My ideal is to post anytime C.I. reports on a Congressional hearing. It doesn't always happen. I already noted Ava and C.I.'s "TV: Smart drama and the real fringe" but I strongly recommend you read that. In it, they tackle David Simon who lives in fantasy world where the newspapers do their job or did until recently. The newspapers have never done their jobs. But Simon was trashing online sites (Amy Goodman played that nonsense attack) and he didn't know what he was talking about.
When I heard Simon yammering away on Democracy Now!, I thought, "What an idiot." He truly is. Who does he think reports on the Congress? Which newspaper?
And, of course, I thought of C.I. who generally covers a minimum of four hearings a month. Covering and reporting.
My father and aunt came over last night and had dinner with us and during it, my aunt asked why C.I. covered a hearing (Wednesday's snapshot) that wasn't the torture hearing? Before I could respond, my father jumped in and said it was always a given that the press would turn out for the torture hearing. And it was.
And that's something we've learned via C.I.'s reporting.
We've learned that the 'superstar' hearings get coverage and that a lot of important ones are completely ignored. The Smith-Mundt Act bars the US government from airing domestic propaganda in the US. Did you know there was a hearing this month where the chair of the committee and the witnesses -- including a foreigner -- were all advocating that the Smith-Mundt Act be changed or demolished? That the chair called Americans paranoid?
You knew about that if you follow C.I.'s reporting.
Otherwise, you missed the entire hearing. So let me note the hearing reporting C.I. did yesterday:
"I want to thank you all for being here," declared US House Rep Bob Finer bringing the House Veterans' Affairs Committee -- full committee, which he chairs -- to order [click here for prepared opening statement, I'm quoting what he actually said.] "The purpose is very simple. In my job and I'm sure everyone of my colleagues has the same experience, we come into contact with constituents in business or patients who have had contact or have invented or have manufactured instruments, technologies, treatments which would seem to have a great benefit for our veterans. And yet many have had a frustrating experience of dealingwith a bureaucracy that just doesn't seem to react very quickly to new ideas and treatments and people are frustrated."
The committee was holding a hearing this morning entitled Innovative Technologies and Treatments Helping Veterans. There were two panels of witnesses. The first panel was composed of David R. Bethune (Zila, Inc), Dr. David Sidransky (Johns Hopkins University), Robert A. Beckman (Brainport Technologies), David A. Broecker (Alkermes, Inc.), Mark Munroe (Mobile Medical International Corporation), Stanley Stern (TeleMed Network) and Dr. David Scadden (Harvard). The second panel was composed of Dr. Howard J. Federoff (Georgetown University), Dr. Nelson M. Handal (Harmonex, Inc) and James A. Schoeneck (BrainCells Inc). Click on the name for prepared statements (these are all non-PDF format, no worries). We'll be focusing on the first panel and largely one aspect.
The full committee was supposed to be present but that did not happen. "None of our Republican colleagues are here," Chair Bob Finer explained. "They decided somehow that special interests were invited." If so, wasn't it their job to call out special interests? Apparently Republicans on the Committee just needed a Snow Day.
Robert Beckman spoke of a portable device, the Brainport Vision Device, where a small camera ("with zoom capability") is hooked to other neurochannels ("such as the tongue"). Beckman stated, "One blind user with two glass eyes was able to successfully shoot a basketball and another used the Brainport Vision Device at an indoor rock climbing gym to see the next rock holds and at home with his daughter to play Tic-Tac-Toe."
"The Brainport Vision Device will not replace the cane or the sight dog," he continued. "But it will become an important, additional tool to improve the safety, mobility and quality of life for blind users. Some examples. Finding the open seat on a crowded bus or train. Identifying the direction to the target building in a confusing parking lot. Finding the handle in order to remove a hot pot from the stove. Wicab recently sponsored clinical testing of the Brainport Vision Device at the Atlanta VA. Dr. Michael Williams, the PI concluded, 'Bottom line, the device performs remarkably well for the tasks that we looked at in phase one'. To optimize the device we need feedback from a much larger pool of users who are blind. We would welcome the opportunity to further test the Brainport Vision Device at VA sites. Perhaps those willing soldiers who are blind as a result of a blast injury should be first in line to test this new technology?"
US House Rep Jerry McNerney's had a few questions.
Jerry McNerney: Mr. Beckman, the Brainport Vision Device. This sounds very -- How intrusive is the -- is the device that's on the tongue? Are you able to eat? Do you have to remove it for different activities? Or -- how intrustive is this?
Robert Beckman: Well for vision, the device does rest on top of the tongue. And so, yes, indeed, in its current form you would have to remove the device when you were eating, talking, etc. However, with additional funding there is no -- there are no technological barriers to making this device totally wireless so that the intra-oral device could be mounted on the upper pallette and blind people using wireless techonology would be able to use the device without anybody else knowing that they actually have the technology available to them.
Jerry McNerney: Well that's pretty exciting. I'm kind of thrilled by the technical aspect of this rather than the administrative aspect, if you can't tell.
US House Rep John Hall also had some questions.
John Hall: Mr. Beckman, I was wondering if you could tell us why Brainport Devices are not implantable and is that something that could change?
Robert Beckman: I think one of the key advantages of the Brainport Device is the fact that it's non-implantable. In fact, it's a portable device where there's no need to implant the techonology. Other technologies for vision such as retinal implants are being developed. But I think the fact that they involve surgery, that they're invasive, means that those technologies will likely not be available for probably ten years or more. Our technology is available today.
John Hall: I understand that and I can see the advantadges to either -- to both. Cochlear implants, for instance, have been and are being used by large number of people with some success. Is that because of the location in the brain of the nerves that one would need to get at and the centers one would need to get at that it's more difficult. Or is this something that you see happening in the future?
Robert Beckman: That was really, going back to my testimony, that was really one of Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita's main hypothesis that the brain is not hard wired so, in other words, you can use an alternate sensor -- you can use an alternate sensor and also an alternate path to send that signal to the brain. And we have demonstrated that, for instance, people who are blind who perform a certain task with our device and while they're performing that task they are analyzed with PET [Positron Emission Tomography] imaging. We have demonstrated that those people process the visual information in the visual cortex of their brain. On the other hand, people who are sighted, that perform the exact same task, process that same information in the somata sensory region of their brain. So in other words, people do -- the brain is masterful in the way that it can process the information in the appropriate area
John Hall: And it can -- it can change? It can switch and adapt from one pathway to another?
Robert Beckman: Yes.
John Hall: What's the typical training -- You may have said this in response to a question before I got here -- what's the typical training time for someone to use --- to adapt to Brainport?
Robert Beckman: I think that's also an amazing part about this technology. We train blind people literally in hours to start to recongize symbols, pathways, doorways, etc. We have not, so far, had anybody except for one blind person, Erik Weihenmayer, use the device even more than ten hours. So all the -- we've got videos on our website, etc., that show some of the benefits. All of those people are performing the tasks that we show with less than ten hours of training. And I think what is most interesting is what will happen when we get this technology into the hands of many, many adults letting them take it home, use it on their own, explore the potential benefits of the technology on their own. That's where we'll start to really discover what the advantages and possibilites are for this technology.
Beckman also spoke of the Brainport Balance Device for those with balance problems. Broecker spoke of VIVITROL which was FDA approved in 2006 and treats alcoholism. How? He was more interested in discussing alcoholism. Were I testifying to Congress, I would assume the members were aware of alcoholism and would use my time to explain why my medicine needed government money and/or veterans access as opposed to offering a history of alcoholism. Bethune and Sidransky spoke of oral cancer, the rate of which is on the rise and veterans account for five-percent of all cases each year in the United States. Bethune explained, "Veterans are almost 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with oran cancer than are members of the general public." They were seeking to have ViziLite Plus used for early screening of veterans. Mark Munroe was asking for attention to and resources for Mobile Medical which is a "mobile surgical hospitals." It was used in Iraq on The Learning Channel's Little People, Big World, episodes nineteen and twenty which TLC described as follows, "When Matt Roloff learns of an Iraqi family with dwarf children who are in severe need of medical intervention, he is compelled to help them. Amy and the Roloff kids are concerned for Matt's safety as he makes the long, difficult and dangerous journey to Baghdad. Once there, he falls in with the U.S. military, who provides armed escort into the Green Zone -- where Matt meets the family and gains their trust. Touched by the familys heartwarming spirit, Matt gets photos and X-rays of the kids to bring back to America for evaluation by medical specialists." From those two episodes, let's note this clip where Matt Roloff speaks with Iraqi journalists
Matt Roloff: I think it was important for me to be able to communicate with the Iraqi people that it's important for their citizens to put value on all of their fellow citizens, even if they are little people. That's an important message we're still trying to communicate in the States and to be able to do it in another country is just as, if not more gratifying, just as gratifying.
There is a point in including the quote beyond the hearing. We'll get to it. Back to the hearing. Stanley Stern's focus was TeleMed Internet Endpoint (TIE) which would provide face to face (via phone calls) help with health care providers and could also allow a veteran to participate at any time in a group therapy session that runs around the clock. Scadden spoke of stem cell research including technology that would allow an adult stem cell to be taken back in maturation.
That was an interesting hearing to read about. Not only was it interesting, it was the type of hearing that you would only learn about at The Common Ills. Find anyone else who reported on it. Actually, there is one more person. Kat. She covered it in "Dreams and the House Veterans Committee." (Most of the time, C.I., Kat, Ava and Wally attend all the same hearings. Sometimes they split up. Ava and C.I. usually cover at least one hearing a week in the community newsletters. Which is why the second hearing Kat mentions isn't covered in yesterday's snapshot or by Kat. Ava and C.I. will cover that in a community newsletter.)
Now we have members in this community with various special needs so I wasn't surprised that C.I. emphasized the device which would allow sight impaired and blind people to hook up a device to their tongue and see in some form. And I wasn't surprised C.I. skipped the torture hearing because, as my father pointed out, that's one that the entire press corps is going to be on.
So David Simon, what did you do this week? Write another bad script?
Today C.I.'s covering a Senate committee hearing and I bet you won't.
I see the idiot Spency Ackerman filed twice today. The second time after the snapshot when he must have realized he buried the big news about the witness who would be showing up to tell Congress he disagreed with Robert Gates. Otherwise? Otherwise, Spency does what he always does -- argues "Don't read me!"
Why would anyone bother. The Republicans are mocked which is fine in and of itself. C.I.'s mocking them today. But C.I.'s also explaining their argument and how no one seems to have grasped it except for Evan Bayh. The Dems just let the Republicans set up this argument over and over (Spency missed that they set it up over and over) and didn't reply to it. Except for Bayh.
Spency Ackerman is not a reporter. He started writing for an opinion journal, The New Republic, got fired for not being able to conduct himself professionally and he now offers crap on hearings. When Hillary was in the race for the Dem nomination for president, Spency, who loathes Hill, made sure to ignore her every hearing. And, by the way, Spency's pajama blogging. He's watching CSPAN when he reports. As opposed to C.I., Kat, Ava and Wally who actually attend the hearings.
You can't trust Spency. He dismissed the Republican attack without going into what it was about. He appears to believe this just popped up today (whereas C.I. explains it's a point Republicans have been making for some time and refers you to a Cindy Sheehan broadcast two Sundays ago where she was interviewing people in Arkansas).
Poor Spency. He'd like to make his living at journalism and doesn't have what it takes. By contrast, C.I. does what she does for free (She played real good for free, Joni Mitchell would sing) and has the talents Spency dreams of. Notice how Spency missed the issue of dwell time and PTSD. Notice how C.I. goes with those comments and brings up hearings from last year where this was dealt with. Poor Spency. He's barely able to keep his head up.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Thursday:
Thursday, May 14, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Steven D. Green's War Crimes sentencing continues, new details emerge in John Russell's shooting of five fellow service members in Iraq, the US Armed Services Committee forgets Iraq today and Dems let Republicans set the game for next week, Dennis Kucinich calls out the War Hawks, and more.
Steven D. Green was convicted last Thursday in the gang-rape of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, her murder, the murder of her five-year-old sister and the murders of both of her parents. His sentence hearing is ongoing and today was day four. Evan Bright reports that the defense called Green's friend Tammi Dehay, Green's Cousin Suzi Woolsey and a social worker, Jan Vogelsang. Bright states the latter offered "an extreme walk through of Steven Green's family". Brett Barrouquere (AP) notes today's "witnesses were called by defense attorneys trying to persuade jurors that Green, 24, of Midland, Texas, should be sentened to life in prison rather than face a death sentence." Of yesterday's hearing, Bright reported:
The defense brought Jim Isclaw to the stand. At entry, Isclaw winked at Green when their eyes met. Isclaw, a native of Alvarado, TX, is an assistant football coach, golf coach, and teacher at Alvarado High School, and has been there for 23 years. To be quite frank, he's a good ol' country boy, and he's got the persona of one as well. In his face, you can see the hours/days/years spent in the hot(understatement) Texan sun, calling plays and yelling at players. The attorney got straight to the point by beginning with "Do you remember Steven Green?" Isclaw immediately fired back with "I'll never ferget 'im...there's some kids you just don't forget." He spoke of meeting Steven in the summer of his freshman year for the football team's two-a-day workouts during the summer. He spoke of Green living with his uncle, David. He highlighted on his memory of green: his far and few between class/school absences, "he had very good attendance...in fact I did some research and he only had four absences that entire year," and about his personality as he remembered it, "he was a very likable guy, very enjoyable, he was easy to spot and when you did see him you could count on him to put a smile on your face." He told of Green being a typical "knucklehead" and getting into small trouble. Defendant Green couldn't help but to laugh. He spoke of Green's unfaltering attendance at the varsity games, "he never missed a game." He told of Green's undying sense of humor, "he was a funny guy, he'd do this one leg chicken dance at all the pep rallies." This humor/dance would become a recurring theme throughout the rest of the days' testimony. He gave the courtroom a laugh when he spoke of Green's "lack of" athletic ability in playing wide receiver. The jury and audience was shown a picture from the yearbook of Green on the football field, "looking for an opening" against Arlington Heights, to which Isclaw commented, "If he had the ball against Arlington Heights... We were either way ahead or way behind," bringing a few chuckles. Wolff began a difficult line of questioning in the witnesses by asking Isclaw "If Green were to be executed, what impact would that have on you?" Isclaw visibly thought about his answer, and you could almost see his stomach churning as he responded, "It'd….it would break my heart...(pausing)...he's one of my own. 185 days of school to get to know him, I know that don't seem like much but he was always one that I liked and remembered…I'd be saddened...(pause)...I believe it'd crush me." No cross from the prosecution. The next witness was Chase Bentley, a 24 year old from Lovett, Texas. He just completed his Masters Degree in Civil Engineering last week, and is already engaged with a wedding on December 14th, he told the court. He spoke of meeting Green during his junior year of high school, when Green was only a freshman(Green only attended Alvarado for his freshman year). As a requirement, football players must run track in the spring, which was where Green and Bentley met. When asked what his impression of Green was, he quickly spoke of having "only great memories. He was just one of the fellas" He spoke of Green being "the class clown….this guy was funny." When asked about his track running ability, Bentley grinned profusely for a few seconds before eluding to his opinion that "well…he was fun to watch, let's just put it that way." Once again, his testimony ended with what his thoughts would be if Green were to be executed, "I couldn't imagine…(long, thoughtful pause)…he lost his father and….I can't imagine that with a set predetermined date and…" His testimony ended there, again with no cross examination.
"Even as our focus shifts to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the stability situation in Iraq remains a source of concern and significant effort," declared Senator Carl Levin today . . . after spending five minutes in his opening statement discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Levin was making opening remarks as the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which heard testimony this morning from US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Adm Mike Mullen. It was all a bunch of posing and preening from the witnesses and from Congressional members. Senator Jim Webb may have scored most embarrassing as he rushed to sing the praises of Iran-Contra War Criminal Caspar Weinberger ("Cap Weinberger," he called him). [Weinberger was indicted by the grand jury, George H.W. Bush pardoned him. It's a sad day in Congress when Iran-Contra War Criminals earn praise . . . from Democrats.] Democrats rushed to grovel and preen before Gates and Mullen and to play I-love-the-military-more. The Republicans laid down markers that they intend to develop in a future hearing (possibly next week) which will bring an officer to Congress to testify about his opposition to Gates' budget recommendations. Iraq rarely came up in the hearing. Republicans focused on the budget -- chiefly what wasn't in it -- while Democrats obsessed over Pakistan to the point that they appeared eager to go to officially go to war with the country. We'll drop back to opening remarks since it was one of the few times Iraq came up.
Senator Carl Levin: This June, pursuant to the US-Iraq SOFA, Status Of Forces Agreement, US combat forces are supposed to be withdrawn from Iraqi urban areas, turning over the security of cities and major towns to Iraqi security forces. The agreement also sets a December 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq. President Obama has called for an end to US combat missions in Iraq by August of 2010. I hope that the draw down of forces in Iraq can be maintained while preserving our hard fought gains and while continuing to build Iraqi capacity to provide for their own security. The failure of Iraqi leaders to complete the political steps that they promised to take long ago puts at risk the reaching of those goals.
And with that approximately one minute and ten second bit, Levin was done with Iraq. Aaaaaawwwwww. Did the illegal war drag on longer than Congress cared to pay attention? How very lucky for our members of Congress that they serve in DC and not Iraq. Can you imagine how bored they be and how much their non-stop yawns would be as they patrolled Iraq? Poor, poor Congressional members.
Senator John McCain is the Ranking Member on the Committee. He used his opening statements to focus on "runaway costs." In the general, you understand. The abstract. He mentioned Afghanistan and Pakistan repeatedly and Iraq only once. You might have thought otherwise especially since McCain has an annoying habit of whistling his "s"es and Iraq has none. Considering his remarks in the presidential debates about Iraq it was amazing to watch him reduce the Iraq War to a subordinate clause of single sentence. The hearing itself lasted over three hours and that was due in part to Levin breaking from the topic to address civilian nominees since the committee had a quorum. After those were approved, it was time for the prepared opening statements from Gates [PDF format warning, here] and Mullen [PDF format warning, here].
Gates noted he was in Afghanistan last week. And that he had damn little to say, "As I told a group of soldiers on Thursday, they have done their job. Now it is time for us in Washington to do ours." Does Gates ever not repeat that statement? He's been repeating it since 2006. It was also popular with then-Senator Hillary Clinton when she was running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008, with then-Senator Barack Obama when he was running for the presidency in the summer and fall of 2008, and for then-and-still Senator John Kerry throughout his 2004 campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and his run in the 2004 general election. By no means is that a full listing of all those who have repeated that over and over for the last five years. But at some point, when the next person tells US service members that, one hopes at least one shoots back, "When is Washington ever going to get around to doing their job?" Because, as these never ending statements indicate, DC seems to be the hold up, the bottle neck, at least according to the constant repetition of that stale statement. It's also kind of stupid to repeat that statment and then, in an exchange with Senator Susan Collins, get all catty about a marine at Camp Leatherneck who asked when his equipment was going to arrive and then snort that the commander told Gates that the equipment was there they just hadn't given it to the soldier.
Like Gates, Mullen read from a prepared statement. It was not, however, the prepared statement he turned in. It's always amusing to watch someone read word-for-word, in a bored manner, such phrases as "Let me tell you why". Mullen invented a phrase or hangs out in very strange circles. "We are what we buy," he declared ("It has been said that we are what we buy"). If so, he must do a great deal of his shopping in horse stalls because the committee stank of it as he called the budget a people's budget and asserted it put people first and these people were service members. Really? The increase of $700 million in funding for missile 'defense' systems? $17.6 billion for equipment replacment in Iraq and Afghanistan? $15.2 billion for "force protection" for equpiment such as MRAP All Terrain Vehicles?$7.5 billion to Afghans composing their country's National Security Forces? $700 million to Pakistan (for counter-insurgency)? An additional $200 million for Aegis ships? $550 million for "global partnership efforts"? We could go on and on but let's stop pretending that this is about putting US service members first. And if Mullen has a problem with any of the figures listed, he can take it up with Robert Gates who used those and more in his testimony today. For the record, while Mullin called it "the people's budget," Gates called it a "reform budget." Gates would also note that "a third of this budget is the people cost." A third. Not exactly "a people's budget."
Senator Joe Lieberman doesn't believe that the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget request is adequate and feels that some baseline issues (especially personnel) were being underestimated/underaccounted. He gave Gates the opportunity to clarify that. Gates took a pass. Remember that if a supplemental request comes along after the passage of the FY2010 request. Lieberman wasn't being hostile (Lieberman loves to fork over money to the defense industries). He was concerned that the money wasn't enough and that the request needed to be upped. Senator Jeff Session noted he "was concerned" about the budget which he thought was too small and especially with two ongoing wars. Gates rejected that notion (and went into a long drawn out response about research including airborne lasers and how, to use it on Iran, it would have to be circling within Iran's borders which he didn't see happening so research needs to continue and blah, blah, blah). So twice Gates was given the opportunity to ask for an increase, twice he declined. Senator Jim Inhofe did get out of Gates that he will receive a list of "unfundeds" from staff tomorrow and will forward that to the Congress on Monday. Senator Saxby Chambliss brought up the issue as well. He noted that in private conversations, General Norton Scwartz (Air Force Chief of Staff) has disagreed with the budget and that the general has told him he will testify to that which Senator Chambliss expects to happen shortly (next week). (Schwartz was interviewed by Lara Logan in a report that aired Sunday on CBS 60 Minutes, link has text and video.) For those who caught Cindy Sheehan's most recent Soapbox, this is the concern some Republicans -- including one she spoke to in Arkansas -- have regarding the defense budget and that it is not meeting security needs. Cindy Sheehan took last Sunday off because her son was hospitalized and in a grave condition. He has recovered and she will have Russell Baker on her show this Sunday to discuss his new book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces that Put It in the White House and What Their Influence Means for America. Bonnie Faulkner (KPFA's Guns and Butter) interviewed Baker Wednesday and you can click here for the audio at Information Clearing House. Senator John Thune pursued this issue as well and his website has posted audio, video and a transcript of the exchange. We'll note this exchange and encourage those interested in the full exchange to use the link:
Senator Thune: We've had a lot of combatant commanders in front of this committee who've testified to the need for this capability. And also, to the concern about the aging fleet and the fact that half of our bombers are pre-Cuban Missile Crisis era bombers and being able to persist and penetrate some of the more sophisticated air defense systems that we're expecting to encounter in the future. So it seems like a very relevant, very real-time question. But I guess my final question is this, what I hear you saying is you are still analyzing and looking at this. What OMB's budget said is terminated. So is this delayed, is this terminated, what is this? Secretary Gates: The program that was on the books is terminated. The idea of a Next Generation Bomber, as far as I'm concerned, is a very open question. And the recommendation will come out of the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review. And I certainly don't want to leave the impression that the Russians are going to help us decide whether or not we have a Next Generation Bomber. What I was trying to say is if it looks like we're headed for a lower number of deployed nuclear weapons then we will have to make a recommendation to the president and to you as to how we allocate those weapons among missiles, submarines and aircraft.
While the Republicans laid down the marker and Gates grew testy (his "fine" to Thune was sharper than one expects from the flat affect Gates), Dems seemed unaware what was taking place with one exception: Evan Bayh. Bayh attempted to take on the Republican argument that the Defense Dept proposed budget was puny or weak. Attempted. He was throwing Gates life preservers but Gates appeared determined to drown.
Senator Evan Bayh: Is it still true, Mr. Secretary, that the amount that we're spending next year [on defense] will in the aggregate will be more than all our likely adversaries combined? It used to be that way. The reason I ask the question is, if it's true, what we're really facing is not a question of the amount of resources but how we most effectively allocate them to meet the challenges that we face. Is it still true that we appropriate more for national security and defense than all our likely adversaries combined?
Secretary: Robert Gates: Yes, but I -- Let me just add two things to that. First of all, more than -- more than any other country we have global interests and we have allies around the world who -- who depend on us for their -- for their security. So I mean, that's one of the reasons why we spend as much as we do.
Senator Evan Bayh: To be sure. I was just trying to put it in perspective. I don't think we've been -- We're allocating what we need to to protect the country and take care of some of these other interests. And it was by way again of saying we need to allocate the resources effectively to meet the threats and deal with some of the legacy and reform issues. I think you've done that.
Secretary Robert Gates: Senator let me interject just to provide some perspective Last summer as the economy was detoriating I I told Admiral Mullin that no matter who was elected I thought we'd be lucky if we got the FY09 number plus inflation.
Senator Evan Bayh: And we have real growth.
Secretary Robert Gates: And we've got two percent real growth.
Lieberman asked Gates about dwell time not being the ideal yet and Gates responded
"That's absolutely right we hope that toward the end of next year and more likely into next that the dwell time will begin to increase." Collins asked if screening was being done for PTSD and TBI upon returning stateside? Mullen stated PTSD screening is occuring at least 90 to 120 days after they return. TBI he was less precise on. PTSD, dwell time and other issues are especially in the news since Monday's shooting in Iraq when John Russell shot five of his fellow service members at a Baghdad stress control clinic. Kimberly Dozier (CBS News) reports that Russell did not feel "that the doctors at the clinic" believe him about combat stress and that "each day, the counselors 'sent him back to his base'" according to a soldier in Russell's unit. Yesterday's snapshot included the following:
Luis Martinez, Martha Raddatz and Kate Barrett (ABC News) speak with Yates' stepfather, Richard Van Blarga Jr., who states, he thinks Yates mentioned Russell in a call on Sunday: "On the conversation with my wife on Mother's Day, he said that he had met a sergeant, that he was, in his words, he was a very nice guy, he could deal with him, but he had some major issues. He was out there on the branch hoping for somebody to help him." Stephanie Gaskell (New York Daily News) reports Christian Bueno-Galdos, Matthew Houseal and Jacob Barton are the other three who were shot dead on Monday. She also notes the phone call Yates made to his mother on Sunday and quotes Shawna Machlinski (his mother) stating, "I do have some sympathy and I do know that I can forgive him [Russell]."
Click here for the ABC News report. UPI reports the five were flown into Dover Air Force yesterday. In headlines today, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) played a clip of Yates' mother Shawna Machlinski stating, "As much as I have a lot of anger towards him, I also have some sympathy, because I know he must have been going through a lot as well. That doesn't excuse the fact that he murdered my son. But I believe that if he would have gotten the help that he was there to get maybe sooner or gotten more help, and other people recognized the signs, because there are signs, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure those signs out." At OneWorld, Aaron Glantz adds that "long-time observers of the U.S. military say the shooting shows all the signs of a soldier pushed to the brink of insanity by repeated and consistent exposure to war. The 44-year-old Russell had spent many years of his life at war when he allegedly opened fire and killed five of his fellow soldiers. Russell was drawing to the end of his third tour in Iraq and had also served deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo."
Today Gates wanted to whine about needing longer dwell time. Then why isn't it being provided? Feb. 28th, the US House Armed Services Committee (discussing FY2009 Defense budget) raised this issue:
US House Rep Patrick Murphy was also concerned about readiness. He wanted to know specifically that, regardless of any upcoming announcements, would the length of tours be reduced. On Tuesday of this week, Casey and Geren appeared before the Senate's Armed Service Committee also offering testimony on the 2009 Fiscal Year. From that hearing, the only thing that the media picked up on was that tours in Iraq and Afghanistan would (maybe) drop from fifteen months to twelve months. (Some outlets picked up on the stop-loss issue, stop-loss will continue but they 'hope' to drop the numbers from 8,000 to 7,000 -- ignored was Senator Jim Webb's questioning of Casey which produced Casey's claim that the UCMJ had been applied to Defense Department contractors serving in Iraq.) Murphy wanted to know specifically with the Afghanistan War still going on, an incomplete serach for Osama bin laden, with "the majority of our military in Iraq," what happens "if we're still bogged down refereeing a civil war in Iraq?" And when Petraeus appears before Congress, Murphy wanted to know, "What happens" in terms of the reduction of tours of duty "if he comes back to us and says we need a 'pause' not a 'drawdown.' Casey maintained that regardless of a "a brief pause, as you say, that will not impact our ability to come off of 15 months . . . the most important thing for us to do is to come off 15 months."
Murphy noted that "we're begging for about 7,000 troops for Afghanistan from our allies" and wondered if Congress needed to "mandate that if you deploy for 15 months, you're home for 15 months, if you deploy for 12 months, you're home for 12 months"? Casey wasn't keen on that idea and claimed it would interfere with the military's ability to do their job. Which makes the 'promise' Casey and Geren made earlier this week seem even more hollow (even more hollow than Casey claimed, in today's hearings, his experiences in the seventies were).
Murphy was right, it needs to be mandated by Congress. Otherwise it won't happen. April 1, 2008, US House Rep Shelley Berkley was pointing out to Walter Reed Amry Institute of Research's Col Charles W. Hoge that he'd just stated 12 months was not enough dwell time (he hemmed and hawed but agreed he'd just said it) and she pointed out that some US service members didn't even get that. Let's stop pretending these are new problems or new issues. These are the same issues the military command has said they were addressing. They have not. It's time for the US Congress to do so.
Meanwhile in Iraq, Alsumaria reports Nouri al-Maliki is again speaking publicly of conspiracies against him. The puppet of the occupation declared "he fears the return of" Ba'athis "conspiracies and dictatorship while he stressed that the Constitution bans reconciliation with Baathists as a party." While he frets over imaginary plots by 'Ba'athists,' Nouri announced he wasn't at all alarmed by the increase in bombings.Alsumaria explains Nouri's not the only one floating conspiracy theories. Ahmad Al Jalabi ("head of Iraqi National Congress Party") has declared Iraq's intelligence community has been "infiltrated by Al Qaeda and defunct Baath Party" and how does he know that breaking news? He just now read it. In George Tenet's book. At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA was published in April. Of 2007. Fresh intel for Iraq? Alsumaria notes the book "points out that Iraqi intelligence chief Mohammed Al Shahwan is an employee of US Intelligence since 1991." That would mean that the intel community was infiltrated by the US. If the names seems familiar, it's Ahmad Chalabi. Ahmad Al Jalabi is another name he's known by. And of course, Chalibi was a CIA asset for many, many years.In other insanity, April 23rd, al-Maliki's government announced they'd captured Abu Omar Baghdadi. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times' Babylon and Beyond) reports they continue to claim that they've captured al-Baghdadi, "There is already widespread skepticism whether the man in custody is really Baghdadi -- which is itself a nom-de-guerre indicating only that the man is from Baghdad." Sly notes the US still has not been allowed to examine the alleged al-Baghdadi.
As noted throughout the week, kidnappings never went away and now appear to be on the rise in Iraq. Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report the corpse of a six-year-old boy was found in a plastic bag in Baghdad and he "had been kidnapped three days ago". Reuters notes "a Christian male teacher" was kidnapped in Rashad. Today Paul Schemm (AP) reports on the exodus of Christians from Iraq and notes the US State Dept estimated there were 1.2 million Christians in 2003 and that the number has fallen to as low as 550,000 with other estimates even lower. Philippe Leclerc, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees acting rep in Damascus states Iraqi Christians who are external refugees are not planning on returning, "They simply do not feel safe enough. They cannot suffiicently count on state security or any other force to protect them." The reasons include the ongoing violence, the past threats and the fact that they are shut out of previous employment opportunities by the Shi'ite controlled government. Bobby Ghosh (TIME magazine) notes "the surge of violence" and how only 1% of Iraqi external refugees have returned while only 18% of Iraq's internal refugees have returned to their homes and yet the UN has recommended that Iraqi refugees no more "get automatic refugee status abroad" -- 'automatic,' the UN was being comical. Ghosh notes:
Although the U.N. agency has warned that its new guidelines don't mean Iraq has turned a corner, aid workers fear that's exactly how they will be taken by officials in Damascus and Amman -- with dire consequences for the refugees. "I'm wary that this will be interpreted by asylum countries that it's O.K. to return Iraqis forcibly," says Bob Carey, vice president for resettlement and migration policy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Joe Sterling (CNN) reports on refugees coming to the US and notes that the US admitted 60,000 refugees in FY 2008 but only 13,823 were from Iraq (Burma resulted in the largest number of refugees). Sterling also interviewed Internaional Rescuee Committee's George Rupp:
Sterling: Any bigotry encountered in job searches?
Rupp: Certainly some of the refugees feel there is bigotry encountered and it is very difficult to confirm whether that is or isn't the case. But several reported they have been told by several prospective employers, that, "You are from Iraq, you are rich, there's no reason we have to worry about finding a position for you."
Sterling: Employers actually thought they were rich?
Rupp: Because of the oil resources that these few employers were aware that Iraq has. There's no question that refugees of all ethnicities often feel they have a special burden, a special hurdle to get over. But what is remarkable is how many of them feel the U.S. is welcoming, and is open, and does not discriminate against them. It's not surprising there are at least some instances in which people feel they were discriminated against and no doubt they were, but that is not a dominant pattern I don't think.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Kirkuk roadside bombing wounded two police officers and a Mosul roadside bombing wounded four people.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report the Sunni Endowment Office's Haider Hassoun was shot (wounded, not killed) in Baghdad while another employee of the Endowment was wounded in second attack, a Baquba home invasion in which a woman and her sons were killed (both sons were Sahwa) and 2 people were shot dead in Kirkuk "late Wednesday". Reuters notes 1 Sahwa member shot dead and three more injured in Kirkuk.
While the Senate Armed Services Committee debated the FY10 defense/war budget, the House passed Barack Obama's war supplemental request today. Jeremy Pelofsky (Reuters) reports that the $96.7 billion request (over $17 billion more than Barack requested) passed out of the House while the Senate continues working on their version. US House Rep Dennis Kucinich released the following statement:
America went to war against Iraq based on a lie. We were told back in 2002 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The previous administration even pursued torture to try to extract false confessions in order to justify the war. It is time to tell the truth. The truth is we should not have prosecuted a war against the Iraqi people. The truth is the Democratic Senate could have stopped the Iraq war in 202. The truth is we Democrats were given control of Congress in 2006 to end the war. The truth is this bill continues a disastrous war, which has cost the lives of thousands of soldiers. The truth is the occupation has fueld the insurgency. The truth is the Iraq war will cost the American and Iraqi people trillions of dollars and as many as a million innocent Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of this war.
Don't tell the American people that you are ending the war by continuing to fund the war. Don't tell the American people that the war will end when their plans leave 50,000 troops in Iraq. Don't tell the American people that the way out of Afghanistan is to escalate our presence.
Get out of Iraq. Get out of Afghanistan. Come home America.
Yesterday Barack broke another promise, he won't release the torture photos. At CNN, Col Janis Karpinski weighs in:
About-face! President Obama's reversal of his administration's decision to release more photographs of prisoner abuse is disappointing and infuriating.
It is sad and tragic. The reversal will absolutely stir up more controversy than release of the photographs, causing an outpouring of rampant speculation -- What is the government hiding? Who are the people in the photographs? How awful can these new photos be? And worse.
The president is going to Egypt, and discussions surrounding the photographs are inevitable. He is far better off armed with the ability to have open discussions on all topics instead of apologizing for holding back information. Withholding evidence is counterproductive and does not sound like "truth," and it surely does not sound like "change."
The truth is always helpful. If we put all the photographs on the table, clearing the air, then, and only then, we can get on with the discussion of how to make sure this never happens again. The truth will set us free -- free to find the roots of the problem, allowing us to do what we did best -- making the world a better place to live.
evan brightsteven d. green
kpfabonnie faulknerguns and butter
the los angeles timesliz sly
abc newsluis martinezmartha raddatz kate barrett
60 minutescbs news