Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US Congress continues to explore the White House's plan to gut the military's medical health care, more whining from the administration about their 'needs' to continue the illegal wars, more mistakes from the New York Times, more deaths from the war, the star witness against Bradley Manning continues to implode publicly, and more.
Aswat al-Iraq reports an IED targeted a US military patrol in Basra yesterday and quotes a security source stating, "An IED blew up against a U.S. Army Patrol on the Hamdan Road, 10 kms south of Basra on Tuesday, but caused no human or material damage." The Iraq War continues. US service members remain stationed in Iraq. They remain in danger. Barack didn't end the violence, let alone the war.
And they're looking at seeing their health care cut. Yesterday, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcomittee met to discuss the Military Health System and the Defense Health Cost Program for the Fiscal Year 2012. Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson observed, "The proposed TRICARE Prime fee increase for Fiscal Year 2012, while appearing to be modest, is a 13% increase over the current rate. The Dept of Defense proposes increasing the fee in the out years based on an inflation index. You suggest 6.2% but it is unclear exactly which index you are using? You plan to reduce the rate that TRIACARE pays Sole Community hospitals for inpatience care provided to our active duty, family members and retirees. Several of these hospitals are located very close to military bases -- in fact, some are right outside the front gates -- especially important for 24-hour emergency care." We'll note these statements by Maine's Chellie Pingree.
US House Rep Chellie Pingree: I just want to say again, I understand how well you are all doing your job and the importance of all of you looking for cost efficiencies in what you do as we face a difficult time with the budget deficit and, uh, also where there's a lot of examination of the military budget and looking for places where we can cut. And maybe my first comment is more to my fellow Committee members then to all of you but I might see more places to cut the fat in the military budget than others of my colleagues but I am deeply concerned that we're going after medical care for both our active duty personnel and our retirees when I think there are other places to make more effective cuts. So I know you have to do your job and look for those cuts but almost everything that's before us today, either myself or one of my colleagues has mentioned a concern about, whether it's the changes to TRICARE, how we're going to deal with some of our Sole Community Hospitals I have two in my district, there are four in our state of only 1.2 million people, in a state where we have almost a fifth of our citizens are either active duty or retired military. So there's a very big dependance on this system in our state and I'm worried about that particular program. So for me, many of the efficiencies that you're talking about are going to reduce the level of medical care to people who have served us to whom we have made a huge promise. And there is going to be a -- I think -- a reduction in the services that they receive so I just -- I know you have to do your job but I don't like it and I don't think it's all necessarily good.
That was yesterday. This morning the Subcommittee met again. We need to start with remarks by Subcommittee Chair Wilson.
Chair Joe Wilson: Yesterday, we had an extraordinary hearing with Dr. Clifford Stanley and and Dr. Jonathan Woodson and Dr. Stanley is special to me, he's a graduate of South Carolina State University, one of the great universities of South Carolina and so I really am frustrated that with their capabilities that the president has named a health -- a military health care czar, the former governor of Maine, John Baldacci. I-I -- we don't need a health care czar. We've got veterans service organizations that can provide this information. And as stewards of the tax payers -- this is not government's money, this is tax payers' money -- $164,000 plus expenses, I think, are being diverted from the military health care system.
As he notes, he hit on that yesterday. I was thinking Kat might grab that. I know Baldacci and didn't grab it for that reason. Do we need czars? No, not in this economic climate. Is Wilson correct about $164,000?
No. Because Baldacci is not answering his own phones and doing his own filing and doing -- He has a staff. He is not a 'floater,' he has office space. John Baldacci's a hard worker and a nice person. As a czar, he would no doubt do a fine job. But when everything's under attack, the first thing that needs to go are the czars -- all of them. I avoided it because of conflict of interest but I do agree with Wilson that, at a time when needed programs are being cut, the White House needs to get rid of their czars. (All their czars, which may mean my position is more extreme than Wilson's. In yesterday and today's hearings, he only referenced the military health care czar.)
Having taken care of that, we'll now address today's hearing. Ranking Member Susan Davis explained, "Today we'll hear first hand from the folks who really make the most difference here, from those who are the beneficiaries of the system and the experience that they are having with the military health care system and their thoughts on the health care proposals put forth by the Dept of Defense. As you alll know, our country is facing difficult economic times and we are now faced with making some hard decisions that will -- that could -- impact the lives of those who are currently serving and those who have served. I know that our beneficiary representatives here today understand the challenges that we face."
As Rick Jones explained, the Department of Defense plans "to collect $450 million over the next five years from the pockets of 'working age' retirees by raising TRICARE Prime enrollment fees in the first year by 13 percent and in following years by the rate of medical inflation, which is projected by economists to run several points higher than general inflation at a minimum annual pace of 6.2 percent and as high as 10 to 14 percent over the next five years." This is on top of the Defense Dept's plan to increase the costs of co-pay for prescription drugs (for example, an additional $2 for generic drugs, an additional $3 for brand names and an additional $3 for non-formulary medications). Jones pointed out, "While it is true costs for military health care have increased over the past decade, the cause is not, repeat, not military retirees using their earned benefits. The true accelerant for risings costs is the war." Jones noted that for nearly a decade, the US has been waging two costly wars. He pointed out, rightly, that this is a betrayal of a promise, that health care is really not a 'benefit' for the military, it is part of the promise the government makes to those who serve in the military. Attempting to balance the budget on the backs of service members, veterans, retirees and their families is changing the rules once the process has already started and it's not fair.
It's also, this is me -- not Jones, disgraceful. How dare you deploy people to war zones and talk your nonsense bumper sticker b.s. about 'support' when you turn around -- and, let's be clear, "you" is the Obama administration -- and then attempt to break the government's word. It's disgraceful and it's shameful and it certainly doesn't make for a good 'recruiting tool.'
NAUS' Rick Jones called the proposal "a breach of moral contract." MOAA's Steve Strobridge called for "some statement in law, where there is none presently, that states explicitly that military health care is one of the cruical offsets to the adverse conditions of service -- that it is, in fact, an upfront and very substantial premium payment. And that would help defefeat some of these arguments that people want to devalue the service and only compare cash to cash which, to us, is an apple to orange comparison."
We'll note this exchange from the hearing.
US House Rep Niki Tsongas: Yesterday in the first of this series of hearings I said that before Congress could increase TRICARE fees for working age retirees, any proposal on the table would have to be proven to minimize impact. It would be inexcusable in my mind to deprive our retired heroes of the health benefits they have earned. I also question the disparate impact of any increases on service members who accrue less annual retirement benefits than others. As you all know, retirement benefits vary greatly depending on a number of factors such as how long a person served and whether they were decorated for extraordinary heroism. The key metric, however, is the rank they hold or held. Retired generals can earn robust, six figure sums in annual retirement benefits whereas enlisted personnel may only earn benefits in the teens. Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I asked Under Secretary Stanley and Assistant Secretary Woodson if the Department had seriously reviewed any proposals for a stepped-increase of TRICARE fees for working age retirees determined on the basis of rank at the time of retirement and retirement benefits earned? Assistant Secretary Woodson answered that the Dept did not consider this proposal because it would be difficult to administer since the Dept would want to take into consideration retirees' other streams of revenue -- a statement I do not agree with. More importantly, though, he stated it was unnecessary in this case because the fee increases that are proposed are modest. But he stated that "if we were proposing large fee increases, I would agree with you strongly." My question then, to all of you, is do you agree or disagree with Dr. Woodson's assessment? And if we could begin with you, Mr. Strobidge.
Col Steve Strobridge: Yes, in fact, the Dept did propose tier-increases previously. The military coalition has been unanimus in opposing means-testing. of military benefits. We don't have that for federal civilian health care, the presidents pays the same as the lowest SGS employee One of the concerns, I think, is creating a situation where the longer you serve and the more successful you compete for promotion, the less your benefit is. And we don't think that's a good incentive. But more and more, as I said in my earlier statement, the military benefit package is considered the off-set for the adverse conditions of service. You earn the package mainly by your service. And I-I would have to agree with the answer that was given yesterday: Once you start trying to split, basically what you're saying is, "Who can afford to do what?" And I think they were accurate. Once you start to say, "Who can afford to do what?," you have to -- you have to look at all of your income and then it ultimately drives you to looking at last year's tax return. And to us, we don't think that ought to be based on what kind of job you get as a civilian, we don't think it ought to be based what your spouse's income, or how much you inherited from a parent. Your benefit derives from your service, not from your grade.
Regarding the discussion above, it would probably be wise to ask Robert Gates -- who is spear heading the White House's attempt to gut the military benefits -- exactly what his own are. If he's proposing -- and he and the White House are -- that some veterans going into civilian life should be on civilian health care instead of on military health care, the American tax payers have a right to know which benefits Gates is receiving? Is it from his time in the 'Air Force' (Gates didn't serve in the Air Force, he was CIA already when he got his wings -- in fact, Gates is another Chicken Hawk but no one is ever supposed to point that out), it is from his time at the CIA, from his current position, from his college administration positions? If he wants to go after military benefits, he needs to open his hand before the American people and explain exactly what tax payer money he is consuming and how.
When we first started noting the Obama administration's plan to gut veterans health care, a number of angry e-mails came in insisting it would never happen. Those e-mails continued even after the May 19, 2010 Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which should have put a rest to the denials from the Cult of St. Barack. Today's hearing was attended by a number of reporters and possibly it will finally get the coverage so that everyone can see just how the administration 'rewards' those who served. And maybe all those working their pet causes with online e-activism might try paying attention to some things actually do matter. NPR and PBS -- both of whom I support -- will get along. I'm a huge abortion rights supporter. Planned Parenthood will survive with cuts. You need to stop wasting your time and your fire on these little minor things. And if you're thinking, "I didn't serve so I don't have to worry," how this fight goes down is the test-run for how the attempt to gut Social Security will go down.
Meanwhile Lara Jakes (AP) reports that the State Dept's William Brownfield, visiting Iraq, is whining that the Department budget is being gutted. The $1 billion they want for Iraq's "police and legal system" next year may not be approved, that this was "one of the oddest budget years" he'd seen (boo-hoo!) and that making cuts will jeopardize security in Iraq -- what security? First off, what gains? There are no gains, there's just the US propping up an illegitmate puppet who attacks his own people. There are no gains. And at a time when the people of the United States are being asked to give up this and give up that, it's past damn time that the Obama administration grasped they better get a little damn skin in the game as well. They can start by ending the silly functions at the White House. In this economy, it is in poor taste to entertain in the manner they have. A lack of taste doesn't excuse their inability to grasp that they need to show a little more restraint. Restraint would mean giving up your czars, your fly-in-from-Chicago trainer and much, much more. Nancy Reagan was crucified for doing much less than Michelle Obama has done (and I remember because I was one of the loudest critics of Nancy Reagan).
Barack said he'd end the war (with footnotes but what Americans heard was he'd end the Iraq War). He hasn't done that. He wants to throw billions more to prop up the petty dicator first-installed by the Bush administration and now re-installed by Barack's. Why? Because Nouri will let the US stay. That was the agreement made.
"President Obama, Mr. Maliki and top American officials have consistently said that all American soldiers will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, a departure specified in a security agreement signed by both countries in 2008." Forget Barack, he doesn't do a damn thing with Iraq. He tasked it to Samantha Power a week after the 2008 elections. Within the White House, Joe Biden is his point-person. Joe Biden has stated publicly -- many times -- that the US would like a new agreement and like to stay. If the reporters (and editor) of the New York Times need help, they can start by searching the archives of The NewsHour (PBS). Robert Gates, James Jeffrey and many, many more have made public statements about the US military remaining in Iraq past 2011. If that's confusing to the reporters and their editor, they can search their own paper's archives. We've covered all that repeatedly. I don't have time to spoon feed.
We have spent less time covering Nouri on this. So let's get to Nouri. July 23, 2009, here's video of Nouri stating, "Nevertheless if the Iraqi forces require further training and support in the future we will examine that [US forces staying in Iraq past 2011] then based on the needs of Iraq. March 4, 2010, CNN reported:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has left open the possibility of asking U.S. forces to stay in Iraq longer than planned, depending on the security situation and the readiness of Iraqi troops.
In an exclusive interview Thursday, CNN's Arwa Damon asked the prime minster whether he would ask the United States to extend any of its deadlines for withdrawing troops.
"This depends on the future, on whether the established Iraqi army and police would be enough or not," he said, "so this issue is depending on the developments of the circumstances, and regulated by the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Iraq."
Does no one listen to Adm Mike Mullen, Gen Ray Odierno or even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? Reading the articles today, it doesn't appear that anyone does. Uh-oh. Reality slaps them in the face. Aljazeera reports, "The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011." Yeah, he did it today and it's only a surprise if you've never grasped what the Status Of Forces Agrement does and does not do. The Washington Post, for example, has one person on staff who understands the SOFA completely. That's one more than the New York Times has. Drop back to real time coverage (Thanksgiving 2008) and you'll see the Washington Post could explain what it did and didn't do and get it right. No other US outlet can make that claim. (The Los Angeles Times hedged their bets but did appear to grasp it in an article co-written by Tina Susman.) McClatchy Newspapers? Oh goodness, Leila Fadel made an idiot of herself over the SOFA. Even more so than the New York Times (Elisabeth Bumiller -- in December and January -- offered some realities but they were lost on the other reporters at the paper). The Times just got it wrong. Fadel got it wrong and sang praises of it. It wasn't reporting, it was column writing passed off as such. Today, Nouri declared, "Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at the time, based on the needs of Iraq." Sound familiar? It should. This month you should have heard Adm Mike Mullen make the same statement, you should have heard General Ray Odierno make it over and over beginning in May and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made it many times -- generally he's asked when he's visiting a foreign country because US reporters don't really seem to care.
So the Times reporters today are wrong, completely wrong, it's a gross factual error -- and not the only one in their report. That's what happens when you send your A-team out of Iraq. And I think the paper may be feeling, "Oops we shouldn't have done that." No, you shouldn't have. At the time of the annivesary of the Iraq War, there was no need or reason to send your strongest Iraq reporters currently to Libya. And, now that they're missing the paper may be grasping that.
The Vice President chaired a monthly Cabinet-level meeting today to discuss the current political, economic, and security situation in Iraq. Attendees included Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jacob Lew, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, and senior officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Energy, and Homeland Security; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the Office of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations; and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin participated by video conference.
The discussion included an update on the status of implementation of outstanding agreements related to government formation. The principals noted that the levels of violence remain at historic lows in Iraq and that Iraqi Security Forces are capably providing security for the country. They also discussed provision of U.S. technical and policy support for the economic and energy sectors pursuant to the Strategic Framework Agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Today Kirkuk has been slammed with a car bombing. AFP reports that at least twenty-two people are injured and 1 woman is dead. In an update, AFP quotes Kirkuk police Gen Adel Zinalabedine stating that the number wounded has risen to thirty-three and that, "The car bombing outside the hospital killed a 35-year-old mother and her baby daughter. She had given birth this morning and was leaving the hospital." Some reports (including Lara Jakes', state the baby was four months old.) Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds that the wounded includes seven police officers. Kirkuk is not only oil-rich, it is also disputed with the KRG claiming it is their land and the central government or 'government' out of Baghdad claiming it belongs to them. Aswat al-Iraq quotes Brigadier Sarhad Qader stating that the bomb was "targeted against the Director of Kirkuk's Water Office, Abdul-Qader Mohammed Amin." Just yesterday AFP reported that Kirkuk's provinical council head Rizkar Ali Hamma had announced he quit his post citing the "lack of solutions for Kirkuk" and that this was followed by the governor of Kirkuk, Abdul Rahman Mustapha, stating he would do the same in the coming days.
The issue of Kirkuk has long been divisive -- so much so, that the 2005 Constitution (which Iraq now operates under -- or is supposed to) addressed the issue. Per the Constitution, a census was supposed to be taken of the region and a referendum held. That was supposed to take place by 2007.
2007 came and went. Nouri al-Maliki was prime minister then. He became prime minister in the spring of 2006. He didn't meet the deadline. When the Democrats won control of both houses in the US Congress and began making noises about ending the war, the White House (Bush administration) came up with a list of benchmarks that Iraq would meet to show progress. If Iraq didn't meet those benchmarks, funding was supposed to cease. Nouri agreed to the benchmarks and then ignored them. Kirkuk was one of the benchmarks. Never met but the funding continued.
In the lead up to the last provincial elections, Nouri was promising the issue would be delt with (January 2009 was when those provincial elections were held). Didn't happen. Most recently, while attempting to secure the post of prime minister for more four years, Nouri was insisting that the census would be held in December 2010. Days before it was time for the census, and just a little while after he was named prime minister-designate, Nouri called off the census. It's 2011. The Constitutionally mandated census and referendum is four years overdue.
Meanwhile Iraq remains without a full Cabinet and the posts of Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defense and Minister of National Security remain empty. The March 7, 2010 elections were supposed to determine Iraq's next government and, over a year later, there's still no fully staffed Cabinet. Security positions might be considered important at a time when the violence is on the rise (31 people are said to have died last week). Aswat al-Iraq reports that MP Hussein al-Safi is stating Nouri will make his nominations for the empty posts to Parliament tomorrow and "the National Coalition had supported the nomination of Ahmed al-Chalaby for the Interior Minister's post and Riyadh Gharib for the National Security Minister's post, whilst al-Iraqiya Coalition (led by Iyad Allawi), had finalized its decision to nominate Khalid al-Obeidy for the Defense Minister's post." Maybe tomorrow will be the day? Equally true, that day has supposedly been coming over and over and over for months now. New Sabah also reports that al-Obeidi will be nominated for Minister of Defense. Dar Addustour reports all the same nominees -- not just al-Obeidi -- and notes that al-Obeidi was a commander in the Iraqi army and is now a professor at the University of Mosul.
While three may or may not be named tomorrow, Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on what appears to be efforts to oust Mohammed Tamim as Minister of Education. News of the ration card system appears to be bad and David Ali (Al Mada) reports the biggest threat to the program is officials who do not know how to properly store the goods which is allowing much of it to spoil.
Turning to the US, the case against Bradley Manning may be getting even weaker. Attention seeking Adrian Lamo, the convicted felon, has given an interview with Al Jaeera (video only) where he comes off even more stupid than before and also as stoned. I'm not speaking of his Asperger's, that's not what's coming through in the video. What's coming through is someone struggling to maintain some limited connection with reality. If it goes to trial, Llamo's going to be hilarious on the stand, especially trying to defend statements made in interviews like this one. The US government has used convicted felon Llamo to make their case for them in the court of public opinion. Don't be surprised if they don't put him back in the institution for a little 'tune up' real soon because even the meds he's on -- and he's on a lot meds -- aren't allowing him to maintain at a functioning level. (I know what Asperger's is. I have not raised that issue with regards to Llamo. I'm not referring now to the fact that he has Asperger's. I'm referring to the fact that is drug cocktails -- unrelated to his Asperger's -- are no longer working. Lithium, for example, is not a treatment for Asperger's.)
An incoherent, clearly stoned, convicted felon rambles through a taped interview revealing extreme psychosis and that's what the government plans to put on the stand? Llamo's been unraveling in public for some time, but it's now undeniable and that interview may have sealed the deal on him coming across as unreliable witness as he stretches and stretches to meet his own self-delusions of grandeur. (The clinical term would be megalomania.)
When your case is weak, you try to scare the defendant, you try to frighten them, pressure them, force them. And when you're the federal government? Then that bullying goes far beyond a police interrogation room. Which is why Bradley's being tortured. As psychiatric expert Terry A. Kupers points out at CNN, what the federal government is doing to Bradley is torturing him:
Manning is a pretrial detainee. The Constitution requires that innocence be assumed until guilt is proved, and that the defendant in criminal proceedings be provided with the wherewithal to participate in his legal defense.
The Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment, and repeatedly, U.S. courts have found that overly harsh conditions of isolation and the denial of mental health treatment to a needy prisoner are Eighth Amendment violations. In international circles, for example, according to the U.N. Convention Against Torture (the United States is a signatory), the same violations of human rights are termed torture.
Clearly, Manning's treatment violates these constitutional guarantees and international prohibitions against torture. Why? Have we permitted our government, under the cloak of security precautions, to set up a secret gulag where conditions known to cause severe psychiatric damage prevail? As a concerned psychiatrist, I strenuously object to this callousness about conditions of confinement that predictably cause such severe harm.
Ed Pilkington (Guardian) notesPhysicans for Human Rights is speaking out against the way Bradley's being treated and military doctors participating in it. Dr. Susan McNamara is quoted stating of what's being done to Bradley, "That is a huge problem, as it is designed to break a person down psychologically. Solitary confinement is a form of sensory deprivtaion, and if you are depriving a person of the human contact they need that can amount to torture. In the US, if a patient was treated in a psychiatric hospital in the same way the military is treating Manning, the federal government would stamp all over it." The White House fired Philip J. Crowley, State Dept spokesperson, over the weekend because he spoke out against the treatment of Bradley. US House Rep Earl Blumenauer shared his opinion on Twitter, "Outrageous - PJ Crowley leaving State Department for saying the truth about treatment of Bradley Manning. Obama needs to fix this."
In the United States, the eighth anniversary will be marked with protests. A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in these action:
March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.
The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.
While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.
Actions of civil resistance are spreading.
On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.
Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.
Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.
And, I'm sorry, I was hoping to get to the topic of Iraqi women. But, like rushing to the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee this morning, after the House Armed Service Subcomittee Hearing ended, and thinking I'd be able to catch it as well, there just wasn't time. (I walked in as US House Rep Phil Roe was explaining he lived one mile away from a VA hospital so he got a lot of input on VA issues just in his neighborhood. And then he adjourned the hearing.) I'll try for it tomorrow. My apologies.