Saturday, July 20, 2019

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, July 20, 2019.  Another VA scandal, the US State Dept 'honors' a murdered person by forgetting to name them, and we look some more at the Senate's Iraq hearing.

Yesterday on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Ari Shapiro explained the latest VA scandal, "The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent more than $25 million to help people with spina bifida, a debilitating spinal cord disease. Now, prosecutors say nearly 20 million of that money went to one fraudulent scheme led by a man who coordinated seven shell companies."

THE DAILY BEAST's Seamus Hughes joined the program to discuss the VA's Joseph Prince who ran a Denver call center.

HUGHES: And families of kids with spina bifida would call, and they would request services and reimbursement. And he would direct them towards the right folks. The right folks in this scenario were seven companies that he set up with his wife, his half-sister and a bunch of friends.

SHAPIRO: They were, in fact, the wrong folks.

HUGHES: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: And what happened to the families of children with spina bifida once they were directed to these shell companies?

HUGHES: So what they would do is get paid about $15 to $16 an hour for taking care of their sick children, and then these companies would charge the VA $146. Allegedly, they would pocket the rest of the money, and then they would kick back Joseph Price something north of $1.5 million.

SHAPIRO: Has anyone other than Price been charged in this case?

HUGHES: One other individual - he's going to plead out next week.

SHAPIRO: And yet, with seven shell companies, you would have to think this must not be over.

HUGHES: Yeah. I think you're talking about a massive investigation. In fact, they've filed 40 seizure notices to seven different companies and a bunch of different bank accounts. I think it's still ongoing.

SHAPIRO: Did this affect the people who are struggling with this debilitating spinal cord disease?

HUGHES: You know, they thought that when they called Joseph Price, they would get someone who would help them. And in many ways, he directed them - he said, you know, here's a form. Here's the company you should use. It made it easy for them, but in actuality, he's - you know, it's basically a scheme. He used these individuals and tricked them and made something that should've been an easy thing in their life a lot harder.

[. . .]

SHAPIRO: Almost $20 million - that's a lot of money. How did Joseph Prince spend this?

HUGHES: So if you look at the seizure notice that's been filed in court records, you know, you had some folks of part of this scheme spending $120,000 on furniture, another $30,000 in plastic surgery, paying off student loans, buying houses, beachfront property.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about where the VA sits in all of this because the Veterans Affairs Department has had a lot of scandals, and this is yet another.

HUGHES: It is yet another. Now, we should note that this was investigated with the VA inspector general's office. The concern here is that this scheme went on for at least a year, and so the tripwires didn't happen until $18 million had already left the stables. And so you would hope that they set up some sort of system so that they don't have to wait 365 days till they figure out what's happening.

SHAPIRO: The question is, if somebody like Joseph Prince was allegedly able to do this, is somebody else doing it with a different fund for a different disease?

HUGHES: Exactly. I mean, it raises questions about oversight. It raises questions about whether there is enough checks and balances in the system.

SHAPIRO: He allegedly did that, according to prosecutors.

Click here for the report Hughes did with Lachlan Markay for THE DAILY BEAST.

Yet another VA scandal. 

Congress is supposed to provide oversight.  Supposed to.

Wednesday, we noted some of the hearing entitled  "Iraq: A Crossroads of US Policy."  The hearing was held by the Near East Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator Mitt Romney is the Subcommittee Chair and Senator Chris Murphy is the Ranking Member.   Appearing before the Subcommittee was the State Dept's Joan Polaschik (Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs) and the Defense Dept's Michael P. Mulroy (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East).

Mitt Romney spent his time largely noting -- and lamenting -- Iraq's oil and other "significant natural resources" and the failure "to exploit them."  He also moaned over a $53 billion deal ExxonMobil had that had been "placed on hold."

The hearing existed to pivot for continued war yet again.  Even ISIS isn't enough to justify US troops for the Senate these days so they have a new rationale to keep US troops on the ground in Iraq -- to neutralize the influence from neighboring Iran.

I'd noted that we'd cover the amount of State staffers in Baghdad next time so let's pick up there.

Ranking Member Chris Murphy:  . . . something that I want you to address which is a report over the weekend -- a really disturbing report suggesting that the Embassy in Baghdad is down to 15 functional, political staffers.  Help me understand the conundrum that I laid out in my opening remarks which is how do we maintain our political mission in Baghdad if we have pulled so many of our personnel out of Baghdad if we are down to 15 functioning, political staffers in Baghdad.  And if we were able to maintain a full diplomatic corp there during the height of the Iraq War in the 2000s, why can't we do the same today?  The report from this weekend suggests that this is a permanent decision that we -- that State has made a decision that they are going to keep these low level staff for a -- for a time uncertain.  So given that report, I was wondering if you could clarify some of that for the Committee today?

 Joan Polaschik: Of course.  First, I'd like to go back a couple of months to early May where we faced a very serious, specific, credible threat stream against US personnel in Iraq and that threat stream has not diminished.  It's still there.  So that was the reason that Embassy Baghdad requested authorization to go to go to ordered departure status and the Secretary of State approved that on May 14th.  This is a temporary situation.  Ordered departure is something that is done in thirty day increments.  We constantly evaluate the situation looking closely at the threat information that we have and the personnel on the ground to make sure that we've got the right-right fit.  And the Secretary just renewed the ordered departure status on July 12th for another thirty days.  I would prefer not to into specific numbers of personnel that we have on the ground in this open setting but I would be very, very happy to brief you later.  I would note again though that this is just a temporary decision.  We have not made any decisions to permanently withdraw our staff.  We are constantly evaluating the situation.  And it is certainly the hope that we are able to have a maximum presence on the ground in order to achieve all of the important objectives that we have.

Senator Chris Murphy:  Without -- Certainly, without getting into the classified threat assessment, I think it's -- I think it's hard to suggest that the threat is higher today than it was during the height of the insurgency and the fighting in and around Baghdad.  And so while I would never second guess security decisions, I would hope that if there is a long term decision made to have lower levels of staffing there that we start to think about how to increase security so that we can return to some level of political functionality.  Because if we don't, if we maintain a dozen or two dozen political staffers there, it is an invitation for ISIS to re-emerge because we are not there helping Iraqis do the hard lift of political reconciliation that ultimately protects our interests against the future rise of ISIS or a follow on organization.  So I-I-I understand how sensitive this is because you're talking about the lives of American personnel there but the risk of a longterm political withdrawal from Baghdad could, in the end, cost as many American lives as we are saving in the short run.  And that's just something that I hope the State Dept is contemplating.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The State Dept and the Defense Dept are trying yet again to do what they've tried for 16 years now and counting -- have the puppet government put down roots.  It's not supported by the people.  That's the real reason that US troops remain in Iraq.  The puppet government remains unpopular and it also remains corrupt and ineffective which only increases its unpopularity.

But that's who the US government has elected to get into bed with.

"I would say that we're partners," insisted  Joan Polaschik  to Senator Tim Kaine.  Of course, she also said with a straight fact that "This Iraqi government in particular has made it very clear that it's -- it is intent upon, uh, ensuring Iraq's sovereignty, it's independence, uh, it's unified democratic status."

Wow.  They're clear on that, are they?  But then we've heard that every four years about each of the puppet governments.  It's never come to fruition because they really don't want a unified democrat nation.  They are Shi'ite cowards who fled Iraq and only returned after the US invaded.  The US government keeps putting these cowards in charge and these cowards come with a huge chip on their shoulder and are unable to move Iraq forward because, among other things, they are out for vengeance, determined to settle old scores -- real and imagined.

Senator Tim Kaine: And the current government continues to want US engagement as they pursue that strategy, correct?

 Joan Polaschik: Absolutely.  We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

Senator Tim Kaine: Mr. Mulroy, how would you describe the relationship?

Michael P. Mulroy: I completely agree, sir, it's a partnership.  And I think -- I think they would actually say the same thing specific to the government of Iraq.  If you look at the president, Barham Salih, used to be the chairman of the, uh, American University in Salahuddin and I think most of my colleagues have known him for 10 or 15 years in the Dept of Defense.  The prime minister is very similar relationships.  Uh, the Speaker of the House, [Mohamed] al-Halbousi, he worked very closely with us when he was the governor of Anbar and many of us know him.  So it's, uh, I think they talk to us pretty bluntly and I think we know what they're saying when they're saying it and I think that we both view this as a longterm partnership because we have been together so long.

 Let's move over to another continuing problem, the Turkish government's violation of Iraqi sovereignty.  This has taken place over and over, year after year.  From time to time, an Iraqi official, usually the Foreign Affairs Minister, will speak out against Turkey bombing northern Iraq or Turkey's military entering northern Iraq.  Turkey doesn't care and the US government sticks its head in the dirt.

Wednesday's snapshot noted that a Turkish diplomat and two other people were killed at an Erbil restaurant.  The diplomat was Osman Kose.  The Turkish government is attempting to use this killing to justify even bolder violations of Iraq's sovereignty.  ALJAZEERA reported, "Turkey on Thursday launched an air attack on the Kurdish region in northern Iraq in response to the killing of a Turkish diplomat in the region, the country's defence minister said."  DEUTSCHE WELLE noted:

Turkey carried out an airstrike on Iraqi Kurdistan on Thursday in retaliation for the killing of a Turkish diplomat in the region, the Defense Ministry said Friday.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the airforce had "launched the most comprehensive air operation on Qandil," a difficult-to-reach area of Northern Iraq where the Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has its headquarters, according to the AFP news agency.

Retaliation?  Don't we just love governments that act like the mafia?

Back and forth, back and forth, no one breaks the cycle because apparently there are no grown ups in the room.

Turkish citizens attack tourists wearing Kurdistan scarves Nine tourists from northern Iraq were attacked by residents of Turkey’s north-eastern province of Trabzon while having their photo taken with scarves on which the word Kurdistan is written, Gazete Duvar news portal …

The US government Tweeted about the attack.  We'll note that and the only response the Tweet has received.

There's something really sad and embarrassing when the US State Dept's spokesperson -- currently Morgan Ortagus -- Tweets to express sympathy over a death and can't even name the person who was killed.  Did no one notice that?  Did no one ask, "Hey, Morgan, you're Tweeting a sympathy Tweet on Saturday, three days after the man was shot dead, and you're not even going to include his name in the Tweet?"  Again, his name was Osman Kose.

ALJAZEERA reports:

The main suspect in the killing of a Turkish diplomat in the Iraqi city of Erbil has been arrested, authorities in semi-autonomous Kurdish region have announced.
"The Kurdistan Region announced on Saturday the arrest of a man who planned the assassination of a Turkish diplomat in a restaurant in Erbil, less than a week after the attack," the Asayish internal security service said in a statement.

The following sites updated:

July 19th Issue Now Available Drum Crops World

Dear Reader,

As the schedule of U.S. drum corps competitions has reached its halfway point, every corps has now appeared on the field as of July 14.  Props and costumes are the order of the day for the majority of organizations competing in DCI and even the more traditional DCA units.

Unfortunately, several shows were canceled by storms or turned in to standstills and even the drill-less productions are enjoyable for fans and offer an opportunity to present musical segments in a more intimate situation that features soloists, the complexity of percussion and music arrangements, and giving fans a close-up look at the members.

The season continues toward season-ending championships and I’m ready for more and so are thousands of fans scattered across the land!

We’re well on our way to covering more than 50% of the shows scheduled worldwide for the 2019 season.  Of course, that will include championships in the U.S., Europe and Indonesia going into the fall months.

I have begun creating two-page photo spreads on shows that don’t have a staff member assigned to write.  Over the course of the summer, I will accumulate somewhere in excess of 4,000 photos from the 25 photographers scattered across the U.S. and Europe, so this is a way to showcase more of their efforts than simple using material that fits into a show review.  There are way too many great shots to share with you.
Steve Vickers
Drum Corps World
An image

I am joining the protests in Puerto Rico

TULSI 2020

Yesterday, I touched down in San Juan to stand with hundreds of thousands of protesters calling on Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.
Thousands of people have been protesting nonstop for a week now. And the only responses they’ve gotten are dismissive platitudes from the Governor ignoring their cries for an end to corruption.
These protests are about so much more than offensive language in leaked chats. They’re about more than the Governor and his associates’ elitist attitudes. They’re about rampant corruption within Puerto Rico’s government that pretends to serve the interests of its people but instead exploits them, over and over again for profits and power. It is this blatant corruption that undermines people's faith in our democracy, our country and our values.
Puerto Rico is an example of how decades of neglect by those in power, who put their own selfish interests ahead of the well-being of the people, and who put profits and politics ahead of the needs of its citizens, erodes faith in our democracy and causes widespread suffering. This isn’t something people only experience in Puerto Rico. Across the country, we share their sense of injustice. We know what it feels like for our voices to go unheard — in San Juan, on Wall Street and in Washington D.C.
That’s why I’m here to support the people taking action to end a multibillion-dollar corruption network involving kickbacks for lobbyists and state officials, preferential government contracts and use of public resources to do partisan work.
I’m here to stand with my fellow Americans in Puerto Rico calling for the resignation of a corrupt Governor who has shown he is for himself, rather than for the people. I call on every Democratic candidate running for President to come here and stand with our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico against corruption.
I’m here to stand with my fellow Americans in Puerto Rico here on American soil demanding change. I stand with the people of Puerto Rico who love our country, who have sacrificed for our country and our people. Who have fought for our civil rights, and who I served alongside in Iraq. Who have put their lives on the line to serve our country. I stand with these great patriots and the people of Puerto Rico who deserve a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 
With love of country,

PO Box 75255 Kapolei HI 96707
The truth is that email is one of the most important tools we have to update supporters like you. It is one way we come together as a community of progressives to make change in this world. Should you want to unsubscribe—and we would hate to see you leave—go here. Finally, if you believe we need to end the culture of corruption and greed in Washington, then now is the time to make a contribution to TULSI 2020. If you'd like to make a recurring contribution to TULSI 2020, please click here.

Green Party of New York demands justice for Eric Garner

From the Green Party of New York:

NEW YORK – The Green Party of New York (GPNY) renewed its call for justice for Eric Garner in response to the Justice Department's announcement that it would not bring federal civil rights charges against the New York City Police Department officer responsible for killing Garner, an unarmed citizen, five years ago today.

Green Party of New York
For Immediate Release
July 17, 2019
Peter LaVenia, Co-chair, GPNY or 518-495-8001
Gloria Mattera, Co-chair, GPNY or 917-886-4538

"For five years, justice has been denied to the family of Eric Garner," said GPNY co-chair Gloria Mattera. "For five years, officer Daniel Pantaleo has remained on the NYPD payroll, despite video evidence and conclusions by the city's medical examiner, an independent autopsy, and an NYPD internal affairs inquiry that Pantaleo used a chokehold. We call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to exercise his influence with Police Commissioner James O'Neill to do the right thing and fire officer Pantaleo," said Mattera. O'Neill is currently awaiting a judge's verdict following a departmental trial.

"The Justice Department announcement comes on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Eric Garner's homicide," said GPNY co-chair Peter LaVenia. "It comes in the aftermath of demonstrations across the country last Friday calling on the Trump Administration to close the ICE concentration camps that are holding immigrants trying to enter the United States. It follows a week that has seen an overtly racist and divisive President Donald Trump continue to find support from white nationalists and fascists for his disturbing comments, and his repeated refusal to disavow them. Viewed together, these events starkly bring into focus the ongoing struggles for black and brown liberation in America, struggles that the Green Party is committed to," said LaVenia.

Some Tweets from Margaret Kimberley

  •   Retweeted
    BREAKING: All day vigil today outside 's DC office --people leaving notes of love and solidarity. Not in DC but want to send your support to the Congresswoman? Write your note in the comments and we will place it on the wall.
  • The is Saturday, July 20. Get the latest info from the program guide.
  • Cap and dark glasses. Why does she not want to be identified? Having said that, enough with the analysis of Trump’s base. Millions of Americans are bigots, and millions of women believe in patriarchy. That is all we need to know.
  •   Retweeted
  •   Retweeted
    :"Trump knows that Pelosi is his friend. She is in no way part of an opposition to his administration. She is the rainmaker for the Democratic Party and the wielder of discipline against progressives."
  •   Retweeted
    Less time on updating the look, , and more resources and time on instituting protections for users who engage in unpopular expressions of speech (not hate-filled). Seems too easy for malicious complaints to get one suspended.
  •   Retweeted
    Replying to  
    "Why is CNN a war mongering cheer leader?" Perhaps because the main shareholders of CNN are also the main shareholders of Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, etc? 🤔 As they say, "War is terrorism with a bigger budget"...
  •   Retweeted
    Replying to 
    There's a lot going on here at home. But we need to pay attention to this. All these struggles are connected. Along with the underlying imperialist economic drive for war, Trump & his Democratic collaborators need a war to take the heat off them and create false "national unity."
  • Easy to laugh at CNN for a photo which shows nothing. But more serious issue here about war with Iran and CNN cheer leading for it.
  •   Retweeted
    As usual, sees the bigger picture here. Progressives in her own party are more trouble for Pelosi than the president. This should be clear by now, but for religious faith in Dem party leadership by wealthy liberals.
  • I'll get used to it, but I didn't need a new twitter look. It was fine before. I don't need unnecessary newness in my life.
  •   Retweeted
    The "send her back" chants erupted after Trump regurgitated the bogus antisemitism smear against . I hope the Democrats who maliciously helped legitimize and circulate that smear are feeling appropriately bad about themselves today.
  •   Retweeted
    In DC, come for the passionate discussion about what is missing in the search for language and framework to understand the spiritual crisis Dr. King predicted 52 years ago, a society devoting more money on instruments of death than on what humans need for life.
  • “You can’t defeat white supremacy with white supremacy.” explains where The Squad and their followers go wrong.
  •   Retweeted
    If Trump wins re-election, then I think the top political & media voices who pushed Russiagate above all else should resign. History shouldn’t forgive them for diverting so much valuable — perhaps existential — political & media energy into a conspiracy theory & fear-mongering.
  •   Retweeted
    Consortium News Target of a Malware Attack as Twitter Takes Down Assange Support Group’s Account in overdrive just as the latest factless attacks against are published in corporate media.
  •   Retweeted
    That CNN piece was so transparent. Take the normal functions of investigative journalism and then re-write it so the journalist is cast as a villain. The demonetization of Julian Assange is another version of Trump's "fake news." All this is very dangerous and sad.
  • But Correa denies the CNN story.
  •   Retweeted
    ‘Rubbish!’: The former leader of Ecuador blasts CNN for claim that Assange made embassy into ‘command post for meddling’
  •   Retweeted
  •   Retweeted
    Top Democrats — Biden, Pelosi, Schiff — have endorsed Trump’s coup efforts in Venezuela, even as murderous sanctions threaten mass deaths. Others have been relatively silent. This is what they’re enabling:
  •   Retweeted
    Correa blasts CNN for claim that Assange made embassy into ‘command post for meddling’ — RT World News.
  • Rafael Correa denies anti-Assange statements attributed to him by CNN. They want to lock Assange up forever and that means the smears continue. Why did Mueller postpone congressional testimony? Why was Unity4J kicked off of twitter?
  • Don’t fall for the hype. Trump’s ugly, racist rant against the congresswomen began with Pelosi’s attempt to humiliate them publicly. Dem leadership followed on cue. Read my latest.
  • CNN produced an anti-Assange hatchet job and Unity4J was suspended from twitter. At the same time was under cyber attack. Assange defenders were silenced at an opportune moment.
  •   Retweeted
    People are missing the point. The dossier was small potatoes. The unredacted FISA warrants, which ABC news confirmed to me in April 2017 that I had one on me, is going to expose the informants, and the involvement of the CIA/UK/Australia. Keep the eye on the prize.
  •   Retweeted
    The Dems' resolution today condemning Trump quoted more extensively from Reagan than any other political figure, which if nothing else proves that vacuous Reagan nostalgia has firmly entered bipartisan territory
  •   Retweeted
    What is the official Democratic explanation for why Mueller's hearing was delayed a week? I can't find it. No matter what it is, the actual explanation seems obvious: Dems realized they've set themselves up for a dud, and need to mitigate. And/or Mueller is still trying to bail.