Saturday, December 26, 2009

And the killing continues

It is five years since Mohammed Thajeel and his friends were blown up as they played football near a marketplace in Basra, but his face is still scorch-marked and there is a heartbreakingly sad look in his eyes as he describes seeing his friends scattered around him after the blast, some dead, others without legs or arms.
"We had seen the car parked nearby, but none of us suspected anything," he said. "Now I have hardly any friends left, only three."
Today, Mohammed is a patient at a unit run by the charity Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Amman, Jordan, dedicated to treating victims of the war in Iraq. It is the first real help he has had since the blast.
MSF's doctors have performed an operation to relieve the crippling effect of contraction on his badly burnt left hand, while its psychologists are gently working through the flashbacks and night terrors that have plagued him ever since his friends were killed.

The above is from Margarette Driscoll and Hala Jaber's "Inside me, the screaming never stops" (Times of London) and the never-ending violence in Iraq continues. Michael Hastings (Washington Post) observes a trend for yesterday and today: "assassination attempts" targeting various leaders. For example, Lin Liyu (Xinhua) reports that "Mahmoud Hussein al-Obiedi, a Sunni chieftain, was killed in a bomb explosion outside his house in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity" today. Breaking down the violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left five people wounded (three were police officers), another Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 2 Shi'ite pilgrims (and left eight wounded), a third Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of a mini-bus driver and 2 passengers (six more were wounded), a Baghdad grenade attack which injured five people, a fourth Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 pilgrim (nine were wounded), a Nineveh Province roadside bombing which targted Mohammed Taqi al-Mawla ("MP for the National Iraqi Alliance") resulting only in damages to the car, a Salahuddin Province roadside bombing wounded one person and an Anbar Province sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 Facilities Protection Services officer. Michael Hastings (Washington Post) reports a Falluja bombing which wounded Maj Ghazi Dura and claimed the life of the major's son.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Lt Col Khelell Ibraheem was shot dead in Baghdad, and a Baghdad drive-by shooting attack on a police officer's family in which the wife was killed and the police officer was left wounded.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse ("young girl") was discovered yesterday in Nineveh Province.

The pregnancy issue has been resolved, but Neal Conan (NPR's Talk of the Nation -- link has audio and transcript) did cover it on Wednesday with guests including Senator Barbara Boxer. For laughs, listen to the comments (or read them) of military 'expert' Eugene Fidell. What a moron (Fidell).

Community sites that posted yesterday and today:

Ruth posted here and thank you to Ruth for that. In addition, only one of Mike's two Friday posts is listed above, the other is "Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth."

Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports that the US military is expressing concerns over Nouri's plans for the Sahwa ("Awakenings" or "Sons Of Iraq") and that 212 of them have been killed in the last two years.

Meanwhile in news of Barack's other wars, Bill Van Auken's "US ground attacks reported in Pakistan" (WSWS) notes:

Amid a deepening political crisis in Pakistan and growing popular unrest over US missile strikes and mercenaries, it has been revealed that over the past five years US special operations troops have conducted a number of clandestine cross-border raids into the country’s tribal areas.
These raids involved “helicopter-borne elite soldiers stealing across the border at night, and were never declared to the Pakistani government,” according to a “former NATO officer” cited in an article published Monday by the British daily Guardian.
The only publicly acknowledged incursion by US forces took place on September 3, 2008, when US Navy Seals were flown by helicopter into a village in South Waziristan, where they raided three compounds and slaughtered some 20 people. While Washington claimed those killed were Al Qaeda fighters, the Pakistani government said that the victims were all villagers and included six women and two children.

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Veterans kept waiting all these months later

Howard Jenkins is the local veterans employment representative for the Heartland Workforce in charge of the Veterans Work Study Program. He said he didn't know the number of students other programs have, but it is a big problem.
He's spoken with his counterparts in similar programs in Florida and they are having problems, too, he said.
"I have one that's affected also," said Jenkins. "He hasn't gotten paid for the hours he's been working here. He started working in October. He's never been paid. The Veterans Work Study Program augments their standard of living while they go to school."
Many of these veterans have families with children, he said.
"The young man I have is working for college for next semester," he said. "There are about 90 veterans signed up for classes at SFCC (South Florida Community College)."
About 277,000 veterans have signed up for school under the GI Bill across the country and only about 50,000 had been processed, he said.

The above is from Joe Seelig's "GI Bill payments sluggish" (Highlands Today/Tampa Tribune). Checks due at the start of the fall 2009 semester still have not been issued for "thousands" of veterans. There's no excuse for it. And the Congress needs to hold hearings in the new year to demand answers because this is ridiculous. In October, the problems became known due to the press, not because the VA got honest. The VA appeared before Congress, did a song & dance, and swore they didn't need additional resources or employees. They had what they needed and they were on it. Two months later, the same problems continue. There's no excuse for this and it may be time to call for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of the VA. The same man who was told, after he assumed the position, that the VA wouldn't be able to issue the checks in a timely manner. The same man who then confirmed that assessment with an outside consultant. The same man who 'forgot' to inform Congress of that until October after the press had made it a big story.

Congress should have gotten serious in October. They did not. The passively accepted a song and dance. Veterans have continued to suffer as a result. There's no excuse for this nonsense. There was never an excuse for it and that the VA can't get their act together goes to the leadership or lack of it. For more on this topic, see Mike's post from last night.

Courage to Resist's Sarah Lazare's "The US military is exhausted" (Al Jazeera) covers the overextended US military:

US army soldiers are refusing to serve at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80 per cent increase in desertions since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press.
These troops refuse deployment for a variety of reasons: some because they ethically oppose the wars, some because they have had a negative experience with the military, and some because they cannot psychologically survive another deployment, having fallen victim to what has been termed "Broken Joe" syndrome.
Over 150 GIs have publicly refused service and spoken out against the wars, all risking prison and some serving long sentences, and an estimated 250 US war resisters are currently taking refuge in Canada.
This resistance includes two Fort Hood, Texas, soldiers, Victor Agosto and Travis Bishop, who publicly resisted deployment to Afghanistan this year, facing prison sentences as a result, with Bishop still currently detained.
"There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan," wrote Agosto, upon refusing his service last May. "The occupation is immoral and unjust."
Within the US military, GI resisters and anti-war veterans have organised through broad networks of veteran and civilian alliances, as well as through IVAW, comprised of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
This organisation, which is over 1,700 strong, with members across the world, including active-duty members on military bases, is opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and openly supports GI resistance.
"Iraq Veterans Against the War calls on Obama to end the war in Afghanistan (and Iraq) by withdrawing troops immediately and unconditionally," wrote Jose Vasquez, the executive director of IVAW, in a December 2 open letter.

Finally, Veterans For Peace notes:

December 27 will mark the first anniversary of the Israeli attack and invasion of the Gaza Strip. And although the Israeli tanks have left, the complete closure of the borders continues. The Gaza Freedom March will show the residents of Gaza that the international community of citizens has not forgotten them, and will call worldwide attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Through this effort and other activities, we hope to force the leaders of our governments to tell Israel "enough is enough; open the borders!"

December 31, 2009 over a thousand people including authors, activists, musicians, and VFP members will begin a week long trek called the "Gaza Freedom March." VFP members participating include Board Member Ken Mayers and Board Member elect Mike Hearington, along with Ann Wright, Bill Perry, Terry Perry, Billy Kelly, Will Covert, and Hedy Epstein. Learn more about the Gaza Freedom March.

The e-mail address for this site is

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ruth's Report

Ruth: McClatchy Newspaper's Sahar Issa has done a violence round-up which posted today. All the events listed were either covered by C.I. this morning or in yesterday's snapshot. Hannah Allem reports on some of the violence targeting Shi'ites and Iraqi Christians in the last few days (including today) and notes, "In Iraq, the Islamic New Year is marked with somber rituals that build up to Ashoura on Sunday, when a million or more pilgrims are expected to converge on the city of Karbala. Despite the bloodshed, Shiites vowed to carry on with their ceremonies - which include staging passion plays and cooking special dishes -- though many said they'd add extra prayers to protect Iraq in the volatile months before elections in March." I will add it should read "before intended elections in March." Remember when we were all being told that elections would take place in January? Remember the failure to use "hopeful" or "intended" back then?

This is not my year-in-review piece (but I will call this "Ruth's Report"). I wish it were because I have so many notes for that. Even so, as the year draws to a close, it is difficult not to go ahead and make an observation on 2009, an observation or two.

So Barack Obama, after campaigning on the 'promise' that he would end the Iraq War, withdraw one brigade a month from Iraq as soon as he was sworn in, etc., was sworn in at the start of the year and the one brigade a month 'promise' is a puff of smoke.

Remember when Leslie Cagan and the other useless 'leaders' of United For Peace & Justice posted their 'success' message the day after the November 2008 election? 'Success' because Barack Obama had been elected president.

Strange, I was under the impression that (a) UFPJ was a peace organization and (b) it was non-partisan. In fact, I believe its tax status demanded that it be non-partisan.

And then there were the months and months when calling a War Hawk a "War Hawk" meant people would try to bully you online -- often peace 'leaders' like Tom Hayden, for example, so fond of hectoring Wally and Cedric by e-mail until C.I. put a stop to that. Yes, our peace 'leaders' could do hectoring e-mails, they just could not lead a mass mobilization against a War Hawk who was from the Democratic Party.

Or at least this one. I am often asked by confused people about supporting Hillary Clinton int he primary. "How do you know," they still ask, "that she would have ended the Iraq War?" I do not know that. But I know that the left was not afraid to criticize her. I know that the left would not have been cowed into silence if she had been the Democratic Party nominee (and any nominee would have ended up president).

But throughout 2009, it still played a lot like 2008 and 2007. Too many people making excuses for Barack Obama. Too many telling you that Mr. Obama really meant this . . . even though he said and did that.

He is a War Hawk.

When I was in college, J.F.K. was president. So I have lived a long, long time. And I can remember L.B.J. being president. And I can remember a left not afraid to call out a War Hawk with "D" (for Democrat) after his name.

The inaugural week festivities are still taking place as President Obama authorizes a bombing of Pakistan (via drone) and the timid struggle all these months later to state the obvious: He is a War Hawk.

One of the only arguments against Ms. Clinton that I seriously considered was that the public might get pulled back into a back and forth like during the nineties when her husband was president.

I do not dislike Bill Clinton. I think he did much good and I think he was up against a great deal. But I do find it hilarious to read the revisionary nonsense that only C.I. ever seems able or willing to call out. The nineties were not the left protesting Bill Clinton. A young man, a U.S. citizen, for example, was tortured into a confession in Singapore and then beaten in an inhumane manner as part of his sentence. It did not result in an outcry. It did not result in demands on then-President Clinton. Nothing did.

And yet to hear the 'left' 'voices' tell it today, they were demanding and calling out and just so-so very brave during the 90s.

Sometimes, such as during the impeachment/witch hunt, when the left simply closed ranks and protected Mr. Clinton against the mob, it was understandable. Other times it was not.

And when someone would say that Ms. Clinton, as president, would be inviting that back, I would think, "No, she would not."

First, despite the dementia of Robert Parry, Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. She is her own person. She has always proven to be able to both (a) take a punch and (b) stand on her own. Right-wing attacks on Hillary Clinton? She is pretty much immune to them. (A fact we were never allowed to explore in the 'left' media during 2008.) And when she takes a stand, she stays with it. She is usually more firm in her standing than her husband.

Second, with so much hatred (so much of it hatred of her husband, so much of it hatred of women) already aimed from the left at Hillary, it was doubtful the left would be steered into a shut-up-it's-for-the-best position under a Hillary Clinton presidency.

But the same people allegedly wary of Hillary Clinton because they feared the left might stifle criticism and march blindly behind a President Hillary Clinton were doing just that for Barack Obama. We could never criticize him, we could never question him, and we could never pressure him.

'Left' 'voices' like Tom Hayden and Laura Flanders would fawn and praise him. And tell us, during the primaries, that we would pressure during the general campaign. Then, after he got the nomination, we were told the pressure would come after he was sworn in. Then, he was sworn in and we were told we needed to give him a "honeymoon." I thought we were electing a president, not taking on a groom?

Even now, just this week on NPR, in fact, we are told we cannot pressure him. I listened to some loon from The New Republic insist that.

I did not need to wait for the events of 2009 to unfold to realize that 'brave' 'voices' would take a dive. I saw that as 2007 was drawing to a close. For example, Laura Flanders, as host of Your Call, was an open lesbian. She moved over to Air America Radio and spent her hours talking about her cat but not about any significant other. She just sort of dashed back into the closet. And in November 2007, when candidate Barack Obama put multiple homophobes on stage at an event, when some LGBT organizations protested, Laura Flanders decided it was time to insist that Barack Obama repudiate . . .


The self-loathing lesbian had no problem that homophobic people, people who preach hatred of and violence on gay people, were given the stage at an official Barack Obama campaign event whose sole purpose was to 'dog whistle' to those right-wingers Mr. Obama felt so comfortable with that he would embrace them.

Ms. Flanders has hectored over and over about Sister Souljah. Sister Souljah was a little-known rap artist who gave an interview to The Washington Post and floated the notion (seriously or humorously) that violence might be an answer. Then candidate Bill Clinton called it out. Was he attempting to score points?

I honestly do not know what he was attempting. And I have not spent 17 years obsessing over it the way Ms. Flanders has. But if that mattered to her, why did Mr. Obama's embrace of homophobia -- public embrace -- which was clearly intended to send a message (and apparently did to a significant number of his supporters in California who voted to overturn marriage equality -- aided in their votes by the robocalls featuring Mr. Obama denouncing same-sex marriage) did not bother her.

She has, to this day, refused to call President Obama out on any of his homophobia. Apparently, Ms. Flanders is quite happy in her closet.

The New Republic-er was on NPR this week with a loud mouth Barack supporter who has now grown disenchanted. Considering the foul mouthed e-mail he sent C.I. back in January (for daring to question St. Barack -- we all saw the e-mail before C.I. did), I will not mention his name here. I will do nothing to promote him. I may, however, at my site, refer to that e-mail/rage in text form, which was so sexist and so threatening that I seriously doubt he would have much of a following today if even half the people who know his name were aware of the way he storms and threatens. Today, he has finally awakened to the Flim-Flam Man Barack Obama.

And now he wants to make like Christopher Columbus, plant his flag, and announce, "My discovery!"

But the reality for Foul Mouth is the same as it was for Christopher Columbus: Long before, either man 'discovered' anything, there were already a huge number of us here.

C.I. had a wonderful comment this week regarding a piece by Matthew Rothschild (of The Progressive) where she noted, "I don't want blood. I do want accountability." I agree with that sentiment. And I am not in the mood to allow, for example, Norman Solomon to creep back in without him taking accountability for what he did. This week, he and Jeff Cohen dusted off their tired spoof of the Pulitzers.

Was that ever funny?

I am reminded of the American Dad episode where Stan has a panic attack because Francine does not laugh at his tired joke. He has an identity crisis and leaves her. Francine calls her mother who explains she always laughs at her husband's joke, "And it never funny." She goes on to say that for a few months it was funny because it had been so unfunny for so many years. That is what I think of Mr. Solomon and Mr. Cohen's tired, yearly column.

But as to the specific one this year, I read through it and marveled over both men's ability to call others out for short comings when neither man has ever taken accountability for putting Barack Obama in the White House (Mr. Solomon was a pledged delegate for Mr. Obama, a fact he 'forgot' to reveal on numerous radio programs). Both men now (weakly) call out President Obama, yet neither man has taken accountability for their actions, for their cheer leading, for their attacks on people who raised objections to Mr. Obama when it mattered. I remember one on-air snit-fit by Mr. Solomon where he attacked a leftist for not supporting Barack in the summer of 2008 and began smearing the person with unfounded rumors. The exact thing he will insist that no one ever do . . . except when he does it and then he expects not just a pass, he expects that no one ever comment on it.

As C.I. said this week, "I don't want blood. I do want accountability." Or as John Lennon sang so many years ago, "Just give me some truth."

mcclatchy newspapers
hannah allam

matthew rothschild

Like the illegal war, the violence continues

Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that Bartela was placed under curfew after a conflict between Iraqi Christians and Shi'ite Muslims over decorations.

I'm not minimizing that, I am dealing with what is known other than speculated. A conflict is known. Over public decorations. In Bartela.

And on the known issue, a few e-mails this week came in asking about the protests against Iran in scattered parts of Iraq. Some press reports had small groups of Iraqis protesting Iran over the alleged seizure of an Iraqi oil field by Iran. First, the seizure has still not been established. Second, who are these people protesting? They're people that have little information. If it's a sign of Iraqi national spirit some might see that as a good thing (that's not the angle the press reports took). But who are these people? I don't know. I know the US occupies Iraq. I know the US wants war with Iran. I know there are many collaborators with the US in Iraq. Were those demonstrations genuine or staged for the occupying power (the US)? I have no idea. I wasn't interested in the story for that reason and because it's still not known what happened with the oil field.

Here's what else is known, the Iraq War continues.


That's Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "A Bully Boy and Pelosi Christmas" from December 16, 2007. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. They got control by promising to end the Iraq War. And they didn't. The Iraq War continues because of 'bi-partisanship'. Don't forget it. Don't forget that it's been one lie after another from the Democratic leadership of 'give us this and we will end the war.' America's given them control of both house of Congress. America's given them even more control in the 2008 elections and they gave the White House to the Democrats as well. And yet the Iraq War continues. Once upon a time, 2005 and 2006, alleged 'leaders' of the peace movement insisted the Iraq War had to end now. Then they got Barry O in the White House and didn't give a damn anymore.

The Iraq War continues. Reuters notes a Rabia suicide bomber took his/her own life and claimed the life of 1 Peshmerga soldier (fourteen more injured), a Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 person and left another injured, 1 woman's corpse was discovered in Mosul, a Mosul clash between Iraqi police and Shabaks resulted in four people being wounded when the police opened fire, and, dropping back to yesterday for all that follows, 3 census takers were shot dead in Mosul, 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Shirqat (two more injured), 1 employee of the Ministry of Electricity was shot dead in Kirkuk and 1 Kerbala roadside bombing left four people injured.

Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan is not slowly waking up to realities about Barack. At Third we do a thing each week where we pick at least one "Truest statement of the week." Cindy's had more than anyone else this year because she has repeatedly and consistently spoken truthfully. When others crawled, Cindy stood. Mike Whitney has an interview with her at Information Clearing House:

MW---Here's a poem by an Iraqi blogger named Layla Anwar, which pretty well sums up the anger and anguish felt by many Iraqis:
"Come and see our overflowing morgues and find our little ones for us...
You may find them in this corner or the other, a little hand poking out, pointing out at you...
Come and search for them in the rubble of your 'surgical' air raids, you may find a little leg or a little head...
pleading for your attention.
Come and see them amassed in the garbage dumps, scavenging morsels of food...
Come and see, come..."
("Flying Kites" Layla Anwar)
How important to you is it that the people who are responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the slaughtering of over 1 million Iraqis be brought to justice?

Cindy Sheehan---In my opinion, accountability for war crimes committed on the people of Iraq/Afghanistan and, now Pakistan, is imperative.The US has been committing war crimes for at least the last 100 years (off the continent) and none of our leaders have ever been held accountable and that's one of the reasons that the empire is able to keep rolling. I also believe that the way to the rest of the world's heart is for American leaders to be held accountable.

MW--- The senate just passed the $636 billion Pentagon budget on Friday which extends the controversial US Patriot Act. Obama is expected to sign the bill sometime this week. Why is America trying to trying to "liberate" Iraq and Afghanistan, when it is spying on its people at home?

Cindy Sheehan---First of all, "liberation" was not a goal of the invasions. We, the gullible, were told that we were going into Afghanistan to get Osama and Iraq because Saddam had WMD and a connection to al Qaeda. When those rationales were proven false, we were then told that it was to liberate the people. Now in Afghanistan, we are told we are "protecting the women."The phony war on terror has been used to steal our liberties in a full-frontal assault since 9-11 and Obama voted to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT ACT when he was a Senator, and voted for the FISA modernization act, which gave broad authority to the government to spy on our electronic communications and gave telecom companies immunity.I not only see this as passive stealing of our liberties, but the United Police States of America is increasing in physical oppression, also. I'll be interested to see how the Police State will handle my new action: Peace of the Action.

MW---You know a lot of people across the country. What's the mood among Obama supporters? Have they thrown in the towel already or do they still think he'll turn out to be the leader they hoped he would be?

Cindy Sheehan---I lost a lot of friends when B.O. became president and it was a lonely 6 months after he was elected. I wrote a new book called Myth America (short title) and I started to travel around the country in April doing book events. For the first time since my activism started, people walked out on my presentations because I was telling them that it was the system--not the person who infests the White House. However, by the end of my book tour in August, the crowds were growing and more enthusiastic and less gaga-eyed over Obama.Then I started touring again in September and the discontent is growing. I am happy about that.The ones that upset me the most are the so-called leaders of the "progressive" movement like Tom Hayden, CODEPINK and Michael Moore who very enthusiastically endorsed, worked for, voted for, and raised money for Obama, and NOW are beginning to speak out against his carnage, when in fact, Obama has always been very pro-war. Once the horse is out of the barn, it's hard to get him back in. The movement should never have given him a "chance." Things are so much worse in foreign policy almost a year into his regime.

Our own Mike will be posting today (he hopes to do a post this morning and one in the evening). Ruth is planning to do a post here tonight. If the news out of Iraq picks up (there's little right now) and necessitates a snapshot, I'll do one. If do one, all the community sites that normally post on Fridays are planning to post.

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Still no safety in Iraq

The Judo family stayed away from Christmas Eve Mass in Baghdad. Because of recent sectarian violence in the capital and other areas of the country, they were worried that churches might be targeted by armed groups.
By nightfall, their worst fears had been realized. Not only had a Christian been killed in the northern city of Mosul, but the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura, which this year begins one day after Christmas, had made the situation even more volatile: 27 people killed in attacks on Shiite neighborhoods.
Two bombs rocked the capital, killing 14 people, and 13 died in a double explosion in the southern city of Hillah, some of them devout Shiites on their way to Karbala for Ashura ceremonies, which will be held Sunday.

The above is from Caesar Ahmed and Omar Hayali's "Iraq's Christians face a difficult Christmas" (Los Angeles Times). It's really cute to grasp how many want to claim it is safe in Baghdad or that it's improved -- in one case a reporter's apparently going to make that call just because she wasn't the victim of a bombing this time. But that's not reality. It's a lie the same way it's a lie that thug Nouri al-Maliki has brought security to Iraq. Lies, lies, lies and they all ought to be ashamed. Caesar Ahmed and Omar Hayali article doesn't paint a rosy picture. More reality is in a report by Rob Walker (BBC News) which includes a woman explaining why she's about to join the millions of Iraq's external refugees:

Leila Paulos is about to join them. This will be her last Christmas in Baghdad.
Her son, Seevar, was kidnapped by criminals, and only freed after the family paid a ransom.
For Leila it was the last straw. In a few weeks, her family leave for Sweden.
"Of course, its sad to leave Iraq. Its the country of our ancestors, but there's nothing we can do. Most of the Christians who live in our neighbourhood have left."

As noted many times before here, though not a huge section of Iraq's overall population before 2003, Iraqi Christians make up a huge portion of the external refugee population. (Of an estimated 25 million Iraqis in 2003, 800,000 were thought to be Iraqi Christians.)

There are indicators to measure a society's safety and the press repeatedly wants to act as if one of those is: Can you stroll safely through a street for a staged photo-op if you're heavily guarded?

US Adm Mike Mullen's walk was meaningless and the encounters with pre-selected Iraqis on that stroll was as staged and artificial as Judy Garland's charming bit where she mugs and makes faces to get people to stare at her in Easter Parade (because Fred Astaire has doubts that she's good looking enough to be in his stage act, so Garland, walking ahead of him, attempts to catch attention by mugging). Adm Mike Mullens didn't even offer us a memorable tune or two.

One indicator you can judge a society by is how those not controlling the power are treated. The press has repeatedly dismissed the treatment of women, the stealing of the rights of Iraqi women. It's never dominated the news cycle because, in the eyes of the press apparently, it's 'just women.' Despite the fact that the treatment of women in any society is one of the easiest ways to measure a society's openess and stability.

Despite the fact that the US has a significant number of Christians, Iraqi Christians get very little attention from the national media. Regional media tends to report on it more because various churches in the US work on issues such as aiding Iraqi Christians. (And those are churches of Iraqi-Americans and churches of non-Iraqi Americans, to be clear.) It's really interesting because Iraqi Christians have been so targeted and you can find out far more about that at any time in the British media then you will in the US national media. You can find out more from statements issued by the Vatican than you can find out the US national media.

There's a warieness or a reluctance to report on Iraqi Christians when it comes to the national media. I can't figure out if that's some bias (I believe it is a bias on the part of Panhandle Media) against Christians or if it's just another part of the MSM's efforts to sell the Iraq War?

Iraqi Christians, Sunnis, Kurds and various others groupings are part of Iraqi society and their stories have not been 'pleasant' and their stories have been repeatedly shut out. Now with regards to one religious sect, it is difficult to report on because there is so much confusion about their religion and worship and people either have to ignore it or do a lengthy walk-through with various qualifiers. But that's one sect. And one of the smaller sects of the minorities. It does not excuse ignoring what has happened to all of the ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. It does not excuse the silence on the vanishing/extinguishing? of Jews in Baghdad.

Before the start of the illegal war, Iraq had a diverse population with a Shi'ite Muslim majority. After the start of the illegal war, Iraq's population becomes less and less diverse. That hasn't changed. And that is an indicator that there has been no improvement.

Certain reporters may be thrilled that they can do their own little Outward Bound event where they confront their fears and return to Iraq and aren't bombed this time! And it's wonderful and joyful and Iraq is better.

No, it's not better.

And it's disturbing that the press, the alleged skeptical press (whose role is to be skeptical) wants to hail continued but slightly less gruesome as 'safe.' It also indicates that not only do they have little regard for Iraqis (you think they'd let their own children live in those conditions) but that the press will continue to sell this illegal war.

The following community sites updated yesterday:

Thomas Friedman is a Great Man
Happy Holidays
11 hours ago

Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude
no 'universal' health care
11 hours ago

Thanks and NOW has a blog
11 hours ago

Trina's Kitchen
My Christmas wish
11 hours ago

Ruth's Report
Tea leaves
11 hours ago

Oh Boy It Never Ends
The Glass Bottom Boat
11 hours ago

The World Today Just Nuts
The tyranny of the 'independents'
11 hours ago

Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills)
Late to the party, where's the punch?
11 hours ago

Mikey Likes It!
Matthew Rothschild, James Hansen
16 hours ago

Ann's Mega Dub
Merry Christmas
16 hours ago
The e-mail address for this site is

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Hate The War

Jeff Schogol (Stars and Stripes) covers Gen Ray Odierno's decision to kill the order Gen Tony Cucolo put in place criminalizing pregnancy. There was a planned topic for tonight but e-mails seem to indicate we need to go another direction.

E-mails to the public account include a number from people agitated by my comments for Odierno in today's snapshot. No community members wrote about that and that's probably because we've covered this topic enough here and elsewhere. But for the record, I have no problem giving Odierno praise he earned. It was smart to kill the order Cucolo put in place for any number of reasons. I really don't care what his reasons were, I'm glad it's killed. I was told he began looking into it on Monday and concerns included the bad image that could impact recruitment. There were other issues as well but if it was just that, fine. But he initiated the examination and initiated conversations on the issue with others to get feedback. (That's what I was told.) He killed the order. I gave him praise and I think he earned it.

Some are e-mailing that he did this or he did that, unrelated to what I offered praise for. He may or may not have done this or that, that's not really my concern (especially with regards to things that have nothing to do with Iraq).

I don't have an unfavorable opinion of Odierno. I never cared for Gen David Petreaus, the former top US commander in Iraq. That was based on feedback from those who worked under him (immediately under him). I had no opinion on Odierno at all and little interest in him until he announced he would go by "Ray" and not "Raymond."

That was when he was promoted to top US commander in Iraq. And that was an uncharacteristic move. When someone gets a promotion, it's usually accompanied with more formality, not less. So that's when I started asking people, because it caught my interest, what he was like?

His goals and targets are completely different from mine but I have no problem or beef with him as a person. I did not and do not feel Petraeus was honest. I've observed Odierno testifying before Congress at least two times, maybe more than that, and I know his tic when he's lying or less than truthful. He's more likely to steer the conversation and change it where as Petraeus was never afraid to march boldly into a lie.

Is he a perfect person? Not from the reports I've had. But he's someone who does care about the troops -- that might be due to the fact that the promotion may still not have sunk in. Or it may be due to the fact that the promotion is something he takes very seriously -- the role, the obligation and the duty.

Odierno did the right thing. If he'd been Donald Rumsfeld, I would've still said, "He did the right thing." I probably wouldn't have credited beyond that if he was Donald Rumsfeld but I would have given anyone credit for killing that order.

Again, as told to me throughout the week, he became curious about the order -- openly curious -- on Monday and began a series of talks about the order.

I want the Iraq War to end right now. That puts me in direct conflict with Odierno.

My comments were not, "Oh, yea for Ray! And since Ray did good, let's just drop all of our objections and march blindly behind him!" Anyone grasping that has never paid very close attention because I do not believe -- and have repeatedly noted that -- that civilians follow the military. The US military is under civilian control.

Odierno wants the Iraq War to continue. I don't think I'm speaking out of school on that. He thinks a longer US presence can improve Iraq's chances for a stable government. (As opposed to the teeter-totter one currently that many believe falls apart the second the US pulls out.) I disagree. I believe Elaine made the comparison to a white rug (based on a real story that happened at one of her parties) where someone spilled red wine on it and they kept saying they'd fix it (during the party). They couldn't fix it. They just needed to leave it alone, they needed to leave, in fact. And that's how I feel regarding the US involvement in Iraq. If that's still unclear to you, you can drop back to December 2004's "Should This Marriage Be Saved?" in which I make the case that the US can only help Iraq by leaving.

My position has not changed.

I'm not surprised by Odierno's position. I don't think he's 'stupid' because he has that position, I don't curse him because he has that position.

His role is very different.

In fact, he (and Petraeus before him) is responding due to his role and due to the fact that (civilian) leadership failed. Odierno had no clear instructions. The military is not to build a society. They're not trained for that. You send the military in to fight. That's what the military's for. That's a mission. You tell them, "Go take this hill and . . ." whatever. That's a mission. Odierno becomes top commander in Iraq when there is no mission. When civilian leadership (the Bush White House and the Congress) has failed. They've never defined a mission (not even with the 'benchmarks' that were supposed to measure success). In that climate, Odierno had to create a mission. (As did Petraeus.) I'm not saying or suggesting or implying that Odierno disregarded orders (or that Petraeus did). I am saying that the military was still in Iraq with no real mission. ("Clear and hold" the same rotating areas repeatedly is not a mission. It is a sign that your strategy from the top -- civilian area -- has failed. It is an admission that there is no 'win' and that the civilian side needs to be negotiating a withdrawal.) With no mission, or no clear mission, Odierno had to piece togther several orders (many conflicting) and come up with a cohesive mission. (Petraeus had to do the same.)

That's what he's operating under. That's not his failure, that's the failure of civilian leadership. That failure continues under the Obama administration and the current Congress. There is no mission and no one wants to admit it. The thinking seems to be that if the US troops stay and stay people will be confused when the withdrawal (that will happen) finally does.

The Iraq War is a failure. I would argue that an illegal war is never going to allow good to come from it. Some people would agree with that and some people wouldn't. Possibly more would agree with the fact that the US military was never given a clear mission with goals that were realistic for the military. They weren't just supposed to be a peace keeping force (which really isn't what a military is), they were also supposed to build a society. They can't do that. That's not what they're trained to do. And you don't blame them for that, you blame the idiots in civilian leadership that set them with a task they could never accomplish. Petraeus could have been a diplomatic genius and he could have given non-stop seminars to every service member in Iraq, it wouldn't have mattered.

Odierno is wrong that the Iraq War needs to continue. I understand why he thinks that it does. I don't think he's 'evil' or 'mean' because he thinks that way. I offer no such statements about the previous occupant of the White House or the current one. They are both huge failures and huge liars and they are both men who refused to exercise the civilian oversight they were supposed to. In Bush's case, he wanted that illegal war and he grew bored with it before it even started (just like he quickly dropped his promise to give up sweets until the Iraq War was over). He started the war and he wants to do that, its his obligation to have a clear mission before the military goes over there. Instead, he let top generals make suggestions (as anyone in that role would have) and couldn't then form a mission so he just sort of cobbled every suggestion made together and went with a fantasy (promoted by his underlings on the civilian side) that the military could accomplish things they aren't trained in and that are at complete odds with their natural role.

As for Barack? Throughout 2007 and 2008 a little trick was done by Barry O's 'independent' media supporters. If a guest liked Hillary, they would immediately jump on the guest with, "How can you, she voted for the war?"

Barack was for the war. He's John Kerry's infamous statement about being for it and being against it. He gave a lame speech before the start of the war and then he got on board. How soon? I have no idea. I just know that when he was officially running for US Senator, Elaine and I (like the 2008 voters) were thrilled and thought, "Here's an antiwar candidate." We'd heard the hype (this was long, long before the 2004 DNC convention). And heard his praises from various political types. So we show up at the big money fundraiser and get our face time and ask him about how he'll work to bring about the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

And what does he tell us? That the US is in Iraq now. That he's not supporting a withdrawal. This is the antiwar candidate. We wrote no checks, we immediately left.

Unlike the 2008 Cult of St. Barack, we were able to process.

So Barack was for the war after it started and that's why he had the voting record he had.

But as we pointed out here over and over once he declared he would run for president, the question to ask was about his voting record because if you knew before the war started that the war was wrong, then it was wrong of you to vote for it. It's like if you know putting your hand on the stove burner will hurt, it's really stupid of you to do that on purpose.

Barack was never asked about his record in a serious manner. He was allowed to lie that he would end the Iraq War. Even after his chief foreign advisor, Samantha Power, told the BBC that his promise was meaningless, people still let him get away with that lie.

He promised voters one brigade a month would be withdrawn. He promised that would take place immediately. He gets sworn in and suddenly he needs all this input. (Which, let's remember, Samantha Power had said in March 2008 would happen.) So in February, he's declaring that he's not going to do what he promised.

What's he going to do? He says he's going along with Bush's SOFA. He 'ended' the Iraq War by following Bush? And got a Nobel Peace Prize for it?

The same SOFA he declared, as a candidate for president, was unconstitutional?

The SOFA's a contract. Contracts can be broken, they can be extended, they can be replaced with new contracts. The Bush administration knew that.

Barack made one promise on the Iraq War and broke it. Now people want to pin their hopes on his following a contract and not extending it.

They want to act like it's okay that he campaigned for the presidency promising to end the Iraq War and it's okay that what he's really leading people to believe now is that by 2011 or 2012, most US troops will be out of Iraq.

Have we all forgotten all those bad speeches. How about that awful "We want" speech? "We want to end the Iraq War! Now!" (There were other "wants" he announced.)

The Iraq War hasn't ended and there's no proof that the SOFA will end it. But let's pretend for a moment that it does. That's not what he's voted into office on. He wasn't told, "Take four years to end the war." He was voted into office on the basis of his "NOW!" speech.

Some idiots try to say, "Oh, the military forced him into this!" I can hear Gareth Porter disgracing himself again with similar statements.

Poor Barry O. He was forced into dropping universal health care, the public option and everything else. And he was forced by the military to continue the Iraq War. And he was forced by . . .

If he's really that weak willed, Congress should impeach right now because the American people can not afford such a namby pamby person in the White House.

But he's not weak willed. Barack's a very calculating and driven person. He knows what he's doing. He's always known what he's doing. He is responsible for his actions and his decisions. And that responsibility includes exercising civilian control over the military. What Odierno tells him or anyone else? It doesn't matter. He's supposed to be in charge, he's supposed to give the mission. He grasped that during debates . . . when Hillary was forced to answer first and he could parrot her answer when it was his turn, he grasped that the president set the task, set the mission for the military.

So he's just as bad as Bush. Odierno is someone I disagree with but I don't think he's failed at his role or betrayed it. I don't give Barack or Bush the same slack. They were the ones who were supposed to provide oversight, control and set the mission. They have both failed. That's reality.

I praised Odierno today. I'd do it again. And I may. I wouldn't be at all surprised if another reason pops up before this site goes dark. That doesn't mean I agree with him on the war. I don't. I never will. Our roles are at odds and always will be. (And for the record, I praised someone twice here this week, someone I loathe and have not spoken to since 2003 and will never speak to again and closed the door on back in 2003. My praise isn't conditioned on who I like or don't like. If someone's actions earn praise, I'll give it.)

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4371. Tonight? Still 4371.

The e-mail address for this site is

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 24, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, Gen Ray Odierno shows leadership many below him lack, there's no 'safe' religion in Iraq, Congress is going to hold the VA accountable when?, and more.
The Ashura pilgrimage is ongoing in Iraq and so is the violence. Shi'ite Muslims head to Krbala for rememberance and mourning. As with all pilgrimages in Iraq -- and despite Nouri al-Maliki's claims of having brought 'security' to Iraq -- the pilgrims are targeted. AP reported 11 dead and seventy wounded in bombing attacks on the Pilgrims today in Babil Province -- AP has now updated the 11 to 13 dead and the number may continue to rise throughout the day. Li Xianzhi (Xinhua) explains, "An explosive charge went off at a parking lot in the center of Hilla, some 100 km south of Baghdad, detonated at about 1:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. Minutes later, a car bomb parked at the site went off after Iraqi security forces and onlookers gathered at the scene, the source said."   Al Jazeera notes yesterday's attacks which led to the deaths of 4 pilgrims in Baghdad and twenty-eight more injured. CNN adds, "Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein was killed in battle in Karbala in 680, one of the events that helped create the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main Muslim religious movements."  Michael Hastings (Washington Post) provides this context, "The Shiite festival, commemorating the death of Imam Hussein in 680 AD, has been marred over the past six years by sectarian violence."  Along with Shi'ite pilgrims, Iraqi Christians are also being targeted. Catholic News Service provides some of the recent history of targeting:

In July, a series of church bombings in Mosul left at least four dead and more than 30 injured. A flare-up in violence in October 2008 claimed the lives of 13 Christians and forced thousands to flee the city.             
In February 2008 Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped, and his driver and two bodyguards were killed. Two weeks later his body was recovered after kidnappers revealed where it was buried.
His replacement, Archbishop-elect Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul, is scheduled to be ordained in January. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his election in November.

Alsumaria reports, "Iraqis are celebrating Christmas discretely due to deteriorated security and because of mounting attacks against Christians. Christmas ornament is decorating timidly Iraqi streets and Christian families are staying home after Mass." AFP explains, "Since the US-led invasion of 2003, hundreds of Iraqi Christians have been killed and several churches attacked. Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but their number has since shrunk by a third or more as members of the community have fled abroad, according to Christian leaders." Muhanad Mohammed and Suadad al-Salhy, Mustafa Mahmoud, Aref Mohammed, Missy Ryan, Alison Williams and David Stamp (Reuters) report 1 Iraqi Christian was shot dead in Mosul today along with another man (who may or may not have been an Iraqi Christian).  Tuesday AFP reported that the Iraqi military was on high "alert" according to the Minister of Defense, Mohammed al-Askari, who stated, "We have put our forces on alert in Baghdad, the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, including its capital Mosul, where our Christian brothers will be celebrating their holidays, because we have intelligence indicating they could be attacked during this period."  Shi'ite Pilgrims and Iraqi Christians haven't seen any evidence of "high" alert. Saturday, noting the various high-level bombings in Baghdad, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy asked a question about the government's 'security strategy' that applies here as well, "After four bloody and brutal explosions, I wonder who has a strategy. Does our government have a security strategy or the enemy has a killing and destroying strategy????"
Reuters notes 1 man shot outside his Mosul home. AP notes a Sadr City which claimed 9 lives and left 33 people injured -- they were participating in a funeral process, while a Baghdad bombing resulted in the deaths of 4 pilgrims and ten being injured.  Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports today on Wednesday violence: 3 police officers shot dead in Baghdad, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two Shi'ite pilgrims, a Baghdad mortorcyle bombing claimed 1 life and left seven people wounded, a Falluja roadside bombing targeting Sawha leader Efan Sadoun and leaving two of his bodyguards injured (Sadoun is not reported harmed), and a Baghdad car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and wounded "a candidate to the coming national election" as well as relative accompanying the candidate. (I believe the other incidents Al Dulaimy reports on were noted in yesterday's snapshot.)
Now let's switch topics to the US military.  First off, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, continues to demonstrate common sense (if you doubt that, you were not paying attention when David Petraeus was top US commander in Iraq).  Mohammed Abbas, Missy Ryan and Jon Hemming (Reuters) report he stated that, starting January 1st, there will be no criminal punishments for soldiers in Iraq over the non-crime of pregnancy.  If you're lost, consider yourself fortunate.  Tuesday  ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer covered the issue of Gen Tony Cucolo playing God an issuing an order that pregnancy was now a crime for any soldiers serving in northern Iraq.  Thankfully, Diane Sawyer has a great deal more on the ball than Kate Snow who presented a one-sided 'report' that found time to quote Cucolo at length, to quote anonmyous internet chatters (misquote actually) who agreed with Cucolo's policy, to quote a military 'expert' (forever wrong) who agreed with Cucolo's policy and the only noted objection in her report was 47 words from NOW president Terry O'Neill -- or as Snow wrongly called them "National Organization of Women" (it's the National Organization for Women). Snow did note, "A group of female senators today also sent a protest letter to the Secretary of the Army."  She failed to identify the senators or to quote from their letter.  The letter was in the Tuesday's snapshot and we'll note it again:

December 22, 2009        

The Honorable John McHugh                     

Secretary of the Army                  

101 Army Pentagon                                         

Washington, DC 20310-0101

Dear Secretary McHugh:          

It has come to our attention that Major General Anthony Cucolo III -- the Commander of Multi-National Division-North, Iraq -- has implemented a stricter policy that criminalizes pregnancy for members of the United States Armed Forces under his command and for others "serving with, employed by, or accompanying" the military. While we fully understand and appreciate the demands facing both commanders and service members in Iraq, we believe this policy is deeply misguided and must be immediately rescinded.                   

Under the policy, it is possible to face punishment, including imprisonment, for "becoming pregnant, or impregnating a Soldier, while assigned to the Task Force Marne" Area of Operations. The policy even extends to married couples jointly serving in the warzone.                 

Although Major General Cucolo stated today that a pregnant soldier would not necessarily be punished by court-martialunder this policy, we believe the threat of criminal sanctions in the case of pregnancy goes far beyond what is needed to maintain good order and discipline. This policy could encourage female soldiers to delay seeking critical medical care with potentially serious consequences for mother and child.

This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child. This defies comprehension.                         

As such, we urge you to immediately rescind this policy. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this most important request, and for your continued commitment to our men and women in uniform.



Barbara Boxer          

United States Senator         


Jeanne Shaheen             

United States Senator        


Kirsten E. Gillibrand                

United States Senator       


Barbara A. Mikulski                           

United States Senator                        

If you need more background on this story, Feminist Wire Daily has a comprehensive item that they posted yesterday (so they don't note that Odierno has now killed the policy). We've covered this since Saturday and I'm assuming most reading are fully aware of this issue -- and I know the many service women e-mailing to complain about the policy know it very well -- including the issue that women who were sexually assaulted wouldn't be punished . . . after they'd proven their sexual assault.  As if sexual assualt has ever been easy to prove in the military.  Back to ABC where Snow quoted women from chat pages and Facebook who stated they were for the policy.  She cherry-picked in order to just present women supporting the policy.  But in terms of some women feeling that this policy punishing pregnancy was a good thing, why would women say that? Because there's a stereotype that women get pregnant to get out of service. That's a false stereotype and, in reality, it's no more common than straight males announcing they are gay in the hopes of being discharged. Instead of exploring that stereotype, Kate Snow just endorses it. (It's a sexist stereotype like the sexist and racist stereotype of the so-called "Welfare Queen" that Ronald Reagan always 'saw' -- remember he suffered from dementia.) Now there are women who say yes to the policy and women who say no and you can go through this American Women Veterans Facebook thread and find both. (Or you can be like Kate Snow and just pick the ones you agree with.) But what the policy plays into is a lot of hostility towards women and what you're hearing in what Kate Snow quoted is frustration women have with the system and their mistaken belief that it's "all" these women getting pregnant to get out of the military who are hurting their own chances to advance. No, girls, you're being lied to yet again. You're accepting a false stereotype that exists to turn you against other women and to blame other women instead of blaming a command culture that refuses -- despite multiple Senate investigations -- to move into the 20th Century even now as we are in the 21st one.
Let's note the end of Snow's 'report' (and you can stream video here at Sarah Netter and Luis Martinez's ABC news story which was much more balanced than anything Snow offered):
Diane Sawyer: But you're not saying that there was no criticism from inside --  

Kate Snow: I'm certainly not saying that.                            

Diane Sawyer: -- the military?     

Kate Snow: No, no. We scanned online, there is both. There are men and women in the military thinking this is a bad policy.                   

Diane Sawyer: But if he is the only general in Iraq with this policy is he going to be forced to back down?                   

Kate Snow: Not so far.                 
Kate Snow, with a straight face, insisted that she wasn't saying there was no objection -- when her entire report was built around that premise. (For full transcript, click here.) She then lied and said "Not so far," when Diane asked her if Cucolo was backing down.  Uh, yeah, he was backing down.  He'd declared Saturday he'd court-matial and imprison and on Tuesday he was rushing to say he'd decided not to do that.  That's backing down, Kate Snow.

Repeating, Gen Ray Odierno has common sense.  The order dies January 1st.  Good for Ray Odierno.  Thank you for having common sense, Ray Odierno, and showing leadership on the issue.  No one else stepped up to the plate. 
Okay so Odierno steps up to the plate, what about the US Congress?  We have to ask that question because yesterday Kimberly Hefling (AP) broke the story that the GI Bill payments due at the start of the fall semester?  Some still haven't received them.  "Thousands" still wait.  For the checks that should have been cut no later than the first day of the fall semester last August or September (depending on when the semester started which differed for some campuses).  It is now the end of December.  It is now Christmas in fact.  And veterans are still waiting.  The year will end with them still waiting.  Now let's be really clear, the rent doesn't wait, the food doesn't wait, the bills don't wait.  Veterans have to take care of all of those things.  While waiting for the VA to get off it's happy and bloated ass and do what it should have done months ago.
October 14th, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. At that point, veterans across the country were struggling as they waited for the VA to make good on the payments they were led to believe would start with the fall semester. And the Committee should have focused on that but they didn't.  They fretted that Shinseki kept his "light under a bushel" (that's a direct quote from a member of Congress) and that he needed to hire a PR person so that everyone would know what a wonderful job he was doing.  What wonderful job?  The scandal had broken, the press was all over it and the committee was kissing Shinseki's ass instead of holding him accountable.  They all played dumb when he volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, that a huge number of veterans would wait and wait and wait for checks.  The Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew.
Of course, they didn't.  They weren't holding him accountable.  It was embarrassing in real time and it's only more embarrassing today as we now know the problem that Shinseki said was fixed has not, HAS NOT, been fixed.  Here's the money quote from Shinseki, here's what he told Congress:
I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take.
He knew. He knew when he came into office.  He was told it and he confirmed it with an outside consultant.  But he never told Congress.  No one ever told Congress and no one told the veterans waiting for the checks.  "Thousands" of whom are still waiting all this time later.
The October 16th snapshot covers the October 15th appearance of the VA's Keith Wilson appearing before the Subcommittee that US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chairs.  We'll note one exchange from that hearing:
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill.  And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009."  If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal?  So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know?  Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?
Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created  by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony.  My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.
Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along.  If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.
In that hearing, Stephanie Herseth repeatedly asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits.  She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know.  She wasn't alone in stating that. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us."  Congress hasn't been informed of these problems and if the checks still aren't out, then obviously the VA needed additional staff.  Obviously.  Another VA witness lies to Congress (or doesn't know the status) and veterans are again waiting.  And when does Congress intend to take the VA to task?  This is nonsense.  No veteran who enrolled for the fall 09 semester should still be waiting for the monies owed to them from the new GI Bill.  That is ridiculous, that is insulting and until Congress gets ready to hold the VA accountable, there won't be any improvement.
The next hearing on this issue should get to when a problem was known and why Congress was not immediately notified.  The next hearing should probe whether a decision was made to keep Congress out of the loop.  Congress is supposed to offer supervision and thus far the VA has thwarted that by repeatedly providing the Congress with false information -- and a good portion of the false information was provided intentionally.
It is outrageous that as so many use tomorrow to celebrate with families or reflect, veterans continue waiting for fall '09 checks.  It is outrageous that the New Year will begin with these veterans still waiting. If the Congress doesn't pursue this and do so strongly, then their behavior will be outragoues.  Right now, it's just sad.
In other news, Black Agenda Report is not on 'holiday' this week (many sites are).  Among their new offerings is a commentary by Glen Ford (link is text and audio) which includes):
It is now beyond question that civilian military contractors -- mercenaries -- are permanently embedded in the structure and longterm planning of the United States Armed Forces. In recent years, about half the U.S. personnel in the combined South Asia theaters of war -- Afghanistan and Pakistan -- have been civilians, according to Pentagon figures. The one-to-one ratio of military to civilians -- a percentage that would have been unthinkable prior to the invasion of Iraq -- may become even more lopsidedly mercenary with President Obama's troop escalation in Afghanistan. The Congressional Research Service estimates that as many as 56,000 civilian contractors may accompany the 30,000 uniformed troops scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan. That's a ratio of almost two-to-one civilian to military. The Afghanistan/Pakistan theater has become the modern world's first large scale corporate/civilian war.
In an update to that, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports on a new proposal by the Dept of Defense to replace contractors with "full-time federal personnel" as a cost-cutting measure. The only thing to add to his article is that such a shift would carry with it the belief (right or wrong) that accountability would be easier since these would be government employees with codes of conduct.
Turning to England, the Iraq Inquiry concluded public hearings for the year December 17th. They resume public hearings January 5th. In the new year, they will hear from former prime minister Tony Blair and current prime minister Gordon Brown.  Helene Mulholland (Guardian) reports that the latter "has been called to give evidence to the Iraqi Inquiry" as have David Miliband (disclosure, I know Miliband) and Douglas Alexander, but all will testify after England's upcoming elections. Mulholland also notes: "Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former chief spin doctor, is included on the list alongside the former prime minister hemself, who recently caused controversy by telling the BBC he would still have thought it right to remove Saddam Hussein if he had known he had no weapons of mass destruction." In addition,  Miranda Richardson (Sky News) adds, "Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General whose advice on the legality of the 2003 invasion has been at the centre of controversy, will give evidence in January or February." Yesterday the Liberal Democrats released the following statement:

"Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary.         

Commenting on today's statement from Sir John Chilcott which reveals that Gordon Brown, David Miliband and Douglas Alexander will not appear before the Iraq inquiry until after the election, Edward Davey said:           
"Giving special treatment to Labour ministers not only undermines the perception of independence of the inquiry but will damage the public's trust in politics further still.
"This looks like a deal cooked up in Whitehall corridors to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music.            
"Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day.                      
"British soldiers will not be impressed by a Prime Minister unwilling to step into the firing line."
William Hague has accused Gordon Brown of "the very opposite of open and accountable government" after it emerged that he will not give evidence to the Iraq Inquiry until after the General Election.                       
The Shadow Foreign Secretary said that the public will rightly ask why it is that numerous officials have given evidence to the Inquiry about their role in carrying out the Government's policy on Iraq, but not a single Minister has had to face questioning.                     
William said that it was becoming "clearer and clearer" why Gordon Brown delayed setting up the Inquiry for so long after it should have begun its work, and he added:     
"His intention throughout has been to ensure that the Inquiry won't report until after the coming General Election -- and now we have the added effect of Ministers not having to give evidence at all before the election."
That the political establishment in Britain and the US have no interest in conducting an honest inquiry into the war is not surprising, given its legacy. Iraq is a fractured country with a wrecked economy and simmering sectarian and ethnic tensions that threaten to engulf society in violence. 
George Bush and Tony Blair's war, supported by the Tories and the rest of the political establishment in Britain, is the cause of this.           
When the allied occupation - "Operation Iraqi Freedom" - began, Iraq was thrown into chaos. Widespread looting broke out and millions of Iraqis were cut off from electricity and water supplies. But the main priority for the occupying forces was not to prevent Iraq's social collapse but to secure oil fields and ministries.              
US and UK multinationals immediately began a lucrative contract carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry, and the supplies of arms and military equipment - the least priority being rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and supplying the Iraqi people with essential services.                
For the US capitalist class "regime change" in Iraq meant unchallenged control and profits from an abundant oil supply.  
Oil wasn't the only reason for going to war. The war was part of a wider agenda of strengthening US imperialism's prestige - a message to third world leaders and imperialist rivals that any opposition to US hegemony would not be tolerated.                                 
This inquiry will be used as a PR tool by the political establishment to attempt to appear to be listening to the public, particularly those directly affected, such as military families.    
But in the eyes of millions who opposed the Iraq war and continue oppose the war in Afghanistan, they are guilty and should be tried as war criminals.
We need 'regime change' of the rotten political establishment in Britain, who conducted the war on behalf of big business and imperialism, by building a mass socialist opposition.            
Francis Elliott (Times of London) reports, "But the evidence of Mr Brown, Mr Miliband and Mr Alexander will be saved until the inquiry resumes its public sessions next summer, after the election."  Michael Savage (Independent of London) continues, "However, Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion and remains in the Cabinet, will be questioned before the election. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, Alastair Campbell, his former spokesman, and Jonathan Powell, Mr's Blair's former chief of staff, will also give evidence before the start of any election campaign." Olivia Midgley (Spenborough Guardian) reports Pauline Hickey wants Blair to answer questions: "Her son, Christian, a sergeant with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was killed by a roadside bomb during a foot patrol in Basra - just three days before he was due to return home, in 2005."  Meanwhile Joe Murphy (London Standard) reveals, "A letter by Jack Straw asking Tony Blair to consider alternatives to invading Iraq is set to be revealed at the official war inquiry." Dmitry Babich (Russia's RIA Novosti via the Telegraph of London) reports that M16 head John Sawers is insisting that Russia -- by refusing to go along with sanctions as a member of the UN Security Council -- forced England into the Iraq War but that Andrew Billigan's response is, "I would say to John Sawers: 'Nice try.' but I don't think there is any truth in what he said at all."
Today, Chrismas Eve, Free Speech Radio News examines the costs to Iraqis of the Iraq War in a special half-hour broadcast:

Iraqis make up the world's largest population of refugees. The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq released a wave of violence and economic instability and brought with it the destruction of key infrastructure and the near-collapse of basic services. More than 2.7 million Iraqis have been displaced within their borders and another two million have fled their country, largely to Syria and Jordan. Today we bring you a special FSRN documentary called, "Guests in the Waiting Room: Iraqi refugees in Jordan," produced by Hanan Tabbara and Salam Talib.
Next snapshot, which will probably be Monday, will note this article by David Price. Closing with this from Sherwood Ross' "Federal War Spending Exceeds State Government Outlaws" (Veterans Today):

The U.S. spends more for war annually than all state governments combined spend for the health, education, welfare, and safety of 308 million Americans.
Joseph Henchman, director of state projects for the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C., says the states collected a total of $781 billion in taxes in 2008.
For a rough comparison, according to Wikipedia data, the total budget for defense in fiscal year 2010 will be at least $880 billion and could possibly top $1 trillion. That's more than all the state governments collect.
Henchman says all American local governments combined (cities, counties, etc.) collect about $500 billion in taxes. Add that to total state tax take and you get over $1.3 trillion. This means Uncle Sam's Pentagon is sopping up nearly as much money as all state, county, city, and other governmental units spend to run the country.
If the Pentagon figure of $1 trillion is somewhat less than all other taxing authorities, keep in mind the FBI, the various intelligence agencies, the VA, the National Institutes of Health (biological warfare) are also spending on war-related activities.
A question that describes the above and answers itself is: In what area can the Federal government operate where states and cities cannot tread? The answer is: foreign affairs---raising armies, fighting wars, conducting diplomacy, etc. And so Uncle Sam keeps enlarging this area. His emphasis is not on diplomacy, either.