Saturday, May 12, 2012

8 men, 1 woman (Whitney's RENEWED! YEA!)

Friday's Talk of the Nation (NPR) had the following guests, Anthony Greenwald, Shawn Otto, John Allen, Verhn Ehlers, Peter Wayner, John Hoffman, Kimberly Repp, Jack Berry and Ollie Gray.

Now for the good news: NBC has renewed the sitcom Whitney.  Notice this LAT piece is just another attack on the show.  They note Up All Night, also renewed, "brought in 3.12 million viewers" with it's finale.  Then they immediately go into this:

Probably the more shocking return will be "Whitney." The comedy, which comes from comedian Whitney Cummings, premiered to nearly 7 million viewers last fall, when it aired on Thursdays. But the show was bumped to Wednesdays and saw its ratings dip. It's finale, which aired in March, brought just over 4 million viewers. It ensures that Cummings' plate will be full: It was recently announced that she would be getting a talk show on the E! network, and she continues to serve as an executive producer on CBS' "Two Broke Girls."
It's "shocking" that Whitney was renewed?  It's natural for Up All Night which got 3.12 million for their finale and for Parks & Recreation (also renewed) with 3.42 million but Whitney gets 4.09 million for its finale and it's the shock?  Really?  The highest rated of the three is the "most shocking return"?

Screw 'em all.

Whitney delivered higher ratings on NBC Thursdays than Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Up All Night.  On Wednesdays, it kicked off the night and managed to be NBC's highest rated Wednesday night show every time.  Whitney proved it can carry its weight. 

I like Up All Night.  I like Parks & Recreation.  But they haven't carried their own weight.

Also, to be real honest, Parks is starting to get on my nerves as Amy courts the Democratic Party.  I'm a Green.  I enjoyed the first seasons of the show.  But this season was all about WHORING for the Democratic Party.  If Parks wants to know why it lost so many viewers this season, it might look to the whoring and Amy & Company's MISTAKEN belief that we watch for their 'spoofs' of current events.  And for a show they portrayed Hugo Chavez as a dictator, it's rather shocking that they now suddenly see themselves as 'left' just because they're WHORING for the Democratic Party.

The debate episode was supposedly a spoof of the Republican debates.  The so-called "birthers" were supposedly spoofed in another episode.   I didn't need any of that crap and judging by the way ratings SUNK this season, I'd guess others didn't either.

Season 3 started off with over 6 million viewers.  Season 4 (the current season) ended with 3.42.  Over half the audience is gone.

They may want to ask themselves why that is?

The answer should be that we watched the show for the funny.  We didn't watch it to see it WHORE for the Democratic Party.  Equally true, Rob Lowe has been annoying from day one.  And if there was a reason to give Leslie a new guy, I couldn't find it in season four which really just made me miss Mark all the more (early love interest for Leslie).

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


Friday, May 11, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Republicans want to know why a man who allegedlly killed 5 US service members has had his charges dismissed by an Iraqi court, the political crisis continues with all kinds of whispers about who might replace Nouri al-Maliki, the US State Dept gets 'creative' in court, the numbers don't lie and the White House has done nothing to help Iraqi refugees (that's ones who helped American forces and all others as well), Martin Kobler attempts to mislead therby shaming himself and the United Nations, violence has claimed nearly 1400 lives in Iraq since the start of the year, and more.
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "An Iraqi court has cleared a Lebanese militant once held by U.S. forces in the deaths of five U.S. soldiers, saying there wasn't enough evidence against him, an official with Iraq's judicial council told CNN."  His case is being appealed.  He was in US custody as were others said to be responsible for the 5 deaths.  But the White House began making deals for their release in 2009.  From June 9, 2009:




This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

At the end of 2011,  Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported on the US handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqis:


He was transferred to Iraqi custody after the Obama administration "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," according to Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.

This week, Jack Healy and Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported, "Although military officials said he confessed freely and that his interrogation had not included any harsh techniques, his statements to American military interrogators would probably be deemed inadmissible in Iraqi court.  But the Obama administration had hoped that he would instead face charges of illegally entering Iraq, a crime that could result in a 10-year prison sentence." Law professor Robert Chesney offered Tuesday, "But recall that the charge was expected to be no more than a claim that Daqduq had been in the country illegally.  In that case, it is very hard to see how in the world there was not sufficient evidence to support the prosecution.  Unless of course he was not in the country illegally after all.  If the latter turns out to be the case, then it raises a serious question about the due diligence performed at the time of Daqduq's transfer to Iraqi custody, and helps me better appreciate why McKeon's NDAA bill includes what I've called the Daqduq rule."  The Wall St. Journal editorial board noted yesterday that the illegal entry and other charges were tossed out by the Iraqi court.  The Republican Senators serving on the US Senate Judiciary Committee registered their objection yesterday:
May 10, 2012

Via Electronic Transmission

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.                    The Honorable Leon Panetta
Attorney General                                             Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Justice                              Department of Defense
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.                      Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20530                                 Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretary Panetta:

According to a report in the New York Times on May 7, 2012, an Iraqi court has ordered the release of Ali Musa Daqduq.  Daqduq is a senior Hezbollah field commander who allegedly orchestrated a kidnapping that resulted in the deaths of five U. S. soldiers in Karbala, Iraq in 2007.  He also has close ties with Iran's Qods Force, including training its fighters in the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) and other insurgent tactics employed against U.S. troops.  Daqduq had been in U.S. military custody until the United States turned him over to Iraqi authorities upon exiting Iraq in December 2011.

According to another report in the New York Times earlier this year, Daqduq has been charged with war crimes, including murder, terrorism, and espionage, before a U.S. military commission.  However, those charges were not made public until the New York Times obtained a copy of the charging document.   In fact, it appears that the Administration knew it was going to pursue charges against Daqduq, waited until he was released to Iraq, and then filed the charges, but failed to keep Congress apprised of its plans.
      
We have expressed a keen interest in Daqduq and in the Administration's plans for him.  In May 2011, Attorney General Holder appeared before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Committee) and was specifically asked about prosecution plans for Daqduq.  We followed up with a letter to Attorney General Holder on May 16, 2011, again expressing concerns about, and interest in, how the Administration was going to prosecute Daqduq.  On July 29, 2011, another letter was sent to Secretary Panetta, seeking information about issues relating to Daqduq held by the Department of Defense.  Finally, on August 8, 2011, the Department of Justice responded through a letter from Ronald Weich that indicated the "ultimate disposition of this matter is under consideration by an interagency process that includes . . . the Department of Justice."

Subsequently, Administration officials briefed Congress about Daqduq's imminent release into Iraqi custody.  Yet, they never mentioned that the Administration was considering charges, which were filed approximately two weeks later.  Eight pages of charges, surely involving classified materials or evidence, would require more than two weeks to review, organize, and approve.  This appears to indicate that either the Administration was purposefully withholding information from Congress or it had not done the due diligence required to file charges in a serious case against a dangerous terrorist.  Furthermore, in the future, when the Administration claims that it is aggressively pursuing Daqduq, it will sound disingenuous since we know that he was only charged after he was released to another country.  If the Administration was serious in pursuing Daqduq, officials had many years when they could have brought charges against him, yet the Administration waited until he was not available to prosecute.

Now an Iraqi court has cleared Daqduq of any criminal charges under Iraqi law and, as we and many other observers had feared, may be set free without being held to account for his crimes against the United States and its soldiers.  As it appears Daqduq is on the verge of escaping justice, we again ask for information about the Administration's plans for dealing with this situation.

Accordingly, provide the following information:

•    A copy of the military commission charging document filed against Daqduq;
•    A list of who was involved in this decision and who was the final decision-maker;
•    An explanation of when, if at all, the families of his U.S. victims were consulted about his prosecution;
•    An explanation of whether Daqduq has been notified of the U.S. charges against him;
•    A description of which components in the Administration have been, currently are, or expect to be involved in the Daqduq matter;
•    A description of efforts to have Daqduq transferred into U.S. custody after he was charged, including whether any formal extradition request was made to the Iraqi government;
•    A description of any conditions (such as transfer to a civilian court) required by the Iraqi government for extraditing Daqduq and the U.S. response to those conditions;
•    An explanation of where Daqduq is expected to be held, if he were transferred into U.S. custody;
•    A description of charges against Daqduq from any other country of which the Administration is aware;
•    A description of whether and how the Administration assisted in Daqduq's prosecution by the Iraqi government;
•    An explanation of why briefers from the Administration failed to indicate that criminal charges were prepared but not presented to a military commission prior to turning Daqduq over to the Iraqi government.
•    An assessment of why the Iraqi prosecution of Daqduq failed, including any problems with the Iraqi court's willingness or capability to consider valid evidence provided by the United States, such as forensic evidence and statements made while in U.S. custody;
•    A description of options the Administration is considering for next steps in the handling of Daqduq's case; and,
•    A description of Administration discussions with the Iraqi government about next steps in the handling of Daqduq's case.

Given the serious consequences that could result from Daqduq's release from Iraqi custody and the important issues raised regarding future decisions to turn over detainees to foreign governments, we appreciate your response no later than May 25, 2012.

Sincerely,
Chuck Grassley
Orrin G. Hatch
Jon Kyl
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
John Cornyn
Micheal S. Lee
Tom Coburn
Now to the US Embassy in Baghdad. 

Darrell Mueller
My good friend and Interpreter for 12 months has been waiting over 13 months for the "administrative processing" to run it's course after his interview in March of 2011 and I have been told by homeland security that this "processing" has be...See More


Noor AlHassani dears who working at U.S. Embassy Baghdad pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeee answer above question from @darrell mueller beacuse there are many people same case
It's 8 days since Mueller left the comment and you'll quickly notice that the Embassy hasn't rushed to add a response.  Near the end of last month, Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) quoted US Vice President Joe Biden's national security Adviser Antony Blinken stating of Iraqis who had helped the US, "We owe these people.  We have a debt to these people. They put their lives on the line for the United States."  But Rubin pointed out, "Consider this: In 2008, Congress mandated 25,000 special immigrant visas (known as SIVs) for Iraqis who helped us over a period of five years; fewer than 4,500 have been issued. According to State Department figures, 719 were granted in fiscal 2011 and 569 during the first six months of fiscal 2012. No breakthrough yet."  And the situation is much worse when you look at all Iraqi refugees being admitted to the US. 
These figures cover Fiscal Years.  October 1st 2008 was the start of Fiscal Year 2009.  So that year includes four months when Barack Obama is not president (October, November, December and the bulk of January).  Fiscal Year 2009 saw the US admit a total of 18,838 Iraqis.  Fiscal Year 2010 (October 2009 through September 2010) saw the US drop that number slightly to 18,016.  Fiscal Year 2011 saw an even more dramatic drop with only 9,388 Iraqi refugees admitted to the US.  So far in Fiscal Year 2012, the US has admitted only 2,501 Iraqi refugees (that figure is through March 31, 2012). While the number of Iraqis admitted has dramtically decreased, the number of Iraqis being referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program has not seen a corresponding dramatic decrease.  (2009 was the year with the highest number of Iraqis applying for admission with 49,276; 2010 saw 46,472 and 2011 saw 39,878.)
The political crisis has become as consistent as the violence and both are now a part of daily life.  Alsumaria reports that Moqtada al-Sadr declared yesterday that the Parliament should be dissolved and early elections held to address the crisis and that Nouri was asserting himself as a dictator.  Earlier (May 6th), MP Hassan Sinead of Nouri's State of Law had also declared the Parliament should be dissolved and new elections held.  Al Mada adds that Iraqiya's Adnan al-Janabi has also declared that early elections should be held. 

Meanwhile Alsumaria reprorts Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with the leader of the National Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, today and issued a statement saying that they identified problems and discussed appropriate solutions that could strenghten all parties and exclude any of the participants.   The article notes that Iraq has seen the crisis grow from a split between State of Law on one side and Iraqiya, the Kurds and Moqtada's bloc on the other and now involves all the players.  Ibrahim al-Jaafari was discussed as a potential replacement for Nouri at the April 28th Erbil meet-up attended by Talabani, Moqtada, Ayad Allawi, KRG President Massoud Barzani and Speaker of Parlaiment Osama al-Nujaifi. Dar Addustour notes that an unnamed member of the National Alliance is denying that they are supporting Adel Abdul-Mahdi to be the next prime minister -- or that he or Baqir al-Jibrazubayda have the backing of Turkey or the US.  Adel Abdul-Mahdi has long wanted to be prime minister and came close many times. He is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.  He was one of Iraq's two vice presidents during Nouri al-Maliki's first term -- Tareq al-Hashemi was the other.  He and al-Hashemi were named vice presidents for a second term in November 2010.  Later a third vice president was named.  Iraq dropped back down to two vice presidents after the national protests and Nouri's promise to meet the demands and to address corruption in 100 days.  When Nouri failed to do so, Adel Abudl-Mahdi announced he was resigning and cited the government's inability to address the needs of the people or the corruption.


Since December 21st, Talabani and al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to resolve the political crisis.  Alsmuria reports the two men met today and discussed the latest developments in the political crisis "the country has witnessed for a long time."  Nouri al-Maliki stalled on the national conference in January and February, throwing one road block up after another such as who would attend, who wouldn't, what it would be called, etc.  In March, Nouri began stating that it couldn't be held that month because of the Arab League Summit at the end of March.  Talabani declared that the national conference would be held April 5th and then Nouri began echoing that; however, April 4th it was announced that the conference was being called off.

Marwan Kabalan (Gulf News) offers this take on the political crisis:



Al Maliki may have strong political ambitions of his own, but his actions clearly align with Iran's strategic interest in consolidating Shiite control in Iraq. With Iran emerging as the most influential foreign power in Iraqi politics, Sunni Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, fear that Iran might just be about to reshape the political map of the region in its favour. This will force them to do whatever it takes to prevent this probability. Al Maliki's sectarian policies along with the increasing polarisation between the two banks of the Gulf -- Arab and Persian -- Iraq might very well slide back to a full-fledged civil war that would be incomparable with the 2006-2007conflict.


Al Mada quotes Kuristan Alliance MP Shawn Mohammed Taha stating that those who disagree with Nouri will quickly discover that there are charges against them and that Nouri intends to take out political rivals by having them arrested.  Alsumaria reports on rumors swirling around Baghdad that the National Dialogue Front will be splitting from Iraqiya and joining Nouri's State of Law.  Saleh al-Mutlaq is the leader of the National Dialogue Front.  Yes, he is the Deputy Prime Minister (one of three) that Nouri's been trying to strip of his post after al-Mutlaq told CNN that Nouri was becoming a dictator. 
Saturday the US State Dept issued the following statement :
Today, the fifth convoy of approximately 400 Camp Ashraf residents safely arrived at Camp Hurriya.  The United States welcomes the continued cooperation of the Government of Iraq and the residents of Camp Ashraf with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq to complete the relocation process, as set forth in the December 25, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq.  The United States appreciates the extensive resources expended by the Government of Iraq to provide for the residents' safe relocation, and calls for continued adherence to the commitments in the MOU, especially those which provide for the safety, security, and humanitarian treatment of the residents. 
With over half of the initial resident population now relocated to Camp Hurriya, the United States will be able to increase its focus on the safe relocation of the residents from Camp Hurriya out of Iraq.  We join the call of the United Nations to member states to assist in the permanent relocation of eligible residents from Iraq. 
To do its part, the United States has informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other governments that we are willing to consider referrals of some individuals from the UNHCR.  These referrals will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, consistent with applicable U.S. law.  We urge our friends and partners in the international community to step forward and help achieve a humanitarian resolution.
Camp Ashraf is a place where Iranian dissidents set up shop -- with the Iraqi government's permission -- long before the 2003 US-invasion.  When the US invaded, they gave protected persons status to the residents.  But that's meant nothing since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president because Nouri's forces have twice launched major attacks on Camp Ashraf.  Residents who would like to leave Iraq have had to deal with the fact that the US government has classified them as terrorists.  That classification makes it very difficult for countries to admit Camp Ashraf residents.  The status is one that a US federal court has ordered the State Dept to review . . . two years ago.  Ken Maginnis sits in the United Kingdom's House of Lords and, at Huffington Post UK, he reports today:
This week, at a federal court hearing about the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, we witnessed the State Department turn Justice on its head. Despite the public testimony of their own military commanders it was prepared to employ a brazen and blatant lie in order to keep the MEK listed as a foreign terror group (FTO).
Throughout the hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Robert Loeb, the lawyer who represented Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, referred to the dissidents' home at Camp Ashraf as a "paramilitary base". He went further by saying the U.S. government has no way of knowing that the MEK is not a terror group since its members have never allowed a thorough inspection of the 15-square-mile Camp Ashraf. "They say that they have turned over a new leaf, but that has never been verified by the US military," Mr Loeb said.
This claim is so far from the truth that it undermines the very concept of Justice. That because, sitting in the very courtroom were at least two US military chiefs who had done exactly that - inspected Camp Ashraf, searched it with a fine tooth comb, and concluded that its people were not terrorists.
Brig. Gen. David Phillips and Col. Wesley Martin, who took charge of Ashraf after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, could only look at each other in disbelief.
Does the US government ever get charged with perjury these days?  CNN adds:
Viet Dinh, a former Justice Department lawyer representing the MEK, said the group no longer poses a military threat because the U.S. Army peacefully disarmed the group after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The U.S. government treated MEK members as protected people under international law until the U.S. turned over responsibility to the Iraqi government.
Dinh told the court the State Department's delay in making a decision is a violation of MEK's due process rights, and liberties granted under the U.S. Constitution.
"The secretary has recognized (MEK's) renunciation of violence and is legally bound to delist the organization," Dinh wrote in a filing in February." She cannot pocket veto (MEK's) application for revocation of its terrorist status."
The MEK enjoys the support of prominent high-ranking officials from past Democratic and Republican administrations who speak out against the group's continued presence on the terror list.
And Democratic and Republican members of Congress also speak out against the continued classification of Camp Ashraf residents as terrorists -- this includes the entire Senate Armed Service Committee.  Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) maintains, "Mrs. Clinton will decide on removing the MEK from the list no later than 60 days after Camp Ashraf has been vacated, and data gathered from the relocation has been studied to verify the group's claims that it is not a terror group, Mr. Loeb said."  However, that's not accurate.  The sixty days is a projection, it's not a promise and Loeb stated in court that information may result from a search of the then-empty Camp Ashraf that could delay any decision by Hillary on the issue beyond the 60 days.  How far beyond the sixty days?  Loeb didn't have specific numbers.  This is among the reasons Dinh made the argument that the residents want a decision even if it's a decision against them because they can appeal that.  The limbo status that they've been in for two years now is something very different.   Today the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Iraq Martin Kobler declared, "The main challenge will be to find resettlement countries -- third countries where those people who are then recognized as refugees can re-locate."
Kobler also attempted to spin the violence today insisting 600 people died this year.  Pay a little closer attention and you realize he's just talking about Baghdad.  Since the UN's supposedly concerned with all of Iraq, Kobler's little stunt is pretty offensive.  Iraq Body Count not only notes 55 dead so far this month, they noted 290 dead for the month of April, 295 for the month of March,  278 for the month of February and 458 for the month of January.  That's 1376 reported deaths from violence in Iraq since the start of the year.  That's twice as many as "600."  Again, Kobler was being deliberately misleading.  When the United Nations whores what people remember are the rapes by UN peace keepers (many, many times, but try these two who raped a 14-year-old boy in Haiti), the times the UN did nothing while countries were attacked (Iraq for starters -- and then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the Iraq War illegal) and so much more.  Kobler didn't just make himself into a cheap whore with that little stunt, he reminded everyone of just how flawed -- some would say criminal -- the United Nations can be.  A far more realistic picture on the continued violence came not from Kobler but from a business decision.  Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports, "Mobile phone operator Asiacell has closed its offices in the Iraqi city of Mosul, an al Qaeda stronghold, after attacks and threats by militants, security officials and employees said this week."
Now no more smiling mid-crestfall
No more managing unmanageables
No more holding still in the hailstorm
Now enter your watchwoman
-- "Guardian," written by Alanis Morissette, from her Havoc and Bright Lights due out August 28th; "Guardian" is available for download this Tuesday and she'll be performing it Tuesday night on ABC's Dancing With The Stars.

I had hoped to include some of US House Rep Timothy Waltz's questions from Tuesday's hearing.  We may do that in a snapshot early next week.  But veterans and family members of veterans in this community asked if we could include all of the points (from this morning) regarding the issue of the Veterans Administration's huge backlog.  Mattihias Gafni (Contra Costa Times via Stars and Stripes) reports:


Veterans wait nearly a year on average for their disability claims to get processed at the Oakland, Calif., regional center, according to a highly critical federal report released Thursday, leading one congressman to call the facility a bureaucratic "black hole."The Oakland office, which processes benefits claims for veterans from Bakersfield, Calif., north to the Oregon border, had almost 32,500 claims pending an average of 269 days - 89 days longer than the national target time - when the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general visited in December. As of April, the wait for veterans had increased to 320 average days pending.

This is not the wait time issue that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on April 25th or that the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on this week.  The issue here is the VA claims processing and the VA's offered tons and tons of excuses over the last years.  They've told Congress it had to do with equipment issues (computers and computer programs -- "IT" problems, that was an especially popular excuse in 2009) and staffing.  In the last years, they've repeatedly insisted that hiring more people wouldn't actually help them because new hires would require training and that would create further delays.  For that argument to be valid, the only ones who can train new claims processors are those people who are claims processors.  Apparently supervisors don't know how to do the job that those they supervise do.

In addition to the claim, the VA's also had to note that production has become an issue.  They have more claims processors than they did in 2005 but the larger number of personnel has coincided with a decrease in the number of claims processed.  So while personnel has increased, productivity has decreased.   And before you think this is because of new veterans being created by today's wars, that's not the case.  Some of these claims have lingered and lingered.  For one example, let's drop back to a February 28th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing:

Ranking Member Bob Filner: We got several hundred thousand claims for Agent Orange in our backlog. How long have they been fighting it? Thirty, forty years. People get sicker fighting the bureaucracy than they did with the Agent Orange. So you know what we ought to do -- aside from greatly expanding eligibility to boots on the ground, to the blue waters, to the blue skies and Thailand and Cambodia and Laos and Guam? We ought to honor those Agent Orange claims today. You know, let's give people the peace that they deserve. Let's give you finally some closure here. And, you know, they're telling us, "It costs too much." I don't know if it's a billion dollars or two billion dollars. I don't care what it is frankly. You don't think we owe it to you? We owe it to you. 


Among the Congress members calling out the backlog for years now are US House Rep Bob Filner, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Senator Richard Burr (Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Daniel Akaka (former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) and US House Rep Phil Roe.  They have consistently attempted to make sense of this problem and why it is just not dealt with year after year.  We're dropping back to a February 15th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki offered testimony.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I just want to ask a couple -- focus on a couple areas that I've been involved with over the years. One is the claims backlog.  In your budget presentation ou title it "Eliminate The Claims Backlog." But I don't see any real estimate or projection or anything of when you think you're going to do that but I still think that -- in the short run, at least -- to get this turned around your notion of -- I think you used the word "brute force" a few years ago, if I recall that.

Secretary Eric Shinseki: It was probably a poor choice of words.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: No, it's okay. It was good. Gives me something to shoot at, you know? I don't think it's going to work.  I just think all this stuff you have is good stuff but it's too big and, as you point out, there's all kind of factors making it bigger.  I still think you have to take some, I'll say, radical step in the short run -- whether it's to grant all the Agent Orange claims that have been submitted or have been there for X number of years or, as I've suggested at other times, all claims that have the medical information in it and have been submitted with the help of a Veterans Service Officer you accept subject to audit. That is, unless you take some real radical step to eliminate a million of them or 500,000 of them, you're never going to get there. It's going to always be there.  You don't want that as your legacy -- I don't think.  So -- Nor do we.  I think you're going to have to take some really strong steps in terms of accepting stuff that's been in the pipeline a long time, again, that has adequate -- by whatever definition -- documentation and help from professional support. Plus this incredible situation of Agent Orange where, as you know, not only have those claims increaded but we're talking about -- as you well know -- your comrades for thirty or more years that have been wrestling with this.  Let's give the Vietnam vets some peace. Let's give them a real welcome home. Let's grant those Agent Orange claims.  Let's get those -- whatever it is, 100,000 or 200,000  of our backlog -- just get them off the books.  I don't know if you want to comment on that but I still think you're never going to get there with -- All this is good stuff.  We've talked about it on many occasions.  But it's not going to fundamentally -- or at least in the short run change it around so you can get to a base  level of zero or whatever you want to be and move forward from there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Mr. Filner, I'll call on Secretary Hickey for the final details but we've pretty much worked through the Agent Orange -- the increase in Agent Orange claims. I think we're well down on the numbers. I'll rely on her statistic here.


And, of course, despite that claim, the numbers weren't down and that's why, weeks later (as we noted in the first Congressional excerpt), US House Rep Filner would be bringing up the issue of claims processing regarding Agent Orange again.

Here's something to consider: What if service members were as slow to process orders from command as the VA is to process the claims of veterans?

On the issue of wait time and mental health care, the editorial board of  Florida's TCPalm.com concludes, "The VA must do a better job than it has been doing in dealing with the very real mental health needs of those who have given so much to this country."  That's true of the wait time and it's also true of the claims processing.
Lastly, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (Senator Patty Murray is the Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member) announces that a hearing scheduled for May 16th has been re-scheduled for May 23rd.
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: May 11, 2012
*Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10am Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 562
 
Hearing: Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System
 
*NOTE: This hearing has been rescheduled from its originally announced date of May 16, 2012.
 
 
Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk / System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
202-224-9126

Thursday, May 10, 2012

3 men, 1 woman

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Chris and Lisa Farris, Quinn Zimmerman and Bill Bradley.

Meanwhile big news on the Mayan calendar.  If you aren't familiar, the Mayan calendar is supposed to run out this year.  And that's huge.  Whether you think the calendar running out means something or not, the fact that all these years ago, all these centuries ago, a group of people (the Mayans) were able to create a calendar and create one that lasted all of these years.

Fox Latin News reports today's news, "A team of U.S. archaeologists announced Thursday the discovery of the oldest Mayan calendar to date, a ninth-century artifact amid the ruins of an ancient city in Guatemala."  Bloomberg News adds:



A 1,000-year-old house in Guatemala, its interior adorned with paintings of people, numbers and astronomical symbols, has yielded the earliest known Mayan calendar ever found, archaeologists said.
The mural, covering three walls and a ceiling, is also the first Mayan art discovered in a building thought to be a house, according to the report, published in the journal Science.
The researchers believe dates on the walls represent astronomical cycles of Mars, Venus, and lunar eclipses for 7,000 years. That suggests Mayans had computed the sky’s events hundreds of years before their now-famous Codices, the hieroglyphic manuscripts that record the civilization’s history and chronicles. The oldest of the codices was written about 1300, according to the report. 



The astronomical tables (“lunar glyphs”) were found on partially exposed walls from a well-looted site called the Xultan. The Xultan ruins are located in northern Guatemala near the borders of Mexico and Belize. An undergraduate student working with the team had noticed the remnants of a mural on a partially expose wall which then prompted excavation of the entire room. Three of the uncovered walls showed Mayan artwork (figurative paintings) and writings (glyphs and numerals)
Examining the partially deteriorated paintings, archeologists noticed what appeared to be lunar tables, leading them to believe that the numbers had an astronomical purpose. This would seem to have been a logical deduction given the famed and highly accurate astronomical calendrics of the Mayan civilization.


The astronomical tables (“lunar glyphs”) were found on partially exposed walls from a well-looted site called the Xultan. The Xultan ruins are located in northern Guatemala near the borders of Mexico and Belize. An undergraduate student working with the team had noticed the remnants of a mural on a partially expose wall which then prompted excavation of the entire room. Three of the uncovered walls showed Mayan artwork (figurative paintings) and writings (glyphs and numerals)
Examining the partially deteriorated paintings, archeologists noticed what appeared to be lunar tables, leading them to believe that the numbers had an astronomical purpose. This would seem to have been a logical deduction given the famed and highly accurate astronomical calendrics of the Mayan civilization.
 

I find it very interesting.

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


Thursday, May 10, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Nouri has plenty of money to spend on some things (none apparently on basic services), Nouri targets academia again, the political crisis continues, a meet-up excludes Nouri, Josh Rogin expose the White House spin on the release of a prisoner suspected of killing 5 US service members, and more.
 
 
Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq still can't provide more than six hours of electricity a day or potable water in most parts of the country but Al Mada reports the government has announced they will spend $50 million over the next three years to launch a satellite into space.   According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Communications' Amir al-Bayati the government seems to see itself in a satellite competition with Israel.  While Nouri frets over satellites, he still can't provide needed sanitation.  Alsumaria reports that a Karbala garbge dump borders residential areas resulting in people being exposed to waste and fumes and to disease and germs.  Dr. Ahmed Haidari states he is seeing respiratory issues -- including some breathing problems -- as well as skin and eye issues.  Residents complain that the smell is akin to that of rotting corpses.  As Michael Peel (Financial Times of London) observes, "Iraq's economic story after more than four decades of dictatorship and almost nine years of US occupation is a contradictory one of oil boom heavy debts and chronic problems with basic services."
 
 
Meanwhile Kitabat reports on an art exhibit in Amman, Jordan which focuses on Iraqi refugees and how the International Organization for Migration's Mike Bellinger hopes the exhibit will bring attention to the continued Iraqi refugee crisis. The Iraq War created the largest refugee crisis in the MidEast since 1948. Millions have been displaced internally, millions have left the country. Concerns over the crisis really began with the ethnic cleansing of 2006 and 2007; however, the term "brain drain" had already been in use for years by then and referred to the Iraqi professionals who fled the country due to direct threats as well as the violence. This resulted in what Dr. Souad al-Azzawi (Beyond Educide) has termed "educide" ("a composite of education and genocide to refer to the genocide of the educated segments of the Iraqi society") and Dr. al-Azzawi notes:
 
 
During the American occupation of Iraq, well-trained professors, often graduates of highly qualified American or European universities, were replaced by pro-occupation young freshly graduated faculty members. This policy is pursued with grimness by the current puppet government. Educide is still going on.
The minister of high education Ali Aladeeb turned the Iraqi universities into sectarian show-offs. No real attendance of classes, no real learning and teaching processes, and no real scientific advancements. All what he cares about is turning Iraqi universities and youth into sectarian institutes that look like Iranian regime revolutionaries.
 
 
And it continues. Dr. Souad al-Azzawi (Beyond Educide) explains last week Nouri ordered the arrest of Baghdad College of Economical Sciences' Professor Muhammad Taqa who has been in his post since 1996 and is widely published and the author of six books. Professor Taqa was born in Mosul in 1948, received his doctorate in economics in Germany and is a member of the Iraqi Economics Society and the Union of Arab Economists. All Iraqi News notes that the political movement Iraqiya has decried the arrest and quotes spokesperson Khadija al-Wa'ily stating, "The Movement warned from the arbitrary arrests according to malicious charges which means that the democracy is no longer available and replaced by the dictatorship. The Professor, Mohammed Taqa was arrested by a military force which is considered as evidence on the governmental terrorism where the terrorists must be arrested rather than the national figures such as Taqa." Azzaman reports that "both students and legislators" have protested the arrest and the news outlet notes, "No reasons are given for the arrest and the security forces who stormed his office are declining comments." MP Abdudhiyab al-Ujaili heads Parliament's Higher Education Commission and he notes, "The arrest of Professor Taqa is a slap in the face of our efforts to persuade academics who fled the country to return home. There was even no warrant or order by the judicial authorities to carry out the arrest."  Today at Beyond Educide, an Iraqi professor explains how the academic system is being destroyed by the government:
 
 
The most important indications of the higher education collapse could be generally summarized as follows:
1- The most significant indication is assigning the Ministry of Higher Education to a person who has no academic qualifications, whose feet never stepped in campus, only after he was appointed as a minister. This appointment was not based on any skill or efficiency, rather on being a member of the governing political party, and on his Iranian origin (his mother for example does not speak Arabic), and on being Shiite. Of course there is nothing wrong with being of this or that origin, or being from this or that sectarian group, but this identity has become an exclusive passport for anyone to assume any (high) position, especially for none Iraqis.
2- Academic, scientific and administrative positions in public universities are assigned and shared according to sectarian affiliations, not expertise or efficiency. All the universities' presidents and faculties' deans are from a specific sectarian group; and their academic and administrative assistants are from other group in order to achieve a supposedly balanced share in power positions. Thus the criterion for appointment is not academic, but exclusively sectarian.
3- Admissions in universities are again based on sectarian affiliation, especially in post graduate studies. Norms of admission that are based on academic record are totally neglected, and exceptions have become the rule. In addition to that, channels of admission are numerous now: seats for political prisoners of the previous regime, seats for families of the martyrs(1) , seats for graduates of religious schools in Iran, seats for deserters during the Iraqi-Iranian war who sought refuge in Iran (the latter were rewarded pieces of land and 10 million Iraqi dinars- more than $10.000). What remains of seats are assigned to what is called "special" admission, which means those who pay higher and who are admitted outside the rules that are based on academic record. What remains of seats, if at all, are assigned to "real" students who compete on honest rules of marks and academic reports. The result of all these discriminations is that opportunities are given to those who do not deserve them, and are normally not interested in academic research, while serious students are deprived.
4- There is also a familiar criterion now, which is (exception from rules) in other areas, apart from the exceptional admission. For example: transfer from one university to another, or transfer from one specialization to another(2) . To explain this point I tell you the following story that took place to me personally: A person came to me asking that his nephew be transferred from X University to another one. I apologized saying that: we all know that this is impossible, because transferring a student from (an academically) lesser to a higher university is not allowed according to the rules, and advised him to look for another college that admits his nephew's academic degree (marks). Few days later, the uncle came back to me saying (sarcastically): "so you are a well known professor but you could not do such a 'small' thing. I told the butcher in our neighborhood about this story, and he just made a call by his mobile, and my nephew is immediately transferred to the college of Administration and Economics". May be this story can tell about the collapse of the whole system.
5- The public universities are "distributed" between the political parties who control, make decisions and admit students in them. Baghdad University for example is allocated to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, while Al-Mustansiriah U. is allocated to the Sadr Group. The Nehrein U. (which was one of the most prestigious academic institutions) is allocated to Al-Da'wa party that totally destroyed it.
 
 
Those are five of 14 examples.  And so it goes in Nouri's Iraq, where everything crumbles and collapses including justice -- even if so many Western outlets 'forget' to inform the world of what's taking place.  Kitabat reports that the trial against Tareq al-Hashemi that was supposed to start last Thursday but was then postponed to this Thursday has been postponed to next Tuesday.  This delay is said to be due to an appeal Hashemi's attorneys have filed to move the case from the Criminal Court to the Federal Court.  Currently al-Hashemi is in Turkey.  Al Rafidayn notes that he has the support of the Turkish government.  Alsumaria reports that a number of Iraqi politicians and triabal leaders protested outside the Turksih consulate to lodge their demand that Turkey hand Tareq al-Hashemi over to Baghdad.  That's not at all surprising or reflective of anything.  In the 2010 elections, with over 800,000 voters, Basra awarded almost two-thirds of their seats (14) to Nouri's State of Law (al-Hashemi's Iraqiya won only 3 seats in the province).  The Journal of Turkish Weekly quotes Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating, "We gave him all kinds of support on this issue and we will continue to do so."  Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag is quoted stating, "We would not hand in someone who we support."  Press TV reports Nouri "lashed out at his Turkish counterpart, saying Erdogan's remarks did not show 'mutual respect'."  Nouri's not thrilled with Turkey's response to the red alert so he took time out from terrorizing academics to make a little statement.    
 
The Journal of Turkish Weekly actually explains the INTERPOL Red Notice posted about Tareq al-Hashemi, "Sources said that red notices were based on national warrants, and published at the request of a member state as long as the request did not violate Interpol regulations.  Sources noted that red bulletin was not an international warrant of arrest, adding that there was not a certain verdict about al-Hashemi.  Sources stressed that al-Hashemi was still the vice president of Iraq and he had diplomatic immunity." 
 
Al Mada reports that the National Alliance held a meeting yesterday that they self-described as important and that they state was part of their efforts to resolve the country's political crisis; however, State of Law was not invited to the meet-up.  The National Alliance is a Shi'ite grouping.  Among the members are the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (Ammar al-Hakim is the leader), Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the National Reform Trend (Ibrahim al-Jaafari is the leader), the Bard Organization (Hadi al-Amir is the leader) and the Iraqi National Congress (led by Ahmed Chalabi).  The National Alliance backed Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister in 2010.  Nouri's political slate was State of Law.  It came in second in the March 2010 elections.  Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first.  Eight months of gridlock followed those elections (Political Stalemate I) as a result of Nouri refusing to honor the Constitution and his belief that -- with the backing of Iran and the White House -- he could bulldoze his way into a second term. The Erbil Agreement allowed Political Stalemate I to end.  Nouri's refusal to honor the agreement created the ongoing Political Stalemate II.  Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) notes the events since mid-December as well as what kicked off Political Stalemate II:

Within days of the official ceremonies marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position, triggering a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocractic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements.  Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi'i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.
But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence.  The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed.  The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous power comparable to Kurdistan's are putting increasing pressure on the central government.  Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.


The Erbil Agreement allowed Nouri to have a second term as prime minister.  That was a concession other political blocs made.  In exchange, Nouri made concessions as well.  These were written up and signed off on.  But once Nouri got his second term, he refused to honor the Erbil Agreement.  Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.  Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr joined that call.  As last month drew to a close, there was a big meet-up in Erbil with various political blocs participating.  Nouri al-Maliki was not invited.  Among those attending were KRG President Massoud Barzani, Ayad Allawi, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  Since December 21st, Talabani and al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national convention to resolve the political crisis.

Nouri spent the first two months dismissing the need for one, arguing that it shouldn't include everyone, arguing about what it was called, saying it should just be the three presidencies -- that would Jalal Talabani, Nouri al-Maliki and Osama al-Nujaifi -- and offering many more road blocs.  As March began, Nouri's new excuse was that it had to wait until after the Arab League Summit (March 29th).  The weekend before the summit, Talabani forced the issue by announcing that the convention would be held April 5th.  Nouri quickly began echoing that publicly.  However, April 4th it was announced the conference was off.  Nouri's State of Law took to the press to note how glad they were about that.

Today, Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki is stating that a national meet-up is necessary to resolve the issues and that this cannot be done via backdoor deals or under the table agreements.  He declared the Constitution dead and said that it needs to be revived.  He also argues that he is all for a meet up but others have something to hide and they are attempting to prevent a meeting.  Nouri also claims that he is looking for a real partnership.
 
 
 
Earlier this week, Nouri al-Maliki announced that every home in Iraq could have one pistol or one rifle.  Alsumaria reports that State of Law MP Shirwan Waeli is questioning the wisdom of the decision and stating State of Law shouldn't be giving legitimacy to arming people and that, futhermore, it suggests that the government is unable to protect Iraqis so it is now the direct responsibility of the citizens to protect themselves.  Supporters argue that the move was an attempt to limit guns and that the one-gun rule will greatly reduce the number of firearms in each home. Alsumaria notes that objections to Nouri's one-gun policy are also coming from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Kurdistan Alliance.  Ala Talabani, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Alliance, spoke publicly today about the issue and declared that they fear making each household register their one gun with the nearest police station in their areas will provide temptation for corruption.  Talabani also states that they fear the rule could lead to an increase in so-called 'honor' killings as well as an increase in domestic violence. 
 
In today's reported violence, AFP reports that 7 corpses were discovered between Fallujah and Ramadi ("all handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head").
 
In Mosul, Alsumaria reports, a woman who had issues with her husband has turned up dead and the assertion is that she hanged herself however an autopsy is being performed and no official cause of death has yet been declared.
 
 
 
 
Turning to the US, Tuesday the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on mental health care staffing.  
 
Joy Ilem:  We must stress the urgency of this commitment.  Sadly, we have learned from our experiences in other wars, notably in the post-Vietnam period, that psychological reactions to combat exposure are not unusual:  they are common.  If they are not readily addressed at onset, they can easily compound and become chronic and lifelong.  The costs mount in personal, family, emotional, medical, financial and social damage to those who have honorably served their nation, and to society in general.  Delays or failures in addressing these problems can result in self-destructive acts, including suicide, job and family loss, incarceration and homelessness.  Currently, we see the pressing need for mental health services for many of our returning war veterans, particularly early intervention services for substance-use disorder and evidence-based care for those with PTSD, depression and other consequences of combat exposure.  As we have learned from experience, when failures occur, the consequences can be catastrophic.  We have an opportunity to save a generation of veterans, and help them heal from war, but decisive action is essential.
 
 
That's from the third panel.  The second panel was noted in Tuesday's snapshot, in Kat's "Congress Member Gone Wild" and in "Congress is supposed to provide oversight."  The witnesses were Dr. Nicole Sawyer,Group Health Cooperative's Diana Birkett Rakow, Dr. James Schuster and Health Net Federal Services' Thomas Carrato.  The first panel was Shinseki and the VA's Robert Petzel, Mary Schohn, Antonette Zeiss, Annie Spiczak and, from the Office of Inspector General, John Daigh and Linda Halliday.  That panel was covered in yesterday's snapshot.  The third panel was the Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Alethea Predeoux and Wounded Warrior Project's Ralph Ibson and we're going to note a little of  that panel today.
 
 
In her prepared statement, Alethea Predeoux observed:
 
 
On April 25, 2012, the Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee held a hearing entitled, "VA Mental Health Care:  Evaluating Access and Assessing Care."  During this hearing a veteran and former VA mental health professional testified that too often the VA mental health system places a burdensome emphasis on having staff meet numerical performance goals at the expense of providing veterans with the best care possible.  PVA believes that VA leadership must make certain that policies and regulations are developed to provide safe, quality health services for veterans, without compromising the professional integrity of the qualified providers who deliver the care.  VA policies must be pragmatic and attainable, and improve the delivery of care by creating benchmarks and measures that help assess strengths and weaknesses of health care services and delivery. 
 
And from Joy Ilem's prepared remarks we'll note this:
 
The OIG conducted its own analysis and projected that in VHA only 49 percent of patients (versus 95 percent) received full evaluations, to include patient history, diagnosis, and treatment plan, within 14 days and for the remainder of patients, it took 50 days on average.  Additionally, VHA could not always provide existing patients their treatment appointments within 14 days of their desired dates.  DAV began an informal, anonymous online survey for veterans in December 2011, asking about their experience seeking and receiving VA mental health services.  To date, nearly 1,050 veterans from all eras of service have responded to the survey, and our findings were close to those reported by the OIG on waiting times for follow up appointments.  A complete report of DAV's survey results can be found on line at http://www.standup4vets.org.  The OIG report also noted that several mental health providers whom inspectors interviewed had requested desired dates for patients for follow up care based on their personal schedule availabilities rather than the patients' requests, or based on observed clinical need in some cases.  Likewise, VHA schedulers did not consistently follow VHA policy or procedures but scheduled return clinic appointments based on the next available appointment slots, while recording the patients'  "desired" and actual dates as if they were compliant with VA policies.  Since the OIG had found a similar practice in previous audits nearly seven years earlier, and given that VHA had not addressed the long-standing problem, OIG urged VHA to reassess its training, competency and oversight methods and to develop appropriate controls to collect reliable and accurate appointment data for mental health patients. The OIG concluded that the VHA  "... patient scheduling system is broken, the appointment data is inaccurate and schedulers implement inconsistent practices capturing appointment information."  These deficiencies in VHA scheduling system have been documented in numerous reports.  After more than a decade, VA's Office of Information and Technology has still not completed development of a state-of-the-art scheduling system that can effectively manage the scheduling process or provide accurate tracking and reporting.
[. . .]
I must also report that many VA facility executives seem to tacitly support current bureaucratic practices in HR as a means to conserve facility funding and stretching health care budgets.  Almost every VA facility operates a "resources committee" or similar function to examine every vacancy occurring and then to require selecting officials to justify in writing (and sometimes by making personal appearances and appeals before the Committee) why vacancies should be filled at all.  This grueling process that constitutes a "soft freeze," can consume months, all the while allowing the facility to "save" the personal services funds that would have been paid in salary and benefits associated with those unencumbered positions.  It is common practice for resource committees to deny authorization to fill mental health and substance positions, creating "ghost" positions that are listed in the Service FTEE allocations but can never be recruited.  We understand that in many locations, the 1,600 newly allocated FTEE will not even be sufficient to fill these vacancies.  We believe, certainly now in the face of inadequate mental health access, that such practices should be halted.  With the massive and rising unmet needs being reported today, VA must become very sensitized and make every effort to quickly fill all mental health provider vacancies and their support staff positions as a high priority in HR offices.  VHA Central Office and VA Medical Center leadership should be accountable to ensure that this occurs.
 
 
 
The second paragraph above, the one on "ghost positions," was explored in the questioning.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Miss Ilem, I was struck in your testimony where you said it was a common practice for resource committees to deny authorization to fill mental health and substance positions creating ghost positions that are listed in the service FTEe allocations but can never be recruited and we understand that in many locations, the 1900 newly allocated FTEEs will not even be sufficient to fill these vacancies.  Would you elaborate on the idea of ghost positions?
 
Joy Illem:   Sure. You know as part of preparing for the hearing, we reach out to different mental health providers around the system and we feel that their input is extremely important.  They're the people that are on the ground facing the challenges that they are.  And these are just some of the information that a couple of folks have shared with us.  And we've heard that repeatedly.  In the independent budget, I know we've worked on some HR issues and asking, "What are these very long delays?  Why is it taking so long?"  And it seems to be maybe perhaps certain facilities  because of budget -- budget concerns -- that is a way to delay hiring someone although it's an authorized position. 
Chair Jeff Miller: I'd like to ask if any of you have heard reports that women whose combat experience is termed "unofficial" are being barred from group therapy sessions dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress because they are reserved for combat veterans?  The first question, has it been brought to your attention? If so, do you think that VA needs to change the elegibility requirements for group therapy to include all patients diagnosed with combat related PTS?  And I ask any of you who have heard of that, if you would comment.  If you haven't, that's fine too.
 
Joy Ilem: have not heard that regarding women veterans specifically but certainly this has been an ongoing problem that we hear.  There's a number of films that have brought to light the recognition or the lack of recognition that women are participating in combat or their exposure to combat is very -- is very real.  And when they're coming back, they need the same type of services as male veterans.  And often times we're told that "I'm not believed" or "They just don't  understand.  They just can't comprehend that as a woman I've been exposed to these, you know, realities of combat.  So I think VA needs to work very hard and I know there's a number of ongoing research projects in women's health specifically about combat-related PTSD. I mean there's some small groups and ongoing research that we've been very closely monitoring.  And we think that we're going to see more and more of that and that it absolutely has to be adjusted to accomodate women veterans as all veterans.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Thank you.  Miss Predeoux, have you heard that?
 
Alethea Predeoux:  The same as my colleague Joy.  It has not been reported to me but I've heard it through attending other sessions involving women veterans and if that is the case with regard to VA policy than I whole heartedly do think that the policy needs to be inclusive of all veterans regardless of gender and generation.
 
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Mr. Ibson.
 
Ralph Ibson:  Yes, Mr. Chairman, I believe one of the responses we got in our surveys suggested that was the experience at that particular facility.  I would not be able to represent that that was widespread, sir.
 
Ideally, we'll note the hearing again in tomorrow's snapshot.  If so, the plan is to note a line of questioning US House Rep Timothy Walz pursued.  This isn't that line but the brief exchange is worth noting.
 
 
US House Rep Timothy Walz:  In this country there's 340 people for every medical doctor.  There's 3400 for every psychologist or mental health practioner.  We're graduating about 18,000 to 20,000 doctors per year -- and we're already experiencing a great shortage in general practioners.  We're graduating about 4,000 psychologists.  It's just impossible to keep up with those numbers.  I think it goes back to what Ms. Brown and others were talking about, of how we build this model to collaborate to try and draw upon the resources that we have.  There's both a shortage in the private sector and as well as the VA.  My concern is, and I'll start with you Mr. Ibson, and maybe just ask each of you.  I for one do believe there's an opportunity here to use some other people outside the system.  I've seen it happen. I also know that one of the problems is how do we ensure that these providers are providing evidence based care and the outcomes that we want to see too?  Because if we're going to ask the VA to take tax payer dollars and fund it out then we're going to be asked to be accountable for every penny of that just like we're doing today .  How do we know that we're going to get the care there also if we have to draw upon outside resources?  I don't know, Ralph, if you've had any thought on that or how that moves forward because I think -- I just don't see the numbers here for the ability on us to deliver care because there's just not that many mental health care providers for the need that's going to be there.  We can't even keep our head above water and it's going to get worse.
 
Ralph Ibson:  Well at the risk of ducking your question, I did want to observe the importance of your earlier emphasis and re-emphasis on outcomes because it is one thing that VA is not measuring. And given a department that's so committed to being a leader, this is an area where leadership is desperately needed in terms of developing measures of outcomes because utlimately -- utlimately having performance measures which-which give us indicators of inputs and through puts and numbers and percentages but don't tell us whether veterans are getting better are not going to advance -- are not going to advance our veterans well being.
 
 
Finally, Foreign Policy has a scoop.  For background, US Senator Kelly Ayotte's office issued this statement earlier this week:
 
 
WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today regarding an Iraqi court's ruling to release Ali Mussa Daqduq - a Hezbollah member who was transferred to Iraqi custody when U.S. forces withdrew last December:
"This confirms my fears that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody would result in his release. Daqduq is a member of Hezbollah who served as a key liaison with Iran. He trained Iraqi extremists who targeted U.S. troops, and he is suspected of planning the operation in 2007 that resulted in the deaths of five U.S. military personnel.  If Daqduq is released, there is little doubt that he'll resume terrorist activities. This case highlights the need for a designated terrorist detention facility to detain, interrogate, and try foreign terrorists."
In addition to questioning senior Defense Department officials about Daqduq in Senate Armed Services Committee hearings last year, Senator Ayotte joined 19 other Senators in sending a letter to Secretary Panetta on July 21, 2011.  The letter expressed the Senators' concerns that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody might result in his release and a return to terrorist activities. 
 
 
This week Suadad-al Salhy, Patrick Markey and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) reported this morning, that Iraq's 'justice' system has cleared Ali Mussa Daqdug of all charges related to the "2007 kidnapping attack that killed five U.S. troops."  what are we talking about?  This was "the Special Groups network," US term, which later became the League of Righteous.  For more on that, refer to [PDF format warning] Marisa Cochrane's "Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Khazali Special Groups Network" (Institute for the Study of War).  The five Americans killed?  They were last seriously reported on when US President Barack Obama released some of the alleged murderers of the 5 Americans to make England happy.  That was back in June 9, 2009:




This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

No one ever did answer for it and, as last year drew to a close, the last suspected murderer of the 5 Americans was released by the US military.  Liz Sly and Peter Finn (Washington Post) reported on the US handing Ali Musa Daqduq over to the Iraqis:


He was transferred to Iraqi custody after the Obama administration "sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes," according to Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.
This week, Jack Healy and Charlie Savage (New York Times) reported, "Although military officials said he confessed freely and that his interrogation had not included any harsh techniques, his statements to American military interrogators would probably be deemed inadmissible in Iraqi court.  But the Obama administration had hoped that he would instead face charges of illegally entering Iraq, a crime that could result in a 10-year prison sentence." And
Kitabat reported that Nouri caved to pressure from Tehran and that's why the suspect was released.   It's also noted that a number of US Senators were asking the White House not to turn Daqduq over to Iraq but to move him to Guantanamo or another facility.  However, the White House insisted that they knew best and they had these assurances. 
 
 
Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) reports today on the White House spin effort to make the above seem normal.  He does so via "the internal talking points prepared by the National Security Council and approved by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough just yesterday."

Finally, on what the administration is doing now, the talking points say only, "As with other terrorists who have committed crimes against Americans, we will continue to pursue all legal means to ensure that he is punished for his crimes."
That's not going to be enough for the U.S. lawmakers and officials who are angry that the administration didn't figure out a way to keep Daqduq in U.S. custody [and are w]orried that he will return to the battlefield soon.


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