Today is our 222nd day back in Iraq.
There have been no new American casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 599, 150, 575, 000 .00
Surprisingly enough, we'll start from Fox News this morning
. It's really only a footnote as far as we're concerned, but the story illustrates that the more things change, the more they stay the same...especially in Saudi Arabia. Remember folks, these are our allies. (Although if true, the perpetrator probably deserved it, but that's a debate for another day.)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has executed a man convicted of raping several girls, the first beheading under the newly enthroned King Salman.
The official Saudi Press Agency says Moussa al-Zahrani was publicly beheaded on Monday in the coastal Saudi city of Jiddah.
SPA cited Interior Ministry as saying the man was executed for luring underage girls, intoxicating hem and then sexually assaulting them.
The case has stirred much attention on social media — which is unusual in Saudi Arabia for cases of violent crimes — largely because al-Zahrani claimed his innocence until the end and blamed police for corruption during the investigation.
So, on to our veterans. Or not - we'll actually head North of the border to begin today. While much debate is going on over our presence in Iraq (Is it combat? Are there boots on the ground? Who are we fighting, anyway?), it actually appears that Canada is taking point on this one
. They're about to officially
American troops in Iraq appear to be more cautious than Canadians.
A Canadian general revealed Monday that his special operations troops in Iraq are now routinely going out with Iraqi soldiers "to the forward-most Iraqi fighting positions" and providing "eyes on" to help coalition airstrikes by "marking the target with a laser."
The mission described by Canadian Brig. Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces, is very different from the one U.S. officials say American service members are performing in Iraq.
According to the Pentagon, U.S. troops on the "advise and assist mission" are staying out of harm's way inside headquarters facilities with Iraqi units at the brigade level or higher. These U.S. missions are underway only in several locations, including Baghdad, Taji and Al Asad Air Base in Anbar.
President Obama has said repeatedly that the 3,100 U.S. troops authorized for duty in Iraq will not have a "combat role," and U.S. military officials say today's forces are not operating on the battlefield alongside Iraqi troops. So officially, there are no Americans on the ground providing the kind of "eyes on" laser targeting that the Canadian general described.
"As far as we know, we do not have that capability," Army Maj. Neysa Williams, a spokeswoman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "When the information was released from the Canadian general, that was the first we had heard of it."
Rouleau told reporters in the Canadian capital of Ottawa that his forces got into a firefight last week, marking the first time that Western military officials have acknowledged a direct combat engagement with Islamic State fighters.
The Canadian general said a team of his special operators had "completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines" and "when they moved forward to … the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine-gun fire."
In response, the Canadian forces alongside the Iraqi troops exchanged fire with the militants, "placing effective sniper fire on the enemy positions, neutralizing the mortar and the machine-gun position," Rouleau said.
I've asked this before - since Kongruss can't decide, now we're fighting our wars with proxies? No offence to any Canadian, but during our revolution, the hired mercenaries were hated more than the actual Redcoats....so I'd advise caution if you're fighting for America under the Maple Leaf.
Meanwhile on the home front, I've got a couple of stories that have been reported here previously. It's been almost ten years, but see our lead story today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. While progress has been made on legislating payday lenders out of business, especially the more predatory ones, it seems that usury is still common around military bases
Payday loan firms have been exploiting loopholes in the Military Lending Act capping interest rates at 36 percent to gouge troops and their families, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) charged in a report released Monday.
"The current rules under the Military Lending Act are akin to sending a soldier into battle with a flak jacket but no helmet," said Richard Cordray, the bureau's director. "To give our troops full-cover protection, the rules need to be expanded."
The 36-percent rule of the legislation, which is implemented by the Defense Department and enforced by the bureau, doesn't currently apply to payday loans with initial terms in excess of 91 days, or to auto title loans in which the covered duration is less than 181 days.
"This means creditors can easily avoid the Act's interest rate cap by simply making the initial term of a payday loan longer than three months," the report said.
Unscrupulous lenders can also get around the auto loan provisions of the Act by making the contract term for an auto title loan longer than 181 days.
The report cited the example of a lender in Illinois who set up a 12-month contract term for an auto title loan for a service member's spouse.
"Because it was longer than 181 days, the current Military Lending Act rules did not prohibit the lender from charging an APR of 300 percent," the report states. The service member's spouse ended up paying $5,720.24 to borrow $2,575, it states.
Existing regulations under the Act also do not cover payday loans with an initial balance of more than $2,000. For any payday loan above that amount, lenders can charge more than the 36 percent rate, the report said.
The CFPB cited the example of a California company that lent $2,600 to a service member and charged an APR (annual percentage rate) of 219 percent. The service member paid $3,966.84 to borrow the $2,600 for one year, the report said.
And second...I'll leave this up to you to decide if it's a good thing or not. Soldiers are finally starting to "blow the whistle" on misconduct throughout the service. An ordinary soldier was recently honoured
for reporting offensive and sexually explicit videos she found online. Which in the male-dominated military takes a special kind of courage. Perhaps it is a good thing - instead of a top-down mandate from the bosses (which means more people will be trying to find ways around it), this seems to be line soldiers making changes from the bottom up....which in my experience is more effective anyway.
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and senior Army officials met with a senior non-commissioned officer Dec 15 to thank her for leading by example and defending Army values, despite facing harassment after confronting Service members who were behaving unethically online.
First Sgt. Katrina Moerk, now the first sergeant of Charlie Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, was browsing a social media network's community page earlier this year, when she came upon a video that she found offensive and sexist. When she commented as much, several respondents attacked her with insults. Some of these respondents were wearing uniforms in their profile photos, the first sergeant said, so she wrote to them directly.
"I looked them up, introduced myself and explained to them why they were stupid. And I [copied] the director of the Army SHARP program to help their units improve their SHARP training, because it was obviously lacking. And it's kind of blown up from there," Moerk said.
SHARP is the acronym for the military's Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program.
This wasn't the first time Moerk had experienced online harassment, she said, but it was "the first time I've put my foot down, and was very adamant about correcting what was wrong with them."
The response was "vicious," she said.
"I tried to explain why I didn't care for it," she added, "and [said], 'If you don't know who you're talking to, be careful what you say in an open public forum on the Internet,' and it just made it worse. When I started calling them by rank, they figured I was in the military and made jokes about calling people out on the Internet, or [that] pulling rank on the Internet is like calling somebody out in a bar."
Things died down online, she said, but Dr. Christine Altendorf, the SHARP director, brought Moerk's email to the attention of Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, then the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel. Shortly thereafter, the Army launched three administrative investigations, because Soldiers from three separate major commands were involved, either through producing the video or making inappropriate comments.
"Everyone was kind of pulled to the carpet and called in, and training changed," the first sergeant said.
For her willingness to stand up and defend Army values, Moerk received an Army Commendation Medal from Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, who succeeded Bromberg as the Army's personnel chief, during a ceremony Monday, at the Pentagon.
And at last - a word about the snow. It's still cold and blowing, but it's slightly less horrific than the "Blizzard of Death" hype would have us all believe. The storm stayed slightly south of us, which means it stayed colder, and the snow was consequently not as moisture-laden. So the news this morning is that there's a lot on the ground, but it's not as heavy as they were expecting, so they think power outages and treefall may be less of an issue today. But we're still under a state of emergency.