Thursday, September 27, 2012

The phantom balloon popped

Not that you'd know it but that 'up' that was never really there, that phantom balloon pulling our economy up?  It popped.

AP informs that new home sales have dipped.  You'll remember that leading into the Democratic convention, various whores appeared on TV telling us how great the new home sales were and how it was a sign of an improved economy.

More reality comes via Mary Beth Marklein (USA Today):

Even as the nation's households have reduced their total debt in recent years, the share that owes student loans has increased sharply, an analysis of the latest available Federal Reserve data shows.
Nearly one in five (19%) households in 2010 had outstanding student debt or loans in deferment, up from 15% in 2007, and more than double the number two decades earlier, says the Pew Research Center in a report released Wednesday.
And while increases in outstanding student debt are occurring across all income levels and ages, the trend is taking the biggest bite out of the nation's youngest and poorest households.

This destroys young people.  In my day, you took out a student loan and (a) the government might withhold your income tax if that.  My generation (baby boomers) in fact, didn't pay in significant numbers and increased the penalties for later generations.  But you could pay 15 or 30 a month and have the thing paid off in 10 years or less.

Now days?  Forget it.  My oldest son had a student loan debt of over $50,000.  And the loans were sold and sold again and sold again.  And how do you follow that?  And then you get the fact that they garnish your wages.  And not thirty bucks or so. 

He was seeing half his check go to student loans.

How do you ever get out from under that?

And the whole time, interest is increasing the amount owed. 

You don't get out from under it.  (He was lucky.  Elaine, C.I., Rebecca and Ava paid off his loan as a gift when they found out how crippling it was.)

It's gone from being a program that helped to one that condemns you to a life of nothing.  How can you get a home when you already owe over $50,000?  You can't.  Dr. Jill Stein campaign includes a call for all student loans to be written off.  That's among the many smart things she's offering.  She is the Green Party's presidential candidate.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq and the Turkish government make noises, the White House is negotiating with Iraq to send more troops back to the US, and more.
Yesterday, US President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations with a laundry list of fabulists claims.  One of them was:
We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant.
Offering realism on this topic is journalist and sociologist Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who was on the ground in the Libya as the government was overthrown by 'rebels' -- some of whom were trained out of Langley in the United States.  Madhi was one of the few unembedded reporters in Libya and one of the few who didn't take US government press releases and put his name to it.  A brave and independent voice,  Mahdi is the author of the Globalisation of NATO.  Last Wednesday, he spoke with Heart of Africa host Kudakwashe Cayenne about Libya, the modern efforts to colonize Africa, and much more, click here to stream that program.  Excerpt.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya:  The war in Libya was an American-led war.  I know the Americans didn't want to make it look like it was an American-led war.  That's why they pushed the French and the British ahead.  But, in reality, they provided most of the muscle, most of the bombs.  Most of the, uh, military might was from them.  They started -- They started the operations along with the French and the British.  But they publicly wanted to make it look like David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of the French Republic, were the ones leading this.  But this wasn't true.  They were just hiding behind them because they knew that the world -- There's a negative opinion of US intervention in countries so they used it as a smokescreen.
Kudakwashe Cayenne:  Okay, Mahdi, why is it important for African to understand who NATO is today?
Mahdi Darius Nazemroya: It's very important to understand who [NATO] is today because they're colonizing the African continent.  Like I mentioned Libya.  That's just one country.  NATO is also involved in Somolia, it's also involved in Sudan.  It's normally involved in both these African countries so we're talking about three African countries so NATO has programs with about one-third of Africa's land areas, more than one-third, is under NATO programs.  NATO and the European Union and the United States want to see a divided Africa.  This is very clear from their policies.  I'm going to mention something called the Mediterranean Dialogue.  The Mediterranean Dialogue is a NATO partnership program, it's an expansion of NATO.  The countries that are part of this are Morocco, Algeria, the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia -- these are the African members.  That are part of it.
Kudakwashe Cayenne: Oh.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: Yeah, they're part of it.  And this program is also complimented by a European Union program called the Euro Mediterranean Partnership which Nicolas Sarkozy renamed as the Union for the Mediterranean, okay?  So this is very important to grasp because NATO expansion  has always been aligned with European Union expansion.   All the Eastern European countries that joined NATO also joined the EU after.  And they joined NATO through something called a Partnership for Peace which was made after the end of the Cold War --  it was made towards the end of the Cold War.  So it was made to -- It was made as a way of securing these countries and I have to explain this, this is very important, the Partnership for Peace prevented these Eastern European countries -- and I will get back to Africa, but I need to explain what happened in Eastern Europe.   It prevented these Eastern European countries from pursuing any other security alternative to NATO.  All of these countries used to be part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
Kudakwashe Cayenne: Okay.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: But once they joined the Partnership for Peace, they were never -- They didn't become full NATO members and they didn't have the benefits of being part of NATO but they fell under NATO control.  And this is what's important, when they fell under NATO control, they were promised that they could join NATO after certain reforms.  These reforms were security, military and political which effected the economy.  So they were put under this program which meant that they had one foot in the door and one foot out of the door.  They were put under this program because NATO could guarantee their structures could be changed.  They were being restructured and being prepared for NATO but restructuring meant that they were essentially being turned into colonies.  The things they had to do was make public their defense budgets and programs which meant NATO would know exactly what they were doing with their defense and this is a way to keep your eye on them.  At the same time, old military officers were being pushed out and a lot of these old military officers were very patriotic and they would look out for their country's benefit and there was a chance that it might enact a coup d'etat in their country against the new governments that were coming in place.  And this is what's important, the new governments were all supported and funded by the United States and its western allies within NATO and they were putting a lot of criminals in place or people that were treacherous who actually were selling their national assets to the United States and Western Europe, they were letting their countries become colonized.
Heart of Africa, hosted by Kitakyushu Cayenne, is a weekly program featuring music and interviews (Mahdi's interview starts about ten minutes into the program).  You can hear it live at More Light Radio every Wednesday at 2000 hours Central Africa Time.  Tomorrow night, the latest episode is broadcast live and the scheduled guest is Abramo Askew with the topic of the conflict in Syria, unrest in the region, the notorious video out of the US and Muslim reactions.
On Libya for a moment more, September 11, 2012, the US Consulate in Libya was attacked resulting in the deaths of Glen Dotty, Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods.   Last Thursday's snapshot included:
On that attack, earlier today Kathleen Tennessee of the Laos Angeles Times reported, "The White House is now describing the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as a 'terrorist attack,' a shift in emphasis after days of describing the lethal assault as a spontaneous eruption of anger over an anti-Islamic film made in California." 
Ruth covered this topic in two post last week, Thursday's  "White House spin dissolves: It was terrorism" and Friday's  "White House spin dissolves: It was terrorism."  The first included NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams' report on the White House announcing it was terrorism:
Brian Williams:  It won't bring back the U.S. Ambassador or the three other Americans who were murdered -- including two former Navy Seals, but tonight: What happened the night they died?  The storming of that U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya is being labeled an act of terrorism by the White House.  That was not the initial story and some in government have given conflicting versions for what happened there that night.  We begin tonight with tonight with what it does mean.  Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell in our D.C. bureau tonight. Andrea, good evening.

Andrea Mitchell:  Good evening, Brian.  And tonight the White House confirmed that the attack was an act of terror -- officials say by al Qaeda  sympathizers.  But big questions remain about when it was planned and why initial reports were wrong?
See Ruth's post for the full transcript and she's also posted the video of the report.  On her Friday post, she noted that while NBC treated this as major news, PBS' NewsHour reduced it to two sentences in the newswrap and didn't even note that the White House had admitted it was a terrorist act.
The NewsHour could fix their omission today.  AP reports today that the White House was pressed on Air Force One about where they stand on the attack since last Thursday saw Jay Carney deliver the announcement, was this also the opinion of President Barack Obama?
Q    Jay, in his interview on the Today Show this morning, the Libyan President said that the attacks on the consulate had nothing to do with the video that sparked all the protests as elsewhere.  He also repeated his claim that they were preplanned, given their sophistication, so given that's in direct contradiction to what the administration says, who's right?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can tell you that President Magarief made very heartfelt public statements before his meeting with Secretary Clinton in New York about the brave four Americans who were killed and the firm commitment of Libya to not allow a violent minority to hijack Libya's hopes and dreams. 
Over the course of the past two weeks, this administration has provided as much information as it has been able to.  We made clear that our initial assessment and interim reports were based on information that was available at the time.  Several administration officials, including the NCTC director, have spoken on the record about the information we have.  We have also been clear that there's an ongoing FBI investigation and that we must allow that investigation to take its course.  The Accountability Review Board established by Secretary of State Clinton is also doing a full investigation. 
I can point you again to the statements by the NCTC director about his assessment as the chief counterterrorism official about the information that we had available at the time about how the attack occurred and who was responsible.  And it continues to be the case that we provided information based on what we know -- not based on speculation, but based on what we know -- acknowledging that we are continuing an investigation that will undoubtedly uncover more facts, and as more facts and more details emerge we will, when appropriate, provide them to you.
Q    The fact that he was pretty equivocal statement today that the video --
MR. CARNEY:  The U.S. intelligence upon which we make our assessments has provided very clear public assessments of the information that they have available, that they had initially, that they had available when the NCTC director talked to Congress and spoke publicly.  And that's what -- we make our judgments based on the information that we gather.
Q    One more question on that.  But how often is the President in contact with President Magarief?  I mean, are they talking every day?  Are they sharing this information?  Is there anything that he might be aware of that the President would not be?
MR. CARNEY:  We have significant cooperation with the new Libyan government, but I don't think intelligence sharing occurs at the President-to-President level, necessarily.  President Obama did speak last week with the Libyan leader, the same night that he spoke with President Morsi of Egypt.  But I don't believe they've had a conversation since.
[. . .]
Q    Is there any reason why the President did not -- he was asked point-blank in The View interview, is this a terrorist attack, yes or no?  Is there any reason why he didn't say yes?
MR. CARNEY:  No, there's -- I mean, he answered the question that he was asked, and there's no reason that he chose the words he did beyond trying to provide a full explanation of his views and his assessment that we need to await further information that the investigation will uncover.  But it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the President's view, that it was a terrorist attack. 
Q    Thanks.
The world could use a lot more Mahdi Darius Nazemroayas but instead we've got far too many Steven Strausses.  Steven Strauss grabs his two brain cells and composes a piece for Huffington Post (good for Huff Post for allowing his alternative opinion, and that's not sarcasm) where he argues Archbishop Desmond Tutu is incorrect, that Bully Boy Bush (occupier of the White House from mid January 2001 through mid-January 2009) and Tony Blair (occupier of John Rentaul's heart and bedside diary as well as former prime minister of England) are not war War Criminals.  He wants you to know, "Tragedy resulting from an individual's actions is regrettable, but isn't in and of itself a crime.  Intent, rather than act, makes someone guilty."  There's another point but let's grab that one first.
It doesn't matter whether or not they intended their illegal war to kill over a million Iraqis.  You can even set aside the issue of Abu Ghraib (for England, the UK secret service getting caught in Basra trying to pass as Iraqis while apparently setting off bombs -- one of the most under-reported moments of the war despite the fact that a prison was destroyed in the process).  You can even set aside illegal weapons being used.  The birth defects demonstrate they were used but you can set that aside.
As Kofi Annan, then United Nations Secretary-General, told the BBC in September of 2004, the war was illegal: "The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has told the BBC the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.  He said the decision to take action in Iraq should ahve been made by the Security Council, not unilaterally."
If you wage an illegal war, you are a War Criminal.  If you shoot someone dead, you are a murderer.  These are basics under the law.  Blair and Bush did not have authority to start the war but did so.  They intended to start the war regardless of legality.  They broke the law, they did so with intent.  They are War Criminals.
Now Steven Strauss wants to bring Tony Blair into it.  He'll argue, "Tutu did!"  Well, Strauss, if you bring the British into it and you start noting body counts (incorrect ones), it's incumbent upon you to include the British toll.  Let's do what he lacked the manners to do, 179 is the number of "British Armed Forces personnel or MOD civilians" who have died in Iraq since March 2003 according to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence.  Again, if you start mentioning Blair and England and you then give death tolls, it's just rude and insensitive not to give the UK losses.  Iraqi losses?  They aren't really counted.  The Lancet Study found over a million.  It used the same estimating process the UN uses.  It was only 'controversial' because people didn't want to face the realities of the war and worked overtime to try and discredit it.  The methodology stands.  By now, it may be up to two million.  He grossly underestimates the death toll while adding two to the US death toll.  The US Defense Dept does not list "over 4,500 of our own service personnel," it's 4488.
Again, he overestimates the US count (unless he's disputing the official DoD count -- in which case he needs to say so) while underestimating the Iraqi death toll -- and, of course, ignores the British death toll.  The word for that is: Tacky.
Of the war in Iraq and the tremendous cost in terms of deaths, the injured and the money, Strauss insists, "This wasn't leadership by criminal masterminds -- it was mismanagement by incompetent buffoons."  So what's your damn point?
Do we remember the attempt a few years back to rob Velasquez and Sons Mufflers For Less in Chicago?  The robber showed up but the employees said they couldn't open the safe and told him only the manager had the combination. What did the robber do (link goes to WGN report, this is a true story)?  He gave them his cell phone number and told them to call him when the manager got there.  The police had the employees call him and tell him the safe was open, when he showed up with his gun, the police arrested him.
Now the judge may have laughed when the robber appeared in court.  He or she may have told the robber, "You are an incompetent buffoon."  But he or she didn't say, "I want you to plead not guilty by reason of stupidity."  Stupidity -- like ignorance of the law -- is not a valid legal defense.  Why Strauss would choose to weigh in all this time later in defense of Blair and Bush begs the question if he also is an "incompetent buffoon"?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu argued that the war was based on a lie.  That is a valid argument.  People can disagree but they'll find more to back that up -- whether it's this official or that explaining 'that's the reason we settled on.'  The reality is the people were lied to.  In America about "uranium yellow cake from Africa."  About as real as uranium yellow cake from Betty Crocker.   In England, Tony Blair lied about Iraq having chemical weapons at the ready to attack England in 45 minutes.  Intelligence agencies in both countries knew the statements were wrong.  You can be a Strauss and plead stupidity but if you're lying to the public by 'accident' (or 'accident of stupidity') and you're informed you were wrong (and Blair and Bush were), you correct the record.  If you don't, you're a liar.  They lied the world into that illegal war. Tutu is correct that these were lies.  Strauss is  -- you decide.
Staying on stupidity . . . I'd prefer not to ever say a word against Veterans for Peace and Leah Bolger.  But guess what?  Don't send me stupid crap.
Click here, they met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  If we had space, I'd put it here -- the press release -- in full because it is so stupid.  What was the point of the meeting?  Ahmadinejad is homophobic along with everything else.  Stop meeting with homophobes and declaring, "I am most pleased and honored to be in attendance with all of you."  What was the point of the stupid meeting?  This is embarrassing.  I have no problem with Sean Penn doing a fact finding mission in Iraq as he did. (And that would include, while he was in Iraq, meeting with any official including Saddam Hussein.  Iraq was not a free society, someone of Sean's stature would be pressed to meet with the officials.  That's fine.  There was a purpose for the visit and I have no problem with something like that.  Or meeting to attempt to get hostages or POWs released.)   I have no problem with CODEPINK attempting peace with visits to other countries as they have many times.  But I don't see the point of this meeting with the President of Iran other than, "We don't agree with our own government."
That's the point?  That's fine not to agree with your government.  I believe I rip apart the White House in pretty much every snapshot.  (Whereas VFP nationally shuts down criticism and opposition of Barack Obama from their chapters and refuses to hold him accountable.)  But I don't go meet with little tyrants who are known human rights abusers and say, 'Hey, like you, I disagree with the US government.'  I don't try to find common cause with tyrants or say 'we're two of a kind!'  If there was a purpose to this meeting, I'm missing it.  They say the meeting was about "stressing VSP's commitment to doing everything possible tp prevent a U.S. or U.S.-assisted attack on Iran.  VFP hopes to send a delegation to Iran in October."  Great on the delegation.  May it happen, may the VFP form strong alliances with the Iranian people (who I'm sure are good and wonderful people just like elsewhere in the world).  But there's a world of difference between meeting with him and giving him your blessing (which is what that meeting does -- even before the fawning language) and meeting with the Iranian people.  He is part of a corrupt regime that suppresses people.  I support any journalist from any country interviewing him and hope they hold him accountable on human rights and call him out when he makes homophobic remarks -- which he's been doing for so long that millions and millions have seen Andy Samberg's Saturday Night Live "Iran So Far" (featuring Adam Levine).  If those remarks about gay people had been about Black people, would VFP still be embracing him?  I don't think so.  We don't make homophobia unacceptable until we make it clear with our own actions that it's unacceptable. 
Did you think this meet-up meant that if the US starts bombing Iran, Ahmadinejad is going to say, "We could bomb all of the US but let's make sure not to harm Leah and VFP?"  What the hell is that?  There is no purpose served by that meeting.  It's insulting to the Iranians who are fighting for human rights and dignity and to meet with a noted homophobe is insulting to LGBTs around the world and to all of us who despise and will not tolerate homophobia.   Andy took on homophobia with that video -- and did a wonderful job of it -- but how sad that a comedian (a great one) did more to combat homphobia than Veterans for Peace. I don't support war with Iran and will protest it if the US tries to initiate it.  But I also don't go meet with a known tyrant and express how wonderful it is to be in the same room with his Immense Cruelness.  It's a human rights issue, it's a self-respect issue.
Let's move on.  During a week where reports said that the Ministry of Education was refusing to allow men and women on campuses together, let's note a bright spot.  But let's be clear that the reports, which were denied yesterday by the Ministry of Education, were not about co-education in the way you might think.  What the Ministry was proposing -- but backed down on (at least for now) -- was that no female professors could teach at colleges employing male professors -- or deans -- and 'vice versa.'  'Vice versa' because the ones let go would be women.  Most universities in Iraq have more men on staff than they do women.  This was an attempt to cripple women's employment -- women with advanced degrees and training.  And this is what you get when you put thugs in charge, when you court fundamentalists -- as the US government did in Iraq -- to scare the population into submission.  Now for the bright spot.  AFP reports today that 15-year-old Hoda is among the young Iraqi women and girls taking part in the country's first national weightlifting team.  Dropping back to the August 27th snapshot:

Turning to sports, Alsumaria reports that Baghdad is organizing the first official tournament for women in the Iraqi Federation of Weightlifting.  This will allow the athletes to participate in the Arab Championship taking place in Morroco at the end of September.  It should also hopefully lay the groundwork for Iraqi women to compete in the weighlifting of the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
And that's what it's about, the Olympics, the pursuit of national glory on the international stage.  You want to go for the Gold (and Silver and Bronze)? You need to compete in every sport.  Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) reported in July, "For the first time in Olympic history, every country will have a woman competing on its team, including longtime holdout Saudi Arabia, the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday.  Brunei and Qatar will also send female athletes to the London Games for the first time."  Iraq sent 5 men and 3 women to compete in the Summer Olympics in London: Dana Hussein, Adnan Taas, Nour Amer, Rana al-Mashadani, Safa Rashed, Muhannad Ahmad, Ahmed Abdel-Karim and Ali Nazim.  Like all participating in the competition, they were outstanding athletes and, for those eight, making it to the Olympics was a victory.  As John Canzano (Oregonian) pointed out, "It wasn't lost on me that many of the sprinters around [Dana] Abdul Razak in the mixed zone didn't grow up in a nation where being able to compete would even be a question.  Also, with Allyson Felix of the U.S. coming through moments later after winning the heat and wearing the finest traack and field gear to go with the best training/nutrition to go with a USA Track and Field handler who escorted her, I wondered about the vast dispartiy in resources available to athletes here."  Iraq should be very proud of their eight Olympians.  And the decision to create the women's weight lifting team and prepare for 2016 right now demonstrates real foresight on the part of Iraq's National Olympic CommitteeAFP reports of the new weightlifting team:
In one corner, Hoda, wearing a worn tracksuit, waits for her turn to lift again.
"I love the sport," she said. "I used to follow the championships on television and I went to a club and registered."
She has since set personal bests of 60 kilogrammes in the snatch, and 72 kilogrammes in the clean and jerk, which she and her teammates hope to build on in the Arab weightlifting championship in the Moroccan capital Rabat.
"I wish to win the gold medal," Hoda said.
 The desire to win -- whether it's in a sport, on the world stage, in the economy, what have you -- can go a long way towards creating space for human rights advances.  (It can also do the opposite -- but right now in Iraq, in this instance, it's worked to open up the society just a little bit and hopefully it will make a difference.) 
 Turning to violence,  Al Rafidayn notes 3 Tunis bombings targeting a convoy of a police chief  Lt Col Salman Kadhim al-Khazraji which left him,  2 bodyguards and 1 civilian dead and left two bodyguards injured while a Yathrib roadside bombing claimed the  lives of 2 police officers.  AFP adds that an attack on an Iskandiriyah checkpoint left 2 soldiers dead and another injured. Press TV notes that 1 police officer was shot dead in Kirkuk and 1 soldier was shot dead in Mosul.  And if you wonder why AFP's monthly count is always so off, they only count 7 dead yesterday.  Iraq Body Count notes 14 were killed yesterday and that 279 for the month through yesterday.

Meanwhile Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited Iraq's chief thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for a visitAFP observes, "Ties between Iraq and Turkey have been marred by a flurry of disputes this year, most recently Ankara's refusal to extradite Iraqi Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi, who has been sentenced to death in absentia by an Iraqi court."  The invitation comes as Hurriyet notes, "Iraq is now capable of shooting down Turkish jets entering Iraqi airspace to target Kurdish militants, Iraqi Air Force Officer Iskander Witwit recently told the New York Times."  For years now, Turkey has sent warplanes over northern Iraq to bomb suspected PKK camps (Turkey also sends drones over the area -- drones supplied by the US and some coming from the US CIA station on the Turkish border).  This new capability by Iraq's Air Force (or alleged capability -- they have an issue with flying these planes and currently Iraq has sent a small group of pilots to the US for training) has not detered Turkey.  Selcan Hacaoglu (Bloomberg News) reports there's an effort by the Turkish government to continue the bomb raids, "Parliament will reconvene from its summer holiday on Oct. 1 and is expected to give priority to a one-year extension of the mandate for cross-border attacks, which expires on Oct. 17, Arinc told reporters in Ankara late yesterday."  Areeb Hasni (News Tribe) adds, "Turkey's military chief General Necdet Ozel on Wednesday threatened to launch an assault on the main base of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Qandil mountain region of northern Iraq, after series of attacks on military installments inside the country."  Trend News Agency reveals, "Turkey has begun delivering military equipment to the border with Iraq today, the newspaper Yeni Safak reported with references to the Turkish General Staff.  According to the General Staff, Turkey will conduct the operation against militants of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, which will be called 'Fall cleaning'."
 Turning to the topic of oil, Ercan Ersoy and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraq's government will start making payments to international oil companies working in the northern Kurdish region next week, said Ashti Hawrami, natural resources minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government."  That will do a bit to ease the tensions between Baghdad and Erbil if it happens.  But it won't make everything fine.  Nawzad Mahmoud (Rudaw) reports that Kurds are losing out in the Iraqi Army and when it comes to governmnet jobs.  In addition, Nehro Muhammad (Rudaw) points out that there remains the issue of the US equivalent of $7 million that Baghad owes the KRG's for the Peshmerga budget.  Of course, there is also the disputed, oil-rich Kirkuk. 
Tom Hayden (The Nation) notes Tim Arango's New York Times report from yesterday states, "At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterrorism and help with intelligence."  The report also points out, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions." Tom ignores that.  Tim Arango should have made that his lede and the focus on the report.  If your big claim for re-election is that you pulled (most of) the troops from Iraq, this attempt to renegotiate goes to the fact that you are lying to the American people.  For a critique of Hayden, click here
Michael R. Gordon and Bernard Trainor's new book The Endgame is noted by Peter Feaver (Foreign Policy) who summarizes some of the points in the book:

  • A president unable to engage in effective personal diplomacy at crunch time because he had failed to invest in the hard work of retail diplomacy along the way. This is a problem that extends well past Iraq, as another blockbuster New York Times story makes clear. As an unnamed U.S. diplomat told the NYT: "He's not good with personal relationships; that's not what interests him...But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions."
  • A team whose wild over-confidence contributed to the failure to react in a timely manner to an unraveling situation. In one of the most devastating items in the piece, Gordon quotes Vice President Biden: "I'll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA," he added, referring to the Status of Forces Agreement the Obama administration hoped to negotiate."
  • A team paralyzed by infighting and poisonous civil-military relations. Gordon reports that Thomas Donilon, Obama's national security advisor, criticized Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for presenting military advice that ran counter to what the White House wanted to hear.

In addition, Will Inboden (Foreign Policy) weighs in as well:
Last summer I ruminated on President Obama's curious lack of personal connections with any global leaders of note. Peter Feaver's post below on Iraq and this New York Times story both demonstrate how this deficiency continues to hinder the Obama administration's foreign policy. The Times article describes Obama's "failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad."
Peter's post and the Times article both point to diplomatic mistakes made with Maliki in Iraq and Mubarak in Egypt. Meanwhile, the list continues to grow of President Obama's other missed opportunities, failures, and simmering crises that all could have benefitted from better personal relationships and rapports -- such as with Karzai in Afghanistan, Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, Merkel in Germany, Harper in Canada, Noda in Japan (the Senkaku Islands standoff between Japan and China could get much worse), Singh in India, Zardari in Pakistan, and especially Netanyahu in Israel. Sure, some of these global leaders can be difficult to get along with, but diplomacy has never been easy.