The Common Ills


Saturday, July 21, 2012
It's a political crisis/ It's not a political crisis

It's a political crisis/ It's not a political crisis

Al Mada reports that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi declared there was no political crisis in Iraq -- that there was an electricity crisis and a job's crisis.  He met wtih the National Alliance's Ibrahim al-Jaafari late Friday.  Al Rafidayn notes that al-Jaafari uses the term "political crisis." All Iraqi News reports that they agreed it was important to maintain dialogue and to restore confidence in order to resolve the, yes, "crisis."  Alsumaria interviewed Allawi who told them that reforms should not require a special committee to be implemented but that instead the political blocs should increase their efforts to address the issues. 


As the term "crisis" is debated, the holy month of Ramadan kicked off in Iraq today and, due to the lack of security in the country, measures are being taken.  Al Mada reports that defense around mosques and religious shrines was beefed up.  Meanwhile Al Rafidayn notes that Iraqi's Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie's bodyguard was shot dead in Baghdad today by unknown assailants with silencers on their guns.  In addition, Trend News Agency reports a Mosul bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and 4 bystanders.  Meanwhile Al Jazeera drops back to Friday to cover a pipeline explosion that carried oil  "from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to Turkey's Mediterranean port city of Ceyhan" and the explosion caused a fire which was only put out today.  BBC News adds, "Iraqi officials blamed Kurdish separatists for the explosion."The separtists they're referring to are the PKK.  Reuters describes them as follows, "The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984, and more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in the conflict. It has claimed responsibility for attacks on other natural-gas and oil pipelines in what it has said is a campaign to target Turkey's strategic assets."

Border issues all around. Al Rafidayn notes that approximately 1800 Iraqis arrived from Syria today.  Alsumaria reports the Red Crescent counts 4,765 Iraqis returned from Syria in the last three days.  However, only some refugees are welcome.  The Times of Malta reports, "Iraq’s government said yesterday it was unable to provide help for Syrian refugees looking to escape their country’s ongoing strife because of its own poor security situation."

In other news, Al Mada notes that a member of Parliament's Services Committee is calling attention to the proposed Telecommunications Law, calling it a disaster and the most dangerous proposal before the Parliament.  That is good news because the bill has already been called out by Human Rights Watch which, July 12th, released a report on the proposal entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq's Information Crime Law: Badly Written Provisions and Draconian Punishments Violate Due Process and Free Speech."  From the opening summary of the report:






Iraq's government is in the process of enacting what it refers to as an Information Crimes Law to regulate the use of information networks, computers, and other electronic devices and systems.  The proposed law had its first reading before Iraq's Council of Representatives on July 27, 2011; a second reading is expected as early as July 2012.  As currently drafted, the proposed legislation violates international standards protecting due process, freedom of speech and freedom of association.



Finally, poor Nouri.  Lying has always come so easy to him and he used to do it so well.  Most recently, he lied about what a letter from US President Barack Obama said.  In the ExxonMobil matter (ExxonMobil and the KRG signed a contract in October which Nouri disapproves of and has called on the White House to put a stop to), Nouri has insisted the White House is siding with him.  And while some outlets went along blindly and gladly, others are noting that Nouri's lie doesn't really add up or make sense.  Already Global Post's Kristin Deasy has raised questions. Now Rudaw looks at the 'logic' of Nouri's claims:



As for the letter being “positive and convincing,” that merely suggests that it was couched in diplomatic language. President Obama has most likely explained that under the US political and market-driven economic system, private companies make their own business decisions, beyond the reach of government control, hence the President will not be able to interfere with their decisions.
This would appear to be the most likely message of the letter. But if indeed it says more than that, enabling Baghdad to claim that the US government backs Baghdad against Erbil, supports Baghdad’s desire not to share oil revenues, and agrees with Baghdad's desire to impose centralized decision-making on all oil activities in Iraq, then we respectfully invite Prime Minister Maliki’s office to publish the full text of the letter for purposes of transparency.
Otherwise, this issue should remain an internal political and constitutional matter for all Iraqis to resolve by themselves, without dragging foreign governments in to the argument.
Finally, actions speak louder than words. The arrival of Chevron as a new investor in Kurdistan on the same day as the partial content of a letter from the US President was released in order to further a certain political agenda in Iraq, only serves to validate the explanations stated above.


The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, Cindy Sheehan, Liberal Oasis, Fresh Air and PBS -- updated last night and today:


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


 


Posted at 05:57 pm by thecommonills
 

I Hate The War

I Hate The War

Brittany Penland (Charlotte Observer) reports a protest took place todayin Charlotte's Midtown Park:



Wounded soldiers, politicians and local preachers were among the crowd aiming to educate the public about undeclared wars, said Daniel Rufty, a protest organizer. While the event targeted conservative Republicans, it was open to all individuals interested.
“We are trying to put pressure on our representatives,” Rufty said. “The goal is to bring soldiers back from the war...We’re not against war, we’re against undeclared wars.”
Rufty defined an undeclared war as a conflict that lacks a formal declaration of war by Congress. He uses the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as involvement in Libya, as examples of conflicts fought without declarations being issued.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/07/21/3396646/conservative-republicans-gather.html#storylink=cpy

And it's good when any of these protests happens, especially one with a strong local turnout, it's a shame that so many on the left packed up their protests in the spirit of 'unity' with a killer.  Joan Baez and others better accept the fact that when a Pakistani dies because Barack Obama gave the order, he or she doesn't get wings and float away on a cloud.  He or she dies just as violently as the ones killed under Bully Boy Bush and Barack Obama is nothing but another War Hawk.  Which makes Joan a very sad, a very old and a very tired whore.  Like so many, I have no respect for her.  Joan was too 'radical' to be a Democrat and avoided them her entire life but like so many Socialist and Communists she crawled across cut glass to kiss the groin of War Hawk Barack.

Joan is not about peace.  You can't be about peace and refuse to call out the man responsible for murders.  It doesn't work that way.  She whored whatever was left of her name which is too bad because she was on the verge, before her endorsement of Barack, on a real comeback, something that had eluded for decades.  The voice had morphed into something different but powerful in its own way and she had a history of standing for something.

She was the non-sitcom version of  Friend's Phoebe.(Lisa Kudrow)


There'll be time when you get older
When you'll want to sleep with people 
Just to make them like you
But don't.
Cause that's another thing
That you don't want to do
Everybody
That's another thing
That you don't want to do

From "The One After The Superbowl,"  written by Jeffrey Astrof and Mike Sikowitz.  (And, FYI, on Lisa's Web Therapy next week, an important character -- and guest star -- to Fiona returns.  Make a point to stream unless you're allergic to laughter.)

And that was Joan to so many kids and young adults who were discovering this woman who used her voice and guitar to call out corrupt regimes and War Hawks and she didn't care if they were this or that, she only cared about being the voice of the people.

Then Joan decided to endorse Barack and whore for him to play Kool Kid  despite the fact that anytime she's ever attempted to be trendy it's worked out for her about as well as a bad perm.

And now she has nothing.  A name that no longer stands for anything except someone who will gladly whore for a politician.  To the children in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and around the world, Joan Baez has said, "Piss on you all, I love Barack!"  And that was her choice to go out like some sort of 21st century Miss Havisham on some hormone regimen.


So now she stands for nothing and is about as relevent as Charo.  Having destroyed her own legacy, she's just another over seventy woman with a cracked voice and no hit singles who can't get signed by a major label and whose post-inauguration album sold so poorly none of the minors even want to touch her.

I don't mean to imply there's nothing left for her.  She could write another book -- one in which she gets honest about all her same-sex lovers.  It was so humorous for those of who know Joan to read And A Voice To Sing With . . . as she found herself with Kim.  And only Kim.  No one but Kim.  Kim was a fleeting, passing thing.

Now the reality is that Kim was sleeping with Janis Joplin when Joan Baez first decide she wanted Kim.  The reality is there was nothing passive about Joan in that affair and she actively pursued Kim -- as she did many other women though that got left out of her book as well.

Joan could write the truth now.  Of course, she wouldn't get applauded now.  People would wonder why it took her so long.  (It would also further water down the long standing lie of a the passionate affair with Bob Dylan which was, in fact, a very brief relationship lasting months, not years.)   And I'm remembering Lily Tomlin's criticisim of Maria Schneider back in the seventies and have a feeling something similar (going out on the bisexual limb) would be said about Joan.  People often end up with the lives they sentence themselves too.


Good for the Republicans who organized the protest today (and those who participated -- and hopefully not all participating were Republicans).  Notice the ones who are silent and remember their silence the next time a Republican's in the White House when they suddenly care about the people the bombs are falling on, the ones targeted by drones.  Remember their silence and their refusal to call out Barack Obama was because they only criticize Republicans.  Remember that their silence on what was happening, their whoring for Barack, meant a lot more people died.





It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)


The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4488.



The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.





Posted at 05:54 pm by thecommonills
 

Friday, July 20, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Friday, July 20, 2012 (and, yes, today is the 20th, not yesterday).  Chaos and violence continue, a document -- a secret document -- Nouri wrote in 2009 just emerged, Ramadan starts Saturday Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declares, Iraqis struggle with obtaining basic food stuffs, we continue covering the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Martin Kobler's report on Iraq, we wonder when he'll stop being so squirmy when it comes to LGBT issues, US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's running a questionable and ineffective campiagn, and much more.
 
 
This morning there were many interesting articles about Martin Kobler's presentation on Iraq to the United Nation's Security Council yesterday.  Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq.  And the few articles this morning about the presentation were nothing like what Kobler delivered yesterday.  (This afternoon, UPI produced a report that demonstrated their correspondent saw the actual presentation.)  But the reports this morning were a lot like the press conference Kobler held after -- about an hour after -- the Security Council presentation.  You have to wonder how editorial boards ever pretend to have an ethical stature to call others out from when their reporters lie?  A press briefing is not the report Kobler presented to the UN Security Council. 
 
Kobler's report was interesting for what it said.  It was even more interesting for what it didn't say but you probably needed to hear the report to know that and you probably needed to have heard the April report to be able to offer context in July. 
 
April 10th was when he made his previous presentation and we covered that in the April 10th snapshot and the April 11th snapshot.  His Thursday report we covered yesterday and we'll continue that coverage now.  When we left off yesterday, he was talking about 12 acts of violence a day and over 1,300
 
 
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Each victim is one victim too many.  The Iraqi authorities must continue to make every effort to identify the perpetrators of these acts of violence and bring them to justice.  These attacks are intended to ignite further violence.  Despite the sufferings, Iraqis from all walks of life and religious backgrounds must turn their backs on past divisions and unite for a peaceful future.  Mr. President, human rights are a cornerstone of Iraq's democratic future and are at the core of United Nations mandate  in Iraq. To this end, UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] continues to support activities of the Ministry of Human Rights in ensuring that Iraq meets its international humanitarian rights obligations.  As I informed the Council members last April, the Council of Representatives endorsed the appointment of the Commissioners of Iraq's first Independent High Commission for Human Rights.  And I am pleased to further report the commissioners have now met and started their work.  UNAMI and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]  are supporting the Commission in this process.  The findings of the 2011 United Nations report on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq published in May underlined the fragility of human rights situation in Iraq.  The report's conclusions largely coincided with the  Ministry of Human Rights own findings.  While it is recognized that the government of Iraq has made progress in implementing measures to protect and promote human rights, the impact on the overall human rights situation remains limited.  The UN is assisting the Iraqi authorities in strengthening the rule of law and boosting protections for human rights in Iraq to bring an end to abuses like arbitrary arrests and detentions.  The economic, culture and social rights of Iraqis are also a matter of real concern.  Poverty, high unemployment, economic stagnation, environmental degradation and a lack of basic services continue to effect large sections of the population.  It is vital that Iraqis -- in particular, vulnerable groups -- be provided with better access to basic services, social welfare and community development programs and opportunities for education.  Nothing less is required in order to provide for the success of future generations.  The rights of all Iraqis -- including minorities -- must be protected as stipulated in the Iraqi Contrib -- Iraqi Constitution.  Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes.  I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition.  I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007. 
 
 
That's not the end of his report.  We'll continue noting from there in order but we're breaking parts up.  It was interesting how in both the written report (July 11th) and the oral report Kobler gave yesterday, the Russian bikers were ignored.  5 men threatened with the death penalty, 5 men arrested and beaten.  An international incident and not a word on it.  But Kobler wasn't very interested in words.  There was time to whine about his budget taking a 20% cut next year but not time to note, as the written report did:
 
Journalists and media professionals in Iraq continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention and to suffer from intimidation and attacks as a result of their profession.  During the reporting period, UNESCO and UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] trained 240 media professionals in Basra, Erbil and Baghdad on security, self-protection, risk management and trauma first aid to enable them to cope with existing professional threats and risks.
 
 
The issue so bothered Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he raised it twice in the written report (the first time is quoted above).  When Kobler states he's repeating the Secretary-General's point about stopping death penalty, he's referring to the written report (it's the 72nd paragraph in the written report). 
 
Iraq being discussed before the UN.  That means what topic gets touched on that the US media usually ignores?  Chapter VII.  Iraq was placed in that status by the UN as a result of Iraq's war on Kuwait. 
 
Speical Envoy Martin Kobler:  Let me now turn to some of the regional and international developments pertaining to Iraq.  As you know, Prime Minister Maliki's visit to Kuwait in March was followed by the historic visit of the Emir of Kuwait [Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah] to Baghdad to attend the Arab League Summit.  These two visits have markedly improved bi-later relations between Kuwait and Iraq and facilitated the resumption of the meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Iraq has also taken decisive steps to finalize the Iraqi-Kuwait border maintenance project in accordance with Resolution 833.  At the request of both parties, the United Nations is preparing now for maintenance work to start by 31st of October provided that key prerequisites -- like the removal of obstacles on the borders -- are met bringing all Chapter VII obligations pertaining to Kuwait to a satisfactory close will boost prospects for bilateral trade, investment, promote regional cooperation and lead to the restoration of Iraq's rightful standing within the international community.  In this regard, I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome the adoption of on 28th of June by the Council of Representatives of a law ratifying the additional protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and encourage the government of Iraq to take the remaining steps to ensure its entry into force as soon as possible.   Mr. President, the intensity and frequency of sand and dust storms mainly generated from inside Iraq has increased in recent years.  They have significant impact on public health in Iraq and in the wider region --  especially for the most vulnerable --  and they effect transport and trade. During my visit to Kuwait in June and following an offer by the Emir of Kuwait to invest a portion of Iraq's outstanding war compensation funds back into Iraq, I proposed an environmental fund to combat sand and dust storms.  If Iraq and Kuwait agree, the fund could be used to undertake activities to reduce this health hazard which is impeding daily life in the region.  Such activities might include improving water resource management, anti desertification, re-forestification and agricultural projects.  Mr. President, needless to say that the ongoing violence in Syria is a source of deep concern given the potential for the spread of instability and violence, humanitarian fall out and political repercussions.  The UN system in Iraq is putting in place contingency plans for possible humanitarian emergency.  In this connection, I recently visited a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region for those displaced by the conflict in Syria.  So far, with 7,000 refugees, their number are manageable.  On 10th of July, the United Nations and League of Arab States Joint-Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Kofi Anan, visited Iraq and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The government of Iraq was very clear on the policy of a political transition that is Syrian-led and Syrian-owned and ensures that the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people are fully realized.
 
 
So there's a refugee camp in the KRG.  And the KRG has a moratorium on the death penalty.  Wonder how much bleaker the state of Iraq would be reported to the Security Council as being if the Special Envoy didn't keep including the semi-autonomous KRG region?
 
As he continues, he'll note some basic numbers.
 
Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Mr. President, the United Nations in Iraq also continues to support the development of effective, accountable and transparent state institutions.  My new deputy and resident humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Ms. Jacqueline Babcock, took up her duties on 13th of May.  She has already shown her determination and leadership in coordinating the UN country team to deliver as one.  I have asked her to ensure that the country team  strengthens its presence and activities across the country.  This is taking shape in Basra. There, the UN funds and programs can assist in bringing the quality of life in this oil rich province to those levels found in other oil rich countries in the region.  Mr. President, let me briefly highlight two of the priority areas with important political, security and development implications where the UN system in Iraq is working together.  Iraq is one of the most youthful countries  in the world with 50% of the population under the age of 18.  At the same time, the unemployment rate for youth is more than double the domestic average with 23%.  The UN system is supporting programs aimed at increasing youth participation in social, political and economic spheres.  Building on the International Year of Youth 2011, the UN is supporting civil-society groups to strengthen their role in ensuring democratic spaces and freedom.  The third UNDP National Development Report focuses on youth and will be published later this year.  As with youth, women are important actors in Iraq's development. Yet the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women is more than double that of Iraqi men.  In my meetings with the Iraqi governmental interloculators, as well as women's civil-society organizations, I advocate for the adoption and implementation of the proposed National Strategy on the Advancement of Women.  The UN family is working to support women take up their role also in political and economic life.  The UN is also continuing to implement Security Council Resolution 1322 and to encourage the government to fulfill its committment in this regard. 
 
 
Now we're getting to Camp Ashraf.  Camp Ashraf were approximately 3,500 residents who were Iranian dissidents.  They came to Iraq in the 80s and had protection up to the Iraq War.  When the US-launched war toppled the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the US government -- largely via US military officers -- began a dialogue with the residents which resulted in their surrendering their arms and becoming protected persons under the Geneva Agreement and international law.  Though never legally revoked, that protection would be ignored once Barack Obama was sworn in as US president.  Nouri would twice attack the camp resulting in multiple deaths and a large number of wounded.  Humanitarian organizations -- Amnesty, for example -- would decry the attacks but the US government would remain silent.  When you read over Kobler's remarks in a second, focus on what's really harming Camp Ashraf right now.
 
 
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Finally, Mr. President, I still remain very concerned by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of Camp Ashraf. 2,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have relocated to Camp Hurriyah [Liberty] in the last months.  Approximately 1,200 remain in Camp Ashraf.  The several deadlines set by the government of Iraq have been extended. I thank the government of Iraq for their flexibility in this regard and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities to continue the process to resolve the relocation peacefully. Our committment is strictly humanitarian, to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriyah as the first step of resettlement to countries outside of Iraq; however, the success of a facilitator depends at least on good will. Their can be no facilitation without constructive and practical dialogue.  We are faced with three main challenges.  First, recent weeks have witnessed difficulties in maintaining dialogue between UNAMI and the residents and between the residents and the government of Iraq reinforcing a perception that the residents lack genuine will to participate in the process faciliated by UNAMI.  Second, responsiblity also falls on the many international supporters.  It is of great importance that they contribute to positively influence the residents' position.  And third, to  date almost no memeber-state has stepped forward to offer resettlement to eligible, former Ashraf residents.  There must be a way out of Hurriyah in the foreseeable future.  Without prospect for resettlement, the ongoing process runs the risk of collapsing.  The tempoary transit location at Camp Hurriyah has the capacity to accomodate the remaining 1,200 residents and meets acceptable humanitarian standards.  Both UNAMI and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have devoted substantial energy and resources to resolving this issue.  More than 100 staff are dedicated to the project in the meantime.  I appeal to the government of Iraq to be generous -- particularly in terms of humanitarian needs like water and electricity and to avoid violence under any circumstances.  I also appeal to camp residents to abide by Iraqi laws and avoid provocation and violence.  Time is running out to find a sustainable solution.  The government's patience is wearing thin. I would therefore like to echo the Secretary-General and urge Camp Ashraf residents to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and to relocate from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriyah.  It is also imperative that third countries step forward to accept eligible residents for resettlement as soon as possible without which there can be no durable solution. 
 
The residents have stopped moving to Camp Liberty.  They want to take items such as generators.  Why? 
 
Nouri doesn't want them to take items such as generators.  Why?
 
Because both sides don't believe that the Camp Ashraf residents will soon leave Camp Liberty.  Why don't they believe it?
 
Because no one's left so far and that's because other countries aren't willing to take them in.  In Nouri al-Maliki's view, Camp Liberty is just a place to store Camp Ashraf residents for another lengthy period.  In his view, he's being conned and then in a year or two, he'll be told they'll be moved somewhere else in Iraq.  It's a view Camp Ashraf residents can share.  Because both they and Nouri have seen 1200 moved and not resettled anywhere.  They're just remaining in Camp Liberty, the same way they remained in Camp Ashraf.   If Nouri (or the government in Tehran) is to believe that the residents are being resettled, they're going to have to see some resettled.  It's not that complicated.
 
Why are so many nations so reluctant to take them?  Because the US government refuses to do their job.  Camp Ashraf residents are part of the MEK.  The MEK is considered a terrorist group by the US government -- the Clinton administration put them on that list in the late 90s in an effort to make an overture to the government of Iran.  Though ordered by a federal court to resolve the MEK status quickly, the State Dept refused and now has until October to do so or the court will impose a punishment.  (Whether Barack Obama is re-elected president or not, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already stated she will not serve a second term in her post.  An October deadline from the court is a joke because the administration will treat it as such -- either because they will quickly become a lameduck one or because they will be looking for a new Secretary of State.)   Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and those under them have repeatedly and falsely equated MEK and Camp Ashraf residents as one grouping.
 
The US government does not recognize the MEK as protected persons.  The US government does recognize Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons.  This issue should have been resolved a long time ago, the US government made promises and needs to keep them.  The easiest way is to create an excpetion for the Camp Ashraf residents.  That's 3,200 people currently.  They are all in Iraq.  Those in Iraq transferring out would not be considered "terrorists."  This is due to where they were located, due to the stationary aspect of their location and due to the fact that the US government already gave them protected persons status.  That status expires only when they are out of Iraq so it is in the US government's best interests to get them out of Iraq quickly.  The State Dept could easily create a subgrouping of those residents in Iraq to allow other countries to take them in.
 
The refusal to do so means the Barack Obama administration will likely have blood on their hands because one side will likely explode in a very short time.  This has been going on too long and neither Nouri nor the residents are seeing any progress.  If the US government can not seriously assist the Camp Ashraf residents by creating a subgrouping/classification for them and violence takes place, those deaths -- Iraqis or Ashraf residents -- will be the responsibility of the US White House.
 
There was a lot mentioned in the report.  A lot overlooked as well.  As he winds down, Kobler makes the decision that UNAMI itself -- and its budget -- is more important than any Iraqi topic that he could include in the final moments.
 
 
Special Envoy Martin Kolber:  Mr. President, in my introduction, I posed the question of whether the people of Iraq still need UNAMI?  I am convinced that UNAMI is needed more than ever to help Iraq complete its transition to a stable and prosperous democracy.  UNAMI has the legitimacy and the standing to represent the international community in Iraq.  Iraqis from all communities look to UNAMI to protect their aspirations and to ensure their needs are met.  With Security Council support, UNAMI will continue its efforts to address the many outstanding issues crucial to securing Iraq's future.  The substantial cut of 20% of UNAMI's budget in 2013  requires that we do more with less.  In this context, the mission may need to reconsider some areas of operation.  Mr. President, I should like to sincerely thank the members of the council for their continued support, the government of Iraq and the wider membership of the United Nations as well as the staff of UNAMI for their unrelenting commitment and dedication to implement our mandate.  Thank you very much.
 
 
And that was it.  Last April, in his presentation to the UN Security-Council, he refused to note the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community.  In the written report (written in March), there was a passing reference ("perception of their sexual orientation") with the promise that the UN was in the process of corroborating the reported deaths and would address it when they had.  It's months later, presumably the UN has been able to corroborate those reports in some fashion by now.  So why can't Martin Kobler talk about it?  It's not even in the written report (which was published July 11th).  There is no mention made of it.  If Martin Kobler wishes to represent Iraqis, he needs to represent all Iraqis.  He needs to find it in his comfort zone to use the terms "gay" and "lesbian."  If that's too much work for him, if it's too much of a stretch, he needs to find a new position.  The United Nations was silent as young Iraqis were targeted -- males and females -- because they were believed to be gay or to be Emo or both.  Rolling Stone and NME covered it.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  The US State Dept covered it in their own human rights report.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  That's unacceptable.
 
It's especially unacceptable considering the United Nations' supposed position on this issue.  As we noted when Kobler gave his last report to the Security Council:
 
Last month, Igor Volsky (Think Progress) noted (March 7, 2012), "Earlier today, the UN Human Rights Council held the first hearing 'to discuss discrimination and violence against LGBT people."  UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon issued a special message to the council, decrying violence against the LGBT community as a 'monumental tragedy' that is a 'stain on our collective conscience' and a 'violation of international law' [. . .]" and he quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stating, "To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say -- you are not along. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle.  Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to uphold."
Is Kobler not part of the UN?  Has he sworn to do the same.
We got a little talk about women in this presenation.  That is new.  Previous presentations to the Security Council by the Special Envoy to Iraq frequently left women out.  But apparently, something more "gross" and "disgusting" than women has been found by the office of Special Envoy: Iraq's LGBTs.
It was really disgusting to hear Kobler prattle on about violence and minorities and never once note the attacks on Iraq's LGBT community.  It was disgusting.
 
You may remember that Kobler silence on LGBT was an issue that continued past the two snapshots on the April report.  You may remember my noting UN friends swore he'd include it when the figures were verified.  The figures were verified -- I've 'verified' that with UN friends this morning.  And still Kobler said nothing.  There was time for budget and shout-outs, but no time for Martin Kobler to find his comfort level with gays and lesbians.
 
Martin Kobler better start representing all of Iraq or become the leading face of homophobia in the United Nations.  On that last possibility, he's already well on his way.
 
As the Washington Post notes, the holy day of Ramadan is arriving. Alsumaria reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has declared Saturday to be the first day of Ramadan.   Al Mada carries a Ramadan greeting congratulating all Iraqis and asking for their blessing in the coming year with God Almighty strengthening their path to justice, freedom and security.   Kitabat notes that there are calls for the government to grant leave for employees on days when the temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).  While the sun is up, those observing the Muslim holiday are supposed to fast.  Before sunrise and after sunset, those observing the holiday can eat.  However, food prices are rising in Iraq.  Alsumaria is the latest this week to report on the sharp increase in prices for basic items such as lentils.  The Ministry of Commerce is insisting that they got materials to the stores in time so any increase in prices is not their fault.  The article also notes that the high prices might make Ramadan slowly disappear as a part of Iraqi life -- as other habits have been forgotten in Iraq.  It seems unlikely that Ramadan could disappear from Iraq but then come reports about how hard it is for some to observe it.  
Al Mada notes that unemployment is also a huge issue during the holy month and only more so when the food prices increase.  They speak with Hani Rseg who is a construction worker and tells the paper that he didn't get any wages for four months because contractors rarely get paid on time and when money did come in, there was electricity, gasoline, water and other things to pay for and only now is he able to shop for Ramadan.  Police officer Ahmed Radhi al-Hleaj states that he's paying a car loan and wouldn't be able to afford Ramadan except that he's taken on a second job working as a taxi driver.

Rahim Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video) reports on Iraq's ration systems.
 
Rahim Ruhayem:  In distribution centers, few complain about waste or abundance.  Dawood is a construction worker in central Baghdad and he's come to collect his monthly share.  He told me the distribution system is gradually fading away. 
 
Dawood: It's getting less and less, year by year, month by month.  And there is no variety.  We get cooking oil.  Sometimes rice, flour.  No tea, no washing powder, no salt.  Many things have been scrapped.  And they will probably cancel the rest too.  The whole thing will be finished soon.  We better get used to it. 
 
Rahim Ruhayem:  The government insists it has no plans to end the system, it only talks of reform over the coming years. At a cost of about five billion dollars a year, the Iraqi state hands out food to its people. But some of these people need it a lot more than others.  23% of Iraqis live below the poverty line.  If the government wants to reform the system, it has a delicate balance to strike between encouraging productivity and less reliance on the state on one hand while making sure on the other not to jeopardize the food security of those most in need.  Rahim Ruhayem, BBC News, Baghdad.
 
 
Census numbers might change the ration-card numbers but, as Al Mada points out, Iraq has not had a census since 1997 and both the 2007 and 2009 censuses were postponed (by Nouri).  Today, Al Mada reports, a member of Parliament's Finance Committee told the paper that the government does not know the actual population in Iraq and depends upon a random and inaccurate figure based on indicators and that their is a wide difference between the Ministry of FInance's figure and the ration card number and between the Ministry of Plannin's figure and the ration car number. 
 
 
Earlier this week, as continued unemployment was met with soaring food prices,  Al Mada reported that there are accusations in Hilla that food merchants are intentionally introducing small amounts of food to the markets in order to artifically pump up the prices by creating scarcity.  This comes as Babylon Province sees less and less items for sale that can be purchased with ration cards.  True or false, the federal government should be addressing this item though they will most likely ignore it.  If it isn't true, the rumors will still take root because food prices are increasing, ration items are becoming scarce and hunger isn't something people can overlook the way they might endure electricity outages.  So as the hunger and anger builds, even if the rumors are false,  a need to hold someone accountable can build and, if it does, it could leave food merchants targeted.  If the rumors are true, the federal government needs to deal with it (a) to show that it can deal with something, (b) the economy cannot take higher prices (unless Nouri intends to expand the ration card system) and (c) the federal government still has the power to set controls on various aspects of retail within the country. In addition, Nasiriyah reported that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a day for the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.
 

Alsumaria notes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is calling on Iraqi Muslims to watch the crescent moon this evening to determine whether Ramadan is starting.
 
Yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki attempted to seize control of the news cycle but, as is so often the case with Nouri, lost instead.  He insisted that the White House had conveyed, in a letter, their support for his attempts to cancel the October contract the Kurdistan Regional Government signed with ExxonMobil.  No such thing happened.  But some outlets live to be sucker-punched.  Let's note one of the few who realized that journalism involves skepticism of official statements.  Here's Kristin Deasy (Global Post) on those claims:


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed late Thursday to have received a message from US President Barack Obama indicating that the US sided with Baghdad in its deepening row with Kurdistan over the management of the northern region's oil resources, reported Reuters.
The message from Baghdad -- which did not quote the alleged Obama letter directly or provide any copy of it -- welcomed the "positive" US position on the matter, which it said was "in the same manner as the Iraqi government is seeking," said Reuters.


To repeat, in the United States, there is no state control over oil companies.  In Iraq, Nouri's lies can fly somewhat because that country has a history of nationalized oil companies.  As a result, a casual news consumer would hear of Nouri's claim and think nothing of it.  But in the US, where it's far more likely that a multi-national oil company will control the government than the goverment ever control an oil company, that claims is laughable on its face.

In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG signed their contract.  Nouri's Baghdad-based government played angry, spurned lover sending one letter after another to ExxonMobil, each basically screeching, "How could you!  After all we've been through!"

As Iraq's Minister of Oil confirmed in early 2012, ExxonMobil elected to ignore those letters and not respond.  And Nouri had nothing else to offer.  So last month he began making noise that the US government -- specifically the White House (Nouri has always been hugely unpopular in the US Congress) -- should break ExxonMobil's contract.

Which again demonstrates how stupid and not ready to be prime minister Nouri actually is.  The White House has no control over ExxonMobil.  And this was conveyed to Nouri -- as the Iraqi press noted.  But with US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser Antony Blinken in Iraq, Nouri decided to spin the visit.  It would have been laughable on any day but it was especially laughable yesterday when another major multi-national oil corporation elected to bypass Baghdad and sign with the KRG.  David R. Baker (Fuel Fix) notes:


Chevron Corp. will hunt for oil in northern Iraq's Kurdish region — the company's first major effort in the volatile country since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The deal, made public Thursday, lands Chevron squarely in the midst of post-war Iraq's bitter oil politics, with rival regions and ethnic groups fighting over how to develop the country's vast petroleum reserves. Chevron faces significant risk, and the potential of great reward.
 
In Iraq where safety has never been secured, Alsumaria reports a Yezidi girl was burned alive in her Mosul home -- some are saying it is suicide, no finding has been established yet.  Alsumaria notes that 2011 saw 6 confirmed cases of murder and ten case of confirmed suicides by burning -- in addition there were 85 who were injured by burning.  Yesterday NINA reported 1 Peshmerga died in a Kirkuk sticky bombing and two more were injured.
 
No emergence of security, no end to the political stalemate.   Al Mada reports the National Alliance (again) discussed their Reform Committee paper.  They've discussed it so much that they must know it by heart.  NINA reports that Iraqiya's Hani Ashur has declared "the reforms paper prepared by the National Alliance on its way to failure, where there is no agreement upon [it] even within the National Alliance and it became a mean to buy time and not for the reforms, it will not see the light or [be] put on the table of dialogue.  The reform paper is not more than an attempt to melt the crisis and the government is not serious in dealing with it, and the crisis may [be] back to the first square."
 
In what may end up being the most explosive political news out of Iraq this week, Al Mada reports the existence of a document signed by Nouri from October 2009 in which he secretly asked then-House Speaker Ayad al-Samarri not to question Hussain al-Shahristani.  al-Shahristani is currently Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy.  Starting in the spring of 2006 (with Nouri's becoming prime minister), al-Shahristani became the Minister of Oil.  Despite enjoying a great deal of soft press -- from The National Newspaper, Iraq Oil Report and pretty much everyone else -- al-Shahristani has no major successes to point to and Nouri conveyed in the letter that asking al-Sharistani about corruption or violence would be harmful to the government's interests.  (al-Sharistani is a member of Nouri's State of Law political slate.)
 
 
Let's do an update to last Friday's snapshot:


Kim Kelly (The Atlantic) focuses more on the present [art scene] and the emergence of what is thought to be a musical first in Iraq:
 
She says her name is Anahita, the 28-years-old voice and vitriol behind Janaza, which is believed to be Iraq's very first female-fronted, black-metal band. Allow that notion --Iraq's very first female-fronted, black-metal band -- to sink in for a moment. Her first recording, Burn the Pages of Quran, boasts five distorted, primitive tracks that altogether run just shy of an unlucky 13 minutes. She, along with a handful of other acts hailing from the Middle East, are repurposing black metal's historically anti-Christian ferocity to rail against Islam. In doing so, these bands are serving up another example of how art and dissent can intersect in a region where dissent can sometimes have deadly consequences.


Saturday  Anna Breslaw (Jezebel) reports that The Atlantic article might be a hoax and that the photos accompanying it have been used in publications previously for other metal bands.  I meant to include that Monday (we noted it Saturday) but kept running out of space.
 
 
I'd also hoped to cover Jill Stein's campaign this week and, at the very least, run a press release from it.  Not doing it. Not interested in the pretense of Bain and how it just can't be understood!  That's b.s. and Bob Somerby's rightly called it out (Somerby most recently called out the nonsense today).  If Jill and her campaign think repeating those rumors qualifies as running for office, they're kidding themselves.  And if they think spending three paragraphs on this rumor and then tossing in one paragraph on Barack is going to make people think they'll hold both accountable, consider it again.  We already saw 2008 when Rosa Clemente -- Cynthia McKinney's running mate -- was trashing Hillary Clinton with lies long after she was out of the race but Rosa never could find the courage or strength to call out Barack.  We're not in the mood for it.  If the Green Party thinks inflating their criticism of Barack a tiny bit after three and half years of non-stop failures by Barack qualifies as 'strong,' they're crazier than they think the voters are.  Run a real campaign or get out of the damn race. 
 
Mitt Romney as president is a question mark.  Barack Obama is not.  If Dr. Jill can't call out -- on a daily basis -- the treatement of Bradley Manning, assissinating American citizens, killing due process and Barack's war on whistle blowers and the Constitution, she's not fit for office or, for that matter, for the campaign trail.  Green Party needs to beef up their game and Jill's campaign?  It's been 7 days since she gave the speech in Baltimore.  Her campaign is still unable to post video or a transcript of that speech to her website?  Someone's not looking like a real candidate.
 
 
 
 
 iraq
 

Posted at 07:53 pm by thecommonills
 

Exxon, Chevron and Ramadan

Exxon, Chevron and Ramadan

Yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki attempted to seize control of the news cycle but, as is so often the case with Nouri, lost instead.  He insisted that the White House had conveyed, in a letter, their support for his attempts to cancel the October contract the Kurdistan Regional Government signed with ExxonMobil.  No such thing happened.  But some outlets live to be sucker-punched.  Let's note one of the few who realized that journalism involves skepticism of official statements.  Here's Kristin Deasy (Global Post) on those claims:


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed late Thursday to have received a message from US President Barack Obama indicating that the US sided with Baghdad in its deepening row with Kurdistan over the management of the northern region's oil resources, reported Reuters.
The message from Baghdad -- which did not quote the alleged Obama letter directly or provide any copy of it -- welcomed the "positive" US position on the matter, which it said was "in the same manner as the Iraqi government is seeking," said Reuters.


To repeat, in the United States, there is no state control over oil companies.  In Iraq, Nouri's lies can fly somewhat because that country has a history of nationalized oil companies.  As a result, a casual news consumer would hear of Nouri's claim and think nothing of it.  But in the US, where it's far more likely that a multi-national oil company will control the government than the goverment ever control an oil company, that claims is laughable on its face.

In October, ExxonMobil and the KRG signed their contract.  Nouri's Baghdad-based government played angry, spurned lover sending one letter after another to ExxonMobil, each basically screeching, "How could you!  After all we've been through!"

As Iraq's Minister of Oil confirmed in early 2012, ExxonMobil elected to ignore those letters and not respond.  And Nouri had nothing else to offer.  So last month he began making noise that the US government -- specifically the White House (Nouri has always been hugely unpopular in the US Congress) -- should break ExxonMobil's contract.

Which again demonstrates how stupid and not ready to be prime minister Nouri actually is.  The White House has no control over ExxonMobil.  And this was conveyed to Nouri -- as the Iraqi press noted.  But with US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser Antony Blinken in Iraq, Nouri decided to spin the visit.  It would have been laughable on any day but it was especially laughable yesterday when another major multi-national oil corporation elected to bypass Baghdad and sign with the KRG.  David R. Baker (Fuel Fix) notes:


Chevron Corp. will hunt for oil in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region — the company’s first major effort in the volatile country since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The deal, made public Thursday, lands Chevron squarely in the midst of post-war Iraq’s bitter oil politics, with rival regions and ethnic groups fighting over how to develop the country’s vast petroleum reserves. Chevron faces significant risk, and the potential of great reward.

As the Washington Post notes, kicks off the holy day of Ramadan is arriving.  Kitabat notes that there are calls for the government to grant leave for employees on days when the temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).  While the sun is up, those observing the Muslim holiday are supposed to fast.  Before sunrise and after sunset, those observing the holiday can eat.  However, food prices are rising in Iraq.  Alsumaria is the latest this week to report on the sharp increase in prices for basic items such as lentils.  The Ministry of Commerce is insisting that they got materials to the stores in time so any increase in prices is not their fault.  The article also notes that the high prices might make Ramadan slowly disappear as a part of Iraqi life -- as other habits have been forgotten in Iraq.  It seems unlikely that Ramadan could disappear from Iraq but then come reports about how hard it is for some to observe it.   Al Mada notes that unemployment is also a huge issue during the holy month and only more so when the food prices increase.  They speak with Hani Rseg who is a construction worker and tells the paper that he didn't get any wages for four months because contractors rarely get paid on time and when money did come in, there was electricity, gasoline, water and other things to pay for and only now is he able to shop for Ramadan.  Police officer Ahmed Radhi al-Hleaj states that he's paying a car loan and wouldn't be able to afford Ramadan except that he's taken on a second job working as a taxi driver.


Alsumaria notes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is calling on Iraqi Muslims to watch the crescent moon this evening to determine whether Ramadan is starting.


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


 


Posted at 08:48 am by thecommonills
 

Oh, those Baghdad Bobs

Oh, those Baghdad Bobs

When the Iraq War started, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf became better known to some as "Baghdad Bob."  At that time he was the official spokesperson for Iraq in his role as the country's Minister of Information.  In March and early April 2003, he gave press conferences and, in fairness, his were as absurd and fact-free as what was coming out of CentCom and the Pentagon with Vinnie Brooks and Torie Clarke (and unlike Clarke, al-Sahhaf never wore bad 80s workout attire to a press briefing).  His spirit lives on at We Love The Iraqi Information Minister and at About.com's Political Humor where they've collected many of al-Sahhaf's more absurd declarations.

But most of all, his spirit lives on in the government of Nouri al-Maliki where there is always what happened versus what the official statement says happened.

From yesterday's snapshot:


AP reports Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim al-Dulaimi says the resistance or 'resistance' killed 20 Syrian border guards today "and their commander." Adrian Blomfield, Alex Spillius and Ruth Sherlock (Telegraph of London) note, "Syria's rebels claimed to have seized a series of key border checkpoints with Turkey and an entire swathe of the country's frontier with Iraq."  al-Dulaimi tells AP that the 'rebels' have taken control over the crossing into Iraq's Qaim.  John Glaser (Antiwar.com) states, "Syrian rebels have taken control of all the border crossings and military outposts between Iraq and Syria, according to senior Iraqi officials." 


In addition, Neil MacFarquhar and Tim Arango's front page story on this morning's New York Times asserts, "Rebel fighters in Syria, building on the momentum gained by their brazen assassination of three top security officials a day earlier, seized all four border crossings with Iraq and one into Turkey on Thursday . . ."  And yet today, AP reports that Nouri's official spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh "refuted" this claim.

Now that could be.

And this could be one of the rare times Ali al-Dabbagh is actually telling the truth.

After all, Alsumaria is reporting that the Syrian army is back in control of the border crossings between Syria and Iraq and Syria and Turkey.  But, again, when you have Ali al-Dabbagh's reputation, it is so hard for anyone to believe you.  (Just last week, Ali al-Dabbagh was falsely insisting that the UN was siding with Nouri against Camp Ashraf residents.  Nope.  They're not going to take sides but Ali lied and outlets like Press TV ran with it non-stop.  Currently, the official lie is that the White House is on Nouri's side against ExxonMobil.  Really?  With the Citizens United decision, the White House is going to go up against ExxonMobil?  With no fears that the multi-national corporation will immediately flood the airwaves with political ads to unseat Barack?)

And for those who argue that Ali al-Dabbagh and other 'Baghdad Bobs' exist because the Iraqi people allow themselves to be lied to, that's true of all nations.  In the United States, look no further than Jay Carney who was never a major journalist but who has still managed to bring shame on his family and to his past profession with his ridiculous lies and whoring as White House spokesperson.

The Iraqis endure Baghdad Bobs the same way every country endures them.


The following community sites -- plus Pacifica Evening News, Cindy Sheehan, World Can't Wait, Susan's On The Edge, Antiwar.com and NYT's At War -- updated last night:



In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 19, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
 
 
VETERANS: Murray, Burr Call on GAO to Review VA's Benefits Accreditation Program
 
Recent findings raise serious questions about effectiveness of accreditation process in ensuring proper conduct by individuals assisting veterans with benefit claims

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, joined with the Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), in sending a letter to the Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting assistance from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in examining the Department of Veterans Affairs' accreditation program. The request stems from issues identified during GAO's recently completed investigation into VA's pension program, which revealed that individuals and companies are using VA accreditation as a way to take advantage of elderly veterans and their families.
 
"The Government Accountability Office's recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program," the Senators wrote in the letter to GAO. "GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services."
 
The full text of the letters follows:
 
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20548-0001
 
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Office of the General Counsel provides accreditation to attorneys, claims agents, and representatives of veterans service organizations so they can assist VA benefits claimants with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims. To become accredited, an individual must demonstrate a level of proficiency in VA's policies and procedures to be able to provide assistance with VA claims.  Also, restrictions exist regarding fees that can be charged by accredited individuals for services associated with VA benefit claims.
 The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program.  GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services.
In light of these concerns, we request the assistance of the GAO in examining the following questions:  (1) What are VA's policies and procedures for accrediting and providing oversight, including data collection and analysis, of those individuals?  (2) Are there potential vulnerabilities in VA's existing policies and procedures which may allow abuses of the accreditation system?  (3) What is the process for suspending or revoking accreditation if abuses are found to have occurred?
We appreciate your attention to this request. 
###
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
202-224-2834
 


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


Posted at 08:06 am by thecommonills
 

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, July 20, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqiya is on the short track to head a security ministry or two, Iraqiya is not on the short track to head a security ministry or two, Cheveron follows ExxonMobil's lead, Nouri blusters in his embarrassed state, the UN Security-General's Special Envoy to Iraq tells the UN Security Council about increased violence in Iraq, Kobler also feels the political stalemate is harming the country, Syrian 'rebels' control the border between Syria and Iraq, Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr have questions about the VA's Benefits Accreditation Program, we offer another look at the House Oversight Subcommittee's VA hearing yesterday, and more.
 
 
Starting off with Syria as it relates to Iraq.  Neocon Michael Rubin (Commentary) is alarmed that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offered condolences to Syrian President Bashar Assad's sister  Bushra Assad on the death of Assef Shawkat.  It's outrageous, Rubin feels.  The man killed Wednesday is Bushra Assad's husband.  Is Rubin aware of that?  Is he also aware that Syria is one of three countries that borders northern Iraq?  Syria, Turkey and Iran.  Talabani is a Kurd from the Kurdistan Region -- that's northern Iraq.  Of course, he would know the Assads.  He's traveled to Syria numerous times to meet with President Bashar Assad -- both before the start of the Iraq War and today.  That the two leaders from neighboring countries know one another is not surprising.  That they get along has been known since before 2003.  Not sure why Rubin sees something sinister in the whole thing but it reads like more of his I-hate-Kurdish-people kick that he's been on of late.  Rubin rushes to trash Assad and build up the resistance or 'resistance.'  He would though, he'll never admit that he and his kind created al Qaeda in Iraq and that's a key part of the Syrian resistance or 'resistance.'  We'll follow Mike's lead in noting Larry Johnson (No Quarter) on this issue:
 
 
The war drums are really blasting in Washington and wishful thinking has replaced reason and logic. The Obama Administration, with the full-throated cheerleading of neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer, are celebrating the terrorist attack on the Government of Bashir Assad and hoping that Assad folds his tents. Some breathless analysts on Fox News are even predicting that Assad will be gone in 36 hours. Delusional horses**t.
The Defense Minister who was murdered in this attack was a Christian. The group claiming credit for the attack has direct links to the same folks that fill the ranks of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So who are we backing? Why, the al Qaeda guys, of course.
 
 
The Washington Post's Liz Sly spoke with Renee Montagne (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) earlier today.  AP reports Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim al-Dulaimi says the resistance or 'resistance' killed 20 Syrian border guards today "and their commander." Adrian Blomfield, Alex Spillius and Ruth Sherlock (Telegraph of London) note, "Syria's rebels claimed to have seized a series of key border checkpoints with Turkey and an entire swathe of the country's frontier with Iraq."  al-Dulaimi tells AP that the 'rebels' have taken control over the crossing into Iraq's Qaim.  John Glaser (Antiwar.com) states, "Syrian rebels have taken control of all the border crossings and military outposts between Iraq and Syria, according to senior Iraqi officials."   In addition, the Committee to Protect Journalists notes:
 
New York, July 18, 2012--Two Iraqi journalists living in Syria and covering the conflict in that country were killed on Saturday although news reports differed on crucial details. The Committee to Protect Journalists continues to investigate the circumstances of the deaths, which come amid reports of increasing violence toward Iraqis living in Syria.
Falah Taha, a freelance journalist who contributed to several Iraqi news outlets, was killed while covering ongoing clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army in the capital, Damascus, numerous news reports said. An unidentified group of armed men killed Ali Juburi al-Kaabi, editor-in-chief of the Baghdad-based weekly Al-Zawraa, in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, according to news reports. Al-Zawraa is a weekly issued by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, news reports said.
News accounts carried few details about the deaths. While most reports said both journalists were shot to death, some accounts citing Iraqi army officials said they had also been stabbed. Most reports describe the deaths as having occurred separately in different locations although some accounts said the journalists both died in Jaramana.
 
 
 
On the topic of oil, Reuters reports that for the third straight month, Iraq's exports have fallen "below 2.4 million barrels per day".  Trade Arabia notes, "Chevron Corp is buying into blocks in Iraq's Kurdistan, according to two oil executives involved in the region, as the second-largest U.S. oil company follows Exxon Mobil Corp into an area where oil rights are a subject of fierce dispute. Chevron is purchasing 80 per cent of the Sarta and Rovi blocks from India's Reliance Industries, according to the two executives, who requested anonymity." If that rumor is true, that would be a big blow to Nouri.  Remember Antony Blinken's meeting with Nouri yesterday?  (Blinken is US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser.)  Supposedly Blinken made time to press Nouri on ExxonMobil -- Nouri wants the deal cancelled -- but didn't press him on Ali Mussa Daqduq.  If true, that's really embarrassing.  Remember that first a US official insisted they were already pressing Iraq to extradite Daqduq to the US and then Nouri's spokesperson made clear that no such request had been made.  And then a US official said they were 'about to' make the request.
 
A little over three hours later, Nouri al-Maliki was issuing a statement claiming he had the US backing on ExxonMobil.  He's such a damn liar and you really have to wonder about the reporters that print his crap without challenge.  It wasn't two weeks ago, that these same outlets were running with Nouri met with the UN and UN says Camp Ashraf must  -- no, the United Nations didn't say it but did we ever get a retraction from the press?  Of course note.  So Aseel Kami and Braden Reddall (Reuters) take stenography today and want you to know that Nouri has the US backing on ending that deal the KRG and ExxonMobile signed back in October. 
 
Now high likely is it that the US government, via Blinken, conveyed anything of meaning regarding ExxonMobil?  Not at all likely.  In the United States, there is no state control of the oil companies.  (Some would argue there is control of the government by the oil companies and certainly the Iraqi press have had stories where the White House has conveyed to Nouri that he needs to work things out with ExxonMobil.)  So it's a non-story but watch how it gets parroted over and over by news outlets that make Hedda Hopper look like Bob Woodward. 
 
On this morning's Chevron rumors, AP reports that they are true and Chevron and the KRG signed a deal today.  Reuters notes Chevron has purchased "80 percent of two blocks in Kurdistan."  Tina Davis (Bloomberg News) clarifies, "Chevron Corp. (CVX) agreed to buy Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL)'s 80 percent stake in two blocks covering about 490 square miles (1,124 square kilometers) in Iraq's Kurdistan region." Mark Lawson (Wall St. Cheat Sheet) adds, "These blocks are north of Erbil and contain a combined area of around 490 square miles. The subsidiaries in question will partner with OMV Rovi GmbH and OMV Sarta GmbH, which hold 20 percent interest in the Rovi and Sarta PSCs, respectively."  Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) explains, "Under the agreement with Kurdistan, Chevron must drill two wells by November 2013, company spokesman Gareth Johnstone said."  In addition, Oil & Gas Journal notes, "A group led by Hunt Oil Middle East has tested a combined flow rate of 13,584 b/d of oil from three zones at the deepened Simrit-2 well in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with nine more zones to be drillstem tested. Afren PLC, which has a 20% interest in the Ain Sifni PSC, said the well has been drilled to 3,800 m and encountered 460 m of net oil pay."
 
 
Meanwhile the latest Sports Illustrated it out and the Jul 23, 2012 issue is the Olympic Preview issue.  When it was slid over to me by a friend at Time-Warner-CNN-Pony Express, it was stressed that the issue had a big "Arab Spring" spread.   Big?  It's ten pages.  Why we'd be interested in it -- no Iraq athletes are included in the article -- is beyond me.  If Tunisia's your thing, pick up the issue. (They also don't pick any Iraqis to place in the top three of any event.  Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai is the only one they pick from Aghanistan and they predict he'll take the Silver in 68 kg Taekwondo.  It's a shame they spent 12 pages on predictions when they could have profiled more athletes in that space instead of wasting it on I-think-this-will-happen.)   The Summer Olympics kick off in London in less than 8 days (7 days, 20 hours the counter currently reads).   Iraq has 8 athletes competing.  The three women are: Dana Abdul Razak, event: 100m; Noor Amer Al Ameri, event: Women's 10m Air Pistol; and Rand al-Mashhadani, event: Archery, Women's individual.   The five men are: Mohanad Ahmed Dheyaa al-Azzawi, event: Swimming, Men's 100m Butterfly; Safaa al-Jumaili, event: Weightlifting, men's 85kg; Ali Nadhim Salman Salman; Wrestling, Men's 120kg Greco-Roman;  Adnan Taess Akkar, event: Athletics Men's 800m; and Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed, event: Boxing, Men's Welter (69kg).  For more on Iraq and the Olympics, you can click here for the folder BBC News has created for this topic.  Kay Johnson (AP) did a lengthy (and solid) report on Safaa al-Jumail:
 
But al-Jamaili has already overcome greater challenges just to keep competing. He was forced to stop lifting weights for more than a year after his family fled their home province of Diyala, 90 kilometres (55 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as waves of insurgent attacks and retaliatory violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias flooded over the area.
One reason they fled: His older brother was kidnapped and held for three days.
Al-Jamaili, then 17, was with his brother on that day in 2007. He remembers walking together toward their aunt's house, feeling lighthearted because he had just returned from winning a gold medal in a regional youth championship in Jordan. Then, several armed men accosted the brothers. Al-Jamaili managed to run away, but his brother was captured.
The family spent three tense days selling their furniture and borrowing money to pay a ransom before his brother was finally returned. Then, they all fled to the northern city of Kirkuk, where al-Jamaili worked full-time on a construction crew to help the family earn cash. Weightlifting was out of the question.
 
.
  
 
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that the turmoil in Syria has negatively effected Iraq, Al Mada reports, and that the political crisis has prevented Baghdad and Erbil from addressing Iraq's internal problems.  The political crisis, Ban Ki-moon stated, has prevented efforts to resolve outstanding issues and, without these issue being resolved, the future of Iraq is threatened.
 
 
"As I sit before the Council today," the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler declared this afternoon,  "Iraq is in the midst of a seven month long stalemate between the political blocs. a situation which continues to hamper progress in areas essential to Iraq's development including a sustainable solution to the disputed internal boundaries, the unfinished Constitutional agenda and the adoption of essential outstanding legislation and the preparation for next year's provincial council elections."
 
Kobler was in New York, speaking to the United Nations Security Council as he briefed them on Iraq.  We'll note some of his testimony in today's snapshot and some in tomorrow's snapshot.
 
 
Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  The question today is whether crucial obstacles can be overcome in order for the Iraqi state to realize its true potential.  In my assessment, the role of UNAMI will be more important than ever in supporting Iraq on its journey towards stability and development.  Mr. President since my last briefing to the Council, I've intensified my engagement with political leaders from all sides in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region, met with representatives of many of Iraq's communities and listened to the advice of Iraq's spiritual leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.  I've also sought  -- sough the views of the government of Iran, Kuwait and Turkey on the region.  The Core of UNAMI's mandate is to support and assist  the people of Iraq for it is the people of Iraq who want the political stalemate to end and it is they who want to have a life in  security and prosperity.  It is they who want to have a better future for their children. And it's they who long for the day when benefits from the natural wealth of the country will translate into the reliable delivery of electricity and other public services and economic development. Almost seven years ago, the Iraqi people laid the foundations for democracy in their country by adopting their Constitution.  Today, however, key institutions have yet to be established and fundamental legislation remains outstanding -- including the establishment of the Federation Council, the strengthening of the Judicial System, the legislation on revenue sharing and hydro-carbons, the protec -- the protection of minorities.  Just to say a few.   My colleagues and I have made the promotion of progress in these areas a priority.  In particular, the legal and policy framework for revenue sharing need to be put in place and this would constitute a signficant strengthening of the federal system, improve the environment for investment,  and provide for the agreed distribution of national wealth.  Revenue sharing is vital to help improve Arab-Kurdish co-existence, vital to ensure that Iraq remains a single federal state and, above all, vital for advancing a solution in the disputed internal boundaries.  Making progress in unblocking Iraq's unfinished legislative agenda, however requires an agreement between Iraq's political leaders that will end the political stalement.  Such an agreement must be reached through transparent and inclusive dialogue in respect of the Constitution and in a spirt of compromise.  Mr. President, there is no democracy without elections and there are no credible elections without a strong and truly independent election commission.  As we speak, my political deputy, Mr. Georgi Boston, is engaged in facilitation efforts to bring about the formation of a new, Independent High Election Commission which is representative of the main components of Iraq -- including women and children and minorities.  The urgent selection of the commissioners is essential for ensuring that the provincial council elections due to take place in March 2013 can be conducted on time. I'm concerned that the ongoing political stalemate is hindering the process however.  In recent days, I have discussed with political leaders -- including Prime Minister al-Maliki -- the need for a swfit conclusion of this political process and the need for an adequate representation of women and minorities in the commission. Today, I would like to re-iterate my appeal to all political blocs to expedite the selection of professional commissioners.  UNAMI stands here ready to actively assist.  Mr. President, the number of civilian casualties caused by terrorist attacks is increasing across Iraq.  Since the beginning of this year an average of 12 violent attacks a day have claimed a total of more than 1,300 lives -- many of them innocent children and women who were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
 
 
 
 
Uh-oh, what's a news outlet to do?  The UN's going with increased violence and the White House is insisting that's not the case?  What will the stenographers do?  Less than two weeks before the end of the month when they'll have to note violence.  What will the stenographers do?
 


The political crisis has already seen two stalemates.  The first one lasted over eight months and followed the March 7, 2010 elections.  Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second to Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi) but Nouri didn't want to follow the Constitution and demanded a second term as prime minister.  The White House backed Nouri and not the Iraqi people, their votes, democracy or the Constitution.  So the US government brokered a contract between the political blocs, the Erbil Agreement, which gave Nouri a second term if he agreed to various concessions (implementing the Constitution's Article 140, creating an independent security commission, etc.).  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement (November 2010) to get his second term and then refused to follow the Erbil Agreement.  Once this became obvious, the second political stalemate had started.  By summer 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr were calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  This is the current and ongoing political stalemate.

This morning Al Mada reported that Iraqiya is hopeful that one of their own might be nominated to head one of the security ministries and the names Jawad al-Bolani, Mustafa al-Hiti and Salah al-Jubouri are among those being tossed out (by Iraqiya).  An unnamed State of Law official seems skeptical about that happening.  al-Jubouri currently serves on the notorious Justice and Accountability Commission. al-Hiti is a member of Parliament and has unofficially served as an Iraqiya parliamentary spokesperson since 2010.  He is a member of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq's National Dialogue Front.  In 2009, Jawad al-Bolani wrote a column for the Washington Post which you can read here.  Jawad al-Bolani served as Minister of the Interior in Nouri's first Cabinet.  It was during that time that the Ministry of the Interior became synomous with terrorism and power struggles.  You can refer to the Los Angeles Times archives for many reports on that and you should probably start with this July 2007 report by Ned Parker:

This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior -- the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.
The very language that Americans use to describe government -- ministries, departments, agencies -- belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.
That killing has been reduced, but Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a "federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.
On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.
The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.
The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.
The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.
The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.


For any who are confused, per the Constitution, yes, Nouri was supposed to have named heads to the security ministries back in November 2010.  His failure to do so was supposed to mean that he did not advance from prime minister-designate to prime minister and that, instead, a new person was named prime minister-designate and given 30 days to come up with a Cabinet.  The US-backed Erbil Agreement 'trumped' the Iraqi Constitution.
 
And this afternoon, All Iraq News reports, Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji stated that there were no nominations from Iraqiya for the post of Minister of Defense and that they were not asked to provide any names for that post.

All Iraq News reports Iraqiya's Salem Dali notes that the move to question Nouri before Parliament continues and that this is necessary because public funds are being wasted and due to large numbers of Constitutional violations.  He doesn't need to list reasons, the Constitution gives the Parliament the right to question Nouri.  It's good that there are reasons but Nouri's continued refusal to appear before Parliament is just another example of how he refuses to follow the Constitution.  Nasiriyah reports that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for calm and dialgoue.  Anybody remember how Nouri's Reform Commission was supposed to meet and finalize things this week?  Yeah, what happened to that?  Has his diversion already been dropped?  There's not been any coverage of it all week. However, All Iraq News reports that Allawi is supposed to meet with Moqtada al-Sadr shortly.


One thing the Parliament is putting time into is funding their own personal purchase of firearms.  Al Mada reports the plan to spend five billion dinars is going through and that the Parliament has even turned down the Ministry of Interior's offer to provide them with firearms. To be clear, these guns will only be for the Parliament and they're not passing any laws to provide Iraqi citizens with guns.  Despite the fact that the bulk of them live outside of Iraq and that they frequently can't show up for sessions or actually earn their big salaries, they feel that they need guns and that the Iraqi people should foot the bill.

While the Baghdad-based government is happy to arm the Parliament -- which, for the record, has no security area to patrol -- they appear to balk at funding security forces.  Specifically, Al Mada reports that the Minister of the Peshmerga in the KRG is stating that it appears Baghdad will not fund the arming of the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) and that the KRG will have to foot that bill.  It's seen as part of the ongoing distance between Baghdad and Erbil.  

In other spending news, the Minister of Justice, Hassan al-Shammari, announced yesterday that Iraq's 27,000 detainees are costing his ministry $20 million per month (it says "dollars," not "dinars" so I won't bother to do a conversion).  Despite this large figure, Iraqi prisoners are not receiving health care, the minister notes.  Where's the money going?  The only big item listed is electricity.  Due to international standards, Iraq provides (or attempts to provide) electricity to prisons 24 hours, 7 days a week. Kitabat quotes Minister Hassan al-Shammari declaring that the expenses are food and maintaining/meeting international standards.   Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that the Ministry of Interior released a statement stating that Nouri must launch an investigation into the death of prisoner Saddam Mukhlif while in a Baghdad prison.  The cry for an investigation comes as Alsumaria also reports the Ministry of Justice is insisting they've stopped a plan by 16 death row prisoners to escape.

On the topic of electricity,  Nasiriyah reports that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a month for the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.
 
 
Dropping back to the House Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Wednesday hearing about VA's continued inability to resolve claims in a timely fashion.  Yesterday, we mainly noted that while the US is gripped by an economic crisis and facing record debt, the VA has given out   $2.8 million to 245 employees.   Today we'll cover two other topics.  US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair and appearing before the Subcommittee were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
 
"SNL"s are Simplified Notification Letters which the VBA sends out to veterans to let them know that their claim has been denied or approved -- if the latter, a disabilty rating will also be in the letter.  Hopefully, the letter will make sense.  Veterans advocates don't feel that has been the case -- as evidenced by the written statements Manar and Violante handed in to the Subcommittee.  Chair Chaffetz raised the issue.
 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  If you get a 100% disability, you're probably going to agree with it.  If you get a five or ten-percent, your probably going to have some questions.  We're trying to find the proper balance between handing somebody so many documents and simplifying the process.  But these two gentlemen here certainly don't seem to be, based on those statements, fans of this.  How do we find that proper balance?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, thank you for that question.  I will address it by saying that I, today, provide access to our VSOs to every one of those files for them to do whatever research they want to do.  They will have even greater access to knowing exactly the data and the information we know when they are joining us this month on VBMS as we go into the new Veterans Benefit Management System.  In addition, I have whole heartedly encouraged -- as we go through change,  there's adjustments and adaptations, there's a learning process -- I have wholly encouraged them at the local unit level when they have a service officer, the final one that just doesn't have enough for them to go directly to that supervisor and say, 'Need a little help here, there's not enough here.'
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  But don't you think --
 
Allison Hickey:  We will handle that on the spot. We will train to that as we learn more and more about that.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Don't you think that that's contributing to the backlog because --
 
Allison Hickey:  I do not.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  -- back in line again and say --
 
Allison Hickey:  It has not.  In fact, it's handled on the spot. 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  You really think --
 
Allison Hickey:  And it's reduced our backlog by 30,000.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz: You really think that the veterans are convinced that it's just "handled on the spot"? I mean, our office, we get these all the time.  This is not --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz: For you to say that they're just handled on the spot?  Mr. Manar, how would you -- Is that true, are they handled "on the spot"?
 
Gerald Manar:  Depending on the regional office and the individuals that our service officers deal with, they are sometimes handled on the spot.  In other instances -- and it's rare -- our service officers are told, 'If you don't like it, you can appeal it.'  And then there's a wide range of interactions in between. Our concern isn't -- We're concerned about the SNL letters because it's not just our service officers trying to figure out why VA made a decision.  We train our people to do that, to go behind and look at the data and basically re-evaluate it and see if they would have arrived at the same conclusion.  But-but perhaps 50% of veterans are not represented.  So they have to accept whatever VA gives them on blind faith or decide whether they're going to appeal on their own.  The point here -- and I'd like to say this -- General Hickey has worked with us signficantly to try to improve these letters.  She put out some directives last February  to the field that -- if those directives were followed -- the letters, barely adequate in our view, but at least they'd be adequate.  The problem is that when we've come along in April and May and looked at letters and decisions that were made in many different offices, we're finding a significant number -- 50 to 60% -- that are not getting the job done.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  That's a pretty high number.  Mr. Violante, I know it's past my time, but I want to give you an opportunity to respond though.  Then we'll go to the gentleman from Illinois.
 
Joseph Violante:  Like Mr. Manar, we have similar experiences with regard to whether or not we can get something corrected "on the spot" depending on the regional office and the employees. With regards to the SNLs, we're not opposed to the concept.  We have seen some good ones come out and we have brought the bad ones to General Hickey's attention.  But if they can work on that, there is a balance that needs to be done so that veterans can understand in a simplified way what the VA's decision is.
 
 
Now we're going to focus on another exchange but we're just zooming in on the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) aspect.  It's an issue that doesn't get enough attention and when it is noted in a hearing, we make a point to include it in our coverage.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  And then my third question is on MST.  As you know, military sexual assault is absolutely out of control in the military, 19,000 cases a year.  As I understand it, your reviews have found differences in denial rates between sexual assault PTSD and other PTSD cases.  I'd like to know what you have found and what you are doing about it?  And for those that have been previously denied, what can be done for them in terms of refiling and being reconsidered?  Thank you.
 
Allison Hickey: Thank you, Congresswoman Speier.  [. . .]  I am so glad you brought up Military Sexual Trauma. It is the very first issue I grabbed the reigns on and ran with when I got on station here aside from, obviously, the backlog.  And I will tell you, I'm the one that asked for us to go show -- show me what our grant denial rate is between MSTPTSD and what it is between PTSD for the other three -- combat, fear, terrorism?  I asked for us to do that.  I got it back and I said, "This is unacceptable."  We had a 20% difference in our grant denial rate.  I said, "We're going to change this process."  We did.  And by the way, the process is now in a segmented lane which is one of our new transformation initiatives.  We have trained from the VBA person who handles it coming in the door through the exam doctor in the health administration who does the health exam.  And we now have everybody trained.  I just got the data last Friday that shows I have closed that gap as a result of that effort.  We have increased our grants a full 35% in our MST as of last Friday because of the directions we did, the actions we took to make those right and to do those right [. . .]*
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  Mr. Chairman, could I ask a follow up question?  I know my time has expired.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Feel free.
 
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier:  Thank you.  What are we doing about those that had their claims denied?  Are we going back now and saying refile?
 
Allison Hickey:  I am glad you asked that question as well, Congressman -- Congresswoman Speier.  We are sending letters to everyone we've ever denied and saying, 'This is what we do. We've got a new process.  If you feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will re-accomplish it.'
 
 
  
*After "and to do those right" Allison Hickey may say "for women."  She hadn't take a breath and her last words were not clear. 
 
 
From the House to the Senate, there's important news today from the Senate Veterans Committee and its leadership.  Senator Patty Murray is the Committee Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  Chair Murray's office issued the following:
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 19, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
 
 
VETERANS: Murray, Burr Call on GAO to Review VA's Benefits Accreditation Program
 
Recent findings raise serious questions about effectiveness of accreditation process in ensuring proper conduct by individuals assisting veterans with benefit claims

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, joined with the Committee's Ranking Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), in sending a letter to the Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting assistance from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in examining the Department of Veterans Affairs' accreditation program. The request stems from issues identified during GAO's recently completed investigation into VA's pension program, which revealed that individuals and companies are using VA accreditation as a way to take advantage of elderly veterans and their families.

 

"The Government Accountability Office's recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program," the Senators wrote in the letter to GAO. "GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services."

 
The full text of the letters follows:
 

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street NW

Washington, DC 20548-0001

 

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Office of the General Counsel provides accreditation to attorneys, claims agents, and representatives of veterans service organizations so they can assist VA benefits claimants with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims. To become accredited, an individual must demonstrate a level of proficiency in VA's policies and procedures to be able to provide assistance with VA claims.  Also, restrictions exist regarding fees that can be charged by accredited individuals for services associated with VA benefit claims.
 The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recent investigation of VA's pension program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns regarding VA's accreditation program.  GAO's final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services.
In light of these concerns, we request the assistance of the GAO in examining the following questions:  (1) What are VA's policies and procedures for accrediting and providing oversight, including data collection and analysis, of those individuals?  (2) Are there potential vulnerabilities in VA's existing policies and procedures which may allow abuses of the accreditation system?  (3) What is the process for suspending or revoking accreditation if abuses are found to have occurred?
We appreciate your attention to this request. 
###

Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

448 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington D.C. 20510

202-224-2834

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted at 05:22 pm by thecommonills
 

Iraq's future threatened?

Iraq's future threatened?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that the turmoil in Syria has negatively effected Iraq, Al Mada reports, and that the political crisis has prevented Baghdad and Erbil from addressing Iraq's internal problems.  The political crisis, Ban Ki-moon stated, has prevented efforts to resolve outstanding issues and, without these issue being resolved, the future of Iraq is threatened.

The political crisis has already seen two stalemates.  The first one lasted over eight months and followed the March 7, 2010 elections.  Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second to Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi) but Nouri didn't want to follow the Constitution and demanded a second term as prime minister.  The White House backed Nouri and not the Iraqi people, their votes, democracy or the Constitution.  So the US government brokered a contract between the political blocs, the Erbil Agreement, which gave Nouri a second term if he agreed to various concessions (implementing the Constitution's Article 140, creating an independent security commission, etc.).  Nouri used the Erbil Agreement (November 2010) to get his second term and then refused to follow the Erbil Agreement.  Once this became obvious, the second political stalemate had started.  By summer 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr were calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  This is the current and ongoing political stalemate.


Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is hopeful that one of their own might be nominated to head one of the security ministries and the names Jawad al-Bolani, Mustafa al-Hiti and Salah al-Jubouri are among those being tossed out (by Iraqiya).  An unnamed State of Law official seems skeptical about that happening.  al-Jubouri currently serves on the notorious Justice and Accountability Commission. al-Hiti is a member of Parliament and has unofficially served as an Iraqiya parliamentary spokesperson since 2010.  He is a member of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq's National Dialogue Front.  In 2009, Jawad al-Bolani wrote a column for the Washington Post which you can read here.  Jawad al-Bolani served as Minister of the Interior in Nouri's first Cabinet.  It was during that time that the Ministry of the Interior became synomous with terrorism and power struggles.  You can refer to the Los Angeles Times archives for many reports on that and you should probably start with this July 2007 report by Ned Parker:

This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior -- the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.
The very language that Americans use to describe government -- ministries, departments, agencies -- belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.
That killing has been reduced, but Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a "federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.
On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.
The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.
The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.
The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.
The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.


For any who are confused, per the Constitution, yes, Nouri was supposed to have named heads to the security ministries back in November 2010.  His failure to do so was supposed to mean that he did not advance from prime minister-designate to prime minister and that, instead, a new person was named prime minister-designate and given 30 days to come up with a Cabinet.  The US-backed Erbil Agreement 'trumped' the Iraqi Constitution.

All Iraq News reports Iraqiya's Salem Dali notes that the move to question Nouri before Parliament continues and that this is necessary because public funds are being wasted and due to large numbers of Constitutional violations.  He doesn't need to list reasons, the Constitution gives the Parliament the right to question Nouri.  It's good that there are reasons but Nouri's continued refusal to appear before Parliament is just another example of how he refuses to follow the Constitution.  Nasiriyah reports that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for calm and dialgoue.  Anybody remember how Nouri's Reform Commission was supposed to meet and finalize things this week?  Yeah, what happened to that?  Has his diversion already been dropped?  There's not been any coverage of it all week. However, All Iraq News reports that Allawi is supposed to meet with Moqtada al-Sadr shortly.


One thing the Parliament is putting time into is funding their own personal purchase of firearms.  Al Mada reports the plan to spend five billion dinars is going through and that the Parliament has even turned down the Ministry of Interior's offer to provide them with firearms. To be clear, these guns will only be for the Parliament and they're not passing any laws to provide Iraqi citizens with guns.  Despite the fact that the bulk of them live outside of Iraq and that they frequently can't show up for sessions or actually earn their big salaries, they feel that they need guns and that the Iraqi people should foot the bill.

While the Baghdad-based government is happy to arm the Parliament -- which, for the record, has no security area to patrol -- they appear to balk at funding security forces.  Specifically, Al Mada reports that the Minister of the Peshmerga in the KRG is stating that it appears Baghdad will not fund the arming of the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) and that the KRG will have to foot that bill.  It's seen as part of the ongoing distance between Baghdad and Erbil.  

In other spending news, the Minister of Justice, Hassan al-Shammari, announced yesterday that Iraq's 27,000 detainees are costing his ministry $20 million per month (it says "dollars," not "dinars" so I won't bother to do a conversion).  Despite this large figure, Iraqi prisoners are not receiving health care, the minister notes.  Where's the money going?  The only big item listed is electricity.  Due to international standards, Iraq provides (or attempts to provide) electricity to prisons 24 hours, 7 days a week. Kitabat quotes Minister Hassan al-Shammari declaring that the expenses are food and maintaining/meeting international standards.   Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that the Ministry of Interior released a statement stating that Nouri must launch an investigation into the death of prisoner Saddam Mukhlif while in a Baghdad prison.  The cry for an investigation comes as Alsumaria also reports the Ministry of Justice is insisting they've stopped a plan by 16 death row prisoners to escape.

On the topic of electricity,  Nasiriyah reports that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a month for the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.




On the topic of oil, Reuters reports that for the third straight month, Iraq's exports have fallen "below 2.4 million barrels per day".  Trade Arabia notes, "Chevron Corp is buying into blocks in Iraq's Kurdistan, according to two oil executives involved in the region, as the second-largest U.S. oil company follows Exxon Mobil Corp into an area where oil rights are a subject of fierce dispute.
Chevron is purchasing 80 per cent of the Sarta and Rovi blocks from India's Reliance Industries, according to the two executives, who requested anonymity." If that rumor is true, that would be a big blow to Nouri.  Remember Antony Blinken's meeting with Nouri yesterday?  (Blinken is US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser.)  Supposedly Blinken made time to press Nouri on ExxonMobil -- Nouri wants the deal cancelled -- but didn't press him on Ali Mussa Daqduq.  If true, that's really embarrassing.  Remember that first a US official insisted they were already pressing Iraq to extradite Daqduq to the US and then Nouri's spokesperson made clear that no such request had been made.  And then a US official said they were 'about to' make the request.

They still haven't.  And those US officials mentioned -- they were both Antony Blinken.


In other news, Al Mada reports that the spokesperson for Camp Ashraf declared yesterday that it was impossible to continue the transfer of residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, stating that it's impossible to meet the basic human needs at Camp Liberty due to the conditions there.  Camp Ashraf is where Iranian dissidents have lived for decades in Iraq.  After the US invaded and started the ongoing Iraq War, the newly empowered exile government in Baghdad began making announcements that the dissidents would be removed from the country.  The US government gave the residents protected persons status but has refused to honor that status under President Barack Obama who apparently doesn't understand the way international law works.  Of the estimated 3,400 to 3,500 residents, two thousand have been moved to Camp Liberty.







The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


 

Posted at 07:18 am by thecommonills
 

Despite a fiscal crisis, VA gave out $2.8 million in bonuses

Despite a fiscal crisis, VA gave out $2.8 million in bonuses

Yesterday the House Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing about VA's continued inability to resolve claims in a timely fashion.  US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair and appearing before the Subcommittee were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.

Around this time last year (August 2011), the Super Congress was created to address the United States' multi-trillion dollar debt. Six members from the House and six members from the Congress served in the Super Congress.  The Democrats were: Senator Patty Murray, Senator John Kerry,  Senator Max Baucus, House Rep James Clbyurn,  House Rep Xavier Becerra and House Rep Chris Van Hollen. The six Republicans were Senator Jon Kyl, Senator Rob Portman, Senator Pat Toomey, House Rep Fred Upton, House Rep Jeb Hensarling and House Rep Dave Camp.  They were tasked with devising a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the nation's debt.  If their plan was not supported, then sequestration -- automatic cuts -- would take place this year.  Their plan did not pass.  Apparently sequestration will not effect the Defense Dept (I'm basing that on repeated statements during the Congressional hearings we've covered since fall 2011 -- primarily the Senate Armed Services Committee) and the White House has (finally) stated that the VA will also not be effected.

Maybe the VA should be?

In yesterday's hearing, it emerged that during this fiscal crisis, during the Great Recession when 8% unemployment (official figure of those still looking for work) has become the norm, during the administration's supposed pursuit of confronting the deficit, senior executives at the VA have received outrageous bonuses for doing their job.  And, I think many would agree, for doing their job badly.  When the VA has nearly a million unprocessed claims, it's not doing its job and no one -- especially senior executives -- deserve bonuses.   245 senior executives received $2.8 million in bonuses. 

From yesterday's snapshot:



Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Madam Undersecretary, the VA had reported that it awarded $2.8 million to 245 senior executives.  How do we justify that?  I mean, that's a very small group of people.  We've got hundreds of thousands -- close to a million -- veterans waiting in line and 245 people got $2.8 million in bonuses?  How do we justify that?

Allison Hickey: Chairman Chaffetz, thanks for the question.  First of all, I will tell you in VBA, since 2009, we have actually decreased by a full third the number of our SESs that are getting outstanding ratings. So we have done what this administration's asked us to do which is to really scrutinize the ratings that we are giving to our senior executives and bring them down. I'll tell you from a VBA perspective, I have 98 metrics, performance metrics, that I rate every one of our senior executives against.  They are performance based.


Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How --

Allison Hickey:  They are production and quality based.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many --

Allison Hickey:  And in those environments where I do have outstanding leaders, I need to keep those outstanding leaders. They're making a difference for our veterans, their family members and survivors.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many of them -- How many of the people that worked for you go those bonuses?



That is unacceptable.  If you've attended House or Senate Veterans Affairs Committe hearings in the last years, you're familiar with the fact that the VA's budget request each year to Congress is more than met and that they are repeatedly and regularly asked if they need more money to hire more staff, if they need this, if they need that.

But we've been attending the hearings for six or seven years now and the VA's never presented that they need X million for bonuses.  They've talked about needing money for hiring and training and equipment and that digital conversion that's forever on the verge of happening but never seems to actually take place.  But not one word about, "We need X and from that we'll be giving out X millions in bonuses."  They never made that request to either house of Congress.  In the Senate, the chamber's been under Democratic control the entire time (first under Chair Daniel Akaka now under Chair Patty Murray) while in the House it was Democratic control (Chair Bob Filner) and now Republican control (Chair Jeff Miller).  Regardless of whether the VA was making their case for more money to a Democratically controlled chamber or a Republican controlled chamber, they never, ever,  raised the issue of bonuses.

Probably they never raised it because there would have been bi-partisan laughter at the thought that the VA deserved bonuses when they still weren't able to settle claims in a timely fashion.

As was observed yesterday by a House member in the hearing, if anyone deserved a bonus -- if -- it would be the people on the front lines settling claims and providing customer service, not the senior executives.

The Congress needs to hold a hearing -- I doubt they will -- into these bonuses.  And this nonense of Allison Hickey's that she has this strict criteria when evaluating bonuses -- when the economy is a recession and when you're putting together a committee to propose cuts to the safety net (that's what the Super Congress was -- it was also known as the Catfood Commission -- popularized by Lambert of Corrente and our own Ruth -- because if the safety net were gutted that's what many elderly people would be consuming: cat food), you cease the bonuses.  You freeze them.

Considering all of Barack's attacks on Mitt Romney's business leadership in the last weeks, I'm surprised the Romney campaign isn't airing ads right now asking how the VA -- with its huge backlog and it's track record of no-accomplishments -- managed to give out $2.8 million in bonuses (to 245 people) when the country's is in the midst of a recession?


One of the few reporters reporting on yesterday's hearing is Jared Serbu (Federal News Radio -- link is text and audio).  Serbu notes, "Allison Hickey, who took over in 2011 as the VA's undersecretary for benefits, said the biggest hang-up for claims has been the mountains of paper records that claims adjudicators have to sift through in order to make their determinations. She said the VA realizes it can't dig out of the backlog with that paper-based system. But she vowed that system is going away and soon."  Yesterday, I noted we'd be dealing with one other aspect of the hearing in today's snapshot.  We're going to deal with more than one.  I saw a number of reporters at the hearing.  I'm not seeing their reporting.  I was hoping others would pick up points so that I didn't have to feel like I was the meanie repeatedly kicking Allison Hickey.  Fine, if others won't do their job, I will. So we'll note when her claim imploded in her face -- I honestly avoided that because I figured all the reports would lead with it -- when you lie to Congress and your lie is exposed as soon as you stop speaking, seems like that's the easiest thing in the world to cover.  We were already going to note her vanity.  I have no idea why you brag about yourself the way she did.  Maybe you feel your job's in jeopardy?  I don't know.  But it's one thing to credit your department with accomplishments and it's another thing to make a series of I-statements about what a great job you've done.  There's another area we may cover as well.


The following community sites -- plus the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Antiwar.com -- updated last night and today:



Okay.  I'm not sure why an e-mail came in last night but we'll note this from the DPC. 


That's Senator Benjamin Cardin on the START Treaty in 2010.  I have no problem noting that -- I'm puzzled since it's a 2010 video -- and no problem noting DPC -- when former-Senator Byron Dorgan did great work heading it, it was always a pleasure to note them.  But for future reference, something like that we will note.  I will not be carrying "Our opponents are ---"  I'm not interested.  If there's something you're going to do, fine.  I'm not going to participate in your attacks and squabbles.  The exception being Jill Stein's campaign can say whatever it wants about Democrats or Republicans and we'll note it. They're a third party (the Green Party) and, as such, they'll get more leeway from me.  But I'm tired of being online to begin with and I'm not going back to 2008 and trying to cover all the campaigns.  If we carried attack videos or releases from Democrats, then it would only be fair to do the same for Republicans.  Again, I'm puzzled by the video only because a 2010 one. But it fits well within the framework of what we will note this election year.  


Senator Patty Murray  is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office issued the following yesterday:
 


In the face of threatened delays, Murray brokers compromise to finally deliver health care to Camp Lejeune Veterans and their families
 
 
Omnibus includes comprehensive health care, housing, homelessness, education and benefits legislation for veterans
 
 
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Wednesday, July 18, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee helped ensure passage of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 by unanimous consent.  This bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive legislation combines provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011(S. 914, Report No. 112-088) and Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011 (H.R. 1627, Report No. 112-084 Part 1), as well as provisions from other Senate and House legislation.  This comprehensive package extends health care to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, expands critical health programs, improves housing programs, enhances programs for homeless veterans, and makes needed improvements to the disability claims system. In the face of threatened delays on the bill, Senator Murray brokered a compromise today that allowed the bill to move forward.
"This comprehensive legislation makes improvements to almost every aspect of care and services for veterans, and I am proud of the work my committee put into bringing this omnibus bill together," Senator Murray said following passage of the bill. "This bill will finally provide health care to veterans and family members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, expand eligibility for housing adaptation grants to more seriously injured veterans, and make help for homeless veterans more widely available."
 
Specifically, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 would:
 
 
·         Provide health care for certain individuals stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  This bill will extend hospital care and medical services coverage for certain illnesses and conditions to eligible veterans and family members who served on active duty or lived at Camp Lejeune.
 
·         Expand critical health care programs for veterans.  This bill will authorize VA to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits of veterans, expand beneficiary travel reimbursement for veterans living in highly rural areas, and improve reimbursement for state veterans homes.  In addition, the bill will enhance VA's teleconsultation and telemedicine capabilities to improve rural veterans' access to quality health care, protect veterans from sexual assault and other safety incidents, and expand TBI services. 
 
·         Enhance Specially Adapted Housing programs for disabled veterans.  This bill expands the eligibility for VA's specially adapted housing assistance grants to certain veterans with disabilities due to the loss or loss of use of one or more lower extremities that preclude ambulating without the aid of a supporting device. Senator Murray recently heard from a veteran who is severely injured with an above the knee amputation and an injury to his hip.  His combination of injuries made it incredibly difficult for him to live comfortably in his home, yet despite his serious injuries and mobility challenges, he did not meet current eligibility criteria for VA's adaptive housing programs to get the benefits that he so critically needed.  Senator Murray wrote a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki asking that eligibility criteria be adjusted accordingly, so that veterans in similar situations can get the benefits they deserve. This bill authorizes increased assistance to those disabled veterans who reside temporarily with family members and indexes levels of such assistance on an annual basis.  The bill also provides adaptive housing assistance grants to veterans with a lesser degree of vision impairment than what is required by current law.
 
·         Improve efforts to eliminate homelessness among veterans.  This bill will reauthorize a number of VA's programs to help homeless veterans and will expand eligibility for VA's emergency shelter services to include homeless veterans who are not seriously mentally ill.  In addition, the bill enhances grant programs for homeless veterans with special needs, by including dependents of veterans and male veterans with dependent children.  The bill also improves the grant and per diem program, which serves upward of 30,000 homeless veterans annually, by requiring VA to report on how to improve the per diem payment process for grantees.  In addition, the bill strengthens efforts by eligible entities to assist in case management services provided to the nearly 40,000 homeless veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program.
 
·         Strengthen veterans' benefits and improving claims processing.  This bill will improve VA's disability claims appeal processing by waiving initial review of claimants' new evidence by the agency of original jurisdiction unless specifically requested.  It is estimated that this provision could prevent approximately 1,600 remands from the Board of Veterans' Appeals per year allowing the Board more time to address the backlog of appeals.  Other significant improvements include, improving the process of filing jointly for social security and dependency and indemnity compensation and clarifying the month of death payment provisions to ensure surviving spouses receive proper and timely benefit payments. 
 
  ###
 
 
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
 
 
 


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


Posted at 06:39 am by thecommonills
 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Iraq snapshot

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 18, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Joe Biden's National Security Adviser tries to make nice in Iraq, the political crisis continues, Josh Rogin continues his journalistic malpractice and misses the big story (as usual), while the US is in the midst of The Great Recession and unemployment remains at record highs the VA is handing out $10,000 and higher bonuses to senior executives, the VA's Allison Hickey continues struggling with how to answer a question (hint: respond to what was asked), and more.
 
 
"It's unacceptable the federal government is doing nothing but continuing to promise what they promised before," declare House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa this morning.  He was attending the House Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.  US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair. Appearing before the Subcommittee were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante. 
 
32 minutes after ChaffetzTo hear your statements
 
Darrell Issa:  42 years ago this November, I raised my right hand and became a soldier.   I have no claim today before the Veterans Administration.  But for those 42 years, soldiers, sailors and Marines have served  and need our support.  It's unacceptable the federal government is doing nothing but continuing to promise what they promised before. 183 days the average processing time for a claim.  It's unacceptable.  More unacceptable is that the fact that the error rate is 16%and perhaps higher in some regions.  Veterans who appeal the system face multiple years 883 days, three years in order to be adjudicated.  The system was broken during the Vietnam war when I enlisted.  The system has never been fixed so today we're going to concentrate in this Committee on hearing what you're going to do.  But understand, we've heard it before.  Today, you will be judged by what you say and what you do.  You will no longer be allowed to come back again with promises of reform a year away. Today, I understand, you will be talking about getting better over the next year -- perhaps talking about ways in which you have improved recently.  In 1970, the system was paper and the system failed veterans miserably.  Today the system is computerized but not harmonized.  Today the Veterans Administration continues to claim that they will get better be but they have not. 
 
 
 
It is my goal on this Committee to recognize that we will be going into a new Congress that next year we'll be under the
 
Jason Chaffetz:  Madam Under Secretary,  Mr. Manar,  I think accurately points out in his testimony that in order to solve the problem, you need to know exactly what the problem is.  And I see a major discrepancy in some of the numbers and I want to help clarfiy that.  In youre testimony in talking about the integrated disability evaluation system, you say, "We went from 240 day average in the legacy system to 56 days" and it goes on.  And there's a definition of the backlog.  The House Armed Services Committee staff and the House Veterans Affairs Committee staff on July 13 of this year which was not too long ago gave a briefing to these two Committees.  It says in here that the current monthly average completion time is 408 days.  You say it's 56 days -- 54 days -- yeah, 56 days -- and they say it's 408 days.   Can you help clarify that for me please?
 
 
 
Allison Hickey:  Thank you, Chairman Chaffetz for your question. First of all, allow me to clarify by stating a few basic definitions so also, as I say things, you can understand what words I'm using and their context  We have, in the inventory and pending an overall number of 854000.  That's not backlog.  Those are claims that even as we've been sitting here for the last ten to fifteen minutes, more claims have come into us from veteran service members  and
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, let me stop you -- let me stop you right there. Let me stop you right there.  On July 16th, which is not very long ago, the Monday morning workload report says there are 919,461 claims.  You say that number is -- what did you say that number is?  860,000 something?
 
Allison Hickey:  The numbers I'm using are 854,000 --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, so we're off by about 50 or 60 thousand.  And we're talking about something that is just  couple of days old.  Why the discrepancy on those number?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, our backlog -- I mean our inventory is a dynamic inventory.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I know but that's less than ten days so --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I'm happy to answer the questions if I'm allowed an opportunity.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Sure I want to know.  You're saying that that number is 800 and something thousand and I'm just saying that the VA's report says it's 919,461.  That's of July 16th --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I'm happy to answer the question if I'm allowed an opportunity.
 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Ma'am, just answer the question.  Yes.
 
Allison Hickey:  Thank you very much.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  --  That's why I asked the question.
 
Allison Hickey:  Thank you very much, Chairman.  The numbers that I'm using are from the endpoint of a month.  Probably the end of May.  So you probably are using the end of this week's report.  I chose not use a floating number that continues to change over time and over dates and over weeks.  So I used an end of month number to be able to to talk to you, to be able to have a solid number to hvae a discussion around.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  If you --
 
Allison Hickey:  Regardless of what it is -- Regardless of what it is, I will tell you that our inventory and our pending is not our backlog.  And typically, the statistics show 61% of that backlog are supplemental claims that people -- veterans who are already receiving compensation from us are coming back with a second, third or a fourth claim in that process.  So of the number I will use 854,000, I could use your number as well.  And I could use the weekly reports number in backlog it would be exactly the same thing which is about 65 to 66% of our claims are in -- they are more than 125 days old.
 
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay --
 
Allison Hickey:  That is the --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, that's great.  More than 125 days old.  You say in your testimony -- I mean, to hear your testimony, these things are getting so much better.  We went from a 240 day average in the legacy system to 56 days?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, I'd be happy to answer the question in the disparity for the briefing which you just handed out.  I have different processes that have different standards.  The process you described is our end of b -- our integrated disability evaluation system that we work with DoD for our most wounded and ill -- injured service members.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  In your testimony --
 
Allison Hickey:  The numbers that you are --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I'm sorry --
 
Allison Hickey:  -- describing are the VA -- the 56 days are the VA numbers in that complete process --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I'm -- I'm --
 
Allison Hickey:  -- where VA has the responsibility for --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Let's tackle them one at a time.  This is your testimony, "We are closely collaborating with DoD through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System."  You say that's 56 days.  This report, this briefing that went to another Committee just last week says it's 408 days.  That's not exactly close.  Which --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  -- one is it?  Is it --
 
Allison Hickey:  The VA days for those 10,000 we have done in FY12, the VA days, the days that I have responsibility for doing them are 56 for those 10,000.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Are you saying this is accurate or inaccurate?
 
Allison Hickey:  I'm saying I do not know what's on that slide.  If you were to give me that slide and give me some time to digest that slide I'd be happy to do that, Chairman.  You have access to that information right at this moment, I do not.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  We will make -- we will make --
 
Allison Hickey:  I will be happy to take that for the record and respond to you.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How -- In it's simplified format here, how bad do you think this problem is?  I'm trying to quantify it and I'm concerned because we're not off by a couple of 100 people here,  we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people.  And in your testimony, you would lead the American people to believe that it's getting much better.  But if you look at it over the course of time, it's getting worse.  It's --
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I have clearly stated --
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  It's getting worse.
 
Allison Hickey:  -- in my testimony that two -- that -- that, uh, 65% of people in more than 125 days, from a VA perspective, is unacceptable.  I've clearly stated that.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  And you say that this is a decade's old problem --
 
Allison Hickey:  It is a decade's old problem and for the first time we have an integrated plan that goes after the way we're organized and trained to do the work, the processes that we've done that we have streamlined, the technology that we're bringing in that under this administration and this Secretary [of VA Eric Shinseki], VBA has never had an emphasis on it's IT infrastructure to get from a paper bound process to a paperless system that we have right now.  We are implementing it right now.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, my time is far expired.  The numbers and the discrepancies here are absolutely stunning. 
 
 
 
 I let that run through so that Hickey -- who was very defensive and very loud in the hearing -- had her say such as it was.  But there's a ton of nonsense in there.  First off, if you're using a figure, you need to know what month the figure is from.  She chose not to use the most recent numbers, that was her decision.  Having made that decision, she needs to know what period of time the number she's using are from.  But she stated, "The numbers that I'm using are from the endpoint of a month. Probably the end of May."  Probably? 
 
Probably's not good enough.   Chair Chaffetz was using 919,461.  He explained his numbers.  More to the point, this morning at the Washington Post's blog Federal Eye, Steve Vogel was addressing numbers noting that the 919,461 was the number "as of Tuesday."  Vogel notes that the claims stood at 903,000 in April.*  Did the numbers fluctuate in May and June?  We don't know because Hickey seems to believe she can use any numbers she wants.  Up to date numbers were available, she chose not to use them.  If she didn't want to use July because the month is still ongoing, then she should have fallen back to June.  And this wouldn't require new reports, these figures are kept weekly.  [In Vogel's report he says "backlog stood at 903,000" -- he most likely meant claims.  In the hearing, Hickey was repeatedly talking about the difference between the two.  If you use the link in Vogel's report for that number, you're taken to an earlier report he did where he refers to that number as "pending claims."  I understand what he means and would call it "backlog" myself.  It is backlog, any claim that's not been determined today is now backlog.  But since she made such a huge deal out of the terminology, I'm noting this.] 
 
She needs to be better prepared.  US House Rep Bob Filner has clearly put a scare and to her and good for that.  But she needs to know that the VA will be held responsible.  And she speaks about that but time and again things keep happening in hearings that if she didn't know about it, she should have.  And if she did know about it, she's playing dumb with the Committee.  At a recent hearing, Filner wisely noted that Hickey was hired to a do a job and did not need her hand held but she did need to do her job.  It would be nice if everyone could remember that.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Madam Undersecretary, the VA had reported that it awarded $2.8 million to 245 senior executives.  How do we justify that?  I mean, that's a very small group of people.  We've got hundreds of thousands -- close to a million -- veterans waiting in line and 245 people got $2.8 million in bonuses?  How do we justify that?
 
Allison Hickey: Chairman Chaffetz, thanks for the question.  First of all, I will tell you in VBA, since 2009, we have actually decreased by a full third the number of our SESs that are getting outstanding ratings. So we have done what this administration's asked us to do which is to really scrutinize the ratings that we are giving to our senior executives and bring them down. I'll tell you from a VBA perspective, I have 98 metrics, performance metrics, that I rate every one of our senior executives against.  They are performance based.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How --
 
Allison Hickey:  They are production and quality based.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many --
 
Allison Hickey:  And in those environments where I do have outstanding leaders, I need to keep those outstanding leaders. They're making a difference for our veterans, their family members and survivors.
 
Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many of them -- How many of the people that worked for you go those bonuses?
 
Allison Hickey:  Congressman, I'll have to bring you the explicit information.  I wasn't prepared to come and talk about bonus structure. 
 
If all 245 got approximately the same amount of bonus, they got a bit over $10,000 each.  How does anyone working for the federal government deserve that?
 
They did a great job?  Good.  They were supposed to.  I don't understand when the American people are being told that drastic cuts are needed how 245 employees of the VBA are getting not just their nice salaries but bonuses of $10,000 each for . . . doing their job?  Long before Senator Patty Murray and others were called for the Super Congress panel to address the deficit, the White House should have notified all cabinets that all bonuses were suspended.  I'm not joking on this.  A month ago there was a hearing that I knew nothing on -- record retention, record digitizing, etc. -- and I had to speak to a number of people who were kind enough to speak with me (that friends were kind enough to hook me up with) to get repeat walk throughs on this (because that's how I am, I have to over-saturate to feel comfortable talking about a topic) and I was speaking to government employees on all levels.  I heard about pay freezes and hiring freezes.  This is not uncommon across the country right now due to The Great Recession which continues.  And for state and municipal employees, this comes as layoffs have already demanded that they do their jobs and the jobs of two or three other people that were let go.  In some instances, they've also had pay cuts.  And yet at the federal level, senior executives, whose job it is to run the VA, are getting $10,000 bonuses?
 
That's digusting.  The White House, if they understood a damn thing about the current economy, should have let senior execs know -- especially for VA -- that there were no more bonuses until the economy turned around.  Especially VA?  The backlog's not gone.  And the service isn't there.
 
Let's demonstrate the quality of service via statements in the hearing by two members of the Subcommittee.
 
US House Rep Peter Welch:  [. . .] one family that contacted our office.  And this woman, the mother of Howard Hoy, the son who had contacted us, they had a claim that just wasn't answered for years and it wasn't until after the mother died -- and this was her trying to get pension benefits from what she was entitled to as the survivor -- it wasn't until after she died that they adjudicated this.  [. . . ] After this woman died, she got a condolence letter. So one part of the system was working but the part that would have been beneficial to her while she was alive was not working.
 
US House Rep Jackie Speier: [In San Francisco at her "VA Fix-It meeting"] over 250 veterans showed up.  They were angry, they were hostile and they had every right to be.  I'm just going to tell you a few of these stories.   Sgt Ari Sonnenberg had multiple tours in Iraq.  He was facing eviction from his apartment while he waited for over a year for a disability ruling. He was unable to work -- a fact that took Oakland VA months and months to verify.  He needed treatment for PTSD. He was ordered by the VA actually to go to the VA Medical Center in Oakland.  The breaking point came the day before I took his wife and mother to meet with the director at Oakland. Until that meeting was set up, the Oakland Office was unaware that Mr. Sonnenberg was hospitalized at the VA facility for the next several months.  At the "VA Fix-It meeting" that we had, he told the packed room that he almost committed suicide.  Now the good news is that he will be boarding a plane for home tomorrow, he's had his surgeries, he's had treatment for PTSD and he has his disability benefits.  Had we not intervened, Mr. Sonnenberg would probably be dead today.  Another gentleman, a 92-year-old WWII vet who was confined to a wheel chair showed up at the "Fix-It meeting." He waited for over two years to have his claim adjusted, he had a service connection of 60%.  He was there, in his condition, his caregiver said, "It's been two years and now you're telling us that we've got to go back to a doctor to determine what his status is even though we've already done that.  Now the good news there is because we had that "Fix-It meeting," within a week, he was given retroactive payment of $32,000 and is now receiving $2000 a month.  He's 92-years-old.  Michael Cortez argued that his Parkinson's Disease was caused by exposure to Agent Orange.  He, again, waited two years.  As it turned out, because we had that "Fix-It meeting," his claim was recently resolved.  He's got a one-time retroactive payment of $92,000   [. . .] and now he's receiving $3,400 a month.
 
 
Does that sound like quality service?  And when the Congress funds VA, are they aware that so much money is going to bonuses?
 
Tomorrow, we'll note US House Rep Jackie Speier on another aspect of the hearing.
 
If someone didn't get noted?  There's not time or space to note everyone in most cases.  If I'm ignoring someone that I ignored at the last hearing?  I don't like kiss asses.  I never have.  If you're not there to serve veterans, why are you there?  To kiss ass for one Democrat and I'm not interested in noting him.  I'm not interested in helping him put his embarrassing scandal behind him.  I feel the House Ethics Committee -- under Democrat control first, not under Republican control -- has carried out a non-stop witch hunt on US House Rep Maxine Waters.  I like Maxine and think she works very hard.  I'm not sure how you look the other way for a man whose own family members -- just convicted -- say he was in on it.  I don't understand when that happens, how you don't immediately launch a House Ethics Committee investigation.  I have no interest in helping the ass kiss.
 
We'll come back to veterans issues at the end to note two things. 
 
 

All Iraq News reveals that Antony Blinken, US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser, is in Iraq and led a delegation that met with Nouri.  AFP adds that he also met with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi "and was set to hold talks with other top politicians on a trip to Baghdad and later in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil." Why is Blinken there?
 
Because of the ongoing political crisis and the White House's fear that it's starting to get traction -- people are starting to notice Iraq.  Blinken's not expected to solve anything, just to put a band-aid on it -- a band-aid that will, the White House hopes, last through the November elections.  Today Sally Painter contributes a column to POLITICO about how things are going in Iraq.  Excerpt.
 
ut although Iraq has made significant strides since the dark days of 2006 and 2007, after the U.S. withdrawal, the country has seemed on the verge of spiraling violence and political chaos. Withdrawal cannot mean abandonment -- but unfortunately, it's unclear whether Washington has an effective strategy to remain positively engaged with Iraq's future.
Since December, Iraq has lurched from political stalemate to rumors of Sunni succession to talk of civil war. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has wasted no time in accelerating his efforts to concentrate power in the executive, ignoring parliamentary prerogatives and, according to Human Rights Watch, overseeing a secret prison for his political opponents. Political accommodation over the most fundamental issues, including how to divide oil revenue between regions and ethnic groups, remains more remote than ever. Meanwhile, renewed terrorist bombings killed hundreds of people in June.
The central government is more deadlocked than ever. Calls for Maliki's resignation have increased, and erstwhile allies like Moqtada al-Sadr have joined the opposition in threatening a vote of no confidence. Maliki has responded by threatening early elections, before their scheduled date in 2014. Key cabinet positions, including defense and interior, remain unfilled.

 
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Nouri al-Maliki is not pleased with comments about him made by the former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq who defected last week and has decided to sue the diplomat.  In no-surprise news, Al Mada reports that State of Law began insisting the ambassador needed to be arrested yesterday.  He's also not pleased with Turkey. 
 
Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) reports that Nouri is threatening "to take action" if Turkish 'flights' continue -- Razzouk notes that Ali al-Dabbagh (Nouri's spokesperson) was short on details of what 'flights' were being referred to (it's assumed, due to the use of the term "war planes" yesterday that the flights refer to the bombing raids Baghdad has allowed over the KRG).  al-Dabbagh stated that that a formal complaint will be filed with the UN Security Council.  Nouri's also not pleased with the Kurds.  And, with all of this, is it really smart to arm him with F-16s, let alone to rush the order?



Al Mada notes the belief that Nouri's latest war of words is motivated by a desire to punish the KRG over their energy policy which is independent of Baghdad.  They also point out that as the war of words escalate, dialogue gets harder and harder.  Dialogue, of course, being what Nouri claims to currently want as he attempts to circumvent efforts to withdraw confidence from him. 

Al Mada notes Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun al-Damalouji explains that they are going through with their efforts for a vote of no-confidence in Nouri and that they have passed their decision on to Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (who is also a member of Iraqiya).  In another article, they note Nouri's flurry of activity with the Parliament -- including last Thursday's meeting with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  Alsumaria notes that KRG President Massoud Barzani's spokesperson raised the issue yesterday of Nouri's attempts to militarize Iraq society for his own political ends.  AFP adds, "The F-16 deal has raised alarm bells in the northern Kurdistan region, with Barzani saying earlier this year he was opposed to the sale of the warplanes while Maliki was premier, fearing they would be used against Kurdistan."
 
Monday's snapshot noted the decision to yet again delay findings by the Iraq Inquiry -- an investigation led by John Chilcot in England.  Rose Gentle's son Gordon Gentle was killed while serving in Iraq with British forces.  For the Guardian, she explains what the latest delay means: 
 
He was a lovely boy: he looked such a grown-up man in his Royal Fusiliers uniform, but I could still see the little boy in him. He was just 19: Iraq was his first posting, straight out of training. He'd been there less than three weeks when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra.
But this year, on the anniversary of his death, I had a bit of hope in my heart. My hope was that, during this summer, I'd at last be able to read the results of the Chilcot inquiry, which I've been waiting for since 2009 when Gordon Brown announced it was going to be set up to look into why we went to war in Iraq, and to "learn the lessons" from the trail of events that led to the deaths of young men like Gordon.
This week, though, we've learned there's yet another delay. It's going to be the middle of next year, we're now told, before the report sees the light of day. 2013 – 10 whole years after the war started. And why? I've listened as keenly as Sir John Chilcot to this inquiry – any mother who lost her son would, to find out why he died. What does he still need time for?
 
Also at the Guardian, readers weigh in with their thoughts on the delay.  We'll note this from one letter:
 
Two points for consideration now. First, what has happened to the Iraq inquiry? We were told last year that it would take "until at least summer 2012" to complete its report. An important reason for taking so long is the need "to negotiate the declassification of a significant volume of currently classified material with the government". Very well, but it is time to say that enough is enough.
Secondly, we are told that Tony Blair is wondering whether it is time to offer his services to the nation again. Iraq is one reason why I think we can manage without him.
Oliver Miles
Oxford
 
On War Criminal Tony Blair, Matthew Norman (Independent) observes, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here he is encircling the upper echelons of public life once again - and if his dream of rehabilitation is to be harpooned, we're going to need a bigger boat."
 
 
The United States needs something in order to stop the whisper attacks on citizens -- the government's whisper attacks.  For some reason -- journalism isn't the reason -- Foreign Policy has again allowed Josh Rogin to write another article where he allows an unnamed State Dept official to attack people by name and their character.  That's not how journalism's supposed to work so clearly Foreign Policy doesn't believe in journalism.  What has him breaking all the rules?  As always it is his hate for the residents of Camp Ashraf. 
 
This one may cause waves -- might even splash on Baby Cum Pants Josh.  See, in the article he's trashing like crazy. And it would appear that US House Reps Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Brad Sherman will next be on the trashing list (the two wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for the conditions at Camp Liberty to be improved -- Camp Liberty is where the US is trying to relocate Camp Ashraf residents).  What Baby Cum Pants Josh apparently doesn't know -- or one of the many things he apparently doesn't know -- is that despite Ros-Lehtinen being a Republican and Hillary being a Democrat, the two woman have strong respect for one another.  If he had even a clue about the beat he's supposed to cover, he would have realized he could tailor the story as: "Is this what turns things around for Camp Ashraf?  Or will Secretary Clinton blow off a friend?"  But, as usual, Rogin's typing on autopilot.
 
Yesterday, we noted Senator Patty Murray was pushing for a floor vote on the Camp Lejeune issue.  The US House Veterans Affairs Committee issued the following.
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Today, Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, issued the following statement on the Senate passage of H.R. 1627, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012:
"This legislation brings together nearly two years' worth of work on behalf of America's veterans. From streamlining and adding increased accountability to the disability claims process, to protecting our veterans from sexual assault, and providing for the future of Arlington National Cemetery, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 is a tribute ensuring our veterans, their families, and survivors are guaranteed the benefits earned through their service to our Nation.
"With Senate passage today of H.R. 1627, our veterans are one step closer to receiving healthcare and improved services from VA. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr for their leadership in the Senate, as well as Ranking Member Filner's support here in the House, to make this legislation a reality. Finally, I want to thank Senator DeMint for working with us to ensure that resources are focused on veterans and family members in need of VA healthcare.
"I look forward to the House passing this legislation as soon as possible."
To learn more about the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, click here.
 
 
Senator Patty Murray, as noted above, is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and we're closing with this from her office (and I'm not in the mood for whines about the font size, I'm told that it can't be reduced without making the snapshot wider which will throw off the site for the next three entries so it is what it is):
 

In the face of threatened delays, Murray brokers compromise to finally deliver health care to Camp Lejeune Veterans and their families

 
Omnibus includes comprehensive health care, housing, homelessness, education and benefits legislation for veterans
 
 
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Wednesday, July 18, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee helped ensure passage of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 by unanimous consent.  This bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive legislation combines provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011(S. 914, Report No. 112-088) and Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011 (H.R. 1627, Report No. 112-084 Part 1), as well as provisions from other Senate and House legislation.  This comprehensive package extends health care to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, expands critical health programs, improves housing programs, enhances programs for homeless veterans, and makes needed improvements to the disability claims system. In the face of threatened delays on the bill, Senator Murray brokered a compromise today that allowed the bill to move forward.
 

"This comprehensive legislation makes improvements to almost every aspect of care and services for veterans, and I am proud of the work my committee put into bringing this omnibus bill together," Senator Murray said following passage of the bill. "This bill will finally provide health care to veterans and family members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, expand eligibility for housing adaptation grants to more seriously injured veterans, and make help for homeless veterans more widely available."

 
Specifically, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 would:
·         Provide health care for certain individuals stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  This bill will extend hospital care and medical services coverage for certain illnesses and conditions to eligible veterans and family members who served on active duty or lived at Camp Lejeune.

·         Expand critical health care programs for veterans.  This bill will authorize VA to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits of veterans, expand beneficiary travel reimbursement for veterans living in highly rural areas, and improve reimbursement for state veterans homes.  In addition, the bill will enhance VA's teleconsultation and telemedicine capabilities to improve rural veterans' access to quality health care, protect veterans from sexual assault and other safety incidents, and expand TBI services. 

·         Enhance Specially Adapted Housing programs for disabled veterans.  This bill expands the eligibility for VA's specially adapted housing assistance grants to certain veterans with disabilities due to the loss or loss of use of one or more lower extremities that preclude ambulating without the aid of a supporting device. Senator Murray recently heard from a veteran who is severely injured with an above the knee amputation and an injury to his hip.  His combination of injuries made it incredibly difficult for him to live comfortably in his home, yet despite his serious injuries and mobility challenges, he did not meet current eligibility criteria for VA's adaptive housing programs to get the benefits that he so critically needed.  Senator Murray wrote a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki asking that eligibility criteria be adjusted accordingly, so that veterans in similar situations can get the benefits they deserve. This bill authorizes increased assistance to those disabled veterans who reside temporarily with family members and indexes levels of such assistance on an annual basis.  The bill also provides adaptive housing assistance grants to veterans with a lesser degree of vision impairment than what is required by current law.

·         Improve efforts to eliminate homelessness among veterans.  This bill will reauthorize a number of VA's programs to help homeless veterans and will expand eligibility for VA's emergency shelter services to include homeless veterans who are not seriously mentally ill.  In addition, the bill enhances grant programs for homeless veterans with special needs, by including dependents of veterans and male veterans with dependent children.  The bill also improves the grant and per diem program, which serves upward of 30,000 homeless veterans annually, by requiring VA to report on how to improve the per diem payment process for grantees.  In addition, the bill strengthens efforts by eligible entities to assist in case management services provided to the nearly 40,000 homeless veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program.

·         Strengthen veterans' benefits and improving claims processing.  This bill will improve VA's disability claims appeal processing by waiving initial review of claimants' new evidence by the agency of original jurisdiction unless specifically requested.  It is estimated that this provision could prevent approximately 1,600 remands from the Board of Veterans' Appeals per year allowing the Board more time to address the backlog of appeals.  Other significant improvements include, improving the process of filing jointly for social security and dependency and indemnity compensation and clarifying the month of death payment provisions to ensure surviving spouses receive proper and timely benefit payments. 

 

  ###

Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

matt_mcalvanah@murray.senate.gov

News Releases | Economic Resource Center | E-Mail Updates


Posted at 06:09 pm by thecommonills
 

US delegation led by Blinken in Iraq meeting with Nouri

US delegation led by Blinken in Iraq meeting with Nouri

Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 8 killed in Iraq yesterday and another five injured. Alsumaria reports that 115 people were arrested in Iraq by security forces yesterday.  As noted yesterday, the mass arrests under Nouri are back.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Nouri al-Maliki is not pleased with comments about him made by the former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq who defected last week and has decided to sue the diplomat.  In no-surprise news, Al Mada reports that State of Law began insisting the ambassador needed to be arrested yesterday.  He's also not pleased with Turkey.  Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) reports
that Nouri is threatening "to take action" if Turkish 'flights' continue -- Razzouk notes that Ali al-Dabbagh (Nouri's spokesperson) was short on details of what 'flights' were being referred to (it's assumed, due to the use of the term "war planes" yesterday that the flights refer to the bombing raids Baghdad has allowed over the KRG).  al-Dabbagh stated that that a formal complaint will be filed with the UN Security Council.  Nouri's also not pleased with the Kurds.  And, with all of this, is it really smart to arm him with F-16s, let alone to rush the order?



Al Mada notes the belief that Nouri's latest war of words is motivated by a desire to punish the KRG over their energy policy which is independent of Baghdad.  They also point out that as the war of words escalate, dialogue gets harder and harder.  Dialogue, of course, being what Nouri claims to currently want as he attempts to circumvent efforts to withdraw confidence from him. 

Al Mada notes Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun al-Damalouji explains that they are going through with their efforts for a vote of no-confidence in Nouri and that they have passed their decision on to Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (who is also a member of Iraqiya).  In another article, they note Nouri's flurry of activity with the Parliament -- including last Thursday's meeting with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  Alsumaria notes that KRG President Massoud Barzani's spokesperson raised the issue yesterday of Nouri's attempts to militarize Iraq society for his own political ends.  AFP adds, "The F-16 deal has raised alarm bells in the northern Kurdistan region, with Barzani saying earlier this year he was opposed to the sale of the warplanes while Maliki was premier, fearing they would be used against Kurdistan."

All Iraq News reveals that Antony Blinken, US Vice President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser, is in Iraq and led a delegation that met with Nouri.

As vast unemployment continues in Iraq and as food prices soar, Al Mada reports that there are accusations in Hilla that food merchants are intentionally introducing small amounts of food to the markets in order to artifically pump up the prices by creating scarcity.  This comes as Babylon Province sees less and less items for sale that can be purchased with ration cards.  True or false, the federal government should be addressing this item though they will most likely ignore it.  If it isn't true, the rumors will still take root because food prices are increasing, ration items are becoming scarce and hunger isn't something people can overlook the way they might endure electricity outages.  So as the hunger and anger builds, even if the rumors are false,  a need to hold someone accountable can build and, if it does, it could leave food merchants targeted.  If the rumors are true, the federal government needs to deal with it (a) to show that it can deal with something, (b) the economy cannot take higher prices (unless Nouri intends to expand the ration card system) and (c) the federal government still has the power to set controls on various aspects of retail within the country.


In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office noted yesterday:



FOR PLANNING PURPOSES
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
 
TOMORROW: Murray to Call on Senate to Pass Veterans Omnibus Legislation
 
Murray will ask for immediate passage of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012
 
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will give a speech on the Senate floor calling for unanimous consent on the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive legislation that combines provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 914, Report No. 112-088) and Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011 (H.R. 1627, Report No. 112-084 Part 1), as well as provisions from other Senate and House legislation. This comprehensive package would extend health care to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, expand critical health programs, improve housing programs for severely disabled veterans, enhance programs for homeless veterans, and make needed improvements to the disability claims system.
 
 
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT: Senator Murray will seek unanimous consent on the passage of important veterans omnibus legislation.
WHEN: TOMORROW: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
11:00 AM ET/ 8:00 AM PST
WHERE: Senate Floor
WATCH: Speech will air live on C-SPAN 2
 
 
###
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
202-224-2834
  




The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


 

Posted at 06:52 am by thecommonills
 


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