Sunday, May 04, 2014

Truest statement of the week

Early March Iraq Surveys received an image of Voting cards that were issued to selected voters one classified and civilian and others Military. The problem was that cards belonged to the same person and only the serial numbers, addresses & Electoral centre were changed on Ids in order for it to go undetected by the electoral database search tool. This allows the person to elect any specified candidate more than once discrediting the hole implemented procedure altogether. Never-the-less, the electoral commission avoids commenting as it had no logical explanation to this issue leaked by us to local and international media at the time.

--  Iraq Surveys and Dirk Adriaensens "Fraudulent Elections In Iraq" (Brussells Tribunal):

Truest statement of the week II

The next morning, after the Sunnis had left, Iraqi security forces and dozens of Shiite militia fighters arrived and marched from home to home in search of insurgents and sympathizers in the rural community, dotted by date palms and orange groves.
According to accounts by Shiite tribal leaders, two eyewitnesses and politicians, what happened next was brutal.
“There were men in civilian clothes on motorcycles shouting ‘Ali is on your side,’ ” one man said, referring to a key figure in Shiite tradition. “People started fleeing their homes, leaving behind the elders and young men and those who refused to leave. The militias then stormed the houses. They pulled out the young men and summarily executed them.”

-- Ned Parker, Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman's "Before Iraq polls, Shiite militias unleashed war on Sunni insurgents" (Reuters).

Truest statement of the week III

It is too late for steps that might have been taken to reduce tensions before the elections. Any lasting solution requires addressing the deeper roots of Sunni alienation in a country increasingly gripped by sectarian tension. ISIL’s rise is a symptom, not the main cause, of the poor governance that is the principal reason for Iraq’s instability. The government, UN and U.S. should treat ISIL differently from the military council and Falluja as a whole, rather than bundling them together in an indiscriminate “war on terror”.

-- International Crisis Group's "Iraq: Falluja's Faustian Bargain."

A note to our readers

Hey --

Another Sunday.

First up, we thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And what did we come up with?

We offer three truests this week -- all on Iraq. 
Iraq voted and we thought about an editorial on that but we've been over that and over that. 
So we're using the truests to address 
And for the editorial, we went with the topic of Nouri continuing to committ War Crimes and kill Iraqi civilians.
Ava and C.I. examine Black Box and, more importantly, ABC's inability to properly promote its own shows.
Dona moderates a roundtable on veterans issues with Ruth, Wally, Kat, Ava and C.I.
We go natural and organic in the kitchen.

C.I. noted this in Wednesday's snapshot and we all felt it was a Tweet worth noting.
In May, Barack announces 2014 will be his "year of action."  In May.  

What we listened to while writing this edition.

Jim responds to some e-mail questions.  (E-mail address is
From the Feminist Majority Foundation.
From the Michigan Green Party.

Repost from Great Britian's Socialist Worker. 
Repost from Workers World.

Mike and the gang wrote this and we thank them for it.

We'll see you next week.


-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: The unbrave

All we are saying . . .
Is get off your ass.

Saturday, National Iraqi News Agency reported Falluja Educational Hospital's Dr. Ahmed Shami announced the death toll has now reached 267 with another 1230 injured and that these include "women and children."

For four months now, prime minister and thug of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki has been bombing the residential neighborhoods of Falluja.  Why?  He's using collective punishment.  These are legally defined War Crimes.

But who will step up and call these crimes against humanity out?

All we are saying . . .
Is get off your ass.

Falluja is in Anbar Province.  Last week, Doctors Without Borders issued an alert about the Anbar crisis.  Great!  So they covered Nouri's bombings of the civilian population?

Uh . . .


Here's Doctors Without Borders:

Violence in Iraq’s Anbar Province has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, many of whom are suffering from severe wounds or burns and psychological distress and are now living in dire conditions and facing a lack of access to necessary medical care, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
At least 380,000 people have fled their homes in Anbar. In the last month, more than 18,000 have sought refuge in Tikrit, the capital of neighboring Salah al-Din Province, where MSF is assisting them.
“People are arriving with very few belongings,” said Fabio Forgione, MSF head of mission in Iraq. “Most are staying in abandoned schools and mosques. The fact that they will probably be displaced for some time is likely to worsen their already harsh living conditions.”
Amid a very volatile security environment in Tikrit, MSF is providing displaced people with relief items and is assessing their medical needs.
Most of the people arriving in Tikrit are women and children, with many requiring medical attention for wounds, burns, and psychological distress caused by the fighting. Despite efforts by the local community to accommodate the newcomers, most displaced persons face very difficult living conditions, shortages of food and limited access to medical care.
The MSF team is working with local authorities and religious and community leaders to distribute blankets and hygiene kits to 15,000 displaced people in Tikrit, while determining how to respond to their medical needs in an extremely challenging security environment. 
“Access to the area remains the main challenge to providing aid,” said Forgione. “The security situation is highly volatile, which has made it very difficult for us to organize the distribution of relief items. Ensuring the permanent presence of our teams has been a real challenge.”
Anbar Province has been hit by a surge in fighting since late 2013, particularly around the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. The violence is at its worst since 2008.
The recently displaced persons add to the more than 1.1 million displaced Iraqis unable to return to areas wracked by extreme violence from 2006 to 2008.

Since 2006, MSF has provided reconstructive surgical care in Amman, Jordan, to victims of violence from all over Iraq. Cases are referred through a network of Iraqi doctors. More than 2,000 Iraqi patients have received surgical care through this program, including nearly 300 patients from Anbar Province.

They could say all of that but they couldn't speak out against War Crimes?

All we are saying . . .
Is get off your ass.

Well Amnesty International is a human rights group.  Their charter, their very reason for being demands that they call out War Crimes.

And Amnesty International issued a statement last week as well.

So surely, they spoke out, right?

Here's their statement:

Failure of the Iraqi authorities to tackle an alarming spike in violence is exposing voters who wish to cast their ballots in the country’s parliamentary elections on 30 April to high risk of attack, said Amnesty International.
In the latest attack on Friday, at least 31 people were killed and several more injured after a series of blasts targeted a political party’s election rally in Baghdad. These are the third parliamentary elections to be held since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but will be the first since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.
“Iraq has been plagued by spiralling violence over the past year resulting in the highest numbers of casualties in years,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“People should be able vote without fear of being deliberately targeted. It is the Iraqi authorities’ duty to ensure that people are able to participate in elections free from attacks by armed groups, intimidation by the security forces and any actions which will interfere with exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
Some 7,800 people, mostly civilians, were killed in 2013 – the highest death toll since 2008 - according to UN figures. The continuing sectarian divide between the majority Shi’a and minority Sunni population, is fuelling violence across Iraq. The Sunni Arab minority feels aggrieved, discriminated against and politically marginalized. Such grievances have led to clashes including in al-Anbar governorate which has seen some of the worst violence in recent months.
Iraqis are set to elect 328 new members for the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s Parliament. The new parliament will in turn elect a new Prime Minister, President and Cabinet.
The elections are being held against a backdrop of longstanding human rights violations: 
  • Thousands of detainees languish in prison without charge. Many of those who are brought to trial are sentenced to long prison terms after unfair proceedings.
  • In many cases convictions are based on “confessions” extracted under torture.
  • Iraq remains one the world’s most prolific executioners with 169 executions reported in 2013 – many on terrorism charges.
  • Torture and other ill-treatment inside prisons and detention centres remains rife and routinely goes unpunished.
  • Journalists also face regular assassination attempts or death threats and are not sufficiently protected by the Iraqi authorities. 
“The challenges for any incoming government will extend far beyond restoring security. Torture and other ill-treatment in prisons remains rampant. Detainees languish in prison without charge or face unfair trials and executions are spiralling,” said Said Boumedouha.
“The Iraqi authorities must do all they can to protect polling stations. No one should have to choose between risking their lives and electing their representatives to parliament.” 

Yeah, they choked as well.

No one's asking them to uncover the unknown.

These daily bombings have been reported for four months.

And collective punishment is a legally defined War Crime.

So all we are saying is get off your ass.

These are two of the victims.

  1. نموذج آخر لأهداف جيش المالكي الارهابي في حربه على الشعب: .
  2. نموذج لأهداف جيش المالكي الارهابي في حربه على الشعب: .

Maybe if people would find the spines to speak up, those children would not have been bombed in their homes by the leader of their own country?

TV: Black Box illustrates ABC's big problem

When Academy Award, Tony and Emmy winner Vanessa Redgrave does her first US TV series as a regular (not a guest star), it should be big news. But ABC's Big Box hasn't been news.


And basking there in this slow dawn of delight, she suddenly knew with the holiest burst of certainties, that she, of everyone in all the world, had been chosen, honored with this sacred mission, and closing her glad eyes, Suzanne could feel the quiet hum of this blessing slowly cool her burning brain.  And it was while she was surrounded by this same chill of celluloid that the dialogue began gradually to be decoded, certain words whispered to her and her alone.

That's from Carrie Fisher's novel The Best Awful.  What stands out to us the most about the novel?

A late 2005 party where a bitter TV actress who'd achieved magazine photo fame but nothing more and was at the apex of her slow fade to obscurity (and agenting) as her overly praised good looks melted off her face and left her looking like a man by the age of forty.

There she was, sloshing her drink, spilling it on any foolish enough to stand too close, and raving about how awful Carrie was, how she went off her medications and she was a mother, and how, when you're a mother, you're children come first and . . .

The Best Awful is a novel in which Carrie's fictional alter ego Suzanne Vale returns from Postcards From The Edge with a daughter and with a bipolar disorder.  It's a great book.  Carrie, who is bipolar, has done a masterful job conveying what Suzanne goes through, how the medication makes her feel dead in contrast to the flights of euphoria when she's unmedicated and on a manic jag.

But here was this failed actress at the party launching into a lengthy attack on Carrie, on Carrie's book and on Carrie's mothering.  This was coming from a woman who, in 2004, had missed her only child's recital because she was blowing one of the many trashy producers of a sitcom in order to get the second female lead in the spin-off (the planned spin-off never happened -- she swallowed for naught).  This was coming from a woman who had lied to said child about who the child's biological father was -- passing first one man off as the father and then another.  We could list so much more.

The point, though, is this woman was far from a 'model' mother and yet here she was trashing Carrie Fisher, who was openly dealing with being bi-polar, and Carrie's novel and, most of all, Carrie's abilities as a mother.

Like The Best Awful, Black Box revolves around a woman who is bipolar.  Dr. Catherine Black (played by Kelly Reilly) hides the fact that she's bipolar from everyone except her family and her psychiatrist Dr. Helen Hartramph (Vanessa Redgrave).  In the first episode, she gets engaged to Will (David Ajala) and tells him about being bi-polar while also implying her acts, when she's unmedicated, have included cheating on him. He then leaves her on the side of the road.

Americans don't like illness, the entire American culture is geared towards ignoring and avoiding any sickness.

Take "Scar" from The Bedroom Tapes,  the Carly Simon song that is about Warren Beatty.  Carly had breast cancer and found just how much some people can't deal with reality.

A man I knew once said he wanted to see me
I said I'd been sick but was on the mend
I told him a few of the overall details
He said: That's too bad
And he's never called me again
What a gift in disguise that poor little puppy
So scared of misfortune and always on guard
A big man will love you
Even more when you're hurtin'
And a really big man
Loves a really good scar

So the discomfort with illness may be part of the reason that the series is getting far less attention than it deserves.

Another reason is the current scandal.

The show is produced by Amy Holden Jones, Ilene Chaiken, Oly Obst, Anne Thomooulos and Bryan Singer.


That Bryan Singer.

The director of The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, X-Men, X2 and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.

He's currently being sued by a man who alleges that, when he was just a young teenager, Singer drugged and raped him.  Singer denies the allegations.

He's getting little industry support.

The charges may be true but there are problems with the narrative.  Possibly if Singer's last hit film Valkyrie had crossed the $100 million mark domestically or if his last directed film wasn't the bomb Jack The Giant Slayer, there might be a more rousing defense from the industry?

Whether the charges are true or false, the charges being made basically argue "gay mafia."  That's the group or alleged group often whispered of and finally put into print in the June 1995 issue of Spy magazine with Mark 's "The Gay Mafia: Who are the real power brokers in Hollywood and how much do they really control?"  Some see reports of a Gay Mafia as urban legend, as true or as an example of homophobia. The notion of a gay mafia was spoofed on Will & Grace in "The Honeymoon's Over" (written by Sally Bradford) with Jack being blackballed by the gay mafia (headed by guest star Elton John).

Again, Singer may be guilty or he may be innocent.  (And, in the US, he's presumed innocent until proven guilty.)  But with regards to Black Box, he's just one of five executive producers so why punish the show and the people working on it?

The third reason the show is struggling?

It's gotten an ambitious scope and it airs on ABC.  The two don't go together these days.  ABC's really struggling to break open any TV series which can't be summarized in a brief, one sentence logline.

For example, Nashville actually is a great series. It could be hailed as "One of the best show's you're not watching" were it not for the fact that it has a solid audience.  But ABC's been unable to expand it beyond that core because the network just doesn't know what it's doing.

For example, Chris Carmack should have been the focus of half the promos this season because his Will is a closeted country singer and this story is (a) involving and (b) not what the promos have sold the show as. Much should also have been made of Oliver Hudson joining the show this season.  First, Oliver has a following.  Second, he's playing a character unlike any other on the show.

Nashville's problem isn't the writing or the acting or the production (unlike the Water Cooler Set, we grasp directors don't really matter on TV shows -- idiots in the Water Cooler Set wrongly think TV is like film, it's not -- the writer rules in TV).  Nashville's only problem is perception.

It was heavily advertised last season as a battle between established country music star Rayna (Connie Britton) and up and comer Juliette (Hayden Panettiere).  In other words, it was promoted as All About Eve with banjos and steel guitar.  That's not what it ever was but that is the image ABC promoted and the image that's stuck.  Stressing Will and Oliver Hudson's Jeff in the promos could have gone a long way towards expanding the image of the show.  There's nothing wrong with Britton or Panettiere or the performances that they're giving but the people who haven't tuned in are avoiding the show because of the advertising.

Black Box is strong television that's struggling for an audience.  That could be due to the lead character's illness, it could be due to allegations about Bryan Singer, it could be due to ABC's inability to break open a program.  We think it's a combination of all three and argue it is the third aspect that is ABC's biggest problem.  Black Box will last another season or it won't.  Networks also have little interest in shows starring people with illnesses (the stars in the various medical dramas are always the doctors, not the patients).  If Bryan Singer's guilty, producing a TV show will be the least of his problems.

But the inability -- with free airtime -- to promote your own shows?  The inability in your own network promos to expand interest in your shows?  That's a much more serious problem.  ABC can have shows that deliver -- and Black Box and Nashville deliver -- but it doesn't make a difference if ABC has no clue how to promote their shows.  Here's the first hint: Lose the cookie cutter approach, this is a network not Touchstone Pictures.

Congress and Veterans


Dona: Last Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss alternative medical approaches in the VA.  Another topic actually ended up dominating the hearing.  Present at the hearing and reporting on it  were C.I. with "Iraq snapshot" and "Iraq snapshot," Ava with "Senate Veterans Affairs Committee reviews alternative care (Ava)," Wally with "Begich tried (Wally),"  Ruth with "Senator Richard Blumenthal" and Kat with  "Petzel lied to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee." Okay, Wally, the basics?

Wally: The Committee's Chair is Bernie Sanders and Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  There were two panels of witnesses.  The first was the VA's Dr. Robert Petzel with Dr. Tracy Gaudet and Dr. Peter Marshall, the Army's BG Norvell Coots with Col Kevin Galloway, and the National Institute of Health's Dr. Josephine Briggs.  The second panel was the University of Vermont's Dr. Janet Kahn and RTI International's Dr. Mark Edlund. And the title of the hearing was Overmedication: Problems and Solutions.

Dona: Okay.  Thank you.  Now Chair Bernie Sanders noted the following, I'm quoting from C.I.'s report:

Senator Bernie Sanders: Within the veterans' community -- and in fact, the nation both in the public sector and the private sector -- we face a very serious problem as a nation of overmedication. The result of that overmedication is that significant numbers of people treated in the Department of Defense facilities, in VA facilities and in the private sector become dependent upon those medications intended to help them and ease their pain. Pain relief is a huge problem in the country and how we treat that pain in the most effective way is really what we're discussing today. Some people who are treated with a whole lot of medication become addicted -- and I think we all know what happens when people become addicted -- and some in fact will end up taking --  losing their lives through overdoses. And in my state and throughout this country this is a huge problem as well. So this is a major issue which has been discussed in this committee during the last year and we're really glad we have such a distinguished panel to discuss this issue.  

Dona (Con't):  Ava, as you've pointed out before, this is a key issue for Sanders.

Ava: Right, he advocates for alternative means, alternative medicines, for dealing with pain and stress.

Dona: Such as?

Ava: Relaxive breathing, Tai Chi, yoga, acupuncture, etc.

Dona: These are not seen historically as being part of the landscape of western medicine.

Kat :  Correct.  And he made that point in the hearing, Sanders did.  How twenty or thirty years ago, these techniques and practices might just be advocates by "few folks in California." Which, by the way, he's made before and, as someone from California, usually rubs me the wrong way.

Dona: Really?

Kat: It's left unstated that California was in the lead or that people, including our current governor who was also our governor in the 70s --

Dona: Jerry Brown.

Kat: Right, Jerry Brown.  He was ridiculed for this as much as the state was. So, if people are going to bring this up -- Sanders or whomever, maybe a little "Turns out Brown was right" needs to be actually stated and not left implied.

Dona: Okay.  Well Ruth's participating by phone, the rest of us are in California.  Kat, Ava, C.I. and I live in California.  Wally's home is in Florida.  Just for disclosure.  So what exactly should be said?  Can I get like an example?

C.I.: Sure. He's talking about acupuncture?  Or even just alternative medicine, he can note that then-Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill making acupuncture legal back in 1976.  I'm not really bothered by it.  I see what Kat's saying and I understand it.  But it's not a huge issue to me personally.  If it is an issue to Kat, then, no doubt, is to others as well so a statement about 1976 and what Brown did would get the message across much better than saying "a few folks in California."

Ava: And, to add to that, if you're from the state or living it, it's probably smart for a politician to exercise a little more care when speaking about it.  Like C.I., I didn't care one way or another except to think that he's used that line in at least three other hearings and it's kind of old by now. But, yeah, if it's offending someone, you need to construct a better way to note the progress and it's also always good to note the people who paved the way -- such as Jerry Brown.

Dona: Alright.  So what's the story?  This is being used.  Is it working?

Wally: That wasn't addressed.

Ruth: No, it really was not.

Wally: The best that could be offered were percentages of people who had switched from opiate drugs to these therapies.

Ruth: And the witness Dr. Janet Kahn was specific that she was not seeing this as an either/or issue.

Dona: Right.  Let me quote from Ava's report for that.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  You said that the issue here is not to deal with pain but to deal with the person  In the real world -- In the real world someone walks into your door with the issues that I've described.  The easy path is to overmedicate.  Historically, we have done a lot of that.  You've got a pain, here's some drugs.  You're proposing a different way. In plain English, and maybe some concrete examples, what does that mean?  What does that mean?  What do you do with that individual who walked in your door?

Dr. Janet Kahn:  So I hope I made it clear that I am not suggesting either/or --

Chair Bernie Sanders:  No, no, no.  We understand.

Dr. Janet Kahn:  Okay.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Absolutely.

Dr. Janet Kahn: And I want to say clearly that I am not a physician. [She has a Phd.]

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Right.

Dr. Janet Kahn:  Okay. So that said, yes, I assume a physician would address issues of pain directly.  But at the same time because of people's literal experience with pain and their capacity to handle and cope with pain and manage whatever level of pain they are experiencing is influenced by these other things -- like their general state of anxiety or whether or not they're sleep deprived and therefore on edge in a different way.  We want to come up under them in terms of those elements of life at the same time as addressing the pain directly.  That's what I'm saying. 

Dona (Con't): And it's good that the point was made that this isn't either/or and that, for example, yoga and medication can be a two-pronged effort to treat pain issues.    But I'm confused regarding the inability to say whether or not this is working?  And, for the record, when I was pregnant and having severe lower back pain in my last two months of pregnancy, I saw an acupuncturist and it was extremely helpful.  I'm all for alternative medicines.

C.I.: This is how the hearing got away from the topic.  Another issue would be the focus even though it was the planned topic.  But it's also true that the witnesses weren't prepared or didn't care about the topic -- the witnesses from the government.  For example, the VA's Dr. Tracy Gaudet was completely unprepared to speak to the issue and it was like Sanders was pulling teeth to get her to speak.  Equally off-putting was her manner of speaking.

Wally: Amen.

Dona: How did she speak?

Wally:  She was being silly.  Almost like she was trying to flirt.  There was a lack of attention to detail and a huge lack of seriousness when she was addressing Sanders questions.

Dona: Okay, I see what you mean -- Wally and C.I. -- I'm looking over the reports done and this is from C.I.'s report:

Chair Bernie Sanders: So, in terms of programs like the acupuncture, is it working?  What can you tell us about your success rates or non-success rates? Does the success work?

Dr. Tracy Gudet: I think the most evidence that actually exists for acupuncture as it relates to pain, our research Office of Evidence Synthesis just finished a comprehensive look at all the evidence related to acupuncture and it's a very useful document because it basically says where is their evidence for the use of acupuncture, do we know and is there evidence of benefits, do we know it's not a benefit or is there a category where we just don't know from the research?  The areas where there is the strongest evidence for acupuncture are pain -- chronic pain, headaches, migraines have the best evidence.  So it's a rational place to start.  

Dona (Con't): The doctor sounds like an airhead.  She's specifically asked if it works by Sanders and she never answers.  She brings up a study but never explains what the study found.  She ends with the study found "the strongest evidence for acupuncture are pain -- chronic pain, headaches, migraines have the best evidence."  Best evidence of what?  She never says.  She's unprepared and she's not listening to the questions being asked or else intentionally refusing to respond.  And there's agreement, on the Committee, that this is a serious issue?

Kat: Richard Burr's Ranking Member which means he's from the party not in control of the Senate.  Sanders is an independent, a Socialist, who votes with the Democrats.  Burr is a Republican.  Let me quote from Burr to answer your question:

Turning to the subject of today’s hearing, as many of you know, the United States is facing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.  That’s why it is important that we are here today to conduct oversight over the care veterans who have chronic pain receive from VA.  It is critical that we ensure that VA is taking the necessary steps to address the over-use of certain medications and the potential risks of misuse and dual prescriptions.  It has been estimated that as many as 50 percent of male veterans and as high as 75 percent of female OEF/OIF veterans struggle with pain.  The prevalence of chronic pain will likely increase as more service members transition into the VA system.  These numbers demonstrate the need for VA to provide quality pain management services to ensure veterans with chronic pain are able to live productive and healthy lives.  

Dona: Which indicates the Committee has agreement that pain management services are needed.  So what's the problem with the VA?

Ruth: Maybe the problem is that the mission has been defined and handled wrongly.

Dona: Okay, expand.

Ruth: My late husband was a doctor.  I am using that as a basis for my response here.  But the Senate and the VA seem to think the answer is finding traditional doctors who will use acupuncture or whatever else as a compliment.  That is considered the 'victory.'  That is not a victory.  They are asking doctors -- and only a few, we are talking about test programs for the most part -- to move just a tiny bit.  And that is failure approach.

Dona: Because?

Ruth: The bulk of medical doctors do not believe in alternative medicine.  Mr. Sanders is choosing an incremental process that will have achieved nothing long after he is gone -- from Congress and from this world.  You need to stop defining victory as swaying a few doctors in the VA medical system.  You need to bring in people whose specialize in acupuncture and yoga and Tai Chi as full partners in the system who can help co-develop programs.  Otherwise, you have a vanity problem that is not being addressed.  It is not just a god complex that I am referring to.  I am speaking of doctors who are trained at pricey medical schools and instinctively look down upon other ways of healing, non-traditional healing.  They are making a division like the people who made a division between arts and crafts in order to denigrate what is labeled "crafts."  You cannot bring in this new system unless the providers of these alternative methods are full partners in developing the new programs.  Otherwise, vanity and self-interest on the part of medical doctors will win out.  That is my opinion.

Dona: I see what you're saying.  Ruth, in your report, you wrote about your senator, Richard Blumenthal, and how he tried to get answers.  This goes to what Wally and C.I. were talking about with regards to Chair Sanders attempting to get answers, I feel.

Ruth: I would agree with you.  Senator Sanders was dealing with the first panel, the government officials, and they did not appear prepared.  Senator Blumenthal encountered the same thing.  There was a lot of abstract talk and references to 'success' -- an undefined success but one the VA insisted was there.  The officials to the Committee that the number of service members -- active duty, we are not talking about veterans here -- who were receiving opiates had gone down significantly.  Mr. Blumenthal wanted to know something concrete and he asked for numbers.  The number 26% was given.  That was the number, in 2011, for active duty service members who were prescribed opiates.

Dona: And, as I know from your report, that's 26% of all active duty, not 26% of active duty injured.

Ruth: Correct.  So Senator Blumenthal wanted to know what was the decrease that the panel kept stressing?  And he was told at first that there was not a number and then BG Coots announced, shuffling through papers, that the 26% had dropped to 24%.

Dona: 2%?

Ruth: Correct. 2% was presented as this huge drop.  And while clearly 2% is a small number, so insignificant that it really does not warrant mentioning, there's also the fact that, at the end of 2011, most US troops left Iraq.  I was talking to C.I. about this, so let me toss to her.

C.I.:  Ruth's point is that the 2% is not worth mentioning also because there is most likely an increase somewhere in the system and this should have been asked about in the hearing.  These numbers are not about veterans.  So DoD should have been present to answer.  But the 2% is ridiculous.  With the bulk of US troops leaving Iraq -- a defined combat field by DoD which still, this year, gets combat pay for all US military personnel stationed there -- with the bulk leaving in 2011, by 2013 there should have been a huge reduction in the number of active duty being prescribed opiates.  Yes, people will always have injuries on bases -- your typical every day injuries. But by shutting down a battlefield, there should have been a much larger drop.

Dona: Okay, I get it.  You're saying these are active duty numbers so removing a combat zone at the end of 2011 should have resulted in a greater percentage drop within three years.  Yeah, good points, I agree.  The hearing was forced to address the latest VA scandal, this one in Arizona.  At the Phoenix Medical Center, there are allegations that the VA has maintained two lists -- the official list which makes it appear everyone gets timely treatment and an unofficial list.  The unofficial list allegedly tracks the long delays that vets are facing for medical appointments.  It is said that 40 veterans have died as a result of these delays.  Sanders, Blumenthal, Burr and Senator Mark Begich all noted this was an important issue and that answers were needed.  I'm going to insert this from C.I.'s  April 9th snapshot where she's reporting on that day's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing:

US House Rep Jeff Miller:  I had hoped that during this hearing, we would be discussing the concrete changes VA had made -- changes that would show beyond a doubt that VA had placed the care our veterans receive first and that VA's commitment to holding any employee who did not completely embody a commitment to excellence through actions appropriate to the employee's failure accountable. Instead, today we are faced with even with more questions and ever mounting evidence that despite the myriad of patient safety incidents that have occurred at VA medical facilities in recent memory, the status quo is still firmly entrenched at VA.  On Monday -- shortly before this public hearing --  VA provided evidence that a total of twenty-three veterans have died due to delays in care at VA medical facilities.  Even with this latest disclosure as to where the deaths occurred, our Committee still don't know when they may have happened beyond VA's stated "most likely between 2010 and 2012."  These particular deaths resulted primarily from delays in gastrointestinal care.  Information on other preventable deaths due to consult delays remains unavailable.   Outside of the VA's consult review, this committee has reviewed at least eighteen preventable deaths that occurred because of mismanagement, improper infection control practices and a whole host -- a whole host --  of other maladies plaguing the VA health care system nationwide.  Yet, the department's stonewall has only grown higher and non-responsive. There is no excuse for these incidents to have ever occurred.  Congress has met every resource request that VA has made and I guarantee that if the department would have approached this committee at any time to tell us that help was needed to ensure that veterans received the care they required, every possible action would have been taken to ensure that VA could adequately care for our veterans.  This is the third full committee hearing that I have held on patient safety  and I am going to save our VA witnesses a little bit of time this morning by telling them what I don't want to hear.  I don't want to hear the rote repetition of  -- and I quote --  "the department is committed to providing the highest quality care, which our veterans have earned and that they deserve.  When incidents occur, we identify, mitigate, and prevent additional risks.  Prompt reviews prevent similar events in the future and hold those persons accountable."  Another thing I don’t want to hear is -- and, again, I quote from numerous VA statements, including a recent press statement --  "while any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many," preventable deaths represent a small fraction of the veterans who seek care from VA every year.  What our veterans have truly "earned and deserve" is not more platitudes and, yes, one adverse incident is indeed one too many.  Look, we all recognize that no medical system is infallible no matter how high the quality standards might be.  But I think we all also recognize that the VA health care system is unique because it has a unique, special obligation not only to its patients -- the men and women who honorably serve our nation in uniform -- but also to  the hard-working taxpayers of the United States of America.

Dona (Con't): Jeff Miller is a Republican.  He is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  So not only is this scandal a bipartisan concern, it's also a House and Senate concern.   Wally, what was Begich's question?

Wally: Senator Mark Begich asked the VA's chief witness at the hearing, Dr. Robert Petzel, exactly what figures the VA leadership in DC was receiving from the Phoenix VA?  And he couldn't get an answer.  Petzel danced and stone walled and ate up time.

Dona: Ava, any closing thoughts as we wrap up?

Ava: Sure.  I think C.I. had a really great point on Thursday that became more significant on Friday.  In her Thursday report, she noted all the spin Petzel gave and how he kept putting his imprint on this issue and how it really wasn't an issue and blah, blah, blah.  In her Thursday report, C.I. pointed out that when there's an ongoing investigation into an issue -- and there is an ongoing investigation -- members of the department are not supposed to be commenting.  The standard reply goes like this, "I'm sorry. I'm unable to answer that question because there's an ongoing investigation."  And they supposedly don't want to try to influence the investigation.  But there was Petzel testifying to it non-stop, in ways that always made him look good and innocent and capable of his job, etc.  On Friday, CNN was among the new outlets noting that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had issued a statement.

Dona: Right. Hold on a second Ava and let me read that into this from  Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Neili Black (CNN) report on Friday:

He's the leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs the VA hospitals where dozens of U.S. veterans died waiting for simple medical screenings.

Yet in the six months that CNN has been reporting on these delays, Eric Shinseki has been silent. And he hasn't spoken out on the matter to any other news organization, either.
Early Friday evening -- after this story appeared on -- the VA gave a response, via spokesman Drew Brookie. He explained that the VA's inspector general's office (referred to as OIG), which is probing the matter, "advised VA against providing information that could potentially compromise their ongoing investigation at the Phoenix VA Health Care system."

Ava: As C.I. was pointing out Thursday, that is the policy and Petzel was in violation of it.  And C.I. reported on that before Shinseki's Friday statement and I believe she's still the only one who has reported on it.

Dona: Okay.  This is a regular feature we do here and will continue to do here.  This is also a rush transcript.  Our e-mail address is

From The TESR Test Kitchen

In The TESR Kitchen, there are many things.

But some of our readers feel none of them are organic.

"Cookies, cookies, and then chips," huffed Melissa in an e-mail that we're really not sure sums up our output -- we've also done fortune cookies,

And we have done a comparison of Amy's Kitchen California Veggie Burger and Gardenburger's Veggie Medley and "all natural" Smart Puffs, for instance.

But, sure, we can hit the organics.

Dona and Kat hit the organic stores looking for something of interest.  Jess, who is a vegetarian, volunteered to go but we're sure he would have known what he was doing already.  Dona and Kat will eat organic but they're not organic only people.  So what would grab their interest seemed more interesting to us.

At the first two stores, nothing.  In the third store, Kat decided to see if they had sushi.  "It's raw," she noted.  So she went to where the salads were but no sushi.  She rejoined Dona who was now looking at the drinks. Great idea, Kat agreed.

They picked two Blue Sky colas.  They paid $1.50 for each pair, the prices may vary depending on store.

There were many varieties of these colas.  They went with Cherry Vanilla Creme and New Century Cola.

New Century Cola is part of Blue Sky's Organic Soda line. It's labeled "CERTIFIED ORGANIC SODA," "Sweetened with Organic Cane Sugar" and  "USDA ORGANIC."  It's a 12-ounce can and the calorie count is 160.  Taste?


It's not bad. It's just lacks the punch of Pepsi or Coke.  It also has a strange first taste.  This isn't a diet cola but if you're not a diet cola drinker but take a sip from time to time for whatever reason (Jim will often take a sip of Dona's), it's got that almost metallic first taste that diet sodas can have for non-drinkers.

The other soda, Blue Sky Zero's Cherry Vanilla Creme is part of Blue Sky's Natural Soda line.  Natural, not Organic, because it is a diet soda.  "Zero Calaries" the can proclaims. Instead of sugar cane, it uses Truvia.

What is Truvia?

It's website states, "Truvía® sweetener is natural, great-tasting sweetness born from the leaves of the stevia plant."  Okay, well is it safe?  Food Renegade offers:

What do you think? It’s not natural, but rather made by a mysterious, patented refining process to extract rebiana from the stevia leaf. Plus, it contains other ingredients besides rebiana, including erythritol (a dubious sugar alcohol) and “natural flavors” (whatever they are).

So you have that.

But what does it taste like?

We loved this.

All of us.  That includes people like Jim who don't drink diet sodas and people like Ty who aren't big cola drinkers.

The mixture of the cherry and vanilla gives it a smooth kick that leaves you longing for another can when you finish the first one.

We give New Century Cola a C.  We give Cherry Vanilla Creme (Zero Calorie version) an A+.

And, by the way, Melanie is a singer-songwriter whose songs include "Brand New Key," "Peace Will Come (According To Plan)," "(Lay Down) Candles In The Rain," "Motherhood Of Love," "Till They All Come Home," "What Have They Done To My Song?" and "Smile."  Behind the soda cans, that's the back of Melanie's 1971 album The Good Book (containing her top forty hit "Nickel Song"). We wanted something to jazz up the illustration and decided on an album.  While flipping through some of C.I.'s, Kat thought of this one and found C.I.'s copy.  We all agreed this was the one to go with.

Tweet of the Week

  • Despite all the election fever going around, I hope we will be one voice after the elections in Iraq.
  • Barack as the stoner student

    He served a full, four year term as US President from January 2009 to January 2013 and he's now in the second year of his second (and final) term.


    So it's with much anticipation and excitement that The White House announced Saturday that 2014 would be "The President's Year of Action."

    That's good to know.

    Clearly 2009 wasn't his year of action or 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013 . . .

    We seriously doubt 2014 will be his year of action though we applaud a goal being set.

    It may seem a little harsh to point out he's kind of like a stoner student in the middle of the spring term deciding to suddenly go to class and do the reading but -- we all do realize he's planning to begin his "year" of action in May, right?

    In the fifth month of the year, he's going to try to get active?

    Again, he's the stoner student who's been cutting class and not doing the work for half the semester but is now going to turn it around.

    This edition's playlist

    1) Laura Nyro's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. And you can refer to the following posts from last week about the album.   "Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)." "Lonely Women," "the confession," "Poverty Train," "Lu," "Timer," "Eli's Coming," "Emmie," "Sweet Blindness" and "Yes, I'm ready."

    2) M. Ward's A Wasteland Companion.

    3) Stevie Wonder's Characters..

    4) Carly Simon's No Secrets.

    5) Richie Havens' Mixed Bag.

    6) David Saw's Broken Down Figure.

    7) Melanie's The Good Book.

    8) David Rovics' Halliburton Boardroom Massacre.

    9) Cat Power's The Greatest.

    10) Roberta Flack's Oasis.

    Shoots and scores?

    Why, several e-mails want to know, did I (Jim) move out?


    A gossip site linked to C.I.'s "Mia and her brood drag whatever's left of the name through the mud" from February.  In it, she writes:

    Jim, for example, is going to read this and think, "We're best friends.  Dona and I lived with her for several years and I never knew this."  And Jim and I have been friends now for a decade and shared many stories of our lives -- good and bad -- but there's never been a reason to bring this up.

    Suddenly, due to the gossip site, everyone wants to know about our breakup.  Honest to God, four e-mails completely overlook Dona's mention and read the above as C.I. and I had a hot-and-heavy affair and then it ended and I left.

    First off, those looking for Mia coverage, you can read Ava and C.I.'s "TV: Another idiot for the idiot box" and "The award for best self-created drama goes to Mia Farrow (Ava and C.I.)" and "Dylan whines to Maureen Orth who passes it on to Janet Malcolm."

    Second, I believe it was the summer of 2006 -- end of summer -- when we moved in with C.I.  Ty was already there and had been doing a summer internship with a film director friend of C.I.'s.  He loved California and wasn't returning to New York.  Ava had family in California (a lot of family) and a few in New York.  She hated New York.  She was ready to move back.  Jess and Ava were (and are) a couple. They moved in with C.I.

    Dona and I were looking at returning to campus in the fall with our friends gone.

    So, at the last moment, we decided we'd go with the group.

    Dona and I got married and had a child.  Ava bought a home on the same street as C.I.

    I don't see Ty (or his boyfriend) ever moving out.  I think C.I.'s got permanent guests.

    We did move out.  Into Ava's place.


    Jess was there by himself during the week (when Ava and C.I. are on the road speaking about the wars, the spying, etc.).

    Ty and Betty and Wally stayed on at C.I.'s while Jess, Dona and me (and our child) moved over to Ava's house.

    There was no fight or harsh words.

    And C.I. was the greatest hostess.

    We paid no bills, we didn't have to clean up or cook much because C.I. does have a household staff.  We didn't have to buy groceries.

    And we could play tennis or hop in her pool or do any number of things, lay out in the sun, that she could have been doing if she wasn't on the road trying to end the Iraq War.

    I would have blown the e-mails off but I wanted to use our illustration and also wanted to plug those three articles that ran here as well as give Dona one of her beloved "short features! short features!"


    This from The Feminist Majority Foundation:

    May 2, 2014
    Stephanie Hallett - 310.556.2500,
    Brooke Hofhenke -


    Los Angeles, CA – The Feminist Majority, which has pulled its annual event from the Beverly Hills Hotel — owned by the Sultan of Brunei — will hold a rally at noon on May 5 across from the hotel, to urge the Sultan to rescind a Taliban-like Brunei penal code, that includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and the public flogging of women who have abortions.

    The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, and the Brunei Investment Agency, owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Bel-Air Hotel and other Dorchester Collection Properties. FMF pulled its Global Women’s Rights Awards, co-chaired by Jay and Mavis Leno, from the Beverly Hills Hotel and has launched a massive petition drive and social media campaign calling on the government of Brunei to immediately rescind the new code and asking the United Nations to take action if these laws go into effect as planned.

    WHAT: Coalition of Women’s Rights, LGBT and Human Rights Groups Rally

    WHEN: Monday May 5, 2014 , 12:00PM – 1:00PM

    WHERE: In the Park across from the Beverly Hills Hotel (Sunset Boulevard between North Canon and North Beverly Drive). Street Parking on North Canon, North Beverly Drive and Lomitas Avenue.

    WHO: (List in Formation)

    • Jay Leno and Mavis Leno, Board Member, Feminist Majority Foundation
    • Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority Foundation
    • Andreas Meyer, President, Equality California EQCA
    • Lorri L. Jean, CEO Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Services Center
    • Dolores Huerta, President, Dolores Huerta Foundation/Co-Founder, United Farm Workers
    • Vince Wong, Vice Chair, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
    • Betsy Butler, California Women’s Law Center
    • Ada Briceno, Secretary-Treasurer, UNITE HERE Local 11
    • Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor, Ms. magazine


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