Saturday, September 25, 2010







Yesterday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing where, see yesterday's snapshot, Senators Jim Webb and Jon Tester launched an attack on Vietnam veterans. And to those who e-mailed insisting Jim Webb is a Vietnam veteran, so? He attacked John Kerry in a 2004 column (he didn't like John speaking against the war) and he's written the most racist and vile caricatures of the Vietnamese (yes, he's currently married to a Vietnamese-American -- South Vietnamese and, yes, that does make a difference in his mind). Jim Webb's disgraced himself. Kat reported on the hearing at her site in "Jim Webb: The new Bob Dole," Wally reported on it at Rebecca's site in "Senate Veterans Affairs hearing (Wally)" and Ava reported on it at Trina's site in "Senator Roland Burris (Ava)." Michael Leon (Veterans Today) reports on it in "Shinseki Fights off Veterans' Enemy Sen. James Webb, Defends Agent Orange Benefits." Leon's strong report opens with:
This morning, while posturing as the earnest student of empirical investigation, Webb prefaced his hostile line of questioning of witness Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki saying Webb is concerned about protecting the "credibility of our [VA] programs."
I was hoping Shinseki would pull out a can of aerosol composed of dioxin [tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD)] and offer to spray it around the Committee room and see if anyone of the august senators had a presumptive problem with it.
Chuck Palazzo (Veterans Today) notes that Senators Bernie Sanders and Jay Rockefeller stood up for veterans in the hearing. Having attended the hearing yesterday, I am noting Committee Chair Daniel Akaka also needs to be noted -- he is a soft spoken person and has to maintain a role as Chair but even with both of those things, he still made very clear in his opening where he stood. Senator Patty Murray made clear that she supported veterans, Mark Begich appeared to be coming out in support ("appeared" because I really don't know him, his words indicated support but I don't know his record and I don't know him). The strongest voice in the hearing was Senator Roland Burris. You can see Ava's report or you can watch the hearing which is at Palazzo's link and which is also online here at the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs website. David Rogers (Politico) notes:
In comments later, Webb told POLITICO that he would like to return more decision-making power to Congress itself, rather than leave so much discretion to a single Cabinet secretary. And Webb said he was also attracted to a proposal by Principi to take a more incremental approach in the case of common diseases -- and put emphasis on medical care before disability payments.
Now we're going to talk numbers so that we all get just what a s**t Jim Webb is. The Bush tax cuts were set to expire. Webb supports extending all of them -- not just the middle class and working class and working poor but also the top earners in the country. Paul Krugman (New York Times) explained why that was such a bad idea last month:
What's at stake here? According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to following the Obama proposal, would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. For the sake of comparison, it took months of hard negotiations to get Congressional approval for a mere $26 billion in desperately needed aid to state and local governments.
And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But that's the least of it: the policy center's estimates say that the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Take a group of 1,000 randomly selected Americans, and pick the one with the highest income; he's going to get the majority of that group's tax break. And the average tax break for those lucky few -- the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year -- would be $3 million over the course of the next decade.
Now it's tacky and appalling to put a dollar amount on the issue of care -- especially needed care resulting from the government playing reckless with human lives -- but Leo Shane III (Stars & Stripes) reports, "According to VA estimates, the move could cost more than $13 billion in compensation payouts in the next 18 months." $680 billion. Wow. Kind of dwarfs the $13 billion figure, doesn't it? Webb has his priorities and they just don't appear to include veterans.

Meanwhile Jason Ditz ( reports, "The FBI is confirming that this morning they began a number of 'raids' against the homes of antiwar activists, claiming that they are 'seeking evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism'." Karmically, the news breaks on the same day that the National Lawyers Guild issues a new report, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." .In her intro, Boghosian notes, "To know that the United States is undergoing a highly orchestrated curtailment of personal and political liberties, one need not look further than police treatment of protesters in the streets. Those who speak out against government policies increasingly face many of the same types of weaponry used by the U.S. governmen tin its military operations." Still from the introduction:
Police preparation for mass assemblies routinely involves infiltration and spying on activist groups, sometimes years in advance, including the use of agents provocateurs. Time and time again, millions of dollars have been obtained by police departments for personnel and equipment at large events justified by confidential informant testimony that large numbers of 'anarchists' are planning to attend and engage in violence. Closer examination of the facts often reveals the falsity of such allegations: numerous police infrormants, many with criminal backgrounds, admit when later questioned that activist groups they infiltrated never planned any violent activities. Indeed millions more have been spent paying damages to the demonstrators victimized by these tactics.
New anti-terrorism legislation and prosecution practices have resulted in individuals being charged with conspiracy to riot merely by virtue of having helped organize a protest at which other individuals unknown to them were arrested. As evidence of conspiracy to riot, the government cites such First Amendment protected activities as attending meetings, writing about protests, organizing protests, and engaging in rhetorical or politically charged speech.
Faulty intelligence gathering and grossly attenuated criminal charges are accompanied by additional strategies to quell dissent. Asserting the need to defend against terrorism and protect national security, the government targets leaders of social and political movements, employs grand juries to search for evidence of political affiliation, stigmatizes groups of activists, and uses the mass media to denigrate demonstrators, reinforce negative stereotypes or publicize high-profile arrests on charges which are frequently later dropped for lack of evidence.
We will note the report in more detail next week. Heidi co-hosts WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio (10:00 a.m. EST Mondays -- also plays on other stations around the country throughout the week) with fellow attorneys Michael Ratner and Michael Smith. The report may be discussed on one of the shows in the next weeks and, if so, we will note it then as well. On today's raids, Jacob Wheeler (The UpTake -- link has video) speaks with Mick Kelly who was among the activists whose homes were raided today.
Mick Kelly: The FBI has raided my home. Right now there's about ten, twelve FBI agents rummaging through my papers, documents. They've confiscated computers, they've taken my passport, etc.
Jacob Wheeler: And we're in the Hard Times Cafe in Cedar-Riverside and your apartment is just upstairs from the cafe, right?
Mick Kelly: That's correct.
Jacob Wheeler: So there are agents upstairs right now?
Mick Kelly: That's correct.
Jacob Wheeler: How many?
Mick Kelly: Ten to twelve.
Jacob Wheeler: When did they arrive?
Mick Kelly: Several hours ago.
Jacob Wheeler: And what did they say -- Approximately what time? Any guess?
Mick Kelly: I'm going to say 7:30.
Jacob Wheeler: Okay. What did they tell you? What interaction did you have with them?
Mick Kelly: Well I wasn't there. I was at work.
Jacob Wheeler: Okay.
Mick Kelly: And I received a call that they were there. They came in -- my understanding is they came in guns drawn, kicked the door open, smashed a fish tank and proceeded to execute a search warrant.
Mick notes he is an antiwar activists and that " I see this as harassment of anti-war activists and those who stand in solidarity with those who are fighting for freedom and justice around the world." Mick was one of the organizers of the protests at the 2008 GOP convention. Ahndi Fridell (Reuters) reports the FBI is admitting to searching "eight homes in Chicago and Minnesota" today and claiming it is "terrorism" related -- or adjacent. Or maybe just a sleepy suburb of. They're not really sure as is evidenced by the fact that eight homes were raided (or the FBI admits to raiding at least eight homes) and not one arrest was made. Not one arrest was made. That's a key point. Along with Mick Kelly, one of the eight homes known to be raided belongs to Jess Sundin. Sarah Laskow (Washington Independent) reports: "Sundin was 'a principal leader of the mass antiwar march of 10,000 on the opening day of the Republican National Convention two years ago,' and Kelly has said he would march on the Democratic National Convention if it were held in Minneapolis this year, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune."

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Thursday, September 23, 2010






"Today," declared US Senator Daniel Akaka this morning, "much of our focus will be on Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange. However, it is important to note that the same process is already in place with respect to presumptions related to the first Gulf War. And, as many know, we are just beginning to hear about the consequences of exposures to potential toxins in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposures at miitary installations -- such as Camp Lejeune and the Astugi Naval Air Facility." Much, much earlier this morning, Mother Jones published Kate Sheppard's "Does KBR Have a Secret Get-out-of-Court-Free Card?" which opens:
After a group of Oregon National Guard troops sued KBR in 2009, claiming they'd been exposed to toxic chemicals at Iraq's Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility, an unusual deal between the military contractor and the Army came to light. Tucked inside its multibillion-dollar contract to rebuild the facility was a clause, the contents of which remain classified, that could shield the contractor from legal liability -- in essence, what could amount to a get-out-of-court-free card.
The deal raises questions about why the Army agreed to insulate KBR -- and how many other contractors might have similar agreements in place -- and for months, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has pressed the Pentagon for answers. On Thursday, he plans to introduce legislation that would require the Pentagon to inform Congress whenever indemnity agreements are made, which he hopes will effectively put an end to the kind of secret deal that KBR appears to have secured. "Our war contracting process does too little to ensure that contractors act with the best interests of our troops and taxpayers in mind, and we're going to change that," he says.
Today's hearing was on an important topic and it's one that never is out of the news for long. Senator Akaka is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee and his office notes of today's hearing:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on the existing VA process for presuming service-connection for veterans' disabilities. Looking beyond the recent expansion of Agent Orange-related presumptions, witnesses and committee members discussed potential improvements to the process to be used in connection with possible exposures to future generations.

"By granting 'presumptions,' VA creates a blanket assumption of service-connection for a group of veterans, bypassing the standard process for disability claims. The process Congress set in place for Agent Orange presumptions serves as a precedent for Gulf War Illness. We have a responsibility to set up an appropriate process for potential toxic exposures from Iraq, Afghanistan, and on military bases where there may be environmental hazards. It is critical that the process for establishing presumptive disabilities is sound, science-based, and transparent," said Akaka.

The Committee's witnesses included Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and former-Secretary Anthony Principi, as well as medical and scientific experts.

More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here:


Kawika Riley

Communications Director and Legislative Assistant

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

In opening remarks, Senator Patty Murray explained that she supported DoD and VA coming up with a registry to track and document the effects that various exposures cause. We're pointing that out because next month it will be one year since Senator Evan Bayh testified at a mark up hearing advocating for a registry to aid Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That proposal has not left the Comittee. It needs to, it needs to go to a floor vote although, honestly, as this late date and with money being what it is in elections, it's doubtful it could pass the full Senate.
Senatator Bernie Sanders: What we are talking about today is the ongoing costs of war. This is what war is about. And war is about more than bullets and guns and airplanes. War is about making sure that we care of the last veteran who served in that war and that we do that person justice. And if we don't want to do that, don't send them off to war. But if you make that decision that's the moral responsibility that we have.
Nice words and I don't doubt that Sanders means them. I also don't doubt that benefits are on the chopping block. Jordan Fabian (The Hill) reported at the start of the month, "Alan Simpson, the GOP co-chairman of President Obama's fiscal commission, on Tuesday questioned some disability benefits paid to veterans, saying they are 'not helping' the nation's debt crisis." That's the Catfood Commission (Ruth has credited Corrente's Lambert with coming up with that phrase). The Committee that Congress refused (rightly) to create so Barack did it without them. It plans to attack Social Security -- not at all surprising considering the make up of that Commission -- and it does aim to go after military benefits. May 19, 2010 the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing where a bit of reality started to show and Senator Scott Brown suddenly changed the topic and no one brought it back up. From that day's snapshot:
Senator Scott Brown: I'm wondering if you could just tell me what benefits might be at risk at this point and time? Any specific issues that we need to focus on that we're missing or falling through the cracks?

Thomas Pamperin: Benefits that are currently being delivered that might be taken away?

Senator Scott Brown: Right. Things that we -- that you're saying, "You know what? We got to keep our eye on this."

Thomas Pamperin: Uh - uh, we'd be glad to - to give you a more extensive response in - in the future. Uh . . . My - my concern is that the nation clearly --

Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second?
If you're thinking Brown wanted to explore the cuts Pamperin appeared to be anticipating, you're wrong. Here's what happened:
Senator Scott Brown: Can I interrupt just for a second? I may have kind of thrown that out there. I guess what I'm concerned with is making better use of current law, the things that we have in place that we may not be exhausting properly, we may not be getting the full benefit of.

In addition to the snapshot, Wally reported on it at Rebecca's site and you can also see Third Estate Sunday Review's "Scott Brown's so pretty."
The potential 'cost-cutting' measures were not discussed then although the witness appeared prepared and willing to do so. Today we heard US Senator Jim Webb babble on and, when he's insincere, his voice cracks. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch where the kids are set to record a song but Peter's voice begins changing and won't stop cracking. As he used opening remarks to recount his entire resume at length -- everything but working the counter one night and giving a veteran a free milk shake -- that voice cracked and cracked. Why was that such a hard thing for him. "We have a duty," Webb insisted as he added coughs to his bag of tricks. And "this is not simply a cost item." Oh, now you may be getting why Webb was freaking out.
If not, join us as we drop back to the June 15, 2010 snapshot:
WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease. Could? A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA. Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight." Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican). It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
And if you doubted that Webb was about to try to pull out the axe on Vietnam veterans benefits, you had to only give him a few more seconds as he began bemoaning that the law was written one way (yes, he is a 'framers' intent' and 'original construction' type politician) and then expanded (to "dual presumptioms both based on very broad categorizations"). What are the expansions? It's been expanded to allow payments to Vietnam Veterans suffering from Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and hairy cell leukemia. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is not someone we praise blindly here (to put it mildly) but the hearing was really about Shinseki's 'performance,' specifically with regards to expanding the categories -- based on medical and science evidence -- qualifying for payments.
There's a whole dance going on beneath the hearing that few will ever notice. If there was anything sadder than Webb's remarks it was Senator Jon Tester who felt the need to praise Webb "for asking some very tough questions." To watch some of the senators today was to be aware they appeared to think leukemia, heart disease and Parknson's is little more troubling than adult acne.
Senator Roland Burris was one of the most straightforward and it's too bad that the Democratic Party establishment loathed him because, as usual, when veterans needed an advocate on the Committee, Senator Burris could be counted on. "There's no price that we could put on what we can do with those veterans suffering from those chemicals that were sprayed throughout that country." "Budget shortfalls," Burris noted, were no excuse for not providing for veterans. Was it telling that Jon Tester walked out while Burris was making that statement? Maybe he was just needed elsewhere. Although that certainly doesn't explain the ugly glare visible on his face as he left, now does it?
In his opening remarks, Shinseki made it clear that it was "my decision" to expand the presumptions. (He varied from his written remarks -- starting with his first sentence which, as written, thanked Ranking Member Richard Burr who was not present and instead Shinseki thanked Johnny Isakson -- who wasn't present in the room at that time but did take part in the hearing.) Shinseki noted that VA was directed by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to expand presumptions when any "positive association" could be determined.
Senator Mike Johanns wanted to know "how much of it [Agent Orange] was used in Vietnam?" Shinseki stated that "19 million gallons of Agent Orange was dispersed over Vietnam" ("according to our best records") and it was done via spraying from planes. (Jim Webb does not believe that much was used. He is pretty sure at least some was used, apparently approximately one heaping tablespoon but other than that . . .) Senator Sanders noted that the Vietnamese and their exposure was intentionally ignored and his belief was that a thorough study on the impact of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese was not done by the US government because the government wanted to have the default position of "We don't know" when confronted with veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange. (For those too young to have lived through it, the 1991 act on Agent Orange is the best example of how the US government repeatedly and consistently ignored the needs of veterans. And prior to the act being passed, there were years and years of veterans being told it was all in their head or they were faking or they really weren't sick.)
"I looked at these nine studies that you referred to in your testimony," Webb stated and then pretended to be qualified as to evaluate them. I wasn't aware that Webb had an MD. Maybe he's a WebMD?
Shinseki pointed out that "Congress had an opportunity to review my decision and decide to do its part" and obviously agreed. So what was the hearing for? It was a waste of time because Webb wanted to have a hissy. Please note, we never got a hearing by the Committee in trying to determine why fall 2009 tuition payments to veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill arrived as late as March and April 2010. That effected people's lives. That effected veterans' children. And there was no oversight, there was no hearing. But Webb and Tester wanted to pitch a fit. Tester being convinced that 'bad' veterans are hidden away somewhere who "pounds a couple of packs of cigarettes a day and a like amount of alcohol" to get extra monies from the government claiming heart disease. I'm not really sure what "a like amount of alcohol" is to a "couple of packs of cigarettes" -- one is liquid. Is Tester that stupid, really? And could he next hop on a scale since we're paying his medical bills as well since he serves in the US Congress and since, when he was in profile returning to his seat, he so closely resembled William Conrad. What are you pounding, Tester? And why are we paying for it? If you want to talk risk factors on veterans and claim that its your playground to do so because of tax payer monies, let me repeat, we the tax payers pay for your health care Jon Tester -- for the rest of your life. Maybe it's time we started imposing penalities on Congressional members with "risk factors"? Especially those who know they can't win an argument against Agent Orange exposure so they try to create this little side dialogue that's both meaningless and insulting.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010





SUSANNAH GEORGE: Iraq's parliament has held just one official session since the national elections in March. It lasted less than 20 minutes. That was just enough time to play the Iraqi national anthem and complete the swearing in. About 20 Iraqi legislators met yesterday in an informal session. The lawmakers pledged to make decisions, not speeches. But the only decision they made was to continue to meet this week. Still, Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi who was at the meeting, expressed hope that it could yield results.
ADEL ABDUL MAHDI: It will put the pressure on the members of the House of Representatives individually and the blocs. I think we accomplished a good step forward.
GEORGE: But not all the Members of Parliament share the vice president's optimism. They point out that while the violence continues, there is still no government.
MAHMOUD OTHMAN: It is still in square one.
The ongoing political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and fifteen days with no government formed.
Terry Gross: There's still no government that's formed in Iraq. So do you think the insurgents are exploiting that vacuum.
Anthony Shadid: I think that's absolutely their-their intention. How successful they are is another question. But that is their intention. You know, it's hard to overstate how anxious the moment in Iraq is right now. I think what you're seeing emerge is a -- is a divorce between the people and this political class -- a political class that was in some ways imposed on the country by the United States in those early days of the occupation. There's a -- almost universal disenchatment with these politicians. And what-what's struck me the past couple of months is that when you talk to people it's not criticism of the prime minister or his main rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, for instance. It's criticism of that entire political class. Now what does that lead to? It's hard to say. It may not lead to anything. But I think it does show this kind of -- The people themselves are calling into question the political system that's been set up. And I think that does -- If it doesn't question the legitimacy of the system, it maybe raises some concerns about the viability of that system over the long term.
Terry Gross: So you're talking about disenchantment with a system that the US helped set up and with candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid: That's right and I think that's going to be one of the legacies of this American occupation, is empowering politicians that have not succeeded in building support among the population.
Terry Gross: Is that because you think it would be hard for anyone to build support right now in Iraq? Or is it a reflection of the candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid: I think it's a little of both. But, I mean, you do see a, I think the only grassroots movement you see in Iraq right now is Moqtada al-Sadr -- Shi'ite cleric whose followers fought the Americans several times in 2004 and afterwards. He does have a grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots --
Terry Gross: He's the guy who hates us --
Anthony Shadid: That's right
Terry Gross: -- and is always attacking the US.
Anthony Shadid: That's right. And he is -- And I think it says something about Iraq today that he is the one grassroots movement that plays a role in politics. I'm not talking about the Kurdish areas, I'm talking about the Arab areas of the country. The Sadrists, they are one of the largest Shi'ite blocs in Parliament today. They're going to have a say in the country's future. The politicians on the other hand, the ones that were in some ways empowered by the Americans early on? You know, I think it's a mix of having been gone from the country for so long. I think they often look at Iraq through kind of sepia tinted glasses. I mean, they see an older Iraq that just doesn't exist anymore in the rough and tumble streets of Baghdad today. They also have not either made the effort or been able to make the effort to build any kind of constituency. They're often in the Green Zone, heavily guarded. They have electricity which most people don't. They have water which most people -- they have but it's not very clean. They're living a life that is very divorced from the everyday reality of most Iraqis.
Terry Gross: There hasn't been a group that's been able to build a coalition so there really isn't -- there isn't a prime minister yet. There isn't leadership yet. So, help me out here, who was it that said if this political void, this inability to form a government continues for another six months, there's a risk of a military takeover?
Anthony Shadid: I think that was [US] vice president [Joe] Biden --
Terry Gross: That's what I thought.
Anthony Shadid: -- that made that point.
I don't think it was. Great interview with Shadid -- and there's much more to the interview -- but I don't believe Joe Biden said that publicly. As always, I could be wrong (I often am).
Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saad Fakrildeen (Los Angeles Times) quoted former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker last month stating, "If the civilians continue to flail over the next three-four years, the chances of a military coup are likely to go up. That could bring with it something like the 1958 revolution." The British Ambassador to Iraq, John Jenkins, floated the idea of a military coup before the Iraq Inquiry on January 8th of this year. But September 1st, Joe told Margaret Warner (PBS' The NewsHour -- link has text, audio and video):
MARGARET WARNER: Here's another thing we hear from Iraqis. They blame this upsurge in violence on the politicians' failure, six months after they all went to the polls to vote, the politicians' failure to form a government. Do you think there is a connection?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Look, if I were an Iraqi, that's what I would think as well.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think it?
JOSEPH BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, they're taking too long to form this government. But the second piece of this is, the Iraqis went and voted. But guess what? No clear -- not only no clear majority, barely a plurality. So, in a parliamentary system, this is not unexpected. But I am confident that they are now -- all have run the course of what other options they have, and it's getting down to the point where, in the -- in the next couple months, there's going to be a government.
The only thing I have said in the name of the president, and as it relates to this government, the government has to reflect the outcome of the election, which is another way of saying, all the four major entities that did relatively well have to be included in the government. That's a difficult thing to put together.
Doesn't sound like Joe's worried. Anthony Shadid will go on to state that the remark was made to a colleague of his at the paper. That would be Michael R. Gordon. A transcript of an interview Gordon conducted with Biden September 1st was posted online by the paper the night of September 9th. Here's the section, Biden is speaking:
But what happened is, the difference is that there is actually a military that is able to function and provide security, notwithstanding the government hasn't been formed yet. And so that is the reason why Odierno and these guys have the confidence even though the government is not formed. Now if, in fact, you could come up with a scenario where if six months from now it is still not formed, then everything begins, then the worry I have in that circumstance is not so much that you know Al Qaeda Iraq will be emboldened and reconstituted. My worry will be that generals in the military will start saying: "Wait a minute, which way is this going to go? Which way is this going to go?" I worry then that it goes from right now everybody saying, "Salute Iraq" to "Whoa, let's figure this out." And what is now a unified command, what is now an integrated military, including some of the pesh merga, including some of the Sons of Iraq. That's when I would begin to worry because then everybody might start to say: "What's my calculus here? It looks like they are not going to pull this together."
Is Joe speaking of a military coup? That's not how I read it. He's noting the pesh merga, for example -- Kurdish forces -- who were being integrated (and the spin was 'successfully integrated') into the Iraqi military at that time. He's noting Sahwa whose issues and compliants Joe Biden was very aware of at the time of the interview. He appears to be saying that if a government isn't formed in six months, the cohesion supposedly taking place in the Iraqi forces would fall apart. Would that mean coup?
It might. But what Joe likely meant was that the Iraqi forces could fall apart and violence could therefore increase. The gains of 'unified command' would fall apart. Is a military coup possible? I think it's a possibility if the stalemate continues but I don't believe Joe Biden has raised that issue publicly. I could be wrong.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010





And essentially, it is a conservative administration which has changed the mood music. So the talk is better. The images of the administration are better, the reasonable looks. But in terms of what they do—in foreign policy, we’ve seen a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies, and worse, in AfPak, as they call it, and at home, we’ve seen a total capitulation to the lobbyists, to the corporations. The fact that the healthcare bill was actually drafted by someone who used to be an insurance lobbyist says it all.

So, it’s essentially now a PR operation to get him reelected. But I don’t think people are that dumb. I’ve been speaking to some of his, you know, partisan supporters, and they’re disappointed. So the big problem for Obama is that if you do nothing and promise that you would bring about some changes, you will not have people coming out to vote for you again. And building up the tea party into this great bogey isn’t going to work. It’s your own supporters you have to convince to come out and vote for you, as they did before. I can’t see that happening.


Yesterday's silence from @BarackObama will not be forgotten. Stop the firings, Mr. President.
Lt Dan Choi was discharged under the discrimantory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy this summer. Barack Obama, runing for president, promised to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As Diana Ross once sang, "And I'm still waiting." The most Barack's done is authorized a study to determine the effects repeal of DADT might have. That's it. Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) notes, "The military discharged 259 men and 169 women last year under the law. As many as 66,000 gay men and women may be serving in the U.S. military, about 2.2 percent of all personnel, including 13,000 on active duty, according to a study by the Williams Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law." This morning, on the eve of possible Senate action (the House already voted in May), David Welna (NPR's Morning Edition) reported:
David Welna: But Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee points out that repeal would actually depend on the President, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All three have said they favor repeal, but they would first have to certify that they have dually considered the Pentagon study and that rules have been put in place for its implementation that will not undermine the military. Levin says that's what the provision on Dont Ask, Dont Tell really calls for.
Senator Carl Levin: It does not repeal Dont Ask, Dont Tell. I wish it did but it doesnt. It simply authorizes the ending of the policy if there's a certification that doing so would not undermine the morale of our troops.
David M. Herszenhorn (New York Times) reports that today the US Senate "voted against [56 to 43] taking up a major military bill that includes a provision allowing the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell policy' regarding gay soldiers." Lisa Mascaro (Los Angeles Times) points out, "Democrats control 59 votes in the Senate." Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) opines, "Tuesday's vote makes it almost impossible to ensure a repeal of the 17-year ban on gays openly serving in uniform is included in the final House-Senate compromise version of the defense bill that lawmakers may vote on during a lame-duck session after November's midterm elections." Mark Thompson (Time magazine) offers, "Repeal supporters believe it will be years before another plausible effort can be mounted to allow openly gay men and women serve in the U.S. military. [. . .] Some Pentagon officials believe repeal would have been a done deal if the political calendar hadn't intruded. Gay advocates agree, and also believe repeal could have happened if -- like dozens of militaries around the world -- the U.S. simply dropped the ban and commanded its troops to follow orders, as it did when President Harry Truman integrated the military in 1948." Barack is backing Gen James Amos to be the new Commandant of the Marine Corps because Barack and James Amos see eye to eye, that's why he nominated Amos. And Amos appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Before appearing, Amos filled out [PDF format warning] his responses to a series of questions by the Committee. This is the man the 'fierce advocate' for LGBT rights nominated.
What is your view of the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and its impact on the Marine Corps?
Gen Amos: In my view, the current law (and associated policy) has been a reasonable compromise between the unique requirements of military service and the aspirations of qualified citizens who are interested in military service. I would characterize its impact on the Corps as being minor; about two tenths of one percent (.2%) of the roughtly 626,000 Marines discharged since 1993 were released for reasons of homosexuality.
In your personal view, should the current policy be repealed? Why or why not?
Gen Amos: In my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unqiue requirements of the Marine Corps, and thus I do not recommend its repeal. My primary concern with proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations. Furthermore, I'm concerned that a change now will serve as a distraction to Marines who are tightly focused at this point on combat operations in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense has instituted a comprehensive review of the law and policy, and that review should tell us a lot about whether such a change will be disruptive to unit cohesion. The review will also provide insights into how, if the Congress approves of a change in law and the President signs it, the DoD should develop policy for its implementation.
LGBT rights are not an issue for Barack. They never have been. He didn't need a study to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He also could have issued an executive order to put a hold on discharges under DADT while it is being studied; however, he didn't do that. And the study does not mean it is repealed. The study is to determine 'harm' which means it could recommend -- as Amos does -- keeping the policy. Barack has repeatedly betrayed the LGBT community and that's no surprise from the man who put homophobes onstage at a campaign events repeatedly.
Amos' testimony served two purposes. First, it refuted all those rumors that James Amos is a public toilet troll. Second, it underscored how weak Barack is on LGBT rights. Listening to Amos pompously go on before the Senate Armed Services Committee today about his wife and how "in our forty years of marriage, she has raised our chidlren and been my assest, she has packed and unpacked" everytime they have moved revealed what a cheap ass bigot Amos is. He needs a supportive spouse but he'll damn any gay man or lesbian who has the same need. He'll treat them like second class citizens (if even that). This is the man Barack nominated and this nomination clearly sends a message. Barack's message? Bigotry will be rewarded and normalized. Message received.
And we'll close with this from Senator Daniel Akaka's office (Akaka is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee):


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Military Family Association presented U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) with a 2010 Support of Military Families Award tonight on Capitol Hill for his career of advocacy and recent success in passing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act.

"The honor that comes with military service belongs not just with our troops and veterans, but also with the spouses, children and parents who sacrifice for them and support them. I thank the National Military Family Association for this privilege, and for their commitment to our servicemembers and their families," said Akaka.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act was signed into law by President Obama on May 5, 2010. The law includes provisions to establish an unprecedented permanent program to support the caregivers of wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand support services for homeless veterans.

Senator Akaka is Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and a member of the Committee on Armed Services.

For more on the National Military Family Association, visit


Kawika Riley

Communications Director and Legislative Assistant

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

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Monday, September 20, 2010







We're starting with Michael Ware, in part because a mutal friend asked that we do. Michael Ware has reported from everywhere and, for CNN, he reported from Iraq. He filed many explosive reports and they rarely got the attention they required. This after fighting to get them on the air and then to only be greeted with silence as everyone attempted to look the other way. For example, let's drop back to the December 29, 2008 snapshot:
Meanwhile the December 10th death of Haedan al-Jabouri (that may not be the correct spelling) is in the news and the subject of a military investigation. Michael Ware (CNN -- link has video only) reported the latest events yesterday.
Michael Ware: Following a nighttime military operation outside of Baghdad two weeks ago, the US army is now investigating allegations an Iraqi man, a suspected al Qaeda member, was executed in cold blood by a secretive American unit. An Iraqi farmhouse after a recent raid by US forces. Items scatted by the soldiers search for weapons. An elderly mother mourns. Hadan, her son shot dead by the Americans in Madain on Baghdad's outskirts. It was Hadan the special forces had come for suspecting he was a bomb maker for al Qaeda. But now troubling questions have arisen from the operation, questions not of Hadan's life as a potential bomber but rather questions into his death at American hands. Questions grave enough that the US army has launched an inquiry probing claims the death was a special forces execution. The military released to CNN a few details of the night's operation, saying the shooting was provoked.
An unidentified voice reads from this December 10th M-NF press release: A man from the building initially complied with Coalition forces' instrucitons, but then returned inside the house. When he returned outside, he attempted to engage the forces with an AK-47. Perceiving hostile intent, the force engaged the armed man, killing him.
Michael Ware: But the dead man's brothers who witnessed the raid say that's a lie. Hadan, they say, was unarmed, his killing an American execution. The truth however is unclear. . . . But the Iraqi version is different. They say all [four] the brothers were stripped to their underwear and forced to lay on the ground, unable to move without the Americans permission, let alone grab a rifle. When Hadan did return inside, they say, it was the Americans who ordered him to do so.
Nurhi Subbi [translated]: The American forces ordered my brother to go back into the house.
Michael Ware: He was told to turn the lights on, says his brother named Nurhi, and the moment he turned on the lights, the soldiers open fired and then dragged him deeper inside the house.
"Hardan al-Jaburi". is the correct spelling. Where's the outcome of that investigation? Jasim Azawi, on this week's Inside Iraq, was noting how the Iraqi government will sometimes note an investigation into abuses or deaths but that no one ever hears of any outcome.
Back to Ware, the Australian reporter stepped away from war reporting as a result of his PTSD. Michael Ware is back in the news. Monday, he stated on Australian TV:
There was just not the one war in Iraq. You had the American war versus the insurgency, who are nationalists fighting to free their country and who were purely politically motivated. Then there's the American war with al Qaida in Iraq. Then there's the Sunni and Shia war amongst the Iraqis themselves. There was the Arab versus Kurdish on again off again little conflict. And then there was the Iranian war versus most of those named above. And for better or for ill, everyone spoke to me. And it took a lot of earning but everyone trusted me and I tried to live up to those trusts. I went out and I found the Iraqis who were on the other side of everything. And first it was for the purpose of stories but they became my friends. Once someone invited you to their house, it's incumbent upon them, at the dire risk of losing their good family name and all public standing, losing face, they must with that invitation of hospitality give you protection. Even if his brother shows up wanting to kill you he must defend you against all threats.
That was from part one of Prisoner Of War (Australia's ABC) -- here for transcript -- and Tuesday (yes, tomorrow, but there's a time difference) -- here for transcript -- he discussed the incident that will draw the most attention to the Prisoner Of War special:

MICHAEL WARE: There was an incident that I filmed back in 2007. It was in a remote Iraqi village, a village that had pretty much been owned by Al Qaeda. A young man who turned out to be 16, 17, maybe 18 years of age, you know like so many Iraqis had a weapon to protect himself, approached the house we were in and the soldiers who were watching our backs, one of them put a bullet right in the back of his head. Unfortunately it didn't kill him. We all spent the next 20 odd minutes listening to his tortured breath as he died. I had this moment that I realised despite what was happening to this man in front of me, I'd been more concerned with the composition of my shot than I was with any attempt to either save him or at the very very least, ease his passing. I indeed had been indifferent as the soldiers around me whose indifference I was attempting to capture. Technically being it a breach of the Geneva Convention at least or arguably a small war crime, if there's such a thing, that film, to this day, it's never seen the light of day.

JOHN MARTINKUS, JOURNALIST: When I went back to Baghdad in 2007. One of the first things he showed me was that tape and he was watching it over and over and over again. Part of him was like 'how could I, how could I just stand by and watch that happen'. It was a really horrible stark moral choice that he faced and he still wrestles with that.

MICHAEL WARE: There came a point where something inside me started to tell me that it was time to leave Iraq. That was a hard thing for me to come to terms with. I was sitting in the garden of the CNN house with one of my great mates Tommy the producer, I said 'Tommy I think I need to leave' and it was with enormous comfort for Tommy to say 'I think so mate'. I hit New York like a meteor plunging into the earth, I mean, those first six months I felt nothing but pain and I suspect I caused nothing but pain.

DAVID BELLAVIA, FMR STAFF SERGEANT, US ARMY: The last time I saw Michael I didn't even recognise him. He'd aged eighty years in his eyes. He just looked tired. He looked exhausted.

MICHAEL WARE: I couldn't walk to the corner store and buy milk. I couldn't go to a dinner party. I couldn't stand in a crowd. I couldn't catch the subway, you know, I couldn't live.

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