with 'scandal' over for the season, i figured i'd pick up 'community.'  it's back on nbc thursday nights.

i hated thursday night's episode.  hated it.

the dean came along with hand puppets.

to me, it just screamed of the stop-motion and other earlier episodes without any real inspiration.  it also didn't help that the puppets didn't look like the characters.  the shirley and the pierce puppets looked like them but that was it.

so i didn't like that 1.

but the others this season?

i think they've been amazing.  i think this has been the best season yet.

the thanksgiving episode was a classic - even if it did air in march.  britta was with jeff who was spending time with his longlost father.  that was hilarious, especially jeff's half-brother.  meanwhile annie, avid and troy were at shirley's for thanksgiving and it was a nightmare.  which was also hilarious.  that's 1 of the best episodes of the show ever.

i liked it when they went to the convention (for a show like 'dr. who').  i loved the episode where they battled with the german students.  and i loved the documentary about 'changnesia' and how jeff lost it and went nuts.

this really has been the best season.  annie hasn't gotten on my nerves.  shirley's been great.  troy and britta, avid, it's just been a really great season.

and the week before last was such perfection.  there was a sadie hawkins dance and britta said 'sophie b. hawkins' and would admit she made a mistake.  she said she was having a sophie b. hawkins dance.  pierce wanted her to be exposed and couldn't wait as people turned out to see sophie b. hawkins.

britta even went on craig's list trying to get sophie.  :D

well she showed up and performed.  it was a hilarious episode.  you also had shirley and annie competing over who could best set avid up with a date.  and avid found his perfect match - on his own.

i think it's been a great season but i didn't care for the puppet episode, sorry.

let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'

Friday, April 12, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue,  protests take place in Iraq, the UN reportedly tells the Electoral Commission a candidate cannot run in the April 20th elections, police and military forces gear up to early vote tomorrow, Turkey rejects Nouri's latest and weakest effort, and more. 

Last month, Banen al-Sheemary (Mondo Weiss) observed, "'The war in Iraq will soon belong to history' stated Barack Obama, in an address marking the supposed end of the occupation of Iraq.  America will remember it as history, but Iraqis live through it every day."  Masarat editor Saad Salloum offers at Niqash:

The war being fought in Iraq today pits Iraqis against one another. Today the people of Iraq are fighting over a ruined and divided country with no real national identity. Iraqis don’t know whether they have a theocracy, similar to that in neighbouring Iran, or whether they have a more secular democracy, complete with sectarian and ethnic quotas in leadership, similar to those used to rule Lebanon.   

After 2003 the US has played a similar role to that played by Great Britain in 1921, when they installed Faisal bin Hussein as the king of a new Iraq. Some say Iraq was never created by God; rather it was created by Winston Churchill, who was Colonial Secretary with special responsibility for the Middle East at the time.

Now, in 2013, Iraqis are still trying to formulate their identity – but they’re doing it in a way where they must challenge one another. On the ethnic level, they are Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen. On the religious level, they are Muslims, Christians and Yazidis as well as Sunnis and Shiites too.

It has become clear to many that the US only removed the lid to a melting pot containing a stew of many foul-smelling flavours. Those smells had been repressed during the short life of the Iraqi state.

This newly discovered pluralism makes Iraqis more afraid of each other than they are of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. It makes them more afraid of each other than of the Safawi [Shiite Muslim religious] state, an Ottoman Empire [out of Turkey] or the UK or US.

As noted in an Iraqi Spring MC video, Sheikh Ali Hamad spoke in Jalawla today at the protest there.   He asks a basic question in his speech: If the Constitution guarantees Iraqis the right to protest and demonstrate why are those who exercise the right being targeted, arrested and tortured?

The question lingers in the air with no answer forthcoming.

On one side of the Sheikh, a protester carries a sign that reads, "Obama, If you Cannot Hear Us Can you Not See Us?"  On the other side of the Sheikh, a protester carries a sign which reads, "IRAQ has become the Wild West, Land with NO LAW."  In Samarra, they burned flags of Israel and the US.  At the start of 2009, Iraqis had such hope for the US.  A new president was being sworn in, Barack Obama.  He'd make things so much better.  Instead, in 2010, when they voted Nouri out, Barack demanded he stay.  Barack went around the Constitution, having the US broker a contract, The Erbil Agreement, to give Nouri a second term.  As they've seen that the US government does not care about human rights, does not care about the torture and secret prisons Nouri runs, as they've seen that Barack is no better than Bully Boy Bush, they burn more and more American flags.

As a young Iraq male explains on this month's War News Radio, "We hope that Americans will help us or something like that.  But they did nothing. They just, I think, I not sure, they steal some oil or something.  Nothing's changed.  The government now is worse and worse."  A young Iraqi woman, Noor, tells War News Radio, "We like the people of America" but not "the power, the government."  The State Dept wants to pour over two billion into Iraq in the next fiscal year -- most of it to prop up Nouri.  It doesn't matter.  The Iraqi people can't be bought.  You can't ignore their 2010 vote and then bribe them with money.  Barack cannot buy away the bruises he has left on the dignity of the Iraqi people.

All Iraq News quotes MP Majida al-Timimi declaring, "The many government in Iraq after 2003 failed to improve the services and economic situation in Iraq."  She is with the Moqtada al-Sadr affiliated Ahrar bloc.

At the sit-in in Baiji, protesters declared that their biggest concern was the release of our men and women.  This goes to the point we've been making all week.  The Justice and Accountability Law and Commission -- not the big concern for the average Iraqi.  It's concerns for politicians and government officials.  The people are concerned with Article IV.  That's what allows innocent people to be arrested.  That's what the protesters mean when they say release the innocents.  It's not that complicated or difficult to follow unless you're paid by a western media outlet and then you're cluseless.  In Mosul, protesters delcare they will not relinquish their rightsIn Falluja, activists chanted, "We will not retreat.  We will not surrender.They turned out in Tikrit.

Alsumaria notes that thugs tried to infiltrate the Kirkuk protests and they were expelled by the activists.  (The reason they tried to infiltrate?  They were carrying the Iraq flag from the days of Saddam Hussein, hoping to pose as protesters and discredit the movement.)  NINA quotes Dr. Abdullah Jawala stating, "We continue our demonstration and sit-ins until our demands are met."

NINA reports, "Thousands of protesters and worshipers flocked from the early hours of the morning to the main squares of sit-ins north of Ramadi and west of Fallujah to participate in Friday prayers."  Alsumaria reports tens of thousands in Ramadi (and check out their photo). NINA also quotes Sheikh Qusai Zein of the Ramadi sit-in declaring, "We do not only demand to bring down Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but we want to execute him from crimes committed against humanity that he tolerate." Al Mada reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief crooked thug of Iraq, was denounced by protesters in Ramadi and Falluja who said he only pretends to listen to the demands of the protesters.   Iraq Times reports that students demonstrated at the University of Basra.

For strong and varied coverage of the protests,  refer to the Iraqi Spring MC  -- here for Facebook, here for Twitter, here for Flickr.

Meanwhile Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Kanaan double bombing targeting Sunnis leaving a mosque which has claimed 7 lives and ldeft twenty-five injured.  Alsumaria has a photo of some of the wreckage hereXinhua notes the mosque was near Baquba.  Raheem Salman and Patrick Markey (Reuters) quote survivor Ahmed al-Karkhi stating, "We were about 250 worshippers, we were just leaving when the explosion went off.  Police were not protecting the mosque and people had to be taken to hospital in cars."  The Irish Independent notes, "The blasts struck as worshippers were leaving after midday prayers from the town's Omar Bin Abdul-Aziz mosque, said police officials in Diyala province, where Kanaan is located." DPA notes that the death toll has risen to 15 (twenty-six wounded) and that a third mosque bombing (Baquba) claimed 1 life and left five people injured. The United Nations issued the following statement today:

12 April 2013 – The top United Nations envoy in Iraq today condemned “in the strongest” terms a deadly attack on worshippers at a mosque in Diyala province and appealed for peaceful coexistence among all groups in the sensitive region.
According to published reports at least seven people were killed and 25 wounded in front of a Sunni Muslim mosque, as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers in the town of Kanaan in Diyala where a surge of attacks by Sunni Islamists have targeted Shi'ite Muslims in growing sectarian confrontation.
“These brutal acts of violence, particularly in such sensitive areas, will not undermine the true and deep belief in peaceful coexistence among the people of Diyala,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Iraq Martin Kobler said in a statement.
He extended his deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery for the wounded.

In other violence, All Iraq News notes a Shurqat bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and left another injured. National Iraqi News Agency notes that 3 corpses were discovered in Hatra (south of Mousl, 2 police officers, 1 Iraqi soldier, all shot to death), an armed clash in Samarra left 5 people dead,  a sniper shot and wounded a police officer in Falluja, a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured,

On the topic of violence, Tuesday's "Iraq does executions, press doesn't do corrections" noted AFP's ridiculous claim of 271 violent deaths in Iraq for the month of March was disputed when UNAMI released a statement  Monday noting that they counted 456 violent deaths.  As noted Tuesday, AFP's way of dealing with that 'discomfort' was to ignore the UN release in its reporting but to mention it in a Tweet by journalist Prashant Rao.

It's bad enough they wouldn't do a correction -- and let's be clear Prashant left Iraq during that time period and no one kept up with the daily deaths until he was back so AFP knew their count was wrong (or 'incomplete') before they published it.  Today AFP repeats their lie, "Violence killed 271 Iraqis last month, the highest monthly figure since August, according to an AFP tally."

If you're not going to get the violence, don't pretend to cover it.  AKI, Iraq Body Count and the United Nations all have over 150 more deaths than AFP.

In eight days, 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are scheduled to hold elections.  Anbar Province and Nineveh Provinces have seen the largest protests against Nouri.  Nouri's responded by declaring that they can't vote in the provincial elections.   Alsumaria notes that Iraqiya MP Salman Jumail declares that Nouri is doing this to isolate the two provinces and in an attempt to ensure that only his allies win in the elections.  Iraqiya came in first in the 2010 parliamentary elections, besting Nouri's State of Law.  NINA quotes Jumaili stating, "The postponement of the elections is used for political purposes, to ensure that the prime minister's allies get the required seats of the provincial council."

Alsumaria notes the Electoral Commission for elections in Basra announced that they had completed all steps necessary for Saturday voting (at 34 centers) by Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior employees.   Special, or early, voting takes place tomorrow and, All Iraq News explains, is only supposed to take place tomorrow.  Alsumaria notes that tomorrow voting will take place in Kirkuk by over 10,000 soldiers and officers at 27 polling station from seven in the morning until five in the evening.   Yesterday,  Alsumaria reported that the Electoral Commission notes 651,000 security forces will be voting in the provincial elections.  Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

Still on the political, from the April 2nd snapshot, "Alsumaria reports that Salah al-Obeidi, spokesperson for the Sadr bloc, declared today that pressure is  being put upon police and military recruits to get them to vote for Nouri's State of Law slate."  Al Rafidayn reports today that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also called out the efforts to pressure police and army to vote for a specific list of candidate (Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hakim avoided naming the list in question).  

All Iraq News notes the electoral commission declares it has 110,000 vote observers to witness the special vote tomorrow and the regular vote April 20th -- the hope is that this will prevent voter fraud or voter intimidation.   Al Mada reports that the Electoral Commission has denied Mishan al-Jubouri the opportunity to participate in the elections due to his criminal record.  His party also won't appear on ballots.  This is seen as a serious "blow" for Nouri who had been publicly promising he would pardon him and publicly embracing al-Jubouri in an attempt to take support away from Iraqiya (al-Jubouri is Sunni).  State of Law (and Nouri) are seen as anti-Sunni.  Alsumaria adds that the Electoral Commission was told by the United Nations that al-Jubouri could not run due to his criminal record and that, if he ran, they would stop elections in all of Salahuddin Province.

In the last years, Nouri has repeatedly verbally attacked Iraq's northern neighbor.  This intensified in 2011 when Turkey offered Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi asylum.  Nouri has accused Turkey of funneling violence and weapons and sewing unrest and one thing after another.  Last week, Nouri suddenly declared that he wants better relations.  Trend AZ reports the reaction to Nouri's questionable statements:

"The words of the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki about the country's desire to strengthen relations with Turkey do not seem convincing to us. This is al-Maliki's peculiar manoeuvre," Davutoglu said.
According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Iraq should first of all democratise the regime in the country and create the necessary conditions for the peaceful coexistence of all ethnic groups.

Turkey has no reason to suck up to Nouri.  He's dishonest and doesn't keep his word.  Meanwhile, they've established a strong relationship with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government  in northern Iraq.  They have no need of Nouri or his drama at present.  As Daniel J. Graeber (Oil Price) explains:

Crude oil from the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has reached the international market for the first time. Oil was ferried by truck across the northern Iraqi border to Turkey from the Taq Taq oil field, operated by Turkish energy company Genel Energy. The central government considers unilateral oil trading from the Kurdish north illegal, highlighting a political row that's been festering for years. Iraq, however, is now the second largest crude oil producer among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Production is gaining steam 10 years after U.S. forces invaded the country, but its full potential is limited by a lack of export options. Baghdad says it has sole authority to determine Iraq's energy future, but developments in the Kurdish north may eventually undermine its confidence.

Good for AP, they discovered the Kurdish delegation in Iraq.  We noted it earlier this week and the silence from the media on it.  Today, AP reports, "The Kurdish Regional Government’s Energy Minister Ashti Hawrami was meeting with Obama administration officials Friday following recent talks with Turkey about completing pipelines over Baghdad’s objections that could vastly expand the Kurds’ ability to directly sell its oil and gas."  NINA reports today:

Kurdish delegation discussed in Washington with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations developments in the Iraqi political arena and the Syrian crisis.

A Kurdish well informed source said : " Series of meetings with the Council on Foreign Relations and press organizations, intelectuals forums and friends of the people of Kurdistan in the United States of America.

The PKK has headquarters in the mountains of northern Iraq which had created problems for the KRG and Turkey.    Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."  An uneasy peace may have been reached between the Turkish government and the PKK.  Last week, we noted an excerpt from Voices of the Middle East and North Africa discussing Turkey and the Kurds.  They continued the conversation this week.   You have until April 24th to stream the episode which aired on KPFA (each Wednesday, the show airs on KPFA at 7:00 pm PST).  We'll include an excerpt.

Malihe Razazan:  In his new year message on March 21st, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, declared a cease-fire and called on armed militants to withdraw from Turkish territory.  He said, "Today we are waking up to a new Middle East, a new Turkey and a new future."  Ocalan's message was warmly welcomed by the million-strong crowd gathered in the city of Diyarbakir.  The next day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to apologize for "operational errors that led to loss of life" during a 2010 raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara ship.  Nine Turkish activists who were trying to attract the world's attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza were murdered by Israel during that incident.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially accepted the apology and declared his intention to normalize relations with Israel.   In the second part of an interview partially aired last week,  Sharam Aghamir speaks tonight with US Berkeley sociologist Cihan Tugal about regional and US reactions to peace talks between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Cihan Tugal:  It's always a question of how are the other state actors  and the non-state actors going to react to this?

Sharam Aghamir: Nearly three years after a raid by US soldiers on the Mavi Marmara ship that killed nine activists who were trying to attract the world's attention to the Israeli blockade on Gaza and break that blockade with humanitarian aid, on March 22nd, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to apologize for "operational errors that led to loss of life" during the incident and agreed to complete agreement on compensation for the families of the victims.  Act I is March 21st, Ocalan's statement.  

Cihan Tugal:  Mmm-hmm.

Sharam Aghamir:  Act II is Netanyahu's call to Erdogan as President Obama's watching him making this phone call --

Cihan Tugal:  Mmm-hmm.  Mmm-hmm.

Sharam Aghamir:  So what is Act III?  Obviously, there is some sort of a plan laid out that involves the Israelis, the United States and Turkey -- and possibly a fourth actor added to this play which is the Kurdish part.  So how is that whole thing going to play out

Cihan Tugal:  Of course, these are really major changes.  We don't know Act III yet, but I think these two are big enough.  So what's happening is all of this talk about Turkey being the major resistance against Israel, Turkey being the leader of the Palestinian cause has now evaporated.  And all of this talk about a change of access in Turkey?  You know, the western press had also made a big deal of this.  A change of access, is Turkey shifting east and it's becoming anti-American?  Of course not.  That was not happening.  This was all very smart game on the part of Erdogan's government to gain more ground in its dealings with Israel and the US.  And, at the same time,  the attack against Mavi Marmara on Israel's part was not an attack to destroy its relations with Turkey but to compete better with Turkey within an alliance.  So the triple alliance has not gone away.

Sharam Aghamir:  That's Israel, United States and Turkey?

Cihan Tugal:  Yes, exactly.  And I've been talking about Turkish tutelage over the Kurds but the real big brother in the room is, no question, the US.  So this call has happened, almost completely it seems, as to Mr. Obama's dealings.  It seems that he has arranged and overseen the talk.  This is the way it is constructed in the Turkish press as well as the Arab press. 

Sharam Aghamir:  Mmm-hmm.

Cihan Tugal:  So it seems this is too much of a coincidence -- this thaw coming at the same time with the peace process with the Kurds.  It seems that this is being coordinated internationally.  But, of course, these are speculations.  We lack the solid proof.  But if you look at both anti-government and pro-government journalists in Turkey, this is the way they talk about it.  And so from the critical side, the point is obvious if you want to really simplify it: The critical side is saying the US is arranging all of this -- in the very bluntest terms. But even when you look at the pro-government journalists, what they are saying is, "Oh, through these wonderful maneuvers, what is happening is, we are no longer enemies with Israel, we are no longer having problems with the west,  so now we can rule the whole region.

Sharam Aghamir:  Israeli - Turkey trade had increased by nearly 50% since Turkey severed its diplomatic links with Israel.  And there were reports of how Turkish trucks were carrying Turkish products and Turkish commodities because they can no longer go through Syria and Jordan to the Gulf, now what they do is go through the Port of Haifa in Israel and from there they go on to Jordan and then they make their way to the Gulf.  It is a volume of, they say, 100 trucks going through that route every day.

Cihan Tugal:  Yes, what is really important is that these business ties are not really severable between Israel and Turkey because a big part of the ties is formed by the new conservative big bourgeois in Turkey, one of the solid forces behind the new regime in Turkey.  So they would lose a lot -- they would lose a lot of business, a lot of business.

Sharam Aghamir:  The economic plan of AKP -- Justice and Development Party -- is essentially following the New Liberal paradigm.

Cihan Tugal:  Yeah, they're a free market party.  They worked very closely with the IMF [International Money Fund] in the beginning -- but at this point the IMF no longer needs to monitor them. I mean, they trust them so much.  They are probably the most neo-liberal party the whole region has ever seen -- not only in terms of their policies, but the public support they get for their policies.  So their empowerment also came with the silencing of protests against neo-liberalism in Turkey. 

Sharam Aghamir:  So one of the things Erdogan's government sees in its favor is the so-called Turkish economic boom.  They're promising the same thing for Diyarbakir and Anatolia region -- where the Kurdish population is -- in the event that a peace accord is signed.

Cihan Tugal:  Yes, exactly.  And there is actually an economic boom and a business boom in northern Iraq.  So the point is, 'Well, since your Iraqi brothers are benefiting from it, why wouldn't you?'  And the pro-government talk going on in Turkey at this point is that this peace process with the Kurds in Turkey is moving Turkey even closer to northern Iraqi oil.  So Turkey's going to have a bigger share of the pie.  In terms of overall business, Turkey is big in construction especially in northern Iraq.  But it hasn't played its hands very well on oil. And there is now going to be more and more Turkish involvement in southern Kurdistan's oil.  I mean, that's the governmental hope. 

Sharam Aghamir:  So talking about this, sort of, grand US plan for the region as envisioned by the Turkish AKP-led government, a question of Iran and it's role in the region?  How is that accommodated in this plan?  How is that being dealt with?

Cihan Tugal:  Well this is all being done with Iran in mind.  So it's not always being explicitly brought up but, as I'm saying, even the pro-ggovernment journalists at their most earnest, they do mention Iran and see this peace process with the Kurds and the thaw with the Israelis a way to further corner Iran in the region.  I mean, that --that's the whole plan.  But, of course, they don't see this as adding up -- adding up to the ultimate marginalization of Iran.  I mean, step-by-step.  First of all, Syria is really high on the agenda.  So the first set is getting rid of the [Syrian President Bashir al-]Assad regime.  So that's the first blow they envision, thanks to this thaw with Israel and the peace with the Kurds.

On the topic of re-routing due to issues in Syria, Meris Lutz (Daily Star) reports, "Deteriorating security in Syria is forcing Lebanese truckers carrying regional exports to abandon the Damascus road altogether, crossing instead through Homs and Iraq before entering Jordan."

Prensa Latina notes, "Syria has requested again that the United Nations include the so-called Al-Nusra Front in its list of terrorist organizations, a request that has been disregarded by the U.N. Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon."  Al-Nusra Front, as noted by  Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch), Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) and  Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com), this week, includes al Qaeda in Iraq which fought against the US military and was declared a terrorist organization by the US State Dept.  Now the US government funds the same group.  Still on Syria, Doctors Without Borders notes:

The number of Syrians registering as refugees at the Domeez camp, near the city of Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, continues to climb, but there are not enough services in the camps to keep pace with the increased demand.
Of late, as many as 1,000 people have been crossing from Syria into this part of Iraq every day.
“We left because of war,” says one woman. “We came from Qamishli. The city is completely besieged. There’s no fuel for heaters, no water, no electricity. The trip was really difficult and long because we went through the mountains. I have five very young children and they all had to walk. We had to go through much suffering to get here but thank god we arrived.”
Domeez camp was established in Dohuk province in April 2012 and was initially designed to host 1,000 families. However, the population in the camp has now risen above 35,000 people. Despite the efforts of local authorities, the camp is stretched to its full capacity, the level of assistance is clearly insufficient, and aid workers are struggling to keep up with the needs of all the residents.
At present, the lack of shelter for newcomers is especially critical. Most of the newly arrived refugees must share tents, blankets, mattresses, and even their food with other families.

On the second half of this week's  Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, the show includes a conversation with journalist Henry Norr who expands on his printed critique of NPR.   Henry Norr used to work for the San Francisco Chronicle.  March 20, 2003, he participated in a protest against the Iraq War (which had just started) and was fired as a result.  The paper maintained that he used a sick day for the protest which was wrong and why he was fired.  The paper maintained that if he had used a vacation day, it would have been fine.  By using a sick day, they claim a record (time card) was falsified.  Even they began to see how ridiculous that claim appeared which is why, less than a year later, they reached a settlement with Norr. 

On the topic of reporters, Al Tompkins (Poynter) notes this years list of honorees by the Investigative Reporters and Editors includes Carl Prine:

That award went to Carl Prine at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for his project “Rules of Engagement” – an honor that caught the reporter by surprise. Prine said he hadn’t known the work had been entered in a contest, and his goal was never to win an award. In a phone interview, Prine told me his goal was to hold somebody accountable for what happened in a remote Iraqi village on March 6, 2007. That was the day U.S. soldiers shot three unarmed deaf Iraqi boys.
Prine’s search to find out what happened in a cattle field in northern Iraq would lead him on a two-year search. He conducted interviews in five states and eventually made an illegal journey into Iraq. (See one of those interviews here.)

Yesterday the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the budget and took testimony from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, among others.  For coverage, see yesterday's snapshotAva 's "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women,"  Wally's "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)"  and Kat's "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."

In the hearing, the Committee Chair made a statement expressing how continued support for Shinseki was conditional.

Chair Jeff Miller: I'm proud of the efforts this Committee has made to protect VA's resources.  But the point of those efforts is to ensure improved benefits and services to America's veterans.  And, right now, I'm not seeing improvement in many key areas.  I'm seeing the opposite.  Mr. Secretary, we need to see results.  We need to see the outcomes the Administration promised with the resources Congress provided.   The excuses must stop.   I have supported you and your leadership up to this point.  I believe the Committee and the Congress has provided you with everything you have asked.  It's time to deliver.  

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a column co-authored by Concerned Veterans for America's Pete Hegseth and US House Rep Duncan Hunter entitled "Time to shake up the dysfunctional VA:"

It is painfully clear that VA leadership is not up to the task. Eric Shinseki is a patriot and an honorable man who has served this country faithfully in and out of uniform. We have the utmost respect for him and his service, but his tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs has not produced results.
In other spheres, a leader who falters would be swiftly replaced. Can you imagine a battlefield commander failing yet staying in place? We cannot and therefore believe that new leadership at the VA -- from top to bottom, in Washington and across the country -- is necessary.

Lastly, whistle blower Bradley Manning is a political prisoner.    Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions.  Independent.ie adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."  February 28, Bradley stood up and publicly declared he had released the documents and stated, "I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides. I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists.  I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized."

Today,  Media Channel notes:

Since our return, we have sought out the most informative perspectives, provocative critiques, and cogent news relating to the evolution of the worldwide media system with a clear subtext, that system needs more monitoring, dissecting, and dramatic improvement.

In keeping with that MO, we are very pleased to bring you the latest Mediachannel.org interview with the awesome Alexa O’Brien, one of only a handful of journalists covering the trial of Bradley Manning. It is no exaggeration to say that Alexa is responsible for the lion’s share of information we have about what may very well be the most important trial in a generation. Her work is simultaneously a stellar example of great journalism and a glaring indictment of our “established” media institutions.

You can read her reporting at the definitive Alexaobrien.com. Please pay her site a visit, learn about Bradley’s case, send a kind word and/or material support her way, and get involved to the extent that you are able.

Additionally, we have uploaded a TV report from a series I produced titled, Who Rules America. This installment, The Power of the Media, focuses on the unelected elite who rule the corporate media and how they shape how we interpret reality, constrain our civic debates, and manipulate public opinion in the service of narrow interests.

Over the coming weeks we will be posting many more interviews with people who are covering important issues, analyzing the veracity of mainstream content, and imagining the future possibilities of media.

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jason ditz


How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)

Wally here filling in for Rebecca.

We're going to do a little exercise here, okay?

You're the leader.  It's me and Cedric.

We have all these books on our computer.  We typed them up.  They include some of your favorite books -- in fact, your very favorite book. 

Cedric types his up on Microsoft Word.

I typed mine up on Word Perfect.

The two are not compatible.  When you try to convert one to the other, you get all this garbage on your screen.

So you tell Cedric and I that these books need to be readable by everyone. You say we need to do them in one word processing software and we need to get on doing this right now.  You give us money to do that.

The next year, we haven't done it yet.  But we need some more money.

And you give it to us.

How long would you do that?

Since 2005, the VA and DoD have been told that they need to be working on a seamless transition.  Each year they've been given money.

And here's what we found out today from Shinseki, Secretary of the VA, in the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Again, Congressman, Secretary Hagel and I have discussed this on at least two and maybe three occassions.  He is, again, putting into place, his system to assure the way ahead for him to make this decision and be the partner that we need here.  Uhm, he is committed to a, uh, integrated electronic health record between the two departments.  We are -- VA has made its decision on what the core  and we're prepared to move forward.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Somebody has to blink. Obviously, we can't integrate them, so it's going to have to be one system or the other.  And I think what I heard you say was you've decided the VA is going to stay with the system it has.  That means that he's going to have to blink.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uh, I would say the VA system is government owned, government operated.  We have put VISTA into the  open architecture trade space so that anyone who wants to use it can use it. It's used in other countries.  I believe it is, uh, a powerful system and, uh, I'm just awaiting, uh, a discussion with Secretary Hagel.

Since 2005, they have been taking money for this.  Shinseki only becomes Secretary of the VA in January 2009.  So you can say since 2009 he's been taking the money.

And they have still not decided whether to use VA or DoD's computer system.

The two are not compatible.  A 'patch' won't work -- that was addressed long ago (years and years).  One has to be chosen.  And since 2009, Shinseki has claimed to Congress he was on this.  But they still haven't made the first step, the most basic one, deciding whose system will be used?

And you wonder how your tax money gets wasted?

There's the perfect example.

Now here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, April 11, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, an Iraqi governor's media office informs that he hasn't fled the province, the Iraqi museum remains closed, the Iraqi electricity problem will not be solved by November despite promises from Nouri and the Minister of Electricity, in the US VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is informed that without results the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee will no longer support him, Shinseki reveals that despite Congress working on and funding seamless transitioning for over 8 years now nothing has been done -- not the first and most basic step (choosing whether to use DoD or VA's operating system -- they are not compatible so one has to give to the other), and more.

This morning the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on the buget request for Fiscal Year 2014. If you're wondering about the timing, Chair Jeff Miller pointed out at the start, "As everyone knows, this budget is a couple of months late."  Not only did the administration falter in coming up with a timely budget proposal, they also failed to give the Committee more than 24 hours to review the proposal.

Appearing before the Committee were two panels.  The first was led by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki who brought with him the 'madcap screwup' Dr. Robert Petzel, the always incompetent Allison Hickey, Steve Muro, W. Todd Grams and Stephen Warren.

Chair Miller thanked Shinseki for his attendance and stated "I look for your cooperation in getting timely answers to the Committee."  This is a problem, this a regular problem.  Miller pointed out that discretionary spending was increasing in the VA budget at a time when other departments were decreasing their discretionary spending and he said this could be seen as a sign that, even in tough economic times, there is committment to VA spending.

Chair Jeff Miller:  On the other hand, I'm concerned that we're not really seeing the results for the money that Congress has provided to VA over the last years.  For example, the budget proposes a 7.2% increase for expanding mental health services.  I'm still waiting, Mr. Secretary,  for information from VA showing that veterans with mental illnesses are in fact getting healthier with the resources that we've provided.  After all, I know that's an outcome that you and this entire Committee are both after.  Dr. Petzel,  I asked that question of you at our mental health hearing two months ago and we are still awaiting a response.

Which is why Congress should stop allowing witnesses to take questions for the record.  Government officials use that as a way to avoid providing embarrassing answers while reporters are present at the hearing.  They say they will follow up "for the record" and provide that information.  They may or may not follow up -- clearly, Robert Petzel didn't and this is a repeated probelm with him that's gone on for a number of years now/  This is the modern age.  You don't know the answer?  As you sit at the panel table, you have behind you staff.  Any one of them can text your Dept for an immediate answer or step outside and use the cell phone to call your Dept for an immediate answer.  Congressional hearings are a lot like court hearings only in a court a judge wouldn't let you say, "I'll take the question for the record, your Honor, and provide you with a written answer in a week or two."

Chair Jeff Miller:  Then we get into the funding request for the Veterans Benefits Administration -- a staggering 13.4 precent increase over the current year -- and I'm really at a loss because the claims processing performance just isn't there.  Despite already record high budgets, numerous investments in technology, record numbers of employees available to process claims, the situation is worse today than it ever has been before.  Mr. Secretary, when last year's budget was released, VA issued a press release saying that with the funding provided, "By 2013 . . . no more than 40 percent of compensation and pension claims will be more than 125 days old."  Here we are today, and we have 70% of claims out there that are older than 125 days.  And the same is true for prior budget requests --  what many of us would say are lofty promises, excitment about new initiatives and technologies, but lackluster, at best,  results.  And we don't have what this Committee would contend  was a positive trend.  VA has missed its own performance goals every single year. And I think most Committee members are very tired of the excuses we keep hearing from those who come before us testifying.

Chair Jeff Miller:  VA submitted a strategic plan to eliminate the compensation claims backlog.  That plan was submitted in January of this year --  in which it forecast expected number of claims it will decided in years '13, '14 and '15.  And now, three months later, the budget assumes a lower number of claims will be decided.  For example, the strategic plan assumed 1.6 million claims would be completed in 2014 but now the budget that's been submitted assumes only 1.32 million will be completed. So I think this is consistent with my opening statement where I said we talk about bold predictions about performance year and after year but the results aren't backing up.  And -- and my question is, it happens all the time.  The goal posts keep shifting and I'd like, just as brief an answer as possible because we will go to a second round of questioning and we'll talk about the backlog further but why does the goal post keep moving on one of the most important issues that are out there with the veteran community today and that's the backlog?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Fair enough.  Mr. Chairman, I'm going to call on, uh, uh, Secretary Hickey to provide some detail.  But, uh, I would say, any time you write a longterm, large plan that describes solving a complex problem, they are assumptions based.  And we rely on those assumptions being fulfilled.  One of which is there are no additional complicators which get edited -- added to the work load.  Uh -- And another, uh, assumption is that we're going to be funded for the things we say we need.  If either of those things change, it's going to change the, uh, the work flow.  I believe the plan that, uh, uh, you're referring to, the, uh-uh, Common Operating, uh, Plan, uh, delivered in, uh, in January, uh, did not include VOW- VEI as-as-as part of that, uh, discussion.  Uh, the current estimate does.  And so there is an additional requirement that we've accomodated. Uh, I think, uh, we can explain the difference between those two numbers but we have a resource uh, uh plan now with submission of this budget and I believe our latest, uh, estimates are-are accurate.  Uh, let me just see if Secretary Hickey has anything to add.

No, they didn't make an accomodation.  The VA failed -- probably intentionally -- to include VOW/VEI in their projections.  I say probably intentionally because it's the excuse they're using now.  I also say that because the VOW/VEI aspect was something the VA was very familiar with long before Januarary. 

"VOW VEI" refers to the legislation Senator Patty Murry led on (Vow to Hire Heroes Act) and to Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI).  Why didn't a projection turned in in January include it?  As you can see if you [PDF format warning] click here, this is a document put out by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (bottom right hand corner of first page) and the Veterans Benefit Administration (bottom left hand corner of first page).   What's the title of this information flier?  "VOW Act and Veterans Employment Initiative" is the title.  And the date of it?  August 2012.  So if the VA is circulating information on VOW and VEI in August of 2012 to veterans, it's VA's own damn fault if a Common Operating Plan they turn in five months later fails to include projections for VOW and VEI.  And January 25, 2013, VA submitted "(VA) Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog."  Page 11 of that 20 page document?  "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act/ Veterans Employment Initiative (VOW/VEI)."

If indeed it was left out, that was on the VA.  Congress didn't suddenly pass something after January.  The VA was damn well aware of VOW/VEI long before January rolled around.  So it was the VA's mistake and yet Shinseki tries to blame Congress for it.   Nothing changed.  Nothing was added.  VA made the mistake and Shinseki refuses to even get honest about that.  There is no accountabilty at the VA.

Allison Hickey:  Mr. Chairman, we do create a plan.  And then we look at our actuals and if -- I know that most of you all have uh individuals that are checking our uh eekly reports that we send to you uhm, uh, through the Monday work load report or through aspire and I will tell you that we try to adjust for what we see in real life.  And if we -- And you will see right now there is a slight decrease uhm in-in applications being made for claims compensation.  Not a ton.  But there's a little bit of a decrease.  It is -- These are objectives.  These are estimates for the future in terms of past veteran behavior that we have to base, you know, what we're looking at in the future in terms of what, you know, what we are seeing and adjust for that year after year.  So we will be making those adjustments on a regular basis and as we start to see changes we will certainly keep this Committee and you up to -- up to speed on where we are.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Chairman, I'll just add as close out here.  I believe I'm correct that the-the-the COP you saw in January did not have VOW/VIE in it.  This latest set of estimates does and that's why you see an adjustment.

US House Rep Michael Michaud is the Ranking Member.  In his questioning about the seamless transitioning that DoD and the VA are supposed to finishing -- he said working on as did Shinseki.  No, finishing.  This has been funded for several years now.  Shinseki tried to weasel out saying there was a new Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagel).  Well whine to Barack if that's causing you a problem.  This is nonsense that Shinseki told the Committee that he's talking with Hagel to find out what Hagel wants to do and what --

No.  This was supposed to have been planned years ago, the implementation stage was already supposed to have been rolled out.  This is nonsense.

And it's the lack of awareness of what's already taken place.  Gus Bilirakis, is not that new to the Committee, new to the Congress (he took his seat in 2007).  More importantly, he should know what happened beacuse his father served on this Committee.  And in 2006, June 30, 2006, this document was sent to him.  It outlines the efforts of seamless transition beginning in 2005.  So the nonsense that Shinseki offered about how he's getting with Hagel ("just yesterday") to discuss this matter?  No.  The discussions should have stopped long ago, the implementation should have already been started.  Where has the money gone on this each year because it's been funded each year?  Where has the money gone because if all that's taken place in the last 8 years is talking?  There shouldn't be millions being spent on it.  Again, this is nonsense.  US House Rep Gus Bilirakis would do well to speak to his father former US House Rep Michael Bilirakis.  Even better, ask the former House Rep Bilirakis to appear before the Committee to provide a refresher for members who were serving in 2006 and a summary for those who weren't.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Another question I have is the integration between DoD and VA on the eletronic health records and the benefits. Should we have a joint meeting between VA and DoD -- and I realize that Senator -- that Defense Secretary Hagel has a lot on his plate with North Korea and the Middle East right now. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Yep.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  But this is one of my concerns when we changed was the fact that this would get a backburner again.  And are we going to be sitting here -- and you and I have spoken about this and that was a private conversation and it will remain that way but are we going to be sitting here a year from now or two years or three years because it's not a resources -- putting of money -- to be able to integrate these systems.  I mean, it's really become very frustrating to me to sit here year after year and, unless the voters have a different idea, I plan to be here in 2015 and see if we complete these things we say we're going to do.  Is it there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Again, Congressman, Secretary Hagel and I have discussed this on at least two and maybe three occassions.  He is, again, putting into place, his system to assure the way ahead for him to make this decision and be the partner that we need here.  Uhm, he is committed to a, uh, integrated electronic health record between the two departments.  We are -- VA has made its decision on what the core  and we're prepared to move forward.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Somebody has to blink. Obviously, we can't integrate them, so it's going to have to be one system or the other.  And I think what I heard you say was you've decided the VA is going to stay with the system it has.  That means that he's going to have to blink.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uh, I would say the VA system is government owned, government operated.  We have put VISTA into the  open architecture trade space so that anyone who wants to use it can use it. It's used in other countries.  I believe it is, uh, a powerful system and, uh, I'm just awaiting, uh, a discussion with Secretary Hagel.

Clearly, from Shinseki's remarks, it is time for US President Barack Obama to step in a Cabinet meeting and say, "The system used will be" either VA or DoD.  That decision should have been made years ago.  Again, this has been funded and covered in Congress over eight years now.  The most basic step for a seamless transition record is deciding what system will be used.

So what we learned today is that nothing's been decided.

It needs to be.  Barack needs to make a determination of which system will be used, announce it and make sure the determination sticks -- no matter if Hagel is replaced or Shinseki or both.  This should have been determined long ago.  It is the first step.  Instead, for over eight years now, this has gone on and on without even completeing the first basic step.

Could be replaced?  Hagel is Barack Obama's third Secretary of Defense (after Robert Gates and Leon Panetta).  Shinseki's tenure has not been stellar.  In fact, Chair Jeff Miller noted his support for Shinseki was waning.  This was in his opening statement.  We're going with the written here and not as it was delivered because I'm assuming greater precision was taken when writing than when speaking off the cuff.   (Miller doesn't read his opening statements, he uses the text as a format or outline and often changes it up -- we usually go with what he states in the hearing -- and did earlier above -- but because this is a major move, we're going with the written statement).

Chair Jeff Miller: I'm proud of the efforts this Committee has made to protect VA's resources.  But the point of those efforts is to ensure improved benefits and services to America's veterans.  And, right now, I'm not seeing improvement in many key areas.  I'm seeing the opposite.  Mr. Secretary, we need to see results.  We need to see the outcomes the Administration promised with the resources Congress provided.   The excuses must stop.   I have supported you and your leadership up to this point.  I believe the Committee and the Congress has provided you with everything you have asked.  It's time to deliver.  

"I have supported you and your leadership up to this point."

US House Rep  Phil Roe continues to be one of the strongest members of the Committee.  Hearing this and that excuse for the backlog and how much work it is to check the claims and the process and blah blah blah, Roe cut through the nonsense by noting, "An issue I brought to you, six weeks ago, was when a veteran dies -- and there's no discussion about that.  You have a death certificate. This veteran dies and their spouse sometimes takes months or as much as a year to get their benefit. That is absolutely unacceptable.  When you've got a veteran out there -- a spouse, a man or a woman -- and they're -- especially the older veterans that are out there, that are living on a very meager income and then to have them wait?  And they have a house -- as we talked about -- they have a house payment, they have food to buy, they shouldn't miss a check.  That should not even be questioned."

Most idiotic remark made during the hearing by a member of Congress?  No, not Corrine Brown.   Ava will cover it at Trina's site tonight (she'll note another moment as well), Wally's going to cover an aspect at Rebecca's site and Kat's going to cover some basic impressions of the second panel.  The second panel was composed of Disabled American Veterans' Jeffrey Hall, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake, AMVETS' Diane M. Zumatto, VFW's Ray Kelley and the American Legion's Louis Celli.

March 5th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a joint-hearing and they took testimony from the VFW.  In that day's snapshot, my coverage of the hearing included noting that the VFW is always complaining about difficulties recruiting new, young members.  I noted the lack of inclusive language used in testimony -- where every example offered was a "he." After the hearing this morning, a veteran whose opinion I always seek out when he's at a hearing said I should note that VFW has added to their webpage an announcement welcoming new veterans "and they screwed even that up."  He wasn't joking. "VFW WELCOMES AMERICA'S NEWEST GENERATION OF VETERANS" is across the top of a photo.  The photo?  13 men.  One of whom may be Latino, the rest are all Caucasian.  This is how you welcome veterans of today's wars?  When the fastest growing veterans population is women?  When nearly a quarter of the Army and Navy are currently African-American?  This is not, "Boo, hiss on the Anglo Whites!"  They represent over 60% of the Navy and over 70% of Army and Airforce (over 80% of the Marines) so they should be in the photograph.  But the point is the veterans of today's wars are more diverse in race, ethnicty and gender than your photo reflects and yet you continue to complain about how hard it is for you to recruit from today's young veterans?

This is one photo that flashes across the screen.  Another does show a woman.  Anglo White.  Of course, she's not a veteran, she's "Richelle Hecker wife."  This photo also flashes.  Am I wrong because I count three people in that photo but the caption (link goes to Facebook) only names two.  Who is the woman?  Presumably a translator.  But you posed for a picture with her and she's not even identified in the photo.  So VFW's message is women are welcome as wives only and if they pop up elsewhere they will be ignored.

The VFW is whining.  It keeps moaning and whining that today's young veterans aren't joining in significant numbers but everytime they claim to make an effort at outreach, it's not to women and it's not to racial or ethnic minorities.  If you don't try, if your actions don't back up your words, then you're just whining.  And nobody likes a whiner.  People also aren't into joining restricted country clubs.  Those days are long gone.  So why do VFW photos repeatedly portray the VFW as a restricted country club?

While we're on the topic of the US Congress, let's switch to the budget, specifically the move by Barack to gut Social Security.  Norman Solomon covers it at Z-NetTrina covered this topic last night and noted Senator Bernie Sanders, Chocolate City, the AFL-CIO and Major Garrett's report for CBS NewsAnn covered it noting Patrick Burr; and Mike covered it noting David Walsh, Bruce A. Dixon and Ruth Conniff.  In addition, Wally and Cedric covered it yesterday ("THIS JUST IN! HE GRABS THE SCISSORS!" and "FDR rolls over in his grave") and today ("THIS JUST IN! HOW THEY LOVE TO WHORE!" and "The American Whore Corps").  So while scissors are taken to Social Security, is there non-essential spending, in the billions, that maybe the taxpayers should have a vote on?  How about, from the White House's website, this is [PDF format warning] "Department of State and Other International Programs:"

Includes $6.8 billion for the frontline states of Iaq ($2.1 billion), Afghanistan ($3.4 billion), and Packistan ($1.4 billion), including $3 billion in base funding and $3.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. The Budget prioritizes core diplomatic and development activities to ensure strong, lasting partnerships with these countries and to promote stability.

 Please note that the $2.1 billion isn't all that the State Dept wants to spend in Iraq during the fiscal year.  Nor does that necessarily include USAID's 'needed' funds for Iraq.  It doesn't address DoD's spending in Iraq either.

Oh, yeah, the war didn't end.  (We went over the DoD's "Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013" was covered in the March 26th snapshot.)  So what's the final bill for the US taxpayer for the costs of Iraq?  $5 billion?  $6 billion?  When all the agencies add up their costs, just what is the US taxpayer spending for Iraq 'operations' -- a war that supposedly ended?  And when does the US taxpayer stop footing the bill for new costs in Iraq?

From the topic of theft, let's turn to violence.   All Iraq News reports 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul, a Mosul home invasion claimed the life of a former officer with the Iraqi military and his wife, and Sabah al-Kraiem (cousin of Iraqiya MP Shalaan al-Kraiym) was shot dead last night in front of his home. National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 person and left a second injured,  an al-Etha village bombing claimed the life of former Sahwa commander and former police officer Hussein Taha,  and 4 people were shot dead in Jada village.  Through yesterday, April 10th, Iraq Body Count counts 138 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

Still on violence, Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch) observes, "Al-Qa’ida in Iraq has said it has united with Syrian rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, in a move likely to embarrass Western countries supporting Syrian insurgents seeking to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad."  Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) adds:

News of the merger first appeared yesterday, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq, the local Al Qaeda affiliate there, released a statement about the joining of forces. 
Today Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jawalani, released a statement saying that he had not been informed of the union prior to Mr. Baghdadi’s announcement. Mr. Jawalani added that the group’s conduct in Syria would not change, regardless of Mr. Baghdadi's remarks, or Jabhat al-Nusra's pledge of loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, that same day.

In other news, Press TV notes that last night Iraq inspected another Iranian plane bound for Syria: "It is a third isnpection in three days and the Islamic Republic has officially protested to Baghdad."  In related news, Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) reports:

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi believes that the Iraqi government's position on the revolution in Syria will make it an enemy of the Syrian people, and that it should reconsider its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible.
Regarding Iraq's internal affairs, Nujaifi calls for early elections, but not according to the government's terms. He calls on the government to disband, to be replaced by a reduced government that will oversee fair elections.
Nujaifi also expressed his surprise that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was able to gain the support of Iran and the US for his government, and said that there is most likely a confidential strategic agreement on this matter.
al-Nujaifi is referring to parliamentary elections when he speaks of "early elections."  He's not talking about the April 20th provincial elections which will take place in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces.  Waheed Ghanim (Niqash) takes a tour of Basra city to see the various campaign posters which have been posted there.  Ghanim notes that in Basra Province alone, there are 26 political coalitions and over "655 candidates competing for 35 seats on the provincial council."  In Diayal Province, a candidate has been confirmed to still be competing for office.  All Iraq News reports the governor's media office has confirmed the governor continues his official duties and continues campaigning in the elections.  Why is this news?  Because Saturday the rumors were flying that Governor Omar al-Hameri had fled the province over allegations that he was behind a bombing.  He denies the allegation and continues to campaign.

Alsumaria reports that Nouri met today in Baghdad with a Kurdish delegation to discuss the various crises and that Nouri was in agreement with a great deal.  It would appear the threat of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi returing to Iraq (to Erbil) has suddenly conveyed to Nouri the need to get along.  MP Hassan Wahab has protested in statements in Parliament in the last weeks over the refusal of Nouri to allow Anbar Province and Nineveh Province to participate in the provincial elections scheduled for April 20th.  As it stands currently, only 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are set to to participate.

Martin Kobler is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq.  All Iraq News reports that Kobler arrived in Nineveh Province today.  Alsumaria reports that he met with election officials, some candidates for provincial office and the protesters who have been protesting Nouri's government for over 100 days now.  Alsumaria interviewed various people in Nineveh and found sadness and anger over Nouri's announcement that they cannot hold elections.  NINA quotes Coordinating Committee of Liberal Square head Ghanem Abid stating,  "Kobler met with the Governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi and some of the candidates for the local elections and representatives of the protesters to resolve the main outstanding problems in the province of Nineveh and calm the political situation in the province."

Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports that protesters in Anbar Province dismiss the talk of ending the Justice and Accountability Law (and commission) as "talk, just talk."  You may remember the western press has been infatuated with that.  So infatuated, they've failed to note that Moqtada al-Sadr has come out firmly against it.  Today All Iraq News reports that MP Hussein al-Mansouri, with Sadr's bloc, denounced the proposal and accuses Nouri's State of Law of being in bed with Ba'athists.   Al Mada notes Hezbollah of Iraq's Secretary-General Watheq al-Battat  is also strongly opposed to the proposal.  Alsumaria notes that activists and intellectuals in Baghdad are protesting the proposal.  It's interesting how the western outlets 'report.'  They took a proposal and treated it as though it were a law passed by Parliament.  As non-stop objections have built inside Iraq over the last few days, they've ignored reporting on that.  I guess it would take the bloom off the rose they call Nouri al-Maliki?  Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) feels its an obvious conclusion why Nouri is supporting this move:

Although Maliki’s step has shocked the Shiites, it has revealed Maliki’s road map for a third term, which he seems to strongly desire this time through a political majority government.
It seems that Maliki wants to be provided with additional support from the Sunnis, which is difficult to achieve, in light of the political atmosphere in the country’s western areas that oppose his policy. His decision to bring back the Baath leaders could possibly be a way to bring the Sunnis onto his side.
Maliki is clearly planning for another chapter in his political life in the country, and he is keen, as it was proved in the electoral conference of the Rule of Law [Coalition], to make his political team a totally polarized party, and prepare for himself a long-term political majority.

Ali Abel Sadah may be correct, he may not be.  I have no idea.  If he is correct, it would appear Nouri's not courting Sunni voters across Iraq.  Instead, he's court post-election votes, he's courting Sunni officials.  They are the ones who would benefit and be most grateful by the move, a Saleh al-Mutlaq, for example.  If you want to appeal to Sunni voters in the general population, you get rid of Article IV.  As we noted in yesterday's snapshot:

You live in a country we'll call Justica.  In Justica there's Law A which prevents you from running for public office or holding senior government positions.  There's also Law B which allows the government to arrest your family members for crimes  you are suspected of.
In Justica, does Law A or Law B matter the most to you?
Since most people don't run for public office and since most people don't hold senior government positions?  Law B.
And it's Article IV that has so outraged the protesters -- not the Justice and Accountability which has outraged politicians and would be politicians.

Alsumaria reports that the Electoral Commission notes 651,000 security forces will be voting in the provincial elections.  Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

Still on the political, from the April 2nd snapshot, "Alsumaria reports that Salah al-Obeidi, spokesperson for the Sadr bloc, declared today that pressure is  being put upon police and military recruits to get them to vote for Nouri's State of Law slate."  Al Rafidayn reports today that Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has also called out the efforts to pressure police and army to vote for a specific list of candidate (Al Rafidayn notes that al-Hakim avoided naming the list in question).  

651,000 votes would be a lot to control, wouldn't they?  Alsumaria notes that Iraqiya adviser Hani Ashour declared that campaigns for provincial elections are spending close to one billion dollars which is shameful because the money could built ten hospitals across the country to address the needs of all the country's cancer patients.

For years now, the press has repeatedly rolled out one wave of Operation Happy Talk after another declaring the Baghdad national museum was open.  It's not and Diaa Hadid (AP) reports today, 'Ten years after Iraq's national museum was looted and smashed by frenzied thieves during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, it's still far from ready for a public re-opening."

The museum has grabbed so many headlines over the years (starting in 2003 with Bremer) for it's 'opening' but it's still not opened.  It's like the electricity which is always on the verge of being reliable and fully operating . . . yet somehow never gets there.  This week Omar al-Shaher (Al-Monitor) reported on the promise by Minister of Electricity Karim al-Jumaili that, by November 1st, the electricity problems would be over in Iraq and 24 hours of power would be available to all:

However, the US Energy Information Administration, a body providing statistics and economic analysis, mentioned in a detailed report about the electricity situation in Iraq that “for most of the postwar period from 2003-2012, Iraq has struggled to meet its power needs.”
The recent report noted that “daily outages lasting 16 hours per day have not been uncommon, even though $45 billion was spent on this sector.” The report ruled out the possibility of providing 24-hour electricity as promised by the prime minister and the minister of electricity.

All Iraq News adds that MP Hassan Wahab, who sits on the Oil and Energy Committee, states that promies being made to the Iraqi people about the electricity are "exaggerated" and "fake." Wahab is with Ammar al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  More importantly, as late as 2010, he was the adviser to the Ministry of Electricity.  As late as then, he was explaining how, if certain measures were taken, Iraq could fix the electrical problems in three years.  Those measures were never taken.  The museum, the electricity, there's never in progress in Nouri's Iraq.  And yet he wants a third term as prime minister.  With so very little to show for it.

Lastly, US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

April 10, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Murray Mental Health Bill Clears Committee Hurdle
In wake of recent tragedies, Murray provision in mental health package provides support for children and families affected by trauma

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, legislation authored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to provide increased support for children and families affected by trauma, passed through the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of a larger package addressing mental health awareness and improvement. Sen. Murray’s Children’s Trauma Recovery Act includes a reauthorization and updates to the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCTSI), which works with children and families who are exposed to a wide range of traumatic experiences including physical and sexual abuse; domestic, school, and community violence; natural disasters, terrorism, or military family challenges; severe bereavement and loss; and life-threatening injury and illness.  

“As we have unfortunately witnessed too often in recent years, trauma involving children can happen at any time and in all parts of our country. The Children’s Trauma Recovery Act ensures the providers have the proper tools available to not only serve their day-to-day needs in treating child trauma, but also maintain absolute preparedness in the event of a national tragedy. Additionally, this bill supports the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative in its mission to raise the standard of care and increase access to evidence-based and trauma-informed practices in all child-serving systems.” said Senator Murray. “I applaud Chairman Harkin’s hard work in putting this comprehensive package together, so we can all work to ease the burden on our children and their families as they face very difficult times.”

NCTSI currently supports a national network of child trauma centers in forty-four states, including seventy-nine university, hospital, and community-based funded centers and ninety affiliate members. In addition to supporting everyday child trauma work, this network also mobilizes in response to national crises such as the shooting in Newtown, CT and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. 
Specifically, the Children’s Recovery from Trauma Act authorizes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to:
·         Support a national collaborative network of child trauma centers, including: grants for university and hospital child trauma centers which are involved with intervention development and dissemination of evidence-based practices; grants for diverse community-based organizations which are involved with providing services to children and families affected by trauma; and a grant for the NCTSI coordinating center to organize the collaboration, training, and dissemination activities of all funded and Affiliate NCTSI members to maintain the NCTSI network and outreach infrastructure;
·         Support the analysis and reporting of the child outcome and other data collected by the NCTSI coordinating center to establish the effectiveness, implementation, and clinical utility of evidence-based treatment and services;
·         Support the continuum of interprofessional training initiatives in evidence-based and trauma-informed treatments, interventions, and practices offered to providers in all child-serving systems;
·         Support the collaboration of NCTSI, HHS, and other federal agencies in the dissemination of NCTSI evidence-based and trauma-informed interventions, treatments, products, and other resources to all child-serving systems and policymakers.

The following groups have endorsed the Children's Trauma Recovery Act of 2013: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, Futures Without Violence, National Children's Alliance, National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, Prevent Child Abuse America, Mental Health America, uFOSTERsuccess, American Art Therapy Association, American Association on Health and Disability, American Dance Therapy Association, American Group Psychotherapy Association, American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, School Social Work Association of America, and The Trevor Project.
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834