Thursday, March 25, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the counting of votes in Iraq continues, Bob Gates wants to talk, Congress hears about veterans' bills, and more.
Starting with Iraqi elections, The Economist states, 'With the count almost complete, it is impossible to say who will head the next Iraqi government. The electoral alliance with the most seats will have first shot at forming one -- but with no guarantee of success. The likelist contenders are the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and Iyad Allawi, one of his predecessors. But a compromise candidate could yet slip throught middl, as has happened before." On yesterday's Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton spoke with Michael Hastings about the elections:
Michael Hastings: I think Maliki's people -- you know, Maliki's party is the Dawa Party was essentially in exile for thirty until the US brought them back into power and they -- and once you have power, you want to hold onto it. And that's what this is about. This is about Maliki trying to hold onto power and using whatever sort of brinkmanship -- in this case, calling for a recount -- whatever tactic he's going to use to hold onto power. So will it result in violence? I think it's hard to say. What -- what we're seeing -- and this is sort of the argument I've been making -- is that Iraq is sort of slipping back to its more familiar authoritarianism and sort of this experiment into democracy that the Americans tried to enact over there is essentially failing and when Maliki, you know, whoever this new government is, the question is: If they're not willing to give up power when there's 90,000 Americans there and heavy American pressure on them, what's the chances of four years from now, of the next government willing to give up power peacefully? But I think these parties have shown a willingness to play chicken with the security of Iraq so they will continue to make these threats, they will continue to go as close to the edge as possible and are willing to accept a pretty high level of violence to maintain power.
Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) writes a piece exploring where things stand and he also notes the use of threats and violence:
In a more politically mature nation--say, one whose polity was not destroyed by US invasion, subsequent insurgency and then several years of horrendous civil war -- the politicians who lead those blocs could form a coalition. But in Iraq a peaceful outcome is not at all certain. The Kurds and the INA have powerful paramilitary forces, and Maliki has shown he is prepared to use the security forces to do his bidding. And Sunnis, many of whom supported the 2003-07 insurgency, could rebel again. Even if the worst is avoided in the immediate future, Iraqi politics is a Rubik's cube of which it's hard to imagine a stable, ruling alliance forming the necessary majority in the National Assembly.
Dreyfuss also rejects Colin Powell's Pottery Barn analogy and that's so long ago that some may not know the story (and some may have forgotten). War Hawk Colin -- so embarrassed by his Blot -- said of the Iraq War that the US would end up owning Iraq because it would be like the Pottery Barn rule: You broke it, you bought it.
Lizz Winstead (formerly of Air America's Unfiltered) long ago provided the walk through that's so obviously been forgotten: Pottery Barn has no such rule. (Maybe Rachel Maddow could stop making nice with War Hawk Powell's friends and remind her audience -- her tiny audience -- of what her former radio co-host long ago explained?) There is no rule of "You broke it, you bought it" at Pottery Barn. As with most things out of the mouth of Collie Powell it is oh so distantly related to the actual truth.
Having dealt with the factual, let's take a moment to deal with something else that gets a pass and no one ever calls out. Iraq is not Pottery Barn. How the hell dare Colin Powell imply that another country is Pottery Barn for the US. It's a damning revelation that everyone's avoided for 7 years now but it's Colin admitting -- use your brains -- that the Iraq War was all about foreigners getting their hands on Iraq's assets. Why else compare a country to a store where all items are on display and have price tags? Iraq was already OWNED BY THE IRAQIS.
Back to the elections, as Chaka Khan once asked, "Who's it gonna be this time/ Who's gonna be the next in line" ("Who's It Gonna Be" written by Gary Goetzman and Mike Picirillo, appears on Chaka's Destiny album). What's known today? A lot more than was known the day after the election when no results were known but that didn't stop Steve Inskeep and Quil Lawrence from gas bagging, did it? And their gas bagger? Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Red-faced embarrassment may explain why NPR -- despite Ron Elving's on air bragging -- hasn't filed from Iraq in nine days now. So we'll return to the discussion between Horton and Hastings and notice how Hastings is not afraid to say when something is not known.
Scott Horton: Basically Allawi or Maliki -- either one of them -- is going to have to align with Moqtada al-Sadr in order to become prime minister, is that right?
Michael Hastings: I think -- I think that's right. I mean, literally, this is not a dodge of the question, but you ask the most knowledgable experts on what's going to happen in terms of the Iraqi government formation process over the next few months --
Scott Horton: Right. That's what I'm doing right now. [Both laugh.]
Michael Hastings: Yeah. And I'm telling you no one -- no one -- really has a clue. And I say that not to dodge the question but because -- just look what happened last time. Last time how did Maliki get his job? Maliki got his job after six months of protracted negotiations. He was not even -- this guy was not even on the political map but he became this compromise candidate who no one had heard of before. Now this time around, uh, from my reporting, I've talked to Allawi's people, they have said that their most likely, they've already started to reach out to Sadirsts. So you could see that as a powerful alliance -- the Sadirsts joining with Allawi and possibly Hakim's people also supporting Allawi but you never know if they're going to. The question is Allawi acceptable because he has this sort of Ba'athist baggage? Will he be an acceptable pick for prime minister? Maliki has been politically isolated. He's alienated a lot of his friends, he really doesn't have too many friends left which is why I think he's so adament about a recount and trying to make the case that he, you know, he's the legitimate leader of the country so no matter what the results are, he's going to stay in power. So I think -- but then you have the Kurds come in. You know, who are they going to support? They don't like Maliki right now and they could probably live with Allawi. So-so really there are all sorts of combinations. We might -- the next prime minister could be someone we've never heard of. That's a possiblity.
Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) sees the (unofficial) results thus far as indicative of "a deeply fragmented Iraq in which sectarian interests remain paramount." She also reports that the Minister of the Interior called for the vote tally not to be released tomorrow; however, the electoral "commission refused to postpone the results." To rule, one of the two parties (presuming they maintain their positions in the official count) must form a power-sharing relationship with other political parties. That requires trades and meet ups. Qassim Khidhir Hamad (Niqash) reports:
In just ten days, Eyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya alliance, twice visited the Kurdistan Region and met the region's president, Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd.
Kurdish officials described the meetings as 'consultative'. they say no decision has yet been made over which side to ally with in the formation of the new government.
"Kurds have two conditions for its post-election coalition partner. First, the partner should have faith in article 140 of the constitution relating to the disputed areas and second, Kurds should be the main partner in the next government."
Many political parties and slates competed for votes in Iraq's March 7th election and among them was the Ahrar Party which issued the following today:
Ahrar challenges validity of election results
In a letter to world leaders including Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, Ayad Jamal Aldin formally contested the conduct of the Independent High Electoral Commission and called for a recount in the votes under the supervision of Supreme Judicial Council, Ministry of Justice, United Nations and the Arab League representatives.
Read an excerpt of the letter below, and the full text here.
As a political party we have a duty to ensure that the recent electoral vote within Iraq represents the people of Iraq's true opinions and their votes are counted accurately.
Currently, we do not believe this has happened and on behalf of my party, and all the people of Iraq, I want to formally challenge the recent election results.
The Electoral Commission has demonstrated a lack of independence throughout the election process epitomised by their decision to reduce the official campaigning time to just three weeks. For other candidates this represents an unacceptable interference from the Institute of Justice and Accountability.
In addition to this, a number of Iraqi political parties, including Ahrar Party, were subjected to malicious and violent acts of hostility by entities who are in power and other religious political parties who took advantage of their position in government and religious authorities and worship places.
The most concerning from my party's point of view are the witness statements of the voters who declared that on the 7th March, after they closed all the ballots, the results of each station were shown on the wall of each centre. At this point the total votes for AHRAR was 690,000 however now the Election Commission is declaring that Ahrar achieved only 44,995 votes. This is deeply concerning.
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942
About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.
Violence continues in Iraq.
Reuters notes a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left five people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured a police officer and a child, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 "commander in a government-backed local militia" and left "two of his follwers" injured, a Kirkuk grenade attack which injured two police officer, a Ramadi bombing which injured three police officers and, dropping back to yesterday, a suicide bombing in Hit in which the bomer took his own life as well as the lives of 3 additional people and three more were injured.
Reuters notes 2 women shot dead in a Baghdad home invasion.
Turning to the United States where US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held a press conference today at the Pentagon and a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee held a hearing. We'll start with actual news. This morning, US House Rep Michael Michaud called to order the Subcommittee On Health so that they could review pending bills. The first panel was made up of members of Congress including the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Bob Filner.
Us House Rep Bob Filner: Mr. Chairman, we thank you for your leadership on this Subcomittee and for your fine working relationship with [Ranking Member] Mr. [Henry] Brown. I appreciate the leadership that both of you have given and I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say we appreciate the opportunity to talk about our legislation before you, so thank you for that. The bill that I am speaking on, HR 949, would improve the collective bargaining rights and procedures for reviews of adverse actions of certain VA employees. This bill is all about ensuring equity amongst the health care professionals employed by VA so that providers such as doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, optomerists and podiatrists who are hired under the so-called "pure title 38" system have the same rights -- the same rights as their fellow VA health care professionals who are hired under different hiring systems. Without this bill, the "pure title 38" providers do not have the right to challenge errors in pay computations and lack other key bargaining rights enjoyed by their colleagues at the VA. To address this problem, HR 949 would clarify that these "pure title 38" providers have equal rights -- equal rights -- to collective bargaining. This means that they would be able to challenge personnel actions through such methods as grievances, arbitrations and labor-management negotiations. This bill would also require the VA to review the adverse presonnel action and issue a final decision, no later than 60 days after the employee appeals the adverse personnel action. Finally the bill would subject the VA's final decision on employee appealed adverse personnel action to judicial review in the appropriate US District Court or the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. I know that the VA has concerns , I know that they are in discussions with stakeholders and I am looking forward to working with all of them as we move forward on this piece of legislation.
These hearings allow Congressional members to present their bills to the subcommittee or committee and allow the VA to provide testimony and any others that the Congress might chose to hear from. US House Rep Steve Scalise is a representative from Louisiana and he is sponosring HR 1075 which would address continuation of medical care should a disaster close a VA hospital -- as happened with the New Orleands VA Medical Center as a result of Hurricane Katrina. US House Rep Leonard L. Boswell is sponsoring HR 3926. Boswell took a moment to recognize his legislative director Alexis Taylor who is an Iraq War veteran and he explained discovery the need for this bill when Taylor "went back to Iowa for a five-year post-deployment reunion with her unit and others and one of the women at the reunion had returned home from serving her country and was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy at age 25. Through the course of the night, the service members at the reunion were able to piece together, talk to one another, about six women they were deployed with who had come back from their deployment in Iraq with breast cancer -- all between the ages of 25 to 35 years old. Also, there were another half dozen women who returned with new lumps in their breasts that needed additional tests such as mammograms, ultrasounds and/or biopsies. With 70 women deployed in a battallion of about 700, this incidence rate in young women seemed high and alarming as Alexis brought this to my attention." His bill calls for a study on breast cancer within the service and within veterans to determine whether the rate is higher among the military and whether breast cancer might be a service connected disability? Boswell noted that he personally believes it is. He also explained how, during Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange and suffers many health issues as a result and feels that the Congress needs to be on top of this issue now and not waiting as was the case with recognition of the effects of Agent Orange. "If we could do something about it," he declared, "and we don't, shame on us."
US House Rep Virginia Brown-Waite is sponsoring HR 84 which is concerned with the lengthy wait involved in seeing a doctor and calls for timely appointments and eliminating delays.
US House Rep Virginia Brown-Waite: In September 2007, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that the Veterans Health Administration's method of calculating waiting times of new patients understates the real waiting times. In this report, the Inspector General made five recommendations to reduce these wait times. To date, four of these five recommendations remain unresolved. When I first was elected to Congress, I inquired about wait times from my local VA community, out-based clincis and hospitals. The numbers the VA gave me both for VISN 8 and nationwide quite honestly did not match the stories that I was hearing from my veterans. I challenged them on it and I told them that I was going to be in their offices watching and waiting and talking to individuals. What was happening was, they were making the appointments within 30 days but then, around the 20th day, they'd call and change the appointment to a later date so it would be maybe 40, maybe 50 days.
US House Rep Gabrielle Giffords is sponsoring HR 2698 and 2699 which are both concerned with treatment for PTSD. The first would provide a scholarship to train VA workers and allow veterans to access PTSD health care at the VAs even if -- especially if -- the PTSD is newly emerging/manifesting. The first bill would put more and better trained workers in the VA and allow the veterans greater access to treatment. The second bill would create pilot pograms that would provide treatment but also track feedback from the veterans and their families in order to devise better treatments. US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick is from Arizona and "my district is home to 11 tribal communities spread out across an area larger than 26 states and yet it is served by only one VA medical center." HR 4006 is one of the bills she is sponsoring.
If at all possible, we'll cover -- even if it's only one tiny section -- something from the subcommittee hearing US House Rep John Hall chaired yesterday. It went on too late to make it into yesterday's snapshot and there's not room for it today.
Moving to Sec Gates' Pentagon briefing today where he declared:
In February, I established a high-level working group to review the issues associated with implementing a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and to develop recommendations for implementation should the law change. At the same time, I directed the department to conduct a review of how the militiary implements the current policy, and, within 45 days, present to me recommended changes that would enforce the existing law in a fairer and more appropriate manner. Today I have approved a series of changes to the implementation of the current statute. They were developed with the full participation of the department's senior civilian and military leadership and the changes are unanimously supported by [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman [Mike] Mullen, Vice Chairman [James] Cartwright and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Department's General Counsel, Jeh Johnson, and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel have also concluded that these changes are consisten with the existent Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. These changes reflect some of the insights we have gained over 17 years of implementing the current law -- including the need for consistency, oversight and clear standards. The changes are as follows.  We will raise the level of the officer who is authorized to initiate a fact-finding inquiry or separation proceeding regarding homosexual conduct to a general or flag officer in the service member's chain of command.  We will raise the level of the person who is authorized to conduct a fact-finding inquiry to the level of lieutenant colonel, navy commander or above.  We will raise the level of the officer who is authorized to begin an inquiry or separation proceeding by, for example, specifying that information provided by third parties should be given under oath and by discouraging the use of overheard statements and hearsay.  We will revise what constitutes a "reliable person," upon whose word an inquiry could be initiated with special scrutiny on third parties who may be motivated to harm the service member. Finally, certain categories of confidential information will no longer be used in support of discharges including [a] information provided to lawyers, clergy and psychotherapists, [b] information provided to a medical professional in furtherance of medical treatment or a public-health official in the course of a public-health inquiry, [c] information provided in the course of seeking professional assistance for domestic or physical abuse and [d] information obtained in the course of security-clearing investigations in accordance with existing DoD policies. The services will have 30 days to conform their regulations to these changes. Meanwhile these modifications will take effect immediately and will apply to all open and future cases. In effect this means that all separations from this point forward will take place under the revised regulation. I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice -- above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved. Of course only Congress can repeal the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell statute. It remains the law and we are obligated to enforce it. At the same time, these changes will allow us to execute the law in a fairer and more appropriate manner. The work of the DoD working group chaired by Mr. Johnson and Gen Carter Ham continues. As i told the Congress in February, I am determined that we in the Dept carry out the president's directive on Don't Ask, Don't Tell in a professional and thorough way. I look forward to the continued progress of the working group as they undertake their important task in weeks and months ahead.
The announcement offers damn little to cheer but it does indicate the pressure the administration is finally start to recognize and feel. Last week, Lt Dan Choi and Capt Jim Piertrangelo chained themselves to the White House fence to protest Barack Obama's refusal to keep his campaign promise and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After entering not guilty pleas last Friday, the two left the court and Choi made a statement.
Lt Dan Choi: There are other people who are oppressed that have the chains on them in their hearts. There were many times when people would say when you go and get arrested, it's difficult because your hands are restrained and the movement is a little bit stymied or halted on the physical level. But it is my hope that the larger movement, even with the chains on it, will do nothing but grow to the point where it cannot be controlled by anything but that freeing and that dignified expression of getting arrested for what you know is absolutely morally right. There was no freer moment than being in that prison. It was freeing for me and I thought of all the other people that were still trapped, that were still handcuffed and fettered in their hearts and we might have been caged up physically but the message was very clear to all of the people who think that equality can be purchased with a donation or with a cocktail party or with tokens that are serving in a public role. We are worth more than tokens. We have absolute value. And when the person who is oppressed by his own country wants to find out how to get his dignity back, being chained up and being arrested, that's how you get your dignity conferred back on you. So I think that my actions, my call, is to every leader -- not just gay leaders, I'm talking any leader who believes in America, that the promises of America can be manifest. We're going to do it again. And we're going to keep doing it until the promises are manifest and we will not stop. This is a very clear message to President Obama and any other leader who supposes to talk for the American promise and the American people, we will not go away .
Who stood with them? (Backstory, US House Rep Barney Frank revealed the administration was not pushing to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's what led to the White House fence action.) Who stood with them?
The Center for Constitutional Rights used to brag in their BAD ASS BUSH YEARS that they didn't whine, they got active. So did CCR publicly stand with Dan Choi? Hell no. Hell _____ no. You can't stand from a kneelling position, someone tell CCR. What about our radical friends at the National Lawyers Guild? Did they issue a release supporting Choi? Nope. Like their noted alumni John Conyers, they talk a good game when things are easy. It was real easy for John Conyers to talk impeachment when the Democrats weren't in power. They get into power and John asks, "How far does my leash go, Nancy?" And Pelosi snaps her fingers and he drops to the floor and rolls over so she can scratch his belly. And as pathetic as John is (has karma hit the home life?), even more pathetic was how stupid he thought Americans were. We can and will, he would insist, impeach Bush after he's out of office. There's nothing to stop us, he would maintain, from impeaching Bush after he's out of office. John Conyers. What a sad, sad way to go out of public life. And will the defense be (the rumor is the current criminal charges may spread beyond the spouse) be: "I'm just a senile old man married to a young woman and I don't know what the hell she was doing, your Honor"? Fun times. Like Conyers, NLG couldn't speak out because speaking out required holding the White House accountable. You can't stand while you're on your back, boys and girls. The joke that is Amnesty International USA? That's funny. Friends with Amnesty in other countries ask what's up with our Amnesty? What's up? They're the 'independent' and 'non-partisan' organization that turned their website over to glorify the deity that thought they saw in Barack Obama. Like many a false god, he let them down -- hence the loss of their cute little graphic about Barry O and his 100 days. Amnesty, you'll never be able to speak with something rammed down you throat -- you know what I'm saying. So did anyone speak up for Dan Choi? Yeah, acutally, one organization stood with him publicly. (LGBT organizations have stood with him -- though not the cowardly HRC -- but I'm not talking about that. On the left, we either stand with each other or we allow them to turn us against one another. Dan Choi and others are fighting for basic dignity and our humanity as a nation. Everyone should have been on board.) So the only one to get on board was . . . NOW.
The National Organization for Women joins Lieutenant Dan Choi, Captain Jim Pietrangelo and equal rights advocates around the country in demanding President Obama act immediately to suspend the military's discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prevents LGBT service members from serving openly. Lt. Choi and Capt. Pietrangelo were arrested March 19 after chaining themselves to the fence of the White House in protest of the policy, under which Choi faces discharge and Pietrangelo was discharged. The policy has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,500 service members since its inception in 1994. An estimated 66,000 LGBT people currently serve in the military
The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has a disproportionate impact on women in the military, according to the Service Women's Action Network. Sexual harassment of military women often takes the form of lesbian baiting; and in 2008, 34 percent of service members discharged were women, although women make up only 15 percent of military personnel.
"The Department of Defense doesn't need to study this issue any longer," NOW President Terry O'Neill said. "Extensive research has already been done. Equality and justice are on the line. Instead of wasting time on another study, NOW calls on President Obama to immediately suspend Don't, Ask Don't Tell, Congress to repeal the policy and the DOD to focus on implementing the discontinuation without further delay."
"Delaying implementation until December 2010 is unnecessary," O'Neill continued. "Every day that this unjust policy continues is another day of discrimination that leads to the military's loss of valuable service members and the needless disruption of their careers and lives."
"Leadership from NOW joined Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Pietrangelo on Friday for their arraignments after the two men spent the night in a cell filled with cockroaches -- all for peacefully demonstrating for the repeal of this extremely unjust and unnecessary policy," O'Neill said. "NOW commends all LGBT service members for their contributions to this country and demands the immediate repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
NOW stood with Dan. CCR? They just soiled their diapers and cried like the little babies they've now become. If you missed that earlier ad, from their Bad Ass Bush Years, click here because Mike posted it at his site back in 2006 when CCR actually was worth praise.
Good for NOW and good for their president. Terry's standing up when everyone else is crumpling or playing silent. And, since it is the month for it, let's note the obvious: Of course it would take a woman to lead. Of course. Praise for Terry.
As Cedric and Wally noted, Barry O's trying to sell ObamaCare in Iowa -- apparently the economy can continue to wait. Community posts last night covered a theme so be sure to check out Elaine's " What Have They Done To The Rain?," Mike's "What's my age again?," Marcia's "Erotic City," Ruth's "Venus," Rebecca's "american pie," Betty's "Silly," Ann's "Silly," Trina's "You Keep Me Hangin' On," Stan's "Wishes" and Kat's "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)." The theme involved music and, online, you can stream Joanne Newsom's March 23rd concert at NPR. Kat reviewed Newsom's new album (Have One On Me) last month. In May of 2006, Kat praised Josh Ritter's The Animal Years. Tomorrow at noon EST, Josh Ritter performs live on NPR's World Cafe.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
In the debate over energy resources, natural gas is often considered a