Saturday, May 26, 2012

5 men, 1 woman

Friday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Edwin Cadena, John S. Apple, Harry Klee, William Schaffner, Thomas Mather and Katherina Hauner.


NPR is also offering some grilling tips for the holiday including clean your grill before using it (yes, that is among their actual tips):


If there's one grilling tip to remember this Memorial Day weekend, it should be this: Flame is bad.
"Flame does nasty things to food," food historian and science guy Alton Brown tells NPR's Scott Simon in the kick-off segment of Weekend Edition's "Taste of Summer" series.
"[Flame] makes soot, and it makes deposits of various chemicals that are not too good for us. The last thing you really want to see licking at your food while it's on a grill is an actual flame." says Brown, who kicks up the science on Food Network's Good Eats, Iron Chef America, and Food Network Star.


But NPR's big story would have to be the Afghan Whigs.  Cedric (my husband), Kat, C.I. and Stan are huge fans of that 90s band.  I have become a huge fan but had the misfortune of knowing the days were over because the band broke up before the 90s ended.  But now they're back together.  Will have a new album shortly and you can download "See and Don't See" -- new single -- for free at their website.  That's basic information I would've thought Ann Powers would have provided in her piece about the band and their concert this week but she doesn't.  She does provide videos.  Go to the second video.  That's the song that hooked me.

Cedric was listening to the second and third albums mainly and I just wasn't hearing it.  And I said something to C.I. who told me to listen to "Why We Two Parted" on the first album.  That's the one that did it.  After that, I got where the band was coming from.  I love that song to this day.


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


Friday, May 25, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Russian bikers tortured by Nouri's forces are released, Nouri's brown shirts take to downtown Baghdad as they've done so many Fridays before to stage a faux protest, the US prepares to arm Nouri, Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and more.
 
 
Starting in Russia. Yesterday it was learned that four Russian bikers were grabbed in central Iraq by Nouri's security forces, imprisoned and beaten.  The four are: Oleg Kapkayev of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Vardanyants  and Maxim Ignatyev of Vladimir and Oleg Maximov of Tula.  Russian Legal Information Agency reports that the wife Oleg Maximo spoke to her husband and he told her they were being moved to another location. 
 Dmitry Rogozin is the Deputy Premier of Russian Government tasked with the defense and space industry.

Задержанные в Ираке байкеры уже находятся в Посольстве РФ. Мотоциклы пока не отдали. Спасибо всем, кто помогал

 
That Tweet reads: 'The Russian bikers detained in Iraq are at the Embassy of the Russian Federation [in Baghdad].  Motorcylces have not been returned yet.  Thanks to everyone  who helped.'  The Moscow Times notes, "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been forging good relations with the biker community in the past two years, riding motorcycles and attending biker events."   RIA Novosti adds, "The four men will leave for Russia on Saturday morning, the bikers' lawyer Alexander Orlov, also a member of the Moscow-based motorcycle club Rolling Anarchy MCC (RAMCC), told RIA Novosti."
 
As many are noticing, the US press has ignored the story completely.  That may be due to the fact that there's a detail that's inconsistent -- not on-message -- with Barack Obama's current campaign for a second term as US President.   Ekaterina Saviba (Gazeta) reports  it today:

They came to Iraq on May 17 and were detained by the Iraqi military on May 20. "Our attempt to go towards Baghdad failed because of Yanks in Hummers – they didn't let us in. Our guys decided to go round the American checkpoints and pass north of them," report motorcyclists' friends on the Russian motorcycling forum Ruriders.ru. "They managed to ride several dozen kilometers a day, while having long heartfelt conversations with local authorities, all while the outside temperature was 42 Celsius."

Again, that was also in yesterday's reports.  The Russian bikers, en route to Baghdad, were unable to enter the city and had to go around due to Americans blocking them in Hummers, due to American checkpoints.  The 20th was Sunday and the US may have activated some branch still in Iraq (there are many) to put up checkpoints in advance of the meet-up in Baghdad.  They may have pulled the units stationed outside of Iraq -- in Kuwait for example -- back in to set up those checkpoints.
 
Along with the usual Russian contingent which staffs the country's Baghdad embassy, other Russian officials were in the country this week as Nouri's Iraq hosted talks with Iran about the nuclear program.  Ali Arouzi (NECN News -- link is text and video) reports, "International nuclear talks being held in Baghdad this week with Iran ended inconclusively with both sides at a stalemate."  A stalemate grows in Nouri's Baghdad?  What a complete lack of surprise?
 
The ongoing political stalemate in Iraq could see Nouri al-Maliki face a no-confidence vote that, if successful, would remove him as prime minister.  Alsumaria reports that the 'Badr brigade' says this would be the worst thing that could happen.  The Badr brigade only split or 'split' from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq when it had to (or risk ISCI being outlawed).  They still take their orders from Ammar al-Hakim and the US has been very successful in buying al-Hakim's support for Nouri.  al-Hakim has already made statements like those made similar statements out of his own mouth.  Now he uses the Badr brigade as a megaphone in the hopes that this will give the (false) appearance of a wave of support for Nouri surfacing. 
 
How did things get to this point? 
 
Iraq's currently in Political Stalemate II.  Political Stalemate I followed the March 7, 2010 elections in which Iraiqya -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- came in first and Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second.  Despite herculean efforts on Nouri's part -- some legal but most questionable or outright illegal -- to walk away with the election, he was runner up. But Nouri wanted to be Miss Iraq, he wanted the crown and felt he did very well in the swimsuit competition.  He had the backing of the White House and the Iranian government. for his desired second term as prime minister.  The Iraqi Constitution, the election results and the will of the Iraqi people were all against Nouri; however, Barack Obama doesn't care about rule of law or democracy.  He wants what he wants when he wants it.  And like Bully Boy Bush before him, Barack packed a chubby for Nouri. 
 
So for over eight months things were at a standstill.  Then in November 2010, the US brokered an agreement among the political blocs.  This is known as the Erbil Agreement (because it was signed off in Erbil).   In exchange for giving Nouri a second term, the US insisted, the blocs would receive concessions that they wanted.  This is the agreement that was agreed to.
 
The Erbil Agreement wasn't about all the political blocs saying, "We don't want anything.  Give Nouri a second term!"  To get the blocs on board it was  necessary for them to be offered arrangements that would benefit them.  And with everyone agreeing to the deal -- including Nouri -- and with the US government brokering it and insisting it was sound, the political blocs fel tthey deal was solid.
 
Nouri used it to become prime minister-designate and then, in December 2010, beging his second term as prime minister.  But that's all that happened.  He refused to implement the agreement.  He offered one excuse after another as is his way.  He distracts and stalls and hopes the other side gives up.  He's done that over and over.
 
By last summer, the Kurds had enough of the stalling.  They publicly demanded that the Erbil Agreement be implemented.  Their call was quickly joined by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.  And it wasn't implemented.  And it's still not implemented.  April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those participating were Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Allawi and Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.  In their meeting they agreed that Nouri needed to implement the agreement or face a no-confidence vote.  They also agreed that Moqtada al-Sadr's 18-point plan needed to be implemented.  Moqtada delivered the message, implement the Erbil Agreement or face a vote of no-confidence.  As the end of the month gets closer, the number of MPs reportedly  willing to vote out Nouri grows.  This week alone, it's grown from over 163 to 200.
 
A list of potential replacements has been named.  All on the list come from the National Alliance (a Shi'ite group which ISCI, State of Law, Moqtada's bloc and others belong to).  Kitabat reminds that the National Alliance is supposed to be naming a single choice of who should be Nouri's replacement.  But through it all, Moqtada has repeatedly noted publicly that Nouri can stop this at any point prior to the vote.  All he has to do is implement the Erbil Agreement. 
 
Not only does he refuse to, the White House refuses to call that out.  They brokered the agreement, they gave the political blocs their word that the agreement was legal and would hold.  The White House brokered the agreement and swore it would be upheld.  They have betrayed the Iraqi people.  These are the betrayals that lead people to stop trusting the US.  These are the type of betrayals the people of Iran spent decades living with.  It's not smart to betray people, it's not smart to make a promise and not keep it.
 
 
And all those promises
That you made me from the start
Were filled with emptiness
From the desert of your heart
Every sweet caress
Was just your second best
Broken promises
-- "All Those Promises," written by Janis Ian, first appears on her Folk Is The New Black
 
 
 
And now the White House thinks they can act like they're not involved?  Now they want to pretend like they have to stand on the sidelines? 
 
And they're not on the sidelines, they're repeatedly pimping for Nouri.  For example, the US State Dept issued this readout of the meeting between William Rurns, Deupty Secretary of State, and "Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense" Saadoun al-Dulaymi:
 
 
Today, Deputy Secretary Burns met with Iraqi Acting Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaymi, at the Department of State to discuss issues of mutual interest and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.  Minister Dulaymi is in Washington as lead of the Iraqi delegation for inaugural meetings of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee between the United States and the Government of Iraq. Deputy Secretary Burns noted the importance of these meetings as an excellent mechanism to build our mutual commitment to an enduring security partnership under a civilian-led process.
The meeting also covered bilateral issues on the security and political fronts and the Deputy Secretary offered our continued support as Iraq strengthens its democratic institutions and enhances the capacity of its security forces to bring greater stability and prosperity to its people.  On Iraqi political issues, the two discussed the importance of resolving differences through dialogue and compromise and in a democratic fashion in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.
The Deputy Secretary expressed appreciation to Minister Dulaymi for Iraq's willingness to host the E3+3 meetings in Baghdad and noted that, following the successful hosting of the Arab Summit in March, it is another sign of Iraq taking a constructive role in the region and with the international community to reach shared goals of greater regional stability.  Deputy Secretary Burns assured Minister Dulaymi that the United States would continue to support Iraq in its effort to strengthen ties with its regional neighbors.
 
 
 And the Defense Dept issued this American Forces Press Service story about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta meeting with al-Dulaymi.  There's no "acting defense minister."  Not per the Iraqi Constitution.  The prime minister nominates someone to be Minister of Defense and Parliament says yes or no via a vote.  That's how it's supposed to work per the Constitution.  But Nouri's never put a name to the Parliament.  The minute he does, he doesn't control the Defense Ministry, the Minister does.  Why are US public servants wasting time and tax payer money meeting with these non-ministers?  If they hadn't lied so much -- the White House -- $500 million wouldn't have already been wasted on the police training program this year.  Most Americans don't realize that the Iraqi police are under the Ministry of the Interior and even more aren't aware that Nouri has never named a nominee for that position either.
 
How do you waste $500 million US tax payer dollars on a training program for a ministry that has no minister?  That's your first clue that the money's going to be wasted.  Nouri was supposed to have named a full Cabinet before he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  It's a power-grab and the US government enables and endorses it. 
 
Doubt that?
 
The Defense Dept issued the following late yesterday:
 
 
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 420-12
May 24, 2012

Joint Statement of the U.S. - Iraq Defense and Security Cooperation Joint Coordinating Committee

            The Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq reaffirmed their commitment to a strong and long-term security partnership between the two countries at the inaugural meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee (JCC) of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), from May 22-24, 2012. 
            The meetings, held at the U.S. Department of Defense following a meeting with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Acting Iraqi Minister of Defense Saadoun Al-Dlimi, were co-chaired by the Iraqi acting minister of defense and by the U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, and Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.  Defense and security is one of the eight areas of cooperation agreed upon by Iraq and the United States under the 2008 SFA to strengthen cooperation in areas of critical interest to both countries.  The establishment of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee signifies both countries' commitment to strengthen the U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership and continue coordination and cooperation on these vital issues. 
            During three days of meetings, discussions were held on a number of items of mutual interest, including future sales of military equipment, joint military exercises, and Iraq's strategy to ensure its future stability and security.  In support of an enduring partnership, the United States and the Government of Iraq expanded dialogue on ways of increasing strategic cooperation that would promote stability within Iraq as well as throughout the region.  The United States also reaffirmed its commitment to advancing Iraq's stability through the training, equipping, and enhancing the capacity of Iraq's armed forces for defense against external threats and for counterterrorism. 
            Both sides discussed ongoing and future security assistance.  In addition to an initial purchase of 18 F-16 aircraft in September 2011, during the meetings the Government of Iraq reconfirmed its interest in purchasing a second set of 18 F-16s and the United States reconfirmed its commitment to the sale.  The F-16s and other military equipment will help protect Iraq's sovereignty, meet legitimate defense needs and symbolize the long-term security partnership envisioned by both countries.
            The United States commends the Iraqi security forces for their demonstrated capability to protect the Iraqi people and recognizes the continued sacrifice being made to ensure Iraq's security.  The Iraqi security forces have made great strides in stabilizing the security situation in Iraq and in facilitating Iraq's emergence as a strategic partner that promotes and contributes to regional security. 
            The United States and the Government of Iraq agreed that the next meeting of the Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee will be hosted by Iraq in Baghdad this fall.  The purpose of the second meeting will be to build upon the foundation laid out this week, and continue discussions on strengthening defense and security cooperation as part of the multifaceted relationship developed between the United States and the Government of Iraq.
 
I seem to remeber, a few years back, a US Senator talking about the danger that we would arm Nouri with the weapons he could use on his own people.  Maybe that observation doesn't matter because the man is no longer a US Senator -- now he's Vice President of the United States.  Joe Biden knew this was a problem in 2008.  I'm failing to see how anything's changed to make Nouri less at risk of attacking the Iraqi people.
 
Yesterday the US State Dept released 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and here's how the section on Iraq opens:
 

During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
 
That doesn't qualify as a ringing endorsement of Nouri al-Maliki.
 
Today the US puppet sent his little cult into the streets of downtown Baghad.  Alsumaria reports that the thug's thugs were out in full force, carrying signs supproting Nouri and insisting that anyone not supproting Thug Nouri was influenced by foreign countries.  They also threatened violence if Nouri was subjected to a no-confidence vote.  Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, noticed what took place this morning.  Alsumaria reports that he charges Nouri with attempting to take the political crisis into the Iraqi street and to scare people into silence.  Allawi says that if there is any bloodshed, Nouri will be responsible.
 
 
 
"We were preparing a party for her birthday, which was May 11, a party she was not able to enjoy.  She was going to be 26 years old when she died."  That's Ramon Rubalcava speaking about the 2004 death of his daughter Isela Rubalcava.  Spain's wire service EFE notes Isela Rubalcava was born in El Paso to Maria Isela and Ramon Rubalcava and she was killed in a Mosul mortar attack on May 8, 2004 becoming "the third woman of Mexican descent to die on the Iraq war front and the first woman from El Paso to die in combat."  She is one of at least 4488 US service members to die in the Iraq War.  Monday is Memorial Day.  At Huffington Post, Jim Downs offers the origins and history of Memorial DayDora Robles Hernandez (Detroit Free Press) notes that Saturday through Monday will see the Detroit area host 20 different Memorial Day parades.  Though not all metro areas will see that many events -- for example, the states of New Hampshire and Maine will have about that many events this weekend combined -- there will be observations throughout the US.  And because it's Memorial Day, the Sunday chat and chews finally find veterans issues and the Chair of a veterans committee.  Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe) will be among the guests which also include Iraq War veteran Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion's Tim Tetz and Peter Chiarelli who is now a retired general and who has carved out a role for himself advocating on behalf of those with Post-Traumatic Stress and coming up with proposals to allow the stigma attached to PTS to be removed.  It should be a very interesting broadcast.  (I was asked to note this by a friend who endorses Chiarelli's PTS work.)
 
To address veterans issues in a meaningful way that actually helps, bi-partisanship is needed in the Congress -- a point Senator Mike Johanns made Wednesday in a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing entitled "Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System." Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  There Committee heard from one panel of witnesses: DoD's Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, GAO's Daniel Bertoni and the VA's John Gingrich.  We covered Chair Murray's questions and some of the report entitled Interim Committee Staff Report: Investigation of Joint Disability Evaluation System in Wednesday's snapshot,   Ava covered Senator Jon Tester's questioning in "How to keep the witness focused (Ava)," Kat reported on Ranking Member Richard Burr's participation with "Senator Burr: I've had too many of these hearings" and Wally  focused on how the VA claiming next year they'll fix things or the next year or the next never does anything but waste the Committee's time and the taxpayers' money with "It's your money (Wally)."  Ava, Kat and Wally covered important aspects of the hearing so please read their reports.  From Kat's, we'll note this:
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So we're all in agreement that we're just south of 400 days in the cycle of an applicant being processed?  395, I think, 394.  In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES [Integrated Disability Evaluation System] so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days.  Now I-I -- I've had too many of these hearings.  We have them every year.  And we hear the same thing: "Oh, gosh, look at what we're doing."  Now I've heard the most glowing progress report from both of you and then I get the realities of the days haven't changed.  You have met some improvements in certain areas.  I commend you on that.  The timeliness goals in areas have been better.  But the reality is that we've got a broken system and we're five years into it and I hear testimony where 'we're starting to begin to review our business processes.'  Well, you know, why did it take five years to get to this?  What -- What can you convey to me today that's concrete, that tells me a year from now, we're not going to be at 393 days.  When you [Dr. Jo Ann Rooney] said earlier, "We're instituting IT changes this summer that will improve our times by thirty or forty," I thought you were going to say "percent."  And you said "days."   So now my expectations are that if we implement what you just said, we're going to be down to 360 days which exceeds the DES [Disability Evaluating System] and Secretary of the VA by the 110 days over what their goal was for today.
 
 
At its most basic, the VA and the Defense Dept are attempting to make the transition from service member (DoD's role) to veterans (VA's role) seamless and timely.  That's not happening currently.  with respect to Integrated Disability Evaluation System, this is supposed to determine whether or not a service member is able to continue serving.  If the answer is no, the service member then becomes a veteran and VA needs to have a disability claim.  The disability rating will determine the benefits. So it matters.  And the Interim Committee Staff Report noted examples including, "A servicemember with a lung condition who was being treated with steroids and immunosuppressive drugs was incorrectly rated at 0% rather than 100%." 
 
 Not only are there problems with the disability ratings, there's the problem with the length of time they take.  This isn't minor if you're the veteran and you're waiting for a disability check that you've more than earned to come but it's not in the mail.  Committee Chair Patty Murray noted 27,000 have waited over 100 days to go through the system.
 
 
As he questioned the witnesses, Senator Mike Johanns observed, "I don't hear anything that makes me feel 'Gosh, we're going to turn the corner here.'  In fact, I must admit, quite the opposite, I'm going to walk away from this hearing very, very worried that the system is imploding."  Even the issue of supervision was a question mark.  Senator John Boozman wanted to know who was in charge of overseeing the joint-DoD and VA effort?  The best answer he received was that John Gingrich was the point-person for the DoD side; however, he stated he does not oversee the VA effort.
 
Who is responsible for overseeing the full project and not components or pieces?
 
No answer was ever provided.
 
Senator Boozman declared, "I guess I would like to see somebody accountable for the whole system. And you may be that person but it's not fair to you if you don't really have authority to see it through. So I personally think that the two Secretaries need to designate somebody that's got the authority."  Possibly if there was one person responsible for overseeing it, the process would be moving along more smoothly and much quicker.  That was the argument Boozman made and it sounds reasonable.  But did anybody listen?  Will a single person be named to be responsible for overseeing the entire project?
 
 
Senator Johanns wanted to know much longer it is going to take -- "1 year, 2 years, 5 years?" -- for the goals to be met?  No one could provide an answer. "I can't give you a specific time frame," Daniel Bertoni told him.  But he did note that enrollments continue to rise -- 19,000 just last year -- and that this adds to to the delays. 
 
 
We'll close with this from Senate Veterans Committee Chair Patty Murray's office:
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 24, 2012 
CONTACT:

Murray (202) 224-2834
Collins (202) 224-2523
Michaud (202) 225-6306
 
VETERANS: Murray, Collins, Michaud Applaud Veterans Homes Fix in Military Construction Spending Bill



(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), members of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, along with U.S. Representative Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, applauded the inclusion of an amendment in the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill which would modify the way State Veterans' Homes are reimbursed for nursing home care provided to veterans. The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 30-0. The amendment, authored by Senator Murray, would result in more flexibility in determining reimbursement rates by requiring VA and the State Veterans' Homes to collaborate in setting rates that accurately reflect the level of care provided. Washington and Maine are home to State Veterans' Homes which require a high level of skilled nursing due to requirements by Medicare and Medicaid. However, currently the VA payments do not cover this level of care.

"This amendment is a critical step to ensuring Washington State Veterans' Homes will not lose out on millions of dollars they need to keep operating," said Senator Murray. "Thankfully we were finally able to move forward to provide this flexibility -- preventing staff layoffs which would have dramatically reduced the number of Washington veterans they serve. I am grateful to Senator Collins and Representative Michaud for their leadership on this issue."
"By granting the Department of Veterans Affairs increased flexibility in reimbursement rates, our goal is to recognize the high-quality of care State Veterans' Homes provide disabled veterans and ensure they never have to turn away any of our veterans because of inadequate reimbursement from the VA," said Senator Collins. "The men and women cared for by State Veterans' Homes defended our freedom, many of them in combat. We must defend their right to the care they deserve."
"Our severely disabled and elderly veterans deserve access to the best possible care and Congress cannot wait any longer to address the shortfalls our State Veterans' Homes are facing," said Representative Michaud. "I am grateful for Sen. Patty Murray's collaboration and leadership on this issue and I look forward to continuing to work with her to ensure that this issue is resolved before the end of the year."
###


 
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834

Thursday, May 24, 2012

3 men, 2 women

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were Julie Rovner, Rodger Baker, Linda Fairstein, Jared Diamond and Tom Gjelten.

Warren Buffet's a creep.

He really is.

His latest nonsense is buying up newspapers and planning to erect paywalls.

Remember, it would come from the 1%, the efforts to kill the internet.  And Buffet is that 1%.

He was never a friend to the Democratic Party.  Just one more hustler out to put one over on the people.


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


Thursday, May 24, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, heavily protected Baghdad sees a mortar attack, the summit with Iran wraps up, a new US report offers a very chilling view of life in Iraq, there are claims of enough votes existing to oust Nouri as prime minister, and more.
 
 
Violence has not ended in Iraq.  Yesterday alone, Iraq Body Count notes 14 violent deaths and, through yesterday, 173 violent deaths for the month of May thus far.   The hot spots yesterday were Ramadi (3 deaths), Hamam al-Aleel (4 deaths), Abu Saida (2 deaths) Mkhesi (2 deaths), Kirkuk (1 death) and Rawah (1 death).  Not on the list?  Baghdad.
 
 
Before we get to Baghdad, a Tikrit sticky bombing left a police officer injured.  Now to Baghdad.

 
Al Jazeera and Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted today:
 
Explosion heard in #Baghdad green zone while #Iran talks on was roadside bomb near Tahrir square, security sources tells AJE. Three injured.
Loud explosion - rocket or mortar - heard just now in #Baghdad green zone as Iran nuclear talks continue here, breaking relative calm.
 
 
This morning,  Alsumaria reported mortar attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone had left three people injured.   AFP later updated that to note six people were injured and 1 person died.  In Baghdad -- heavily guarded Baghdad.  From yesterday's snapshot:
 
RTE reports, "Around 15,000 Iraqi police and troops will protect the venue inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone."  In addition, James Reynolds (BBC News) explains, "Outside the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone), Iraqi soldiers wearing balaclavas stand up on the turrets of armoured jeeps." AFP offers, "Thousands of additional Iraqi security personnel have been deployed in areas north, west and south of Baghdad to try to prevent the firing of mortars and rockets into the capital, a security official said. The official also said without providing figures that additional forces have been deployed at checkpoints in the Iraqi capital, and that searches have been increased. "
 
 
All of those precautions were for yesterday and today's meeting that Baghdad was hosting.  The UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States  -- and Germany are in Iraq for talks with Iran.  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that it appears the six nations "were dropping demands that Iran completely halt the enrichment of uranium.  Instead, the six powers formally asked Iran to halt enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a proposal that would allow it to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent level Iran says it needs for electrical power generation."  Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is audio, text and video), the New York Times' Steven Erlanger told Judy Woodruff, "Well, we're hearing that they're not going wonderfully well. The six powers put down a proposal for the Iranians which they claimed would be a set of concrete agenda to really get to the heart of the most urgent problem with Iran, which is their enrichment to 20 percent of uranium."  Earlier today, Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) discussed the summit with journalist Peter Kenyon.
 
 
Steve Inskeep: OK. So the shape of some kind of a deal here would be freezing enrichment at some level in exchange for a loosening of sanctions, but that's turning out to be difficult for both sides to do, both sides to obtain. Now, do the Iranians expect to have a little more leverage here, a little more leeway, because they are reported to be on the verge of agreeing to let UN nuclear inspectors have more access to the country?
 
Peter Kenyon:  I'd say that did appear to be the case. That was their hope. The international side, on the other hand, was quick to distinguish these talks from the nuclear inspector's work. Western officials also say, you know, this agreement, if it comes between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, won't be real until it's signed. And so there's still a possibility that this was some kind of a maneuver by which Tehran would hope to see what it could get out of these talks.  The IAEA, though, I should say, does seem confident that an agreement will be reached soon. And I think we need to point out that these inspections are about alleged experiments that happened years ago. There's no clear and convincing evidence that Tehran is right now actively seeking a weapon. What experts are worried about is that Iran wants the knowledge and the capability to do so should it choose to build one.
 
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that Saeed Jalili who is representing Iran in the talks held a press conference with Catherine Ashton of the European Union and he declared, "We emphasized that having peaceful nuclear energy, especially uranium enrichment, is our people's inalienable right." Today on All Things Considered (NPR -- audio -- text will be posted by Friday morning), Peter Kenyon reported, "After two days of what she called for intense and detailed discussions, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said the talks had established a new level of seriousness to grapple with the international community's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear activities."   From the joint-press conference, we'll note this.
 
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton: First of all, I would like ot thank the Iraqi government, and in particular Foreign Minister [Hoshyar] Zebari, for the excellent hospitality and organisation of these talks.  The E3=3 remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, based on the NPT, and the full implementation of UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors Resolutions.  We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations. We have met with our Iranian counterparts over the last two days in very intense and detailed discussions.  In line with our agreement in Istanbul, the E3+3 laid out clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20% enrichment.  We also put ideas on the table on reciprocal steps we would be prepared to take.  Iran declares its readiness to address the issue of 20% enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognie their right to enrichment. Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days -- both in full plenary sessions and bilaterals -- it is clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground.  However, significant differences remain.  Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground.  We will go back to our respective capitals and consult.  We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow with arrival on 17th June with talks on 18th and 19th June.  As we have already agreed, the talks will be based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity.  We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations and will continue to make every effort to that end. 
 
 While Jalili and Ashton were holding their press conference, US State Dept spokesperson hid behind that to avoid answering questions at today's State Dept press breifing.
 
 
Victoria Nuland: Well, as you said, Arshad, she [Catherine Ashton] is speaking even as we are speaking, and so I think it's probably not appropriate for me to comment on top of her.  Why don't we let her conclude her remarks?  I'm sure there will be U.S. officials out in Baghdad who will be commenting to the press, and we'll continue this tomorrow.
 
And:
 
Victoria Nuland: Again, Arshad, she's in the middle of characterizing the round on behalf of the EU3+3, so I really think it would be highly inappropriate for me in the same time and space to jump on top of her, much as you would like me to.
 
Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) quotes China's Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and he states, "Based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, all sides, during the meeting, declared their willingness to address the issue through dialogue." One of the few concrete outcomes was the decision to meet in Moscow next month and continue the dialogue.
 
 
Russia?  Today another nail was driven in the coffin of Iraq's tourism industry.   RIA Novosti reports Alexander Orlov has revealed to them that 4 members "of the Moscow-based mororcyle club RAMCC" were arrested in Iraq at the start of the week: Oleg Kapkayev, Alexander Vardanyants, Oleg Maksimov and Maxim Ignatyev.  The charges? The four bikers, Baghdad insists, are spies.  Remember that depiste the Iraqi Constitution putting into writing that all are innocent until proven guilty, judges and officials haven't familiarized themselves with that principle yet.  And it's Thug Nouri's Iraq, remember.  So you don't just get booked, you get printed -- finger printed, fist printed, etc -- you get beaten in custody:

According to Orlov, the men, who have been severely beaten, are accused of espionage, visa forgery, and are being threatened with the death penalty. "They are one of the most experienced moto-tourists in Russia. They have crossed the whole world…the speculations that they had forged the visas is mere nonsense."

RT adds, "Their text messages suggest they were finally taken to a military prison at a base in Baghdad, handcuffed, and that all their belongings were taken away except for one hidden mobile phone.  Suddenly at night they texted they were being beaten, accused of espionage and visa forgery and threatened with the death penalty."  Orlov tells the Russian Legal Information Agency,  "They had another 20 kilometers to go before reaching Bagdad. They were detained by individuals in military uniform, who did not introduce themselves. They were delivered to an Iraqi military base and their documents were taken away from them."  The Voice of Russia notes that Russian Embassy spokesperson Sergei Cherkasov has confirmed that the four are being held and on charges of being spies.  Of Cherkasov, The Moscow Times adds, "But in a separate interview with NTV television he said the embassy's efforts had been complicated by Iraqi authorities' distraction with international talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program, which are being held in Baghdad this week."  A relative of one of the bikers spoke with The Voice of Russia and stated that the four had "been transferred to a prison cell containing over 100 people." Today in Russia, RIA Novosti reports, over "300 people, including 200 bikers, gathered near the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow, protesting against the arrest of four Russian nationals".  The Moscow Times reports that both Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari have declared that the bikers will be freed shortly. AFP quotes Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich declared of those promises, "We hope that this is exactly what happens."  Meanwhile The Moscow Times also reports that Oleg Kapkayeve texted that he and the other three were being threatened by Iraqi forces with 10 years in prison or the death penalty. 
 
Meanwhile Fars News Agency reports that, as the summit ended, Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbaq declared, "My country is prepared to host future negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1." But they were done with Iraq.  Not that there wasn't a parting gift.
 
 
During the year the most significant human rights developments were continuing abuses by sectarian and ethnic armed groups and violations by government-affiliated forces. Divisions between Shia and Sunni and between Arab and Kurd empowered sectarian militant organizations. These militants, purporting to defend one group through acts of intimidation and revenge against another, influenced political outcomes. Terrorist attacks designed to weaken the government and deepen societal divisions occurred during the year.
The three most important human rights problems in the country were governmental and societal violence reflecting a precarious security situation, a fractionalized population mirroring deep divisions exacerbated by Saddam Hussein's legacy, and rampant corruption at all levels of government and society.
 
That's about Iraq and it's not from a newspaper or a human rights group, it's from the US State Dept's 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices just released today.  Of the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared today (link is text -- video should be added by tomorrow), "As Secretary, I have worked with my superb team on advancing human rights in a 21st century landscape, focusing on new frontiers even as we stand up against age-old abuses.  Where women have been and continue to be marginalized, we're helping them become full partners in their governments and economies.  Where LGBT people are mistreated and discriminated against, we're working to bring them into full participation in their socieites.  We're expanding access to technology and defending internet freedom because people deserve the same rights online as off.  And we know that in the 21st century, human rights are not only a question of civil and political liberties, it's about the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."  One of the State Dept's Assistant Secretaries, Michael Posner, had some strong opening remarks but that press briefing was a joke -- due to Victoria Nuland trying not only to field questions (Posner can handle a press briefing all by himself) but also to tell jokes (while the topic is human rights abuses -- she is so tonally deaf) and the general appalling questions offered by the press.  The main message from the press briefing was that the press covering the State Dept doesn't give a damn about Iraq or the people of that country.  All the US taxpayer money spent, all the Iraqi lives, all the US lives, all the British lives, all of it, none of it matters one damn bit.  The Iraq War was nothing but a summer popcorn movie for the US press.  They've already forgotten it and wet their pants with excitement over the next possible war.
 
 
Here's more from the opening of the report's Iraq section:
 
During the year the following significant human rights problems were also reported: arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life; extremist and terrorist bombings and executions; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; poor conditions in pretrial detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of fair public trials; delays in resolving property restitution claims; insufficient judicial institutional capacity; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; limits on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; extremist threats and violence; limits on religious freedom due to extremist threats and violence; restrictions on freedom of movement; large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees; lack of transparency and significant constraints on international organizations and nongovernmental organizations' (NGOs) investigations of alleged violations of human rights; discrimination against and societal abuses of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and limited exercise of labor rights.
A culture of impunity has largely protected members of the security services, as well as those elsewhere in the government, from investigation and successful prosecution of human rights violations.
Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq committed attacks against a wide swath of society, including Sunnis, Shia, and members of other sects or ethnicities, security forces, places of worship, religious pilgrims, economic infrastructure, and government officials. Their means were suicide bombings, attacks with improvised explosive devices, drive-by shootings, and other acts of violence aimed at weakening the government and deepening ethnosectarian divisions. Certain militant organizations, such as those influenced by Iran, also committed numerous terrorist attacks, primarily against foreign embassies and foreign military forces.
 
It didn't prompt one damn question about Iraq at the press briefing.  But one reporter wanted the US 'to talk about' balancing human rights issues with security issues because, goodness, Amnesty International had a few bad things to say about the US' own record on human rights.  That's called lackey or boot licker, it doesn't really say "reporter" -- or "CNN producer" to be more specific.
 
The US press largely ignored the targeting of Iraqi youth -- especially those thought to be Emo and/or LGBT.  Did the report?
 
No.  So we'll make room for this section of the report:
 
There was no law specifically prohibiting consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the penal code prohibits sodomy, irrespective of gender. There were no data on prosecutions for sodomy. Due to social conventions and retribution against both victim and perpetrator of nonconsensual same-sex sexual conduct and persecution against participants in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, this activity was generally unreported.
In light of the law, the authorities relied on public indecency charges or confessions of monetary exchange, (i.e., prostitution, which is illegal) to prosecute same-sex sexual activity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons often faced abuse and violence from family and nongovernmental actors. UNAMI reported that at least six individuals were killed because of their perceived sexual orientation and that an NGO relocated a 17-year-old boy after his family attempted to kill him because they thought he was gay. The procedures used to arrest LGBT persons also were used to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with persons other than their spouses.
Due to social conventions and potential persecution, including violent attacks, LGBT organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, occupation, and housing was common. Information was not available regarding discrimination in access to education or health care due to sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no government efforts to address this discrimination.
At year's end authorities had not announced any arrests or prosecutions of any persons for violence against LGBT individuals.
 
 
The report does not paint a pretty picture of Iraq today.  The US government launched an illegal war and now wants to ignore the reality of what that illegal war has produced.  There were a lot of self-righteous reporters in 2002 and 2003 insisting that the Iraqi people needed to be remembered and that the impending war would be for the good of the Iraqi people.  I guess the reason the US press is so silent on Iraq today is because talking about Iraq right now means choking on their lies.
 
 
On to the political crisis, the never-ending political crisis in Iraq.  In another major blow to Nouri al-Maliki's already fragile public image (in addition to the State Dept's today there is a damning report that came out last week -- click here for Human Rights Watch's report on his torture prison), Alsumaria reports that it is said that there are now 200 MPs ready to vote to withdraw confidence in him -- and 20 of those votes would come from Nouri's own State of Law political slate.

March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Nouri is the head of Dawa, a political party.  He didn't want to run with Dawa and wasn't crazy about the Shi'ite groupings that existed.  So he ran on his own political slate, State of Law.  Despite using the Justice and Accountability Commission to force various rival politicians (such as members of Iraqiya, such as Saleh al-Mutlaq) out of the election, despite tarring and feathering the other new political slate  Iraqiya as "terrorists,"  Ba'athists and controlled by foriegners, despite suddenly taking an interest (as he does two months before every election) in 'public works' project such as water -- no, not improving the infrastructure so people can have potable water, instead he sends a water truck to the area to try to make the residents feel they owe him  -- and so much more, State of Law still came in second to Iraqiya.

Because he is the US puppet, the White House backed him over the Iraqi people and the notions of democracy and the process outlined in Iraq's Constitution.  Because he had the backing of both the White House and Tehran, he could bring the country to a standstill and did.  For eight months following the election, Iraq suffered from gridlock.  That means one, brief embarrassing session of Parliament and nothing else.  Nouri refused to step aside and let the country move forward.  Finally, in November 2010 (over eight months later), the US brokered a contract known as the Erbil Agreement.   Nouri was given his second term as prime minister.  The political blocs agreed to that provided Nouri met their demands such as finally implementing Articel 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, such as creating an independent security body headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya).  Every one of the blocs gave up something and did so to try to end Political Stalemate I.  The day after the agreement was signed by all parties, Nouri was named prime minister-designate (Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq, would 'officially' name him that days later to give him more time than the Constitution allowed to create a Cabinet).

Iraqiya wanted to discuss the independent security council, Nouri and State of Law said "too soon."  Allawi led many members of Iraqiya in a walk-out.  The US worked over time to get Allawi and his MPs back into that session.  They told him that the agreement would be honored but that Allawi had to give it time.

In December, having failed to name a full Cabinet (a Constitutional requirement), Nouri was illegal moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister.  And still people waited for the implementation of the Erbil Agreement.  Last summer, the Kurdish bloc was tired of being put off and ignored and declared publicly that Nouri needed to return to and honor the Erbil Agreement.  They were quickly joined in that call by Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr.

Political Stalemate II has gone on for over a year.  This is the ongoing political crisis.  Nouri's decision to target Sunnis and Iraqiya in the fall of last year didn't help.  His attacks on provinces who wanted to -- as they are allowed in the Constitution -- move towards semi-autonomy went along with his arrests of various innocent Sunnis (such as elderly college professors) in an attempt to destroy their lives and then, in December, he went after Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi -- both Sunni, both members of Iraiqya.


A real leader would have resolved the political crisis long ago.  Not just because it's good for Iraq but because it's good for the leader's own image and legacy.   Nouri's not a leader.  Puppets so rarely are.  April 28th, there was another Erbil meet-up and among those attending were Allawi, Moqtada, KRG President Massoud Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabni.  At the meeting, it was decided that the Erbil Agreement needed to be implemented and so did Moqtada's 18-point plan.  Moqtada al-Sadr then informed Nouri that if this did not take place, they would pursue a no-confidence vote against him.  If unsuccessful, it still leaves him wounded image wise.  If successful, it leaves him out of a job.  So you'd think a real leader would say, "Sure, I promised to abide by the Erbil Agreement, let me implement it right now and stop all this fighting."  But Nouri's no leader.


And now there are supposed to be 200 votes against him.  Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly stated that Nouri still has time so you'd think, before the deadline got here, Nouri would implement the agreement.   Dar Addustour reports that Jalal Talabani met with Nouri yesterday and urged him to resolve the crisis by implementing the agreement but Nouri refused.


Nouri's sometime political ally, sometime political foe, Ahmed Chalabi is in the news today.  Alsumaria reports he has stated that the National Alliance (a political slate of various Shi'ite groups including Moqtada's and Nouri's) to determine what their plan of action will be and how to best resolve the political crisis.  Ibrahim al-Jaafari is said to have called the meet-up.  Chalaib also insisted that the supposed move to have a vote of no-confidence on Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi (a member of Iraqiya) was not a National alliance plan, did not originate with the National Alliance and that the alliance has received no request for such an action.

 Remember how Nouri was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister at the end of December 2010?  He had not filled a Cabinet.  That's nominating them, that's getting the Parliament to vote for them.  The security ministries were left vacant.  Iraqiya stated Nouri was doing that intentionally because it would allow him to control them.

Because Iraq's system's different than the US, let's explain that.

If Barack Obama wants Noam Chomsky to be Secretary of Education, he nominates him and the Senate votes on whether or not to confirm him.  If he's confirmed, he begins serving.  Barack might decide Chomsky's not doing a good job or that he's a liability to his election campaign or that he just wants someone else in the job.  So he would convey that to Chomsky who would offer his resignation and depart.  Then Barack could name someone else to the post.

That's not the way it works in Iraq.  Nouri nominates.  The Parliament votes.  If the Parliament votes someone into the Cabinet, only the Parliament can remove them.  So if Nouri nominates Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers journalist) to be Minister of Defense and the Parliament approves that nomination, Laith is in place and running things and has a great deal of power including that he can't be forced out of the post by anyone but the Parliament.


Nouri has 'named' 'acting ministers' to the security posts.  Acting ministers are not real ministers.  They are not approved by Parliament.  They have no independence and no powers.  (The notion of them doesn't even exist in the Constitution.)  Nouri can name Ahmed Chalabi acting Minister of the Interior tomorrow and fire him three days later for no reason other than Nouri had gas the night before.  Because it's not a real position and it doesn't require a vote from Parliament.  These are people Nouri puts in place and that Nouri controls.  As his first term established, Nouri does not control the Cabinet.  He is a member of it, the alleged head of it but he has to work with these members he can't fire or risk more gridlock.

Dar Addustour reports today that Nouri is nixing names for Minister of Defense.  There is no Minister of Defense.  All this time later.  None.  Nouri was supposed to have nominated and seen one confirmed  before he could move to prime minister (from prime minister-designate).  The Constitution gives the designate 30 days to form that Cabinet.  It's two years later and Nouri still doesn't have a Minister of Defense.  Or Interior.  Or National Security.
 
 
And turning to the United States where US Senator Patty Murray led on the Hire Heroes Act and is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes an important speech she gave.  I'd love to include it in full but we've had to edit the top part of the snapshot and aren't even including Al Rafidayn's report that Jalal Talabani wrote his resignation, gave it to KRG President Massoud Barzani and wants Barzani to hold it -- it's an apparent effort by Talabni to demonstrate that his goals are the goals of Kurds in the KRG.   So we're going to include a large portion of it but we can't include the speech in full today.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

VETERANS: Senator Murray Discusses Progress in Veterans Hiring, Importance of Working with the Private Sector

With Memorial Day approaching, author of VOW to Hire Heroes Act discussed 5 important steps private companies should take to bring veterans on board, debunked stigma many employers have attached to the invisible wounds of war, and cited success stories


(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the state of efforts to hire veterans. The speech focused on what steps private businesses are taking that are improving veterans hiring and what challenges veterans still face in the job market. The speech comes after extensive discussions Murray has had with private employers, veterans, and employment experts on what's working and what isn't in the effort to hire veterans. Recent labor statistics show that unemployment, particularly among young veterans, remains unacceptably high.
 

Full text of Senator Murray's speech:

"Next week Americans will spend time honoring and commemorating the men and women who died fighting for our great country. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who made the ultimate sacrifice—but it is also a day to look forward and to think about what we all can do to help our veterans who have also sacrificed so much -- and who deserve our support when they come home. So, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue that, quite frankly, defies common sense.

"The high rate of unemployment among recently separated veterans is an issue that continues to make the transition home for veterans harder than ever. Despite the fact that our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century. Our veterans continue to struggle.
 
"Despite the skill, talent and training of our veterans, statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is nearly 20%. That is one in five of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family, don't have an income that provides stability, and don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.
 
"We know this shouldn't be the case. We shouldn't let the skills and training our nation's veterans have attained go to waste. And that's why we all joined together to overwhelmingly pass my VOW to Hire Heroes Act here in the Senate late last year. Among many other things, this law provides tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire veterans, makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most separating servicemembers, and expands the education and training we provide transitioning servicemembers.
 
"Thanks to this legislation we have been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans to work. The tax credit is working. And VA is set to begin accepting applications for a retraining program that will benefit unemployed veterans ages 35-60 and help get them back to work. This bill is only that, a first step.
 

"Today, I'd like to talk about the next step. And that step is to build partnerships with private businesses large and small – all across the country – to hire our nation's heroes.
 
"Just recently I was in New York where I participated in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Robin Hood Foundation. This discussion on veterans' employment was moderated by Tom Brokaw on the USS Intrepid and brought together people of various backgrounds – including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan – to talk about this important issue. What is very apparent is that there is momentum to build public/private partnerships. What is also apparent is that there
is a lot of room for improvement in this area.
 
"Now, I want to first make it clear that a lot of companies across the country are far ahead of the curve on this. In fact, many private sector companies have already joined our efforts in addressing this critical issue. For example, JC Penney, one of America's largest retailers, and Joseph Abboud, a men's clothing company, partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to launch the Welcome Home Joe – Thanks a Million Program. To prepare veterans for job interviews, this program has provided 5,000 veterans with certificates to purchase business attire.
 
"For the last decade we have expected our brave men and women in uniform to prepare for the battlefield. In the process, they have become accustomed to wearing combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Now they are expected wear a suit and tie for job interviews - something that sometimes seems foreign to them. But thanks to this program, thousands of transitioning veterans can now hang-up their battle dress uniforms and dress for their next challenge.
 
"Other companies like, Schneider National, one of America's largest trucking companies, are realizing that the skills our veterans have gained over the last decade of war are directly applicable to their businesses. Schneider National recognizes that a veteran who has driven a seven-ton truck across Afghanistan's dangerous and rugged terrain is more than qualified to drive a freight truck across our nation's roads. And in addition to providing many veterans with new jobs, Schneider National also provides newly separated veterans with on-the-job training through their Military Apprenticeship Program. As part of the program, veteran employees are eligible to earn a monthly educational benefit check from the VA in addition to a paycheck. Schneider National serves as an example of how companies can hire veterans that have proven they can perform the job, but lack proper certifications for civilian employment.
 
"The US Chamber of Commerce also must be commended for launching its Hiring Our Heroes initiative which has sponsored 150 hiring fairs in 48 states. At one of these recent hiring fairs, General Electric, the employer of 10,000 veterans
launched its Veterans Network Transition Assistance Program. As part of this program General Electric has vowed to hire 1,000 additional veterans every year
for the next five years and will provide job-seeking veterans with one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions help transitioning veterans improve resume writing and interviewing techniques so they can capitalize on the skills they've developed during military service.
 
"This is just a fraction of the work being done at our nations employers. There are many other success stories at big companies like Home Depot, and at small companies like General Plastics in my home state - which has created a pipeline to hire veterans at its aerospace composites factory. All of these companies are not only examples of success stories – they have also created a roadmap for how best to find, hire, and train veterans. And it's our job to make sure those lessons are being heard. So today I want to lay out a few things that all businesses – large and small – can do to bring our nation's heroes into their companies.
 

"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the benefits of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and on resumes fail to get through to interviewers.
 
"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning servicemembers. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like
Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills
developed during military service but also utilize on-the-job training.
 
"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations, at local military bases to help connect veterans
with jobs, and to work with local One-Stop Career Centers.
 
"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,
 
"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.
 
 
"Thank you. I yield the floor."
###



 
Meghan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary | Social Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834
 
 
 
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