Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pie Crust in the Kitchen

Melanie was having problems with pies so I already knew I was writing about pie crusts when Friday rolled around.  But then I saw this today, "At the CIA, Professor of Baking and Pastry Arts George Higgins explains, it starts with 3:2:1. That's three parts flour, two parts fat, and one part liquid. The slideshow above spells it all out."

NPR has a pie crust recipe up.  [Link to pie crust added 6-30-2012.  Thanks to Becky for e-mailing to ask if I'd forgotten it.  I had. Sorry.]

So you can go there and learn to make one.

If you want to make one.

The big problem I see people have who buy crusts at the store is that they buy the cheap kind.  I'm all for inexpensive but when you buy a thin pie crust because it's cheap, don't expect it to be like the crust on a Mrs. Paul's or Sarah Lee pie.

You can buy a better pie crust in the frozen section and not have any problems at all.

You can also learn to make the pie crust at NPR.  Which is similar to one I often make.

But my second oldest daughter has a nightmare problem with pie crusts.  And we figured out how she could handle that.  I think it will work for you as well.

Stop trying to make a flour crust.

There's no reason it has to be flour.

Make a graham cracker crust instead. 

You'll need a pie pan -- glass is what you need, a glass pie pan.

You'll need a box of graham crackers. You'll crumble one and a half cups to two cups of graham crackers for this recipe.

You'll need a stick of butter or butter substitute

Maybe a third of a cup of sugar.  If you are using sugar, I'd recommend you add it to the butter.  You will melt the butter.

You are going to put graham crackers in the pie pan.  You're going to press down.  And you're going to use butter to anchor it together.  Then you'll pop in a 375 degree oven for no more than seven minutes to be sure it sets.

What kind of pie are you making?

You can make a wonderful cheesecake, yes.  But you can also make any pie in the world with that pie crust.  I make an apple with a graham cracker pie crust for my father.

You can go to a lot of trouble trying to learn the flour recipe, or you can get comfortable with the graham cracker recipe and then, most likely, you'll be like my daughter who, a few months after she was making the graham cracker crust, finally realized how to transfer that in terms of flour and she can now make both.  Sometimes, we make things harder than they actually are.

Last night we did theme posts:

That was put together at the very last minute.  I think that shows on mine but I did enjoy everyone else's.

At WSWS, Kate Randall serves up the 411 on ObamaCare:

In a 5-4 US Supreme Court decision released on Thursday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the nominally liberal wing of the high court to uphold key provisions of the Obama administration-backed health care legislation.
The decision maintains the pro-corporate provisions of the bill, including the “individual mandate” to purchase insurance from private insurers. At the same time, the court undermined the key constitutional arguments used to support corporate regulations. It also ruled that the federal government cannot withdraw existing Medicaid funding from states that decide not to participate in an expansion of eligibility for the program.
The ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed into law in March 2010, was predictably hailed by President Obama. Coming five months before the presidential election, he said it was a “victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure.” Congressional Republicans and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, vowed to work to repeal the legislation in November.
The ruling was also trumpeted by liberal publications as a great victory for health care and for ordinary people. In reality, the decision upholds legislation whose main purpose is to cut costs for corporations and the government, while slashing billions of dollars from Medicare and other social programs.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Friday:

Friday, June 29, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Congress hears that a Status Of Forces Agreement was need in Iraq, how can you do oversight when you can't move around in Iraq, the political crisis continues, and more.

 "First," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz  yesterday morning explaining the purpose of the
Committee, "Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second Americans deserve efficient, effective government that works for them.  Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights."

 Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National  Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which held a hearing on Iraq.

Appearing before the Subcommittee on the first panel were: US State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, Peter Verga and USAID's Mara Rudman.  Panel two was the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
-- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without
 the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that
 many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget
 on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be 
facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered 
some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of 
projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq 
will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense 
Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement 
has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air 
and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has 
hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionaly 
able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee 
staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According 
to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out 
how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges 
the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission 
Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating 
its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change
 in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,      was this a well managed withdrawal?

 The first panel was a joke in so many ways.  Someone please convey to the State Dept that they
don't look 'manly' offering football allusions to Iraq.  With all the people -- Iraqis, Americans, etc. -- it's really beyond insensitive for State to show up and try to talk football.  There have been far too many deaths for anyone to see this as a game or match and you'd think the diplomatic arm of the government would grasp that on their own and wouldn't need that pointed out.  In addition to the unneeded sports comparisons and examples, there were also the answers which could be honest only if you agreed to ignore the facts. US House Rep Blake Farenthold became Acting Chair where we're doing our excerpt.

 Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
 second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
 college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
lose without compensation all of those facilities?

Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
 in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
 former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

 He said it.  Too bad it wasn't accurate or, for that matter, truthful.  We'll jump over to the second

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
 But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
agreements or leases. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
 that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright, Mr. Carroll, I would also like to follow up a 
question I had on the last panel about the use of Iraqi nationals in overseeing some 
of our investigations of it -- does that?  I mean, what's your opinion that?  Does that 
strike you as a good idea, a bad idea or something we're stuck with because there's 
no alternative? It seems like Americans would be a little more concerned about how 
their tax dollars were spent than the Iraqi nationals who are the receipients of those 
tax dollars.  That's kind of a fox guarding the hen house, it looks like. 

Michael Carroll: [Laughing]  Well I-I personally I think it's a - like-like Ms. Rudman said 
it's an additive sort of step.  We would do the same thing. For example, in some of the 
places where it's absolutely prohibited because of security what we will do is contract 
with a local CPA firm -- primarily out of Egypt -- and do a very comprehensive agreed 
upon procedures document that they will go out and they will take pictures, they will 
ask questions, they will do what we would do if we could get there. So I think that it 
what Mara is talking about as well.  I don't see it as a problem.  In fact, I see it as an 
adjunct to and it's not a replacement for USAID contracting representatives and technical representatives actually getting out and ensuring that the work is actually being done. 
 That's not what these people are doing.  What these people are doing is just going out, 
doing some monitoring and observing.  But it does not replace what the 
responsibilities are for the Americans. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright. Thank you very much.  And I'm not sure if I 
want to address this to Mr. Courts or Mr. Bowen -- whichever one of you seems 
most eager to answer can take this.  I haven't been to Iraq.  My information in the
 field of what it's like on the ground there is based on the things that I've read and 
the reports that I've seen on television.  But a good many of our facilities are in 
metropolitan areas including the capital Baghdad and I'm concerned that we are 
struggling getting food and water to these folks in a safe manner.  I mean, what's 
the procedure?  Is the food delivered?  How -- how is that handled and why is it a 
problem in a metropolitan area? There are hundreds of thousands of people in
 these cities, Iraqi nationals, that need to be fed.  Obviously, it's more complicated 
than just going down to the Safeway but I mean how is that handled?  And why is it 
such a problem?

Stuart Bowen:  The State Dept, as Ambassador Kennedy indicated, continued the LOGCAP contract after the military withdrew in December and thus the process for bringing food
 into the country continued as well and that is via convoys that come up from Kuwait.  
There have been challenges.  That checkpoint has been occasionally closed.  There 
have been security challenges with regards to those convoys and other reasons that 
the shipments have been intermittent and has led to an occasional shortage of certain
 food stuff at the embassies.  [Former US] Ambassador [to Iraq James] Jeffrey emphasized repeatedly this spring his desire to move towards local purchase but that's been slow.

Is it wrong to note that the State Dept's Patrick Kelly was not honest with the Subcommittee or
that he chose to ignore the questions asked?  He wanted to insist (falsely) that there were leases
on all the Iraqi property currently occupied by the US diplomatic mission.  Again, that is not truthful.

In addition, he wanted to insist that turning over a facility the US taxpayer had spent over a million
dollars on was normal and natural.  It was neither.  US taxpayers, if asked, might have said, "Hey,
 turn it over to an Iraqi orphanage or youth project."

Or, noting the huge amount of widows due to  the war, might have said, "Turn it over as a facility for women and their children to live in."  But the same taxpayer that had no vote in whether or not to go to war got no vote in how to spend millions in Iraq..

Patrick Kennedy declared, "It was always our plan to make adjustments to the police development program over time."

That actually may be true.  (Or it may be another lie.)  But the fact is, the US State Dept refused to share the plan with Congress or the office of the Special Inspector for General Reconstruction in Iraq.  Kennedy might hope we forget that -- and certainly many in the press will rush  to assist him -- but those of us present at the hearings held in the last months of 2011 remember the State Dept refusing to answer questions.

The State Dept is not an fiefdom, though Patrick Kennedy appears to believe it is.  They are
answerable to Congress.  It's a real shame that all these issues were not nailed down in real time.

 If  you're confused or playing stupid, the reason it was not nailed down is many Democrats agreed to give the White House a blank check and they weren't even concerned with what figure might be written in on that blank check.  That's not just me.  Let's note Stuart Bowen's testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday about the State Dept's refusal to provide concrete answers:

Stuart Bowen:  I testified before this subcommittee in November 2011 about our 
concerns regarding the Department of State's planned multi-year, multi-billion-dollar 
Police Development Program [PDP].  I raised two overarching issues that threatened
 the PDP's success.  First, the Defense Department had not adequately assessed the 
impact of its own six-year police training efforts, and thus a key benchmark for 
future planning was missing.  And second, State had not sufficiently planned for the 
program, either on the policy or logistical fronts.  It is now beyond dispute that the 
PDP planning process was insufficient.  It should have produced specific program 
goals, a time frame for accomplishing those goals, the anticipated total cost for the 
program, the expected scope of required resources, and a method for measuring
 progress.  The process fell short in each of these areas.  Further, to succeed, the 
PDP required close collaboration and support from the Government of Iraq.  But
the GOI's support has been weak, at best. 

 That's why we have the problem we do now.  In other comments? Tim Arango of the New York Times   was attacked by the US State Dept for his writing.  His writing ( "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") was about what the State Dept was discussing.

He did not attempt to predict what would happen or how it would play out.  We've already noted
Tim was correct and accurate in his reporting.  We'll note that his reporting only stands stronger
after the Thursday hearing.  If Victoria Nuland had any class or character, she'd apologize publicly
to Tim Arango for the attack she launched on him.
 Before we go further, we should fall back to the last hearing Jason Chaffetz chaired that we
covered.  That's December 7, 2011 and from that coverage, we'll note this:

 Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] 
Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not 
have IGs in January.  In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move 
without delay to appoint replacements.  That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] 
Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House 
Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings
 and Ranking Member Tierney.  I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record.  
Without objection, so ordered.  To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate 
any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter.  I find that totally 
unacceptable.  This is a massive, massive effort.  It's going to take some leadership
 from the White House.  These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails 
to make these appointments.  Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot 
achieve transparency without inspectors general.  Again, I urge President Obama and 
the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies  and
 without delay.
 Why is Geisel, who was at that hearing in December, billed as an "acting" anything?  Is the White
House unable or just unwilling to fill these slots?

 For many of us, the inaction reminds us that Barack Obama, as a member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee was over Afghanistan in terms of subcommittees but never called a hearing
on the topic.  Someone appears to love credits in the yearbook, they just don't want to work for them.

This can be seen also with regards to the failed nomination of Brett McGurk for US Ambassador to Iraq.

There is still no one else nominated for the post.

Before the e-mails and sex scandal broke, before the ethics questions sprung up, it was always clear that McGurk was an iffy nominee to be confirmed.  The White House apparently planned for no one else to be needed.  So they still haven't named a new nominee.  This issue came up in yesterday's State Dept press briefing. Victoria Nuland was asked about Iraq.

QUESTION: Just a general question. I know you've addressed this in bits before. But Iraq 
with the Embassy there, it's been a month since Ambassador Jeffrey has gone. Obviously
 his named successor has withdrawn. In terms of the operations of the Baghdad Embassy, is everything up to speed? Is it – are there difficulties now going on without an 
ambassador there?

MS. NULAND: Well, it's always important to have the President's representative in the 
person of an ambassador. That said, we have a very strong and capable chargé there, 
Robert Beecroft. His relationships with Iraqis across the spectrum are broad and 
deep, as they are with principals here in Washington. So the mission goes on, and we 
are continuing to work with Iraqis across the spectrum to try to encourage them to 
work together on the political issues that divide them. And of course, we maintain a 
broad economic relationship and a security support relationship.

QUESTION: Sure. I know it's a White House issue largely, but the idea of having a new 
nominee --
 MS. NULAND: Definitely a White House issue.

Yesterday's hearing was different from many other Congressional hearings: It actually got some
 press attention.  Iran's Press TV (link is text and video) opens with, "The US authorities have
discussed a new plan to secure them a long lasting presence in Iraq by spending millions of dollars to upgrade a US embassy compound in the war-torn country, Press TV reports."
I don't think Press TV's out on a limb with that statement.  I think a strong argument can be made-- based on the hearing -- for what the outlet is claiming.

Yesterday, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported, "The State Department is planning to
 spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month."
However, I'm surprised that they missed the bigger point.
I'm not surprised the US press missed it.  Once upon a time, the US press lulled themselves to
sleep with sticky thighs over the thought of 'maverick' John McCain.

The press crush on the senator hit the rocks when newbie frosh Barack strutted onto campus.  Which is a real shame since the once-madly-in-love-with-John press could now be penning, "John McCain was right!" columns.
I'm not saying he was right.  John McCain and I disagree completely on the war.  But he's been
attacked over and over for comments about a residual US military force in Iraq.  The big news out
of the hearing was that the inspector generals pretty much all agreed with the non-present
Senator John McCain.
 What you heard from the second panel repeatedly was that the State Dept was unprotected
and that cost overruns really couldn't be controlled with the State Dept's inability to check their own projects.

While Carroll thought Mara Rudman (USAID) hiring 25 Iraqis to supervise US reconstruction projects provided a set of eyes on these projects, there's so much more going on in Iraq.   You had statements from DoD's Mickey McDermott about how the lack "of a post-2011 Security Agreement or Status Of Forces Agreement was affecting aspects of its operations.  Key areas cited by these officials as being impacted included: land use agreements, force protection, passport/visa requirements, air and ground movement, and FMS site stand-up.  The precise impact of these command concerns with respect to achieveing short and long-term OSC-I goals is unclear.  However, having a formal, follow-on Security and Status Of Forces Agreemens was perceived  to have value potentially in clarifying and stabilizing Iraqi government support for day-to-day OSC-I operations, and would benefit longer-term relationship building."
 Again, the statements should have led the press to note that McCain -- ridiculed as crazy and out of  it -- actually can find support for his assertion that there are elements that supported extending the SOFA.  (The military did support that.  We've noted that repeatedly.  Testimony to Congress by
various generals have made that clear.  But what happened here is that people whose job it is to
analyze made comments that backed up the claims John McCain was making.)
 Violence continued in Iraq today.  AP reports Balad saw one, two, three bombings "in quick
 succession" today.  AFP notes, "Gunmen shot dead four anti-Qaeda militiamen in central Iraq on
Friday, while a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi soldier, security and medical officials said."  Reuters adds,  "Police colonel Hassan al-Baldawy said at least six people were killed and 45 wounded" in a combination of suicide and motorcycle bombings.  AP adds that four other Sahwa were wounded  in the Diyala attack.  Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" (and "Daughters Of Iraq" for their female counterparts).  Alsumaria notes that the assailants used machine guns to
fire on Sahwa.  At the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus,
then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining Sahwa.

In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of 
Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as 
well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their 
neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced 
violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of 
their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to 
avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council 
are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that 
mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".

 This was the second day in a row for attacks on Sahwa.  As Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reminds of 
yesterday's violence,  "In Iraq's northern central province of Salahudin, gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by government-backed Awakening Council group members in the city of Samarra, some 110 km north of the capital, killing two group members before they fled the scene, a local police source told Xinhua."
Jason Ditz ( observes of  yesterday's violence,  "A wave of attacks in and around the
capital city of Baghdad pointed out that the war in that nation is still very much going on, with or
without the US occupation forces, leaving 38 people killed and over 140 others wounded."
Laith Hammoudi (AFP) reports on what happens after the bombings:

Piles of concrete blocks, clothes and furniture are all that remain of many of the makeshift houses in Imam Ali slum after an explosives-packed car tore through the area on June 13, claiming the lives of seven people and leaving more than 20 families homeless.
The blast has left the Shiite area's impoverished residents mourning relatives and 
neighbours, and struggling to rebuild their shattered lives.
Hussein said he looked for houses to rent but the cheapest one he found was 150,000 Iraqi dinars ($125) per month, and it was in poor condition and would have required significant repairs.

Abeer Mohammed (Institute for War & Peace Reporting via McClatchy Newspapers) offers, " Iraqi politicians from across the ethnic and religious spectrum agree that the recent wave of attacks targeting Shia Iraqis appears to be a deliberate move by extremists to reignite the sectarian conflict of past years."
 There's also conflict -- in what things say they are going to do and what they acually do.  Among their reports is this one on the Ministry of Electricity's Inspector General declaring there are fake contracts for $3 trillion dinars.  If the news seems familiar, it's because fake contracts and the Ministry of Electricity seem to go hand in hand.  Dropping back to the August 12, 2011 snapshot:

 Political intrigue continues in Iraq as well.  For example,  Al Mada reports that the Sadr 
bloc is calling for an investigation into the alleged fake contracts and alleged theft of funds 
in the Ministry of Electricity. Over the weekend, Nouri al-Maliki announced he was firing the Minister of Electricity due to fake contracts worth billions. There were two main responses. First, many stated Nouri didn't have the power to do the firing, only Parliament did. Second, 
the Minister of Electricity floated that he had many stories to tell. It has since emerged that these contracts Nouri claims to be surprised and appalled by carry . . . Nouri's signature.
 Nouri and State Of Law's latest move is to note that this member of Nouri's Cabinet is also 
a member of Iraqiya. I'm not sure how that assists Nouri since, over the weekend, Iraqiya 
was the first to state that they supported the move Nouri made.  Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli (The Middle East Media Research Institute) offers an analysis of what happened:

In July of this year, the Ministry of Electricity signed a contract with a Canadian company, CAPGENT, for $1.2 billion for the construction of 10 power stations with a production 
capacity of 100 megawatts each. The company was registered in Vancouver, Canada. It 
also signed a second contract with a German company, Maschinerbrau Halberstadt, for
 €500 million ($650 million) for the construction of five power stations with a production 
capacity of 100 megawatts each, to be completed within 12 months from the time a line
of credit was extended. It now appears that the two companies are fictitious, and had the contracts been executed they would have would have constituted a monumental case 
of fraud involving senior officials of the Ministry of Electricity.

The two fraudulent cases came to light thanks to the personal efforts of Jawad Hashim, a former minister of planning in Iraq during the early Ba'thist regime in the 1960s and early 
1970s. In a handwritten letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, datelined Vancouver, Canada, August 2, 2011, Hashim detailed the fraud.
As a resident of Vancouver, Hashim decided to investigate the available information on 
the Canadian company while he asked the former minister of economy and governor of
 the Iraqi central bank, Fakhri Yassin Qadduri, who resides in Germany, to investigate the identity of the German company.

In related news, Ahmed Abbasi (Kitabat) reports over six billion dollars missing from the public
funds and Abbasi wonders how this continues to happen, where are the courts, where is the
Integrity Commission?  Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Kirkuk is spending over 93 billion dinars
on a water project to ensure potable water.  It's considered one of Iraq's largest water projects
 Turning to the topic of intrigue, Kitabat reports on rumors that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad is
coordinating with the Tehran-based government and Iraq's National Alliance and that they are using cell phones to monitor the movements of Iraqiya and other political rivals and that they are also listening in on phone calls.  If true, this is apparently part of an effort to keep Nouri as prime minister.

A reported plan by the Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki to call an early election is insignificant. He might be thinking of ways to end the current stalemate and hopefully get 
a new and broader mandate. He might as well accomplish that since his opponents are 
weaker and divided. But that surely will not solve Iraq's problems -- assuming that Al 
Maliki does care.

The real problem of today's Iraq is the attempt of one political faction to dominate the
 political landscape shutting everybody else out.

As Al Mada notes today, Nouri is resisting appearing before the Parliament for questioning.  The Constitution is clear on this matter, as the Parliament has reminded Nouri. Alsumaria reports today that MP Mahma Khalil, with the Kurdistan Alliance, states that Nouri must bear responsibility for what is taking place in Iraq and that this is not about withdrawing confidence.  Alsumaria sees this as a retreat from the plan for a no-confidence vote.  It may be.  Or it may be someone grasping the p.r. effect.  Moqtada al-Sadr looks so much more reasonable than many because, since April, he has publicly presented a position (whether it's true or not) of, "I hope it doesn't come to this, only in a last resort . . ."  He has repeatedly noted that the entire process can be stopped by Nouri if Nouri will only follow the Erbil Agreement.  Again, Alsumaria may be interpreting things correctly.  But it's also true that Nouri's began lashing out and trying to win public opinion this week on the issue of the no-confidence vote.  This may be others following Moqtada's lead.  Al Mada reports today that the Kurdish bloc in Parliament is stating that even should Nouri survive the no-confidnece vote, this does not end the push for accountability. Kurdish MP Shwan Mohammed Taha states that, successful or not, the interrogation isn't the end of things.  He cites the Erbil Agreement and the need to return to it.

In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued  the following today:

MONDAY: VETERANS: Murray in Seattle to Unveil New Mental Health Legislation
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran will share his story of having his PTSD diagnosis overturned

(Washington, D.C.) -- On Monday, July 2, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the 
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a press conference at the Seattle Nisei 
Veterans Center to discuss her new service members and veterans mental health 
legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012.  This legislation comes as the Pentagon begins a comprehensive military-wide review, which Senator Murray urged [Defense] 
Secretary [Leon] Panetta to conduct on diagnoses for the invisible wounds of war dating
back to 2001.  

The misdiagnosis of behavioral health conditions has been a constant 
problem for soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center, where to date over 100 soldiers
 and counting have had their correct PTSD diagnosis restored following reevaluation.  
Stephen Davis, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who had his initial diagnosis of PTSD overturned, will speak at the press conference with his his wife to share his experience.
The legislation seeks to address problems with DOD and VA mental health care identified during multiple hearings of Senator Murray's Veterans Affairs Committee.  Specifically, 
Senator Murray's Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 would require DOD to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program, expand eligibility for a 
variety of VA mental health services to family members, improve training and 
education for our health care providers, create more peer to peer counseling 
opportunities, and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental 
health services.  More about Senator Murray's bill HERE.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
           Sergeant David Leavitt
           Sergeant First Class Stephen Davis and his wife Kim Davis
            Michele Smith, wife of Sergeant Shannon Smith
WHAT: Press conference to unveil the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012
WHEN: Monday, July 2, 2012
            1:30 PM PT
WHERE:  Seattle Nisei Veterans Center
                1212 South King Street
                 Seattle, WA 98144
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510