Saturday, June 30, 2012

9 men, 3 women

Today on NPR's Talk of the Town, the guests were Don Pettit, Andre Kuipers, Joe Acaba, Linda Cayot,  Peter Howd, David Leavitt, Daniel Morrow, Christian Bruggemann, Bridget Zarych, Sabera Talukder, Harry Freedman and James Kakallos.

Thursdays we did theme posts in the evening.  We were supposed to share a bit of film criticism and then write of it in some way:



Now for some science.  Helen Briggs (BBC News) reports:

An early relative of humans chewed on bark and leaves, according to fossil evidence.
Analysis of food trapped in the teeth of the two-million-year-old "southern ape" suggests it existed on a unique diet of forest fruits and other woodland plants.
The study, in Nature, gives an insight into the evolution of what could have been a direct human ancestor.

That's very interesting news.  I'm always fascinated by this topic. 

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

Friday, June 29, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the Congress hears that a Status Of Forces Agreement was need in Iraq, how can you do oversight when you can't move around in Iraq, the political crisis continues, and more.

 "First," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz  yesterday morning explaining the purpose of the
Committee, "Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second Americans deserve efficient, effective government that works for them.  Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights."


 Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National  Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which held a hearing on Iraq.

Appearing before the Subcommittee on the first panel were: US State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, Peter Verga and USAID's Mara Rudman.  Panel two was the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.




Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
-- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without
 the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that
 many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget
 on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be 
facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered 
some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of 
projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq 
will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense 
Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement 
has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air 
and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has 
hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionaly 
able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee 
staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According 
to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out 
how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges 
the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission 
Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating 
its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change
 in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,      was this a well managed withdrawal?


 The first panel was a joke in so many ways.  Someone please convey to the State Dept that they
don't look 'manly' offering football allusions to Iraq.  With all the people -- Iraqis, Americans, etc. -- it's really beyond insensitive for State to show up and try to talk football.  There have been far too many deaths for anyone to see this as a game or match and you'd think the diplomatic arm of the government would grasp that on their own and wouldn't need that pointed out.  In addition to the unneeded sports comparisons and examples, there were also the answers which could be honest only if you agreed to ignore the facts. US House Rep Blake Farenthold became Acting Chair where we're doing our excerpt.

 Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
 second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
 college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
lose without compensation all of those facilities?


Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
 in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
 former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

 He said it.  Too bad it wasn't accurate or, for that matter, truthful.  We'll jump over to the second
panel.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
 But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
agreements or leases. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
 that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright, Mr. Carroll, I would also like to follow up a 
question I had on the last panel about the use of Iraqi nationals in overseeing some 
of our investigations of it -- does that?  I mean, what's your opinion that?  Does that 
strike you as a good idea, a bad idea or something we're stuck with because there's 
no alternative? It seems like Americans would be a little more concerned about how 
their tax dollars were spent than the Iraqi nationals who are the receipients of those 
tax dollars.  That's kind of a fox guarding the hen house, it looks like. 

Michael Carroll: [Laughing]  Well I-I personally I think it's a - like-like Ms. Rudman said 
it's an additive sort of step.  We would do the same thing. For example, in some of the 
places where it's absolutely prohibited because of security what we will do is contract 
with a local CPA firm -- primarily out of Egypt -- and do a very comprehensive agreed 
upon procedures document that they will go out and they will take pictures, they will 
ask questions, they will do what we would do if we could get there. So I think that it 
what Mara is talking about as well.  I don't see it as a problem.  In fact, I see it as an 
adjunct to and it's not a replacement for USAID contracting representatives and technical representatives actually getting out and ensuring that the work is actually being done. 
 That's not what these people are doing.  What these people are doing is just going out, 
doing some monitoring and observing.  But it does not replace what the 
responsibilities are for the Americans. 


Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright. Thank you very much.  And I'm not sure if I 
want to address this to Mr. Courts or Mr. Bowen -- whichever one of you seems 
most eager to answer can take this.  I haven't been to Iraq.  My information in the
 field of what it's like on the ground there is based on the things that I've read and 
the reports that I've seen on television.  But a good many of our facilities are in 
metropolitan areas including the capital Baghdad and I'm concerned that we are 
struggling getting food and water to these folks in a safe manner.  I mean, what's 
the procedure?  Is the food delivered?  How -- how is that handled and why is it a 
problem in a metropolitan area? There are hundreds of thousands of people in
 these cities, Iraqi nationals, that need to be fed.  Obviously, it's more complicated 
than just going down to the Safeway but I mean how is that handled?  And why is it 
such a problem?


Stuart Bowen:  The State Dept, as Ambassador Kennedy indicated, continued the LOGCAP contract after the military withdrew in December and thus the process for bringing food
 into the country continued as well and that is via convoys that come up from Kuwait.  
There have been challenges.  That checkpoint has been occasionally closed.  There 
have been security challenges with regards to those convoys and other reasons that 
the shipments have been intermittent and has led to an occasional shortage of certain
 food stuff at the embassies.  [Former US] Ambassador [to Iraq James] Jeffrey emphasized repeatedly this spring his desire to move towards local purchase but that's been slow.




Is it wrong to note that the State Dept's Patrick Kelly was not honest with the Subcommittee or
that he chose to ignore the questions asked?  He wanted to insist (falsely) that there were leases
on all the Iraqi property currently occupied by the US diplomatic mission.  Again, that is not truthful.



In addition, he wanted to insist that turning over a facility the US taxpayer had spent over a million
dollars on was normal and natural.  It was neither.  US taxpayers, if asked, might have said, "Hey,
 turn it over to an Iraqi orphanage or youth project."


Or, noting the huge amount of widows due to  the war, might have said, "Turn it over as a facility for women and their children to live in."  But the same taxpayer that had no vote in whether or not to go to war got no vote in how to spend millions in Iraq..



Patrick Kennedy declared, "It was always our plan to make adjustments to the police development program over time."


That actually may be true.  (Or it may be another lie.)  But the fact is, the US State Dept refused to share the plan with Congress or the office of the Special Inspector for General Reconstruction in Iraq.  Kennedy might hope we forget that -- and certainly many in the press will rush  to assist him -- but those of us present at the hearings held in the last months of 2011 remember the State Dept refusing to answer questions.




The State Dept is not an fiefdom, though Patrick Kennedy appears to believe it is.  They are
answerable to Congress.  It's a real shame that all these issues were not nailed down in real time.

 If  you're confused or playing stupid, the reason it was not nailed down is many Democrats agreed to give the White House a blank check and they weren't even concerned with what figure might be written in on that blank check.  That's not just me.  Let's note Stuart Bowen's testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday about the State Dept's refusal to provide concrete answers:



Stuart Bowen:  I testified before this subcommittee in November 2011 about our 
concerns regarding the Department of State's planned multi-year, multi-billion-dollar 
Police Development Program [PDP].  I raised two overarching issues that threatened
 the PDP's success.  First, the Defense Department had not adequately assessed the 
impact of its own six-year police training efforts, and thus a key benchmark for 
future planning was missing.  And second, State had not sufficiently planned for the 
program, either on the policy or logistical fronts.  It is now beyond dispute that the 
PDP planning process was insufficient.  It should have produced specific program 
goals, a time frame for accomplishing those goals, the anticipated total cost for the 
program, the expected scope of required resources, and a method for measuring
 progress.  The process fell short in each of these areas.  Further, to succeed, the 
PDP required close collaboration and support from the Government of Iraq.  But
the GOI's support has been weak, at best. 

 That's why we have the problem we do now.  In other comments? Tim Arango of the New York Times   was attacked by the US State Dept for his writing.  His writing ( "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") was about what the State Dept was discussing.

He did not attempt to predict what would happen or how it would play out.  We've already noted
Tim was correct and accurate in his reporting.  We'll note that his reporting only stands stronger
after the Thursday hearing.  If Victoria Nuland had any class or character, she'd apologize publicly
to Tim Arango for the attack she launched on him.
 Before we go further, we should fall back to the last hearing Jason Chaffetz chaired that we
covered.  That's December 7, 2011 and from that coverage, we'll note this:

 Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] 
Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not 
have IGs in January.  In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move 
without delay to appoint replacements.  That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] 
Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House 
Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings
 and Ranking Member Tierney.  I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record.  
Without objection, so ordered.  To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate 
any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter.  I find that totally 
unacceptable.  This is a massive, massive effort.  It's going to take some leadership
 from the White House.  These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails 
to make these appointments.  Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot 
achieve transparency without inspectors general.  Again, I urge President Obama and 
the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies  and
 without delay.
 Why is Geisel, who was at that hearing in December, billed as an "acting" anything?  Is the White
House unable or just unwilling to fill these slots?

 For many of us, the inaction reminds us that Barack Obama, as a member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee was over Afghanistan in terms of subcommittees but never called a hearing
on the topic.  Someone appears to love credits in the yearbook, they just don't want to work for them.


This can be seen also with regards to the failed nomination of Brett McGurk for US Ambassador to Iraq.


There is still no one else nominated for the post.


Before the e-mails and sex scandal broke, before the ethics questions sprung up, it was always clear that McGurk was an iffy nominee to be confirmed.  The White House apparently planned for no one else to be needed.  So they still haven't named a new nominee.  This issue came up in yesterday's State Dept press briefing. Victoria Nuland was asked about Iraq.

QUESTION: Just a general question. I know you've addressed this in bits before. But Iraq 
with the Embassy there, it's been a month since Ambassador Jeffrey has gone. Obviously
 his named successor has withdrawn. In terms of the operations of the Baghdad Embassy, is everything up to speed? Is it – are there difficulties now going on without an 
ambassador there?

MS. NULAND: Well, it's always important to have the President's representative in the 
person of an ambassador. That said, we have a very strong and capable chargĂ© there, 
Robert Beecroft. His relationships with Iraqis across the spectrum are broad and 
deep, as they are with principals here in Washington. So the mission goes on, and we 
are continuing to work with Iraqis across the spectrum to try to encourage them to 
work together on the political issues that divide them. And of course, we maintain a 
broad economic relationship and a security support relationship.

QUESTION: Sure. I know it's a White House issue largely, but the idea of having a new 
nominee --
 MS. NULAND: Definitely a White House issue.


Yesterday's hearing was different from many other Congressional hearings: It actually got some
 press attention.  Iran's Press TV (link is text and video) opens with, "The US authorities have
discussed a new plan to secure them a long lasting presence in Iraq by spending millions of dollars to upgrade a US embassy compound in the war-torn country, Press TV reports."
I don't think Press TV's out on a limb with that statement.  I think a strong argument can be made-- based on the hearing -- for what the outlet is claiming.

Yesterday, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported, "The State Department is planning to
 spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month."
However, I'm surprised that they missed the bigger point.
I'm not surprised the US press missed it.  Once upon a time, the US press lulled themselves to
sleep with sticky thighs over the thought of 'maverick' John McCain.

The press crush on the senator hit the rocks when newbie frosh Barack strutted onto campus.  Which is a real shame since the once-madly-in-love-with-John press could now be penning, "John McCain was right!" columns.
I'm not saying he was right.  John McCain and I disagree completely on the war.  But he's been
attacked over and over for comments about a residual US military force in Iraq.  The big news out
of the hearing was that the inspector generals pretty much all agreed with the non-present
Senator John McCain.
 What you heard from the second panel repeatedly was that the State Dept was unprotected
and that cost overruns really couldn't be controlled with the State Dept's inability to check their own projects.


While Carroll thought Mara Rudman (USAID) hiring 25 Iraqis to supervise US reconstruction projects provided a set of eyes on these projects, there's so much more going on in Iraq.   You had statements from DoD's Mickey McDermott about how the lack "of a post-2011 Security Agreement or Status Of Forces Agreement was affecting aspects of its operations.  Key areas cited by these officials as being impacted included: land use agreements, force protection, passport/visa requirements, air and ground movement, and FMS site stand-up.  The precise impact of these command concerns with respect to achieveing short and long-term OSC-I goals is unclear.  However, having a formal, follow-on Security and Status Of Forces Agreemens was perceived  to have value potentially in clarifying and stabilizing Iraqi government support for day-to-day OSC-I operations, and would benefit longer-term relationship building."
 Again, the statements should have led the press to note that McCain -- ridiculed as crazy and out of  it -- actually can find support for his assertion that there are elements that supported extending the SOFA.  (The military did support that.  We've noted that repeatedly.  Testimony to Congress by
various generals have made that clear.  But what happened here is that people whose job it is to
analyze made comments that backed up the claims John McCain was making.)
 Violence continued in Iraq today.  AP reports Balad saw one, two, three bombings "in quick
 succession" today.  AFP notes, "Gunmen shot dead four anti-Qaeda militiamen in central Iraq on
Friday, while a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi soldier, security and medical officials said."  Reuters adds,  "Police colonel Hassan al-Baldawy said at least six people were killed and 45 wounded" in a combination of suicide and motorcycle bombings.  AP adds that four other Sahwa were wounded  in the Diyala attack.  Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" (and "Daughters Of Iraq" for their female counterparts).  Alsumaria notes that the assailants used machine guns to
fire on Sahwa.  At the April 8, 2008 Senate Armed Services hearing when Gen David Petraeus,
then the top US commander in Iraq, was explaining Sahwa.

In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of 
Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as 
well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their 
neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced 
violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of 
their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to 
avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council 
are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that 
mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".

 This was the second day in a row for attacks on Sahwa.  As Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reminds of 
yesterday's violence,  "In Iraq's northern central province of Salahudin, gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by government-backed Awakening Council group members in the city of Samarra, some 110 km north of the capital, killing two group members before they fled the scene, a local police source told Xinhua."
Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observes of  yesterday's violence,  "A wave of attacks in and around the
capital city of Baghdad pointed out that the war in that nation is still very much going on, with or
without the US occupation forces, leaving 38 people killed and over 140 others wounded."
Laith Hammoudi (AFP) reports on what happens after the bombings:
 

Piles of concrete blocks, clothes and furniture are all that remain of many of the makeshift houses in Imam Ali slum after an explosives-packed car tore through the area on June 13, claiming the lives of seven people and leaving more than 20 families homeless.
The blast has left the Shiite area's impoverished residents mourning relatives and 
neighbours, and struggling to rebuild their shattered lives.
Hussein said he looked for houses to rent but the cheapest one he found was 150,000 Iraqi dinars ($125) per month, and it was in poor condition and would have required significant repairs.

Abeer Mohammed (Institute for War & Peace Reporting via McClatchy Newspapers) offers, " Iraqi politicians from across the ethnic and religious spectrum agree that the recent wave of attacks targeting Shia Iraqis appears to be a deliberate move by extremists to reignite the sectarian conflict of past years."
 There's also conflict -- in what things say they are going to do and what they acually do.  Among their reports is this one on the Ministry of Electricity's Inspector General declaring there are fake contracts for $3 trillion dinars.  If the news seems familiar, it's because fake contracts and the Ministry of Electricity seem to go hand in hand.  Dropping back to the August 12, 2011 snapshot:



 Political intrigue continues in Iraq as well.  For example,  Al Mada reports that the Sadr 
bloc is calling for an investigation into the alleged fake contracts and alleged theft of funds 
in the Ministry of Electricity. Over the weekend, Nouri al-Maliki announced he was firing the Minister of Electricity due to fake contracts worth billions. There were two main responses. First, many stated Nouri didn't have the power to do the firing, only Parliament did. Second, 
the Minister of Electricity floated that he had many stories to tell. It has since emerged that these contracts Nouri claims to be surprised and appalled by carry . . . Nouri's signature.
 Nouri and State Of Law's latest move is to note that this member of Nouri's Cabinet is also 
a member of Iraqiya. I'm not sure how that assists Nouri since, over the weekend, Iraqiya 
was the first to state that they supported the move Nouri made.  Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli (The Middle East Media Research Institute) offers an analysis of what happened:

In July of this year, the Ministry of Electricity signed a contract with a Canadian company, CAPGENT, for $1.2 billion for the construction of 10 power stations with a production 
capacity of 100 megawatts each. The company was registered in Vancouver, Canada. It 
also signed a second contract with a German company, Maschinerbrau Halberstadt, for
 €500 million ($650 million) for the construction of five power stations with a production 
capacity of 100 megawatts each, to be completed within 12 months from the time a line
of credit was extended. It now appears that the two companies are fictitious, and had the contracts been executed they would have would have constituted a monumental case 
of fraud involving senior officials of the Ministry of Electricity.

The two fraudulent cases came to light thanks to the personal efforts of Jawad Hashim, a former minister of planning in Iraq during the early Ba'thist regime in the 1960s and early 
1970s. In a handwritten letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, datelined Vancouver, Canada, August 2, 2011, Hashim detailed the fraud.
As a resident of Vancouver, Hashim decided to investigate the available information on 
the Canadian company while he asked the former minister of economy and governor of
 the Iraqi central bank, Fakhri Yassin Qadduri, who resides in Germany, to investigate the identity of the German company.

In related news, Ahmed Abbasi (Kitabat) reports over six billion dollars missing from the public
funds and Abbasi wonders how this continues to happen, where are the courts, where is the
Integrity Commission?  Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Kirkuk is spending over 93 billion dinars
on a water project to ensure potable water.  It's considered one of Iraq's largest water projects
 Turning to the topic of intrigue, Kitabat reports on rumors that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad is
coordinating with the Tehran-based government and Iraq's National Alliance and that they are using cell phones to monitor the movements of Iraqiya and other political rivals and that they are also listening in on phone calls.  If true, this is apparently part of an effort to keep Nouri as prime minister.

A reported plan by the Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki to call an early election is insignificant. He might be thinking of ways to end the current stalemate and hopefully get 
a new and broader mandate. He might as well accomplish that since his opponents are 
weaker and divided. But that surely will not solve Iraq's problems -- assuming that Al 
Maliki does care.

The real problem of today's Iraq is the attempt of one political faction to dominate the
 political landscape shutting everybody else out.


As Al Mada notes today, Nouri is resisting appearing before the Parliament for questioning.  The Constitution is clear on this matter, as the Parliament has reminded Nouri. Alsumaria reports today that MP Mahma Khalil, with the Kurdistan Alliance, states that Nouri must bear responsibility for what is taking place in Iraq and that this is not about withdrawing confidence.  Alsumaria sees this as a retreat from the plan for a no-confidence vote.  It may be.  Or it may be someone grasping the p.r. effect.  Moqtada al-Sadr looks so much more reasonable than many because, since April, he has publicly presented a position (whether it's true or not) of, "I hope it doesn't come to this, only in a last resort . . ."  He has repeatedly noted that the entire process can be stopped by Nouri if Nouri will only follow the Erbil Agreement.  Again, Alsumaria may be interpreting things correctly.  But it's also true that Nouri's began lashing out and trying to win public opinion this week on the issue of the no-confidence vote.  This may be others following Moqtada's lead.  Al Mada reports today that the Kurdish bloc in Parliament is stating that even should Nouri survive the no-confidnece vote, this does not end the push for accountability. Kurdish MP Shwan Mohammed Taha states that, successful or not, the interrogation isn't the end of things.  He cites the Erbil Agreement and the need to return to it.

In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued  the following today:


MONDAY: VETERANS: Murray in Seattle to Unveil New Mental Health Legislation
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran will share his story of having his PTSD diagnosis overturned

(Washington, D.C.) -- On Monday, July 2, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the 
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a press conference at the Seattle Nisei 
Veterans Center to discuss her new service members and veterans mental health 
legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012.  This legislation comes as the Pentagon begins a comprehensive military-wide review, which Senator Murray urged [Defense] 
Secretary [Leon] Panetta to conduct on diagnoses for the invisible wounds of war dating
back to 2001.  

The misdiagnosis of behavioral health conditions has been a constant 
problem for soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center, where to date over 100 soldiers
 and counting have had their correct PTSD diagnosis restored following reevaluation.  
Stephen Davis, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who had his initial diagnosis of PTSD overturned, will speak at the press conference with his his wife to share his experience.
The legislation seeks to address problems with DOD and VA mental health care identified during multiple hearings of Senator Murray's Veterans Affairs Committee.  Specifically, 
Senator Murray's Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 would require DOD to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program, expand eligibility for a 
variety of VA mental health services to family members, improve training and 
education for our health care providers, create more peer to peer counseling 
opportunities, and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental 
health services.  More about Senator Murray's bill HERE.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
           Sergeant David Leavitt
           Sergeant First Class Stephen Davis and his wife Kim Davis
            Michele Smith, wife of Sergeant Shannon Smith
WHAT: Press conference to unveil the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012
WHEN: Monday, July 2, 2012
            1:30 PM PT
WHERE:  Seattle Nisei Veterans Center
                1212 South King Street
                 Seattle, WA 98144
                  Map
###
 
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

13 men, 6 women

Tuesday on NPR's Talk of the Town, the guests were Sandra Postel, Peter McBride, Reza Aslan, Firoozeh Dumas, Assaf Gavron and Luis Alberto Urrea.  5 men, 1 woman.

Wednesday on the show, the guests were Ron Elving, Vin Weber, Anna Greenberg, Dina Temple-Raston, Kenneth Feinberg and Andrea Chalfin. 3 men, 3 women.

Today on the show, the guests were David Savage, Richard Pides, Mara Liasson, Julie Rovner, Moby, Ben Waber and Shankar Vendantam.  5 men, 2 women.

Tonight, we're doing theme posts.  Movie criticism.  We find a piece of one that stands out, excerpt and then write about it.


I also showed the film Burn, probably the only Marlon Brando film that was buried by its distributor.  When I called United Artists to ask how I could get a copy for my class, the person at the other end said they had withdrawn it from circulation.  When I asked why he began shouting "Because it's an obscene, dirty film."  I found that very funny (in both senses of the word) because there was no sex in Burn and United Artists at that time was ballyhooing another Brando film, Last Tango in Paris.  This suggested that the "obscenity" has to do with the fact that Burn was about colonialism, and the way one colonial power, England, evicted another, Portugal, from a desirable colony, pretending to bring freedom to the native population.  If shown today, the film might well be instructive about "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

That garbage is from Howard Zinn.  It's collected in one of his many collections -- this one entitled A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

When you read the whole essay and think about his bad interviews where he snickers about various actresses (like Jane Fonda -- he snickers about her to Amy Goodman), you'll realize he was just a sexist pig. 

There are not a huge number of films that feature the working class, but there are many.  He's not interested in those films anymore than he's interested in  women.

And Burn is a bad movie.  (I do like Last Tango -- he just mentions it and doesn't weigh in but I will).

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  some wonder who will eventually replace Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, attacks on the press in Iraq continue, we note the attacks on Al Mada, Nouri offers name calling of his rivals, the return of the VA's dreaded Madhulika Agarwal, and much more.
 
In an new article published by the Navy Times today, Patricia Kime reports on a study for the US military's Trauma Combat Casualty Care Committee which found "that nearly a quarter of the 4,596 combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011 were 'potentially survivable'."
 
There's not been a comprehnsive evaluation of deaths in Iraq but that's probably partly due to the fact that the violence has never stopped.  This morning kicked off with Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reporting 3 Taji car bombings have left at least two people dead and another fifteen injured.  AP noted those numbers increased to 5 dead and eighteen injured.  In addition, AFP noted a Baghdad car bombing has claimed 8 lives and left thirty injured.  Kareem Raheem (Reuters) quotes Baghdad police officer Ahmed Nouri stating, "There were bodies scattered everywhere.  Glass and vegetables covered the whole place.  I feel lik my clothes are completely covered in blood and the smell of it is in my nose.  In some places you cannot tell the blood from the (pulverized) vegetables."  On the Baghdad bombing, AP quotes Hadil Maytham who was with her children when the explosions took place, "It shook the doors and the windows of the house.  Then we heard shooting, probably by police who usually shoot randomly after explosions."   AFP also noted a Baquba bombing claimed 2 lives and left four people injured and a Ramadi car bombing left five people injured.  Reuters added, "A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed one and wounded five in Abu Dsheer, a Shi'ite area in southern Baghdad, police said."  In addition, KUNA reports, "In Diyala Governorate southewest of Baghdad, unknown armed men killed four security elements at a checkpoint in Baqubah city."  AFP added this evening that 2 Shawa were killed in Samarra with an additional two left injured.  As the day ended in the US, AP was counting 22 deaths and over fifty injured.  It has been a very violent month in Iraq with Iraq Body Count counting 404 deaths by violence this month (June 1st through yesterday).
 
Meanwhile many speculate about Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's health and his eventual death, specifically who would take over.  Hayder al-Khoei (Niqash) argues it's very unlikely that Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi (born in Iraq, adult life spent in Iran) would be named the replacement as some hope and some fear:
 
Shahroudi is a well-regarded scholar but his political position in Iran hinders, rather than helps, his prospects in Iraq. In fact, any political position a cleric holds actually has direct – and negative – implications on his religious credentials in Najaf. In Iran, religion and politics may be symbiotic. But in Iraq they do not go hand in hand.
The Shiite schools in Najaf, headed by al-Sistani have been practicing what is known as a tradition of quietism here for centuries: that is, a policy of religious leaders not interfering in political affairs. Clerics in Iraq do get involved in politics and the Grand Ayatollah does intervene in political affairs, but unlike in Iran, only on rare occasions.
Additionally, the process by which a successor to the religious movement is selected must be considered.  As Iraqi government spokesperson, Ali al-Dabbagh, put it: "there will be a transition period for a few years after the leading cleric dies but there are set mechanisms in place [for choosing a successor] and anyone who attempts to fill this gap using financial and political power from outside Iraq will fail".
Al-Dabbagh is referring to the gradual process of selection, involving other senior clerics in Najaf who will have a role in persuading the masses toward one, or several, clerics suitable to eventually take al-Sistani's place. It will not be clear cut at first and it may take some years for one strong, leading cleric to emerge.
As political and financial independence is crucial, it seems unlikely that senior clerics in Najaf will persuade the masses to start following someone like Shahroudi, with such an overt political role in Iran.
But the likelihood of Shahroudi replacing al-Sistani does not just depend on theological differences between clerics in Iraq and Iran. It also depends on the attitude of the masses. By following al-Sistani, Shiite Muslims indicate their reluctance to tie their religious and spiritual identity to a modern political system.
 
In 2009, Hashemi-Shahroudi ordered 'measures' to be taken to curb the press which frightened him -- specifically websites and satellite TV.  Whether he could replace Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or not, he would certainly fit in with Nouri's never-ending attacks on the media. 
 
 
Today, AFP reports, "Baghdad: Iraq's interior ministry has given dozens of media outlets 45 days to comply with Communications and Media Commission (CMC) regulations over licences, or they will face 'legal procedures'."  Reporters Without Borders issues a statement which includes:
Tension between authorities and media have peaked this month with a decision by the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) – still pending implementation – to close 47 radio and TV stations on the grounds they lack official permits, and with demonstrations by journalists calling for the repeal of the Law on Journalists' Rights, which parliament adopted in August 2011 and which is widely regarded as violating the rights it claims to defend.

Disturbing decision by panel of questionable independence

Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the CMC's decision, which triggered such an outcry that the interior ministry has given the radio and TV stations concerned 45 days from 25 June to comply with regulations.
The CMC took its decision more than a month ago but it was only revealed on 23 June by the Journalism Freedoms Observatory (JFO), which obtained documentary evidence of the plan. It concerns both local and foreign TV stations such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Monte Carlo, Radio Sawa, Al-Baghdadia TV and Al-Sharqiya News.
Many journalists and some politicians have criticized the decision as an attempt to gag the media, pointing out that the head of the CMC is appointed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and that many of the targeted media are noted either for the non-partisan nature of their Iraqi coverage or, in some cases such as Al-Baghdadia and Al-Sharqiya, for their frequent criticism of the Iraqi government.
Iraq is currently experiencing a major political crisis with the prime minister facing mounting opposition. He is often accused of authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption.

 
Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) head Ziyad al-Aajey told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that he believes the latest action against international news outlets is a direct warning from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"It is a government message to the media outlets that if you are not with us, then you are against us," he said.
 
Nouri has a long history of attacking the press.  We noted some of that Sunday:
 
But Nouri began his crackdown on the press in July of 2006, he was freshly named prime minister.  He continued it.  At one point, his attacks translated into a reporter for the New York Times having an Iraqi soldier aim a gun at him, pull the trigger and then laugh because there was no chamber in the round.  This is what Nouri's encouraged and fostered in Iraq.  He's sued the Guardian, he's sued everyone.  Saleh al-Mutlaq tells CNN in December that Nouri's acting like a dictator and Nouri spends months trying to get al-Mutlaq stripped of his Deputy Prime Minister post.

In 2012, Nouri's favorite thing is to storm Iraqi news websites with hits to try to get them denied service.  No one comments on that because there's hardly any foreign press in Iraq anymore.  But there's too much still for Nouri.  Little Saddam can't do what he wants to do if there's a chance that the world's watching.
 
This led some to insist that there are no web attacks in Iraq.  Yes, there are.  It's pretty much destroying Al Mada which, today, is temporarily back online.  You won't find new content.  The daily has been hard by these attacks and hasn't published since the end of May.  However, May 25th they did report that their website was exposed to daily attacks that were causing it to crash.  They apologized to their readers and noted that tehcnical staff was attempting to prevent the hacks and the disruption of service.
 
 
Al Mada is one of Iraq's finest newspapers -- a newspaper that repeatedly puts US coverage to shame.  It could be a leader in the Middle East.  Instead, it's repeatedly attacked and the US press can't even be bothered with noting that fact.  Is it professional jealousy or just the US press forever being self-absorbed.
 
 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues.  Kitabat reports that Ibrahim al-Jaafair hosted a meeting at his home last night and that various factions of the National Alliance met in what is seen as an effort to save Nouri al-Maliki.  Whether the Sadr bloc supports the effort or not, Bahaa al-Araji did attend.  Alsumaria reports that Nouri is insisting that a no-confidence vote is over and that it's either a dialogue or early elections.

 Nouri wasn't the one calling for a no-confidence vote in himself so he's really not the one with the power to decide when such an effort is over.  Dar Addustour notes the Kurdish Alliance sees Nouri's threat of early elections as his effort to avoid being questioned by the Parliament.  Alsumaria reports Nouri is stating today that a campaign to sew confusion is being waged in Iraq and, while that would make a good confession from Nouri, he is yet again pointing the finger at others.  Al Rafidayn quotes Nouri stating that the answer to the problems is not rushing to the Constitution.  Well he would say that. When has he ever respected the Iraqi Constitution?  Just one example, he's been prime minister since 2006.  The Iraqi Constitituion's Article 140 insists a referendum and census on Kirkuk will be held.  It insists it is not to take place any later than the end of 2007.  Despite taking an oath to uphold the Constitution, Nouri has repeatedly refused to implement Article 140 and offered one excuse after another of why it's not a good time.  Nouri has no respect for the Constitution and, over Article 140 alone, should be impeached and removed from office.  Despite his inability to follow his oath, Nouri managed to insist that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi is not netural and is not professional

Kitabat notes the call remains for Nouri to appear before Parliament for questioning.  One thing they might question him on is the topic Dar Addustour's reporting: Parliament's Human Rights Commission has found proof of torture in Iraq prisons -- something Nouri has repeatedly denied takes place.  While ignoring that finding, Nouri has insisted today that there are no journalists in prison.  Which probably means there are many.
 
Turning to the United States . . .
 
 
Senator Barbara Boxer:  I want to say I came here to talk to you about the epidemic of veteran homelessness and to offer up an idea that doesn't cost any money that I think would be terrific in involving the American people in this -- fighting this epidemic. You know, I would say probably all of us in this room -- I certainly hope all of us in this room -- have safe, comfortable homes to live in and we take it for granted.  But every night, 67,500 of our nation's veterans are homeless.  67,500 of our veterans are homeless. This is inexcusable because no veteran should ever have to spend a night on the streets and I know we all agree with that.  Ensuring that our veterans have safe, stable housing is also a smart thing to do because research has shown that a home is the very foundation that a veteran can build and sustain a successful life.  In my home state of California, I met a veteran, Holbert Lee.  And when Mr. Lee returned home from Vietnam, he ended up addicted to drugs and homeless on the streets of San Francisco.  We have an organization there called Swords to Plowshares and they helped him turn his life around, Madam Chairwoman, with the help of a housing voucher and VA support services, Mr. Lee now has a home to call his own.  And today as a vocational specialist at the San Francisco VA, he is working to assist other veterans.  Holbert Lee is a success story and proof of what can happen when we end the cycle of homelessness.  But there are too many more men and women who we have not reached. Now our government announced a goal to end veterans homelessness by 2015.  And I like to think that when we announce a goal like that, we mean it.  This isn't just something we throw out.   But yet [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki admitted, "While we're not where we need to be just yet, we have movement but it's too early to begin high-fiving one another." And it is clear from those words that we have a long way to go.  So I introduced S. 1806, the Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2011.  Very straightforward.  It creates a check off box on the annual federal tax return. Tax payers can decide to make a voluntary contribution of one-dollar or more to support programs that prevent and combat veterans homelessness.  The donations are deposited in a new homeless veterans assistance fund established at the treasury that can only be used to supplement Congressionally appropriated funds for these various programs to help veterans.  Now let me be very clear, the funds in the check off box will not be allowed by law to replace any budgeted dollars -- there needs to be a maintenance of effort -- but they would be used to supplement those dollars.  So colleagues, I want to say -- Well, before I do my real close, I want to place in the record with your permission, Madam Chair, letters of support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, from TEAM AMVETS, from the Center for American Homeless Veterans Inc. and from the California Association of County Veterans Services Officers and Swords to Plowshares.  I think -- If I might put those in the record, if that is alright?
 
Chair Patty Murray:  We will do that.
 
Senator Barbara Boxer:  And I think that they -- If you read these letters, there's -- They strongly support this approach.  So in conclusion I would say that our veterans have given so much. You're dealing with this every day and a lot of them suffer, they suffer mightily.  And having a home is the least we can do and I think that all of Americans want a chance to help.  They -- they feel sometimes helpless.  But with a dollar on a check-off, if every American paying their taxes did that, we could do something special.  I hope you will consider this.  I will work with you to make it happen.  I thank you for your dedication.
 
Boxer was speaking at yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on proposed legislation.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee.  Yesterday, we noted her bills S. 3340 The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 and S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.  On the latter, we also noted some of the testimony of Tracy Keil.  Tracy and her husband Iraq War veteran Matt Keil faced obstacles to having a child following Matt Keil being shot on February 24, 2007 while on patrol in Ramadi.  If Matt Keil had a basic insurance policy with any corporation, fertility and conception issues and care would not have been an issue.  As a veteran, Matt Keil's 'insurance' -- and that of his family -- comes via the VA.  And Murray's bill brings the VA up to 2012 and puts veterans and their families on equal footing when it comes to reproductive health.  Tracy Keil probably said it best yesterday, "War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."
 
This is a basic issue that shouldn't be surrounded with any controversy or resistance.  It's not 1980, we're not just learning of Baby Louise (Louise Joy Brown, born in 1978, the first child conceived via in vitro fertilization).  Though the VA has dragged its feet for decades, these are not new issues.   Tracy Keil was part of the second panel along with VetsFirst's Heather Ansley, Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem and the American Urological Association's Dr. Mark Thomas Edney.  The first panel was VA's Dr. Madhulika Agarwal, William Schoenhard, Thomas Murphy and Robert Hipolit.  Excerpt of the first panel on this issue.
 
Chair Patty Murray:  Well the VA can't offer much in the way of care for spouses.  What does that mean for couples who need extra assistance conceiving a child because of a war injury?
 
Dr. Madhulika Agarwal:  Thank you again, for this question, Madam Chair.  Uh, Congress has generally restricted eligibility of health care services in VA to spouses.  There are some rare exceptions such as in [one word here -- no idea what she said, speak into the microphone] VA.  S. 3313 is aimed at expanding that authority to include infertility management for spouses under some circumstances when the veteran's injury has precluded their ability to procreate naturally.  Uh, we do not have a position on this yet but are reviewing it.  And, again, look forward to working with you and the Committee.
 
Agarwal?  We last encountered her in the June 4, 2009 House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.  That performance led to the next day's entry here of "The VA's Madhulika Agarwal: Lying or grossly uninformed?"  In the three years, she's clearly not improved.  For example, I think Chair Murray knows S. 3313 and doesn't need anyone from the VA to tell her what it would do -- Murray is the sponsor of the bill.  We all caught that, right? Murray asked what services VA provided.  The answer is really none.  But to eat up time and give a false impression or who knows what, Agarwal starts babbling about what Murray's bill will do.  And, in her opening statement, Agarwal had already declared that the VA had no position on Murray's bill.  (Which I think is both offensive and a medical dereliction of duty.)
 
 
In addition to the snapshot, coverage came last night with Kat's "Justice for Camp Lejeune families?" offering the latest on the issue Ranking Member Richard Burr has long championed;   Ava's "Scott Brown backs two veterans bills" noted Brown's S. 3324 Housing for Families of Ill and Injured Veterans and S. 3308 The Women's Homeless Veterans Act; and  Wally offered "Veterans' cemeteries" on Senator Kelly Ayotte's S. 2320 Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012 about the untended graves at Clakr Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines.  With those items covered, we'll note a Bill of Rights issue.  Specifically the Second Amendment. 
 
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Mr. Murphy, you addressed the Second Amendment issue. If individuals -- Let me ask you this, how many veterans names have been turned over to NICIS?  How many are currently on that list?
 
Thomas Murphy: I don't have the details on the number of names that are currently on that list.  I can tell you the details around the number of requests for relief or removal from that list.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  How many names have been requested to be relieved?
 
Thomas Murphy: 185, Senator.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr: And how many have been granted?
 
Thomas Murphy: A total of 19.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  And that's out of 127,000 names that have been turned over on the NICIS list.
 
Thomas Murphy:  Correct.  I'm assuming your numbers are correct. I don't have those in front of me.
 
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Trust me, they are. 
 
Thomas Murphy:  Okay.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  If individuals seek releif from the NICIS list,reporting requirements, does the VA assist them in coming up with the evidence needed to show whether they're dangerous?
 
Thomas Murphy: Yes, Senator, we do.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  What do you do?
 
Thomas Murphy:  The Duty to Assist Act requires us to fully develop the case.  This is not a light matter in the Veterans Administration.  This is a fully adjudicated, full developed claim with a-a full decision letter with an explanation of how the decision was arrived to with a lot of supporting evidence and documentation provided.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Are there any veterans that are determined incapable to handle their own personal finances that's name is not put on the NICIS list?
 
Thomas Murphy:  Let me make sure I understand the question.  Are there veterans who --
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Do you -- You have sombody who's determined that a veteran cannot write a check so they cannot handle their finances.  They have now assigned a spouse to be in charge of the finances. Is there anybody that that's happened to that that veteran was not then listed on the NICIS list?
 
Thomas Murphy:  I can say that there are not supposed to be.  I'm not saying that through an administrative process of errors that it hasn't occurred.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  My understanding -- and I'll get you to go back and clarify this if I'm wrong -- every veteran who is relieved of their financial -- or deemed that they can't handle their own finances is automatically put on the list?
 
Thomas Murphy: They're placed on the list by the Veterans Administration, yes.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So what are the qualifications of the VA employees who make the decisions about whether veterans and their families should be stripped of their Second Amendment? What training do these people go through? 
 
Thomas Murphy:  I-I don't believe we have an option in this, Senator.  We're directed --
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Well you've got VA -- You've got VA employees that are making a decision about whether somebody is capable of doing their own personal finances.  That determination that they're not capable of doing that strips them of their Second Amendment right.  It's very simple.  What training does that VA employee go through to be qualified to make a determination that would strip someone of their Constitutional rights?
 
Thomas Murphy:  Our employees -- Our adjudicators are trained in determining whether or not that veteran is capable of making the financial determinations they have with the funds that Veterans Administration provides that individual.  As a result of that decision, they are placed on the NICIS list.  It's not a determination of whether the individual is capable of handling firearms or not, it's can they manage their personal finances.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  I know.  But when they go on the NICIS list, they are now deprived of firearm ownership. 
 
Thomas Murphy:  That's correct.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay.  So a determination that they can't handle their personal finances strips them of their Second Amendment right and also, the way that it's written, it forbids any firearm to be handled by anyone in the household.  So you, in essence, strip the spouse of the Second Amendment right, you strip children of the Second Amendment right because you've determined that a veteran can't handle their own personal finances.  Are we in agreement?
 
Thomas Murphy:  We are.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay.  Now I don't want to make this too simplistic.  If a veteran can't sign their name to a check and the VA determines that their spouse should be assigned the financial responsibilities because you're transferring money into an account, do we agree that that would trigger their listing on the NICIS list and that would lose their Second Amendment right and everyone else in the household.
 
 
Thomas Murphy: That's one I need to ask Mr. Hipolit to verify for me.  I'm not -- I'm unaware of the requirements for other people in the household on the restriction to own firearms.
 
Richard Hipolit:  Yeah, that's correct as well.  I was also not personally aware of the household restriction.  I know that if VA determines the person is incapable of handling their financial affairs that does get them on the NICIS list but
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  But you would agree, Mr. Hipolit, that a determination that they can't handle their finances has a wide definition to it.
 
 
Richard Hipolit:   I would say that if VA determines that they're unable to handle their finances that does qualify them to get on the NICIS list and their names are referred for the list.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  That's not necessarily a mental determination.  It could be a physical determination, correct?
 
Richard Hipolit:  Uh --
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  -- that they're not capable of handling their finances.
 
Richard Hipolit: If they had a physical disability that impaired their ability to handle they're financial affairs, yes.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So they're automatically classified as dangerous?
 
Richard Hipolit:  Our determination is just whether they can handle their financial affairs and then that automatically triggers the requirement to refer their names.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So would you agree that the purpose of the NICIC list which was to take guns away from dangerous people and the threshold that VA currently uses to determine who goes on the NICIS list are potentially two very different things?
 
Richard Hipolit:  I think that the law enforcement forces determined who should be put on the NICIS list and they determine that person --
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  But they don't in the case of veterans.  In the case of veterans, the only person that determines whether they get on the NICIC list is the VA and it's determined based upon are they capable of handling their own finances.
 
Richard Hipolit:  Well the law that requires us to make a referral is --
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  And you're the only agency in the federal government that across the board sends every person that's not qualified to handle their personal finances to the NICIC list?
 
Richard Hipolit:  That's not my understanding -- 
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Are you ware of that?
 
Richard Hipolit:  It's my understanding that other agencies refer people as well.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Other agencies refer people but they have a different threshold for the ones that they  refer.  I think they might use the definition of dangerous and what I've heard you say is dangerous does not come into play. Mental capacity does not come into play.  Capability of handling your own personal finances is the only threshold and when they hit that, they're automatically put on the NICIS list.
 
Richard Hipolit:  From VA's standpoint, if they're determined to be unable to handle their financial affairs, we have to refer them.
 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  I hate to dig in on this. I just want to point out to you that the threshold is very, very different at VA.  There are many veterans, spouses, and family members who are deprived of their Second Amendment right to own firearms based upon an arbitary decision by somebody at VA that they can't handle their own personal finances.  These people are all of the sudden labeled as dangerous when in fact the decision may have been a physical disability that didn't permit them to handle their own finances.  I hope this is something the Committee will look at.  I -- I'm actually shocked that the Veterans Affairs Committee is not outraged at the way this is being implemented.  127,000 of our country's veterans are stripped of a Constitutional right.  Some probably should.  Many of those 127,000 never have had that right take away. I thank you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
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