Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Jazz Singer and other bombs

Did you see The Jazz Singer?

I actually did.  Not at the movies.  Once upon a time, movies were a big thing on network television.  I believe CBS showed this one and I believe they showed it late night on a Saturday or Sunday once when I was about 11. 

I'm referring to the 1980 film.  Not the original or the second remake.  The 1980 film had Neil Diamond and Lucie Arnaz.  Neil was the jazz singer, Lucie was his manager.

The film did not do well.  Wikipedia says it grossed 27 million in 1980.  Despite their calling it a flop, that's not a flop in 1980.  Nor is it a bomb.  I have no idea the budget.  But 27 billion wasn't a bomb.  Five years later, Witness (Harrison Ford) brings in 67 million dollars and is considered a huge hit.  So the film didn't bomb in terms of ticket sales.  Or look at the year before, 1979, when The Main Event made 42 million and was considered a hit and one of the top 10 moneymakers of 1979.  So, again, I'll quibble over The Jazz Singer flopping at the box office.

The music was actually a hit.  I can't stand it, but many people love Neil's "America" ("we're coming to America . . ."), I can take "Love On The Rocks" and I'm neutral on "Hello, Again."

So if the music was popular but the film wasn't, what was the problem?


"So vat's da rush?" asks Diamond's father, Laurence Olivier, when Diamond cuts out of cantoring at the shul earlier than usual.  But how can Diamond explain that he's unsatisfied with the five-generation family tradition of being a cantor, so he's hurrying uptown to a Harlem nightclub where he performs, in black face, for an all-black audience?  This being Diamond's own vanity movie, the black audience loves his music -- it's the telltale sight of his lily-white hands they don't care for.  "That's a white boy!" cries an understandably outraged man.  A fight breaks out, and Diamond is jailed.  When Olivier bails him out, he asks his errant fortysomething unmarried son, "It's not tough enough being a Jew?"  Diamond explains, "God doesn't pay so good."  All this, in the film's first ten minutes!



That's from a book I'm reading right now, Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello's Bad Movies We Love -- a collection of their pieces from Movieline.   I'll probably share more from it during the week.  I picked it up off my co-worker Stuart's desk.  (He said he was done with it and I will be giving it back.)  I liked it because the reviews are all about a page and a half so I don't have to feel bad if my attention span goes.  Which it's doing.  More and more.  I was in the middle of something this evening and ended up instead in the nursery and upset because we still don't have it painted and the new curtains aren't hung because they don't match the paint that's in there and . . . .


So this just seemed like a nice little book that could keep me entertained.  I'm really enjoying it.





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


Tuesday, April 23, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue,  Nouri sends his attack force to slaughter activists in a Hawija sit-in, criticism of Nouri's actions comes from Sunnis and Kurds and Shi'ites, for once the spokesperson for the State Dept does the right thing at the start but the press in attendance still fails miserably, Nouri swears an investigation is going to take place so we revisit Joe Stark's point about Nouri's 'investigations,' Senator Patty Murray chairs a committee hearing on the VA budget and tries to lay down some markers, Allison Hickey continues to look incredibly deceptive or just incredibly dumb, and more.


The US weapons industry, an industry responsible for so many dead and so many injured each year, announced December 24, 2012 "a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Iraq" -- a $125 million deal (they usually have cost overruns) of VSAT "operations and maintenance services" which, they insisted, "serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States."  An August 15, 2012 proposed sale, they insisted, would "contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country."  The July 20, 2012 sale was such a miracle, they insisted, that it would "improve the security of a friendly country" and "serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States."  And we can do this all day, in fact it might take several days to note all the arming of Nouri al-Maliki that the US has done, a thug who is unbalanced and whose "paranoia" (the term is repeatedly used) is even noted in US State Dept cables.


All of the above and the other weapon sales are why the slaughter in Hawija took place today.  And sending the exta-Constitutional Operation Tigris Command forces to close off the entrances of Ramadi, or having these thugs impose "a full curfew" in Muqdadiya,  or a curfew on Mosul, or banning traffic in Falluja, or even all these combined measures will not erase the slaughter, will not bring the dead back, will not wipe away the horror of the Iraqi people at seeing their fellow citizens mowed down by armed thugs working for Nouri al-Maliki.

The western press, the Whore Press Corps, failed to do their job.  It's no secret that the US government coddled Nouri al-Maliki under Bully Boy Bush and continues to do so under Barack Obama.  But the press can't hide behind that excuse.  The reason they are in Iraq, is to report for the world what is happening.

Friday, Nouri's forces attacked a Hawija sit-in killing 1 protester and wounding three others.  Hawija's sit-in is part of an ongoing series of protests across Iraq that have lasted over 100 days, first kicking off on December 21st.  As such, this should have been huge news.  But removing Hawija from the tapestry of national protests, turning it into a stand-alone event, when a sit-in is attacked, it's news.

News is not something you just Tweet about.



Protestor killed in clashes with army in Huwaijah near Kirkuk. Army says it was defending position. Witnesses say soldiers opened fire


So Arraf agreed on Friday, that a protester was killed.  That wasn't news?  Hell, it was only worth one Tweet to her.  Go check out her non-stop Tweets on the election which almost half of Iraq's eligible voters decided to boycott.

Arraf and others seem to think that they're in Iraq to cover officials. They hope they're court historians but they're really just court jesters.

Any sane person should be able to read Jane Arraf's Tweet and ask, "In what world, does the military show up at a sit-in?"

Now that issue has been raised.

By protesters.  By the Iraqi press.  But AFP, Jane Arraf and others have treated it as normal to dispatch the national military into areas where peaceful protests are taking place.  They've treated it as normal for Nouri to trash the Constitution, to ignore it, and create his own security body -- Operation Tigris Command -- without going through Parliament as the Constitution requires.

Thug Nouri created his own para-military forces, unrecognized by the Constitution, and sent them into areas -- often disputed areas like Kirkuk -- and they have attacked the protesters.

Repeatedly attacked.

January 24th,  Nouri's forces sent two protesters (and one reporter) to the hospital and that January 7th, Nouri's forces assaulted four protesters in Mosul. January 25th, his forces fired on Falluja protesters, killing and wounding many. March 8th, Nouri's force fired on protesters in Mosul killing three.

Here's Human Rights Watch on the attack on the Falluja protesters:


Iraqi authorities should complete promised investigations into the army killings of nine protesters in Fallujah on January 25, 2013, and make the results public. The authorities need to ensure that there will be independent investigations into the deaths, in addition to the promised inquiries by a parliamentary committee and the Defense Ministry, and that if there is evidence of unlawful killing, those responsible are prosecuted.'
In the January 25 incident, protesters threw stones at army troops, who responded with live fire.
“Iraqi authorities seem to think that announcing an investigation is all that’s required when security forces kill protesters,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to show it will not tolerate abuses by making public the results of the investigation and ensuring that those responsible are investigated and prosecuted for any unlawful use of lethal force.”


Click here for Human Rights Watch on the March 8th and other attacks.

This is not normal and it shouldn't be acceptable.  The US government has already given billions to Nouri and plans, in Fiscal Year 2014, to give billions more.  The US government should not be supporting a tyrant who greets peaceful protests by mowing down the protesters.

Instead, it's as though it's June 5, 1989, and the White House is on the phone to the government of China asking, "What can we give you?  Billions?  Weapons?  What'll help you with that pesky little protest in Tianamen Square?"

And the government can do this, the US government can get away with it, as long as the western press refuses to do their job.  When they treat as normal, or as an aisde, a government attacking its own people, they create the space for the Augusto Pinochets to terrorize and kill people.

This is not normal and this is not acceptable.  This didn't just happen, it's been taking place for months.  And today, it was a blood bath in Hawija.


Nouri al-Maliki used his extra-constitutional Operation Tigris Command forces to kill protesters in Hawija.  Tim Arango (New York Times) reports, "Iraqi security forces stormed a Sunni protest encampment in a village near the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, sparking clashes between government forces and gunmen that left dozens dead and wounded and sharply raised the stakes in Iraq’s sectarian troubles."

Today's attack follows days of a military siege of Hawija.  A detail the western press wasn't too concerned with despite calls from Iraqi politicians for the military to leave and the UN to come in, despite the military refusing to allow food and aid to reach the protesters -- even when that aid was carried by members of Parliament.  See yesterday's snapshot if you're just learning of what's been going on.


Mohammed Tawfeeq and Saad Abedine (CNN) quote Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi stating that the military is being used as "a tool to suppress the people and not to defend them.  We condemn in the strongest words of condemnation and denunciation the unfortunate crime committed by the army against the demonstrators in Hawija," al-Nujaif is a member of Iraqiya, the political slate that bested Nouri's State of Law in the 2010 elections.  Al Mada notes that cleric and movement leader (and Nouri's main Shi'ite rival) Moqtada al-Sadr declared that the government's actions have opened the door to illegal violence.

Moqtada declared that Iraqis dream and speak of the days of violence as behind them, a door closed, but then the government acts in an illegal and excessive manner, opening the door to violence all over again.   Moqtada stressed that only days ago, Iraqis were being asked to participate in a democratic process (voting) and now, again, the sounds of violence are in their ears, the smell of innocent blood in the air.   He rightly terms what took place today in Hawija "a massacre."

Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani also condemned the assault stating "that the use of the Army in political disputes and domestic issues is a constitutional violation and [violates] the principles of state."  The KRG is the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq.

Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) quotes student Ahmed Hawija on what took place at the sit-in, "When special forces raided the square, we were not prepared and we had no weapons. They crushed some of us in their vehicles."


And Nouri's side of the argument? 

Matt Bradley and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) report 38 were killed in Hawija (plus 3 of Nouri's thugs) and then note Nouri's government insists that a soldier was killed on Friday (likely true -- we noted in Friday's snapshot, we also noted no one knew who the person was, he wasn't in the sit-in, he darted in out of streets and grabbed a gun from an empty, abandoned house).  Because of this a five-day military siege took place?  Because of this you send the military to kill protesters?


But to really get Nouri's spin on events, you'll have to leave Bradley and Nabhan's reporting and move to Marwan Ibrahim's propaganda for AFP --where he spends 8 paragraphs presenting the attackers view and only 3 presenting the protesters' view.  

Bradley and Nabhan are late to the game and may not know about that death, so let's recap.  Nouri's forces began attacking the sit-in on Friday.  One protester was killed, three were injured.  At which point, as the military implemented their siege, someone on the street, a male, not known to be part of the sit-in (or he would have been with the sit-in) began darting through the streets, an abandoned home his destination.   He went in there and emerged with a gun that he used to shoot dead one of Nouri's forces.

The Operation Tigris Command is not wanted in Kirkuk.  It is hated.  That was established long ago.  In fact, we were covering the outrage Iraqis felt over that force coming into their regions long before the western press paid attention.  It took a face off with the KRG's Peshmerga for the western press to finally notice what had been going on for months. (Among the reasons Nouri's force is not respected?  He's seen as using it to settle land disputes when the Constitution outlined in Article 140 how disputes would be handled.)

By Nouri's logic, the protesters should have surrounded and then stormed the military since one of their own was killed on Friday.   Nineveh Province has been asking for Nouri to hand over his Operation Tigris Command 'soldier' who raped a five-year-old girl in Mosul.  Nineveh Province has been asking for that for months.

So, Nouri's now shown us today, that what needs to happen is that Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi needs to order his province's forces to invade and occupy Baghdad and begin shooting at everyone because Nouri wouldn't turn over the rapist?

And, let's just note that one more time, Nouri's forces include a man who raped a five-year-old child.  Thugs attract thugs.  Nouri's protected the man, probably because he identifies with them.  (Nouri's been accused of forcing imprisoned Iraqi women into sexual relations.  The most recent accusation of that was made at the start of the year by MP Sabah al-Saadi -- the Iraq Times reported on it.)


Alsumaria reports Sahwa commander Abu Risha is calling for the military to leave the cities and stop harassing the protesters.  Risha sees even worse things resulting from the continued militarization of Iraq.  Kitabat notes that the attack on the protesters is, in kind words, termed a "folly." They also note that the dead are being smeared as "Ba'athists" and "terrorists" by the government to justify their deaths.  Kirkuk police (which are not Nouri's Tigris forces) say that the Operation Tigris Command made the decision to storm the sit-in and began firing.  National Iraqi News Agency notes that Minister of Education Mohammad Tamim has tendered his resignation over "the storming by army of the sit-in yard of Hawija and killing and wounding dozens of demonstrators."  That's right wounded.  In addition to the 20 killed, All Iraq News notes "dozens" injured.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has a special representative to Iraq, Martin Kobler.  NINA notes that Kobler arrived in Kirkuk this afternoon (Iraq time).  How wonderful.  Of course, yesterday Ayad Allawi was pleading, publicly pleading, for the UN to mediate for the safety of the protesters.  Kobler didn't think it was necessary.  Instead, he ran around Baghdad holding a series of meetings -- including with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi who also urged him to go to Kirkuk.  Today  innocents are dead and wounded and Kobler can finally make it there?   All Iraq News adds that Kobler is calling for people to show "self-control."  Armed forces storm a sit-in, kill 20 and wound dozens and Kobler's calling for people to show "self-control"?


The US Embassy in Iraq released the following statement:




 U.S. EMBASSY BAGHDAD
Office of the Spokesman
__________________________________________________________________________
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE APRIL 23, 2013

The United States Condemns the Violence in Hawija

The United States strongly condemns the actions that resulted in the death and injury of civilians and security personnel in Hawija. We regret that this violence took place before ongoing efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of this situation were given sufficient time to succeed.

All sides should immediately refrain from further violence or provocative actions.

U.S. officials have been in contact with senior Iraqi leaders to help defuse political and sectarian tensions. We call for a transparent investigation with the broadest possible participation. Perpetrators of unlawful actions – whether from the government, security forces, or protestors – must be held accountable under Iraqi law.

The United States expresses its heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and urges all Iraqis to move beyond this tragedy and to work together to prevent any recurrence.



###


Nearly 40 participants in a sit-in are killed.  I really don't think the sit-in is the issue, I really don't see the 'both sides' aspect.

Let's give some praise.

 
Patrick Ventrell:  And lastly, I just want to draw your attention to a statement our Embassy in Baghdad put out just a few moments ago. In it, we highlight that the United States strongly condemns the actions that resulted in the death and injury of civilians and security personnel in Hawijah, Iraq. We regret that this violence took place before ongoing efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the situation were given sufficient time to succeed. All sides should immediately refrain from further violence or provocative actions, and we call for a transparent investigation with the broadest possible participation.


That's US State Dept spokesperson Patrick Ventrell at today's press conference.  And praise to Ventrell for bringing it up.  That's from his opening statements.   Iraq hasn't been mentioned in years in an opening statement at a daily press briefing by the State Dept.  So good for Ventrell and the Dept for realizing what happened today is worth mentioning.

Bad for the lazy press.  Though Ventrell mentioned it at the top, no one had a question about it.  No one wanted to talk about it.  They were like a House Committee hearing -- you had the angry mob that hates Venezuela, you had the portion that sucks up to the Israeli government, you had everything but Iraq.  Excuse me, the last question (which received no answer) was about the KRG . . . oil.

How many people have to die before the lazy press wakes the hell up?  They could and did talk about Afghanistan and Burma, Libya, Sudan, Bejing, they basically covered the whole globe, the press at the briefing just weren't interested in Iraq.

Adam Shreck (AP) quotes Osama al-Nujaifi, the Speaker of Iraq's Parliament, stating,  "What happened today is a total disaster.  If this bloodshed spreads to other provinces, God forbid, there will be a huge fire that we cannot put out."

 With reports of as many as 80 injured, NINA notes that the Director of Health in Erbil has announced their hospitals are open to received the injured.  Erbil is one of the three provinces that make up the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

NINA notes MP Yassin al-Obeidi issued a statement today, "We, the MPs of Kirkuk and parliamentary delegation who came to Hawija yesterday, had asked the security forces to give us more time to talk with the demonstrators before storming the Hawija sit-in Square."   Sheikh Aabulmalik al-Saadi blames Nouri's forces for the blood shed todayAlsumaria adds that mosques in Dhuluiya (Salahuddin Province) are seeing protests in solidarity with the victims and martyrs of Hawija.  They're not only the protesters objecting to the slaughter.  NINA notes Mosul's sit-in is demanding that the military leave Nineveh Province.  The Ramadi protesters are making the same demand for Anbar Province.





Michael Peel (Financial Times of London) gets this take on the events from the International Crisis Group's Maria Fantappie, "This has increased the risk of an escalation of the situation from a political crisis to a security crisis.  On the one side, you will have the government increasing the security grip on the demonstrators, while on the other you will have the most radical voices taking advantage to organise better and launch violent attacks."







A similar fear is echoed by Iraqiya MP Nada Ibrahim Aljubori who tells Matt Bradley and Ali A. Nabhan,  "I think it will be the beginning of a civil war and the beginning of the country falling apart. It won't fall apart in an easy way, it will be thousands of people dying."


 How bad politically is the massacre?  Safaa Abdel-Hamid (Alsumaria) reports that Saleh al-Mutlaq left today's Cabinet meeting in protest of the slaughter.  Deputy Prime Minister al-Mutlaq had moved very close to Nouri in recent months.  So much so that a recent spat had the Iraqi press wondering if the "honeymoon" was over between the two of them?  Saleh's torn.  Alsumaria notes that in a meeting with Iraqiya later in the day, Saleh al-Mutlaq got into an argument with others present (that included Ayad Allawi and Osama al-Nujaifi).  All Iraq News states the angry words were between Allawi and al-Mutlaq.   NINA adds the Iraqiya boycotted Parliament's session to protest the slaughter.  In a rush to begin the cover-up, the tyrant announces he will investigate.  All Iraq News reports Nouri announces he'll create a commission to investigate what happened in Hawija.


He'll create a commission to investigate?  Hmm.  Can we go back to Human Rights Watch, February 13th:




Iraqi authorities should complete promised investigations into the army killings of nine protesters in Fallujah on January 25, 2013, and make the results public. The authorities need to ensure that there will be independent investigations into the deaths, in addition to the promised inquiries by a parliamentary committee and the Defense Ministry, and that if there is evidence of unlawful killing, those responsible are prosecuted.'
In the January 25 incident, protesters threw stones at army troops, who responded with live fire.
“Iraqi authorities seem to think that announcing an investigation is all that’s required when security forces kill protesters,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to show it will not tolerate abuses by making public the results of the investigation and ensuring that those responsible are investigated and prosecuted for any unlawful use of lethal force.”


Iraqi authorities seem to think that announcing an investigation is all that's required when security forces kill protesters?  Indeed.   Alsumaria notes that Martin Kobler is insisting there must be a full and independent investigation of the events.

Patrick Cockburn (Independent) notes, "As news of the clashes spread through Sunni Iraq, street protests erupted in solidarity with Hawijah, a Sunni bastion 30 miles west of Kirkuk. Some 1,000 people took to the streets in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, after calls for protests broadcast from the minarets of mosques. 'War! War!' was the chant of some. In Ramadi, capital of Sunni Anbar province, crowds threw stones at a military convoy, overturning and setting fire to a Humvee."   As many Iraqis have noted in e-mails to this site, Patrick Cockburn is notoriously anti-Sunni.  For anyone bothered by that pull-quote, I'd suggest you read the rest of his article and realize I panned for gold.  He couldn't even get the number of people who died last month correct -- not even after the United Nations issued a total of 456 dead -- but he swears the dead were mainly Shi'ite.  Why he imposes that division, I have no idea.  I can remember his niece Laura Flanders repeatedly rejecting the use of such designations and insisting that using it hardened the US imposed division in Iraq.


NINA notes an armed attack on several checkpoints east of Tikrit which left 9 police officers dead and five more injured, east of Falluja an attack left four Iraqi soldiers injured and two military vehicles were set on fire, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left two more injured4 corpses were discovered in Falluja (all the victims of shootings), and the corpse of 1 Ministry of Industry employee was discovered in Hilla.



Turning to the United States where the Veterans Affairs Dept remains unchecked.  Today, the US Senate Budget Committee attempted to provide some oversight.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee and Senator Pete Sessions is the Ranking Member.  Appearing before the Committee as VA Secretary Eric Shinseki who was accompanied by Allison Hickey and Dr. Robert Petzel.

Let's note this exchange from the first round.


Chair Patty Murray:  As I mentioned, you have a new announcement of a new initiative to expedite claims that have been waiting for over a year.  And that's encouraging and I'm glad to see that the Department's taking action but I do have some questions about how it is going to be implemented.  And I wanted to ask you, if the VA determines the veteran's final rating is lower than the provisional rating, will the Department seek to recover money that's already been paid to that veteran?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Madam Chairman, uh, you know, that's a question.  I, uh, I-I, what I would say is, I -- our -- historically, when we've established a standard for a veteran, we've usually stayed with that and, uh, let me call on Secretary Hickey here but my-my intent is that the provisional rating that's provided will be on those issues for which we have clarity and documentation and we can render a, uh, a decision.  For issues that, uh, where documentation isn't provided, those are the issues that remain open up to a year, for veterans to locate, with our help even, documentation that would, uh, allow us to,uh, make a decision there.  Uh, Secretary Hickey.

Allison Hickey: Chairman Murray, thank you for the question, for your, uh, interest in the initiative which we think is, uh, really important to, uh, ensure that we're, uh, taking care of those veterans who have waited the longest while we completed the more than 260,000 Agent Orange claims to take care of our Vietnam veterans over the last two and a half years.  We-we, uh - We are using the provisions that allow us to make good decisions so we will continue, uhm, under this provisional criteria to have -- to use service treatment, to use private medical records, to use the information available to our, uhm, on our veterans in terms of the nature and character of their service.  So all the similar evidence we have used in previous decisions we will use again to ensure that we, uh, don't make any of those kinds of decisions.  I don't expect to see any of those decisions, uh, where we overcompensate for, uh, for a claim.  Uhm, the other thing that that we will do is we will, uh, keep the reason for the provisional decision, we put a really huge safety net under every one of our veterans, we're, uh, going to keep the record for a whole year there -- the ability for our veterans to come back with additional evidence.  Uh, uhm, uh, and we will keep asking if --

Chair Patty Murray:  So the additional year will only be to provide information to have an additional claim, not to lower the claim?

Allison Hickey:  Uh, th-the, uh, the reason for the year is to allow to increase the rating, uh, if necessary so I think in -- The advantage is our veterans for the additional year.  Uh, and then they still have after that, the same appeal, uh, processes that they've had in the past.  So we don't anticipate, uh, having, uhm, uh, conditions where we overpay veterans under this initiative.

Chair Patty Murray:  Mr. Secretary, are you going to need additional support from the Defense Department in order to meet the time lines you've proposed?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  For these particular claims?

Chair Patty Murray:  Correct?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uhm, we're dealing with, uh, claims in over inventory right now.  And so, we are, uh, I think we have as much control as we need.  Of course, we work closely, uh, with the Defense Department on an ongoing basis because the sharing of data is something that goes on daily.

Chair Patty Murray:  Okay, there's a number of other services that are contingent on a disability rating -- benefits from health care, home loan, designation of a small, veteran-owned business.  They all rely on the rating you're talking about.  How will this provisional rating effect those other benefits?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Secretary Hickey?

Allison Hickey: So, uh, Chairman, thanks for the question.  I will tell you that in the same way that we provide those additional benefits, uhm, uh, today associated with the claims decision we will continue that, uh, avenue.  I will say thought that, uhm, any veteran who's returning home today does not require a, uhm, decision from us to seek the five-years worth of medical care that they -- this Congress made provisions for uh, uhm, uh, uhm, uh -- They can still get that by just showing up to -- to one of the VA, uh, a, medical hospitals or clinics and get that medical care for free without a decision even today, right, uh, uh, associated with this new initiative, it doesn't have an impact there.  They're still going to get health care.

Chair Patty Murray: Under this initiative as you just described, there's the provisional rating that will be given to them and then they can make continued claims -- so are looking at increasing the workload by requiring two ratings decisions instead of one?

Allison Hickey:  Uh, Chairman, uh, we're not.  We're actually trying to benefit the veteran who has been waiting the longest in this case.  We want to get that decision to them.  If that veteran returns after the fact saying 'I have additional information,' we will expedite that claim to the front of the line, we will re-rate it based on additional information and we will get them a final decision.

Chair Patty Murray:  There's a number of efforts going on, programs like Benefits Delivery at Discharge and the Fully Developed Claims Process.  Both have been accessible and need to be maintained.  A successful, Integrated Disability Evaluation System, IDES, is critically important to our injured service members.  There's a lot of work that still needs to be done from both DoD and VA on that and we can't lose sight of the keep making improvements to the fundamental issues in the claims processing that we still have.  So are you going to be able to implement this new initiative and still support all those other efforts?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uh, uh, Chairman Murray, that is -- that is our intent.  And, uh, as you implied earlier, this requires, uh, a level of continual synchronization in between DoD and VA.  As you, uh, know, BDD -- Benefits Delivery Discharge -- uh, Quickstart, IDES -- Integrated Disability -- these are DoD programs in which VA has provided our capability to support medical exams. And, uh, so there is a good collaboration there. We do this best when we have some indication of what the flow is and then we match up.  Uh, about the only times we've run into difficulties here is when the flow exceeded what we thought it would be and then there's a period in which we have to, uh, generally additional capability but, uh, these are things we work on a daily basis.

It's too bad there's a time limit.  If the time limit could be tossed aside (which it can't, I understand), it might be helpful, after a question is asked, to have VA officials repeat the question before answering it.  Either they can't comprehend -- which would certainly explain how the claims backlog has only increased in the last four years -- or they're just liars eating up time.  Now I think it's the latter but maybe I'm wrong and they're just so stupid that they don't understand the question?  Certainly nothing that's ever emerged from Allison Hickey's mouth has passed for intelligent or informed.  But let's pull one section from the above exchange. 



Chair Patty Murray:  Okay, there's a number of other services that are contingent on a disability rating -- benefits from health care, home loan, designation of a small, veteran-owned business.  They all rely on the rating you're talking about.  How will this provisional rating effect those other benefits?

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Secretary Hickey?

Allison Hickey: So, uh, Chairman, thanks for the question.  I will tell you that in the same way that we provide those additional benefits, uhm, uh, today associated with the claims decision we will continue that, uh, avenue.  I will say thought that, uhm, any veteran who's returning home today does not require a, uhm, decision from us to seek the five-years worth of medical care that they -- this Congress made provisions for uh, uhm, uh, uhm, uh -- They can still get that by just showing up to -- to one of the VA, uh, a, medical hospitals or clinics and get that medical care for free without a decision even today, right, uh, uh, associated with this new initiative, it doesn't have an impact there.  They're still going to get health care.

 Committee Chair Murray did make clear she was speaking of the disability rating and how it would effect the variety of benefits.  Hickey completely blew off the question.  She went into some crap about how those discharging now don't need a claims rating to seek health care for five years.  That wasn't the question.  That wasn't even in the same state as the question.  There are oceans between the question Murray asked and the babble that greeted her question had nothing to do with what was asked. 

What the VA is proposing is that a temporary rating be created.  This temporary rating may become permanent.  Or it might increase or it might decrease.  If you're a veteran qualifying for some small-business program based on your rating, how does this impact that?  Hickey gave no response about that or how the temporary claim would effect anything.

Now I think she's an idiot who should be fired.  But can you be that stupid that when asked a direct question, you completely miss it?  Maybe so.  Maybe Allison Hickey is The Dumbest Person In The World.  However, I just see her as deeply dishonest.

As deeply dishonest is the new program that's being discussed.

Murray is correct.  This is going mean "increasing the workload by requiring two" or more "ratings decisions instead of one." And this is only more clear when Hickey asserts that after a veteran receives a rating he or she finds less than satisfactory and they return with more information, Hickey's words, "we will expedite that claim to the front of the line."

What's really going on here?

The VA has bad press because they've not eliminated the claims backlog, they have not reduced the backlog.  They have been given everything they've asked for.  Congress has actually spent the last years asking them, "Is that all you need?  What else can we do to help you with this?"  VA has insisted they had all they needed.

So this is VA's problem.  At the hearing, Senator Tammy Baldwin observed, "Veterans don't want to hear about new claims or new processes, they want results and so do I."  She's correct.  However, this program's not about veterans, it's about the press.  This is a distraction that will create the illusion of something new which, the VA hopes, will garner good press.

In what world, when you're failing at the claims system, are you allowed to create a new system that will pull more employees away?

Veterans shouldn't have to wait.  I'm not Senator Jon Tester, I don't have this ugly image of veterans trying to cheat the system, "pounds a couple of cigarettes a day and a like amount of alcohol" to cheat the system.  If the VA's unable to get to a claim in a reasonable amount of time?  The VA rates the claim 100%.   It's not the veterans fault that the President of the United States has appointed an incompetent who can't motivate people to do their jobs in a timely manner.

Instead of doing that, which has been proposed by many members of Congress over the year, the VA that already has a huge backlog wants to create a new system where they'll grab that backlog and put them in a new pool where the process will start over.

Will start over.  Grasp that.  They're hitting the snooze alarm, that's all they're doing.

Two years from now, after the VA has shoved a half million or more claims into this new pool and garnered good press for reducing the claims backlog, they'll actually be appearing before the Congress to explain that the new pool they created isn't moving that quickly and they don't know why but, hey, maybe if they create a third pool for veterans and shove claims into that, they can reduce the second pool the same way?

What they're proposing accomplishes nothing but will be there reason for failure to do their jobs.  They will come before Congress and offer this as an excuse.

I'm not even going to touch on Allison Hickey's Agent Orange lie.  It would be real good if she and Shinseki could at least get their lie straight and tell the same one instead of presenting dueling lies at one hearing after another.

Shinseki and his 'electrons,' we'll grab tomorrow or Thursday and an idiot freshman senator.  Yes, asking questions is important -- but who you ask is even more important.  Also, I'd like to note Senator Bill Nelson who had, as usual, strong points worth including.  ("Tomorrow" if Nouri hasn't gone completely nuts in Iraq -- a possibility considering his paranoia and the rumors that the vote outcome will not make him happy.) I'm sliding one thing over to Trina because she covers the topic at her site.

I see the hearing's main accomplishment as setting the record straight for two years from now when VA tries to think of excuses why this idea didn't really result in a reduction of the claims backlog.  The excuses may be harder to come by.  Chair Patty Murray made a point of noting certain things including it was VA's duty to keep Congress informed.  We'll close with her opening statement.



Opening Statement of Senator Patty Murray, Chairman
Senate Committee on the Budget
The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal and Veterans’ Program Proposals
April 23, 2013
“Welcome to this morning’s hearing on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget and the Fiscal Year 2015 Advance Appropriation request for the Department of Veterans Affairs.   I want to thank Secretary Shinseki and his team for being here this morning.  I know you have been very busy over the past couple weeks as you work to roll out the budget request.
“One month ago, the Senate passed our budget resolution.  There was plenty of debate, and plenty of disagreement.  There was a long markup in this Committee.  And there was extensive consideration on the floor. 
“But, there was never any question about the importance of providing for our nations veterans.
“The budget resolution protected funding for veterans benefits and services.  It also included deficit neutral reserve funds to assist in several important policy areas, including: eligibility and delivery of benefits, rural health care, education and training, veterans’ families, and homeless veterans.
“The Department’s budget submission will help inform us as we move forward in discussions with the House on a compromise budget resolution.
“The President’s request is $152.7 billion for VA in fiscal year 2014, and $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for medical care in fiscal year 2015. Overall, this is a strong request, and it represents an increase of more than 10 percent over last year.  It also makes important investments in some high priority areas.
“As we have discussed in the past, it is important that the Department follows good financial management principles.  This means being straightforward with Congress about what the Department’s real needs are.
“It also means accurately projecting costs and savings. And it goes without saying that we expect the Department to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, especially in this difficult budget environment.  There is no place for wasteful spending or inefficiency.
“One of the newest developments is VA’s recent announcement that it will focus on expediting claims that have been pending for more than a year by granting “provisional” ratings.  This will allow veterans to receive benefits while their claims are finalized. I am pleased the Department is taking action and trying a new initiative to make a difference for our veterans. 
“But I still have a number of questions about how this will be implemented. Certainly we cannot maintain the status quo, where almost 70 percent of veterans are waiting 125 days or more for their claims.
“Secretary Shinseki, considering the steps you have taken to address this problem so far, I think you share my concern and dedication to solving this. So I look forward to exploring this new initiative with you today.
“I was pleased to see the Department requested almost $7 billion in funding for mental health care.  This is an increase of more than 7 percent. 
“During the last Congress, we took a hard look at mental health in VA, and found some serious problems.  VA was generally providing good mental health care.  But, understaffing and long wait times were plaguing VA and keeping veterans from the care they needed. 
“Importantly, we also found that the Department did not have an accurate, reliable way of measuring the need for mental health care, and of distributing its staff effectively. We asked the Department to undertake a number of reforms to improve access to care and bring down unacceptably long wait times. This included key changes that were part of the Mental Health ACCESS Act.
“Today, I hope we will hear more about what progress the Department is making in implementing these changes.
“As I have said before, not every veteran will be affected by these invisible wounds.  But when a veteran has the courage to stand up and ask for help, VA must be there every single time.  VA must be there with not only timely access to care, but also the right type of care.
“This is especially important at a time when 22 veterans per day are taking their own lives.  VA has a number of good initiatives, such as the Veterans Crisis Line and the Suicide Prevention Coordinators, but clearly we still need to do more.
“As you know, women are the fastest growing part of the veteran population.  VA has needed to make major changes to ensure: There is a full range of health services for female veterans, facilities are safe and privacy is protected, and support services are available. The requested $422 million for gender-specific care for women is a 13.7 percent increase over last year.
“I will also continue working to end the terrible epidemic of military sexual assault in the services.  In the coming days, I will introduce legislation to help prevent sexual assault and protect the victims. And at the same time, VA must continue to provide for those suffering from M.S.T. Only a small fraction of sexual assaults in the military are reported.  So VA must provide both the highest quality treatments, but also outreach and screening to help these victims get into care.
“Developing a seamless transition is another challenge that VA and DoD continue to face, though important progress has been made.
“The requirement in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act making the Transition Assistance Program mandatory, along with a major overhaul of the curriculum, has created a much more useful tool to assist servicemembers leaving the military.  The feedback I have received is that even Colonels and Sergeants Major found the training invaluable.  If even those senior leaders are benefiting from the help on resume writing and VA resources, we are doing something right.
“Other requirements, to expand job opportunities and eliminate barriers to getting civilian licenses and credentials, are key to combatting the unemployment rate for veterans which is still far too high. We have made a great deal of progress working with employers to encourage them to hire veterans.  And I will continue to engage our private sector partners, to help them understand the skills veterans bring to the table, and why they make some of the best employees.
“Getting our veterans into education programs, into good jobs, or starting small businesses doesn’t benefit just the veteran.  It helps us grow our economy and the middle class.  It builds on the investments we have made in our veterans, as they continue to help our communities, our businesses, and fellow veterans.
“While we are making these investments in our veterans, we must also continue to invest in VA infrastructure.  I have concerns about the proposed cuts to major construction and non-recurring maintenance.  The Department is proposing a 47 percent cut in non-recurring maintenance, and only $342 million in major construction funding.  This comes while the Department still estimates it has between $54 and $66 billion in infrastructure needs. I was pleased to see the request includes funds to complete work on the mental health building in my home state of Washington at the VA hospital in Seattle.
“Information technology also plays a critical role in many of the Department’s major initiatives.  And it is a key part in giving our servicemembers a truly seamless transition from active duty to civilian life. 
“The President’s Budget Request includes an overall 18 percent increase in I.T. funding for VA.  This request includes a number of important priorities, such as the continued development and implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management System. 
“The request would also fund further development of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, which, while implemented regionally, has not yet been rolled out nationwide. However, the recent announcement by VA and DoD that the Departments will no longer pursue development of a single electronic health record, has raised important questions about the future of the iEHR program.
“The Departments must clearly define the path forward for this important project and address the underlying reasons for the program’s abrupt change of course.  VA and DoD must ensure there is clear, strategic leadership to guide further development of the iEHR program.
“In closing, Secretary Shinseki, I want to thank you for your dedication and leadership over the past several years.  It is not easy to steer the Federal Government’s second largest Department.  And it is not easy to make the big changes that are needed. 
“You have set some very ambitious goals including: ending veteran homelessness; breaking the claims backlog; and transforming the way VA delivers health care.
“Setting these high goals is a good thing.  And I am confident you have set these goals because of your continuing demand for excellence on behalf of our nation’s veterans.
“We recognize the good progress that has been made, but we will continue to push you to meet these goals.  So I am looking forward to a constructive discussion about the challenges ahead, the concerns we have, and what we can do to provide the resources and authorities you need.
 
“I’ll now call on Ranking Member Sessions for his opening statement.”
###
--
Eli Zupnick
Communications Director
Senate Budget Committee - Majority Staff
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman
624 Dirksen Senate Office Building
(202) 224-5398















 


 
 
 
 




 the associated press
qassim abdul-zahra
sameer n. yacoub











 

 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive