Iraq snapshot - March 8, 2012
The Common Ills
Thursday, March 8, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Josh Rogin is an embarrassment whore and Foreign Policy is not about journalism, Iraqi women reject the government spin, the US Congress hears about burial issues, was Dennis Kucinich's Tuesday loss a great blow to the left, and more.
In 2009 and 2010, US House Rep John Hall was the Chair of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and memorial Affairs. With others on the Subcommittee, including former US House Rep Steve Buyer, they raised many important issues. We'll drop back to September 24, 2009 to note one example:
During the first panel, US House Rep Steve Buyer opened with a visual display showing various cemeteries. Normandy American Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. These were "beautiful" and up to standard. He then went to a national cemetery run by the Department of the Interior, Andersonville National Cemetery. Pointing to the dingy, dirty headstones, "This should not matter that this is the marker of someone who died in the Civil War. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't matter if it was someone who died in the Revolution or someone who died that's interned in Mexico City." He then "So when you said in your testimony that you gently, finely clean the markers, well that's going to take you a lot of time. This is not a standard for which we should have in America. I think Mr. Cleland, if you saw that in one of yours, you would just freak out." Buyer explained that he complained about the weeds and the result was they pulled out everything, including the grass.
If you can't take the heat and embarrassment from the shoddy work noted above, what do you do? Maybe you do like the National Park Service did too and skip a Congressional hearing. The Subcommittee Chair noted that they were invited but they decided they wouldn't attend today. The first panel was made up of government officials who were willing to attend, the Veteran Affairs Dept's Steven Muro (Under Secretary for the National Cemetery Administration), the Pentagon's Kathryn Condon (Executive Director of Army and National Cemeteries Program) and the American Battle Monuments Commissions' Deputy Secretary Raymond Wollman.
In the 2010 mid-terms, control of the House flipped to the Republicans and some House members chose not to seek re-election and others did not win their re-election races (that applies to Buyer and Hall). US House Rep Jon Runyan is now the Chair of the Subcommittee and Jerry McNerney is the Ranking Member.
Chair Jon Runyan: We are here today to examine the current state of our final resting place for our nation's heroes. These cemeteries and monuments span across our country and the entire world: from my own District in New Jersey with Beverly National Cemetery; to across the Atlantic in Normandy, France; or across the Pacific with Clarke Veterans Cemetery in the Philipines. Some of these cemeteries instantly bring to mind the triumph of courage in conflicts fought around the globe for liberty and freedom. Others hold memories of bravery now known only to God and those who died on the field of battle. Others hold memories of bravery now known only to God and those who died on the field of battle. Yet each one of these national shrines has this in common: They are all honored tributes to our service men and women now resting in peace.
He would go on to explain that audits reveal more than "240 mismarked or unmarked graves and 8 veterans or their loved ones buried in the wrong place. Again, this was not a failing of just one national cemetery, but at 13 NCA cemeteries nationwide. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a pattern here and I find it totally unacceptable."
The following exchange was typical of the responses offered in the hearing.
Chair Jon Runyan: I want to start with Under Secretary Muro. Currently NCA is performing 39 raise and realignment projects. Could you discuss what is being done to make sure the problems related to the prior raise and realignment projects are not repeated?
Steven Muro: Thank you for the question, sir. The first thing we've done is ensure that the headstones are not taken from the grave sight. So they're maintained on the grave sight. The second thing is we're requiring the COR -- which is the Contracting Officer's Representative at the site -- to do a daily check at the end of the day at the site before they leave to ensure that the headstones are on the correct grave sight.
Chair Jon Runyan: Were you able to identify all of the contractors who were involved in all of the previous raise and realignment projects where the errors occurred that actually uncovered and started this national audit.
Steven Muro: Yes, we were able to uncover the contractors that had done the work. Some of them had done multiple cemeteries and we didn't have an issue at other cemeteries but we were able to identify them.
Chair Jon Runyan: That -- And what are you doing to ensure that none of these -- none of these contractors involved during the initial errors are involved in the future raise and realignments? And are you going to reach out to the same ones or do we have to make sure that obviously we have the system of checks and balances and that in there? Because, I mean, rewarding bad behavior sometimes becomes, unfortunately, a bad pattern around here.
Steven Muro: Two things we've done. Some of them didn't rebid other contracts. But the ones that have? We have been watching them at the other cemeteries where they didn't have problems. Plus, if they have a site now, we're making sure that they're doing it --
Chair Jon Runyan: So you're still -- you're still offering them?
Steven Muro: Unfortunately, if they did an error and we didn't catch it, it became our responsibility once they left and we signed off on it. So that's where we're holding our employees accountable for that issue.
Chair Jon Runyan: But you're still offering the same contractors --
Steven Muro: Actually, most of the contractors that did the first rounds aren't in the business anymore. A lot of them couldn't keep up with the standard that we set and have not rebid their contracts.
Chair Jon Runyan: What is the process of accountabily once personnel are identified who directly led to some of the failings uncovered by the national audit?
Steven Muro: Whenever -- Whenever an aerror is found at the national cemeteries, it's reported up through the chain and then we -- we double check to make sure everything they think they found, we do ask differet questions to verify. Then when we are sure that it is an error, we make sure we advise Congress of the error and this committee. And we also work with the families, we contact the families -- where there are families available -- and we talk to the families. If it's just the headstone, once we move it -- We advise them before we move it and after we've moved it that it's been corrected. And then if it's cremated remains or a body that needs to be relocated -- the eight that we did, we contact the family and we have a funeral director there. If the family wishes us to use the original funeral director there -- if they're still in business we do. Otherwise we hire a local one from the area.
Chair Jon Runyan: But to the personal accountability, there's nothing being done there?
Steven Muro: Yes, there is. We're holding those employees there are still employed there accountable for the error and for not catching the error.
Chair Jon Runyan: You have any examples of that?
Steven Muro: We're in the process of doing the investigation to take the appropriate adminstrative action on those employees.
If you're not feeling like accountability is taking place, you're not alone. Runyan's expressions throughout were often of disbelief. And what of Ranking Member Jerry McNerney? He noted that this was a follow up to the September 24, 2009 hearing and he would also note that "the value of the current $300 burial allowance and $300 plot allowance for qualifying veterans has diminished as funeral and burial costs have increased -- negatively affecting the survivors left behind."
He is correct. However, if you go back to our snapshot of that Septemeber 24, 2009 hearing, one of the first things you'll find is this: "Subcommittee Chair Hall also noted that the VA's $300 for a funeral plot and $300 for burial does not begin to cover the costs."
This was known in 2009. It's three years later. Why has this not been addressed?
One new detail that did come up was when the Department of Defense's Kathyrn Condon informed the Subcommittee that the average wait time is 98 days for the burial of a veteran not killed in action. 98 days seems like a very long time.
Back in 2009, then public editor of the New York Times Clark Hoyt weighed in on the issue of anonymous sources. He noted that the paper's "policy says anonymous sources should be used only as 'a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way'." Does Foreign Policy not have a policy on anonymous sourcing?
"This is tough enough without paid advocates making it worse" is what Josh Rogin presents "one official" in the government telling him. Are there any standards at Foreign Policy. Is Josh Rogin just allowed write any damn thing? He's now, yet again, attacking Camp Ashraf and this time he's gong after their public supporters. And the poor little White House and State Dept are just so so so worn down by these awful, awful advocates.
Not only was the quote unneeded, not only did it violate the basic policies (in journalism) on anonymous sourcing, it also part of yet another catty attack on Camp Ashraf from someone who's been allowed to launch many already.
Here's another reality for Josh Rogin: If the United Nations is monitoring Camp Liberty -- where some residents of Camp Ashraf are being relocated -- then you talk to the UN to confirm that.
Unless you're a an idiot, you do not run with this, "While there are some legitimate problems at the camp, the ["Obama administration"] official admitted, the U.N. has been monitoring Camp Liberty's water sewage, and food systems on a daily basis and the condtions are better than the MEK is portraying." How the hell is that sourcing?
Did Josh ever get his work fact checked? Or did the little punk cry and piss his briefs to get his way with every editor he ever had? The White House is not monitoring by that statement; therefore, the White House cannot tell you what is or isn't going on. If you want to talk -- on the record or off -- about what the UN has found, you go to a UN source. This is basic. And what Josh has offered is bulls**t.
If you doubt it, this section of his 'report' is a character attack and you don't allow anonymous officials to launch character attacks:
"The Americans who ought to know better and claim to be on the side of good solutions are really damaging it. Either they are too lazy or too arrogant to actually do their homework. They don't spend the time to learn facts, they just pop off. They accept the MEK line without question and then they posture," the official said. "We have a plan that has a chance to work and the Iraqis want it to work. The MEK ... it's not clear. And in this situation they are being badly advised by the people whose names appear in these ads."
I know Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Patrick Kennedy, Ed Rendell, John Lewis and Evan Bayh. (I know Lee Hamilton but I loath him.) They're among the public advocates for Camp Ashraf residents to be treated fairly.
It's strange because I spoke to two about this little 'report' from Joshy Posh and, thing is, he didn't try to get a comment from them. He just, like a good little whore, wrote down what the government wanted him to write down -- no questions asked. Whores don't ask questions, they just take your money.
The White House has refused to honor international law. Last week, we called out Hillary for making an idiot of herself and the US terrorist list by stating that whether or not Camp Ashraf residents were taken off that list would depend upon how they 'behaved' as the Iraqi government relocated them -- the same government that's already twice attacked them and -- as the United Nations publicly acknowledges -- the same government that's killed at least 49 Camp Ashraf residents.
No, that's not how you determine terorrism. If Josh Rogin weren't such a little whore, he'd be writing about that, he'd be pursuing that. Instead, he launches another attack on a group of people who are defenseless. And, at some point, the argument's going to be made -- and I could do it right now and do it in terms of the law -- that Camp Ashraf residents aren't on the terrorist list. The MEK is. The MEK is on it for activites that don't involve Camp Ashraf. When that argument gets made, the White House has even less to hide behind.
Somehow the State Dept refusing to comply with a court order from 2010 to conduct and complete a review of the status of the MEK isn't a concern to a whore like Josh Rogin. It's not even worth mentioning to him.
Camp Ashraf residents are protected under international law, that's reality. Josh Rogin doesn't have to like them, doesn't have to support whatever it is they support. All he has to do is recognize the law. Once he does that he can respect or reject the law. But there is nothing in his mental midget ditherings to ever imply, infer or openly suggest that the idiot knows the first thing he's writing about. But he's so very good at working in every point the White House wants made.
Here's what so damn embarrassing about Josh Posh's latest crap-fest, the White House is complaining that citizens -- that's what Howard Dean and company are -- are being active in politics. They're using their First Amendment rights. And that's what has the White House bitching, whining and moaning. They need to grow the hell up. In a democracy, what they're facing right now should happen on every issue and if they hadn't dragged their feet on this issue, maybe they wouldn't be fighting such a strong push now.
It's hard to tell when Josh is lying because he's so damn stupid. But at one point, when he's listing the 'paid advocates' and their activities, he goes off about sitting in on Congressional hearings. Those aren't paid advocates and that didn't start this year, it didn't start last year. It's been going on forever and maybe if Josh Rogin didn't take swallow everything the White House sticks in his mouth, he'd know that. Then again, maybe not. As I said, it's always had to tell when he's lying or when he's just showing how very stupid he is.
I've noted this before, I'll note it again before someone wonders, I have not received any money from Camp Ashraf or MEK or anything to do with them. I don't take money for things like that. I don't take money period. I don't take money for speaking -- I pay my own travel, I pay my own lodging. Nor do I speak on behalf of Camp Ashraf. The law is the law and who knew Foreign Policy would decide that international law wasn't to be respected?
Today was International Women's Day. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports that Iraqi women refused to be silent puppets in their government's attempt to distort the record and use them as props. While the Baghdad-government attempted to spin, Iraqi women gathered together for their own conference. Hanaa Edwar was among the brave women gathered to tell the truth and she tells AFP, "Iraqi women suffer marginalisation and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life." It's an important article and, if you use any link in this snapshot, please use that link.
We covered International Women's Day this morning. The only thing to add to that is that Iraqi women are very strong and it's shame they have to be so strong yet again. Their countries been attacked so many times, they've had to live through crippling sanctions, the US-picked ruler does nothing to improve the lives of Iraqis (via jobs or basic services) and the US assisted the "brain drain" -- where large portions of Iraq's educated class left the country -- by installing and building up theocratic thugs. Not only that, the US government actively sought to undercut Iraqi women when the country's Constitution was being written. On top of all that, they have to deal with bombings, with shootings, with threats, with the never-ending attacks just for being a woman.
That they get up each day and start the struggle all over is a testatment to their spirit and strength and they are surely (once again) making the country a better place for their children. Hopefully, when their children are adults, the US will not again attack Iraq in an illegal war thereby destroying all the hard earned progress these women are and will be making possible. They are Iraq's heart and soul, its leaders and its dreamers.
Today's violence included a rocket attack on Kirkuk's air base, a Kirkuk sticky bombing claimed 1 life and 1 soldier and 1 bystander shot dead in Ninewa.
Turning to the US, Tuesday in Ohio, US House Reps Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Katpur faced off against one another in a primary. Both incumbent Democrats ended up in the same district due to redistricting. Only one could run for a spot representing the newly designed district in November. Marcy won the primary and will go on to compete for the vote this fall. Dennis cannot represent Ohio now althogh there are rumors he might attempt to run in Washington state. Marcy and Dennis both represented their constitutents. In what follows, we're not discussing Dennis Kucinich as "your Congress member" but as the national politician -- a spot he actively sought.
Theo Anderson (In These Times) wonders who the next Dennis will be and thinks/hopes it will be US House Rep Tammy Badlwin. I would hope not. I was not impressed with National Dennis. National Dennis did vote against the 2002 Iraq Authorization and applause for that. But so what? Did he filibuster to end the war? No. In 2008, former US Senator Mike Gravel would repeatedly explain how you can filibuster to stop the authorization vote for the war spending. Dennis didn't do that. Did he do anything? He spoke. Often and well. Little else.
In 2004, he ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. This is, as Rebecca's explained many times, is why I truly do not care for National Dennis. After he failed to make much of a dent in terms of votes, he assured his supporters he would make an impact on the platform and on the convention and blah blah blah. Rebecca and I were at the 2004 DNC convention and dealt with the saddest non-physically injured person at a convention we've ever seen -- a Kucinnich supporter who couldn't believe Dennis would sell them out. Dennis did what was best for Dennis. That's all he ever did. Paul D'Amato (International Socialsit Review) analyzed Kucinich's sell-out of beliefs and principals and, yes, supporters at the 2004 DNC convention and concluded:
This is indeed the role of all left-leaning Democratic candidates. George McGovern in 1968 and Jesse Jackson in 1988, to mention a couple, did the same thing: corraling millions of votes by making a Left or populist appeal, and then handing those votes to the centrist party choice at convention time. The process is predictable. First the Left-Democrat presents his candidacy as one that can push the party to the Left and pressure it to take on issues it otherwise would not. Then, on the fateful convention day, it is revealed that the dynamic is actually the opposite: the party co-opts the Left, drags it to the right, and neuters it. In the end, it has absolutely no influence on the party's platform or trajectory. All the talk about campaigning for the Democrat as being "part of the movement" for labor rights, against war, for women's rights, and so on, is revealed to be a lie. The truth is that backing the Democrat is aimed at defusing the fight for a genuine alternative. Those who realize this become demoralized and depressed, and when the next presidential election roles around, a new crop of enthusiasts are found who can be convinced that this is the "most important election of your lifetime," and the whole process begins again. It is a seamless trap.
This is a textbook case of how to kill any attempt to build a third-party alternative that really represents working-class interests. The Mariah Williamses are right to believe that we have virtually one pro-corporate party. And it is the job of the Dennis Kuciniches to make sure that the Mariah Williamses fail to break from that party by wagging a left tail behind the mainstream dog.
That was 2004. Then came his attempt to run for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination. And we treated him fairly here (check the archives) despite the fact that I can't stand National Dennis. He was the peace candidate, he swore. But right from the start, he proved it wasn't a real campaign. Before the caucus vote in Iowa, well before it, he was telling his supporters to vote for Barack Obama. They would support Dennis in the first round and then go over to Barack. Mike Gravel was a peace candidate. You could make the case that Bill Richardson or John Edwards were. But Barack Obama had voted for every Iraq War measure that came before him. And Dennis knew it. So it was offensive that way. It was also offensive in the "I release you minions" manner. But what it really did was demonstrate that Dennis wasn't a real candidate. You don't do that if you're a real candidate. And Dennis had sworn he was going to fight for every vote. Then he wanted to whine that the networks were excluding him. You competed in Iowa by giving your supporters away to another campaign. You're not a real candidate. The networks were under no obligation to cover him. I love Rosenne Barr. But with her announcing that she wants Jill Stein to win the Green Party nomination, that says to me, "You're not a real candidate." And that's fine. But time is limited as are resources and there's no reason to cover candidates who aren't trying to win the nomination. It short changes those who actually are trying to run.
There have been many key issues since Barack Obama was sworn in as US President in January 2009. One of them was ObamaCare. The US needs to address health care. From the left, many of us believe the only way to control costs is to supply universal, single-payer health care and the easiest way to get that is to lower the age for Medicare. (You can raise the age on CHIPS and other state programs that cover children.) If you do not have the guts or the votes to go to single-payer system immediately, you go incremental with Medicare lowering the age ten years. You up the age for the children's health programs and pretty soon you're dealing with a 15 or 20 year gap and, of course, it is only fair to everyone that those people be covered so you do one more incremental and you've basically got everyone covered. That's simple and you're not selling the American people on a new plan, you're just expanding one that already has a strong record of serving seniors.
That's nothing like what Barack proposed. Though he used the buzzword "universal health care" at the DNC in Denver in 2008, he wasn't going to provide that and he hasn't. What did he do? Prior to ObamaCare, you could purchase insurance or not. Now you have to puchase it. He pushed a law the Congress passed (which hopefully the Supreme Court will toss out) forces all Americans to buy insurance. It turns you into consumers of the insurance companies, it leads you like lambs to slaughter. It is of no help to anyone. Strangely enough, when Mitt Romeny pulled this crap as governor, my own local Pacifica, KPFA, couldn't shut up about how wrong that was. Despite the fact that we're in the Bay Area of California and what Massachusetts does really shouldn't be our biggest concern. But damned if Philip Maldari and the rest couldn't let go of this story and what a fraud and rip-off it was. Strangely enough when Barack pimps it, KPFA will not allow critics of the plan on the air to voice the exact same arguments they did when RomneyCare passed.
What does this have to do with Dennis? National Dennis wanted -- and got -- national news stories when he vowed he would not vote for ObamaCare. And in November 2009, he voted "no" and issued a press release which included the following:
We have been led to believe that we must make our health care choices only within the current structure of a predatory, for-profit insurance system which makes money not providing health care. We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are. But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem. When health insurance companies deny care or raise premiums, co-pays and deductibles they are simply trying to make a profit. That is our system.
"Clearly, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. They are driving up the cost of health care. Because their massive bureaucracy avoids paying bills so effectively, they force hospitals and doctors to hire their own bureaucracy to fight the insurance companies to avoid getting stuck with an unfair share of the bills. The result is that since 1970, the number of physicians has increased by less than 200% while the number of administrators has increased by 3000%. It is no wonder that 31 cents of every health care dollar goes to administrative costs, not toward providing care. Even those with insurance are at risk. The single biggest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. is health insurance policies that do not cover you when you get sick.
"But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies -- a bailout under a blue cross.
And despite that when it was time to vote in March 2010, despite vowing he would stay a firm no, Dennis took a plane ride with Barack and suddenly changed his vote. Jeff Zeleny and Robert Pear (New York Times) noted his Mach 17, 2010 announcement that he would vote "yes" for it and that, "In an interview five days ago, Mr. Kucinich said he could not support the legislation and dismissed suggestions that his vote would derail the Democratic health care agenda."
That is Dennis Kucinich. Dennis talks a big game but in the end he always does what's best for himself. How is it a loss not to have Dennis in the House of Representatives? (Again, he served his constitutents very well. I'm speaking of National Dennis.) Isn't this 'talk big but have no spine' exactly why many of us on the left were upset with a large number of Democrats? Didn't we hate seeing them cave in over and over?
What did Dennis accomplish either them getting national press for himself -- press that often portrayed him as a joke?
When he raised serious issues -- no, not his lawsuit against the Congressional cafe, think the remarks about Barack's Libyan War being in violation of the War Powers Act -- he was kooky Dennis. How much did he undermine the right positions just by supporting them? That's a serious question and someone should seriously explore it.
He voted against the Iraq War. He was a critics of the Iraq War. That's all you can say. He didn't use his office to end the war. Time and again, he caved and, time and again, he provided cover for the most craven acts of the Democratic Party.
I'm sorry that Dennis and Marcy had to go up against each other. But this idea that the US Congress just lost Russ Feingold isn't accurate. Russ did stand up and Russ made serious arguments and conducted himself in a serious manner so that when he took a stand -- like opposing the PATRIOT Act -- it registered as something other than, "Oh, look why the kooky flibbertigibbet did today!" The Department of Peace was ridiculed by many this week. It's something Dennis supported.
However, contrary to what some of those snarking though, that idea did not originate with Dennis Kucinich and has been around forever and a day -- it was popularized in 1793 by a free African-American. It's an important part of Black history and I wonder if knowing that history would have prevented some of the snark? At Third Estate Sunday Review last October, it was addressed by Jim, Cedric and Ann:
Jim: I think it was the fact that The Nation could be leading the way towards something other than making excuses for Barack. And they're not leading. We're all on a treadmill, jogging in place, never getting forward. And that was driven home, to me, with the information -- I didn't know this before -- that a Secretary of Peace had been proposed as far back as 1793. That's 17 years after the start of the American Revolution.
Cedric: Benjamin Banneker. That's the person who proposed it in 1793. And that it was proposed in 1793 was as much a revelation to me as the fact that Banneker was a Black man. I had teachers who made a big deal out of Black History Month and really felt like I had a strong grounding in Black History. Obviously, that's not the case and I need to start supplementing what I was taught in school.
Ann: Well most of Cedric's Black history reading is on people from the Civil Rights Era. Such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth whose passing Ava and C.I. recently noted in "TV: That Bunny Won't Hop." There's a lot of history.
Cedric: There is but I think Banneker's contribution is sort of swept to the side the same way MLK's calls for peace, an end to war and economic justice get swept to the side.
It's a serious idea and it has been for centuries. It's also an idea popularized by a great American, consider him a founding father, certainly so in terms of information -- he published an almanac. And it's not idea that should be ridiculued -- especially considering all the wars that US has been in lately. But the fact that 'kooky' Kucinich is championing it, leaves it open to ridicule.
I realize that those who speak out will always be targeted with ridicule. But you can bring it on yourself. He didn't conduct himself in a serious fashion and he was always eager to grab the spotlight by laughing at himself. Cynthia McKinney speaks out. She is ridiculed for it. She never plays to the press by pulling "Look how stupid I am" the way Dennis did and does. Doing that does not make you look like a "good sport," it makes you look like an idiot because people are calling you one and you're attempting to get their approval by agreeing with them. I don't see his departure from Congress as a great loss for the peace movement. Cynthia McKinney's departure from Congress? That was a huge loss.