Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, June 9, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri says only he can save Iraq (Christ complex), US military identifies a fallen, the race for Labour Party leader in the UK has its candidates, a US House committee is informed failure to implement two Inspector General findings has cost over $81 million tax payer dollars, and more.
Today the DoD released the following: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt Steve M. Theobald, 53, of Goose Creek, S.C. died June 4 near Kuwait City, Kuwait, of injuries sustained in a military vehicle roll-over. He was assigned to the 287th Transporation Company, Livingston, Ala. For more information, media may contact the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) at 407-856-6100, ext. 1132."  The number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the war currently stands at 4403.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections.  Three months and two days later, still no government. Iraqiya is the political slate which won the most seats in Parliament in the March elections. It is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. They won 91 seats. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the two still lack four seats necessary (or so it is thought) to form the government.
Baby, I see you've made yourself all sick again
Didn't I do a good job of pretending?
You're saying that the victim doesn't want it to end
Good. I get to dress up and play the assassin again
It's my favorite
It's got personality
[. . .]
Baby, you can open your eyes now
And please allow me to present you with a clue
If I inflict the pain
Then baby only I can comfort you
-- "When We Two Parted," written by Greg Dulli and Rick McCollum, first appears on the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen album
Who knew Nouri was an Afgan Whigs freak?  Anthony Shadid (New York Times) sits down with Little Nouri today who insists that only he can be the new prime minister and, if it's anyone else, the country will descend into madness.  Little Nouri also states that he has no interest in curtailing any powers (including those he's pretended existed) for the prime minister post.  Looking beyond Nouri, Francis Matthew (Gulf News) notes, "Three months after the inconclusive March 7 elections, Iraq appears to be heading for a broad-based coalition. The danger is that it will be so broad-based that although a government may well be formed, it will lack the determination or focus to allow it to take the difficult decisions that will certainly come its way."  Suadad al-Salhy, Jim Loney and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) report that the country's Constitution bars any member of Parliament from also holding "an executive post in the government" which means Nouri, "vice presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi and at least nine cabinet ministers including Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani" may not be able to take a seat in Parliament Monday when the legislative body is set to hold their first meeting. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, "The new parliament must name a president, who would then have 15 days to designate a candidate for prime minister. That candidate would then have 30 days to assemble a government -- and if no deal is reached, another candidate would get a shot."
Shot? Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a roadside bombing targeting Abdul Rahman Dawood of Iraqiya which injured him and another person, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and left five people injured, a Muqdadiya suicide bomber took his/her own life and the lives of 2 other people with an addition five injured, a Samarra roadside bombing injured a police officer and a bodyguard and a Basra sticky bombing (targeting a police officer) injured four people (two were police officers).
Mazin Yahya (AP) reports 3 jewelers were killed in their Basra stores by six unknown assailants.  Aref Mohammed, Ahmed Rasheed, Jamal al-Badrani, Matt Robinson and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) adds four people were left injured and reminds that May 25th saw another "major attack on a gold market". Reuters notes 1 police officer was killed in a Mosul attack (he was on his farm -- another police officer was wounded by a Mosul grenade attack), an Abu Ghraib home invasion claimed the lives of 1 police officer and his wife (their five sons were injured), an assault on a Kirkuk Sahwa checkpoint in which 1 person was killed (two more were injured) and, dropping back to last night, 1 police officer was shot dead. AFP reports 2 Sahwa members were shot dead in Sharqat.
Over the weekend, Nouri's forces revoked Sahwa's right to carry guns.  Muhammed Abdullah (niqash) reports, "because leaders of the council were accused of being behind the assassination of some religious figures in the province" and quotes Sahwa Abu al-Fawz al-Iraqi stating "disarming us is an explicit attempt to dissolve our organisation. It will only expose us to al-Qaeda which issued a fatwa legitimising attacks against us and on our property."
As noted yesterday, England, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all are planning to deport Iraqi refugees despite the Geneva Conventions, despite the United Nations public opposition to the plan, despite Amnesty International and Iraqi LGBT objecting to the deportations. BBC News adds, "The flight from the UK was jointly organised by European Union governments and was also scheduled to pick up failed asylum seekers at Halmstad in Sweden." Nigel Morris (Independent of London)reports, "Ministers faced a wave of anger last night after ordering the forcible return of failed asylum-seekers to Baghdad despite the violence that continues to plague the Iraqi capital." Norway's The Foreigner notes, "The deporations contravent UNCHR (the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees) recommendations about refugees from Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa, Salah al-Din and the Kirkuk province safety.In accordance with the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention, the UNHCR believes these groups of people should continue to enjoy international protection by being classed as DPs (Displaced Persons)."  England's new prime minister, David Cameron was asked about the issue today.  Owen Bowcott (Guardian) reports, "The prime minister told MPs that he had discussed the situation in Iraq with US general David Petraeus, overall commander of American operations in the Middle East." News On News had the transcript of the questions to the prime minister and we'll note this section:
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The legacy of the former Government's disastrous decision making in Iraq is still plain to see. Will the Prime Minister look at the existing Home Office guidance on the deporting of asylum seekers to Baghdad? A plane has left today. May I ask the Prime Minister to consider the matter again, personally and compassionately, to ensure that we have a firm immigration policy, but remain a bastion for people fleeing political persecution?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly look into my hon. Friend's point. However, I think we should recognise that whatever view we took of the Iraq conflict -- and I supported it -- at least Iraq now has some chance of stability and democracy. We are actually seeing some progress there. This morning I had a meeting with General Petraeus, who brought me up to date on what he considers to be the latest situation.  It is important to remember that one of the reasons why our brave servicemen and women fought and died in Iraq was that they were trying to make it a more stable country, and a country to which people who had fled it would be able to return. Yes, of course I will look at the specific issue raised by my hon. Friend, but in general, while we are here to offer people asylum when they are fleeing torture and persecution, if we help to make their country safe they should be able to go home.
Elsewhere in news from England, James Macintyre (New Statesman) reports, "Diane Abbott will within minutes be in a position to declare she has the 33 nominations to feature on the ballot for the Labour leadership to be decided in September, has learned. David Miliband has in the past hour nominated her, joining other big party figures such as Harriet Harman and, before her, David Lammy. The remaining MPs required are signing her nominations during Prime Minister's Questions." England's former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray reviews Abbott's record:

Voted moderately against a stricter asylum system.          
Voted very strongly against the Iraq war.                
Voted moderately against an investigation into the Iraq war.    
Voted moderately against Labour's anti-terrorism laws.    
Voted a mixture of for and against allowing ministers to intervene in inquests. 
Voted moderately against greater autonomy for schools.           
Voted a mixture of for and against introducing ID cards.            
Voted a mixture of for and against laws to stop climate change.       
Voted moderately for removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords.   
Voted very strongly for a wholly elected House of Lords.          
Voted strongly for more EU integration.          
Voted moderately for equal gay rights.             
Voted very strongly against replacing Trident.                   
Voted moderately against introducing student top-up fees.     
Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament.
Voted strongly against introducing foundation hospitals.             
Voted moderately for the hunting ban.     

Diane Abbott is the only possible candidate left who was against the Iraq War, against Trident and for civil liberties. All the other candidates are deeply steeped in Iraqi blood and strongly associated with New Labour's viciously authoritarian agenda. The frontrunner, David Miliband, spent most of his tenure as Foreign Secretary engaged in numerous legal attempts both to keep secret and to justify Britain's complicity in torture under New Labour.

Mary Riddell (Telegraph of London) says of Abbott making the ballot, "The field is less white and less male than it was yesterday. That can only be good." Philip Webster (Times of London) offers, "The other reason for propping up Ms Abbott was self-interest. David Miliband, who nominated her himself even though he is a million miles from her politically, needs a left-wing candidate in the battle so that he can better define himself. Four Oxbridge blokes being nice to each other does not make for much of a public spectacle, let alone a serious political contest."  Philippe Naughton (Times of London) pursues the same thread, "Responding to concerns about the lack of diversity in a contest in which all five candidates went to Oxbridge - Ms Abbott studied at Cambridge - Mr Miliband said: 'In the end, what matters is not where you come from but what you want to do for the country and what you've got to say to the country. That's the way the British people are going to judge us and that's the right way to judge people'." Helene Mulholland (Guardian) profiles Abbot and the four other candidates Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, David Miliband and Ed Miliband. [Disclosure reminder: I know and like the Milibands.] Balls and Ed Miliband have spoken out against Labour's support of the Iraq War in their campaign for the leadership post. For some New Labour is seen as a failure, a neoliberal turn that betrayed the party's roots.  David Miliband has taken to insisting that what's at stake is Next Labour -- a clumsy phrase that, nevertheless, indicates there will no examination of the pros or cons of New Labour from him. Don't expect any deep thoughts from Paul Richards either.  At the Guardian, Paul huffs in text, "These were battles to defeat the kind of leftism that Diane Abbott represents, not because Labour activists lacked socialist zeal, but because they knew that that kind of politics would keep Labour in opposition for ever and ever." Paul goes no to fret that Abbot could win.  Wait, if she wins, Paul, that means what she represents is popular.  So it's not really about winning elections, is it, Paul?  Maybe it's time New Labour tried getting honest.  Tomos Livingstone (Wales Online) quotes "the party's acting leader," Harriet Harman, stating, "Over the next few months over 4 million people will have the chance to help shape Britain's progressive future by choosing the next leader of the Labour Party."
If you live for very long without ever saying something stupid, there are three possibilities: (1) You're very lucky; (2) You can't speak; (3) You're kidding yourself. Most people will fall into the third category. I don't kid myself, I say stupid things all the time. And I know Ike Skelton who says many smart things many times. But the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee has said something so incredibly stupid that prizes should be handed out for it. Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports that Skelton is couching his objection to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell on, and this is a quote from him, "What do mommies and daddies say to their 7-year-old child?"

Well, Ike, they talk about rimming and they talk about blow jobs and they -- What world is Ike living in? Do you talk to your seven-year-old child about sex to begin with? For most of us, the answer is "no." Not in any graphic terms.

I'm failing to see how an openly gay service member requires a sex talk with seven-year-old children since a presumably straight service member has never demanded the nation discuss sex with children.

Ike's lived a long time and long enough to absorb many prejudices. He's smart enough to reject them and hopefully he will. If not, he needs to be voted out of office. I really like Ike but is that going to be his excuse for objecting to everything? Certainly it might to object to same-sex marriage. But for all we know, he may next object to a health proposal on the grounds that it would require seven-year-olds be told, in explicit detail, what two men or two women might do together in bed.

"What do mommies and daddies say to their 7-year-old child?" asked Ike. Presumably worried for all the straight children in the world and unaware that the population isn't 100% straight. Some of those children will be gay and some of those children will have gay parents.

Ike, when you see two animals on the farm -- of the same gender -- making out in front of kids, what do you tell them about that?

You offer the simplest explanation that's age-appropriate. And it's not difficult to do.

"In the first half of fiscal year 2010," stated Chair Bob Filner at today's House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing, "from October 2009 to March 2010, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] issued 120 reports, identified nearly $673 million in monetary benefits and conducted work that resulted in 232 administrative sanctions."  Is there compliance?
To get everyone on the same page, US House Rep Cliff Sternes referenced the amended 1978 Act for the Office of Inspector General and quoted The head of a federal agency shall make management decisions on all findings and recommendations set forth in an audit report of the Inspector General of the agency within a maximum of six months after the issuance of this report and should complete final action on each management decision within 12 months after the date of the Inspector General's report." You must take action within six months and you must have completed it within one year.  Sternes noted that over 11 requests remain open and over a year old.
The Committee heard from two panels.  The first was the Deputy Inspector General from the VA's Office of Inspector General Richard J. Griffin.  The second panel was VA's Under Secretary for Health Robert A. Petzel.  In his opening statement, Griffin provided the basics on OIG's role:
Once a final report is issue, OIG follow-up staff in the Office of Management and Administration begin tracking the recommendation until they are fully implemented.  For each report, we separately list recommendations and related monetary impact we expect VA to derive from implementation. In each status request we seek a description of what actions have occurred toward implementing the recommendations during the preceding 90 days. We set a 30-day deadline for VA officials to respond in writing. The response must contain documentary evidence such as issued policies, certifications, or other material supporting any request to close recommendations.
That is the statement as delivered, not as typed ahead of the hearing (there are slight differences between the written statement and the way he read it to the Committee -- and, yes, he read the thing).  He explained the finanical aspect of some of this (and here I'm using the written statement):
As of March 31, 2010, we had two reports with open recommendations that represented over $81 million in monetary impact. One report from September 2007, Audit of the Acquisition and Management of Selected Surgical Device Implants, with over $21 million in monetary impact, involved an open recommendation to improve the acquisition and management of selected surgical device implants (stents, aortic valves, and thoracic grafts). The other report from September 2008, Audit of Veterans Health Administration Noncompetitive Clinical Sharing Agreements, with over $59 million in monetary impact, has multiple unimplemented recommendations related to noncompetitive clinical sharing agreements.
We'll note this exchange which provides an overview:
US House Rep Michael Michaud: A couple of quick questions -- and I want to thank the panel for coming -- my first is, why do you have a centralized follow up staff rather than having the auditors or investigators who did the origianl report do the follow up?  Wouldn't it make more sense to have those that did the original report do the follow up?
Richard Griffin:  It-it -- In reality, it's a collaborative effort.  The follow up staff that-that uh really are the traffic cops for the receiving of the report from VA with-with the policies they've implemented or the procedures they've put in place or the training programs that they've created -- those things don't require the absolute 100% attention of the audit staff or the health care personnel who did the job. Certainly there's collaboration if there's question as to whether or not a recommendation should be closed based on the feedback that we've been given. we will consult with the expert who did the job and make sure that everyone's in agreement that it can and should be closed.
US House Rep Michael Michaud: Thank you. My second question, actually it's a follow-up to Congressman Stearns' interest in exactly how is -- does the VA stack up to other departments you look at completing the recommendations?
Richard Griffin:  Well from time to time, the Counsel of Inspector Generals on Integrity and Efficiency submit a report that goes to the Congress and goes to the White House and it -- and it lists a number of different performance measures involving the IGs' activities and, as indicated in our testimony, we feel like the 94% rate that has been demonstrated in the last 12 months by VA puts it on the high end of performance compared to some of the other departments.
Later in the hearing, US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick would pursue a similar line of questioning to Michaud's including his opening question.  When she suggested that inventories needed to be on a more timely basis and that certain staff needed to be included in the reviewing process to determine whether recommendations were being met or not, she was told by Griffin it was "a matter of resources." 
With a one year limit for requests to be completed and closed, you may join US House Rep Jeff Miller in expressing confusion.
US House Rep Jeff Miller: I was looking in your testimony, you talk about the 2005 report recommendations to implement more effective project management oversight.  Uhm -- We're talking about five years that this oversight did not take place and corrective action should have been done, you say, five years earlier in your -- in your comments.  My question is what type of system of accountability can [be] put in place to prevent a five year lag of implementing recommendations?
Richard Griffin:  Is that the major construction report you're referring to? [Miller nods.] Seven of the ten recommendations in that report address the need for a quality assurance program in order to make sure that we had proper oversight and proper program management for major construction. A quality assurance group was established and this group was supposed to have addressed those things. When we went back and looked at it a second time, which we will do from time-to-time just to validate, we found that, yes, the group was created but it wasn't properly staffed, it didn't have adequate policies and procedures in place so it was -- it really wasn't a functional program oversight activity. The other two recommendations simply were not addressed during that time period.
Chair Bob Filner: [To Miller] You're yielding back when he didn't answer the question.  You said: What can you do to make sure they don't go for five years without doing something?  He said, 'Yes, indeed, they went five years without doing something.'  So how do we make sure that there's that oversight?  If I may follow up on your question, Mr. Miller.
Richard Griffin: I think there are a number of things we do. We spotlight anything that hasn't been accomplished in one year and it goes in our semi-annual report so that the Committee can be aware when we've got a report.  I believe very strongly that hearings like this one are very helpful based on the flood of documentation that we've received in the last 72 hours addressing various items that needed closure. So again, I do thank you for the hearing.  We do meet --
Chair Bob Filner: We should schedule one every week.
Richard Griffin:  We will be here.  We do meet on a monthly basis with VA and certainly those issues that are the most difficult and are the most dated are the subject of those discussions also.
As the first panel drew to a close, Chair Bob Filner asked Griffin to identify one problem area and Griffin went with procurement which "represents a huge dollar area for the department, acquistions" for drugs and contracting and stated there was too little oversight of contracts and "the people who write the policy are back in Washington and where the rubber meets the road are out in the field."
Turning to peace news.  Last March, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan was arrested for peacefully protesting.  Today she was suppose to go before the judge.  That did not happen.  Cindy explains:

All together with the judge, defendants, prosecutor, and defense lawyer, we picked the date of June 10th. We didn't just pull that rabbit out of a hat  -- EVERYONE agreed on that date. We arranged a legal team; and I raised money for my travel expenses and legal fees for the Peace of the Action defendants (three of us). As of Monday of this week, our lawyer had been in touch with the judge and everything was hunky-dory and the trial was on.                

I had an early flight out of Sacramento this morning and on my way to the airport at 6am, I got a message from one of our lawyers that the trial was going to be continued because a judge couldn't be found due to some "judge'' conference." So, from Monday to Wednesday, a Judge Convention (golf games?) arose which necessitated the postponement of our trial? I would like to believe that's true, but with all of the other harassment and outright lies put together, I logically doubt the integrity of the court system. Not to mention, the officer at the Park Police station who practically admitted that I was being singled out for harassment when he said, "If you would stop protesting this stuff would stop happening to you."

Not only all of the above, but I am calling for more protests in DC from July 4th to July 17th and I have a "stay away order" from the perimeter of the White House which includes the sidewalk in Lafayette Park that borders Pennsylvania Avenue. The order is in place until our trial -- whenever that is going to be. This stay away order will seriously hamper and limit my right to free speech.

We'll close with this is from Tim King's "The Bigot on Comedy Central: Jon Stewart and the Crucifixion of Helen Thomas" (Salem-News):

There is a reason Jon Stewart has such an intact comedy news throne. He's well educated, always current, a sharp wit; he's funny, and he's the right religion. In my mind's eye, Stewart's face keeps blurring with Ted Nugent's, and those of other heroes who have eventually shown their real colors. The reason is simple: these are the pop culture sellouts.
"Never Forget" stands for the rights of Palestiniansand all the world's oppressed people
I could care less what religion he or anyone else is, until it starts getting in the way of the human race, which it did in last night's program where he rips into veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas.
No, I did not include the clip, that's on the Daily Show site, though I did include some video to illustrate why blind support of Israel's systematic elimination of the Palestinian people is a goal that only brings great reprisal and retaliation.
It takes comedy down a dreary road in my opinion, when people like Stewart speak in terms so ignorantly offensive to Palestinians, journalists, and all people with half a brain in on-air jobs, who have some control over their final script. But all comedy aside, Stewart is heartless for attacking nine generations of American journalism and history, a person who knew Presidents when Stewart was still a baby playing in his poop.
Helen Thomas, the only real voice in her league with the guts and fortitude to tell the truth about what Israel has become; a cruel gatekeeper for a whole population that owned the land Israel now comprises, only 60 years ago.