhere after episode 15 when they broke up -- for no real reason only to have a reason emerge: Neal was gay.

The actor left to return to the awful "30 Rock" where the joke was on him. I believe Tina Fey gave him 3 scenes in the whole season. And one of those was in the last episode so he would have had that scene regardless of whether he stayed or returned. On "Whitney" he got to play a role -- for most of the first season -- like he'd never done before. Then Neal became gay and it was like every other role the actor's played. (On "30 Rock," he was Jonathan, Jack's assistant who was always lusting after Jack.)

Mark was a police officer in season one. In season two, he decides to quit to run a bar. He's still a strong character which is probably more to do with the actor. Again, big fan of the actor's, big crush on the character.

RJ is Alex's friend and he goes to work at Mark's bar. He is probably going to end up with Lily at some point because it was established in season one that, until Neal, she'd dated African-American men exclusively. Sometimes RJ is used well, sometimes he's given a dumb line. In later episodes, they use him well. He gets to be part of the group -- as opposed to 'that wacky Black we work with' which, as Ava and C.I. have pointed out, is the most common way to get a Black character on a TV show.  I believe he was a poli sci major because Alex was.  But he's an art history minor, has a graduate degree and a ton of student loans.

And then there's Alex.

We love -- if we love the show -- that he accepts Whitney because there are people who wouldn't. If you doubt that look at some of the criticism of the show. We like that he can make her (and us) laugh. We like that he's laid back. But sometimes, he can be just a little too laid back. That's why the season two episode with Whitney's ex-boyfriend showing up and Alex getting physical with him was so good and so important. We got to see something that wasn't right on the surface with the character.

So those are the four main male characters form the two seasons of the show so far. If you were to add to the list to include a supporting character, it would probably have to be Whitney's dad played by Peter Gallagher. And he was back on the show this week. He's not to be trusted and not very dependable either. That's been the story her whole life too. At the start of this week's episode, Alex is expecting him to arrive at any minute.  Whitney says, "That's so cute that you actually think he's going to show up. Even if he does, he's going to be three hours late with a four hour excuse."

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, February 22, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, assassinations today include a judge and a police officer, millions turn out to protest in Iraq today, a call is made for England's Labour party to apologize for Tony Blair's part in the Iraq War, support actions for Bradley Manning are planned, and more.

Unlike in the United States where national politics are largely a story of the duopoly parties, in England there are numerous political parties.  There is the Labour Party which, prior to the ascent of Tony Blair and his Blair-ites, was considered a party for the working people in the United Kingdom.  Labour currently has 257 members in the House of Commons (the lower House in the UK).  Tony Blair's ascension was when Big Money really took hold in Labour and it was thought that the Conservative Party was relegated to runner up status.  But Blair wanted war on Iraq and the accountability for his War Crimes were, in the end, inflicted upon the Labor Party.  To Labour's 257 seats, the Conservative Party can hold up 305 seats in the House of Commons.  They also -- via a coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party -- now also claim the spot of prime minister (David Cameron).  The Liberal Democrats hold 57 seats.   In addition to those three, there are eight other political parties which have seats in the House of Commons.  The Green Party of England and Wales is one of the eight other political parties and it has one seat in the House of Commons (Caroline Lucas).

The leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is Australian-born Natalie Bennett who is a journalist, holds a degree in agricultural science (University of Sydney) and whose accomplishments include "the founder of the blog Carnival of Feminists."  In addition to founding The Carnival of Feminists,  Bennett's blog is Philobiblon.  The Green Party is holding their national conference and Natalie Bennett addressed the conference today noting that it was the 40th anniversary of the Green Party of England and Wales.  She also noted another anniversary:

But it’s also pressing to highlight just how wrong the current direction of the Coalition government is, and how the Labour party is failing to be the effective opposition that the country desperately needs.
Before I do that, however, there’s another, tragic, anniversary I have to highlight – a 10-year anniversary. For it is a little more than 10 years since the great, 2-million strong anti-war protest took to the streets of London, and a little less than 10 years since the Labour Government utterly ignored the views of those people, and millions of others, and started the Iraq war.
A Guardian survey last week showed that 55 per cent of Britons agree that "the London marchers were right", because "a war sold on a false prospectus delivered little but bloodshed". And the Iraqi people are still struggling, and dying, as a result of the consequences of that war.
Yet Ed Milliband, who HAS apologised for the Blair government’s immigration policy, has failed to apologise for the decision to take Britain into an unjustifiable war.
We’re still waiting for Sir John Chilcot’s report into the war. That’s one landmark that we can expect future historians to look back on this year.

That's only one part of her speech but it's resulting in headlines.  BBC News offers "Green Party conference: Natalie Bennett calls for Iraq war apology from Labour," the Guardian offers Rajeev Syal's "Green party leader calls on Ed Miliband to apologise for Iraq war,"  and offers Tony Hudson's "Labour 'utterly ignored' millions: Greens demand Miliband apology for Iraq."  And the speech is getting attention on Twitter, including:

  1. Green Party leader calls for an apology from Miliband over the illegal Iraq war. As should
  2. Greens call for Iraq war apology: Green Party leader Natalie Bennett calls on Labour leader Ed Miliband to apo...

The Iraq War is not going away for Labour until they address it.  Last week's speech by shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy was a step in the right direction.  A step.  More needs to be done.

Also popping up on Twitter today?

It's Friday, the Iraqi Spring continues.   Alsumaria reports today is dubbed "Iraq or al-Maliki."  al-Maliki would be Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister since 2006 when Bully Boy Bush said no to the Parliament's choice of Ibrahaim al-Jaafari.  In 2010, Iraqis said no to to Nouri but he refused to step down and the White House again backed Nouri (though now Barack Obama was president).  To get around the vote and the Iraqi Constitution, the US brokered a contract giving Nouri a second term in exchange for Nouri agreeing to various demands from the political blocs signing off on the contract.  Nouri used The Erbil Agreement to grab a second term and then refused to honor his written promises within the contract.  Alsumaria notes that thousands of demonstrators turned out in Kirkuk and Hawija.  Mohammed al-Jubouri tells Alsumaria that over 15,000 took to the streets in Hawija for "legal, civil and peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed in the Constitution."  Protesters also demonstrated in Mosul where Shabak and Yezidis participated and thousands took part in the ongoing sit-in which has lasted more than 57 daysAlsumaria notes that participants in Kut included "hundreds" of Shi'ite followers of Moqtada al-Sadr and that there was a call for an end to the violations of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

Al Mada notes that the number of participants continued to increase today -- as has happened each Friday over the last three months.  One count places the number demonstrating at 3,955,000.  The newspaper notes, in Samarra, a sit-in continues and demonstrators called for Baghdad to be returned to the citizens of Iraq, the real owners.  Sheikh Mohammed Taha Saadoun said it was time to change hands of leadership and that government promises continue to go unfulfilled.  National Iraq News Agency reports multiple protests in Diyala Province (including Baquba) and quotes Sheikh Shibab al-Badri ("Vice President of the clerics of Iraq, Diyala branch"), stating, "Thousands of participants in the unified prayer flocked to mosques merging in eight administrative units amid tight security.  Calling on the Iraqi government to speed up the implementation of constitutional and legitimate usurped rights of the demonstrators in the provinces."   Iraqi Spring MC adds that the Sheikh said the sit-in continues in support of the detained and oppressed. Iraqi Spring MC notes that children participated in the protests in Falluja (here and here).  National Iraq News Agency notes that an Anbar Province coordinating committee member stated, "The masses determined to topple the government of Maliki that ignore the restitution of the usurped rights of the people, but cause them harm."   Iraqi Spring MC also offers video of the Tikrit protest and Baiji protests.   Protests also took place in Baghdad and Stop Killing Muslims in Iraq posts this photo of the Baghdad demonstration.  And if you're trying to get a sense of how large the Baghdad group was (it was huge), this photo is a must see.

One sermon delivered in Ramadi by Sheikh Abdel Moneym Badrani called for the government to cease the stalling and procrastination and respond to the demands of the protesters.    Iraqi Spring MC posts a video of an Iman in Duluiya this morning delivering a sermon about how Iraq is bleeding internally and the country needs attention -- which is why the people are protesting.

What are they calling for?  Workers World offered this list last month:

The protesters are justly demanding:
1. The immediate release of detained protesters and dissident prisoners.
2 . A stop to the death penalty.
3. The approval of an amnesty law for innocent detainees.
4. The abolition of anti-terrorism laws (especially Clause 4 used to target them).
5. The repeal of unfair rulings against dissidents.
6. Fair opportunities for work based on professionalism.
7.The end of the use of all military command based on geographic areas.
8. The provision of essential services to all areas in Iraq neglected by the state.
9. The holding of all … governmental officials, army or security units who have committed crimes against dissidents accountable, especially those who have violated the honor of women in prisons.
10. A U.N.-sponsored population count.
11. An end to marginalization, a stop to agitating divisions between ethnic and religious groups, and a stop to the house raids without legal warrant based on the information of secret informers.
12. A stop to financial, administrative and legal corruption.
13. The combating of sectarianism in all its forms by returning religious buildings and all religious properties to their rightful owners, and the abolishment of law No. 19 of 2005.
The International Occupation Network (IAON) welcomes the spread of these non-sectarian protests and supports the efforts of the Iraqi people to regain their full independence and national sovereignty. Ten years of foreign occupation is enough! Ten years of massive human rights violations is enough! Ten years of corruption and depriving the whole population of basic services is enough!
— The International Anti-Occupation Network / IAON

Nouri continued to use the armed forces to intimidate the protesters.  Iraqi Spring MC notes that Nouri used the forces to arrest and terrorize peaceful demonstrators (at least three in Mosul -- Rashid Hamid, Faisal Shibley and Saeed Ali) and they note Nouri's action in an important way -- they note that the orders came from the Commander-in-Chief . . . and the Minister of Defense . . . and the Minister of Interior.

 Turning to violence, CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq Tweets:
  1. Gunmen clad in Iraqi army uniforms attacked a security checkpoint & killed seven members of Sahwa on Friday morning, police told

Xinhua reports, "Unidentified gunmen kidnapped eight pro-government militants and killed seven of them on Friday in Iraq's restive central province of Salah ad Din, said the local police."  Kitabat reports that the eighth is seriously injured.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) notes that the assailants wore "military uniforms."  Alsumaria adds that the assailants used armored vehicles while Reuters notes that the assailants were on motorcycles.   AFP locates the attack "in the village of Halaiwat."  The attacked were Sahwa which have also been called "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" when male and "Daughters Of Iraq" when female.

At the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing then-top US commander in Iraq Gen David Petraeus explained that  "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."   World Bulletin notes, "On February 2, a suicide bomber targeted Sahva forces 20 kilometers away from capital Baghdad and 19 of them were killed, 40 wounded."

Officials were also targeted for violence.   National Iraqi News Agency notes "that gunmen burst into the house of Judge Mawlood Abdullah, the Judge of Tarmiya Court, in Tarmiya area, 30 km north of Baghdad, opened fire at him from guns with silencers, killing him instantly and fled" while another assassination attempt in Tarmiya failed to kill its intended target, police Col Hameed Mohammed Ali (but did result in the death of 1 civilian and four people injured.   In Babil, an assassination attempt succeeded when the Iraqi National Accord nominee for Babil Provincial Council, Hassan Hadi Sayil al-Janabi, and two of his bodyguards were killed. The outlet also notes, "The Governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, said that a hand-to-hand combat erupted between police and the Governor's guard near the protest area (Ahrar Square) in downtown Mosul, when he was at the area" and 2 Kirkuk bombings left three people injured.

In addition,  All Iraq News notes that 1 person was shot dead in Mosul and a Mosul bombing left a police captain injured.  Alsumaria notes that a shop owner was shot dead in Baquba and a Baghdad car bombing killed 2 people and left a third injured.

Turning to health news, Alsumaria reports that one of the doctors treating Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has issued a statement that Talabani's recovering and that he's experienced major progress and will be able to return to Iraq to perform his duties.  National Iraqi News Agency identified the doctor as Dr. Najmoldeen Kareem.  As with Alsumaria, no specific time for a return is given, nor is any estimate offered.  Jalal has been out of the country seeking treatment in Germany for months now.   Late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot), Jalal Talabani had a stroke and was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently. [Saad Abedine (CNN) reported talk that it was a stroke the day the news broke (December 18th) and January 9th, the Office of President Talabani confirmed it had been a stroke.] Talabani was seen by some as a calm voice and one of the few able to restrain Nouri in any way. 

Last week, Dale Gavlak (AP) reported, "A Syrian government official warned Wednesday of rampant trafficking in antiquities from his country and appealed for U.N. help in halting the illicit trade that has flourished during the nearly 23-month-long civil war [and] asked UNESCO to appeal to Turkey and Iraq to enact stricter measures to prevent the smuggling of artifacts across their borders. Turkey has strained ties with the Assad regime, while Iraq's porous frontier with Syria is difficult to monitor."  What Syria is experiencing is something Iraq's experienced throughout the Iraq War.  At the end of December, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a press release which noted:

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hosted a delegation of nine American subject matter experts in the fields of federal law enforcement, justice and cultural heritage protection including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, from Dec. 17 to 20 at a training conference on "Countering Antiquities Trafficking." The four-day training, sponsored by HSI in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, was provided to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior police investigators representing 15 provinces on methods of identifying Iraqi cultural heritage sites, and preventing and investigating looting and illegal trafficking within and beyond Iraq's borders.
Assistant Chief of Mission Ambassador James Knight opened the conference stating that, "Perhaps the most important reason for organizing a meeting such as this is Iraq's unparalleled cultural heritage. Preserving that heritage is to preserve some of mankind's greatest treasures. Not only are they a precious window into the past, they are tangible reminders to future generations of Iraqis of a glorious history."
"The countering antiquities trafficking conference in Baghdad marked a new beginning in HSI's efforts in assisting Iraqi Antiquities Police in their fight against the illegal trafficking of Iraq's cultural property," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ransom Avilla, HSI liaison in Baghdad. "We are hopeful that this training conference will provide the tools necessary for Iraqi Ministry of Interior police to detect, investigate and protect their national heritage."
Other law enforcement agencies that participated in the training conference included U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Justice, Interpol and the U.S. National Park Service.

And again, the effort to steal these national treasures is ongoing.  Khayoun Saleh (Azzman) reported this week that "Iraqi police have seized 13 archaelogical pieces in the southern Province of Dhiqar" and that the "initial assessment by scientists dated them to the early periods of Mesopotamian civilization that flourished in southern Iraq more than 5,000 years ago."  Also this week, Khalid al-Taie (Al-Shorfa) reported that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities had agreed to allow "six foreign teams to start archaelogical excavations" and that the "teams [are] from Italy, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic."   On this topic,  Samer Hijazi (Arab American News) reports that, from March sixth through ninth, Dr. Hashim al-Tawil will be in Sweden giving lectures at various places.  He is an art history professor with Henry Ford Community College in Michigan:

Dr. Al-Tawil, who is chair of the art history area study at HFCC, will be presenting and discussing two key points; the first will be focusing on the looting of Iraq's antiques, which have been eluted and smuggled during and after the U.S. invasion. The second point will focus on the consequences and impact of the deterioration of life conditions in Iraq since the eighties, but more specifically after the invasion in 2003.

Many of the Iraq's archeological sites and museums with rich materials and artifacts were looted, and destroyed; historical artifacts, antiquity pieces, and artworks were smuggled during the course of the invasion and the immediate years that followed. According to Dr. Al-Tawil, thousands of professional Iraqis, scholars, and academicians in all fields were displaced, assassinated, or scared away and sought refuge in neighboring countries, Europe and North America, which left the country void of these professionals. Currently there are too many less qualified, untrained, and under educated individuals who filled that vacuum and are now in charge of Iraq's major cultural and educational institutions. This in turn has negatively affected the different aspects of life in Iraq especially in the field of education, culture, health service and other public services.

"When a country loses knowledgeable and well educated scientists, scholars, professors and well trained archaeologists, inadequate and opportunist individuals jump in to fill their spots illegitimately. Beside the severe deterioration in the quality of the service there is the probability of further compromising Iraq's culture. Thousands of these displaced Iraqi professionals are in the Diasporas with no opportunity to serve their country and there is no indications from the Iraqi authorities to utilize their expertise and knowledge in rebuilding Iraq," Dr. Al-Tawil said.

Final topic,  Duncan Roden (Green Left) reports tomorrow will be "the 1000th day in which alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower 24-year-old US Army intelligence officer Bradley Manning, has been jailed by US authorities without trial."  Background, Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions.

Alex Kane (In These Times) notes, "40 cities around the world are set to mark the 1,000th day of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning’s imprisonment. Manning’s whistleblowing acts will be honored and his imprisonment without a speedy trial denounced this weekend in places ranging from Denver to Rome to Sydney."  These events will take place today (a few), Saturday (most) and Sunday (a few). notes they will be "around the world are planning demonstrations, rallies, and marches on February 23. From California, to Florida, to Italy, to Germany, supporters of PFC Manning will make their protests known."  Here's their list:

U.S. Events
Tucson, AZ     Feb 23, 11am-5pm
Tempe, AZ     Feb 23, 5:30-6:30pm
Guerneville, CA     Feb 23, 12-1pm
Cahuenga (L.A.), CA     Feb 23, 9-11am
Los Angeles, CA     Feb 23, 5:30-6:30
Long Beach (L.A.), CA 
Feb 23 at 1pm until Feb 24 at 2pm

Montrose (L.A.), CA     Feb 23, 5:30-7pm
Studio City (L.A.), CA     Feb 22, 6:30-7:30pm
San Francisco, CA     Feb 23, 1-4pm
San Diego, CA     Feb 23, 7-9pm
Denver, CO     Feb 23, 12-3:30pm
Washington, DC     Feb 24, 6:30-9pm
Daytona, FL     Feb 24, 11am-2pm
Ft. Lauderdale, FL     Feb 23, 12-1:30pm
Pensacola, FL     Feb 23, 5:30-6:30pm
St. Petersburg, FL     Feb 23, 7pm
Tallahassee, FL     Feb 23, 12-1pm
Hilo, HI     Feb 22, 3:30-5pm
Honolulu, HI     Feb 22, 4-5:30pm
Chicago, IL     Feb 23, 12-1:30pm
Ft. Leavenworth, KS     Feb 23, 1-3pm
New Orleans, LA     Feb 23, 2-6pm
Boston, MA     Feb 23, 1-2pm
Augusta, ME     Feb 23, 11:30am-12pm
Portland, ME     Feb 23, 12pm
Detroit, MI     Feb 23, 3-8pm
Kalamazoo, MI     Feb 23, 2-3pm
Minneapolis, MN     Feb 23, 9:30am-12pm
Wilmington, NC     Feb 23, 12-1:45pm
Eatentown, NJ     Feb 23, 12-1:30pm
Highland Park, NJ     Feb 23, 11:30am-12:30pm
Albuquerque, NM     Feb 23, 10am-12pm
Santa Fe, NM     Feb 23, 12-1pm
New York, NY     Feb 23, 2-4pm
Rochester, NY      Feb 23, 10am-12pm
Toledo, OH     Feb 23, 12pm
Corvallis, OR     ongoing
Philadelphia, PA     Feb 23, 2-4pm
Newport, RI     Feb 23, 1-2pm
Austin, TX     Feb 23, 10:30am
Houston, TX     Feb 23, All Day
Bristol, VT     Feb 23, 10am-12pm
Seattle, WA     Feb 23, 12-4pm

International Events
Melbourne, Australia     Feb 22, 2-4pm
Sydney, Australia     Feb 23, 11am-2pm
Brussels, Belgium     Feb 23, 1-2pm
Vancouver, Canada     Feb 23, 1-5pm
Paris, France     Feb 23, 3-5pm
Berlin, Germany      Feb 23, 12:30-3pm
Kaiserslautern, Germany     Feb 23, All Day
Rome, Italy      Feb 23, 4-5pm
Oslo, Norway      Feb 23, 10am-12pm
Oporto, Portugal     Feb 23, 3-6pm
Seoul, South Korea     Feb 23, 11am
Kampala, Uganda     Feb 23, 10am-12pm
Dublin, Ireland     Feb 23, 1-3pm
Birmingham, UK     Feb 23, 2pm
London, UK     Feb 23, 2pm
Peterborough, UK     Feb 23, 12-2pm
Yorkshire, UK     Feb 23, 11am
Fairford, UK      Feb 23, 9:30am-12pm
Bangor, Wales, UK     Feb 23, 11am-2pm
Cardiff, Wales, UK     Feb 23, 10:30am-2:30pm
Wales/Ireland/Scotland/England     ongoing

 workers world

Thursday, February 21, 2013


ABC's "Neighbors" is a sitcom that airs on Wednesdays. It's a funny show.  Jami Gertz is great as Debbie Weaver but my daughter and I really do love Jackie Joyner-Kersee the best.  She's the alien from outer space.  Toks Olagundoye plays her.

She is so hilarious.  The time she was impersonating a Real Housewife of New Jersey was hilarious.  But she may have topped that last night.

Dick Butkus is her youngest son.  And he told her he was smarter than her and had been for some time and no longer really needed her.  The Academy Awards air Monday on ABC so it was time to promote the Oscars. 

The Weavers and the aliens watch some movies and Larry Byrd (Jackie's husband) gets it in his head that he's going to direct a film to win the Oscar which he says is valued by earthlings more than a Nobel Peace Prize.

So he's off on that and Debbie watches movies with him and comes across "The Blindside."  She wants to "blindside" a child.  It's hilarious.  And she does Sandra Bullock's southern accent from that movie perfectly.

So she zooms in on Abby Weaver, Debbie's youngest child, who can't find anyone to play tea party with her.

Jackie does but is acting out "The Blindside" the whole time.  It's hilarious.

Toks Olagundoye should get an Emmy nomination for this role.  She's really something.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, February 21, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri tries to bully protesters, KRG President Massoud Barzani makes friends in Russia, the US State Dept spent 80% of  its time last year focusing on four countries (none were Iraq), the US Ambassador to Bitchy (Frederick Barton) insults an artist that Barack was giving a medal just a little while ago, and more.

Despite getting billions to run the US 'mission' in Iraq, the State Dept  doesn't spend much time on Iraq.  In Fiscal Year 2012, Congress began giving the State Dept and USAID billions of dollars for Iraq.  The American taxpayer has a right to expect that with those billions comes some additional level of focus.  But that's not the case.

"Our focus in the past year, 80% of our interest has been in Syria, Kenya leading up to the elections, Burma and North Central America, particularly Honduras.  That doesn't mean that we've negleceted the rest of the world but that's where 80% of our effort is," declared the State Dept's Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations Frederick Barton declared yesterday.

So you take billions, you pump up the State Dept with billions of extra dollars, you tell the Congress -- the American people's representatives -- that you need this money for Iraq and with DoD stepping out of the leadership role, now the State Dept will lead on Iraq. 

And yet 80% of time by the State Dept was spent on Syria, Kenya, Burma and Honduras?  We are aware that violence has gone up, right?  We're aware that just as the bulk of US troops were leaving Iraq in December of 2011, Nouri began going after political rivals, sending the Iraqi military to circle their homes?  We're aware that there are no gains to speak of in Iraq?  And hopefully, the State Dept is also aware that since 2009, Iraq has had three US Ambassadors:  the awful Chris Hill, James Jeffrey who now works with the Kurds and the current US Ambassador to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft?  In four years, three ambassadors. 

Maybe the State Dept should have been putting 40% of its focus on Iraq?

Remember that it was just last June when Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported, "The State Department is planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month." June 28th, the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing on Iraq and the Subcommittee's Chair pointed out a few more basics.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
-- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
mission for the State Dept.

All that money and 80% of the State Dept's time and focus last year were spent elsewhere -- spent on four countries.  Are we to expect things to improve and for Iraq to actually get attention from the State Dept?  While it's true that there is a new Secretary of State, John Kerry, it's also true that Kerry spoke yesterday at the University of Virginia, outlining his vision of diplomacy and Iraq appeared no where in the speech.  Considering that Iraq is still the State Dept's biggest ticket item -- and considering what is taking place in Iraq currently -- that bothers me.  But what really troubles me is the remarks Barton made.  We already quoted him on where the focus was in 2012.  We were quoting from a talk he gave in DC yesterday morning.  I didn't attend it, I was told it would be disappointing.  I streamed it at C-SPAN today, after a friend at CNN asked me what I thought of the talk, and disappointing doesn't begin to describe it.

This is how the talk was billed, "Ambassador Frederick Barton, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. Department of State, discusses the future of the American civilian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."  Afghanistan was mentioned briefly.  Iraq?  Unless Burma's in Iraq, no.  Unless Mozambique is a few miles north of Baghdad, no.  We heard about Tanzania and Kenya.  Now he can argue that he answered questions after 'setting' the topic.  His time setting the topic didn't include mentioning Iraq.  And the questions -- especially when it was 'we have time for one more' -- should have involved the moderator saying, "Does anyone have a question on Iraq?"  That was the scheduled topic.  He had plenty of time to discuss State Dept internal business and policies and training.  He even had time -- made time -- to trash the pianist Van Cliburn.  I have no idea why.  The man just learned he has advanced bone cancer, does he really need a State Dept official trashing the way he plays piano and saying they don't want to do the State Dept like Van Cliburn plays the piano?

Silly me, I thought diplomacy was the State Dept's mission and that tact was a part of diplomacy.  But then, silly me, I would think a talk billed as being about Iraq and Afghanistan would actually be about Iraq and Afghanistan.  I'm sorry I wasn't there now because I would have said something regarding Barton's insulting attack on Van Cliburn.  Maybe asked if Cliburn is so awful, why did US President Barack Obama present him with a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts?  Here's what the NEA notes:

Van Cliburn has been hailed as one of the greatest pianists in the history of music as well as one of the most persuasive ambassadors of American culture. Cliburn entered the Juilliard School at age 17.  At age 20, he won the Leventritt Award and made his Carnegie Hall debut. In 1958, Cliburn’s victory at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War propelled him to international fame.
Cliburn has received Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He received the Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin in 2004, and in 2003 President George W. Bush bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And at that page, you'll see Barack and the pianist in a photograph from the March 2, 2011 ceremony.  Yesterday, a different take was offered.

Assistant Secretary Frederick Barton:  It reminds me of a Van Cliburn concert.  The guy looks great.  He's got the tails.  He can play the whole keyboard.  But at the end, you haven't necessarily settled on what needed to be done the most.  And the US can't afford to be Van Cliburn in these cases.  We have to be much more focused, much more targeted.

Wow.  If Barton wants to be the Ambassador of Bitchy, have at it.  In fact, let me know because I could use a few days off and he could fill in for me here.  But if he's working for the State Dept, he needs to demonstrate a little more savvy when speaking publicly.

Iraqi Spring MC and The BRussells Tribunal offer a photo essay of last Friday's protests and note, "It continues to amaze us. Who is only informed by the mainstream media, has usually not heard, not seen or not read about the weekly Friday demonstrations in Iraq. There is however massively demonstrated: against the Mailiki-government, against the occupation and for a free and united Iraq. Find here some pictures of the demonstration in Iraq on Friday February 15."  Maybe Ambassador Bitchy has no idea and needs to check out the photo essay so that the next time he's scheduled a talk on Iraq, he can actually mention Iraq?

Alsumaria reports the spokesperson for the Hawija demonstrators has been arrested by Nouri al-Maliki's Tigris Operation Command forces.   The arrest happened as a Hawija raid took place carried out by the Tigris Operation Command in what sounds like one of the US raids in the early days of the war.  This is another attempt by Nouri to intimidate the protesters.  He wasn't counting on the attention -- or the push-back -- on this detention.  Alsumaria reports this evening that Mohammed al-Jubouri was released by the Tigris Operation Command.  If this was like Nouri's 2011 detention of protesters and if al-Jubouri had a cell phone on him, all the information in his contacts is now part of a data base.  The same is not doubt true of the 10 released from the raid -- 14 were detained, only ten have been arrested.

As Al Mada was reporting yesterday, Nouri's forces were following protesters in Diyala and Anbar, trailing them, attempting to intimidate them.  Monday is said to have been the 60th day in the ongoing protests.  20 activists in Baquba were arrested, Al Mada reported, for unknown reasons and this included Leith Kazim Mehdawi.

Iraqi Spring MC quotes Dr. Wissal al-Azzawi declaring that the Tigris command is extracting a form of payback, trying to scare the crowds and intimadate them but the protesters will not be silenced.  Nouri's Tigris Operation Command firing on peaceful demonstrators in Falluja January 25th resulting in 11 deaths did not silence them.  Nouri may think he's going to scare them -- or bully them --  into silence but that seems unlikely.  In addition, they're also noting that checkpoints are going up in some areas and people are being prevented from entering unless they have proof on them that they live in that area.

Activist Awad Abdan Tweets that the Tigris Operation Command bullying is taking place before the government's eyes and ears.

  1. جيش المختار يهدد اهل السنة في بغداد أمام مرأى ومسمع الحكومة #الربيع_العراقي
    Retweeted 96 times
    View photo

And we'll note another reaction.
  1. now .. what can we say after two months from our revolution? in short .. we are staying #iraqi_spring #الربيع_العراقي

The Tigris Command has been busy.  Dar Addustour reports (ignore date in article's timeline, it's incorrect) that the Tigris Operation Command forces attempted to grab Said Lafi (also spelled Saeed Lafi) yesterday after cornering him in a Ramadi mosque but he was able to escape.  His home was raided and there is an arrest warrant for him that was supposedly issued by Nouri al-Maliki himself.  (Nouri is the prime minister and chief thug of Iraq.)  Lafi is the spokesperson for the Anbar protests.  Kitabat notes that the forces surrounded the mosque and demanded that Lafi come out of the mosque  but activists helped Saeed escape the forces with the assistance of at least a dozen bodyguards of MP Ahmed al-Alwani.

On the state of Iraq, Al Mada's Adnan Hussein pens a column for The New Statesman entitled "A new kind of dictatorship:"

The loopholes in the constitution were described as a “minefield” by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, just 15 months ago. The civil war of 2006-2008 was sparked by the explosion of some of these mines, and so were the current demonstrations in the western Sunni provinces. Yet al-Maliki took advantage of the loopholes, shortcomings and vague articles to enhance his personal, extra-constitutional power and to weaken the power of the parliament, the judiciary and independent or civil society bodies.
Ultimately, al-Maliki and his Dawa Party have managed to create a new kind of dictatorship. This is a curse not only to the Sunnis, or the Kurds, or the swaths of Shias, but to the country as a whole.
As an editor and columnist of al-Mada, a critical, oppositional newspaper in Iraq, I am given considerable editorial freedom, and there is certainly no shortage of subjects to cover. I am, however, concerned about the freedom of the press.

Meanwhile a new wrinkle for Hussein al-Shahristani (remember, he's the one who Nouri assigned to 'listen' to the protesters).  All Iraq News reports, "The Parliament Oil & Energy Committee decided to investigate the Deputy Premier for Energy Affairs, Hussein al-Shahristani over the high payments to the oil companies operating in Iraq."  In other oil news, UPI reports, "The brewing oil war between Iraq's central government and a defiant Kurdistan, and wider security concerns, are forcing Baghdad to downsize its ambitious plans to quadruple oil output by 2017 and challenge Saudi Arabia as the world's top producer."  And the differences over the oil are impacting the budget.  Denise Natali (Al-Monitor) reports on the continued delay of the national budget:

It follows a period of worsening relations between Baghdad and Erbil, as well as the KRG’s expanding financial obligations — including honoring international oil company (IOC) contracts without any viable, alternative revenue source in sight. Even if both sides reach another temporary side deal, the budget imbroglio reveals the KRG’s financial vulnerability in the Iraqi state, its inability to fully pay IOCs, and the ultimate need for a grand compromise between Baghdad, Ankara and Erbil over hydrocarbons exports. 
Given the KRG’s ongoing attempts to challenge Baghdad, the Iraqi central government is pushing back in the one area where it retains leverage over the KRG: the budget. With about 95 percent of KRG revenues derived from the central government, which have increased exponentially from about $2.5 billion to over $10 billion from 2005-2012, and with the KRG’s ever-expanding expenditures and social-welfare function, Erbil has become increasingly dependent on Baghdad. A significant cut in these revenues could instantly undermine the KRG’s economy and its investment future.
Part of this predicament is a consequence of the KRG’s achievements within an ambiguous legal and political environment. While Iraqi provincial administrations have failed to spend their full budgets — or to implement projects effectively — the KRG has done just the opposite. Only ten years after ex-President Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the region has surpassed most other Iraqi provinces in development levels. The KRG now demands $4 billion in additional funds for its energy sector and IOCs payments alone. Baghdad has offered to pay only a fraction of that amount, about $625 million. It contends that the KRG has failed to meet its end the export bargain, having smuggled or bartered away its crude and failing to export an official 175,000 barrels per day as agreed. 

On the topic of the KRG and energy, Tuesday, All Iraq News reported KRG President Massoud Barzani was heading a delegation that's visiting Russia this week.  The KRG issued the following Tuesday:

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq - ( – President Masoud Barzani departed from Erbil International Airport today with a high-level delegation to make his first official visit to the Russian Federation.

During the visit, President Barzani is expected to meet senior Russian officials to discuss a number of important matters, including relations between the Kurdistan Region and the Russian Federation, political developments in Iraq, and the greater region in general.

The accompanying delegation includes Mr Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council; Dr Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to the President; Dr Ashti Hawrami, Minister of Natural Resources; Mr Kamaran Ahmed Abdullah, Minister of Housing and Reconstruction; Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, as well as other senior staff members.

All Iraq News notes that Barzani met today with Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister.  Alsumaria added that their energy discussion included the topic of Iraq's electricity.  All Iraq News also notes that he met with Gazprom's CEO and vice-chair Alexei Miller.  Gazprom is Russia's largest gas company.  The company notes:

Gazprom holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves. The Company’s share in the global and Russian gas reserves makes up 18 and 70 per cent respectively. Gazprom accounts for 15 and 78 per cent of the global and Russian gas output accordingly. At present, the Company actively implements large-scale projects aimed at exploiting gas resources of the Yamal Peninsula, Arctic Shelf, Eastern Siberia and the Far East, as well as hydrocarbons  exploration and production projects abroad.

Iraq has plenty of oil and gas.  Under Nouri, it also has plenty of violence.   Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports an attack on a Duluiayah military checkpoint which has left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and four more injured.  Alsumaria notes a Baquba roadside bombing which left two people injured and 1 police officer was shot dead in BaghdadTrend News Agency reports the Baquba bombing claimed 1 life and left seven people injured.  And the death toll on the al-Duluiyah attack continues to increase.  Al Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and PRI's Jane Arraf Tweeted this morning:

  1. Gunmen attack #Iraqi army checkpoint in Salahadin province, north of Baghdad, killing 5, wounding 3. 1 of several attacks on security forces

And Wang Yuanyuan (Xinhua) reports the toll continued to rise, "In one attack, eight soldiers were killed and four wounded when insurgents carried out a coordinated attack by mortar rounds and assault rifles on an Iraqi army base in Albu-Sulaibi area near the town of Dhuluiyah, some 90 km north of Baghdad, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.  Two civilians were also wounded when they were caught in the crossfire between the attackers and the soldiers, the source said."  In other violence, Reuters notes, "Three suicide bombers targeted checkpoints in Iraq's northern city of Mosul late on Thursday, killing three policemen, police sources said." 

In addition, AFP reports that last night "Turkey sent jets across its border with Iraq to strike separatists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a local military source said Thursday."  Morning Star adds, "Eight F-16 fighter jets struck 12 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Mount Qandil near the Iraqi-Iranian border, in a raid that lasted around two hours."  The World Bulletin explains, "The PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish Southeast, was founded on Marxist ideology. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The group is labeled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, which has supplied Predator drones to assist Turkey."    Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." 

In the US, Senator Patty Murray was the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  This year, she became the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  She continues to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (where Senator Bernie Sanders is the new Chair) and she continues to address veterans issues.  Her office notes she held a veterans roundtable today:

Thursday, February 21st, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

TODAY: Murray in Vancouver to Host Roundtable with Local Businesses on Hiring Veterans

Murray will hear from a panel of local veterans, business leaders, and VA officials on challenges facing veterans seeking employment
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Thursday, February 21st, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will hold a roundtable discussion on the challenges of veterans’ employment and the benefits available to businesses who hire veterans. The roundtable will take place at the offices of Partners in Careers, an organization that works to provide resources, training, and job placement opportunities to veterans in the community. Senator Murray will discuss workforce training elements in her VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and will hear directly from local businesses who hire veterans, an Iraqi War veteran, and officials from the VA.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Gary Rose, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Portland VAMC
Jeff Graham, HR Manager at United Natural Foods, Board Chair of the Southwest Washington Workforce
Development Council
Mike Wilbur, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs
Pam Brokaw, Executive Director, Partners in Careers
Jason LaCarney, Iraqi War Vet, currently attending Warner Pacific College and working with PIC’s Business Unit
WHAT: Senator Murray will host a roundtable discussion with local veterans and employers to discuss challenges of veterans’
employment and the benefits available to businesses to hire veterans
WHEN: TODAY: THURSDAY, February 21st, 2013
3:00 PM PT
WHERE: Partners in Careers
3210 NE 52nd Street
Vancouver, WA 98663
Kathryn Robertson
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510