Thursday, March 22, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad denies that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's bodyguard was tortured to death, Baghdad states he was sent to a hospital, as the day progresses, they change that to "hospitals" (pretend not to notice, the press did), Iraqiya's prepared to bring up the ongoing political crisis at the Arab League Summit (scheduled for the end of this month in Baghad), the US Congress hears that DoD can't be successfully audited because everything is in such disarray, and more.
"The purpose of today's hearing is to review the accuracy of pay to active service members in the US Army," explained US House Rep Todd Platts in his written statement this moment as he co-chaired a joint-hearing. "The hearing will examine the findings of an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office of the Army military payroll accounts for Fiscal Year 2010. In 2010, there were nearly 680,000 active duty Army service members whose pay was handled by the Defense Finance Accounting System, or DFAS, centered in Indianapolis. GAO conducted its audit of DFAS in order to verify the accuracy and validity of Army payroll transactions."
Because of various issues with documentation, there's no way for the Government Accountability Office to truly do an audit. Chair Platts noted in his written statement, "The Army payroll is also a significant portion of total Department of Defense. As a result, the Department of Defense cannot pass an audit unless the payroll systems are auditable." It you can't audit, there's no accountability and no real oversight.
That hearing started a little late and there was concern about votes being called shortly so to speed things along, Platts, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management and Senator Thomas Carper, Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Committee, waived their opening remarks and entered the written remarks into the record. Appearing before the two Subcommittees were the Army Reserve's LTC Kirk Zecchini, the GAO's Asif Khan, the Army's Director of Accountability and Audit Readiness James Watkins, the Army's Director of Technology and Business Architecture Integration Jeanne Brooks and Aaron Gillison, the Deputy Director of Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis.
US House Rep Darrell Issa is the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and he made a surprise appearance as well.
Chair Darrell Issa: I came here for two reasons. First of all, when the House of the People [House of Representatives] and the other house [Senate] get together, it means that we have what it takes to move positive legislation all in one room so it's always preferrable to have us hear the same thing and come away from a hearing knowing we have to act and how we have to act. So the second reason is that, Colonel, like you, I was an enlisted man, paper leave and earning statements, 1970, it was real paper, as it was for Senator Carper. If one piece of paper got ripped out of there, it was gone forever. My enlisted time was fairly uneventful although I had a lot of TDY [Temporary Duty] and a lot of different supplemental dollars as an EOD enlisted man. But when I was commissioned, I saw the other side of it. I was responsible for up to 200 men and women who were constantly having to get compassionate pay, they were having to get 25 or 50 dollars because when the PCSd [Permanent Change of Station] in the paper work got lost. We would keep them sometimes for a couple of months not getting their real pay because there was a problem -- particularly if they were coming from overseas. That was approaching half a century ago. We've come a long way, we've come from paper to electronic. But we haven't come far enough to have the kind of proactive effort to where you should never have to say, "Well how do we pay this person? What do we do? Do we send them to the USO or do we in fact find some other way?" And, more importantly, do we no longer have people who receive pay and then somehow say, "Oh, that was a SNAFU and for the next six months, we're going to be deducting." I represent [Marine Corps Base] Camp Pendleton and, as a result, I see that happening. Naval assets and private assets have to find ways to take care of families because there's been an overpayment and then it has to be repaid. Last but not least, I had the pleasure of leaving the Army and the only time I've ever been audited -- personally audited -- was the year I left the Army and there's nothing worse than trying to explain all these various per diems in pays that are tax free if X,Y and Z to a man who's never served in the military but whose job it is to get a little money out of you. So I believe that when we get to where we do the job right, it will for our men and women in uniform, especially those who have families who are also earning and they've got to bring these together in a predictable way to make payments. So I'm glad to see that my good friend Chairman [Edolphus] Towns is also here. That gives us an awful lot of legacy of this Committee to hear it and to respond. So, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you all for being here today and I yield back.
Edolphus Towns is the Ranking Member (and former Chair) also chose to submit his opening statements for the record. The lack of accountability, the inability to do an audit, should be disturbing from a taxpayer stand point. We're going to focus on LTC Kirk Zecchini who has served 28 years (for any wondering, he's served in both of the current wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan) and his testimony to provide one person's struggle to get the pay they deserve and have earned. The excerpt that follows will be in order but we'll do jump cuts (indicated by: "[. . .]") to work through several examples.
Chair Todd Platts: In your time, have you ever had an instance where you -- because pay was not properly provided to you -- that it ended up a hardship, financial hardship, because of incorrect balance in a checking account or are you aware of any soldiers you've served with who have?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well, from my personal experience, the only real hardship that I encountered was when I was in Afghanistan and my pay just stopped for about a month-and-a-half and I still had a mortgage and I still had bills to pay back home. Fortunately, I had a little bit of savings while I was still deployed but, yeah, that was a really tense period, not knowing when the pay was going to get turned back on again.
Chair Todd Platts: In that example, where it was delayed, was there any compensation -- meaning any interest for the two months that were not properly paid when it finally was?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: No, sir.
[. . .]
Chair Thomas Carper: I guess you're not the only person you served with who had some problems with pay. We did in my unit, I presume you had problems in your unit. Were the problems similar in nature to those you experienced, or were they different? Were there any commonalities? Or was it just across the board, wide variety of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I can't say that I've ever experienced the same problem twice.
Chair Thomas Carper: How about when you think of your colleagues with whom you served? Did they have similar problems or were they different kinds of problems?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I would have to say different. Again, my experiences were different from the typical Guardsman, where I had a lot of active duty time, a lot of TDYs. I did a lot more than outside of the one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-in-the-summer.
Chair Thomas Carper: Sure sounds like you did.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: So I'd have to say that mine were a little bit different and broader than most of my peers.
Chair Thomas Carper: You allued to this, but I think you said there was a period of a month or two when you didn't get paid at all. And when I think of overseas, I was married and had no wife or children and the Navy pretty much took care of our immediate needs, they fed us and gave us a place to sleep and there was medical care and that kind of thing and so we were able to save -- guys like me, we were able to save like every other pay check. We didn't make much money but we didn't spend much either. I had no wife or children to support. I tried to help my sister a little bit to go to college but that was the big obligation I had. But that's not the case with a lot of folks. Especially today when we have a lot of Reservists deployed to activated deployed, we have a lot of Guardsman and women activated deployed and they do have families. And when they have problems with their pay, it's a whole lot more difficult and a lot more complex. Okay, put yourself in the position of just providing good advice through us, but for us, to the folks who are charged with fixing these problems. I realize we'll never get to perfection. That should be our goal. And if you were just to provide some advice, good advice, with the folks charged with fixing this, and our job is to have oversight and try to make sure that it's addressed, what would be the advice? It can be fairly general, it doesn't have to be specific. One of the best, I'll give you an example, we had a guy before us testifying on the Finance Committee a couple of months ago on deficit reduction and I asked him what do we need to do on deficit reduction -- he's Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, professor of economics at Princeton -- and asked what do we do on deficit reduction? His big deal on deficit reduction is health care cost -- if we don't reign in corporate health care costs we're doomed. He said I'm not a health economist but I asked him what you'd do about reigning in the deficit, he said, "I'm not a health care economist but here's what I'd do: I'd find out what works, I'd do more of that." That's exactly what he said. "I'd find out what works, do more of that." I said, "You mean find out what doesn't work and do less of that?" And he said yes. So that's actually pretty good advice in everything we do, not just reigning in health care costs. But what should we do here? What should the folks in the Dept of Defense do to address this problem?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well obviously, I have seen a lot of changes in 28 years from paper statements to electronic statements now. And those have all been, you know, good things. Most recently Defense Travel System came online, where you can enter your travel claims online and that was huge. That really took the paper work piece and it streamlined the process for travel vouchers. You get paid now in three or four days where it used to take you a month to get your travel pay.
Chair Thomas Carper: So that's a great improvement?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes. DTS was, in my mind, great. But not everyone has access to DTS. I had access because I was full time federal technician where most traditional Guardsman and Reservists don't -- don't have that system yet.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How many times did you [. . .] have the pay problem during your years of service?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: After I started talking to Mr. Tyler last week, I started thinking back to my career. I gave him some good examples but -- the ones I just testified to -- but I can think of several other ones that weren't such a big deal and they were pretty easy to fix at the unit level. But --
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: It was so many times you can't remember? Is that what you're saying?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Yes.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. How widespread is the problem among others?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I mean, you hear people talking about pay issues, you hear, you know, just dining chow how talk, people always -- somebody always seems to have a pay issue that they're dealing with.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: How long did it take, the longest period, for you to correct your pay?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: The example I mentioned about my one-and-a-half-months without pay in Afghanistan that was the longest that I ever went without a pay check. But the longest that I ever had to deal with a problem in getting resolution to the problem was the one where I didn't get my various allowances from my missions in Southeast Asia. That took about a year-and-a-half.
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Wow. Could you just walk us through one process of how you went about it to get paid? Just briefly.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: About what?
Ranking Member Edolphus Towns: Walk us through a process you had to take in order to get paid. In other words, you didn't get your check and what you had to do in order to get it?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: Well the example I mentioned about the pay in allowances from Southeast Asia, I was working in Bangladesh and the Philippines and all through Southeast Asia. Each of these different countries has a different rate for hostile pay fire in the Philippines or hardship duty pay in Bangladesh and I wasn't even aware that these allowances were there when I was performing the duty. It was just through talking with my active duty counter-parts who were there with me that I was informed that we were entitled to these allowances. So when I got back to Ohio, I went back to my unit and inquired about getting these allowances. I actually had to look through the regulations. There's a chart they have in the rig that tells you that if you're in this location during this time of year, you're entitled to this much money. It was a pretty complex set of numbers and my unit clerk, my unit administrator, certainly didn't know how to process that, so that's when it got pushed up the chain of command. It went to Military Pay. Military Pay didn't seem to know anything about it. And, you know, time went on, I put together a spread-sheet. I actually did a lot of the legwork for them to make it easier to understand what I was supposed to get as opposed to what I did get. And, uh, it languished. And eventually I wrote a letter to the Ohio Inspector General requesting assistance. And that's when I finally got some action.
[. . .]
Chair Todd Platts: At what point in that year-and-a-half long process [on the Southeast Asia pay issues], how long had you tried working through the channels before you went that route to get it taken care of?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: I went to my unit initially in August of 2004, I would say the very next month, in September, it got pushed up the chain to the Ohio State Headquarters.
Chair Todd Platts: Alright.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And I worked the issue with them probably until August of '05 when I was getting ready to go to Iraq, I knew I was going to be deployed again, so at that point I really just had to do something.
Chair Todd Platts: Right. So-so, for about a year, you kind of worked through the regular channels without success and this is something, once you were aware of, seems pretty straight forward. You were in this country, you qualified, yet a year later, you still weren't being compensated accordingly.
LTC Kirk Zecchini: And it was a significant dollar amount too. It wasn't --
Chair Todd Platts: Roughly, round number?
LTC Kirk Zecchini: As I recall, it was a couple thousand dollars allowances.
Again, main point regarding waste and oversight: It can't be determined because the DoD can't be truly audited with so many problems with regards to their records. Main point with regards to those who are serving, it is a battle just to get paid and to be paid what you've earned.
From the Congress, to the north, Michael Bell is a former Canadian diplomat of many years and now is Professor Bell at the University of Windsor where he focuses on the Middle East. From time to time, he also writes a column for the Globe & Mail. Today he weighs in on Iraq:
The Americans had sufficient control and influence to prevent a rout in Iraq, but as that control dissipated and their efforts at democratization became increasingly problematic, they changed horses. Since their departure, they have devoted their best efforts to helping Mr. Maliki consolidate Iraq as a viable state player because of its geostrategic importance, despite his increasingly well-documented abuses. Barack Obama's administration is proceeding, reluctantly, with the sale to Iraq of more than $10-billion in military equipment, much of which is serviceable for control and intimidation. Mr. Maliki has increasingly used the power of the state to consolidate his own autocracy, accused by human-rights groups of intimidation, corruption, deceit, torture and cronyism. Witness the arrest warrant issued for his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Witness his son and deputy chief of staff Ahmed, reputed to be the most powerful person in his entourage. Anyone deemed a threat is at risk for their lives in Mr. Maliki's Iraq.
And that's Iraq today. Don't expect to hear about those realities from the White House. Tareq al-Hashemi is Sunni and is a member of Iraqiya -- the political slate who won the March 2010 elections but Nouri having the White House's backing meant that elections in Iraq didn't matter, that what the people wanted didn't matter, that 'democracy' was as much a pretense under Barack Obama as it was under Bully Boy Bush. Tareq al-Hashemi was in the semi-autonomous Kuridsh region of Iraq when Nouri al-Maliki issued a warrant for his arrest. He has remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Baghdad has repeatedly demanded that he be handed over. It's cute to watch Nouri not get his way for once. (At least so far.) al-Hashemi has noted that Nouri controls the Baghdad judiciary and that he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad (which is correct as evidenced by nine Baghdad judges pronouncing al-Hahsemi guilty last month despite the fact that no trial had taken place -- the Iraqi Constitution makes it the law that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, that's not a slogan, that's not a bumper sticker, it's written into the Iraqi Constitution, it is the law -- the very same law the judges are supposed to be upholding but clearly either ignore or are ignorant of). al-Hashemi has asked that the trial be held in Kirkuk.
Since December, those working for Tareq al-Hashemi have been rounded up by Nouri's forces. At the end of January, Amnesty International was calling for the Baghdad government "to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president. Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges." Yesterday, al-Hashemi noted that his bodyguard had died and stated that it appeared he had died as a result of torture.
Alsumaria notes Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling for the international community to call out the death of his bodyguard, Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi, who died after being imprisoned for three months. al-Hashemi has stated the man was tortured to death. The photo Alsumaria runs of the man's legs (only the man's legs) appear to indicate he was tortured, welts and bruises and scars. They also report that the Baghdad Operations Command issued a statement today insisting that they had not tortured al-Batawi and that he died of chronic renal. They also insist that he was taken to the hospital for medical treamtent on March 7th and died March 15th. Renal failure would be kidney failure. And that's supposed to prove it wasn't torture?
If you work for an outlet that just spits out what you are told and didn't actually learn a profession, yes. Anyone with half a brain, however, apparently that's half more than the average journalist possess today knows to go to science. The Oxford Journal is scientific. This is from the Abstract for GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" from 1994:
Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.
Out of that group? 29 did live. Five died. I don't think the Baghdad Command Operations created any space between them and the charge with their announcement of renal failure as the cause of death. But, hey, I went to college and studied real topics -- like the law and political science and sociology and philosophy -- and got real degrees not glorified versions of a general studies degree with the word "journalism" slapped on it. So what do I know?
A bit more than Salam Faraj (AFP) who not only gets the cause of death wrong -- BCO issued a press release, kidney failure is layman's term, the press release uses renal failure, don't interpret, report, don't improve, be factual. I thought there were some guidelines for reporters but apparently reporting's nothing more than a creative writing class and a whim. He refused treatment, Faraj wants to introduce into the record. When? Because Faraj can't even give you the damn dates from the BCO press release -- such as March 7th al-Batawi was taken to the hospital. These are things that should be in the report. Their absences means AFP is more into gossip than reporting and also makes AFP look really stupid to anyone who can read Arabic and wonder why AFP missed all the details of this story -- details contained in a public press release? It's cute to that March 15th isn't there in the report either. But AFP does want you to know that on March 18th, the body was handed over to the family -- the family that AFP didn't talk to. It's something, but heaven help us all of that passes for solid reporting. Someone denies torture and says, oh, cause of death was . . . It's incumbent upon you to look into that given cause and its relationship to torture if it has any. If you didn't do that, you didn't do any reporting. You did stenography. Nothing more.
AP offers a much briefer account and does a far better job. They also note that Iraqiya MP Salman al-Jumaili has called today for an investigation and is stating that human rights organizations should also be examining the death. Reuters also does a better job than AFP but you have to wonder if all the 'additional details' (embellishments and filigree?) that the government keeps adding aren't being tracked and noted. Example, originally, it was stated he was taken to one hospital. That was by the Baghdad Command Operations in their official press release. Later in the day, the Supreme Judicial Council spokesperson Abdul-Sattar al-Briqdar stated "he was sent to several hospitals." Why did the number change? Why is the spokesperson weighing in? Has the Supreme Judicial Council conducted an investigation? If so, did they complete it rather fast? Wasn't the body turned over to the family too soon for an autopsy? Wouldn't an autopsy be needed for a spokesperson for the courts to pontificate at such length and with such certainty?
Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is said to be planning to present a memorandum to the Arab Summit (due to be held in Baghdad at the end of this month) which will detail a number of unresolved and internal issues including Iranian threats to Iraqi forces, human rights violations and the refusal to implement the Erbil Agreement. In addition, they plan to address the lack of national partnership. Alsumaria notes this plan as well and quotes a spokesperson for Iraqiya stating that the Arab League Summit is supposed to be a discussion of Arab peoples and therefore the issue is pertinent and valid. Dar Addustour notes that there is supposed to be (another) prep committee meeting on the national conference to address the political crisis this coming Sunday.
Yesterday Lale Kemal (Today's Zaman) reported, "An advisor to a senior Turkish state official quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as telling US President Barack Obama following the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq in late December of last year that 'you [US] left Iraq in the hands of Iran once you withdrew'." Alsumaria TV notes that Turkish warplanes bombed Arbil Province. Dar Addustour reports a woman and her four children were slaughtered in Saffron and that security checks are being carried out -- apparently door-to-door searches -- in the neighborhood (all five were killed by a knife or knives). Iraqi youths continue to be targeted for being Emo and/or gay or for being thought to be one or both. Al Jazeera has a very strong overview of the issue (link is photos, text and videos) and we'll grab that topic tomorrow (and I'm saying that here to make sure that happens, we'll also grab a Jane Arraf weekend report that I've had to keep pushing back and pushing back).
Oh and those other Iraqis -- a throw away line -- who sacrificed their lives. In other words, you know, American lives are all that count here, you know, American chauvinism and support for the American military that's carrying out illegal, unjust and immoral wars and committing War Crimes. So, anyway, with that, I am glad to be talking about Iraq. You know, we can't erase the memory of Iraq, of what happened there and the lessons we should be learning. And I agree -- I like David's point: "No, repeat the lies that were told. Let the people know.' But you know, I thought about it, it's just -- my book actually deals with the history of US and British intervention in Iraq since the 1920s. It goes through the Iran-Iraq War, the sanctions. It's interesting because now there's a big thing about the IAEA and Iran, right? Well you if you read my book, you'll find out the IAEA was involved in planning coup de'etats and assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course, that's not mentioned. But anyway, so I-I-I think it's very important to ponder the real lessons of Iraq. And that's what I want to do today. And not feel, "Oh, well." You know, this is reflected in our attendence here. "Oh, that's over with. Let's move on." Or let's move no where. We really -- The Iraq War is incredibly revealing of the nature of this system, the illegitimacy of the entire system and the need for fundamental change and revolution if you stop and think about this. And that's what I want to reflect on a little bit here today. So,first of all, what I want to start out with is a quote which I think -- I want to deconstruct this. This is from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian who is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party that I support, I write for its newspaper Revolution. He writes, "The essence of what exists in the US is not democracy but capitalism, imperalism and political structures to enforce that capitalism and imperalism." What the US spreads around the world is not democracy, the imperalism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." So just think about that. Not democracy, but capitalism, imperialism, political structures to support it. We didn't vote for the Iraq War, if you remember. And when the Iraq War began, 15 million people around the world and I mean hundreds of thousands in this country went out to the biggest protest since sometime in the sixties. 'Oh, that's a focus group.' Never mind. In other words, the political structures were not in anyway reflective of what people needed or want, they reflected the needs of capitalism and imperalism. That's what they were doing. Did the war reflect the consent of the governed? "Oh, here's what we're going to do in Iraq. Would you like us to do that?" No, it's -- as David pointed out -- one lie after another. And I liked your ten lies because it is hard to get how contorted and inflated and all this: 'No, Saddam Hussein's a Sunni and he's a secular ruler but, no, he's in bed with al Qaeda, the Islamic fundamentalists who, by the way, hate him.' And never mind, so we heard it on Fox News. You know, what about the so-called free press? That's supposed to be a pillar of democracy. It wasn't just that they repeated lies, they suppressed anyone who spoke the truth. Phil Donahue? Gone. [. . .] And then what does that say about the nature of that system? In other words, this quote I read, what the essence of what exists points to the fact that the economic base of society, the capitalistic system, is what sets the terms, not public opinion, not the interests of people, not how you vote, none of that. The system is determined and the terms are set by the needs of this capitalist, imperialist system and the political structures serve them. And what are the needs of that system? This is a system that demands global exploitation of labor -- go see the Mike Daisey Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs, Apple and all their parts made in China and so on and so forth. And it demands control of resources. It demands control of markets. And all of this is enforced how? By military bases. 732 military based in what -- 120 or 130 countries and one war or intervention after another -- by violence. And this is how the system actually functions, this is how it works. And this is actually what was behind the Iraq War because a lot of people realize that lies were told in the Iraq War but they don't realize why the war was fought. You know, this is the biggest lie of all. And the New York Times sometimes will say, 'Well it's true that Judith Miller made a mistake in her reporting. You know, we'll leave aside the fact that all of this was deliberate, it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't bad intelligence." But what they never tell is you is: "Oh, by the way, this was a war of imperialism. Because since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we the US ruling class have realized that we have an opportunity to create an unchallenged empire across the globe because we don't face any other super powers. And if we don't seize this opportunity, our window of the unipolar moment" as they called it "would vanish and we'd be in big trouble because we have a lot of problems and contradictions in our own system and we're facing China and Russia, they could re-emerge. In fact, let's not let any regional powers rise to challenge us." And this was the driving logic behind the whole war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. A lot of people thought, "Oh, the invasion of Iraq was a 'diversion' from the 'real war on terror'." No, it wasn't. It was the perfect embodiment of the "real war on terror" which was never about catching a few dozen or a few hundred or however many there were al Qaeda or Saudi or whatever groups did the 9-11 attacks. It was about restructuring the entire Middle East and Central Asia and locking it more firmly under US domination. And, yes, defeating Islamic fundamentalism because it was creating problems for the US. This is a big reason they don't like Iran. And then using that region really as a hammer against the rest of the world. Why is the Middle East so important to the functioning of the system? And here, I do think people, I do think the capitalist class overall benefits from this. That's what keeps the wheels humming and turning. Yes, there are contractors that made some money. Sure, but that's not the essence of it because one US president after another, Democrat or Republican -- it doesn't matter, has considered the control of the Middle East central to US global power, right? This is why Israel looms so large for the US, because it's their military outpost. The Middle East, 60% of the world's energy sources. Energy is a strategic commodity that allows you -- It's not about SUVs and do consumers have good gas prices? It's about global dominance. Because if you control oil, you can shape the global economy and you can control powers that depend on oil.
Time and space permitting, I would love to highlight more of that conversation tomorrow. If that's not possible, we may grab it next week.