Thursday, September 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, another US service member dies in Iraq, violence continues, the political stalemate continues and the VA does the same song and dance before Congress as usual.
Today the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity met.to receive an update on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The following exchange probably best captures the hearing between Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and the VA's Mark Krause probably best captures the hearing..
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So do you have any estimates of how many of those 150,801 [veterans] might have received overpayment?
Mark Krause: I don't have that information available but I would be happy to look at it for the record --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Or at least look at the trend of when we started this because, as we have discussed, this is a significant problem and we'd like to see an improvement as it relates to dealing with that problem. And that leads me to the question that came up from Ms. [Rosa] DeLauro and that is the issue of veterans who participated in a 35, an emergency payment last November. And then they entered a repayment plan and were automatically sent to debt management [. . .] and why is this happening and how are we going to fix this problem and when will these veterans accounts be cleared from the debt management center?
Mark Krause: They will be cleared. We are aware that there are situations where that is occurring when we're made aware of those situations we put those individuals directly in contact with the debt management center and we work it out manually on a case-by-case basis but it should not be happening as a category of cases and we are working hard on that.
If the overpayment issue seems familiar, it continues to pop up. If someone is overpaid it goes to the payee -- though the VA never claims fault -- and the student is then expected to quickly pay it back (unlike the VA which sends out a check whenever the mood strikes them). Then there is the issue of the emergency loans taken out by veterans who had to wait and wait for their checks to arrive. Though they had to wait and wait, note that they are expected to begin payments immediately. Why the hell did the VA set it up to turn this issue over to debt collection? The veterans who waited months and months did not for their overdue payments did not have the option of turning the VA over to a credit collection agency. How does the VA continue to manage to screw over the veteran? You'd think they'd work very hard about it; however, based on the testimony, incompetence is the answer.
Is the computer system up and running? Well . . . See those are basic questions and the VA can't answer basic questions. It can spend and waste a lot of money. The Subcomittee was informed that the computer system is still not integrated with some functions -- functions that 2009 and early 2010 hearings found the same witnesses (including VA's Keith Wilson) maintaining the system would interact with. Okay, well is everything functioning? Actually, the system purchased will require constant updates. And there's another update the current team is working on. Oh, and they're not under contract to work on it past this update.
Keith Wilson bored everyone with another of his bad slide shows -- sloppy and dull and overlong. If you're going to do a slide show, you should be able to do it in five minutes and when the Subcomittee Chair asks you to try to cut it down, you shouldn't expect to have ten minutes, especially after you've already wasted everyone's time reading your prepared remarks before, BEFORE, the slide show. Not only is this a time waster -- and there were a large number of breaks during this hearing -- but it also goes to the fact that the VA does no real prep before any hearing. They show up surprised that a question repeatedly asked of them in every hearing is again asked. They have to take issues involving the call centers -- still a problem -- for the record because they just don't come to the hearings prepared -- despite knowing they're supposed to testify. Does Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, think this reflects well on him? It doesn't. And it indicates that there is no real leadership at VA.
Yesterday's snapshot covered another hearing, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (full committee) hearing that Steve Buyer stormed out of. Kat covered it at her site with "Steve Buyer's nuclear meltdown" and there were a few e-mails on the topic. First "acquisition reform" is the word that should be in this statement by Buyer, "You pass aquistion form and I will hug you. I will hug you!" The snapshots are dicated and I speak very fast. Typos are a given even in the morning entries that I usually type myself. In terms of Buyer's behavior -- short version, he attacked two witnesses on a panel and then stormed out of the hearing -- a few are worried it was included here by me to pump up Democratic turnout in the mid-terms. That was not the case. (Parenthetical, Libby Liberal at Corrente is correct and for those who can't see it, with it very likely that Dems will suffer in the mid-terms, it would be smart of the left to get out ahead of it and be able to say after See, we can go elsewhere, we don't have to vote for you, we can vote third party, we can vote Republican or we can just not vote. The alternative? Centrist Dems hectoring the Dem Party that they went 'too far' and 'too left.' Libby Liberal is correct and she's correct for a number of smart reasons.)
Could yesterday's behavior by Buyer be used to promote voting for Democrats? Absolutely. I don't buy the "party of no" as a GOP description but if a Dem wanted to illustrate that, they could just show Buyer attacking an Iraq War veteran and a reporter and then storming out of the hearing. Not only does that show "no,"they could add, "Not only do they just say no, they won't even listen." It could be used any number of ways. That's not my concern. I do understand that my noting I was a Democrat fed into some people's beliefs on this; however, I noted that because Buyer was a Republican and I was attempting to make very clear that I was speaking of my imprssions and someone else might have felt differently. I also attempted to be nicer about it than I normally would have just because I found it so shocking and so out of character for Buyer.
If a member of Congress makes angry statements and storms out of a hearing, that is news. My big concern in including it yesterday was that it might be seen as discrediting Chuck Luther. Chuck Luther was very believable and he has repeatedly told the same story . But I made a point to include Chuck Luther's response -- in full -- to Buyer's tantrum. Joshua Kors has been highlighted here many times and I was less concerned about getting every word of his response for that reason. I also noted /detailed his journalistic pursuit of this story so I thought that was clear. (He may have been short changed in that I feel like I am forever defending the profession of journalism -- if not the actual practice of it -- and grow bored with addressing that topic.)
Buyer threw a tantrum. Read Kat's post and note the walk through she provides. He threw a tantrum and, were he running for re-election, this might be a big deal to partisans. We didn't cover it due to partisanship. We covered it because it is news when a member of Congress launches into a tirade and then storms out of a Committee hearing. Many things that take place in Congress are not and will never qualify as news but that sort of behavior is news.
It was not covered to advance the Democratic Party or to help them in the mid-terms. It was covered because it was news.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Galtung, what about Iraq, where we stand today with Iraq, where Iraq stands?
JOHAN GALTUNG: I think the basic point about Iraq is that it is an artificial construction by two civil servants of the British Foreign Service in 1916. And I think they had the assignment of constructing a country out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, consisting—but it could, within the borders of one country, accommodate the oil in Kirkuk, Mosul, in the north, and Basra, in the south. And so they did. Now, that's not a rationale for a country. Mesopotamia, between the rivers, would have made sense. Iraq, I think, is doomed to disintegration. This is one reason why they still don't have a government, in spite of elections in March. They cannot agree on the formula for it. So I would say that it will disintegrate as either a very loose federation or a confederation.
There is some Iraq that has come into existence. I am quite willing to say that. But it is weak. And I don't think the capital can be in Baghdad, which is in one of the four Sunni provinces out of the eighteen provinces. And, you see, the Sunnis have been ruling this system not having oil. And the others are not quite willing to bail out the Sunnis. So I think it's a nonstarter. It was a nonstarter from the beginning, and Obama is now following in the footsteps of George Bush. I don't think there's anything new, actually, in Obama's proposal, and it doesn't look promising.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have about 50,000 troops. You have the largest US embassy in the world there, something like eighty football fields in size.
JOHAN GALTUNG: Unbelievable, inside the Green Zone. Unbelievable. Are they going to dismantle that? Well, those bases, I guess, were inspired by the idea that there will be a war with China. That's always been the Anglo-American idea, that the biggest power, be that on the continent or be that in Eurasia, is our born enemy. It's always been the Anglo-American idea, some kind of paranoia. And totally unnecessary. So I guess the bases are essentially for that purpose, like the purpose of the Bagram base in Afghanistan, the same.
Yesterday, another US service member died in Iraq. Justin Hinkley (Battle Creek Enquirer) reports that the family of 25-year-old Senior Airman Jimmy Hansen's family was informed last night that their loved one died in Iraq yesterday "when 'something went wrong' while the airman was helping to detonate captured bombs." AP notes that, as of last night, the Pentagon still hadn't issued an announcement on the death. As of 8:00 a.m. EST this morning, they still had not issued an announcement -- USF is where the death announcement is supposed to come from (DoD is supposed to later identify the fallen in an announcement -- after the family has been notified). The death announcement is supposed to come from USF and it's yet another example of not only how they are not doing their job (repeatedly) but also how they keep getting away with it. But then when the White House doesn't want the focus to be on Iraq, USF can get away with not doing their job (repeatedly). Finally this morning, they issued a statement: "JOINT BASE BALAD -- One Airman was killed and a Soldier was injured during an on-base controlled detonation at Joint Base Balad, Iraq at approximately 9:40 a.m. Wednesday. The Airman was pronounced dead at the scene. The injured Soldier was rushed to the Air Force Theater Hospital here. The name of the deceased will be withheld until 24 hours after notification of next-of-kin. Controlled detonation is part of a regular process to dispose of unexploded ordnances. 'The hearts and minds of every servicemember at JBB go out to the families of the servicemembers involved in this incident,' said Maj. Gen. Craig Franklin, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. The cause of the incident is under investigation." The death brings to 4424 the number of Americans killed in Iraq while serving in the military.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a roadside bombing outside Kirkuk which wounded one Iraqi police officer and Samarra suicide bomber who took his/her own life, claimed the lives of 2 Sahwa members and left three more injured.. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports a roadside bombing just outside Baquba claimed 1 ilfe and left three injured, and two Kirkuk roadside bombing which left two police officer injured.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports a Abu Sayda home invasion in which 1 Sahwa and his wife were shot dead and a Mosul armed clash in which 2 suspects were killed
Meanwhile David E. Miller (Media Line) reports that Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, that they make up over 40% of the Iraqi refugees in Syria (the United Nations counts 19% among the Iraqi refugees in Syria who have registered with the UNHCR) and that a large number of the 1.5 million Christians the United Nations estimated were living in Baghdad before the start of the Iraq War fled due to threats, targeting and violence. IRIN notes that Iraqi Mandaeans are in the thousands in Syria, that approximately 3,500 to 5,000 remain in Iraq and, in Iraq, their roles have included "prominent goldsmiths, lawyers and doctors in Iraq, Mandaeans continue to be kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam or to leave the country, according to the Mandaean Human Rights Group in Damascus." Mandaens are Gnostics and they practice baptism in their religion (John the Baptist is among the Christian figures who are prominent in the practice of the religion). A functioning government in Iraq would have long ago worked to protect the refugee populations.
It would have also worked to address education issues and women's rights. Education is especially important because Iraq's population pyramid -- as a result of the illegal war and other factors -- means that Iraq has a very young population with most Iraqis being well under the age of 30. (You can find this diagrammed at Adam's Blog.) Now a new [PDF format warning] United Nations study has found: "One in five Iraqis, aged 10 - 49, cannot read or write. There are significant disparities in literacy rates across gender, age and urban versus rural areas. Illiteracy among Iraqi women (24%) is more than double that of Iraqi men (11%). Rural populations are more adversely affected by illiteracy (25%) than urban (14%) populations, and within rural areas the literacy divide between men and women is wider." Al Arabiya adds, "In the mid-1980s, Iraq was listed as an illiteracy-free country after the government launched an expansive campaign to eliminate illiteracy. The campaign involved enrolling illiterate Iraqi living in remote villages and towns in schools where they are obliged to study for six years." A functioning government should be able to today what was done earlier for education.
Xinhua reports that Ezzat al-Shahbandar, of State of Law, told them Tuesday that "the deadlock of government formation" had been overcome. Which would mean that the government was on the verge of being formed. Don't hold your breath.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. 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 -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and nine days with no government formed.
The Iraqi National Alliance is a Shi'ite coalition. The two biggest components of the National Alliance are the ones headed by Moqtada al-Sadr and by Ammar al-Hakim. UPI reports that al-Hakim is currently conducting talks with Ayad Allawi. On Moqtada al-Sadr's group, Basim al-Shara (Middle East Online) reports:
The political movement of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is wielding increasing clout as the tortuous process of forming a new Iraqi government continues. In recent days, the Sadrist party Al-Ahrar has indicated that it is backing Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi for the post of prime minister. Until now, the competition for the job has been seen as a straight fight between incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, leader of the mostly secular Iraqiya coalition which includes top Sunni leaders. The Sadrists' endorsement of a third candidate exposes cracks within the Shia coalition that consists of Maliki's State of Law party; the Iraqi National Alliance, INA, which is led by the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI, and a handful of smaller groups.
Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Sadr Front senior official Bahaa Al Araji announced that the national alliance will hold a meeting on Thursday or Friday to complete talks on the required mechanism to choose a candidate for Premiership." Whether the increased communication between the governments of Iraq and Syria result in a new government for Iraq, it has already resulted in something else. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports that the two countries have "signed a memorandum of understanding to build two pipelines to export Iraqi crude oile through Syrian territory."
Iraq's oil reserves are the fourth largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran, but production today is barely 2.5m barrels a day, making Iraq at best a middle-weight on the international stage. The new contracts should bring a substantial stream of investment in the country's neglected oil infrastructure, allowing production to rise to more than 10 mb/d by 2020 (the government's own target is 12 mb/d by 2016).
Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that Hussain al-Shahristani stated yesterday at a ceremony for the 50th anniversary of OPEC that Iraq could help meet the world need for oil "with an average of 10 million barrels a day." al-Shahristani is the Minister of Oil but, of course, in a fair world he wouldn't be. He was appointed by Nouri and approved by the Parliament. In a fair world, Nouri's term having long ago expired, the UN would have helped form a caretaker government -- that's not what Nouri has and the press should stop calling it that -- if Iraq was unable to form a government. Instead, al-Shahristani not only remains as Minister of Oil, he also holds the title of Minister of Electricity following the spring resignation of the man who held that post. But al-Shahristani was never approved, as the Constitution insists must take place, by the Parliament. That's how it works in the continuation government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Constitution and the laws are ignored over and over. Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports, "Iraq's crude oil exports fell 1.7% in August to 1.788 million barrels a day from 1.820 million barrels a day in July due to technical faults and sabotage on the country's northern pipeline, an Iraqi oil official said Tuesday."
Bradley Manning. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. This month, the military charged Manning. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. From World Can't Wait, we'll note "Bradley Manning Day of Action - New York City Webcast:"
See: Collateral Murder footage, leaked from within the US military, and showing the murder of 12 Iraqi civilians in July 2007
Learn: What you can do to stop the unjust prosecution of a 22-year-old soldier and genuine hero.
As part of the International Days of Support for Bradley Manning, events are happening around the world September 16-19. The Army says he's responsible for leaking the video footage which was named "Collateral Murder" and sent around the world by wikileaks.org. They will likely court martial him. Needless to say, the soldiers in the video -- not to mention the commanders who trained the troops for and ordered the massacre -- are under no arrest, no scrutiny, not even investigation. But Bradley Manning is locked up, facing many possible years in prison.
He now faces decades in prison for letting Americans see the truth about our wars on Iraq and Afghanistan by allegedly leaking the "Collateral Murder" videos of a Reuter's cameraman being shot and killed by a US helicopter to Wikileaks. He is being investigated in the leaks of the"Afghan War Diary" documents that were also released by Wikileaks--in conjunction with the New York Times, The UK Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel-- exposing the war in Afghanistan as a costly quagmire that has cost countless civilian Afghan lives, as well as the lives of over 1,000 US soldiers.
Over the last seven year's Iraq has become the deadliest theater of war for journalists since World War II. The Wikileaks website posted on April 5, 2010, a video showing a US helicopter crew killing 12 Iraqi civilians including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver Said Chmagh, 40. Wikileaks wrote that it had come from unspecified "military sources." Reuters had filed a formal request, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in 2007 to access documents that might explain the death of its media workers. FOIA requires federal government agencies to release documents to all persons requesting them unless specifically exempted by the law. Reuters received no documents. Reporters Without Borders, the international journalists association writes of Bradley Manning, "If this young soldier had not leaked the video, we would have had no evidence of what was clearly a serious abuse on the part of the US military."
Much of my military background concerns the law of warfare. Most Americans do not realize that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have violated domestic and international law, violations that have been fully exposed in the Wikileaks documents that Manning is accused of releasing. When I joined the US military I, like Bradley Manning, took an oath to protect the constitution and the American people. This led me to resign my position when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Protecting the constitution outweighs following orders and Manning should be lauded for choosing to do the right thing. Bradley Manning is a patriot of our democracy, who stayed loyal to what is right, risking his own security. His loyalty to the Constitution and the American people transcends partisan politics.
Just as Daniel Ellsberg blew the whistle on the lies of the US leaders of the Vietnam War, Manning is accused of blowing the whistle on the illegality of today's wars. What will our response to the information Manning is charged with releasing be? Can we make today's Pentagon Papers lead to an end to illegal and wasteful wars abroad and the return of our troops home?