Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Julie Chen's an idiot



Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Old Man Seth" went up today.  Don't you love it?

I had to take the baby to the doctor's today so it was a half day of work for me.

As we waited, I saw The View rip-off on CBS.  Sorry to Darlene of Rosanne fame, Sarah Gilbert, but it's a rip-off.

I also don't forgive it for dumping Holly Robinson Peete.

But there was Julie Chen, Mrs. CBS, Les Moonves' dumb wife.

On The Talk.

That's the name of the bad show.

They were gabbing about that blond actress.  Of course, they were.  They may have two Black co-hosts but it's such a White-White show.

The one from Hunger Games -- Jennifer Lawrence.

She's declared she's taking a year off.

One of the African-American hosts made the very good point that most Americans didn't have that option.

Thank you!

But there was Julie -- looking stupid with glitter around her eyes -- insisting that Jennifer Lawrence had "a right" to take a year off because she's worked so hard the last years.

A right?

Jennifer Lawrence can do whatever she wants with her life.

That's her business.

But stop the crap about she's 'earned' it.  The woman at McDonalds has earned it.  The custodian at your city hall has earned it.

I'm sure Lawrence has worked hard but she's not worked that hard and she's already been rewarded.

Everyone also thought it was great for her.

The only reason it might be great is because she's over exposed.

But, honestly, she shouldn't take a year off.

She's not done anything in recent years.

Her bad Hunger Games sequel doesn't prove she can carry a film.

Nothing in her career proves it.

She's not really pretty.  She could never make it as a model.

Mary Wilson used to whine, when Diana Ross was giving the Supremes hits, that she wanted a vacation and Berry Gordy told her she should work while she could.

Jennifer Lawrence's year off is just going to mean that a lot of faces will be replacing her.

And when she tries to come on back?

Lots of luck.

Early Oscar wins do not mean leading lady careers.  Ask Tatum O'Neal or Gwyneth Paltrow.

No one pointed out that although Lawrence has starred in two hits (those Hunger Games films) and done a small part in Leo's latest hit.  Nothing in that proves she can carry a film.


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


Tuesday, February 25, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Anbar Province continues, Nouri continues to attempt to coerce the Kurds, the rumored weapons deal between Iraq and Iran continues to bother the US government, the US Congress hears about veterans issues, and much more.



Chair Jeff Miller:  It's truly an honor for me to be here this afternoon with so many DAV members and I think you all for coming to the Hill once again.  Due to the hard work and dedication of DAV's 1.4 million members -- especially DAV Service Officers -- veterans are provided with professional benefit counseling and claims assistance and transportation to and from VA health care facilities. DAV also assists with transition assistance services and on-site care at military treatment centers, at VA medical centers and clinics, and at home.  That's just to name a few of the many programs you, DAV, provides every day.


DAV is Disabled Veterans of America. Joseph Johnston is DAV's National Commander.


Joseph Johnston: We believe Congress should expand the advance appropriations umbrella to protect VA's remaining accounts. For example, although VA medical appropriations may provide assurance that a new outpatient clinic can open without delays, the fact that VA's information technology (IT) funding is still provided through the stymied regular appropriations process means that computers or other IT systems (such as radiology and laboratory equipment) on which health care crucially relies, might not be provided until Congress completes work on the regular appropriations acts, delaying the clinic opening by weeks or even months. Similarly, funding for VA's Medical and Prosthetic Research program directly contributes to excellent clinical care of veterans, and supports VA's affiliation relationships with more than 100 schools of medicine and other health professions, but it is funded apart from advance appropriations and subject to the same paralysis affecting VA's other regular appropriations. VA was on the verge of halting thousands of ongoing research projects when the shutdown ended. Moreover, the funding for VA construction accounts, providing VA capital infrastructure and large investments in facilities improvements, would also be more efficient and cost effective if it were provided through advance appropriations. Stopping construction projects because of an unrelated budget crisis only leads to more delay and higher costs for VA. Finally, the Veterans Benefits Administration's ability to address the backlog of pending claims and transform itself into a modern 21st century organization is being hindered by now-predictable annual budget stalemates and seemingly endless continuing resolutions. Given the universally recognized success of advance appropriations in VA health care, Congress should determine whether some or all of the other VA appropriations accounts should be managed through advance appropriations so that veterans and their families and survivors are not forced to sacrifice yet again, and needlessly. Members of these Committees, during last year's Veterans Day activities, I attended a ceremony commemorating the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, a national tribute to Vietnam veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice in that unpopular war, a war in which I and many members beside and behind me, in this historic room, served. When the ceremony ended and the crowd was dispersing, a woman from the audience approached me to say how grateful she and her husband were to DAV for our strong advocacy and unflagging efforts in helping to end the government shutdown mere days before VA ran out of funds to support the payment of disability compensation. She explained to me that she and her husband's only income due to his disability and her personal care giving of him is his monthly VA compensation. As the shutdown lingered day after day, she told me, with tears in her eyes, they had worried terribly that without that VA payment on November 1, they wouldn't be able to buy food, gas, or pay their rent. As National Commander of this tremendous organization, I was grateful to her for her kind words about DAV's effective advocacy, but it concerned me greatly that she and her husband were forced to go through such a terrible ordeal, given the sacrifice they had already made for this country. We should never again put a disabled veteran or his or her family in such a situation. This is why DAV's Operation: Keep the Promise intends to make advance appropriations for all VA funding accounts, including its mandatory disability payments to veterans, our highest legislative priority in 2014. Thousands of DAV members and supporters from all over this nation are sending social networking, email, and telephonic messages today to your offices and those of every Senator and House Member. Today, when you pick up and browse your Roll Call, POLITICO, National Journal Daily, or The Hill, you'll see our Operation: Keep the Promise message prominently displayed. DAV launched this one-day intense campaign because we are serious and dedicated to this goal, and I assure you this testimony will not be the last time you hear about this urgent need. This is not a partisan issue; not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s a veteran issue, and as National Commander of DAV, I want all of you to join me and everyone else in this room, and our 1.4 million DAV and Auxiliary members, in making it your highest priority as well. If solving this particular problem for wounded, injured, and ill veterans is not a high priority for your Committees, Congress in general, and the Administration in this New Year, please tell me what is. Bills to make this a reality are pending in both Congressional chambers; DAV urges you to pass the Putting Veterans Funding First Act as a top priority for 2014.

Putting Veterans Funding First Act?  Here for S. 932 and here for HR 813.

Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  I want to thank you for your work of advocating in the passage and enactment of HR 813, the Putting Veterans Funding First Act.  We have seen how well advanced appropriation has worked for VA's medical care.  It is time that the rest of VA's discretionary budget  be treated the same way.  We owe it to America's veterans to provide certain and stable VA budget funding.




This afternoon the US House Veterans Affairs Committee and the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a joint hearing where they received testimony from Disabled American Veterans.  Appearing before the two committees were the DAV's National Commander  Johnston with National Service Director Jim Marszalek, National Legislative Director Joseph A. Violante, the Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry J. Augustine, the National Headquarters Executive Director Barry A. Jesinoski, the National Adjutant J. Marc Burgess, the National Director of Voluntary Service Ron B. Minter and the DAV Auxilliary's National Commander Susan K. Miller.

US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, US House Rep Mike Michaud is the Ranking Member.  Senator Bernie Sanders is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee but Senator Richard Blumenthal was acting Chair for the hearing.

Acting Senate Chair Richard Blumenthal:  He [Senator Bernie Sanders] could not be here today because, indeed, he is helping to  manage the bill, the comprehensive bill that's under consideration this week before the United States Senate and indeed, I may have to leave early, I will have to leave early to assist him in that effort. 

What bill is he talking about?

Senator Patty Murray's office issued a press statement today which includes the following:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – TODAY, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate to highlight some of her priorities included in a comprehensive veterans bill that will improve the lives of our nation’s servicemembers, veterans, and their survivors. “The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014” is a top priority for veterans and nearly every veterans service organization. Sen. Murray discussed provisions to reauthorize and expand her “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” as well as efforts to improve delivery of care for victims of military sexual assault. Sen. Murray also highlighted her provision in the legislation to provide reproductive services, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), to veterans and their families who have suffered catastrophic wounds of war that prevent them from starting families. This provision was the first piece of legislation Senator Murray introduced in the 113th Congress. Currently, VA is specifically barred from providing these services. While the legislation being considered this week focuses on the newest generation of veterans, it also includes many provisions that aim to help veterans of previous conflicts.
 

Excerpts:
 


“This comprehensive legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation? I hope we can.”

“Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more.”


“Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. And they shouldn’t have to. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in unrelated amendments or political grandstanding.”



We'll note the press release in full at the end of the snapshot.


Just as the hearing had an Acting Chair on the Senate side, it also had an Acting Ranking Member.  Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.  For the hearing, Senator Dean Heller was Acting Ranking Member.

Ranking Member Dean Heller:  I think we can all agree there's a lot that needs to be improved upon when it comes to and for caring of our American veterans which is why the work that the DAV does as an advocacy group and resource for our veterans is so important.  This is the second year I've had the privilege to sit on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  While that may not be a long period of time for some of the other members here, it's clear that one issue continues to be a primary focus and that's the disability claims backlog at the VA.  The VA promised veterans that their claims would be completed in less than 125 days yet more than 4300 veterans in Las Vegas, Reno and across Nevada have waited much longer than that.  In fact, Nevada has the longest waiting time in the nation.  That is why I've made it a top priority on this Committee to work to address this issue in a bipartisan manner.  The claims backlog is the greatest challenge facing the VA today.  But this issue has been plaguing the VA for over two decades and the reality is we must update the process.  It is a 1945 system for a 21st century veteran.  The VA needs a claims process that is proactive rather than reactive, one that can anticipate the needs of veterans to keep a backlog from happening.  Some may want to point fingers, place blame, but at the end of the day, Congress,  the VSOs [Veterans Service Organizations] and the VA all have a part to play.  For the past year, I worked with Senator [Bob] Casey through a bi-partisan VA backlog working group to learn more about why the backlog exists and what can be done to fix it.  I'm also pleased that Senators Moran and Tester have joined us in this effort.  It has taken significant time and resources to dig into this issue and, shortly, I look forward to rolling out suggestions that we have developed with the DAV.



DAV's Johnston delivered a statement that lasted over 20 minutes.  We've already noted one section.  We'll note another section.

Joseph Johnston: Finally, VA is proposing to amend its adjudication regulations and the appeals regulations and rules of practice of  VBA to require all claims to be filed electronically on standardized forms prescribed by the Secretary, regardless of the type of claim concerned; and to require that VA only accept an expression of dissatisfaction or disagreement with an adjudicative determination by the agency of original jurisdiction as a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) only if it is submitted on a prescribed form. DAV understands the stated intent of VA's proposed amendments as an effort to improve the quality and timeliness of processing claims and appeals. The purpose of the regulatory change is to promote submission of claims and appeals in standard formats in order to capture data for a paperless claims and appeals system. Nonetheless, we are concerned about the proposed rule making and the consequential adverse effect upon veterans, especially those who do not have the capability or ability to file their claim or NOD electronically. First, requiring a veteran to submit a claim on a standardized form is not a new concept. In fact, a claim for disability benefits is defined under title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, section 3.151(a), as "a specific claim in the form prescribed by the Secretary must be filed in order for benefits to be paid." So requiring a veteran to file a claim on a standardized form is the current practice; the real question is how the new proposal would impact the effective date of a claim received. Unfortunately, this proposal goes much further than simply requiring a standardized form to be used; it effectively removes the preservation of the date of claim by eliminating the informal claim from the process. Under this proposed rule, if a veteran did not submit a claim in the prescribed standard format, VA would provide the veteran a correct form as a response; however, if that same veteran did not return the completed forms until seven months later, that new date would be the effective date of the claim -- not the actual date on which the veteran submitted his or her unaccepted claim, thereby losing entitlement to seven months of benefits. DAV takes no issue with veterans being required to submit their claims on standardized forms. This proposed rule, however, would cause many veterans, who may have needed those seven months due to illness or other reasons, to lose the benefit of the informal claims process. This new requirement may be intended to entice veterans to file their claims electronically, but clearly its practice will cause veterans to lose rightful benefits. Congress must further examine this matter, because it will have a major adverse impact on veterans and the benefits they need and have earned. The proposed rule also seeks to require veterans to submit their NOD on a standard form. As we have stated, DAV does not take issue with requiring veterans to use a standard form; however, this proposal will cause many veterans to lose their appeal rights. Quite simply, under this proposal if a veteran does not use the standard form and complete it exactly as directed, no additional time period will be provided to the veteran for correction. The appeal period will simply end. Messrs. Chairmen, a distinction is being created between those who possess the resources and capabilities to meet electronic claims filing requirements and those who are not able to do so. VA serves veterans and other claimants of diverse backgrounds, with varying capabilities, education, and financial resources. Some claimants, particularly those of limited financial means and those with severe mental or physical impairment, will be penalized by VA not retaining some measure of accommodation for allowing an effective date for entitlement to benefits based upon the receipt of a communication expressing such intention. Because of this disparity, and its effect on a claimant population that may require extra assistance, we recommend that an incomplete electronic or non-electronic claim, be considered a request for an application of benefits under the proposed provisions of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, section 3.155(c), and established as the effective date of entitlement if an appropriate completed application is received within one year of the date the Secretary notifies the claimant and the claimant’s representative, if any, of the information necessary to complete the application, as currently stated in regulation.

Note: "a distinction is being created between those who possess the resources and capabilities to meet electronic claims filing requirements and those who are not able to do so."

Acting Senate Ranking Member Dean Heller: Let me, if I can ask a follow up question, I know that the DAV works hard to encourage veterans you serve to file a complete claim -- as complete a claim as possible.  But I also recognize that veterans need to have the opportunity to file anyway they want -- whether that is on that form or a paper napkin.  Is that accurate and can you explain to this committee why it's important that veterans still have the option to file a claim anyway they want?


Joseph Johnston: I'll refer that to the staff.

Jim Marszalek:  Yes, thank you.  I think it's important that veterans still have the opportunity to file a claim -- whether it's on paper, whether it's on the standard 526-EZ or if they do it on a regular form.  Currently, they could take that regular piece of paper or, as many people refer to it, that napkin and send it to the VA regional office and the VA has the duty to send the claimant the correct form to be completed and then they return it.  But that napkin starts the date that they received that claim.  And VA's proposal?  They're recommending that you have to file that 526-EZ in order for them to start the date.  And that's what we don't agree with.  So it's very important that veterans still have the opportunities because not everyone has easy access to those forms and not everyone can do it electronically either.  VA's still in the early stages of the transformation plan on filing claims electronically.  So we feel that it's important that we continue to allow them to submit claims on paper to protect their effective dates. 

I'd like for us to come back to the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.  Hopefully, there will be time and space for that.  And this was the best joint hearing that the two Committees have done.  If we're able to come back to this tomorrow, I'll explain why that was.


For now let's move over to Iraq. Tasnim News Agency reported today that Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, was due in Tehran today for the start of a two-day visit.

Of course he was.

Why?

The most likely reason is because Iraq has no Minister of Defense.  Dropping back to February 21st:

To be fair, the blood lusting White House isn't the only one supplying weapons.  Al-Manar reports that Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met yesterday with Russian officials and the Russian government has "agreed to speed up the delivery of Russian arms to the oil-rich Arab country."
In the US, there would be some objection if Zebari's US counterpart Secretary of State John Kerry was sticking his nose into what would clearly be Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's area; however, Iraq has no Minister of Defense.  Nor do they have a Minister of Interior or a Minister of National Security.



YesterdayAhmed Rasheed (Reuters) reported, "Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters - a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran."  Today, Heba Qudsi (Asharq Al-Awsat) notes, "Diplomats in the Iran sanctions committee at the UN, speaking anonymously, expressed concern about the deal but refused to make further comment."  But one Iranian diplomat, outside of Iran, did comment.  Tasnim News Agency reports, "Iran's Ambassador to Baghdad Hassan Danaeifar on Tuesday denied reports claiming that Iraq has signed a contract to purchase arms from the Islamic Republic."  Mary Casey and Cortni Kerr (Foreign Policy) add that "Maliki would neither confirm nor deny the reports."  So what happened?

Reuters saw the documents, it's silly for the governments of either Iran or Iraq to deny the deal.  Ahmed Rasheed, Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick, Ned Parker and Mark Heinrich (Reuters) report today:

Hasan Suneid, a senior lawmaker from Maliki's Dawa Party who heads parliament's security and defence committee, said Iraq had bought weapons from Iran and insisted this was within its right and violated no international sanctions.
"The U.S. government is not the Iraqi government's guardian," Suneid told reporters at the national parliament.
"We have the right to buy arms from any state that is friendly and cooperates with Iraq. The arms we purchased from Iran are nothing more than light weapons and ammunition.

"We have the right to select different sources for weapons. Iran is a friendly, neighboring state just like Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia," he said.


World Bulletin quotes Nouri's spokesperson Ali Musawi declaring, "Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party."

The issue was raised today when State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki was giving the daily briefing:


QUESTION: Okay. So my three very brief ones. You were asked, I believe, yesterday about this alleged arms deal between Iraq and Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did – have you gotten any more clarity on that?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as I mentioned yesterday, we raise our concerns at the highest levels with the Government of Iraq and reiterated that any transfer of arms from Iran is in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The Government of Iraq assured us that it would look into this matter. Today, we have seen the press release issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense denying that any contracts for military equipment were signed with Iran. And we will continue to follow up with the Government of Iraq on this issue.

QUESTION: You take them at their word? You believe their denial?

MS. PSAKI: Well, suffice it to say, we will continue to discuss the issue with the Government of Iraq, and we’ve of course seen their statement.

QUESTION: The issue in general of buying things from Iran or the issue specifically as related to this report that came out about this big – alleged big sale?

MS. PSAKI: Both.

QUESTION: So you’re not necessarily convinced that their denial is bona-fide?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not. I’m just conveying that, obviously, we’ll continue the discussion and these reports remain a concern of ours. But of course, we’ve seen the statement that they put out.

QUESTION: Well, are you heartened by the denial? I mean, or do you – that they say it’s not true? Is that a good thing?

MS. PSAKI: They did say that. We’ve seen that. They assured us they’d look into it, and this was a follow-up to that.

QUESTION: Second one is, I’m --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Hold on one moment, Said. One moment, one moment.

QUESTION: On Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, no. I’ve got a --

MS. PSAKI: Oh, on Iraq? Okay.

QUESTION: No, I got a --

QUESTION: I just want to ask you on this very issue --

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: There was a breakdown of lists. I mean, buying $35 million worth of, let’s say, mortars, or the equipment for tanks or whatever. I mean, it was really a very thorough and specific breakdown, which shows that the laundry list --

MS. PSAKI: I think I went through a thorough list with you yesterday.

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m saying that there was today – there was a laundry list published of the exact specific equipment and so on that the Iraqis allegedly signed back in November immediately after the return of Nuri al-Maliki from his visit to Washington. So I’m saying that your – the veracity of their denial – is it something that you believe, as Matt said, or despite the fact that it was really that specific?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve already answered the question. I don’t have anything more to add.

QUESTION: And what if it proves that they actually did contract the Iranians? What would you do?


MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said yesterday, that would raise serious concerns, given it would be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.



The developments come as Global Security Newswire is reporting the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel  is considering ending the US government's business relationship with Michelin over the company's business relationship with Iran (see Josh Rogin's report for The Daily Beast).

Patricia Zengerle (Reuters) notes that US Senator John McCain is calling for answers and stating this could jeopardize the US government's plan to allow Iraq to purchase 24 Apache attack helicopters.  Geoff Holtzman (Talk Radio News) quotes White House spokesperson Jay Carney declaring today, "Any transfer or sale of arms from Iran is in direct violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution."  Yes, it is a point that State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki made on Monday.


In other Iraq and Iran news, Fars News Agency reports that the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Danayee-Far, denied today that the Embassy in Baghdad was under fire.  Shots were heard.  But National Iraqi News Agency reports police says "a member of the force charged with protecting the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad, committed suicide by shooting himself."


Nouri's assault on Anbar Province continues.  NINA reports 5 civilians were left injured by the military's bombing of Falljua's residential neighborhoods of Jubail Nazal and al-Sinaei while the military's bombing of western Falluja left 1 woman dead and three members of her family injured in Albu Alwan Village.

As was the case yesterday, the US government doesn't care about the civilians being harmed but a deal with Iran may nix Iraq's future weapons delivery from the US (or a lot of big talk and posing from the US government wants to pretend it might).  NINA reports:

Motahedoon Coalition / United for Reform / demanded on Tuesday hosting the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Nouri al-Maliki and Acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, in the House of Representatives , to discuss the crisis in al- Anbar and stand on the truth of what is going on there.The Coalition said in a press statement that nearly two months have passed and the crisis in Anbar is increasing complexity on all levels, and especially the humanitarian and security ones, in the absence of accurate information on what is going on except what we hear by the media.
He added that the data that we see on the ground is half a million were displaced from Anbar, cities under siege, artillery and air bombardment , martyrs and wounded of innocent citizens and the sons of our armed forces.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 787 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

And the violence goes on.


National Iraqi News Agency reports a Ramadi car bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead and four more injured, a southern Mosul roadside bombing left 1 police officer and three members of Nouri's federal police dead, 1 civilian was shot dead in eastern Baghdad (Jamilah), 1 police member was shot dead in eastern Baghdad (Baladiat), Joint Operations Command announced they killed 1 suspect in Salahuddin, a southern Baghdad (Awiridj) roadside bombing left two children injured, the Iraqi military boasts they killed 3 suspects in Ramadi, 1 civilian was shot dead in al-Miqdadiya, an Ajeel Village roadside bombing left eight people injured, a Hamrin car bombing targeted a market killing 2 people and leaving eight more injured, Diyala Police Command insist that they killed 1 Da'ash leader, a Karrada car bombing claimed 5 lives and left forty-one more people injured,  1 corpse was discovered southeast of Baghdad, and 2 corpses were discovered dumped in the streets of Mosul.  Kareem Raheem (Reuters) counts 26 violent deaths today.



In other news, Rudaw reports:

 The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is appealing to Iraqi religious leaders, the international community and powerful institutions like the United Nations to pressure Baghdad into lifting an economic siege of the autonomous Kurdish enclave.
 Baghdad and Erbil are locked in a complex political feud. The Kurds insist that their autonomy gives them constitutional rights to exploit and export their own vast oil and gas resources, and have signed a comprehensive oil and gas deal with energy-hungry Turkey next door. They already have piped Kurdish oil, which is ready for sale at the Turkish port of Ceyhan.


This blackmail on the part of Nouri has left many in the KRG without salaries.  World Bulletin quotes Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani declaring, "By not paying government employees their wages, the Iraqi central government has put Kurdistan under a blockade" and that this is a "declaration of war against the people of Kurdistan."  All Iraq News notes that the KRG's Finance Ministry is going to start payment for KRG government employees on Sunday and do this by stopping payment of the KRG presidency and Parliament employees.  Rudaw notes that Iraq needs water and the KRG is the one that controls the irrigation for a good part of Iraq.



We quoted from Senator Patty Murray's press release earlier in the snapshot.  We'll close now with it in full:





FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                  CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, February 25, 2014                                                             (202) 224-2834
 


Sen. Murray Addresses Landmark Veterans Legislation Focused on Those Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
 
Bill is one of the most inclusive pieces of veterans legislation to come before Senate in decades
 
Murray continues push for IVF coverage at VA; shares inspirational story about quadriplegic veteran and wife’s struggle to start a family
 


WATCH video.


 
WASHINGTON, D.C.TODAY, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate to highlight some of her priorities included in a comprehensive veterans bill that will improve the lives of our nation’s servicemembers, veterans, and their survivors. “The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014” is a top priority for veterans and nearly every veterans service organization. Sen. Murray discussed provisions to reauthorize and expand her “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” as well as efforts to improve delivery of care for victims of military sexual assault. Sen. Murray also highlighted her provision in the legislation to provide reproductive services, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), to veterans and their families who have suffered catastrophic wounds of war that prevent them from starting families. This provision was the first piece of legislation Senator Murray introduced in the 113th Congress. Currently, VA is specifically barred from providing these services. While the legislation being considered this week focuses on the newest generation of veterans, it also includes many provisions that aim to help veterans of previous conflicts.
 

Excerpts:
 


“This comprehensive legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation? I hope we can.”
“Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more.”
“Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. And they shouldn’t have to. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in unrelated amendments or political grandstanding.”



Full remarks:
 


“It’s no secret that here in our nation’s capital we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now. But I’ve come to the floor today to discuss one issue we are rarely divided on. And that is our duty to keep the promise we’ve made to provide not only care - but opportunity - to all those who’ve honorably served in our nation’s Armed Forces. It unites even the most unlikely partners because we realize that: We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve. And we all need to keep it because there’s so much on the line. When our brave men and women volunteered to protect our nation, we promised them that we would take care of them and their families when they return home.
 

“We need to ask ourselves, are we doing enough for our nation’s veterans?
 

“This comprehensive legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation? I hope we can.
 

“And I say that because the investments in this bill are a lot more than numbers on a page. They are life changing programs for veterans who are looking to take the skills they’ve learned from the battlefield to the boardroom. It’s support for the countless victims of military sexual assault, desperate to come out of the shadows. It’s providing the dream of having a family to those suffering from some of the most devastating wounds of war. It’s timely investments - in the very biggest priorities of our nation’s heroes. 
 

“ I’d like to use the remainder of my time to highlight just a few of the investments included in this bill and how they translate into the lives of our veterans and their families. For those who have worn our nation’s uniform - and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away: The road home isn’t always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy. We know this shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t let the skills and training our nation’s veterans have attained go to waste. We can’t afford to have our nation’s heroes unable to find a job to support their families, without an income that provides stability, or without work that provides the pride and sense of purpose that is so critical to the transition home.
 

“And that’s why I’m proud the legislation we’re considering today reauthorizes and builds on many of the provisions that were part of my ‘VOW to Hire Heroes Act,’ which was signed into law by President Obama in 2011. Double-digit unemployment rates for veterans used to be the norm – but since VOW became law, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is on par with non-veterans.  And while recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics prove that these programs work, there’s much more to be done.
 

“I also believe the great strength of our military is in the character and dedication of our men and women who wear the uniform. It is the courage of these Americans, to volunteer to serve, that is the Pentagon’s greatest asset. Our servicemembers volunteer to face danger, to put their lives on the line, to protect the country and all its people. It’s no longer a secret that sexual assault continues to plague the ranks of our military services – which is another issue this comprehensive legislation seeks to address. I think we all agree that it is absolutely unconscionable that a fellow servicemember, the person you rely on to have your back and to be there for you, would commit such a terrible crime. Even worse is the prevalence of these crimes. It is simply appalling they could commit such a personal violation of their brother or sister in uniform. The National Defense Authorization Act we passed last year took historic action to help servicemembers access to the resources they need to seek justice without fear. Including a provision I authored to create a new category of legal advocates, called Special Victims’ Counsels, who would be responsible for advocating on behalf of the interests of the victim.

 
“But we still have a long road ahead before we put an end to these shameful acts and provide all the necessary resources to those who have unfortunately been impacted. Thankfully the Chairman’s legislation aims to do just that with provisions to improve the delivery of care and benefits to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. Because when our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people. But that sacrifice should not have to come in the form of unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks.

 
“And finally, I’d like to talk about a provision that has been one of my top priorities in the Senate for a while now – It’s a provision that builds upon our efforts to improve VA’s services for women veterans and veterans with families. As you all know, with the changing nature of our conflicts overseas, we have been seeing the brutal impact of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Which means we are now seeing more and more servicemembers – male and female -- increasingly susceptible to reproductive, spinal and traumatic brain injuries due to these weapons of war. Now, thanks to modern medicine, many of these servicemembers are being kept alive and were returning home. And like so many of our veterans, these men and women come home looking to return to their lives, to find employment, and so often to start a family. Yet what they find when they go to the VA is that the fertility services available don’t meet their complex needs. In fact, veterans suffering from these injuries find that the VA is specifically barred from providing more advanced assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. They are told that despite the fact they have made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we cannot provide them with the medical services they need to start a family.

 
“Veterans like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil and his wife Tracy. Staff Sergeant Keil was shot in the neck while on patrol in Iraq in 2007, just 6 weeks after he married the love of his life – Tracy.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit a major artery, went through his spinal cord, and exited through his left shoulder blade. Staff Sergeant Keil instantly became a quadriplegic. Doctors informed Tracy her husband would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, and would never move his arms or legs. But Staff Sergeant Keil eventually defied the odds and found himself off the ventilator and beginning the long journey of physical rehabilitation. In fact, Tracy and her husband even started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together. Having children was all they could talk about, once they adjusted to their new normal.

 
“So, with Staff Sergeant Keil’s injuries preventing him from having children naturally, Tracy turned to the VA and began to explore her options for fertility treatments. But because of the VA ban, she was turned away. And Tracy and Staff Sergeant Keil decided instead to pursue IVF through the private sector. Out of options, the Keil’s decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment. Thankfully, on November 9, 2010, just after their first round of IVF, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world.
 

“Tracy told me, ‘The day we had our children something changed in both of us. This is exactly what we had always wanted, our dreams had arrived. The VA, Congress and the American People have said countless times that they want to do everything they can to support my husband or make him feel whole again and this is your chance. Having a family is exactly what we needed to feel whole again. Please help us make these changes so that other families can share in this experience.’

“Tracy and Matt are not alone. There are many men and women out there who share this common thread of a desperate desire to fulfill their dream of starting a family only to find the catastrophic wounds they sustained while defending our country are now preventing them from seeing that dream through. As you all know, it should not be this way. Our nation’s heroes should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They should not have to watch their marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point. Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more. Because we came VERY close to making this bill a reality last Congress.
 

“In fact, with Tracy Keil watching form the gallery – like so many of our heroes who have joined us here today – With Tracy watching, the Senate unanimously passed this legislation. But unfortunately Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to take up and pass this bill. This meant the time ran out and we were unable to get it to the President’s desk. But this effort is far from over. This provision was the very first piece of legislation I introduced in the new Congress. And there has been excellent momentum to get it done. Because this is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family. It says that we are not turning our back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars. It says to all those brave men and women that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way, that we won’t let politics get in the way of our commitment to you.
                                                                                                                                              

“This provision will reverse this troubling barrier to care and will bring the VA in line with the military which provides these services under Tricare. Our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military families deserve this.

 
“So, I’m here today to urge my colleagues to support the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. And they shouldn’t have to. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in unrelated amendments or political grandstanding. I’d like to thank the Senator from Vermont and his staff for their tireless work to work to bring this legislation here to the floor.
 

“I hope our colleagues do right by our nation’s heroes and keep their promise by supporting this critical bill.”

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Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834




 
 
 
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