Saturday, June 2, 2012

6 men, 1 woman

Today on Talk of the Nation (NPR), the guests were Moses Chao, Stuart Firestein, Sarah Staniland,  Chris Lavin, Reed Tuckson, Arnold Relman and Doron Weber.

Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Jobs Report"
The Jobs Report

It's amazing that Isaiah was able to address that and Talk of the Nation wasn't.

How bad is the May jobs report?  "The stock market suffered its worst day of the year Friday after a surprisingly weak report about hiring and employment cast a pall of gloom over the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 275 points."


Click here for that article at POLITICO.  That's the first two sentences only.

I can't believe that he wasted all that time on his stupid ObamaCare and refused to focus on the economy.  Even now, he's off doing something else.  Right now, it's campaigning.  Other times, it's vacationing or golfing or playing basketball or doing this or that.  Or maybe it's Date Night again!  He's had time for everything but the job he was voted into, the job he's going to turn into a multi-million dollar franchise when he leaves office.


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


Friday, June 1, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the political crisis continues, Nouri stands with two buddies, Iraqi women continue to suffer, a court gives the US State Dept four months to comply with an order, and more.
 
Like a nightmare version of Charlie's Angels, Ammar al-Hakim, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki stood side by side to announce their solidarity.  Alsumaria reports that the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the head of the National Alliance and the Prime minister of Iraq met to discuss the latest political developments in Iraq and how to address them.  Al Rafidayn has an article where Ammar's dropping terms like "sin" and "big sin" and talking about "the street" and it all sounds like a lover in the grip of passion.
 
 
So let flow the hydrants
And we'll dance in the spray
And we'll wash out all our dirty laundry
In the alleyway
Put your love out in the street
Put your love out in the street
Put your love out in the street
Put your love
Out in the street tonight
-- "Love Out In The Street," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her Playing Possum
 
While Ammar de amour works himself into a frenzy, Kitabat reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's followers have rejected the notion that chaos follows a no-confidence vote in Nouri.
 
 
KENYON: On paper it looks like a serious threat to Maliki's rule. But if you ask the prime minister's supporters about a no confidence motion, they tend to laugh and say bring it on.
 
SAAD MUTTALIBI: Oh, definitely. Just go ahead. You know, we will sit there and laugh at the puny numbers that you will gain in the parliament.
 
KENYON: Businessman and Maliki backer Saad Muttalibi says those who have actually tried to add up the votes say the opposition is well short at the moment. He says pro-Maliki forces are mounting a counterattack, collecting votes for a no confidence motion against the anti-Maliki speaker of the parliament. And Muttalibi says Sadr is jeopardizing his future in the governing National Alliance by cozying up to the Kurds and Sunnis.
 
It's great that NPR had time for bitchy but exactly when did they intend to explain the political crisis to listeners?
 
They are aware that they never did that, right?
 
That never once in the report did they mention the Erbil Agreement or the 2010 elections or anything of real substance.  But, hey, we got a bitchy supporter of Nouri's and didn't that make everything worthwhile?
 
Earlier this year,   Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi's [PDF format warning] "The State Of Iraq"  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) reviewed events and noted:

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 agreement was the Erbil Agreement.  March 7, 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya came in first ahead of Nouri's State of Law.  Nouri refused to give up the post of prime minister.  What followed were eight months of political stalemate.  The White House and the Iranian government were backing Nouri so he knew he could dig in his heels and did just that.  Finally, in November, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was reached.  Nouri could have a second term as prime minister provided he made concessions on other issues.

Nouri used the agreement to get his second term and then trashed the agreement refusing to honor it.  Until last week, he and his supporters had taken to (wrongly) calling the agreement unconstitutional.  And though the KRG, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr have been calling for the Erbil Agreement to be fully implemented since summer 2011, it took last month for State of Law to finally discover that themselves loved the Erbil Agreement.  Needless to say, the sudden attraction to the deal is seen as mere lip service especially when Nouri refused to implement it.
 
 
 
In violence Al Rafidayn notes that 1 traffice police officer was shot dead in Mosul as was his driver.  In addition, Alsumaria notes a captain in the Ministry of Interior's intelligence division was shot dead in Falluja today.  AFP adds a Baghdad roadside bombing targeting a market claimed 1 life and left three more people injured and 1 police colonel was shot dead in Baghdad.
 
 
This week the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released "Report on Human Rights in Iraq: 2011."   In Wednesday's snapshot we noted the highly superficial section on Iraq's LGBTs.  The report does a better job with the issue of the rights of Iraqi women.  That section opens with:
 
UNAMI continues to monitor the status and rights of women in Iraq, including gender based violence such as so-called 'honour' crimes, trafficking and domestic violence.  Due to the security situation, UNAMI is uanble to collect first hand data on the situation of women in some parts of Iraq outside of the Kurdistan Region.
 
Grasp that.  'Violence is down!!!!'  We hear that stupidity over and over from the press.  No, it's not really down.  2006 and 2007 were years of ethnic cleansing -- encouraged and (I would say) aided by the US government.  Those death figures are huge.  I'm not really sure why the years of ethnic cleansing are treated as natural or normal figures with which to compare everything to?  Iraq remains violent.  And UNAMI tells us that it's so violent that they can't even collect basic data. 
 
But the press moved on, didn't they?  They press that largely mocked, ridiculed or ignored war resisters fled Iraq.  There's the US wire service AP.  There's the New York Times staff.  There's Jane Arraf. There's the Wall St. Journal (led by Sam Dagher).  There's CNN. That's it.  Imagine if that was it in 2002 and 2003?  If that were it in those years, only those outlets and the others ignored Iraq, it would have been so much more difficult to sell the illegal war to the American public (a public with a significant amount of resistance even at the start).
 
 
Valerie Gauriat:  We're in Iraq this month to meet women in Baghdad, Najaf and Iraqi Kurdistan who are fighting their own kind of war.  A human rights activist, two war widwos and a female soldier to regain the rights Iraqi women have lost.  Every month in Women and War we bring you the stories of women who are fighting across the world.
 
 
And Iraqi women have lost so much due to the Iraq War.  They've lost husbands and fathers and sons and brothers and uncles and mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts.  They've lost friends.  Most of all, they've gone from  living in one of the most advanced Middle East nation-states for women to a country where they have to regularly fight for basic dignities.  And fight they do.  They know what's at stake and they know the US government isn't helping them, has never helped them.  The  US State Dept's Anne C. Richard writes with all the enthusiasm that historical ignorance and optimism can provide.  We'll note this from her post today at the State Dept blog about her new job working with Iraqis:
 

Estimates of the numbers of widows in Iraq range from 750,000 to 1.5 million, or between 2.4 percent and 5 percent of the population -- no one knows for sure as there has not been a recent census. In Iraqi society, women traditionally do not work outside of the home. However, the women at this site emphasized that they needed jobs to provide for their children.
Iraq remains a dangerous place and our visit was not announced in advance but the visit was eye opening and well worth the effort it takes to get out and meet ordinary Iraqis.
Later, I raised the plight of the widows with senior Iraqi officials. They were determined to make progress on housing issues and acknowledged problems with registrations -- although they also expressed concerns about the squatters occupying government land.
 
We'll continue to follow Anne C. Richard's posts.  She's got energy and optimism and her ability to either ignore or not learn what came before may allow her to pull off some small miracles.  I wish her the best because Iraqi women could use a miracle or two.  But the issue of the widows, their plight, that's been raised with the Iraqi government for years now.  There's been no significant improvement or real plans from the government.  At one point they were suggesting that the answer was for the widows to remarry. 
 
The illegal war did not help Iraqi women nor has their government made any real strides on their own to help Iraqi women.  Last month the Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice explained:
 
But for Iraqi citizens, especially women, the ongoing violence caused by the U.S. invasion is not the only consequence that has become part of the everyday struggle to rebuild their country. Before the U.S. invasion, 75% of Iraqi women had college degrees, and 31% of Iraqi women had graduate degrees (compared to 35% of European and U.S. women). Only 10% of women in Iraq now continue to work in their professions, and they have to contend with the thousands of more experience and better-educated Iraqi women who fled Iraq at the onset of the war and are now returning. However most women stay away from their work, schools, and universities due to extreme safety concerns: Since the beginning of the war, rates of abductions and kidnappings targeting women and girls, most often related to sex trafficking, female suicides and honor killings have increased.
 
 
It was beneficial to the US government's aims to scare the Iraqi people into submission.  It would be easier to push through various policies and programs on a people too scared to fight back.  So the US backed thugs, turned their heads the other way not just to looting but to rape and so much more.  And Iraqi women could have thrown in the towel and said, "Forget it, my safety is what's most important."  Instead, these brave women regularly take to the streets and protest for their rights.  Even since Nouri's squad of thugs began beating protesters and arresting them and torturing them in custody, Iraqi women refuse to hide and refuse to give up on their country or let Iraq be turned into something that they're no longer a part of.  The US shut the women out of the process from the start.  They had to take to the streets when the US was writing their rights out of Iraq's new Constitution (in 2005) and they've done that during the continued violence and during the periods of the most violence.  Last month, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Iraq noted:
 
 
The rights of women in post war Iraq is clear following reports that they are victims of human trafficking to and fro Iraq and even within the outskirts of the cities with cases of forced prostitution. Women are trafficked from Southern Iraq and transported to the Gulf States by rich cartels who promise to marry them and give them a good life only to use the as servants and sex workers in their well-managed deals.
Most of the 'unveiled' women in Iraq have had their rights violated. There are groups that are making it hard for this woman to have freedom in and around Iraq and creating an atmosphere where they are intimidated. For instance, Fatwas encourages the crowd to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes to any woman around the streets who passes by without a veil. This has made it hard for the professional Iraqi woman to work or get education unless they wear the hijab.
It has to be noted that Islamic leaders from the Shi'ite and the Sunni have strong condemnation against women in Iraq without the hijab, this means trouble for the rights of women in Iraq. Since the war started, the Iraqi women have been attacked, kidnapped and even intimidated in a way that bars them from participating in any role with the society.
 
 
Again to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released "Report on Human Rights in Iraq: 2011" this time for Camp Ashraf:
 
 
During the reporting period, UNAMI continued monitoring the situation of over 3,000 residents affiliated with the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) in Camp New Iraq (commonly known as Camp Ashraf) and documented a number of measures of which Iraqi authorities aimed at tightening control over the Camp and its residents with the ultimate objective of closing it down by the end of 2011, as declared in the Council of Ministers' decision of 17 June 2008. 
On 8 April, in an operation that lasted approximately 7 hours, the Iraqi army moved into the Camp and occupied its northern part, comprising some 40 percent of its total surface area.  The Iraqi authorities described the operation as a law enforcement action to restore privately owned land in Ashraf to its legitimate owners.  It resulted in the deaths of 36 and injuing of more than 300 residents who protested against, and resisted, the operation.  On 13, April, a UNAMI delegation was authorized to visit the Camp.  The UNAMI physician counted 28 bodies in a makeshift morgue.  The apparent cause of death in most cases was bullets and shapnel wounds.  Another 6 residents were confirmed dead among those injured who had been rushed to Ba'quba hospital.  Two more died later from their injuries.  The Iraqi authorities admitted that their forces caused 3 fatalities, which they described as 'accidental'.
In a statement made public on 15 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Iraqi military were well aware of the risks attached to launching an operation like this in Ashraf and added: "There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties.  There must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted."  On the same day, UNAMI issued a similar statement requesting a thorough investigation through an independent commission.  During the reporting period, no action was taken by the Government of Iraq to establish such an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.  The 8 April operation was the second occasion, after clashes on 28/29 July 2009, when Iraqi forces appear to have used excessive restraint in conformity with international human rights law in asserting its legitimate authority over the camp and its residents
After this incident, the Iraqi Government reaffirmed the deadline of 31 December 2011 for the residents to evacuate Camp Ashraf.  UNAMI continued working closely with the Government of Iraq, the diplomatic commmunity, UNHCR and the residents' representatives in order to find durable solutions.  In late 2011, consultations between UNAMI and the Government of Iraq led to a Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed by both parties on 25 December.  In it, the United Nations offered its services as an impartial facilitator and observer in a process that would see the residents of Camp Ashraf move to a temporary transit location at Camp Liberty (a former US military base near Baghdad International Airport), undergo individual refugee status determination by UNHCR, and eventually either their voluntary return to their countries of nationality or if eligible, resettlement in third countries, subject to the availablility of receiving countries. In an open letter of 28 December 2011 to the residents of Camp Ashraf, UNAMI SRSG, Martin Kobler, affirmed that the United Nations desired to "prevent violence and confrontation" a permanent solution for the residents.  He pledged that UN staff would monitor the situation at Camp Liberty 24/7 until the last resident had left Iraq. 
By 31 December, the Prime Minister Al-Maliki announced the extension of the deadline for the departure from Iraq of Ashraf residents till the end of April 2012.  At time of publishing this report 29 May 2012, 1996 residents have relocated from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty (Camp Hurriya). 
UNAMI reminds the Government of Iraq to abide by its legal obligations, reaffirmed in the Memorandum of Understanding, to fully respect its human rights obligations under international law in dealing with the residents of Camp Ashraf.  It also calls upon the residents and their representatives to obey the laws of Iraq, and to voluntarily participate in the process offered by the UN and agreed to by the Government of Iraq aimed at resolving the issue peacefully.
  
 
Which takes us into legal news, it's a shock to the administration but most others saw the ruling coming.  Jamie Crawford (CNN) reports, "A federal appeals court has ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a prompt decision on whether to remove an Iranian dissident group from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations."  This was a unanimous decision handed down by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  Why was it unanimous?  Because the administration has been in violation for some time now.  James Vicini (Reuters) reminds, "The appeals court ruled nearly two years ago that Clinton had violated the group's rights and instructed her to 'review and rebut' unclassified parts of the record she initially relied on and say if she regards the sources as sufficiently credible.  It said Clinton had yet to make a final decision."  The administration was in contempt.  The courts and the executive branch were in conflict.  (They still are.)  What generally happens there is the court of appeals makes a united front because this is now a court issue (as opposed to the merits of the case from when it was heard earlier).  Unlike the executive branch, the judicial branch has no security forces.  So they want to send a message but they also want to do so without looking weak if the administration ignores them.  So since two months was the target date for the State Dept to finish a review on the MEK, they gave State four months which, they hope, is more than enough time. However, the two months (as the judges know) was a guideline, not a promise.  State made very clear before the court that they were not promising two months.  So it could go on past four months.  Four months carries them into October.  If they're not complying by then, there's a good chance they won't.  Whether Barack Obama wins a second term as US President or not, Hillary Clinton has already stated she was only doing one term as Secretary of State.  So when November arrives, if there's no decision, there won't be a rush for one.  If Barack wins re-election, he'll state that he has to find someone to oversee the department first.  If Barack loses, they've already blown off the appeals court for over two years now, continuing to blow them off for sixty more days will be a breeze.
 
There should be outrage over this but faux activists like you know who only pretend to give a damn about the rule of law.  The administration has refused to comply with a court order.  If it were on any other topic, you could expect yet another shrill column; however, he doens't like the MEK so rule of law gets tossed out the window. 
 
Turning to veterans issues,  yesterday we noted the Dept of Labor is holding a Veterans Hiring Fair next week on Wednesday, June 6th.  It will be at the Great Hall of the Frances Perkins US Dept of Labor Building on 200 Constitution Ave. starting at ten in the morning and ending at one in the afternoon.  You will need veteran i.d. to enter the job fair.  And it is open to all adult veterans.   Repeating, that's next week on Wednesday.   Tara Merrigan (Austin American-Statesman) reports, "Austin will honor Iraq War veterans in a July 7 parade and job fair, city leaders announced Thursday."
 
Michael Oros:  I would suggest that the very broad definition of "prosethetics" can lead to confusion and, worse, application of policies that are inappropriate to replacement limbs and orthotics.  The result: inappropriate barriers to care for veterans with limb loss who need timely access to high quality prosthetics in order to go to work, care for their families, and live their everyday lives.  In fact, the Health Subcommittee saw that confusion on display in its hearing in this very room only two weeks ago.  Chairwoman Buerkle held a hearing on "Optimmizing Care for Veterans with Prosthetics" on May 16th.  During the hearing, she clarified multiple times that the topic of the hearing was prosthetics as traditionally understood and defined.  During that hearing, the VA's Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer told the Subcommittee that because changes in procurement policies applied only to items that cost $3,000 or more, those charges would not apply to 97% of the prosthetics budget. I'm sure that statement is accurate for everything included in the billion-dollar-plus line item described by the VA as "prosthetics." However, for the approximately $58 million portion of that line item spent on replacement limbs and orthoses, that statement is confusing and unhelpful.  Virtually every part of even a fairly low-tech prosthetic limb costs more than $3,000.  So adopting procurement policies with the understanding that the policy does not apply to 97% of prosthetic purchases can lead to decisions that delay specialized and vitally needed care for veterans with limb loss or limb impairment.  The veterans we see have already sacrificed enough.  They are working hard to put their personal, family and professional lives back together.  This task should not be made more difficult by the application of overly broad policies that do not take into consideration the very specialized and unique nature of prosthetics and orthotics.
 
Buerkle is US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.  The hearing he's referring to was May 16th (we covered it in the May 16th, May 17th and May 18th snapshots).  Oros was speaking at Wednesday's House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on VA's purchasing of prosthetics.  The Subcommittee Chair is Bill Johnson and US House Rep Joe Donnelly is the Ranking Member.  There were three panels.  The first was made up by the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Michael Oros (quoted above) and Academy Medical LLC's Daniel Shaw.  The second panel was DoD's Charles Scoville who is the Chief of Amputee Patient Care Service at Walter Reed and rom the VA's Office of Inspector General's Linda Halliday (accompanied by Nick Dahl and Kent Wrathall).   The third panel was VA's Philip Matkovsky (accompanied by Dr. Lucille Beck, Norbert Doyle and C. Ford Heard). 
 
 
Chair Bill Johnson noted the VA's defintion of prosthetics at the start of the hearing:
 
All aids, devices, parts or accessories which patients require to replace, support, or substitute for impaired or missing anatomical parts of the body.  The items include artifical limbs, terminal devices, stump socks, braces, hearing aids and batteries, cosmetic facial or body restorations, optical devices, manual or motorized wheelchairs, orthopedic shoes, and similar items.
 
Now let's go back to one segment of  Michael Oros' testimony from earlier.
 
In fact, the Health Subcommittee saw that confusion on display in its hearing in this very room only two weeks ago. Chairwoman Buerkle held a hearing on "Optimmizing Care for Veterans with Prosthetics" on May 16th. During the hearing, she clarified multiple times that the topic of the hearing was prosthetics as traditionally understood and defined. During that hearing, the VA's Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer told the Subcommittee that because changes in procurement policies applied only to items that cost $3,000 or more, those charges would not apply to 97% of the prosthetics budget. I'm sure that statement is accurate for everything included in the billion-dollar-plus line item described by the VA as "prosthetics." However, for the approximately $58 million portion of that line item spent on replacement limbs and orthoses, that statement is confusing and unhelpful. Virtually every part of even a fairly low-tech prosthetic limb costs more than $3,000. So adopting procurement policies with the understanding that the policy does not apply to 97% of prosthetic purchases can lead to decisions that delay specialized and vitally needed care for veterans with limb loss or limb impairment.
 
The person Oros was referring to is Norbert Doyle.  He avoided speaking on Wednesday, instead
 
Chair Bill Johnson:  You note the VA's new policy for purchases over $3,000.  Approximately 5% of biologics cost more than $3,000 so your policy will have minimal bearing on 95% of biologics purchased.  Can you describe how your policy will effect the other 95% of biologics purchased? 
 
Philip Matovsky: Uhm.  Well I don't actually have the specific cost break out for the biologics themselves.  But the, uh, three thousand dollar threshold was noted that it was 97% of the cost would be below $3,000.  Actually the number is a little bit north of 50, 55% of all of the prosthetic purchases are greater than $3,000 in cost. It's the number of transactions is the 3% number.  In terms of the biologics themselves, uhm, our expectation is that we're asking in this policy moving forward that we document, uh, that a waiver from FSS was requested and that part of what we hope to achieve from this and that we expect to achieve from this is that we'll collect information about why FSS is actually not being selected as the source for biologics or for other items or national contracts for that matter.  And be able to attenuate practice through education,communication in the field as well.
 
 
Why is that VA can't use terms accurately?  In the hearing on Wednesday, it was about definitions.  The conflict in what the Subcommittees were told has to do with VA using a figure and then saying, "Wait, wait, we testified about this 97% on $3,000 orders and you thought we meant cost, we meant number of orders!"  Why is it so damn difficult for the VA officials to speak in a straight forward manner?  (And remember that they try to dismiss the IG's report by claiming the IG is using one set of terms while they're using another.)  VA needs to get with the rest of the government.  The prosthetic issue, for example.  VA ges its own definition?  It doesn't match with the Defense Dept's definition.  Why is so hard for the VA to utilize the same terms and same definitions as the rest of the executive branch?  That really needs to be addressed.
 
If you doubt it, this confusion never stops.  In his opening remarks, Chair Bill Johnson touched on this:
 
 
Among my follow-up questions was a request for a copy of the VA's guidance in how it would ensure purchasing agents followed the VAAR [VA Acquisition Regulations].  Just yesterday, a response to that and the other questions was provided.  It is interesting that only now is the VA working to ensure that purchasers using Section 8123 are documented and in line with the FAR and VAAR.  After all, the VA has had nearly three decades to work on this.  Failing to document purchases under 8123, as acknowledged in the answers I received yesterday, is a reckless use of taxpayer dollars.  To us on this Committee, it appears as though the VA operates as it sees fit until attention is called to its operation. 
 
 
The VA was worthless in terms of witnesses.  Matkovsky wanted everyone to know that purchases under Section 8123 in the future would be auditable.  Johnson's question was can they go back and audit past purchases under that number.  In a long meandering answer about 'from this point forward,' Matkovsky implies that they've never been able to audit Section 8123 purchases in thae past.  That would be over 30 years worth of purchases.  Is the VA not able to speak English? 
 
Something as simple as Chair Johnson attempting to find about the hows and whens of the definition VA is using for prosthetic and when it was last updated required a song and dance until Matkovsky finally passed off to Dr. Beck who had to flip through a manual to find out (2001 was the answer for when it was last updated).  But after finally providing an answer, all the sudden it's there's-an-internal-review-going-on-now (with many more words than that).  I would assume if you're part of an update review, you would know what you were updating especially if the manual hadn't been updated in over a decade.
 
 
VA officials can't answer a straight question.  So we'll drop back to earlier in the hearing to wrap up our coverage of it here.  Excerpt.
 
 
Chair Bill Johnson: And maybe you've already answered this in some of your comments but, if you were going to design a system, Mr. Oros, for the VA to evaluate the quality of care provided to veterans, what would you do? What provisions would you put in that system to improve the quality of care that veterans receive?
 
Michael Oros: I would start to look at implementation of some functional outcome measurements at the time of the original prescription and then follow it throughout that veteran's care so that you see that there has been restoration of function.  And that can be done with validated instruments and there's also technology available that can support that kind of measurements. 
 
Chair Bill Johnson:  Okay.  As one of the elements of quality you describe the need to educate veterans about their right to choose a provider of prosthetic care the Committee is starting to hear more and more stories about veterans who say that the VA is creating barriers to their selection of non-VA care.  What has been your experience?  Have you heard from veterans that this is a growing problem?  
 
Michael Oros: I've seen it locally.  I think that's what I could probably speak most directly to is locally we no longer have access -- it's been at least two years that our company, while we've had a VA contract, has not been invited to that amputee clinic that I referred to previously -- where really, those referals are -- and the veterans ability to communicate with a prosthetist as well as the referring VA physician are kind of present in the same building. 
 
Chair Bill Johnson:  Here's that word again, from your point of view what barriers are preventing veterans from selecting a prosthetist of their own choice? Is it just that veterans don't know their rights?
 
Michael Oros: I think its their unfamiliarity with their rights. 
 
Chair Bill Johnson:  Okay. You talked in your written testimony specifically about older veterans at your practice complaining that there appears to be new administrative hurdles to prevent their continuing to receive care in non-VA facilities.  Can you give us some examples?
 
Michael Oros:  We've seen in our own facility where veterans who received care from our company for a number of years -- and actually I've heard similar stories from other providers too -- where they've gone back to the VA for other services, prescriptions, etc. and the patient has been -- I'll use the word "discovered" to be an amputee and they've been directed to receive their care within the VA system versus, again, that outside provider. 
 
 
Yesterday's snapshot covered the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the Vow to Hire Heroes Act and efforts at raising awareness on the program.  We'll close with the news release the Committee issued after the hearing:
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held an oversight hearing entitled "Reviewing the Implementation of Major Provisions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011." The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 is the signature veterans' legislation of the 112th Congress. Officials from the departments of Labor (DoL) and Veterans Affairs (VA) testified on the implementation of the law to date.
The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) was the main focus of the hearing. The cornerstone of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, VRAP will provide up to one-year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits to unemployed veterans, ages 35-60, for in-demand jobs and careers. The Committee applauded efforts by the departments at the program staff-level, but cautioned that more needed to be done to promote VRAP.
"I am pleased to see that over 11,000 applications have been received so far, meaning that we are well on our way to filling all of the 45,000 slots paid for in the VOW Act for the remainder of this fiscal year," stated Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "But I am concerned that not enough is being done by either department, or the President himself, to promote this benefit. Getting the message out about this opportunity is critically important to putting unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand field."
In addition, Committee Members also expressed concern that DoL and VA were not taking the appropriate steps to ensure that veterans were aware VRAP existed. Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits at VA, noted some of the challenges facing the two departments to effectively reach out to veterans about VRAP were that "a centralized system to identify eligible veterans does not exist."
Few Members had seen any outreach in their local communities, leading the Committee to ask if a plan was in place to reach unemployed veterans in non-metropolitan areas, specifically through TV advertising.
"Despite having had ample time to come forth with one, VA has failed to deliver an advertising budget," Miller said. "Advertising is a quick, effective way to control the message in order to reach a large number of veterans in a very short period of time. That is the level of promotion for VRAP that our unemployed veterans deserve. We cannot afford to let even one training slot go unfilled. I encourage all eligible veterans to sign up for this opportunity at their local one stop career center or online."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 npr
afp 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 men, 3 women

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, the guests were David Savage, Jeffrey Rosen, Carrie Severino, Chely Wright, Tom White, Amy Palmiero-Winters, Hugh Herr and Michael Hirsh.

Byron Tau (POLITICO) reports:


President Bill Clinton veered sharply off message Thursday, telling CNN that Mitt Romney's business record at Bain Capital was "sterling."
"I don't think that we ought to get into the position where we say 'This is bad work. This is good work,'" Clinton said. "The man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold."
Clinton also went on to say that Romney's time at Bain Capital represented a "good business career."


That makes me very happy.

And it also shuts up Bob Somerby.  Thank God.

I'm not a fan of Corey Booker's.  He's to the right of me big time.  But the way some people -- including Bob Somerby -- were all over him really ticked me off.

There was this tone to it that went beyond even snide and I found it disturbing.

I also happen to think if you were a lawyer for more than 10 years and you never made partner or even associate, you weren't much of a lawyer.  (That would be Barack.)  And I'm sure he doesn't want that pointed out or discussed so he really had no business in going into Bain.  If he thinks Romney did something wrong, he should have made it illegal in 2009 or 2010.


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


Thursday, May 31, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada says he can bring 40 votes to a no-confidence vote on Nouri, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, Iraq's energy auction is a bust, the US House Veterans Affairs Committee reviews the progress on the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and more.
 
 
"We just spent last weekend, and in particular Monday, honoring our nation's defenders that are no longer with us.  Now it's time for us to renew our focus on those who still need our help in securing a good job," declared US House Rep Jeff Miller drawing this morning's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order.    The hearing explored the VOW To Hire Heroes Act which Chair Miller hailed as  "an excellent example of what we can do when we all work together."
 
The Committee heard from VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey who was accomanied by VA's Curtis Coy and they heard from the Labor Dept's Acting Assistant Secretary of Veterans Employment and Training Ishmael Ortiz who was accompanied by Kathy Tran.  Why the hearing?
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  While I am impressed by the level of effort being made by program level staff at both departments, I am concerned that not enough is being done by either cabinet secretaries [VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis] or the President [Barack Obama] himself to promote this benefit.  Getting the message out about this opportunity is critically important to putting unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand field.  Clearly, aggressive promotion by the nearly three thousand One Stop Employment Centers are the key to filling the 99,000 training slots that have been authorized by the VOW Act.  I want to give you just one example -- one example of why I am concerned that despite VA's significant outreach efforts -- for which I commend them -- problems are still arising.  Staff was contacted by a community-based organization in Georgia about what appears to be a lack of effort to get the program started.  Shortly after the passage of the VOW Act, the organization contacted the Augusta One Stop Employment Center about how to enroll unemployed vets in the program.  They asked again in mid-March and the DVOPS and LVERs were still not aware of the program.  Two weeks later, Augusta told them the Georgia Department of Labor was not aware of VRAP.  In early April, both the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Labor stated they were waiting for policy from DC.  In late April, there still appeared to be little understanding of how the program would work.  It appears that finally, on May 11th, 2012, a mass e-mail from VA was released detailing how the program would be implemented, only 4 days later on May 15th.  Obviously, if that is typical of the level of awareness at the One Stop Centers, I think we all agree we've got big problems with the potential launch coming up shortly.
 
On the subject of veterans hiring, the Dept of Labor is holding a Veterans Hiring Fair next week on Wednesday, June 6th.  It will be at the Great Hall of the Frances Perkins US Dept of Labor Building on 200 Constitution Ave. starting at ten in the morning and ending at one in the afternoon.  So that's just three hours and they're hoping for a large turnout.  After this morning's hearing, I went to talk to a friend at the Labor Dept to make sure I understood some of the issues from the hearing.  When I brought up Miller's solid issue of getting the word out, I was told that even in DC it can be a struggle to get the word out and that job fair was used as an example.  So I'm including it here at the top.  You will need veteran i.d. to enter the job fair.  And it is open to all adult veterans.   Repeating, that's next week on Wednesday. 
 
Also for FYI purposes, we'll note Allison Hickey's opening remarks regarding Veterans Retraining Assistance Program applications:
 
VA and the Department of Labor collaboratively developed the VRAP application process and the requirements for the information technology system changes to support this process.  To efficiently leverage existing systems, VA modifided its application for VA education benefits for use by the VRAP applicatns.  The VRAP application is available online at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW, a web site developed specifically for portions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.  This site can be accessed through eBenefits, the GI Bill web site, DoL web sites and numerous other web sites.  Additionally, Veterans can visit their local DoL One-Stop Career Center locations for application assistance.  Applications can be submitted through VA's Veterans Online Application web site.  To be eliglbe for participation, DoL must determine that the applicant is unemployed, not enrolled in any federal or state job-training program and is between the ages of 35 aand 60.  VA verifies the applicant's veteran status and type of discharge, and confirms that the applicant has no other VA education benefits available for use, and is not in receipt of compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling by reason of unemployability.  After eligibility has been established, the applicant identifies his or her intended high-demand occupation category and applicable training institution.  Information about the high-demand occupations, identified by DoL, is availabe on VA's VOW to Hire Heroes web site as well as DoL's web site.
 
 
In his opening remarks, Ortiz noted that the Labor Dept had "repurposed approximately $5.4 million of our 2012 Project Year Budget in order to implement the provisions of the VOW Act."  This statement in passing led to the first question.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  I was just asking staff a question.  You talk about repurposing five-plus million dollars to assist.  Was it not funded properly in the legislation?  Where's the money that the legislation appropriated?  Just trying to figure out why would you need additional -- to repurpose additional money?
 
Kathy Tran:  There were several provisions that did not have -- that appropriated funds were not included in.  So for example, the section 222 study on equivalency is one example.
 
Ortiz had indicated Kathy Tran should speak to the question.  She did.  But it wasn't really clear.  The Chair would say he was still trying to figure out this money issue and that this was paid for in the legislation but then he would note that people behind Tran were shaking their heads "no" on that last part.
 
 
So let's delve into that.  Tran's referring to the fact that the legislation required the Dept of Labor to identify skill equivlance between military and civilian employment.  Was this fully funded?  That's one of the questions I asked when I went to the Dept of Labor today.  No, it wasn't funded at all, I was told, and the Labor Dept had to take from their budget for it.    In addition to the five million budgeted, more money will likely be spent on this because the study is not yet completed -- and, again, the legislation requires this study take place.  The Labor Dept is hoping to piggybag on a DoD study.  If they're able to, that would reduce the cost.
 
In addition to wanting to know if the study was funded, Chair Miller also wanted to know what happened in this program -- limited to 99,000 -- if someone signed up, was accepted and ended up having to drop out due to some reason.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: What happens if a veteran enters the program and he drops out?  Is that counted a "used slot"?  Or, if there's still funding left, can that be reallocated to another veteran?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Miller, we have been -- We have been instructed that, uh, that it works similar to the other Mongtogmery GI Bill and other GI bills and when that veteran drops then that authority drops in the 99,000 that are available. 
 
 
Chair Jeff Miller: Drops in or?
 
 
Allison Hickey:  So if the veteran -- I apologize, Mr. Chairman, let me be a little more clear about that. If the veteran applies and then doesn't fulfill the whole year's worth of training and let's say they stop mid-pointm  then that is one of the 99,000 and we cannot recycle the rest of that benefit on to a different veteran.
 
Chair Jeff Miller:  Is that right?
 
Allison Hickey:  Sir, I think that's the provision of the law that has been laid out for us so that's the way we're working it.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: Sounds like the provision needs to be corrected, doesn't it?  Would you recommend that that slot be re-allocated?
 
Allison Hickey:  Chairman Miller, from my perspective, from the advocacy that we have in VA for all veterans, we would certainly like to see every dollar that you all have put towards this be used to train veterans so if you are inclined to do something different in the legislation, we would be happy to consider that.
 
Chair Jeff Miller: That's a great political answer. [Laughter.]  I appreciate that.
 
 
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the pieces of legislation that was passed during the current wars.  The first fall semester checks for that legislation, in fact, didn't go out until the fall of 2009 (and many waited much longer than that to receive their checks, but that's another story).  The retraining opportunities offered by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act was an issue Representative Mike Michaud wanted to explore and he wanted to delve into job training, not just academic training. 
 
 
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  I have a couple of questions.  The first is I've heard from a couple of small towns and cities  and county government, the fact that they're looking for fire fighters as well as police officers and when you look at the unemployed in the military -- particularly for the military police --  they'd like to hire veterans.  Under the VOW Act, what are you doing to help encourage municipal towns for police officers and what's available to them?  And that's my first question.  My second question is, having done several manufacturing tours throughout my district over the past year, one of the things I hear a lot from businesses is that they would like to hire more employees but they found that they're not trained.  When you look at the extension patnership program, the MOST Program, I don't know if you're familiar with it?  It stands for Mobile Outreach Skill Training, it made it's MEP, they go into these businesses and actually are willing to train and they guarantee a job after training or else they do not get paid for the training.  Are you working with extension partnership programs throughout the country in that regard since they do guarantee jobs?  And do you have the resources needed?  So i guess both of you or who wants to answer both of those questions?
 
Ismael Ortiz: Congressman, first of all -- Let's -- I want to hit your first question first, sir.  Fire fighters and police officers are on a high demand list so as far as VRAP is concerned, this is an opportunity for them to be able to go in there if they meet the elegiblity requirements, sir.  On the second part of that, sir, if they don't, we also have local veterans employment representatives in each one of the One-Stop Centers our LVERs [Local Veterans Employment Representatives] who go outreach and make sure  and talk to different employers and places to help them find the skilled person that they're looking for.  So our One-Stops are a very important piece of getting that outreach part and also local communities, that is the biggest piece of what we are talking about, working with the communities as much as possible to get that information to us so that way we can find the proper individuals to help them fill their needs.
 
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  And what type of a benefit will a local community receive since they are tax exempt?  Is there any specific training piece or is there any other benefit under the VOW Act that will be beneficial for the communities?
 
Ismael Ortiz:  Actually sir -- You know what, I'm not really sure on the specifics on that, sir.  But I'll be more than happy to find out.
 
US House Rep Mike Michaud:  Okay.
 
Allison Hickey:  Congress Michaud, let me just tell you how we have generally worked with the education programs in relation to this -- especially the non-degree programs which we started thanks to this Committee and the Senate Veterans Committee's support from the first of October of last year when we were allowed to use GI Bill benefits towards non-degree efforts.  We still require your state approving agency to certify the training.  And if you have on in everyone of the states, I would highly recommend that the counties contact the state approving agencies and submit their training program to them and let them go through their normal process, certify it and then I can -- I can cover them under GI Bill or VRAP for either one.
 
Ismael Ortiz:   As far as the MOST, sir, the MOST Program, I'm going to turn it over to Ms. Kathy Tran.  She works specifically on those issues.
 
Kathy Tran:  Sir, regarding our partnership.  We have a federal partnership with the US Dept of Commerce and the MEP Program and we have been encouraging local partnerships in communities and regions across the country to partner between the workforce system and MEPs in order to support employment in the manufacturing arena.  And we actually issued a training guidance letter  or notice -- I can't remember which one, we can get back to you on that -- recently to encourage those partnerships and that letter included examples of existing successful partnerships at various different levels whether it be working with MEPs  on layoff aversion strategies or working with MEPs to help fulfill, you know, job openings and training.  But also just to add to the question earlier, One Stop Career Centers are available to help local muncipalities in their hiring so they can work to help do recruitment, to do job screening, to do post job openings and so that is a good relationship between the One Stop Career Centers and those muncipalities.  Many local webs have good representation from their city and county councils and such.
 
These are highlights from the hearing that I'm choosing because they go to issues that may require further attention.  US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised a very important issue in his questioning.  It needed to be explored further but was instead dismissed.
 
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  I don't think the VA is doing enough to outreach, I don't think just for this program, there seems to be a reluctance to go to the media, to advertise on TV, to put up billboards.  I'd like to see the VA do more of that, in general.  Especially in this case.
 
Allison Hickey:  Congressman, I appreciate your comments and your questions.  I will say that we have been to the media quite extensively, in the print media and have gotten it out that way, quite extensively. The -- I don't know about billboards except to say that we have a lot of veterans in many, many communities and it would be difficult to figure out the expense associated with a billboard in a single community.  We would start to, I think,
create some discussion around funding that would be a little bit untenable.  We have been online.  I have literally done, as has the Secretary done on camera interviews about veteran employment issues and about the opportunity for education to help those employment opportunities. And I know that Secretary Ortiz' Secretary [Hilda Solis] has done that as well so I will let him comment further on that but we have reached out quite extensively through lots of media different environments including 75 newspapers nationwide for those communities where veterans -- the unemployment rate for veterans is the most -- is the highest.  We're not stopping.
 
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:   So what kind of budget does the VA have for media outreach.
 
Allison Hickey:  Well Congressman McNerney, we are -- We are actually trying to be good stewards here.  So we are leveraging our current network operation, we are leveraging the good will of communities and newspapers and others to get this word out as well including all the military alumni groups, all the -- the Military Times are carrying this for free, many of the local newspapers are carrying this for free --
 
US House Rep Jerry McNerney:  So in other words, you don't have a budget specifically for outreach?
 
Allison Hickey:  Congresmman McNerney, I've not found the need at this point in time especially when, in very short order, we have over 12,000 applicants and they're growing every single day.  Yesterday, it was 11,000 as the Chairman well noted, today it's twelve.  If in fact we do require, I will be happy to come and share that need with you.
 
First, "Military Times" -- that's a publication.  Elsewhere, she noted them as well as Air Force Times, Federal Times, Marine Corps Times, Army Times and Navy Times.  I want to be sure they get their credit.  The Philadelphia Inquirer was mentioned elsewhere in the hearing as was USA Today, the Fayetteville Observer, the San Antonio Express News and the  Wall St. Journal.  Those newspapers had all run the VA's notice and run it for free.  They deserve credit and praise for their public service. 
 
But McNerney is correct, there should be a budget.  If he had more time, it would have been interesting if Hickey could have answered how many turned them down?  Or how many people they had to speak to at the Wall St. Journal?  And how much time was used on this?
 
My point here is that just because the VA did not spend money paying for advertisement, money was still spent in that staff had to call around.  And I'm sure they got rejections.  I'm also sure they got, "This is great but you need to speak to ___."  So how much time was used?
 
There should be a budget and I don't think the VA has staff that can afford additional duties.  The backlog at the VA is so huge -- backlog on claims processing (but really backlog on anything) -- that I don't understand how they're able to work on this and claim money was saved.
 
I also don't think this is what the authors of the legislation intended.  (I could be wrong.)  You're already limiting the program to 99 slots.  Now you're saying that it's not even an equal playing field.  That whether someone hears about it in a publication depends a great deal on if they live in San Antonio or Philadelphia?
 
The Labor Dept estimates that the number of unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 is 400,000.  Repeating, there are only 99,000 slots.  And thanks to Chair Miller's questions, we now know that if someone has to drop out due to illness or maybe they get a great job offer, that slot doesn't get refilled.  It seems like the VA needs to be targeting all veterans. 
 
This is not supposed to be a secret program.  All 400,000 should know it's out there and be able to compete equally for the 99,000 spots.  This is probably the strongest veterans legislation passed since 2009.  Refusing to spend money to get the word out on the program is ridiculous and goes against the whole point of it.
 
Good for the newspapers who did run it for free, good for the VA staff that worked on that.  But there should be an advertising budget.  The government's more than happy to foot the bill for lots of TV and print advertising to recruit into the military.  They should have the same --if not more -- willingness to spend the money to get the word out on programs.
 
Winding down before we move on to Iraq, US House Rep Jerry McNerney raised the issue of billboards.  In political campaigns, billboards are largely a vanity issue.  Studies have found repeatedly that they have less impact on voting than other forms of advertising.  Those studies are on voting for a particular candidate.  There are no studies on what impact they have on raising awareness of new programs.  My guess is that they would be rather effective since they are stationary and many people pass them.  That's just my guess.  But the VA should be using a wide range of techniques to reach veterans. And the very last thing on the hearing.  No one asked Allison Hickey a question that she should have been asked (two veterans asked me if I heard the same thing in the hearing -- I did).  She noted a mass mailing sent out to veterans, 460,000 e-mails.  That's fine.  But what bothered the two veterans (and bothered me as well) was that Hickey stated that they "were viewed or opened by 23 percent of recipients" -- how does she know that?  What is the VA attaching to e-mails that allows them to know if they were opened or not?  Veterans get e-mails from the VA all the time and if there's something additional that they aren't seeing but is in those e-mails, they need to be informed of that.  She didn't explain how she knew the number (or how she knew it was 12% above a standard opening rate) and no one asked her.  We'll note another veterans issue as we wind down the snapshot, right now on to Iraq.
 
 
Today, Baghdad was yet again slammed with bombings.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports the bombings took place over "a three-hour period" today in Shi'ite and Sunni neighborhoods.  Laith Hammoudi (AFP) observes the bombings are "underlining persistent security concerns even as international energy companies met in the centre of the capital to bid on oil and gas exploration blocks."  Deutsche Welle adds, "The last major bomb blast to hit the Iraqi capital was in mid-May when a suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in the city."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quotes survivorNaseer Ali stating, "I was in my shope when I heard a powerful explosion and everybody rushed to the explosion site. Part of the restaurant was damaged and the windows of the nearby shopws were shattered. We saw several wounded people screaming for help."
 
 
The number of dead and wounded climbed throughout the day.  Early on, Patrick Markey and Alison Williams (Reuters) count 9 dead and twenty-seven injured. Then the  BBC News counted 12 dead and twenty-seven injured.  Citing security sources, KUNA stated 18 were dead and sixty-four were injured and did so before 10:00 a.m. EST and while other outlets had a much lower figure for the death toll and the number wounded.  As the day faded, AP reported the death toll had reached 18 and the number injured was at fifty-three.
 
For anyone wondering, neither the White House nor the State Dept issued any statement regarding the bombings or the dead.
 
 
Of today's Baghdad bombings, Al Rafidayn points out that they take place during a shapr increase in the political crisis.  The Irish Times observes, "Some argue that the ongoing political impasse has opened the door to violence. The unity government headed by Mr al-Maliki, a Shia muslim, has been largely paralysed since the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq late last year.  There is mounting criticism of Mr al-Maliki within the ruling coalition, amid complaints that he is shutting out Iraq's two main minorities -- Kurds and Sunni Muslims -- in decision-making."

A group participated in decion making yesterday in Sulaymaniyah Province (KRG).  Al Rafidayn reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Speaker of Iraq's Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Moqtada al-Sadr, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (who represents the National Dialogue which is a part of the Iraqiya political slate), Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi  and others and it was decided that a no-confidence vote would be taken on Nouri if 164 MPs would sign on.  Kitabat notes Moqtada is stating he can get the signatures.  Middle East Online quotes him stating online, "I promised my partners that if they got 124 votes, I will complete the 164 votes." 

Deeply alarmed is Ammar al-Hakim who insists to Alsumaria that he was not part of the meet-up.
 
 

Dar Addustour reports that al-Nujaifi is said to be ready to call an emergency session of Parliament to vote on the issue of Nouri.  They also note US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffries continues to try to shore up support for Nouri among the National Alliance and that he met with Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Karim Abdzaair (Al-Monitor) notes, "The National Iraqi Alliance responded to anti-Maliki political activities by sending their president, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to meet with US ambassador in Iraq James Jeffrey to discuss the political crisis in Iraq. Khadr Khuzai, a member of the National Iraqi Alliance's presidential council and another pole within the Alliance, met with UN representative in Iraq Martin Cooper to discuss the crisis. These were the first two meetings that the Iraqi National Alliance held with US and UN representatives after the Alliance explicitly rejected internationalizing the crisis, one which it considers to be purely internal."
 
Ethyl al-Nujaifi, brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, tells Alsumaria that they already have enough signatures for a quorum, in fact they've exceeded that required number. 

As Al Sabaah notes, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's trial is supposed to start today.  Alsumaria reports the judges has refused the defense's request for testimony from President Jalal Talabani.    AFP explains:
 
The three-judge panel hearing the case denied the request, however, and [. . .] adjourned the trial until June 19. "They have asked for Jalal Talabani, (former Vice President) Adel Abdel Mahdi, (Talabani's chief-of-staff) Nasser al-Ani," and four MPs belonging to Hashemi's mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc to testify, one of the judges said.
 
 
In related news, the targeting of Iraqiya's Laith al-Dulaimi continues and Kitabat reports Iraqi human rights activists joining Talabani's call for al-Dulaimi to be released.  al-Dulaimi was arrested days ago on Nouri's order.  He is a member of the Baghdad provincial council.  Nouri began airing al-Dulaimi's 'confession.'  al-Dulaimi -- still in prison -- has declared he was tortured, that the 'confession' was forced and false.  Realizing he had another p.r. disaster on his hands, Nouri recently began calling for an investigation into these torture allegations.  Abdul-Jabbbar al-Jubouri (Kitabat) reports that the 'confession' has now aired on Iraqi TV.  That's in violation of the law.  al-Jubouri terms it not only a political scandal but an ethical one as well.  Kitabat also doesn't take seriously Nouri's 'investigation,' noting it was his forces acting on his orders that tortured Laith al-Dulaimi and now he's going to investigate himself?

While Nouri flounders, Alsumaria reports the Russian government has extended an invitation to KRG President Massoud Barzani to visit Moscow so that Russia and the KRG can strengthen their ties with one another.  In other bad news for Nouri, he's signed a multi-million dollar contract -- valued at a quarter of a million dollars.  Al Rafidayn reports that this is to build 100,000 housing units.  The bad news?  While Iraq suffers record unemployment, Nouri's farming this job out to South Korea.
 
Iraq's two day energy auction ended today.  Yesterday brought one successful bidW.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) explain, "Iraq on Thursday closed a landmark auction of energy exploration blocks with just three contracts awarded out of a potential 12, dampening hopes the sale would cement its role as a key global supplier."  The offerings weren't seen as desirable and the deals offered even less so.  But big business began sending signals this auction would not go well over two months ago.  (And we've noted that at least three times in previous months.)  That's due to the instability in Iraq caused by Nouri -- and it is seen as caused by Nouri in the oil sector because he is the prime minister, he did pick a fight with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, he did order Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested.  All the instability in recent months have not helped.  His attacks on ExxonMobil and their deal with the KRG has not helped.  Nouri al-Maliki is bad for business.  If Iraq had the arrangement they did under Saddam Hussein, Nouri could get away with that.  But he's going to have to grasp real soon that state oil isn't what it was under Hussein.  The economic model (imposed by the US) is mixed.  And if Iraqis hadn't fought back, it would be strictly privatized.  Nouri's not yet learned that his actions impact Iraq's business.  (And, in fairness to Nouri, this is a new thing for Iraq.  Saddam Hussein could do anything and it wasn't an issue unless the super powers decided it was.  But, again, it's a mixed model now.  Nouri might need to bring in some economic advisors from out of the country.)  W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) report Iraq's response to the poor showing at the auction is to declare that they will hold another one.
 
 
 
Finally, US Senator Patty Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office noted yesterday an important concern she and two other senators have:
 

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

 
VETERANS: Murray, Blumenthal, Nelson Call on Departments of Justice, Treasury to Investigate Charitable Organizations Exploiting Veterans for Own Financial Gain
 
 
 
 
Recent findings raise serious questions as to whether organizations are violating federal law and abusing their tax exempt status by misrepresenting work on behalf of veterans
 
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in sending two letters regarding the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), addressing potential violations of federal law and abuse of tax exempt status by the 501(c)(3) organization. The first letter was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, requesting an audit and, where appropriate, an investigation of the VSO for potential violations of federal law.
 
In a second letter, sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Senator Murray, again joined by Senators Blumenthal and Nelson, expressed concern about the membership criteria used by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to require any standards of conduct for its members. The Senators point out the lack of internal controls for membership on the advisory committee and call for the removal of any organization that fails to conduct itself in a manner befitting the Department's mission or that exploits its relationship with the Department for its own financial gain.
 
"Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC," the Senators write in the letter to Secretary Shinseki. "For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law."
 
The full text of both letters follow:
May 30, 2012
The Honorable Eric H. Holder
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear General Holder and Secretary Geithner:
 
We write to request that the Departments of Justice and Treasury audit and investigate, as appropriate, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO), a registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt corporation, for potential violations of federal law.
 
Throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, including Connecticut and Florida, VSO has attracted scrutiny from state authorities, reputable veterans service organizations, local news organizations and individual veterans. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading, and fraudulent and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law. Taken together, these actions and allegations raise serious questions as to whether VSO has repeatedly and intentionally misappropriated public donations and abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law.
 
At the heart of VSO's suspect practices is its use of paid solicitors, violation of state solicitation laws and financial irregularities. VSO presents its paid solicitors to the public as veterans, providing them with camouflage-style uniforms and instructing them to keep thirty percent of their collected donations as commission. Through its use of these paid solicitors, VSO has been found in violation of state charitable contribution laws and has faced civil penalties as a result. VSO's paid solicitors program is its single largest expenditure, with executive and employee compensation following close behind. In 2009 alone, VSO paid its chief executive officer $255,000, or over four percent of its total revenue. That same year, VSO's spending on its paid solicitor program and executive and employee compensation was over eight times greater than its direct grant awards to other veterans service organizations, government entities, and individual veterans. Clearly, VSO's disproportionate spending on paid solicitors and its own executives, coupled with its admitted violation of state solicitation laws and general lack of transparency and accountability is cause for serious concern. For your reference, we have enclosed a background paper that details VSO's questionable conduct in greater detail.
 
As an increasing number of our servicemembers return home and transition to civilian life, it is especially critical that charity organizations act as good stewards of the American people's goodwill and generosity towards our veterans. On behalf of our nation's veterans and those who serve them, we thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your timely response detailing the steps you have taken auditing or investigating, as appropriate, VSO.
----------------------
 
 
May 30, 2012
 
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We write to express our concern about the membership criteria used by the Department's Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee (NAC) to evaluate prospective member organizations and the NAC's failure to require any standards of conduct for its members.
It is critical that organizations permitted to affiliate themselves with, or invoke the name of, the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct themselves in a manner befitting the Department's mission, its reputation and the integrity of its work. Yet today, any organization that meets a minimum level of monetary and material support to VA facilities is eligible for membership on the NAC. No other review is undertaken by the Department to evaluate a potential member organization, nor does the NAC have in place any standards of conduct to which its member organizations must adhere.
 
This is both troubling and unacceptable. Without a meaningful review process or standards of conduct, the Department risks legitimizing organizations engaged in questionable business practices by permitting their membership on the NAC. For example, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) has repeatedly touted its membership on the NAC as a way to represent itself as a reputable organization. But throughout the seventeen states in which it operates, VSO has drawn scrutiny from state authorities, veterans service organizations, local news organizations and veterans themselves. VSO's business practices have been characterized as dishonest, misleading and fraudulent, and in at least one instance, VSO has acknowledged breaking state law.

In response to VSO's suspect practices, we have written to the Attorney General and to Secretary Geithner, requesting that their departments investigate whether VSO has misappropriated public donations or abused its tax exempt status in violation of federal law. We expressed our concern that charity organizations must act as good stewards of the American people's generosity towards our veterans. Surely an organization, such as VSO, which has admitted breaking state law, should be ineligible to serve on the NAC or use the Department's name in furtherance of its own financial interest.
To protect the integrity of the NAC's work, we ask that you review this situation and take such action as you consider appropriate. It is our hope that you will rescind the membership of VSO and any other organization that fails to reflect the caliber and character of the Department's mission and work, and institute safeguards to regulate the NAC's membership accordingly. We look forward to hearing from you regarding your review of this issue. Thank you for all that you do on behalf of our nation's veterans.
 
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Eli Zupnick
Press Secretary
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834
eli_zupnick@murray.senate.gov


 
 
 
 
 
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